Lewis & Clark Trail – Oregon, Washington, Idaho
Denis Kertz, ©2003
I chose the Lewis & Clark route for this year’s bicycle tour because it was an interesting route and because Adventure Cycling had just come out with maps for the route earlier in the year. The fact that it was an important historical event coming up on its 200th year anniversary (some claim that this year was the start of the 200th anniversary since Lewis & Clark traveled to their winter quarters in St. Louis in 1803) was an added bonus, lending additional interest to the route.
However, since I was starting on Labor Day, I chose to ride from west to east, mimicking Lewis & Clark’s return route in 1806. Traveling in the fall meant that I needed to get over the Rockies before snow set in or I might suffer the fate that Lewis & Clark nearly did, almost starving and dying as they crossed the Rockies in Idaho in September of 1805. Traveling west to east also meant I would more likely have helping winds along the way.
Of course, not everything went smoothly preparing for this trip. Just two and a half weeks prior to the start, I had a flat tire. After I removed my rear tire to fix the flat, I decided it was an opportune time to clean and lubricate my bike. In the process, I discovered to my horror that the weld of my Litespeed titanium bike at the juncture of the right rear dropout and the chainstay was severed. In a panic, I took my bike to the bike shop, Spokes, where I had bought the bike, where they did an exemplary job of working with Litespeed in Chattanooga, TN, to get it repaired within a week. In order to repair the bike, we had to strip it down to the bare frame for shipping. I did all of the stripping except for the headset and the bottom bracket so a good outcome of this near disaster was it forced me to disassemble and then re-assemble most of my bike, giving me more experience in bicycle maintenance. We also replaced the headset, which needed replacement, and replaced the bottom bracket that was probably still marginally OK but it was an opportune time to replace it.
But that wasn’t the only thing that conspired against my trip. Just the week before the trip I was nearly run over by a motorist who looked in the opposite direction from me as she was preparing to pull out from a side street. Fortunately, my panic stop caused by brakes to squeal and alerted the motorist that she was about to run me over before she could do so. Then I got my credit card bill on the Tuesday before leaving and discovered three fraudulent charges to an Islamic charity in Great Britain. So I had to cancel the card and get a newly issued one, which I did on the Thursday prior to leaving on Sunday.
Then, worst of all, I discovered my oldest sister had an untreatable brain tumor with months to live. In the end I decided I would take the trip anyway but it was a hanging cloud during the trip with a continuing concern that I could be unreachable at the wrong time. Fortunately, that potential disaster never happened but it was a rather uneasy feeling during the trip.
So, despite everything that seemed to conspire against this trip in the final couple weeks, I managed to get my 1999 Litespeed Blue Ridge bicycle with about 12,000 touring miles ready for the trip. I took front and rear 10-year old Overland panniers for carrying my gear. Since my Litespeed is also my regular road bike, I swapped out my normal road wheels for my touring wheels equipped with 36 14-gauge spokes and new Continental Top Touring 700x32 tires. I also swapped out my normal road triple gearing for a XTR 24-34-46 chainrings along with my 9-speed 12-34 rear cassette, giving me a 20 to 105 gear inch range.
I packed my bicycle in a bike box I got from my bike shop and stuffed as many clothes in plastic bags in the box as possible. This allowed me to get my other large items such as tent and sleeping bag in a large duffel bag and have two items to check, a bike box and the duffel bag. I put my sensitive/valuable items in a front pannier for carryon baggage.
Dave took me to Midway Airport for my 9:35 am flight to Portland via Denver on Frontier Airline. At the airport Frontier wanted to charge me $50 for taking the bike. However, I am a member of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) that has an arrangement with Frontier for bikes to fly free. For this arrangement, the tickets need to be reserved through a special travel agency but I made mine online before I knew about the LAB/Frontier deal. But I read where someone else just called Frontier directly and got the bike fee waived. So I called Frontier on Tuesday evening and was told I needed a special code and the Frontier agent wasn’t about to give the code to me. So I called again on Wednesday, hoping to get someone more sympathetic. This agent checked it out and said my bike could fly free if I could prove I was a LAB member. I asked the agent to annotate that in my electronic ticket so I wouldn’t have to re-establish that when I flew.
At Midway I learned there was only a cryptic annotation on my ticket that I needed to prove I was a LAB member. So the supervisor checked out the LAB arrangement and came back and said I needed to go through the special travel agency. She was going to charge me the $50 but I countered that Frontier had already told me they would waive the fee if I proved I was a LAB member and the supervisor eventually relented. I proved my LAB membership with a photo of my lifetime membership plaque since I couldn’t find my membership card.
After I checked my bike, it was inspected at the large X-ray machine for oversized items. The box was cut open, briefly inspected, stamped, and taped closed. An inspector who was also a cyclist did the inspection and it was nice to see this taken care of by someone who actually cared about a bicycle.
The flight appeared ready to leave on time or even early but ended up 30 minutes late. Frontier managed to overweight the plane with US mail and had to unload it. The pilot kept giving us the typical “few more minutes” BS that so endears customers to the airlines.
An uneventful flight to Denver followed and the 30 minutes late wasn’t a problem as the connecting gate was nearby. I only had to wait 5-10 minutes for boarding. Both flights were an Airbus 319 with DirectTV offered on a small display on the back of the seat in front of me for $5 for 24 channels but I passed. The Denver flight was full and the Portland connection nearly full.
In Portland the luggage was so slow I picked up my bike box, in good shape, from the oversized port before I got my duffel bag. I started putting the bike together around 2:15. Assembly took about an hour, including attaching racks and fenders, and then it took almost another hour to pack the panniers, so it was almost 4:00 before I was ready to roll. Prior to the trip I had solicited input from the phred touring list on how to get from the airport to Union Station where I had a ticket on an Amtrak Motorcoach to Astoria at 6:00 pm. Most recommendations suggested taking the MAX (light rail) to downtown rather than riding. Nevertheless, I was planning to ride until I realized how late it was getting. I had time for the 10 mile ride if I didn’t get lost and didn’t have any trouble.
So I played it safe and took the MAX for $1.25 that was conveniently located right outside the baggage area. I removed my two front panniers and hung the bike by the front wheel on a J hook for bike use. I got off at the first station after crossing the Willamette River. Then I made my way the few blocks to Union Station.
I confirmed my ticket at the station, $21 including $5 for the bike, but was told I would have to unload the bike. While waiting for the bus, I met another cyclist who asked the first question of the trip – where are you headed. He was looking to do his first touring trip and was naturally interested in mine. When the bus showed up, there were only 8 riders and 1 bike so I had the bike compartment under the seats all to myself and was able to lay the bike on its side fully loaded.
The bus went to the coast, stopping at Cannon Beach and Seaside before arriving in Astoria just after 8:00. It stopped right behind the Lamplighter Inn where I had a reservation. So I was able to roll my bike right to the motel in the dark.
I got up shortly after 6:00 and ate at the restaurant next door. Then I spent about 45 minutes repacking my panniers and getting things better organized.
I left just after 8:00 and headed about 6 miles southwest of town to the Fort Clatsop National Memorial, the winter quarters of Lewis & Clark, where they spent a cold, wet, and miserable winter in 1805-06. It cost $3 to get in and had a replica of the fort Lewis & Clark built to survive the winter. The fort was two rows of cabins with 3 rooms in each cabin. Nearby was a canoe landing that had a couple samples of the type of canoes built out of fir logs. The logs were hewed into the shape of a hull and the inside burnt out.
It was a short but worthwhile visit. On the way back to Astoria I visited the Astoria Columns, a column somewhat like a lighthouse with 164 spiral steps to the top with a commanding panoramic view of the area from a hill. The morning had started chilly and overcast but most of the clouds had burnt off by the time I got to the Columns. So I had a pretty good view despite some lingering clouds and haze.
Finally, at 10:30 I descended the hill and was on my way for real. I simply followed US 30 the whole day as it roller coasted its way back to Portland. There were only two hills of significance, one near Westport and another just after Clatskanie. The day was sunny and warm, in the 80s, but tree cover provided shade much of the way and blocked the sun. However, it was Labor Day and there was considerable traffic throughout the day. US 30 had a good shoulder most of the way so the real problem was the noise pollution from the traffic.
I stopped at Svensen near noon for a food break. When I reached Ranier just after 3:00 I decided to call it a day and not make the first day a long, hard one. There was an RV campground down the road not much further but my right foot was threatening a blister from the rubbing of my sandal’s rear strap and I didn’t want to start the trip with a blister. At a food mart I met a cyclist who had pedaled out from Portland and was returning to complete a century. He was pretty exhausted as he fought a head wind all the way but the head wind would become a tail wind and blow him back.
There was no campground nearby so I stayed at the only motel in town ($42) and ate at a Mexican restaurant across the street. All in all, a relatively easy first day.
I was so tired last night I went to sleep just before 9:00 and slept all through the night, waking up only once. So I was refreshed when I got up at 6:30. I ate breakfast at a restaurant nearby with the best pancakes of the trip so far, after two samples.
I was on the road right around 8:00. Although I was in “rush” hour, the traffic was better than yesterday, with RVs replaced by big trucks, but I didn’t find the noise overwhelming like yesterday.
The road was flat so I made good time. At St. Helens I did a little grocery shopping at a big grocery store. I also picked up some glue so I could glue the rubber ear pieces on my sunglasses that were threatening to slip off. So I was rather chagrined to find one of the ear pieces had already slipped off when I prepared to leave. I searched outside around the store but couldn’t find it.
When I got to Scappoose, I stopped at a hardware store and bought a foot of hollow, clear tubing that just fit the ear pieces of my sunglasses. In fact, I could just barely slip the tubing on so I knew it wasn’t going to come off. Just down the road I stopped at a Meyers Store. I was looking for a small flat panel of some sort that I could lay across my aero bars for a map platform. I found a clipboard that I hoped I could cut down to size later.
I continued on to Portland and crossed the Willamette River at the St. Johns Bridge, which was under construction but open during the day. It was open only one lane in each direction so I slowed traffic up a bit. Then I wound my way through the north end of Portland using my Adventure Cycling map. I picked up Marine Drive that followed along the Columbia River and rode past the airport. I was able to ride much of Marine Drive on a bike path along the river that was quite nice since it was lower than Marine Drive and was quiet with a good view of the river.
When I came to the I205 intersection I had the option of crossing over to Washington and riding along the river on that side, the advantage being it had less traffic but fewer services. I chose to continue on the Oregon side, a decision that turned out to be one I could regret.
At Troutdale I discovered there was a forest fire and I84 was closed to traffic at that point. Had I known this earlier I would surely have crossed over to Washington since eventually I had to get on the interstate to get to Cascade Locks. I found a Subway in town and stopped for a bit to eat and saved half of my sandwich for later when I planned to camp in Corbett.
Heading out of town with it very warm with temps in the low 90s, folks were staffing checkpoints to block access to certain areas. I found they were letting people go on only to Corbett, which just happened to be my destination. So I continued on for about another 6 miles, riding mostly uphill, with the smell of smoke in the air.
When I pulled into Corbett, I rode to the other side of town and found the RV park and was greeted with a No Vacancy sign. Fortunately, they had a couple of tent sites although they were no bargain at $15, compared to $22 for a back-in RV slot. But beggars can’t be choosy so I signed up and had a fairly decent site for an RV park. Later, I met the manager and he promised to keep me up-to-date on the fire status. The real question was whether I would be able to continue east tomorrow or have to backtrack and cross over into Washington. At least there was a small grocery store in town and I had my first vanilla chocolate chip cookie ice cream of the trip.
This was the first camping night and I used my new Eureka! Zeus 2-person, single-wall tent. It was ridiculously easy to put up, with 2 poles that stuck into diagonal corners of the tent and clips on the tent body that clipped to the poles to hang the tent walls from the poles. The tent space was perfect. One side of the tent accommodated my sleeping bag and the other side had plenty of room for my bike panniers.
It turned out to be a nice warm evening and I stayed up to
watch the stars come out. It was also
pretty breezy and I knew that couldn’t be good for the fire fighting so I hoped
the breeze would die down.
I got up at 6:30 and walked to the store to get milk. I heard the road was still closed but it sounded like the fire was under control. After eating breakfast I waited around to hear from the manager, who said he thought the interstate might not open until tomorrow.
Despite the news I packed up because I was sure I could make at least 15 miles down the road to Ainsworth State Park. Due to the uncertainty, I didn’t leave until a little after 9:00. The good news was I was headed to the scenic Columbia River Gorge so there were sights to see and no reason to hurry.
Shortly after heading out there was a turnout with a great view of the river from an elevation of about 800 feet. Just after that there was another view at the Vista House. Both views were obscured some by smoke but still nice views. From the Vista House the road wound its way down to the bottom of the gorge. There were several nice waterfalls along the road, Latourell, Wakeena, and Multnomah. The latter had an upper falls of over 500’ and a lower falls of 69’.
This route must be a popular cycling route as I saw several cyclists along the way. Before long I arrived at Ainsworth State Park. The ranger didn’t have much information on the fire so a little later I rode a half mile to where the road was blocked off to keep people off the interstate. I was told they hoped to have the road open later in the afternoon or early evening.
So I headed back to the park to kill time. I waited another two hours and rode back to the blockade at 3:00. But there was no imminent opening planned so I gave up and headed back to the park where I got a hiker-biker site for $4, a pretty good deal.
Later a camper came by to tell me they had announced on
the radio that the interstate would open at 8 pm. Somewhere I also heard that traffic was bumper-to-bumper on the
Washington side of the river where traffic had been diverted by the interstate
closing. Yesterday I had thought I
would have been smart/lucky had I chosen to cross over to Washington when I had
the chance. But after hearing about the
traffic I concluded that I was better off where I was. I couldn’t imagine it being any fun in heavy
traffic, and probably frustrated traffic, on a road with little shoulder.
When I got up at 6:30 I could tell the interstate was open because I could hear the traffic. I ate and packed and was off by 7:30. After 3 miles I had to get on I84 for a couple of miles before exiting at the Bonneville Dam. There a bike path took me above the freeway and a good view of the river.
I stopped in Cascade Locks for breakfast and then continued east on Forest Lane. I rode by some of the fire area where there was still some smoldering evidence of the fire. Then a little further the road was closed and I was told I would have to backtrack to town and take the interstate. The suggestion was made I could cross over to Washington but I discarded that idea. But as I backtracked I rethought and decided I didn’t care for riding the interstate all the way to Hood River, almost 20 miles.
So I crossed over to Washington on the Bridge of Gods. There was a great view looking west down the river, a view alone worth the 50-cent toll, on the iron-grated roadway. Once across, I took WA 14, which was well paved but had a shoulder varying from good to non-existent. Frequently there was a guardrail with little shoulder and no bail out space, especially along some long stretches where the guardrail protected the parallel railroad tracks. Nevertheless, there was only moderate traffic with only the occasional large truck a cause for concern.
In return for the marginal shoulder, there were great views of the gorge almost the entire way. And because I was riding on the river side I had better views and better photo opportunities. The day revealed a transformation of the gorge from trees and green to virtually no trees and all sun burnt yellow grasses, revealing the conversion to aridity away from the Cascades. It was an awesome day, one where you feel like you don’t ever want to stop riding, even though it was very warm and somewhere in the mid-90s.
When I got near Hood River I stopped at a mini-mart for a sandwich. While eating, a Native American stopped and shook my hand and went inside. As I was finishing my sandwich, he came out and asked for a bite. Since I only had one large bite left, I graciously offered the remainder of the sandwich.
Then I had a decision to make, whether to cross over the Hood River Bridge back to the Oregon side or continue on the Washington side. I asked the counter woman inside and she didn’t hesitate to recommend staying on the Washington side so that is what I did and I think it was a good decision. The road got better as the shoulder was good most of the rest of the way. And directions were simple – follow WA 14 – and that let me concentrate on the outstanding scenery.
It continued very warm and I stopped again at Murdock for a 44 oz cold Pepsi that kept me hydrated. Meanwhile I virtually wore out my camera along the way. Eventually I reached the US 97 intersection that led me down a steep hill to the Maryhill State Park. But first I crossed over the bridge to Biggs to eat and pick up some groceries. I ate at a Subway and had a large cup of TCBY yogurt that filled me up. Then I shopped for breakfast supplies across the street and crossed the river back to the state park.
The park was nice but expensive - $16 for a tent site. On my way to fill out the tent form I asked the campground host if they had hiker-biker sites, just to plant the thought in his mind, and he said they didn’t. Then the ranger came by when I was at the drop box and said they had them for $10 but he said they were so far away that he thought the regular sites were worth the extra $6. I was in no mood to comparison shop at the moment so I secured my site that was four times more expensive than the previous night, not to mention the 50-cent shower that was free the previous night. So Washington had a great run during the day but finished poorly with an over priced state park.
I got up at 6:30, ate breakfast, and packed up, leaving just before 8:00. I left by a side road that the campground host said was OK, rather than fight the truck traffic to reclaim the 500 feet to get back to WA 14 via US 97. At first this looked like a good idea as I rolled past orchards but then the road turned to serious gravel, fairly large pebble shaped rocks. I considered backtracking but that would have cost me several miles so I continued. After a while I was really concerned about where the road went so I flagged down a driver from the other direction who assured me the road reached 14 and turned back to pavement.
I was surprised my bike handled the gravel as well as it did, given the road was more suited to a mountain bike. The road did run right by the river but I was too busy trying to stay upright to enjoy the view. After 5 miles or so of gravel I approached the John Day Dam and the road reverted to chip seal, which felt silky smooth after the rough gravel. With a little switchback I climbed up to rejoin WA 14. This side route turned out to be much less climbing than 97 but I wouldn’t have taken this road had I known about the gravel.
The day started scenic but as the day wore on the surrounding gorge leveled off to almost nothing. After about 35 miles I reached West Roosevelt and stopped for a drink. Just down the road was North Roosevelt and I stopped there at a small bar/grill. Even though it was approaching noon the cook accommodatingly made pancakes for me and I enjoyed a late breakfast.
When I took off I noticed two things. First the usually well-paved 14 changed to chip seal, making for more rolling resistance and a harsher ride. Then I noticed the wind seemed stronger in my face. Earlier it was a tail wind like the previous days but the wind essentially died, making it feel like a head wind and reducing my speed. Still the road was modestly undulating so cycling was not particularly difficult.
After almost 60 miles I spotted two touring cyclists on the other side of the road repairing a flat tire. I stopped and met Jim and Henry who had met up on the road and were now traveling together west. Jim had started from NYC and Henry on the Lewis & Clark trail in St. Louis. They seemed to enjoy good-natured bantering as they fixed the flat tire. They provided some suggestions for my next few days and I did likewise. Then we exchanged names and went our separate ways.
Even though it was hot like the previous two days for some reason I noticed the heat more today. With fewer services I used up my first two water bottles and tapped my third, which had been hanging off the rear pannier. Had I had tea with me I could have had hot tea, the water was so warm from the sun beating down on it. So I was very happy to reach Paterson at the 70-mile mark and refresh myself with a 44 oz cold Pepsi. I also got one of my water bottles refilled.
Rejuvenated, I continued another 7 miles and took Christy Road to the bridge to cross over into Oregon on a bike path to Umatilla. My first thought was to eat in town but I was right next to an RV park and decided I better check in on a Friday evening at just after 5:00. I had no problem getting a tent site for $12 but learned from the host that there was a fishing contest tomorrow so there would be a lot of campers. I also asked about eating and asked specifically if there was a Subway. He said No but gave me directions to eating places.
After I set up camp I headed into town and immediately
spotted a Subway so I ate there for the 3rd time in 4 days. And I rewarded myself with a vanilla
chocolate chip cookie ice cream. Back
at camp I cleaned up and settled in for the night.
I didn’t sleep very well, not getting to sleep until after midnight and waking up periodically. The sky was half clouded when the campground host stopped by. He assured me the clouds were moving in when I expressed doubt about a cloudy day. And shortly the clouds started moving away to the north. But he redeemed himself when he told me there was a $4 all-you-can-eat breakfast at the nearby marina, part of the Oregon Governor’s Cup walleye fishing contest. So I rode next door and had a decent breakfast of sausage, eggs, and pancakes. I took a second order of 2 pancakes and could have gone for a another helping but held myself in check.
With the convenient breakfast I was off by 7:30 and wound my way on the outskirts of town to 730. After 20 miles I rode through a scenic mini-gorge along the river. There were still railroad tracks on both sides of the river and I got to see two trains, one coming and one going, snake their way along the far shore. It was really neat to be able to see the complete train off in the distance. I counted 99 cars on the last train.
At 28 miles I sadly bid the Columbia River good-bye as I picked up US 12 east. If I had been following the real Lewis & Clark trail, I would have followed the Columbia River north to where the Snake River joins it and followed the Snake River. However, there was no road near the Snake River so the route branched off on US 12. On the other hand, I was actually following a reasonable approximation of the Lewis & Clark return trip. On their return they learned of a more direct route to Idaho than following the Snake River and headed overland to shorten this segment of their return trip.
It was already quite warm so a Rest Area was a welcome site to fill up 2 of my 4 water bottles. However, the water fountain barely eked out a spray, which was useless until some debris in the nozzle broke loose and I had a real water source.
In another 12 miles I stopped in Touchet for a sandwich and another 42 oz Pepsi. It was really warm and seemed hotter standing still than cycling when the little breeze seemed to help keep the heat at bay.
Another 18 miles brought me into Walla Walla, a sizeable town of 30,000 so I searched out the public library. They had a standalone PC for email checking and I was able to check email for the first time in a week. When I entered the library a sign proclaimed the air conditioning was not working but it felt perfectly fine to me.
Heading out of town I picked up the Middle Waitsburg Road that offered a dramatic change of scenery. The road wound and roller coasted its way by huge rolling wheat fields that were being prepared for winter wheat planting. Some offered interesting geometric patterns from harvesting passes. Others offered a marked contrast to the bright yellow fields as they were plowed. After ups and downs the road went up for about 4 miles at a moderate climb. Then it descended quickly over a couple of miles to rejoin US 12 and roll into Waitsburg. I stopped to eat and check out the grocery store. As a woman in an apron entered the store I asked how late it was open and then asked about eating. She pointed out a sub/pizza place across the street that was not an obvious eating establishment but she worked there so she knew.
After another monster soda, I ordered a pizza at this place. I ordered a medium, which was too large but the next smaller size was much too small. The woman went overboard, bringing some carrot sticks and later some desert cookies, more food than I could possibly handle. I ate 5/8 slices and packed the remainder for desert. The grocery store didn’t have any cereal I was looking for but I picked up 2 bananas at the grocery store for a grand total of 7 cents, the least I have ever spent in a grocery store.
Back outside it looked like it could rain as it was clouded up. So I hurried the 5 miles down the road to the Lewis & Clark Trail State Park. Tent sites were $15 but the ranger pointed out a primitive site was available for $10. The primitive area was OK except for the uneven ground but I found a reasonably flat spot and paid my $10 and cleaned up.
After dark a ranger gave a presentation on astronomy and navigation for the Lewis & Clark period, an unexpected bonus. An associate had a telescope and I got to see Mars, in its close approach to the Earth, and the Moon. The ranger also had a sextant and he showed how to use it by sighting in the Moon.
I noticed during the night that the ground felt pretty rough. When I got up I discovered why – I had forgotten to fully inflate my Thermarest pad. I ate breakfast and packed up and headed for Dayton, 5 miles away. There I stopped for a breakfast of pancakes. It was close to 9:30 by the time I was really off.
Leaving Dayton the road climbed at a moderate pace. The wheat fields were left behind but the rolling hills continued, covered with brownish yellow grasses. After about 8 miles I started abut a 7-mile fast descent, which I would have enjoyed more if I hadn’t known I would have to climb all of the lost altitude.
The weather was much cooler today with the sun blocked by clouds. However, the clouds did contain some rain with some occasional sprinkles. Along the way I met a cycling couple from the other direction who had stopped to don their rain gear. We talked for 20 minutes or so and the sprinkling had stopped by then. They were doing the Lewis & Clark trail from St. Louis and then heading down the coast to San Diego. As usual we traded information on what we had seen. One thing they told me was they had followed the Yellowstone River from North Dakota to Three Forks and found it scenic. Then they rented a car and rode the eastern Montana route along the Missouri River from North Dakota to Great Falls. They warned me that this section was pretty desolate and they strongly recommended that I take the Yellowstone River route, which I hadn’t really considered because I hadn’t really known about it.
I continued moderate climbing until Pomeroy where I stopped for a snack. Then the cloud cover broke and it got pretty warm in the absence of sun protection. Fortunately, that didn’t last too long and cloud cover returned.
I continued climbing to Alpowa Pass at about 2,800 feet and then began a long descent of 10 miles where I barely pedaled. During the descent I broke the 40 mph barrier for the first time on this trip.
The rest of the way to Clarkston was easy. About 7 miles outside of town US 12 followed the Snake River into town. I rode 12 all the way into town since the cycling couple warned me the recommended route on a bike path had goathead thorns and had caused them several flats.
There was a Motel 6 conveniently located near the bridge
at the Washington/Idaho border and I got a room for $35. This allowed me to do some laundry and recharge
my camera batteries. I ate at a nearby
It was overcast when I got up and it had rained overnight. I walked 3 blocks to a café on Diagonal Street and 3 very good pancakes. Back at the motel I packed up and was off by 8:30. I rode across the Snake River, where it headed south, and crossed into Idaho. A short distance later I crossed the Clearwater River and took US 12 out of town.
Shortly it began to drizzle and I stopped to put on my rain gear a short distance later. The rain wasn’t all that bad but the water on the road caused considerable spray when the semis whizzed by. Some courteously moved over to avoid spraying me, and a few probably delightedly sprayed me. While trying to avoid spray, I heard a loud scraping noise that I assumed was somebody’s muffler suddenly dragging. However, a short distance later a flashing sheriff vehicle pulled over ahead of me. There were about 8 chairs strewn across the road where somebody had lost part of their load.
US 12 followed the Clearwater River as it wound its way through the Clearwater Canyon. Very scenic despite the rain but I couldn’t take any photos. After 16 miles I crossed to the south side of the river and the US 12 shoulder narrowed considerably. Following US 12 out of Clarkston was not the recommended route due to the winding road and narrow shoulder. But the recommended alternative route involved a fair amount of climbing so I stuck with US 12. Semis were the only real problem so it was important to keep a look out for oncoming traffic, where following traffic might have a tight squeeze. As it was, large trucks were courteous and I moved as far right and stopped a couple times when conditions warranted. So US 12 turned out to not be that bad as long as I monitored the traffic.
Along the way I saw what looked like a dead rattlesnake on the shoulder. I stopped and checked out the snake and it looked like someone had stopped, killed the snake, and removed its rattles.
Unfortunately, after tapering off to a few sprinkles the rain picked up quite a bit. Conveniently, there was a rest area at Lenore so I pulled in for some respite from the rain. I spent almost an hour at the rest area where I was a little chilled due to the rain and cool weather in the 50s. When it became obvious the rain wasn’t going to quit entirely, I took off again in light sprinkles.
It didn’t take long before the rain gradually picked up again. So I started thinking about how much further I really wanted to ride. As I pulled into Orofino, close to 3:00, I decided this was the place to stop since Kamiah, my intended destination, was another 20 miles. On the outskirts of town I saw a sign too good to be true - $23 for a motel. It was too good to be true since there was no vacancy. So I had to head into the city center for a motel almost twice the rate - $43 - but at least I was out of the rain for the day.
After cleaning up I found a sandwich place for food. Then I walked to the library and was able to get Internet access almost immediately from 4-5.
Later, I learned that Lewis & Clark had camped just west of Orofino for a couple weeks on their trip west, and again when heading east, waiting for snow to melt in the mountains. I only hoped I wouldn’t be duplicating their experience. A couple folks at the rest stop mentioned the possibility of snow at Lolo Pass. And the weather forecast was unsettled for the next several days. Where Lewis & Clark camped near here on their western trip was called Canoe Camp. After crossing Idaho on horses, they stopped here to build 5 canoes and continued their trip in their canoes on the river.
When I got up the weather was much improved – cloudy but with a couple patches of blue sky and temps in the 50s. I ate pancakes at a bakery/café that I was pretty sure was an OK place because a group of old men were chatting at one table, obviously regulars. The pancakes were the largest yet of the trip.
Leaving town near 8:30, I crossed the Clearwater River and headed east on US 12. For the day, the view was consistently great as the road followed the meandering Clearwater River through the Clearwater Canyon with evergreen trees on the brown grassy hills. And today I was able to take photos too.
At one point a woman in a camper along side the road flagged me down. She was excited to learn I was doing the Lewis & Clark route. She was also excited by the scenery in Idaho. She lived in Oklahoma and perked up when I said I lived in the Chicago area, specifically Naperville, since her ex-husband had gone to a small college in Naperville, undoubtedly North Central College.
After a little over 20 miles I pulled into Kamiah, yesterday’s intended destination. I stopped and did a little grocery shopping and then moved on, crossing to the other side of the Clearwater River, which was nice to be on the river’s side of the road. Just outside of town was the Long Camp historical site where Lewis & Clark spent 4 weeks, along with 2 weeks at Canoe Camp, waiting for the mountain snows to melt on their return trip in the spring of 1806.
In another 7 miles the Clearwater River forked into the South Fork and Middle Fork. I crossed the South Fork into Kooskia and nuked a burrito for lunch. Then I rode along the Middle Fork to Lowell, the last realistic town destination for the day. I continued to take photos of the scenic canyon. At one photo stop right across from a home, a woman pulled into the driveway and got out to cross the road to her mailbox and said “It’s all uphill from here” and I said “Thanks…”.
Then the rain excitement began. The weather forecast called for cloudy with showers possible later in the day. Shortly after noon it clouded up and showers looked possible. Now that I was only a few miles from Lowell it looked like rain in the distance and the race was on. I lost. Only 2.5 miles from Lowell it started a hard drizzle and I stopped under some trees to put on my rain gear. I waited 15-20 minutes and moved on when the drizzle became a light sprinkle.
In half a mile I came to a USFS campground so I pulled in to check it out. It was a pretty nice, small campground for $6 and I found a site that had good tree cover for some rain protection. So I stopped for the day and set up my tent under a big evergreen. This was near 3:00 and other vehicles started pulling in soon thereafter. So it was good that I got there early since my site wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
Later, I met Hugh and Gail, an older couple touring through Oregon, Idaho, and eventually New Hampshire for the fall foliage. Hugh was also a cyclist and had done some touring in the 60s, long before I ever thought of it. They gave me a tour of their camper van, a modified Dodge van. This was an appealing camper by comparison to some of the monstrous RVs I have seen. Hugh and Gail have been to Australia and New Zealand and we probably spent a couple hours talking about our trips before I called it a night.
Everything survived the night well and it looked like little rain had fallen and there was a small blue patch in the cloudy skies. After a quick breakfast I packed and headed into Lowell for another breakfast of pancakes. There I got another inquisitive approach about my trip from a guy whose wife also came over, a little concerned I might talk him into touring.
After settling up on breakfast, I pumped up my rear tire. I noticed it was soft when I started riding from camp and hoped this would do the trick. I was also somewhat concerned about my rear tire. It had a “thump” in it from day one. Initially, I could only feel it while coasting on a smooth road but now I could also feel it while pedaling. I hoped the soft tire wasn’t caused by this thump defect.
I also noticed as I was riding that something on the rear was rubbing at what appeared to be random intervals. I eventually discovered it was due to an old trick. I had hooked my shock cord hook around the brake cable yoke and that pulled the brake pad just close enough to the rear wheel rim to cause occasional rubbing. So it was nice to resolve that problem.
The other unresolved problem I had was that my chain would try to shift to a smaller cog when it was in the 3rd largest cog. I had thought I could narrow that problem down by putting my bar end shifter in friction mode but discovered I couldn’t get it in friction mode. That led me to believe my shifter wasn’t working right for this particular cog.
Leaving from breakfast there was some road construction underway and I had to wait for a pilot car. At first I thought this was a nuisance but later realized it was a blessing. This caused traffic to get bunched up so I would ride for 10-15 minutes without any traffic in my direction and then there would be a burst of vehicles followed again by clear sailing.
Lowell was at the junction of the Selway (“smooth water”) River and the Lochsa (lock-saw – “rough water”) River that formed the middle fork of the Clearwater River. I followed the Lochsa River the rest of the day as it wound its way through a canyon of evergreen trees. Very scenic just like the two previous days.
Around mid-morning just when it looked like it was going to be a nice day, a more ominous looking cloud moved in. In a bit I could see rain in the distance and it wasn’t very long before I was feeling it as well as seeing it. So I pulled over under a good evergreen that blocked the hard drizzle and waited 15-20 minutes for it to subside. I was never too worried because there was some blue sky coming my way. Later, around noon another drizzle started but that never developed into anything that required me to stop although it was annoying.
The rest of the day was pretty good with temps around 60 and continued good scenery. As I neared Powell, my destination, there were a couple of USFS campgrounds just a couple miles before Powell. I stopped in the first one and found it not exciting so I rode another quarter mile to the next one. This campground was the Whitehouse campground so I checked it out carefully first to make sure there were no Bushies around. Then I picked out a fairly sheltered site for $8, a somewhat surprising $2 more than yesterday’s USFS campground.
After setting up camp I ate from my somewhat meager and dwindling food supply but I had enough for the night and breakfast. I just needed to be careful to not run out of food and emulate Lewis & Clark – threaten to die of starvation along the Lolo Trail.
Next the moment of truth arrived. This was the 2nd consecutive night in a USFS campground and their limitation is they have no warm/hot showers. But they often have a cold shower – a lake or a stream. So I had the option of a dunk in the Lochsa River. When I do this I keep my cycling clothes on so they get rinsed out at the same time. So with some trepidation I went for a dunk, except the river was only about 9 inches deep. So I had to do a lay in. As often is the case, the anticipation of the cold water was worse than the reality. In fact, the water was warmer than other dunkings I’ve done. Still I didn’t linger, just staying in long enough for a good rinse. Then I dried off, feeling refreshed, and hung my cycling clothes to dry, knowing they likely wouldn’t dry in this humid weather.
Late last night someone pulled into the adjacent campsite and set up with a lantern light. When I got up at 6:30, the campsite was empty, making me think someone was either in a real hurry or trying to avoid paying.
It was misting slightly when I got up and rather dreary looking. But my campsite was reasonably protected so my tent and bike were dry but my cycling clothes weren’t and unlikely to dry through the day. I ate my cereal, packed up and headed the couple miles to town. Before reaching town I met Dean, another touring cyclist coming from the other direction. He had stayed at the Lochsa Lodge in town and was riding the TransAmerica trail, which started in Virginia and ended in Florence on the coast in Oregon. He was a minister from St. Louis (Chesterfield), about to turn 63 with two knee replacements. We chatted about our trips and he offered me a place to stay when I reached St. Louis. I told him I expected to be able to weasel a place to stay out of one of my three brothers living in the area.
We pushed on and I stopped at the lodge’s café for breakfast. Not long after I ordered, the power failed and I was sure I was the loser. So I was surprised when a few minutes later my breakfast of pancakes and eggs arrived. There must have been just enough residual heat to finish cooking my order.
It was near 9:00 when I left in the uncertain weather. It drizzled a couple times and I waited the drizzles out under a tree. Then after 12 miles the real climb to Lolo Pass began and I dropped down to my granny chainring for the first time in a long time. Still I never had to go to my lowest gear so the climb, about 5 miles long, was not too bad. However, just when I was a little less than a mile away from the pass, it started a hard drizzle that I would have missed if it had held off just another 10 minutes. But I pulled along side the road where some bushes overhung the hillside and tried to wait out the rain. After a while low clouds came in and it looked like the rain would stay a while so I donned my rain gear and pushed on. Of course, after a couple minutes the drizzle virtually stopped.
At the pass, I stopped at the very nice USFS Visitor Center that I later learned my brother-in-law had helped to build. The center had a nice display of Lewis & Clark and the Native Americans that populated the Idaho/Western Montana area. And it didn’t hurt that it was warm and dry so I spent about an hour there.
As I was preparing to leave another guy approached and asked about the trip. He was also a cyclist and pointed out his Peugeot on the back of his camper. He mentioned thoughts about riding cross country so I told him about Dean as a matter of encouragement.
Finally, I was off on a downhill run to Lolo, 30 miles away. It was an easy ride with the loss in elevation and some tail wind, as I passed through the Lolo Canyon where the road followed the Lolo Creek. At one point I saw two helicopters in a field that seemed out of place until a little further there was a fire fighting station in a field and I realized what the helicopters were for. I’m sure these folks were happy with the rain and cooler weather.
Speaking of the weather, it continued to play Jekyll and Hyde, mostly cloudy but with some sun poking through. When I was about 3 miles from Lolo there were some ominous looking clouds just to the east but I knew this time I would win the race to town and I did.
Just as I was approaching the US 12/93 intersection, there was a Subway sign pointing left. I took that as an omen and went left and ate at another Subway. There I lingered to check out my route south tomorrow, to read a newspaper, and to give the weather a chance to make up its mind about rain. Then I rode south just past the 12/93 intersection where there was an RV park. Just across the road on the west side of 93 was Travelers’ Rest, where Lewis & Clark rested on their return trip and then split up, Lewis heading north to explore and Clark heading south along my planned route, with both plans to meet up at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. Like Lewis & Clark, I found this a good spot to rest overnight although I had a little trouble finding the park office and was surprised to get a tent site for $6 including a shower. The tent area was nothing more than a large lawn area with several trees but was fine for the price. I was able to get my tent and bike under a large tree for protection from any rain.
After cleaning up I walked into town for a beer and to write my notes. I also called my sister, Judy, to warn her I expected to be at her house tomorrow.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2003. All rights reserved.