Claire Porter
Great Divide
Polaris, MT I am alone now. Esther and I rode the highway from Seeley Lake to Helena rather than the trail since forest fires in northern Montana pushed us off the trail, and additionally her cross bike was not suited for the rugged terrain. The road from Seeley to Helena involved one crossing of the Divide at Flescher Pass. After cresting the pass, we mixed up some celebratory pink drink (pink lemonade powder I had purchased in Banff and relished on hot days and on pass crossings) and dove down the mountain, bound for Montana's state capital. The descent on pavement felt glorious and effortless, in contrast to some of the descents on the Divide which required maneuvering around rocks and avoiding waterbars and treacherous roots. It was nice to tune out the surface under my tires and enjoy the scenery that rapidly zapped past. 30MPH! I never rolled that fast on the dirt! The scenery rapidly transitioned from conifers and mountains to golden grasslands speckled with sagebrush. We spent a night in a cow pasture, watched the blood-red sunset, and awoke the next morning with the tingling excitement that we would be in Helena that afternoon.

Helena was not what we expected. We entered the city limits and cruised past miles of auto body shops and big box stores before we came upon downtown. It felt like we were in the suburbs, not the state capital. Downtown felt like a ghost town- it was Friday night but the bars were void of rowdy Montanans and no one was strolling the streets. We rolled over to the Blackfoot Brewery, thinking that we could grab dinner and a beer. They didn't serve food, but we were too tired to relocate so we grabbed a flight of beers and didn't regret it- the beers were exceptional and the company was energetic. We didn't realize the effect of beer on an empty stomach and dehydrated body until we got up and left the bar. Luckily, Taco Del Sol was around the corner in Helena's famous Walking Mall so we sought nourishment. That night we ground up a gravel road in the dark to our host's home up Grizzly Gulch. We ate a second dinner, enjoyed the views of the Helena National Forest from a hot tub, and slept in a bed for the first t
ime in many days.

Esther and I spent a second day in Helena to explore the city in the daylight and perform some errands. Most notable was the Archey Bray Foundation and the bike shop The Garage. The Archey-Bray Foundation is a world-famous pottery institution nestled in the golden grass a 20-minute bike ride from downtown Helena. We perused amazing ceramic sculptures and dining ware, and I refused the urge to buy a ceramic bowl to use on my trip. There's a bikepacking rule that as the weight you carry goes down, the fun goes up. So I try to keep down the amount of souvenirs that I pick up, especially heavy pieces like pottery.

After exploring the Archey Bray Foundation, we stopped by The Garage- a bike shop in downtown Helena with stuffed animal heads mounted on the walls and a clear emphasis on downhilling. The neon Yeti frames hung from the wall alongside mounted bear and rams' heads, and the mechanics worked behind an open bar. We were invited to take a seat at the bar and watch the Downhill World Cup on the TV screen above the mechanics' workbench. The shop slowly filled with downhill dudes who flocked to the shop to watch the World Cup. Some had broken arms or collarbones from riding injuries, and all I had were mosquito bites and one cut on my forehead from a tumble I took on a gravel road a few days back. Esther and I enjoyed the scene and stayed for longer than we expected. Eventually, we pulled ourselves away and rode off to explore Helena further.

Esther and I split ways the next morning. She had a flight to catch in Bozeman, and the realization slowly sunk in that I was about to be alone on the Great Divide. I watched her peel down Grizzly Gulch and slowly walked back to my own bike. I packed my bags, said goodbye to my awesome hosts who made me and Esther feel so welcome in Helena, and I hit the trail.

It didn't take long to shake off my anxiety about being alone. Within a few miles, the forest had charmed me and I realized that I could hear its whispers better when I was alone than when I was talking with a riding partner. I crossed paths with two Divide cyclists, and we rode together for a bit until I had to stop to adjust my rubbing pack. I had stopped on a steep pitch, and when I hopped back on my bike to catch up to them, they were long gone. I pedaled slowly up the hill, it was dry, hot, and dusty out and I didn't feel like pushing the pace. I wound up 2,000ft of climbing to Park Lake, and continued on past the town of Basin. I had trouble sleeping that night, no doubt nervous about being on my own. Thoughts of bears or drunk hooligans coming in the night to bother me kept me awake, and I rose at dawn the next morning exhausted and cold. I heated up some water to make tea, and swung my leg over my bike. It was going to be a long ride.

As the days went on, my confidence in riding and camping alone swelled. It was fun to go at my own pace, whether that was fast or slow, and I stopped to play ukulele at beautiful vistas. I explored the World Museum of Mining in Butte, and rode/pushed my bike up and down the infamous Fleecer Ridge (Adventure Cycling offers an alternate route to avoid this technical trail, but I highly recommend experiencing the Ridge. It is insane). The Scenic Byway from Wise River to Polaris was breathtakingly gorgeous, and my fears over being alone had evaporated. My legs were getting stronger, and it seemed so had my mind. Pushing through the miles was getting easier, and I felt in tune with my body and bike. This was uplifting, and I looked forward to approaching West Yellowstone, where I would make a 30 mile detour to visit a friend living at a Buffalo conservation organization in West Yellowstone.


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Claire Porter

Gear List

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Claire Porter

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