South Dakota!

Mt. Rushmore in all its glory!

When I was preparing for vanlife I did a lot of research and of course watched many Youtube videos of active vanlife vloggers. By far my favorite vanlife vlogger and probably overall Youtuber is Adventure Van Man! Be sure to check out his channel.  He posted a video a couple of years back at this exact same spot. I had it written down on my list of premium boondocking spots to visit and here I was!

Not a bad place to sit and read dune. I am starting off really slow with this book but enjoy Frank Herbert’s writing and the complex universe he has created with the Dune series.

I was camped right on the edge of the Badlands. I stayed here for a couple days and had really good weather except for the one morning I was socked in with fog and could only see about 5 feet in front of me. Other than the views there was not much to do so I made my way to Rapid City SD to visit some family.

Here is my stepdaughter Susan and her husband Nate. They make a great couple and seem to really compliment each other. Both have good jobs and their own side businesses.  One of those businesses ia a Hookah lounge. I have never really spent time in a hookah lounge before but I sure spent a lot of time at the one in Rapid City. Their lounge is called the Sahara Nights Lounge and is right downtown. The lounge has a gaming theme and I really enjoyed smoking the hookah. It was less like smoking and more like vaping. It was very social and I got to meet many of Susans friends.

We went to a Speakeasy that Susan and Nate knew of and we had some really good drinks. I messed up though. I wanted to order a whisky sour and goofed and ordered an old fashioned. I have never had and old fashioned before but they are very sweet and I did not like it. Unknowingly the bartender made us custom cocktails based on the first drinks we ordered so mine ended up all being sweet until I tried one of their fine whiskeys on the rocks.
Susans 2 dogs. Fao and I want to say Nymeria

I played my first game of disk golf and had a blast. We just played for fun and really didn’t keep score. I would definitely like to play disc golf again. It seems to be more up my alley then regular golf.

We had a great time checking out Mt Rushmore in the Black Hills. I really enjoyed seeing the monument for the first time. When I first arrived the Mt Rushmore was not as big as I thought but still very impressive. You can see the whole monument above our heads.

A close up of President George Washington. I was impressed with the detail.

After visiting Mt. Rushmore we made a stop at Custer State Park and hiked around. It’s a very beautiful park and we just saw a tiny portion of it.

Cathedral Spires Custer State Park SD.

Bikepacking the Maah Daah Hey Trail – North Dakota

Bikepacking the Maah Daah Hey Trail has been on my radar for years since I very first discovered the sport of bikepacking back in the mid 2000’s. It’s a 150 mile long trail that runs through the Badlands of North Dakota..

Here is my bike leaning against the ruins of Theodore Roosevelt’s Cabin just outside of the national park.

Dakota Cyclery is the go to shop in Medora. I got lucky and was able to book a lower cost shuttle for the next day sharing a ride with another group doing a supported trip. The shuttle service is for the 100 mile route so that is what I ended up taking. There is another 50 miles of the MDH trail south of Medora that looks promising but was told its a bit more rocky and less traveled.

After about an hour drive in the shuttle van I was dropped of at the at the northern terminus of the MDH. It was hot and sticky!

The trail meanders up and down the bentonite clay buttes of the North Dakota Badlands. I was eager to ride the traill and really impressed with the scenery right of the bat.

This is my bike leaning up against a very large petrified tree stump. I guess this is my year for seeing petrified trees….

Lots of texture and color.

This land is heavily used for cattle grazing and the cows love to walk along the well laid out singletrack.  The trail was not as nice as I hoped since the cows had had their way with it. A rainy summer in western North Dakota led to the cows chopping up what could a be butter smooth trail. There was cow shit everywhere also.  All this made it hard to keep your speed up and get a good rhythm.

The MDH is well marked with these posts. The slant of the post indicates what side the trail is on. Route finding was still hard and there were lots of intersections and side trails from the cattle. 

I ended up making a couple wrong turns and missed the mountain bike detour around the national park wilderness area but eventually made my way following my GPS track on my phone.

It was getting late and I was tired. I felt like I had a good push for the day.

Along the MDH there are several developed campgrounds about every 15 miles along the trail. All have pit toilets and a spigot to get water. I did not filter water the entire trip. However the water tasted horrible and luckily I brought Crystal Lite the night before to make it drinkable.

When I arrived at Magpie Campground I ran into the group of mountain bikers that were riding the supported tour of the MDH that Dakota Cyclery offers. I cannot remember their names but some were from Boulder Colorado and a couple were from San Francisco. They offered for me to stay at their campsite. I got my tarp pitched and headed over for some socializing. I ended up drinking a beer and cooked up/ate my Mountain House Chicken and Rice meal. They were all acting pretty mellow and quiet when one of them explained to me they had taken edibles and were a bit stoned. Lol…. They offered me one of their gummies and was thrilled to have some company for the night. I told them the stories of my travels and they were all impressed I was doing the route self supported. I left them a note on the windshield on their car when I got back to Medora to connect on Facebook or Instagram but they never did.

I woke up at the crack of dawn and packed up my things without being able to say goodby. I did not sleep well. The campground was really busy and it seemed like I could hear everybody rustling around. I remember there was a thunderstorm in the middle of the night that was lighting up the sky in such an incredible way. Almost like there were aliens in the clouds. I got water from the spigot which makes a ton of noise at 5am in the campground. After getting water I snapped this pretty picture just before leaving the campground.

I found a cool spot to myself just a couple miles outside of the Wannagan Campground. Normally I eat breakfast at camp but this time I set up my cookstove trailside! I enjoyed this early morning breakfast and views of the clay buttes very much. 
On the second day there was a rather large stretch of land that was packed with fracking and drilling sights every few miles. It seemed like a mining boom was happening out here. I was saddened to see all the mining activity along with all the mass cattle grazing. Mankind is a bitch…….

Don’t get me wrong there was still plenty of beauty to be had. The name Maah Daah Hay translates to “The place that will stand time”.

I love this shot of my bike in the tall grass. It really captures the mood of this trail for me. There were ticks out here so I was being careful and checked myself every now and then. 

Here I am dorking around with more self timer shots. This one turned out good.

The trail would consistently drop and rise about 400 to 500 feet of elevation. It was tiring and made for a lot of elevation for the day.

Eventually I came to the Little Missouri River. I have heard stories of this being impassable in the spring or summer but it was late season and only up to my calves. I lifted up my bike and hiked across. No biggie other than the wet feet.

A rare shaded and lush section of trail right after crossing the river.

I was covering a lot of ground this day. The elevation was taking its toll and I was ready to get to camp for food and rest.

Beautiful section of rolling singletrack.

So for some reason not to far from the Wannagan Campground I wanted to stop and take a picture of me doing a wheelie in front of this clay butte. Cool picture but that decision ended up being a mistake. I took too much time goofing around wanting to get this shot and then I got rained on for about 10 minutes before camp even though I could see the thunderstorm building prior. It was just enough to get me soaked and make the trail and my bike really muddy.

When I got to camp I took a moment to relax and rest. The campground was 10 dollars for the night and I only had a $20 dollar bill. I went around and asked the hunters if they could make change. The hunters were able to break the bill for me. I got rained on one more time as I was setting up my tarp.

Here you can see the mud on my tires from the last 5 minutes of the ride and a dam near perfect pitch on my tarp despite being rained on while setting it up. This was a big day with 43 miles and over 6000 feel of elevation gain. I was excited to get a good nights rest after not sleeping well the previous night.   Nope… My neighbors were a young couple hiking the trail with a baby. Yeah that’s right a baby. I had just planned on putting in my headphones and blocking out any noise through the night. Well just as I lay my head down to sleep my headphones break and no longer put out any sound.

Fool proof gates. I must have lifted dozens of these

I had less than 30 miles on the last day and was looking forward to finishing this 100 mile route. Unfortunately I ran into trouble and hit mud right away. This was bentonite clay mud, just about the worst possible scenario for a mountain biker. 

It made for slow going and was really taking a toll on my bike performance and parts.

I stopped here for about 2 hours to let the sun come out and dry up some of the trail. I remember calling my friend Mike while I was waiting and told him about the ride. 

Things did slowly improve but it was still muddy for most of the day.

Here is one of the prettiest cow ponds I have ever laid eyes on!

The tunnel crossing under Highway 94.

After crossing the highway there was actually a section of trail that did not have any cattle grazing. It was very smooth, flowy, and incredibly fun to ride. This section of the MDH going southeast from Highway 94 to Medora was the best out of the 100 miles of trail I rode. .

My bike was trashed. The clay mud caused my front fork to only have about an inch of travel. My rear shock was leaking air and my seatpost was having issues. I ended up selling the bike as soon as I got home then bought a brand new 2019 Stumpjumper!

Enjoying the last few miles of the MDH before getting back into town. It was very scenic.

The MDH was tough for only being 100 miles. The whole trail is rough singletrack that undulates up and down over the clay buttes. I would definitely recommend other bikepacking routes over the MDH.

I stayed for a few days at the Buffalo Gap Campground. It is right of Highway 94 right before you get into Medora. It was very nice and very free. I needed to rest up after back to back days of riding a loaded bike. I aired out my gear and ate tons of food to replenish some lost calories. I would highly recommend this free campground right out of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Got Bacon?

Windy Mountain Loop

Thain Creek Campground outside of Great Falls Montana. If you look closely you can see my shower tent set up to the left of my van. It worked great. It consisted of a rechargeable battery powered pump and shower head, a bucket full of warm water and this pop up shower/changing tent I got of Amazon. 

After an amazing visit in Glacier National Park I changed my direction and headed east. I needed to get resupplies so I stopped in the town of Great Falls Montana. I really like Great Falls. It is a dry climate here. There was the Missouri River that divides the town right down the middle. To get anywhere you have to cross a bridge. The town was very flat and somewhat depressed compared to other Montana towns such as Bozeman or Whitefish. But it was a good sized town and I was able to get groceries, do laundry, refill my propane tank, then grab a latte at Starbucks.

While running the errands I got a call from one of my friends in Colorado Springs and he offered me a job! Here I am eating some delicious BBQ that I picked up to celebrate. I had a job lined up working for 3-4 weeks at the beet harvest in the northeast corner of North Dakota at the end of the month so I was making my way there. I was looking forward to the beet harvest job but working for my friend is a much better gig and being homesick and a bit lonely at this point I was eager to get back to my hometown of Colorado Springs. Something in my mind was telling me that this change of plans could cause what long distance hikers call a vortex and my days on the road could be coming to an end. 

I was looking for a place to camp outside of Great Falls and found a little mountain range that had a campsite with mountain bike trails nearby called Thain Creek Campground. It was Labor Day weekend and luckily I got to the campground before everyone else. I got this awesome site right next to the creek with level parking, fire pit, and picnic table. This was the first time I was camping in a area that was not under fire restrictions. There was a catch tho…. I had to pay $5 dollars a night to camp here and this broke my 5 month streak of free dispersed camping. No biggie I ended up paying $20 to stay here for 5 nights and 4 days and it was totally worth it. 

I would pull my chair  next to the creek and read my book. I loved having the sound of a babbling stream next to camp. I was reading Dune by Frank Herbert and I remember it being a slow start. Later I ended up  really loving that book.

 I hiked around and explored the area. There was a beaver pond upstream. I did not fish it but I saw other campers catching little brokkies. This was turning out to be a fantastic little place!

After a day of chilaxing around the campsite I set out for a mountain bike ride. The Windy Mountain Loop was featured in my MTB Project app and wanted to give it a go.

There was some steep climbing and I made my way to the ridge and worked my way around the mountains. This route ended being tough and there was some poor quality trail on the south side of the loop that I was pretty disappointed about. There was lots of treefall, and the crappiest trail reroute I have ever seen by the forest service. Instead of cutting new trail to reroute a very rutted piece of trail they just laid down sticks and branches to indicate where to go around the old trail. It was a mess!

The next day did a quick 8 mile loop  and instead of riding the crappy trail on the south side of the mountain I came down Briggs Creek Trail and that was frigging amazing. This loop was a little short but the climbs were challenging and the decent down Briggs Creek was ripping!

After the ride I was chilling at my van. It was a Monday, Labor Day so the campground at this point was completely full and busy. The sun was shining and it was a picture perfect day.  I had just finished lunch and a guy in a high viz vest and a very large beard asked how my ride was and I  wanted to join them for another spin. His name was Tim and he had two friends with him, Pat, and Ian. We all remembered each others name since they each had 3 letters. However I kept calling Pat, Matt and he seemed ok with it until I got kindly corrected later. They gave me some Montana craft beers to sample and I recall this strawberry cream craft beer that was pretty amazing. To bad I cant drink beer like I used to.

This is Tim. He is a welder, lives in Great Falls and is a super cool dude.

Pat and Tim hiking the steep final climb up to the windy ridge.

I was super stoked to ride with some other guys and I told them that they reminded me of my mountain biking friends back in Colorado Springs since we were smoking weed, drinking beers and riding bikes. After the ride Tim invited me to his home in Great Falls to see a show and hang out but I was tired and did not feel like packing up. We parted ways and even though we may never cross path again they are my friends.

After labor day weekend. The campground cleared out and I had the whole place to myself again. A cold front crept in and overnight fall came. It was almost like the trees changed color right before my very eyes.

I really enjoyed my stay at this campground. It was special. This is Thain Creek that snakes through.

After leaving the campground I made a fast pace across eastern Montana. Much of it looks just like this. It took me two days to make it across the large state of Montana. I stayed a night in one of the Montana rest stops. Montana has the best rest stops!

I would see more farming equipment than cars in eastern Montana.

Before reaching North Dakota I stopped at a crappy restaurant in the town of Jordan Montana.  I ordered a cheeseburger and fries without the bun and it was horrible. I could tell both the fries and burger were previously frozen.  This set of mounted deer heads was the best part.

Glacier National Park

Jumping for joy at Grinnell Glacier at Glacier National Park

After a great stay in Whitefish MT, it was time to make my way to Glacier National Park. As a national park lover I have always dreamed of visiting GNP. It has always been so highly recommended. I have probably visited Yellowstone NP at least 10 times but never have made my way north to this breathtaking piece of American beauty.

There was a fire next to the  Western Mcconnell Lake in the west side of the park. Unfortunately the western side of Going to the Sun Road  was closed so I had to drive the long way from Whitefish all the way around to the eastern side of the park.

I arrived at the Many Glacier Lodge in the late afternoon after a few hours of driving. The Many Glacier Lodge is very cool and ranks up there with with other great National Park Lodges that I have visited like the one in Yellowstone. It was windy and there were lots of fast moving clouds in the area. I was concerned about my photos this evening but they turned out to be some of the best I took in the park.

After getting settled in the Many Glacier parking lot I made some food then started exploring the immediate area around Josephine Lake. 

The inside of the Lobby of the Many Glacier Lodge was spectacular and held all the charm and grandeur that it should.  My dad would have loved to see this. He is also a fan of national park lodges. 

There were some great hiking trails around Josephine Lake and I enjoyed a nice 3 mile stroll.  It was cool and windy but I was quickly falling in love with this National Park. It is not nearly as busy as Yellowstone and I was seeing more wildlife excluding all the buffalo.

The next morning I got up and prepared myself for a day hike to Grinnell Glacier.  For quite a long time I have been wanting to get up close and personal with a glacier. Glaciers are retreating and who knows If I will ever get this opportunity again. It was time to check this bucket list item off!

Along the trail there is the megafauna. It is what the call the massive amount of vegetation and wild life that converges in this area. You will find Pacific Northwest, Plains, and Rocky Mountain plants and animals flourishing and intermingling all throughout the park.

The trail starts out with a some easy hiking along Josephine Lake. Narrow boardwalks were in place to help you get across the muddy and marshy parts of the trail.

At the end of Josephine Lake the trail forks up and presented some pretty steep and exposed trail.

Grinnell Lake down below. It really looked like something out of a fairy tale.

More exposure as you make your way across and up the cliff bands. 
I was seeing tons of wildlife in Glacier. Here is a mountain goat doing fearless mountain goat things. 

Look closely for the wild chicken. It was funny to watch it move along slowly pecking like a hen would.

The  bighorn sheep were all over and eating their fill of berries, currents, and leaves. They were not afraid of the hikers and giving us plenty of opportunities to get good photos.

My first views of Upper Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier. 

Strange patterns left behind from the retreating glacier.

Upon arriving at the Upper Grinnell Lake there was a large rock area by the shore of the lake across from the glacier. Most of the visitors stopped here. You were close to the glacier at this point but I wanted to get close enough to where I could stand, touch, and feel it. To do this I had to make a tricky stream crossing at the outlet of the lake. The water was freezing and without my trekking poles it was very sketchy to cross to the other side where the glacier is resting. For almost the entire time I was there I was the only one that made the leap across the outlet of the lake. Cold water was waiting for me if I made a mistake jumping across the slippery stones.

It was a special moment to reach the edge of Grinnell Glacier. It was still very large and was alive. You could hear it cracking, dripping, trickling, and all around making a lot of noise. I took a moment to take it in and really enjoy my first glacier encounter.

The glacier was alive and very exotic. Dirt and debris covered the top of the ice. I wondered how long the rocks have been buried inside the icy tomb.

What a great day I was having. It was a bit crowded on the hike but on this side of the lake there was nobody!

Making my way back I ran into some more rams. This guy was majestic.

One of my best moose sighting ever! A very large bull and a cow. I was able to get some good pictures and video on my cell phone. This is one time where I wished I had a better camera. My Pixel 2 xl is a great phone camera but the zoom is lacking,,,, Go figure.

This evening it was time to celebrate my arrival and my first encounter with a glacier with this steak dinner. Ribeye steak, fried sweet potatoes, and a salad with fresh blackberries. The steak was cooked perfect and just seasoned with salt and pepper. It was as delicious as it looks! Bluetooth speaker and bear warning sign for ambiance.

The next morning I got up early and left the Many Glacier Lodge made my way to Logan Pass. I drove up the eastern side of the Going to the Sun Road and parked at the visitor center where I made some hotdogs, kim chi and ate chips and salsa prior to my hike.

I love saying that…. Going to the Sun Road!

I went for a quick hike on the Highline Trail. It was spectacular and gave me views of the west side of the park. Whitefish was way off in the distance.  

I had fun observing this silver marmot. He was shredding a ton of grass and taking it to his den. I remember the sounds of him ripping up the vegetation like a madman.

A great shot of the exposure on the Highline Trail. It really was not that bad and there was a cable you could hold on to for some extra security.

Gotta love the old shuttle busses at the top of Logan Pass. I believe they were restored and converted to electric.

It was time to head off and explore Hidden Lake. This turned out to be a great decision. Hidden lake is located just off the top of Logan Pass with the trail starting behind the visitor center.

All my pictures taken in Glacier National Park turned out unbelieveable with no editing. This place is just that amazing.

Hidden Lake was spectacular. After a short hike the wooden path ended at an overlook and after that the trail was rough and steep. I only saw a handful of other visitors making their way to the shore of the laek. By the time I got to the edge of the lake I had the whole place to myself. 

When I first arrived at Hidden Lake I explored the outlet and found these falls.

The outlet quickly dropped off and I could no longer hike down. You could see forest fires burning off in the distance south of GNP.

Then headed the other way and found a little trail that followed the south edge of the lake. It was a dreamy kind of trail and I kept expecting to see wildlife around every corner but only saw a few birds and squirrels.

I was blown away by the rich rugged natural beauty. GNP is my new favorite national park. 
This is such an amazing picture. One of my personal favorites. I love the contrast between the wildflowers and the mountains in the background. No editing here just natural beauty. The wild flowers were really popping for late August and I was so grateful for the clear day. 

One last shot of the van before making my way across eastern Montana. I had a great journey following  the Continental Divide all the way from New Mexico to the top of Montana in GNP. Glacier was the grand finale. In a way this was the end of the main adventure, making it all the way to Glacier was a huge accomplishment and a dream come true.

It was the end of August and this far north you could feel fall fast approaching. What a beautiful country we live in and for the first time in my life I was starting to realise how big it is.


My magical minivan that takes me to magical places. 
My research told me that Whitefish was going to be a stellar mountain biking destination. Whitefish has several large trail networks including a bike resort. While the town definitely has a resort/touristy vibe its a good one. I stopped by the local bike shop to get the skinny on camping and riding and found out dispersed camping is a bit different out here. Even with the shops advice it was tough to find a good camping spot but I was thankful they took the time to point me in the right direction. This will be my last town stop before reaching Glacier National Park.

                                             A rare peek inside the captains quarters.

After searching around on the dirt roads for a while I settled on this small D shaped pull out off the side of one of the forest roads. It ended up working out great. There was hardly any traffic and it was nestled right next to the trail. The spot was nice and flat and ended up not having to level to van. 

Whitefish is working on its own network of trails that should oneday surround the lake and town. The trail is well manicured and very flowy.

The climbs were gentle and the descents were fast. The trail was built with mountain bikes in mind.  The vegetation here is amazing. The air was smokey and there was a good bit of both hiker and biker traffic but everybody was having a great time. 

Views of my second ride on the Whitefish trail.

More ripping well made singletrack. The Whitefish Trail had neal little side trails you could loop up.

Just a hint of fall in the air. It is late August and I am far north almost to the border of Canada.

Little Beaver Lake

I met a nice middle aged lady at this overlook and we talked about my travels and she told me how she moved to Whitefish from Central California. She was a bit bothered by the smokey air and very afraid of bears.

After spending a couple nights camped next to the Whitefish Trail it was time to move on. I had some time to burn so I stopped into town and and walked around. It was the weekend and the town was busy! A festival was kicking off nearby to benefit the local trail system. I ended up cooking dinner at the train station while listening to bands playing off in the distance. There was a nice patch of grass with a picnic table where I cooked up some burgers near the tracks.

 Whipping up bacon burgers with sweet potatoes, peppers, and onions.

I headed out to the Talley Lake area in the Flathead National Forest. I found a campsite up a narrow dirt road deep in the trees. I ended up staying here for a few days to ride the Reid Divide trail that was recommended to me by the Whitefish LBS. Then ended up waiting out a 2 day storm that was slowly moving thru.

After a long fairly easy dirt road climb I reached the start of the Reid Divide Trail.

You cross a burn area on a short climb along the ridge.

The single track was very tight and at some points it turned into a green tunnel.

The trail turned downward and it was a fantastic descent. Fast, rough, with lots of rocks and roots to negotiate. The vegetation and trees were flying by as I made my way down the ridge. 

Zipping along lush singletrack near the end of the Boney Gulch Trail. This turned out to be another top ride I discovered and should have ridden it twice. 

A crappy cold front moved thru and it rained for hours with a little snow mixed in. During the breaks in weather I would get out and do some hikes on the narrow double track that winds thru the Flathead National Forest.

This storm turned out the be a huge blessing. The winds and rain  cleared the heavy smoke from the air and for the first time I had crystal clear views in Whitefish. My next destination is Glacier National Park and I did not want to visit this beautiful park with all my views socked in by smoke. It turned out I was in for a real treat! Hear I am packed up and ready to leave after my wonderful stay in Whitefish Montana. I would definitely come back. 

Clark Fork River Trail – Vanlife

Riding the Clark Fork River Trail outside of St. Regis Montana.

Cherries! These were the best cherries I have ever had. I got them at a road side stand in the small town of St. Regis. I also purchased a very good latte (the best one in Montana!) from a little drive thru stand but did not get a picture of the delicious hot beverage.

Another awesome free campsite! This one was along the Clark Fork River along off of State Highway 35 while I was making my way to Whitefish. It was only a few miles from the start of the Clark Fork River trail. A 20 mile out and back ride following the beautiful Clarks Fork river.

“Living in a van down by the river”

I thought I had escaped the wasps and the aggressive wasp situation at the campsite by Fish Creek was a one time thing. Nope! I was wrong. The yellowjackets were here in full force here along with their friends the giant yellow jacket killer wasps! It was time to fight back. I had a good cell signal here and was able to find a couple of Youtube videos of how to trap the wasps. I looked around, gathered some materials, and made several traps. The traps seemed to help keep the numbers down and if anything it felt good to fight back. My traps were catching 100s of them including a few yellow jacket killers.

 The St. Regis Trail was excellent. very flow with punchy short climbs and long gentle descents. The views were excellent.

This is the trailhead at the opposite end from where I started.  The trail was going by fast and it was time to turn around and head back.

Another view of the Clarks Fork river on my way back to camp. This was an excellent ride and would highly recommend it if you are ever in this part of Montana. 
Choo Choo!!

Riding Chilcoot Pass Loop – Epic Backcountry MTB

Riding through the fireweed on the Chillcoot Pass Loop

 With a quick stop in Missoula to get some resupplies that included a trip to Costco. I cooked food in a city park and checked out the bank of the Clarks Fork River. Missoula was a big city and very busy. The city was blazing hot and socked in with wildfire smoke. It seemed to be making everybody uncomfortable including myself.

 I headed northwest and found a free campsite about an hour away at the Big Pine campground. I was tired from driving and running errands in Missoula. It was relieving to run into a free developed campground with a table and pit toilets. The Clarks Fork River was rushing off in the distance along with the chatter of many other campers taking advantage of the area.

This is a very common view from inside my van with me sitting on the futon. This space felt very good despite how small my campervan is. My fridge, cook system, propane tank, table, and water dispenser, all work amazingly well. Everything fits snug and stays well organized.

This night I was studying the route for tomorrow’s bike ride. So far my rides have been pretty mild except for that 40 miler in Steamboat. Back in June Paul and Becca came down to my hometown of Colorado Springs and visited me while I was pet sitting for my friend Mike. We were scheming up ideas for the summer portion of my van trip and we came across the Chilcoot Pass Loop in the Lolo National Forest northwest of Missoula.

Great Burn – Chilcoot Pass Loop

I didn’t take into account the difficulty of this route at the time, but after reading the description of this double black ride on MTB Project in a bit more in detail I knew I was in for a challenge. This route was super remote and included long water crossings, steep hike a bike, overgrowth, and difficult route finding. Even though the route is just  24 miles, the guide recommended to pack for full days ride and be prepared for an epic backcountry adventure!

The next morning I made my way to the trailhead at the end of Fish Creek Road. It was a bit disorienting finding the start of the trail. I misjudged the start and crossed Fish Creek needlessly and got my feet soaked right away. After about a mile I found out I was heading the wrong direction and crossed Fish Creek again to find the proper start of the loop.

After finding the correct trail I was treated to 2 or 3 additional creek crossings in a row. Unfortunately these are not the type of creek crossings you can ride. Just get used to your feet being wet on this  adventure.

The singletrack was immediately lush and overgrown. It was hard to find my flow on this trail. There was a ton of tree fall that needed to be negotiated a little more frequently than I like. Progress was slow right of the bat. But this place is different. Since leaving Butte Montana the vegetation has changed to a more Pacific Northwest feel. This was my first time experiencing a wet lush forest like this.

Along the way I was treated to a neat series of small waterfalls. The miles were hard earned but the rewards were plentiful!

The wild flowers were in full bloom in a rare open meadow.

I fell in love with this ancient cedar tree. This one had a rather large trunk. Sporadically I would get dank stretches of singletrack zipping through the old growth ceder trees. It was quite the treat. I felt my senses heighten as I traveled deeper into this exotic backcountry.

Look at this little garden of eden that I found! I had to stop here and take a few pictures. Being from the dry climate of Colorado I am not used to seeing so much green. Click this picture to enlarge. Its worth it!

Immediately after the garden of eden, the trail forked sharply uphill and the steep hike a bike began. Not only did the terrain require hike a bike, but the trail was completely overgrown and tough to follow.

After about 2 – 3 hours of hike a bike the vegetation cleared and I could see the summit of Chilcoot Pass. I also had my first encounter with bear grass! They were more beautiful than I imagined and  felt elated to be close to the top. I remember letting out a big hollar of relief!

After cresting the top I was treated to views of the Great Burn.  I was literally on the border of Idaho/Montana..

Making my way across the ridge of the pass I had to stop and take lots of photos. It was spectacular up here and I felt very remote. 

After a brief traverse it was time to start descending. Thank goodness! I was beat and ready for a change of pace.

Some steep loose switchbacks took me down to Sesame Lake. I was getting hungry and needed a break after that tough hike a bike to the pass. Lunch by the lake side seemed like a great idea.

Sesame Lake was gorgeous. It looked deep, dark, and cold.

Little did I know there was a female moose splish splashing in the lake next to me while I was eating my lunch. Somehow I didn’t notice despite all the nose she was making. I caught this shot and video as she was heading off into the woods. Still, it was another great wildlife moment.

After a short climb past the lake, the trail starts descending again but it’s hard to make quick progress. Fallen tree after fallen tree combined with tough route finding in thick overgrowth.

Fireweed up to my bars!

More amazing old growth cedar trees and ferns. I was blown away by the beauty of this forest.

After what seemed like an eternity the trail opened up and I was able to make quicker ground.

I came across this bend in the creek and the water was crystal clear with a tint of emerald green..

Cedar planks like this were common across the muddy parts of the trail.

I was blown away by this ride! Truly an epic MTB backcountry adventure. It felt exotic. With breaks it took me 8 hours to complete a 25 mile loop. I was beat!

When I finished I said to myself how I was thrilled to have completed it,  but knew it was a route I would never want to do again.

After the ride I made my way to a dispersed campsite that I spotted on the way to the trail head. It was the perfect Montana campsite except for one thing. The wasps! I was setting up camp and noticed that there were no mosquitoes. I thought it was to good to be true until I started cooking. When I brought out my food a yellow jacket showed up. Then another until I had a swarm of a couple dozen wasps harassing me and crawling all over my food. Then, what I call the yellow jacket killer came out. This was an all black wasp with a couple white dots on its back. It was much larger. About 3 times bigger than the yellow jackets. When a certain number of yellow jackets would show up the giant yellow jacket killer wasps would appear and attack the smaller yellow jackets. Occasionally I would see one of these giant black wasps flying off with a yellow jacket in its mandibles.

I did take a dip in the creek but for the most part I had to hang out inside my van to avoid the mass of intimidating wasps out my front door. I could no longer cook outside. Being from Colorado I have seen my share of wasps but never in such hordes and so aggressive. Little did I know this was the beginning of the Great Montanna Wasp Battle of 2018.

Mountain Biking and Vanlife on the Continental Divide

After leaving Bozeman I had to make a decision to head to Helena or Butte. Both had good recommendations and great trail systems but due to a more reliable recommendation I went to Butte. Just before you hit town I came across this campsite off Homestake Pass. Thinking back this was the best campsite out of them all. Not because it was the prettiest, not because of the awesome trails, not because of the crazy hot weather, and not because of all the wildlife. Really what it was is… I am hitting the peak of my trip. My mind and body are in harmony with my new lifestyle and everything is easy, everything is meant to be exactly the way it is. Every moment captured with time slowing down right in front of your eyes. This is why I am here, this is why I quit my 6 figure career, this is the best version of myself I have ever seen.

It was a hot few days in Butte. Temps were reaching close to 100 degrees and there was a massive mayfly hatch when I arrived and set up camp. The 1000s of mayflies really didn’t bother me. It was cool to see mother nature do its work producing the perfect conditions triggering the mayflies to all hatch at once.  I would sit here reading my book and watch the little trout pick off mayflies one by one off the top of the little stream I was camped next to. I kept hearing the trout breach the water, snatch a mayfly, then plop back into the stream. Paul if you are reading this thanks for recommending Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk. I really enjoyed it!

 So after getting settled into camp it was time for a bike ride. I headed out to ride section of the CDT as an out and back. I came by this little shack that I was unsure of its purpose.

I immediately fell in love with the mountain biking in Butte. Gentle climbs flowy descents and smooth singletrack all the way. It was dry and hot and reminded me of the riding back in my home town of Colorado Springs.

I hit the heat of the day and after about 14 miles I decided to head back to camp and recharge for a earlier ride the next day. 


The next day I set myself up to get out earlier and dodge the heat. The day started with a long stiff climb up to the Continental Divide. The climb was fun but the views were stifled by smoke from wildfires everywhere.

After some fast descending I ended up at some railroad tracks that would take me back to Homestake Pass. Did you ever see the movie Stand By Me? I was reminded of the scene in that movie when the group of kids decided to cross a rail bridge thinking it was safe but having a train show up when they were half way out! Well luckily that never happened to me. It was pretty clear that this railroad was closed and no longer in use after some clues such as vegetation and dirt covering parts of the track.

Then there was this really cool tunnel.

And back to Homestake Pass. I was really happy with this ride. This loop turned out to be a highlight of the trip. My road trip had a Continental Divide theme and here I was again having fun on the mountain crest that parts the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic ocean. 

After a couple of days of riding it was time to take a chill day. I was really feeling this camp spot. The area was very dry but this little oasis I had was green and lush and had the little stream trickling by all day and night. If you can find camp next to water it always is a bonus. By this time the mayfly hatch had dwindled down and the little trout were no longer feasting.

There was a perseid meteor shower this evening so I stayed up and made my way to a nearby hill to watch the shooting stars. With all the smoke in the air I could not see a thing. I did have an encounter with a rather large owl that decided to silently swoop the top of my head in the dark. It was quite the experience! I was standing on the hill in the dark, when at the last minute I noticed a silent owl swooping directly at me. It just whooshed over my head and I felt the air move as the beautiful creature flew by. I got the message and since I wasn’t seeing the meteor shower anyways I decided to hike back to camp. On the way I met this little amphibious feller.

The next day it was time for some more biking. I made my way back onto the CDT trail and pushed further to loop up some smaller trails across from Homestake Pass.

On the way up I met a thru hiker by the name of Zebra. I could quickly gleen where she got her trail name by the tan lines left from KT tape over her knees. She was very nice and I could tell by her accent that she was from Europe. I did not get exactly where but my guess would be from Germany. She was eating her last few gummy bears and I could tell she was hungry. I offered some food and she politely declined but when I mentioned that I had pistachios I saw her eyes light up! I then handed over my bag of pistachios. What a great moment between me and Zebra. I congratulated her on her thru hike and that there was just a little bit left to go. I let her know that one day I also aspired to be a thru hiker before parting ways. I really regret not getting her instagram handle or at least a photo of Zebra.

The CDT trail near Butte is very MTB friendly. There is a 100 mile loop you can do that circumnavigates the town that would be great for bikepacking or the annual endurance race they run on it. 

Midway through the ride I busted out these sardines packed in hot sauce. They were very good and will be bringing more of these on my adventures.

I am really on a roll with breakfast here. Why have 1 or 2 strips of bacon when you can have 8????

Top it off with some artesian maple syrup.

There were cows grazing in the area and this is one of my favorite pictures with the cow in the background while I am making fried chicken. There should be a caption saying “Eat moar chicken”

Bozeman Montana – Mountain Biking and Vanlife

After 8 days in the Beartooth Mountains it was time to make my way into Montana. Here I am on the Beartooth Highway taking a selfie by the state line marker. 

My first stop in Montana was the fast growing town of Bozeman. I took a stroll downtown and bought a new book.

 I also stopped into this Burger Bobs on main street and ate out for the first time in a couple of weeks. The burger was just ok but it was nice to be around people after being isolated in the Beartooth Mountains for so long.

 After competing laundry and getting resupplies I had some time to kill and made my way to a local park.

In the park there was a pond that the local kids were playing in. It was really hot and a perfect day to play in the water. 

 These ducks were diving and feeding off the bottom of the pond. I really enjoyed watching them disappear then magically reappear a few moments later. With time slowed down from vanlife I was able to enjoy little moments like this.

I was having a great time exploring Bozeman and made my way to the Farmers Market. It was hopping and there was a display of the local first responders and some excellent homemade carmel corn and kombucha!

This SWAT transport vehicle looked tough! Kids were climbing all over it. All the locals seemed to be really having a good time and and were friendly. Lots of folks riding bikes.

I walked around to snap some pictures and stayed for the local orchestra while they played their top 10 most requested songs. After the event It was hard to find any dispersed camping around Bozeman so I stayed at the Walmart.

After a good night’s rest in the Walmart parking lot I made my way to Leverich Canyon for a highly recommended mountain bike ride.

The Leverich Canyon loop was fantastic. After a steep climb I was rewarded with a very flowy down hill with small jumps and berms. It was a thrilling trail but not very long. Also the road to access the trailhead was pretty rough and steep at times. Out of all the sketchy roads I took on in my van this was the worst. I attempted and ended up retreating and parking lower down about a 1/2 mile from the trailhead.
Leverich Canyon Trail

After riding Leverich Canyon I headed to Hyalite Canyon to look for a dispersed camping spot. This is a large National Forest with what looked like lots of good free camping options. After checking out some of the spots that I found on I found they were all filled up. Even arriving on a Wednesday dead smack in the middle of the week several free dispersed spots were full. There was lots of pay campsites but that was not what I was looking for.  This place was packed and I was getting frustrated not being able to find a campsite. I had to push to the far end of the canyon and camp in a small pull out off of the forest road. It turned out to be a great spot and was right by the trailhead for both Emerald Lake Trail and the Palisade Falls Trail.

I really enjoyed my time at these falls. I spent about an hour here taking pictures and enjoying the mist on my face from the tall falls. There were only a few other visitors and had some good solitude right by the face of the falls.

The next morning I did a quick ride up to Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake trail was fun and didn’t take long to get to the top. Emerald Lake was actually green!

 Panorama of Emerald Lake.

 After my ride I took this picture of Hyalite Lake on my way to leave Bozeman. It was big and there were massive amounts of people fishing, camping, and boating.

Fishing in the Beartooth Mountains Wyoming – Vanlife

The Absaroka/Beartooth mountain range is a pure slice of heaven. I have been coming to this area on and off since the early 2000s. I would usually stay at a old hunting cabin located in the Sunlight Basin about 30 minutes away but we would frequent Fantan and Sawtooth Lakes which offer stunning scenery, excellent fishing, and seclusion. I had camped on national forest land a couple miles off the Beartooth Highway near the entrance of these lakes. I found a grassy campsite overlooking the Chain Lakes below. The pic above is my first morning in the area. I woke up early to pee and took this beautiful shot. No editing required.

I was treated with a waterfall by my campsite. Did I mention this is grizzly bear country!

Also the mosquitos were in full force. I had dealt with some bugs in Steamboat and Jackson. Some mosquitoes in the Winds. But noting like here in the Beartooths. These mosquitoes must work out in their down time as they are very aggressive, resilient, and fast. Also they have the numbers. Lucky for me when I was in Pinedale I picked up a head net at the local gear shop. Also I had constructed a screen door for when my van slide door was open. It worked great and kept the bugs out while I was chilling inside.

Here is an evening shot of my campsite. Since this was grizzly country I would clean and pack up all cooking gear after every meal. It was kind of a pain in the ass to keep setting up and stowing my kitchen but I wanted some peace of mind.

Ah the whole reason I am here… Trout! Here are my first keepers from Fantan Lake. When I resupplied for the Beartooths in Jackson I only bought a small package of chicken legs for a week long stay with the intention of having several trout dinners. I stayed for 8 full days and had trout dinners 6 of the 8 days. Nice!

So after catching my fill of trout at Fantan Lake I did a short off trail hike up to Cliff Lake. As many times I have been to Fantan lake I never checked out this one just a short distance away. It was evident why the lake was called Cliff lake with the rock outcropping lining one side of the lake.

Taking a look back at Fantan lake.

One of the Chain Lakes off in the distance.

This was one of a few nice evenings. Most of my stay was filled with turbulent weather to include rain, wind, snow, and groppel.

Taking it all in.

My next fishing trip was to Sawtooth lake. This lake is always windy but its a good sized body of water.  You can see the sawtooth rock formation in the background that gives this lake its name.

Fishing was slow going so I made my way to the inlet of the lake and found this neet little waterfall cutting through the granite.

After about 3 hours of casting into the wind and not catching anything, I wanted to call it quits when I decided to  give it one more shot casting along a sandy beach from one side to the other. After about 10 casts… Boom.. The fish started biting and caught these 3 brookies.

My favorite dish I made while on the road. Trout and Bacon Quinoa Bowl.

What looked like a break in the weather it was time for a mountain bike ride. I decided to check out the Morrison 4wd road that traverses a bald high alpine section of the range. This was my first lake encounter called Top Lake.

After some woody rocky riding in the lower elevation forest I broke treeline and proceeded up and down rolling alpine hills. The only thing up here was wind blasted trees.

The weather was not the best. Rain was quickly moving in and I pressed on with haste.  If you can’t tell, the weather was very finicky during my stay in the Beartooths.

Despite conditions I was certainly having a great time and got a KOM on this route!

This was the end of the road for me and time to turn back. You can see the Sunlight basin down below. If I was to continue on there would be a lot of descending down to the bottom of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River down below.

Some peat bogs off in the distance. This was a fun out and back that I would recommend. It was a great way to experience the backcountry in this beautiful area.

What a lovely sunset after a wicked storm that rolled through. I kept my camp tidy at all times!

I ran across a fly fisherman in a parking lot when I took a quick ride on my bike to Long Lake earlier in the week. I asked the man how fishing was and he said it was ok at Long Lake but Nite Lake was where he was catching the nice sized trout. After waiting out some weather I made my way over to Nite Lake. It was just a quick 20 minute bike ride from my camp on the other side of the Beartooth Hy.

With a little persistence the nicest trout of my trip were hitting! I was catching tons of fish during my stay in the Beartooths but I was only catching 6″-12″ trout. These were at least 14″!

Jackpot! I caught a nice string and cleaned them by the lake to be cooked later. I was using my spinner rod with a Panther Martin lure. Tried and true.

After a wonder 8 full days of staying at this site (I could have stayed for 14 days for free)  it was time to move on. Everything all packed up nice and tidy, I snapped one last shot of my van and the Chain Lakes off in the distance.

I had visited the Beartooth Highway many times but never traversed all the way to the Montana side.

The highway was amazing and it turned out to be one of the most spectacular high alpine drives I have experienced.