GDMBR: The Border to Helena

Posted on: Monday August 1, 2022 Bikepacking, GDMBR

It’s an easy five km to the border. The guard waves us across, letting us stop for water at their bathrooms. Then another twenty km to Eureka on easy paved roads. We make it in time for breakfast.

We grab enough food to make it to Whitefish, then head out. The road is paved for a long time, and we make easy miles, though Steve stops to throw on a knee brace. Thunderclouds build overhead as we climb and the road changes to rough gravel. The heat builds and builds: we’ve pedaled out of Canada and into a heat wave. Finally, I get off and push to a patch of shade near the top. We drop down and down as the storm veers north, missing us. Our potential campground for the night is closed due to bear activity, so we pedal on. Steve tries to check his phone for navigating while riding and falls over a pothole. Now we’ve both fallen for dumb reasons. We finally find a stealth spot tucked ina tiny parcel of national forest.

There’s so many bikers in the morning. A group passes us on the climb, then we almost catch up to another huge group ahead of us, before we stop for water. It’s overwhelming. We saw so few people on the GDT last year. I saw hardly anyone on the AZT. Now it feels like I’ve started the AT with the bubble. We climb up to Red’s Meadow, where we feed Mango the dog cheese from our lunch, then drop down hundreds of meters to Whitefish. Everything is overpriced and too expensive, but Steve gets us a hotel room for our first laundry and showers In a week.

We’re not super keen to leave town in the morning. We linger over coffee, then bike store shopping, then barbeque for lunch. By the time we leave, it’s almost three. It’s an easy twenty kilometers to Columbia Falls, where we stay at an RV park. It’s too hot to sleep, until a midnight storm rolls in. Wind shakes the tent and lightning flashes bright through closed eyes. It takes me a long time to fall asleep.

Predictably, we don’t want to wake up early, despite our plans to do miles before the day heats up. We get real town coffee, not the instant in our food bag, then pedal out at nine. It’s easy flat miles on pavement, and we do fifty km before lunch, which we eat at a chip truck at a tiny gas station where everyone wants to make small talk with us. We head out on rough gravel which climbs steeply before dropping back down. We stop after 105kms- our first 100km day.

We have another hot day with almost a kilometer of elevation gain. We soak our shirts in every creek we find, but it only helps a little.

The heat continues. We detour to Seeley Lake for brunch, then climb in the heat of the day away. We spend the night in the church in Ovando. Last year, a cyclist was fatally mauled by a grizzly here. In the restaurant bathroom, there’s bear safety posters drawn by school children. It feels like the community is still in mourning. Despite having a safe place to spend the night, I can’t fall asleep, ruining our plans to leave early.

We cycle through flat farm fields after morning coffee. I try my best to stay awake as we climb up to huckleberry pass and drop down towards Lincoln. The heat rises as we drop, until we collapse outside of the grocery store in a patch of shade. Even Steve, who normally loves the heat, wilts. We shade hop down to the library, where I spent a very uncomfortable day sick with food poisoning on my CDT thru hike in 2017. Now, I feel ok, except from a little bit of heat exhaustion. We meet two other bikepackers, who are also thruhikers. They are pioneering the Montana trail, a bike, paddle and hike triathlon of a route. We sit in the shade and talk until the day cools. It’s a refreshing interaction- We’ve struggled to connect to other bikepackers the way we do to thruhikers. We climb out of Lincoln in the growing shade to camp high on the Continental divide.

We cross the CDT for the first time in the morning, then drop down to an alpaca farm which welcomes cyclists. We drink coffee on the porch, hanging out with two CDT thru hikers who have detoured far off route. We spend far longer than we should talking, and the air is stiffling as we pedal away. We climb until it’s too hot to ride anymore, then get off our bikes and push. We reach the turn for Helena and sit in the shade and debate. We’d planned to skip one of my least favorite trail towns and push on to Butte. But the forecast calls for 100 degree days: far hotter than anything I experienced on the AZT apart from at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Shade is harder to find as the grassland creeps up the mountains, and rivers are drying up. Our decision isn’t that hard in the end: we turn our bikes and cruise down the hill to town, to drink entire pitchers of ice water.

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Eloise Robbins (Fun Size)

About the Author

Eloise Robbins (Fun Size) is a writer, triple crown thru hiker, and adventurer. She is a lover of the outdoors, hiking, canoeing, and most of all mountains.

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