Forest Fires

Make America Bike Again – Day 19

Those aren’t clouds on the horizon. That’s smoke from last July’s forest fire in the Flathead National Forest of western Montana. Fire crews are already on the seen. And how do two local entrepreneurs respond? Did they get all caught up in the drama of having a forest fire in the neighborhood?

I think that they coped with the situation quite well. Here, are a couple of committed merchants making the best of the situation and set up just off the highway. The sign says, “Lemonade for Sale.” When we first met them they were waiting for the next car to come along. They had no difficulty focusing their attention on a passing tourist riding a bicycle. To add some zest to the story, while Robert was talking with the girls a passing motorist pulled up and bought two lemonades; one for the driver and one for Robert. Another trail angel gets its wings.

As you can see, the fires are visible from the highway and burning right behind these houses near Lincoln, Montana.

We are approaching the continental divide. Decker Pass is just a few miles down the highway. Those are the last mountains that we will see on this trip. From there it will be high plains and eastward flowing rivers. Tomorrow, we reach Great Falls, Montana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Goodbye Idaho

Make America Bike Again – Day 15

Robert rose early. Packed, made coffee and oatmeal, and on the road by seven. He found good water at the old ranger station. There was more water at the Wilderness Access Campground, but Frank was already gone, heading east toward Lochsa Lodge.

We were closing in on Missoula, Montana, the navel of the bicycle touring world of North America. Both the Northern Tier and the Lewis and Clark Trails pass right through the city, and the Great Divide Bicycling Route passes very near. It is also the home of AdventureCycling.org. This has to be a good area for meeting other touring cyclists.

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First to arrive was Doug. As the distance narrowed Robert waved and applied the brakes. Doug did the same. I crossed the road onto the other shoulder. (Remember, I’m the bicycle that keeps Robert on the road.) Right away Doug informed us that he is in the race. Having no clue, as usual, Robert asks, “What race is that?”

“The ACA one,” Doug replies. “I’m racing across America, east to west.”

“How long have you been on the road?”

Six weeks,” replied Doug. “Technically, it’s already been won. Most racers go west to east. One of those racers has already finished. I just want to finish.”

The Adventure Cycling Association stated this race just a few years ago. The course follows the association’s TransAmericaTrail  from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. Participants have to travel under their own power and self-supported. Most elect to go west to east, but a few, like Doug, choose the more challenging east to west route. You can read more about it on his blog: RideAllNight.wordpress.com.

Robert reached Lochsa Lodge by early afternoon. A breeze carried the smell of smoke and the sounds of not so distant helicopters. Frank was no where to be found. He must have taken a lunch break and kept right on going. For such a remote area, Lochsa Lodge was a busy place this time of year and a welcome stopping place for the traveler ready for a break and a good meal.

While Robert ate lunch, a large group of young cyclists arrived. They too were going east to west on a fully supported, charitable fund raiser. The earliest arrivals dropped their bikes, draping them over the grassy lawn, and close to the front doors, the bathrooms and the food.  Next came a hotshot crew, rotating out from their time spent on the fire line. They were followed by a small group of distinctly overweight motorcycle riders, dressed in Harley garb. Some carried sidearms.

Robert returned to the campsite just in time for an afternoon thunder shower. The tent and rainfly went quickly up. As the rain increased Robert grabbed his book and climbed inside for an afternoon snooze.

We would cross into Montana tomorrow. After the storm ended and dinnertime approached Robert found a meaningful way to honor the local Idaho gods. He donated a pair of Nike tennis shoes to the local lost and found, and lightened our load in the process. About 5 pm, who should roll into camp but the three lingering cyclists from our original group, Don, Frosty, and Gerry. We were back together again…minus 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Services For 88 Miles

Make America Bike Again – Day 14

Imagine a stretch of two-lane highway so remote that there is no gasoline or diesel. No cell phone service either; at least not with Verizon or AT&T. But, if you’re on a touring bicycle carrying your own food, good water and camping gear, it can be more than enough. The scenery, serenity, and the wild freedom of solitude…can actually make it worth while.

After an early start at Kamiah, Idaho, Frank and Robert stopped for a second breakfast at a wide place in the road named Lowell. That’s where Frank discovered that one of the struts that held the front rack to the wheel axle was broken. He put together a band aid fix with zip ties, a needle nosed pliers, and lots of bicycling and engineering experience. Better add inner tubes and a few tools to the above list. And, soon we were off again.

IMG_1378The sign next to Robert and me commemorates a decision by the US Congress not to flood this area with water. This was one of the consequences of the passage of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, which kept the Selway, Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers flowing free. Congress does get it right sometime.

Frank and Robert rode together for most of the day. By mid afternoon the river’s many sand bars looked very inviting. Frank, with his broken front rack, didn’t want to take the time. If it broke apart on a downhill run, that could be dangerous. He kept going toward a campsite named Wilderness Access, while Robert took some time and went for a swim. It was only a day’s ride to the Montana line; time to begin making peace with the Local Idaho Gods.

 

So many sand bars and photo ops along the way. Maybe the other three cyclists would catch up. Instead, Robert met up with four Canadian motorcyclists, two-pairs of fathers and sons, vacationing on their BMW’s. It felt good to see the generations recreating together, and, easy for me to reminisce about my own son, Icarus, and good memories we made when he was growing up on Crete. If you’re at all interested in an exciting recreation of this enduring myth, or would like to know what really happened in the sky that day so long ago…then you should read my story. It’s very good. I know you’ll like it.

The men talked for a time, long enough for the shadows of evening to creep into the canyon. Robert explained that he would be wild-camping that night. It simply means carrying your tent and gear into a remote place, camping out, and leaving no trace. He first learned about it as a young Boy Scout in Ohio. To assist with getting through until morning, one of the motorcyclist fathers provided a liter of water. Everyone said their goodbyes. One by one the power plants of the motorcycles came on, headlamps burned bright, and they were gone, leaving us to the solitude of the canyon and to our own device.

 

 

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.

Resist Mediocrity

Make America Bike Again – Day 11

Trail angels again. One welcomed us into Waitsburg, Washington yesterday evening. He showed us around the County Fairgrounds and we camped there for the night. This small town in western Washington lies directly on the path of the Lewis & Clark Trail. Every summer hundreds of touring bicyclists pass through.

Before leaving the next morning we rode into the commercial part of town for groceries. The city’s downtown is decorated with life-size bronze statues, setting the stage for some

significant photo ops. While Frank and Robert hammed it up, another trail angel appeared, a middle aged woman who had just moved to Waitsburg from Boulder, Colorado. She wore a big smile and a T-shirt that read, “Resist Mediocrity,” lending credence to the claim that she hailed from Boulder. When Robert asked her why she picked Waitsburg, she said because of the relatively mild climate, and because of her dream: which is to build a bicycle hostel on the Lewis & Clark Trail. He responded that it was a wonderful plan.

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Garfield County Fairgrounds

We made another fifty miles that day, as far as the fairgrounds at Pomeroy. There, Robert let the Local Gods know how grateful he was for the generous people of Washington and for the good roads, traversed without incident. Good timing, the Snake River and the Idaho line were just down the road.

How Will the Hidden Gem Appear?

Make America Bike Again – Day 9

 

We follow the Columbia River from one small town to the next. The splendor of the gorge and the imposing volcanoes are behind us. We’re on a broad plateau made of  basaltic lava, disected somehow by the erosional power of a mighty river with geologic time on its side.

 

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Traffic is sparse. The sun is hot. The channel of the river guides us. We’ve even got a bit of a tail wind. So much like yesterday! We cover fifty more miles and in good enough time to reach an eclectic hamburger shop with milkshakes handmade from real ice cream, still open and waiting for us in Umatilla, Oregon.

We stay the night in an RV campground. As we sit down to dinner with our propane stoves and our freeze dried food, the trail angel appears. Her name is Judi this time. She’s a walnut farmer from California, traveling the country in her RV. She offers wine, cheese, and of course, walnuts to share. All she wants in return is to be serenaded. Gerry gets his guitar and we sing songs together, long after the wine is gone.

It was an amazing evening, a hidden gem. Even the Local Gods were entertained and that’s a good thing, because the border with Washington is just a few miles away.

 

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.

 

Encounter With The Local Gods

Make America Bike Again – Day 7

It was the last day of our first week on the road. The Historic Columbia River Highway ended somewhere near The Dalles. There, we left behind the splendor of Oregon’s waterfalls and the serenity of her forests, and crossed the bridge into Washington. Right away, the terrain was different. It was arid with few trees in sight. We had good reasons for crossing the bridge. The road will be safer in Washington, narrower, and less traveled. Still, we were leaving all that generous beauty behind, without so much as a toast, some kind of offering to the Oregon Gods.

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Daedalus the Touring Bike

As we headed across the bridge into Washington, they watched and shook their heads in disbelief; the more malevolent ones taking control. They were probably watching as we set up camp by a pond, in the shelter of a few stout cottonwood trees. A few train whistles sang out, but otherwise it was a peaceful night. The wind waited until morning before it started to blow.

To the north a high ridge of basalt cliffs rose above the campsite. The road we wanted to take ran along the base of these cliffs, following the course of the river. To get to the highway, we had to cross about three miles of open prairie on a two-land road; one that led into the mouth of the only canyon in sight, the only canyon cutting a path through the massive lava flows. Out of its mouth of that canyon, a fierce headwind blew.

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Into the Howling Wind!

The roadway may have looked like a gentle uphill slope, but the wind turned it into an ever- steepening serpent. Even in the lowest gear it was hard work just to keep the bike moving forward, a struggle to keep it upright. The wind was relentless.

Somewhere ahead a stop sign marked the intersecting roads. After what seemed like hours of climbing the serpent’s back, it became the finish line. Until we ground our way past it, turned east and felt the wind’s force from a more agreeable angle. After twenty miles and a few bends in the river, the town of Biggs, Oregon appeared and another bridge. We crossed it, back into Oregon’s sheltering arms once again.

We camped at the Maryhill State Park, with its warm showers and just 25 miles from where we’d begun. It was the seventh day. We were ready for a rest. We set up our tents with a view of the Columbia River. It wasn’t before the Local Gods welcomed us personally. They were in the form of two young men, trail angels, with handcrafted beer to share and homemade blueberry cobbler. What a fine and memorable day it became!