Saturday, June 30, 2012

Day Fourteen: Hot Springs, MT

A quick post (done in the morning before leaving!), so I can try to catch up with these blogs.

Today's ride was 47 miles, but it contained another steep climb -- about 1100 feet over 5 miles -- but it certainly seemed tamer in comparison to yesterday's two passes. All just setting us up, I guess, for Glacier's "Going to the Sun" road, an immense (but gorgeous) climb that we should be tackling on Monday.

We left Thompson Falls -- which is centered around a very scenic dam, reservoir and river (some pix attached) -- and headed out on Montana's Highway 200 for Hot Springs, MT. Hot Springs is known for, well, its hot springs, but I also know it from all the Stephen Hunter books featuring the laconic, sharp shooting Bob Swagger and his father Earl. Great adventures/thrillers if you've never tried them.

The ride was very scenic, as we mostly stayed along side the river (the Thompson River in Thompson, not sure if its named changed as we went through other towns, like Plains). Already we're getting a sense of the vastness of this State. Long desolate stretches, huge ranches and fields and, of course, Big Sky.

The only catch was the roads. We basically rode two today. The aforementioned Highway 200 and then County Route 28. Both were generally shoulderless or, when they did provide shoulders, they were either (a) narrow or (b) marred by rumble strips in their middle. Plus the roads' speed limits varied from a low of 55 to a high of 70. I'm willing to say that Montana drivers are generally good drivers, but there were enough exceptions (tourists in RVs heading to Glacier?) that the riding was not as relaxing as we've become accustomed to.

But all was made well by arriving at the Alameda Hot Springs, a "resort" out of a time warp, with old fashioned "soaking" tubs in the rooms, and hot water spigots dispensing water with that sulphuric smell associated with real springs. Odd to shower in, but lovely to soak in.

I also was helped (I hope) by a care package that arrived from Laura (thank you!) containing a different saddle, an additional long sleeve warm shirt, and more inner tubes and suntan lotion. The saddle is my effort to address some, ahem, soreness, that seems to creep into my riding every day after 30 or 40 miles. This new one has more padding, so my fingers are crossed that it does the trick, although there may simply be no escaping the consequences of so much riding on a narrow saddle (unless I switch to one of those Coeur d'Alene recumbents). The long sleeve shirt was necessitated by our day of riding in the cold rain -- I clearly did not have enough clothing to accomplish the trifecta of (a) riding comfortably warm, (b) having something warm and dry to change into at the end of the day and (c) having something warm and dry to start off with the next day..So much for shedding that 2 lbs of luggage weight a week ago. But hopefully my legs are that much stronger!

Here are today's map and metrics:

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day Thirteen: Dobson and Thompson Passes

Today was thrilling, challenging and exhausting. We rode not one, but two, passes, each over 4000 feet at the top and involving sustained climbs respectively of 1400 feet (over six miles) and 2400 feet (over 11 miles). Phew.

The day's travel was from Wallace, Idaho, a charming and interesting Western town, to Thompson Falls, Montana. Goodbye Idaho (only there for two days, we entered up north, at the thinnest part). Hello Montana. We'll be here for weeks!

We left Wallace and immediately started on Dobson's Pass out of town. Officially, Dobson's Pass is closed, as part of the road caved in, but we checked at local watering holes the night before, and it's clear that the Pass is open to pretty much any vehicular traffic that wants to hazard it.

Which isn't a lot. We basically had the entire climb, and the thrilling descent, all to ourselves -- maybe 4 or 5 cars during the entire 12 miles. Oh yeah. The climb. Well, it was pretty dang hard. I admit I had to stop a few times to catch my breath -- I mean, take a scenic photo.

After the descent, we went through the towns of Pritchard (population maybe 35) and then through the metropolis of Murray (population maybe 50). We did pause long enough in Murray, however, to visit their local museum which features the purported world's longest link chain carved out of a single piece of lumber (OK, it's not the longest ball of yarn, but it's close). The museum actually was pretty interesting and an informative look into the past of the area, including Murray's most famous resident, Molly B'Dam, the hooker hero pioneer of the old West.

Next was the daunting Thompson Pass -- especially after the workout our legs had already gotten on Dobson. I won't admit to the number of rest breaks I had to take, but, eventually, the summit appeared and, after a 30 minute conference call with a legal client (what was I thinking?) and putting on a windbreaker (descending in a sweaty bike shirt is very cold), started an amazing descent. The first 6 miles was super steep, but it was then followed by about another 6 miles of descent. Plus, I did not get passed by a car for 9 miles. As I said above, thrilling. And beautiful.

Here are today's routes and metrics:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Day Twelve (Continued): Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes

This was a pretty gorgeous biking day -- both weather-wise (cool, but not too cool), and biking/scenery wise.

Those who have kept up with this blog will recall that we detoured off of the tried and true ACA routes to head northeast to this trail because of all the good stuff we had heard about it. So, expectations were high (which can be dangerous), but the trail, for the most part delivered. I say for the most part because (a) the last 20 miles of the trail, from Kellog to Wallace (we didn't go on to Mullan) were -- how shall I say this -- encumbered by humanity -- winding through industrial areas, power lines zigging and zagging, and all the time abutting I-90 (!); and (b) I just don't like bike trails as much as empty rural roads.

However, those two qualifications aside, the trail was scenic pretty much every pedal of the way. It winds along the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene, but the landscape is ever changing, with the trail going through marshes, across bridges, through deep pine forests, etc. I even saw (and was able to photograph, see below) a moose (and baby moose).

It was also pretty empty -- except for a rally of recumbent bike riders (going the other direction), on their once-a-year visit to the trail. It was kind of odd to see so many recumbents all in one place -- probably about 100 of them. Some even had wind fairings and basically looked like bullets.

Travel-wise, we picked up the trailhead at its western-most end, in Plummer, ID, and ended up 66 miles later in Wallace, ID. We didn't go all the way to the end, to Mullan, simply because Wallace had more hotels (and turned out to be a pretty cool town).

Our only regret is that the Trail of the Hiawatha is in the general area too, and is supposed to be a fantastic (shorter, 15 miles) trail as well. But, try as we might, we couldn't figure out a way to work it into the end of the day's route or at the beginning of tomorrow's. To be filed, as Bob said, under the category of "You can't see everything."

Here are today's route and metrics (embedded this time):

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day Twelve (for now)

Completely beat. The Trail was excellent. Will try to catch up with a double post tomorrow, but our route tomorrow (into Montana to Thompson Falls) has two mountain passes in it (4600 ft total ascent), so I may be looking at a triple post catch up on Friday.

In the meantime, here's what we rode today:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Few Videos

From Day 9, a long, fast descent (behind Bob)

From Day 10, a view of Snake River, plus Bob descending on the "closed" road

Day Eleven -- Cold and Rainy in the Palouse

Today's ride was really about just getting there. We woke up to heavy rain in Colfax, WA and decided to see if we could wait it out. We only had to get to Plummer, ID today, which would be about a 47 mile ride,  with reasonable total ascent of about 2500 feet. So we thought we could afford a later start than usual. Unfortunately, by Best Western's Noon check out time, the rain was still pretty strong. And the temperature had only risen to the low 50's. And the wind was a steady 10 to 15 miles an hour, with gusts up to 25. And the first 6 miles of our route out of Colfax were on the highway. Perfect conditions for biking, yes?

Actually, there was one positive, and it was significant. The wind was at our backs. I'm not sure we would have left the hotel if it was the other way around.

For the first 20 miles of our ride, to a little town called Oakesdale, we were cold, wet and pretty miserable. The Palouse scenery, with its wonderfully varied hill contours, was still pretty fantastic, with the green of the fields made even greener by the rain. But it was kind of lost on us today. We were too wet and cold to slow down (except to put on extra layers).

We were saved by Crossett's Market in Oakesdale. First, and most basic, we got in out of the rain and cold. But as importantly, they had great hot chocolate, which warmed us and restored at least a modicum of feeling in our extremities. And, while we waited to dry out and see if the rain would let up, we chatted with Becky, behind the register, and watched while she greeted each customer by name and got caught up on all the local happenings. Crossett's was clearly a central social meeting place for the town.

We stayed there for about an hour (long enough for about a dozen different social conversations) -- about as much as we thought we could wait to leave to get to Plummer -- but not before Becky insisted on comping us each to a second cup of hot chocolate. "I can't stand seeing you guys shivering," she explained. Thanks, Becky!

At 3:00 we set off again, reluctantly, in a much lighter rain that....actually stopped. We didn't get any sun, but we did have to stop and take off some of our layers. So the final two hours of riding were a whole lot better. And we left Washington behind and crossed into Idaho. Another state down!

No photos today (other than the Google image at left of Crossett's), for obvious reasons. Also no map or metrics, as all we're getting in Plummer is an Edge phone signal (no wi-fi, no 3G), which simply can't manage the data upload. But I'll edit and add it when we're back in civilization, so to speak.

Tomorrow the forecast is for sun, although still cool, and we ride The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. Definitely looking forward to it. And we expect to be to Glacier by July 1st. Almost 600 miles covered so far!