It's had been a heck of a day battling head wind in the flathead of Montana as shona and I made a 100mi push for Lima, MT. As we rolled into town we scanned around for a local dinner. Lima was a small cowboy town that consisted of a dinner, a bar with a self serve grill and a gas station. We were starving and too exhausted to want to cook or choke down another PB & nutella tortilla. We sat ourselves and began chugging root beer as fast as the waitress could refill our cups. Root beer after a long day of riding is a personal fav way to heal myself from a long day of suffering on the trail. Two more Divide riders also came to check out the dinner. One sat himself a few tables away and the other was Dale. Dale, Jason and soon to join the dinner was Josh. These 3 were Marines riding for Team Semper Fi to raise awareness for injured and disabled combat veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Dale ended up joining Shona, myself and a former Navy Seal when the other two Marines had ended their tour in WY. The 4 of us traveled together across the Continental Divide down to the Mexico border along the Great Continental Divide Mountain Bike Route(GCDMBR). We all had our tough days but those were the days that made us mentally tougher and our legs stronger.
The Divide changed all of us along our journey. Dale became a pedaling machine! Pedaling gave Dale a levelheadedness that he had not had in a long time. Pedaling was his happy place where all that mattered is the moment and the current adventure. Bikepacking gave Dale a mission every day. Despite the bumps and bruises that accompanied Dale’s crash course in mountain biking as he took on 2,700mi and 200,000 feet of climbing across 5 states. Some days we got stuck in lightning storms and some days there were wrecks but every time I check in with Dale to make sure he wanted to continue. His perseverance and determination inspired us all.
“If I have to crawl to Mexico to finish I will.” - Dale
Since the divide Dale returned to WI and we returned back to AVL. Shona and I got back to our life of fitness and mini adventures whenever we could. Dale road as much as he could until the harsh winter in WI started limiting his biking times. We received a call from Dale asking if he could come visit to escape the weather and get some adventure riding in down our way which Shona and I were stoked to have Dale as our guest.
The day after Dale arrived we started getting rides in and planning for our first bikepacking adventure. I have been wanting to explore the TN/NC border around Hot Springs NC. Saturday came and Dale loaded the mountain bikes in the Mini and headed out. We arrived in Hot Springs around 1pm and headed to Bluff Mountain Outfitters(a local hiker/backpacker stop along the AT). I snagged a French Broad and Nolichucky Rivers National Forest Map and struck up a conversation with one of the staff inquiring about some of the detail about the route we would be taking over the weekend. Wayne gave us the downlow about some of the trails along our route to help us avoid sections that wouldn’t be very well suited for for bikepacking.
We took off out of Hot Springs headed for the Paint Rock trails to start our trip. It is 65 degrees F and misting rain, this is unseasonably warm for the mountains of Western North Carolina in January but Dale and I will take it. As we crest the ridge about Paint Rock it hits me that I’m on trails and mountain tops that I have never explored which brought a big smile to my face. Dale laughs as a start howling but there is something about mountain tops and ridge lines that make me spontaneously turn into a wolf. “Hoooooowwwwwlllllll”.
We start our descend down flowy single track parting golden hay and the remains of last Fall’s blanket. I’m so stoked! I ride hundreds of miles a week which makes the usual trails start to get old but to be riding something new has my stoke meter at a 10! Crusin down the mountain I look off to my right and through the trees is a vista of a horseshoe in the Nolichucky. Dale and I had to get a short break to take it in before dropping some more challenging single track that dropped us off next to the river we had been staring down at for miles.
The next section of our route was smooth gravel grinding along the Nolichucky followed by a narrow section of road that continued along the river until we arrived in Del Rio. Del Rio is a small no red light town across the river consisting of a grill/convenience store, post office and a bar. Dale and I dropped in the store to re-up on water and snag a couple of gatorade’s and potato chips before we made the last push of the day. The locals having dinner in the store were very friendly and curious of the details of what Dale and I were up to. They gave us the usual looks like we were crazy but with smiles that said they admired our adventure. We had limited daylight so we took off for the hills up the backside of Max Patch. The windy paved road into the darkness of the forest we continued to climb until we reached Round Mountain State Park after 35 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing we would set up camp for the night. I’m a big fan of state parks when they are closed for the off season so we got a free night and the whole park to ourselves. Raymen noodles and stories reminiscing of the previous summer’s adventure occupied the air as we set up our shelters and sleeping systems. Bikepacking sure does make you appreciate the simple things like a warm meal and a warm dry sleeping bag.
The next morning I brewed coffee to accompany our granola melody. The woods were wrapped in thick fog as we set off down the road back toward Hot Springs. Today is mostly a rolling gravel grind with a nice section of downhill to start our day. About half way we made a short detour to Wolf Creek Falls which was well worth the extra mile. I’m looking forward to revisiting this fall in the summer for a swim! We rolled into Hot Springs around noon catching the last of the morning fog that hovered over town. Adventure complete! We dropped back by Bluff Mountain Outfitters to let the guys know we made it back from our adventure before grabbing lunch at Iron Horse Station to seal the trip. It was great to be back on the trail with Dale again and looking forward to more bikepacking trips as a prep for my upcoming race season.