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Day 61 – Not-so-lolo

(58 miles)

The maps of the route we are following are produced and published by the Adventure Cycling Association, or ACA. The ACA have their headquarters in Missoula which is why the TransAm takes a MASSIVE detour up north on it’s way across the States – just to pass by the office! So we figured it would be rude not to at least pop in and say hi. We got our photo taken (it’s now on the Wall of Fame), grabbed a free ice-cream and soda (yes, this was at breakfast time) and picked up some maps for the Lewis and Clark trail. ‘Er…the what trail?’ I hear you ask. Well, let me back-track a bit…

As I said, the TransAm takes a big detour up to Missoula and then heads south-west through Idaho and then through Oregon to the coast. It’s windy, hilly and the shorter version of it ends up in Florence – which although pretty, isn’t very convenient for any sort of onwards journey. On the otherhand, the Lewis and Clark trail (which kind of follows in the footsteps of the great pioneers themselves) takes a much more direct route to the coast which also happens to be flatter and ends in Astoria (where the longer of the TransAm routes finishes too) – much more convenient for getting back to Portland and then onwards! We discussed it as a group and all agreed that we’d set out to cross America rather than to stick religiously to the TransAmerica route. So we’re hopping on the Lewis and Clark trail in a couple of days time when it diverges from the TransAm and we’re sprinting for the coast!

Funky handlebar door handles at the Adventure Cycling Association offices

First things first though – in this case the ironically named Lolo Pass which also marked a) our entry into Idaho, state number 9 and b) the start of Pacific Time, our fourth (and last – we’re giving Alaska and Hawaii a miss) time zone of the trip.

State number 9 - and Pacific time

The descent down from Lolo Pass was a bit special. Coasting down long sweeping curves, with a gushing river on one side and all around a dense forest of tall thin pine trees.

We stopped just 13 miles down from the pass at Lochsa Lodge as there are no more services for the next 65 miles after that. They let you camp behind the store for free and we were able to hang out in the lodge all afternoon using the WiFi etc before demolishing some more burgers for dinner.

Also at the lodge was Sarah who was cycling on her own with no real set destination, other than ‘east’. She was extremely chatty and keen to hang out with us. I ended up feeling a bit sorry for her – she struck me as someone who’s been let down and side-lined a lot in her past and is just looking for her place in the world. And I think she’s lonely. I hope she finds the right people and place to call home. You meet a lot of other cyclists on the road, far too many to mention them all in this blog. Most are in groups of at least two or more. But I always feel like the ones on their own are desperate for companionship, even if perhaps they don’t realise it themselves.

The beautiful Lochsa valley

Pat cruises down Lochsa valley

 

Pack a laptop if you’re gonna blog while cycle touring!

I can’t tell you how much of a hassle it is to get photos uploaded from my phone and captioned etc in WordPress. The biggest change I would make to my kit if I do another similar tour is to bring a laptop so I can easily write my blog posts and upload my photos. WiFi is generally available but access to a PC (that isn’t from the 90s) is tough to get – and libraries recently have been really stuffy about how long I can stay on the PC for.

So I may just publish the last several days of posts without photos and then add the photos later. Otherwise I’m not sure when they’ll get published as we’re back in the middle of nowhere now!

Day 60 – American Pie

(Rest-day, Missoula)

If yesterdays breakfast was a treat, today’s almost topped it! We started off with fresh coffee, the milk coming straight from the cow on the farm where Kate (one of Micah’s roommates) works. Then some of Micah’s homemade barley and rye bread (‘very hearty’ he tells us) with poached eggs and broccoli in a white/cheese sauce, fresh mango lassi and then hot muffins smothered in a cream cheese frosting.

Another awesome breakfast begins...

Argh - I can't stop taking photos of food!

By the time we’d finished it was almost lunch-time – but instead we drove out of town to a little place called Arlee where every July 4th there is a big gathering of Native Americans (a pow-wow) as well as a rodeo.

At the pow-wow we watched as an old white dude MC’d a bunch of Native American dances. I say ‘dance’ – but I think even I couldn’t have gone wrong with the ‘dance moves’ which basically consisted of walking very slowly round the central area in time to the drum beat. Which brings me to the rhythm! I’m sure I’m missing the finer details but as each new song/dance was introduced, the exact same monotonous ‘boom boom boom’ beat rang out – and didn’t stop until the next song started. It was all fascinating though. I had so many questions but no-one to ask them to. What did the dances represent? What did the lyrics mean? Where they particular to one tribe? And if so do all the Indians have to learn all the other tribes’ dances? What are the inter-tribe relationships like? Have they changed much over the years? What are relationships like between your average white person and their Native American neighbours (there were plenty of white folk dressed in traditional American Indian costume, joining in the dances)? What did the young Native Americans think of the pow-wow (I saw plenty of bored young faces!)? I’d love to spend some time with some folk who’d be able to answer all my questions!

Wow - a real pow-wow

 

After a while we slipped out and headed down the road to the rodeo – talk about a culture clash!

About 12 years ago, on my gap year, I remember emerging from Grand Central Station in New York and just standing on the street corner with a silly open-mouthed grin on my face as I gazed in fascination at everything around me. I had seen these sights countless times before – but only in movies, on TV and in photographs. For the first time I was seeing The Real Thing – and it was Just Like The Movies. Here, in a field in North Montana, I was experiencing the same feeling at the rodeo. I felt like I’d stepped into a western movie. Sure, I’ve seen my fair share of horse-riders before but these guys (and girls – they were impressive) could really ride! Galloping like lunatics around the barrel course, lassoing calves (even around the hind legs as it gallops – still no clue how they manage that!), and riding bulls. Riding bulls I tell you! (Admittedly some of them better than others…). It was a perfect way to spend a July 4th afternoon – a real slice of American Pie.

How not to ride a horse

It don't get more American than this!

FAIL

 

After stopping off at The Good Food Store and the Big Dipper Ice-Cream place (two of the best places in Missoula I’m told – and I saw no reason to dispute this), we headed up into the hills above town for a barbecue at the house of one of Micah’s friends. We ate, drank, chatted and as darkness fell, watched the Missoula fireworks display from above (actually if I’m honest I think fireworks look way better from directly beneath them but don’t let that ruin the picture of a perfect evening).

Independence Day – boshed out.

This was a 'Single Scoop'. Unbelievable!

Darkness falls over Missoula

 

 

Day 59 – Spontaneous Popsicles and the UM Flat

(50 miles)

I don’t know how wholesome your breakfast was this morning but I guarantee it doesn’t come close to mine! Coffee, wholemeal bread and home-made jam, cottage cheese pancakes (better than they sound, ‘good because they’ve got protein in them too’) with syrup, and natural, unseeetened yoghurt with loads of different nuts, seeds, fruit and other random things, each accompanied by an explanation of their nutritional value – it was a truly delicious and educational breakfast!

Photos were taken, addresses exchanged, farewells said and re-said and then it was time to leave. Once again I felt like I could have happily spent the rest of the summer right there. But we must press on. It was mid-morning by this time and already hot.

Half an hour down the road a car gives us a toot and pulls over and stops just ahead of us. Out jump Brian and Laurie, clutching more popsicles! “Spontenaity – that’s what it’s all about!” says Brian with a huge grin. More goodbyes and we ride off, grinning ourselves as we munch on our icy treats. I just have a feeling this won’t be the last time I see these two – Montana had suddenly jumped up on my list of places to come for a vacation!

Brian - The Popsicle Kid

The ride into Missoula from Hamilton was a mixture of busy roads with no shoulder and bike paths with bumps, twists, turns and hills that made you long for the busy road again.

We’re staying two nights (tomorrow is Independence Day so we’re taking a rest-day to join in some celebrations) with another warmshowers host, Micah. Micah is an Environmental Studies grad student and lives in a special house (the ‘UM Flat’) leased from the university for free in exchange for working on the house to demonstrate improvements in sustainability within an urban house. Or something like that. They have a spare room and love to host passing cyclists, hikers, etc.

In the evening we all headed out for dinner and drinks at a local brewery – the first time in quite a while we’ve hung out with a group of people our age. Good banter and good beer. Just some more of the hardships we cycle tourers must bear.

Kate and Micah

The UM flat vegetable garden

 

Day 58 – Honouring the mystery

(78 miles)

I lost a contact lens today as I was riding. We’d ridden very gently up to the top of Chief Joseph’s Pass in the freezing cold air of the early morning. This was followed by about 8 miles of steady downhill that weren’t as fun as they should have been because the poor road surface and the mottled shade from trees made for a very hairy ride as we hooned down the hill hoping and praying that we wouldn’t hit a massive pot-hole or pile of gravel. A cross-headwind at least slowed us to a reasonable pace but it also blew straight past my sunglasses. One minute my eye was fine, then I blinked and realised I was losing my lens and the next second it was gone, wisked away on the wind. I ended up doing the last three miles down the hill trying to decide if it was better with one eye shut (you really lose your perspective) or not (you get a headache from having one blurry view and one clear view). I had spare lenses so it was actually no big deal to lose one – as long as it doesn’t happen regularly.

Early morning dew on the tent

Taken imminently before I was attacked by a giant...

Matt leaving our free camping spot

The rest of the ride, down the Bitterroot valley was beautiful. All slowly downhill following the river with the warm sunshine bringing out our smiles.

We stopped at a bike shop in Hamilton (our day’s destination) and Matt picked up another spare inner tube which he ended up needing almost immediately as his front tube ripped near the valve while we were still ‘taking care of business’ (arguing with AT&T) in Hamilton. He’s not a happy chappy about all his flats!

Meanwhile, in America...

 

We haven’t been able to make too much use of warmshowers hosts so far as there just aren’t any in most of the small towns we pass through. But when we do, they’ve all been great. And today was no exception. Actually they set the bar so high it will be mighty hard to better! Brian and Laurie live in an awesome big house just outside Hamilton. They only just signed up with warmshowers three weeks ago and we were their first cyclists (hostees?). Consequently we got the full works. They are categorically the ‘youngest’ 50-year-olds I’ve ever met. Probably a lot to do with their active life-style and healthy diet. Brian is a personal trainer, yoga instructor and budding, self-taught nutritionist. We had some great chats about England, California (where they come from), families (they’d decided not to have kids), food (a mutual interest), philosophy (we went DEEP!) and The Art of Seduction (you’ve been warned!). They plied us with food and drink all evening – and the next morning. Beer, margaritas, deer burgers and salad, chocolate, root beer floats, ‘chocovina’, whipped vodka (amazing!), popsicles, the list goes on…

Brian and Laurie - new life-long friends :-)

Brian and Laurie's house

My manly glass of Chocovina

Root-beer :-)

 

I slept in The Worlds Most Awesomest Bed. Made entirely from big logs. I want one! I suspect it might be a bit pricey to get it shipped back to the UK from the little shop here where Brian and Laurie bought theirs, but the dream is alive.

This could be a 5-star hotel!

I love this bed!

 

The phrase ‘honouring the mystery’ was something Brian mentioned tonight as we were chatting about our relaxed, ‘see-where-we-end-up’ attitude to planning each days ride. I think it expresses a fascinating and refreshing approach to life and personally I would say this is exactly how God intended us to approach life – constantly exploring his creation with open eyes, ears, mind and heart. I’ll leave you with some more of Brian’s wisdom:

“Maybe you don’t know what your dreams are until you reach them”

“You don’t realise you’re fulfilling your dreams and fantasies until you’re in them”

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