Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bike America Day 12: Exploring Missoula

Monday, June 25, 2012

Day's distance: 22.25
Average speed: 11.3
Maximum speed: 31.25
Overall distance: 669

After 160 miles in two days, I was ready for a break. My body had been holding up well but things were just starting to nag at me. My neck and shoulders were sore, my hands and wrists hurt from gripping handlebars all day, and my knees and achilles tendons continued to ache. Having pushed it in the days prior, I was in for a treat of a mere 22 mile day.

We still woke up early so that we could take full advantage of our day. Josh dropped my mom and I off 15 miles north of our motel, exactly where we'd quit the day before. He drove back to the motel to edit photos and check out of our room while she and I rode back. The ride was pretty but uneventful. We climbed for a while and were then rewarded with a long downhill. At only 9:30 am, it was hot and I was really glad we wouldn't be continuing on the open blacktop roads as the temperatures rose throughout the day.

We rode the fifteen miles to our motel and six miles from there to our campground, the KOA close to downtown Missoula. I had never stayed in a KOA before and was surprised at what a hopping little village it was. They had a pool and "fun center". There were cabins and tent sites that were mostly full and they advertised their nightly "ice cream social" and daily breakfast.

We set up camp by 1pm and, with plans to swim later, decided to skip our showers and head into town. We ate at Doc's Gourmet Sandwiches which had over 4 stars on yelp. All of our food was totally delicious. I peeked in some clothing stores and small boutiques and had absolutely no motivation to buy cute things with the knowledge that I won't have the opportunity to wear them for months. That's a good way to save money!

Then we went to the Adventure Cycling headquarters. They offer free ice cream, maps and wifi in their "cyclist's lounge" for people who stop in on bike tours. They also, unbeknownst to us, offer free year-long memberships to cyclists who bike in so I signed up. We got our picture on the wall and a new route map and said our goodbyes. Their door handles were pretty sweet.

We drove around the small University of Montana campus and were inspired to google population information on the state. Then we stopped in a local brewery to pick up Montana beer based on the recommendation of one of the adventure cycling staff. The brewery was The Kettlehouse and our beer of choice was the cold smoke scotch ale. She told us this is the beer that all the locals drink.

After returning to camp, Josh and I went for a swim and fired up the little charcoal grill. Dinner was steak, tomatoes and potato salad. We talked for a while, did various forms of internet things, and went to bed. Another long day on the saddle would commence in the morning and we'd have my dad back on the team to participate.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bike America Day 11: Spectacular

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day's distance: 80.44
Average speed: 12.3
Maximum speed: 30.3
Overall distance: 647

When Josh and I were newly dating, I once asked him what his top few places were that he wanted to travel to if he could go anywhere in the world. When "Montana" was the first thing that came out of his mouth, I thought that he might be a little too weird and boring. For all I knew, Montana was a boring state in the middle of nowhere. He explained that it had to do with archaeology, history, scenery- something like that. But whoever gave him the impression that Montana was worthy of the number one spot on his list of desired destinations was on to something. We have been in this state for a day and a half and it has been absolutely spectacular so far. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Day 11 was the most beautiful day yet. Anyway, here's how the day started:

It was my best friend Joyce's birthday. When she had been planning to join us for the first few weeks, we were going to ride a century on her birthday. Since we were conveniently located 101 miles from our campsite in Missoula, I announced, "I'm going to ride 100 miles today in honor of Joyce's birthday." My mom laughed and everyone knew I was kidding, which I mostly was. But, secretly, I never gave up the idea that I could ride the whole distance. It would be a nice accomplishment and it would allow us a rest day on Monday.

Josh and I left camp just after 9 am and rode the first 28 miles into Plains, MT. The ride was a little slow but it was fun. The road wasn't busy so we were able to talk. It was overcast and cool. We stopped for a few pictures and saw a train or two go by.

We saw many rocky cliffs, some off in the distance and some close by. Each had large piles of rocks scattered around the bottom, indicating that rock slides were common off the cliffs. Joshua, the photographer, didn't care about the danger and stopped right under one to have a look. It made me nervous but we hung out for just a little while. There were also signs along the way of longhorn sheep wandering across the road. Josh was excited at the prospect of seeing new wildlife and said "worst case scenario, just use your bike to protect your body". I was both relieved and sorry for him when we didn't come into contact with any.

From Plains, my mom and I rode six miles into Paradise, MT where we ate lunch in the grass. I had a peanut butter, nutella, banana sandwich with an apple and a chunk of white cheddar. We continued on into some unbelievably magnificent views. We continued to hug the Clark Fork River, which was full of gorgeous blue green water. We rode winding roads through valleys between the mountains.

This portion of the ride was through an Indian Reservation so there wasn't anything around but the rocky landscape and the endless Montana sky. It was right around here that my mom said, "Well, it feels like we're in the Rocky Mountains now."

Around mile 55, we came around a bend and I screamed so loud that my mom thought I'd been spooked by an animal. But I hadn't. I was just thrilled by the sight of the white, snow-capped Rockies hiding in the distance. They were dark and majestic looking and one of the best sights of the trip. They are hard to see in this picture but they were there and they were breathtaking.

Then Josh and I rode together for 7 miles and saw a field of sheep being herded by a dog. I've heard much about that phenomenon but I'd never seen it in action. I think it was adorable and cool.

At lunch, we had done some research on where to spend the night and there was virtually nowhere between Plains and Missoula. So we booked a room at the days inn north of Missoula and accepted that we'd have to drive to our night's lodging and then be dropped off where we had stopped in the morning. This seemed a bit like cheating to me but the advantage was that I could ride and ride until I was too tired to go on.

When Josh and I got to about mile 68, we were in the town of Ravali which was a casino, restaurant, and a gas station. We all shared a huckleberry shake and my mom and I set out south on highway 93 to ride as far as we could toward Missoula. It was only 26.7 miles to our motel and I was still determined to get there by sunset. No one knew this yet.

At mile 72, my mom checked in to make sure I didn't plan to ride past Arlee, which was only 6 more miles ahead. That's when I dropped the bomb that I felt prepared to ride my two wheels right into the motel parking lot and finish the day with a near century. She was not a fan.

The shoulder was large, my body felt good, and I felt safe riding the full distance. But neither my mom or Josh thought it was the best plan and I knew it would be selfish and stubborn to put my foot down. So we comprised and I rode until my odometer hit 80. Then our sag car picked me up and we drove to the motel. In the morning, we would be dropped right back where I'd finished so as not to miss even an inch of this country on my bike.

I'll admit that I was pooped by the time we got to our motel. We ordered pizza and salads and, after my shower, I never left the bed. Tomorrow would be mostly a rest day with a quick 20 miles in the morning. After 160 miles in two days, I felt quite accomplished!

Bike America Day 10: POP (tire, not corn)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day's distance: 80.73
Average speed: 13.6
Maximum speed: 30.5
Overall distance: 566

Over the next three days, we'd be riding the 184 miles from Sandpoint, ID to Missoula, MT. The trouble was that our options for lodging in between those two towns were really limited. The current plan had us covering only 110 miles combined on Saturday and Sunday and 74 on Monday alone. I was really excited about Missoula, though, and was hoping for a short day into it so that we could spend the afternoon and evening exploring on foot. So we did some map-reading and asked our host for information on a few of the towns along the way. For Saturday, our options were to ride 60 miles to Trout Creek or 80 miles to Thompson Falls. I was determined to do the 80.

After a home-cooked breakfast of waffles and eggs, Josh and I hopped on our bikes for 23 cloudy miles along the Pen D'Oreille Lake and beyond. There seems to be a trend of cool, overcast mornings with some sprinklings of rain that turn into wonderfully sunny and hot afternoons. We enjoyed the scenery and stopped a few times for photos. A cargo train passed us and we admired it's length, comparing it to toy trains in restaurants like Clyde's. My knee, which had been hurting pretty badly over the few days prior, was feeling a little better.

In Clark Fork, the first town, we met up with my mom at a gas station. She and Josh hung around with their coffee and gatorade while I pushed on for eight quick miles into Montana. We met at the "Welcome to Montana" sign and took pictures together. It was weird to have spent eight days in our first state and then fewer than twenty-four hours in our second.

It was only noon and I had covered thirty miles in great time. But our luck was about to change. Just across the border, we entered Mountain Standard Time and lost an hour. Then, after ten miles in the state, I popped my back tube on a downhill. My mom and I spent about 20 minutes replacing the tube and then another 20 eating lunch.

We rode another 4 or 5 miles and the tire went flat again. We found a giant slit in the tire, which likely let some unwanted gravel in to puncture the tube. I was feeling frustrated and we were all worried about the likelihood that I'd complete all 80 miles. Montana wasn't proving to be too lucky so far. My mom very generously offered to leave me her bike and drive mine to a bike shop in the next town. That town, Trout Creek, was a small one and the one gas station would have to suffice as her bike shop. There was a handy man inside who fixed up my tire, replacing it with one we'd brought along that is 2mm wider than the old one. That should be more sturdy going forward.

By the time she got back to us, Josh and I had ridden 9 more miles together. His quads were screaming at him and, with 32 miles on the books, he was ready to call it quits for the day. My mom and I rode 7 miles into Trout Creek where we stopped for local huckleberry and vanilla ice cream. It was 5:15 and I had 20 more miles to cover so I set out, with a wonderful tailwind pushing me along. My mom joined me for the final 9 miles to our remote campsite next to the Clark Fork River, 3 miles north of Thompson Falls.

We ate out for the second night in a row, at Minnie's Montana Cafe in town. I was completely beat. It was the first night that I opted out of a beer or wine to wrap up the day. For dinner I had a taco salad in a shell bowl. After admiring the sunset for a little while, we all got into our tents and slept soundly through the night. I say that Montana was unlucky but I was hoping that luck would change. It had proved to be beautiful so far and I couldn't wait to see the sky get bigger and bigger.

Bike America Day 9: No You Da Ho

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day's distance: 72.6
Average speed: 11.6
Maximum speed: 32.1
Overall distance: 485

On Friday morning we cooked a full-out breakfast for the first time. It was bacon and biscuits over our charcoal camping grill. We had set our alarms for 6:30 with the hopes of being on the road by 8. But the cooking for Josh and bike maintenance (chain cleaning and lubing) for my mom and I, set us back a while. We were in camp for two and a half hours and didn't hit the road until 9.

Bison in the distance.

Still, Josh and I made good time. With several stops for photo shoots, we covered the days first 33 miles in under three hours and were in Newport, WA by noon. On our way there, we saw a bison range but the bison were, unfortunately, far off in the distance, feeding we think. We rode alongside the Pen D'Oreille River for most of the morning and crossed the state line into Idaho without even knowing it. We crossed back over the river into Washington for one final meal in the state. Lunch was pizza at a local place, a mini pesto and garlic for me, which I ate all of.

With full bellies, my mom and I set out for the afternoon. We crossed back over the river and came upon this lovely landmark. I held up two fingers because it's my second state!

I was a little sad to leave Washington, to be honest. It had been beautiful and its people had treated us kindly. But I also felt accomplished and excited to see what Idaho would have to offer.

We began the trek to Sandpoint, ID, our overnight destination on US2, the most direct route. Our host for the night had recommended this to us saying, "adventure cycling takes you on the back roads to avoid traffic but this is Idaho, we don't have any traffic."

Idaho did have traffic, however. More than we'd seen yet. With the wind in our faces and cars whizing by constantly, riding was absolutely no fun. We got to a small town called Priest River and checked our map for an alternate route. There was a bridge in the town that let us cross the river and meet back up with the adventure cycling route. We still had a few hours and thirty some miles of headwinds but it was well worth it. The route was beautiful and hilly, hugging the river for the majority. It was slow going and we agreed that uphill riding beats riding into the wind any day.

The final six miles into Sandpoint were on a bike path and I rode it alone. It was nice aside for the one little snake I saw slithering along the side at one point. The end of the path crossed the River alongside the highway. It was a beautiful day but I was ready to be done. When I got to downtown Sandpoint, however, I learned that our host's house was four miles east of town. Everyone (mainly my mom) urged me not to ride there. We could drive out of our way in the morning to drop me back in town. That seemed far too silly and I had plenty of juice left to go four miles so I finished the ride and clocked in just under 70 miles for the day.

We were staying with a woman named Paula who my mom found on and they invited us to not only use their shower and toilet but to sleep inside their home. Our friend Dave, the Magruder High School grad riding from Seattle to Glacier happened to be staying there too so we got to know him much better throughout the evening. The four of us (Josh, Betsy, Dave and I) drove to dinner in Sandpoint, a very cute little town, at Eichardt's that Paula recommended to us. It was a fun local bar with good food. I had a burger made with local elk meat and a Kootenai Porter, brewed in the nearby Bonner's Ferry, Idaho. Josh had (and shared) the Laughing Dog Cream Ale, also made in Idaho. They were very different but both good..

It was nice to again have a roof over our heads but an unusual change of pace to not cuddle up in tents and wonder about the sounds outside. It is really awesome to meet strangers and learn about their adventures and lives but the night at Paula's also helped me to appreciate the simplicity and closeness of camping in solitude with just my parents and/or Josh.