Day 10: Helena to Lowland Campground (62.6 miles, 6,903ft)
We got off to a late start leaving Helena, since we waited until 10:00 to go to have a mechanic at Great Divide Cyclery give our bikes a once over. (They have beer on tap, so an afternoon/evening visit is worthwhile.) Given the all clear, we set off from town and began a 1,500 foot climb on a well-traveled dirt road leaving the city.
This being the day of a solar eclipse—we were just north of the 100% eclipse zone in the 94% zone—halfway up the climb the sun dimmed and air became noticeably cooler, making the climb a bit more comfortable. We pulled out our eclipse glasses—which Anna (always prepared!) had provided us with—took in the eclipse, and continued on our way.
After reaching the top of our first climb we descended through a mountain valley, past a number of homes, before beginning a climb up to another pass. Quickly, we left populated areas and after a number of miles came to a beautiful highland area. After the switchback the route led above a stunning lake—Park Lake—with a national forest campsite. After a few more rolling miles along dirt road, we reached a technical, single track climb. The trail required some brief sections of hike a bike, but for the most part we were able to ride out the trail, a fun (if difficult) diversion from the wider county and forest roads we’d been riding.
A fun descent to the little town of Basin followed, where we stopped at a little cafe—the only open business in town—for a water refill and ice cream. From there we followed a mix of paved, then dirt roads parallel to the interstate. After five or six miles, we moved away from the interstate, and continued up the valley we’d been following, gradually ascending to our campsite—Lowland Campground, a wonderful, secluded national forest campground. (One of the highlights of this route are the amazing campsites you can find in national forest and Bureau of Land Management areas, either established or dispersed primitive camping.)
This wasn’t our longest day, but it was likely our hardest up until this point of the trip—and one of the prettiest.