Saturday, July 6, 2013

Big Sky, Big Hole (Day Fifteen)

From out secret base camp along the Lost Trail we packed up and prepared for the remaining 3 miles and thousand feet. After a few stops along the winding alpine path we had reached the Lost Trail Pass. A rustic visitors center drew our attention. There was another bike parked in front! Soon we met Chris, the host. We rested, exchanged info, and prepared for our final ascent to the Continental Divide at Chief Joseph Pass (~7200 ft.) 

A quick mile later we lunched on the Divide and flew down the forested road into the Big Hole Valley. Bubbling brook turned to roaring river, tight packed slopes flattened to riparian swale. The river valley exploded into a wide plain and the sky expanded exponentially. Surrounded by mountains on all sides the Big Hole's floor contained a curious mix of sagebrush, grasses, and wildflowers.

Shade and air conditioning drew us to the Big Hole National Battlefield center. Cooled and pleased by a more compassionate, balanced treatment of the tragic events than expected we continued on to Wisdom, MT. On the way we caught up to Michael and Jack whom we had met on The Lochsa days before. The brutal heat forced us into a local tavern for some delicious veggie and anchovy pizza before resupplying. People trickled in from the Rainbow Gathering to restock, we knew we were close. 18 miles of asphalt and 8 or so of gravel lie ahead.

The final push started out well enough but soon turned as a previous patch on Kevin's back tire failed due to weight and the boiling pavement. As soon as we slowed They came. They surrounded us in lancing swarms. Mosquitoes! Monsterous, hairy, unrelenting beasts flooded the air. Struck down, ten more rose to fill the space. Under impetus the flat was fixed and we escaped the swarms at a brisk pace. The unforgiving road took its toll as we ran low on water and drive. The last 5 miles seemed to stretch on.

Parched and pooped we rolled into the Jackson Hot Springs Resort to guzzle iced tea and cooled geothermal water. Rewatered the trek continued to our turn-off towards the Gathering. Hundreds of cars had beaten the rough gravel into submission yet it fought back as fist-sized rocks exploded from their dirt prison under the rubber assault. From good to bad to ugly the road threaded its way through low hills and pasture. Great billowing dust clouds rose from the exodus and influx of motor vehicles. Soon the road took its revenge on Kevin's thin road wheels, a pinch flat. Tires swapped and tubes patches the journey continued.

Tents and cars appeared, the grueling gravel was near its end. We crossed over a small bridge and swooped into the outskirts of the massive encampment. Not long after arriving a voice called out to us from a backcountry kitchen, "You guys must be hungry from the ride, Welcome Home!" Our strength was bolstered by a hearty meal of beans, rice and cabbage stew. The sun sunk low and we left the gravel road, pushing our bikes along a worn path to the crest of a hill. We were met by a stunning sunset and a view of the valley below.

Smoke hung low over the sagebrush depression and people milled about between the Main Circle and various camps distributed across the vast valley expanse. Drums echoed and voices carried. The path took us to a foot traffic highway along the floor to the grand
Rainbow arch. Crowds grew and we pushed further into the growing darkness, fires flickerd through the trees. Not far along the wooded path we were greeted by Tori and Chris, fellow cycle tourists from Washington. Tori eagerly led us to their modest encampment. A nearby fire and acoustic guitar drew us in before we grew too tired. Amidst the ecstatic chanting and rising beats of the drum circle echoing in the distance we laid our heads to rest.

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