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Bike Tour 2012: Fire on the mountain

Bike Tour 2012: Fire on the mountain

Bike Tour 2012: Fire on the mountain

Clearwater River in idaho
The Clearwater River shrouded in smoke

We made it to our rest day in Missoula, Montana! Unfortunately, our entire ride through Idaho was full of smoke from a multitude of wildfires that are burning throughout the state. We left Council on Thursday morning (after spending the night in an awesome pizzeria) and biked 90 miles along the Weiser River and then the Little Salmon River and then the Salmon River to the tiny, historical town of White Bird. We stopped for lunch in Riggins, where we witnessed the smallest farmers market in existence and spoke with a local named Earl who told us all we needed to know about the area's interesting geology. In White Bird we camped in the city park and Don enjoyed a beer ($1.25 Keystone...the only beer Idahoans drink) with the locals in the Silver Dollar Saloon.

Riggins, IdahoBiking in the smokeFireman's camp
Small town of Riggins, riding through the smoke, and the fireman's camp near White Bird

The next day we began our ride with a steep 12 mile climb up White bird hill. We got to bike on the Old Highway 95, which is full of switchbacks but virtually free of all traffic. The climb was tough, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. White Bird was the site of the Nez Perce War and the whole route from White Bird into Montana felt riddled with a rich history. Lolo Pass itself was originally Lolo Trail and was used by Native Americans for thousands of years as a buffalo hunting route. From White Bird hill, we descended into Grangeville for lunch (more $5 footlongs from Subway) and then continued along the magnificent Clearwater River through the Nez Perce Indian Reservation and on to some free camping along the river just before the town of Lowell at the base of Lolo Pass. It was a 70 mile day and the smoke was thick, but the camping spot we found was perfect.

White Bird SummitSmoke over the riverView from camp on Clearwater River
At the top of White Bird hill, a smoky ride, and the view from our campsite near Lowell

The next moning we woke up cold and sniffly from the smoke. We rode 4 miles into the town of Lowell and found the most cozy restaurant we have ever been in. We ended up staying for a few hours eating pancakes, staying warm, and watching the smoke (which looked like heavy morning fog) roll by. When we finally got on the road again we were refreshed and ready to head up Lolo Pass. In Lowell the Clearwater River gives way to the Lochsa River, which is equally astonishing in it's beauty. Our ride was 65 miles of gradual climbing to the town of Lowell and the Lochsa Lodge, just 13 miles from the top of Lolo Pass. It felt frustrating to be in such a beautiful place but to barely be able to see over 100 yeards in front of us. The sun was blocked by the smoke too, so the whole day seemed dark and cold. At one point there were fire trucks with flashing lights and signs warning of "Fire Activity Ahead" but no one stopped us or seemed concerned by our presence so we just kept biking. As a whole, we were not impressed with Idaho drivers' courteousness, but we were especially unnerved by the fact that no one stopped to offer a ride or any assistance whatsoever as we biked into dark walls of brown smoke. We eventually made it to the Lochsa Lodge which was fortunately had much clearer skies and beautiful free camping on their grounds. We felt so grateful for their $5 showers and free use of their cozy lodge and free wifi. It was a welcome relief from the days' ride.

Lowell, IdahoFire dangerInto the smoke
The cozy town of Lowell, an unheeded warning, and more walls of smoke

The next morning we woke up excited to be getting over Lolo Pass, reaching our 1,000 mile mark, crossing into Montana, and arriving at our first layover day since Smith Rock. The pass felt very manageable, especially compared to some of our previous climbs (most notably McKenzie, the hill into Halfway, and White bird hill). We were beyond relieved to say goodbye to the Idaho wildfires and hello to the warm sunshine in Montana. The ride was pretty short (only 65 miles) and mostly downhill after the pass so we were full of smiles and talk of plans for our layover day. Our first stop as we rolled into town was Arby's for some roast beef and cheddar sandwiches followed immediately by more Dairy Queen. Gotta replenish those calories :) We then went about finding a place to stay in this cute, college town and happened upon our new friend Blake and his wonderful hospitality. He is also a bike tourist and an avid climber and backcountry skier so we had lots to talk about. He is letting us camp out in his yard, store our bikes and gear in his garage and even had us join him and his friends for a delicious salmon dinner last night. Warm Showers hosts are the best! Now we are spending our day resting, working on bikes, and just enjoying Missoula.

Comfy Lochsa LodgeMontana!Our Warm Shower hosts
Inside the comfy Lochsa Lodge, happy to be in Montana, and our wonderful host and friends

A few more thoughts that I wanted to share. First of all, our legs do still hurt, quite badly at times, and saddle sores are definitely no fun. We have learned that you really do just ride through the pain and take it one day at a time and before you know it, you've biked over 1,000 miles, in about 10 mile increments. The next thought is about drivers sharing the road with bikers. Our least favorite drivers lay on the horn as they get close to us, speed up and then fly by, making sure to stay in their lane. I am sure their intentions are good...they want us to know they're there and they think if they get by us quicker than we are in less danger. Unfortunately, they're actions actually feel reckless and frightening. Our favorite drivers slow down at least 5 to 10 mph, move over at least half a lane, and then give a friendly honk and wave after they pass. Just something to think about next time you pass a biker on the road. And finally, Idaho wins the award for most beautiful rivers. We can't wait to visit again someday when the state is not covered in smoke. We loved the rivers so much that we look forward to taking up fly fishing someday just to have an excuse to stand in the middle of them!

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