We left Helena Tuesday afternoon brimming with confidence that the new drive train on my bike would make for trouble-free riding. Twenty-four miles of climbing into the ride my new chain broke!

Repairing a chain requires a special tool that I had meant to purchase but never got around to. Oh the foul language that spewed from my mouth when that chain broke. The pine trees recoiled in alarm as the profanity spread through the forest. HOW COULD A BRAND NEW CHAIN BREAK AFTER 24 MILES?

We were twenty-four miles out of Helena and sixty miles from Butte with nothing in between but wild country. It was decided that the best course of action was for Mary to return to a lake we had camped at the night before and I would make my way back to Helena – walking, coasting, or pedaling very lightly (because I had pieced the chain half-way back together.)

We limped down the trail about a mile and, oh the joy, we met the Canadian family we had camped with several nights before. Mr “Canadian,” Dean, had a chain tool. Neither one of us had ever used one but we figured out how to in the pine needles beside that steep, rocky trail.

We had been warned that the trail ahead was steep and rough. We had not been deceived. For at least two miles we had to push the bikes. At times the trail was so steep and rocky that I would have to stop, immobilize the bike with the hand brakes, gather my breath and strength, and with a mighty exertion, move about a foot up the grade. Repeat repeatedly. By noon when we stopped in a meadow for lunch, we had covered only four miles.

When we crossed the Divide and started down the other side, we didn’t travel much faster because the route was too dangerous to ride (see photo above.)

Our physical exertion of the morning was matched by our mental perplexion in the afternoon. The route turned exceedingly confusing. More than once we were convinced that we had lost the trail only to continue on and be relieved to find that we had not. Since falling behind Michiel and Margo when we were waylaid in Helena for repairs, we have found that the best trail marker is to follow their distinctive tire tracks. Michiel has a good nose for the trail. Trouble came when either a high wind or a brief shower had erased all tire tracks from the dusty road. I was down on one knee studying the tracks in the dirt like Kit Carson on the trail of some renegade Indians. When we finally picked up the trail again we were nearly down to the interstate (I-15.)

We were pooped by late afternoon and ready to camp but, to our dismay, the campground we had hoped to use had been closed down. We had to ride on to another defunct Forest Service campground and camp without water. Mary begged some bottles from a passing truck and I found a tolerable creek from which I filtered some more. The hillsides thereabout are pockmarked with old mines so I wasn’t real confidant that the water was drinkable but after twelve hours we are still on our feet.

After only getting lost once this morning, we rolled into Butte, found a little bike shop, and got a new chain – and a chain tool! The proprietor of Bad Beaver Bikes in Butte was a great mechanic and story teller. He was also a dead ringer for one of the plumbing guys at Kelly’s Hardware in Chelan.

Confronting us tomorrow is the most notoriously difficult section of the Divide Trail – Fleecer Ridge. After our experience coming out of Helena, we have decided to take the alternate route and bypass Fleecer. We’re not cheating. It’s the officially sanctioned alternate.