Claire Porter
Great Divide
Flagg Ranch, WY From Polaris (which has nothing but headwinds, a post office, and a few cabins that appear abandoned), I fought headwinds all the way to Bannack. The route to Bannack was nearly entirely on pavement, and had been since Wise River, but the ominous rain clouds and murderous winds kept me on my toes, even if rocky terrain was absent. As I passed by the entrance to Bannack State Park, I opted not to stop in for a visit to Montana's first territorial capital and instead stopped by a ranch to ask for water. The nearby creeks were either dried up or trickled chocolate milk, and the folks at the ranch informed me that I was not the first cyclist to come in and ask for water. Apparently in past years' Tour Divide races, the upcoming stretch of the route could be extremely muddy. As she handed me a full water bottle, the lady whose ranch I had stopped at told me that one racer described the muddy stretch as "the most demoralizing part of the entire race". Lucky for me, it was a dry year and pedaling Bannack Bench Road
posed no challenge.

After a long stretch along Bannack Bench Rd, I camped in a cow pasture and the next morning began the ascent up the Medicine Lodge-Big Sheep Divide. This is an entirely dirt/gravel climb, and I felt like an intruder on a gathering of sagebrush. There was sagebrush everywhere- it coated the mountainsides and its smell was pungent. I ate lunch under the bright sun, sweat dripping as I wished for a tree to offer some shade. Nope, only sagebrush.

Descending from the Medicine Lodge into Lima was a breathtaking experience for the beauty of the landscape around, which quickly gave way to immense rock formations. Rock caves and cliffs towered above, and I would love to come back to this area on foot and hike the surrounding trails. It was a memorable descent, and arriving in the trucker town of Lima felt anticlimactic after such a glorious descent.

My malaise over Lima was quickly cured by a night at Red Rock Wildlife Preserve. This preserve is home for trumpeter swans, a black bear or two, and groves of aspen trees. I camped at Upper Red Rock Lake and drank the most delicious water out of a spring-fed pipe at the campsite, and watched a lovely sunset over a lake. It felt good to be out of a town, and that night I listened to the rustling of aspen leaves in the wind lull me to sleep.

From Red Rock Lake, instead of dipping south into Idaho I rode due east towards Yellowstone. Friends who worked for a Buffalo Conservation organization lived in a cabin outside of West Yellowstone, and they eagerly awaited my arrival. After two nights of rest and home-cooked meals, I pedaled off through Yellowstone Park to rejoin the Great Divide route in the Tetons. I do not recommend riding through Yellowstone- the road shoulder was narrow, the traffic was heavy even this late in the summer (late August), and the peace I had grown accustomed to was ruptured by the RVs that zoomed past every 30 seconds. I was relieved to leave the Park at Flagg Ranch, as the traffic died down and the Grand Tetons loomed ahead.


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Claire Porter

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Claire Porter

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