Ride Divide 5
Ride the Divide - Chapter Five
Miles – 14 Total Chapter Miles – 14 Total Ride-the-Divide Miles – 2,146
TFTD: Searching for ice cream
Back on the road for the final chapter of Ride the Divide. We left our house at 4AM for the 6AM flight to Seattle (with a plane-change and flight to Kalispell) with four packed bike-bags, and two sandwiches. Ty shuttled us to the airport, and we were on our way , through a masked airport. It’s not that the masks are so bad, but there’s no smiling and (very) little laughter. The whole vibe is very subdued and quiet. It reminded Andy of traveling in Russia – not much fun…
The flights were about half-full, even in the little Embraer 175 jets, which have 2 seats on each side of the aisle. We know the question you are all thinking: does the spAirTray fit in the window of the Embraer 175? Yes, it does!
Both flights were on time, and we had one of the sandwiches on the flight to Kalispell. Also on that flight, we flew over Lake Chelan, a place we had stayed on the Sierra Cascades bike trip (which we did a few years ago, and named MexiCan Mounties), slightly over the border, to slightly over the other border…
We met Stephen, the same driver we used to get to the airport in July, at the airport, and he took us directly to Wheaton’s Cyclery, in downtown Kalispell. The bike was there, tuned-up, and looked ready to go with water bottles and tent poles still in their places. We packed all the gear into the panniers, trunk, and rack-pack, paid the invoice, changed into our bike clothes and started pedaling.
It was only a little after 1PM (noon in CA), so we had plenty of time to pedal the 14 miles to the Hampton Inn in Whitefish. We hopped on Highway 93 north, which is a fairly busy road, but we had a very wide shoulder. So, while it was a bit noisy, is was a decent road between the two towns. The temp was in the high 80’s, with low humidity, and, of course, a BIG bluebird sky. All-in-all a good day for a short pedal – did I mention the 5-10 mph tailwind? Welcome back to Montana!
With all this in our favor, we made good time and reached the Hampton before check-in. So, we shared our second sandwich, with chips, outside the hotel. Then, we rode the mile into town and followed our noses to Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. We had visited the Sweet Peaks in Kalispell on our last trip, and discovered that their ice cream is probably in the top 5 we have encountered. We got double-scoops.
After the long stop at Sweet Peaks, we headed back to the hotel and checked-in. Luckily, we were able to get a ground-floor room, which is always a relief. We’ve had plenty of adventures and contortionist-times hauling The Beast up and down various stairwells.
We finished-off the day with a walk to MacKenzie River Pizza Co for a tasty dinner. Tomorrow, we head to Eureka, MT, only six miles from the Canada border. Unbelievable that we’re almost there. There’s talk that they may let cyclists cross the border. We’ll find out in a couple of days…
RTD – Ch. 5 – Day 2 (8/16/20)
Miles – 55 Total Chapter Miles – 69 Total Ride-the-Divide Miles – 2,201
TFTD: A long way from New Mexico… can’t believe it’s almost over!
We woke-up in Whitefish, MT and instinctively checked the wind as soon as Andy’s eyes were open. This is a habit he started (and, will not go away!) with our first cross-country ride, when we made our way through the “wind tunnel” they call Kansas. The thought-bubble that appears above our heads as we sleep in our semi-comfortable, two-star motel beds, is of tailwinds, smooth roads, crisp temperatures, and Pop-Tarts (?); but as soon as we are awake, we check the wind speed and direction.
In any event, the cycling-Gods once again conjured a perfect morning to hit the road. It was a flags hanging motionless morning with a mid-50’s temperature. Another great day to pedal, though we knew it would short-lived as the temps were supposed to hit the high 90’s today… yes, in northern Montana!
We can report back that Whitefish, MT is a really nifty place for a tourist-town. Whitefish Lake looks delightful, and the golf courses we rode by made us want to stop and hit a few. Soon, we were out of town and riding over middle-ring rolling hills tucked in-between cow-face steep mountains of mostly fir trees, with some Lodgepole Pines sprinkled in, a fine mixture. Not to be outdone by the conifers’ beauty, we did pass by some Aspen groves. The Aspen is a tree that is just a “show-off”, but it works. Those suckers are so pretty they can hold one’s attention for a long time.
The beauty begins to fade when you’ve been on the bike seat, or standing, for three or four hours, so we were pleased when we saw our first mini-mart at about the four-hour mark. There was even a picnic table in the shade! It was a good stop to down a quart of Gatorade, rest the dogs a bit, and then make our final pedal to Eureka, where we figured we could get a sit-down lunch before we rode the last couple of miles to the (one-star) motel – where we’re staying tonight.
We entered Eureka, a cute, little town, much like Nevada City with, luckily, not so steep a main street, and found Jax Café, a perfect spot for lunch. At last check, there were four Covid cases in this county, so we are able to dine indoors in this part of Montana – still with “social distancing”.
The waitress (she called us “hun”) informed us that they are allowing no tourists into Canada, and they (Canada and USA) are “not nice at all” about turning people away. We experienced this the last time we were at the Canadian Border, where the Canadians were extremely nice in telling you “you’re and idiot and are screwed”, while the US side just says, straight-up, “you’re an idiot, and now that we have you, we’re going to hassle you for a while, cuz that’s our job.”
Her description of the mess at the border pretty-much dashed our hopes of crossing, so we will move to Plan B: ride to the border tomorrow morning, and then head over to Lake Koocanusa (look carefully at that name), and stay at Cabin #9. Another great day of Montana pedaling!
Miles – 58 Total Chapter Miles – 127 Total Ride-the-Divide Miles – 2,259
TFTD: Rocks, rocks, rocks… and MORE rocks!
We woke up at the 1-star Silverado Motel in Eureka, at 6AM, ready for the final six miles to the Canadian Border, or Boundary, as they call it. It turned out that the Silverado was much nicer inside than the outside would lead you to believe. Our immediate thought, when we first saw it, was that it would be a fine place to store explosives. It was a tilt-up of widely-corrugated, pre-cast concrete panels. Very solid, and served well against the blazing-hot long afternoon yesterday.
The sliver lining of the partially closed border (workers and emergencies are allowed through) is that there was almost no traffic for the final six miles, so we pretty-much had the road to ourselves. Once again, a great morning for cycling with cool temps and no wind. We also left early enough that the sun was still behind the huge mountains to the East. There was a surprising number of lots for sale for homes to be built on or RVs to be parked on, and one very nice housing/RV development with a spectacular golf course. There seemed to be maintenance staff on every hole, mowing and prepping for the day’s duffers.
We crested a small knoll, and there it was: The Border. We knew, for sure, when we saw the “Duty Free” shop that was 50-yards from the actual “Boundary”. The place was shockingly deserted, except the guy in a pick-up truck who was opening the Duty Free store. Because of warnings from the locals about the border agents being “not nice”, and because of our previous border mishaps, we did not approach the “Boundary” sign, and Andy didn’t even want to go behind the “Leaving Montana” sign. The Duty Free guy said we could go up to the Boundary sign, but “just stay about 20 feet this side of it”. No, and thanks… We snapped a few pics and headed south for the first time in a long time…
We did it – Mexico to Canada again!! And, although we were disappointed we couldn’t continue the adventure into Canada, we were reminded by the mini-mart cashier back in Eureka, that if that’s the “worst that happens to you this year, then that’s a pretty good year”. So, instead of heading North, we rode the six miles back to the motel, then turned right and headed West to Lake Koocanusa. This is SOME reservoir! It was formed in 1974, by the completion of the Libby Dam. The lake is 90 miles long, and goes all the way into Canada. We will follow it for 67 miles. Kind of like riding around Lake Tahoe (72 miles), except we’re not going to get to the other side. The lake is fjord-like, in that it has very steep mountains that drop into the lake, which is only a mile, or so, wide at most places. And, we saw only one boat on it all day.
Someone got really good at drilling rock to blast-out the road we were on. We passed several shear-rock cliffs, at least 100 feet high, with vertical drill-marks every 18 inches or so.
We ended the pedaling portion of the day at the Koocanusa Resort and Marina. The campground appears to be packed, the marina looked half-full (at best), and we were fortunate to get Cabin 9, a rustic, little hideaway with a sleeping loft and un-rustic, unmatching, yet well-worn furniture. Andy thinks he sat in the exact same chair at a brewing conference in San Antonio in 1984. Yeah, the chairs are totally out-of-place in the rustic-ness that is Cabin 9.
Tomorrow will be a big day, 76 miles. We’ve combined two short days into one, very long one. Why? Well, that’s a good question. Maybe for the wi-fi and cell service, neither of which we have tonight (think rustic…), or perhaps the hope of matching furniture from this century….Andy is really struggling with that!
Miles – 76 Total Chapter Miles – 203 Total Ride-the-Divide Miles – 2,335
TFTD: Rain, rain go away!
Woke-up with the alarm at 6AM, and had our dreamy breakfast of Blueberry Pop-Tarts and orange juice. The Team was in fine form this morning, expertly preparing for the 76 miles of unknown that lay before us. We wolfed-down the various forms of sugar in anticipation of a real breakfast in Libby, MT – 25 miles away!
We loaded up the bags, lowered the bike down the steep cabin steps, then loaded the bags on the bike, went inside to sweep the cabin for any forgotten items, did the pre-ride ritual of “this is going to be a great day”, and went outside totally psyched-up and ready to…. Rain!? Again, we channel John McEnroe: "Are you serious!" Yesterday it was 95 and now it’s raining – kinda hard. So, we dashed back in the cabin, grabbed some towels and covered the bike. What to do? What to do??
We stretched for about 10 minutes, the rain slowed, so we took the towels off the bike and back into the cabin, and then hit the road. We are not “serious” cyclists, but we are cyclists, so a little rain is not going to stand in our way of a #1 breakfast at the first restaurant we see in Libby, a short 25 miles away. We pedaled in a light rain for an hour along Lake Koocanusa. We passed Libby Dam. (We really hope that it holds together for at least two more days – can’t imagine what 90 miles of unleashed water looks like) And, then we were able to follow the Kootenai River for the last 20 miles to Libby. What a gorgeous river, and one can only imagine what it looked like before the dam was built in 1974. The dam, by the way, was very cool.
We reached Libby and, as usual, we had to rely on our finely-tuned senses to home in on the “right” restaurant: where the waitress calls you “hon” and the two old dudes sitting next to you talk about tuning a carburetor on a 1955 Chevy pick-up “cuz them Fords ain’t worth a lick”. We passed-up a couple places (very risky) then found the perfect spot at Antlers Restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner all at the same time, apparently. We had a nice, long breakfast/rest for about an hour (good food, slow service. It seems tough to get people to show-up for work in these uncertain times) which was a good way to prep for the next 50 miles of today’s ride.
We then headed off to Troy, about 18 miles away, where we originally planned to spend the night, and where a local woman told us yesterday “it's all downhill to Troy, then all uphill to Bonners Ferry, until you get to the plateau, then it’s kinda flat.” Most people have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to directions, but when she used the word “plateau” we thought maybe we should pay attention.
We got about half-way to Troy, and we noticed we were in the big-ring most of the time. This is very unusual unless we’re going downhill or we have a tailwind! Sure enough, we had a 5 to 10 mph tailwind. Not a bunch, but the difference of grinding in the middle-ring or making great time in the big-ring was awesome. We stopped at Kootenai Falls and talked with a guy with a nice camper setup with four mountain bikes hanging off the back for him, his wife, and their two sons. He lives in Bend, OR, and commutes to Big Sur. Whatever. He said the camper is “perfect for two, but crowded with four”. Got it.
From there it was five miles of soft pedaling to Troy. Good decision to not spend the night there. We stopped at a mini-mart, bought some flavored sugar water, and sat on the curb outside the store, and tried to figure-out if the high school across the street was built in 1917 or 1971. It was very difficult to tell from our “seats” at the gas station. As we rode out, we could clearly see it was 1917. Another mystery solved! And, for those of you wondering, it’s the Troy Trojans. Naturally.
All sugared-up, we followed the wide, flat Kootenai River for a glorious six miles (maybe the woman was wrong…) in the big-ring. Yes, the tailwind was still with us. Then, just as the woman had promised, we came upon the “Yaak Grade”, an annoying two-mile climb of 500 feet or so, which, definitely, took us out of the big-ring. We topped-out, and guessed we were on the “plateau”. We pedaled for ten more miles over rolling hills, until we entered Idaho. Wow, a new state AND a new time zone. It was also starting to get very hot – how different from our rainy departure this morning, six hours ago.
We stuck with our plan of taking a break every 30 minutes to stretch, drink sugar, and have some water. Ninety-degree water works, but it’s not very satisfying. Just when we thought we couldn’t take anymore ninety-degree water, we reached Moyie Springs and, perhaps, the tallest bridge we’ve ever crossed. We felt like we were in a plane. We decided we were still on the “plateau”. Just across the bridge, was a mini-mart – with refrigeration!
After some cold apple juice, refreshing water, and watching a guy back his Blazer into a giant rock (“I forgot I put the hitch on”) we were ready to tackle the final seven miles to the Best Western Hotel and Casino in Bonners Ferry. However, the wind giveth, and the wind taketh, and it was our turn for the headwind. No matter, we were almost there, and the team was in good form and well-sugared. The wind was a bit swirly, but it seemed to, mainly, come hard from our left. Of course, we were to take a left turn, and finish the last three miles into a nasty headwind. We made the turn, it was nasty, and that’s ok, we’re almost there.
Then, we saw it – the little truck on an incline meaning…. Bliss. Furthermore, on the same sign, it said “6% grade next 2 miles”. Too good to be true, but it was. It would take us right to the hotel, and despite the headwind, when there’s 400+ pounds of cyclists and cycle, well, gravity is going to win this one. We had a well-earned final two-mile coast, and enjoyed dinner on the outside deck of the Best Western, while watching groups of geese, in formation, migrating by. It was a good day!
Miles – 34 Total Chapter Miles – 237 Total Ride-the-Divide Miles – 2,369
TFTD: Climb back up the plateau
We started the morning with a delicious breakfast a the Kootenai Best Western Plus Hotel and Casino, and while we feel fairly safe, Covid-wise, in these hotels (they checked our temps on the way in – Andy did a touchdown dance because his was lower) the real danger we hadn’t counted on, was the constant playing of ‘70s soft-rock music, and the resulting relentless “ear-worms”. So, it was difficult to concentrate on the pedaling when one had an Air Supply or Bread tune stuck in your head. But we are cyclists, so we are undaunted by even the most vicious ‘70s soft-rock “ear worms”. Thankfully, they did not play “Billy, don’t be a hero”. Sorry readers!
What the local expert didn’t tell us yesterday, is that when one “comes off the plateau”, down to Bonners Ferry, one must also climb up the “plateau” on the other side of the river. It was a long two-mile, little-ring grind, with Air Supply’s “Lost in love” pinging back-n-forth in our heads. Still, we persisted. We crested the hill, cleared-out the “ear worm”, and got back to the mellow rolling hills, vibrant green, huge, forested mountainsides, and a nice, wide shoulder which was, surprisingly clear of debris. In fact, it looked recently washed with water. Weird. About five miles later, we passed the sweeping and washing crew, inching their way back on the other side of the road. We gave them a big thumbs-up, and a round of applause, as we passed them.
Short mileage day today, so we almost didn’t stop at the one mini-mart on today’s route. We ended-up only getting an energy bar and a bottle of apple juice, but we noticed they had a little café, with an outdoor seating area, behind the mini-mart. The view was spectacular! There were pine and aspen trees up close, and then it opened-up to a huge, glassy lake/marsh. And, in the background were forested mountains coming down to a saddle, then behind that was a huge, rocky peak. We soaked in the view, and watched the cranes fishing in the marsh. On the way out, we noticed the café was called The Blue Heron, so we guess we saw some of those in the distance, too. We voted this mini-mart as the finest one we’ve ever visited, so next time you’re in Samuel, ID, take a pit stop at The Blue Heron. You’ll be glad you did!
The absolute highlight of the day, was when we spied two large items in the middle of the road ahead of us. When we reached them, we could tell they were two banana-box sized cardboard boxes. Kim was waiting for traffic to clear so she could get them out of the road, but, just then, a gust of wind came up and blew one into the path of a Subaru. The box lodged itself between the Subaru and the road, so the woman pulled over, near Kim and the other box. The woman was very nice and gave the box to Kim, since Kim already had the other box, and looked like she knew what to do with them. Kim back-tracked to a tractor-supply business (which was closed, but had a big recycle container out front), and put the boxes with the rest of the recycle. All in a day’s pedal.
We arrived in Sandpoint without further incident, had two great salads at Beet and Basil restaurant, and then checked into our room that has a sliding door out the back. Easiest bike maneuvering into the room ever. We like Sandpoint. Tomorrow will be Newport, and into a new state: Washington.
Miles – 30 Total Chapter Miles – 267 Total Ride-the-Divide Miles – 2,399
TFTD: Meandering river…
Another short day today…only 30 miles… so we dragged our feet a bit this morning, and lollygagged around our Lake Pend Oreille lakefront room. We confirmed plans to get a rental mini-van at the Spokane airport tomorrow(!), and figured out our drive back to Grass Valley. We decided to take a longer way home, and back-track some of the MexiCan Mounties route through southern Oregon and Northern California. The cycling trip evolves into a road trip.
We loaded-up the bike outside our sliding glass door, and were ready to go when Kim alertly remembered that we had left the water bottles in the fridge in the room. Good catch. It would have been a real bummer to leave without the water bottles. Then, we checked-out of the hotel, and with the full compliment of gear and bottles on the bike, we headed to Sandpoint proper and picked-up a bike-path that lead us out of town.
Bike-paths are wonderful, until they dump you out on a frontage road, and then that frontage road ends. We back-tracked 100 yards, and found a small trail that crossed the railroad tracks, and put us back on Route 2, which would take us to our day’s stop: Newport, WA. Yep, the third state of this Chapter.
Route 2 would take us along the Pend Oreille river/lake all the way to Newport. It was a fairly flat, wide shouldered road, which allowed us a perfect view of the (very) impressive houses on the south shore of the “river” – (we detected no water movement).
We took our time, meandering down the river, stopping occasionally to pick-up lost bungee cords that might help us secure the bike tomorrow in the mini-van. We also took a brief stop in Laclede, ID and looked at the largest sawmill we’d ever seen. Good shipping access via water, rail, and highway, a smart place for a sawmill. Shortly after the sawmill, we stopped in Priest River for breakfast #2, at the Village Kitchen. We lucked out and got a table on the back deck. The waitress didn’t call us “hon”, but she wanted to, and the couple next to us talked about remodeling their kitchen instead of rebuilding V-8 engines so we knew we were officially out of Montana. It was a great breakfast nonetheless… We chatted with some locals who asked us if we “liked” living in California… yeah, it’s ok… geez, we are, officially out of CA.
We coasted, cruised, and victory-lapped the last six miles to the Newport Antlers Motel – total price $87 – which had the best air-conditioning of the trip. And, we gathered provisions at the local Safeway. Then we hunkered-down at the motel, catching-up and watching the Gunsmoke channel. Awesome! Love these trips. Is Festus the best character ever?
Tomorrow, Spokane, and the transition from tandem to mini-van.
Miles – 56 Total Chapter Miles – 323 Total Ride-the-Divide Miles – 2,327
TFTD: Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened.
One thing we left out yesterday was that we forgot to get a rock from Idaho. The “tradition” is that Kim picks-out a fist-size rock, and Andy rejects is because of the size and weight. This is also why we use panniers instead of a trailer. So, Kim resumes her search and returns with a smaller specimen. Since we can’t break tradition, we walked all the way back to Idaho (about six blocks) to collect a rock from the Burger King landscaping. Not a great location, but the size and weight were perfect. So… in the pannier it went.
No breakfast at the Antlers Motel, so we purchased a mixed-berry salad, yogurt, and a couple of protein shakes at Safeway last night. This is really the best way to have breakfast on the road, since it keeps the morning routine brisk. The problem with having a sit-down breakfast at the hotel restaurant is that it sets the pace for the day, and the pace is slow. Plus, the food is, rarely, any good. Breakfast in the room flows nicely with re-packing all the gear, getting suited-up, filling the water-bottles, and loading the bike.
So, this morning we had one of those brisk Le Mans style starts, and were out the door and pedaling by 7AM. It’s been a few days since we left that early, and it was colder than anticipated, so we stopped after about ten minutes and put on our wind-breakers. A great cycling day to finish-up this Ride-the-Divide adventure: temps in the mid 50’s, zero wind, and a sky dappled with clouds. We definitely got the sense we were headed out of the woods, and into the dry lands of Eastern Washington – the trees were getting shorter, and fewer, and there were more open-spaces of dry grass. Still, it was a beautiful ride through, mostly Ponderosa Pines, with the smoothest shoulder ever.
About thirty miles into the ride, Google Maps directed us off Highway 2, and onto the backroads to the North and West of Spokane, to the airport (where we’re scheduled to pick-up our rental car for the drive home). Happy to be off the highway, we glided through several neighborhoods with fairly good bike lanes and shoulders.
By 10AM we were ready for breakfast #2, and, luckily, we came across a fine-looking mini-mart with clean bathrooms. We got some coffee, mocha, a donut, and aaaarghhh – Andy grabbed one of those heat lamped egg-patty, sausage-patty, orange-goo hot-mess, corralled by an English muffin, so none of the “disgust” would escape into the environment. How long had it been under the heat lamp? Days? Weeks? Such carelessness at the end of the ride. Kim saw him reach for it, under the heat-lamp, and before she could dive over yelling “Noooooooo”, he had purchased it. He happily ate it, said "What?", and added "compared to the Air Supply “ear worm” I still have, it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was the best disgusting breakfast-goo I've ever had."
It was then, we remembered that this is Day 7 of the ride, which is usually when the mind throws-in the towel, and the body makes all the menu choices… scary times! We’re sad it’s the last day of pedaling for this trip, but there is the bright side of more reasonable food choices in our near future. Yippee!!
As we skirted Spokane to the west, we crossed the beautifully-clear Spokane River, and picked-up the Centennial Bike Trail, high above the river. We enjoyed the quiet bliss of the bike path for about two miles, and then…….we had one last hill to get out of the river canyon, and up onto the “plateau” where the airport is. One final, middle-ring, climb to finish-off the Ride-the-Divide adventure. This was an enjoyable effort, as it brought back memories of some of the other hills we’d climbed on this ride in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and now, Washington. So, we worked our way up this final hill, as we’d done all the others: one pedal stroke at a time. The End!