On the Road: Ennis, MT to Lochsa Lodge, ID

Currently sleepless in Hood River, Oregon, I finish up some cell phone blogging as a light rain pushes cool air into the room. In four hours or so, I will embark for Portland, the largest city visited since Kansas City. I intend to embrace the cycling culture there, relax and do some sightseeing by bike all while keeping my legs in shape. Next weekend I will be off the bike in Corvallis waiting for the total solar eclipse.  Here are some catch up days.

July 30: Ennis to Dillon (74 miles)

Normal start to the day, have breakfast at a pharmacy. A few local chat us up as we gather ourselves at our bikes on the sidewalk. The day starts with a challenging ten mile climb out of town. With small shoulders and many curves, the car traffic adds to the excitement. I meet Jon most of the way up to the top then we make the final push together.

Me climbing with beautiful mountains as our backdrop.

The payoff for climbs is always the descent. This particular downhill would led us to Virginia City, a very Western feeling town. The best part was the 42 mph we averaged for the next five miles. We got into town for a light lunch in no time.

The next 20 miles we faced a headwind going north towards Twin Bridges. Once in Twin Bridges, we would then head south. Commom sense may lead one to think we would benefit from a tailwind heading south. As luck would have it, we would not. For the next 30 miles we had another headwind. The constant fight with the wind and the day’s heat added up.

While not the most phsically challenging day, the unrelenting conditions through me a mental curve ball. The toughest part of touring is when one becomes to discouraged. Towns may seem ever distant or mother nature is out to get you. The best part of riding in a group is others to lift you up. Between Jon and David keeping my attention, I schlep into Dillon. We grab subway, a ton of soda and water then head to camp. Camp has a pool, showers, laundry and internet. I take advantage of all amenities and sleep soundly.

July 31: Dillon to Wisdom (68 miles)

Another huge day of climbing. It starts as a gradual climb just outside of town. Just as the grade steepened, some Brits we had been leapfrogging catch up to us. They climb the first pass with our group. As usual, I lag behind. The descent was nice, but fairly slow as we found some more headwinds (who would have known?!).

Just before the second pass the Brits moved on. Tash was feeling a bit worn and fell behind with Rich. Jon and I attack the second pass. This pass was much shorter,  6 miles as opposed to 10, but significantly steeper. Being pretty warmed up at this time, it wouldn’t have been a huge issue except for the wind gusts in our face at every turn. I climb just above 4 mph, likely my slowest average of the trip, which made it seem like I may never make it to the top. I did and found Jon. Unlike the previous day, I found the wind to be a hilarious addition to an already difficult terrain.

We stop in Jackson for food. Jackson has no food. The one restaurant is closed for good and the other doesn’t open on Mondays. We grab water from the only open establishment, a hostel geared towards cyclists. We snack on our various food stuffs (tuna wraps) and get back on the road.

We battle some more miles and get into Wisdom, a town with a market and two restaurants, all of which are open. Jon and I eat dinner then head to the local RV park for our accommodations of the night.

Sign outside the msrket in Wisdom, providing some wisdom on the limited services in Jackson.

August 1: Wisdom to Missoula (122 miles)

The gang wakes up to possibly the coldest morning after the coldest night. Rich and Tash’s plan to leave super early is slowed by the temps. We all meet at the same restaurant from the previous night at staggered times. The service is terrible, but the pancakes are incredible. Jon takes off early with the intent on riding 122 miles to Missoula. Rich, Tash and I plan to get to Hamilton, 70 miles down the road and see how we feel.

“Biker” bar in Wisdom where we had dinner amd breakfast

In solidarity with the previous two days we must climb the Chief Joseph Pass. This climb is picturesque and the morning air remained cool. Towards the end the grade steepened, but we all settle in and make it up on our own accord. After a few minutes of water and stretching, we eagerly pop on our bikes and make a gorgeous descent.

The road curve through amazing vistas on the backside of the mountain. I am ecstatic that we didn’t have to climb that side, given the steep grade. We maintain speeds of car traffic and didn’t have to let cars pass, which is always a great feeling. One regret of speeding down descents is the inability to take photos safely. I find it hard to pull over to take photos when I can bomb down hill in the middle of the road.

We pull off at a gas station restaurant that is part of a camp ground. Rich and I have an amazing southwest turkey sandwich and watch hummingbirds outside the window. At this point in the day we decide to push on to Missoula. Our understanding of the maps is the rest of the route is downhill with the last 50 miles on a bike path.

For the next 80 miles we cruise through quaint western towns and hydrate/eat as needed. The canyon that leads us away from Sula and north to Missoula provides a nature channel moment. An osprey leaps from a tree overhead carrying a trout. It flies just head of us for the next 100 yards, before reaching its next perch to eat. Out of the canyon, we  watch smoke billow over the mountains lining our route to the east and west.

There is so much smoke the sun appears to set at 5pm high about the mountains. We arrive at our Warmshowers host just after 9:30pm. Jon is rested, fed and showered. Happily at our rest stop a day early, we are all pleased to rest our legs and minds after our collective longest ride of the cross country trip.

Missoula rest days – August 2nd and 3rd

The rest days were great. First day was spent walking funny with stiff knees and hips. By the second day, the body is back to normal and wondering what we’re doing not sitting on a bike. Each day was spent eating, walking around town, multiple trips to the Adventure Cycling headquarters (they have free ice cream, don’t judge me) and pondering swimming in the river. The second day we swam in the cold river. A cooler of beer and some inter-tubes, like the locals do, would be the best way to enjoy the city by water.

August 4: Missoula to Lochsa Lodge (58 miles)

Jon and I take off on our own today. The whole gang meets down the street from our unique and equally gracious host’s house. After a delicious breakfast we say goodbye to our companions since early July. Rich and Tash have become close friends in a short amount of time. They are hanging back waiting to meet Rich’s family in Yellowstone.

Backtracking our steps into Missoula we turn on Route 12 our guiding light for the next few days. We climb the Lolo Pass in intense smoke. With wet bandanas over our faces we pull up to a county sheriff to see when we can expect the smoke to stop. He does not offer a definitive answer, but states that over the pass in Idaho we may feel some relief.

The skies clear somewhat before the major climb but the lungs are feeling it. At the top we both relate the state of our lungs to each other. We stop at the visitors center and do something we have never done mid-day, nap. The climb and the smoke took it out of us. We were both exhausted. Our lungs burned while climbing and after it felt as though I had smoke multiple packs of cigarettes the night before. We drank free coffee and chatted the rangers up. By the time we exited they had promised to scare our Welsh friend David about bear stories should he stop by in the next few days.

With a new lease on life, we hit the next descent with reckless abandon. The smokey views are still tremendous, but the roads could use a little work. We reach our destination for the evening, free camping behind a campground/lodge’s general store. After camp is established Jon and I grab a six pack and hit the river for some cool water and refreshment. People wave from the road as we sit in the middle of the Clearwater River, carrying on. We find Siame, a French woman from NYC who is solo touring across the country.

She blows our minds as she tells us of her to decision to leave her job, challenge herself to complete this tour and do so with minimal riding experience. Her cycling experience is so limited, in fact, that someone showed her how to shift gears, from the middle chain ring into granny gear, as she was climbing the Appalachians in Virginia, arguably some of the toughest riding in the entire trip. She does all this with a smile and we discuss her next challenge, probably climbing Mount Everest with little mountaineering experience…

As we are settling down for the evening, the Harley drivers that made camp next to us are just warming up. Plenty of beer is being drank talking about their rides. One individual decides that 11 PM is the perfect time to put a wrench on his bike. He also decides that riding through all the tents, nearly running over my vestibule, was an appropriate choice. I let his friends know that I intend on being in my tent shortly and he fortunately found the paved route for his return trip.

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