Last ride of the trip

Monday morning started with a drive from Harrison to Hamilton. It was tough leaving such a comfortable Airbnb, but it was also comfortable to travel so many miles in an air-conditioned vehicle. Our adventures teach us to appreciate our modern vehicular conveniences but also appreciate opportunities to travel in a slower, more immersive way. You experience a landscape differently at 10 mph with no glass isolating you from the sounds and smells. In any case, the Idaho panhandle and Montana are beautiful both on bike and in car.

As we drove to Hamilton, backtracking some of our route, it was cool to see how far we had biked. We also had some really great conversations with Page and Vance. Upon arriving in Hamilton we were excited to get riding again and we were also grateful to find the truck in good condition where we had left it two weeks earlier.

We got ready to ride and rode the Bitterroot Trail for 30 miles back towards Missoula, before turnng around and riding back toward Hamilton. We
rode from about 4:00 to 9:00 PM. It was pretty warm, and we had a head wind going north which turned into a tail wind going south as we returned to Hamilton. We enjoyed riding through pretty farmland, small towns, and mountain scenery. We were on a dedicated bike path the whole way but were close to a highway with some traffic and its associated noise. The route was part of the same trail we had done 2 weeks ago.

Total miles today were 63.5 and our whole trip total ended up at just under 730.

We found a hotel, cleaned up, soaked in the hot tub and pool, and went to sleep, happy and tired.

As we write this it is Tuesday and we are driving home. We are sad to see our adventure end but happy to think about the memories we created. We love seeing the world this way and enjoy this unique opportunity to accomplish something difficult together. It was also fun to share the last part of our trip with people we love.

A day of rest

Two gifts big rides give you are 1) the ability to sleep well and 2) the ability to eat a ton of food. We are taking advantage of both in Harrison on Sunday.

The Airbnb we are in is comfortable and peaceful. Because we had Vance and Page’s truck when we went shopping last night we were able to buy as much as we wanted without having to take into account how much we could load into our panniers — so we bought a lot. 

We woke up and drove to St. Maries where we went to church. It was wonderful to be in a familiar and friendly setting even though we didn’t know anyone. Several people ensured we felt welcome. It felt good to worship with them. Being able to drive the 30 miles to church again made us appreciate the conveniences of a vehicle. The distance and nature of the road were such that we couldn’t have attended in person without the truck.

Back at the Airbnb we cooked a large meal, ate, talked, and enjoyed each other’s company. Vance and Page are exceptional communicators and have great insight into our world. It is fun to be doing this part of our journey together.

A big day

Saturday was a big ride day. We all slept well in Heyburn State Park. It was lightly raining through the night which created a peaceful atmosphere and kept the temperature just right. It stopped in time for our tents to partially dry prior to packing. The campground was much busier due to it being the weekend, but our site was surrounded by trees. We ate, walked by the lake, packed up, and hit the trail around 11 AM. We were riding the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes all day.

Our first stop was our Airbnb in Harrison where we dropped our panniers. We had a slight routing snafu which had us pushing our bikes up the steepest hills in Harrison only to find we were headed in the wrong direction. It built character.

On the way to our Airbnb we ran into another couple on a tandem recumbent and had a fun talk with them. We had caught a glimpse of them on Friday night. It is so rare to see a bike like ours! The couple’s ages were 68 and 74. We hope we are still biking like this when we are those ages. We’re planning on it!

We rode the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes uphill again, eventually making it to the end at Mullan in the evening. It was beautiful and peaceful. We enjoyed sharing it with Page and Vance. Once more we felt so happy that former railways like this are being transformed into bike trails. Partway through we met another couple on a regular tandem, who had cycled across the US as well as many other places. Again — fun to talk with people who have similar interests and experiences. We also saw many beautiful and interesting birds, including a few great blue herons. What a fantastic feeling to have ridden the entire trail!

It was a great ride. The temperature had been perfect throughout the day, but as the sun went down we all quickly chilled and since we had left our panniers there was nothing we could do about it. Normally we would have had coats and pants we could put on to warm up.

We had a good dinner at a restaurant in Wallace and picked up Vance’s truck. We drove to a Walmart in Smelterville and bought supplies for the next two days, and then drove to Harrison. It was about midnight. We quickly unpacked, cleaned up, and went to bed.

Our Airbnb in Harrison is perfectly quaint, overlooking the lake. Just the right place to rest and relax. Our total mileage was 78 miles – mostly a slow uphill regaining much of the altitude we had lost on the previous 2 days.

Avery to Heyburn, the right way

We slept great in the Avery Hotel. We had plans to meet our shuttle at 4 PM so we had to leave around 10. I’ve grown to appreciate the times we are not tied to a schedule, but having a shuttle through the dangerous part of the ride is totally worth the inconvenience of a schedule.

Before we left we looked in a train museum and an old passenger car in Avery. One thing Page has helped us do better is to stop along the way to learn about the area and its history.

The ride to St Maries was the perfect temperature. We had enough cloud cover to keep the sun off but not so much as to bring rain. It was totally dry. The road follows the St Joe’s River the entire way. About 20 miles from St. Maries, we had lunch at a roadside cafe. Again, it was fun to slow down, talk, and enjoy each other’s company. 

We had one other brief stop along the way so Vance could go jump in the St Joe River to cool off. As it is snow melt, that did the trick. Shortly after lunch we exited the nice paved road and rode on the rail-grade dirt road into St Maries. It was rough washboard. We did it to avoid traffic, but perhaps we should have stuck with the asphalt.

We made it to our shuttle meet-up point early. I had been able to share our location with our driver so he was there waiting for us with a trailer he had rigged up specifically to haul our bikes. We grabbed supplies at the nearby store and drove to Harrison. Our driver was a retired principal and told us stories of the area for the entire drive. While I had resisted the shuttle idea, now in hindsight I have to admit it was the right choice and worked out perfectly.

After unloading, just as we were beginning the next segment of our ride, we saw another recumbent tandem similar to ours (but made by a different company). I wish we had been able to talk to them but they were riding in the opposite direction.

We rode the Trail of Coeur d’Alenes from Harrison to Plummer so that we could say we did the entire trail by the end of Saturday’s ride to Mullan. On the way back to our campsite at Heyburn State Park we encountered a moose on the trail. Page had just been chased by an angry mother moose the week before in Alaska and knew to be wary of the awkward, lanky, but big animal. Eventually it moved far enough off trail for us to ride by.

The campsite wasn’t as pretty as the previous two sites we used at Heyburn, but it was good enough. We cleaned up, showered, ate dinner, and went to bed.

It was a great day of just under 70 miles of riding.

Here are some photos from our ride.

Tandem tandems

We slept well in our hotel room in Wallace. It was a good night to be inside because it started raining early and continued to rain through the morning. It is one thing to sleep in a tent in the rain and entirely another thing to pack up a tent and all your gear  in the rain. Our hotel room helped us avoid this.

Vance and Page woke up early in Missoula and drove to Wallace to pick us up at the hotel at 9 AM in order to make the shuttle timing work. It is a little less fun to be on a schedule, but we had arranged with someone to help shuttle Vance’s truck to a safe location and needed to accommodate them driver’s schedule. We loaded our bike with theirs and drove to Lookout Pass (ski area) where we started our ride. The shuttle worked out perfectly and we were able to position the truck in a good place for us to recover on Saturday evening.

We introduced Vance and Page to Pete-style navigation by getting off route right at the beginning of our ride and had to go off-road over a rough 4-wheel drive road and up a steep embankment to get on route. It was great having four people to push the bike when we went up the embankment. Had it just been Natalie and I we might have had to unload the bike first.

The ride from then on was a beautiful mostly downhill trek on dirt roads. It was a bit cold but not a problem.  We rode a short segment of the Route of the Olympian out to the tunnel and trestle as an out-and·back and then started the Route of the Hiawatha. This time we spent more time reading the various signs along the trail and learning the history of the old rail line and the people who operated it. The railroad is an amazing engineering feat, but perhaps the most amazing aspect of it is the ingenuity and perseverance of the people who not only constructed it but kept it operational for so long.

Tonight we are in a hotel in Avery — the same one we stayed in last week. Last week we needed the shower because we were hot and sweaty. Tonight we needed it because we were a bit chilled (except for Vance — he is a human heater).

It has been great to ride with Vance and Page. We’ve done these adventures for several years now and could only share them with people through this travel journal. Now we get to share the experience first hand. It creates a few small logistical needs, but it’s overwhelmingly worth it to have people we love and enjoy with us.

Today we rode a little over 40 miles, mostly downhill. It was an enjoyable ride and both bikes worked well. Tomorrow is a bit longer and also involves a shuttle, as we head back to Heyburn State Park and are trying to skip the highway portion of the ride that had us on a small shoulder with logging trucks.

Here is a link to photos from the day.

Heyburn to Wallace

There are few things more peaceful than camping near a lake with birds quietly singing in the early morning while rain lightly falls. That was our Wednesday morning. The temperature dropped considerably, which was nice because I was starting to complain about hauling our larger warm sleeping bags in our panniers instead of our ultralight ones that pack down into the size of a Nalgene water bottle. I even had to zip my bag up last night — a first for the trip.

Heyburn State Park is wonderful. I’m sure it will be a bit different on Friday night with Page and Vance because so many more campers will be here, but it is one of the gems we’ve discovered on this trip.

An observation: our lives are so busy and schedule-driven it is hard to mentally adjust when both are removed. Last evening as Natalie read her book I had nothing to do and found it hard to just sit and stare at the fire. I kept thinking I needed to be doing something. Having tons of bandwidth allows me to fill these gaps at home with wasting time watching YouTube, which for some reason my brain processes differently than watching a fire spark or cranes swim by on the lake by our tent. I think I need to learn to live my normal days a little more like I’m forced to live on my vacation days. I need to stare at the fire.

We left the campground about 9:30 AM. We kept thinking it would rain on us so we were prepared for it, but the rain didn’t come. It was nicely overcast for the majority of today’s ride.

The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is awesome. The trail is paved the whole way and is railroad grade, so even though we were riding uphill all day, it was hardly noticeable. The pilings used to create the original railroad bed were contaminated mine pilings (the contamination wasn’t understood at the time), and when they decided to try to rectify the problem the most efficient way to do it was to seal them in with asphalt. The result was a beautiful trail.

It is extra peaceful to be able to ride without having to pay attention to (worry about) cars. The 60 miles seemed to fly by. We could have kept riding when we arrived in Wallace. We are excited to do this same trail again with Page and Vance on Saturday.

We ate a big meal at City Limits Restaurant in Wallace. We weren’t particularly healthy in our selection of food. This sometimes happens when we’ve ridden all day. But it sure tasted good.

We bought supplies at a grocery store. Thankfully we were stuffed so we were modest in our purchasing. We rode back to the hotel and I gave the hot tub a try. This is saying something, as I am a champion soaker, but I couldn’t stick it out. There were enough chlorine fumes to make my eyes water and make it difficult to breathe. I called my soak short and retreated to our room. The hotel has a redeeming grace: you can park your bikes inside in a conference room. We are happy the bike isn’t outside as it is supposed to rain again in the early morning.

We are so excited to have Page and Vance join us tomorrow. This is the first time someone has been crazy enough to join us. We hope this isn’t the last. We will be redoing some of our favorite sections with them, including the Route of the Hiawatha and the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

Here are a few photos from today.

HIIT from Spokane to Heyburn State Park

We really didn’t know what we were going to be riding on today as we headed out of Spokane toward the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Because we do not know the area it is hard to judge in advance what the shoulder of the road will look like and what the hill profile will be. Mostly, it is hard to predict the traffic. And more than anything else, traffic drives us nuts. Because of all of the unknowns, we planned a relatively easy day. We started early and well rested. We rode through Spokane and Spokane Valley prior to heading south. In Spokane our route did pretty well at keeping us off the busy roads, and we mostly were in old quiet neighborhoods and industrial areas. Out of Spokane we stayed on mostly farm roads, with a few highways interspersed. Generally the traffic was light and the shoulders were adequate. There were a few places where traffic got busy, and there were a few places with no shoulders, but generally they didn’t happen at the same time.

Today it felt like we were on rolling hills for most of the day. And rolling hills suck the life out of you on a heavy bike. It was like HIIT (high intensity interval training) on steroids. It took us about five hours to cover 56 miles. Many of those miles were crawling uphill at very slow speeds or coasting downhill at fast speeds. A few places we were on dirt roads and couldn’t pick up as much speed going down. And on some of the steep uphill sections we were starting to lose rear wheel traction. It takes a pretty steep hill to make a bike this heavy lose rear wheel traction. Overall the ride was pleasant. Aside from the pain of the HIIT workout, we were riding through beautiful farmland surrounded by distant pine-forested mountains, and the weather seriously was perfect. We were together zoning out in nature, and we had pretty good snacks.

We arrived at our accommodations, another campsite at Hawley’s Landing at Heyburn State Park, ID, a bit earlier than anticipated. We could’ve banked miles and started our path to Wallace, but this is such a peaceful location we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave. It’s not a race…. This campsite is so beautiful, with the tall stately pines all around, the lake behind them, and myriad birds singing. Currently there are no other campers in view.

The campsite has hot showers, and when one can’t soak in a hot tub, taking a long hot shower is a nice consolation prize.

Our tent is set, birds are singing, and it is time up cook dinner. This is heaven.

Here are some photos from the day.

Resting like a boss

Two things happen to us when we ride multiple long days in a row. First, our sleep improves and second, food tastes so good (I could boil one of our socks and we’d think it tasted like chicken.) As a result, rest days are pure magic. We buy a ridiculous amount of food and then sit around in a Airbnb gorging and sleeping. For the reasons mentioned previously, we did two rest days back to back.

Our Airbnb in Spokane was perfect. The home was rural and right outside of our window was a big field. There wasn’t very much car noise, and we could just relax. It was quite a contrast to the campsite we had the night prior to arriving in Spokane.

We did an Albertson’s delivery order and had about nine bags of groceries to carry up the stairs to our little studio. It was weird to look at the pile of food and realize all that was going to be eaten within two days. Now, at the end of our rest days, the food is gone. We had the opportunity to get a lot more unprocessed foods into our bodies. Every day we had salads, vegetables, tofu, and impossible burgers. We also shifted to waffles for breakfast as we’ve been eating oatmeal every day on the trail.

Don’t be deceived, as it wasn’t all healthy food. We also had vegan ice cream and continue to munch on our trail snacks. This is the part of our trip where I actually gain weight.

The other amazing thing that happens on a rest day is we get to wash our clothes. I know it sounds gross, but while riding we often have to wear our same bike kits two days in a row. We try to air them out through the night and that helps. There just isn’t room to pack six sets of biking clothes in our small panniers, so we bring three and use each twice and try very hard to find a place to stay that has laundry about once a week.

We had a good Sabbath day. Often at home my life is so busy on Sundays it is hard to ponder and think. We were not within distance of a place to worship, so we spent the full day together in our Airbnb, listened to our home congregation’s meetings, and had a quiet Sunday. It is good to occasionally be forced to slow down.

Monday was spent relaxing and also preparing for the next 5 days. I worked on the bike a bit more. It isn’t perfect, but I’m more confident it will last for the rest of our ride (6-7 ride days). Natalie enjoyed the opportunity to read a book. We spent some time together planning our route and talking to Page and Vance about the route once they arrive. Tuesday’s ride will not likely involve a lot of bike paths and will be on roads with cars so we spent time trying to find roads that looked like they were not heavily traveled. We also watched a documentary together that Natalie‘s father had recommended. It was titled Beyond Breaking: The Science of Our Planet. It was about the earth, and what we need to do to ensure our grandchildren get to enjoy it as much as we do. It was a good documentary.

This has been a great couple of rest days and now our bodies and minds are ready to return to the road.

Coeur d’Alene to Spokane

Saturday was our earliest start yet. Maybe it was because we felt a little crowded at the full campground, or maybe it was because we were looking forward to the Airbnb. In any case, we were packed and riding just after 8 AM. We started on roads with little traffic and eventually found ourselves at the beginning of a short trail to get us under I-90. The trail didn’t look like it was used often, and we might not have taken it had we not just seen two gravel bikers push up it. The steep section was short, so instead of unloading our bike to make it lighter, we attempted to push up it. We failed a couple times but eventually made it. It was a bit stressful, but in the end we succeeded and made it under the freeway and to the Centennial Trail, a 63-mile bike trail connecting the east side of Coeur d’Alene to the west side of Spokane. It started by following the north side of Lake Coeur d’Alene and then followed the Spokane River the rest of the way to Spokane.

Saturday’s route

The Centennial Trail was mostly scenic and a good paved trail with several short sections on roads. Much of the trail in the Coeur d’Alene section was through pretty, well-kept neighborhoods, beachfront properties, nice parks, and two small college campuses. As we got into Washington, the landscape changed but was pretty in its own right. Even though we were on a trail it was good to have our route displayed on the bike computer as we rode west. We may have otherwise struggled to follow some of the on-road sections.

The temperature was good, cooler than the rest of the week, but we fought wind most of the way. There is something about a headwind that is draining, more than a hill requiring the same effort. Maybe it is the noise: with no wind or a slight tail wind we can easily talk to each other. Super windy rides are a little less peaceful. The day’s winds were nowhere close to Iceland’s, however.

We finally found a convenience store with a dill pickle. First one of the trip. There is something strangely refreshing about a dill pickle when you’ve been sweating in the sun all day. It is probably the salt.

We climbed about 500 feet from the trail to our Airbnb, stopping about 3 miles before we arrived to get groceries for dinner. We always look forward to the opportunities we have to shift back towards diets that include fresh produce and unprocessed food. We ate at the grocery store, because that is how we roll, and then proceeded to suffer up the final long steep grade to our accomodations. 

Our Airbnb for our rest day is perfect — so perfect we decided to add a second rest day. As we looked at our route options between now and Wednesday we realized we really have 2 days of riding to spread over 3 days, and we like having a vacation from our vacation. Taking an extra rest day mid-week would have had us resting in Wallace which would have been a nice way to split the week, but the Airbnb we are in is so ideal, we decided to extend our stay here to include Monday.

While riding over the last few days it has progressively become more difficult to shift gears on our bike. When we arrived at the Airbnb one of the host met us and asked if we needed anything for our bike. Our bike is very unique and it was unlikely the local bike shop would have the part we needed, but he called them, they had the part, and he drove down and picked it up for us. Then he helped in the garage for about an hour as we installed the part. The fix isn’t perfect because we need two more parts which are only available in a few places in the United States, but the situation is so much better than it was. Without his help we might have been riding with a single gear for the rest of our ride. We are so grateful for him. What are the chances we’d end up at a home that had just what we needed and a kind person willing to help?

After fixing our bike and showering, our next order of business was to wash our dirty laundry (yay!) and make an online grocery delivery order. As we will be here two full days we were able to order a good variety of food. We are far enough from a store that having it delivered makes sense.

We are looking forward to resting, relaxing, eating, and having a Sabbath day together.

Our ride was 55 miles (but it felt like far more due to the wind) and 2600 vertical feet. Our week total was 360 miles, 12,000 vertical feet, across 34 hours of riding.

Here is a link to some of our photos from the day.

Heyburn to the northeast corner of Coeur d’Alene

We slept great in the Heyburn State Park campground. Every day we expect to wake up early and start our ride early, and every day we sleep longer than expected. We both slept light and woke up several times. Each time we could listen to the lake birds, enjoy the peaceful surroundings, and eventually go back to sleep. It wasn’t the best way to sleep, but we both rested.

In the morning we started the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene. We backtracked on it to Plummer where the trail actually begins, bought some snacks, and headed east on the trail. The trail is outstanding. It is well maintained and has a beautiful view of the lake. At one point we crossed the lake on the Chatcolet Bridge, a bridge that is over a half mile long that was built for the rail industry and now is only for non-motorized travel. The trail is amazing. We only rode it to Harrison, but will finish it next week — probably twice. Here is some more information on it:

At Harrison we left the trail and got on highway 97. There were constant up and down sections, which wore us out. We were sweating our brains out as we rode uphill in the hot sun and enjoyed the always too short downhill respites. 

Although it was very beautiful, it didn’t have much of a shoulder, and so we wouldn’t recommend it to anyone on bikes. Luckily for us it didn’t get busy until the last hour of our ride which coincided with people getting off work.

We booked the last campsite available in a simple campground near the northeast corner of Lake Coeur d’Alene. It is a bit crowded and not so peaceful, but we were able to go on an inlet of the lake using their canoes, which was really peaceful. It has great showers and a small pool (full of campers) which Pete used but Natalie didn’t. We were extra thirsty. Prior to riding in we chugged two Powerades and upon arrival at the campsite we proceeded to drink 7 cans of LaCroix (flavored seltzer water) between the two of us. The cold flavored water was easier to drink than the warm water in our water bottles. Economics forced us to stop, or we would have downed several more. Maybe after drinking from our water bottles all day we just needed something different.

There are a lot of people having a blast here with their friends and family, so many campfires, and competing music from their various devices. Not the same peaceful feeling as our previous night, but we are grateful for the campsite, and it’s a happy feeling to see people enjoying being outdoors with each other.

Our campsite neighbors are a nice young family from Oregon, and they insisted on giving us a bag of Trader Joe’s salad, which we devoured prior to eating our camp food. We do miss fresh food on these trips, so we were very grateful. We had stopped around 3:00 and eaten a small but good meal at a little roadside cafe, but we were ready to eat a full meal again by the time we got to our campsite and got set up.

We rode 55 miles and gained about 2500 feet. Miles on the road feel so much longer than miles ridden on dedicated bike trails. I think it’s because on a bike trail you get to just focus on the beauty around you, and when on the road a large part of your mental energy is needed to stay safe. We are happy that so much of the rest of our ride can happen on trails.

At this point in our journey we’ve ridden a little over 300 miles. We should hit about 375 by the end of the week. We are ready for a day of rest in Spokane on Sunday.

Here is a link to photos from the day.

Avery ID to Heyburn State Park ID

One of the realities of biking like we do is that some days you have to put up with a little less beautiful ride to get to your next cool ride. Today was one of those days. It was a nice ride from Avery, but not quite as beautiful and amazing as the previous two days.

Our hotel room was so comfortable that we had a late start. It was hard to motivate ourselves to get out the door when the stuff indoors is so nice. It was between 10 and 11 when we started riding. We had eaten, but didn’t have as much variety as the previous day. The simple store in Avery had orange juice — so that and oatmeal made up our primary nutrition.

The road had few cars and the slope was gentle downhill, so we made good time to St. Maries. About an hour before St. Maries we stopped at a roadside restaurant and got french fries, diet cokes, and a salad. One rule of long distance biking: if you get tired and lack motivation, stop and eat. We felt so much better after that meal.

We rode through St. Maries hoping to find information about a possible shuttle along Highway 5 as everyone was telling us it was a dangerous section. Some bikers hire a shuttle to carry them over the busy, winding 16-mile section (with pretty much no shoulder), but we couldn’t find one. There was literally no other reasonable way to get where we needed to go. We stopped at a small convenience store on the outskirts of town, drank a lemonade and a smoothie, filled our water bottles with ice water, and took off.

The road did have a lot of logging trucks, but they tapered off around 4:00. There was generally no shoulder, but we were able to often go a little off-road when there was an approaching vehicle that was going to pass us at the same time one was coming from behind. As far as safety, it could have been a lot worse, but we were happy when it was over. We ended up at Heyburn State Park in a nice campsite. In fact, the camp host walked by and was amazed we were able to get this site last minute. They said this was the most popular site. It really is beautiful and quiet, surrounded by tall lodge pole pines, and the sunset was especially pretty behind the mountains near the lake. Our tent overlooks Lake Coeur d’Alene. The campground has free hot showers and drinking water, so we were able to clean up and eat. I wish there were food options nearby (craving fruit juice currently). Luckily we are carrying enough food that we won’t be hungry and we’ll find something to eat tomorrow as we ride.

It was a good day, albeit less spectacular than yesterday, covered 60 miles with only 1100 feet of vertical gain, and we are enjoying our adventure.

Here is a link to photos from the day.

Day 3 Superior MT to Avery ID

We slept well in the motel, ate oatmeal and the rest of the groceries we had purchased the night before, and left just after 9 AM with rested legs and full stomachs. Our bodies feel like they are adapting to our new reality. And we love being able to just forget what time it is, talk together, zone out, and enjoy the beautiful ride. We started on a nice frontage road that eventually veered off into some small mountains — the road was nice and the grade was rideable. We were rewarded at the top with the world’s cleanest pit toilet.

We continued to follow frontage roads toward St. Regis, MT. Again our routing software tried to send us down a private road that had been closed, but gratefully it happened within a mile of an I-90 on-ramp, so it was easy to recover and reroute. I-90 has a great shoulder — the size of a full lane — and rumble strips which keep distracted drivers aware. Eventually we hit road construction, but this turned out to be great: we had the entire westbound freeway to ourselves and the construction crew. Probably the safest freeway experience possible. We talked with them as we rode by and pretended we belonged there.

At St Regis we found the start of the Route of the Olympian, named after the train that used to run on that route. It is a 31-mile gravel trail with a gentle uphill slope (1-2 percent grade) which would be our route for the next five hours. The trail started off quite rough with larger loose gravel, but it improved at times. We can ride on loose gravel, but we can’t ride on soft gravel. It was just barely rideable for us and our bike.

We met a nice couple in a side-by-side who gave us some trail information. There was one part where we had to navigate around a river, but with their trail information we were able to cross a few hundred yards above on a normal bridge.

For the next several hours we didn’t see anyone other than another pair of riders, one on a recumbent bike. They were riding east from Seattle, and planned to make it to Boston, in about 50 days. It was fun to sit and chat with them for a while and exchange information about the trail.

Near the end of the Route of the Olympian, where there wasn’t a good option to turn around (something that wouldn’t cost us a couple hours), the trail appeared to be closed. There was a gate, with a small gap that we thought we could fit our bike through. Right after the gate there was a large tree fallen across the road, and then a big trestle (very high bridge). I walked across the trestle to verify the other side would be passible, and then saw an old railroad tunnel that we would be riding through, so I walked over to be sure we could get all the way through that too. I saw some bike tracks coming out of it so I figured we could make it. By the time I got back to the bike it had been about 10 minutes and Natalie had begun to worry she’d have to send a rescue party. 

Since it takes about 10 minutes to unload our bike we decided to leave the panniers on it while we pushed it through, around, and over the obstacles. It was an awkward push, but eventually we made it around the gate and over the tree, then rode over the trestle and around the gate in the other side. We are grateful for our sturdy steel bike which puts up with our abuse. After making some minor repairs we were on our way again, riding through the tunnel which was indeed open on the other side. It is an interesting feeling to enter into the blackness of a tunnel unable to see light at the other end. This was a difficult and beautiful section of our ride. We were tired from the multi-hour climb, but in a peaceful mental zone. It usually takes 2-3 days for me to stop worrying about work and this part of the ride was where it happened for me.

We continued to follow the Route of the Olympian for about another 5 miles until we arrived at the eastern entrance of the Route of the Hiawatha (named also for a train that used to run there). It was 5:30 PM and we hadn’t figured out our next move. We could have ridden to Wallace, but then if we wanted to ride the Route of the Hiawatha we would have had to push our bike back up the steep parts of the hill the next day. We considered camping in the area, but rode up to the entry point to the route and talked to the rangers there. Since we were riding through and wouldn’t need a shuttle back up to the starting point they kindly allowed us to start even though the trail was closing for the evening. This ended up being an amazing opportunity to ride the trail alone in the peaceful evening without the normal crowds.  We had it all to ourselves after the 2nd mile. The first tunnel is over 1.6 miles long, so it is quite the experience being in the dark and cold (56 degrees.) We went through 10 tunnels and across 7 beautiful trestles with massive views of the landscape. It’s hard to describe how beautiful the experience was. It was slightly downhill the whole way and we covered the entire 15-mile route in about an hour. It went too fast. We will actually be doing it again with Vance and Page next week, and we are so happy about that. We are also so grateful that someone had the vision to preserve this engineering wonder and make it into a bike trail. We’ve ridden in some crazy beautiful places, and this is at the top of our list. It is easily approachable for any rider with a little experience, because it goes downhill the whole way. Shuttles can carry people back to the top. Put it on your bucket list, regardless of your age. You won’t be disappointed. 

We followed a road into a small town in Idaho named Avery. It was all downhill. It was gravel, but rideable. We are appreciating the larger tires we put on our bike for this trip. It makes it a little less efficient on the asphalt but much more stable on the gravel.

In Avery (population 25) we almost camped near the river. The landowner gave us permission, and there was a portable toilet nearby, but there was also a small hotel with one available room, so we took it. That way we’d have a shower, full kitchen, and connectivity. There is no cell service in Avery. It is a great place to stay if you want to escape the busy world.

The hotel is perfect, the river is beautiful, and we are resting well. We’ve adjusted our route over the next three days and we will ride along the eastern side of Lake Coeur d’Alene and end up in Spokane on Saturday for a rest day Sunday.

Rough stats for the ride: 71 miles, all but 16 on dirt or gravel, around 2200 feet climbed, and about 7 hours of ride time across 10 hours of clock time.

This trip is teaching us to focus on the journey. Unlike previous rides, we don’t have a definite destination. We are wandering and it is refreshing. We’ve decided to ride to Spokane over the next 3 days, so perhaps we’re not wandering purists, but we’ve loved removing some of the stress of travel. It is mostly good to be together, be in nature, and have time to ponder. We also really love the sense of physical work and accomplishment, as well as the adventure.

Here is a link to out photos for the day.

Food facts: 

*In 24 hours we ate a whole “net bag” of Cuties oranges (plus so much other food of course).

*Best Diet Pepsi ever at the top of the Route of Hiawatha: we were hot and almost out of water.

*We’re grateful we brought some good camp food along, because we haven’t been close to a grocery store (or really any restaurant) since Missoula. 

*Favorite foods of the day (besides Cuties oranges): snap peas, banana chips, and chocolate raisins

Wye to Superior

We slept great. The room smelled a bit like smoke when we went in. Within a few minutes the smell of our exercise gear had completely taken over. I guess that is one advantage of how we travel.

We were riding by 8 am and the weather was perfect. We quickly got on a bike path headed west and enjoyed it for about an hour. 

The bike path ended and we followed beautiful country roads. At one point we realized our path was about to take us on a significant deviation from the general direction of our travel. We talked with a rural mailman and determined the path we were following wasn’t going to work for us and we started looking for a way to get through the highway fence and onto I-90 when another local stopped and spent about 10 minutes discussing our route, including some decisions we’d make later. We considered backtracking and getting on I-90, but eventually decided to stay on the route, partly based on the good information from the local. It ended up being one of the best sections of our ride today. There was a little bit of dirt road, but eventually we made it to a scenic historical ranger station and got some water, shade, and rest. After eating an apple each we headed out riding down a newly paved road. It was beautiful.

Parking lot of historic ranger station

During our descent we realized our rear tire had lost air and we had just topped it off at the ranger station, so we laid the bike on its side (something that works with panniers) and patched the tube. (We have spare tubes but we were not certain we found the only source of the leak: a broken-off goathead from Antelope Island.) This is the first time we are not using Schwable Marathon Plus tires and the first time in all our riding we’ve had to patch a tube during the day. (We had one other flat — two years ago in Germany — but it was a slow leak that we fixed at our campsite.) The fix took about 30 minutes in the hot sun and we were on our way.

We stopped at a tiny but well-stocked and well-maintained grocery store in Alberton, MT, for lunch. How can a can of mandarin oranges, potato chips, corn nuts, and a fruit smoothie juice taste so good? We sat and ate them in the shade on the side of the store and chatted with a few locals who noticed our weird bike. 

Eventually we ended up on a railroad grade double track. We rode it for about 4 miles and it was awesome. We arrived at a railroad tunnel that had been damaged in a fire — the super heated rock had expanded and cracked the support structure. The local we had talked to had described it perfectly, as well as the way around it. Unfortunately, not too long after the tunnel, the trail dead-ended at a farmer’s property. Again, this was just as the local had described but in this case we had chosen not to listen to him because all our routing software and Google had told us the trail would be open. Always listen to the locals — especially the old farmers….

We were so bummed. It was looking like we were going to have to backtrack 5 miles and then re-ride those miles on I-90. Pretty soon after turning around Natalie noticed a small gap in the fence that would give us access to I-90. There was a gap because the landscape was such that they couldn’t continue building a fence, due to high rocks and the exceptionally steep embankment — the type of thing one might carry a lightweight and maneuverable mountain bike through and down, but not ideal for a 200 pound fully loaded 10 foot long recumbent. Sometimes in life laziness trumps common sense, so we took our gear off the bike and went for the portage. We were able to carefully maneuver the bike around the fence and down the steep bank to I-90. We made a trip back to fetch our gear, loaded everything up and went on our merry way. Happily we only had to do a few miles on the interstate, there was a big wide shoulder, and there wasn’t a crazy amount of traffic.

We’ve had some strange looks in the past but can only imagine the comments of those passing by on the freeway as we lowered our bike down that embankment.

Soon we were back on frontage roads enjoying a little peace and quiet. Our routing software took us to some beautiful places, but eventually we found ourselves ascending and descending steep dirt roads, and we didn’t really know what we had in front of us. We ended up pushing our bike for a couple hours because the road was too rough and too steep. It was painful because we were going so slow relative to our regular speed but expending much more energy. On the positive side we saw some beautiful remote places in the mountains of Montana and didn’t see any bears. We saw no vehicles or other people for hours. We stopped and filtered some water to replenish our water bottles at a beautiful creek. The cold water was so refreshing. Slowly we hike-a-biked through, focusing on the beauty of the location. It was amazing but tiring. For the record, there was no complaining.

Sign at the end of our rough road today

By the time we got out of the mountains we were baked and we were starting to push 6 PM. So we rode into a town called Superior and decided to get a motel so we could clean up and recover from perhaps one of our hardest riding days on tour to date. But again it was also honestly one of the most beautiful. We hit a grocery store for dinner (never shop when famished), cleaned up and ate. Our bike got to join us in our room again.

We made approximately 60 miles, which is about what we did on our first day, but this time gaining 2700 vertical feet and pushing our bike at 2 miles per hour in the heat of the afternoon for a good portion of it. It took twice as many hours to cover the same distance and was a good reminder for us not to judge our accomplishments based on distance traveled. The weather was good, the scenery was beautiful, and the company was perfect. It was a wonderful but hard day and we made several great memories. It is so fun to explore the world together like this. We are happy and comfortable in a motel room, full of food, and exhausted.

Hamilton to Wye

(Natalie and Pete writing this together)

We started our vacation by driving to Idaho Falls and staying with Michelle and Heidi. Eric was in Kansas helping Dan with a broken down truck which was towing their moving trailer. Natalie and Michelle talked until late and I soaked in their hot tub — my happy place. It was fun to reconnect with part of the Idaho clan.

Sunday we drove to Helena and picked up Sydney (actually, she took over the driving duties #adultinglikeaboss) and we went to Great Falls to see Liz, all of her girls, and her adorable grand-girl. It was a blast to spend time laughing, walking, playing games, and eating popcorn. Sydney, the best Uber driver ever, hauled us back to her place in Helena where we slept the night in her guest room. Highly recommended accommodations for anyone who finds themselves in middle Montana. It is always good to spend time with family.

Natalie and Sydney checking out the beautiful views

We woke up early today and drove to Hamilton, Montana, leaving our truck at the police station parking lot (arranged this with the police sergeant in advance). Strange not to have to put the bike together out of boxes and ride away from an airport! (thinking of our earlier Europe and Iceland trips….) It still took us over an hour to load up the bike (and we had to replace the rear tube because it was slowly losing pressure).

Our setup now includes bear spray on the front fork.

A local rider stopped to talk to us in the parking lot. He lead us through town to the start of our trail. Several times on our trips we have had locals play the part of our guardian angels. Once in Iceland a local rider riding late at night helped us avoid a rough section of trail. In Paris a local guided us through rush-hour as we tried to exit the city. We are always so grateful for these friendly helpers. 

Today’s ride was just under 60 miles and slightly downhill. Most of what we rode today was called the Bitterroot Trail. We selected the path because it was Memorial Day and we didn’t want to be on the road with all the extra traffic. There’s something far more peaceful about being on the bike path. The traffic wasn’t terrible, but we’re glad we weren’t on the road.

May 31 route heading north

Clearly our legs need to get into shape. We’ve been riding regularly of course, but not with all of our gear, and not every day all day. We probably have about 100 pounds of gear on our bike, and our bike weighs 100 pounds, and we weigh 300 pounds total, so the entire weight of our rig is about 500 pounds. But it’s great to be back on the bike, doing a longer trip in a beautiful part of the world. We had spectacularly perfect weather today, and the Montana early summer evergreen forests and snow-capped mountains are amazing.

We decided to stay in a Motel 6, partly because we were warned of bears but mostly because we love having a shower and AC. We’ll see what happens tomorrow night….

I was kind of disappointed in the quality of our room until Natalie reminded me that this is the first hotel/motel where the staff invited us to actually put our bike in our room. Pretty cool and convenient.

Bike in the room

We made camp food in the parking lot, due to being equal parts lazy and cheap. It was delicious: minute rice, freeze dried vegetable mix, and a veggie bullion cube. It is amazing how good food tastes after a long ride.

Tomorrow we’ll ride toward St Regis. We are tired but happy.