Trip Log – Day 106 –Spokane, WA to Wilbur, WA

Spokane to WilburAugust 19, 2015 – Hazy, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 66

Miles to Date: 5,900

States to Date: 22

 IMG_3589Every few weeks I forget the rule than fifty miles before noon is easier than thirty miles after noon, and have to learn that lesson all over again. It was hard to leave Ryan and Sabina and their other warmshowers guest Al. We had a great breakfast conversation and it was pushing nine by the time I left. How hard could 66 miles be?

 IMG_3595The first ones were easy, across the Spokane River and rising up along the Centennial Trail. Cool shady mornings even make climbing pleasurable.

By the time I reached the plateau, about ten miles along US 2, the sun was high, the fire smoke made a brown band in the sky and I knew it would be hot. But the road surface was good. Beyond Quest Casino and Wal-Mart, Fairchild Air Force Base and McDonald’s, the land became an immense, undulating blanket of tawny wheat; as if the past six weeks of mountains disappeared and I was back in the Dakota’s. I spun fast, in keeping with the gigantic scale, until the wind imitated the Dakota’s as well, bearing straight at me with no relent.

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I was famished by lunch, and disappointed when Davenport’s Safeway was the dinkiest possible store: no prepared foods or place to sit down. Still, I can always put together a good lunch in a grocery store. A dozen tired guys in white pick-ups with flames on their T-shirts came in as well: fire crews on break.

Beyond Davenport the road was recently paved with rough aggregate safety engineers must love for the friction, and cyclists abhor for the same reason. I jostled on an oily goo of tiny pebbles for twenty miles. Everything vibrated, my bike, my hands, my head. It was an interminable MRI test. No matter how much I savored the scenery, which had turned to sagebrush, or was thankful for no of rain, or no fire, I could not forget the bumpy shoulder. Finally, I came to Cresston, where I promised myself a break. But Cresston’s a shell town; nothing left. Until I passed a roadside chapel that was open and cool and let my jangled nerves approach equilibrium.

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The road wasn’t all that much better for the last ten miles, but my spirits were. I found the energy to pump hard up the hills, and brace Surly against the cross winds. Every flag stood straight out from its pole. The Willows Motel in Wilbur is much nicer than I would expect from such a sleepy place. I found adequate eats at their local grocery and was simply happy not to be vibrating anymore.

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Trip Log – Day 105– Coeur d’Alene, ID to Spokane, WA

Couer d'Alene to SpokaneAugust 18, 2015 – Hazy, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 52

Miles to Date: 5,834

States to Date: 22

 IMG_3555My nephew Joey has an early job, so I was on the road shortly after six, revisited Coeur d’Alene’s lakefront in the early morning light, and was on the Centennial Bike Trail before the morning commute. Centennial is one of the best trails I’ve been on: great pavement, generous width, and terrific views along the Spokane River. The river’s water level changed dramatically along the route. A series of markers explained how the Prairie Aquifer feeds the river and vice versa, as the relative height of the aquifer and the river change along the route.

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IMG_3570By eight the sky turned hazy and smoke from the region’s fires masked the sun. By the time I arrived in Spokane, this railroad hub was shrouded in pollution. I meandered through Spokane’s industrial east side to visit Self Storage of Spokane. I’ve seen so many storage facilities across the country I wanted to investigate how they figure into tomorrow. The manager gave me a terrific interview and different perspectives on who rents storage facilities and why.

East Spokane includes miles of pawnshops and used car lots on streets not well suited to bicycles. Eventually I made my way to the University district (Gonzaga, the perennial NCAA basketball contender is in Spokane) and landed downtown, where I found a cool Mexican restaurant for a satisfying lunch.

IMG_3586Downtown Spokane is all about fun – it’s easy to see why the city hosted a World Expo back in 1974. There’s a carousel along the rive, an amusement park on the island that held the Expo, and cable cars that traverse across the spectacular Spokane Falls and under the impressive Monroe Street bridge.

IMG_3579 IMG_3580I took a writing break at the Spokane Library, where I had a study carrel with a view o the falls as well as the not-too-distant fires. I am so impressed by the libraries in this country. Cites have invested so much in them over the past twenty years and in town after town I enjoy seeing how well used.

My warmshowers hosts, Ryan and Sabine, live a few miles out of downtown in a quaint 1920’s bungalow. They set a high standard for friendliness and amenities, including fresh garden salad with our al fresca pasta dinner. Such thoughtful people make me feel good about tomorrow.

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Trip Log – Day 104 – Sandpoint, ID to Coeur d’Alene, ID

Sandpoint to Coeur d'AleneAugust 17, 2015 – Sun, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 55

Miles to Date: 5,782

States to Date: 21

I meandered through Sandpoint on my way out of town, and visited the beach I missed yesterday. The distant mountains were silhouetted in the morning light.

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The first ten miles toward Coeur ‘d’Alene is a good ride along a bike path along the lake. The next thirty miles were less fun. US 95 turns away from the water, has a variable shoulder, and heavy traffic. Ten miles outside of Coeur d’Alene I was able to shift to a local road, and resume a pleasant ride.

IMG_3548I did pass an awesome logging facility with this huge overhead crane that loaded logs onto rail cars. Giant sprinklers spewed water fifty feet high to keep the logs moist in this area rampant with fires.

I arrived at Coeur d’Alene just after noon. After last Friday’s blowout, I had called ahead and made an appointment at a local bike shop to have my ride overhauled. I settled into a corner of the shop while the mechanic performed magic on my trusty steed. Every bike shop amazes me in how they respond to long distance cyclists. I was happy to be on the road within two hours. They were happy to have a customer so easy to upsell. I replaced my punctured tire, rear bearings, front derailleur, chain, and brake pads. I can’t skimp on Surly.

 imgresI spent the rest of the afternoon cruising beautiful Coeur d’Alene and writing in their gorgeous library at a table overlooking the lake. Then I pedaled up French Gulch to visit my nephew Joey, whom I had not seen in ten years, and his wife Amanda, whom I’d never met. We had a great evening catching up in their cool and remote-feeling cabin only three miles from downtown.

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Trip Log – Day 103 – Noxon, MT to Sandpoint, ID

Noxon to SandpointAugust 16, 2015 – Sun and haze, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 53

Miles to Date: 5,727

States to Date: 21 

I was happy to discover a coffee spot a few miles beyond Noxon this morning. I chucked to myself when a guy half my age with twice my waist told me cycling was unhealthy in this smoky air and that trucks would run me off the road. I checked delivering a reciprocal comment about what his XXL microwaved burger from Quick Stop was doing to his health. My New England penchant to keep unsolicited advice to myself is a good trait in a country where people dole out opinions as fact and expect thanks in return.

IMG_3534For the next fifteen miles smoke laden air infiltrated my lungs, but the hour of exercise it took to get me out of Montana will probably not kill me. Idaho brought brighter skies and cleaner air, though the summer haze lingered.

 

 

 IMG_3540Lake Pend Oreille is a spectacular place; New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee on a grander scale. It’s the last remnant of the ancient Lake Missoula, part of the Western Interior Sea that included the Bonneville Sea in Utah and the ancient ocean through Eastern Colorado. I pedaled along the eastern shore to arrive at Sandpoint by noon thanks to crossing into Pacific Daylight Time.

I enjoyed the afternoon in Sandpoint and a fun dinner with my warmshowers – a family with four lively children.

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Trip Log – Day 102 – Plains, MT to Noxon, MT

Plains to NoxonAugust 15, 2015 – Cloudy, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 64

Miles to Date: 5,674

States to Date: 21

An uncharacteristic morning for the West; thick clouds spanned the horizon. Hard to tell which were passing moisture and which were entrapped smoke from the fires all around us. The air smelled of cinders and tasted of soot.
FullSizeRender-9Coming off the hillside where my warmshowers hosts live I came upon several signs: I Control My Own. An Internet search didn’t reveal what these signs were protecting, but in Montana, it could be most any form of private property.

 

 

FullSizeRender-8In time, streaks of sun began to filter across the mountains. I could only imagine how glorious the Clark Fork Valley would be in full sunlight.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender-4I appreciate that Montana was the first state to install historical markers along highways (1938). They are uniformly interesting and informative.

 

 

FullSizeRender-3However, I am less convinced that every little shack with a coffee pot is brewing Espresso.

 

FullSizeRender-2I stopped for lunch at the Trout Creek Huckleberry Festival. I find a festival most every weekend, and they are all pretty much the same: lines of craft booths; an alley of food vendors; kiddie rides and a performance stage. The variation (in this case a plethora of products made from huckleberry and art created by chain saws or made from chain saw parts) is insignificant compared to the similarities. Festivals are no place to talk about tomorrow. They are full of people in groups, enjoying each other and their neighbors. Hardly conducive to the conversations my question triggers. Still, I devoured excellent fajitas and a giant bowl of huckleberry ice cream before moving on.

IMG_3532Just outside of town I met a woman cleaning up from her yard sale and we had a terrific interchange. Nothing restores my spirits more than a positive interaction. Besides, the sun came out and the mountains shimmered all the way to Noxon. The Noxon Motel is as basic as can be, yet perfectly clean and neat. I had several hours of solitude until my recent travel companion, Peter, showed up around nine to crash in my room. He’s a nice young man from New Jersey I met three days ago. We’re on the same route. We don’t cycle together – every cyclist has his own rhythm. Still, we’ve landed in the same place the last two nights. Whether that will continue, only the road can tell.

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Trip Log – Day 101 – Missoula, MT to Plains, MT

Missoula to PlainsAugust 13, 2015 – Haze 100 degrees

Miles Today: 73

Miles to Date: 5,610

States to Date: 21


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Fire Danger: Extreme! I had heard there is often August snow in the mountainous Montana, so I wasn’t expecting the hottest day of my trip here. Then again, ‘unseasonal’ is the only consistent adjective we can apply to weather anywhere these days. Yesterday’s heat hung over early morning, the mercury was already passed 90 when I stopped for a break at 10:30, and the air was brittle and dry all afternoon.

Surly didn’t like the day very much either. First I had a blowout on the decline into Arlee which proved challenging to fix. The air was so hot I never got the tire pressure right, both bike and rider were lethargic. Then I got a wire caught in the same tire. Thankfully, I disengaged it before a second flat.

FullSizeRender-2I have been thinking about the John Steinbeck line that people here love to quote: “I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” I am not in love with Montana, but I am confounded by it. The four cities I’ve visited have each been more interesting and vibrant than I expected. The landscape is breathtaking. But beyond the cities, I have met too many jaundiced people.

Today I got a toxic diatribe about our President in response to my question, from an ice cream vendor no less. As I pedaled away, unsatisfied by a stingy scoop of huckleberry, I realized that nature’s majesty could not counteract the meanness of that man. Why, I wondered, does such an expansive place create such narrow people? The kind of question worth spinnFullSizeRender-1ing for a good twenty miles. Perhaps narrow people seek out the place? Ultimately I realized that Montana is expansive, but it’s not generous. Life is difficult here, for animals and for people. Resources are scattered far and so populations are spread thin. It is a large pie, but not an expanding one, and not a very nourishing one. People truly believe that they must protect what they have – water, land, livestock – by themselves and with extreme measures if necessary. I can appreciate Montana’s beauty, but I just can’t love a place with so many guns and so little goodwill.

FullSizeRenderMy downcast perspective lingered through the long hot afternoon. Five miles from Plains my warmshowers hosts pulled up in their truck. They’d been in Missoula for the day, were looking for me, and insisted on sagging me to their house. The sky was mixed with scattered thunderstorms and fire smoke. They’d already picked up Peter, another cyclist I met during the day. They thought he was me, and invited him for the night. So we were four for a tasty dinner that lifted my spirits but sparked my fatigue. I was in bed before nine, before dark.

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Trip Log – Day 100 – Missoula, MT

Ovando to MissoulaAugust 13, 2015 – Sun 90 degrees

Miles Today: 12

Miles to Date: 5,546

States to Date: 21

 FullSizeRender-1Day 100 of my adventure – in the Bicycle Mecca of America! Every touring cyclists knows about Missoula – headquarters of Adventure Cycling Association, freecycles bicycle cooperative and a small city’s worth of bike-centric people, traffic-calming paths, and two-wheeled activities. Surly and I spent the day tootling around and talking to a bunch of people doing great stuff in every quadrant of the social-economic and political scale.

FullSizeRender-4First stop: PEAS Farm, a ten acre vegetable farm, one of 21 local food production efforts run by Garden City Harvest. PEAS combines a unique mix of paid staff, college interns and at-risk high school students to provide fresh food produce to CSA subscribers and for low-income mobile markets. They invited me to join them for a delicious lunch.

IMG_3485Next up: Freescycles community cycle shop. Bob Giordino showed me around their repair area, and ‘parts department’. I used the stop to do a quick once over on Surly, who is in great shape.

FullSizeRender-3Afternoon ice cream break; Adventure Cycle Association, where I ran into other cyclists I have met along the road. I also had meetings with their membership director, one of the founders, and the current CEO to talk about tomorrow.

 

 

FullSizeRenderLast stop: Dress for Success Missoula. One chapter in an international organization that assists women in transition to prepare for job interviews by teaching job getting and interview skills as well as giving them appropriate outfits for interviews and the workplace. Terri Griffith and her staff, all of who are volunteers or in work reentry programs, represent the contributions that women emerging from abuse or prison have to offer.

I rode over to my warmshowers host for the night. Bruce Anderson is perhaps the most prolific warmshowers host in the world; several hundred cyclists a year. His sunroom and living room are giant crash pads and he has an introductory binder to describe protocol. Small crowd tonight – just two of us. Every warmshowers experience is different.

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