Kristi and I had been looking forward to getting to Missoula for a number of reasons. First, we were going to be off the bikes for 10 days. Although initially, we had looked forward to having that time off, by the time we got to Missoula, we were in great shape and were thoroughly enjoying the ride. We actually wanted to keep going, but we’d made plans. Second, we were going to see lots of people (friends and family). We spent the first night in Missoula with Rob and Kristi Gappert. Rob and I had gone to the Rocky Mountain School of Photography together last summer. Kristi and I cherish any time we get to spend with them and their two kids, Aiden and Autumn. On Thursday, the day after we arrived, we went out to dinner with two more former classmates Ashley and Makayla, and Makayla’s mother, Stephanie. It was wonderful to see them all. On Friday morning, we flew to Washington, D.C., picked up our kids, Meg and Jeremy, and headed to West Virginia where my sister, Lisa lives. My other sister, Kristin, and her entire family (the same family who followed us for a few days in Colorado) were also there from Colorado. We spent a few wonderful days there visiting family and friends and also attending my 38th high school reunion. Yes, I’m that old. I know 38 is a screwy number to have a reunion, but that’s because we had a joint reunion of four classes, 1976 – 1979. It was a GREAT time!
We also had a chance to spend a day with our grandson, Kai, once we got back to D.C. before we flew back to Missoula. I can’t tell you how proud we are of that young man! After flying back to Missoula, we spent some more time with Rob and Kristi and also stayed at Kileen’s, one of Kristi’s friends.
All in all, we had a really nice break from riding. I’m not gonna lie though, we were glad to get back on our bikes to start the last leg of our journey!
We got back on the bikes and headed to Powell, Idaho on Monday, August 8th. It was a 56-mile bike ride, the first 44 miles of it all uphill. Fortunately, the grade was gentle, so the climb was easy. The grade got steeper the last 5 miles as we approached Lolo Pass, but the weather was perfect for riding. The temps were in the 60’s to 70’s all day even though it was sunny and very little wind. For nearly the entire ride that day, we were following the same route Lewis and Clark took through the Bitterroot Mountains. Actually, we’ve been following their route off and on since Missouri. We stopped frequently to read the many historical markers that talked about the expedition and also provided information on the Nez Perce Indians who used the route to try to evade the U.S. Army in the late 1800’s. Kristi and I took about an hour break at the top of Lolo pass which is where we entered Idaho. It’s also where we entered the Pacific Time Zone, the last time zone of our trip.
The visitor’s center at the top of the pass was really nice, and the scenery was breathtaking! As soon as we entered Idaho, the mountains changed. They were much steeper and packed tighter. As we rode, I couldn’t help feeling a little closed in by them. The last 12 miles of the ride was all downhill, so we made excellent time. We arrived at Powell by noon, mainly because we’d gained an hour as we entered the Pacific Time Zone.
We ended up renting a “rustic” cabin at Lochsa Lodge in Powell. The cabin was built in 1929. Yes, it was rustic. But we really enjoyed it. It had a wood burning stove which we used to heat the room. We were back on the road by 6:30 the following morning. We spent the day descending to Lowell, Idaho, 65 miles away. The descent was very gradual, but we still made excellent time averaging over 15 miles per hour and arriving at Lowell just before noon. The first 15 miles of the ride were cold and wet. It started drizzling almost as soon as we got on the road. The rain soon became a cold downpour. Within 10 to 15 minutes, Kristi and I were soaked. We spent the next hour riding through the rain until it cleared up. Since we both had our rain jackets on and some warm layers underneath, only our hands, feet, and faces were cold. But the clouds, mountains, and sun occasionally peaking through made for some dramatically beautiful scenery!
My biggest concern in the rain was the occasional 18-wheelers that came up behind us. The road had lots of twists and turns. I was afraid an 18-wheeler would come up on us and not be able to go around because we didn’t have much of a shoulder, and if there was oncoming traffic…well, it would make for a dangerous situation. And of course, as luck would have it, that’s exactly what happened. I saw a truck come around a turn close behind us moving up on us rapidly. I could also see an oncoming car coming around the turn ahead of us which the truck couldn’t see. Since he didn’t seem to be slowing down, I put my arm out with my palm facing him to let him know not to pass. There wasn’t enough room for all of us on the road, and then I heard him quickly downshift and brake hard. It was a little nerve-racking, but he managed to slow down until the car went by and then passed us as I waved to thank him. It was the only close call we had. It was a good day overall with lots of opportunities for dramatic pictures. One interesting fact: Once we cleared Lolo Pass at the border of Montana and Idaho on Monday, we had been descending until late in the ride on Wednesday. When I looked at a map, we had gone over half way across the state while dropping approximately 3,600 feet. We ended up arriving at Lowell just before noon. Not too bad for a 65-mile day. It hasn’t taken Kristi and I much time to get back into the swing of things after taking 10 days off.
The next day’s ride took us from Lowell to Grangeville, a total distance of 51 miles (54 miles when adding the 3 miles we rode after I missed a turn). Soon after we started, we had a 2,000 foot climb in just under 4 miles. Kristi and I both believe it was the steepest climb of that height we have done since starting. Fortunately, we were both up for the challenge. Up to the point we started the climb, we had been following a river. By the time we reached the top of the climb, we both felt like we were on top of the world. Just about everywhere we looked, the views were stunning. It was a mix of mountains and fields of wheat, golden against a green background. The mountains almost seemed to touch the clouds. Although we felt like we were on top of the world, at just over 3,000 feet, we were far from it.
Thursday’s ride found us heading to Riggins, Idaho, about 49 miles away. We were on the road by 6:30. The temps were warmer than they had been for the past few days. Although we still wore a warm layer over our bike jerseys, we quickly took it off.
A few miles out of Grangeville, we started our big climb of the day, a total of just over 1,000 feet. This climb was much more enjoyable and not as taxing as day before. It took us up into pine forests where we saw lots of wild animals.
At one point, I even heard the bugling of an elk. After reaching the top of the climb, we had our longest, steepest descent of the ride so far. Almost all of our long descents have been a 6% grade, but this one was a 7% grade for just over 9 miles. Kristi and I both averaged between 30 and 35 mph. We stopped at White Bird at the bottom of the descent and took a break. During the 30 minutes we sat eating a snack, we watched literally dozens of quail cross the road. I’d never seen that many quail in such a short time. The last 30 miles of the ride were all uphill/up stream (we followed the Salmon River) until we got to Riggins. The entire way was in Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area. We were surrounded by steep mountains reaching thousands of feet into the sky on both sides of the river. We saw a number of rafters heading downstream as we climbed. I’ll bet they had fun as there were a number of decent rapids. All-in-all, another great day!
A Tale of Two Bike Rides: The ride from Riggins to Counsel was 60 miles. The first half of the ride was difficult, the second half was a blast! We started off early with a 2,000-foot climb on a very rough road with winds blowing fairly strong in our face, and to top it off, the shoulder wasn’t good and we had a lot of 18-wheelers flying by us. Mentally, it was frustrating. Not getting to our destination isn’t an option. We never even think of getting off trail, even on bad days. While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I had a rule about quitting: No quitting on a bad day. If you have a bad day, get over it. You’re only allowed to quit on a good day. But like I said, quitting isn’t something Kristi or I have ever discussed. We’re having way too much fun.
About 34 miles into the ride, we hit New Meadow and stopped to eat an early lunch. Once we left New Meadow, the road conditions changed completely! We still had 26 miles to go. The road smoothed out which allowed us to go a lot faster, the winds eased up, and we started dropping. We got to Counsel in about an hour and a half. It was a great way to end the day! We ended up staying in a small hotel room above the Ace Saloon. To put it mildly, the conditions were austere! But we weren’t complaining since it was only $25. Unfortunately for us, Friday night was karaoke night until 1:00 a.m. Needless to say, the singing was LOUD, so sleeping wasn’t an option. Fortunately, they ended before midnight, so we were able to get a few hours of sleep.
Saturday was a 62-mile ride to Oxbow, Oregon. Finally in our last state.
We’re happy to get here, but we’re sad because we know our time on the bikes is now limited. Once again, we spent the day in Hells Canyon. We’re starting to see why they call it that. The first half of the day was a climb of about 1,300 feet. Although it was getting hot, we made it without much problem. On the initial part of the climb, we kept seeing these huge, dark brown grasshoppers on the road. We quickly saw that they were eating the grasshoppers that had been run over by cars going by. And because they were out on the road, they would also get squashed by cars as they went by. There were spots where we could tell quite a few of them had been crushed on top of each other. There were thousands of them! After we got to the top of the climb, we had a great ride down the other side and stopped at a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant to grab a bite to eat and some cold soda. It’s crazy how much we drink when we stop. I think I had 4 large glasses of Dr. Pepper and a glass of water. We followed the Snake River all the way to Oxbow. We ended up camping out that night in a local RV park. It was crazy, because the town had 360 people but no grocery store, gas station…not even a working soda machine! So Kristi and I had to ride 2 miles uphill to get to a place we could eat and get some ice-cold soda/water. We hit the hay at about 9:00 knowing we had a long, tough ride ahead of us on Sunday. Unfortunately, a family pulled in next to us at about the time we were hitting the hay. The husband was falling-down drunk and was yelling and kept dropping all sorts of stuff as he was unpacking and their large dog kept barking. Then they had a bonfire going as well as a lantern that seemed to be run on nuclear fusion! The entire area was lit up like it was daylight. I think Kristi and I finally fell asleep around midnight.
On Sunday, we had a 69-mile ride into Baker City. We knew it was going to be a difficult day, but we had no idea how difficult. We were both running short on energy since it had been awhile since we’d had more than just a few hours of sleep. Add in the heat and the climbing…well, it was a difficult day. The one thing that was good about it was that we finally rode out of Hells Canyon when we got to Baker City! Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in the United States…something that Kristi nor I would have ever guessed. It’s over 9,000 feet deep in places. I’m confident the temps climbed to well over 100 degrees as we got closer to Baker City, and without cold drinks or a place to get out of the sun, it took a toll on both of us. By the time we arrived to Baker City, all we wanted was something…anything…cold to drink and a cold shower. We got both! We were invited to a BBQ by the local VFW and took them up on their offer. They had Coors on tap as well as soda and some delicious food! After the BBQ, Kristi and I headed to the VFW post and had a few drinks while we visited with all the members. A special thanks to Bobby Henshaw, the Post Commander of VFW Post 3048…and the youngest Post Commander in the State of Oregon, who picked us up from our hotel, took us to the BBQ, and then gave us a personal tour of their VFW building along with a discussion on it’s illustrious history. We had a wonderful time taking a zero day in Baker City and getting ready for our next to last week of riding into Sisters, Oregon. (Week 12 mileage: 412.73; total trip miles to date: 3,751.16).