June 18, 2019

Tour Divide '19: Day 5 - Ferndale to Seeley Lake

Didn't I just lie down? Why is my alarm going off? Something must be wrong. Nope. I time warped to 5:30a. I rarely have a poor night sleeping when doing these bikepacking events, go figure. I was really glad I was able to simply cowboy camp too, it made the morning pack up go much quicker.
Turned out to be a perfect campsite as the bushes shielded me from the road.
I was on my bike shortly after 6a and headed back down the road to the Ferndale Market. These small town markets were the hub of the community and had everything you could want packed into every nook & cranny. I loaded up for the next leg of the journey while a bunch of longtime locals chatted out front swearing like sailors and complaining about the younger workforce of today. It was comedy relief hour for me as I was off to the side eating a muffin and drinking coffee.

A few other riders were also there, but they all seemed much more rested than myself. One guy, Pat Adrian, had stayed at the Candlewycke Inn and mentioned that I could've easily cowboy camped there. Oh well. I met Pat briefly back in 2017 during the Colorado Trail Race. He had a cassette blow up on him on day 1 of that race and rode back to the start to get it fixed, then passed me on day 2. I was surprised he remembered me when we crossed paths south of Banff on day 1. He's a much stronger rider than I am, but yet I seemed to catch up after riding late on a couple of occasions.

The first few miles south of Ferndale were flat, but I was having difficulty getting situated on my seat. I couldn't find a comfortable seated riding position, so I resorted to a lot of standing pedal strokes. I started up the next unnamed climb, it wasn't particularly steep, but I could only sit and pedal for at most a minute at a time. Then I was standing and mashing the pedals. This was very tiring and after a while I gave up and began walking. Unfortunately, this pattern would continue the rest of the ride. I was feeling gassed and stopped for a break while a rider or two passed me by. For some reason I decided to physically check on my troubled area only to find out the large blister had popped. Great, now I had an open sore to deal with. I dug into my first aid kit and covered it with a bandage. At first I had relief and was able to ride most of the remainder of the climb.
Finally over the top with Swan Lake barely coming into view.
On the descent I came across two separate road crews who were 'trimming' the forest back from the road. Talk about an industrial sized weed wacker, holy smokes!! This contraption could mow down small trees in an instant. There were loads of branches and leaves strewn about two miles of dirt road. It was quite impressive and really got the job done.

The route then entered the Swan River National Wildlife Refuge. I was on high alert for bear sightings as the forest was thick, but the riding was really nice through there. I popped out on SR83 for a short bit then began a logging detour that was put in for this year.

Almost as soon as I exited the pavement for dirt one of my fork mount velcro strips snapped in two. My right side water bottle & cage were dangling from the fork. Dang it. Now what? I kinda need that attached right were it is, but the factory velcro strap was now completely worthless. Hmmm. I remembered that I had a couple of extra velcro straps from my Big Agnes Tent. I dug one out and it was clearly more robust, I was able to route it through the holder in a similar fashion to the original. I then ran a couple of zip ties above & below the strap for extra security. It now felt more stable than when I started the ride. I should've done the other side right then and there, but for some reason didn't.
Failed factory strap barely 4 days old. #weaksauce

MacGyver would've been proud.
I don't know what the original Divide route is like through this area, but the logging detour was nice. It was more of the same, dirt road through the dense forest, but it did gradually climb for what seemed like hours.
Campground near Soup Creek.

Really nice riding surface most of the way.

First tracks on the brown pow.

Finally, an extended downhill, but...
What happened next I can't really explain. I've heard stories over the years from other riders who've experienced hallucinations while riding, vivid scenes playing out in front of them that didn't exist. I've always found it interesting, but I've never experienced anything like that in all my years of riding. Until today. It was barely 12:30p and I was finally cruising down the dirt road pictured above. One would think that would've been enough to get the blood pumping. On the contrary, I could hardly keep my eyes open. It was probably due to the three hours of sleep the night before, but whatever it was I couldn't stay focused on the road. I tried talking myself out of it, then I saw a flash to my left. Then another. It was bright green, almost lime in color. It flashed again and this time I looked. I was in disbelief at what I saw, but it was real...right? It was a giant green & white Old Lady in the Shoe house!! I kid you not. As soon as I saw it, it disappeared. Two minutes later it flashed again. WTF. I began thinking that I should stop at the bottom of the downhill. Then a second image appeared, LOGS!! In front of my path!! Gah!! As I was about to hit them, they vanished. This occurred about four times and I was really starting to get freaked out, yet all I could think about was closing my eyes. Thankfully, the bottom of the downhill arrived and a turn to the left. I pulled over, set my alarm for 15 minutes and cuddled up next to my bike and closed my eyes.

The Carpenter ants & mosquitoes kept me from snoozing, but that was ok. I really only needed to rest my eyelids. The alarm went off, I got up and rolled on. Everything was fine after that.
A clear, refreshing filtering break. I rarely had to carry more than 1L of water.

Rejoining the traditional route after the logging detour.

Things tightened up a bit, time to make a little more noise for any locals wandering nearby.

The singletrack section was short lived, maybe a mile long and popped out at this trailhead which was a deadend 2-track.
The 2-track linked into another forest road, then another, each time becoming slightly more visibly traveled. It made me wonder how the heck anyone found that singletrack connection or was it purpose built for the route to link up two nearby forest roads. The singletrack section actually appears as a forest road on topo maps of the area.
This is the singletrack exit. Clearly no vehicles are wanted beyond this point.
As the route opened up I closed in on Holland Lake. There's a lodge there that riders often go to even though it's slightly off route. I decided to check it out, but for some reason I thought there was a small store there. Not the case.
Picturesque scene as the route returned to civilization.

Swan River crossing.

As the road flattened out, the views opened up.

I debated for a bit about going to the lodge as I had enough food to get to Seeley Lake, but I'd arrive well past business hours.

Constant reminders.

This was beginning to have quite the destination vibe.

The lodge nestled up against Holland Lake with plenty of cabins spread across the property.

Yeah, this was luxury living.

I found a table next to an electrical outlet, bikepacking priorities, and took in the view.

The menu was scribbled on a chalk board, 4 items. What the heck, I'll take the salmon. I'm here, might as well splurge on one meal.

Their resupply options were limited to a few varieties of candy bars in the tray on the far right of the bar.
I paid the bill and saw that it came with a postcard. There was a gift shop next door and they had stamps so I sent K a postcard as a memento.

A rider, Bill Claridge, came in looking pretty whooped. He planned to get a room and asked what my plans were. I told him I was going to push on up & over Richmond Peak since it was barely 7p. I think he seemed a bit surprised that I was going to do that. He shuffled off to his room and I packed up.

Holland Lake on my way out.
Richmond Peak is one of those areas of Tour Divide lore. Rumor or fact has it that the Yellowstone area relocates any 'troubled' Grizzly bears to this area. That's enough for Richmond Peak to earn you punch #6 on the Tour Divide punch card. So, here I was, 7p or so, not tired and staring at my cue sheet: Start Richmond Peak - 2,730' over 22.6 miles. Looks like I'll be cresting the summit in the dark, solo, in a known high density Grizzly section of the route. That's why we carry bearspray and why I purchased a bluetooth speaker for my handlebars. In my 25 years of mountain biking, I've never ridden with music. That was about to change.

I rejoined the route quickly and began the slow ascent on winding dirt roads.
Beautiful evening light around the south side of Holland Lake.

Beargrass was thick through here.

The initial road morphed into sublime 2-track. This began to feel like bear territory, time to fire up the toons.

Next thing I knew I was on ultra steep singletrack pushing. I didn't recall this in any ride report, hopefully it wouldn't be too long as daylight was waning.

Stoked!! The singletrack was short lived and dumped onto a well maintained, grade friendly climb. My backside was cooperating and the miles began to tick off quickly.

The climb continued to ride great and I was getting much farther up Richmond Peak than I had hoped. Still plenty of daylight.

The sun was setting and the sky began to put on a show.

So far, I was really liking my decision to ride on from the lodge.

The sky ablaze in orange light.

A fiery glow on the western horizon.

The pleasant climbing grade continues. I was really enjoying the ride up.

The Mission Range still blanketed in snow.
Near the top there's a sharp lefthand turn and the route exits the dirt road in favor of singletrack. Most years riders have to push through snow here, not tonight. All clear. It was a perfectly cool evening  and I was enjoying the music as the trees tightened their grip on the route. Still no bear sightings.

I didn't realize this portion of Richmond Peak had miles of singletrack, most of which were fantastic.
It was now dark, probably sometime well after 11p when I rounded a turn and came face to face with a Grizzly!! No. Not really, but that got your attention. Instead I saw a red blinking light up ahead, another rider!! I caught up to them and guess who? Hal!! It was my daily meetup and I asked him if he wanted me to turn off the music. He said no, that he was enjoying it!! He then told me how this was his first time being up on Richmond Peak in the dark and how amazing it was. I couldn't agree more. He had taken a few moments before to relax in the still darkness to remember his fallen comrades from Vietnam. I could tell it was a powerful moment for him.

The trail kicked up enough that we both decided to walk for a bit. It was quite a treat to be hanging out on this infamous stretch of route with the Tour Divide Legend, Hal Russell, but if you call him a legend he'll be quick to respond: 'I'm nobody.' Right. And we're simply on a bike ride.

We began riding again and Hal warned me about an upcoming area where there was a steep dropoff to the left. He also told me about the large snowdrift riders had to climb over last year in that precarious spot. Dicey at best. I pulled away from Hal as I wanted to camp somewhere near the bottom of the descent. I had a feeling he wanted to camp up higher.
Up ahead the left slope angles into the abyss.

Funky wind swept trees in the calm air.
The singletrack went on for a few miles, much to my delight. I was really enjoying the slightly sketchy nature of the trail. I finally dumped out onto a dirt road and began a long steady descent towards Seeley Lake.

I saw a tent up ahead, music still blaring away, when Justin poked his head out to see who it was. I apologized if I woke him, but he hadn't been setup long. I wanted to keep going, so I rolled on knowing I'd probably see him the next day.

The downhill seemed to go on forever and the temps were dropping. I put on an extra layer and was nice and cozy as I reached the junction leading off-route to Seeley Lake. There happened to be a trailhead there with a yurt. I thought I may have scored a sweet sleeping spot only to find the door coded with a lock. Drat. I found a reasonably flat-ish area in the tall grass nearby and called it a night sometime after midnight.

I had totally forgotten about my goggle irritation until I removed them for the night. Yowzers!! The front on my ears were getting rubbed raw, I needed to take care if this before it was a real problem.

What an interesting day. The Divide is constantly full of surprises. What would be on tap for tomorrow?

Stats: 108.45 miles & 7,955' gained.



  1. "Next thing I knew I was on ultra steep singletrack pushing. I didn't recall this in any ride report, hopefully it wouldn't be too long as daylight was waning."
    You didn't do your research Mr Schilling!! It was mentioned - with photos ...https://dave-livingthedream.blogspot.com/2015/07/tour-divide-2015-day-4.html
    I wish I had just carried a litre or two of water. I kept filling up my bags. rookie mistake. ;)
    Really enjoying the write up. Thanks

    1. That photo makes it look flat!! :) Called me out on that one, guilty as charged. I'll admit I only went back and re-read your blog from the CO/NM line looking for water hints. If I would've re-read your day 4 account, I too would've probably gone to the Black Bear diner if they were open. Would've been much cheaper than my $40 salmon dinner, but it sure was delicious!!
      Up on Richmond Peak at night was divine, I'm glad I caught it right at sunset so I did get to see the views. Else I would've been pitied by you!! "I pity racers that get to Richmond Peak in the dark as they miss this view." Haha.