This was the most brutal state on the Tour Divide. Montana is absolutely breath-taking and ruthlessly difficult at the same time. With 253 miles ridden over the past 2.5 days we had finally made it to America. We were stoked.
The night before leaving Canada Seth, Jesse, Troy and I had caught up with a bigger group of guys and about 10-12 of us descended for miles it seemed in the dark to Wigwam campground in British Columbia's rugged back country. I hit a rock with my front tire at above 30 mph and tried my best to slow down as fast as I could. My tire went completely flat as I cut the tread on the rock and I wasn't slowing down nearly as fast as I wanted to. Finally I stopped and I had cut the tire again on the bead with the rim bashing against the gravel while the tire was flat. After 4-5 attempts to keep it tubeless I finally had to tube it the next day around noon. It held tubeless just barely the rest of the descent down. Once we made it to camp we were surprised to see around 40-50 Divide riders already camping next to the river. This was by far the biggest group camping together on the ride. The moment we arrived to camp...rain. It rained all night. We had been dreaming of having a campfire all day, but instead we just went straight into the bivy. The next morning I filtered water at the river next to camp and heard multiple people talk about the bear tracks that were surrounding our camp. The tracks weren't there when the sun went down. No encounters, thankfully.
This was the final image I took in Canada looking directly south into Montana. We rode a killer downhill from this point onto a paved road that took us to Rooseville, MT the border crossing. Consumption of all fried foods and Budweiser happened at the diner/casino/dive just across the border. If we would have waited just another 8 miles we would have been met with all sorts of great food options in Eureka, MT, but we were just too hungry to care.
The border patrol was expecting us and saw us coming on Track Leaders site. It was a laid back transition back into the States. Except for us running into another Divide rider who was having an extremely difficult day on the bike. We helped him get across the border while he deliriously rode the last few miles out of Canada. It was a scary situation and he had wrecked a handful of times coming down the last pass. We learned that he dropped from the race not too far from the U.S. border in the next few days.
We climbed out of Eureka, MT on quiet perfect gravel roads with small natural lakes below us. Everything was green. It felt like the shire surrounded by mountains.
So glad that no rain clouds were in sight. Hoping for what might be our first dry night sleeping outside.
Seth Wood - Stillwater, OK. He's a South Carolina native from Beaufort, transplanted to the mid-south where he teaches English at Oklahoma State University.
Troy Cowin - Norman, OK. Troy is a public defense Lawyer originally from Utah. We first talked about the Divide together at a local mtb race outside of Stillwater in Nov of 2015.
Jesse Ramsey - Detroit, MI. He's a professional traveling vagabond, and he knows how to descend a loose, rocky gravel road with precision.
Bobby Wintle - Stillwater, OK. Thats me. I had been dreaming about this ride for 4+ years. Crazy stoked to finally be doing it.
After descending the first pass we had to climb in Montana we turned a corner and were blown away by this sight. These are the infamous mountains welcoming any adventurer into Glacier National Park. Watching the sun set here was magical.
Cutthroat - Perfection
We decided to cut the day a bit early at 85 miles. With 2 passes ahead of us before heading into Whitefish, MT we found a makeshift camp ground with lots of dead fall to burn. Our first campfire on the Divide was happening. We were all smiles as we unpacked our wet gear and dried it close to the fire. Subway sandwiches for dinner, and a little whiskey.
Seth, just like all of us, so pumped and grateful that it wasn't raining.
This fire was fantastic.
And the whiskey was gone...just like that only 3 days in.
Patch quality: Day 3. More photos of the wear and tear to come.
We have the best friends in the entire world. Brett and Myla Stevens from Perkins, OK were on their summer vacation up to Glacier Natl Park when they stopped along the route to find us and cheer us on. Total surprise. Amazing moment we will never forget. We were just south of Whitefish, MT when we saw what we were sure was Brett standing in the middle of the road.
After waking up just outside of Glacier Natl' Park Seth and I made it into Whitefish around 10am for breakfast. Troy and Jesse both needed work on their bikes and the bike shop in downtown was amazing and made it all happen. We finally flew out of Whitefish with a lot of pavement ahead pointing us toward Swan Lake and Swan River. After missing a water refill spot along the route we started up another climb taking us farther away from Swan River and any supply refuel stops. Seth and I knew we had plenty of food, but not water. Troy and Jesse had climbed on ahead of us, and Seth and I stopped to filter water out of a nearby stream. We were covered in mosquito's immediately. Hundreds of them it seemed. Just then Troy and Jesse were riding back down the pass and they had decided to back track 5 miles to the closest town to get food and a place to stay. Seth and I made the decision to push forward to Holland Lake another 45 or so miles away. To make it there would put our total mileage for the day at 162. By far our longest day yet.
We parted ways with Troy and Jesse and pushed on. Surrounded by forest and massive trees we just kept pushing forward. We had barely eaten anything since breakfast and had burritos packed as to go food from the restaurant for dinner. We weren't eating those burritos until we made it to Holland Lake though, and we were starving. We split an avocado, some Justin's almond butter, and kept going. At midnight we hit single track. In full on bear and mountain lion country. To say I was a bit terrified would be an understatement. After what seemed like hours we hit pavement and saw signs for Holland Lake. It had been dark for 3-4 hours at this point. We rolled into the first camp ground we saw, inhaled our 10 hour old burritos which were quite good I remember, and passed out immediately in our bivys. Of course, the moment we entered camp it started to rain and did not stop raining for the next 12 hours.
Holland Lake Lodge was just a few more miles away from our camp spot and we made it there a bit later than we had hoped the next morning. With pushing 162 miles until 1 am, and being wet all night, and packing up wet gear in the morning it was all we could muster to be at breakfast by 9am. Luckily when we got there the fire was already going and we started to dry out our gear before getting coffee.
We found out later that you can rent a room or the couch or floor to sleep on at the Lodge. If planning your Tour Divide ride for next year or sometime in the near future definitely put this lodge on your "must stay" places. Its amazing. Seth and I had breakfast and 5 or 6 coffees before we could finally pull ourselves out of the beautiful cabin lodge and away from the fire place. Even with all the low clouds and rain the lake was gorgeous.
This is and will be for quite some time the most memorable mountain pass and descent I have ever been on. This is Richmond Peak just outside of Holland Lake. We left the lodge and headed out in the rain toward this gorgeous mountain. Rain, to sleet, to snow on the peak left us frozen all the way through. The wind picked up at the summit and about an inch of snow covered all the trees and ground. Seth was just ahead of me as I trenched my way up the pass. I was so cold climbing up that I got off of my bike on a rideable section just so I could swing my arms up and down as high as I could to keep the blood flowing. I thought I was cold going up, but I actually had no idea just what cold actually means until I started to descend.
Twisting single track took us to the top and then we followed single/double track to the bottom. Since it had been raining the entire time we were riding all of my gloves, feet, socks, shoes were soaked. The wind was cutting through me as I rode down teeth clinched, mouth open, hands frozen. I was breathing as hard as I could through clinched teeth screaming for the descent to be over. My feet were shaking, literally shaking in my shoes clipped into my pedals. I felt as if I could barely brake or maneuver my bike. A few more miles pass and finally I made it to the bottom. My mind immediately went to Seth and whether he had made it down the mountain at all. Just then I hear him scream my name from a camp ground bathroom just next to the road. "Bobby! I'm in here, come over here!" I seriously could not have been happier to see him. We hugged and got in the bathroom where it felt at least 10 degrees warmer. Seth hadn't stopped to walk up the climb and when he pulled his gloves off his finger tips were solid black. We were terrified and just did everything we could to dry off our gear and feet. We used almost every bit of toilet paper in the bathroom to shove in our shoes to get them dry. After about 30 min or so we had to make a decision. Either go off course to Seely Lake, MT and get a room and call it an early day or continue the next 37 miles to Ovando, MT and hope some hot food would be there. Not a minute later the sun came out, and so we rode forward to Ovando.
Trixi's in Ovando, MT is a gem. An absolutely amazing place to stumble upon without knowing about it's existence previously. The owner and all of the staff (about 3 total) were all amazing and had been following all the racers on Track Leaders. They wanted to know our names, where we were from and how we were doing. Most importantly though they had steak, tons of fried appetizers, and we decided to get burgers to-go wrapped in foil. We were told that the only place to get cell reception was out by the trailer and to stand on the stairs if we needed to make a phone call. We ran out there after dinner and called ahead to Lincoln, MT to a small hotel made a reservation, and headed off to one more pass for the night. Huckleberry Pass was just ahead.
We ended up riding through the very cattle pasture that provided us with our steak dinner just hours before. The land was beautiful, and everyone and all the animals looked so happy to be there. I didn't get a photo of it but we saw a stunning owl just off the side of the road on a ranch sign. He/she stayed at his perch and let us get close enough to see a couple of feathers fall when it finally decided to fly away. Amazing.
These roads were an extremely welcomed site and absolutely perfect.
By this point Seth and I had mastered the art of using our aero bars as a dryer for wet gloves and socks.
Ovando...Thank you. Thank you for smiling on us.
We hit Huckleberry Pass in the dark and learned what "railroad grade" passes are like. Smooth, not steep, awesome gravel roads. Our decision to not stop in Seely Lake seemed to be paying off. We did however roll into Lincoln around 2am completely exhausted and slept as much as we could until about 8 the next morning. Took a quick trip to the post office to mail home some post cards to our families and then surprisingly met up with our good friend Jay Barre. We had been meeting up with him off and on since the first day of the ride but it seemed we were destined to be together from this point forward. Seth and I couldn't have been happier to be with such an amazing friend. I've known Jay since meeting him at Dirty Kanza 200 in 2010. We all had breakfast together in Lincoln then headed off for 3 passes across the Divide into Helena, MT.
Taking a break after the second pass of the day. We were beginning to realize that the amount of climbing happening from this point until Lima, MT was going to be intense. We ended up with the next 3 days having around 12,000 ft of gain per day. I had never done anything like that before, and my legs were pissed at me by the end of it.
Lots and lots of staring at this. Tons of excitement once we finally made it to the top of each climb.
Rainbows and sun flares are a mainstay on the Tour Divide.
Jay Barre - Topanga, CA. Jay is a midwest boy at heart spending lots of his life in the Chicago, IL area. He now manages and operates the bicycle side of Topanga Creek Outfitters just north of LA. He is a man that to know him is to love him. Also, he is riding his Salsa El Mariachi Single Speed. Ridiculous.
Seth, Jay and I descended into Helena with huge smiles on our faces from the smooth roads, rainbows, and lack of rain for the day so far. We knew that brake pads and chains were taking a beating, and only being 6 days into the ride had us wondering how many times we would have to change them out. Luckily for Seth and I running Di2 and Shimano hydro brakes we only had to replace chains once and brake pads once. We changed all of that here at the Garage Bike shop in Helena. The guys at the shop said they couldn't believe how well our shifting was holding up and that no one else's bikes were capable of shifting through all of their gears that had stopped in their shop. They, along with us, were totally impressed and sold on Di2 from that point.
My favorite piece of gear for the entire trip. My Andrew The Maker custom frame bag. It took more abuse than anything else on my bike besides my tires and held up amazingly well. Thanks Andrew. I love this bag.
The most important part of this picture is the freshly poured beer in the top right corner.
After days and days of rain and mud and mountain passes this is all that was left of Seth's front brake pad. All of our pads looked just about like this. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Race will immediately show you what gear will hold up to these conditions. This was our first set of pads to be replaced and we had heard of others having gone through 2 sets of pads already at this point.
Cleaning the ring drive on my Chris King free hub body on the rear hub. It was still working amazingly well but had slipped a few times after all the muck worked it's way into the ring drive. After this clean and lube I had zero issues for the next 2100 or so miles.
Wanderlust...It's a real thing.
This is the look of survival. After leaving Helena and the confines of the warm bike shop that had at least 4 beers on tap we rolled out into the rain. Yes, more rain. We climbed 2 passes to get to Park Lake campground just before Lava Mountain pass. In the dark and the rain Seth had missed the entrance to the campground and was up ahead of Jay and I. Once Jay and I realized that he pushed on I went after him. Jay had started in Ovando that morning as Seth and I had started in Lincoln so he was already at 150 miles for the day and needed to get camp set up and get to sleep. I went on another 3 miles and found the entrance to the "closed" atv trail that was indeed the correct way on our route up the pass. I just barely saw tracks headed up the boulder strewn double track that I knew were Seth's. This was not a rideable trail whatsoever. Maybe in perfect conditions, in the day time, with fresh lungs and legs, but not in the middle of the night at 11:45 pm and in the pouring rain. I saw another set of lights from behind me and all I could do was hope that somehow we had passed each other and that Seth was the one approaching. It was not Seth, but Alex from San Francisco. He was planning on pushing up the pass and into Basin, MT for the night. He saw that I was soaked through and gave me his brand new pair of work gloves that he had just bought in town. I can't thank him enough for that as I was frozen and I know those gloves helped me push through. For the next 2 miles straight up and straight down we pushed our bikes. It wasn't rideable to the top or down to the next gravel road for 4 miles. We stopped and shared a red bull around 1 am. Once we hit the gravel road we flew. I was searching and searching for any sign of Seth until around a curve I finally saw this...
It's 3am. We've just ridden another 120 miles. We got split up with no cell coverage and I finally see Seth's bike here, nestled between the trees and boulders and he is passed out cold in his bivy on the ground. Alex says, "what should we do, leave him be?" I immediately told him that I was going to stay and bivy up right there, and that he should go on if that was his plan. He said he was good to go on alone and I couldn't believe he was still riding another 8 miles into town. Well...ghost town basically. I'll get to that in a moment. I start to set up my camp and Seth is breathing heavy beside me. I barely notice that his bivy isn't fully zipped up but I'm just so glad to have found him and to be laying down for the night that I don't think too much about it. He doesn't make a move or sound besides breathing for the 10-15 minutes it takes me to get inside my bivy and sleeping bag. The moment I zip mine up I startle Seth and he says "who's there?!" I tell him it's me and we are both so damn glad to have found one another. He just thought he hadn't made it to the camp ground yet, and when he did realize it he was too far into the trail to turn back. He told me his hands were so cold that he couldn't zip up his bivy so I reached over and zipped it all the way up to stop the rain from hitting him in the face. We passed out immediately and slept for about 3 hours. Frozen. The next morning came and the photo above is a perfect depiction how we looked at felt. Just as we were getting ourselves put back together Matt from Australia rolled up and told us about his epic adventure on the same pass the night before...
Although it was undeniably the most brutal night of sleep we had on the ride this was certainly one of the most beautiful spots we camped. A river was rushing close by and it was amazing. Taking this photo I was soaked and freezing just waiting for the sun to get high enough to flood the valley with some warmth.
Our new friend Matt from Australia is in the picture above with Seth. He also pushed up Lava Mountain the same night as us but didn't come down. He camped at the very top completely exhausted. Seth said he had seen multiple sets of yellow eyes off the trail in the trees close to the summit but just kept moving. Matt confirmed that once he set up camp that a mountain lion fixed eyes on him, yellow and sharp, through the trees and circled his camp ground. He fell asleep clinching his bear spray to his chest. So glad nothing happened and that he made it down the next morning. Only to find us trying to pick up the pieces of our shattered souls at our camp spot a few miles from Basin, MT. We rolled together to Basin and were met with 2 closed restaurants. Nothing. For miles. No places to refuel until we hit Butte, MT which was another 35 miles away. We decided to sit in town on a bridge and like hobo's make coffee. This was the moment we realized that bringing enough fuel and beans to make 2 cups of hot coffee was the best idea we had ever had. Matt told us it was brilliant. He couldn't believe we were carrying the extra weight just to be able to have coffee in a desperate moment. That moment was now.
As soon as we finished our coffee Jay came rolling off the wretched mountain all smiles. We were stoked to be back together and couldn't believe how tough the last section had been. We were humbled. So much respect for the mountain.
Jay. Constant. Consistent. Positive. Rad rad dude.
Seth. Wanting a real beer and espresso maybe more than ever in his life at this moment.
We dropped into Butte on a local piece of in town single track and headed straight to a restaurant with beer. We felt extremely deserving of one after yet another night in the rain. The place we ate at even let us bring our bikes inside. It was late in the afternoon at this point. Then a couple of our good friends had tracked us down on Track Leader's to the restaurant we were at, called the phone number and bought our food and beers. Absolutely amazing.
Chris and Laura from Boulder, CO on their amazing Co-Motion tandem. They had some major issues with mechanicals in the mud and were still having the best time. After Montana we never saw them again but heard they finished around 22 days or so. Amazing you two, amazing.
The views were endless in Montana.
I think I missed the focus a bit, but Seth said this shot would be for his Mom. This one is for you Kristy!
The lighting was magical and ridiculous. We were headed out of Butte going toward Fleecer Ridge and hoping to make it to Wise River, MT to stay at a room we booked there at the one place in town. "Town" is a loose term for what was mostly a handful of homes with 1 bar, 1 restaurant, and a few rooms above. It was all we could've ever hoped for and the breakfast was stellar.
These roads were desolate and amazing. This is one of the most memorable stretches of road for me. We finally reached Fleecer Ridge at about 11:45 at night. When we approached the descent it looked and felt as if we were on the edge of the world. We could see the curvature of the world on the horizon miles and miles away. In the maps that we were carrying it suggested that we make our own switch backs pushing our bikes going through the meadow on either side of the rock path headed down the mountain. We did just that as our knees screamed at us. About a mile or so of pushing and holding our bikes back from tumbling down the ridge we hit another string of beautiful gravel into Wise River. Once we got there we ran into our good friend Dave Markman from Minnesota. We would yo-yo with him for a few days until we ultimately became a group of 4 determined to get to Mexico. Seth, Jay, Dave and I rode together each day from the Idaho border all the way to Antelope Wells, NM. So many stories ahead.
Killer breakfast with Mike from Wyoming, the 4 of us, and Chris and Laura from Boulder. This would be the last time we saw the tandem crew...like I said they were having mechanicals up until this point and should've been much farther ahead.
That morning we were planning on a 132 mile day from Wise River to Lima, MT. We were met with a handful of beautiful low traffic paved roads and stunning views.
Any thing on the Divide that reminds you of home, or especially your spouse, is a much welcomed sight.
Donuts and whiskey. Perfect trail break snack.
The last stop we made in Butte, MT the day before was at a rad little coffee shop that also had mini donuts. I bought as many as I could carry, and then we ate them all at the top of this climb.
Just down the road was one of the most amazing oasis' on the Divide route. High Country Lodge in the middle of no where Montana.
The towering forests of northern Montana had given way to huge open spaces with mountains on the fringes. This is the Montana I had always heard about my entire life. Big Sky Country was right before our eyes.
As we rolled into the lodge we couldn't believe how amazing it was. The host inside and owner of the lodge had just 1 question for us...Lunch? A resounding YES! came out of all of our mouths. Lasagna and cake and Dr. Pepper came soon after.
Trophy room. When cyclists and hikers aren't coming through the lodge it is home to hunters. The front room of this massive cabin has some unreal taxidermy.
The owner's of High Country Lodge are Russ and Karen Kipp. They have started a tradition of having us all sign in on a poster board and it was rad to see all the names that came before us this year and all the names from the last 2 years that they had posted. Unforgettable stop with even more unforgettable views.
The next push was full of gravel roads that looked exactly like this. Long, sometimes straight, sometimes winding, desolate, gorgeous roads as far as we could see. Not a single bit of civilization from the lodge all the way to Lima, MT. At certain points the topography looked like we were on the moon. No other way to describe it. Seth had been out front for hours, I was in the middle, and Jay off the back. Seth and I finally met up just before the sun went down. We rolled out of huge valleys and into cliffs and river side gravel roads. We finally hit the last 7 miles on a service road right next to the interstate around 11pm. I was crawling and could barely push 8-9 mph at that point. We rolled into Lima and this place has presumably less than 200 residents. I saw a sign for The Peat Bar...this way...I looked at Seth and said, "it's worth a try." We rolled over, all the lights were on, 1 truck in the front, not a soul walking around. It was 11:50pm. We walked up to the porch and heaved our bikes up against the outside of the bar. I was hoping for nothing more than the front door to open when I pulled the handle. To my surprise the door wasn't locked. I couldn't believe it and neither could Seth. We walked in and the owner's nephew was tending bar and chatting up the only customer in the building a rancher about our age. First thing out of my mouth was "are you about to close?" He said, "yeah, sometime." I then asked if we could order a beer and he said "of course. You boys are probably hungry too right? I can throw a couple pizzas in the oven." We both almost died right then and there. We were expecting to set up camp with everyone else over by the rest stop off of the highway and eat whatever pop tarts and energy bars we had left on our bikes. Now we were getting IPA on tap and frozen pizza NOT frozen. We asked if our friend Jay who was just about 25 minutes behind could come in after closing as well, of course he said yes. Then he made the mistake of mentioning that they had rooms to rent behind the bar, but he couldn't rent us one because they were all dirty and had been slept in the night before. He had been too busy at the bar to go do the laundry and bedding. I told him as seriously as I could in that delirious moment that I would pay him to sleep on the floor of the bar if it were an option. He paused for a minute, and then said "I'm going to let you guys stay in a room, but since it's dirty I can't charge you for it. Usually it's $75 a night." For what could have been one tough night had just turned into the best story we had to share so far. Pizza and beer, 4 pizzas at that, and a free room for all 3 of us. We were stoked beyond belief. It made the next day and the push into Idaho just a touch easier.
This is Gerald. He was walking the Continental Divide Trail CDT from South to North. We had a great conversation and he was insanely inspiring for me. We ended up running into 6-7 hikers along the way and every time I couldn't believe it...I just can't imagine walking that far. The CDT trail is 3100 miles long compared to the 2700 miles of the Tour Divide Route and goes through some insanely rocky and remote places. We intersected with the route quite a few times.
We met some rad dudes from England doing the Divide from South to North on their Surly's. They thought Trump was hilarious and tried to get their hands on as much American memorabilia they could carry. The hat though was their prized possesion.
Mike from WY. This was his second attempt at the Divide. He came in 2015 and made it to the High Country Lodge where he had to stop and nurse his inflamed achilles. It took him 3 days and he then realized it wasn't going to get better. I told him about my left achilles pain and he got really serious with me immediately. He told me not to ignore it and showed me a handful of stretches. Thank you, Mike. I needed that help and you were an awesome dude about it. More on my achilles later.
So so so pumped to leave Montana.
Dave!! We finally caught up with Dave, who is our good friend from Avon, MN (close to Minneapolis). Dave and I have been friends since we met at Dirty Kanza 200 training camp in 2015 and we've stayed well connected since then. He is a focused dude that took a lot of consideration on his gear selection. Talking gear with him is fantastic as he works in the bike industry and he's super knowledgable. We would have many nights of awesome camping ahead of us.
The wind was strong out of the West so when I tried to pee on Montana from Idaho behind this sign I basically just got pee all over my feet. It was worth a try.
We had just climbed 12,000+ feet every day for the last 3 days. We had been frozen, Seth got frostbite that seemed to get better in an afternoon, soaked to the bone, riding on almost no sleep, saved by a bartender in Lima and all sorts of other adventures all in between. Montana. Seriously. You are hard. Nothing seemed like it could be harder than what we had just been through. The Divide was showing us that we are not in control. That we will be told how the day will unfold. It would not be us dictating the final outcome. Coming to terms with that gave us all a sense of peace and connection to the Tour Divide and the spirit it holds. We would continue to push ourselves to the absolute limit. As far as our bodies and the weather would allow. We were only in Idaho for a short minute. That is next.
I started District Bicycles in Stillwater, OK with my wife Crystal. Promoter of the Land Run 100. Creator of unlearnpavement.