Today we biked 75 miles and climb to 4600 feet over loop loop pass. It was quite steep as well so all in all it made for a hard day of biking. We have one more climb tomorrow and then three flat days into Seattle, finishing the ride on Sunday. I can’t believe this is almost over.
Climbing the pass was interesting in that we started almost at Sea level with vegetation that looked like Arizona and finished in a dense pine forest. On the way down we got our first look at the northern cascades which is what we are climbing tomorrow. Quite rugged and still snowcapped, unlike the mountain passes we been climbing over the last several days.
Today was a short 43 mile ride from Republic to Tonasket WA. There was a modest climb but overall the ride was fairly easy. This portion of Washington is hot and dry, with vegetation that looks much like Phoenix. This will likely change as we continue to climb into the Northern Cascades over the next couple of days. Though Washington overall is a blue state, this part is not; I’ve seen countless “Keep America Great Again” signs throughout the last couple of days. I guess the last couple of years has made us great once more.
Tomorrow starts the last two tough days of the trip, with a steep climb to Loup Loup Pass. After Thursday, we head south toward Seattle along a flat bike path.
On Sunday, we biked along a river for 40 miles, then climbed about 1100 feet to a plateau. The ride was beautiful; went through the Kalispell Indian Reservation where we encountered a buffalo herd, and saw many bald eagles. The climb was a prelude to Monday, when the ride was 82 miles over the Sherman Pass, a climb of over 4000 feet. This was a real challenge, complicated by road construction and huge logging trucks. However, it was quite beautiful, and getting to the pass felt like a significant accomplishment. We now get into the Cascades, with a pass every day for the next 4 days, before a couple of flat days into Seattle. The days are waning; it still seems amazing that this journey is almost over.
On Saturday we rode a short 35 miles from Sand point to Newport Washington. Most of it was a beautiful ride along a river. Stopped at a small town called Priest River for a cup of coffee; the main road was blocked off for the annual Timber Day celebration. There was a parade, a logrolling contest, ax throwing, tree cutting, and other similar competitions. The whole town seem to be quite into it and it was great fun. An interesting parade item was an old school bus decked out in flowers and looking like an old hippy van except that the back was plastered with Trump stickers.The parade has a standard local police and fire department contributions, but also trucks filled to the brim with logs, goats, and logging equipment.
On Thursday, we biked a little more than 100 miles from Libby, Montana to Sandpoint, Idaho. Of the 16 states we go through, Idaho is the only one I have not visited previously. Sandpoint is a trendy town on the northern edge of Lake Pend Oreille, the largest lake in Utah. It’s a beautiful spot, surrounded by mountains and with a sandy edge, giving the town its name. The lake was formed by glaciers, so that it has the same deep blue color as Lake Tahoe. This is our last rest day; we bike for 9 more days and finish in Seattle on August 4.
Sandpoint grew initially as a railroad town; it is a stop on the Northern Pacific Railroad system. The line was opened in the 1870s; like many of the western railways, much of it was built by Chinese “immigrants”. It is now part of the Burlington Northern system, the largest freight hauler in the US. The incredibly extensive railway lines throughout the US has been one of the surprises for me on this trip; I’ve never had a real understanding of the extent to which rail movement of goods is such a large part of the economy. Trains are more than 4 times cheaper than trucks to move the same amount of freight, and cleaner as well (yes, got this from Wikepedia). It’s also really scary to cross tracks on a bike when raining.
Today we rode from Eureka to Libby Montana. We rode along Lake Koocanusa for the majority of the ride. Koocanusa is a mash up of the Kootenai tribe, Canada, and the USA, all of whom have some ownership stake in the lake. The lake is actually a reservoir formed by a huge dam in the Kooteney river.
It’s actually amazing that we are now west of the Rocky Mountains. Tomorrow we head south west to Sandpoint Idaho, and then on to Washington state. The big climbers in Washington will be in the Cascades; I think Eastern Washington will be fairly flat. We have 550 miles left to go; as the ride winds down, I have competing feelings of relief that the ride is ending as well as regret that an amazing experience that I am unlikely to repeat is coming to an end as well. This is been a challenge physically but has broadened my perspective about the range of people in the US as well as the amazing variation in geography.
On Monday we had a rest day in Whitefish, a small town with a number of good restaurants, bars, and art galleries. Kathy met me here, and we spent much of the time with a friend from the bay area who has a house in Whitefish. We also had dinner with friends from Phoenix who have a house in Eureka which I bike to on Tuesday. It was great fun to be in a new place and have familiar folks to hang out with.
On Tuesday the ride from Whitefish to Eureka was both beautiful and hair raising. The road was narrow, the shoulder minimal, and logging trucks frequent and fast. I am staying this evening with friends who live in Eureka. Eureka itself is much less trendy than Whitefish and much more poverty stricken. It’s much more typical of the small towns in eastern Montana that we stayed at in the previous week.
Tomorrow we go to Libby, our last town in Montana before spending one night in Idaho and then on to Washington.
I am back after 2 1/2 days of internet and cell phone black out in Glacier National Park. The last several days have been incredibly interesting. On July 17 we were to ride from Chester to Cut Bank Montana. However, the winds were 30 to 40 miles an hour from the west, with gusts up to 60 miles an hour and so a group decision was made to forgo the day of riding and get to Cut Bank in the vans. Given how much the vans were buffeted by the winds, I think it was a great decision.
From Cut Bank we rode west to St. Mary which is the eastern border of Glacier National Park. The winds were strong in our face, but it was an amazing day watching the Rockies evolve from little bumps on the horizon to huge peaks by the end of the day. We spent the evening in a campground just inside the park. The next morning, we rode the Going to the Sun Road, which is the main road from the east side of Glacier to the west. It was a truly amazing ride. The climb was tough but not terrible and the area around the pass, which is the continental divide, was spectacular. We saw big horn sheep, coyotes, bear, marmots, deer, and countless people. The ride down was 11 miles of a truly harrowing road but everybody made it safely.
Today, we rode 30 miles into Whitefish. This part of Montana is hilly but nowhere near as rugged as the mountains in glacier. Kathy is visiting today as we have a rest day tomorrow. We are staying with a friend which is also very nice. Amazingly, we have less than two weeks of riding to go. We are at about 3600 miles which sounds impossible thinking back on it. I’m both looking forward to being done and being back in the real world but also feeling a bit of a melancholy that this adventure is coming to a close.
The last few days have definitely not been the high points of the trip. Today we biked 63 miles west through the Montana plains. Road was busy with trucks, narrow, with no usable shoulder for a significant portion. Winds were 15-20 mph in our face for all of the ride. Gusts blew bikes around so that trying to stay in a narrow shoulder was virtually impossible. Everyone made it, but there were some really scary moments. Tomorrow winds are 10 mph stronger than today, so we will see. Tomorrow night we are in Cut Bank, which is the threshold of Glacier National Park, so after we get there things should look considerably brighter.
Total mileage so far is about 3300 miles, give or take. A little less than 1000 miles to go…