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What a perfect ride—smooth, rolling singletrack, hardly any climbing, no rocks, mud or deadfall, interrupted only by the bevy of topless women we found sunbathing in a mountaintop meadow.  Wait….that was the ride that I DREAMT about the night before.  Our adventure along the Continental Divide trail was actually slightly different….

Chad and I had the grand idea of riding a couple of mountain biking loops from MacDonald Pass.  Chad is training for the Butte 100 and I’m not sure why I went along—just looking for an adventure before I move to Missoula, I guess.  The plan was to ride a big loop to the south (about 24 miles) in the morning and an 18-mile loop to the north after lunch.  We were riding in uncharted territory, where neither of us nor anyone we knew had ever biked—which spells disaster, right?

The ride actually went very well, at least for the things within our control—riding ability, route-finding, etc.  And the weather was perfect.  We began riding the CD trail to the south, past two radio towers and through some rocky sections we had been told about.  Rideable…so far, so good.  But soon the rocks became bigger…and more numerous…and more technical…and then the deadfall began piling up.  We spent a lot of time doing “hike-a-bike” and pulling small trees off the trail, knowing that we’d be coming back that way later (3 hours later? 4 hours? 5 hours?).

After riding at Moab in March and then doing the Contour trail twice last week, Chad and I thought we had the rock thing pretty well mastered.  Think again!  We had quite a few minor victories against the rock-infested trail but were still soundly defeated.

We finally made to a cow-inhabited meadow about 4 miles in after an hour, and found our trail headed down Bear Gulch.  Although Will Harmon’s “Mountain Biking Helena” book was written 12 years ago and a lot of the trail has changed, it was very handy and saved us a couple of times, including at this stretch.  The next section was probably our favorite part—almost 2000 vertical feet of singletrack down to Ten Mile Creek.  Think of “Show Me the Horse” times two.  Uphill would have been no fun but downhill was great.

Melinda had warned us the day before that we would probably be bushwhacking down at the creek to get across and she was right.  The big log that used to be there is gone and we had to hike/bike up the creek to find a bridge.  Then we biked 1.6 miles up Rimini Road and then up Minnehaha Road, which became probably the biggest mountain bike climb of my life.  After reclaiming our lost 2000 vertical feet in an hour, we topped out on the Divide again at 6800 feet and took a brief snack break.

Then we headed north again on the CD trail, on doubletrack, on singletrack, past mine ruins, through an interminable swamp, bouncing through rocks…and had some great views all around.  We’d see the occasional old CD trail sign but we had the place to ourselves.  I’m thinking this stretch of trail sees maybe 10 hikers a year and probably hadn’t seen a bike in several years.

We made all the right turns and actually ended up back at the stem of our loop, the mountaintop meadow, three hours later.  This is the only place where we had briefly made a wrong turn earlier and had to backtrack—which turned out to be a good thing, because we realized on our way back exactly where we were and saw our tracks.  About 45 minutes after that, though the rocks and deadfall again (somewhat less after our earlier tree-clearing efforts), we made it back to Chad’s truck, 5:15 and 24 miles later.

Then it was time for the encore.  After rehydrating, refueling and resunscreening, we took off for Round 2 to the north.  We rode 0.8 miles down the west side of Mac Pass, then turned onto a doubletrack through the field and up to the first set of microwave towers.  We rode a little singletrack (OK, I walked a little singletrack at that point), finally making it onto the microwave road and up to the second set of microwave towers at the high point of our adventure, elevation 7180.  Then it was time for some serious downhill, as in 3300 feet of downhill back to town.  We had over 1000 feet of vertical across rocky, often fun, doubletrack and singletrack, to Priest Pass.  We were finally doing some fast riding!  Then we had a little more uphill and a fast (very fast!) cruise down Priest Pass road to the bottom of MacDonald Pass.  By this time, it was pretty hot down low.

I had already warned Chad that I wouldn’t be up for the climb back up the Pass, so he was on his own.  Chad, being the trooper and fearless climber that he is, ascended 1800 vertical back to the truck.  I, meanwhile, took the lazy man’s route of going downhill, with the wind at my back, to my house.  My penance is that I suffered the only mechanical failure of the entire day, a flat tire, on the paved road home!

In Chad’s words, it was a fun adventure, it was a good ride but it wasn’t a great ride.  However, it was great training for any future rides.  And we made it through injury-free.

Here are my stats for the day:

Miles:                   48

Vertical feet:     5200

Actual ride time:              About 6:15

Chad’s stats:

Miles:                   43

Vertical feet:     7000

Ride time:           7 hours

Whew!

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