Trans Am Week 3: West Yellowstone, MT to Powell, ID


July 11, 2016 – West Yellowstone, MT to Ennis, MT

The start of the week was a wet and cold one as we left West Yellowstone under cloudy and cold conditions. We rode pass Earthquake Lake (USDA.gov) which was named after an avalanche caused by the biggest earthquake the Rocky Mountains had ever experienced wiped away a campground along with all the people who stayed the night in 1959. I visited the visitors center to watch some of the stories from survivors of the event. Let’s just say I’ll be uneasy about staying at campgrounds near lakes for a little bit now.
The weather was warmer as the day stretched out. By the time I reached Ennis, we had a few hours left to prepare dinner. Luckily, Jared was on it and was prepping dinner. I helped wrap up the preparations and we had dinner ready just in time. Our stay at the RV park included one of the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen so far. The storm that brought thunder and rain gave the local mountains fresh powder of snow like powder sugar over a warm donut. Locals in Ennis said that it never snowed this late in the season and was actually in the 90s the Friday before.
Riding along the Hebgen Lake

Riding along the Hebgen Lake

Quake Lake

Quake Lake

Osprey Nest

Osprey Nest

July 12, 2016 – Ennis, MT to Dillon, MT

The next day, our group had to deal with one of the longer and windiest climb early in the morning before bombing down the hill through Virginia City and Nevada City which are remodeled old western towns for tourist attraction purposes. I was told that Nevada City had a really good coffee shop by Jared. I drove the van into the town of Dillon, Montana. After the groceries was procured at the Safeway, I went to check out the Patagonia outlet. I found an amazing deal on this windbreaker for only $34 and an extra pair of camping pants for about $60. Pretty cheap considering they were Patagonia brands. Now I’m just trying to figure out which jacket and pants to donate as I try to maintain a minimalist lifestyle as I am adhering to the one in and one out rule.
Our home for the night was at the KOA in Dillon. The guy who was at the front office, Bob, was a delightful man with coke bottle glasses. He greeted me with jokes and wisecracks. It genuinely felt like he wanted us cyclists there. He gave us a huge grassy area near the front entrance of the RV campground which had chickens roaming around the premises.
What started as a beautiful sunny day, quickly turned into a windy, gray, and cold evening as thunderstorms started to roll into the area. Many of our participants took to their phones to monitor radars to watch 2 major thunderstorms head straight towards a collision course above our campgrounds. Luckily both storms completely missed us and we were spared from the rain. Unfortunately, Jared was still out on the ride in and was drenched by one of the thunderstorms.
Sunset at Ennis

Sunset at Ennis

July 13, 2016 – Dillon, MT to Wisdom, MT

The agenda for today included 2 climbs over 2 passes before we blow by Jackson, Montana, where we originally hoped to stay but was told by our potential camp host that they only open on the days we were not there. Instead, we booked a site in the sleepy town of Wisdom, MT.

Today was a busy day for the van. Jared had to pick up 3 of our own riders due to lingering injuries and 1 other self-supported riders from the other Adventure Cycling tour. There were 2 climbs today. The first one, Badger Pass (6760 ft.), wasn’t too bad as I got to ride it on my own without seeing any of my participants. However, the approach to the second hill at Big Hole Pass (7360 ft), I saw some self-supported riders and 2 of our own riders struggling to keep pace as they were nursing previous sports related injuries.

I stayed with them and gave them pain killers from my first aid kit. They weren’t in any good shape to finish the ride so I suggested that I ride as fast as I could to the van which was at the top of the 2nd hill to tell them to come down for a pick up. It took me about 45 minutes to ride up the second hill. I told Jared about the situation and he quickly got down from our water stop to pick up all the injured riders.

I sat at the top of the pass and enjoyed some alone time. It got really cold at that elevation so I had to bundle up before the van came back. One of our other rider’s rear derailleur cables snapped so we had to adjust the limiter so that he only had a 2 x 1 speed. After the repair, he continued on his way into Wisdom which was about 20+ miles away and it was already 3PM. Myself and the self-contained tour leader, Brianna, spent the rest of the time chatting away into Wisdom. This helped melt away the time real quick as we chatted our way into town.

As a reward for our arrival at the general store we bought chocolate milk before we both went into camp. Camp looked pretty bleak as the site seemed to be an afterthought for campers. The ground was hard and covered in dirt and weed. There was standing water all around which meant that mosquitos was a plenty. The shower facility, which was a heated bathroom was it’s saving grace. Our group decided that eating out was a better option than cooking so we did just that. There were 2 options for food: a pizza place and a sit down restaurant. We picked the sit down and the self-supported group decided on pizza. After dinner, we walked back to camp and crawled into our tents to a quick slumber.

Top of Big Hole Pass

Top of Big Hole Pass

July 14, 2016 – Wisdom, MT to Darby, MT

The morning of Wisdom was probably the coldest I have ever experienced camping in anywhere in my life. There were frost on people’s bikes and frost on my tent. Since I was driving, I allowed my tent to thaw out before I striking it. People were huddled in the bathroom area to have their breakfast to stay warm. Everyone had on winter gear when they rode out. Even Jared who is from Minneapolis agreed that it was the coldest mornings he’s experienced and he commutes in the winter in his home town. We were later told that Wisdom is one of three towns with the coldest temperatures recorded.

The ride for the day was beautiful one which took us through the Bitterroot National Forest (USDA.gov) through Highway 43 and then 93 through the town of Sula and then our final destination at Darby. I had reached Darby a lot sooner than I had thought so the place we stayed at, Travellers Rest Cabins and RV Park wasn’t ready for us. I waited for a few moments as Jim, the owner, showed me the camping possibilities. I picked the one closest to the street so our riders can see us and it had really soft grass. I then parked the van and trailer and walked across the street for lunch at the Montana Cafe (Facebook). I finished lunch and was working on our trip’s budget when Jared called to tell me one of our riders was injured on the road. He asked that I come back and pick up the bike at the scene. I immediately raced over there to find our rider being tended to by first responders. I got there just in time to see her board the ambulance and transported both her bike and Jared’s bike on the van.

We went back into camp to tell the rest before we headed into Hamilton, which was a town 17 miles further down the road to go to the hospital. Luckily, she was doing fine but the doctor wanted her to stay overnight as a precaution and to run a few tests before releasing her. Her main concern was getting us back to camp so that we can get ready to Missoula for a Tour Leaders dinner. We ended up making into Missoula after picking up the self-supported leader and 2 of our participants who were once leaders. We mingled and saw familiar faces and met people we only knew from email correspondences. We were in a church from 5:30 to 9:30PM before we drove back to Darby to be reunited with our already sleeping group.

Emergency response

July 15, 2016 – Darby, MT to Missoula, MT

The next morning Jared went to pick up our rider from the hospital while I rode sweep once again. I was on the road for 17 miles until Hamilton before we were directed to go on bike paths for the next 50+ miles into Missoula. The bike path criss crossed through towns like Victor, Florence (yes, another Florence), and Lolo before we ended up on the new Bitterroot Bike Path which lead us into Missoula.

For those who don’t know, Missoula is the home of Adventure Cycling Association, the company I am currently working for on this tour. If I wasn’t working for them, being in Missoula is a big deal. What’s even a bigger deal, this weekend marks the 40th anniversary celebration at Adventure Cycling. To be there representing one of the 2 trips on the Trans American Trail and being paid to doing it is what I would call a dream job! In the summer of 1976, the Bikecentennial bike ride helped paved the road to the Trans American Bicycle Trail and eventually the formation of Adventure Cycling Association.

I rolled into the headquarters to be greeted by my group as well as hundreds of cyclists around 3PM. We enjoyed free ice cream and snacks while we toured around the office meeting more people I’ve only known through emails or phone conversations. About 2 hours passed until I walked over to our home for the next 2 days at The Shady Spruce Hostel. We all went out for Indian food for dinner as one of our participants had the biggest craving for it and was adamant in bringing everyone to enjoy his favorite ethnic meal. The place, India Grill & Curry House (Facebook), ended up being a very casual experience where we order our food and they scooped out of pre-cooked pans. It was delicious and spicy but the majority of people were not enjoying it as much as myself. The evening was topped off with a visit to the ice cream shop before everybody headed back to the Shady Spruce.

Wayfinding on the Bitterroot Trail

Wayfinding on the Bitterroot Trail

A view of the Bitterroot River

A view of the Bitterroot River

I made it to my Mecca

I made it to my Mecca

July 16, 2016 – Rest Day in Missoula

The next morning was our lay-over day. We spent our morning going to the laundromat and getting an oil change for our van. We even had time to make reservations for the upcoming accommodation stops. We had time to drive Missoula’s REI to check out some gear. I left REI with a new Hennessey Hammock, another first aid kit, and O-rings to hang my hammock. Jared and Whitney had talked so much about their hammocks, I had to see for myself the joy of camping in one. Needless to say, I was excited to try this sleep system in the wild and report back to you guys on future posts.

Our day concluded with a visit to the grocery store to replenish our dwindling food supplies and finally dinner at the local 5 Guys Burgers and Fries (Yelp). The burger was good but definitely not In-N-Out good. It was also twice as expensive than In-N-Out.

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing in the hostel.

Surrounded by bicycle wheels

Surrounded by bicycle wheels

Trans Am Van 2016

Trans Am Van 2016

July 17, 2016 – Missoula, MT to Powell, ID

The next morning, everyone was up at 5:30 and ready to roll out after having breakfast and packing their lunch. Since I got to ride into Missoula, I was driving this day. Before leaving Missoula, I went back to the grocery store to buy 2 days worth of food as our leader notes said there were very few services for the next 2 days. I also picked up groceries for the self-supported folks as they needed help carrying their own food supplies for 2 days. I then paid a visit to a sports store to buy 2 important piece of my hammock, a set of carabiners before I finally drove out towards Lolo Pass (Wikipedia).

I visited the Visitor Center at the summit of Lolo Pass and then made my way to the Powell Campground (Recreation.gov) which shared the same entrance as Lochsa Lodge. I found the 2 campsite that was reserved for us in Loop B at Site #9 and #10 and unloaded all the cooking items and our participant’s luggage. I patiently waited for Jared to make it into the campground in the middle of the afternoon before setting up my hammock.

The weather changed dramatically after dinner as we were treated to a hail storm. Not a bad way to break-in the hammock. Because the hammock was between 2 trees, they helped deflect a lot of the hail from pelting the rainfly. The night in the hammock was comfortable except that I didn’t use a sleeping pad so I was cold from the wind blowing underneath. I woke up several times to put on my puffy jacket and finally got up at around 5 to start my day. Probably not the best first hammock experience but I have more opportunities to try this setup once more.

The Video


About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He's also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association's Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.

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