Bikepacking Montana Trip Report

Shortly after the Gals at the Dalles trip in May, Whitney Ford Terry from the Montana contingent sent out an invite: 

Round TWO, Montana remix. I know its only been a few days but i'm always scheming. August 4-6th Whitefish loop through Glacier National Park to the lovely Polebridge Mercantile and back. You can roll your bike right up to the Amtrak station in PDX or SEA and take the train to Whitefish!
Who's in?

Without hesitation, I booked my Amtrak tickets, asked for vacation time, and it was a done deal. Logistics of figuring out how to bikepack on my bike would come later. I was going to Montana!

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Gear

I rode my bike that I ride for every other ride, Surly Straggler 650b. The primary modifications I made to make this a "bikepacking" trip (instead of bikecamping) was to add a framebag, butt rocket, and a Tubus low-rider front rack. I also removed my rear rack and fenders to make it as light as possible. 

Big thanks to my friend Greg for letting me borrow his Tubus rack, Madi for letting me use her panniers, and Josh for selling me his Blackburn buttrocket!

I didn't do a good job taking a photo of my pre-packed kit but basically I took everything I usually take bike camping, with a bit more attention paid to how I pack and food. With 1 planned resupply, it was important to know exactly what my meals were going to be.

Day 0 - Transportation, Whitefish, & Whitefish Bike Retreat

I took the Amtrak train from Seattle to Whitefish on Wednesday night. The train left Seattle around 4pm and got to Montana at 7am. This gave me lots of time in Whitefish on Thursday to explore town, stop by the local bike shop (with tons of touring cyclists in town), and get some fresh veggies at the grocery store.

The plan was to meet up with the Montana contingent at the Whitefish Bike Retreat around 2pm, so I had 7 hours to relax and explore town. My initial plan was to bike the 10 miles from town to the bike retreat, but after chatting with the folks at Whitefish Cycles, they warned me that the road was an 80mph highway and I'd be better off calling the free shuttle. Taking their advice (and free gear storage), I unloaded my panniers and set off to explore town, while waiting for the 3pm shuttle.

Google Maps doesn't a very good job routing you onto the bike paths, but I eventually found a great route to the local state park where I ate lunch and psyched myself up mentally for the upcoming ride. I also found a great hidden little spot to jump in the river naked (or so I thought until a few kayakers went by. Sorry!)

After a lazy day exploring, I eventually made my way back to town where I caught the shuttle out to the Whitefish Bike Retreat. There, I met up with Whitney Ford Terry, Laurie, and Annette who drove in from Missoula. We set up camp for the night, put together their bikes, and then explored the single-track by the bike retreat. 

Single track at the bike retreat!

Single track at the bike retreat!

Now, I don't love single-track. At all. But this was fun to ride on. We rode 3 or 4 miles to a hidden alpine lake where we were the only people for miles and  I skinny-dipped for the 2nd time that day. Pure perfection!

Day 1 - Whitefish to Apgar (by way of FAFFING around)

Friday was our first actual day of planned riding, and with 30ish miles planned, we had a fairly easy day planned. We took the free shuttle back into Whitefish where we met up with the Portland based crew made up with Jocelyn, Molly, and Christy, who had just arrived on the train.

In what would come to be a theme of the weekend, we fucked around forever in Whitefish, adjusting gear, buying coffee and more groceries (is 5 tuna packets enough? No...better buy one more just in case!), and reapplying sunscreen. Finally, around 11:30am we rolled out.

The first 5ish miles were on pavement, but we quickly made a turn onto gravel and didn't see pavement again until late in the afternoon. 

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The riding was super enjoyable, with mellow climbs, fast descents, and signs of wildlife all around (but no actual bear spottings.) We made a brief detour at lunch to eat by a lake and all throughout the day, our spirits were super high. We even found a spring water cache of fresh, ice cold water on the side of the road! Does it get any better?

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Eventually, the gravel ran out and we were forced back into civilization in West Glacier. But civilization also meant ICE CREAM and beer! It was like Disneyland! A quick resupply, and then we were back on the path into Glacier.

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Through some sort of magic, just after the entrance to Glacier National Park, we took a bike path all the way to the Apgar Campground. This meant we avoided all the cars and were able to ride on most of the most beautiful bike paths I've ever been on. Highly recommend!

Day 2 - Apgar to Polebridge

I had been nervous about Day 2 since seeing the route. It was planned to be 44 miles and nearly 4,200 feet of climbing, including a mountain pass.

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Our route was intended to take us through Glacier National Park on the Inside North Fork Road , which is the least visited part of the park. Only the first 6 miles are open to cars, after which it is hiker-biker only. The entire road is also gravel and dirt. Woo wee, here we go.

Jocelyn admiring the scenery on Day 2.

Jocelyn admiring the scenery on Day 2.

We did not make it all the way to our intended destination. A combination of rougher going roads, slower traveling speeds, and challenging riding slowed us down. 

But oh my gosh was it pretty. After a seemingly endless climb, we eventually hit a plateau that was bursting with wild flowers and new growth. As you can see in the photo of Jocelyn, the area had a wildfire a few years ago, so most of the big trees were gone, but there was tons of new growth. 

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We also encountered more bear poop than I ever want to see again. Thankfully, no actual bears, but I was definitely on watch for them. Most of us, myself included were riding with bear spray. Mine was in my feedbag (attached to my handlebars), which is usually used for snacks and a camera. For this ride, it was for bear spray.  At some point I noticed however that my feed bag was empty. Bummer. Somebody gets a good ground score!

Anyway, late in the day we eventually made it to Polebridge, which is the cutest little town ever. They've got a bar, a mercantile/bakery, a few houses, and a hostel. But that was the best damn little town I've been to in my life. 

The bakery offers up excellent home baked goods, cold beers, and great food. They also give a free pastry if you arrive via foot or bike, which was absolutely amazing after riding all day.

All of us practically collapsed on the porch of the mercantile, replenishing calories and dreading the remaining 17 miles for the day. It was all uphill over Red Meadow pass. And boy did we not want to do it. Somebody came up with the idea of sleeping in Polebridge and once I heard that, I knew I wasn't getting back on my bike for any significant distance.

We made arrangements to camp at the hostel, which offered a real kitchen and SHOWERS! I know it had only been 2 days, but damn did I need a shower. I'm not really cut out for the life of a long-distance/real bike packer. I like my creature comforts.

We also got to watch a solar film festival that was touring through the town, which was pretty cool.

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Day 3 - Polebridge to Whitefish

Sunday presented two options: complete the original route, including Red Meadow pass for the return to Whitefish, or a much lower elevation, similar distance route. I was still pretty gassed from the previous day's riding and was not stoked on a huge climb. I made the decision to take the alternate route, which looked to be about 50 miles back to Whitefish through Columbia Falls. One of the other women, Christy also decided to join me.

Our plan to get back to Whitefish from Polebridge

Our plan to get back to Whitefish from Polebridge

We all left together early Sunday and split off at mile 1 for what would prove to be the longest distance day yet. The first 30ish miles were all gravel, but they followed the river from Polebridge to Columbia Falls. This meant the elevation gain/loss was minimal and the riding was pretty easy. The kind of gravel riding that I love and excel on.

#roadslikethese 

#roadslikethese 

At some point, the gravel transitioned back to pavement, the speed limit went from 25 to 70 (WTF?!) and the magic sort of drained out of the trip. It was also nearing 95 degrees, and we were ready to be done with the riding.

After many stops in the river to cool off/refill water (hooray for portable filtration), we made it back to Whitefish. About an hour later, the rest of the crew arrived who had taken the other route and we were a big happy family yet again.

We stuffed our faces with celebratory burgers and beers, took lots of pictures of our dirty bikes, and said our goodbyes. I got on the train back to Seattle with a full heart, tan (and dusty) legs, and a yearning for more riding in Montana.

Huge thanks to Whitney for putting the route together for us (adapted from this Bikepacking route), and for all of the other women for their encouragement and companionship on the ride!

I found a Basket Bag!

Many moons ago I reached out to the internet universe looking for the perfect bag to complete my Wald 137 set-up. As I wrote in this post in May of 2016 "Now that I’ve got the hardware dialed in, my biggest challenge is how to carry the soft goods. Searching the market of bike bags, there seems to be an infinite supply of backpacks, panniers, frame bags, porteur, and handlebar bags. But there are very limited options for bags specifically designed for baskets!"

 

As it so happened, the lovely folks at Swift Industries heard my cries (and I'm sure others) and came through with THE BEST BASKET BAG EVER!!

The Swift Sugarloaf is designed specifically to fit perfectly inside of a Wald 137 and has perfect little clips to keep it in place when you're riding. I was lucky enough to be able to design my own color before it hit mass market (teal and pink), but Jason and Martina liked it so much it's now offered to everyone!

Seriously y'all, the Sugarloaf is perfect. One side has magnetic pockets for quick access things. The other side has a zipper pocket. Inside pockets. A strap for carrying off the bike. It's so cute. 

From their website: 

  • Exterior pockets accessible while the bag is in the basket
  • Magnetic snap pocket closures
  • A very secure attachment system to the basket.
  • Base lined with foam to prevent rattling noises and to protect iPad etc.
  • Interior pockets for additional organization
  • Reflective touches on attachment sleeves
  • Waterproof top zipper
  • Protection flaps over non-waterproof zippers

Trying something new...

The response to the "with these THIGHS" project has been overwhelming. l've sent out over 150 stickers so far and the demand isn't slowing down. People from Massachusetts, Colorado, Arkansas, Oregon, Belgium, and Idaho will soon be proudly showing off their love for their strong thighs. 

I'm the first to admit I'm not organized at all. In fact, my life is kind of a disaster. So keeping track of who I had sent stickers to via Facebook messages, Instagram DMs, email and Twitter was just asking for trouble. As the project grows and more people find it through the internet, I'm transitioning the stickers to this site.

You can totally still get them through me (happily!!), but in order to cover my costs for printing and shipping, I'm going to start charging a bit for them. I would like to make just enough to cover the next round of printing- I'm definitely not turning this into a side hustle or getting rich off these.

So, if you'd like some, please find a link to order them here! (and please let me know any feedback!) This is the first time I've ever tried "selling" something. 

Paris by Bicycle

I'm currently sitting on a balcony in Paris overlooking a boulangerie, sipping on French wine and eating a fresh baguette that I bought for 1 Euro. I have to pinch myself every once in a while to remind myself that this is real life and I'm not dreaming - I really am in the middle of a "business trip" to Europe, with a weekend interlude to Paris. What a life!

Truth be told, Paris has never been on my bucket list of cities to visit, so when the conference in Stockholm was booked and my boss said "Let's make good use of our time in Europe and contact the account management teams to see who wants to talk with us," I was mildly excited. I was more excited to try and get to northern Sweden to do some backpacking, but then Paris got booked to visit some important customers, so now, here we are! The timing worked out such that after our week in Stockholm (for the conference), we flew to Paris on Friday evening and don't have work until Monday. We'll return to the states early on Tuesday morning.

So, with a whirlwind 48 hours to explore the City of Lights, I did what I do best, find a bicycle and explore!

Yours truly under the Eiffel Tower

Yours truly under the Eiffel Tower

 

Paris has a great bike sharing system Velib, which has over 1000 stations and nearly 24,000 bicycles. I'm traveling with my boss, who is turns out used to race road bikes in college. I told him of my plan to explore via 2 wheels and he said he was up for the adventure. From our hotel in the 16th arindossment early on Saturday morning, we walked to breakfast near the Arc de Triomph, where we quickly found bicycles and were off for the day!

From the Arc de Tromph, we pedaled 10 minutes and were at the Eiffel Tower. Did you know you can ride nearly undernearth it?! Holy amazeballs! So much better than being in a tourbus!

Our next intended destination was the Notre Dame Cathedral, but, if you've ever been to Paris, you're probably laughing at me right now. There are literally hundreds of amazing sights between the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame- it was silly to think we would make it from one to the next in 30 minutes! 

Velib Bike Share in Paris. Look at those baskets!

Velib Bike Share in Paris. Look at those baskets!

 

The Seine River has a beautiful bike and pedestrian path that leads you past many of the landmarks, including the Musee Orsay (didn't go in, but we got cool pictures) and the Lourve! Turns out, you can also bike right up to the Lourve pyramid and through the big buildings! (Sorry I'm not describing this well. Basically the Lourve is a big complex of buildings and when you're on a bike, you can basically go anywhere. It's a little strange how little you're restricted.) 

It was right around the Lourve that we realized that we were close to the 30 minute time limite and needed to switch bikes. The app thankfully works on a limited basis without a data connection, so we could see the location of the stations, but not how many stations or bikes were available. There were a number of times when we got to docking stations to find them either all full and couldn't exchange, or empty and in need of rebalancing. I guess Pronto had that going for it.

The Lourve!

The Lourve!

Throughout the day we switched bikes 8 or 9 times, and eventually got good at navigating the system. It was relatively easy to use and had instructions in many languages, including English. The most frustrating thing was ending up with bikes that had low tires, bad gears, or seats with bad posts so your knees were in your face. Once I ended up with a bike that had a nearly flat back tire and couldn't find a station that wasn't full for nearly 2 hours. Lots of fun on those cobblestones.

The most fun/exciting/scary part of riding bikes around Paris is the hodgepodge of signage and bike streets. Often there will be lovely bike lanes that will just disappear into a giant traffic circle, such as the one at the Bastille. We took the lead of the people on bikes in front of us and just rode boldly into traffic, weaving in and out of taxis, buses, and scooters. I was frankly surprised to be alive on the other side.

My boss leading the way

My boss leading the way

 

Other times, the bike lane was shared with tour buses. While I wanted to gawk at the gorgeous buildings and historic surroundings, I was also a bit afraid for my life.

Today, I had the opportunity to ride a bike again, as we had another free day before work begins. While it was a great way to see the city, the frustration of finding open docks and fear for my life led to me to choose the metro.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

 

 

Gals at the Dalles

There's something about rolling hills, farms and open prairie that just does it for me. I absolutely love it. Add gravel roads, cows, a challenging climb with a screaming descent, the opportunity for dispersed camping and you've got my perfect ride.

Two years ago, I was introduced to the Dalles Mountain 60. This route is typically ridden in one day on the second Saturday in March, with whoever shows up. When I did it in 2016, a mixed bag of cyclists showed up, but primarily roadies with really fancy bikes and spandex. Most people seemed ready to test their mettle on this early season ride and go as fast as possible - up and over Dalles Mountain, down Maryhill Loops, and over Old Moody Road. Scenic photos be damned, they were going for King of the Mountain!

My style of riding is quite different. I'm in it for the journey- photos, fun stops, and whatever may come my way. The problem with doing this ride in early March, however, is you're battling daylight. It's a long, challenging ride with some decent elevation gain. If you don't hustle, you won't make it back to the city before sunset and it gets COLD and DARK out there. 

So after my first experience in the Dalles I knew that I wanted to go back. I was in love with the scenery and wanted more, but wanted to do it on my own terms. And that's how Gals at the Dalles was born.

If you've ready my blog post about my trip last summer with Komorebi Cycling Team, you know about the magic that is biking with all women. So I'm not going to rehash that, but suffice it to say, I was intentional in planning this trip to be all women.

I put the call out on social media that I was doing this trip to Oregon, open to rad women, gave them the route, and to meet at Holstein's Coffee on Saturday the 20th at 10am. In the end, 18 women ended up making the trip to Oregon - 2 from Montana, 2 from Oregon, and 14 from Washington! A pretty damn good turnout!

One challenge going into this ride was fighting my internal voice that kept saying "You're too slow to lead a ride like this." And on some levels, it's true. For the climb up Dalles Mountain (the first 16 miles of Day 1), I was the slowest. But, that doesn't mean I couldn't lead in other ways. To combat this internal struggle, I did the following:

  • Made sure everybody else was as prepared as possible to ride ahead with the route, cue sheets, and knew specific details (like where to get water)
  • Made it abundantly clear that there was no expectation for the group of 18 to stick together
  • Enjoyed my own pace and rode my own ride

My plan totally worked and I was pleasantly surprised when at mile 37, we came down a huge hill after Stonehenge (seriously, there's a full size replica of Stonehenge in the middle of Washington) to find the whole group! I have no idea how long they'd just been hanging out eating lime salted cucumber (you can read about that here on Adventure Cycling) but it was the BEST SURPRISE EVER!!

From there, we rode the final 5 miles into the Deschutes River Recreation Area where we had staged a car with all of our camping gear and a cooler with cold LaCroix and beer. After loading up our bikes, it was a stunning ride 8 miles down the Old Rail Trail to a dispersed camping site for the night.

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Day 2 started with a seriously stupid number of flat tires on the sharp gravel, luckily most of them easily fixable. We only had to boot one tire but it proved to be a good learning experience. Eventually we all made it off of the Rail Trail and back onto the main Dalles 60 route, where Old Moody Road awaited us. 

I think this road should be called Old Moody Mountain, and I honestly think it's the hardest part of the entire trip. This road is like a freaking wall and it's all gravel and so steep. Once we finally conquered that, it was smooth, beautiful riding all the way back into the Dalles.

Ending back at Holsteins Coffee we all collapsed onto the patio in the 95 degree heat. Happy, exhausted, accomplished. And excited to do it again next year?

p.s. This time, I took 600+ photos, and who knows how many the other women took. To see a small selection, search for the hashtag #galsatthedalles on Instagram!