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GDMBR Chapter 11

Colter Bay, WY, to Island Park, ID


Back on route

On Monday, Jens and I rotated our wet tents in the morning sun like rotisserie, waiting for them to dry out before packing on our bikes.


Meanwhile we made breakfast and coffee and enjoyed thawing out in the sunshine, ourselves.



Jens is the first person I've ridden with on this trip. He's a husband and father of two from Germany, bikepacking parts of the Western Wildlands and Great Divide trails while on sabbatical for three months.


I was a little skeptical at first, concerned about our paces, if we'd get annoyed or feel obligated to continue riding together—past the natural expiration of these things.


But the last couple days have been delightful and full of fun surprises and [good] detours.


Flagg Ranch

The first section of the ride brought us close to the southern entrance of Yellowstone. It was still completely closed from major flash flooding and landslides a week before, so we continued on the official course which hung west right before Yellowstone.


A pretty gnarly sky came over us, so we decided to hunker at Flagg Ranch. It's a private lodge with a restaurant and mercantile.


We got hot coffee and cinnamon buns and sat with other visitors on big leather sofas facing a lit fireplace.


Several other GDMBR riders were there, mostly those who started with the Grand Depart up in Banff, headed south.


It was so much fun to talk with them and see their setups!


Apparently nearly half of the riders have already dropped and about a dozen have had to be rescued.


Yikes. Even the pros aren't finishing this route.


Hearsay

There's sooo much gossip on the trail. And 90% of it is about route conditions. A few days ago at Jenny Lake campground as we were leaving, our camp host all but pleaded to let he and his wife shuttle us down to Jackson, over Teton Pass and back up through Victor.


He swore that the road we were headed for, Grassy Lake Road, was twenty miles of impassable peanut butter mud.


I'd heard similar stories before, only to find completely okay roads. It's very possible the conditions were bad when the others were there, but things change so fast in the mountains.


Sometimes you have to take these reports with a grain of salt.


Grassy Lake Road

To our delight, Grassy Lake Road was still closed to all vehicle traffic.


This meant two things:

  • We wouldn't be fighting cars or dust

  • The designated campsites along the route would be available (typically you need a permit and reservation)



Rain, hail, sleet and snow

I must say that Grassy Lake Road was perhaps one of the highlights of the trip so far.


It meandered through beautiful forests and scenery, and the road was actually in really great shape! Wetter than hero dirt but no peanut butter mud to be found.


As we got further there were huge muddy puddles that disguised pot holes and some that spanned the width of the road, but overall it was a lot of fun.


At one point though, it started raining so again we hunkered—this time in a pit toilet.


The toilet itself was locked, but we were able to fit our bikes and ourselves under its open overhang. After maybe ten minutes the rain let up and we got back on the road.


...but it started raining and thundering again. I was already damp and couldn't afford to get more wet or cold because I needed to wear every layer I had with me to stay warm overnight.



We went back to the pit toilet and I'm so glad we did! It poured, hailed, sleeted and snowed for at least an hour. The temperature dropped and we could see our breath as we talked.


When we realized it was going to be a while, Jens broke out his stove and I broke out some tunes on my bluetooth speaker.


We filled our water bottles with hot tea and held them close to our hearts to warm up.


No "campsite #3"

Mile-wise, we had been aiming for an area on the map called, "campsite #3."


But it was nowhere to be found. So in the early evening we cycled a few more miles to a place near the Wyoming-Idaho border called the Squirrel Meadows Cabin.



Similar to the 10th Mt. Division cabins in Colorado, these are rustic seasonal cabins available by reservation.


Even if it was all locked up, we thought surely there'd be a good spot to pitch our tents.


Another cabin break-in

The cabin was nestled back in an exquisite valley with expansive open views and snowcapped mountains in the background.


The whole region was abnormally wet with swollen lakes, washed-out river banks, flooded meadows and impromptu ponds and creeks at every turn.


Squirrel Meadows was no exception. With the impending cold night and likely rain, we searched for a way into the bolted and boarded-up cabin, motivated by the wood-burning chimney that was visible from outside.


We checked the doors and windows, but all were properly secured.


Right as we were about to admit defeat, I noticed the hatch on the small window above the front door was closed but there was no deadbolt.


Jens climbed up.



But alas, his report down to me was that the inside was quite covered in rat feces.


Okay, tents it was! But wait—there was another cabin further down the road.



We rode down to find two other bikepackers had already pitched their tent on the wide covered front porch of the locked cabin.


They were a South African couple who now lived in British Columbia and were also biking north on the Great Divide.


After a late dinner, we called it a night.


Birds

None of us slept well that night. It rained more. We must have been amidst a Sandhill Crane migration because they squawked and honked all night as they flew around the flooded area. And it got cold. So cold.


A turn in the weather

We awoke to ice covering everything; tents, grass, bikes etc.



But the sun was shining.


After breakfast and coffee, we hit the trail again. This time we had bluebird skies and a promising seven-day forecast in our favor.



It was another spectacular day of relatively easy riding through varied landscape and mixed terrain.


We made it to Idaho!

Again, there were no welcoming state border signs, so we pulled over and took pictures next to the first sign that had Idaho on it at all.


It turned out to be this one, which had "Idaho" in the listed web address.



One of my favorite sections was a stretch of single- and double-track that began at the Warm River campground.


Up higher we ran into some locals who were out for a day ride. They suggested we check out Mesa Falls and take a slightly different course up through and to the town of Island Park.


Slight detour

I'm glad we decided to take their advice! It was really pretty and served as a nice lunch spot.



Time to resupply

The next stretch from Island Park, ID to the next-nearest city of Butte, MT is 280 miles through incredibly remote and steep wilderness.


There is a modest market about halfway through, but we're going to need to carry more food than usual.


Jens and I ended up staying at Mack's Inn tonight in order to do laundry and get a final hot restaurant meal before heading back into the woods.


This is what it looks like when bikepackers take over a hotel room.


Tomorrow we plan to get groceries and begin the day together, but we may end up parting ways in the next day or two as his climbing pace is much faster than mine (although I have him beat on the downhills...)

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