We scrutinise the map for backroads and spend several days on gravel and tracks. Much more fun than the main road. If it wasn’t for the rain.
First we ride along Lake Koocanusa and then spend the next few days slowing traversing passes from one valley to the next. It is wet and we get muddy. As the rain pelts down, our feet squelch in our shoes with every step. It’s a long uphill made worse as we cannot see any views. Shrouded in damp mist. But the downhill is worse. We’re soaked through and the mud flicks up from the wheels and gets in my eyes. I can hardly see. I have the brakes on hard, but it doesn’t slow me much. And then, there is nothing worse than putting up a wet tent in the rain. Some refuge. But you have to take the shit with the smooth. The rain will stop. We will dry out. Good days are just around the corner. With majestic views and sunny skies. Hmm… I’m not convincing Lars!
We arrive in Plains and check into a motel. Bliss. A shower, a warm room. I can be dry. Sod cycling in the rain. Satellite TV and a bed is way better! But only for a while.
More backroads. More hills. More fun and we arrive on the Lolo Pass. The highest point on the Lolo trail, which the Nez Perce indians used in the 18th century. Lewis and Clark passed through here also, in the winter of 1805, on their journey to find a navigable water passage across the continent.
At the visitor centre were, surprisingly, five other cyclists. At the visitor centre there was not, surprisingly, any coffee, soft drinks or even food. Not even a snack bar. In Africa, this tourist stop would have been teeming with entrepreneurial women and boys selling fruits and drinks on the roadside and in the carpark. Instead, the visitor centre sold t-shirts and keyrings. Well, they were for sale. I doubt many were being sold. And we wonder why the US economy is the way it is…
From the top, it was the longest downhill of the trip so far. A day and a half, following the Clearwater river winding through the Bitteroot mountains. Unfortunately it rained for most of it. As we neared the end of the road, the sun finally appeared. This time, it stayed with us.
Another pass, White Bird Hill Summit, and we follow the road along the White Bird Canyon. It was here in 1877 that a battle between the Nez Perce Indians and the US army took place. Despite being outnumbered 2 to 1 and the US army having superior weapons, the Nez Perce were victorious with only two casualities.
Our road then followed the Salmon river. Passing through Riggins, the natural beauty gave way to run-down trailer homes on scraps of land. Fenced off and littered with ‘No Trespassing’ signs, we were happy to keep on pedalling. Fortunately, with the next steep hill, the homes disappeared and we were left with a rushing river. At the top a wide plateau of lush meadows and tall bullrushes.
From McCall, the road continues on the plateau, spreading out into farmland, before another beautiful downhill. Just one more hill later and we arrive in Boise.
And that’s where we’ve been for a week now. Staying with two long-distance cyclists who are between tours. A week of hot showers, and a bed to sleep in, and home-made cooking (not mine), and good conversation, and lots of rest.
But if we want to see some of Utah before the snow hits. We need to be off. Sharpish. Well, time for one more coffee first…