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GDMBR Chapter 12

Island Park, ID, to Butte, MT

Time warp

It's been over a week since I sat down to reflect on the latest trip progress. I suppose the beginning is a good place to start. But what if the beginning is more like the middle?

That's how I feel about this post. Last month feels like last week and at the same time, I can't remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday. I suppose this is what they call living in the moment.

A different kind of refueling

From Island Park, I filled Nolie with premium gas and we headed northward back into the mountains (and you thought my legs were doing all the work... 😉).

To Elk Lake, Montana

We followed the highway for a few miles before turning onto a double track that turned into a super fun single track through creeks and wildflowers and rocky forests, eventually spitting us out onto an empty scenic highway.

Still traveling with Jens, we decided to check out the Elk Lake Resort, even though it was a solid five miles off course.

Holy smokes; I'm so glad we did! We had a killer tailwind on the gravel road in, cruising effortlessly at 22+ mph into a canyon where the small off-grid resort was nestled on the edge of Elk Lake.

We set our tents up and I noted that it looked like the scene from The Sound of Music where Julie Andrews is dancing through a meadow with snowy peaks behind her.

A vacation within a vacation

Elk Lake was super relaxing. I cooled off in the water then scoured the lodge's main house book shelves for something to read.

I found a book of poetry that chronicled a young girl's life on a farm in South Dakota during the depression.

Before opening it I started to cry, and continued to quietly sob for several minutes while reading the first few passages.

Sometimes you just happen upon the most perfect thing at the most perfect time.

Once I got over myself, I found a bit of humor in one of the poems:

Sure, I realize headwind isn't the same as losing your livelihood to drought, but the relentless headwind throughout Colorado and Wyoming was indeed followed by a bit of rain.

On crying

I cry often. I cry because I'm overjoyed. Because I'm utterly devastated.

Sometimes I don't know why I'm crying—or even if I'm happy or if I'm sad. But I just know it feels so good to feel so much.

And it's not always big and blubbering. Sometimes it's literally a single droplet, just chillin in the corner of my eye or simply a tightness in the front of my throat.

I'm not sure if I fought it or wasn't as in tune with myself and my surroundings when I was younger. In the rare occasion I did cry then, it was usually out of anger or frustration.

Somehow, luckily, as I've aged stronger physically and mentally, I've also become more vulnerable.

In a good way.

Becoming stronger without also becoming more vulnerable and empathetic risks leading to a type of personal resiliency that could turn cold and callous.

This world of feeling might be a more challenging one to live in, but it's an incredibly colorful and rewarding one.

New friends

We signed up to join the other guests for dinner, which was an Italian feast of eggplant parmesan, pasta, salad and almond cheesecake for dessert!

We talked with two retired couples (Suz and Dave, and Joyce and Jeff) for hours; they were so much fun! I joked that I was doing my best to embrace the retirement lifestyle in my 30s and that for the most part, riding my bike and camping in the woods was pretty cheap.

After dinner we moved outside to a fire pit and continued talking until it started getting dark, around 9:30p. Being so close to summer solstice, the days were incredibly long.

We signed up for breakfast, as well, and the next morning were treated to a spread of coffee, cinnamon buns decadently caramelized on the bottom, fresh fruit, sausage, eggs and more hours of engaging conversation.

After breakfast we jostled the bags on our bikes to make sure they were fastened properly and headed back out! Only this time, that strong tailwind was a strong headwind.

Holy Montana!

Before this trip, I hadn't spent much time in southern Montana. I always gravitated toward northen Montana.

But WOW is it pretty! It has everything; lush green valleys, wildflowers galore, cute baby cows, snowcapped mountains, clear creeks, neat old cemeteries...

Breakin' the rules

Okay, so here's the deal: we got to our next planned campsite earlier than expected, so we decided to continue riding.

We were hoping to find a [legal] place to camp near the Lima Dam. But alas, it was mostly surrounded by private cow pastures and a fence around the lower side of the reservoir with "No trespassing" signs.

Not going to lie... the little valley below the dam looked like a delightful place to spend the night, so we looked up and down the road to confirm the coast was clear, then snuck past the unlocked gate down to the riverside.

The great spoon drama

After fighting a pretty terrible headwind all day in high heat and full sun, I was ready for dinner.

While getting everything out and ready to prepare, I realized I left my spoon—my only eating utensil—on the ground earlier in the day when we stopped to eat an avocado.

I was hot. I was hungry. I was grumpy. That can only mean one thing: the wrath of hrumpy Caity had been unleashed.

Poor Jens. He never saw it coming.

I dumped the contents of all my bags onto the ground. I huffed. I stomped around between my bike and my tent with my arms swinging like a chimp.

It was ugly.

Eventually, I shared what happened and of course, Jens lent me his spoon.

After several silent minutes of shoveling calories into my face with the borrowed spoon, I finally came back around and apologized for acting so pouty.

Upon which he responded, "What is that word? I don't know what it means."

I contemplated how to describe pouting to a German but instead just made a dumb face, to which he responded that he understood.

A weird night

Before heading to bed I cooled off in the river and we put our bags up onto a pulley cart that traversed the river. It seemed to be the most bear-safe place around.

That night a storm moved in. It was very unexpected and brought rain and winds so strong it ripped my tent stakes right out of the ground, causing the corners to flap about.

It also brought really weird dreams that had me both venturing outside my tent to check on things and occasionally grabbing for my bear spray.

Perhaps that's what we get for breaking and entering.

Lima, MT

Lima! How how does one even describe this place!? It's tiny, it's pretty, it's also kind of a highway stop. But not exactly.

The header image of this post was taken on the southern end of town.

We stopped to get second breakfast at the only restaurant.

The interior was part old-school soda fountain, part old school cafeteria. It was surprisingly busy inside with 1990s-early 2000s country music playing from old speakers on a shelf in the corner. The good stuff. I knew every word to every song.

Our waitress was joyful and lovingly called Jens and I "kiddos" at every turn.

We ordered fantastically large cheesy omlets with greasy hashbrowns, buttered toast and a pancake smothered in syrup that I'm pretty sure didn't have any actual maple in it.

But it was so wonderful. Truly. Despite eating ten pounds, I floated out of that place.

And the icing on the (pan)cake? She gave me a spoon to replace the one I lost.

Clark Canyon

From Lima we rode north through Clark Canyon. It was a stunning twenty five or so miles through a canyon flanked by steep rocky walls and sewn together by a crystal clear river that threaded the full length.

At times the canyon opened to wide grassy ranches and at others it was a narrow passage that felt suffocating.

With the heat, we took an extended break to cool off in the water.

I took the opportunity to swap out my chamois and wash the used one, letting it air dry from the top of my back rack the rest of the ride.

We also filtered more drinking water and enjoyed leftover cinnamon rolls lovingly wrapped and gifted to us by Laurel from the Elk Lake Resort.


From there, we saw a moose! The canyon opened to reveal a vast sage valley with open range cattle and meandering streams.

The Dad Cabin

I will try to come back to this one because it was kind of funny/interesting... but for now you just need to know that we kind of got busted trying to camp beside a rancher's guest cabin... ultimately got his permission after flashing him my best smile, but then he locked us inside the pasture, making us navigate getting our bikes—and ourselves—over a barbed wire fence the next morning.

Waking up that morning was perhaps one of the coldest mornings yet. Even my bike was covered in a thick layer of frost.

Elkhorn Hot Springs

After a week of no full zero days, we needed some kind of break, so we broke down and made a reservation at the Elkhorn Hot Springs.

Several people recommended it.

It was perhaps the weirdest day and a half of my life. And I'm sooo sorry I was so busy living it that I didn't take any pictures.

And sorry I'm rushing again... it's after 2a and I'm getting sleepy. I'll come back later to fill it out more.

Anyway, between the general filth, the full trashcan in the room, no soap in the bathrooms (guests all shared a bathroom), a sad hanger that was missing the part you actually hang your clothes on, a lamp that wouldn't turn on and an incredibly strong odor of something like hamburger grease, pickles, clorox and peanut butter—combined—we ended up vacating the room and pitching our tents a little way up the dirt road.

My mom says if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all. So for the hot springs themselves, I'll just say that they were at least hot.

I'm hoping we just caught it on a bad day or something.

Oh also; I spoke with a woman in the hot springs who had lived in Montana since 2005.

I was telling her about my journey north. She asked if I was entering Canada via Washington state. I said no. She looked at me sideways and asked then... how was I planning to get to Canada!?

I stared blankly and while pointing up, said, "I'm just going to keep pedaling north from here."

I was too afraid to ask whether she knew Montana bordered Canada.

Ohhhh so many more stories... adding pics now... I'll write more when I have time and wifi!

Ridiculously large cinnamon roll topped with caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream and a cherry, courtesy Amy, at the Prairie-Horse Saloon.

It was technically closed when we stopped by, but she saw us and flagged us down as we were leaving and invited us in for coffee, bananas and warm cinnamon rolls.

This was another weird stop... somewhere just south of the Big Hole River. There were noisy slot gambling machines inside. The beer was good, they only served frozen Tombstone pizzas and they only accepted cash (no tax was added/factored in). Definitely something shady going on there.

From the Divide campground on the Big Hole River, I took an unofficial alternate route to Butte. Turns out a few of the dirt roads I saw on the map went through private property and were blocked by locked gates... so I definitely had to portage my bike over at least one rusty barbed wire fence...

I ripped my lightweight wind jacket on the last one, which I later repaired by cutting and applying a heart-shaped piece of green tenacious tape. It actually turned out kinda cute.

Butte, MT

***somehow, this section got deleted (unstable wifi!?). I'll come back and fill it out later... but basically, we ended-up staying at this really fancy old B&B, called the Copper King Mansion.

One of the original shower concepts in the U.S., called the birdcage. It took a little trial and error with all the nobs but was really fun to use (there are hundreds of tiny holes along all of the curved horizontal pipes—in addition to several shower heads, so water was really coming at you from all angles).

The woman who owns and runs the mansion (it has been in her family for generations) gave me clothes to wear while we did laundry. We had a picnic in the garden while our clothes air-dried.

...our wet clothes, shamelessly sprawled out in the yard of a luxury B&B.


I decided to leave this post as-is. It captures a certain je ne sais quoi about trying to maintain a blog using only a cellphone while bikepacking across the country with limited internet.

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