Big Nelson Lake-Lincoln-Grady Ranches-Helena


Thursday, July 24 (Day 11)


Big Nelson Lake to Ovando to Lincoln


Lincoln City Park


Early morning temp = 44degF; sunny



The reason for the difficulty in climbing the hill yesterday became apparent. Another flat tire. Out came the Mr. Tuffy in the rear (the second flat, both in the rear tires) just in case that were the source of the problem.

Felt pretty good pedaling up that hill today. Must have been those instant grits for breakfast. I was able to nearly keep up with Alan, Carl, and Norm. Almost. A fleeting accomplishment.

I didn't get the tire seated properly on the rim (a first time for that). Two-thirds of the way up the climb, I became concerned about the "interesting" sound emanating with each wheel rotation. As Alan and I were discussing this, and I was beginning to think I'd better check it, Alan had me stop and get off RIGHT NOW...the tube was trying to come out along the rim near the value stem. Fortunately there were no ill effects.

This was an easy riding day. A nice long uphill first thing in the morning, but some bone rattling downhill grades which Norm and I took at a speed for chatting.

Lincoln, the former home of Ted The Unibomer, was an appealing small town. Folks were friendly and willing to talk. Snow capped mountains were enticingly close. I thought it might be a better layover place than Seeley Lake, but there was less to do.

Alan had researched the Montana Travel Planner & Guide and strongly suggested that we head for the City Park (Hooper Park) for camping. He was right.

The sweet elderly park caretaker with rummy eyes and deeply etched wrinkles took us under his wing and imparted town history, his history, and helpfully said that he would leave the woodshed open so that we could help ourselves to campfire wood. Showers were available for $4 at The Lincoln Lodge, an old building on the National Historic Registry. Before sending me off toward the shower, the lodge manager proudly displayed a 1918 Hotel Guest Registry which included Charles M. Russell and his wife. Unfortunately there were no Russell paintings nor bronzes adorning the lodge common area.

Dinner at the Lodge was tasty and extremely reasonably priced (although I would have preferred fresh beans to canned). The manager and waitress were friendly and accommodating, suggesting that if we didn't see something on the menu that satisfied us, we could ask the chef for something else.

Walking back to camp after dinner, 12 to 15 deer were scattered through the baseball diamond in the park. Six left quickly when they spotted us, and the other group only bolted through a hole in the fence when we were nearby. Wonder what the score was when we disturbed the game?

[As I write, sitting at a picnic table in Hooper Park, the sun is down, it's 9:45 p.m. and a breeze is coming up. Carl built a fire in the fire pit; we finished up the marshmallows. At 10:30 or so, the sky is dim but not dark. The surrounding mountains close in protectively. ]


Friday, July 25 (Day 12)


Lincoln to Grady Ranches camping area


Grady Ranches (guerrilla style camping at an approved area)


Early morning temp = 41degF; generally sunny



After a filling breakfast, again at Lincoln Lodge, our route out of Lincoln was on Stemple Pass Road, off of which was Ted's cabin. As I pedaled through this area, I was struck by how easy it would be to lose yourself in Montana. Just disappear from most of civilization, like Ted.

Part of the route, on our way up to our first crossing of the Continental Divide involved "2.5 miles of extremely steep uphill" (according to the Adventure Cycling map). Trail washes to cycle up. We learned that "extremely steep" meant that most would be pushing, not riding. Carl said (with his permission to quote), "I would be riding if I had more weight on the back." Me, I would be riding if I had different tires. Suuure. I worked my way up the trail, moving from shady spot to shady spot, either joining or being joined by Carl, Norm, and Alan. Paul and Ann were just ahead (or just behind?). It was in this area that I learned how to take a flying fall of my bike, and yet land upright. A new trick!

Certainly not a route that anyone would want to do on a rainy day! After four creek crossings (I splashed through two, pedaled through two) and considerable "cross training" (pushing), and a rip-roaring "YeHaw," we arrived at the top of the First Divide Crossing for lunch.

Grady Ranches, a camping area (in the loosest sense of the word), was easy to miss (we did, and had to backtrack after getting directions from a homeowner at the far end of the road). It was pack it in/pack it out; filter water; dig a cat hole.

Carl worked his garbage magic again! A local rancher drove by going uphill. We gave him a friendly wave and on his way back, he stopped to chat (in the de rigour pickup with large panting drooling happy dog). I gave the dog some loves and pats while Carl began his spiel. (He must hypnotize folks in a manner undetermined by any of us.) Sure enough, within minutes our rancher friend (once Carl begins talking, they turn into friends) had agreed to take our garbage. And he was kind enough to wait while we unhitched it from its hanging spot in the tree (we were still hanging bear bags, and would continue to do so until we reached Helena).

Ann cooked a tasty pasta dinner, proving that the English DO know how to cook!

[I am feeling as if I'd like to do a more mixed route of on-dirt/on-road. Every time I come close to falling off, I seem to lose confidence on this bike rather than gain it by managing to not hit the ground. Perhaps I'm not cut out to try to be a competent technical mt. biker. Maybe I still don't have the equipment properly tuned up for this type of riding. On the other hand, near the end of the day, part of our route was through some very soft sand, which I managed to navigate through upright - barely). Two others of us, however, bit the dust, literally.]


Saturday, July 26 (Day 13)


Grady Ranches to Helena


Helena Campground (formerly the KOA)


Early morning temp = 42degF; sunny and warm



Divide Crossing #2 - parts were steep and rough. No streams.

On the way out of the drainage at Dog Creek, just past Divide Crossing #2, we were surrounded by cattle. A huge herd moved randomly back and forth across the service road. Something or someone would spook them, and a clutch of cattle would dash across the road from left to right, while those on the other side picked up stakes for greener pastures and trundled themselves from right to left. Rodeos should have Cattle Dodging contests. We could enter as veterans.

Divide Crossing #3 - a long gentle grade, good road, hot sun, long rolling meadow views, covered with more wildflowers and edged by forest. Over the top of Priest Pass, we had a long steep downhill to the highway. If one knew the road, it would a road to scream down. As it was, unfamiliar and in dappled sun, a more conservative speed seemed in order.

Highway 12 into Helena. Another Real Road. It was hot, with strong head winds!! I hate it when I have to pedal downhill. I felt like a mountain person coming down for a taste of an alternate existence as we worked our way into Helena.

Tom and Melissa missed the Dog Creek turn-off and had a " trail research adventure" in Marysville instead. Tom wanted to get to Helena for headset repair (he described his bike as having an "indexed headset"), and perhaps their route expedited that. Our contact with Dave (Hang Dog) Gay came in handy as he had recommended that we speak with Eric at the Great Divide Cyclery in Helena if we had problems. Eric fixed Tom right up.

This was Norm and Carl's last day before heading home to their other lives. A celebration/good-bye dinner was in order - planned by Party Dog Alan. Researching the quality restaurant list, he selected the Windbag, reputed to be one of the best restaurants in Helena (my meal was excellent); snagged gifts for Norm and Carl (a box of Jelly Belly's, each personally signed by all of us); arranged taxi service to the restaurant. What a (party) Dog!

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Copyright Judith J. Colwell, 1997. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: May 14, 1998

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