June 17, 2019

Tour Divide '19: Day 4 - Grave Creek CG to Ferndale

Daylight broke and I could hear the others beginning to stir. It's always a motivator for me to hear other riders getting ready, I better get moving too!! Otherwise, I may be tempted to snooze for an extra 30 minutes or an hour.

There was a picnic table at our campsite, so the three of us, Marty, myself and Justin Heckman from Iowa, sat around sharing a few stories from the first few days and got to know each other a bit. Somewhere around day 3 or 4 the field of riders stretches out so the riders nearby are of similar pedigree. The first day or so you never really know if you'll see that rider again. By now, I was starting to see some familiar faces. Justin and I would meet many times in the coming days, while Marty was always just a tad ahead.
Justin and my tents next to Grave Creek.

Marty's spot, complete with bear box.
The day started out overcast, but no rain and the clouds lifted a few hours later. I got going on the gentle grade up the Whitefish Divide and began to notice that unsettling feeling of developing saddle sores. This was one of my major concerns coming into the Tour Divide. I don't own a road bike and most of my riding in Arizona is a steady diet of seated pedaling, standing and hike-a-bike. I just don't do rides that have a lot of seated pedaling like the Divide demands. Dave Wicks had come up with a magic elixir of sorts and other ultra endurance riders agreed, it was the bomb. I had premixed a batch before the ride and had been applying it daily, but a blister had clearly started to form on my right side. And when I say 'started to form', it was already at least 1 1/2 x 1/2" long and raised about a 1/4". I just hoped it wouldn't pop.
So far, the butt potion wasn't working.

The morning began on smooth asphalt.

The Old Kootenai Indian Trail has a history spanning 8,000 years!!

One of many reminders of who really owns this land.

Deer sighting.
I managed to find a sweet spot on the saddle and things were looking up for the day.

It would've been nice to pick a few fresh ones, but then I'd be competing with the bears.

Over the top after passing a rider who was struggling with Achilles issues.

It was a fast descent as jagged peaks came into view.

Avalanche wake of destruction.

These large off-white blooms where everywhere, quite mesmerizing. I later found out it was Beargrass and they just began blooming a week or so earlier.

Not really knowing where I was, it surprised me to see so many cabins seemingly well off the beaten path. Every inch of the forest was spoken for.

Long stretch of fast dirt flanked by Private Property signs.

Those jagged peaks from the descent were none other than Glacier Nat'l Park. I forgot how close we rode to the park. Mark it down for another visit.

I had already ridden over 60 miles since entering Montana, yet only 16 miles south of the Canadian border. The Divide doesn't always take the most direct path south.

The start of Red Meadow Pass, another infamous piece of the Divide route as it's often buried in snow requiring a few miles of snowy hike-a-bike. Red Meadow Pass would earn you punch #5 of the Tour Divide punch card.

The final two miles really kicked up after a pleasant climb in light rain. The reward? A snow-free pass!!

Such a serene setting and cause for celebrating with peanut M&Ms.

This was the extent of the snow on Red Meadow Pass.

Upper Whitefish Lake as the rain comes down again.

The weather couldn't decide what it wanted to do. I must've shed my rain gear at least 3 times within the hour. No downpours, but enough to warrant a change of gear.

Re-entering civilization around Whitefish Lake.

Incredible views all along Whitefish Lake and clearing skies.

Plenty of fast pavement miles entering town.

First establishment I saw. Perfecto!
While inside I made my way up to the bar (quickly) and a fellow came over and asked if I was doing the Divide. He was an avid Trackleaders fan, but didn't have to the screen up otherwise he should've known my name!! Ha! We chatted a bit about the ride so far while I sampled the local suds. Very clean Scottish Ale BTW.

While at the table waiting for my food, I took off my goggles and noticed the front of my ears were getting irritated. I took note, but really didn't think much about it.

First real meal since Fernie and I mixed in a salad.
I checked my food inventory on the bike and decided to hold off on re-supply until Columbia Falls a few miles down the route.
I was about to get going when a couple riders came down the road. It was Mikki & Larry!! I hadn't seen them since Eureka. We rode a few blocks together before they peeled off to grab a room in Whitefish. I wanted to reach Ferndale which would put me well over 100 miles on the day. I was feeling good and there were still a few hours of daylight left to cover the mostly flat terrain through farm country.
Fast, flat & paved. The miles flew by.

Beautiful countryside.

You could tell this was ranch land, all the turns were 90ยบ. It was like the old Tron video game.

Livin' large on the range.

Making my way down the cue card.

The Flathead River splits Teakettle Mtn. (Left) & Columbia Mtn. (Right)

I had no idea Smith's were still around.
 I veered slightly off route in Columbia Falls to restock my food/drink. It was time for my daily Hal Russell sighting too as he was getting set to leave the convenience store. He watched my bike as I shopped, then headed to the hills.
A typical Divide refueling. Drink the chocolate milk now, dump the Starbucks in a water bottle for the morning, fill other bottles with Gatorade, Naked juice for nighttime recovery drink, Red Bull for when I needed it. I only had 27 miles until Ferndale, where I'd resupply again in the morning.

Crossing the Flathead River.

Sunset, it must be 9:30p or so....

I really enjoyed riding through this section.

The sun finally dips below the horizon.

At long last, the pavement gives way to dirt.
For the most part, my backside wasn't barking at me. I hoped my discomfort from earlier in the day was only a blip on the radar.

Saw this cool sign at a farm house advertising camping for Divide riders.
While I was taking this picture a couple of riders were on the other side of the bushes and yelled up to me. They let me know that the farmhouse camping was available and they were stopping for the night. It sounded good, but I wasn't quite ready to stop and there were still about 17 miles to Ferndale, so I passed and kept rolling.

Moonrise over the Swan Range.
Night settled in as I rode towards Echo Lake. Hal had mentioned a stealth camping location a bit before Ferndale, but I wanted to respect his privacy so I didn't prod further. He was on his final, 6th, Divide run and I could tell he was really savoring each & every moment out there.

I finally rode into Ferndale a little after midnight and I was ready to get horizontal. The small community had a fire station that looked inviting. I should've stopped right then and there, but I thought there was a Divide friendly camping area nearby. The next hour or so was a clear cut example of my route inexperience as I floundered around wasting precious down time.

I rode about a 1/2 mile off route to the Candlewycke Inn, there were a few riders crashed out, but it appeared they paid for lodging. I had a signal so I pulled up the website and got the feeling that dispersed camping wasn't really their thing. Perhaps I could've camped and squared away in the morning, but I decided to find another place. There were fences everywhere, no trespassing signs posted and clearly not an area to simply plop down. Then I remembered Dave Wicks telling me about a roadhouse nearby that was open to camping. I rode about a mile and found it beyond the market. Something told me it didn't have that 'go ahead and camp' vibe. Then I saw a light on upstairs and a guy standing near the window. I began flashing my helmet light to grab his attention, but after a minute he walked away. Again, I didn't feel right about knocking on some stranger's door at 1a to see if I could sleep on their property. More time wasted. I pulled up Google maps to see if there was any forested land nearby. It appeared there were two parcels across the road. Those too were fenced and signed 'Private Property'. Argh. I scoped out the area around the market and began to settle in on a chair under the bright lights at the front of the store. I figured I just needed couple hours of sleep and I'd be on my way. Then a car pulled in. I wasn't hassled or anything, but again had that feeling that I just shouldn't be there. I packed up again and tried finding a patch of level ground off the road. Nothing. Now I was really getting frustrated and more groggy as it was rapidly approaching 2a. After all this nonsense, I came to my senses and returned to the fire station where a nice fluffy patch of grass and a large tree stump would make the perfect cowboy camp. I set the alarm for 5:30a and ten minutes later I was out.

My ears were noticeable in more discomfort from my goggles, it was actually quite painful to remove them. This was a bit odd, since they felt fine while wearing them.

It was such a comedy of errors, but in a sleep deprived state I wasn't exactly thinking clearly and wasted a solid 1 1/2 hours trying to find a place to lie down when I should've crashed at the fire station immediately upon entering Ferndale. Lesson learned.

Stats: 126.97 miles & 5,983' gained



  1. I have problems with saddle sores as well. I start out on day one with large waterproof band aides on my rear end where it comes in contact with the seat. Every couple days I change them out for new ones. That help me a lot.

    1. Nice. Glad that works out for you. I tried a bunch of different things, some worked, others didn't. Each day was different, some days I settled in, others it was excruciating for hours on end. I refused to let that be the reason I scratched, seems silly.

  2. You mentioned having someone watch your bike while you shopped. Is this necessary every time? I assume you will many times trying to resupply on your own. How do you manage this. Thx.

    1. No, definitely no necessary. Probably just a habit since I live in a big city, kind of don't trust anyone with all the local reports of bike thefts. I only asked Hal to watch the bike since he was there and wasn't ready to leave. I had a small lock with me, used it a few times in the bigger towns when I couldn't see the bike from inside. Again, that's just me.

    2. Thx. One more thing. If alone, do you lock bike, but take in all electronics?

    3. I was in the habit of taking in my Edge705 so I could top it off from an outlet. That was about it. At some point you just have to trust your stuff will be there.