My number one concern as I loaded my bike for the 3-hour drive to Whitefish was that the damn tires were going to go flat on me... again.
I had been battling with my new tubeless set up for quite some time. Sometimes they would hold air for weeks; other times within hours all of those precious psi's would have gone missing. Little did I comprehend the shit show that awaited me and that flat tires would be of little concern. My goal was a quick bikepacking trip along the Red Meadow Pass loop in northern Montana. I had two days off work and I figured I could get the 106-mile loop done in that time. I planned on 7 hours or so to conquer the 56 or so miles to make it to Polebridge. Initially every thing went as smooth as buttahhh. The drive to Whitefish was easy, there was plenty of parking at the train station, and I was on my bike and out of town within minutes of shutting off my engine.
The day was hot and there were signs everywhere warning of bears because of all the huckleberries that were ripening. I didn't get to see any bears. What I did encounter were at least 20 or so riders headed south on The Great Divide. Some of them looked surprised to see someone pedaling north, but all were cheerful and excited to have their asses on a saddle. I wonder how much longer that lasted...
As I hit the last climb of the day I noticed that it was hot. It was sneaky hot. I had already sucked down my entire Camelbak of water but still hadn't managed to piss any of it out. That, combined with a climb that topped out at 11.3% and my 50-pound bike had me in a pretty pitiful place. I would also like to add that the longest I had been on a bike in the previous few months was about an hour. As I finally climbed the last few feet and rounded a corner to gaze upon Red Meadow Lake, I knew that quite literally it was all downhill from this point into the tiny town of Polebridge. As I zoomed down the rutted Forest Service road, I felt so alive and in love with two-wheel transit that I had to let out a little whoop of excitement. This quickly turned to embarrassment as around the next corner I encountered another group of Great Divide rider who had obviously heard my self expression and all had somewhat concerned looks on their faces.
The day was beginning to cool, and I was so close to my destination I that could already taste the freeze-dried lasagna I had brought for my dinner. As I made the turn onto the home stretch and began to put power through my crankset I felt my pedal whiff. I looked down and saw my chain hanging limp and useless. I️ jumped off my bike and quickly slapped in a spare master link. away I went... once again I️ felt my pedal fall through the floor. Only 5 miles or so from my destination I had managed to snap my chain twice. I had nothing to do but start hoofing it. Luckily I didn’t have to go far before a truck came rattling down the road and kindly obliged my outstretched thumb. That was the first time I ever had to thumb a ride. The driver’s name was Ben and he lived a few miles outside of Polebridge but said he would run me into the town and that he knew a few people who might have more spare links. No luck. After visiting a hostel and striking out there as well as at the one store in town, I decided to grab a beer or two and make camp for the night. I hadn’t had high hopes of finding spare parts in town but, my thought was that a few Great Divide riders would be coming through in the morning and I could bum a link off of one of them.
After a long night of contemplation and fretted sleep, I walked my ass back to town where I did indeed meet up with some Great Divide riders, one of whom kindly lent me another link. I figured the safest route home would be to follow the mostly paved and more trafficked North Fork Road rather than the completely deserted Inside North Fork Road. Good choice. Although I tried to pedal as gingerly as possible, that last precious link snapped just a few miles from Polebridge. Over the next four hours I️ had a completely opposite experience from the previous evening. Car after car trundled on down the road with complete disregard for my outstretched thumb. I could forgive the tourists in rental cars who wouldn’t be willing or able to accommodate a stinky stranger as well as a loaded bike. More disheartening was that truck after truck wizzed past without as much as a flicker of their brake lights to signal their acknowledgement of my predicament. It wasn’t all bad, I drop my seat enough so that on the flats and downhill sections I could ride my bike like a strider, and the views into Glacier Park were pretty enough to keep my mind from wandering to dark places.
Finally my outstretched thumb managed to hail a ride and that was it. About an hour later I was back at my car and ready for the drive back to Spokane. Despite the absurdity of the whole trip, I throughly enjoyed myself. I am beyond anxious to get back next year and ride the Inside North Fork Road.
Here are my take-aways from this trip. Montana is pretty. Polebridge is pretty. You are bound to have a catastrophic failure at some point. Getting pissed won’t solve your predicament. Even when things really suck at least you will end up with a story to tell.