For a number of years, my friend Tom has been trying to get a group of people to come back to his native Montana with him for a week of riding. There had been a number of attempts to put a group together, but they never worked out for various reasons. When the discussion came around in winter of 2013, I decided that committing to the trip was a good thing to do. A few days of riding on the GDMBR would allow me to gauge my climbing fitness, help remove some of anxiety about the route conditions, and let me discover how remote things really were. After getting an additional commitment from our friend Joe, we decided that it would just be the three of us for the week. This would simplify travel, and, due to vacation allowances, allow us seven days of riding.
Fast forward a few months, and while many of our friends were preparing to leave for RAGBRAI, we loaded three guys and three bikes into Joe's Toyota pickup and headed west around 4 PM on a Thursday evening. The plan was to take shifts driving and sleeping and make the drive to Columbia Falls, MT in one straight shot. Thinking ahead a bit, I opted to take the first leg, so I could drive when it was light, and so I could get two shifts worth of sleep in a row. The drive was, thankfully, uneventful. We made it to the WY/MT border on I-90 around 4 AM or so, stopped for coffee and breakfast in Bozeman, then took a side trip in Butte, so I could see where the Outdoorsman Bike Shop was, as well as do some sightseeing at The Berkeley Pit and through the hills outside of town. Afterwards, we kept heading west, making our way to Missoula for a good lunch and a couple of beers, along with a stop at The Adventure Cycling Association headquarters, where we were able to meet with some of the people we had been conversing with via email and Twitter, as well as enjoy a free ice cream bar. Tom had been up since we had left Des Moines, and was starting to flag now that the caffeine was wearing off. Joe and I split driving duties heading north, taking a few minutes to stop and pick up some fresh cherries from a roadside stand. We rolled into the home of Tom's parents around 5 PM or so, ordered some pizza for dinner and had a couple of drinks before going to bed.
On Saturday morning, Tom's dad drove us from Columbia Falls to Rooseville, MT where were unloaded our bikes, checked our tire pressure, and headed south on the GDMBR. We had rough idea of where we wanted to end up at the end of each day, but we were also smart enough to realize that things can change at any time, so we needed to be flexible with our planned schedule. We ran into an ACA tour group as they were crossing the border, and as they rode by one of the riders shouted y name out as they passed by, causing both Tom and Joe to give me a weird look. It turned out that this was a gentleman that I had been talking to via email earlier in the summer, and he had just happened to cross the border at this time. I had told him to look for a bike with a bright white frame bag, and he had managed to spot me. We chatted with the group for a bit after we caught up to them at the edge of Eureka, with a number of them making comments about how lightly we were loaded up for our trip. Many of them were pulling trailers or had panniers, so the comments made some sense. After a somewhat long stop in Eureka for lunch, we started riding in earnest, hoping to make Red Meadow Lake before nightfall. We rode over the first long climb, to Whitefish Divide, not too long after leaving Eureka, and I was already worried about how my legs were going to be the rest of the week. I was really hurting by the time we got to the top, and I was glad to stop and take some photos, as well as use my water filter for the first time. There was still snow at the top of the pass, and the fresh sawdust was evidence that the road had only just been cleared. We descended off the pass and through an area of burned out forest, and, after a few hours, began the climb to Red Meadow Lake. It turns out that Whitefish Divide was only a warmup. The climb to Red Meadow Lake was longer, and finish steeper than our earlier climb. However, a few hours of riding had given me time to sort out my climbing pace and gearing, and I was able to get to the top of this climb feeling less worked over. We camped at the lake that night, taking the time to chat with some other people camped there, including a couple of people who were riding solo tours of the route. The mosquitos were extremely fierce, so I opted to turn in early and get a good night's rest, while Tom and Joe continued to talk and share a beverage or two with the other campers.