Sur La Plaque!

Bicycles, beer and other self-indulgent ruminations.

Sixty-Six: Rolling on its Grave (Bates to Dayville)

Miles: 63
Total: 4,344

Oregon’s a cloudy state. Here, rumble strips are called fog lines. Between Mount Vernon and Dayville, ODOT’s kept busy repaving. They cut rumble strips into the shoulder only to be reminded that code prevents fog lines on any shoulder less than 4′ wide. So they had to go back and pave over all their hard work — a bummer, but score one for cyclists. Rumble strips stink.

I had company this morning. Two park rangers came in for maintenance work. Mostly tree-trimming — this is such a new park that the vault toilets smell more like plastic than, well, a toilet.

Chilly, I dawdled leaving camp. Outside Bates, I climbed my last triplet pass, Dixie, and descended for the rest of the day. In Prairie City I stopped for coffee and became the grateful beneficiary of two lightly burned cookies. Take what you can get.

Between Prairie City and Dayville is John Day, a fair-sized town of 2,000. The library’s open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and I booked a flight home for a week out. The trip’s coming to a close. I’ll see the ocean in a few days, and be in Astoria soon after.

Smoke hangs over much of Oregon, but Dayville is positively on fire. Crews are around, but because right now, National Forest is burning, they’re idle, waiting for it to edge onto private property. This inaction has locals frustrated. It’s close — smoke makes 2 p.m. look like twilight, and ash’s fluttering down.

I’m stopped tonight at Dayville Presbyterian — my first church stay since Dubois, Wyoming. Rose, the caretaker, said they’ve hosted cyclists since the ’70s. A big step up from the tent: shower, wifi, full kitchen and laundry. Rose also showed me where the pancake mix is for the morning, though I’ll need to be up and out early lest I become part of the service.

Sixty-Five: 86’d in 84 (Richland to Bates)

Miles: 97
Total: 4,281

A riding lawnmower roared into life and woke me up before my alarm today. The miracle of irrigation. Pleasant and cool this morning, I spent the first couple miles with a jacket on.

In 1984, heavy rain precipitated a landslide, damming the Powder River and burying a segment of Highway 86 — the main thoroughfare. You still see stretches of the old road from the bypass.

The Oregon Trail ran through here, and there’s a history center outside Baker City. It’s also on top of a mammoth hill, so I didn’t make the trip. I doubt any settlers would, either.

Baker City (pop. 9,828) is the terminus of section 3. The next map will take me to Eugene, and then it’s off to Astoria. Big-city libraries are nice because they keep regular hours. I spent some time here researching ways home. It’s likely I’ll buy a ticket out of Portland in the next day or two.

From Baker, the route takes you up over three 5,000′ passes, each about a 1,000′ climb, and 10 miles apart. I climbed Sumpter and Tipton today — Dixie tomorrow. The names give you a hint that southern sympathizers settled the area.

Just before cresting Sumpter Pass, I ran into two Asian tourists. They’re 15 days in and said I’m the first cyclist they’ve seen. Handshakes and photos all around. They’re on a 5,000-mile odyssey from Vancouver to NYC.

Home tonight is Bates State Park. It’s just a couple of years old, on the site of an old logging camp. It’s Friday night, and I’m the only soul here. Hiker/biker sites are $5, and that gets you electricity and potable water. Without a sink, I washed clothes inside an empty Ortlieb pannier.

Sixty-Four: Moo Echo (Council to Richland, OREGON)

Miles: 93
Total: 4,187

Today my tour across America turned into a tour across Oregon. I crossed the Snake River 50 miles in and nabbed my tenth — and final — state. I’m also in the Pacific Time Zone for good.

Packing up this morning, a cow across the road mooed, then waited for the echo off the barn to return. This call and response went on for quite a while. It must have entertained her. It definitely entertained me.

More construction on 95 this morning. I was waved through the pilot-car zone and left to fend for myself, pulling over as opposing convoys passed. The road’s ground down again, but at least now they’re paving. I met three folks taking the TransAm to Missoula, where they’ll cut up and ride the Northern Tier. One guy’s wife is coming along and hauling their stuff for the first few days. I hope they enjoy the time unloaded.

In Cambridge I stopped at an espresso stand for coffee. These shacks showed up somewhere in Montana and promise drive-thru caffeine. Here I got on Highway 71, which was smooth and nearly traffic free, and took me to the top of a 4,131′ pass. The climbs aren’t as tall anymore — another sign I’m getting close to the coast. I hurtled down the other side, and into Hells Canyon, where I met two young European tourists pushing Long-Haul Truckers uphill. I can’t say I blame them: it’s much steeper on their end. They stayed on the reservoir and recommended taking a swim to cool off.

The road through Brownlee Reservoir was windy and fun (and would be even better in a fast car). The river’s dammed here by Idaho Power to create electricity. It’s pretty, and the canyon’s North America’s deepest. As its name implies, it’s also toasty, with temperatures over 100 degrees. There are lots of fruit trees and berry bushes along water’s edge. It smells like riding through a box of a Fruit Roll-Ups. I climbed out and into Oxbow for lunch before hauling myself up another 1,500′ and into Richland for the night.

I’m camped out at Eagle Valley Grange Community Park. There’s a big pavilion, with screened-in joists to keep birds from roosting as well as electricity, running water and a handful of outhouses. No shower, and while I’d heard of coin-operated facilities at the RV park, no one was in the office when I rolled in, so I investigated and found regular showers near the coin laundry. Not sure I was supposed to be there, but I rinsed off real quick.

Sixty-Three: “Famous Potatoes” (Grangeville to Council)

Miles: 108
Total: 4,094

My day peaked early. At the bottom of White Bird Hill, average speed was a heady 21 m.p.h. I finished the climb I started yesterday afternoon, then zoomed down 95, staying above 30 m.p.h. for nearly 10 miles and grazing 40 m.p.h. for significant stretches.

I stopped at the bottom for an espresso to celebrate “not splatting,” as Sara so graphically put it. The first half of my day was along the Salmon River, and I saw plenty of rafters and fishermen out. Crossing the river put me back in Mountain Time, where I’ll stay till Oregon.

I quit in Riggins for lunch and the library. My waiter must know cyclists, because he brought over a pitcher of ice water with the menu. Outside Riggins, the ACA takes you off 95 for four miles on a parallel road to Pollack. It’s always nice to leave traffic behind, even for a short stretch.

There’s a bunch of “Road Work Ahead” signs out, but the only evidence I saw was smoooooth asphalt. That — and a gentle tailwind — made the 2,000′ climb to New Meadows go easily. At the top, you ride through a scenic valley, where marginal grazeland is in the process of returning to wetland, with government incentive. I crossed the 45th parallel outside of town, and grabbed my first chocolate milk in days. A rafting guide pulled up and offered me a place to put a tent up and a hot shower. His brother-in-law is in the middle of a long tour. An incredibly generous offer, but with a shady day, smooth roads and the wind comin’ correct, I wanted more miles.

Maybe I should have accepted, because right out of town the wind switched direction, my gentle tailwind now a gentle headwind, and then becoming gusty at times. The road work signs continued, but previously smooth asphalt was ground in preparation for repaving. The yin and the yang. There’s an alternate route offered here along the Weiser River Trail, but it’s pretty loose gravel, so I stayed on road, where I spotted a dead cow roadside. Gross, sorry, but even for me, someone who sees more roadkill than’s healthy, this was noteworthy.

Home tonight is Council’s Courthouse Park. I’m set up next to a covered picnic table close to water, bathrooms and electricity. The library’s wifi is available from my tent! No shower — there might be a pool in town, but I didn’t investigate at 8 p.m.

Sixty-Two: Here be Ents (Weir Creek to Grangeville)

Miles: 98
Total: 3,986

Well, no one came to check out the flaming tree last night, and the sound of rushing water put me right out. It was a great morning of riding — again along the Lochsa River in deeply wooded forest. The river is undeveloped, largely because of the 1962 Scenic Rivers Act, which restricts bridge and dam construction.

I finished the 45-mile stretch without water at a historical ranger station 20 miles in, where I made a cup of coffee and spent an hour talking with the guide. The station’s set up as it would have been in the ’20s, complete with mule-packing station and ranger homes you can walk through. It would be a mighty lonely existence, and the station closed during winter when even mules couldn’t make the trek. Highway 12 wasn’t completed till 1962 — that’s how remote this area is.

The guide told me that there’ve been lots of fires this year, especially in Oregon. That explains all the hotshot equipment I’ve seen headed back and forth. She also said that policy is to monitor, but let fires burn unless they come close to watershed or inhabited areas. Even then, special permission is required before action’s taken.

I came across London-based EBer Kat shortly after. She’s cycled through the US before, and told me about her so-called “Florence of Arabia” scarf, which she soaks in water and uses to keep cool. Good tip.

In Lowell I emerged from the wilderness, and started following the Clearwater (the Lochsa and Selway meet in Lowell). The Clearwater was pretty, but not as nice as the preceding 90 miles.

Entering the Nez-Perce Reservation outside Kooskia, the heat really ramped up. I took a long lunch and when I started cycling again, it was 95 degrees. But it’s a dry heat, right? Right.

I climbed out of Kooskia into Grangeville, which is home tonight. It’s partway up the mountain, so tomorrow’ll start uphill. A good way to warm up. I’m camped in Lions Club Park, following very detailed instructions that place me in the SE corner, on the east or west side of the creek. This should ensure that (a) I’m out of sprinkler reach and (b) that I’m in the middle of the Frisbee-golf course. The city pool offers showers for $3.

I spent most of the evening talking with Josh, a CU graduate student studying hydrology (re: ephemeral streams). He came up for a five-day rafting trip through Hells Canyon and is staying a few days longer since his ’87 4Runner threw its timing chain. Hopefully he’ll be on the road tomorrow, assuming no bent valves.

No bear box tonight! The most menacing creature spotted was a skunk skulking through the grass.

Sixty-One: “Point of Interest” (Missoula to Weir Creek, IDAHO)

Miles: 82
Total: 3,888

After breakfast, I found Adventure Cycling World HQ on Pine Street. Sarah took my photo for their wall, offered me ice cream and an ACA flag before giving me a tour of the building. A spandex-clad VIP.

I also met Greg Siple, a founding member, the back-page photo guy and much more. He had me fill out a brief bio and photo release, then took a photo of me and the bike. We also threw it on a hoist and weighed ‘er: 80 pounds before a trip to the grocery store. The ACA folks are headed to Pittsburgh for a conference soon and have the opportunity to ride the GAP. I advised fenders and wider tires.

On the way out of town I picked up provisions for the next two days since there’s not much till you hit Kooskia (coo-ski). Map 3 opens with a pretty, and pretty desolate stretch along Highway 12. I backtracked to Lolo (a trip to Missoula is an optional extra (but who wouldn’t?)), where I stopped at Travelers’ Rest, a confirmed Lewis and Clark camp. Staff said I’d be OK camping anywhere in the National Forest.

The route takes you past Fort Fizzle, an emplacement built hurriedly to engage non-treaty Nez Perce as they headed deeper into Montana. The Nez Perce simply passed undetected at the next ridge, earning the fort its name. This was a welcome failure, given mixed public and soldier opinion on Indian policy and the Nez-Perce War. Every few miles stands a post letting me know there’s another post that will tell me something historic about the area. Just in case I miss it at 14 m.p.h.

Then up Lolo Pass (5,235′), into Idaho (no. 9) and Pacific Time. It sprinkled briefly on my climb, but rained steadily on the descent. I stopped in Powell, the last service for 66 miles. You can camp behind the store for free, but the storm passed, so I filled all four bottles for a dry camp and continued on. I had a destination in mind.

On Day 49, Thomas C. told me about a hot spring on panel 32. Jacob and Megan also mentioned it at Jenny Lake. The turnout is easy to miss, but drag your bike just a few minutes up the path and you’re rewarded with a gorgeous campsite right on the creek. I have my food hung from a tree , just in case. The best part about this free site is the natural hot pool 10 minutes up the path.

It’s public, and I hear can be busy at times, but it was all mine when I hopped in. Maybe 105 degrees, it’s too warm to stay in for more than a few minutes. It’ll stand in nicely for a shower. A little later, four young ladies joined me. They came from Portland this morning (!), headed to Missoula. Natalie out-and-back cycled the stretch they’re driving a couple of years ago.

We spotted a big pine tree on fire in the woods past the pool. They’re gonna call it in once service is available. Hopefully no one wakes me up.

Sixty: College Town (Hamilton to Missoula)

Miles: 54
Total: 3,806

I had a great morning visiting with Terry. She worked last night till 10 p.m., so we caught up the over delicious pancakes (with a colleague’s fresh raspberries) and eggs she kindly made. One of her sons did a cross-country trip in 2009 and they host cyclists in part to repay some of the good turns folks did him.

There’s a bike path between Hamilton and Lolo. It’s separate and about 15′ from 93, so you don’t have to fight with traffic along the busy corridor. Probably ACA-influenced, I enjoyed it tremendously.

In Lolo, Highways 12 and 93 run together, which makes for a lot of traffic. The bike lane ends here, so the final dozen miles into Missoula are on the shoulder.

I spent most of my afternoon at Missoula’s busy library. This town of 66,000 people is the biggest I’ll see till for several hundred miles, and it was high time to camel-up on quality coffee, beer and ice cream (as if you need a reason). I had dinner at Bridge Pizza (right on the Clark Fork River), where two huge slices of fantastic NY-style pie and a beer set me back $6.50.

Home tonight is Warm Showers host Bruce Anderson’s 1931 home, built by an oil and gas salesman at the height of the Great Depression. The bath/shower controls have five knobs — you could probably pilot this tub to the moon. I’m sleeping in the sunroom. He and his housemates put up more than 130 cyclists last year. He’s got it down to a science, including a quirky guidebook to the house. The home serves as an unofficial Missoula community center. It’s a cool place to be. His grade-school son, Ben, was scootering around all night. Bruce helped him swap the bearings on his scooter, but we never did get the mystery noise resolved.

After settling in, I rode downtown for ice cream at the Big Dipper and then over to Caras Park to scope out a 1991-built carousel. It features 38 hand-carved horses on a 1918 frame. And it spins way faster than what I would call reasonable and prudent! The park’s along the Clark Fork River (A fork of what, I have no idea. It seems to be its own entity), and the city’s installed a concrete wave-forming structure that challenges surfers and kayakers.

I’ll have to wait till tomorrow to visit ACA HQ — it’s closed Sunday.