Sent: Wednesday, 7/30/03
To: Friends and Family
Subject: Cooper Lake to Helena
We're still having fun!
Monday, July 28 - Cooper Lake to Stemple Pass (37 miles, 4360 feet)
Today's ride was scheduled to be a short 22-mile ride to Lincoln (population 530, its claim to fame was that "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski hid out in the nearby woods for 25 years). Since we could knock that out by lunchtime, we decided to combine the next 3 days riding into 2. We also needed to modify the route slightly to accommodate the motor home. My only concern was that we could be riding over 4 mountain passes and cross the Continental Divide 3 times in two days. I was exhausted when I filling rolled into camp at the top of Stemple Pass, but not too tired to enjoy our last evening with Vern and Jarla. They have been wonderful, and we miss them already! Vern had a good last day, catching several fish.
Tuesday, July 29 - Stemple Pass to Helena (60 miles, 4670 feet)
After saying a long goodbye to Vern and Jarla, we headed out for the big day. Evan got a head start (even after doing breakfast dishes) and left stones in trail to indicate which fork in the road he had taken. When Jim and I got to the first fork, I was convinced he had taken a wrong turn. Our first Continental Divide crossing was less than a mile away, and the way Evan went was downhill. We looked over the map, checked out alternatives, and waited for him to discover his mistake and come back our way. After 30 minutes, we headed down the trail and found him waiting for us at the Continental Divide crossing, reading a book. He had picked up an additional map that cleared up the mystery our map had presented. After spending more time than we had being lost, Evan picked up a local forest service that would reduce his chances of getting lost again. For the rest of the day, I deferred to Evan and his vastly superior map.
Our first crossing was somewhat anticlimactic. While I didn't expect to find a horde of photographers and a marching band, I did expect to ride UPHILL and find a sign at the top. Without Evan's map, we wouldn't have realized we'd done the first of 27 crossings. We'd gained plenty of elevation climbing to Stemple Pass, so crossing the imaginary line was relatively easy.
We were packing up to ride after a lunch break when a woman stopped to talk – the only person we'd seen for hours - and recommended an alternative trail. We rode along the top of the Continental Divide, and then found a series of fun, technically challenging single-track trails. We didn't realize it at the time, but that diversion added about 10 miles to the trip, but it was worth it. I rode the third crossing (Priest Pass) at a snail's pace -- 2.5 mph. An energetic old lady with a walker could have passed me. Coming into Helena was mostly downhill on a highway, but the headwind made it feel otherwise. We had to ride through Helena's busy main streets to get to the RV Park where Vern and Jarla had left the motor home. It was a long day!
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