54.8 mi / 11.5 mph / 1307 ft. climbing
Home: Wilderness Gateway Forest Service Campground
There is a pond next to the tent area at the Kamiah KOA, likely as a sort of entertainment feature (it has a fountain shooting up in the middle). But it also has frogs. A whole load of frogs, who BRAP BRAP all night long (I don’t know where this “ribbit” thing came from). When the cold front came through it seemed to quiet them a bit, but the fact that I knew that says I wasn’t sleeping very well.
Still, onward! South on shoulderless US-12, 7 miles to the next town of Kooskia, which surprisingly (but thankfully!) has its own grocery store. Very unusual for a 600-person town 8 miles away from another town with a grocery store. It’s part of the same local (Cloninger’s) chain; maybe Mr. Cloninger lives on US-12 connecting the towns and doesn’t want all the traffic going by his front door?
For us, we were about to enter a 130-mile, 3-day stretch with no grocery stores (and no cellular signal), so it would be nicer for us if Mr. Cloninger moved his Kooskia store about 50 miles east. But hey, at least his odd 2nd location means we could do our big stock-up this morning rather than last night. We had to think carefully about what to carry, and then hope that the off-grid Lochsa Lodge, 100 miles upriver, would be open and serving food as promised.
Then off we went, east on US-12 into the Clearwater River canyon, beginning a long slow climb up to Lolo Pass. The tree-covered slopes rise hard and high immediately on each side of the snaking river, and it was our third completely-distinct landscape in our short time in Idaho (different from the dry Snake River gorge, or the treeless Camas Prairie), but all with a beauty that is a privilege to ride through.
It was a bit annoying to need to keep a constant eye on the rear-view mirror (rather than the scenery) on this shoulderless major highway, but traffic was mostly light enough that the dreaded sandwich of simultaneous oncoming and overtaking vehicles happened relatively rarely (the big-ass gravel-hauling trucks were definitely a frequent unwelcome component of that sandwich though). And while the road was constantly, ridiculously curvy, the curves were broad and sweeping, and generally provided enough visibility for the oncoming and overtaking to find a way to meet at sometime other than when they were passing us. Frequent turnouts provided places to take breaks too.
With those constant curves, Rett was convinced that we were going in circles (especially since the right-hand curves, where we could see the river just feet to our right, were far more-noticeable than the left-hand curves). But no, we were just in an 80s video game, where the background repeats, but the enemies (i.e, cars and trucks) are different, which proves we were making progress to the final boss.
The less than 1% grade was barely-noticeable, especially with yet another tailwind pushing us, and early on it was 20-feet-up/10-feet-down, for more variety than the more-inexorable (but still mild) climb that began halfway through the day. The temperatures were blessedly cool and comfortable, proof that the cold front had worked as predicted.
Initially there were a lot of properties east of Kooskia (including a few impressive suspended cable contraptions that carried a booth full of people and stuff to properties on the far side of this bridgeless river). But they dropped away and we entered National Forest land, where Rett found a nice unlabeled path down through the trees to the riverbank for lunch.
Soon after we got going again, we surprisingly saw a “pedestrian” on the road, carrying something. Turns out he was the driver of a broken-down semi pulled off the road ahead, and the big thing he was carrying was what was broken (and had presumably been ejected from his truck somehow). He stopped us to ask where the nearest town was, since he (like us) had no cell reception anymore. We have a lot of tools and ability to help people stuck on the roadside, but we sure couldn’t help with this! But we could tell him that heading back to Kooskia was the only option at this point. Tough day for him, but it was kind of cool for us to feel (at least in that moment) more capable and resilient than a guy with an enormous truck.
Before we did our up-and-down to Winchester a few days ago, the last river-valley town we passed through was Lapwai, whose sign advertised it as “Land of the Butterflies” or “Butterfly Capital of the World” or some such thing. We didn’t see much evidence of it then, but now that we’ve returned to the river valley (though some 60 miles upstream from Lapwai), we have definitely had a remarkable number of butterfly encounters!
After such a beautiful ride, our arrival to Wilderness Gateway campground was a big disappointment. Despite riding through 50 miles of trees, this National Forest Service campground was oddly-unforested, instead populated with some scrubby third-growth nonsense. And the sites were strangely RV-focused, many just with a big asphalt driveway and no space for a tent at all. The site we chose had a rather-unofficial tent area cleared by previous campers. On top of that, the water (the whole reason we’d come to this campground rather than staying at the nice small forested but waterless campgrounds we’d passed) was labeled as non-potable. But that’s only because it was untested, and as we’d discussed with Guy and Billie a couple nights ago, that’s likely just a cover-your-ass statement, so we went right ahead and drank our fill (the fact that you’re reading this proves that we lived). At least we were able to be close to the running-water/flush-toilet bathrooms and the vault toilets, and it was quiet. We ate dinner and then took a sunset walk, at which point things started not looking quite as bad as they had when we’d initially arrived tired after one of our longest days of riding.