After a thoroughly enjoyable ride yesterday through some beautiful scenery, we were eager to get another taste today. We broke camp around 8:00am, early for us, to beat the midday heat and, unbeknownst to us, to see some large wildlife.
The ride started off on a regraded forest road that roughly followed the Flathead River downstream. When we turned away from the river, things got interesting. There we were minding our own business, cruising down a forest road when on our right we heard the snap of some dry branches.
We stopped immediately. I grabbed the bear spray from my rear bag like an outlaw at a gun fight. I was ready to take on anything. Well I was ready as soon as I removed the lock pin for the trigger (bear spray works much like a fire extinguisher). Okay, now I was ready.
Carrie and I waited for any more movement. All was silent. This is when the camera gets a close up of the outlaw’s steely eyes. Who’s going to draw first? Who’s going down? And then the creature made its move. The trees rustled. We could hear it running. Running away. The fight was over. Or was it?
We cautiously mounted our metal steeds and rolled slowly down the road, our eyes fixed on the area in the trees we last heard a sound. When we passed a clearing in the trees, we finally spotted our foe. It was a female moose. We stopped to look at her as she looked at us. The camera zoomed in to the moose’s steely eyes. And then we kept on riding, and the moose kept on being a moose.
After our moose sighting we checked off all of the large animals we’d seen so far: one moose, two coyotes, one elk, lots of deer. We were missing an important one though, a bear. This was supposedly an area full of bears. We’d seen enough bear scat on the roads to know they were out there, but so far we’d missed them, which most people would agree is a good thing. But I was still hoping to see one. No adventure into the Canadian wilderness is complete without a bear sighting.
When we turned off the main forest road onto a smaller jeep track to start our climb up Cabin Pass, we definitely felt as if we were entering a truly wild part of the forest. The track was narrow and bordered by dense shrubs. A bear could be around the next bend. We started whistling and singing. As I crested a small but steep incline, I noticed something move in front of me about 50 feet away. I stopped and focused up the track where two mountain lions were dashing into the bush. I raised my hands in the air and yelled, “Mountain lions!”, like I was happy that my team had scored.
Carrie missed seeing the cats as she was just getting to the top of the incline, and she was less enthusiastic about what I’d seen. Mountain lions, unlike bears or moose, treat people as potential prey. It’s rare, but it happens. Both of us agreed that we didn’t want to be prey, so we made a bunch of noise as we rode by and continued making noise for another paranoid mile while constantly checking over our shoulders. Mountain lions prefer the art of surprise when attacking, damn them.
Once we felt safe again we refocused our energy on summiting Cabin Pass, which came sooner than expected. From the pass we cruised downhill for about an hour to reach our next campsite near the Wigwam River. It was about 1:00pm. The sun wouldn’t be setting for another 9 hours and we were feeling good, so we decided to go whole hog and ride another forty miles to our next day’s destination Eureka, Montana. The only obstacle before us was another mountain pass. We’d ridden one with ease. How hard could it be to ride another?
After refilling our water at the Wigwam River, we started our gradual ascent up to Galton Pass. Twenty one miles and 6 hours later, we made it. If you do the math, that’s an average speed of 3.5 miles per hour. We weren’t winning any races, but boy were we glad to be on top. It started as a series of steep stairstep climbs through firs and poplars, then led us through different stages of logging activity (think swaths of felled trees bordered by intentionally planted teenaged trees), before we rejoined the Wigwam for a mile of unrideable singletrack. The singletrack led us into shin-deep mud puddles, over fallen trees, and through thick foliage. We now understood why the dedicated bikepacker doesn’t use panniers. When you’re pushing your bike on a narrow track the panniers only get in the way.
At this point we had to stop for a second lunch. A tortilla with cheese is a great on-the-trail meal. We chose a great spot right next the river, where a small fire ring and matted down grass indicated that other Great Divide cyclists had used this spot too. We briefly talked about bedding down there for the night, but I was eager to press on. I wanted to see if we could make it all the way. If we got tired we could always stop somewhere else, I suggested. Carrie agreed, so we pressed on, knowing nothing about what we’d have to do next.
Our Adventure Cycling map said of the next .25 miles of our route that we would be climbing steeply and that cyclists with trailers would have to unhook the trailer and roll it up separately. When we approached the base of this climb we both asked if we had gone the wrong way. Surely you don’t mean that we have to go up that!?! We were looking at a muddy trail going up the edge of a cliff. I started pushing the bike up the wall soon realizing that the mud, rocks, and roots in the trail would require that I carry the bike up. It’s one thing to haul a 40-pound backpack up a hill, it’s another to carry an awkward 40-pound bicycle up a hill. But of course we made it. Our shoes were filled with mud, but our hearts were filled with pride at our accomplishment.
After the hike-a-bike we still had another 7 miles to the top of the pass. We were getting tired, but we were determined. At 3 miles to go we were really tired. When is this stupid climb going to end? Our determination was waning. At one mile to go we talked about stopping and setting up camp, but we didn’t see an accessible water source. We were sure the map was wrong. We should have been done with this climb a long time ago. It just keeps going. We joked that if we ever finished the climb we’d both do our best impressions of Thomas Voeckler at the end of stage 18 in last year’s Tour de France when he hung onto the yellow jersey for another day after nearly killing himself up the final climb. When we made it we did the Tommy face and then began our steep descent to the US-Canadian border.
When entering Eureka our first goal was to find pizza. We’d spent 12 hours on the bike riding about 80 miles. Our bodies wanted calories. We downed sme root beers and a large pizza before heading to the city campground, where we had a shower(oh so necessary) and fell asleep to the sounds of giggling girls, truck engines, and a thunderstorm.