Learnings from the Divide thus far

I’m stuck in Rawlins for the afternoon as the famous Wyoming Winds have reared up and it’s impossible to ride into them (you don’t move at all) and dangerous to ride perpendicular as you get blown sideways – I’ve never experienced anything like it. It has made me extremely grateful to have had the 2 sunny days I had crossing the Great Basin as if the wind had started yesterday I’d still be there in the middle of it rationing myself to one M&M an hour so as not to run out of food too quickly.

There are possibly worse places to be stuck but I’m not sure where they are. Poor old Rawlins – I feel bad criticising it when it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is i.e. a functional service town to serve long distance travellers on the highway.

Oh dang, as I was halfway through that paragraph someone approached my table and said her son-in-law (who had asked about my trip when I was parking Reggie outside) would like to pay for my lunch if I cared to order, so I take it all back about Rawlins! Can’t wait for my fillet steak and glass of Chateau Margaux to arrive…

Whilst waiting for the wind to die down – it should be gone about 4pm apparently – I thought I’d blog my learnings from the Divide so far.

1) Never go to Diamond Lil’s in Rawlins and, if you do, don’t order the shrimp

I have food poisoning.

2) You must ride your own ride

The Divide is amazing but tough and to make that an enjoyable challenge and not torture, I think it’s important you do things your own way. Some people are evangelists for travelling light being key to getting to the end but I’m not sure I wholly agree. Certainly a lighter bike than I set out on helps me but I wouldn’t trade in my luxury items (an iPad and a few items of civilian clothing so I don’t feel like a grotty biker when wondering around town on a day off) for the sake of a few grams as they’re important to keep me happy. I’ve seen many different styles along the way: Greg knows the weight of each item to the nearest gram and wonders around in waterproof jacket and trousers at night when not in his cycling shorts as that’s pretty much all he has whilst Sean is carrying everything and the kitchen sink (in the form of a foldable Ortleib bowl). Both of them are getting on just fine. Some people, like me, follow the day’s mileage laid out in the book (although I am actually now effectively 7 days ahead I think after combining some days, although I have had days off so in actuality it’s a bit less than that) whilst others ride as far as they can each day. Whatever their style, the fragmented motley crew that I’ve met along the way all* continue to wind their way south (albeit at various speeds).

*Not David actually as he dislocated his shoulder with some dare-devil riding so has had to retire

3) Don’t expect to do the exact route

Weather leading to impassable roads, wind leading to a stationary ride unless you head off in a slightly different, wind-friendly direction or the need to fast-track yourself to a bike shop and take a short-cut are par for the course. Whether you accept a lift in a quad bike is up to the discretion of the individual but it’s a long way and in the context of (a potential) 2,700 miles, I personally think 30 in a motorised vehicle is acceptable.

4) The phenomenon of the kindness of strangers does exist

I have been constantly touched and amazed by the friendliness and kindness of people I’ve met along the way and the trip wouldn’t be the same without them.

5) Stop washing your hair

I think this is key to people recognising you’re ‘doing something different’ and stopping to chat to you and saying or doing something lovely as it happens to me even when Reggie is out of sight.

6) It’s impossible to take a good selfie

This is my best effort amongst multiple deletions

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7) You’re unlikely to have as much time hanging around in your tent as you may think

I thought I’d be reading or watching films on my iPad in the evenings but this never seems to happen as either I meet someone and chat with them or I arrive late in the day and go to sleep. So my VSPN to mask my IP address allowing me to download Bake Off from iPlayer whilst abroad has not been used. Fortunately my friend Jennie writes a great weekly synopsis so I know all about the saga of WI woman taking Beardie’s bake out the fridge and eagerly await the fiasco that will be macaroon week.

8) I have zero upper body strength and find it incredibly hard to push my bike uphill

I don’t know why I’m so surprised at this as I had some insight into the fact I have pea-shooters rather than guns (as friend Neil says) from going to Body Pump classes at Brixton Rec. My legs were comparatively strong and I was one of the heaviest lifters in the class during the quad exercise. One person did lift more but she wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1970s women’s (or men’s) Soviet Union shot put team so I’m excluding her. My arms were comparatively weak and during the triceps exercise I couldn’t lift even the smallest weight available so just wafted an empty bar in the air to Eric Pridez or similar track whilst the rest of the class actually pumped iron.

9) It is prudent to be bear aware

They’re unlikely to attack you but they are out there as demonstrated by sightings, fresh scat and paw print spots. Please see below:

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Think that’s it for now aside from to give a final cyber thanks to the man who just paid for my lunch!

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Days 30 to 34: photo journal

Day 30: Squirrel Creek to Flagg Ranch

Not sure I took any photos this day as it was raining, so here’s a picture of a snake instead

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Day 31: Flagg Ranch to Jackson

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Cruising by the Tetons wearing 2 layers and 2 jackets when the average temperature is supposed to be 75 degrees that time of year!

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Local beer at the KOA campsite with Daniel

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Day 32: Jackson to Pinedale

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Day 33: Pinedale to Little Sandy Creek

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Day 34: Little Sandy Creek to Sweetwater River

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The Great Basin

(Written from the entertainment Mecca that is Diamond Lil’s, Rawlins)

Wyoming, it’s over, it’s you not me, you’ve been wet and not looking your best for most of our time together and I am moving on to Colorado (or at least will be in a couple of days, all being well).

It’s fair to say that Wyoming didn’t really get a fair trial due to the inclement weather although even in the sunshine I think I’d prefer Canada and Montana. It’s perhaps a little too middle of nowhere for me. There are as many pronghorn antelope in Wyoming as there are people – 400-500,000 – and I can confirm that at least 8 of those people are absolutely bonkers.

There have been some highlights though: passing Yellowstone and the Tetons, the Great Basin and, most memorably of all, finding $50 on the sidewalk in Jackson!

I would, first up, like to say that I’ve found a wad of notes on the pavement twice before and both times I’ve been ‘a good citizen’. Once I gave the money to charity and the other time I caught up with the person in front of me to see if it was theirs and it was indeed their baby-sitting money. This time, however, after an expensive stay in Jackson – new battery charger and even the campsite is $40 and it’s 12 miles out of town – I knew straightaway this was no time for an altruistic act and that money was to be mine.

The key to picking stray money off the floor in public and not have yourself or someone else feel you should look around for the rightful owner is discretion. To achieve that, I got missile lock on an object in front of me to help maintain my current speed and direction, then stooped and scooped in one fluid movement before pocketing the cash with Fagan-like quickness. I was magnificent. Once I knew I wasn’t being tailed, I counted my bounty and left town with a spring in my step.

Next up was the town of Pinedale where I met 3 new cyclists: Dean (who is 70, carries a Mexico or bust sign to motivate himself and has a day off every 4th day when I believe he drinks the beer he missed on the previous 3 days), his friend Billy (60) and travelling separately, Sean, a big, burly, vegetarian South African. The guy is an excellent advert for the power of pulses as he is as strong as an ox, riding a heavily-laden single speed bike. Dean and Billy were having a day off, whilst Sean and I were heading to the same location that day. It was a lovely, comparatively easy ride and, for the first time in a while, the sun was out. We arrived separately, then pitched our tents next to each other on a patch of grass amongst the sage brush and, later joined by a couple of Australians, had a wonderful evening around the camp fire.

The next day was an absolute pile of shit. It rained solidly all day and the roads, whilst rideable, were very muddy and I ended up wheeling Reggie down the hills after one too many scary fish-tailing moments. I could however ride uphill and awarded myself the imaginary spotted Queen of the Mountains shirt as I occasionally creeped past Sean, legs whirring in the lowest gear, as, being on a single-speed, he inevitably ends up pushing up a lot of the hills. Over-taking was a first for me!

We passed through Atlantic City (population 57) and stopped for some grub and found Greg, Hannah and Brandon (the 3 I’ve travelled with a bit) in the bar, having taken a day off to wait for the rain to stop before crossing the Great Basin as that’s one area where you don’t want to be slowed down by wet roads – it’s a huge flattish area with little-to-no water (normally!) and not much else bar antelope and wild horses.

Sean and I carried on another 10 miles that day as it’s a long slog to the reservoir in the middle of the Basin that you camp at (out of necessity as it’s the only place you can get fresh water) and I thought I’d rather do 70 miles the next day than 80. We arrived at Sweetwater River wet and cold so Sean took it upon himself to start a fire. This was no mean feat with only loo paper, cardboard and some damp twigs to work with but he set about the task with gusto whilst I sat on a log looking pretty. Well, I did make one contribution saying that if things didn’t work out with the materials at hand, I could set fire to a tampon as I’d seen Bear Grylls do it on the Stephen Fry celebrity special and it burned rather well. The thought of a sanitary start to the fire seemed to spark something special in Sean and soon there were roaring flames saving us both from an awkward moment.

Robbed of my chance to save the day but keen to play some sort of role in proceedings, I set off to find further fuel for the fire. I spent a good 10-15 minutes trying to wrangle dead branches off various bushes which isn’t easy when they’re wet and, embarrassed at my two twig haul after all that time, laid them next to the fire with a muted ‘well that should keep it going for a bit…’. During this time, Sean had uprooted a small tree and already got going cooking dinner. He has 2 daughters and I think I bought out his paternal nature and as I am now stove-less, I often end up getting a free meal when around those who are fit enough to lug around cooking equipment.

The next day we set out across the Basin which, at first, was a bit miserable as, whilst there hadn’t been any more rain overnight, the roads were still heavy-going. I wasn’t even halfway to the reservoir by 2.30pm and was on course to arrive about 11pm. I was seriously considering evacuating the Basin as I hadn’t seen anyone else, thought I was alone and didn’t fancy cycling around in the dark in such a remote area. I set off before Sean thinking he’d soon catch me but he didn’t, so I’d written him off as dead. I expected Greg, Hannah and Brandon to catch me despite them having to do an extra 10 miles but they hadn’t and I thought maybe they’d seen a change in the forecast from the previously predicted 2 days of sun and decided to give the Basin a miss. No sooner had I studied the map for an escape route, Sean trundled by which meant I had no excuse but to carry on. As the roads dried out over the course of the day and the route became flatter, I started to appreciate the beauty of the Basin and had a lovely early evening ride before arriving at the reservoir in the dark, albeit over 2 hrs earlier than once predicted.

The 2nd part of the 2-day Basin crossing is much more manageable as you’re treated to some paved road, so here I am in Rawlins, ready to do some laundry and get some new brake pads for Reggie. I hope to head off for a short ride tomorrow afternoon before tackling some serious hills that take you into Colorado. Wyoming has not offered up any monster climbs so I’m a bit nervous about hitting the hills again, although hopefully I’ll be ok as I’m both fitter and lighter than before after ditching my bear canister.

This was a smallish plastic barrel to keep your food and toiletries in overnight so as not to attract bears. It did the job but was an awkward shape and weighed a lot when empty, let alone full of food which it was most of the time as I found it hard to keep track of what I had in there so it often ended up containing as much as a small local newsagent: white mice, foam bananas, Wham bars, cartons of UmBungo… You name it, they were in the canister. Thinking I was out of Grizzly country and only had less aggressive Black and Brown bears to contend with, I thought I’d chance my arm (and other body parts if not successful) at hanging my food from a branch overnight rather than lugging the canister around. I mentioned this rationale to Sean who said Brown bears are Grizzly bears, they just use a different name in different states. Best wish me luck then lobbing my food into trees!

Right, I’m off to bed as I’m cream-crackered!

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Days 25 to 29: photo journal

Days 25 and 26: Bannack State Park to Deadwood Gulch

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Day 27: Deadwood Gulch to a driveway 5 miles short of Lakeview (a BAD day off to a good start with the breakfast of champions in Lima)

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Day 28: driveway to Macks Inn

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Day 29: Macks Inn to Squirrel Creek elk hunting lodge

Lovely ride down old railroad

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Days 20 to 24: photo journal

[don’t have the map in front of me to see where I went so will have to come back and fix this later]

Day 20: Helena to Merry Widows Health Mine campsite (via Lava Mountain ridge)

Lava Mountain

Lava Mountain

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Day 21: Merry Widows Health Mine to Butte

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Thistle fields

Thistle fields

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Dropping down into Butte

Dropping down into Butte

Day off in Butte

Montana hailstones. They hurt if they land on your back whilst squatting in a ditch

Montana hailstones. They hurt if they land on your back whilst squatting in a ditch

Day 22: Butte to random site in Beaverhead Lodge National Forest just before Wise River (via Fleecer Ridge)

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Day 23: Beaverhead to can’t remember

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Day 24: forgotten so back by no demand at all, it’s Buddy!

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Let the good times roll!

Am now in a Jackson after a scenic ride down the edge of the Tetons, after randomly bumping into nice Aussie guy Daniel 2 minutes after I set off. David was heading for the hills and went off in the wrong direction which he seems to do a lot. He’s had to backtrack 8 miles uphill after a wrong turn. I’d phone British Airways and leave the country the next day if I did that.

Am having an electronic goods charging disaster after my central battery I’ve used to charge all devices has failed and I’ve barely any juice left in anything. I’ve just shelled out a month’s worth of burgers on something to replace it so here’s hoping it works! Before my iPad fails, thought I’d do a quick post with some photos of better times than the storms!

One of those was going over the “legendary Fleecer Ridge”. In the context of this trip, I like neither the word legendary nor the word ridge. However, it turned out to be a real highlight. I planned to do it in the morning when less tired but bumped into Greg, Hannah and Brandon (the 3 I’ve travelled with a bit) and agreed to ‘go over the top’ with them that afternoon as the stretch has a bit of a reputation. 

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The ride to the top was ok and the views were amazing. It’s the trip down, in Greg’s words, “a frickin’ vertical wall man” that makes it so fearsome. I was in control of the bike a good, oooooo, maybe 1-2% of the time as it was steep indeed! 

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This is pretty steep, it just doesn’t really look it in the photo!

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The scenery has been very varied, no exaggeration to say it changes everyday and I went through some canyons and terrain I’d think of for New Mexico rather than Montana before hitting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and a more familiar look and feel. Note to self to not put your tent perpendicular to the wind when camped in a steep-sided canyon. Note to others to ride in in the bike lane if you want to avoid paying to get into Grand Teton for free.

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Walt? Jesse?

Walt? Jesse?

Halfway through writing this, I’ve again randomly bumped into Brandon! He’s come down to Jackson too to short-cut to Pinedale after getting a puncture in snow and Hannah losing feeling in her hands and starting crying it was so cold. So my decision firmly validated!

Thanks for all your comments – they’re really nice to receive when I do get access to wifi or cell signal!

Dipping my toe in Idaho

(Overdue blog post with no photos as not had wifi for ages and the one I’ve managed to hook into is a bit rubbish and panics when you ask it to upload a photo)

Goodbye Montana, you hilly mama, and hello Idaho! Dipping my toe in Idaho for 78 miles, then it’s Wyoming which is already sending some of its famous winds this way and a couple of storms seem to have snuck over the state border too.

I had a great couple of days after Butte and was feeling fully back on track before narrowly avoiding becoming fodder for Michael Berk’s 999 Christmas special. I’d done 12 miles then pulled in to a tiny ‘town’ Lima for eggs and bacon, chatted to a lovely couple (I hope you got the address right and are reading this!) and we talked about whether I was worried about people stealing my bike and other things I might be scared of. Most of them I said didn’t really bother me but I forgot to mention I find the thought of being caught in a thunder storm quite terrifying. Mother Nature prompted my memory later that afternoon by laying on a big one!

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I’d read up at home what to do in such circumstances – namely head for the trees and/or dip in the ground. Unfortunately, for the first time all trip, I was in a flat as a pancake exposed valley of sagebrush so neither of those options applied. Following the advice I’d read to make yourself small, I was in a ditch squatting for England leaving Reggie perched upright ready to take one for the team if he had to. I found myself looking up watching a dark blanket of doom being pulled across the sky, hail pelting down on my back with thunder and lightening going off in 3 different directions thinking ‘my God…the storms are merging…they’re forming a Super cell…’ – it honestly did have that pattern!

A bad situation became a tiny bit badder when, after the storm passed, I realised I couldn’t move. The water had turned the road to clay and I was quite literally stuck in the mud as a ball of it clogged up the space between the fork and the front wheel, stopping it from turning after just a single wheel rotation. After 2 miles of walking the bike through the sagebrush (which drained better), I hit better road and could cycle again.

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I pedalled as far as I could before the rain came once more and i was on a particularly poor bit of road that meant, again, I ground to a halt in clay. Whilst there weren’t any houses around, there were a few random buildings and my day had ended 100m from the driveway to one of them. That was stony and seemed to shed the water better than the road which was pure mud so I ditched Reggie at the side of the road, packed up my possessions and spent the night in my tent in said driveway. It was awful. Another storm blew in and no exaggeration to say the wind nearly rolled the tent with me inside it.

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I didn’t think about bears at all that night as it was a fairly deforested area and had all my food feet away so it was a bit of a shock to come across these prints in the morning a few miles down the road.

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The road was just about rideable in the morning so I rode as far and as fast as I could before the weather pattern repeated itself. This saw me nose-diving out of the mountains at looming dark clouds, and heading down to the town of Mack’s Inn which is marked on the map with the visual treats of a shopping trolley, bed and knife and fork symbol. For the record, Mack’s Inn is smaller than most Welcome Breaks.

What I like about this route is that when things seem to be taking a turn for the worse, something good happens. I was in my motel room (weekly treat) when there was a knock on the door, which I opened to a sodden biker who, when checking in to the same motel, had heard from the receptionist I was here and offered to buy me a beer. He seemed a little shaken up after spending a night in stormy sagebrush valley IN A HAMMOCK! He made a miracle discovery of a bit of old fence and single willow tree that meant he could sling it up but he, like me, had found the whole experience decidedly unfunny.

Burrito and beers later, we agreed to ride together the next day (except I then bailed to take the shorter route which I’d like to point out is the MAIN route, not alternative option, it’s just it’s an old railway bed of volcanic sand so supposed to be hard to ride and thus they offer you an easier option). We met up where the two options re-connected, spent the night in the grounds of a random elk hunting lodge as we were out of options and the owners let us stay then set off separately (as our pace is very different!) thinking we’d both camp at the same spot that night. It is unseasonably cold (it’s in the 50s and supposed to be in the upper 70s this time of year), and after hearing reports that it might actually SNOW(!!!), David, who was ahead of me, got to the campsite one before the site we’d agreed to stop at and booked a cabin thinking ‘Anna is really not going to want to do another 17 miles in this weather’. Obviously I was gutted as really fancied a night in a wet tent eating peanut butter out the jar for dinner, but if a cabin, log fire and bison burger were thrust upon me it’s rude to say no. So here we are taking stock of what to do as it’s Baltic at 6,000 feet, constantly raining and there will almost certainly be snow at 10,000 ft which is the height of Cabin Pass we’re due to go over in a couple of days. David is going to “strike on out” and hit the pass once he’s bought a pair of wool socks to use as arm warmers. I’m looking at alternative options! There’s a scenic spur road down the side of the Teton Mountains to Jackson which I may take, then take the low roads to Pinedale. If I knew the roads up high were rideable I might do it but really don’t feel like hauling ass up 4,000 ft to find the roads closed or snow-covered and you could get lost. Easy option neatly disguised as safety first for me!

In lighter news, I’ve seen my first moose, the heat rash has gone and my bottom has been semi-restored to its former glory after a day out of the saddle! And I’ve done over 1000 miles and got to Yellowstone National Park which was my first medium-sized goal. Despite the elements making things a bit testing over the last few days, life is still good and I’m very much enjoying it (even if bits of it are ‘type 2 fun’ i.e. fun when you look back at it, not that fun at the time!).

Days 15 to 19: photo journal

Day 15: Clearwater Lake to Seeley Lakes

Day 15: Clearwater Lake to Seeley Lakes

Top of Richmond Peak

Top of Richmond Peak

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Day 16: Seeley Lake to Big Nelson campground

Day 16: Seeley Lake to Big Nelson campground

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Days 17 and 18: Big Nelson campground to somewhere in Helena National Forest

Days 17 and 18: Big Nelson campground to somewhere in Helena National Forest

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Greg

Greg

Emily pushing up last stretch of a Continental Divide crossing

Emily pushing up last stretch of a Continental Divide crossing

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Day 19: undisclosed location in Helena National Forest to Helena

I got lost so it was a bad mood, no photo day. So as to not leave the day empty, here’s a gratuitous shot of a dog named Buddy. Awwwwww….

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Hey Bear!

I’ve seen another bear – a Black bear this time. I was riding along when it suddenly came roaring out the woods shouting “Oi, woman, ger’off my land!”. This was no time for diplomacy and I had no option but to tackle aggression with aggression so stood up on Reggie’s saddle and elbow-dropped him like a WWF wrestler from the ropes. He fell to the floor like a sack of spuds, face down to the ground with me astride his neck, holding one stumpy forearm behind his back in a paw-lock as he squealed for mercy.

Alternatively, I saw a bear from about 200 metres away, casually walking down the road before crossing it and scampering into the bushes. I continued on to the campsite and, again, experienced the kindness of strangers as a very friendly family offered me their spot after examining “my rig” as they put it before departing, then the couple next door invited me over for whiskey and soda which was just what the doctor ordered!

Not a toy

Not a toy

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Things went a bit downhill after that and I’ve spent the last few days, metaphorically, pulling myself up off the floor after being tired and emotional! Three main reasons for this:

1) I spent a couple of days with the 3 people I sometimes hook up with, then go ahead when they have a day off, then they catch up with me again and we ride together for a day or two before the cycle repeats itself. It’s nice to have company sometimes (although I never really feel alone as, as cited above, people stop and say hi or offer you a drink etc.) but I find it hard riding in a group as I’m always bringing up the rear which is a bit demoralising. I always tell them to please go on and don’t wait for me but they do, which is nice of them but inevitably means I hurry then knacker myself out. I want to spend 2 hrs rocking in the foetal position halfway up a big hill, I’d like to be able to do that and not feel I have to press on to the top so they’re not waiting too long.

2) I got lost. It was essentially fine as you don’t feel you can ever get too lost – just head either south or downhill if you are and sooner or later you’ll hit a main road that will take you, if not to your intended destination for that night, to the next town on the route. But it did mean a horrible trip down the highway before arriving in Helena in a slightly deflated state.

3) Spent a day on, according to the book (which does lie a lot), the toughest terrain on the whole route. It was horrible. As I set out from Helena, I realised straightaway I had zero energy and today was not the day to be tackling it. I knew at time of ordering the night before that a Chicken Cobb salad from Bert & Ernies was not a calorific enough choice and I should go for a high energy option and, sure enough, bitterly regretted it the next day. Really I should have turned around and taken the day off but I ploughed on and found it really heavy going. Them there was a 2 mile, extremely steep climb up a muddy, rooty, rocky path with deep gullies in it so there was no option but to push your bike up hill and battle to hold it steady going on the even steeper downhill stretch. Frustratingly, the slope looks fine in the photos but it really wasn’t! I’d left Helena late and made such slow progress that I arrived at my destination not just in a mood but in the dark and in the rain. Last time I set out at midday!

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I have found a new motivational song of choice to help me through the bad times such as those. Funny how stuff you never listen to at home suddenly becomes your go-to option. Go sistas!

I am now feeling a lot better after a day off in Butte, a historic mining town. I got overtaken bybumped into an Aussie guy also doing the route and we blew our budget on steak and beers last night and took the trolley tour of the town this morning which was fun. Now we’re both blogging. Let’s hope he’s also saying nice stuff and not writing “had to suffer through a 3 hour dinner and spent all morning trying to shake her off – talk about a limpet! And who knows when she last washed her hair!”.

Physically and not just mentally I am feeling better for a bit of a rest as my body is in a bit of a state. I have terrible heat rash on the tops of my thighs (it’s been 35 degrees at times), so I covered up for 2 days and wore leggings rather than shorts. Mistake. Without the padding my bottom was red raw at the end of the day. In addition, the arm of my sunglasses has started severing my right ear off so I need to give that a rest too! Other than that, all is ship-shape!

Here’s a list of the movers and shakers on the animal chart: bears at number 1 after papping a Black one, wolverine and beaver riding high in joint second and a new entrant on this week’s chart – a skunk! It did the ‘psfffffff’ skunk-thing, looked slightly embarrassed at what it had just done and ran off.

Tan-wise, shoulders = David Dickenson. The rest of me is a bit red after running out of P20 suntan cream and switching to that globally-recognised brand, Rocky Mountain suntan cream. It doesn’t work.

Before I was broken :-(

Before I was broken 😦