Sunday July 19, 2009, 75 miles (121 km) – Total so far: 3,451 miles (5,554 km)
I hate to write such a thing, given the altitude we’ve lost in the last two days. We peaked over 7,300 feet, and now we’re down to about mid-Kansas altitude, between 3,000 and 4,000 feet. We’ve got more high stuff coming, so we’ll have to pay for today. But man, is it ever great to have a level to downhill 75 miles!
We were hot last night, as it hit 90° plus, then got chilly at 45° again. We left the cabin windows open to cool off, and left them open too long, so neither of us wanted to get out of bed. But breakfast happens eventually, and I was able to start off without the tights or jacket that’s my sorta-cool riding gear, as it was up to 50° by 8:00.
The East Fork Bitterroot River flows down a canyon, carved by the river. We slept barely 20 feet from it last night. It was cool, but between the bend away from us at our cabin, and the willows further downstream, there wasn’t really a good wading place. It seems to stay in a canyon until it meets the West Fork, and it looks like the Super-Duper-Extra-Giant Nature-Sized Caterpillar bulldozer of a glacier started right about where the two rivers met. From the junction north (downstream), the valley was broad and almost carefully graded at a gentle pace, so the river flows without hurrying. The road stays in the valley, so naturally we had an easy ride.
We cruised through Darby, where at least a couple hundred RV inhabitants were nursing their hangovers from Darby Loggers Day the night before. Traffic started picking up downhill as they headed home, but the shoulders were pretty good most of the way down to Hamilton.
In Hamilton I was hoping to find the bike shop open (despite it’s being Sunday), and maybe visit the micro-brewery’s tasting room. We got there too early; the bike shop was closed, probably for the day, and the tasting room didn’t open for another three hours. So we had the dubious pleasure of hearing the clerk at the convenience store griping about how he had mistaken a quarter for a dollar coin, then charging us for a refill on water. Then instead of down $.75, he was only short $.50! What a great guy…
We took the road on the east side of the Bitterroot River, and I started to believe the whole valley is a 50-mile suburb or exurb for Missoula. This broad part of the valley is heavily irrigated, and there are farms or ranches all down the road, but there’s just too may houses for all of them to be ranchers! We’ll see how heavy the traffic is on U.S. 93 tomorrow, but I have a sneaking suspicion the five lane highway wasn’t just widened for the sake of the occasional tourist.
Lunch was at a Subway in Corvallis. Naturally, two blocks later we found downtown, and the local diner that had cars parked on both sides of the street. Still, the traffic was a bit less, and the scenery across the river was acceptable, to say the least.
We made it to Stevensville in good time, and having cased the town, decided to push on to Lolo. Crossed the Bitterroot, which still had enough water to call a river. Back on U.S. 93, there’s a bike path that I’d grade at a 70, which is pretty good for a bike path. Only a few weird turns, for reasons only the highway engineer knows, not too many gratuitous hills, but you had to use ESP to find the bike path – there’s no signs. It went through Florence into Lolo, where it dead-ended across U.S. 12 in a casino parking lot.
The last part of the ride had some interesting winds. I think officially it will be called a 10-15 mph west wind. But we were within a few miles of the Bitterroot Mountains, the border with Idaho, that are some 3-4,000 feet higher. When you approach the gap created by a creek running down from the mountains, you get a headwind. As you come abreast of that gap, the wind is a cross wind, and then it turns into a tail wind. Unless there’s some trees, or a road cut, or a hill, which makes it all different.
Tomorrow promises to be a short day; into Missoula, and then relax (aka shop until you drop) the rest of the day. Ahem. I’m composing this while sitting in the laundromat, where one family (or maybe it’s a summer camp) has had all the dryers tied up for a solid hour. We have wireless internet at the motel, so this and yesterday’s entry should go up tonight.