Monday, 12 December 2016

Getting High in Colorado

After a rest day most would think you would be energised and ready for a big day. Sometimes it works, but often the reverse happens. Today was a shocker. At the time I chalked it up to the first day traveling alone in over 2 months, but that only accounts for my motivation. The whole day I just felt lethargic.

Soon after leaving Steamboat Springs I caught up to Catherine on a recumbent, out cycling indefinitely apparently, we soon parted ways. Later in the day I went looking for water and found Rick and Tom, who I'd last seen in Atlantic City. With plenty of daylight left I would usually have pushed on, but I had no willpower so I setup camp.

I awoke to the sound of Rick and Tom moving out. My energy level hadn't changed from the previous day, and an early feet soak fording a creek followed by a less than relaxing descent were enough to bring on an early lunch. Things picked up once I caught and passed Rick and Tom, and I was fully cured after an exciting, high speed descent.

Once again I went looking for water and got invited over by a group of campers. Feeling great I made the unusual decision to call it a day despite the early hour, but I just had a good feeling about this group. I got chatting to Nick, an instructor for disabled skiers. It was great hearing about people who are remaining active, when so many able bodied people remain sedentary.

My R&R afternoon paid off and I felt amazing. A frosty morning slowed me a little but some sun and a good climb up Ute Pass set me up nicely. At the top I got chatting with Rich, out for a ride up and back home, and we rolled down the hill and into Silverthorn together. The descent included amazing views of the Gore range, but some gusty cross winds at the bottom made for nervous riding. After lunch at Rich's place I continued along on some nice bike paths, where I caught and passed Rick and Tom, for the last time.

I still had a significant climb ahead, my highest pass to date (3500m, 11,500ft). This climb turned out to be a very pleasant ride, once the traffic dropped off anyway. The day was getting on, but the old rail bed provided a consistent, easy grade. Towards the top, at 11,500ft (3500m) I was starting to feel a bit short of breath, which could have been the altitude, but fatigue probably played its part. 

After having a look at the old buildings at the top I started my search for a campsite, finding one just a little down the hill. This was my first time camped above 3000m. I got rugged up, expecting a cold night, but despite camping well higher than the previous night it was significantly warmer.

First thing in the morning was a descent. This wouldn't be the last time the early descent was unpleasant. Scattered light made it difficult to dodge rocks so I had a bumpy ride. I started the day with just snacks for breakfast, hoping for a meal from the town at the base of the descent. I was to be disappointed, having to wait another 2.5 hours until I reached Hartsel for a burger and beer.

After a long stop in Hartsel, where I managed to pull off and partially fix a zipper on my frame bag I got going. The ride continued along a surface that ranged from good fast rolling to rocky, with some sand mixed in for variety. Eventually I started the climb up to the watershed, with only one steep pinch to troubled me. I found a flat spot at the top and got myself sorted for the night.

A frosty morning greeted me, and another tricky descent followed, dodging rocks in bad light. I had to drag my eyes away from the amazing views of the Sawatch Range, my first sight of Colorado's "14ers". Further down I passed through rocky gullies before entering Salida.

Salida was a cool town, a major base for mtb'ers. After lunch a bit further along in Poncha Springs I started climbing to Marshal Pass. Describing this as a long climb is an understatement, a headwind further extending it. The generally easy gradient made it quite manageable though. Once I reached the gravel the problems with the wind was more due to dust, but any issues were far outweighed by stunning views.

I was enjoying the descent, a great surface and shelter from the wind making for a cruisy ride. The wind picked up making things tougher, and a puncture caused even more problems, but it was finding out that the place I was camping wasn't open for breakfast that really ruined my day! Oh and I found a broken spoke, but with the wheel still reasonably true I just ignored it.

Today was a day of dealing with weather. A cold start and a headwind slowed the morning, but a couple of changes in direction later and I was cruising along with a headwind, right into black clouds, again...

Reaching the top of a pass a bunch of bikers were setting up camp. A storm was coming and they had decided they didn't want to risk being out in it. I would have joined them, except I was running short on food so I pushed on. Some highway riding allowed for some good speed, but I almost came to grief when a pickup came around a wide open corner on my side of the road, swerving a few seconds before reaching me. Any longer and I would have ditched it to avoid the collision.

After that scare it was great to get onto the forestry roads again. With the storm still threatening I setup camp early. Some rain did come through, requiring a short stay in the tent but after the long build up it was a bit of a fizzer.

Waking up and feeling awesome I powered up Carnera Pass and enjoyed a cruisy descent down the other side. After a small climb up to a watershed I started down ever more primitive roads. Eventually I was down to some duel track, having a ball. Deep sand had me close to crashing a few times but it was more thrilling than scary. The final stretch into Del Norte was a bit of a drag, but I made it and the folks at the bike shop got working on my wheel, finding I had not one but two broken spokes, they were quite surprised at how well the wheel held up!

Around the time my bike was ready the wind picked up, big time. I was not going anywhere. Eventually decided on staying in a hostel, advertised for divide riders. I managed to reach it without getting blown over, grinning the whole time with how ridiculous the wind was. Inside I met Tim, another Divide cyclist. His experience of the sandy duel track was much less complementary.

In the morning I went and grabbed breakfast, seeing a couple just heading out of town, I suspected I'd see them a bit later. A long climb started the day. The highest pass along the route seemed as good as any point to end my Divide ride. I also wanted to head back north so it was also a pointless climb as well.

A long steady opening climb got me warmed up before the real climbing started. This climb slightly exceeded the gain of Boreas Pass, and was harder, but other than a few steeper spots it was just a matter of crusing up. towards the top I caught the cyclists from the morning, a French couple travelling with a baby. After a quick chat I continued on. I was starting to give up hope of catching Tim, but right at the top I saw him stopped enjoying the view.

I've mentioned riding towards bad weather a lot. Today I got to see the weather ahead and turn around. 4 hours to get up and 1.25 hours of fun to get down, only the occasional loose surface slowing me down.

After the big climb of the morning, nearly anything would appear flat, but the road ahead was about as flat as I'd had for months. Flat roads have often been synonymous with boring roads, but with stunning views and a tailwind I was enjoying myself. To begin with the wind had me cruising along at 25kmph, but a turn in the road had me cruising just under 30kmph. Approaching Saguache I started to tire, so I looked at places to stay. With no public land around my options were limited, so I dropped into a motel sort of thing. I was told they don't allow camping, but there was some forestry land "only" 10 miles away.

I was exhausted, but got on my bike anyway. Ignoring my fatigue the ride had been fun, and with the sun setting the scenery only got better. Off to the side I saw the smallest of forestry signs, and went down the path a bit to minimise the highway noises. With my tent being the tallest thing around distance was also my only cover. I managed to get set up with the light that was left and got to enjoy the sunset over dinner before I got some much needed sleep.

I awoke to silence. Switching to my road tyres I got on the road. Another fairly flat day, but with great views across the valley to mountain ranges, and a tailwind I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Poncha Pass was barely a climb from this side, and with decent grade down towards Poncha Springs and kind winds I was once again in Salida, in time for lunch.

The flat riding continued as I entered the Arkansas Canyon. I can imagine that this would make for an awesome mass participation ride route, but it with plenty of sections with no shoulder it wasn't particularly relaxing. It was pretty though. 10 miles in and I was getting bored of it. I was ecstatic when It ended, after 50 miles. After another long day I resorted to staying in an RV park. After the previous nights amazing spot, paying a ridiculous amount to be camped on gravel next to a family who spent a the evening yelling at the kids was a rude shock.

Approaching Colorado Springs I had no choice but to ride on boring, busy highways. Thankfully I was off the above highway early, heading north. The contrast of the mountains to my left and the flatlands to my right was at least interesting to see. With a tail wind once again I arrived at another Warmshowers host, Ryan and Elisha, very early. This should have given me plenty of time to prepare for the coming days, but once the kids (Jade, Dylan and Eva) got home I became the designated entertainer. I can't complain too much.

Much later than I'd have liked, and after dark I headed off to the supermarket. Along the way I nearly T-boned a deer. The surprises didn't end there, with a stranger buying my food for me!

The main reason for my detour back north was to climb a mountain. America's Mountain, Pikes Peak to be exact. Famous for a hill climb rally, it had captured my attention as soon as I started thinking about cycling the States. With an altitude gain of over 2000m its almost double my previous biggest climb, and to make it even more interesting the summit is at 4302m, over 14,000ft, so it would also be my first "14er".

I started my day early, slowly getting my things sorted for my climb. I only took what I thought I'd need, erring on caution for clothing as I was conscious of dramatic weather changes at altitude. With a lift from Ryan part of the way I begun climbing, at the low altitude of 1800m. The climbing started out easy. An unavoidable ride along the very narrow HWY 24 wasn't too bad, but it definitely made for a nervous start. Soon enough I turned onto the Pikes Peak Toll Rd.

The gradient kicked up and I settled in for a long ride. I wouldn't stop climbing for another 4 hours. Early on the scenery was nothing spectacular. Signs warning of Big Foot gave me a smile, and as if I didn't already know it, I was also reminded of exactly how far up I had to go.

Eventually I passed above the treeline to reveal stunning views. I was frequently stopping, purely to take photos. Seeing the road wind its way up the mountain for miles beneath me was amazing. As I ascended the wind started to pick up, a nasty bite to it was enough for me to feel it, despite my exertion.

Towards the top my photo stops became a good excuse to catch my breath. Everyone I'd talked to had mentioned that no matter your fitness the climb from 13,000ft sucked. At 10% for the final 3km the climb is significant, but after such a long climb, and with a lack of oxygen it becomes as much as you can handle. I was thankful for my touring gearing, but even so I had to be careful with my efforts as even short stints of higher power took a long time to recover from. The road just kept disappearing into the sky ahead of me, but eventually, after tonnes of encouragement from drivers I rounded the corner to find a car park full of people.

I rugged up, and took the obligatory photo, having a chuckle at all the people also taking photos most of whom had just clambered out of a car. A couple of world famous donuts and a coffee later and I was ready for the descent. The descent was nothing short of stunning. Passing cars is always fun. I'm pretty sure I had a grin on my face the entire time, at least when I didn't have to concentrate on the many switchbacks. Unfortunately the descent is broken up by a few climbs. I nearly overheated due to my many layers. At the bottom I had a chat to another cyclist who'd done the climb, he was waiting on some friends to arrive, who I'd wizzed passed near the top.

I cruised back to Colorado Springs, a few small hills providing the last bit of challenge but I arrived back feeling amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate 100 days of cycling.

Leaving Colorado Springs the next day was an extended process. Eventually I headed off and took a look at the Garden of the Gods, a park with some amazing rock formations. Soon after that my fun ended. I should have been able to follow a bike path practically to the door of another Warmshowers host, but google thought otherwise and took me along busy roads with tricky navigation. I was exhausted when I rolled up to a warm welcome, including beer!

Denver was the last destination on this leg of the trip. I also had a place to stay thanks to Joe. He'd even promised to have a working shower for my arrival! My ride into Denver couldn't have been any more different to the previous days ride. A great surface and minimal traffic got me rolling along nicely, and a tailwind and a steady decline all day made it even better. Eventually though I was onto a more busy road with the old disappearing shoulder trick, but just as I was tiring off the traffic I was onto bikepaths. These were great, and I was able to cruise along at a great pace. Towards the end I ran into crowds heading to a Broncos match, but soon enough I was through and a few suburban streets later I was rolling into Joe's place.

I planned staying a few nights here, with rest and another small hill to climb on the agenda. Pikes Peak may be America's Mountain, but Mt Evans is America's highest sealed road, so I thought I may as well climb it!

After a rest day I got a lift to the base with Joe's partner, Whitney, on the way to work, I never felt great climbing, so even  with a max gradient equal to the average of Pikes Peak I was much slower. The road quality to the half way point was great, but after that surface degraded. The upside was that there was next to no-one else around. I only saw a couple of dozen cars.

Just like Pikes Peak the real fun begun when the trees dropped away. The day was significantly grayer, reducing the visibility, but it was still spectacular. From Summit lake the road was closed to cars, and any semblance of maintenance disappeared as well. This was also where I started to feel the effects of altitude. Right near the top, unlike Pikes Peak, I had some adverse effects, a mild headache and shortness of breath, but not enough to worry me.

Reaching the top I was greeted by Mountain Goats. The contrast to Pikes Peak was astounding, gone was the cafe and hundreds of people. The place had all signs removed or boarded up, and I only saw one person. I took a short walk up to the summit before starting the descent. Unlike Pikes Peak I saw a handful of cyclists heading up. The descent down to the halfway point was a little bumpy, definitely not as fun as Pikes Peak. Descending Squaw Pass started off really cruisy, before tightening up enough for me to get my lean on.

Fatigue was setting in, but with mostly descending along very pretty canyon roads I managed fine. I arrived back to Joe's exhausted, needing a nap before getting my things sorted for the final leg of the trip.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A Changing of the Guard

My solo traveling didn't last long.

A nice easy ride, albeit cold brought me to Wise River. Being the last grocery store for a few days I restocked, and as I had a day or so mostly sealed roads I went to pump up my tyres. I'd left my pump in Butte...

Isobel was still in Butte and managed to get it shipped ahead of me. Whilst this was being sorted out Joe, a cyclist from Denver rolled up. Thinking it would be a good idea to have company until I was reunited with my pump I hung around. Joe would end up being my 2nd long term riding partner.

With the wind picking up we were expecting an unpleasant ride, but for the most part it was manageable. Down the other side of a pass we ended up with a great tailwind. Our camp for the night was behind stone large bushes across a stream.

Hearing about a bridge out gave us a choice: do we risk a well over 60 mile backtrack or do we take the easy way out taking the much more direct, and flat route. We decided to chicken out. We later heard from several people that it was only being repaired, with ample space for pedestrians and cyclists.

With our choice made we got to enjoy a nice tailwind on very good roads. We made really good time, but with the Lima post office closed we had to stay a night to pick up my pump. In camp there were a few cyclists, including 3 Belgians who we would be leapfrogging the next day.

Having done a lot of short days I was looking forward to a big one. Today was a perfect day with a fairly flat profile. An early start with breakfast in town and a stop at the post office and we were off, slightly ahead of the Belgians.

The morning was incredibly still, amazing cycling conditions. Wide open views were great. Unfortunately the open landscape made the afternoon winds tough. Variable road surface including a few sandy and rocky sections didn't help.

The mostly flat ride had plenty of undulations, but there was a small pass ahead. And it actually was very small, just after 70 miles it had a very nasty sting.

One of the main reasons for the big day was a warmshowers place waiting in Island Park. I never met Travis but his Man Cave was a great place to spend the night.

Later another couple of cyclists showed up, out on the Trans Am route. Over the last few days we'd heard about fires in Yellowstone that cut off our route. These other cyclists had also been forced to detour, but resorted to hiring a car. They had strong warnings about the pass we needed to take, but being divide cyclists a paved road is not overly scary.

Both myself and Joe woke up feeling really tired. An extremely late start was in order. After casually watching Ride the Divide (a Tour Divide doco) we headed off.

The main route was meant to include deep volcanic soil so we decided on the alternate route. To start with we had extremely fast surface but as the road pitched up it turned slow and sandy. The upside was we were riding in a forest after days of barren landscape.

The climb dragged on. The start of the paved road was the signal that the hard work was done. There was even a technical descent to enjoy.

The technical descending continued in the morning. Eventually though we reached the plains. The wind picked up, but it was the rolling hills causing the major hurdle.

We stopped for a snack and got chatting with a couple of bikepackers out for a few days. They mentioned that there was a fire ahead, just passed were we planned to camp.

With no good camping options nearby I turned to warmshowers, and within a few minutes we were on our way to Mary and Brad's, a keen cycling and climbing family. A great evening followed.

Joe had been riding with a Bob trailer and hated the experience. Whilst in a bikeshop (Fitzgeralds in Victor) to fix a loose bottom bracket of mine he decided to take the plunge and go full bikepacking style. This was a long process but more than worthwhile, for both of us.

While this was going on we had a good chat with various people, including Jay Petervary, a previous record holder for the Tour Divide.

With Joe's transformation complete we headed to Teton Pass, what the trans am cyclists had warned us about. Turned out to be about as hard as I thought, although to their credit the side they drove up was significantly steeper.

From the top we had an incredibly fun, technical descent with some serious braking required, and it was a bikepath!

With the detour taking us well away from the route we decided to cut a few days off and head straight towards Pinedale.

Bypassing Jackson on bikepath was a very pleasant experience. Eventually though we had to leave the bikepath. With Joe able to do some work on the front and a tailwind we made great time, eventually finding a camp spot up a gravel road.

A cold morning turned to a hot day far too quickly. Working together we made excellent time, although we could both feel the strain. The riding through the Hoback canyon was great, although a disappearing shoulder made riding annoying.

Warmshowers for the night was great, and another rest day was much needed. I made Sticky Date pudding one night (it seemed to go down well), and our hosts had Elk burgers for us which were great!

During the day we had met 3 other divide cyclists, Alan and 2 Dutch guys called Bram.

The day out of Pinedale was amazing. The vast majority of the ride was either on sealed roads, or gravel roads nicer than a lot of sealed roads.

Early on we caught Alan who mentioned the Brams were ahead, our long range carrots. After  catching the Brams we had lunch together, before we pulled ahead,  only to be caught whilst chatting to 2 cyclists doing a bit of a doco. From what I heard later these guys were woefully under prepared, although they did manage The Basin. After losing a lot of time we continued on.

After dinner at a rest area we decided to push on into the night to a wild camp marked on the map. This was incredibly nice riding. Ending the day feeling satisfied was much nicer than feeling drained after reaching the Man Cave.

Carrying a few days of food is not unusual. The Great Divide Basin is the first stretch where water is a big concern.

The normal course of action is to camp passed Atlantic City at Diagnus Well and do the ride to the next water source well rested. This would have meant finishing the day well before lunch though so we were a bit more ambitious.

An early ride into Atlantic City for breakfast set us up nicely for a big day. Just as we were leaving Rick and Tom turned up. They were planning on camping at Diagnus so we said goodbye.

Climbing out of Atlantic City with 7l of water was painful, it would have been smarter to wait until Diagnus before stocking up.

After leaving Diagnus Well we had 57 miles to the next water source. Water was all the motivation we needed. The terrain was not kind on us, although it was beautiful in a rugged way. Thankfully the surface was generally good, although a few sandy and loose gravel sections kept us on our toes.

We had a bit of wind but it was never a problem. That, along with a manageable heat is about as good as we could hope for.

The day had been dragging on so when we reached A&M reservoir we were relieved. There were even a whole bunch of cyclists with SAG support, which meant beer and some great food! Along with this group was Joy and Sammie who I'd last seen before Helena.

In the morning the others had gone by the time we were ready, providing plenty of carrots to chase down. After a short bit of gravel we were onto the sealed section. This made for quick travel but regular cracks made for tiring riding. We reeled in most of the riders, before catching the rest when they stopped at the start of the climb to the divide.

An easy ride up and over and we were in Rawlins for lunch. After a big Thai lunch neither of us were feeling particularly energetic so we decided on a motel in town.

Whilst out shopping we met a couple going northbound. They seemed very happy with their snack size icecream until we both pulled out our pint tubs.

The biggest thing for the day was picking up my replacement mat from the post office that Exped had sent, after my multiple baffle failures. I can be comfortable again! 

A late start coupled with a bad headwind made for a tiring day. We couldn't even draft properly as the surface was too rough.

The roads were unusually busy. Today was the friday before Labour day weekend, as well as the start of bow hunting season. 

Looking back at one point I noticed a big storm towards Rawlins. As the day progressed it seemed to be closing in, despite the strong headwind. Thankfully we were spared getting wet.

Overnight however we had a nice light show, with the lightning not far off at all. My tent held up nicely so I stayed dry.

Rain and hail dampened our mood early, and the headwinds made an otherwise easy day drag. Entering Colorado was the start of really being in the mountains again, which made up for the conditions.

The most relieving sight was rounding a corner to see the Brush Mountain Ranch, a trail famous place run my Kristen. Woodfired pizza and beer went down nicely, as did a shower and bed. The conversation wasn't bad either.

Rain in the morning was not a good way to wake up. It did clear and after a great breakfast we were off. Sticky mud greeted us, mercilessly short thankfully. Another front came through bringing with it more hail.

A bit of hike a bike and we were at the top of the watershed. The climb was to be the pleasant part of the pass. Extremely rocky roads along with wet and cold conditions made for extremely unpleasant riding.

After one final front we were onto much nicer roads. After the shocking descent we felt much better. 

Making the day much more manageable was knowing we had a place to stay in town. Kathy, an old schoolmates mum had offered a place at The Victorian luxury B&B, so after dinner in town we made our way up to the ski field.

I had had a quick look to see what the place was like, but even so I was impressed. An old Victorian building made for a very interesting place to stay. We chatted with some other guests before heading to bed.

Being a B&B the was breakfast in the morning made by Jane, one of the great staff. Throughout the morning people slowly trickled out, including Joe who only had 2 days of riding left.

Staying in that place completely alone made me realise I have no interest in living with so much space.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Being Divided

After the rain delay it felt great to be moving again. The day out of Whitefish was almost all sealed, allowing for our first 60 mile divide day. Early on we caught the two B's, who had overtaken us during our extended rest. Whilst we waited out the rain it sounded like they had a few miserable days.

My chain broke, and whilst fixing it a couple of dogs came to say hi. 2 miles later one was still following. Eventually we lost them. The day ended with a big climb followed by a fun descent.

A 2nd day of 60miles was much tougher. Gravel does that. Some great cycle trails made it much more interesting. One oncoming car passing within 1m reinforced my love of quiet roads. 

We'd been aiming for a lake to camp. It seemed like many others had the same idea. One group in particular was noteable as it sounded like one guy was talking to himself, as he was the only one audible, from 50m away.

After an early puncture we had a small warmup hill before a big climb. The top part of the hill was singletrack. The climb was fun, the descent even better. 

After a lot of descending we reached Seally Lake, where a large amount of ice cream was consumed. A short ride out of town and we had some peace and quiet for the night. 

An easy, very pleasant ride in morning brought us to Ovando, where we enjoyed brunch. Rolling hills and very dry terrain with mountains all around made for nice scenery. 

The rolling hills ended at the base of Huckleberry Pass where a long, but not difficult climb brought us to yet another lake, this time mostly deserted. That is except for a very brave deer. 

My bike is far from what's recommended: no suspension and skinnier tyres. Even so it has been handling the ride fine. Setting up a bike for this I would definitely go for wider tyres. Today was the first time I wished for suspension as well.

The early part of the ride was nice and pleasant. Then the steep, rocky stuff began. A series of ramps had me near my limit, and when the grade became sustained I somehow managed to maintain enough momentum to continue up over some large rocks. 

Reaching the top was a relief, but we didn't have anytime to relax. An extremely rocky descent made for a very unpleasant ride, patchy shadow made it even tougher. We took breaks just to give our hands a rest. 

At the bottom of the hill was Barbara's cabin, with the resident Llamas. Barbara has been hosting Divide cyclists for years. If I were to do this again I would consider taking a rest day and just chilling. Wifi definitely helps.

Also staying the night were Joy and Sammie. Later in the evening we met Barbara, reinforcing my desire to be back sometime. 

Once you enter this valley they make it hard to leave. The first obstacle was pancakes in the morning. After that was a tough climb, not as bad as the previous day though. 

Later in the day we had a much easier climb, due to easy gradient and a nice tailwind. It seems like the pass sign is popular for people other than cyclists. 

During the descent my pannier fell off, well it detached and dangled by a secondary strap anyway. I managed to come to a halt with only a few scuff marks on the pannier as evidence. 

After the few rough descents the coast into Helena on the hwy was very relaxing. 
What wasn't so relaxing was my credit card being denied at the supermarket. A quick look at my account showed a large amount of charges not by me. Somewhere along my travels my card had been skimmed. Thankfully I've been under budget so I have enough money to see me back to LA. More importantly I had a second card linked to the account so no downtime waiting for a replacement.

With all this going on, and a very nice warmshowers place to stay it was easy to take a rest day.  

Leaving Helena was a long process. Eventually we managed it. Isobel had yet another puncture and whilst fixing it Paul, a Tasmanian cyclist on a fat bike rolled up. I later found out later he had a motor.

Isobel had been feeling really bad. After lunch she slept for a good hour and felt much better for it. Unfortunately the easy part of the day was done. 

Lava Mountain awaited us. The lower slopes were easy enough, and very scenic. The top however was described as a steep 4wd track. They failed to mention the bike swallowing ruts and rocky streambed. 

1.5 hours of pushing and we had covered only 2 miles. A tough descent followed. Finding water was our trigger for setting up camp, just before a storm rolled in. 

Zero degrees Celsius in the morning made for a sluggish start. While packing up Jerry and Al who we'd last seen in Whitefish rolled in. We would catch up to them surprisingly quickly, a bit less surprisingly when we found out one of them had non existent organic disk pads and no spares. A puncture allowed them to catch us again.

With our late start we decided on a shorter alternative route to Butte. Not the most interesting riding but very relaxing. Along the way we caught up to Jim, a motorcyclist doing the divide route. We'd been leapfrogging each other over the last week or so. 

A 'screaming' descent (boring) brought us into Butte where we once again caught Jim, before heading to a warmshowers place for the night. 

Running errands took some time, then I noticed another flat tyre. With that fixed we were off. 

We didn't even get out of town before we lost even more time chatting to a British father/daughter pair cycling northbound. We rolled on another hundred metres and stopped to chat with Jerry and Al again.

Thankfully we only had a short day planned, up to Highland Pass. Paul the fat biker caught up and headed down the hill to camp. 

With plenty of time to spare we hiked up the short distance to the summit beforeenjoying the sunset. 

Today was the last day of my 7 weeks travelling with Isobel. I don't plan my trips with other people as I would find it very tough to find someone with similar wants. Meeting Isobel has changed my trip dramatically, and any compromise I took was more than worth it.

The fork in the road was just at the bottom of the hill, so we were both in no hurry to get going in the morning. At the bottom we had a long goodbye, before Isobel headed back to Butte, and I continued on alone, for the first time in a long time. 

An entirely avoidable hill called Fleecer Ridge awaited me. This is one section that is often talked about. Not because the climb is difficult, although it is, but because of the descent.

The recommended way to get down is to zigzag down through the sage, as the track itself heads straight down the side of the ridge, with loose gravel making traction a huge issue. I didn't zigzag too much but it definitely took more effort going down than it took going up the other side. 

A nice campsite at the base was to be the start of my time traveling solo again.