Reno to Crater Lake to Aspen

 

Fall 2013

 

Denis Kertz, ©2013


Day 15: Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - Vale, OR to Boise, ID [79.1, 8:07:44, 9.7 mph, 2,408']

The nearby cafe opened at 6:00 so I got up early for that.  I didn't get there until 6:30 when it was still dark.  I had a good breakfast of 2 large pancakes, eggs, and a big slice of ham.  I lingered over breakfast because it didn't really get light until 7:30 or so.

My big decision was whether to take the highway or Lytle Boulevard.  Five years ago I also rode from Vale to Boise and a guy at breakfast told me about Lytle Boulevard.  It is part of the Oregon Trail and requires some climbing but is more scenic than the highway.  I decided to do it again and after I was on Lytle it was obvious it was the right choice.  It was a quiet ride enhanced by the rays of the morning sun.  It was a 6 mile climb that only got really steep for the last mile.

On the other side there was an exhibit for the Oregon Trail that I checked out.  Then it was a pleasant, not too fast, descent.  I had to take a cutoff at Enterprise Avenue to get to Nyssa and I almost missed the cutoff as I had the last time I rode through here.  This took me through a large agricultural area similar to what was on the other side by Vale.

I stopped in Nyssa for a cold drink and then crossed the Snake River to get into Idaho.  My GPS routed me down Apple Valley Road which paralleled US20/US26 on the west side.  I thought that would take me all the way to Parma but my GPS then tried to route me down the east side of US20/US26.  I saw US20/US26 had a wide shoulder so I took it the remaining 5 miles into Parma where I had my second breakfast.

Leaving town, I wanted to take Market Road which I overshot but then doubled back.  I followed several different farming roads heading east and dropping down towards Boise.  When I got on Foothill Road I expected that to take me all the way east to 55 but it dead ended.  So I headed south again until I reached ID44, State Street.  This was probably a good thing because I was able to stop at a food mart and get a much needed cold drink.

I continued on ID44 for a good ways with mostly a good shoulder and then took Horseshoe Bend Road north to pick up Hill Road.  Hill took me the rest of the way to near downtown where my niece Julia and her husband Thomas lived.  No one was there when I arrived near 6 pm but Julia showed up a short while later with almost 3 year old Theodore who I met for the first time.  Thomas showed up about an hour later with the rest of the kids after soccer practice.

Day 16: Tue, Sep 17, 2013 - Boise, ID [visit day]

Julia dropped me off downtown at Big City Coffee where I had breakfast and browsed the Internet.  This turned out to be a good place for people watching.  I stayed for a couple of hours and then walked around downtown seeing, among other things, the state capital.  Then I took a while to get oriented and walked back home, stopping along the way to shop for some groceries.

When I got home I worked on my cell phone.  I tried to use it at the coffee house and it wouldn't turn on.  I assumed the battery was low although it shouldn't have been.  So I plugged in my charger at home and got nothing.  That was a major concern since it looked like the phone had died.  Fortunately, I popped out the battery and then the phone worked.  Apparently the phone locked up somehow and popping the battery reset it.

Later, I finalized a route to get from Boise to Mountain Home tomorrow with the help of Thomas who is a bicycle racer and is familiar with a lot of the roads in the Boise metro area.  It looked like a reasonable route but it would require riding a few miles on the Interstate.

Day 17: Wed, Sep 18, 2013 - Boise, ID to Mountain Home, ID [57.2, 5:21:58, 10.6 mph, 1,537']

I was upstairs by 6:30 but Thomas had already left for work but fortunately I had said good-bye last night since I knew we might miss each other in the morning.  But I got to watch Julia get everybody else organized and off to school for the second day in a row.  Then I left at 8:30, leaving Julia only to drop Louis off for school and go to work.  Interestingly, both Edward (10) and Bea (5) rode their bikes to school and Julia biked Theo (3) to day care.  Only Louis was too far from his school for cycling.

It was an easy route to get out of town.  Boise is very bicycle friendly with frequent bike lanes and special bicycle sign directions.  The last street out of town was Federal Way, a busy 4-lane street, but it had a paved bike lane along most of the road.  I stopped at a McDonald's at the last intersection on Federal Way before it delivered me to the Interstate since I figured this might be the last chance to stop for any service for a while. 

While I was eating an Egg McMuffin a guy stopped by and asked what direction I was headed.  I thought he was just interested in my trip but he turned out to be a Project Inspector for the Idaho Transportation Department.  He wanted to warn me that there was construction on the Interstate and the westbound lane was shut down and the eastbound lane was carrying traffic in both directions.  I thought he was going to tell me I would need to find a non-Interstate route to Mountain Home.  Instead, he said he didn't think riding the eastbound shoulder would be much fun and he suggested I should ride the westbound lane since it was essentially empty.  He also gave me his card in case anyone challenged me but I didn't have any problem.  This, of course, was really thoughtful for this guy to do.

Riding the westbound lane was easy with just an occasional large truck hauling asphalt passing by.  Based on the westbound lane I was lucky there was construction.  The shoulder I was riding on had rumble strips to the right of the white line which eliminated about half of the shoulder, giving about a foot and a half of rideable shoulder.  Had there been no construction I would have been riding the eastbound lane this type of shoulder with traffic whizzing by.  Instead, most of the time I could take the traffic lane and ease on to the shoulder only when a truck came along.

There was one problem with riding the westbound lane – it didn't have eastbound exit signs.  So I missed the exit for the Blacks Creek Road that I was planning to take.  By the time I realized this I wasn't interested in turning around so I just kept going.  In the end I rode about 10 miles to where the construction ended right at the exit that the Blacks Creek semi-loop would have brought me back to on my planned route.  So I just picked up the Desert Wind Road from that exit and continued on my planned route to Mountain Home.

Skipping the Blacks Creek route eliminated some climbing that I would have had to do otherwise.  This route most likely would have been more scenic but I was perfectly happy the way things turned out.  It didn't hurt that I had a good tailwind, the first real tailwind of the trip.  I followed Desert Wind, Till Road, Ditto Creek (which returned me to and over the Interstate), and Old Oregon Trail into town at 2:30.

My initial plan was to camp at an RV Park/Campground but I saw signs for inexpensive motels on my ride into town.  After eating at Subway, I stopped at a Visitor Center by the Interstate and then doubled back to a motel that advertised $34 single rooms ($36 with tax).  This place also advertised high speed wireless Internet access but when I checked in the guy wouldn't give me the WiFi password right away.  After waiting for him for about 30 minutes I went back to the office and found him outside with an electrician at the swimming pool. 

This guy was part of the Indian couple who ran the place.  He was difficult to understand and I wondered if he might be a little senile.  I got him to give me the password but he wrote down two passwords and told me to try both and he couldn't tell me whether spaces were important or not.  It wasn't surprising that he wasn't computer literate but one would have thought he would have figured out what information to give customers to access their WiFi.  Fortunately, I was able to figure out the first “password” was the network identifier for the motel’s WiFi and the second “password” really was the password – the motel's phone number.  I just tried it without spaces and that worked.  Then I wrote this information down to give to the guy so he could just copy it down for the next customer.  He seemed to appreciate that I did that for him.

Today turned out to be an easy day with the tailwind and skipping some climbing by staying on the Interstate.  Tomorrow promised to be more difficult with about the same mileage but starting off the day with about 2,000 feet of climbing.  The reward for the climbing should be improved scenery on the way to Fairfield.

Day 18: Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - Mountain Home, ID to Fairfield, ID [62.1, 7:58:25, 7.8 mph, 3,408']

I left the motel and headed for town and then north on the American Legion Boulevard to the Interstate where I found the AJ's restaurant I was told about.  I wasn't too hot on AJ's because it was a chain restaurant and they aren't always that great for breakfast but I was pleasantly surprised.  I had ham, eggs, and 2 large pancakes for a good breakfast.

I left town just after 8:30 headed for Fairfield and started climbing almost immediately.  You could tell climbing was the order of the day because the road headed to the foothills and there was only one way to get over them.  It was a 2,000 foot climb over 14 miles.  I was surprised how much traffic there was on the road.  There were only short periods of a minute or two where there was no traffic in sight.

The scenery was nice climbing through the hills.  After the first turn around a bend I noticed the hills were chocolate.  It took me a while to realize they had been charred by a fire and weren't really chocolate.

Around 11:30 I was looking for a place to stop for my second breakfast and finally stopped along a guardrail where I could use one of the posts for a seat.  When I left around noon I had covered less than 20 miles and still had a long way to go.  Fortunately, the worst of the climbing was behind me but there was some descending and ascending remaining plus one final big climb.

I was surprised to find the Little Camas Inn along the way where I stopped.  I thought I might be able to grab a sandwich but they didn't have any pre-packaged food so I just had a cold soda and refilled my water bottles though I was in no danger of running out of water.

After some more up and down I started the final big climb, a 500 foot, 2-mile U-shaped climb that had great views looking back down the valley.  When I finally crested this last climb I still had 30 miles to go and at the rate I had been moving it was going to take quite a while.  Fortunately, the road leveled off and even descended some so my speed picked up quite a bit and I broke into the double digit speeds.

At this point I was riding through the Camas Prairie ringed by mountains to the side with huge fields for grazing and wheat.  This prairie was more scenic than I expected.

When I reached Hill City I thought I might find some services there and there was a saloon that supposedly had food and drink but it was closed and looked like it had been for some time.  However, with the reasonable temperatures I had no need for a stop and continued on.

I pulled into Fairfield at 5:30 intending to stay at the motel because there didn't appear to be any camping nearby.  However, I learned the motel was almost full due to a wedding and the cheapest room was $74 and on the second floor.  The receptionist must have read my mind and noted there was a town park where I could camp for free.  Since $0 sounded a lot better than $74, I rode into the small town and confirmed with the police that camping in the town park was okay.

Then my thoughts turned to food.  There was a pizza place where I ordered a small pizza but it looked like I got a medium pizza instead but I didn't complain.  It wasn't the greatest pizza but it was good enough and filling.  There was also free WiFi so I was able to check email and a few other things.  Then I rode out to the town park and settled in for the night, the first time camping since the day after leaving Crater Lake.

Day 19: Fri, Sep 20, 2013 - Fairfield, ID to Carey, ID [47.6, 5:58:10, 8.0 mph, 1,705']

I got up at 7, packed up and rode back to the road where there was a restaurant next to the motel.  I had an okay breakfast of ham and pancakes that were rather expensive, more expensive and not as good as my breakfast yesterday morning.  I got a couple of bananas at the store next door and was off at 8:45.

My goal for the day was to make the campground at the Craters of the Moon National Monument.  This was 70 miles away with the first 44 miles to Carey slightly downhill with a couple of short climbs and then 25 miles to Craters of the Moon that climbed about 1100 feet.  I didn't expect this to be a problem but then I didn't count on about a 7-8 mph headwind all day.  The result was I could only make about 7-8 mph which was 2-3 mph less than I would expect on a calm day.  It is conventional wisdom that it is better to travel eastward out in the west rather than westward to take advantage of the wind.  So far I've had one day of tailwind – from Boise to Mountain Home on a day when I least needed a tailwind.  Most of the headwinds have been very moderate except for today.

The first 18 miles today continued through the Camas Prairie with huge fields on both sides of the road, some wheat, some hay, and some pastureland.  The prairie was lined with hills on both sides and the prairie looked to be about 5 miles wide although it was hard to estimate that.  I did manage to see a herd of 20-30 pronghorns about 300 yards away and later a group of 3 pronghorns close to the road.

There was a short, steep climb after 18 miles and then I stopped for my second breakfast at another guardrail where I could use a post as a seat.  It was not comforting when I started riding again to see that it was already noon and I had only gone 20 miles out of 70 miles.  The math did not look good.  I figured another 3 hours to get to Carey at 3:00 and then there would still be 25 miles and 1100 feet of climbing to make before dark.  I considered that I might have to stop at Carey although there was no motel there and no campground that I was aware of.  However, last night's experience reminded me that small towns often have town parks that are okay for overnight camping.  It looked like I might have to hope for that in Carey.

The earlier short, steep climb seemed to be the end of the Camas Prairie and I rode through some undulating terrain.  When I neared the intersection with ID75 that went to Sun Valley there was some more flat land with wheat, hay, and grazing.  I stopped at a rest stop at the ID75 intersection and refilled my water bottle.

There was another bigger 1-mile climb and descent just before Carey.  While I was grinding against the wind in the afternoon I kept a nonstop argument with myself whether I should stop at Carey or grind on.  I really wanted to make Craters of the Moon campground because it would set up tomorrow as an easy day.  I just couldn't convince myself that I could make the campground before dark.  Then there was the added question about campsite availability on a Friday evening and whether the park would turn away a cyclist if the campground was full.

When I came to Carey there was a food mart right at the intersection where US20 turned left.  I asked inside and was told there was a fairgrounds at the other end of town with a restroom and was told it shouldn't be a problem camping there.  That made my decision fairly easy.  Though this wasn't where I wanted to end the day I was tired and there was still a headwind and continuing was just uncertain.

So I got some food at this place, initially two small but tasty burritos and then when I discovered this place also had WiFi I settled in for a longer stay and had a couple more burritos.  I probably spent close to an hour and a half before I left to find the fairgrounds at the other end of town.

I settled in at the fairgrounds and cleaned up in the restroom.  This place even had showers but the showers were locked and you had to call one of several people to get access.  Much as I would have liked a shower it didn't seem right to bother someone while I was freeloading as it was.  I did manage to rinse out my cycling shorts and hung them up in the sun to dry out for tomorrow.

Day 20: Sat, Sep 21, 2013 - Carey, ID to Arco, ID [55.7, 5:56:16, 9.4 mph, 2,044']

I got up at 6:30 and was in a bit of a hurry to get packed up because there were sprinklers in the park.  I saw them last night and hoped if they went off they would go off while I was sleeping and then the tent could dry by morning.  My worst fear was they would go off while I was packing up.  As it turned out nothing happened but I was relieved when I was packed up and gone.

I rode back down the road to a grocery store that claimed it had a restaurant but there was no one there in the small grill section so I continued to the Castle's Corner where I ate yesterday.  They had a paper menu that listed traditional breakfast meals but there was no cook there either to make the meal.  So I settled for my cereal breakfast with real milk.

I left town at 8:30, stopping at the grocery store to pick up some cereal.  The first thing I noticed was the absence of a headwind.  I had 25 miles to Craters of the Moon with 1100 feet of climbing.  It was a scenic route with the road running along the base of the Pioneer Mountains.  After 10 miles I started see signs of lava as the road marked the northwest boundary of the monument.  Without a headwind I reached Craters of the Moon just before noon, at a faster pace than yesterday despite the 1100 feet of climbing versus yesterday's basically flat route.

I stopped at the Visitor Center and then rode the 7-mile loop that showcased a variety of volcanic creations including cinder cones, spatter cones, and lava rocks.  In all I spent a couple of hours at the monument and it was well worth the time.

When I left at 2 pm I had 18 miles to Arco and it was mostly downhill.  The road passed through a huge open area bounded by mountains to the north and east.  The shoulder had rumble strips and uneven chip sealing that made the traffic lane more fun to ride.  With the wide open vista and relatively little traffic it was easy to ride just to the left of the white line and move to the shoulder when traffic approached.  Normally it is a bit of a pain to ride over rumble strips but these strips had periodic gaps of smooth pavement about 10 feet long so it was easy to pick these smooth gaps to move back and forth between the traffic land and the shoulder.  On top of this I had some tailwind until the latter part of the road when it turned right and the tailwind became a crosswind which wasn't all that bad because it had a cooling effect.

I arrived in Arco at 3:30 and checked out the accommodations as I rode through town.  Near the other end of town were two possibilities and I chose the D-K motel.  It looked inexpensive plus it had my initials so it looked like it was meant to be.   I was worried about the motels on a Saturday night with the town close to Craters of the Moon but my room cost a reasonable $45 and it didn't look like there was any problem with availability.

After cleaning up I walked to the Pickles restaurant almost next door for a fish & chips dinner that was good.  As I was walking I got hailed by two other guys sitting outside their motel room who apparently were father/son.  They had bicycle toured from Atlanta to Chicago so they had perked up when they saw me arrive on a bicycle.

Today was a much more pleasant day than yesterday with the absence of the headwind.

Day 21: Sun, Sep 22, 2013 - Arco, ID to Idaho Falls, ID [69.4, 6:33:24, 10.6 mph, 1,263']

It was a chilly morning in the 40s.  I rode to just outside of town to a cafe recommended for breakfast only to discover it was closed on Sundays.  So I backtracked to town and ate at Pickles again and had a good breakfast of pancakes and ham.  It seems these days you can no longer get a good breakfast for less than $10 and Pickles was no exception.

It was still chilly when I left town at 8 and some headwind made it worse all though it didn't affect my speed very much.  For the day the route to Idaho Falls was basically a big 35 mile dip that lost 550 feet and then regained it followed by a 30 mile descent that gave up 800 feet.  So it was a relatively easy day of not quite 70 miles.

Leaving town left the mountains behind and was basically riding across the northern tip of the Great Basin Desert.  Most of the way was sagebrush and desert grass until the last 20 miles when large wheat fields put in their appearance.  The only thing to break up this view was 3 buttes – Big Southern Butte, East Butte, and Middle Butte.  Much of the route I've ridden from Mountain Home to Idaho Falls is part of the Goodale's Cutoff, a variation of the original Oregon Trail.  The Big Southern Butte was a major landmark on this cutoff.  The East and Middle Buttes were close enough together to be considered twins but they were different from each other.

There were no services along this route except for a rest area.  So I carried extra water although I didn't think I would need it.  As it turned out I never came close to using the 4 water bottles I normally carry.  Since it was chilly enough I also bought some milk for my second breakfast.  I got to the rest area 2 hours after leaving town and it was a little early for my second breakfast but I didn't expect to find any convenient place to stop along the road and the rest area had a picnic table so that made the decision for me.

The road had rumble strips that could have been planned better.  They were offset a half a foot or so from the white line and that cut into the useable shoulder of maybe a foot and a half.  That was manageable but when I was traveling faster I took the traffic lane because it was safer and it was easy to see traffic coming up from behind and move to the shoulder.  Then after US20 and US26 split and I stayed on US26 the rumble strips were sloppy.  They took more of the shoulder and weren't consistently set the same distance from the white line.  On the other hand the last 20 miles were much better with a much wider shoulder and the rumble strips were less intrusive.

The wind which started out in the morning as a little headwind switched around some and was partially a tailwind by noon but was a crosswind most of the afternoon.  I rode into town at 3:30 and stopped at a food mart for a bite to eat and drink and then stopped at a grocery store for some shopping.  Then I found the Motel West which looked like about the least expensive place to stay and got a nice room for $52.  It was about twice as big as my room in Arco for only a few dollars more and included a continental breakfast.

After cleaning up I found a Subway for dinner and then settled in for the night.  As luck would have it the Chicago Bears were on for Sunday Night Football and my room had a nice TV.

Day 22: Mon, Sep 23, 2013 - Idaho Falls, ID to Alpine, WY [75.6, 8:01:33, 9.4 mph, 2,894']

The motel had a continental breakfast that I took advantage of.  It didn't have any waffle maker so I had a couple bowls of cereal and a couple bowls of oatmeal where these bowls are the miniscule plastic bowls typical of these breakfasts.  They also had some great thick sliced bread and some mini-muffins.

Today and tomorrow are strategy days.  The next two days are projected to be windy and then Wednesday and Thursday are supposed to be rainy.  So I wanted to end up some place where I could take a layover day on Wednesday and the logical place was Afton, a town of nearly 2,000 with motels.  Afton was about 105 miles but riding to Afton from Alpine is due south which is projected to be into a strong headwind on Tuesday.  That suggested I wanted to make Alpine today and leave 32 miles into a headwind to Afton on Tuesday.

Today's ride was 4 different rides.  The first part was just getting out of the Idaho Falls area and that took almost 7 miles.  I rode into the downtown and took a left on US26 which would take me all the way to Alpine.  Initially this was a good direction because the fairly stiff breeze was out of the south and I was heading north.  However, the day's route was almost a semi-circle so it wasn't clear how much the wind was going to help or hurt.

Once I left the metro area I entered the next segment of the ride.  This was large, mostly wheat, fields.  These were interesting because they were rolling fields in contrast to the recent mostly flat fields.  This combined with the clouds cast interesting shadows on the landscape.

After nearly 40 miles the road descended steeply into the Swan Valley.  This crossed the Snake River and then headed about 15 miles to the other end of the valley.  The Snake River ran through this valley and was a trout fishing paradise.  There were a number of cabins, RV parks, and other services that supported this.  I stopped at a food mart about 2 pm and nuked a burrito to give me energy for the last segment of the day, the ride along the Palisades Reservoir.

At the end of the valley the Palisades Dam create the Palisades Reservoir that was used primarily for irrigation but also for hydroelectric power and recreation.  I thought this might be a drag coming at the end of the day and with a lot of ups and downs but the ride along the winding reservoir was scenic and the climbing wasn't as noticeable.  Also what wasn't noticeable was the wind.  The wind had mostly receded when I descended into the valley and was hardly noticeable the rest of the way.

The same couldn't be said for the road's shoulder.  It varied throughout the day.  Initially I was happy with the shoulder and then it became chip seal.  Problem was gravel covered the entire shoulder including the rumble strips.  This helped fill the rumble strips and make them less noticeable if I hit them but also made them less visible and more easily to inadvertently run over them.  Moreover the chip seal made the shoulder rougher riding.  After 30 miles the chip seal shoulder thankfully gave way to a smooth shoulder.  The rumble strips were real but easily visible and avoidable.  Then in the valley the chip seal shoulder returned but without the rumble strips.

As I approached Alpine I was expecting to camp at a campground that was a couple miles from town.  This turned out to be a USFS campground and it was closed for the season.  I was tempted to camp there anyway since I could have easily pushed my bike under one end of the pole gate.  Instead I rode towards town and just outside town the Alpen Haus Hotel had an RV Park and they also allowed camping.  So I got a tent site for $10 that was okay but a shower would have cost $6 extra because it was part of the hotel.

After setting up I walked to the restaurant at the hotel and found they were just starting their business.  I had an okay BBQ pork sandwich and a cup of chili.  Okay but nothing to really get excited about.  I was at least able to use the WiFi in the restaurant.

Day 23: Tue, Sep 24, 2013 - Alpine, WY to Afton, WY [37.6, 4:44:40, 7.9 mph, 1,501']

I packed up and rode the short distance to town.  Usually when looking for a breakfast place I look for a place with a lot of cars.  The place I would have chosen using this criteria was a place the guy in the Alpen Haus restaurant strongly suggested I avoid.  Instead I followed his recommendation and stopped at the Cowboy Bistro, which had nobody there.  That made me somewhat uneasy but I had a good breakfast of pancakes and ham so the choice turned out fine.

I took my time at breakfast because it was a chilly morning and I wanted to wait for it to warm up a bit.  When I left at 8:45 it was 43F but there was little wind and the sun was out and I figured it wouldn't take too long to warm up.

It was only a little more than 30 miles to Afton, my destination for the day.  Afton was a town with a population of 1911 and had 4 motels.  It could have tried to go further but there wasn't a good place to stay in light of the impending bad weather and the fact that I expected a head wind while climbing.  From Alpine at 5700 feet to Afton at 6134 feet it was 400 feet of gradual climbing.

When I started out there was no noticeable wind and I hoped to get a good ways to Afton before the wind picked up and became a headwind as forecasted.  The road followed the Salt River upstream through the 50 mile Star Valley.  It seemed that everything along the way was named Star Valley this and Star Valley that and that's how I concluded this was Star Valley and later confirmed that. 

The first 15 miles were also Wyoming's version of urban sprawl.  There were homes sprinkled throughout the valley.  Some were farm homes but others must have been homes erected on large lots.  There were a number of signs along the way for developments and one sign advertised 1 to 9 acre lots.  There were also a lot of horses sprinkled along the road.  Presumably folks used their large lots to accommodate horses.

There were a lot of public fishing access points along the way and I spotted one boat on the Salt River with a rower and a fly fisherman.

Just before 11 I noticed the wind picking up and then I stopped for a second breakfast at a food mart in Thayne, population 375, where I had a breakfast burrito.  When I resumed riding I noticed the wind was much stronger and I had a significant headwind for the last 15 miles.  This was still much better than a headwind all day but the combination of gradual climbing and headwind reduced my speed to about 6 mph.

So it was a grind the last 15 miles to Afton.  I did see a bicycle touring couple riding towards Alpine.  It would have been nice to stop and chat to find where they were headed but they didn't seem inclined.  They should have been making good time with a gradual descent and a tailwind.  I could only guess they were probably headed to Jackson and on to the Tetons and Yellowstone.  They were the only touring cyclists I had seen so far except for the Dutch couple I met the first week at Lava Beds National Monument.

I got into town about 1:30 and made a pass through town to check out the services.  There were 4 motels according to Google.  One I ruled out right away because it had kitchenettes and cabins which would be more expensive than a simple motel room.  I found another was really condos being used as motel rooms and I ruled that out.  That left the other two options.  I called one motel and got no answer and the other said rooms were $77 and it didn't take me long to decide that wasn't my choice.  So I rode on to the motel that didn't answer and got a room for $62, much better than the $77.  The guy who checked me in was a talker and fed me a bunch of stories about wildlife in the area including mountain lions and snakes.  I probably could have stayed there as long as I wanted hearing these tales but the guy was perceptive enough to realize I probably didn't want to spend the rest of the day hearing his tales.

The room was fine and the motel was next door to a restaurant where I ate later.

The big question was what I would do tomorrow.  Originally, the weather forecast was for rain and thunderstorms tomorrow but now the forecast was for some intermittent rain but then wet snow Thursday morning as the temperature was forecasted to drop 20 or 30 degrees compared to today.  So there was the possibility I might ride tomorrow to Montpelier, ID, and take Thursday off.  That's a decision I would make in the morning after checking the latest forecasts.

Day 24: Wed, Sep 25, 2013 - Afton, WY [layover]

I ate breakfast at the restaurant next to the motel.  It was a chilly and dreary looking morning.  I had hoped I might get away today and make it to Montpelier and take a rest day tomorrow.  I checked a couple of weather websites and they looked a little promising.  I wasn't going to leave early but when I looked out the window of my room around 9 it was raining steadily and not looking good.  Later it was windy and looking worse although it wasn't raining as hard, mostly drizzling.

Around 10:30 I decided to stay another day.  By that time the sky was looking a little better but not to the south where I needed to ride.  At this point I hoped it would rain some more to make my decision look good.

After paying for another night, I walked downtown.  On every one of my tours I always forget something and I usually figure that out quickly.  This year I didn't notice anything missing and thought this might be the exception.  However, when the weather started turning colder I realized I couldn't remember packing up my light pullover.  So I checked my bags and couldn't find it.  I had enough clothing to make do without the pullover but decided to see if I could find a replacement in town.  I found a fleece pullover in a store that was just about what I wanted.  The smallest size I could get it in was large so I was stuck with that although I wasn't convinced a medium was the right size either.  I wore that pullover as I walked the approximate quarter mile back to my motel.

For the rest of the day I pretty much killed time, took a short nap, read some on my Kindle, and sent some emails.  Close to 4 pm I walked downtown again and the weather was actually looking pretty good at that point and there were some blue patches in the sky.  I also saw a dusting of snow at the higher altitudes in the mountains.

Day 25: Thu, Sep 26, 2013 - Afton, WY to Montpelier, ID [49.2, 5:58:58, 8.2 mph, 2,057']

I ate breakfast at the same place as yesterday and ordered the 3 pancakes.  The waitress tried to convince me 2 would be enough and that's when I knew I had a good order and it was a good order.  Back at the motel I checked the weather forecasts.  They seemed reasonable enough given the uncertain weather that I decided to push on rather than sit in a motel for another day.

I packed up more carefully so that my cold/wet weather gear was easily accessible.  For the first time on this trip I wore socks with my sandals – a thin wool sock and then my SealSkinz waterproof socks.  This combination worked for 20F at Walden, CO, a year ago and it was above freezing here so I was confident this would be fine.  Then I pulled on my new fleece pullover over my jersey and long sleeve shirt and topped that off with my light windbreaker.

I left a little before 9 while the weather was looking okay in the mid-30s.  I had 2 big climbs for the day for my goal of Montpelier, not quite 50 miles away.  Initially, I was climbing gradually and then had a steep climb the last mile or two to Salt Pass at 7630 feet.  I saw a lot of horses who looked at me like “why would you be out on a day like this?”.

The problem with cold weather like this is finding the right clothing balance, enough layers to keep warm but not too much to overheat and perspire and get chilled.  After a short while I had to remove my light windbreaker to avoid overheating.  Then as I started the main part of the climb to the pass I had to put my windbreaker back on.

After 10 miles it was obvious I was riding into some low clouds and I hit some snow showers, which was better than rain since I didn’t get wet.  I was surprised when I reached the pass at 11:30, thinking I still had a ways to go.  Unfortunately, due to the clouds there wasn't much of a view.

When I started the descent from the pass I kept my speed under control.  I didn't want to get wind chilled, the road was wet, my rims were wet with less braking power, and the road wasn't in the best shape for a high speed descent.  I kept the bike in the 12-15 mph range.

As I descended I was getting pelted with some rain and became rather chilled.  So I stopped and put on my rain gear which helped immediately but I was still chilled.  I began to wonder if I would have to stop and throw up my tent and climb in my sleeping bag but I never quite got to that stage.  Then as I descended more the rain stopped and I was okay.

It was too bad about the weather because it looked like the descent would have been really scenic.

At about the half way point I re-entered Idaho and then US89 shortly veered west.  About this time the clouds were looking much better to the south, seemingly beckoning me to go south.  But I held to my planned route and then began the second climb of the day to Geneva Pass at 6923 feet.  I removed my rain gear as I started climbing.  This climb was as steep as the Salt Pass climb and I lumbered along at 3-3.5 mph.  This was an interesting climb as the road wound its way to the pass.

I reached the pass at 2:30 and put my windbreaker on for the descent.  The descent through the Montpelier Canyon was much better than the earlier descent.  It was a much better road and the road was dry so I could turn my bike loose somewhat.  It was also a scenic descent as the road wound its way through the canyon.

When I reached the bottom it was only a few miles to Montpelier.  At that point the wind decided to kick up and I had a chilly headwind but only for a few miles.  In town I passed by the Oregon/California Museum so I stopped for about a half hour to check it out.  Then I rode through town and checked out the 3 motels I knew about.  I picked the last one as most likely the least expensive but it still cost $59.

The motel was not well located for food but there was a pizza/sub joint just across the street and that was good enough for me and I had a pizza for dinner.  Then when I got back to the motel I powered up my PC and was dismayed to see there was almost no WiFi signal.  So I complained to the manager who was basically clueless about WiFi.  When I explained that the closer a room was to her WiFi equipment in the office the stronger the signal she let me try another room.  It wasn't good enough either but it was closer to another open WiFi signal that worked so I moved to the new room.

Day 26: Fri, Sep 27, 2013 - Montpelier, ID to Garden City, UT [32.1, 3:15:28, 9.9 mph, 451']

It was freezing or a little below when I left the motel.  I backtracked a half mile to a Maverik food mart for breakfast.  There was a restaurant with a regular breakfast in town but it was about a mile north and I didn't feel like going that far.  So I had a breakfast sandwich and bear claw with coffee.  That was okay but it was too cold to eat outside and there was no sitting inside so I had to eat standing up.

I left town just before 9 heading west.  I had to ride west about 6 miles before US89 angled to the south.  I could see that the weather didn't look good to the north and it didn't look good in my rear view mirror and I saw some signs the weather was acting up to the west.  So it didn't look good but I never got spit on.  On top of that the wind was from the northwest so when I turned south I had some tailwind.  That meant the only issue was the cold and I was pretty comfortable with only my toes feeling a little cold.

Bear Lake is a 20 mile long and 8 mile wide lake that is famous for its blue color, the result of sunlight reflecting off of limestone particles suspended in the water.  I didn't actually see the lake for a while and when I did I couldn't see a lot of it because the road was at the same level as the lake and that made it hard to see a narrow lake.  What I did see was the hills and mountains on both sides of the Bear Lake Valley.  The cloud variability allowed some sunlight to peek through and that made the hills/mountains scenic.  On my side the there were a lot of fields, many with grazing cattle.

The road had little shoulder until the small town of Paris and then it had a good shoulder until St Charles and then the shoulder became a multi-level shoulder due to uneven chip sealing that made the shoulder almost unrideable on a bicycle.  But there wasn't that much traffic so the shoulder wasn't a major concern.

The first town along the way was Paris, a small town of 513 that was established by a group of Mormon pioneers in 1863.  These folks thought they were in Utah but later learned they were actually in Idaho.  The claim to fame for the town was the majestic Paris Tabernacle that was built over a 5 year period from 1884 to 1889.  It was truly an impressive piece of architecture.

After Paris the next small town was St. Charles, famous as the birthplace of Gutson Borglum, a noted painter/sculptor famous for Mt Rushmore.

As I was riding I was interested in finding a place to have a regular breakfast.  There was a Paris cafe but that was too soon after my first breakfast.  I stopped at a place in Fish Haven but it was just a deli.

Just before noon I crossed into Utah, making this the 3rd state I was in over the past 2 days.  Shortly after that I reached Garden City, the biggest town along the lake.  There were a number of fast food, drive in places and then I saw the Paris Grill that advertised breakfast all day and I stopped there.  It was part of the Lodge Motel.

My plan for the day was to stay at the south end of the lake, either in a campground or a motel at Laketown.  However, I learned that the lodge at Laketown was a group lodging place.  I would have liked to continue on to Randolph where there was a BLM campground that sounded interesting but I was told by a couple people that Randolph was the coldest place in Utah.  A guy at the restaurant told me he expected the overnight low would be in the teens.  Even around the lake the overnight low was expected to be below freezing.  So I was considering camping only because I expected lodging would be rather expensive in a resort area.  But I learned the motel where I was eating was on winter rates and the price was a more reasonable than expected $63 plus AARP discount plus taxes.

At this point I had only ridden a little over 30 miles and would have liked to put in more miles but the next real place to stay was Evanston and at 90 some miles was a bit too much for one day.  So I decided to stay at this motel even though it wasn't even 1:00 yet but this looked like the best option and this left me with a reasonable 60 some miles to Evanston, the goal for tomorrow.

After I ate my breakfast I checked into my room.  Learning my lesson from last night the first thing I did was try the WiFi and found I couldn't connect.  This was almost certainly because the signal was a little too weak.  So I got another room to try and was able to connect immediately.  Internet access is always nice but it is more important when trying to keep abreast of what the weather is doing.  Tomorrow the weather is supposed to start warming up back to normal temperatures for this time of the year.  That's important because in 2 days I planned to be riding up to Mirror Lake which is at the 10,000 foot level where there probably is some snow but it should hopefully be melted by the time I get there.

This was an easy ride.  It was flat and scenic with some tailwind and reasonably comfortable despite the temperature.  It was a day when you would like to continue riding.

 


 

Copyright Denis Kertz, 2013. All rights reserved.