TABR16- Day 5

The dawn of day 5 came way too early for me. I ended up sleeping later than I wanted, but I was zonked and needed some rest. I got up, gathered my things, ate as much as I could from the hotel breakfast and headed out into a bright morning sun about 7:00AM.

My original plan was out the window and I was trying my best to just keep moving and hopefully make the very best out of my race. To do that, I would shoot for 250 a day, which would mean on this day that I should make Sula, MT, roughly 80 miles south of Lolo. Between here and there would be 27 miles to Kooskia, then 100 miles of gradual climbing with no services (sorta) followed by Lolo Pass. After THAT, it was 34 miles to Lolo, 40-ish to Hamilton and yet another 40 or so to Sula . No sweat.

I rolled easy out of town and enjoyed the plains-type feel of the fields on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. That easy feeling was brought to an abrupt end as I descended down Lamb Grade, arguably one of the steepest, curvy and in my opinion sketchiest roads of the entire Trans Am. Dropping 1400′ in just 3 miles down a crooked little country road with no shoulders or guard rails, Lamb Grade insured that I wouldn’t come off my bike due to my flexed gluteus. It’s a beautiful ride, but man was I cautious.

Once at the bottom, I spent the next few miles into Kooskia trying to relax. I was more than a bit tense after that descent! In Kooskia, I loaded up on supplies and prepared for the long stretch of remoteness along the Lochsa River toward Lolo Pass. As I left town, I had my first flat. What a difference this year was compared to my other trips! At this point in prior journeys, I would have had 10 flats. Chalk it up to luck more than anything, but I’m sure the fact that I only had 10.5lbs of gear helped to reduce them as well.

The ride along the Lochsa is one of my favorite stretches of the Trans Am. It is literally 100 miles of gentle grade alongside a beautiful mountain river that is surrounded by nothing but mountains and evergreen trees. It is absolutely stunning. I took it all in as I went, doing my best to enjoy this moment. It just doesn’t get any better.

By late afternoon, I reached the end of my time with the river and turned toward Lochsa Lodge. I was really looking forward to a good meal and some cold drinks. I went inside the restaurant, ordered a big burger and fries with a Coke and proceeded to chow down. As I finished my meal, Janie Hayes came in. She was looking a bit worse for wear, but as usual, she was in fantastic spirits. She quickly ordered some nachos if I remember right and got to scarfing down her food. I went across the drive to the general store for a few supplies and got ready to head out. By the time I was leaving the store, Janie was out of the restaurant and headed over to the store! She was on a mission. As she went into the store, I left and made my way for Lolo Pass.

I settled in on the pass and found my groove. Some folks don’t care for Lolo, but I think it is a great climb. It just doesn’t seem that bad to me. Not that I am some great climber. By the time I reached the top, I needed to go to the rest area found there and use the facilities. I didn’t dally and as I got back on the road, I turned to see Janie summiting the pass. It was a treat to get to share that moment of triumph.

The two of us began the descent off the east side of the pass and quickly I was getting away from her. At nearly twice her size, gravity was my friend. In short order the grade leveled and we got the opportunity to chat a bit as we rode along. The miles passed quickly and we discussed our plans for the night. With a storm on the southeastern horizon, flashing lightening through thunderheads, we both decided that we would stop in Lolo and not risk having to bivy in cold mountain rain. In what seemed like no time, the 30 miles to the town of Lolo were gone. At that point I saw the advantages of riding near someone. It is truly no comparison to riding alone.

It was after 10:15PM when we got to town and many of the businesses were closed. After trying to get food at a couple different places, we came upon a McDonalds and grabbed big orders of food to go. We both then went across the highway to a motel and got separate rooms. We talked about sharing a room, just to save the cost, but neither of us felt comfortable with that. As we both checked in, the owner, who was running the front desk, offered us each a beer. Nice!

I went to my room, ate showered and hit the sack by a little after 11PM. I had finished the day at about 160 miles, 80 miles short of what I wanted, but I was over Lolo Pass and had made decent headway. I had to think of the race in little bits. Tomorrow is another day. I would start early.

 

 

TABR16- Day 4

I woke in my hotel room in Baker City a bit dazed and not sure that I wanted to leave the coziness of a bed to go out and ride through the lonely Eastern Oregon desert at night, but I quickly gathered my things and headed out. As I left town, I went by a gas station and supplied up, prepared for a night without services.

As I left the lights of Baker behind and climbed the hill outside of town, I was afforded a fantastic view. I didn’t pause to take it in, but instead glanced over my shoulder a few times and plunged into the desert with intent. I really wanted to have my next sunrise be in Idaho, but there were a few obstacles to deal with to make it happen so I needed to “make hay” as Grandma would’ve said.

As I dropped into the desert, the road came alongside the Powder River. Soon I was in the gorge of sorts that the river flows through. There wasn’t much pedaling to do and I coasted along, enjoying the night. A few times rats would run across the road in front of me. This made me a bit nervous. I wasn’t afraid of the rats, but rather what might happen if I ran one over. Would it send my careening off the road and into the river? Who knows. Twice I saw big owls in the road in front of me, perched upon one of the aforementioned rats that they had caught. It was a little disturbing to suddenly see a 2′ tall bird standing in the road in front of you, mostly because my light system didn’t give me a great amount of time to deal with going around them and they had zero interest in moving. I could kick my head lamp on high and have a better view, but it would only last a few hours in that mode. Better to leave in on low and conserve the battery. That did mean I would need to be careful of the wildlife.

I went miles without seeing a soul or even a car, then suddenly there was a vehicle behind me. I could tell it was a pickup truck and strangely it refused to go around on the winding road. Without a shoulder to get off on, I felt a bit trapped, but continued to ride. They never honked the horn or got too close, just far enough away. I let myself get a bit creeped out by it when they seemed to be staying behind me way too long and refused to pass. After what seemed like a very long way, I came up on a straight stretch of sorts and the truck went around. It was an old beater with a wooden rack across the back of the cab in the bed of the truck. Sticking up from the rack prominently as they went by was a shovel and an axe. My mind immediately went to crazy-axe-murderer thoughts. I carried on in the dark, once again alone with the stars, the river and the rats.

A mile or so farther down the road, I saw the sign for a rest area. I remembered this little spot and had stopped there in both of my previous bike trips on the Trans Am, but both of those had been during the day. This night I didn’t need to stop, but curious of my surroundings, I kicked my light up on high to scan the small parking area, thinking there might just be another racer hunkered down there. No racers were lit by my beam, but there was the axe-murdering-beater pickup, sitting parked, engine off, lights off and in my mind at least, stalking me.

I bolted. Not initially, as I didn’t want to give anyone the thought that I knew I was being chased, but rather slowly built up speed until I was around the next corner and then I laid it all out. I just wanted to get to Richland! Around each corner I watched for headlights behind me and prayed to see some in front of me coming the other way. If I was going to die, I wanted witnesses! I saw neither and soon made my way into Richland. Looking back now, I am sure it was all on the up and up. Nothing for me to worry about, but in that moment I was truly terrified I was being stalked. It is really silly what our minds will conjure up when we let it run away with adrenaline and exhaustion.

Richland was all shut up. I paused outside a cafe that I have eaten at a few times, missing that part of this trip. Sitting down and chatting with folks at little diners across the country is one of the things I absolutely love about bike travel. It just wasn’t to be on this trip.

I left town and began the long slog of a climb up the unnamed pass Northeast of town. The pass was long, but the worst part was the descent. As I came off the pass, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was shouting, slapping my face and doing everything I could to stay awake. It scared the crap out of me. Once at the bottom of the pass, I saw the turn for the little town of Halfway in the pre-dawn light. There is a large wooden sign denoting the turn with a planter around the bottom. I decided to go behind the planter and roll out my bivy for a nap.

I slept 2 hours and was awoken just before dawn by a very strange sound. A thrumming sort of noise, at first I thought it was a cow mooing and that I was getting checked out by some bovine escaped from it’s fence. I realized as I woke that it was a bird, but had no idea what it was. Over and over I heard this strange mooing sound, just over my head. Having since researched it, I now know it was a common night hawk. Check out the video below to hear what I heard.

Back up and on the road, I made fairly quick work of the remainder of Oregon, cruising into Hell’s Canyon and across the Brownlee dam into Idaho. One state down!

I made the significant climb out of the canyon without much ado and rolled into Cambridge for a resupply, then it was on to Council. The slog up to New Meadows wasn’t any fun, especially with some rude drivers and a bit of traffic, but I tried to take it in stride as I was looking forward to the big drop in elevation that was ahead of me from New Meadows down to White Bird.

I ate Subway in New Meadows, grabbed supplies at the gas station across the street and headed out of town. Immediately there was fresh oil and chip-n-seal so new it had not set up yet. My 25mm tires couldn’t navigate it well at all, so I rode along a small bit at the edge of the shoulder that wasn’t covered with the goo and rocks. It was maybe 2″ wide. I was really bumming as it seemed that I would be in for a long haul of road construction. Not far ahead was a road crew stop sign and I was told I couldn’t ride the next few miles. I would have to ride in the pilot car. I’ll admit being torn as I wanted to make the trip within the race rules and under my own power, but was told by the crew that no riders were being allowed to ride through and the others in front of me had ridden in the pilot car as well. I took the ride and as we zipped along for about 3 miles, I found myself thankful I didn’t have to ride the chip-n-seal!

The road from New Meadows to White Bird follows the Little Salmon River and descends some 2500′ along the way. It is beautiful and hot. I stopped in Riggins for drinks and a snack at the same general store where I had sat at the year before with Scott McConnell and Andi Buchs. Great memories flooded in and I missed the camaraderie of other riders around me. I didn’t stay too long and headed back out into the evening heat, headed for White Bird.

When I arrived at the small spot in the road know as the town of White Bird, I was disappointed to see that the GPX file I had downloaded from the TABR website showed that I was supposed to climb the “new” pass, a boring, traffic-heavy grade with multiple lanes. It is the main highway through the area. I knew that the real Trans Am route went up White Bird Hill via a beautiful switchbacked road that was much longer, but a much better way to go on a bike. In the twilight I saw the lights of a couple other racers up ahead on the correct route, so I made the executive decision to do what I knew was right and ignore the GPS. The climb was fantastic and I was grateful to be there after dark so it was cooler. The only thing that would have been better would be to climb it at daybreak. It was a beautiful night.

Once over the pass, I rolled quickly to Grangeville, grabbed food at the 24 hour gas station and went across the street to the Super 8 for a room. It had been a long nearly 24 hours on the bike. Riding through the night, I had made 245 miles despite my nap in the morning and felt really good about my progress, but I was beat. I showered, ate while I washed my clothes and then slept hard.

TABR15- Day 6- Grangeville, ID to Lolo, MT

My first shower and first real bed of the race had an amazing affect on my mind, body and spirit. When my alarm went off at 6AM, the short five hours of sleep weren’t enough, but I felt a bit more refreshed than I had the previous five mornings. I did have a bit of contention in my mind. Gavaskar and Scott had ridden on when I did not. I was concerned that I would “fall behind”. Of course, looking back, this was silly. Ride your own race, right? That is easier said than done. My brain was telling me a better get going!

A quick check of Trackleaders showed that Scott and Gav had bedded down just before Kooskia at about 2:30AM and were still down. Being just 25 miles ahead, I thought that if I  could hustle up, I just might be able to catch them before they headed out for the day. I got dressed, gathered my things and hit the road.

It was a gorgeous morning and the ride to Kooskia was a great one. The only caveat was the descent down Lamb’s Grade going down into the valley that holds the South Fork of the Clearwater River. It was SUPER steep and quite frankly, scared the crap out of me. There was lots of puckering and braking, but eventually I got to the bottom and got to enjoy the views along the river as I rolled into Kooskia.

When I got to town, Scott and Gav had gotten up and their trackers showed them at a dinner. I got there just as they were finishing up with breakfast. We quickly told each other’s stories and caught up on the news of the night. Short versions of the story were that they had camped along the road together. Scott said he was headed out of town to soft pedal up the long grade toward Lolo Pass. Gav was headed across the street to resupply and I ordered some pancakes. In normal fashion, I made quick work of the flapjacks and got to the grocery store across the street before Gav left town. The two of us took off in search of our little buddy Scott on the highway ahead.

Our search was fairly short. We caught up to Scott within the first 10 miles. The three of us rode next to each other chatting a bit and made quick work of the 20 miles or so to a small cafe and c-store that was to be our only chance for supplies along the gorgeous 90 mile stretch of road that takes you from Kooskia to Lochsa Lodge near the western base of Lolo Pass. Next door was a very small motel that Andi had stayed in the night before, but he was long gone now. Supplies were had by all and while I was in my “office” answering a call from nature, Gav hit the road. Scott and I then took off in search of our Ranger friend.

The stretch of remote highway that parallels the Lochsa River between Kooskia and Lochsa Lodge is one of my absolute favorites of the entire Trans Am route. As you climb the gentle grade, you get view after view of the river in all its glory, just a few yards to your right the entire way. The roiling mountain waters beg you to stop and take it all in, but that was not the order of the day. With a race to run, Scott and I trudged along past the pines and picturesque waters, eventually getting a bit too hot and running out of drinking water as the temps had risen and the day was getting long. The road that leads to Lochsa Lodge was a sight for sore eyes when we came upon it!

Lochsa Lodge is a bit of an oasis as there are few services in the piney woods of northern Idaho. When Scott and I got there, we dropped our bikes outside and headed into the lodge’s restaurant to fill up on food and drink. Gav was there and had just finished filling his tank. As Scott and I sat down to eat, Gav took off and headed out to climb Lolo Pass.

Almost immediately, Bradford Smith and Justin Chadwick sauntered in. This pair had been chasing Scott and I for days and had finally caught up! The four of us sat together and caught up on everyone’s stories. The two of them had started the race doing shorter days and slowly worked their way into longer ones. They were starting to hit their stride and it was obvious. Both of them seemed in great shape and great spirits. As we ate together, they said that their plan was to stop at Lolo Hot Springs, just at the eastern base of Lolo Pass.

When the food was gone, Brad and Justin headed out in search of the hot springs. Scott and I took a few more minutes to resupply at the little c-store at the lodge. Our plan was to climb the pass and make some hay on Brad and Justin, but that would mean pushing on in the night and we would need supplies to do so.

Loaded up on junk food and drinks, we went out under the dim light of the setting sun to climb Lolo pass. I decided as we went along that in honor of Scott, I wouldn’t shift my gears. Scott was riding single speed, which meant when the going got tough (read:steep) he simply had to crunch on through or stop and walk. He almost never did the later and in a show of support, I wouldn’t either. I set my chain to the closest gearing I could to his and proceed to take his instruction on how to climb with a single speed. As the climb intensified, my heart rate did as well, but following his guide, I found my happy place in the burn of my quads and continued to pump up the climb. In what seemed like no time, I looked up the road to see the visitor’s center at the top of Lolo Pass and the Montana State Line! I had done it! I climbed Lolo Pass in my 32-16 gear and no-dabbed it, which just means I never stopped or put my foot down on the ground. It was a small accomplishment within the race that I won’t forget!

After a potty stop at the visitor’s center and a wardrobe change to keep from freezing on the descent off the pass, we took the obligatory photos at the Montana State Line sign, then pointed our wheels north and downhill toward Lolo Hot Springs. Despite putting on extra clothes, the sweat that I made going up the pass kept me more than cool under the light of the early evening moon as we lost elevation. I just shivered and tried to ruffle my shoulders up to keep the cool mountain air from getting in my jacket around my neck. It was no use. It was just cold! Montana in June, particularly in the mountains, is simply cold at night. Suck it up buttercup!

After what seemed like forever, but was actually only 20 minutes or so, we were off the steepest part of the mountain and saw the lights of the lodge at Lolo Hot Springs. After a short stop to fill a bottle, it was off into the night to continue toward the spot in the road known as Lolo.

The stretch of road into Lolo was only about 30 miles, but with cool temps and a slightly downhill grade, there wasn’t much heat to be made from working the pedals. I found myself chilled and to make matters worse, it was getting late and the ongoing struggle to fight off the sleep monster was a losing battle. I just kept praying for a place to stop. When the lights of the truck stops at Lolo broke the horizon, I was a happy man. I needed to get off the bike!

We leaned our bikes against the outside wall of the gas station at the corner in Lolo at 11:30PM. The fluorescent glare was blinding after hours of riding in the dark and the country music that blared from the speakers overhead was an assault on my ears. We stepped inside and saw a seating area- a perfect spot to drink some coffee, look at the map and discuss options.

As we sat and warmed up over the steam of a truck stop cup of joe, the dialogue went something like this:

Scott- “So, what do you want to do?”

Me- “I don’t know man. I just want to sleep.”

Scott- “Well, we can find somewhere to sleep here, or move on and try to make Hamilton. That’s just another 30 miles. We could make that in about 2 hours.”

Me- “Dude, I just want to sleep. I can barely keep my eyes open.”

Scott- “We could bivy up behind the gas station here and get an hour or two, then push on. What do you think?”

Me- “I just want to sleep”

After I finally wore Scott down, we asked the station attendant if he cared if we bivy up around back. He said he didn’t care, but “it would be at your own risk as the deer like to run through there all night.” What?!? Last I checked, deer see pretty well at night and I am sure they wouldn’t stomp us in the dark. Obviously he didn’t really like the idea of us being back there. He then suggested the RV park across the road. He said, “They have a park next to the RV area where people camp sometimes. You just have to be careful that they don’t have the sprinklers on. hehehehe”

-Insert ominous raising of one eyebrow by me-

Choosing to ignore or at least not really listen to his second sentence, we hopped on our steeds and rolled out of the fluorescent glow, back into the dark and across the street to the RV park. Just as he mentioned, directly adjacent to the RV area and on the other side of a chainlink fence, we found a park area. It was wide open with 3 huge trees spread out more than 100′ from each other. There was no chance I would be able to hang my hammock, but there was plenty of very healthy and soft grass. We looked at each other and said, “looks good”. We found a man gate through the fence and headed out onto the lush grass.

Just off to the side, not far from the fence was a tent. In the bath of our headlamps, we saw that the tent had a bike beside it and that the tent lacked a rain fly. As we walked our bikes by, Scott shown his lamp down in the tent, thinking that it was a racer and we might know him. Nope! We did manage to make sure he wouldn’t be a friend though. He didn’t seem to happy to be awoken after midnight with a light in his face as he lay in his sleeping bag. Hehehe.

We went over another 50′ or so and locked our bikes up together with Scott’s cable and combination lock at the base of a big tree. Scott got his bivy out and was snug as a bug really fast like. I, not having very good ground-dwelling capabilities with my hammock setup, proceed to layout my thin foam pad, lay down on top of it and drape my sleeping-bag-turned-quilt over the top of me. After we had hem-hawed around at the station, then made our way over to the park, time had slipped away and it was now pushing 12:30AM. As I laid there under the big Montana sky, I wasn’t very comfortable and I wasn’t very warm, but I was happy to have another state down and be at least 30 miles ahead of Brad and Justin. Gav and Andi had gotten away from us, but the race is long and there was time. At that point, I just needed some sleep.

TABR15- Day 5- Cambridge, ID to Grangeville, ID

My alarm went off at 5:30AM…WHAT?!?!? Didn’t I just go to sleep? Well, actually, that was about right. Four or so hours of shuteye seemed to be the norm and daylight was burning!

During the very short night and unbeknownst to me, Chris Hockett had rolled into the park and was bivvied up about 10 yards away. My alarm woke him and he immediately started packing up his things. I was surprised to see him up and moving so quickly. I didn’t know when he got in, but it was after me and I was dragging big time. Then I noticed Scott moving pretty good too. Yep, it was just me.

The two of them packed things away and headed out in search of a diner in town. From my previous touring, I knew there was a place just a few blocks away. After I stumbled around putting things away and I gingerly settled onto my saddle and mosied down the way to the diner. I found Chris and Scott there with a booth already and coffee in hand.

I ordered my breakfast- pancakes- and proceeded to be amazed. These weren’t your typical sized disks of flour, egg and milk. The waitress/cook (she was VERY busy and VERY adept at her craft, getting food out to the patrons as fast as they sat down) called these behemoths “saddle blankets”. The name fit the bill! They hung off all sides of the plate. I had two, plus eggs, sausage and hash browns.

During breakfast, Chris, Scott and I chatted. Chris had rolled into the park about 45 minutes after us. I told him I didn’t notice. He said I was snoring like a chainsaw. I was starting to see a pattern here. We talked about our families and lives “back home”. It was another great moment that I got to share with two great men.

The other guys had beaten me to breakfast, but I made up my time eating and was ready to go when they were finished. We ran across the street to a gas station, did the usual re-supply and hit the road. We were glad to get going as Trackleaders showed the Swiss Andi Buchs across the street from the diner in a hotel, presumably sleeping away. Andi seemed to have a penchant for hot tubs, ice cream and hotel beds, but then would cycle very fast through the day and end up in front of us. Everyday.

Down the road we went, hoping to put some distance between us and Andi. Twenty five miles ahead, we stopped at a gas station in Council for supplies and weren’t there 2 minutes before Andi rolled in. He had left Cambridge 30 minutes after us and made up that time in the short 25 miles. What a beast!

The four of us rode out, headed north and mostly uphill toward New Meadows. Along the way, the views were gorgeous! Pines, mountain streams and beautiful skies were the backdrop of our ride. It was wonderful…until I had a flat. It was my first flat of the trip in fact. We were just across the road from a little general store, so Scott went over to grab a Coke. Chris and Andi rode on ahead. I made quick work of my repair and grabbed a Coke at the general store as well.

Back on the road, Scott and I rode past a huge sawmill and then on to the little spot in the road that is New Meadows. I had been looking forward to this town as I remembered a Subway that was there on route. I was hungry. Scott wasn’t really. I stopped to eat and he did as well. In the end, it worked out well. We needed the energy and the break was nice.

After our lunch break, Scott and I headed out again, north bound toward Riggins, ID. The road to Riggins from New Meadows is a Jekyll & Hyde stretch of highway, winding downhill along side the rushing waters of the Little Salmon River. At first, the landscape is very green and lush with pretty meadows, wild flowers and stately pines. In this short 40 miles of highway, as the white water of the Little Salmon grows in depth and width, the landscape changes gradually as well. As you descend, what was once rolling green hills on either side of the river gradually turn to rugged, steep slopes and the brown sage and grasses of a parched climate. With the change in scenery, there is also a change in temperature.

As we rode, temps soared. We were also going down into a canyon in the afternoon again, so the downhill wasn’t much help. The afternoon surge of winds up the canyon meant another headwind and lots of pedaling just to keep moving, despite the declination of the road. We stopped at one point along the way to soak our feet and wash our faces in one of the ice-cold feeder creeks that we passed. The icy water was refreshing to body and spirit.

Upon reaching Riggins, the afternoon heat was cooking us and we were looking for a respite. A convenience/general store in town served that purpose well, giving us shade, cool and a resupply point. Lo and behold, Andi was there as well! He was busy working on his quest to eat his weight in ice cream as he crossed the USA. As I stepped up to the counter to pay for my supplies (read junk food), he found himself in a quandary.

When you are racing or touring by bike through the small towns that dot our map, most places take debit or credit cards, but it is a big advantage to carry some cash. Of course, cash turns to change in transactions and repeated transactions turn to weight. Andi had a zip lock bag of change and was trying to reduce his weight by paying for his second round of frozen treats with it. The issue was, being from Switzerland, the currency was challenging his brain. Much the same way little kids struggle when they learn to count money, he was confused that the dime, being smaller, was worth more than the nickel or penny! I couldn’t resist the chance to ride him like a rented mule. I did, in fact, help him get it right, but in the process said, “this is like trying to teach my kids how to count change!”

You may think I was being harsh on the foreigner, but he had this coming, plus some. I mentioned before that I was not exactly the svelte little cyclist that most were. In fact, I started the race at a stately 235lbs. More than once Andi had made good-natured remarks about the way the lycra stretched around my middle. One time at a resupply stop, when I had 24oz water bottle, a 20oz Mt Dew, a 20oz Gatorade and multiple packages of snacks jammed into the 3 pockets on the back of my jersey, stretching them to capacity, Andi made sure to point out that, in his words, “you as big in the front as you are in back!” Ha, ha, ha. Everybody is a comedian.

Andi, Scott and I hung out at the front of the store in the shade, charging our phones and waiting out the heat. A check of Trackleaders showed we weren’t the only ones doing so. Chris Hocket and Gavaskar were both in town in different spots, waiting out the heat. After a bit, the three of us decided to make some hay on the others and get moving despite the heat. Down the road we went again.

The ride to the little burg of White Bird was a nice one, continuing downhill and along the river. With all the feeder streams, the river had now become a huge, rolling throng, beautiful and mighty.

At White Bird, we realized that we were too late for the little store in town, so it was across the street to the bar & grill. We really didn’t want to eat, but we sat at the bar and ordered Cokes and had the barkeep fill our water bottles. Shortly, Andi took off to climb the pass ahead and within minutes Gavaskar came in. He had gotten some sleep during the heat of the day in Riggins and was ready to tackle the night after he got something to eat there at the bar. Scott and I took off and headed out with the setting sun to do battle with White Bird Hill.

White Bird Hill isn’t a proper name in my opinion. This climb is a proper pass. One of the best things about it is the switchbacks that continually give you amazing views of the valley below. It is truly striking. Unfortunately we started climbing about 30 minutes too late in the day to get the best views of the sunset. It was still amazing though.

As we climbed into the darkness, we chatted and time ticked away. It was about 11 miles and 2 hours or so to climb the pass. At the top, we stopped to suit up in our cold gear, as the sweat we produced climbing would certainly freeze us out on the descent. It was about 10 miles of downhill to Grangeville. Along the way, we had a truckload of punk kids go by and harass us with a laser pointer, shining it in our eyes. After 5 days of riding, my patience was almost non-existent and I was furious. If they had stopped, I could not have claimed responsibility for my actions. When they came back by again, I thought better of my anger and in reflection, got concerned. You truly never know who or what you are dealing with and I certainly didn’t need to provoke the unknown.

We carried on without further incident and got to town about 11PM. We found a convenience store, the only open place of business with food at that time of night in Grangeville and parked it for a break. A Bomb burrito the size of my head coupled with chocolate milk and chocolate Hostess Donettes fixed me up. Scott went for healthier fare, or at least somewhat healthier in terms of gas station food. As we ate, we checked Trackleaders for Gavaskar. We knew he was behind us and by himself, which concerned us with the truck full of hooligans that we had encountered. They hadn’t done anything other than blind us with the laser pointer, but there had also been two of us. Strength in numbers is a real thing and we hoped that he would be ok by himself.

Shortly Gavaskar rolled in, smiling as usual. We asked if he had seen the truck. Negative. Then we got to joking about the fact that he is an Army Ranger and a rather large black man. Facts are that he looks scary enough that I can’t say I would want to meet him in a dark alley if I didn’t know him and that doesn’t even take into account that the man probably knows 500 ways to kill you with a toothpick, but would only need one! Needless to say, he was plenty confident that he wouldn’t have any issues. The more I thought about it, I probably should hang out with him more! There is protection in numbers after all!!!

The three of us discussed what we planned to do. Scott and Gavaskar wanted to push on. At this point, it was nearing midnight and I hadn’t had a shower in 5 days of cycling. I told the other two, “you see that big yellow sign across the road? I’m staying at the Super 8 tonight!” We said our goodbyes and I went across the road to find a bed, shower and clean clothes.

When I walked in the lobby of the Super 8, I was SOOO looking forward to a shower! Imagine my disappointment when the desk clerk said they were full! And I had just let my security blanket of friends leave! It looked like I would be looking for a camp spot until the clerk said she would call another small motel across town. When she hung up the phone, she said I was in luck! They had a room! She gave me directions and I set off in the night to find my oasis.

When I got to the Downtowner Inn, I found a 50’s style motor inn. The Hispanic clerk was an absolute angel and gave me free access to the hotel laundry facilities. I went to my room, stripped down to nothing, put on my raingear and took my clothes to wash them. While they washed, I showered and got a good look at the mess that was my near-saddle sores. I could tell that the remainder of this trip would be managing this area to keep it from becoming a real problem. Uncomfortable is one thing, but the skin wasn’t open yet so I wasn’t in terrible shape.

When my clothes were finished, I grabbed them and headed to bed. It was the first time in over a week that I had been in a real bed and the first time in 5 days and 833 miles that I was able to go to bed clean and out of my bike shorts. Heavenly! I fell asleep quickly somewhere around 1AM, with my alarm set for 6AM.

TABR15- Day 4- Sumpter Pass in OR to Cambridge, ID

Lying in my hammock at 5AM near the top of Sumpter Pass with the dawn sun gleaming through the pines, some 30 miles to the west of Baker City, OR, I awoke to the sound of my alarm, opened my eyes and noticed several things that were contrary to what I thought they should be at that particular point in time:

  • Despite the quite high temperatures we had experienced in the previous 3 days, I was chilly! In the dry of the high desert, temps had dropped quite a bit overnight. I’m not sure what the temp was, but my guess was in the 40’s. Much cooler than the upper 90’s we had the day before.
  • Despite the fear I had of bears, the bear-y feeling I had when I went to sleep just 5 hours before and the crap ton of convenience store food in my pockets, I had, in fact, NOT become a bear burrito buffet over night and there was no sign that any sort of mammals had been anywhere near me as I slept. One caveat- I DO NOT suggest sleeping with your pockets full of food in bear country. It worked out this time, but isn’t a smart move.
  • Despite the cold and lack of other mammals around besides myself and Scott, there were actually a lot of other animals, in particular the flying kind. Birds you say? Nope. I could’ve went for some of those. The mosquitos were thick! Thank God I had a bug net around my hammock or I might have ended up a bloodless corpse on top of that beautiful mountain!

As I lay there, I started contemplating how I was going to get out of my hammock, go through my gear to put on my cold weather gear and then get going without loosing too much blood. The mosquitos knew I was there, they just couldn’t seem to find a way to get to me through the bug net. They clung to the outside of the bug net like starving little vampires in wait, knowing that I couldn’t stay in there forever. That meant I could see them and the anticipation was killing all of us. I did a mental check of all I needed to do and where things were or needed to go, then dove out and went straight to work. Scott did the same. Quickly we had our cold gear on, which made the possible biting spots fewer. We then slammed our kits into their respective bags and hit the road.

Unlike the day before, this time we didn’t have any climb at all to get over the pass. If memory serves, I think we were actually right near the top. Without the aid of cycling to heat us up, the early morning descent was a chilly one, but oh so beautiful. The sun was highlighting the browns and blacks of the pine trees and the bright green grass was such a contrast that it was stunning.

Not far along the way, we were cruising along downhill at a good clip. Out of now where, less than 50 yards into the woods to our right, a herd of elk got spooked and started running parallel to the road. 30 or more of the huge beasts handily bounded between the trees, running from what they thought was a threat and giving us a show as they went. Suddenly, we were fortunate enough to see and hear a young calf. When the adults began to run, he had been caught off guard and seemed to have a hard time keeping up with the melee. Bleating loudly for his mother, he chased the herd. As they all ran along, the road curved back to our right and toward the herd, giving us an even longer look at these magnificent animals as they ran. After what seemed like a quarter mile, the herd veered to their right and away from the road. Scott and I marveled at what we had seen. Neither of us had been able to get a photo as we were in the middle of a descent, but the mental pictures were priceless. Yet another early morning treat on the Trans Am!

On down into the valley and alongside Phillips Lake, I realized that nature was knocking and I would not be able to make it to Baker City for our planned breakfast stop. At a turn off for a boat ramp, I spied some facilities and decided to take the opportunity. Although a primitive vault toilet, it was a bit better than digging a hole. While stopped for my business, I got a text from my wife. She had gotten up and according to Trackleaders, I had been sitting still for 8 hours or more. She was concerned that something had happened. I reassured her that I was fine and that my Spot tracker batteries must have died. I proceeded to then change the dead batteries. I hadn’t noticed that the little light on it had stopped blinking.

Back on the road, I decided to “stretch my legs”. I was feeling really good and somewhat rested after a solid 5 hours of sleep. I set out to make up the distance between Scott and I before Baker City. I hit it pretty hard over the next 15 miles or so and caught up to Scott just as I reached the edge of town. It felt good to turn it loose a bit.

In Baker City, we found a great place to have breakfast and ate like kings. Well, kings that hadn’t had a meal in a few days anyway. 🙂 Wait staff always assume you are nuts when you order food, but very rare are the occasions that I haven’t put all of it away.

Before we left town, Scott needed to stop by a bike shop and have some adjustments made to his steed. I took the chance to use a floor pump to check tire pressure and charge my phone. We left there and stopped at a gas station on the way out of town to resupply. Then it was down the road, into the desert proper to the east, headed toward Richland, Halfway and Hells Canyon.

The road from Baker City to Richland is about 45 miles of mostly down hill highway through a striking change of landscape compared to what is just to the west of Baker City. After the miles and miles of pine trees the day before, we were now in scrub land. Not a tree as far as the eye could see and soaring temps. Glad it was downhill! As the road seemed to drop and drop, eventually it began to follow along side a little river bed into what I would define as a canyon, but others may call a big wash. Snaking back and forth along the bank, the descent gave me a chance to watch the landscape and notice that there were some really nasty clouds forming behind us. The warm air in the lower areas ahead was rising rapidly to meet the thunder head behind us and creating a mighty head wind for us. With that, the thunder head was building and looked to be gunning us down, in search of a place to soak us and sling lightening bolts.

Scott and I beat feet hard as we could go! Richland wasn’t far ahead and there was a cheeseburger at some diner calling my name. The chance to get some shelter and eat would be one I would gladly take advantage of. The descent into Richland was a little dicey at one point as we turned sideways to the wind that was now howling. We seemed to roll into town just in time and took the first stop we could find, a little diner on the left.

Once inside, we ordered food, charged phones and talked strategy. We didn’t want to be out in a massive thunder storm and the radar looked rather ominous. As we talked and ate, we saw Andi Buchs roll into town! He came inside and started his tale. We just KNEW that he had been soaked on his way and had a massive headwind. In fact, we were wrong! He had left Baker City right ahead of the storm and the winds had actually pushed him all the way to Richland. He said he had made the 45 miles in 2 hours! I must say, I was a bit jealous!

We soon realized that the big storm just wasn’t going to amount to anything. The lightening and thunder we had heard behind us was all bark and no bite. The storm fizzled and we made the decision to head on toward Halfway. The way there was blocked by a pass, but as grandma would’ve said, that’s only a hill for a stepper. 🙂 Off the three of us went went up the climb and in no time it was behind us.

Down the other side, Scott and I went off route the mile to the town of Halfway to grab more water. Andi rode on to try to track down Gavaskar, who was out ahead.

Back on route, we started down along another wash, this time headed into Hells Canyon and the Snake River. Unfortunately it was afternoon. Something that Thomas Camero had told me came to mind at that moment. If at all possible, go down into a canyon at night or early in the morning as the cooler air falls into the canyon and pushes you in. In the afternoon, the warmer air that has been cooked in the bottom of the canyon all day comes rushing up the washes to get out. We were doing it all wrong, but it just had to be that way. We weren’t going to wait to go down there until after dark, so we just fought the wind. It was rather frustrating to be going down hill and having to pedal nearly hard as you could just to maintain 8mph, but we made it.

At the bottom, just before you get to the river, there is a mercantile. I stopped to eat and fill bottles. I knew from the time that it was that there wouldn’t be another open stop until morning. While I sat, Scott, who had fell behind me, came rolling in. He supplied up as well and we took off together into Hells Canyon.

The ride along the river/reservoir was a pretty one in the light of the sunset and then twilight. Very serene. We got to Brownlee Dam and the Idaho/Oregon border right after dark at around 9PM. We stopped for the obligatory border photos under the light of camera flashes and headed on along the east side of Brownlee Reservoir. About 9:45PM, as the road turned away from the water and up a wash, we began climbing our way out of Hells Canyon.

*Flashback*

When I toured the Trans Am in 2011, I made the climb out of Hells Canyon in the morning. Although I didn’t make much of that climb, you can read about that account here. To fill out the details, I had camped at Brownlee Reservoir State Park the night before. As I climbed up the narrow, two lane, winding road with no shoulder, I distinctly remember being weirded out by the situation. On the left side of the road, there was a bluff wall that went up. On the right side, immediately next to the road was super thick blackberry bushes. The berry bushes blocked from view a noisy mountain stream that tumbled along toward the canyon bottom. All the way up the road, I saw bear scat littered about on the pavement at regular intervals. I never saw a bear, but their, “signs” made me very glad that I wasn’t going up that road in the dark.

Back to 2015, Scott and I were climbing that very same road…at night. Let’s just say I was a little more than skittish! I kept talking, whistling, singing- anything to make noise. The last thing I wanted was to surprise a bruin along his way at night. The climb went on and on. At one point, I was out in front of Scott and I thought he was behind and on my right. I just about had a stroke when I suddenly saw something move and heard something on my left! Just Scott, coming up and around. Jeesh!

We finished the climb and realized that it was really getting chilly. As we crested, we pulled over and added our cold weather gear to our ensembles. Down the road we went in the dark and I was freezing! After having gotten sweaty on the climb, every piece of clothing I had wouldn’t keep me warm in the dropping temps. Adding to that, I was really getting sleepy. I caught myself several times on the descent into Cambridge, having fell asleep while riding. Each time it would scare me awake, but only momentarily.

One strange note: I remember seeing all kinds of cats eyes in the ditches along the way on the road to Cambridge. I thought it strange as I figured they would be easy prey for any wild animal. Who knows, maybe I hallucinated them.

Rolling into Cambridge was a huge relief. It was right at 1AM and I needed some rest. We found a city park where they allowed cyclists to camp and set up shop under a pavilion. Scott rolled out his bivy and I strung my hammock up between two of the posts that held the shelter up. In what had to have been seconds after getting in my hammock, I was out. It had been yet another “short” day (right about 145 miles), but it was no matter. I was down for the count.

The big push for Big Sky

What a day!  Lots of stuff to talk about.

I started out early, as I knew it was going to be a long day. 120 miles total planned for the day and the first 80 miles was uphill. Unfortunately it was pretty cool. 41 degrees as I hit the road at 6:15!  Broke out most of the cold weather gear. Because I was cycling along a river down in a canyon, the air stayed cool and the sun didn’t really start to warm things up until about 10:00.

Although it was cold, riding along the Lochsa was very nice. The views helped take my mind off the temp and the fact I was climbing. I took several breaks and lots of pictures.

When I reached the 74 mile mark for the day, the climbing began for real as I started up Lolo Pass. 6 miles of 6% grade. For whatever reason, it didn’t seem that bad. Maybe I’m finding a groove for these climbs. I don’t know.

At the top was the Lolo Pass visitors center which marked a few things- my highest point in Idaho, the end of Idaho, beginning of Montana and the end of my climbing for the day! (sorta) Took some pics and a rest.

Coming off the pass into Montana was like going through menopause! It was now late afternoon and getting cooler. There was points where the breeze was blowing from out of a deeply shaded area and it got down right cold. Then other areas in the sun that felt like it was 80. Very strange.

The elevation profile on my map showed the 40 miles to Missoula as all downhill. The first 6 or so were really downhill. After that, it was just a gentle slope down to the town of Lolo. Let’s put it thus way, I certainly had to pedal!

By the time I hit Lolo, I was beat. Not only the 113 miles from the day and all the climbing for the first 80, but this was the end of 14 days straight. I had very little desire to go the next 7 miles to Missoula. Then as I headed out of Lolo, a hill!  Good grief! There was actually a few little hills on the way from Lolo to Missoula. It was a struggle to finish up, but I did it, almost purely on the idea that I was going to take some time off after this.

So to wrap it up for the day, reaching Missoula is a milestone of sorts in a few ways. Today finished map 3 of 12, finished state 2 of 10, finished my second week on the bike, was my longest day, was my third 100+ day and took me over 50,000′ of climb for the trip (51,637).

And with that, I’m taking two days off!  Originally I had only planned to have one off, but I have a package from Jeneen at the post office and they won’t open until Tuesday morning. That and I want to go to the Adventure Cycling headquarters here. They’ll open Tuesday as well. Maybe I’ll go catch a movie, or two! Lol!

Stats:
Mileage-121.10
Total- 1126.98
Trip time-8:32
Avg speed-14.19
Max speed-34.90
Climb-4265

I’m a quitter

So I figured that today deserved two blog entries. Not because I went over 1000 miles or any other reason like that referring to this trip. Today is a special day. Today I am 2 years tobacco free.

Two years ago, I had been smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes and chewing a can of skoal each day. I was heavier and had some really bad eating habits. I drank an enormous amount of soda. In general, I was really just unhealthy.

On September 2, 2009 I decided I was done with tobacco. I had quit many times before, but this time was different. I really wanted to quit. So I did. No weening myself off or drugs or hypnosis. I decided I was done and quit. And that is the reason I am sitting in Lowell, ID right now on a cross-country cycling trip.

You see, if I hadn’t quit, I wouldn’t have gotten into running the way I did. Which lead me to make healthier eating choices. It also lead me to look for something to do on the days I wasn’t running. That lead me to buy a bike, which opened up a great love of cycling. That in turn brought me to want to cross the country on the saddle of a bike, and here I am.

Two years. I’m not as skinny as I want to be and I don’t eat the heathiest things always. I also drink a soda once in awhile. (more as of late on this trip. I think my body wants the sugar!) I’m not in the best shape of my life…yet. But I don’t smoke anymore and I don’t chew. And stopping those bad habits has opened me up to an adventure that is more amazing than this silly blog can describe. I’m a quitter and proud of it!

Short, easy day

This morning I did a little grocery shopping, ate breakfast and did some maintenance on the bike. Then it was off for an easy day in the saddle. 

Lunch was gas station fare in Kooskia. Not the best, but good enough. 

After lunch, I turned northeast on highway 12 which runs along  the middle fork of the Clearwater River. The views were awesome!  I have come to love the roads along rivers out here. 

I cut it short today, as I had planned, in Lowell. According to the map, there are no services for the next 66 miles after here, so it was a good place to stop. Take an easy day today and rest up for tomorrow, which will probably be rough. 

Tomorrow I plan on making Missoula, which is 125 miles away and 4000+ feet of climb. I’m pumped!  Then I’m taking 2 days off. Not that I need 2. My plan has been for only 1, but I have maps that Jeneen mailed to me at the Missoula post office and I can’t get them until Tuesday because of the holiday. That and I want to stop in the Adventure Cycling headquarters there and they closed for the weekend as well. I can use the rest, I’m sure.  

So today was light and easy. Enjoying the great scenery of Idaho. Tomorrow I leave state number two and head into Montana!

Oh! And I broke 1000 miles for the trip today! 🙂

Stats:
Mileage-49.83
Total-1005.88
Trip time-2:56
Avg speed-16.97
Max speed-31.29
Climb-890

A new month

With a new month comes some much cooler temps!  Yesterday I thought it was cool out when it was 60. Today it was a whopping 43 at 8:00!  It is supposed to be cooler for the next couple days. Cooler is fine as long as the snow stays away. The cool really didn’t help much for the first 40 miles or so today because it was all down hill, meaning I wouldn’t be making any heat.  

Waiting for the temp to come up a bit, I rolled out late, went to Subway for breakfast and didn’t hit the road until 9:30. By then it was a little over 50, which is good, but the wind was outrageous! 20mph headwinds suck. Bad. The first 15 miles were a complete slog, even though it was downhill. Areas where I would normally do 15 turned to 7. Instead of my cold weather gear keeping me warm, I was burning up just trying to go downhill! 

After 15-20 miles, I got down in a canyon and among the trees enough that it got a little better, but not a lot. 

At 40 miles, I rolled into Riggins and grabbed lunch. Had to have fuel for the big climb of the day, White Bird Pass. About 3000″ of gain. And fuel up I did! I had a huge calzone and a monster brownie and ice cream desert. I’m guessing the meal was somewhere around 3500 calories or more. 

Waddling, I went back out and hit the road again. By now the temp was up around 70 and the sun felt nice. More downhill came before the climb. 

At mile 63, I had only gained 763′. Then I started climbing the pass. It wasn’t as bad as I expected as the old road I was on had been switchbacked well. At the top, I was at mile 77 and had gained 3624′! 2900′ in 14 miles. Not bad!

Coming down the other side of the pass was a nice reward and brought me right into Grangeville, where I am staying. All in all, it was a good day!

I have to give Idaho credit. Their license plates say “scenic Idaho” and I thought, beforehand, that had to be just a marketing ploy for tourism. I was wrong. Idaho is beautiful. Very rugged and raw, but pretty. Check out the Facebook page for the pics if you haven’t already. 

Stats:
Mileage-86.69
Total-956.05
Trip time-6:33
Avg speed-13.21
Max speed-39.11
Climb-3681

Back in service!

After not sleeping very well due to howling winds all night long, I thought I was really doing well this morning when I got up before the sun. I had everything together and was down the road before 7:30. A few miles ahead, I stopped to get breakfast and saw a clock on the wall. 9:00 AM. My phone hasn’t had service to update the time, so I am an hour off The combination of high canyon walls and just crossing over to the mountain time zone had me all out of whack. 

Oh well. Climbing out of Hells Canyon was a challenge, but not terrible. I stopped in Cambridge for lunch and had the old faithful burger. Then off down the road again. 

In the early afternoon, I passed a little country store an saw the Korean outside. We waved as I went by. No biggie. Later on as I was going up another climb, I see a touring cyclist up ahead taking a break. Of course this was exciting for me! It’s always cool to see someone doing this!

Lo and behold, it wasn’t just another cyclist. It was the Korean!  He’s sitting on a guard rail, smoking a cigarette. I said, “I guess you got a ride?”  He smiles. Shakes his head and says, “It too hawd!” That’s it. I’m done with him. 

So I rolled into New Meadows and found a Subway, cell service and wifi! The trifecta! Spent an hour chowing and uploading pics. Nice to be connected and caught up on all my doings. 

Tonight I am staying at the Hartland Inn and Motel, a quaint little place with nice folks who own and run it. JoBeth, the misses, was nice enough to let me do my wash. Clean clothes are a big plus!  Lol!

This evening I planned the next few days out. Looks like tomorrow will have an easy morning and then a big climb in the afternoon. Friday will be short and easy. Saturday will be rough. Probably my roughest day yet. But I should be in Missoula Saturday night and then I’m going to take Sunday off. Looking forward to that!

Today’s stats:
Mileage-74.03
Total-869.35
Trip time-5:24:40
Avg speed-13.68
Max speed-44.83
Climb-4840