In the cell there is no electricity nor water, just rope cots now covered with sleeping bags and ground pads. We find some fuel for the day. It’s quite cool with overcast skies. Fifteen miles down some paved roads, we finally hit gravel and begin the hours-long climb up the 6,000-foot stretch of Huckleberry Pass.
As we gain elevation, the snowflakes begin to fall. It’s July, 2022, but the snow only gets heavier and wetter. In darker moments, my wife, Georgia, and I discuss pitching the tent roadside to take a break, but resist in favor of the promise of clear skies on the other side of the pass.
We reach the summit (with no clearing in sight) and travel miles of frigid downhill to further chill our saturated clothes. It’s still snowing, and I beg the world to provide us some form of shelter, which never comes.
Finally, the road begins to level out and magically the sun starts to shine, as do our spirits, and we ride on towards Lincoln, Mont., where we think to find some form of accommodation. That thought is cut short by the region’s new form of tourism, the mini 4-by-4 all-terrain vehicles ripping loudly through town and along the right of ways, everywhere. “$99 per day, no license required” reads the sign.
Georgia makes a call ahead to a known cyclist-friendly place to stay. It will require a long transect of the National Forest and endless battles with rugged terrain and four-wheelers that have quite literally destroyed all roads. In addition, we have to climb another 6,300-foot pass known as Stemple Pass. All of the above requires our little “dog-daughter,” Jade Castrinos Jagger, to run her allotted 20 miles today. She’s reluctant but manages to find it enjoyable.
As we work our way up the pass, heavy thunderstorms brew and the skies darken. Reaching the pass always takes longer than expected. Once on the lee side, we descend at a high rate of speed as lightening crashes behind us. Jade is “surfing” in her crate, with one shoulder pressed against my back as I go 25 m.p.h. downhill.
Despite our haste and possible danger, the valley is nothing short of stunning with grey and white skies accentuating the pinion and fresh pasture grasses, jagged small peaks, as well as surprised cows and horses alarmed by our speed. On our right, a fence begins, and soon we see relic bicycles attached to the fence and along the roadside.
We arrive at Barb and John’s famous “Llama Farm,” where John greets us, as he does hundreds of cyclists each year with a warm welcome and a free place to stay. On the front porch is a fridge with drinks, snacks, sandwiches and beer. John guides us to our cabin, giving instructions to get ready for dinner “with the kids.” “We have one rule here, you cannot pay us. Everything is no charge. All we ask is that you pay it forward and make the world a better place.” No donation jars, no tip buckets, no charges.
There are six or so cabins, one with a kitchen where we meet Simon and Lizzie from the UK. John and Barb have stocked their cabin with pasta, sauce and bread, and they graciously invite all of us cyclists to dine with them. We warm up by the wood stove and tell stories of bear encounters, weather, starting and ending points, where we are from. To this day, we are still friends with Simon and Lizzie, who veered west towards California and then traveled south through Baja, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and are now approaching Nicaragua on their way to a final destination of Patagonia. They keep us posted via Instagram with several reports per week.
This is bikepacking! It’s a variation of bike touring, but in this sport, we leave paved roads behind as often as possible, favoring the rugged backcountry - remote, quiet, wild. The sport has mushroomed in popularity since the pandemic as people seek to venture where they will not be in crowds of people. But make no mistake: any people they do encounter are kind, welcoming, sharing.
There are routes all over the planet, and, they develop their own economies with cyclists as customers. Organizations such as Adventure Cycling Association have routes throughout the U.S. and Canada. For a small fee you purchase maps, both paper and digital, that provide highly accurate, turn-by-turn directions, as well as places to camp, eat, resupply and “cyclist only” accommodations.
This story tells about one day from our Great Divide Mountain Bike Route trip last summer. We left Banff, Canada, in late June on this ACA route with a goal of reaching the border of Mexico in Antelope Wells, N.M. Georgia and Jade came along for the first half, bowing out in Pinedale, Wyo., where we left our car. I continued on with my great friend Hume Davenport, who rode with me for about three weeks. I then finished the route at Antelope Wells in mid-August - 53 days in total.
Georgia, Jade and I have taken several similar trips through 2022 and into January 2023. We also traversed the state of Florida for a total of about 5,000 miles (for me). To say we are hooked is an understatement.
by Mike Pollock