Well, I’m getting to a point in the tour where I’m starting to feel lazier and lazier about blogging. But I’ll try to make it a good one…
After my stay in Jackson MT I started heading toward Chief Joseph Pass. It was a pretty smoky day and I just wanted to get the riding done and over with. I made decent time to the base of the pass, and for the most part, it was a very gradual climb until the last two miles or so. The descent was awesome! This is exactly what I was looking for in a mountain pass: pretty easy climb, a killer descent, and no head winds. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to climb it from the other direction. Ha!
That evening I camped in the lawn of an RV campground. They were used to the cyclists coming through town so they had a cheap rate for a tent with full shower/bathroom access. The little town of Darby isn’t really anything special. It was rather small and there was a high school football game going on that evening. Some of the local folks came to the RV campground to stand on a picnic table to see the game over the privacy fence. I don’t care much about football, so this game didn’t really strike my fancy. At all. I was content with cooking my dinner and enjoying a post pass-day beer.
The next day was kind of weird. It was a saturday and I needed to replace the chain on my bike, but couldn’t make it to Missoula in time before the shops closed. Then, since most shops are closed on Sundays I would have to wait until Monday to get the work done. So I had a super short day of 17 miles to Hamilton. I got my chain replaced, went to the post office, and wandered around the farmers market. I ended up staying with a family another 8 miles down the road in Hamilton MT. They were quaint and really polite, but I couldn’t connect with them on any level. The husband is a former goat cheese maker. We had a nice conversation about how much we both like cheese, especially goat cheese, over a nice snack of some of his goat cheese and crackers.
I left Hamilton and rode to Missoula the following day. There is a bike path that stretches for nearly 40 miles along the highway that basically connects Hamilton to LoLo. I was glad to finally get to town. What I thought would be a quick day turned out to be longer. I was excited to meet my host, Ethel. She is a 74 year old bad ass lady who still tours on bicycles alone. When I got to town I gave Ethel a call and it turns out that she was headed home via bike. We crossed paths at the entrance to her neighborhood and rode together the rest of the way to her house. I picked a good weekend to be in Missoula because there was a little bike festival called Sunday Streets going on. I unpacked the bike and then Ethel gave me a little bike tour of Missoula as we rode to the Sunday Streets festival. She let me go exploring on my own after a little while. I needed to run some errands anyway. On my way back to her houses spotted a small brewery called Draught Works. Of course I stopped in for a drink and ended up meeting some folks that comprise missoula’s underground cycling scene. My kind of people! They were lingering after post bike festival activities and they struck up a conversation. Short conversation, short, they talked me into staying in Missoula for another day. They had an alley cat race planned for Monday night and I really didn’t want to miss out.
Monday morning rolls around and Ethel and I have a lovely conversation about all sorts of things over coffee. Afterward, I got ready to go out exploring. I went to the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) headquarters first – the nonprofit organization that makes the maps that I’ve been following nearly the whole way across the country. They took my photo and had my sign a guest book and then gave me ice cream. I walked around downtown, got a bite to eat, and then rode back across the river to the “hip-strip”. There were a lot of neat little shops that were good for window shopping. On my way back to Ethel’s house I stopped by the University of Montana to check out their school of forestry and conservation. The ladies in the office were really helpful in showing me how to navigate the schools website and where to find information on graduate studies. It’s a really pretty campus and quite small for the population of the student body. I cant lie, Missoula is becoming a really desirable town!
I went back to Ethel’s house and rested up for the alley cat. Before the race, I met up with Kevin, one of the guys mingling the night before, for a beer at a different brewery. After a couple of drinks he left to get his dog and I made my way to the alley cat start point at the top of one of the university parking garages (they only have TWO parking garages! What an amazing bike oriented campus/town). Evan, the organizer and ringleader of the race was getting everybody fired up when I got there. I decided not to race, mostly because I don’t know the town very well and would end up lost somewhere in the dark. Plus, the last thing I need to do is crash my bike this close to finishing tour. Evan sends out the check point workers and he and I ride to the end point to catch the racers finishing. Kevin comes back with his dog (my new favorite dog! Okie! The English shepherd <3) and the racers start trickling in. It was a fast race and afterward folks didn’t hang around for very long because it was a Monday night and most people either had to work or go to class. HOWEVER, my new friend Kendra, a guy named Zack (???), and I went out to some music show to dance. I’m not really sure what the deal was with the DJs but we ended up having a small dance party because, well, it was a Monday night and not many people usually go to the club on a Monday night. There was a small crowd, there was lots of dancing (I think mostly on mine and Kendra’s part), and some sort of dance contest – which I ended up winning! Haha! Though I was having a great time hanging out with new friends I had to draw the line somewhere and go to bed. I did, after all, have to ride bikes in the morning.
The sun rose and I didn’t want to. Then I remembered that I was supposed to meet Evan for breakfast before I left town. I packed my bike ad gave Ethel a hurried goodbye and rode down the street to meet Evan. We sat, drank coffee, ate a large greasy breakfast (perfect cure), and chatted about bikes and fun bike activities for a couple of hours. When I finally left town it was nearly noon and the winds were strong. I rode 10 miles out of town and realized that I had gone the wrong direction! Luckily I had a nice tail wind back. By the time I got back to town it was too late in the day to make any reasonable progress. So I stayed! I went back to ACA and figured out what went wrong, and then realized that since I decided not to go to Glacier National Park that there was no reason to keep the original route. I shaved off four or five days of unnecessary riding and figured out a direct route to Sandpoint ID. Now I have plenty of time to meet Durley, my lovely grandmother, on the coast of Washington by our scheduled date.
I finally left Missoula, which is not a bad town to get stuck in, and headed towards Sandpoint. Those three days of riding were some of my favorite so far! It absolutely perfect. The wildfire smoke was gone, the wind was calm, and the roads were gently rolling and somewhat flat that followed rivers through national forest in the mountains. It was gorgeous. When I got to Sandpoint, I found my host’s house just outside of town. Paula, another bad ass lady, is one of the town’s cyclist guardians. We immediately hit it off really well and she convinced me to stay an extra day so that I could explore the town. I needed to have a funny noise checked out on the bike anyway. Paula hooked me up with her mechanic friend, Marty. He helped me diagnose a potential problem, but since he was working the shop alone that day he had to refer me to a different bike shop. The other shop replaced the bearings in the rear hub because it seemed like there was a little bit of grinding going on. In the meantime I walked around town and saw the local sights. Later that afternoon Paula, Steve (her gentleman friend), and I went to go watch her son’s soccer game. That was fun! It made me want to go play. Afterwards, the three of us went to Eichardt’s pub for dinner and Marty met us there as well. They have excellent garlic cheesy fries and some good beers on tap.
After dinner, Marty suggested that we all go to the Wild and Scenic film series festival that was taking place in their historic theater that weekend. Since Marty donated merchandise to the organization for a door-prize, he had two tickets. He gave his extra one to me and Paula and Steve kind of snuck in. There were some really interesting and well put together documentaries. I put my name in the basket for some door-prizes, but I didn’t have much luck. Afterwards, we went back to the house and turned in for the night.
Since I was in northern Idaho it really didn’t take me long to get to Washington. If I really wanted to, I probably could have ridden through in one day (I think it’s about 60 miles across the whole panhandle). Eastern Washington started out kind of flat, but I knew that I had six passes ahead of me. Riding from Ione WA to Kettle Falls turned out to be a pretty challenging ride. There was a mountain pass that the maps didn’t liable as a pass. That kind of caught me off guard. Especially since there wasn’t a down hill on the other side, it was more of a hilly plateau. I think my ride yesterday over Sherman Pass was easier than the day before. At least I had 20 miles of coasting.
Yesterday’s ride over the pass was kind of amazing, not because of climb or the downhill, but because mod my tires. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been getting a weird hopping sound as my tires spin. When I was in Hamilton, just south of Missoula, I went to a shop to have my chain replaced. I asked them to take a look at my tires and let me know how much life the thought was in them. The mechanics said they looked great. I thought that a little odd since I’ve put over 3,000 miles on them, but since they said they were okay I didn’t think much of it. Then, the noise became a little more prominent. It sounded like it was coming from the front wheel. Maybe the wheel is a little out of true? So I had Marty and another mechanic check it out in Sandpoint. They thought the rear hub needed to be repacked.
It turns out, that my gut instinct about worn out tires was entirely right. As I was coasting down the pass yesterday the noise was really loud and really apparent. Normally, I try to go as fast as I can down the mountain – because it’s really fun – but yesterday it made me super nervous. I told myself that I would check the tires as soon as I rolled into camp.
It turns out that both the front and rear tires are completely worn out. I’m surprised that I made it down the pass without a blowout. (I attribute my luck to the thorn-resistant tubes that I put in 1,500 miles back. With out those thick tubes I might have been in worse trouble.) The litter rubber on the front tire was flapping off, while the rear tire was outright torn up and practically bald. Three mechanics didn’t catch the problem. There was no way that I could climb up Wauconda Pass and ride down it without my tires disintegrating. This was the first time that I felt any sort of oh-shit-mechanical-panic on tour. I was dumbfounded and clueless for a few minutes; I didn’t really know what to do at first. I was over 60 miles from the nearest bike shop and Walmart with a mountain pass between me and the solution. I finally started calling numbers on the ACA maps for a man who claimed to be the local mechanic and cyclist guardian. The number was wrong. I looked at the ACA addendum, just incase things have changed since the map was published. The phone number worked and I left a message. Then, Craig called me back. He didn’t have the tires that I needed, but he offered to drive me to the next town where there is a shop that had the right size tires.
I took Craig up on the ride offer (and got to cheat over a gnarly pass) to the next town. I took a half rest day since I’m a little ahead of schedule right now. It’s good because I got laundry done, my muscles have recovered from the last two passes, and I have shiny new tires. It all worked out just fine.
Once again, good people save the day!
Only a few more blog posts left in tour. I’m less than 500 miles away from the finish and I’m having the time of my life!