For our 600k brevet, the final ride in the series to qualify for PBP, I chose to use the Helena-Great Falls-Double Divide route that we last rode in 2013. It is a very hard route, with two Continental Divide crossings on the second day, but it is also very scenic and fairly convenient using Helena as the base of operations.
We had Ken Baker from Bozeman, Ken Billingsley from Molt, Karel Stroethoff from Missoula, Sam Collins from Jackson, WY, and myself at the start at 5 AM. It was a wonderfully pleasant morning as the sun rose as we climbed over the north hills past the Gates of the Mountains and the Sleeping Giant on the winding journey to Great Falls.
|Square Butte-taken between Fairfield and Simms|
I should call the first day segment the Thunderbolt and Lightfoot loop. The 1970's caper film starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges was filmed in many of the locations we were passing through. It's just that now there are few more paved roads than back then. Anyway it's always been one of my favorite movies and this is probably one reason why this route is so appealing to me.
Ken Billingsley, Karel, and I got to Great Falls in good order and got a sandwich at the Subway in the big new Town Pump off I-15. Ken Baker and Sam were a ways back. We later learned that Ken Baker had flat-tire-itis which really made his day tough.
Brenda met us in Wolf Creek as the sun was setting and temperatures started dropping. Ken, Karel and I were refueled and ready to make the final hump back over the hill to Helena for a short sleep break before continuing on the Double Divide loop the next day. I was a little slower than Ken and Karel and made an extra stop to put on my helmet light. I saw their taillights way in the distance, but made no effort to try to catch up. It was a wonderful evening and even the light, high speed traffic on I-15 posed no bother. I got to my sister and brother-in-law's house at 12:15 AM.
|Rest stop in Wolf Creek with nephew Colby Scott|
Brenda caught up to me on the downhill ride into Helena. She had Ken Baker with her as he had to call it a ride at Wolf Creek, which was about mile 200, because of knee issues-and all those pesky flats. Ken was in good spirits though and he should be-he rode wonderfully the entire series and still has all summer to find another 600K to finish off the series if he wants to. Brenda also reported that Sam was riding out of Wolf Creek, maybe 2 hours behind me and doing fine.
I left the house at 4AM, after a short 2 hour nap, and found Karel at the Town Pump on North Montana just getting ready to leave. I also texted Ken and let him know I was on my way, knowing he climbs much faster than me so we'd be seeing each other later on.
The ride out of Helena on US 12 starts at a pretty gentle uphill grade for several miles then hits the foot of MacDonald Pass. Grades get up to about 8% and it's pretty steady all the way. Unlike two years ago, I managed to ride the entire thing without walking and found Karel at the top getting ready for the descent. Karel climbed very well and passed me after fixing a flat tire near the base.
We dropped like a rock to Elliston and then cruised to Avon where there is a cafe. I was seriously starving and craving some bacon and eggs. Thankfully the restaurant was open, despite this being Sunday, and we happily went inside. Brenda joined a few minutes later. She was going to set up a secret control after Avon, but since we were already here she bought us all breakfast! Ken was also along before our food arrived so we had a grand 'ol time getting refueled. Only 100 miles to go!
Brenda reported that Sam was just starting the climb up MacDonald pass. She waited for him at the cafe and bought him breakfast too.
The ride from Avon to Lincoln was the least pleasant of the trip. Traffic was moving fast and unyielding, the wind was in our face or blowing us sideways, and my butt really started to hurt. We got to Lincoln in the early afternoon and cooled off in their nice Cenex C-store. 55 miles and one mountain pass to go.
The climb up Flesher Pass looks very intimidating. You can see the road cut going up into the sky in front of you, but it's one of those climbs that looks worse than it is and it was over sooner than I was expecting. Again I managed to ride up the whole thing instead of walking half of it like last time-though there's no shame in walking, which is almost as fast. But it was a goal of mine to ride all the way. Karel disappeared off the front out of Lincoln, obviously feeling good having a geared bike instead of his single speed fixed gear he used on the other brevets, but Ken sacrificed a faster time to ride slow with me. He encouraged me all the way and it really helped.
Over the top and it was 30 some mostly downhill miles back to Helena. My backside was absolutely killing me. Not sure why that is, I haven't any saddle issues all spring. But in any case, we rolled into the Town Pump parking lot to find Karel and Brenda cheering us in.
|Finish Line Greeting|
So with that Ken, Sam, and I acheived PBP qualification. Karel, who already has a 600K under his belt this season was already qualified. Sam, now that he is qualified, is rethinking his decision to forgo PBP this time-sounds like he's going back. The lure is just too strong.
Congrats to all the guys. It was a hard route and finishing it is an accomplishment worthy of being proud. Brenda deserves a ton of credit for registering us at 0:dark 30 in the morning, meeting up with us late on Saturday night in Wolf Creek, and buying us breakfast in Avon along with being there to see all of us finish. I'm very lucky to have her helping us with these brevets.