Out of Montana! Clark Fork, ID

Tuesday July 28, 2009, 72 miles (116 km) – Total so far: 3,885 miles (6,252 km)

Montana was a lovely state, but two whole weeks? and 760 miles??  Of course, a lot of that was because of the twin factors of our wanting to go up to Glacier, and the M or W shaped route you take to stay off the interstate and go east-west in all the mountains.  But, whew!  How am I ever going to arrange 450 pictures of the state?

Libby was a nice little town, reeling from the collapse of the logging industry, but trying to stay afloat somehow.  Being a county seat helps.  We got some good advice from the motel operator to eat at Henry’s – it was so good we went back for breakfast today, and there were two or three dozen National Forest firefighters, so it must be the place for good, cheap, plentiful food.

Speaking of firefighters, the fire risk was high yesterday, but a line of thunderstorms came in last night.  I don’t know if there were more fires started or put out, because there was a lot of both lightning and rain.  The road was wet until after 11:00 this morning, even if that was on a shaded, lightly traveled, chip seal pavement.  I think the firefighters came down from the hills last night, because there were several trucks headed back toward Idaho after breakfast, presumably back to Boise NF home base.

The road out of Libby was pretty good, not too heavily traveled, and with nice shoulders (except for one bridge).  The clouds and the mountains created some dramatic lighting on the way.  There was another nest on pole, with an osprey chick in it.  That may have been what I saw back at Wisdom, since it was near the irrigation ditch masquerading as a river.  We passed Kootenai Falls, which is a small cascade with a couple more below, but it’s one of the few falls in the northwest not dammed for hydroelectric power.  I doubt J.P. Hill, or his surveyors or engineers, took scenery into account back when they were building the railroad, but darned if they didn’t chance upon some great scenery.  I guess that’s part of why Amtrak still runs passenger service through here.  The track goes right by the falls!

Clouds outside Libby

Kootenai Falls

We left the Kootenai River and headed south to avoid traffic, I suppose.  It worked pretty well, although we lost the shoulder in the process.  I was honestly a bit nervous about the weather, since I don’t really want to be caught out in a thunderstorm.  Imagine my surprise when a bit of sun hit that big, dark cloud, and it turned out to be a mountain!  A big, 4,000 foot lump of rock just off the road.

It's a mountain, not a cloud

We climbed very gradually up through a very green, moist forest.  Some of that had to do with the rain last night, but this area must get more water than the Koocanusa Lake area, because there’s so many more trees.  I’ll admit that it was very nice to breath in moist air, instead of the air yesterday that seared my nose and throat because it was so dry.  There was a series of almost pothole lakes, some of which we could see from the road.

Scenic little lake

Without much notice, we were over the top and headed down the Bull River.  Really, I didn’t realize we’d crossed over the divide until we started going downhill.  But there was a series of beautiful scenes going down.

This is what I always thought Montana looked like

I’ve had the feeling I needed a haircut, but I was glad to be shaggy today!  A yellow jacket flew through one of the vent holes in my helmet, and was buzzing around in my hair.  I had enough time to stop the bike, take off my helmet, and knock the thing to the ground (with the helmet) before I got stung.  For some reason I was eager to leave after that!

We found a shaded spot to eat our lunch, then continued south to  the Clark Fork River.  The Clark Fork drains most of Montana west of the continental divide, including the Bitterroot and Flathead river systems.  Kootenai River is the exception, as it flows directly into Idaho.  I was surprised to make it the rest of the day without seeing any more Lewis and Clark references.  You might think they went directly from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River and back again, but they wandered around quite a bit in Idaho and western Montana trying to find a good way there and back.  (If you follow the AC maps, you might think people are still looking for that route!)

Once we hit the Clark Fork, and drank some cool, liquid refreshment from the first convenience store in over 50 miles, we turned west toward Idaho.  There was road construction on the main route, and the old road was an alternate, so we crossed the river and took the old road.  Only once we got there, we found they were doing road reconstruction on that road.  It was officially closed, but who’s going to care about a few bicycles?  So we rode part of the way, then hopped off and walked down the ditch when the water truck came by, then hopped back on and waited until the grader and roller had worked on the latest batch of new dirt a couple dump trucks brought in, then finally made it across.  There we found the sign that we were officially entering our ninth state, sprayed on the road!

What we crossed

Welcome to Idaho

Found a bike shop in Clark Fork, ID (the town, next to the river), with a mechanic who changed my brake pads for almost nothing.  Well, almost nothing and some fig bars I had to unpack to get to the new pads!  I love dealing with wrenches like this, who don’t pull out the standard $40-50/hr. charge, seem to love what they’re doing, and do it with the flair of someone who knows how it’s supposed to be done.  Hellgate Cyclery back in Missoula was another such shop, stuck back in an alley with a folding sign on the sidewalk, but the other shops in town referred the tough stuff to them.

As I’ve been writing this, another thunderstorm has moved in.  The locals are glad for the water, I’m glad to be indoors.  Think the National Forest would pay me for cycling through and putting all their fires out?

Internet access?  What’s that?  Cell access?  You can get a text out from near the road!  I’m a bit surprised, as Clark Fork has a population of 1,600 listed (my rule of thumb is 1,000 or more out here is a good sized town).  So I’ll be posting this sometime tomorrow, when I find a good wifi spot.


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