Riggins to McCall, Idaho: 50 Miles Up

Today Felkerino and I had a hard time getting our bike touring act together and ended up leaving Riggins at 9:30 a.m. Gasp!

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Not to worry, we had a 50-mile day ahead so how long could that possibly take? I’ll say that it depends on the terrain ahead of you as well as how many times you stop to take photos of sunflowers and any other scenery that catches your eye. So that’s just shy of 7 hours for this tandem crew.

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Our terrain was mostly uphill, with the exception of a big swooping descent the final few miles into McCall, which I believe is a pretty big ski town in the area.

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We stopped so much today. Pedal for five minutes, stop for 20. Pedal another five, stop for important bike tour photos.

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Somehow we still made it. Maybe all that randonneuring is paying off. Ha ha ha ha!

We stopped in New Meadows for lunch, and I was again reminded of Idaho’s matter-of-fact way. We overheard a woman discussing some intimate details of her life, and after she finished her rather sad tale, the man she was talking to responded, “$*#* happens.” Oh Idaho, you’re the best.

We pedaled our way up the big hump to McCall, where road construction was happening in a couple of places. Unlike earlier on our tour, the crew here thought it was just fine if we rode our bike through. They even held back traffic so we’d have clear passage, which was quite nice.

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It was a slow-going day in cool temperatures with frequent cloud cover. I’m not going to complain about that when the alternative is a heat emergency at home. I’ll enjoy the cool breezes while I can, and put on a wool base layer to celebrate.

Kooskia to Riggins, Idaho

To make up for our 90-mile gradual downhill to Kooskia, we spent much of the following day climbing.

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We left the Salmon River at Kooskia to climb Winona Grade– a beautiful dirt climb with nobody on it but us– up to a high meadow area where the land was being worked, either through crops or livestock.

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I had thought we would reach a summit and then be rewarded with a mighty downhill for our efforts, but instead we noodled around this rural area for at least 20 miles.

The climb up Winona Grade had no marked summit, unless you count the sign that says “This road not maintained in winter months.” So far, Idaho has a very matter-of-fact feel. Climbed a mountain on dirt? Good for you. We didn’t name it, but yes, I suppose it was a mountain.

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We made our way over to Grangeville, where a local recommended we take the old road up White Bird Hill– also a mountain, I’d like to add. We followed his advice and were rewarded with another sublime gently twisting climb on a quiet back road.

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Early in our climb, we met Sarah, a TransAm rider who was visiting family and doing some day riding. She said she was taking three months to ride coast to coast, and averaging around 50 miles per day. Seeing all the cross-country riders between here and Missoula has enticed me to consider how Felkerino and I might accomplish such a trip.

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At the White Bird Hill summit, we reconnected with the main road and soon began a rapid descent. What does rapid mean? Our tandem hit 53.5 miles per hour and stayed there for a while. See what I mean about hill versus mountain terminology?

This was a clear smooth downhill without no big switchbacks, but even so, very fast! Felkerino said he could hear the air roaring around him. I didn’t hear any roaring and I did not know our speed at the time, but I knew we were moving fast so I was concentrated on sitting still as a stone in the drops. Ah the excitement of bike touring!

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After our mongo descent down the hill the road leveled out for the remaining miles to Riggins. We reconnected with my new friend, the Salmon River, and passed a lot of old gold mining territory en route to our overnight in Riggins.

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I liked this day for the varied terrain, unpaved climbing section, and quiet roads. Spending the night beside the Salmon River in one of Idaho’s main rafting cities was also a treat. We didn’t do any prospecting– we’ll save that for another trip.

135 Miles from Missoula, Montana to Kooskia, Idaho

After our layover day in Missoula, Felkerino and I rose early for a 135-mile day over to Kooskia, Idaho, via Lolo Pass.

Lolo Pass was a fairly gentle ascent for around 20 or so miles. Just before reaching the summit, we entered the Pacific Time Zone, which I called the “magic hour.”

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Since our day was long and our pace stuck on touring, the magic hour really helped us not worry too much about time. We arrived at our planned dinner spot in Lowell, with plenty of time to sit and have a nice meal at the Wilderness Inn.

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After our climb up Lolo Pass, the remainder of our day was spent on a gradual descent– 90 miles of downhill, to be precise– as we paralleled the Lochsa River.

So much downhill! The shifting winds in the valley meant we were still working steadily, but the overall descent certainly helped the miles go by. I was impressed by the road sign noting 99 miles of winding road as we began our descent to the river.

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Apparently, the Lochsa River is low this year, due to the lack of snowfall over the winter months. The man at the Lolo Pass Visitors Center said that the Lochsa is generally more turbulent, but if it had a personality, right now it is depressed.

Felkerino and I have no basis for comparing, but the water level did seem low and not terribly rough.
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The road from Lolo to Kooskia was pretty empty. Traffic gave us plenty of room, and it was overall good highway riding.

There are a lot of touring motorcyclists on the roads we’re traveling, but hardly any cyclists. We saw three during our ride to Kooskia.

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Overall, I’ve found the areas we’re touring to be fairly solitary. Not much traffic, not many communities. Towns are around 50 miles apart. There is so much forest and river space sandwiched between steep canyon walls.

I’m not lonely yet, though. Of course, I always have Felkerino, but there’s more. The earth is alive and talkative. The rivers speak to us as we pedal. Clouds occasionally roll in to cool us and encourage us to maintain some forward momentum, just in case of you know what. Winds buffet us around a bit and chap my cheeks and neck to remind us that not all forces are visible ones.

And these mountains! The aloof, steep mountains that guard the rivers silently remind me to respect this land. The mountains don’t dislike our passing through, but they aren’t ready to be friends.

That’s okay. I’m not ready to be friends yet, either, but I am open to the possibility.

Adventure Cycling Headquarters

We are currently overnighting in Missoula, Montana, after a short mellow 50-mile day from Hamilton.

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The ride itself is nothing to write home about, but I’ll share a quick summary. We took the Bitterroot Bike Trail, a multi use path that parallels the busy 4-lane highway of US-93. There was a fairly constant soundtrack of cars and trucks rolling down the road.

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Fortunately the flat terrain and helpful tailwind meant fast progress to Missoula. We bee-lined to Adventure Cycling headquarters, where we were treated to a tour of their offices.

While there, we heard that one of our BikeDC friends had informed the office that we would be visiting. I met Jen, the cartographer behind the @acaroutes Twitter feed.

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We also received a sweet note left for us by a bikey acquaintance who is currently riding cross-country, and was in Missoula two days ago. And we have tentative plans to meet with a Montana coffeeneur tomorrow during our layoff day.

All cyclists who pass through Adventure Cycling get their picture taken and it is placed on one of their walls. Even though ours is but a two-week loop tour, we joined the many photos already posted.

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For people who don’t know anyone in Montana or Idaho, I’d say we’re doing pretty well. Bicycling is a great tool for exploring new places, and it continues to connect me to others in ways I don’t anticipate. Long live the bicycle!

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Thanks to Adventure Cycling for the warmest of welcomes, and to Whitney for the encouraging note. Also, thank you to everybody who is reading along and following our Instagram and Flickr posts. Felkerino and I are two lucky bike riders.

Lost Trail Pass into Montana

After three days of riding and fretting about my bike tour fitness, I’ve now decided that it’s a much better plan to focus on pedaling rather than worrying. This approach makes the day better.

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Today was a fantastic ride up Lost Trail Pass from North Fork, an area that the Lewis and Clark Expedition traversed back in 1805. We’ve spent the last two days in land covered by their trip, and today I was overwhelmed by the acute sense of history that grasped me in these mountains.

I could not imagine traversing these daunting climbs without a road in sight, but rather the rivers, mountains, and sun as your guide.

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The area around Lost Trail Pass is one of the only parts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that is subject to some question in terms of routing. There are a few theories, but no one knows exactly how all of them managed to cross through this area.

As for us, we took the highway, Idaho 93. It was quite a nice, if lengthy, scramble to the summit. The grade of the road was around 5 percent, a slant that makes for a good workout, but allows for decent progress over 25 rising miles.

After entering Montana immediately after the Lost Trail Pass summit, we were treated to a brief rain shower. So good thing we brought those rain jackets. Sure would hate to haul them around for two weeks and never put them to use.

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The second half of our day was valley riding, until we decided to take the “old road” into Hamilton. This serene gravel road ascended above the valley to open up wide views down to the Bitterroot (?) River. It was a beautiful way to end our 72-mile day.

I often find myself second-guessing the way and place I’ve chosen to live. I’m not tough enough, not living authentically enough, not pushing myself hard enough, not living in the right place.

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Today, pedaling this area around Idaho and Montana with Felkerino, I experienced a brief and satisfying moment of acceptance– that everything I have is enough. Life is as it should be and it’s really all okay. Sometimes it’s best not to worry so. Bike tours are good for the soul like that.

Challis to North Fork, Idaho: Salmon River Serenade

Today’s episode in bike touring found Felkerino and I sidling along the Salmon River for most of the 82 miles we covered. Our route was via highway Idaho 93, but it was quiet except for the perpetual singing of the Salmon River. Now that’s the kind of highway noise I could get used to.

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I love my Potomac River commutes, but the Salmon River is a completely distinct character. It converses with us as we ride, its flowing water talking just the right amount.

The river was largely visible as we rode, and areas beside it were lush green– a sharp contrast to the arid hills enveloping us.

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As the day’s heat and sun increased, the river beckoned to us. “I’m right here. Dip yourselves in.”

For many miles I ignored these invitations. Despite being a Pisces, I’m not really into water. I mean, I shower and stuff, but water for recreation and relaxation is not my thing.

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But the heat kept rising and the river would not rescind its invitation to submerge ourselves. Finally, Felkerino and I could no longer resist the appeal of cool water flowing over our bodies so we pulled over and dipped our feet in. Heaven.

We stopped once more before reaching North Fork, our final destination for the day. Again, pure bliss. My toes reveled in the water’s fresh temperatures.

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Perhaps I’m more of a water person than I knew. All I needed was the brilliant heat of Idaho and a soft, yet insistent, serenade by the Salmon River to show me the way.

Pickup Truck Dreams in Idaho: Lowman to Challis

We began today with a quiet exit from Lowman, a town nestled between the mountains. As we rode I wondered how life would be if, in order to go anywhere, I had to climb thousands of feet away from home.

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Maybe I would become a homebody and have all my essentials mailed to me. I’d telework every day. Maybe I would buy a pickup, like many others here have done, and just vroom vroom everywhere– except I do despise driving. Or maybe I’ll just continue to live in D.C. and not worry about such things, except during bike tour vacations.

Our 113-mile day was very much front-loaded, with a major climb– Banner Summit–  that took us from 5,500 feet up to over 7,000 feet in the first 30 miles.

Even though Idaho doesn’t reach the heights of a state like Colorado, the elevation has still affected me, leaving me short of breath at times, as well as causing the occasional headache and nose bleed.

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No matter, though. I still love what we’re doing. The mornings are refreshingly cool and the days have been superbly dry. It’s a wonderful respite from D.C. summer.

During today’s ride we were often flanked by either the Payette or Salmon River. The babbling of the clear river water was a peaceful reassuring sound, like listening to the sweet voice of a newfound friend in an unfamiliar place.

Our mostly unshaded climb proceeded rather well until the heat of the day began to shine down on us. As pickups passed, I thought of how easily our bike might fit in their rear bed. Then we’d be at the top of Banner Summit in no time.

But hitching a ride because you’re hot isn’t part of Felkerino’s and my touring ethos so we pushed on. By continuous pedaling at slow speeds we still reached Banner Summit and eventually my pickup hitching dreams were forgotten.

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Or so I thought. After a delicious refueling stop in Stanley at mile 54, we continued to wind our way by the Salmon River via the quiet valley highway (Idaho 75). We stopped for some road construction that had reduced the road to one lane over a two-mile segment and were informed that we had to ride in the bed of the follow car.

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In practice, an eight foot long bike does not fit so simply into an eight foot bed, but Felkerino and I made it work, despite the fact that it was probably safer for us just to have ridden through.

As we sat in the back, I remembered my days as a small kid in Iowa, and how I dreamed of riding in the back of a pickup. But because we were townies and my parents owned a boring sedan, this rarely happened. Oh, and also, because it’s really not a best practice in terms of safety.

This pickup truck interlude was part ridiculous, part dangerous, and part nostalgic. And now Felkerino and I can say we’ve ridden in the back of a pickup together with our giant bike so cross that off the bucket list.

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The rest of our ride was a calm meander through the valley to the town of Challis. I was sad to leave the water behind as the highway ended and we rode the final miles away from the Salmon River into town. We were just beginning to know each other.

Riding Out the Bike Tour Kinks: Boise to Lowman, Idaho

It’s our first day touring Idaho and I already feel in the teeth of it all. After some urban trail riding out of Boise that took way longer than it should have due to our lack of familiarity with the area, we ascended away from town.

And then we continued ascending until we finally crested a ridge that revealed the evergreen-covered mountains lined up like saw blades against the perfect blue sky.

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Our beginning miles were full of traffic, and I think everyone here might own a boat that they tow around behind their pickup trucks.

Most drivers gave us good space to ride and after around 30 miles of riding, cars were few and far between, which allowed us to focus on the road and dialing in our climbing legs.

I can tell I haven’t been riding much tandem lately because I had several “I want to be the boss of this bike” moments, mostly in terms of when I wanted to pull over for breaks. As the day went along, I fell into a good rhythm with Felkerino and I didn’t mind not doing the steering or braking. Most of the time.

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This is our first time riding in a place where we know no one. In Boise, that felt a little lonely, but the further we moved out of town the more it feels okay. It’s us and the mountains, and whoever inquires about our bike.

There were not many towns between Lowman and Boise, but food was found at mile 42 and at our end point at mile 80.

I ate a delightful strawberry shortcake to celebrate Day 1 of our Idaho bike tour. I don’t know what’s around the bend, but with the mountains surrounding us as I write, I think I have an idea.

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