Hell’s Gate, Idaho to Missoula, Montana
From Hell’s Gate State Park, we headed down the road a few short miles to the town of Lewiston, Idaho. We decided to have a rest day indoors and catch up on some work and video editing. As the afternoon progressed, I put my shoes on to wander into town… and then, turning the corner to get to the elevator, I ran right into some friends from Portland! Paul and Caroline got married over the 4th of July weekend and are riding across the country for their honeymoon! Steph and Bonnie are riding with them as far as Glacier. We all had a good laugh that we’d wound up in the same hotel, and then we went out to dinner, and enjoyed our free drink in the smoke- and karaoke-filled hotel bar (yes, that’s right, they gave us each a free drink ticket when we checked in!).
Leaving Lewiston, we hopped on the ACA Lewis & Clark Route, and followed Hwy 12 east. Hwy 12 is a terrible road for cycling. Far too much traffic and no shoulder. We took as many detours as we could, including riding a stretch of the old highway by the Nez Perce National Historic Park. We rolled into the small town of Orofino that afternoon, tired and hot, and checked into the Clearwater Crossing RV park. As we were checking in, we met two cyclists who had left Canada a few weeks before and were headed to Mexico and Cuba. They were ecstatic to see other tourists, and we told them they’d get more than their fill now that they were on an ACA route. Clearwater Crossing turned out to be one of the nicest RV parks we’ve camped at. Brand new, so the trees were still too small to provide shade, but the bathrooms were luxurious and pristine, the tent price was really reasonable, and there was a wonderful pavilion with electricity, all situated along the Clearwater River (and within walking distance of downtown). (Recommend!) That evening, a series of thunderstorms rumbled through, and we got to put our new tent through the paces and give it some good weather testing (it passed!).
From Orofino, we continued on Hwy 12 through the small towns of Kamiah and Kooskia. On the side of the highway between the two towns, we passed a woman selling salmon. At the sight of the hand-painted sign, I pulled off the road to scope out her offerings. She had both fresh and smoked salmon, recently caught and smoked locally by her husband, and we picked up a small package of smoked salmon. Later, we pulled off the highway to sit by the river and enjoy the salmon with some crackers. Absolute perfection! That evening, we camped at Three Rivers Resort, located at the confluence of the Clearwater, Lochsa and Selway Rivers. It’s an older property that was showing its age, but the location was spectacular, and we happily made use of the wifi in their restaurant.
The next morning, we were up super early, to beat the traffic. Hwy 12 slowly winds its way upward toward Lolo Pass, following the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers. It’s an incredible road, flanked by national forest and wilderness areas. When there’s no traffic, it’s peaceful and an incredible experience to be so far-removed from civilization (there’s no cell service for 150 miles). Unfortunately, cars and trucks are allowed on Hwy 12, and we saw all sorts of evidence that drivers couldn’t handle the road: a mini-van nose-down in the river, a jack-knifed big rig, enormous rolls of toilet paper left-over from a big rig crash. I couldn’t help but think that the road should just be closed to vehicular traffic and open only to those of us who could handle it: cyclists and hikers. That day, even though it was further than we wanted to ride, we decided to push ourselves all the way up to the Lochsa Lodge, especially after we passed a cycle tourist going the opposite direction who flagged us down to sing praises about the food and cabins. We were dead-tired when we rolled in, but the $45 cabin and phenomenal food made it all worthwhile. (The promise of good food will usually put enough wind in Russ’ sails to go further or harder than expected, especially when it’s the choice between a long day or chicken-out-a-can.)
From Lochsa Lodge, it was a short 14 miles to the summit of Lolo Pass. Ironically, we had gained more elevation the day before than we did actually reaching the summit. In other words, staying at Lochsa was a great way to make Lolo Pass seem really easy! At the top, we took a break at the visitors center and ranger station. They had a fantastic exhibit about the area, as well as free coffee and wifi! I had seen an image of a moose walking in front of the visitors center sign, and kept my eyes peeled in hopes of seeing one myself… but, alas, no moose appeared. The rangers also had the weather report posted, with promises of a very large thunderstorm that afternoon and evening, so we didn’t dawdle too long at the top. Coasting downhill to Lolo Hot Springs, we passed several other cycle tourists, members of an ACA-led TransAm group – and had a chance to meet and chat with a few of the group, who were obviously having a blast on their trip! That night, we decided to pony up for another small cabin ($42, including entry to the hot springs), and we were glad we did when it stormed all afternoon and evening. The hot springs were fairly anti-climactic, not at all the romantic idea you have of mineral water seeping out of a pile of rocks (it’s a swimming pool with the mineral water piped in), but it was delightfully soothing to all those exhausted muscles!
From Lolo Hot Springs, we had a quick morning ride, coasting downhill with a bit of a tailwind, into the small town of Lolo. All morning, we kept passing signs for ‘Moose Crossing,’ and I kept hoping and wishing for some moose to wander out into view (given that I’ve never seen one in person and think they look so fascinating in photos). ‘It’s okay, mooses, come out and say hi,’ we called as we rolled down the road. And, then, just as I’d given up hope, something very large moved in the bushes to the right. I gasped, “it’s a moose, no wait, it’s an elk, no wait… what is it?!” I’ve only ever seen images of moose with antlers, so I never imagined that a she moose wouldn’t have antlers (hello, city girl!). But, there she was, way too big to be an elk, and with a much different face. She ran off into the bushes before we could think to snap a photo, and I squealed with delight at finally seeing a moose. And then we headed the rest of the way into Missoula, stunned to actually roll into this city that we’ve so long thought about visiting.