The Big Sky Spectaculaire is a 900-mile adventure cycling event through Montana’s Big Sky Country. Six riders showed up in Bozeman last month for the grand depart, and only three finished. Read on a reflection from the only solo woman finisher, Trish Holt…
Words by Trish Holt, photos by Trish Holt and Trevor Grab
On August 21st, 2023, a field of two solo racers and two teams of two embarked on the Big Sky Spectaculaire, starting our journey out of Bozeman at 6:30 a.m. Course designer Crowell led us in a neutral start for three miles before setting us loose on the 900-mile adventure. As we rolled along chatting, I was anxiously trying to load the entire map on my Garmin. I quickly learned loading the route in sections would have been wiser.
The first day brought its challenges, including sandy gravel and strong headwinds, leading to a night’s rest in Twin Bridges, about 40 miles short of my goal. There, I took a quick shower and bivied at the Bike Camp. At 5 a.m., I was just about ready to start rolling when I saw two headlamps, then a third stealthily departing the town in the dark. Instantly, I kicked into race mode.
One of my favorite aspects of bikepacking is setting off before dawn and witnessing nature awakening. Riding through Beaverhead Reserve, I marveled at historical homesteads coexisting with newer homes and even spotted a moose in the marsh.
In Dillon, I met up with the other solo rider at McDonalds. The ride out of town was uneventful until I made a navigational error on Badger Pass, resulting in having to climb the pass twice due to not turning off onto a gravel road at the summit. Shortly after this gravel section, the course was re-routed due to fire activity in the Skalkaho Pass area. Instead of continuing southwest, we headed north on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway. After a 17-mile, 1,800-foot climb on the Byway, I stopped for the night. The unexpected thunderstorm that followed brought heavy rain, soaking my gear through my unzipped bivy. At 3:00 a.m., I was up and packed my wet belongings to start a chilly descent under a starry sky.
I arrived in Anaconda mid-morning, resupplied, and sought refuge in a laundromat. While my gear dried, I addressed my worsening saddle sores. As I left town, I stumbled upon a small bike shop where Sven, the enigmatic store owner, happily searched through his inventory for chamois cream. After some negotiation, I purchased the mysterious jar, and it worked wonders. I was back in the race, and my goal was Philipsburg for the night.
A short but solid sleep and a climb out of town, I embraced the morning. The sun broke over the horizon just as I crested the climb. I continued to Drummond for a Conoco breakfast and to recharge my electronics. In addition, a bonus time monument to capture. Crowell caught up to me around Helmville, and we rode a gravel section together. I learned that a pairs team and the other solo rider had scratched, leaving just me and a team of two younger riders. I said goodbye to Crowell, took in some advice, a couple of bananas, and I was off to Lincoln for a quick meal and “pie a la rode” bonus time. I continued into the night up and over Rogers Pass.
The course continued to challenge me, and I found myself navigating to Augusta by moonlight. My main bike light went out, forcing me to set up my bivy in the ditch. I lay there and waited, and when I heard the coyotes, I was up to start riding again. After some bonus time missile silo hunting, I was on my way to Fort Benton.
I rode the tailwind out of Fort Benton after a burger, fries, and short nap, and I headed to Ma’s Café for a bonus time pie stop, then it was up into the vast Montana plains reaching the ferry after the cut-off of 7 p.m. My mind quickly switched to a recovery opportunity with the next day goal to get as close to the finish as possible. After a short crossing, my first stop in Geraldine was an attraction to the locals, where I shared a few moments with them and received a history lesson on the Canadian connections of Louis Reil with Fort Benton. It was great! I pushed on to Geyser, a stark contrast to the arid terrain I had left behind, for supper at the Cabin Creek Bar and a BLT to go. I ventured into a stunning landscape between Geyser and Monarch under a bright moon rising over the Little Belt Mountains.
My sleep was brief, and I awoke with determination to make it my last night in the bivy. Also, excited for my next stop, the Inconvenience Store in Neihart. It was a highlight where I enjoyed morning coffee, convenience store breakfast, and camaraderie with the locals. With renewed energy, I continued to White Sulphur Springs, chased a storm, outsmarted a bull, and witnessed a vivid lightning show. This was also the first time in my bikepacking adventures that I pushed myself to ride for 24 hours. Although happy to be finishing, I was also keenly curious to see if I could ride longer and feel rejuvenated from the sunrise.
As I rode back into Bozeman, I reflected on the incredible journey of the Big Sky Spectaculaire. Crossing the finish line, I didn’t hide my smile, knowing I had completed a monumental race through Montana’s vast landscapes. The race took me 7 days and 23 hours, and the sense of accomplishment was immense. I had set my intention, prepared, and let the universe guide me through this incredible journey. The Big Sky Spectaculaire was more than a race; it was a transformative journey of self-discovery and an enduring reminder that the true value of an adventure lies in the moments along the way.
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