Zen On Dirt

CDT Day 76 – Best-est trail of the trip. Worst-est rain of the trip.

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Today was a tale of two rides. One, a ripping awesome trail with 19 climbing switchbacks and 49 descending switchbacks, and two, getting completely shellacked by rain and hail only to find all the rooms in Island Park completely booked for the night.


The day started out divine. A traversing trail through meadows of flowers. Idyllic. Then a climb. Ridable. Through enchanted forests. And then the switchbacks. On the seventh, Scott cleared the turn but not the rocks after.

“5 of 7,” he called out the score.

“You can’t count that one. You didn’t ride away from it cleanly!”

“But my bike was straight when I didn’t make the ledge. I made the turn.”

“Doesn’t count,” I insisted.

“Fine, 4 of 7.”

Next switchback, the turn went smoothly. Aha, I’m just need to make it over these rocks and I’ll ride away clean.

And then I stalled, and tipped, and didn’t get unclipped and suddenly was back down on the bottom half of the switchback. My bike, which had stayed clipped to my outside foot during the acrobatics went flying. And I mean flying. It landed with one of those crashes you never want to hear your bike make.

“What happened?” Scott yelled back down.

“I tipped over?”

I pulled the bike up fearing the worst. Aside from a small scratch, my body seemed unscathed. A look over discovered a bent front rotor and a completely smashed GPS screen. While I was bumming at first (what a stupid, expensive crash) it really is sort of the least expensive thing on my bike, and as far as continuing on this trip, completely expendable.

I quit the switchback challenge there.


We had a snack at the top, straightened the rotor out, and started down.

All I can say is: This needs to be on everyone’s bucket list to ride. The trail drops from 10,000 down to about 7,000 via 49 beautifully constructed switchbacks. Huge fields of flowers, beautiful views, real deal mountain biking. The Montana mountain bike crew had logged it out just last week so it didn’t have a single tree down. What a treat.


At the bottom, the trail continued climbing and contouring over to Raynold’s Pass. On the other side of the pass, the trail disappeared, but that’s okay, because really, what’s a day of CDT riding if you have trail the whole time? Luckily, it was only a mile or two of BS before we emerged on a nice road, which, while uphill, was a big improvement over bush-biking.

We were loving life right up until 50 feet before we crested the final pass. That’s when the rain started. At first, it didn’t seem like it would amount to much, but we still put jackets on. And then the skies unleashed. Torrential rain, hail. The dirt road had rivers going down it, rapids, washouts, full on road flooding. We were headed to Island Park to get a room, so we put our heads down and rode, we could dry our stuff out when we got there. Anyhow, we could see sunshine at Red Rocks Pass, we just had to get there.


We got soaked. It was comical. We looked like a pair of wet rats when we finally got down to the road, where sure enough, it wasn’t raining.

We rolled south on the Great Divide route to bypass a 3 mile Wilderness Study Area with a 38 mile detour.

“Hey, there’s a bike!” Someone was coming towards us.

“Doesn’t look loaded,” I observed.

Why would anyone ride out here not on the GDMBR?

Funnily enough, it turned out to be JayP leading the Fitzbarn bikepacking race that had started that morning. 100 miles in, he was headed into the storm that was building over the pass.

“We’re off to find a roof,” we told him.


We passed several other racers on our ride in, stopping to chat, telling them that the mud wasn’t too bad as far as the pass. I didn’t envy their weather forecast.

The second round of torrential rain started just before we pulled into the Sawtelle Resort, soaking us again.

“We’re booked,” they said.

They were then nice enough to call every motel and resort in the area. Not a single room anywhere. Scott’s sleeping bag was soaked. My extra clothes were soaked. We were cold and wet. It was pouring.

We spent the next hour calling around, trying everything from VRBOs to expensive resorts. Sleeping out would have sucked. Finally, a Sawtelle maintenance guy clued us into the Lakeside Lodge, 8 miles from town. Cheap room! Yeah! And 5 of those 8 miles were in the direction we wanted to go.


We resupplied for the 100 mile push to Lima and headed down the road under clearing skies and dry roads. We both wore our down jackets partially for warmth, partially to dry them out. Should have probably bagged them when it started to rain. Whoops.

Our little room here is lovely. There’s wi-fi. There’s a restaurant that served us dinner. And it’s frickin’ cold outside.

All’s well that ends well. And it’s definitely a day we won’t forget.


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