30 May 2008

The Huntsman

It felt like I had only slept for about 10 minutes when I woke this morning but it was 5 am ( I didnt bother changing my clocks yesterday as they change back today due to the circuitous route I take though Idaho.

I was showered and out by half past, determined to hunt down Dave before my legs gave up after the recent marathon days I have been riding. My now familiar riding companion, Mr Precipitation, was waiting for me at the door so we headed off together like two old friends.

The first couple of miles saw the end of my climb to the top of the hill I began yesterday and then I had a beautiful switchbacking descent all the way to White Bird where I filled up on oatmeal and toast. The problem with some of these descents is that you are going so fast and the road is so precarious to stop on that you can't take any photos of the views which are stunning at those heights but at least I have the memories!

Through the rafting haven of Riggins I rode alongside the Salmon River which I was told is teeming with the tasty fellas but I didnt see any jumping out of the water to be grabbed by a bear which was disappointing. It happens on telly!

More climbing was matched by an end to the rain and the start of some sunshine which soon changed from a welcome addition to a humid annoyance with all my rain gear still on.

After another 30 miles I turned into the town of New Meadows and spotted a half loaded rig outside a cafe and looking inside I recognised our friend Dave Fisher from his Polaroid at Adventure Cycling HQ! I approached him like a confused old friend, "Dave...Dave Fisher....is that you buddy??" His bemused and slightly scared look led me to start laughing and I explained the situation which helped!

Dave was finishing lunch so I grabbed a Club Sandwich and we caught up on each other's trips and on the people we had met in common. His destination for the day was another 25 miles down the road so I agreed to meet him there after I went to the library in New Meadows. I am most happy with my catching of Dave and Carl in the past few weeks. I'll hunt down Jimmy Hoffa's grave for you next week!

A few emails and a couple of phonecalls later I was pulling out of town when I met 3 cyclists coming the other way. They are doing the same route as me but from West to East so are just starting out compared to me. Whilst we swapped notes on good places to stay and dives to avoid, two more Eastbounders came into town, Gaby and Cesar from Argentina! Gaby lived in London for 9 years in Camden Town so was able to probe deeper into where I lived than the usual, 'oh Europe' that I often get.

After a few rounds of photos we went our separate ways, they to eat and I to the small town of Council. It was an uneventful ride with some nice forests that smelt how you wish Pine Fresh air fresheners did but don't! I rode past a logging firm which had a bizarre 50 metre high mound of logs that were being hosed with water from all angles. I guess this must be to prevent fires when they are chopped into planks??

I was in Council by 7, wondering to myself if they have a Council Council and I couldn't spot Dave anywhere so grabbed a cheap motel since I need to take my bike apart and clean the chain which is giving me grief lately due to the rain probably.

I am now sat in the Council laundromat getting some fresh clothes and will probably hook up with Dave in the morning as I hope to have a lie in til half seven then play catch up on the road. It should be nice to have a biking compadre again for a few days at least. His schedule for the coast isn't too dissimiliar to mine so it should work out well.

On a final note, it is nice to start seeing more bike traffic coming the other way as this is a warmer time of year (in theory at least) so there should be a steady flow of cyclists from now on to chat to as we meet. On the top photo there are myself and David(not the English one) crouching down, then Adrienne and Candice from Ohio and Gaby and Cesar who I mentioned. Good luck to them all (coincidentally it turns out that David has been reading this blog in his prep for his trip!!)

29 May 2008


After yesterday's rotten finish, I spent the evening trying to dry my clothes and shoes in front of a tiny portable heater which was pretty difficult. I went to bed at half eight with the heater on full blast facing the bed on the end of which I had draped my shorts and balanced by shoes but then woke up thinking it was morning to find it was only ten pm!

I got up again at the right time of 0515 and put on different shorts and top but had to make do with soggy shoes. It was of little consequence though as it was already raining outside and I headed out prepared for another soaking. The ride began with a 1000 foot climb to the top of Lolo Pass where I crossed the border into Idaho. Apart from yesterday's antics I really liked riding through Montana. It is a pretty state not unlike parts of England but with some bigger rolling hills and you can see why they call it 'Big Sky Country'.

The top of Lolo pass was shrouded in mist and I could only see a few metres ahead of me as I headed down a 9 mile hill towards an early breakfast at Lochsa Lodge since the clocks went back an hour at the border. Here I met Bob and Lori, a couple of cyclists from Victor, Idaho who were riding the Lewis and Clark trail. For any non-US people, Lewis and Clark were the leaders of an 1804 expedition to explore the American West at the behest of Thomas Jefferson after the Louisiana Purchase of huge swathes of the west from France. These guys are big names over here since their 3 year journey helped map out previously untouched parts of the US. Bob and Lori met Dave from England yesterday morning and he apparently left Lochsa yesterday morning.

The next 65 miles had no services but were slightly downhill following the course of the Lochsa River but I had constant rain beating down on me as I pedalled down one scenic but slightly monotonous road. Traffic was light with a few RVs and logging trucks blowing me around and I was glad I didnt go rafting along here. The rapids are rated as Class V which is up there with the fiercest and from the road l could see how rough the water was cutting up. After 85 miles of riding for the day I pulled into The Wilderness Inn, a surprisingly busy cafe/bar where I ordered loads of food!

Just before my food arrived I spotted another cyclist coming in so I invited her to sit at my table only to find out she was a fellow Brit! Her name was Gill Hamilton from Edinburgh and she works at the National Library of Scotland. She managed to negotiate a 4 month break from work to cycle from Washington to Maine, having previously done a mini tour in the Rockies! Gill's website is www.pedalplenty.com . It was so good to meet another Brit and we ended up chatting for about two hours and compared kit since we both have Cannondales and Arkel Panniers. It would have been good if we were going the same way but eventually we headed opposite ways down the road and I finished the last few miles to Grangeville via dinner in Kooskia but overall the end of the journey dragged a bit after my extended break!

From what I hear, Dave Fisher is making some good ground and is riding a rig about half the weight of mine so I will have to rely on the youthful energy that I am supposed to have although I am definitely catching up! It is nice to see a few more cyclists on this section of my trip and I guess it is because most riders do their touring from May and June onwards to avoid the terrible early season weather.

28 May 2008

Beautiful Weather

I slept so well last night in the hotel room of dreams and would definitely rate it as the best room I have stayed in, all for half the price of a room at the Travelodge back home! It took me a while to drag my corpse out of bed but after a shower and some emails I was out by half six.

The journey to Missoula was slightly uphill but made easier by a bike path for the first 12 miles. The remainder was terrible with road works which had filled the tiny shoulder with thousands of stones and bits of glass. I was right up against some fast moving traffic and almost came off when I edged into the crash barrier but it was more of big stumble than anything else.

Once in Missoula I made my way across town to the Adventure Cycling Association headquarters. They are the non-profit folk (reminds me of the joke about Mohammed getting turned down for a job at the Cancer Research shop as they are a non-prophet organisation) who make the maps I use and do lots of other cyclist friendly stuff.

I was met by Becky who takes care of riders when they come in, and she got me to sign their guestbook and took a Polaroid of me for their 2008 wall. I was amazed to see that Dave Fisher, a cyclist from Somerset England was in there yesterday morning as he was a week ahead of me at the start of Colorado and is travelling light with only two small bags of kit! The top photo is of one of several bikes they have on the walls there and this one was a Peugot PX10 ridden by their chief cartographer, Carla Majernik when he rode the TransAmerica Trail in 1976 for the first time.

I was left to use the computer and all their facilities including a fridge full of drinks and a freezer full of ice cream, before leaving at 11 having dawdled long enough. One problem I had today was that I lacked a clear idea of where my destination was. Without that it is easy to mess about and get nowhere since there is no target and I did just that.

I stopped at the bike shop to pump up my tyres with a decent track pump and bought a tiny allen key for my brakes, then spent ages getting lunch and making calls at Safeways where I met a nice chap called Marty Mastas who gave me some tips on the roads ahead and some white water rafting spots, so it was nearly 2pm when I headed out again.

A few miles outside Missoula I stopped to chat to a cyclist coming the other way fully loaded with kit. He was Robert Menegio from Santa Fe and was riding from Oregon to Virginia by a most circuitous route through the Great Lakes and Canada (he doesn't like the heat). He saw Dave from Somerset yesterday and apparently he is racing to get back for his daughter's birthday so I may not catch up with him.

I began a gentle climb out of the town of Lolo up towards Lolo Springs, where I knew I could stop for the night if I felt lazy. I stopped at a garage to fill up on water and to put on more sunscreen since it was really cooking and then minced around on the phone a bit more.

There were 25 miles between me and Lolo Springs and I took the first 15 at a nice steady pace, slowly watching the sun disappear behind a darkening mass of black cloud. Soon enough it started to rain so I had to unpack my rain jacket which I had confidently put away last night and I moved my camera and phone inside my bags.

This was not to be a light shower however and the heavens opened like never before on this trip. I may as well have been under a waterfall as within minutes I was soaked through, the rain even coming in at the neck of my jacket. With the precipitation shock troops having done their job, the heavy guns came out and wave after wave of hail came down, stinging my face really painfully and reducing my vision to about 3 metres. Thunder and lightening filled the sky, getting closer and closer together as the hail started to fill the roads a few centimetres deep accompanied by small streams that were forming on the road.

There was no let up and nowhere to seek cover as there was a river on one side and a now flooded ditch on the right between me and a wire fence. All I could do was keep moving onwards towards Lolo Springs and hold my breath whenever a logging truck sped by me. I did see two other cyclists on the opposite side of the road but there was no way we were going to stop in these conditions.

Eventually I made it to the top and stood shivering in the Lolo Springs bar whilst I waited for the cabin man to turn up. Having spoken to Robert earlier I was hoping to follow his recommendation and stay in a teepee up here but the state of me necessitated a cabin with heater to try and dry my sodden clothes and shoes.

So the lesson of today has to be 'Don't mince around as you never know what's ahead of you'. However I am sure this storm is following me across the last few states - just look at the weather photo from a couple of posts back and you can see the evil intent.

27 May 2008

Ascent and Descent

Down from the mountains

I was up early once again today and on the road by 6 which was tough with my whole body fighting to stay in bed. i hadn't decided on a final destination for the day but I knew that Missoula was up ahead at 144 miles and there was another mountain between us so today was not going to be a day to break any records.
Grey start
I made solid time to the town of Wisdom which was sadly lacking any crowds but I had a great breakfast in a restuarant there which seemed to combine every breakfast item into a hash brown mix. The owner of the restaurant was actually just back from a 2 week trip to the UK so she told me about her trips to Rye, Chartwell, Aberdeen and the Shetlands. She also stayed in a B&B a few miles south of Gatwick so she may have had the honour of a Horsham visit (she couldn't recall).
Strange patchy hill
The next 30 miles of climbing went by pretty smoothly with lots of deer to keep me company at the sides of the road and only the last 4 miles were particularly tough. Just after the summit I found myself about 100 yards from the Idaho border but following the proper route meant that I had to ride away from it and look forward to formally crossing it in a day or so. From here there was a scary descent from the mountain pass since my back brakes were disconnected as they were fully worn and would damage the rims if I used them. I made it safely to the bottom and rewarded myself with an ice cream and then powered through the next twenty to the town of Darby where a huge burrito awaited me for lunch.
Mountain Top Forest
Logging Victims

It was 2pm now and I was beginning to entertain thoughts of going the further 78 miles to Missoula but my body wasn't too happy with that plan and made the next 20 miles particularly painful with the sun now in full glow and my knee and back aching with every mile. At Hamilton I stopped at the bike shop and bought some new brake pads which was a relief, and borrowed some tools to tweak a few things that weren't ship shape including my speedometer and cadencemeter which has been broken for almost a week since Buhler.
Lower Elevation
I considered stopping here for the day but pushed on to Stevensville 19 miles down the road which wasn't a fun ride with no shoulder and narrow lanes all the way. One downside of leaving the high elevation is that the flys attack you again. Up high there were no flies, bees, grasshoppers or other creepy crawlies but as soon as I went below 4000 feet they began their attack on me.
With still more rain clouds gathering in the sky and 120 miles in the bank I treated myself to another hotel and have found a real beauty called the Stevenson Hotel. It is some sort of historic building and I have a suite with its own jacuzzi and a PC for 30 quid! Bargain bucket!

I have been through the pages since Pittsburg and arranged the photos so that they look a bit better and have uploaded the ones from the last few days so enjoy.

26 May 2008

Jackson Hot Springs

The alarm wasn't too welcome at the now regular 0515 time since I stayed up watching Rocky Balboa til ten last night and didn't sleep for almost an hour with all my faffing around.

Nevertheless I was out by six, having answered some emails from back home and had an easy ride to Twin River ten miles away for breakfast. I had thought about pushing on to Twin River last night but knew that with my luck it would have been ten miles of twisty, windy hills! I had a 'Cowboy Breakfast' which was terrible for my arteries but good for my energy and was out of there by half seven onto the 30 miles to Dillon.

Dillon is a small college town hosting the University of Western Montana (I think that was the one) and the journey there was legendary. I have heard about, read about and even dreamed about tailwinds but today I was spoilt by possibly the first wind from the East that I have had all trip. Within two hours I was parked up outside Safeways in Dillon and proceeded to load up on snacks and supplies for today since I had a 50 mile stretch with no services. I was also happy to raid their medicine aisle since my back has been killing me for the past 4 days with what feels like a pulled muscle and I had run out of nurofen.

I spent the next hour doing circles around town as I couldn't find my way onto the 278 road and finally I realised I could get to it via the interstate for two junctions.

According to my maps, the next 50 miles consisted of a series of climbs over two peaks/hills depending on your optimism (the official term is 'mountain pass')! The first one was about 15 miles of climbing and its top marked my pre-planned lunchtime stop where I sat in the rain wolfing down a bad boy sub from Safeways and a granola bar. As I finished lunch and set off I saw another rider coming from the other direction so we both stopped for the now customary cyclist chat.

Since this chap was just on a road bike (racer) I assumed he was a local out for a fun ride in the rain but appearances can be deceiving. Dennis Farling was in his mid to late 50s, from British Columbia and was doing the TransAmerica Trail from West to East. He must be the luckiest cyclist ever as he has convinced a pal to drive a Volkswagen van all the way with all his kit and a mountain bike for the tough hills in it! His friend is also a radio buff and so they have two way radio going on too! It must be so much easier doing the trip that way as his road bike must weigh about 5-6 times less than my loaded bike and the option of switching to mountain bike gearing will be useful in the Appalachians!

We said our goodbyes and I sped down the other side of the first hill which was scary in the wet as my brakes are wearing out and really need new pads so don't work too well in rough conditions! One day until the next bike shop....

The second hill didn't seem as tough apart from the final mile which felt vertical and then I had a steady downhill all the way to the town of Jackson. I had heard good things about Jackson Hot Springs Lodge and picked up a basic lodging for $28 which got me out of the rain and thanks to my super speedy pedalling I was in their huge sulphur spring pool by 1630! This pool was the size of a a proper swimming pool (as per the top photo) and piping hot as one would expect from a hot spring so I soaked there for an hour or so, reading my book and relaxing.

I've just eaten at the lodge restaurant which was surprisingly good and would love to stroll through to the bar next door but still have a week or two free of the devil's buttermilk so will retire to my room for the night!

25 May 2008

Super Sunday

I had a nice leisurely afternoon yesterday in the town of West Yellowstone, catching up with family on the phone and working through a couple of days of e-mail accompanied by snacks from Tubby's Bakery.

Again I was up at 05:15 this morning and in the hotel office by 6 for their continental breakfast. I remember when I was younger that pretty much every hotel I stayed at had huge meaty breakfasts with none of this continental lark, although this one was better than most since to accompany the usual spread of toast and cinnamon rolls were some freshly cooked omelettes of which I had 4 to get some energy for the day ahead.

It was still almost dark as I set off since dark clouds obscured any sign of a sunrise and this continued for most of the morning with light showers and black skies following me for the first 40 miles. As I left town I passed West Yellowstone Airport and had the temptation to hop on a flight for the coast to get away from the terrible weather of the last few days but resisted bravely. It is interesting to see how many of these small towns have their own airports when they only have populations in the hundreds..

The general terrain for the morning was sloping downwards which gave me some momentum to help my tired legs and I rode through some pretty nice parts of the countryside including two lakes, the giant 'Hebgen Lake' and the smaller 'Quake Lake' formed by an earthquake which caused an 80 million ton landslide to dam the Madison River back in the late 1950s. Fishermen were starting to head out in boats to Hebgen Lake as well as on foot into the streams of Madison River to do some fly fishing reminiscent of 'Legends of The Fall' which was set around here.

By half eleven I had put 60 miles in the bank and arrived at my lunch stop of Cameron, which wasn't even a town but more of a bar/cafe/shop combo in the middle of nowhere. That said, they served some great food and the bar looked pretty snazzy with a couple of pool tables in good condition but sadly I was flying solo so couldn't embarass myself. I stopped at the next town of Ennis to make a couple of calls and got chatting to a guy called Barrett who comes from the town of Bozeman which was a fair few miles back on my route. Barrett is also a cyclist and is planning to do some riding in Canada this summer with his wife who coincidentally had just bought some prints by the Scottish painter and engraver William Strang!

I didn't have time to stop long in Ennis but it looked quite a cool little town with lots of oldy worldy shops and it was the sort of place I could imagine taking a rest day in if my diary looked different. From Ennis I had the pleasure of a 3000 foot climb back into the mountains and this was a slow one. I think I climb better when I have company as it encourages me not to wimp out and stop for a breather every couple of minutes, and the road to the top took me a fair while. I felt cheated when I reached a false summit and had another mile to go but soon was sailing down the other side with a 7% gradient which reminded me that I need to get some new brake pads this week or I will be in trouble pretty soon.

Two historically preserved/reconstructed towns were at the bottom of the hill, full of shops and buildings which looked like they were from the old west but time was ticking so after an ice cream and a chat in a cafe I made tracks for the last 20 miles of the day. I eventually made it into Ruby Valley and the town of Sheridan on the dot of 6 feeling pretty well cycled out after 115 miles today so I checked into the Moriah Motel which included getting my laundry done in the $50 a night price so I was happy looking at the storm clouds building up outside.

Tomorrow's route contains more hills than today's did so I don't think I will be making the same kind of distance but it feels good to have done some solid miles since I am of the perhaps naive belief that I can ride far enough north to get away from the storms! The picture below was sent to me by Barrett and shows the weather system over Montana yesterday....nice!