Long post. I know. So, let’s skip the formalities and bad puns and jump right into the good stuff — me messing stuff up.
Fortunately, I only had one significant hiccup this time around.
Day 13 - Pay it forward.
Day 13 was a short day. Just a 21-mile ride that would put me just in range to reach Helena the following day.
I opted for a short day for a few reasons. First, my legs felt like the Jell-O shots that I convinced Clemens to eat for the first time in his life (more on that later). Second, there were two massive hills that stood between me and Helena, and the idea of tackling both in one day seemed daunting. Last, and as I learned to be most important, there was an alpaca farm located smack dab in the middle of the two hills that offered free camping to Great Divide riders. One Great Divider told me it was a “must stop,” and boy, did it not disappoint.
As I exited the forest and entered the rolling farmlands, I found myself on top of a massive hill looking down over a house. On the roof was a giant painting of a cyclist in bright white, and as I approached, I could see signs along the farm’s fences that said things like “Stop Here Great Dividers!” and “Free Camping!”
I rolled up to the house and knocked on the door but no one answered. I saw a sign that said, “If we aren’t here, please help yourself to the mini fridge and make yourself at home out back.” Opening the mini fridge was like discovering a lost holy relic. I’m pretty sure I heard harps playing and choirs signing as my eyes laid sight on countless waters, sodas, beers, and sandwiches. Feeling like I was committing a crime, I snagged a sandwich and a chocolate milk (inner child) and made my way around back. What I saw was nothing short of incredible.
In a large gated field sat 6 small cabins. Each one had its own unique theme and came fully equipped with solar-powered lights, gas stoves, and more food than you could ever imagine. There were beds, potable water, and even a homemade shower that was constructed using bicycle parts. Walking around with no one there I felt like Ray Liotta (RIP) walking in the outfield at the Field of Dreams, but this time it wasn’t Iowa, it was an alpaca farm in nowhere Montana.
Eventually, the co-owner, John, arrived and showed me and a few other bikers around. John and his partner, Barbara, have been hosting Great Dividers for the past 20 years, and for the last 70 days, they’ve had at least one guest each night. They don’t ask for money. They don’t care for donations. Their philosophy is simply, “pay it forward.” Remember their generosity, and do the same for others on the trail. Oh, and they also had dogs, which was a huge plus.
Not to put a damper on the mood, but this night was a tad bittersweet. As I gazed upon stars I had never seen before in my life, Clemens, my camping buddy and new friend, told me that tomorrow would be his last day on the trail. Clemens had been battling an elbow injury for weeks and the riding was only making it worse. For his own health, he needed to stop in Helena.
Bummed as I was, I understood and thanked him for making the trek with me over the last few days. But I wasn’t letting him off easy. We were going to tear up the town and send him off with a proper goodbye.
Day 14 - Full Send
My arrival in Helena marked another major milestone for the trip. I had now completed the second section of the trail (out of the 6 total).
To celebrate (and having no ideal camping option) I spent a night in a cozy “mountain biker cabin” located near downtown Helena. Side note: it had the softest bed ever. After two weeks of sleeping on the ground, a hotel-quality bed was a dangerous temptation to sleep all day.
But I powered through and Clemens arrived shortly after. We then had a night out in the city to celebrate both of our accomplishments. Shout out to Kayden for giving us some tips on navigating Helena’s nightlife (or lack thereof).
While I was bummed to see the last of Clemens, the journey must continue.
Day 15 - Larry, Moe, & Curly
After I was settled in Helena, I did an inspection of my bike. The tread on Apollo’s tires was looking very thin and rust was starting to form on the chain due to the mix of wet and dry weather. So, I took my bike to the Great Divide Bike Shop (fitting eh?) to get it evaluated.
Within an hour, Apollo was fitted with brand-new tires and a shiny new chain. The owner also gave me some really solid advice on future bike maintenance and what I should be prepared for with the trail ahead.
Rolling out of the bike store, Apollo looked good — and I mean really good.
And when you look good, you play good, too. So, despite my late start, I felt confident I would get to my destination in no time.
This time the path offered two routes to the campsite. Using my fancy iPhone app, I learned that one trail involved a 5000 ft climb while the other was only 2000 ft. No brainer, right?
Here’s the catch. The app isn’t perfect. And when two roads — like an interstate highway and an old backroad — run parallel to one another, the app can sometimes switch the roads up.
Some of you may be getting ahead of me here, but as you might have guessed, the supposed 2000 ft trail was more like a 4500 ft climb and added 5 more miles to the day — and it doesn’t stop there. As I hiked and biked for about 2 hours, I started seeing road signs: “Road ends 3 miles,” and “Dead end.”
My heart sank and for the first time on this trip since Canada, panic started to set in. The thought of sleeping on the side of the road slowly started creeping into my head as I checked my watch and saw it was getting late. I couldn’t afford this detour and there was no “plan b” I could turn to. I was running out of time.
I pedaled forward despite the signs and followed my GPS. The twisting road soon turned to gravel and then dry brown dirt. With every turn in the road I was just waiting for the moment I would see a fence or a construction crew that would send me back.
I’m not sure if it was the hill, the heat, or losing my buddy Clemens, but I suddenly felt very alone. I did my best to make peace with my frustration and continued up the road. As I approached the crest, I could see a figure sitting on top of the hill.
It was a beautiful Australian shepherd that was lying in the road with a little blue ball. When I got close, he sprinted over and placed the ball at my feet. I suddenly heard voices from behind saying “If you throw it, he’ll play fetch all day.” It was two ranchers who told me that the dog’s name was Larry (they also had a cat named Moe), and that the dead-end signs were a misnomer — the road I was on would take me to my campsite.
Absolutely relieved, I played fetch with Larry and chatted with the ranchers. I then made my way to my campsite and got there just before the sunset. Whether you believe it was from a higher power or not, Larry was a sign I was going to be all right. And tonight, as I make camp alone in probably the most remote campsite I’ve been at yet, I’ll sleep with a very slight comfort knowing that somewhere Larry the dog is looking out for me.