The Swan Crest trail was described to us as the following: The best kept secret in Montana, Awesome trail, You should do the full 50+ miles, and interestingly enough, as Right up your alley.
I’d just like to make it clear, once and for all, I don’t like hike-a-bike. I’m willing to hike-a-bike in order to get to cool places, but when someone describes a trails to me as Amazing, the last thing I think is “Ooooh, that must mean that there’s a bunch of hike-a-bike, because I LOVE hike-a-bike.”
I tolerated lots of it on the CDT proper, but once off the CDT and just riding bonus trail, I had no patience for it whatsoever. I think it’s like when you think that your kid is cute and not gross but everyone else’s kid has all sorts of nasty germs and spit-ups, etc. Not that I have a kid, but so I’m told. The CDT was our kid.
The day started idyllically in our fairy-land B&B. Breakfast, a little bit of internet time, the confirmation from some other guests that we really were near the end of our trip.
We rolled out around 9:30 after the sun had sufficiently warmed our surroundings. A store less than a mile down the highway lured us in with the promise of a second breakfast and a few more trail snacks. Donuts, yogurt, and coconut water filled the bellies and we were off.
We rejoined the GDMBR a few miles down the highway.
“Mostly flat,” is how Scott remembered the section. I remembered hilly, but apparently I can’t remember 10+ mile sections from when I raced the route, so I didn’t really trust my memory.
It was hilly, with an 800 foot climb thrown in for good measure. Sort of how I remembered it. Instead of cruising 10 miles on the highway, we rode 26 of dirt roads that didn’t really have a flat yard to them. We were still glad we did, that highway was high-speed and scary.
We crossed over the highway at Fatty Creek and stopped for lunch. 12:40 and we were just getting ready to start a 3,100 foot climb up to the trailhead of Swan Crest. I was skeptical. I voiced my concerns a ways up the climb, “So, we’re climbing 3,100 feet to ride 13 miles of trail.” And then later on, “This trail had better be good because this climb is going on forever.” My motivator was sputtering, but turning around isn’t something that we’ve ever done.
We got to the top at 3:30, nearly 2.5 hours after we left our lunch spot. “So 13 miles of trail, at best we’ll get to the descent at 6:30,” I mentioned. “Hopefully it’s fast trail, maybe it’ll only take us two hours.” We really wanted to get to Swan Lake to put a roof over our heads for the night.
It started delightfully, deep woods, duffy trail, contouring, yeah singletrack.
You know where this is going, don’t you? Never, ever trust the first mile of a trail.
It shot up. My attitude shot down. This is absurd. I could be drinking a beer in Swan Lake right now. The trail climbed, and climbed, and I walked and I walked. We broke tree line to amazing views but I found myself suffering from what I call “Mary Syndrome.”
“I’ve seen beautiful. I’ve ridden amazing trail. I really just want to be in town right now with my legs up and a hot meal in my belly.” (Those who’ve seen Ride the Divide understand the reference.) It’s not a good mental place to be in, as no matter how amazing the trail is, or how mind-blowing the views are, fun is not being had. No one is immune, except for Scott, I’ve never seen him not having fun riding his bike.
We continued hiking, me making snide comments the whole way, “Best-kept secret, eh? If I wanted to hike-a-bike this much, I’d go and ride the CDT.”
We stopped on a local high point and I sat down. Finished. Doneski.
“Want to go back?”
“There’s a trail 2.5 miles from here that we can bail on if it looks good.”
“I didn’t climb 3,000 feet to ride 2.5 miles of trail.”
“If you’re not having fun, then we should consider it.”
Scott is always rational. Occasionally maddeningly ration and level headed.
“Whatever. By the way, I’m out of water.”
“There’s a lake in 6 miles.”
We kept riding. The trail didn’t improve. More hiking than riding for me, a fairly even split for Scott.
We got to the turn off, three miles in from the road. “It looks beat in, let’s try it,” we decided.
A quarter mile in and 15 downed trees later, we turned around and hiked back up. We looked both directions. We knew backwards was going to suck, onwards. We made it a mile. “This sucks. It’s more hiking than riding,” Scott was the first to crack.
“That hasn’t stopped us this far,” I thought I was so clever.
“But this is extra credit trail. This is supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.”
We turned around. Maybe it was my state of mind, but the trail wasn’t that much fun going downhill either. We popped out at the trailhead and found a group of mountain bikers camped there getting ready to do a shuttled ride in the morning.
“Where are you parked?” they asked.
We explained what we were doing. That we’d used up all of our BS points. That the trail was hike-a-bikey and no one had mentioned that to us. They gave us some water and asked where we were going for the night.
“Swan Lake if it doesn’t get too dark on us.” They told us of a campground at the bottom of the road if it did.
It did. At 8:20, after descending forever, we hit the campground. 12 more miles of riding on a fast highway in the dark to hope that there’s a cabin open and there’s someone there, or camp.
We opted for camp.
I’m feeling pretty defeated, not just by the trail, but because I completely fell apart up there. It never feels good to have a bad attitude, but I am so over BS trail at this point in my life that I can’t even put it into words. We finished the damn CDT, why couldn’t we just ride the GDMBR and have a victory lap to the finish?
Because we like riding trail. That’s why. And I’m sure that when the sun comes up in the morning, it’ll all just seem like a bad dream and Canada won’t seem as far away as it does right now.