Grateful in Montana

Make America Bike Again – Day 17

Lolo Pass was behind us. The land began to change. We were losing elevation, moving from mountains into high plains. IMG_1400We lost an hour, moving from the Pacific Time Zone into Mountain. We regained cell phone service. And, caught up with Frank! He was staying at a motel in Missoula, and close to all amenities a city has to offer. It was a great place for a wandering band of gypsies to reconnect. A good place to catch up on laundry, bicycle maintenance, and resupply.  It was also the right place for the sadness of our last dinner together as five.

Next morning we met up at the Adventure Cycling office space in downtown Missoula. This is a must see and do for the touring cyclist and bicycle. The office staff is professional, welcoming, and knowledgeable. There’s a scale out back to weigh the fully loaded bicycle. I topped out at 98 lbs. There are tools and a secure work space for the do-it-yourself bicycle mechanic. A large bulletin board to record this year’s catch of touring cyclists that pass through their doors. And, a business office for cyclists wanting to catch up with the outside world.

Robert rotated my tires and bought a set of maps for the rest of the journey. Frank was there boxing up his bicycle. He was shipping it back to his home in California, all except for the broken front rack. There were tearful farewells and Frank was gone, returning to the motel and his flight back home. The band of gypsies, now four, would pedal north toward Great Falls.

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We camped that night, next to Montana’s Clearwater River. Here’s a picture of the early morning mist rising on Day 18.

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Separation

Make America Bike Again – Day 13

It would be a fifty mile day, ending at an RV campground near Kamiah, Idaho. The canyon opens up at Kamiah. The Forest Service has an office there. That’s where Frank and Robert waited for the others to catch up, to come riding through the last curve in the road. Still no cell phone service; not in this part of Idaho. When the last of the employees left the parking lot for the day, they did too.

The day had begun in Myrtle Village, a lovely USFS campground carved out of tall cedars on a bend of the Clearwater River. As the touring cyclists set up their tents Don asked the camp host about the possibility of buying beer from some of the RV campers. Without much of a reply, Norm climbed into his golf cart and left, reappearing with a grin and a bunch of beers on the front seat next to him. He passed them around and shared a good story about unintended consequences, having once won a camp host hospitality award and then had to travel to Washington DC to receive it.

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They didn’t have a campfire that night. Didn’t need one. Robert has a story he likes to tell about changing his name from “Bob” during one of those midlife challenges. Didn’t tell it. He had already told that one earlier in the trip. Instead he asked Norm, the oldest one in the circle, how he had become a man. Norm didn’t hesitate. He explained that it happened rather late in life. He said with pride that he had become a man by learning to love his second wife.

It turned out that most of these aging cyclists, manhood had begun with a similar kind of heart-opening experience. Gerry and his wife had adopted and raised a daughter. Frank had raised a son. For Don, it was winning custody of his son and daughter, and then raising them alone. Robert had a similar story about raising and emancipating his children. Frosty listened and then shared his view: that manhood had arrived through the exploits of his single years, after he and his first wife divorced.

They talked and laughed while the last beer disappeared. As darkness filled the canyon a group of coyotes raised their voices in song, messing with the camp dogs.  When things finally quieted down, everyone was ready to call it a day.

Frank is the group’s early riser. As usual he was first up, first packed and first on the road. Robert and I weren’t far behind. Gerry was next. Don and Frosty hung back together in the parking lot. We wouldn’t see them again for two days.

Hello Idaho

Make America Bike Again – Day 12

This picture was taken with Robert’s IPhone camera by an entrepreneur from the Washington side of the border. A techie from Seattle, perhaps?

No. He was a retail marijuana shop owner. He advised us to turn around and go back to his shop in Clarkson, Washington in order to stock up. “You’ll get busted for sure if you try to buy anything over here.”

As he returned the camera, Robert said, “Most of us are from Colorado. There’s plenty of pot back home. But, we only put good clean air in our lungs.” They laughed together, talked about places to eat in Lewiston, and went their separate ways.

Before Lewiston, the morning had been spent riding in the sparse traffic and warm sunshine of southeastern Washington. The hills wore a rugged beauty, draped in the colors of wheat or alfalfa.

 

 

 

After Lewiston, the highways became busy with construction and trucks for the first few miles until we reached Forest Service land. All the bikes carried long, flexible poles with at least one reflective flag at the end. That’s me on the upper left with the orange one. It can get quite creative. Gerry has the flag of Ireland. Frank, a string of Tibetan prayer flags. Don tops his array off with a US flag. Frosty has a sign. Five cyclists, all at least 60 in age. All in pursuit of good health and happiness and inspired living. For that to transpire, each one must be capable of being seen from a long way off by approaching traffic. When the shoulders get narrow and the traffic heats up, flags and reflective clothing are essential. Hello Idaho, were here, thousands of nonpolluting touring bicycles and their cyclists crisscrossing your beautiful state every summer.

Touch The Earth

Make America Bike Again – Day 8

Yesterday, we reconciled with the Local Gods. We rose early, loaded up our gear, and left Oregon’s Interstate highway system behind. Waiting for us on the other side of the Columbia River was smooth road, sparse traffic, and a nice little tailwind.

An easy forty mile day was unfolding. Nothing but two-lane blacktop all the way to Roosevelt, Washington. On the map it looks tiny. Once there, we found a cafe/store with delicious hamburgers, friendly people, and a campground that wasn’t even listed on our ACA map. An excellent day came to a close with a full moon rising above the Columbia River.

 

Hidden Gem

Make America Bike Again – Day 6

“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the Little Prince, “Is that somewhere it hides a well…”                    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

By this same logic, a bicycle tour is beautiful because of the hidden gems that are revealed along the way. One of these gems has got to be the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Yes. It’s true that during the summer there are many tourists, RV’s, and trucks. That just lends support for touring it on a bicycle.

Another reason for the bicycle preference is that just a few miles down the road … between the towns of Hood River and “The Dalles…” the Historic Columbia River Highway becomes hiker/biker only. There’s an invigorating blend of climbing into sunlit Oregon forest, views that compel a stop, and finally, an exhilarating descent into the river valley below. The pictures speak volumes.

Look at the craftsmanship in the 100 year old guardrail pictured in the header. What a narrow roadway! This was one of the first public highways built in the Pacific Northwest. Construction began in 1913…about the same time that Henry Ford began making automobiles affordable. According to the highway engineer for the project, it was designed to make: “Those points where the most beautiful things along the line might be seen in the best advantage, and if possible to locate the road in such a way as to reach them.”

The incredible stretch of downhill roadway in the picture above could easily be mistaken for a location somewhere along Europe’s Mediterranean. To feel it through the tires of a balanced and stable touring bike was a joy. To ride with the knowledge that there could be no cars or trucks following to close behind, with their irritated and distracted drivers, just adds to the moment. This stretch of highway called the Historic Columbia River Highway is truly a gem, waiting to be discovered along the Lewis & Clark trail.

When the highway was conceived, its purpose was to build access to places of great natural beauty. Now, one hundred years later the balance has shifted. Within the more popular national parks and scenic areas, waiting for a parking space with the engine running and the air-conditioner on, is the norm. There are many good reasons for remembering how much fun it can be to ride and travel on a bicycle.

 

 

Columbia River Gorge

Make America Bike Again – Day 5

Touring bicycles travel close to the earth. Loaded with gear the days roll by at about 10 or 12 miles an hour. It is a relatively slow speed, perfect for unplugging from the digital world and just right for noticing the little things in the natural world, with all of the senses engaged. Maybe that’s why cyclists smile a lot. On day 5 we would make just 28 miles. The pace was particularly slow that, but IMG_1265it wasn’t our fault. We were beset with overflowing beauty at every turn. It was a day of climbing into panoramic views, followed by the twisting road of an inevitable descent into shadow, forest, and the scent of old leaves. We were touring the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It is a must see and experience for the touring cyclist and bicycle.

 

By evening we reached another of Oregon’s fine network of campgrounds with hiker/biker sites in the town of Cascade Falls. An Adventure Cycling Association tour group of about 15 riders was already there setting up camp. We were right on the river, and a local brew pub a short walk away.

By the time we returned to the campground, the ACA group had already started a campfire. For the second time in as many days Gerry got out his guitar and many voices rose in song.