Day 4 - Lolo Hot Springs MT to Lowell ID (80 miles)
One policy that I have when cycle touring is to always end my day at the top of a hill. It is not much fun starting the day with an uphill slog. Unfortunately, I broke that rule the previous evening by stopping at Lolo Springs so I was faced with an 8 mile climb to Lolo Pass (5235').
After breakfasting at the cafe -- pancakes again -- it was onwards and upwards towards the pass. There was no traffic and it was a cool morning. In spite of the hill I enjoyed the cycling. As the road wound towards the pass it became steeper and steeper, with lots of tight curves. The metal guardrails were making lots of noise as they expanded in the sun.
At one point I met Steve who was cycling east. He had quit his job in Virginia and was doing a trans-American trip. He told me that I had a very nice, long descent ahead of me. It was his first attempt at long-distance cycle touring and, although he was missing his wife, he was enjoying the freedom of it all. I could relate.
After chatting for about 20 minutes we parted. Before too long I got to the top where the border was between Idaho and Montana.
There was a visitor's centre at the summit which I stopped at to fill my water bottles and see the displays. They had a 3-D terrain model of the area and I could see why it was that L&C were so discouraged. I have never seen a less hospitable place in all my travels. Just to make things difficult, they even had to deal with snow, even though it was only September.
I met another westward bound cyclist, this one a 65 year old expatriate Norwegian. He was cycling from Seattle to Houston Texas, following the L&C trail until Missouri and then heading south. It's fantastic to meet people like that who haven't let age and infirmity stop them. Then again, perhaps that's why they don't seem as old and infirm as the general population! Several people at the centre spoke with us and were incredulous that we consider cycling through mountains such as these a holiday.
Leaving the centre I spoke with a couple who were doing a book on the L&C expedition, this one from the air. Called 'Chasing Lewis and Clark' they had a unique aircraft which took the photos while the ground team drove and did local research. If you want to seem some amazing photographs check out their web site:
From there it was downhill for 12 miles to the ranger station at Powell where I stopped for an early lunch. The area was still heavily forested, which was a surprise. There was a sign by the road which showed how the area had been allocated in a checkerboard pattern between a railway company and the US Government Forest Service, even though the railway company never built the railway. That perhaps explained why there were still so many trees. I could just imagine L&C sludging their way through this difficult terrain. Much better on a bicycle.
I had been noticing an increasing number of motorcyclists and I chatted with a few at a rest stop. They told me that Idaho (and Montana) were particularly popular since they don't require motorcyclists to wear helmets. Quite crazy. As a cyclist I feel uncomfortable when I don't have my helmet on, so I couldn't imagine riding at 100 km/h without one. One cyclist I met commented that this was just Darwinianism at its best: survival of the fittest :-)
It was a great run and I had a smile from ear to ear. There was a very nice lodge at Powell made in a log cabin design. I had my staple, vegetarian hamburger, served by a woman from the Czech republic. I asked her how she came to be in outback Idaho and she said it was part of a summer student programme. She wasn't looking forward to returning as she had fallen in love with the Idaho wilderness. I could relate.
On exiting I noticed two cyclists and I chatted with them. They were heading west on the same route as myself, having started 8+ weeks ago in Missouri. Even though I left before they did, they soon caught up with me and left me behind. I didn't mind as I had the road to myself.
There was a place called 'Colgate Licks' where I stopped to read a historical sign. That is one of the advantages to cycle touring: one can read all the signs, stop and look at things, etc. It's great. It was a place where the elk came down to the natural mineral outcrops (hence the 'licks') and it was where a fellow named Bill Colgate drowned. He was on an mining expedition which got caught by early snow. They tried rafting down the Lochsa river and tipped near this point. He died of exposure.
The river was very rugged so it is not surprising that they had problems. Most of the major rivers in the west seem to have been dammed so I'm not sure how the Lochsa escaped, but it was spectacularly beautiful. I found out later that it is restricted and one needs a permit to kayak/canoe on it. There must be great fishing as there were many people trying their luck.
I stopped at the 'Lochsa Historical Station' to get water. I met a father and son who were doing a trans-American and we chatted. The son had been an exchange student in NZ so it was a small world. It was great to see all the cyclists on this section of the route, I would have passed at least 5 groups of two or more. They were smart, heading west, while I was going into the wind. In fact several commented that I had some fun ahead of me when I got to the Columbia gorge. One said he did over 100 miles with hardly peddling due to the strength of the tailwind. Just the news I needed ...
The station was an old log cabin and it was run by retired volunteers. I chatted with the man who was wearing a buckle showing him to be a US Army veteran. He had fought in Europe and returned there regularly to revisit his old haunts. I contrasted this with the ex-aviator I met last year in Yellowstone Park who, after spending time in a German POW camp, never left the US again, except to visit Canada and Mexico.
The road continued downhill and I saw some rafters on the river. I wished I could join them as I enjoy kayaking/rafting, and the day was very hot. In fact, I later found out it reached 104F, or 40C, and it sure felt like it. My hydration pack was graced with a ring of salt and I drank over 10 L of water that day.
At Lowell there was choice of two motels. I stopped at the first and found the two cyclists I had met at the ranger station finishing dinner. I asked what the food was like and they said great. Another patron commented that I had two choices in town, and this was the best. I sat down and hoed into baked potato, vegetables, and other goodies. I finished with apple pie and ice cream so I was a happy camper. Not that I was a camper, I grabbed a room in the motel which, while a bit tired, was at least comfortable.
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