Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Helena-Great Falls-Double Divide Partial Pre-ride Report

Ride: Helena-Great Falls-Double Divide 600K Brevet. Click here for the map, profile, and navigation info.

Date: Saturday, August 31-September 1, 2013

Start Time: 5:30 AM

Registration from 5:00 AM–5:30 AM. Click here for the paperwork. Please CONTACT ME before the ride to let me know you're coming.

Start Location: Town Pump C-Store, 2900 N. Montana, Helena, MT.

Time Limit: 40 hours. Lights and reflective gear will be required. See Article 10 in the Rules for Riders.

Entry Fee: $20. No membership required, but RUSA membership ($20) is encouraged. Membership forms will be available at registration.
Motels: Lots of choices in Helena.  Holiday Inn Express & Suites is near the ride start.

Mike Biggle and I pre-rode a portion of our upcoming 600K route on Saturday August 17. We started in Wolf Creek and rode to Great Falls, then Vaughn, then Fort Shaw.  I continued to Simms and then went off route on a short cut back to Wolf Creek on Highway 200 due to heat and possible T-storms.

The only part of the route that I haven’t ridden or driven is between Simms and the junction of Hwy 200 and US 287 south of Augusta, but that looks pretty straight forward.
The ride starts at the Town Pump on North Montana Avenue (across from Shopko) at 5:30 AM-check in is between 5 and 5:30.  There’s a vacant lot just north of the Town Pump with a City Brew coffee hut on it that looks like a good place to set up for the ride start.  There’s on-street parking on the numerous side streets in the area if you are driving to the start.
We head north on North Montana.  The road gets narrow, but at the hour we’re starting, traffic should be light.  We then get on I-15 for 19 miles.  I-15 has very light traffic for an interstate, and there’s a good shoulder.  There was some road construction on the first few miles, but it doesn’t look like it will be in our way.  The worst part of interstate riding is the debris on the shoulder.  Flat tires are a risk we’ll have to endure on this entire route, be prepared.
After I-15 we get on a frontage road all the way to Great Falls.  This is mostly flat, except for some hills by Cascade and after Ulm. Traffic will be quite light.  This will be one of the most pleasant parts of the whole brevet so enjoy!
Our first checkpoint is the store/gas station in Wolf Creek.  They have all the junk food any randonneur craves.  There are also c-stores in Cascade and Ulm.
The frontage road ends by the Great Falls Airport.  At that point we have to get on I-15 again for about a mile to the next exit (10th Ave. South).  Again the shoulder is wide, but gritty.  It’s also downhill!  10th Ave. South is very busy-but there’s a shoulder (again pretty gritty).  After crossing the Missouri River on a long bridge take a right to River Drive and relax!
We acquire the River’s Edge Trail, which starts out looking like a sidewalk along River Drive.  Follow it and loop down through a tunnel under the big bridge carrying 10th Ave. South.  The trail gets a bit confusing, but all the branches of it seem to come back together, just stay along the river and parallel to River Drive.  The trail crosses River Drive a couple of times as well so be prepared for that and watch out for cars on River Drive when crossing.  Ultimately we’ll end up at the 9th Street Bridge.  Follow the sidewalk up and cross the bridge on the bike/ped path along the left side of the bridge as you head towards the oil refinery on the other side of the river.  Stay on the sidewalk after the bridge and use the crosswalk to get across Smelter Ave if traffic is heavy, which is could be-as this is a very busy intersection in Great Falls.
Once on the north side of Smelter Avenue-head west on a good (but again gritty) shoulder.  You’ll need to get a receipt from a business on Smelter Ave.  There’s a Cenex C Store right after the 9th Street Bridge, a Walmart Super Center (Mike suggested parking your bike inside by the shopping carts), a Loaf and Jug C-Store, and further along a health food store and a Sinclaire C-Store.  There’s a Taco Johns when we intersect with the NW Bypass if C-Store food doesn’t do it for you.
The NW Bypass has a wide gritty shoulder and traffic wasn’t too heavy.  This road becomes the Vaughn Frontage Road which doesn’t have much of a shoulder, but also doesn’t have much traffic.  After 8 miles, turn left on Highway 200/89 and drop down into Vaughn.  There’s a Conoco C-Store there with good hot dogs.
Highway 200/US 89 has a great big wide shoulder and also two lanes in each direction until Sun River.  The shoulder has new chip seal so it’s gritty. Traffic was light so Mike and I rode left of the white line and rumble strip while traffic passed us easily in the outside lane.  A good mirror is handy on this part of the route if you don’t want to stay on the shoulder.
After Sun River the road narrows, but the wide shoulder remains all the way to Simms.  We have an info control at Simms before turning north to Fairfield on the Highway 565.  There is a gas station/C-Store at Simms across the road from the intersection to the road to Fairfield.
The toughest part of the ride might be between Augusta and Wolf Creek.  US 287 is hilly, and depending on the wind it could be tough.  It’s about 40 miles from August to Wolf Creek with absolutely nothing in between, so make sure you’re stocked up-especially on water.   The highway has light fast moving traffic, but the rumble strip is continuous and across the whole shoulder. Use caution.
The store in Wolf Creek closes at 9 PM.  After that we’ll have someone out there for you with some food and drink.
Then it’s back to Helena and on the same 19 miles of I-15 that we took on the way out of Helena. 
The second day we go through Helena on US 12 and go over the Continental Divide at MacDonald Pass.  I’ve never ridden it, but have driven it plenty of times.  I always see lots of cyclists on this road so I take that as a good sign.  There is a shoulder, but it will probably be gritty as well.  There’s a store in Elliston on the other side of the pass, but it doesn’t open until 8 AM so be stocked up out of Helena if you’re going to be early.  We will try to have some support on the way to Lincoln.  There is a cafĂ© in Avon-just past Elliston.  Otherwise, look for a hose bib on a building to refill you water bottles.
Lincoln has lots of services.  Then it’s a climb over the Continental Divide at Flesher Pass and a nice long descent back to Helena.

This ride will be a challenge, let’s hope we’re up for it!