Montana + Autumn = good chance of snow
Here’s a little picture story on the first of our snowy adventures…
After kicking back and relaxing over at Dan’s in Bozeman – and squeezing in a couple of short but sweet singletrack rides – we set off once more from Helena. Bt the way, thanks enormously to those who sent parcels or answered my music SOS and compiled new tunes – I’m loving them!
It had to happen some time. With weeks and weeks of sunshine in the bag, the forecast finally spelled doom and gloom. Sure enough, when we awoke from a night camping in a (closed) campsite, early morning drizzle was pooling in the potholes and giving the trail a lovely, tyre-sucking, tacky feel.
As we climbed in elevation, rain turned to snow, dusting the tops of the trees.
What should have been a lovely, fast forest track turned into mush and slime.
The scenery was beautiful; the forest looked frozen in time.
A fairytale feel.
Onwards and upwards we climbed, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead...
Then the snow started to fall, and a filter of flat, blue light fell across the land.
Here's Chris, still smiling.
The occasional truck stopped the snow from settling on the ground.
Elsewhere, it started to cling to everything - even the sides of the trees.
But it wasn't until we turned off the main forest road, onto a far narrower, steeper and rockier trail that the encountered our first snow drifts. As this trail was closed to all motor vehicles, the snow is left to gather.
Chris snakes his way through the trees, their branches dropping with snow.
Soon, it really began to fall...
... in fact, our path was rapidly becoming far from distinct.
Time to check the map, me thinks.
Robert, well wrapped up in his ski mitts.
At this point, we could have turned back, but made the call to push on. I mean, how much further could it be?
Then the snow got thicker, and the trail thinner.
... and the hill steeper and rockier.
Negotiating fallen trees added to the challenge.
There were still moments we could ride. But they were just that: moments.
The Santos Travelmaster. Shrugging off the snow with aplomb.
It was starting to get late. We knew we were on the right track, but there didn't seem an end in sight to the trail.
Finally, after a lot of pushing and shoving, we reached the meadow at the top of the pass.
Then the trail started to descend. In our semi-exhausted state, the challenge was simple: stay on the bike.
It was tempting to try and push on to the forest road where our path would be clearer. But it was getting dark. With just a handful of miles on the clock, we decided to pull over and snow camp. The temperature plummeted. We didn't socialize much than evening...
A cold night ensued. Here's my boots in the morning, which, like everything else, had turned into ice blocks.
And here's Robert, emerging from his cocoon.
We almost needed a shovel to dig out the bikes, encased as they were in snow. All this time, the Rohloff hubs never skipped a beat. However, my V brakes froze, clogging up the wheels with snow, and Robert's mudguards did their best to wedge the bike to a standstill too. Chris's derailleurs had long lost any sense of purpose...
I'd left my riding gloves in a bag outside, and they'd frozen in a kind of embrace.
Still, the next morning brought with it sunshine; fingers could at last defrost.
Not quite axle deep, but not far from it. Did I mention that pushing a fully loaded bike is hard? Very hard.
A chance to get back on the bikes.
Yey, back on the forest road again!
Soon, the snow seemed a distant memory. We hurtled down a winding dirt track, past the remnants of old mines and remote cabins, startling elk as we dropped down in altitude.
The tiny hamlet of Basin.
Not too much going on here...
Ride loaded: the way I like it. Sticker courtesy of the Adventure Cyling Org, who dreamt up this amazing route.
Basin: Proud to be American.
More rusty, junked cars than people, I think.
Just like it says. Montana, Big Sky.
From here, Chris hitched a lift to try and bring his mauled gear system back to life, while Robert and I rode the final 30 miles to Butte.
A quiet forest road ran parallel to the highway for much of the way.
Beautiful light up at Great Divide Crossing no 4, before one final, fast descent into Butte. And luxury! We treated ourselves to a motel for the night, my first in three months!