GDMBR Columbia Falls to Swan Lake| 57 miles, 3000 ft elevation | Tom Gets Chicked

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Any. Other. Day. Tom rides ahead of me and patiently waits until I catch up. He never complains. Today I had the chance to wait on him! Not sure if it was the bag of Sour Patch Kids or that we had overcast skies during our climb, but I actually cycled up front today on our climb.

There were scattered showers today and our Montana farmers need rain badly. Today we cycled through beautiful bucolic fields before hitting the high ground.

We are camping at Swan Lake tonight and didn’t anticipate any services but found a wonderful RV Park with a local tavern less than. 200 feet away. It was taco Wednesday tonight so you know… we did that. And a pork chop sammie.

Overall just a great day! Heck I’m just worried about finishing the dang thing (not the tacos the ride all the way to Antelope Wells) So today was a shocker. 😳

Heading to Holland Lake tomorrow. Fingers crossed. 🤞🏻

GDMBR Red Meadow Lake to Columbia Falls | 43 miles, 1,526 ft elevation | It’s All Berries and No Bearies

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This morning’s ride provided one of the most fun gravel riding experiences yet on the descent from Red Meadow Lake. Downhill, twisty turny roads with a few obstacles to avoid every now and then. Both of us were out of our seats all the way down keeping our feet at 9 and 3. (thanks to Sally and Liv). And again, the scenery did not dissapoint.

The highlight of the day, however was meeting Deb and Marilyn who were scouting huckleberry patches. They picked and rinsed a healthy portion for us to eat a trail breakfast and even gave us quick huckleberry picking lesson. I could have stayed there all morning. Searching for the berries is addicting although more go in my mouth than in the bucket.

The riding was easy today and short. We stopped back in Whitefish for a pizza for lunch. It might be the first time I’ve eaten more than Tom. He does have one more piece stashed for tomorrow. Hummm I’m sure he’ll pull it out before noon. He’s known for stashing leftovers.

Many friends and family ask about the bears. Yep they live in the woods especially around these parts. Both of us carry bear spray right in the cockpit and we make a LOT of noise on the trail. I think you heard evidence of that yesterday with the mountain melody. Food is stored safely in bear boxes and we don’t cook at the campsite.

Tonight’s campsite in an RV park…Not quite the view that last night’s had but we do have clean clothes and full bellies from town food. And that works nicely for us.

Aiming for Swan Lake tomorrow. We’ll see what we get!

#GDMBR Eureka to Red Meadow Lake | 62 miles, 5,800 ft elevation | Now We Know We’re Riding the Great Divide

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Today we finally feel like we are riding the Great Divide. The scenery, the elevation and of course, we are beginning to give our legs something to think about.😉

The day started a little helter skelter when we heard the sprinkler system going off early in the city park before they were scheduled to go off. We found out from Kai his sprinklers started at 3am. He immediately evacuated to a dry spot.

We were on our way quickly enough, however and chose Red Meadow Lake as our destination for the day.

There’s plenty of water to filter up here so we didn’t have to carry so much. Our Sawyer water filter is super easy to use, inexpensive, and lightweight. And oh did that cold water quench our thirst.

Chunky roads on Whitefish Divide made for a little tougher going, definitely on the inclines but also on the descent as there was so much shaking. Gotta tell you though, it was a lot of fun bombing down those hills when it wasn’t chunky rock.

And who doesn’t like to have a little fun in the middle of a climb. #eternalsoundofmusicfan #debonthemic

Then at the end of the day, the Route challenged us with a 15 mile climb to Red Meadow Pass. Let’s put it this way, I’m not fast enough to out cycle the horseflies, mosquitoes and bees. It was pretty uncomfortable the last two miles where it was steepest but when we turned the corner, and saw spectacular Red Meadow Lake we knew the order of business would be to filter more water, jump in the lake to bathe, eat dinner and stow food in the bear box.

We pretty much dove into our tent as quickly as possible, murdered the mosquitoes that followed us in and called it a night. Stellar stargazing and crisp mountain air made for a lovely tent fly free evening.

Tomorrow we head back down toward Whitefish and Columbia Falls.

Happy birthday to our sweet Anne! 💐🥳❤️

Getting To the Start: Whitefish to Eureka via Roosville | 78 miles, 2,858 ft

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It seems like we’ve been gone a month already but it’s only been four days. 😂 Happy July 4th everyone! 🇺🇸❤️🤍💙

Going to try to squeeze four days of pre ride events into one post. And we have internet access here while camping in the city park and not sure if we will have it again for the next couple days so there’s that.

For the benefit of future riders (and as a way to journal our bike adventures) here’s how we found our way to the start line of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 2021. Remember… it usually starts in Banff but well you know… COVID. This year southbound riders started at the border of Canada. 🇨🇦

For the first time ever on an extended bike tour we were able to leave from our house, ride to our daughter’s house and then catch the Amtrak to Chicago at 6:30 am.

After a three hour layover in Chicago we were in it to win it for a 36 hour train ride to Whitefish – Coach class. Like steerage on the Titanic 🚢 😂

Honestly tho, Amtrak is a reasonable solution for getting your body and your bike to the start of your ride.

Coach Class. Wouldn’t have it any other way. We met some fascinating peeps and appreciate fresh bed linens even more. You can find pics in the vid of Lance and Vince. Too bad I didn’t get one of Tammy, a bada$$ half iron man finisher, Helena cattle rancher, mom and grandma. She taught us why you want to keep bull snakes around the farm and more about best practices in farming.

Vince, on the other hand spun a yarn about how a rattlesnake jumped off a rock and bit his buddy while riding by on his bike. #ikidyounot Thanks for that bit of advice, Vince. 😊

Once in Whitefish we took a day to poke around town at a community art fair, visit a local brewery (thanks Lauren), hold puppies, get some trail food and a good night’s sleep. And oh yea, we even hit up Mass on Saturday night.

Early Sunday on July 4th we took off from Whitefish on bikes and headed north for the border. It was a perfect day for riding – a little warm in the afternoon but just about perfect.

This guy is FINISHING his northbound ride tomorrow! It’s Kai’s last night of the ride and our first. Pretty amazing… we had a nice long chat. He shared lots of stories for which we were grateful. I asked the most important thing he learned over the last month. He said #waitforit “Don’t ride with your mouth open.” He got stung today in the mouth. Of all days. Ouch!

Free camping in the city park, Internet access, and a 24 hour gas station right across the street. What more could we ask for? 🤷🏼‍♀️. Maybe flushers? 🚽

Tomorrow we go off road… 😳

Four Months from Today ➡️

Four months from today we board an Amtrak train and ride to Whitefish, MT where we will purchase a few provisions and ride our bikes about 60 miles north to the Canadian border, do an about face and then hop on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

Alas, we won’t be going up to Canada. Not this trip anyway.

I mean anything could happen and we’re not counting it out, but at some point ya gotta start making plans. Two one-way train tickets purchased. ✅

Lest we get too soft now that we are in our early 60’s, or in case we forget what it’s like to live in a tent for more than a couple days, we took a two week excursion to the Florida panhandle. It wasn’t warm, but there was sunshine! And it wasn’t like we were roughing it although Tom used his phone as a hot spot so he could work. All good!

Just four months out. Can. Not. Wait.

When Your Neighbors Don’t Want You to Play in Their Yard

You play in your own yard!

Since the Canadian border is still closed due to COVID-19, we postponed our Great Divide ride to summer 2021 and instead opted to ride the C&O Canal Towpath and GAP Trail. Thanks to our friends Dan, Christie, Dave, Kathleen, Paul and Terri for the ride intel. You were spot on.

You can learn more about the C&O Canal Towpath and GAP Trails here.  We figured that in a relatively short bike tour we could knock out four more states and DC on our 50 state cycling quest while enjoying spectacular scenery, laid back riding and continue to physically (not socially) distance ourselves from others during the pandemic.

Cyclists can ride all or part of either trail but the big question is how to get back to where you started if you don’t want to cycle back. We opted to drive to Pittsburgh, park our car and ride the Amtrak train to Washington, DC with our bikes on board. Once in DC, we rode bikes back to our car.

We’re grateful when a plan comes together! It seems like cycling back to our car always works for us on linear routes since there aren’t any time constraints. We used the same logistics on the Natchez Trace, Katy Trail and Appalachian Gravel Growler.

Where did we stay? What did we ride? What did we pack?

We planned on camping every night but we always weasel into at least one hotel for a hot shower and since this was my birthday week… well I wasn’t going to argue about choosing to stay at a Fairfield Marriott in town rather than camping at the YMCA in Cumberland.  Here’s where we stayed all week.

Our go-to bikes for touring are our Salsa Cutthroats and we pack the same thing every trip whether we’re going to be gone for two days, two weeks or two months. About the only optional items are based on the season. Obviously we didn’t pack our puffies. And yes I know, the amount of electronics we carry is ridiculous.

I’ll tell you what we’re not schlepping around anymore – a stove, a cookset and groceries. We can most always find a c-store or restaurant. Doing this saves a lot of time in the morning when packing up and it’s less weight (for me) to carry. And yes, Tom still has to carry the two pound Big Agnes tent.

So here’s how it all went down. It’s something we can look back on a year from now when I hope we’re riding south of Banff.

Day 1, Thursday: Washington, DC to White’s Ferry, MD – 41 miles

  • Wake up at 3:30 am and ride bikes to the Amtrak station
  • Seven hour Amtrak train ride from Pittsburgh to DC. Arrive at 2pm. Begin riding at 3:45pm
  • It’s immediately apparent that the towpath is home to a multitude of deer, turtles, and blue herons. We even saw an osprey and a beaver!

  • Rain on the C & O turns the towpath into a quagmire with lots of puddles, mud and ruts.  We’re good though! That’s what these bikes are made for.
  • Amidst a downpour, a trail angel at White’s Ferry offers to let us camp under his pavilion
  • Tom sleeps soundly in the tent while I monitor the Weather Channel and notice that the storm cell is NOT moving on. For over three hours there was intense lightening, thunder and wind.  Look at the time stamp on the weather radar below. Was this our version of the Midwest derecho?

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Day 2, Friday: White’s Ferry, MD to Harpers Ferry, WV – 59 miles

  • Beautiful morning for a ferry ride over to Leesburg, Virginia for breakfast and exploring
  • Rode 20 miles of the Old Dominion Trail
  • Return to Maryland and continue on C & O. Lots of downed trees from storm.

  • Intersect with the Appalachian Trail for a mile before Harpers Ferry
  • Take footbridge (aka stairs with loaded bikes – ouch!) to Harpers Ferry for the night

  • Dinner and bevvies outside at Coach’s Ale House

Day 3, Saturday: Harpers Ferry, WV to Hancock, MD – 66 miles

  • Lots of debris on the towpath. A rider tells us that at mile post 88 the trail is impassable and to turn around. Ummmm just no.  We pushed on and climbed over, ducked under or plowed through the obstacles.
  • Met a cute family of four stopped along the trail. They were riding with their two sons age eight and ten. The Pringle cannister actually caught my eye. This family is biketouring a section of the C&O at a time. They carry everything they need, use the free hiker/biker campsites and homeschool the kiddos. (even before COVID). Grateful to see families out and about sharing time together and enjoying the outdoors.
  • Tony’s pizzeria for outdoor lunch. It’s a family owned business in operation for over 35 years. I highly recommend! Be sure to try the garlic knots with homemade Ranch dressing. Good enough to include in Christmas stockings or an Easter basket.
  • Tip from a cyclist going in the opposite direction told us about the bicycle bunkhouse in Hancock, MD. Since Hancock was our planned stopping place for the evening, we decided to check out the bunkhouse.

  • We had the bunkhouse to ourselves except for Dave who was bike touring with his pupper named Ozzer. Prosecutors, hair stylists, bartenders and teachers have the BEST stories.
  • Dinner outside at Buddielous. Highly recommend their fried green tomatoes and rueben.

Day 4, Sunday: Hancock, MD to Cumberland, MD – 61 miles (end of C & O towpath, beginning of GAP trail)

  • Last day of riding the C&O Towpath
  • Got to ride through the Paw Paw Tunnel at the same time a boy scout troop (travelling with 30 or so cyclists) rode the opposite direction as us. The Paw Paw is over 3,000 feet long and the scouts thought they might be able to ride the whole thing instead of walking their bikes as was recommended.
  • They tried to ride. Without lights. One even had his sunglasses on.  We giggled. God bless them and their leader. They were all having a good time, wearing helmets, had face coverings on and also reflective vests. Gotta admit though, we did feel like a couple of salmon swimming upstream to the spawning grounds via the Paw Paw.

Day 5, Monday: Cumberland, MD to Ohiopyle, PA – 74 miles

  • The beginning of the GAP trail!
  • Let’s start the day with a 25 mile, mild uphill grade. Really not hard. Just put an ear bud in, enjoy the scenery and follow the railroad tracks. We both actually enjoyed this quite a bit,

  • Pretty much biking nirvana here on the GAP where the surface is even, trail towns are every 15 miles or so if we need to resupply. The hiker/biker campsites are immaculate and even come “stocked” with split campfire wood, weenie roasters for hotdogs and smores, plenty of picnic tables and three sided shelters.
  • Both Tom and I both believe that God puts people, places and opportunities in our paths for a reason. It’s not always evident what the reason is and it might take a while to figure it out but we met Marie Bartoletti near Rockwood, Pennsylvania. Marie is 62 years old, has completed well over 450 marathons and several triathalons (including Kona) and she is a retired teacher. She is also a stroke survivor. She came out of nowhere and introduced herself and invited us to her home to retrieve a book she’d written entitled Perseverance.

  • Having been delayed an hour on a conference phone call, we really needed to get moving on, but as providence would have it, she cycled four houses down to her home, retrieved her book and we got one. I can’t wait to read it. I know this special lady has something for us to learn.
  • We cross into Pennsylvania, crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, crossed the Eastern Continental Divide (ironic we would have been riding along the Western Continental Divide had COVID not exploded). Plus we cycled through the Big Savage Tunnel (even longer than the Paw Paw albeit no Boy Scouts this time). It mighta been my fave day of the trip.
  • Finally the ten miles between Confluence and Ohiopyle, was just about the most perfect section of riding all week. Downhill, sunny, scenic.

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  • It’s all rainbows and unicorns until you get to the access trail to Ohiopyle State Park. Ever done it? You don’t wanna. It’s steep, rocky and not what you want to tackle when you’re approaching the 80 mile mark and you’re tired, hungry and thirsty. Not only did we get ‘er done, we set up our tent and then walked back down the ratchet trail into town for an outdoor dinner and bevvie. Of course that meant we had to walk back up it again. In the dark. But at least this time we weren’t pushing loaded bikes.

Day 6, Tuesday: Ohiopyle, PA to Pittsburgh – 78 miles

  • Last day of riding the GAP and the last day of the trip
  • Today was just about getting back to Pittsburgh and we took our time
  • For those of you who followed along on social media, it was nice having you with us. And even if we are restricted to playing in our own backyard. It’s a most beautiful yard in which to play.
  • Though our country may seem divided at times and its warts and imperfections obvious, she’s still evolving and we were grateful to rock our way through the USA.

 

 

 

Appalachian Gravel Growler, Marion to Ashville, 38 Miles | Into Asheville!

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After all the hike-a-bike Wednesday, the planned mileage for the day on Thursdays (plus the eight miles we had to make up the day before) and not knowing the trail or gravel road conditions, we decided to reroute our ride into Ashville and cycle on back roads. Hence we shaved 20 miles off our of planned 60 mile day.

We are also considering breaking up the 60 mile ride on the last day into two days. Bite size bits of the Appalachian Gravel Growler with its terrain is a lot easier to swallow than gulping down as much as possible everyday.

Not many pics on Thursday. We just pedaled our little hearts out and arrived at the historic Grove Park Inn in time to enjoy a cold bevvie and three apps on the veranda with a righteous view of the mountains.

Friday we took a zero day to walk into town and do laundry, tour the Biltmore home and gardens and of course, visit some of the craft breweries for which Asheville is well known.

Cheers to Asheville and the Appalachian Gravel Growler!

 

Appalachian Gravel Growler, Collettsville to Marion, 55 miles | Hike-A-Bike (Emphasis on Hike)

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We’ve never really had a day cycling like today. Here’s how it all went down:

We got an early start, taking pics of Betsey’s, cycled a stellar segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopped for second breakfast at Famous Louise’s Rock House enjoying an exemplary $5.95 breakfast including grits and strawberry rhubarb jelly and thought we had the toughest part of the day behind us with a 10 mile climb on gravel roads.

The wheels fell off when we thought the power line easement was going to be about 100 yards of steep, rocky descent. It ended up being about two miles of ratchet, downhill bouldering, and making our way through thick brush. I thought for sure Mr. Snake was going to shake my hand or take a taste of my kankle.

Finally out of the power line hike-a-bike we dumped out onto some nice smooth tarmac and pulled into a C store – with a thunderstorm brewing.

Should have listened to the locals’ directions to the next C store stop. Instead we follow our GPS into the most God awful, remote, wet, soppy single track we’ve ever ridden/hiked.

I’m sure the local MTB association would be ticked at us even being on the trail. We apologize.

Had to hike with loaded bikes about four miles with Uber steep climbs and descents. Believe me there were times I wanted to throw the Cutty over the edge and stomp off. It was hard work for this old gal pushing my loaded bike up steep rocky ascents and trying to control the descents and still it was 20 miles to our planned campsite and well past 7pm. There were a lot of grunts and groans, mosquito swatting and abrasions. #justcrap

Finally we abandoned the proper route and just “googled” our next stop which was Shulford’s gas station.

Apparently there was a campground less than a mile away (says google). Inside, the Shulford’s clerk said it’s not opened. Undaunted, we google it and talk to Portia who says she loves to host bikepackers so bring it on.

There was no potable water at Catawba River Campground but insomuch as bathing, Portia said river baths were the best so we snagged a couple of pizza slices for dinner at Shulfords and made a bee line for the campground about 8:30pm.

Once there we set up the tent, stripped down to unders and took a quick dip into the Catawba River and bathed off. We ate pizza and then climbed into the tent and used our headlamps to ensure tics hadn’t gotten too friendly with us throughout the day.

At that point we decided to rethink our route into Ashville on Thursday given the trail conditions on the Appalachian Gravel Growler Route.

Stay tuned for what we decided.

As challenging as the day was, we are so grateful for:

  • We were never lost.
  • Despite “dropping” the bikes descending the power line easement they remained mechanically sound – no damage to the derailleurs, etc.
  • We had plenty of water.
  • Multiple modes of navigation (handwritten cue sheets, Google, Ride with GPS)
    Praise God for the campsite and Portia!
  • Weather was decent – humid but no storms. And the sun even peeked out!
  • And we finally saw our shadows!

There are so many things that could have gone wrong but despite the tough day we were able to finish albeit eight miles short of our planned destination.

Also there are so many people that are stronger cyclists that wouldn’t have had an issue today. But remember, don’t compare yourself to others, just beat your yesterday and enjoy the journey.

And that, my friends, is exactly what we did.

Appalachian Gravel Growler, Morganton to Collettsville, 42 miles| Finally Off Road!

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Lush forest, stellar views, very little wind and no traffic made for a near perfect day of riding off road on our first day.

This was pretty much a warm up day with just a little over 40 miles but dang… these two Hoosiers aren’t used to these climbs.

Good news is neither of us went over the handlebars, over the edge and we kept the rubber on the right side of the rocks.

Honestly the best part of the day was rolling up to Betsey’s (and yep that is how it’s spelled) Ole Country Market, our planned camping spot tonight and meeting 58 year old Bruce.

He was seated on the covered front porch in an electric wheel chair and gave us a hearty welcome. As owner he said he wanted us to make ourselves at home for the evening or else go home. His hospitality and enthusiasm were over the top.

He didn’t hang around long. From the middle of Pisgah National Forest he drives 45 minutes each way, each day in a modified van to work with a trainer to strengthen the left side of his body. He does squats, push ups, dead lifts and core work. This man is a stud!

So off Bruce went to the gym and we began to unload. Just about that time we heard thunder, felt rain and decided to rent the only cabin on the property, giving us shelter for the night. And that means Tom doesn’t have to haul a wet tent around all day tomorrow.

Soooo a shower, small kitchen to cook in, electricity and a comfy dry bed is ours tonight.

Giving thanks for the little things tonight and in awe of Bruce’s hospitality and mental and physical determination.

 

NoBo on the Natchez Trace, Tishomingo to Meriwether Lewis, 94 Miles | A Three-State Day in the Rain

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Oh such a great day but such a wet one! In addition to crossing both the Alabama and Tennessee state lines we rode most of the day on hills and in the rain. Gratefully it was a warm rain without a lot of head wind.

Not many pics today but for sure there were lots of smiles during the miles.