Sunday, July 15, 2018

Day 8: Skirmish on the Rockies

The ride from Missoula to Butte is a long one - 134 miles - and I guess most folks were concerned about how long it would take, because the parking lot emptied out at 7AM like baseball bleachers in 9th inning of a home-game rout. When Paul and I moseyed onto our bikes to leave at 7:06, there were only two other riders present, and those were the fast guys who always zip by the rest of us. 

Today was our chance to get more intimate with I-90; 17 miles outside of Missoula we were to ride 17 miles up the interstate, then ride it again at the end of the day when cresting the ridge into Butte. We started out on a lovely & chilly (54 degrees) side road & soon met up with Chip riding alone who joined us. He is sporting the PACTour jersey for this year's Northern Transcontinental:

Did I mention trains? This valley not only hosts a route for bicyclists, and the I-90 interstate, but also a major rail line where we saw and heard several trains over the course of a few hours.
When the train tracks moved to the other side of the freeway, the lovely side road became a less lovely frontage road,
then ended. The only route onward was on I-90 so we took the eastbound freeway entrance. Just before we got on the freeway, we passed the lunch truck&trailer with PACTour co-owner Susan Notorangelo leaning out the driver's side window wearing a bear hat cheering us on.

Even with that encouragement I was ready for a miserable experience - seems like the concept of riding on the interstate is one for the trash bin,
but was pleasantly surprised when there turned out to be no traffic, a wide clean shoulder, and as Paul observed the traffic that passed us tended to take the left lane.
With about 10 of the 17 miles accomplished we come upon the lunch truck & trailer with Debbie and Susan cheering us on with a kazoo and twirler. That made the rest of this segment pass even faster. With the support and consistent pulls by Chip and then Paul, riding I-90 turned out to be quite a bit better than the other major non-interstate highways we've ridden so far. Even scenic:

The first rest stop just off the exit from I-90 had an amusing collection of highway signs

After the rest stop we hit the road jackpot:
The Road Closed sign does not apply to cyclists! What followed was a 10+ mile stretch of road that had no intersections. That means nothing but local traffic and this is out in the middle of the least populated state in the continental U.S. Here is a perspective showing our "closed" road and I-90 winding up the Clark Fork River valley.

After this quiet stretch ended we turned south into a wide valley that was like the high alpine meadow often found at the head waters of a mountain creek, but the Clark Fork River is no creek and this was a meadow writ large. 

Heading further south through the little populated town of Hall we climbed out of the bowl on a shallow but long climb. We crossed under a huge electrical transmission line with tower insulators shining greenish blue in the sunlight:
(This is what passes for entertainment when you are out there on the road for 9 or 10 hours!)

Turning the corner we caught the first stunning view of the Anaconda range.

In the valley at the foot of the range is historic mining town Philipsburg which is gussied up to distinguish itself from Hall down the road.

After lunch in the town park, overlooking a valley that could stand as the definition of pastoral, the route started over the Anaconda Range via the lowest pass. This was the most significant climb of a long day, about 5 miles at 5-7% grade. Toward the top a cataract was loudly gushing down a V canon. This movie shows a panorama starting with the road above me yet to climb, then the cataract and finally the road below already travelled.

After pedaling up that road to get a better look, its clear this creek is emerging not from a culvert but from a tunnel hewn into the rock.  Clearly the work of human hands, I've never seen a tunnel for a creek; what an unusual engineering choice for routing the stream and road through the same narrow gap.

Farther up the road you get to the Georgetown Lake dam, which isn't too tall but creates a large reservoir behind it. The spillway in the sunlight was captivating

As was the lake:

The road then took a long and welcome descent to the town of Anaconda which sported the largest mine tailings pile I've ever seen. It dominated the road we rode on for about 5 files at a hight of several hundred feet. You couldn't tell how far back it went. The frequent No Trespassing signs makes one wonder about its chemical composition.

The final stretch into Butte after 112 miles was hot and included another stretch on I-90, shown here shortly before we got on it:
By now I-90 was crowded, much hotter and considerably less scenic. However with the skillful pacing of John S, a PACTour staff member, it didn't seem to last too long and soon we were bumping along a terribly paved frontage road which made that smooth interstate shoulder seem not so bad.

Like several of the towns we've been through, Butte has built bike paths and our route took John, Anni and I along one that delivered use to our lodgings in the motel section of town next to I-90.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Day 7: Doing the Clark Fork

Prelude: besides my fellow tourists' blogs I referenced in my Day 5 post, another source of info for the insatiably curious  is the official PACTour photo album: 

WRT Clark Fork, I guess in Montana they don't like to waste words so they label the state's major western drainage "Clark Fork River." The usage of "fork" when applied to rivers usually has an "of", such as "East fork of the French Broad River," that lovely stream flowing into Rosman, NC. Where the state road signs are obfuscatory one always has Google. And so I learned its the Clark Fork of the Columbia River. 

After looking at it from different angles most of the day I have developed myopic thinking: I propose that this majestic river be simply called The Columbia River. But I guess that title is already claimed by the Canadians for some fork up north, darn them! Without further ado, I present to you pictures of the Clark Fork River in ascending order!

Upstream from that point the river emerges from a gorge where the road dare not intrude, so we went over a 25 mile long hill instead, which I guess is a short cut. On the far side of the ridge we met the river on the upper end of the gorge in downtown Missoula. A small rapids provides recreational opportunities for a Saturday afternoon:

Missoula has done a fantastic job with their riverfront where we spent some afternoon recovery time:

Back to the start of the day: the chip sealing of the road mentioned in my last post was obstructing the exit from the River Ridge Lodge where we stayed so the crew suggested we take the pedestrian path to bypass the road surface. No problem after the all-surface tour the previous day:

We formed up a sizable pace line and held it for 30 miles, averaging around 18MPH.

Here the group can be seen (in the middle of the photo) on the far side of the pond and in its reflection:

Here are the highlights of the river valley scenery. While riding you see something really pretty so you whip out the camera from the back pocket and try to capture it while riding:

A cool side-of-road attraction, maybe for watering horses?

After writing yesterday that I don't take pictures of the busy roads, I decided to try to get a couple today. It was about 90 degrees and the pavement was sticky in places.

The big thing in these parts is huckleberry ice cream. Today's PACTour lunch included huckleberry shakes from the restaurant right next to were we set up the benches.

A fine vintage indeed:

Discovery of the day: I can make one trip from trailer to hotel room if I carry the duffel as a backpack:

Today's unintended art is a slo-mo video Paul took while preparing for a shot of the mountains.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Day 6: The all-surface tour

(title wordplay robbed from a fellow tourist --- it was just too good to pass up)

The amount of pleasure available from road riding is inversely proportional to the size and instability of the aggregate composing the  road surface. Today we got a sample of the lower end of the spectrum, like a rainbow without the violet end which would be that just paved well compacted road - we got none of that.

For some miles we had a strip of old but still smooth shoulder which had escaped the chip seal "improvement" that the car lane had. We had a smooth right tire track within the car lane and a road with few enough cars to be able to use it. We had the usual old chip seal of various roughnesses. We had four miles of gravel/dirt road with continuous washboarding - nevertheless a worth-while trade off for 20 miles of paved backroad before and after it. But the one that stuck in the craw was several miles of loose chip gravel that was in the process of being laid down today, with a 15 minute stoplight/flagman to be endured on the shadeless road, with corresponding backup of vehicular traffic, before one had could even start to wade into it. You can't win them all, and everyone in the group traversed it safely which is what counts.

Heading east out of Sand Point in the morning, you can see the right side of the car lane has smoother pavement:

The lights are visible in broad daylight but even more so in the morning shade:

This movie shows how the group negotiates a stop at the first break of the day:

Another out of service bridge dedicated to pedestrians and bikes:

The view across Lake Pend Orielle

Rachel pulls the group on State Highway 200

Ideal riding conditions:

Steve, Paul and Rachel:

The sparkling river just blows one away
Jenny tools along

Into the dirt section... grrrrrr. Riding faster and out of the saddle can help smooth out the bumps, at the cost of getting tired:

Paul demonstrated splendid bike handling on this dirt descent:

This will have to do for the "Welcome to Montana" sign since there wan't one on that dirt road.

Returning to bike after using nearby large object to answer the call of nature: privacy and a bike rack - rocks are great aren't they?

Clark River right before reaching our lodgings on the left bank:

Day 5: Takin' it easy into Idaho

Prologue: if you have a hankering for even more information about the PACTour 2018 Northern Transcontinental ride, a couple of my fellow riders are also writing blogs. Check them out!

The first step of the morning routine starts with bringing your bike from your room to the parking lot, filling the tyres (if you are British), fill your water bottles (yellow tanks at back of trailer) and perform any other tuning you need for the day's ride. Leaving your bike on a portable rack shown in foreground,

you return to your room to get your bag and bring it to the parking lot. Next you swap your street shoes for you bike shoes and tighten those up (as demonstrated by Paul, lower left), then hand your bag to Lon (standing in trailer) for transport to the next night's motel. Finally you remember to start your Garmin (bike computer that records the ride) because "if it isn't recorded, it didn't happen." Then you hit the road. 

In the case of Spokane the road had stop lights every 1/4 mile or so, but PACTour had a great route north out of town on a one-way street so cars were able to pass easily. Paul, Jon, Steve and Grant on the way north out of Spokane:

Since there is no national bike route, you have to use the roads that are there, and like the case coming into Spokane the day before, sometimes those roads are major arteries with lots of trucks, RVs and cars. Then sometimes you get lucky like in the case below where the original road was left whole (on right) when the big four lane divided highway was built (center & left), giving bicycles a direct route with no traffic. Our best conversations take place in these conditions since you can safely ride side-by-side long enough to have a real conversation.

After running mostly north to the town of Newport WA, we crossed a long bridge and looking down the road a quarter mile I saw a gaggle of PACTour bike riders stopped on the side of the road, their red tail lights blinking. I immediately thought something catastrophic had occurred since these riders don't stop in large groups for simple problems like flat tires.

Coming closer I saw the hold up was lining up for a photo op. Lynn and her trail buddies seem to be glad to see the last of Washington:

We had to get some of that action too:

Last fall Charla and I drove through this part of Idaho in the other direction down to Spokane and didn't leave with a particularly favorable impression. From the Montana border it seemed like the road wasn't well maintained and there was a lot of junk in people's yards. The drive into Spokane was very tedious and ended with miles on miles of slow-to-switch stop lights.  After that drive I thought "this section of the transcontinental ride will be tedious."

The difference in that experience inside a car and the experience we had today on bikes is night-and-day. Our ride and route and the country was, for the most part, really nice. Which got me to thinking why car travel on a road can drain you while bike riding the same road can be a pleasure. My theory is that the experience in a car is inherently less interesting. You don't get the direct exposure to air, wind and sounds. You sit there behind some other car, fixated on its rear end for mile after mile, so the stimulation to your senses is muted. When on a bike, while there may be a rear end in front of you, there is no need to fixate on it, and your whole body and a good portion of your mind is engaged in a changing environment.

After crossing into Idaho we got on a beautiful back road on the south side of the Priest River. 

The road bent around this farm pond and if you look hard you can see a pace line of PACTour riders trucking along on the north side.

We were also treated to a man-made osprey nest:

Local yard art:

OK, time for me to fess up. It looks like we just ride through paradise day after day. But these pictures aren't a statistically valid sample of the range of riding conditions we face over the course of a day. In particular you don't see the busy roads with heavy traffic, because 1) it would be kinda stupid to pull out the camera, and B) my focus is to get that section of road over with as quickly as possible.

When we are on a stretch of busy road, sometimes we get a break by having the rest stop at a local attraction. Such was the case with Albeni Falls Dam:

One of the placards gave a classic misuse of the passive voice:

Its just amazing how those waterfalls metamorpihize into dams, isn't it?

The following photos show the approach to Sand Point on a dedicated bridge. We don't know why they stopped using this span for traffic, but we sure appreciated it.

Accidental art shot of the day - Paul's shadow at high noon.