July 23 to July 26
This is another multi-day post, because we haven’t had Internet or even cell phone service for several days. Last post, we were in Lolo Hot Springs on a Saturday night, and the altitude made for a cold sleep. With frost on the tent, it took a bit longer to get out of the sleeping bag on Sunday morning than usual. Then, we had to wait for the sun to come over the hills so we could dry out the tent and tarps. So we started later than usual. Fortunately, it took only seven miles of moderate climbing to reach Lolo pass, and the Idaho border. At the top there was a very nice visitors center with a comfortable lounge inside a log lodge, and a lot of interesting displays on the history of the area. Out front, a group of reenactors dressed like mountain men showed us replicas of original maps made by Lewis and Clark, who came through the pass on their way west. After stopping at the pass, we made a fast descent down to the headwaters of the Lochsa River. About five miles later, our left tire went flat. My dad said the inner tube couldn’t be patched, because it was the valve stem that had failed. He changed the tube, but by then it was early afternoon, and getting hot. It was nearly 80 miles to the next town, so we decided to make it a shorter day, and stopped at the only piece of civilization in the entire valley, the Lochsha River Lodge in Powell ID. It was barbeque Sunday at the restaurant, so after eating plenty of barbeque my dad walked over to our cabin and slept for part of the afternoon. Later he went down and waded through some brush to get to the river, where he dipped his feet then almost got bit by a snake.. The next morning we headed off into the wilderness of Idaho, literally. Highway 12 runs along the Lochsha River, which is the border for the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness area. Ahead of us was a 65-mile section of road with nothing but primitive campgrounds and trails, and no chance of recharging our batteries. Our normal range with the batteries is between 35 and 50 miles, so my dad decided that we would start of by pedaling without electric assist down the long, slight downhill as the road followed the river. The pavement was really rough, and that plus the pedaling–only mode knocked our speed down to about 10 mph, but we made the first 30 miles without using any of the battery. Unfortunately, we had another flat on the left rear, and it was the same problem; the valve stem sheared off where it went into the rim. My dad dug around and found his last spare tube. He was a bit worried, because he said this that if the same thing happened again, we’d be stuck ion the side of the road, 200 miles from a bike shop. Then, he became bit more optimistic when he decided that our new tires might have caused the problem. They had a softer sidewall to absorb the bumps, he said, and we’d been using a really thick, stiff tube. He figured that the tubes were sliding inside the tires, which pinched the valve stem. His second spare was a thinner tube, and he said it might have more grip on the tire. We didn’t have any more flats, but every so often, we’d look back at the wheel anxiously. What was more disturbing was the truck traffic. Later, when we read the Transamerica Route Guide, we learned that since the original route was created back in 1976, a lot more trucks were now using Highway 12 as a shortcut to Idaho. And these weren’t just 18-wheelers. Out west, there are all kinds of big truck rigs with four and five back axels, huge dump beds and second trailers. The road had a lot of twists and blind curves, and there was no shoulder. Most of the time, we could hear the trucks coming and do our best to head for the ditch, but one truck that was following another didn’t see us until the last minute, and came close enough to give me a good scare. A few miles after that, we reached the tiny town of Lowell ID , which was really just a gas station/store and a restaurant/motel. We checked in to Ryan’s Wilderness Inn for the night and slept soundly. Because we where early to bed, we were also early to rise, and get started. We had another 25 miles of riding on Route 12, and my dad figured that if we started before 6 am, it would take the trucks starting over the Lolo Pass at least an hour or two to get down the valley and start passing us. By then, we were in the town of Kooskia having breakfast. The waitress at our breakfast stop told us that Route 12 was one of considered one of the most dangerous roads in Idaho. Fortunately, after that we switched to Route 13, and were out of the heavy traffic. But the adventure wasn’t over. After following the road up a river valley for a few miles, we came to a construction zone, where a flagman told us there was a two-mile section of one-way traffic. When it was our turn, we got at the end of a line of traffic and peddled like crazy to keep up as we snuck past some huge machines that were chewing up the other lane into a pile of asphalt gravel. A half-mile later, we passed another huge machine that was digesting the gravel, adding fresh tar and spreading it out as new pavement. The final challenge of the day was a 10 miles climb that rose 1,500 feet up the side of a gorge onto a high altitude plateau. As we slowly pushed ourselves up the long, steep hill, the mp3 player became evermore encouraging for us, playing old rock and roll tunes that got our feet pumping. Then it suddenly switched to a mellow Jimmy Buffet song, but even that didn’t stop us from getting up a 9 percent grade and to the town of Grangeville. Tomorrow, we have a bit more climbing to do, then a huge, steep downhill as we head towards New Meadows and a reunion with several family members who are spending the summer in Idaho.