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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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!

 

 

 

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.

St Helens – Portland – Troutdale

Make America Bike Again – Day 4

This day would be a memorable stretch of the Lewis & Clark trail, beginning with some morning mirth. We sliced up a watermelon in the parking of the Safeway store and devoured it joyously. Then, time to ride.IMG_1214

A celebration was going on in every town along the way. It was a perfect day for bicycling. As we neared Portland and the road headed turned east, Mt St. Helens, one of our active volcanoes, came into view. We crossed the St John’s bridge into Portland. Robert had to stop and take in the views, but we didn’t linger.

Portland from the bridgeInstead, we kept going into Troutdale, a scenic area at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge. The town straddles a small tributary of the Columbia. The Sandy River is named for the large natural build ups of sand that adorn it’s banks.

At the close of the holiday weekend, they were filled with bathers and other revelers. But not us. We had to find a place for the night. There were several state parks in the area, but also an abundance of “No Camping” signs. It was dusk when Frosty asked a young man in a pick up truck where we might find a place to camp that night?

“There’s no camping for twenty miles,” he replied, “And, it’s uphill.”

Next there was silence. I could see the young man, Brian, talking with his wife in the front seat, their small child comfortably in between. All around us passengers in other vehicles slowed to stare. Until Brian turned back toward Frosty and invited all of us to camp on the lawn of his parent’s home in nearby Corbett, and join in their celebration.

IMG_1246This is how trail angels often appear. Just when things look bleakest, a kindness appears in the form of a hospitable stranger, to turn events around. It was the beginning of a fun and memorable evening. Everyone in our group carries a luxury item or two. Robert has his books and his air mattress. For Gerry, the Irishman, it’s a small traveling guitar. He is a gifted player and a professional musician in his homeland. That night he had a campfire and a willing audience of singers. It was unforgettable.

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Robert, Frank, Gerry, friend of host, Frosty, Brian’s son, Don, and Brian. (Can anyone reading this remember the dog’s name?)

Thanks so much Brian, Ed, and Corinne for your hospitality that day, for the elegant campsite with its many blooming hydrangea, and for sharing the 4th of July with us.

Eagles in the Sky

Make America Bike Again – Day 2

Our first full day on the road, the earth seemed to reach out and welcome us. By mid-morning a hazy sun presided over a deep blue sky. It was the right temperature for bicycling, never getting hot and staying in the 70’s. Before it ended we would leave Astoria behind, travel about 40 miles and camp at a flyspeck of a campground called Gnat Creek. Twice that day eagles soared aloft. We could see them easily: two over a wetland area at mid-day, and two more over our campsite that evening. What an omen! What a day!

It is a short ride from Fort Stevens to Fort Clatsup, a national park commemorating the completion of the Lewis & Clark expedition. There are some statues and historical reconstructions. Lewis and Clark spent a full winter in this area, with Sacajawea’s connections and guidance, before returning to St Louis.

IMG_1204At the park we met two very curious and friendly volunteers. They wanted Robert to complete a survey. They wanted to know who we were and where we were going. He explained that he was a writer, always looking for characters and scenes for his next book. They wanted his card. (His latest book is an acclaimed work of historical fiction set in ancient Greece.) One host replied that she loved history and was an avid reader. This was just the first day! Already, we were connecting with others along the way, sharing our stories, and growing the network of readers.

Eagles are chief among the winged creatures. They soar, not just in the highest reaches of the sky, but nearest to the gods. In Greek mythology eagles are the bird of choice for carrying messages and directives from Zeus. With their help the King of the Gods gained control over thunder and lightening. He used an eagle to carry out the punishment of Prometheus. And, he used a pair of them to determine the proper location for the Oracle at Delphi.

In so many traditions and cultures, the eagle has been used to represent strength, leadership, and vision. I believe that today’s eagles are messengers. To encounter them at the beginning of an adventure or journey such as this one, is both invitation and blessing. (My ancestor was a demigod. I know these things.) I believe that Robert and each of his friends is being offered a wellspring of courage and vision from the natural world, to empower both their individual dreams and the collective quest of this bicycle tour. The energy will follow them, whether the path is an asphalt road or goes deep within.