Ride Report: Day 4

Day 4 / Monday, August 31, 2009

The next morning I took advantage of the private shower rooms as I figured I would be roughing it from here on out on the trail. I was enjoying my new shaved head look and instead of letting it grow back by the time the trip ended, I decided it was here to stay. No more squished helmet hair.

It took two and a half hours to get going from waking up to getting on the road, with taking care of personal hygiene, cooking and eating breakfast of oatmeal, and packing everything back into my panniers. I quickly learnt on my Alaska trip that there's no faster way around this and just to accept it and enjoy the unhurried pace. When packing gear on a motorcycle, everything has its place and must be held securely to ensure it works when needed, such as easy access to the water bottle during the day. To hold items securely in place, they should be in slight compression with their neighboring items to ensure there's no rattling and moving around of gear as the motorcycle leans it way down the road.

The next morning, there were 5 dogs running around my site. A great way to wake up.

Aww, aren't they just so cute... They responded to my "sit" command right away.

This guy looked a bit older and was more mellow. Getting ready to boil some water for oatmeal.

"What'd you have for dinner last night?"

Don't even think about going in there. I didn't have to worry at all since these guys were all well-behaved.

There was a lot of sniffing going around, probably a morning ritual among these friends.

When I started with my oatmeal, I got all the other guys to sit and lie down, except this guy, who kept staring at me the whole time. I don't like to give dogs human food as it makes mooches out of pooches and besides the sweet isn't good for them.

On MT-49 going around Glacier National Park. I thought about going through the park but with major construction going on, it was estimated to be 3 hours to go through the park or 1 hour to go around it. I was here last year on my way to Alaska.

I thought about going through Glacier NP this time, but was warned of lengthy construction delays and thus went around on MT-49 and US-2, which skirts the southern perimeter of the park.

At Columbia Falls, I joined the CDR route as laid out by Mark Sampson. Expecting gravel roads right away from River Road, I lowered my air pressure only to see that there was quite a bit of tarmac with a little gravel here and there as the route wound through some sub-divisions and rural communities. Foothill Road was the first fun section and that quickly lead into Swan River Road taking me along Swan Lake, next to the much bigger Flathead Lake.

I was pleased how easily I accepted the nature of this ride in that I was simply following whichever direction the GPS was telling me to go, compared to my other trips where a destination was set for the day and I followed the twistiest route to get there. This was my first ride where the majority of time was going to be spent off-road and I was quickly getting in the groove of looking forward to the next off-road section while connecting on tarmac. Of course, common sense still has to prevail when following a GPS but I trusted the route based on user reviews.

I felt a sense of relief in not having to know exactly which roads I was supposed to take and know that they would be revealed as I came across them. On my previous trips, not having the luxury of time to be wayward, I've actually memorized the whole route to guarantee not getting lost. The allure of getting lost and exploring comes with the price of time. For this trip, having around 12 days on the 2,000 mile trail afforded me the time to go slow and get lost along the way, having to average only about 200 miles a day.

On the CDR trail on Foothill Rd, south of Columbia Falls. The trail went through some sub-division roads and a few gravel roads here and there.

Getting my first taste of the CDR on national forest roads, which is what the majority of the trail follows. These are well maintained gravel roads snaking through the forests, mainly used by wilderness fire-fighters, hunters and other recreational uses.

Feeling right at home among all this good nature. You have to ignore the fact that the highway is just a few miles away. This is near Swan Lake, east of Flathead Lake.

The real joy started as I got onto national forest roads around Swan Lake through the Mission mountain range. These are well kept single lane gravel roads intended for forest fire fighting, logging, mining, recreational hunting and access to remote areas. The allure of these roads compared to regular highways is the closeness of foliage to the road and the intimacy it creates with the surroundings. Of course, hiking through dense forests would top all this, but I'm talking about motorized transport. Regular roads lose this due to their requirement of shoulders and clearance for trucks.

I soon came across a road closed sign for bridge repair and hearing construction equipment in the distance, I figured getting through wouldn't be easy and after a spot of lunch, I set about trying to find a way around. I was again stumped by a road ending with a gate and overgrowth. It was time to throw in the towel and head back to the highway to go around. That's the beauty also of the CDR; the option to take regular highway if the route is blocked or impassable when wet. While the route goes through remote-feeling lands, the truth is, civilization, in terms of highways and towns, is right around the corner or just over those bushes.

Studying the route before the trip, I saw the GPS doing funny things around Cold Creek Road and I ran into a dead-end again as the road winded up on someone's private forest land with locked gates and no thoroughfare. Time to retreat to the highway again and I made my down MT-83 to Seeley Lake, a year-round recreation site. From there, I turned east onto Cottonwood Lakes Road through the Sawn mountain range heading to the town of Ovando. This was a pleasant ride with nice scenery of healthy green pines and good road conditions of hard-packed gravel.

Coming across a road closed sign. The route is there in my GPS but it's no guarantee that the road is open. After hearing thundering earth moving equipment off in the distance, I didn't bother scouting out the bridge for a possible passage.

That's me with my new baldness. I was losing too much hair and decided to embrace the inevitable baldness. Scalp stubble against a helmet liner is a funny feeling...

Trying to find a detour around the bridge but came across a gate with overgrowth across the track. Time to turn back and head to the highway to go around.

Back on the trail a bit further south, near Cedar Creek Campground. The trail ended in some private ranch and had to head back to the highway towards Seeley Lake.

The nice gravel, mud road of Seeley Lake Road heading towards Ovando.

This was a pleasant road and an enjoyable ride towards the end of the day.

Going around some calm lakes.

From the small town of Ovando on MT-200, the route to Helmville exits the forest and goes across farm land. Maybe because it's more heavily used, the road conditions were not desirable, consisting of washboard and quickly changing conditions from deep loose gravel back to mud. Washboard roads are as you can picture them; the road underneath gets washed away in rain to reveal a surface similar to an old laundry washing board and going across it at speed causes the bike to reverberate the quick undulations through the suspension right into your bones. She doesn't like it and I don't like it. Sustaining harsh vibrations can lead to suspension dampening (shock) failure and worn out bodily joints. One fix is to lower the air pressure so that the tires take up more dampening or reduce speed. With my load on the bike, I didn't want to reduce air pressures more than they were, about 25 psi in the rear and 22 in the front.

As I neared Helmville and MT-141, I saw a rain system moving south over me and my hopes of camping were rained out. I had planned to head to Camp Nelson as marked on the GPS, but the route was blocked by a locked gate and the rain pushed my decision to getting a motel for the night in Lincoln, having done 280 miles. As I pulled into town, the skies opened and the rain fell intensely with the motel owner confirming that it was going to be a cold night, near 40 F.

The not so fun road to Helmville from Ovando, which was a majority of washboard roads under the gravel. I was running around 20 psi in the tires for the off-road bits, but yet it wasn't enough to smooth out the roughness of the washboard. I was wary of running too low of pressure in the tires after I blew my tire on the Dalton Highway in Alaska the previous summer.

The road to Camp Nelson marked in the GPS was blocked by this gate and with threatening rain clouds all around, I decided to motel it in Lincoln.

With the intention of camping every night on this trip, I wasn't doing too good with two motel nights already. However, I wasn't trying to prove anything to anybody and as long as I could afford it, I figured motels were ok if it was going to be wet and cold. And besides, setting up camp in the rain and packing up wet gear is just going to extend the aggravation of being wet and cold. When asking the gas station attendant for motel recommendations, she quipped how she thought us bikers were a tougher breed than to be driven indoors just for some rain. Ouch. Sorry guys, not helping the biker image here, haha.

Carrying food for about sixteen days, I told myself not to bring back too much food at the end of the trip and thus ate my dinner that night with the feeling of not having access to restaurants. For this trip, I wanted to view civilization as an "out" only if something wasn't working on the trail, such as too much rain, chilling cold or lacking supplies. Staying in a motel, I felt I was using one of my "get me back to civilization" cards. How many I had of those would be determined as the trip went along.

Next: Day 5, Montana Mountain Passes

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