Cascade to Crouch, Idaho: Taking Off the Training Wheels

Greetings from Crouch! It smells delicious here, like a sweet wildflower I don’t recognize. The dry air heightens my senses; the afternoon sky is pure blue, and there is no haze, anywhere.

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After yesterday, Felkerino and I thought we had these mountains figured out, but we were wrong. Today the training wheels came off, and we worked hard for most of the 67 miles we rode today.

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I thank all the riding we’ve done in West Virginia for teaching me about how to maneuver up steeps. Our ride from Cascade to McCall consisted of three significant climbs, and several segments on each with grades of 10, 12, and even 14 percent. These mountains were not so kind to us as yesterday.

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Like yesterday, we followed the Adventure Cycling Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. The most difficult aspect of today was not the climbing which, while challenging, was manageable.

No, the most rigorous parts of our day were the descents. We encountered steep, switchback descents on fine sandy gravel road, often with loose sand piles on the turns. Progress was slow and tricky.

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The truth is our day was beautiful, scenery-wise and in terms of traffic, but at times the riding felt beyond us. Our tires– Clement USH 35s– were not wide enough for the gravel (or SAND, I think might be more accurate) or for the ground we covered.

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We made it through, but it required patience. Patience with the road and with each other. And some extra mindfulness and concentration.

I think it’s good to take on riding like this on occasion. It’s how Felkerino and I have grown as cyclists and as a tandem team. It’s also how we learn about our riding preferences as well as the weaknesses that exist in our cycling skill set.

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I’m glad we took on the Idaho sand/dirt/gravel today. It was not fun, at least not to me, but rides don’t always have to be fun to reward you in a significant way.

Our mountain miles from Cascade to Crouch were an intense engaging experience. We satisfied our curiosity about what these hills hold for us beyond the pavement.

Somehow Felkerino and I kept our cool and made it through the ups and downs together. And our bike rode sure and strong despite the inadequate tires for today’s terrain. We celebrated with ice cream. Go team.

McCall to Cascade: An Invitation to the Idaho Mountains

After days of roadside observation of the stand-offish peaks on our tour, Felkerino and I received an invitation to the mountains in the form of the Adventure Cycling Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. And so we went.

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Around ten miles of country farm roads outside McCall, the forest road took us into the trees and gradually snaked us up the mountainside to the Eagle’s Nest crest.

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It was another day of refreshingly cool temperatures, especially at the higher elevations. Blue skies with a smattering of clouds.

No cars passed and we encountered only one other cyclist, who was in the final days of riding the entire Idaho Hot Springs route.

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A steep switchback drop to the main road into Cascade followed our climb, but we took it easy– as much as we could while bouncing down the mountain– and Felkerino kept a firm hand on the brakes.

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I had an urge to flop myself on the sandy Idaho gravel and embrace the mountain. If only my arms would reach. My eyes filled with tears and I may have even cried a little. Is there crying in bike touring? Yes, I believe so.

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The weather, the views off the mountainside, pitch perfect climbing, the two of us on this solitary road, the readiness of our awesome Co-Motion Java tandem, and the solid conditions of the road. What more could a bike rider ask for?

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.

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