This is part one of a two part post covering the last two days. What an adventure!I was getting a package delivered to me in Grangeville through UPS so I needed to figure out where in town it had been delivered. I got up at 7:30 so I could check the potential shops opening at 8. The first place I decided to try was a Customer Service Center in town. The only worrying thing was that I could find no information about this place on the UPS website, only on Google. I tried anyways and my first bit of good luck for the day shone through: it was there! I got my package and went to a coffee shop for a massive chai tea. I went back to my room and opened the package: it was a Brooks saddle I’d asked my mom to send me in the hopes that it would cure my saddle soress. I installed it with extreme excitement. I packed all my stuff then had 30 minutes to just sit and watch the Tour de France. Sitting around doing nothing is a rare luxury.
I got checked out of my room and on the road at 10, one of my latest starts. As I was rolling through town I saw the couple, Kristin and Andy. They told me they’d had a really rough day going up and over Whitebird summit yesterday on account of the heat, false summit, and everything else. They’d just finished breakfast at Seasons where I had lunch the day before. I told them my experience then said goodbye, expecting to see them later that night. I took off in completely the wrong direction, took a few minutes to figure it out, then came back and got on the right route. In that time they’d also left so I caught up with them a mile or so later. That was the start of my first full day of riding with a group. We got to experience random rolling hills in the fields around Grangeville that were surprisingly steep
As we rode, they filled me in on some important info they’d heard at camp the night before (one of the major benefits of camping instead of moteling is the gossip) and that was that the pass we needed to go over, Lolo Pass, was currently on fire and had been closed the day before. They’d tried to get a U-Haul to drive over it with their bikes but no dice, so had decided to just try and ride it out. In the picture above you can see the air getting hazy with smoke, even 100 miles from the fires. We pushed on.
We came to a major descent from the plains down into the valley of the South Fork of the Clearwater River, possibly one of the steepest yet. Here it is vanishing into nothingness
Note the smoke getting worse in the valley. Around this point I pulled my gaiter over my mouth and nose to try and get some protection from the ash in the air. I’d keep it down for 2 entire riding days.
We pulled into the small town of Stites and went into what turned out to be a thrift store. The place felt on the verge of bankruptcy, but I got a lemonade and candy bar. We pumped up tires, though I managed to let out more air than I put in, and set off. Within 5 minutes I noticed that my seat was crooked. I figured I must have put it on wrong when I installed it this morning. I told Kristin and Andy to keep moving since I figured it was a simple fix. As I went to tighten the bolt it snapped in two. Uh oh. This is the bolt that holds my seat up and pointing straight. Without it I sink to an uncomfortably squat riding position, and the seat rotates all over the place. I checked google and luckily it seems Stites had a hardware store. I rode back standing up due to the bolt issue and went in. It took about 30 minutes to extract the remaining bolt, find a replacement, and thread it all the way in but at the end it seemed to go on ok. Right outside the store was a take a book-leave a book so I left Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency which is finished the night before and took The Storied Life of AJ Fikly. I left and tested my weight on the new seat and it held, so I left to try and catch the couple.
A few miles down the road I came to the town of Kooskia. According to my map this was the last place with services for 89 miles. That turned out to not be true, but I still restocked on gatorades and a fruit smoothy. While I rode through town I looked for Kristin and Andy or their bikes. Seeing neither I left main street and veered on a short detour the route followed. This passed right by a forest service ranger station so I stopped and asked the status of the fire. A helpful ranger said that things were ok now, but that the fire could close the road at any time. He told me the visitor center was closed, and that when I got up there to go through ASAP. He also warned that the road was narrow, winding, and very dangerous. He turned out to be right on all counts. I thanked him and left. Within 10 minutes I had joined up with highway 12 and saw what the ranger meant. There was no shoulder, high speed traffic, and blind corners galore. I had a bit of a freak out here from the traffic, to the point that I was riding from one pull out to the next and and cowering at each until there were no cars coming nor could I hear any. It was miserable slow going. On top of that the smoke was getting thicker, to the point that when a large truck would come through it would kick up a layer of white ash and cause coughing fits. I slowly, fearfully, made my way down the road until I got to a straight section and saw another cyclist coming towards me. He stopped and introduced himself. His name was John and he was sporting a gray beard, no helmet, and gear and bike that looked like they’d seen 30+ years of action. He said he was doing his own custom route across the country. He told me he’d passed about 10 fires on his way down the canyon. Somehow, talking to him calmed me down. If this older man can ride without a helmet through a fire filled pass with cars whizzing by then so can I. We said goodbye and parted ways. This sounds stupid but I tried to channel his energy and it worked, I felt less fearful, less like every car on the road WANTED to kill me, and started figuring out ways to make the the lack of shoulder more bearable. Number one was just listening carefully for cars coming up behind me. Number two was to always try to be seen on a straight part of road. That may mean stopping before a corner an listening and let any approaching cars pass. With these strategies and the spirit of John on my side I really did feel much better and more confident. I made good pace down the valley until I saw this
As far as I could see there were no fireman fighting this, they were likely all up at Lolo Pass fighting that fire. I kept going, now starting to grasp the seriousness of these road closures due to fire.
A few miles down the road I came to a day use area and saw Kristin and Andy’s bikes. I pulled in and joined them at a picturesque little beach on the river. They’d just finished lunch and after a bit we joined up and rolled out. Their pace was basically the same as mine, just a tad slower which I didnt mind given the stunning scenery
Cars seemed more respectful seeing 3 cyclists together and so that was good for this heavily trafficked patch. At some point the cars thinned out (maybe due to the fires) and we made good time to the town of Lowell, right at the split of the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers. We pulled into a small cafe and I got onion rings and tea, while Kristin and Andy got pie a la mode. I ended up getting a slice too and it was amazing. Rejuvenated we got back on the road with 25 miles to the campsite they were targetting. There wasn’t all that much remarkable, except Kristin getting a flat from a large rock, and the beautiful scenery
The smoke was still heavy, but made for some beautiful blue mountains, John Denver style (ft Kristin and Andy)
The miles went slowly but steadily and soon enough we were pulling into what we throught was our campground. Imagine our surprise when a forest service employee warns us that a helicopter is landing where we are standing and asks us to move. That was pretty cool.
A group of forest service employees got out of the chopper and busted themselves with something or another. We rode a few miles down the road and got to our real campsite, the beautiful Wilderness Gateway site. It was right on the river and massive, but seemed mostly deserted strangely. We got a great site in the woods and got unpacked. By this point it was 6 or so due to the late start. We found some time to go for a swim in the river and get a picture anyways
We made dinner then got to bed ASAP, around 9, though I read my new book for a while.
I’ll post part two in just a second. Hold your horses.
- Huge chai tea
- Blueberry muffin
- Can of Arnold Palmer
- Fruit smoothy
- 2 cliff bars