June 20, 2019

Tour Divide '19: Day 7 - Llama Farm to Basin

It was nice to sleep in a bed for the first time in a week. I made sure I got moving when my alarm sounded, it's so easy to let time slip away when you are in a comfortable setting such as this.
Sure beats camping out in the cold.
I rounded up all my warm dry clothes and topped off electronics. I tried to be quiet as I didn't want to disturb my hosts. I made a couple trips outside to pack my bike and snagged a few more chocolate chip cookies and a Mountain Dew for the road.

I put fresh bandaids on my ears and more ointment & bandages on my backside. Fingers crossed.
The house was packed with stuff, yet everything seemed to have a purpose, place.

I spotted this on the kitchen counter. I found out weeks later that another rider had made the design and carried a few along the way. One ended up in my friends hands while they camped in the Gila, down near Silver City, NM. It now resides on my kitchen counter. Thank you!!

Cozy place to hang out when things are chilly outside.

Looks like a normal house from this vantage point.

A better shot of the three cyclists cabins.
It was a gloomy morning, but no rain. I settled into the ride, but was finding a different challenge on this morning. My legs weren't firing. Dead. Thankfully, my butt found a suitable position on the saddle, but power was lacking from my engine. Every uphill was a struggle, but I managed to keep pedaling.
A few easy miles to start the day.

Re-entering the Helena Nat'l Forest.

Following along side Prickly Pear Creek.

Remnants of Empire Mine.

Relics of days gone by.

The skies darkened as the slow climbing continued, yet nothing fell from the sky.

The brooding clouds kept threatening, but their wrath rang hollow.

The riding surface was magnificent and the terrain opened up.

Cresting the climb a long gradual downhill awaits. My legs can rest. These are free miles.

I crossed the railroad tracks at Blossburg, then made the turn onto Priest Pass Rd. Once again, my legs wanted nothing to do with the climb and my backside decided to mutiny as well. So I stopped and watched some cows graze, then thought I should do the same thing.

Nothing better to wake up dead legs than a trailside burrito.

It was raining all around as I screamed down from Priest Pass.

These random sights tell quite the tale, I'm sure of it. How long has that single boxcar been there?

Fast, downhill pavement miles into Helena. I thought these Jesus signs were a bit creepy, kinda like those haunted house pictures where the eyes follow you as you walk by.
I was a bit disappointed as there wasn't a Welcome to Helena sign, nothing. Well, ok then. I was craving my mandatory chocolate milk and hit up the first gas station I saw.
Who knows, I may be on the next updated street view map!!
I tracked down a pharmacy and did some shopping thanks to some suggestions & research online. I still had plenty of Advil even though I began taking two doses a day. I tried an application of Orajel and fresh bandages for the increasing saddle sores. I think by this point my right side was about 2x3" with two distinct pressure points and my left side had a few smaller points of discomfort. I just wanted to be able to ride my bike. The bandaids I put on my ears had fallen off and I needed new ones. The smallest box available was a 100ct!! My Camelbak was rapidly filling with first-aid items.

It wasn't more than 10 minutes after leaving the pharmacy when I had a revelation. So dumb when I think back on it. Why did this discovery take me 4+ days to figure out?? My goggles have a wrap around strap, there's no need for them to sit inside my ears. I ride with a Halo skullcap to keep the sweat out of my eyes, I can wear the goggles on top of the skullcap, not underneath. Duh. My discomfort was eased almost instantly. All I had to do now was take care of the small cuts. The goggles were no longer an issue the rest of the ride.

I ate lunch next door thanks to a recommendation at the pharmacy. I was getting ready to roll out when an older lady came up to me and asked if I was riding the Great Divide. I told her I was doing the Tour Divide, which is based off the Great Divide route. She then offered me a place to stay for the night!! I'll admit, I was a bit shocked that someone would offer up their home to a complete stranger on the spot, but this isn't the big city. I politely declined her offer as it was still early in the day and I had a bunch of miles to put behind me. I could tell by her body language that she was surprised I didn't accept the offer, so I reiterated my intentions to ride for at least another 8 hours. I think she began to understand and wished me luck as I pushed off.

Helena, MT.

Yet another subtle reminder...

Grizzly Gulch wasn't my favorite climb, the initial gravel was thick and there was quite a bit of traffic being so close to a larger town. That, and I had to dismount and walk for a while since I couldn't sit on my bike. Grrr.

When I think of a cabin in the woods, this is the image.
I eventually crested Grizzly Gulch and of course the ensuing downhill was over in minutes. Next up was Tour Divide punch card #7: Lava Mountain. I had heard this was a difficult stretch of riding, but as many things on the Divide, you never truly know until you're in the thick of it.

The climbing grade was rideable, but I needed to be in a low gear. While the low gear made the spinning easier, it also gave me the most discomfort. I was growing more frustrated with my situation as the minutes turned to hours. It felt like I was going nowhere. I had a local stop and ask if I was ok. I was, just a bit defeated is all. Just keep moving forward. That became my mantra. It may not be pretty or fast, but I was still moving forward on route.

There's no way it's not going to rain, right? It didn't.
I was so excited when I crested that climb that I failed to notice my turn and continued down the pass about a half mile before my GPS alerted me of my mistake. The turn was so gradual, the upper road virtually paralleled the downhill road, so it took a bit longer for my GPS to pick up my error. Ugh. I walked back up to the missed turn.

I should've gone this way, duh. It says right on the sign!! ;p

Park Lake through the trees. Doesn't it appear to be snowing on the far left? It was a bit chilly up there.

The nice gradual climb was replaced with this. The Lava Mountain Trail.
I tried riding it for a bit, but it was sapping what little energy I had left. Hike-a-bike time...again. I thought this would be good time to get my toons cranking again. I needed a pick-me-up and this area had a very distinct bear feel to it.

A short time later I heard the braaap, braaap of a moto coming up the trail. That'll keep the bears away!!

I was in no mood for this kind of crap today. Normally, it doesn't really bother me, but on this day I just wanted to be over the top...quickly. Wasn't happening.
 Shortly after this picture I rounded a corner and...Hal!!! I hadn't seen him since Ovando the day before. It was such good timing too. As soon as I caught up to him, he looked at me and we both shook our heads and smiled at the crappy trail conditions. It was really nice to have his company for a short bit, it helped get my mind focused on the task at hand.

I told Hal about my saddle sore situation and he gave me his secret: PRID drawing salve. I now had to find some in Butte. When someone on their 6th Tour Divide gives you sage advice, you take it.
No. 1 in my book!!

Lava Mountain wasn't quite done with me yet.
After a few mucky areas the 'trail' finally topped out. It then began a series of super steep, rocky descents that quite frankly, I'm surprised I rode. Hal had warned me of the upcoming gnarliness. It was the type of riding that required full attention, no room for errors and it was exactly what I needed. By the time I bottomed out I had a solid adrenaline rush going. I filtered water, had a quick snack and still no Hal. I figured he was walking down most of that section, so I rode on.

Fresh timber.

The sun was beginning to fade as I dropped off Lava Mountain.

The clouds put on quite a show.
Once again I arrived into a tiny town, Basin, well after dark. It was sometime near 11p and it was getting cold while a few drops were finally falling from the sky. The town's main street looked deserted while I combed the area for place to camp. Then I saw lights down the street. There was one place in town with an 'OPEN' sign illuminated, the Silver Saddle bar. I hoped they served food, but wasn't holding my breath. I figured at the very least I'm grabbing a beer after the long rough day.

A beacon of hope in the cold, wet night.
There were a few locals shooting pool and jamming to the jukebox. I asked the bartender if they had a kitchen and were serving food. She responded with, 'I can make you a cheese pizza or a pepperoni pizza'. Score. Pepperoni please and some of Montana's finest suds as well.

That thing didn't stand a chance. Gonzo.

It would've been cool to see a bighorn sheep in the mountains.

All the local wildlife were on display.

I'd be fine if this was my only sighting.
It was now a bit after midnight and I still had no idea where I was going to sleep that night. I contemplated riding out of town a bit to find a place, but when I went out to my bike the rain had picked up and it must've been in the low to mid 30's. Not a pleasant proposition. The bar had a room in the rear and I thought I could crash out there until they closed. The bartender informed me that she was about to lock up for the evening, so that nixed my idea. She then asked where I was going to camp. When I informed her I had no idea she said I could pay $5 and spend the night in the community center next door. Say what? Sounded like I found my sleeping spot.

I walked over to the community center and cracked the door, I could see at least five bikepacking rigs inside. My people!! I gathered up my stuff and tried to be as quiet as possible while I found a place to setup inside.
Basin, MT on a deserted Thursday night.
Upon further review, it was rather comical as I noticed each bike was parked along the long wall at an electrical outlet. We bikepackers all do the same thing!! The room was a giant open hall with two long padded benches on each side. I rolled out my sleeping bag and dozed off almost instantly.

I was now one week into the Tour Divide and sitting exactly on mile 700. 100 mile per day average. I was happy with that all things considered. I was really liking my chances since I knew Montana was historically slow going. Time would tell.

Stats: 80.06 miles & 7,977' gained.


Here is a full Tour Divide Index from each day on the route.


  1. Great stuff John. I don't know if Helena is just at "that point" on the TD where a rider is hurting bad, so it feels crappy or if that is just the vibe of the area but I hated Helena and the climb out of there. I must admit, Lava Mountain trail wasn't as bad as I expected and I could ride most of it, so really enjoyed that - which made the rest of the day go well.
    It sure is taking me back, reading your account! Thanks. ;)

    1. Oh man, I wish I had been in a better physical state on the approach to the Lava Mtn. Trail, that would've really helped my mental game there. I just didn't have it in my legs. Timing is everything on these rides.

  2. Wow, and the memories!
    Love your photos and descriptions, John.
    Steve Brigham 2019 TD rider

    1. Thanks, Steve. Lots of great memories made out there.