June 19, 2019

Tour Divide '19: Day 6 - Seeley Lake to Llama Farm

The mornings were becoming interesting, waking up to find out what my camp situation looked like in the daylight. I was partially woke up by a construction truck coming into the trailhead parking lot, I thought they might say something to me since I was fairly certain camping wasn't allowed at the trailhead even though I was a short distance away in the undulating tall grass. They didn't bother me, but it got me going. It was nice to have an outhouse to take care of the morning ritual. Fresh bandages & ointment applied to my backside, would it provide early relief for the day? Oh yeah, don't forget ointment on my ears!!
Camp location near the trailhead yurt.
I opted to skip the small town of Seeley Lake as I had enough food for the 25-ish miles to Ovando. I was really looking forward to this stop as the tiny town of 50 are 100% into the Tour Divide & Trackleaders. Plus, I'd be getting to town in time to have a nice breakfast, something I had been craving for a few days.

I got going on a series of nice dirt forest roads, backside was settling in without too much discomfort.
Cottonwood Lake

Beautiful riding surface through the Lolo National Forest.

Every so often I'd get a wide angle peek of the surrounding area.

The early miles were ticking by quickly, good thing since I was ready for a big breakfast.
I came to a split in the road, not a 'T' junction, rather a very subtle fork in the road. Which way to go? The reduced track on the GPS really couldn't distinguish and half of the tire tracks went right, the other half left. Flip a coin I suppose. I opted to take the left fork since it continued the gradual climb. It's easier to backtrack downhill if I guessed wrong. The roads slowly separated and finally registered an 'Off course' beep from my GPS. Should've gone right. No big deal, coast back down and resume forward progress. There were only a few instances like this on the entire route, even with a high resolution track it would've be guesswork.

I thought these mile markers were cool as they were inserted into the trees.

Entering the Blackfoot Valley.

This may not look like much, but this was the instant I got blasted with 30mph crosswinds from the west (right). A cold front was moving in and the temperatures seemed to drop 15-20 degrees in minutes.

Easily avoided washboard nearing Ovando.
Ovando, MT home of the 2:1 dog to human ratio!! Note the flag flapping in the breeze.



One final straightaway until breakfast!!

Center of town, the Blackfoot Commercial Co. is the main store & for some reason I forgot to go inside!!

I caught up to Justin as he was packing up.
As I was riding over to the Stray Bullet I saw Marty leaving town and was surprised I had caught up to him. However, that was the last time I'd catch a glimpse of him as he stayed ahead of me the rest of the way.

My two goals when reaching Ovando: Breakfast at the Stray Bullet and say Hi to Kathy at the Blackfoot Angler so she can snap a mandatory TD rider photo!! I also had to place the Havok in range of the webcam above the Angler!!
Almost as soon as I walked into the Stray Bullet one of the cooks asked if I was John. Yep, that's me. One other server asked where I was from and the cook replied: Queen Creek. Then she started laughing noting how that probably sounded creepy!! Not a all coming from Trackleaders enthusiasts!! I put in a big order and topped off my electronics at the nearest outlet. I was checking messages and saw a text from Jalene, it read: I see you!! Ah, yes, the webcam was working. Good product placement.

However, the best webcam moment had to be from my buddy, Chris Seistrup. He rolled in a couple days earlier somewhere around Top 10 position, but missed the store hours. So, instead of simply rolling through town he decided to have some fun and give his Antelope Wells celebration a test run.

The other side of downtown.

I like this place more already. They really know how to roll out the red carpet. ;)
I stopped by the Blackfoot Angler after breakfast, packed a to-go sandwich, to meet Kathy, the renowned Tour Divide fan in Ovando, but she wasn't anywhere to be seen. It's a small enough town, so the girls at the Stray Bullet called around and tracked her down. Photo time...

Kathy really liked my AES jersey and I even got photobombed by my server from the Stray Bullet. Photo by Kathy Schoendoerfer.
As I was getting ready to head out of town, Hal came back to the Angler. He was having a bit of a tire issue in the morning. We checked his pressure and it was super high. We got that squared away and he said everything was good to go. I started out of town towards Huckleberry Pass.

The wind was really whipping and the route did a bit of zig-zagging on it's way towards Huckleberry Pass. This meant a lot of gusting crosswinds into my sail of a framebag, some headwind, and quite a bit of tailwind heading directly into the mountains. No complaints there!!
I was mostly pushed by the wind towards the mountains.

Dry Gulch Rd. wasn't so dry.

I really enjoyed this section, perhaps it was the tailwind??

I'm a sucker for stand alone rustic homes.

Look closely, there's a northbound cycle tourist heading my way. I felt sorry for him since he was battling the headwind straight on.

Huckleberry Pass is slightly to the left of center.

Moooo.

One up & over until Lincoln.

Straight roads and 90ยบ turns of ranch country.

I like these vintage wooden signs.

A clear view of the road I came in on.

Grinding up the heart of Huckleberry Pass.

The grade near the top kept the heart-rate elevated a tad.

Almost. There.

I was finding out that both Canada and Montana don't bother marking the pass summits. I thought I'd see a few signs signifying the passes, but nada.

Instead, I was rewarded with a trail treat. Thanks faster rider.

Over the top and gaining speed.

The clouds were beginning to thicken over the pass. I cleared it just in time as a few sprinkles began to fall.

Turquoise reservoir.

Nice dirt bikepath leading into Lincoln.

The timing worked out perfect, a little past 5p and I was ready to eat.

Found this pub with a lively local crowd and a great burger.
On my way out of town I did the usual convenience store raid then began the steady climb towards Stemple Pass. I recalled a rider mentioning that this particular pass was a bit difficult. I was about to find out.
Once again, the initial miles were tame.

Then the road peeled off on to a less traveled route, but was still good climbing.
There were about two miles remaining until the pass when the route abruptly pointed skyward. I dismounted for a bit, then rode a little more. My legs were getting heavy and it was a real struggle turning the cranks over on the increasingly chunky terrain. Plus, my backside was ready for a break. A quick snack attack and I ended up pushing the final mile+ to the pass. By the time I reached it, I was whooped and ready to call it a day.
This lifted my spirits.
I noted on my cue sheet that the cyclist's cabin was Barbara Nye's Llama Farm. I hadn't really considered stopping there until this very moment. I had no idea what to expect or if it was on route or a bit off route. That sign sure caught my attention though.

Indeed it was downhill.

The timing wasn't too bad either. I was tired even though it really wasn't all that late and I hadn't quite hit 90 miles on the day. On this day, I opted for rest & recovery.

Looks like the place!! And yes, directly ON route.

I went through the gate and began checking out the variety of structures.
The first one I went to opened up and was practically a recording studio. I immediately got the feeling that I shouldn't be there. I saw someone crashed out in the stable next door. I then checked the next small cabin. I didn't see any bikes so I opened the door, but all the beds were full of knocked out riders. Same with the next two cabins. There was a tent set up on the far side of the last cabin, so I figured everything was spoken for. I started looking for a place to set up camp for the night when the owner, John, came walking towards me. Are you John? He asked. I nodded and he said he was surprised how fast I showed up as he was following my dot down from Stemple Pass. He then informed me that if I wanted, I could sleep in the queen size bed in the basement. Yes, please. He then proceeded to cook me a couple of hotdogs and served up some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Oh, and there's a beer/soda fridge on the front porch, help yourself. Am I in bikepacking heaven? It was shaping up to be a cold night in the hills. I was thankful for the roof over my head and was amazed at the hospitality offered and settled in for the night.

I needed that.

Cozy porch, stocked with beer, sodas and water.
We chatted for a bit while I ate. He kept checking Trackleaders as Hal was approaching. I wasn't sure if Hal would make the stop. I never did see him at the farm as I think he camped a couple miles up the pass.

I laid out all my clothing since most of it was a bit damp from the showers earlier in the day. All my electronics were getting topped off. It was a perfect ending to a rough finish on the day. I was looking forward to reaching Helena the following day so I could track down a pharmacy for more saddle sore remedies. My goggle issue wasn't going away either, I now had two cuts where the goggles contacted the front of my ears. Ouch!! I found a couple of small bandaids and patched things up. Day 6 in the books.

Stats: 88.92 miles & 6,410' gained

Route:

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