Days 76-80: Dodging Rain, Searching for Sea-Level, Finding Idaho
10/8 Day 76: Sula, MT to Florence, MT 69 miles (3815 miles)
|The sun finally shines on us in the valley.|
|A lone ponderosa stands next to|
a sun-tipped snowcap.
|Adrift in a sea of loot. Thanks everyone!|
|Barnes: One of a kind guy.|
10/9 Day 77: Florence, MT to Lochsa Lodge, Powell, ID 55 miles (3870 miles)
|Cyclists' Convention at Lolo Pass.|
|Preparing to descend into Idaho.|
10/10 Day 78: Lochsa Lodge, Powell, ID to Lewis and Clark Resort, Kamiah, ID 95 miles (3965 miles)
The day started off on a very good foot with big pancakes and some coffee in the lodge, and a pretty early start to our day of riding. The day was laid out perfectly for us, except that a bit of rain was in the forecast for the afternoon, and we were all in high spirits with the knowledge that we could expect a whole day's worth of downhill in front of us from nearly 5,000 ft down to 1,000 ft. The scenery was once again amazing, even though the sun refused to peek out from behind the gray ceiling of clouds that, except for a day and a half in Montana, had been a constant for days. We zoomed down the hills and crazily winding Rt. 12 that parallelled the Lochsa and, later, Clearwater River. We were doing what ended up being an average speed of nearly 15 mph for the day, which, for us, is flying). We saw otter splashing in the river, and playing with one another on the banks. We got a good long look at a big, gangly bull moose as he ran away from us in one of the parking lots for a Department of Transportation waystation. As we rode, the smell of green, fresh, pungent pine whirled all around us. We rode and rode, and hardly stopped all day but for a snack here and a bathroom break there. It was easily one of my favorite days of riding on the trip, I never knew that anywhere in the country could be so wild and paradisical. The road we were on cuts right through the Clearwater National Forest and is flanked to the south by one of the country's biggest wildernesses, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, where there is almost no trace of human existence beyond a few fire roads and hiking trails. Hunters, backpackers, and RVs were everywhere- it is a natural playground there, and it beats the hell out of Yellowstone in my opinion.
We went on until the rain started to fall, and then started to fall harder. We were getting soaked, but accepted it with moderately good cheer, considering that it was closer to 55 degrees than 35 and we had a good chance of finding a hot shower and a laundromat to dry our things out after the ride was through. Even in the rain, I was still having a private love fest with the scenery around me, and I think I definitely enjoyed it more than the other three. After a while riding in the rain, we were full-on wet and stopped in at the first commercial establishment we'd seen since the lodge, Ryan's WIlderness Campground & Cafe. The prices here, just as in so many of the cafes we've been to since Wyoming, were higher than one would expect. However, when you take in to account the remoteness of these establishments, and the cost of transporting material, the gouging is a bit more acceptable. Another reason for the increased prices is the difficulty of finding and retaining staff. A man in West Yellowstone told us that their McDonald's was the most expensive in the country because they had to pay their workers well above minimum wage to keep them all from quitting and leaving in the brutal winters. We ate as cheaply as we could at Ryan's, and just had some soup and coffe (and a milkshake, of course) to get us out of the rain.
|The view from the campground.|
10/11 Day 79: Day off in Kamiah at Lewis and Clark Resort
Our day off was probably the most sedentary day off we've had the entire trip. The weather was supposed to be rainy all day, so we'd planned to just hang out in the campground's cafe and use their wireless internet all day. It only rained off and on during the day, but we barely moved at all. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner at their restaurant and I spent most of the day staring at my computer screen. We used the day primarily to search for apartments and I applied for a job. It was a bit of a depressing day, because all the unpleasant topics that we hadn't had to deal with for months like work, bills, and all the other crap were finally rearing their ugly heads once more. I sort of imagine the trip like crossing a long bridge over a wide canyon; we've been walking across for so long that we'd been able to believe that all there was to the world was air, wind, cloud, the bridge, and whatever was below us. Now, we were seeing the land again for the first time. Of course we all knew the trip would end, and that we would not be in the most enviable positions financially or logistically when we did arrive, homeless and jobless, in Portland, but combining moving, job hunting, and apartment hunting into one big mess basically sucks.
Erin and I also booked our plane tickets back to the East Coast, where we will retrieve my car and reconnect with all our friends and family before making another road trip back to the West Coast. This meant we were close enough to the end to guess with some accuracy when we would arrive; that we were 10 days or so away from our long awaited goal was both exciting and frightening. We have so much to do, so little time, and still a lot of riding to do, but hardly any riding to do in comparison to what we'd already done. Dizzying, I know. Anyway, we wasted the day trying to find apartments and jobs in a place we've never been, but made reasonable progress at both, and went to bed a bit uneasy at how nigh the end has become.
10/12 Day 80: Kamiah, ID to Winchester, ID 47 miles (4012 miles)
When we got on our bikes today, after another big pancake breakfast, things felt a little different. We were so close to the end that some variation of 'senioritis' had set in, and we simply didn't feel like riding, especially since one of our remaining big climbs was right in front of us. It was actually our second largest elevation gain in a single day, the first being from Canyon City to Guffey, CO and around 3,300 feet. Today we were going to be riding something of a large detour to get around an especially dangerous segment of Rt. 12; we figured to gain about 3,000 ft, but, unlike that day in Colorado where we climbed 3,300 feet and did only around 34 miles, today we were gunning for closer to 50. It was going to be a pretty tough day of bike riding, and no one felt like doing it. However, our choices were ride our bikes or live in Kamiah, Idaho, so we rode our bikes. After a short two mile ride, we found ourselves in the center of Kamiah, mailing postcards and checking out their grocery store. Kamiah, just like Kooskia, was inside the borders of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, which we'd entered just the day before. I know very little about the Nez Perce except that Sacajawea was a Nez Perce and it's pronounced (Nez, like it's spelled, and purse like the accessory) which made me imagine a whole scenario where a man and Sacajawea enter a room after going handbag shopping, where their friend is waiting. The friend says, "Hey, that's a nice purse" as he gestures to their new purchase, which Sacajawea is holding. The man says, "Yeah, it's Sacajawea." "What's a sack of jawea?" asks the friend. "She's a Nez Perce." he replies. "That's what I said in the first place!" the friend exasperatedly replies.
I realize that is a terrible joke. I apologize. The more I thought about the Nez Perce Reservation as we climbed the hill, the more variations of this same awful joke were running through my head, and I subjected Erin to about four of them, each with a new, slightly worse piece of word-play. There was one where Lewis and Clark discover a group of Nez Perce, and talk about Coach, but are referring to horse and wagon teams... it just kept going. So, I had to inflict it on you, dear reader, because it was stuck in my head like a bad Linkin Park song. Anyway, we left Kamiah and began our long ascent into the hills of Idaho. These hills were much more like the Idaho I'd imagined: drab straw colored mounds, rolling featureless as far as the eye could see. It was as if the entire day were conspiring all together- scenery, terrain, and strange Native American related puns- to be totally unpleasant. We climbed and climbed, then when we were tired of climbing, we'd stop and take a break, then climb some more. We chugged along at about 4-5 mph until we reached State Road 95, which was much more mercifully paved and graded. We had a little picnic on one of our tarps by the roadside and commiserated over salami sandwiches and mini Butterfingers while freight traffic whizzed by. We'd managed just 25 miles by 2 PM, but we'd known long before this point that the 80 mile day we'd hoped for was a pipe dream, and 40 something would have to do.
After lunch, we creakily got back on our bikes, backs and knees aching a bit, to ride the remaining distance. One thing I have enjoyed most about camping lately (since I bought my hatchet, at least) is the prospect of a nice fire to warm up next to at the end of the ride and even though we'd been sweating on the climb up, the day still had a definite chill to it, so I daydreamed about a cozy blaze while we spun our pedals away and slowly gained ground. We passed some barely registerable small towns, some farmland, and two gas stations before finally reaching our goal for the day: Winchester Lake State Park. This park is not an especially beautiful one, though it does have tons of geese, and is the only camping option for miles and miles. We foraged some deadfall for firewood and had our campfire rolling in minutes. We settled into camp for the last time at 4,000 ft and I did a little writing, we made dinner, and we slowly found our way into our tents.