Zen On Dirt


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CDT Day 85 – Day 3 of Hangries was not a pretty sight

I wanted to quit yesterday. If a Grayhound bus would have pulled up to Goldstone Pass, I would have paid my fare and taken it to Any-Town-Not-On-The-CDT. Luckily, no such thing exists. It was a bad day in the office.

But, with all situations, I think there’s a takeaway message, and I think this one is: I hate riding with a heavy bike, but I REALLY hate riding hungry, rationing food, and worrying about food lasting.

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The thing with this trail is is that we never really know how long sections are going to take us. With hikers, they can predict their milage within 10% pretty easily, most go between 24-28 miles. If it’s a hilly day, a few miles less, a flat road walk, a few miles more. It makes food planning relatively easily…plus there are countless blogs to read to see how long sections take people.

For us, we can range anywhere from 19.5 miles (full day, camp-to-camp) over Parkview Mountain to nearly 80 miles through the Great Basin. So a 90 mile stretch of trail is going to take…yeah, your guess is as good as mine. Too little food, you starve, too much food, you go slow and the riding is miserable and then run out of food anyhow because you’re going so slow.

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We’d left Lima saying “Two nights, three full days of riding.” We discussed, on the side, out of public eye, “We’ll probably be out for three nights.” We continued to pack for two nights. I’m not sure where the disconnect happened, especially as we left Lima at 1pm. Pro bikepackers, we are.

We started rationing food 3 hours of of Lima. I started whining that I was tired 3 hours out of Lima. Said two activities persisted for three days and three nights. I felt like a great bikepacking parter (not), which of course put me in an even better frame of mind.

Lesson: It’s not all rainbows and unicorns and I’m occasionally not the most pleasant person to be around, especially after having the hangries for 3 days straight.

Lesson learned: Pack more food.

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The riding wasn’t half bad. We met up with Beef and Pepper at Lemhi Pass, filled up on water, saw a giant grey owl (which made Birdy a little envious, I hope she got to see it), opted out of a few miles of vertical trail in exchange for well-graded road, hopped back on the trail for some lovely flat riding through the woods, climbed some hills, descended some hills, climbed some more. It was fairly civilized…or would have been if we’d eaten decently the day before.

Marmot and Gabrielle caught us as we were having a Wi-Fi 4G break before Goldstone Pass. They were so chipper, it improved my mood for the next hike over a rubbly peak and down to Goldstone. I suffered like a dog up the next climb even though it was beautifully build and graded trail.

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We descended a handful of long switchbacks down into the next valley and faced a 600 foot climb over a small pass. Scott rode. I walked. I got so angry, thinking about how much more fun I would be having if I could just ride. Good headspace, anyone?

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The trailbuilders crammed a couple dozen switchbacks down the other side with about a bike-length of space between each. Scott rode. I walked. I thought maybe hurling a rock off the side of a mountain would make me feel better…but that’s a Y-chromosome thing to do, so I didn’t.

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Some glorious trail, which I did my best to enjoy, I really did, brought us to camp just a few miles shy of our turn off to Jackson. We ate fry sauce mac and cheese and some pine nut quinoa salad (pilfered from the hiker box in Lima) for dinner.

I went to bed straight after hoping to convinced myself that I wasn’t THAT hungry. I was done with the day.

30 mile day. Oof.


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CDT Day 84 – Rollercoastering with the best views

Today was hard. I think I’d rate it in the Top 5 Hardest Days of this trip.

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At one point in time, as I was pushing my bike up what seemed like the millionth steep roller of the day, I thought to myself, “There hasn’t been a flat foot of trail this entire day! Straight up, straight down!”

But then I thought to myself, “According to basic calculus, whenever there’s a local maxima or minima, there has to be a spot where the derivative of a smooth function is zero, thus, a flat spot. And since we’d gone over and under a couple dozen high and low points, there had to be at least SOME flat ground.” But there wasn’t much.

These are the things I think about. Other times I sing along to Blake Sheldon:

The boys ’round here,
Drinking their ice cold beer,
Talking ’bout girls, talking ’bout trucks…

And other times I do both at the same time.

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The best way to describe today is as a rollercoaster. The trail follows the divide closely, and the divide between the Montana and Idaho border is lumpy. No huge climbs, except for one, but incessant up a hill, yay high point!, down the other side, that was fun!, up the next hill, rinse and repeat.

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It was a warm night and we were out of jackets soon after starting. The trail was a lovely three-track and most of the ups were ridable. It was, for the most part, a lovely way to start the morning. Eventually, we dove off on single track to climb Elk Mountain. Looking at the trail, I felt like I should have been able to pedal it, I just didn’t have the resources to allocate to it, so I walked. Unloaded on fresh legs, I bet it would be a blast.

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From the top, it was a stunning, mostly contouring descent down towards Bannock Pass. Totally made the climbing worth it…I think. It made me giggle, even on a low energy day.

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We stopped just shy of the pass to seek refuge from the wind in some trees and to let a storm pass that had a trajectory that seemed like would intersect ours if we kept riding. Scott mercifully gave me the final half a caffeine pill. It made all the difference in the world. I’ll nurse a caffeine addiction for the next three weeks, I’m okay with that.

We found some trail magic left by Stumbling Beef and Pepper Flake at the pass. The hikers hitch down to Leodore from the pass…and the road has about a car/hour traffic level.

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From the pass, the climb up to Grizzly Mountain went easily. The trail was straight forward, which was appreciated. Trail no longer has to be fun or flowy to be appreciated, just straightforward.

We saw no grizzlies on Grizzly Mountain, but we did see a giant blackbear on our way up Goat Peak. We were technically on the Idaho side of the border, so it was our first Idaho bear sighting. He was huge!

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The road we’d been following continued to gain every highpoint, but some amazing trail builders had built contouring trail around many of the lumps. Others, they built ridable switchbacks up. Thank you thank you thank you!

Eventually though, I had to call for a nap on the side of the trail. The thought of going up another hill seemed impossible. The nap did the trick and we were on our way again. We ran into Birdy first and chatted a bit. A half mile down the trail at a water source, we found Pepper Flake, unseen since West Yellowstone, and then a few miles later, Stumbling Beef. They were headed for the spring at the Lemhi Pass and passed us as we set up camp just two miles short.

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We’d been rationing food all day and were hungry and had no real reason to make it all the way down to the spring tonight. 30 some odd miles covered today. We made up an hour on the hikers over the course of 7. It’s slow country out here. But beautiful. So beautiful.

I’m so hungry.


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CDT Day 83 – Leaving town tired is never a good idea

Today was a tired day. Tired days are okay as long as you realize that they’ll pass. Luckily, it was only a half day of riding, but I have to admit to asking Scott at least a half dozen times what time it was in the last two hours of riding. So it goes, he was having a tired day too.

I maybe kept us up a little bit too late watching Shark Week and I don’t think either of us slept super well. I definitely woke up anxious about if we’d make it to the border before the weather turned to winter. It really is an absurd worry because we can’t ride trail north of Lincoln, and we’ll most likely be in Lincoln in under two weeks, so unless it starts to snow the first week in September, which I fully realize it could, we’re going to be okay. Still, hanging around hikers who were definitely feeling the push of winter raised my fretting level.

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We woke up late, Jan’s for breakfast. We discussed the possibility of staying another day. The weather said unsettled for another 24 hours and Scott thought he might be able to find us a more graceful route to Butte. But within 20 minutes of going back to the room, we decided to go. Sun was shining, time’s a wasting.

Leaving town is never easy, especially so if you weren’t 100% committed to leaving the day before. We still needed to re-up our trail food, get our box mailed, and tie up loose internet ends.

Out of the room by 11, resupplied by noon, fed from the sub shop by 1. Time to boogie.

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Honey badger don’t care that you’re tired

The plan was to ride the Great Divide Route north for 36 miles and then get back on the CDT at Morrison Lake. It’s a lovely little section of GDMBR with minimal traffic and beautiful canyon views.

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We met a GDMBR rider at the turn off to Morrison Lake. It was his second time down the spine and was getting ready to set up camp to wait for his buddy, who he estimated was several hours behind. They were on a 100 day schedule with each forth day off. He had pork chops in his BOB trailer and was looking for wood to BBQ it over. I was a little jealous as we were loaded to the gills with food not quite as luxurious as pork chops.

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We climbed up to Morrison Lake somehow, as neither of us really felt like climbing. Once back on the CDT, it went straight to hike-a-bike. The headphones went straight in because hike-a-bikes are now referred to as dance parties.

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Scott’s ridden this section and described it as a roller coaster. It really was. Up and down and back up again. Many of the ups were ridable, others were meant for dancing.

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We rode until 7:30 when we hit the edge of a nice grove of trees and could see that our tree choices would be limited for the next while. A flat spot nearby sealed the deal. We watched a gorgeous sunset to the west while watching a lightning storm to the east. The tarp is up. It definitely looks like the moisture is moving out, which is good as we have 100 more miles to Jackson, 85 of those on trail. We packed three-ish days of food. We’ll see if it lasts.


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CDT Day 81 & 82 – Nero to Lima (breakfast!), zero in Lima (milkshakes!)

Day 81

My sleeping pad held air! For someone who’s never successfully patched a tire in her entire life, this is a HUGE victory. Every time I rolled over during the night, I thought, “There’s air in my pad! Thank you Universe!”

We slept solidly, out of bear country, on flat ground, no threat of rain (how many times have we incorrectly said that one before?), and warm. I love warm. We woke up and from the depths of our sleeping bags agreed, “Let’s have breakfast.”

We then laid there for 15 more minutes until I said, “Are you going to go get our breakfast?” We have clearly defined jobs in the morning, which in summary is: Scott gets breakfast from the tree or bikes, Scott makes me breakfast, I eat breakfast from the cocoon of my sleeping bag while telling Scott how wonderful he is. He’s a total enabler of my lazy mornings.

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“I was hoping that if I laid here long enough, you’d get hungry enough to go get the oats,” he replied.

Not a chance. Our morning routine went back to normal.

Neon and Onnamove walked by as we were eating, ready to get the four miles down to the highway done so that they could call the Mountain View Motel and get a ride into Lima.

After packing up and coasting down the hill, we caught them less than 10 minutes after we started. Bikes are pretty awesome that way. We chatted for a bit before pulling away, as we were planning on riding the 20 miles into Lima and wanted to make breakfast.

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On the highway, we took the frontage road on the wrong side of the freeway, had to hop the fence, scamper across 4 lanes, ride the freeway for a mile, exit to Monida (I think it should be called Monaho) at the border of Montana and Idaho, got back on the frontage and spent the next 20 minutes making up names for other border towns. There were some good ones.

The frontage road led something to be desired with surface quality, but in the name of scouting a CDT bike route, we stayed on it instead of jumping multiple fences to ride on the nearly empty freeway.

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Neon and Onna beat us in by 5 minutes and we all went to Jan’s Cafe for breakfast. Glorious breakfast.

Then it was a typical nero day: Pick up bounce box, catch up on 3 days worth of interneting, work a bit, go get lunch (the sub shop in Lima has amazing shakes – the chocolate-huckleberry one won our hearts), doodle around, go to Jan’s for dinner, sleep. Lima’s sort of cool. Lots of interesting people to talk to with some pretty crazy life stories.

We fell asleep listening to rain pound the roof of our little cabin room and lighting flash all around. It was a good night to be indoors.

Day 82

We’d planned a zero in Lima because Scott hadn’t really planned our route north of here. Or, more accurately, he hadn’t really figured out where we could resupply since it’s looking like a week or so of riding with no real towns anywhere close to the route from here to Butte. I like zero days as I can work a bit, blog a bit, play on the internet a bit, and hopefully watch some bad TV.

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We wandered over to Jan’s for breakfast and found Neon and Onna there. Also Tucson residents, we traded Tucson stories, talking about timing and weather conditions on the trail (they got hammered seemingly non-stop), and drinking way too much coffee while the waitress refused to acknowledge our existence and run our cards.

We worked until Scott announced hunger 2 hours later. Back to the sub shop for sandwiches and shakes. Back to the room for more screen time. Back to Jan’s for dinner.

Tomorrow, we set off for 3 days out to Jackson (there’s a hot spring there!), then another 2-ish nights to Wisdom or Wise River, and then a night or two to Butte where I’ll finally get new cables and housing. Did I mention I totally sprained by thumb when my left shifter seized in the Great Basin? It swelled up and everything. Injury #1 of the trip. Hopefully the last one.

Or, if we wake up to rain, which we very well might, I hear the sub shop has good shakes.


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CDT Day 80 – Killer chipmunks, dead chipmunks, and embracing the brutality

Today started with the attack of the killer chipmunk, it then proceeded to some “We’re not lost, we just can’t find the trail,” followed by some lovely trail, after which we partook in some good old fashioned hike-a-bike, found a dead chipmunk in our reliable water source, hike-a-biked downhill, had a “we’re not lost, we’re just not on the trail” moment, hiked back up the trail I’d just hiked down, continued to hike down to the pass only to hike back up the other side, rode some lovely fenceline trails high on the mesa, and then finally hit roads to fly down to just shy of the highway.

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It was a very exciting day that started right around midnight. By that time I’d blown up my sleeping pad, which apparently had picked up a hole, at least seven times. Scott eventually gave me his down jacket to sleep on. It was not a comfortable sleeping situation.

Sleeping in bear country creates the bad habit of listening for any noises in the woods. We were both awakened by rustling next to me. Silouetted in the moon was a chipmunk.

“Shoo!” I told it. It took off. I laid back down on hard ground. Minutes later it was back, rustling around my dry bag.

“Get! We have no food, let us sleep!” I laid down wondering what it could possibly want. Salt. It came to me. My socks were right there. I sat up and turned my light on to illuminate the log where I’d laid my two socks a few hours earlier. One was gone.

“That little #$^$@!” I got up, turned my light on bright and went searching for my sock. We were camped by a boulder field and rocks were everywhere, as were downed trees. My sock, nowhere to be found. I gave up eventually, hoping that it was just hidden under our groundsheet/tarp.

Minutes later, rustle, rustle, rustle. This time on Scott side. “SHOO!” Back to my side to try to drag my helmet away. “GET!”

This went on for several hours. We awoke late in the morning, both tired from the chipmunk antics. We found Scott’s helmet chewed on and my sock no where to be found. I unleashed a string of profanity towards the chippy, who was no longer anywhere to be seen.

I generally like to think of myself as being able to express myself more eloquently than needing to use general profanity, but sometimes it just feels good to swear like a sailor. I put on Scott’s sleeping socks for the day.

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The trail started out more steeply. We were off hiking pretty quick. Gone were the gentle-ish grades and switchbacks from yesterday.

At one point in time, Scott pointed over a gentle ridge 50 feet above us. “The trails just on the other side of this, if I were a hiker, I’d totally short cut it rather than go around here and drop down to climb back up.”

We proceeded down a nice trail, wrapping around a finger of a mountain. Then came the first tree down. And a second. And a third. “Hmmm. We’re not on the GPS line any more.”

We left our little game trail and started straight up the mountain towards where the GPS wanted us to be. No trail there either. We continued our bushwack.

“I’m going to guess that the people who use this trail regularly take the shortcut,” I surmised.

When we finally re-found some semblance of trail, Scott pulled his phone out. “Doh! Ley has the route going over the ridge. That would have been way easier.” (For those not familiar with CDT mapping, there’s the Ley maps, which give a “recommended red route” and then has purple alternates, then there’s the Bear Creek maps which give one route, there’s the GPS data put out by Bear Creek Survey, there’s the Guthook phone app based on the Bear Creek maps, and then there’s what’s marked on the ground, which sometimes doesn’t correspond to any of the above. Choose your own adventure.)

“We just took the more adventurous route,” I decided.

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We rode some more semi-ridable trail to Salamander lake where I used the body of water to find the tear in my sleeping pad. I swear, next time, Z-rest. I’ve over inflatable pads.

The trail for the rest of the day was…challenging. It reminded me of being in band in 6th grade (I played the clarinet and was (and still am) completely musically inept) when the teacher had us compose something on our own. I thought it would be really cool to do something with lots of transitions between high and low notes because it would showcase my skills and be challenging to play. It sounded terrible. I had no skills. Similarly, the trail seemed to want to go as steeply as possible up and down every incline, going out of its way to do so.

Just because it could. If it’s not as hard as possible, everyone would do it?

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A 900 vertical hike-a-bike took us to Rock Springs. Water wasn’t flowing into the trough and there was a dead chipmunk in it.

“I’ll drink dead lizard water, but I draw the line at dead chipmunk water,” I declared. Still, we filled our spare bottles, just in case. Luckily we found water just a mile down the road, dumping what we had and filling up.

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A short bit of climbing took us to the “descent” to Pete’s Creek Pass. While playful and fun at first, it quickly turned steep. Like, hike-a-bike steep for me. We kept following signs for Pete’s Creek until Scott stopped short. “We’re not on the GPS line any more, did you see another trail at the sign up there?”

“Yep.”

So we hiked back up what I had hiked down.

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We eventually made it down to the pass and saw the trail continuing. “Look, there it is, straight back up!” It seriously went straight up for 900 feet. The CDT’s official motto is “Embrace the brutality.” It was uttered many times, often with a hint (just a hint) of sarcasm.

We rode what we could, but for the most part, we played the part of hiker with a bike along. The last 100 yards contoured nicely up to the ridge. You do know how to contour!

We are so spoiled rotten.

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Some lovely fence line riding through the sage brought us to another trail register and release from the trail. Our wheels hit road for the first time today. We coasted happily along, found some water, and soon after a campsite.

We can see the interstate that’ll take us to Lima. 20 miles. We’re hoping to make it before Jan’s Cafe stops serving breakfast. I can’t wait!


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CDT Day 79 – Montana trails are currently winning

I think that given we’re in grizzly-land, we’re going to have to start stopping at least 45 minutes earlier than normal as we seem to be completely inept at getting our food hung from a tree. Seriously, we stopped riding at 8:30 tonight and it was well on its way to dark by the time we threw our rope rock many times, had to sacrifice a length of rope when our rock got stuck, and then finally got it hung and tied off. Outdoors people…yep.

Today was some of the most consistently fabulous riding of the trip. These Montana folks know how to take care of their trails. It’s a refreshing change after some of the neglected trails we’ve seen up until here.

Scott woke us up this morning. While I had a master plan of stalling until 10:30 so that we could get lunch at Boondock’s on the way out, Scott had plans of being on the road by 8. We compromised with 9:30.

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We retraced our steps for three miles out to Yale-Kilgore road where we turn left, up into the Centennial Mountains. It was a 10 mile, flat approach which was perfect for warming up. And then up. Scott had promised a lot of climbing. We braced ourselves for hike-a-bike.

But the jeep road climbed nicely and a nice tail breeze cooked us but kept us moving along. Soon it was back onto the CDT.

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“I think that’s our carsonite over there,” Scott pointed to a field of flowers.

“Where?”

I felt blind for a good while, the enormous flowers obstructing my view of the post. We headed towards it, finding a faint trail through the dense cover of flowers. Purples, reds, yellows, whites, completely off the hook. Colorado flowers on steroids. While the trails existence/lack of existence left something to be desired, we were moving.

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Brother Bear caught us as we were having lunch. He was the first one to really pick up on what we were doing quickly. “So instead of doing the dirt road route, you’re doing the trail.”

Sometimes it’s nice to be understood.

After lunch, during which we discovered our tortillas were moldy (yeah, major bummer), we headed up. Knowing we were going alpine, we got ready to hike. But the trail crested a small hill and turned into beautiful switchbacks down. Scott rode them all. I rode all the lefthand ones.

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And we continued to climb. While riding our bikes. The entire way. Well, almost the entire way for me. When the trail crossed a rock pile, they’d built it into a nature trail. It was super-duper awesome. So rideable, in fact, that we ended up nearly catching Brother Bear. Catching a hiker on a climb – unheard of for us.

We chatted for a bit. We all agreed that the trail near Lionshead was perfectly built, both for bikes and hikers. Turns out, we all like the same types of trails.

We left him to his snacks and topped out on the hill. Holy wowsa, what a view!

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We descended an overgrown mining road for miles before turning off onto some more trail. It was bumpy…like sever your brain from your brain stem bumpy, I don’t care how much suspension you have, but still, simply stellar riding. Sun was shining. We were loving life.

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We chose to take the “old” CDT which would have taken us to water sooner than the “new” and signed CDT. There was no water. We were, for all practical purposes, out (Scott still had a small bottle’s worth). We searched, we walked, we returned back to our bikes.

Maybe the next four miles to water will be easy.

They were! Montana CDT, you sure know how to woo a girl.

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We found water in a good sized stream with a wonky bridge over it. All you can drink cold water! Stoked. We ate a danish to celebrate.

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We rode more amazing trail, finding a giant patch of raspberries on the side of the trail. Our off-tune singing kept the bears away as we stuffed our bellies. This is living! More trail brought us to a trailhead and sign in book. Trail Dog and Marmot, who we’d seen last in Pie Town had been there earlier in the day. The hunt is on!

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We rode up to Auldous Lake on yet more good trail (pinch me, the bottom has to fall out from this eventually) and had dinner while being watched over by a bald eagle. We kept telling it to do something cool, but it just watched us from across the lake.

Another 15 minutes of riding brought us to camp. A full moon is watching over us. Tomorrow, another 40 ish miles of trail to get us close to the highway to Lima, then hopefully a nero day into town. That’s the plan at least.


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CDT Day 78 – Lakeside Lodge Layover

Yeah. I screwed my day count up. I’m good at math.

We woke up the lovely Lakeside Lodge with a roof over our heads and warm, indoor air surrounding us. Unfortunately, Scott woke up with a debilitating headache. The kind that makes you nauseous and not want to get out of bed. I’m blaming it on dehydration…because if he did as dismal of a job at drinking in the rain as I did…well, bodies weren’t well hydrated.

I’m game for anything, I told him. The room isn’t too expensive, there’s plenty of work posted for me to do, and we have a hell of a view from the room.

He tossed and turned until half an hour before checkout.

Okay, I’ll go get the room for another night. The weather looked potentially crummy for the afternoon anyhow.

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This place is awesome. I’m not sure what the story is with it, but it’s run by maybe five people, all of who act as bar tenders, motel front desk, waiters, and fish guides. The closed sign is always up, Rowdy the dog wanders everywhere, and all in all, the service is dismal, but the people are awesome. Almost like a serve-yourself lodge.

I finally tracked someone down, the youngin’ of the group, with Rowdy the Dog in tow and told him that we’d like to stay another night.

“Ummm…okay. Can you come back at dinner time to pay?”

“Sure.”

I love this place.

Scott eventually got his headache under control enough to pedal to the nearest establishment serving lunch, five miles away. We found some ATV shortcuts and had a lovely ride through the woods.

Lunch was at another lodge (how has Colorado not caught onto this Lodge idea? It’s great!). The salads fresh and flavorful.

Me: Montana does salads way better than Wyoming.

Scott: We’re in Idaho.

Aren’t I dating a smarty-pants.

To make up for our extra day of snacking (and the entire box of Chips Ahoy cookies we’d eaten), we resupplied again at the gas station and headed back.

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When we got sick of working, we decided swimming in the lake was the correct answer. There was a trampoline on the water that you could swim out to and we spent the better part of an hour bouncing around, jumping in to the water, and lazing in the sun.

Bike touring = awesome. Hanging out in cool places found while bike touring = even more awesome.

Dinner was eaten. Final touches on work finished. Tomorrow we lock and load. Big-ish peaks await! As does Lima Bean Town.

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