Tour Divide 2022 Day 4

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Tour Divide 2022 – Day 4 – Whitefish to Bigfork

Date: 13-06-22

Mileage: 45.14 miles

Cumulative mileage: 329.77 miles

Climbing: 1867 feet

Cumulative climbing: 19708 feet

Elapsed time: 5hrs 22min

Riding time: 4hrs 02min

This was effectively a half day brought about by the weather forecast, even though we ‘only’ rode 45 miles it felt like a hollow day, as we should have been pushing on for more. Apparently I put the hammer down on the last ten miles, only to be berated by Chris when we finally got into the motel as I wanted to sit around for an hour before we went out for dinner. Allegedly this was interfering with possible beer consumption time!

Rail crossing at Columbia Falls

Basically we had to get into Bigfork as quick as we could to shelter from the impending storm, and indeed looking at the tracker a lot of riders were either sat in Columbia falls or Bigfork. There was a 100% chance of bad weather. Most of the local rivers were almost at bursting point, a bridge had been washed away in Yellowstone and it just felt like the risk factor was too high. All the photos we took were, unsurprisingly, on the bits when the sun was shining and the phone stayed firmly in the pocket the rest of the time.

Gravel south of Columbia Falls, Mooring Road

We were struggling with the concept of staying put, and in reality feeling like we should be carrying on, but after much discussion between ourselves and people back at home we decided that safety was more important. As two guys from Sussex who live at sea level we really weren’t prepared for quite what Montana decided to throw at us.

Jan and I, Mooring Road, Columbia Falls

As ever we had some brilliant interactions with the locals, a guy called Joe pulled over for a chat at an intersection on one of the sections when it wasn’t chucking it down. He told us about how he had hosted a couple of riders on a previous year, he asked us why we were doing it, but none of us could come up with a convincing reason why at that point!

GDMBR campsite, Lauman Road

The route basically zig zagged against the side of the mountains down to Bigfork. As a result of this every time we were heading South we came away from the base of the mountains and the weather improved, but then just as it was getting nice the route would then go back East leading us straight back into the torrential rain. We had a chat with several sets of racers, one, called Alan, was from Scotland, but he lived in Mexico. We said that he should be right at home with the weather, but he confessed Mexico had reprogrammed his weather resilience and he wasn’t particularly enjoying it at that point. He was a funny guy and we enjoyed the chat and it took our minds off the task at hand for a while as we all pedalled along. 

We got a group photo

We met a couple outside their house, near Creston, who were dot watching, they were watching the tracker and then running out to stand on their drive with a cowbell cheering riders on. We stopped for a quick chat which was nice. But also slightly demoralising as they had two signs on their tree, one pointing to Banff saying 386 miles, the other saying Antelope Wells 2327 miles.

We had various other people cheering us on from cars, one incredibly short woman in a ditch full of long grass who shouted “yay south bounders”, we almost didn’t see her but just caught sight of the top of her head in the undergrowth.

Swan River, near Bigfork

Ultimately though it was a head down and bash out the miles kind of day, just trying to ignore the rain and getting on with it. The best part was the gravel road into Bigfork that the dotwatching couple had told us about. This was really nice as it allowed us to avoid the highway into Bigfork and enjoy a really nice trail. The volume of water behind the dam was huge compared to 2016 and the speed of the river flowing into the Flathead lake was quite ferocious.

Swan River bridge, Bigfork

When we were unpacking at the motel we spoke to our neighbours who also had a couple of loaded Surly bikes. They had ridden from Santa Barbara to Oregon, to Spokane, and were then riding back home to Colorado. 

Jan bought us dinner at Oro y plata, by way of a thank you for riding with us for a few days which was a very nice meal and it was nice to have a couple of beers too. Though we both agreed that Jan was in fact way more metal than either of us and probably all of our friends put together. A seriously inspirational rider, we both agreed that if either of us was riding that hard in another twenty five years when we got to her age we’d be pretty happy with how things are going. As is the way on this event you meet people in such extraordinary circumstances that in a very short time you feel like you’ve known them forever, and Jan was definitely no exception to this, we really enjoyed our time riding together. 

Oro y plata, Bigfork

Whilst having dinner one of the other UK guys, Phil Jones posted into the group that he was in Bigfork, so he joined us for dinner and we watched him demolish a huuuuge amount of food. He chatted about the route so far and told us about the bits we had decided to circumnavigate and to be honest it sounded pretty awful. As we were getting ready to leave we chatted to a couple of other people who were having dinner and it was a funny experience because as we explained what we were doing they both really came to life and were somewhat astonished by what we were attempting to do. When you have been in the bubble of preparing for 18 months you very much take it at face value that what you are doing is normal, as it has been your reality for so long, so when someone else hears your objectives they are somewhat astonished by it. They took our instagram names and got a photo with us, which felt pretty mad at the time, and they wanted to pay for dinner too, but we declined. They were originally going to holiday in Glacier National Park, but had decided because of the weather to head to Grand Teton. So instead of paying we suggested that if they saw any riders further down the route, as was likely if they were going there, that they stop and offer them some encouragement of food or both, as it is such a boost for weary riders.

Phil's snack....

As we were sat in the motel in the evening we were discussing the route and the mental hardship associated with long straight roads and scenery that didn’t change for hours and then while browsing Instagram and looking at the Tour Divide hashtag we found out about others that had scratched on the same day as a result of taking fifteen hours to get across the pass that we avoided when the Sheriff had told us to take the road, so we felt somewhat vindicated in our decision. 

Then we saw the upcoming forecast:

“Winter storm warning in effect from 18:00 Monday, to 06:00 Wednesday. Heavy snow expected above 5000 feet, 3” to 8” above 5000 feet, 8” to 15” above 6000 feet, 24” above 7000 feet. Winds gusting as high as 45mph, especially on the ridge tops, travel could be very difficult in the backcountry, especially for those recreating through the high country of the Flathead Range, Swan range, Whitehead range, high country of Glacier National Park and the Potomac and Seeley Lake region.”

Heavy snow, incoming......

So that was it, we would be staying put the next day, getting back on the route then avoiding Richmond Peak and riding to Seeley Lake on the highway for the last 17 miles. The chances of the singletrack over Richmond Peak being corniced and having deep snow were just too high and it was a roll of the dice neither of us wanted to take.