This is part two of a two part post covering the last two days. What an adventure!We woke up around 6 and remarked that the smoke seemed to have cleared somewhat. Perhaps the fires were getting better? We had no service and no way of knowing. I’d heard 1 helicopter in the night, but no announcements that we needed to leave. We had breakfast (oatmeal and hot chocolate) then packed up camp. I left first saying goodbye to Kristin and Andy, since I was planning to got Missoula that night then take a rest day the next day, and they were planning to detour to friends homes soon, so we probably wouldn’t be travelling together much longer. I got on the road. The haze made for some stunning red sunrises
The hills were still a hazy blue in the smoke
As I rode I considered my plan. Basically, it was to go quick and make it up and over Lolo Pass before fire made it impassible. After that, try for Missoula which would be a 100+ mile day. It was still smoky so I kept my gaiter up and pedaled hard to make good time. One thing that made that more difficult was a bulge that was developing in my tire. It was slightly uncomfortable, but not bad, and mostly I was worried that it would blow out and leave me stranded with no way to fix it. I tried to avoid rocks and potholes to avoid any damage to the bulging spot.
I rode in the carless morning for a good while making good time. It seemed that whenever there was a car it was trying to pass me on a blind corner with an 18 wheeler emerging around that corner, but hey whatcha gonna do. There was one driver in a silver sedan who came around a corner too fast and honked angrily at me for being in the road. I tried to keep calm through these incidents to give myself the best chance of making it over the hill. I made it to the first pack bridge after about an hour
The river beside me kept my spirits up
After several hours (40 miles) of flat to slightly uphill riding I arrived at the first major way station on the road, Lochsa Lodge. This was a beautiful wooden lodge in the hills by the river, near the bottom of Lolo Pass. I stopped for some lunch. Looking out the window I saw burned trees in the distance. I asked the waiter and he said that was from 2 days before
Apart from the heartbreaking view the lodge was wonderful and the food tasty. I would love to return. I exited the lodge with 13 miles to the top of the pass and 2000+ feet of elevation gain. The first few miles were very similar to the last 40 or so miles: pristine river valleys
I made excellent time in this segment, but very little uphill progress. Eventually the road turned away from the river and the climbing began in earnest. It wasn’t particularly steep, but as usual there was no shoulder and fast traffic. The sightlines generally were a little longer. Unfortunately because I was going so slow that gave drivers less time to react if they came upon me in a blind corner. I therefore listened super closely for oncoming cars (wtf will I do when electric cars are more mainstream?) and just waited for them to pass. As I climbed I began to see blue sky. Remarkably I was literally climbing out of an ashy valley into a clear blue afternoon
The climb ended sooner than I expected and I crested the hill to see a sticker covered Montana sign, a fire status billboard, and a closed visitor center (as promised in the previous post by the ranger).
I began the descent without waiting around much, I was quite worried about road closures and everything else. I didn’t need to be, it was a beautiful day on the Montana side
I rode down to Lolo Hot Springs and everything was closed due to the fire. I kept going and soon heard the blades of a helicopter. It passed right overhead and then dunked into a river or stream that I couldn’t see to refill it’s tanks. It then lifted off again. I may have missed the worst of the fire but it was definitely still raging somewhere
I kept moving but was feeling tired. I pulled over at a campground by a creek to dip my toes in the water and refuel. As I was taking my shoes off I heard a loud crack of thunder and saw an ominous dark cloud on the horizon.
I repacked before the rain started and prepped myself for the first storm of the trip. The rain and wind picked up together. The rain hit me in big meaty drops while the wind picked up, unable to decide which direction to blow, sometimes a tailwind sometimes a headwind. I was feeling good from my rest, and anxious to reach shelter so was doing 20 mph in the drops through the storm. It was actually kind of fun. Within 45 minutes the sky cleared and all evidence of the storm evaporated remarkably quickly. Just a few miles longer and I reached my target of Lolo. I hopped on a bike path (so done with shoulderless roads) and went to the first coffee shop I saw for a hot chai tea. I rode the 8 miles form Lolo to Missoula at a very liesurely pace. Along the way I saw police and news crews filming smoke in the hills. Apparently the thunder I’d heard started a small fire close to Missoula.
I kept riding and eventually made it into town. I spent some time wandering around trying to find a hotel. Most things were booked but I settled on a crappy Motel 6 where the wifi doesn’t even work. Just having a bed is luxurious though so I won’t complain too much. I went and got a lot of fast food (Subway, McDs, Five Guys all) then got some groceries for the ride. Now I’m back in my room figuring out how to post this. If you’re reading this I guess I found a way!
About the Brooks seat: it’s wonderful! Through this 170+ mile adventure in the last 2 days my saddle sores are basically gone. I get some amount of chafing but I think that’s just part of riding lots, can’t avoid it.
This really has been the most adventure filled few days of the trip. Despite the confusion, fear, and danger, I had a wonderful time and navigated it well I think. I feel more confident that if I can make it through this I can make it through anything else the trip can throw at me.
PS: I got a text from Kristin and Andy that they made it safe over the mountain to Lolo. Yay!
- Hot chocolate
- 2x cliff bar
- Philly cheese steak
- Custard with ice cream
- Iced tea
- Complete cookie
- Beef jerky
- Chai tea
- 6 inch sub
- 4 McDs cheeseburgers
- 4 nuggets
- Five Guys shake
- Five Guys hot dog