Continental Divide Trail - Northern Portion

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by mpgmr, Jul 11, 2017.

  1. mpgmr

    mpgmr Utard

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    Preamble

    After completing the Trans-America Trail several years ago my brother and I looked around for our next extended ride. We easily agreed upon the North to South Continental Divide Trail/Ride/Route which we divided into two sections based on the ride time available. We were set to leave late July 2016 but a family emergency, several days before our departure, waylaid our ride until 2017.

    So it was this past June 29th my brother, Charles, drove up to Park City, UT from Tucson with his 2014 Husqvarna Terra (TR650) aboard his truck. The next day we loaded his Terra and my 2005 Kawasaki KLR650 and equipment into the U-Haul truck and drove to Butte, MT for the night. The next day, Saturday, July 1st, we pulled into the Kalispel (Evergreen) U-Haul facility in the early afternoon where upon our Northern CDT ride begins.

    Aside

    In compiling our tracks we unabashedly pilfered and edited CDT tracks from Big Dog, Cannonshot, GPS Kevin, et. al. We did this as some of the tracks were older and we like to have bail out tracks if needed. That said, we followed GPS Kevin's tracks relatively closely. In actual usage there was one place (to be discussed) where the mountainside slid onto the trail with no go around so we had to return to the asphalt. In another place the tracks wanted us to go down a signed 'Dead End' road so continuing on the road we were on easily solved the problem. Finally, a track in Rawlins wanted us to turn off on an overpass but again continuing on we easily worked it out and got back on track. I have attached our initial tracks as a .gpx which includes over 500 waypoints and 28 tracks. I anticipate we will refer to those tracks as our journey unfolds. The attached file is entitled, "C&G_Northern CDT_20170711_Rev1.gpx". Note: on 7/13/2017 updated Rev1 of the tracks to Rev2 to bypass mountain side slide on our day 2 (see comment to Tokenboy below).

    Regarding the tracks, note that the naming convention used is that the main/daily tracks are named D# then from to (where # is the day number) while ancillary/bail out tracks are named D#a then from to or purpose. Looking at the tracks you can surmise that our ride from the Canadian border to Steamboat Springs, CO took us the better part of 8 days. We stayed at motels at night, generally got on the road by circa 8:15a and generally made our destination between 3:00 - 6:00p. We kept a decent pace but weren't racing (well, mostly). The days destination was often dictated to us by the facilities which were available based on locale and the July 4th holiday. On the TAT we often rode later into the day for comparable mileage so I would estimate the Northern portion of the CDT (for the most part) is some 2/3 as 'difficult' as the TAT. Also the TAT tracks were harder to follow than the CDT tracks. Finally, the TAT, overall, had more remote sections than the CDT. On the Northern portion of the CDT around the July 4th holiday time frame we saw some six cyclists, three other motorcyclists, and a pair of hikers who were obviously also traversing the CDT. It was not as well traveled as we anticipated but maybe the time frame had something to do with it.

    End Aside

    Now let's stop the jawboning and get the bikes moving!

    We rode out of the spacious U-Haul facility (recommended) on hwy 2, turning onto the multi-lane hwy 93 heading to the Canadian border for the 'official' start and pics. The weather was clear and on the uncomfortably hot side (depending on who is reporting it, myself from the Park City, UT area at 6,500' and 85 degree highs or Charles from Tucson and 110+ degree highs). We rode through the touristy town of Whitefish where after the ride became less congested, greener and cooler.



    It was about 2:15 when we got into Eureka. I was concerned regarding the amount of fuel in my KLR as I had not filled it recently and wanted to stop in Eureka. Fortunately we did stop as the KLR ingested over 5 gallons. We continued on uneventfully to within spitting distance of the Canadian border (neither one of us wanted to cross over as I had pepper spray and Charles was armed for 'bears and a$$ holes', both would have gotten us in bad with our Northern neighbors.)

    We took the perfunctory photos, turned the bikes around and began the CDT.

    Gary at Canadian Border_20170701.jpg Chuck at Canadian Border_20170701.jpg

    Attached Files:

    #1
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  2. dcwilcox

    dcwilcox Been here awhile

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    In . . . northern half is on my list!
    #2
  3. kneesels

    kneesels Adventurer

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    Charleston, SC
    In, looking forward to report as I am riding N to S late next month
    #3
  4. mpgmr

    mpgmr Utard

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    Day 1 - Canadian/Montana Border to Whitefish

    D1 Canada 2 Whitefish.jpg

    As eluded to in the above preamble, our Day 1 of the CDT started at circa 3:00P on Saturday, July 1st. Our intent was to ride the 112 miles from the Canadian border back to Whitefish where we would spend the evening. Referring to track 'D1 Canada 2 Whitefish' in the above attached tracks we rode from the border to Eureka via hwy 93. Anticlimactic for sure. Just past Riverside Ave. in Eureka we turned West onto Tobacco Road to get off hwy 93. We followed the road some distance behind a jeep which kept up a good pace. Tobacco Road is asphalt and hard pack and a good road with a bit of gravel thrown in for interest. Tobacco Road parallels hwy 93 and the Burlington Northern railroad for about 8.1 miles before once again meeting hwy 93. After riding hwy 93 for 0.9 miles we turned NE on Grave Creek Road. We followed Grave Creek and subsequent roads (see the above track) through the Kootenai and then the Flathead National Forest and eventually along the East side of Whitefish Lake into Whitefish. The initial portion was an enjoyable and relatively fast ride along good roads and then the dust. A fine grayish, choking, lingering dust. It was nearly impossible to pass slower vehicles unless they slowed down. To follow too close, within 75 yards, of a leading rider was playing with a bought of silicosis. Maybe it was the lack of recent precipitation and/or increased travel over the roads but the much of the later portion of the ride was spent avoiding dust as much as possible.

    Day 1a.JPG Day 1b.JPG
    Day 1c.JPG
    The videos taken for this report are from a new to me GoPro Hero 3+ and Charles' GoPro. As part of our riding gear we also had Cardo's Scala Rider intercom systems. We had purchased these initially for our TAT ride five years previously. Though now deprecated these Bluetooth units are great for issuing warnings, ride directions and having to listen to your brother sing (it has a mute button). Great units.



    Whitefish struck me as an upscale, small-town, touristy stop with resulting traffic jams mid-town. We worked our way to the Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge at the South end of town. They were our most expensive lodging at $224 a night. With the 4th of July holiday, they knew they could get it and they did. We unloaded, dusted off and sought out a meal at Latitude 48. Both of us had $14 hamburgers and small foo-foo lettuce salads. Tasty, albeit expensive, faire.

    You might notice the BMW logo on the tank of my KLR, well except it is red instead of blue. It was enough to fool an older gentleman in Whitefish who had previously owned a KLR and had ridden it to Alaska. He asked me how I liked the BMW (even though the logo says KLR). I've never owned a BMW so it was nice to own one for a few minutes until we filled him in on the details. He was taken back a bit but we endeavored to save his ego and go easy on him.

    We washed off the bikes, got back to the 'lodge', reviewed tomorrow's Day 2 ride, and slept soundly until 6:15 reveille.
    #4
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  5. tokenboy

    tokenboy Gnirly Adventurer

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    We leave tomorrow to tackle the CDR. We're following gpsKevin's tracks but I grabbed yours as a supplement! Thanks!
    #5
  6. mpgmr

    mpgmr Utard

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    I have updated our tracks to hopefully avoid the mountain side slide which occurred to the primary track (D2 / magenta). Specifically, I do not recall exactly where the slide occurred (maybe Charles can help me on that) but I have added the track 'D2a Hwy 83 to D2 Primary (WF Clearwater)' to our tracks and the waypoint '2_Rt to Primary on West Fork Clearwater Rd'. I believe the slide to have occurred on the first portion of the Beaver Creek Rd which goes West off hwy 83 about 17.4 miles North of Seeley Lake (waypoint '2_Str for Hwy 83 Cutoff'). At that waypoint, unless you do more re-routing yourself, I would continue on hwy 83 another 7.0 miles rather than take Beaver Creek Road. After 7 miles, at the waypoint '2_Rt to Primary on West Fork Clearwater Rd' (just South of Lake Alva) I would take the West Fork Clearwater Road (track 'D2a Hwy 83 to D2 Primary (WF Clearwater)' in yellow) and meet up in 0.5 miles with the primary track (track 'D2 Whitefish 2 Seeley Lake') and continue South on that track for the remaining 10.4 miles to Seeley Lake. This will get you around the mountain slide. That said, we did not travel the remaining portion of the 'D2 Whitefish 2 Seeley Lake' track so I cannot vouch for its condition.

    If the above is unintelligible shot me another comment and I will go into more detail.

    Have a GREAT Ride!
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  7. mpgmr

    mpgmr Utard

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    Day 2 - Whitefish to Seeley Lake

    D2 Whitefish 2 Seeley Lake.jpg

    Sunday, Day 2 was a some 141 mile ride from Whitefish to the Double Arrow Resort just South of Seeley Lake (see track 'D2 Whitefish 2 Seeley Lake' attached above). It seemed no matter how fast I was at getting ready it took at least 1.5 hours, including donning protective gear, eating a motel 'breakfast', repacking, and securing everything to the bike all over again. I do not know how he consistently did it but Charles nearly always was ready to go and patiently waiting while I was still strapping things to my bike. I think the earliest we ever started riding was 8:00A but it usually was more like 8:30. Today it was 8:30.

    The ride out of Whitefish was uneventful. We broke one of the cardinal rules of dual sport riding and that is passing up a gas station (one is never absolutely sure about gas availability) in Columbia Falls. The KLR was only getting 42 mpg while the Terra was getting 60+ mpg but we each had plenty of range (the Terra had a stock tank but also carried 1.75 gallons in a RotoPax) based on our tracks so we were confident in our decision.

    The first 48 miles of the ride was a very flat 3,100'. We did take track 'D2a Gas@BiG Fork' to Big Fork to replenish the gallon or so we burned from Whitefish. About 8 miles along we encountered a significant elevation gain to nearly 5,000'. The track out of Big Fork took us along the West side of Swan Lake was visually and road wise more enjoyable. After some 53.6 miles of good riding but warm weather we met up again with asphalt as we turned South on hwy 83.

    Swan River.JPG

    After 15.4 miles on hwy 83 we turned off and headed Southwest paralleling hwy 83. We had not gone far but we met up with our first obstacle. It appeared that the entire hillside had slid over the road we were taking and made further progress impossible. Rather than try and work out a go around on the spot (I did have the tracks on a laptop along with MapSource so we could have spent the time and rerouted ourselves on existing roads (assuming it were possible)). Instead, as the section was only 26.8 miles and paralleled hwy 83 we elected to retrace our tracks and finish the day's ride into Seeley Lake via hwy 83. Note: Please see my more detailed discussion of this section in the above 7/13/2017 post to Tokenboy and the rerouting suggested.

    Seeley Lake is another town which becomes heavily populated with visitors over the holidays and summer vacation. Many of the eating establishments already had waiting lines so we proceeded to the Double Arrow Resort (DAR) and found our $181 room to be minimal in size and comfort. It did have a shower, electricity and twin beds but no AC and spotty wifi. Apparently we had procured one of the last rooms available so you get what ya get.

    Double Arrow Resort.jpg

    On the other hand the restaurant at DAR was a culinary treat. One the best dinners I have eaten. Unfortunately they did not serve breakfast until long after we wanted to be on the road. We did some wrenching on the bikes and took care of business via phone as the evening passed uneventfully.
    #7
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  8. mpgmr

    mpgmr Utard

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    Day 3 - Seeley Lake to Butte

    D3 Seeley Lake 2 Butte.jpg

    Monday, Day 3 dawned as scheduled and promised to be one of our longer riding days at 212.7 miles (see track 'D3 Seeley Lake 2 Butte') and further from asphalt than the previous two days. We were ready to ride at circa 8:30A and gassed up in Seeley Lake while partaking of convenience store 'nourishment'. A local on a Harley rode up and chatted with Charles for a bit over our intended route.

    The base elevation for today's ride was 4,000' with six climbs up past 6,000' maxing out at 7,400'. The terrain was certainly varied and no real issues with the roads/trail, at least until Helena. The ride to Helena was through Helena National Forest and hwy 12 crossing the Continental Divide several times. To get an idea of the variety in terrain traversed I give you the following four videos which were all taken within a 40 minute period. Great riding.



    Even though we had previously crossed a few railroad tracks on the ride, about 18 miles before Helena just past Mullen Pass out in the middle of God's Country, we came across and paralleled the Montana Rail Link. We also found a couple of apparently derelict rail cars so we took a break and enjoyed the scenery.

    Montana Homestead D3.jpg Yesteryear Mine.JPG Montana Rail Link Car.jpg

    Arriving in Helena we topped off our tanks and emptied others. We dodged cars as we made our way through the Monday afternoon traffic in town. It would be interesting to explore the history of the city further but today we're on a CDT mission so the sooner we start the second half of today's ride, the better.

    Lava Mountain - We have heard tales and seen videos/pics of the ride around Lava Mountain. I am here to tell you the ride around (not UP Lava Mountain (see waypoint MO1AA0 for right turn onto Lava Mountain Trail), which we didn't try and is apparently more difficult) is a booger. If you want to avoid shaking your crowns loose take the Lump Gulch Road to I-15 bail out which is about 13 miles out of Helena. We didn't. So we circumnavigated around Lava Mountain on a narrow, sharp, big rock littered, up and down hill trail. It is the kind of trail which, when you finish, you just have to stop to recuperate and relive some of the fantastic saves you accomplished.

    The remainder of the ride into Butte was standard CDT faire. Arriving at the Hampton Inn which we stayed in on our way to Kalispell, we got the same room, unloaded and dusted off, and went in search of a real meal. Apparently, the evening of July 3rd is not the best time to try and get a meal in Butte. We tried four different places before finally settling on a Wendy's.

    Getting back to the motel, we did laundry, set batteries to cookin', used the motel's wifi and settled down into a couple of nice beds. Super riding today!
    #8
  9. mpgmr

    mpgmr Utard

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    Day 4 - Butte 2 Elk Lake/Lima

    D4 Butte 2 Elk Lake_Lima.jpg

    Day 4 track (titled 'D4 Butte 2 Elk Lake/Lima' attached in Abstract section) was the longest day via mileage of the ride. Now 217.8 miles on the TAT was one very long day but on the CDT, which is being ridden later in the year (longer days) and overall an 'easier' ride, we were reasonably confident we would finish in plenty of time for our 6:30p dinner reservations at Elk Lake Lodge given our usual 8:30A start.


    Today’s ride consists of four segments. A short dirt ride, a longer dirt ride, a jaunt down I-15, and another hardpack ride to dinner and a bed. If I were to do the ride again I would take the ‘D4a I15 Bypass’ track off the ‘D4’ track and stay in the dirt and avoid half the I-15 ride. But not knowing what we would encounter, we elected to do ride the I-15 for 44.6 miles.

    The first dirt segment of 27.5 miles went without a hitch. Just a nice ride in the cool morning in Big Sky Country.

    Riding the second dirt segment we felt truly out in the weeds riding along Fleecer Ridge at 7,800’. Then the excitement for the day began. Let the words ‘Fleecer Drop’ awake your only innate postnatal fear, drop.

    We were riding uphill when we noticed we were no longer on track. We had missed the turnoff to Fleecer Drop. Which isn’t surprising as the waypoint we missed stated “Turn at meadow (location uncertain)”. Charles started turning around first (we had to turn off the road and circle around to get back on it) and then I followed suit. My problem was I did not make the turn sharp or wide enough so I had to cross the road in order to continue circling back onto it. As I crossed the road I didn’t have much speed so I goosed the KLR a little, the spinning rear tire did not make it over the road berm and sitting still with no place to go but down, that is what I did.

    It seems that on every ride at least one of us has to make contact with the ground. It was my turn. My left shoulder hit the road first and the rest followed. Not really believing that happened I was a bit dazed as Chuck ran back and helped me lift the bike upright. Turns out my mirrors broke (I think on the lifting, not falling) and the hand guard impacted the clutch lever a little. After a few choice words we got things sorted out, the good ole KLR started up after a few seconds on the magic button and we were off again.

    We had missed the turn off to Fleecer Drop by about 50 yards, the tracks are good, we were just not paying attention. I was still a little shaky from my previous drop when we started down Fleecer Drop for real. In summary of the ride down let me just say, I really do not want to do that again. We used our brakes with motors idling to hold us back on the longest and steepest downhill trail on which I have ever been. If I were ever to tackle Fleecer Drop again I would try it dead stick, letting the clutch and engine work the rear while using brakes on the front. Going down ‘The Drop’ we did not dare to let the bikes gain momentum or we would be toast.

    Three quarters down the hill, try as I might, I seemed to be gaining on Charles. This is NOT good. I was about to tell him not to stop as I was right on his tail, when he stopped. There is no way I could stop so I had to veer off the dual track, trying to stop in the rough with Charles yelling in my ear (via intercom) “keep going, don’t stop, keep going”. I agreed that indeed that was the best solution to my predicament, since I couldn’t stop. I continued riding down ‘The Drop’ giving the KLR its head when we got closer to the ‘bottom’ (semi-flat meadow). I was going too fast to stop and the brakes would not have helped much so I just kept riding. Charles rode down as well and without looking back (no rear view mirrors nor desire to take my eyes off the narrow road) we continued onward.

    The remainder of the second dirt segment became a memory without incident, we hopped onto I-15 and finally stopped in Lima for gas and sustenance. Taking a break in the shade we loaded up on liquids and jerky. Too soon we were back on I-15 heading South. We missed our turn onto hwy 509 so had to circle back. I kept the bike upright this time, found hwy 509 and headed East.

    I am sure that when 509 is graded it is a tolerable road but for 42.5 miles we hit pot hole after pot hole. Trying to miss one deep/wide pot hole invariably set one up to hit the next one. The best course of action was just to find the line with the smallest post holes, gas the bike a bit (to help skim over the pot holes) and hold on. The road, the heat, the long mostly indistinct valley, the dust and the long miles today really had me wishing I was somewhere else. Elk Lake Lodge was indeed a welcome sight.

    We snagged our cabin, unloaded the bikes, washed up and partook of a very nice meal, particularly considering where we were. We asked about the pot holed road and got a “it is usually graded by now”. Ah well, maybe those following us will have a better time of it. We explored the environs a little but I hit the sack while it was still light. I was done for the day.
    #9
  10. MizzouRider

    MizzouRider Long timer

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    I'm in. Hope to do this, northern section, someday on a GSA. If I can get to it before I get too old.
    #10
  11. mpgmr

    mpgmr Utard

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    I'm 67 and way out of shape. Brother was a good influence on me during the trip. His personality is go, go, go, mine more 'smell the roses'. He didn't stop to let me eat much during the day. I think I lost about 10#, some of that due to dehydration. But suffice it to say, now's the time to do it. I suggest either the lightest bike that will make it 'comfortably' and do the back trails or take a larger, more streetable bike (GSA?) and do more asphalt and/or hardpack then single track. Either way better than watching the ice in your drink melt. TAT, CDT, Mex2CAN, Trans-Canada, state BDRs, etc., any and all good.
    #11
  12. LewisNClark

    LewisNClark Long timer

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    Great video's...but let bro eat some of the dust... From experience, it took me 15 years to realize that a little $4,000 250cc can some times be a lot more fun than a big GSA.

    Thanks for sharing videos.
    #12
  13. mpgmr

    mpgmr Utard

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    Thank you for your comments and watching the vids.
    The first day the dust was really bad and we do periodically change lead. But Charles enjoys leading more than I and the lead should be paying more attention to the tracks and trail than fiddling with a GoPro, exceptions noted.
    We both have GoPros so you will likely see one or the other of us in the lead (I am using both our vids).
    Agree re: 250s being a blast. I have a WR250R with Athena kit and it's a blast in the mountains. I've found that 11,000' is about the maximum for the bike with me on it and climbing a steep, rocky trail.
    We had some highway (asphalt) miles to run so I thought the KLR would better keep up with my brother's 650 Terra then my WRR. Thus I took the KLR on this ride.
    Best wishes.
    #13
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