39.7 mi / 10.9 mph / 1372 ft. climbing
Home: Powell Junction National Forest Campground
It was 50 degrees F when we woke at 5:30am, which isn’t too bad considering it was 53F at 8:45 last night when I got in the tent. The baking drylands of Eastern Washington seem like they must be half-a-world away. Despite the early rise, we both got a solid 8+ hours of sleep, with the surrounding mountains dimming the daylight in our camp well before the official 9:30pm sunset, and keeping it (along with the clouds) unusually dark at our 5:30am alarm. Still plenty bright to see, just not “why am I being woken up by the sun at 5am” bright. It’s funny how our mini-lantern, once so important that hanging it from the ceiling inside our tent was a key camp-setup task for me, has now been essentially forgotten (our headlamps have suffered the same neglect; a 10pm bathroom run is perfectly doable under natural light). There is simply no need for artificial light this far north and this close to the summer solstice. The problem is the opposite, finding a long-enough darkness in which to sleep.
Our route continued much the same as yesterday, though we were now following the Lochsa River more-steadily upward. Still no steep grades, just fewer flat/downhill bits amid the incline. I continued to be nervous about Rett riding on the right edge of the road as it made its right-hand curves with nothing between her and the river, but she seemed perfectly comfortable, so I tried to tell myself that it was a good thing, yet another sign of confidence, comfort, and stability that she’s currently feeling.
The distinctive excitement of the day was the construction zone. First, a nice chat with the flagger at the start, who called us to the head of the line and informed us that we’d go first, directly behind the pilot car, and everyone else would have to follow at our pace. Not sure if it was the best plan, but at least they had a clear plan for cyclists.
While waiting, I talked with the flagger about our similar nomadacies. She had spent 4 years traveling the country with her daughter in an RV. What made her finally stop and settle back down again? “With Black Lives Matter, it was getting scary and just didn’t feel safe out there anymore.” WTF?!? She was driving in Texas and Oklahoma, and was afraid of…what exactly? A mob of dark-skinned kids flying from Detroit to the middle of nowhere in search of RVs to light on fire?! Even if she improbably ended up in a charged area, being able to move out of a place experiencing unrest (which generally would require nothing more than moving an entire mile, maybe two, to another part of town!) was the safest position to be in! The charitable explanation is that COVID-driven anxiety and uncertainty were what were truly driving her decision-making, and her subconscious simply latched onto “BLM” as a face-saving explanation. But either way it reveals the ridiculous brain-worms that Fox News infected its viewers with in that period. It reminded me of the story from a similar time when similarly-paranoid idiot assholes from Forks, Washington barricaded an RV with a mixed-race family because they thought they were an Antifa invasion coming to (again) their middle-of-nowhere town. Except it was the reverse!!! The people actually threatening travelers were the ones infected with racist brain-worms, not the BLM protesters!! Argh!!!
The second construction-zone entertainment was a similar bit of “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry”, but in a completely different way. The pilot car driver took off, and while we followed behind, she opened a significant gap between us. No big deal, gives us plenty of visibility of the road surface in front of us. But for some reason one of the cars behind decides to go around us into the gap. And then a pickup towing an RV. The pilot driver sees this happening and slows to a stop, which prevents the passing vehicles from merging in front of us, and suddenly there is just a twisted ball of traffic haphazardly ground to a halt in this construction zone. So while the pilot driver’s driving skills left something to be desired, at least her 2nd-grade teacher approach of “if you two can’t behave yourselves, the whole class is just going to sit here doing nothing” was entertaining and effective. Once we got going again, everyone behaved themselves, but her driving skills continued to suck. She resolved to prevent a gap from opening between us again, but that meant “driving 8mph” rather than “try 15mph, see that’s a little too fast for them, back it down to 12mph, ok…good.”
Rett was getting upset imagining all the hate and anger toward us building up in the drivers behind us, but when we pulled off at the far end, no one in the passing line indicated any frustration. But after our frustration it was time to pull over for lunch, and put on our jackets because it was still only 56 degrees!
One nice effect of the construction is that it created a 15-minute cycle for both one-way runs of traffic to complete, so once we were through, it meant we had 15-minute periods with no traffic coming up behind us, and then it would all (10-20 vehicles) come by in a bunch, during which we frequently found a pullout to take a quick break in. The fact that no roads intersect US-12 here means this protective pattern held for tens of miles past the construction zone.
The National Forest Service campground at Powell was much closer to our expectations than last night. We got a site with a babbling brook running behind it, where I sat on a nicely-placed cut tree trunk to wash up.
And then we went to dinner! Right next to the campground is the Lochsa Lodge, an off-grid mountain lodge that still manages to have motel rooms and cabins, a store, a restaurant, and even WiFi (provided by Starlink) in this still dead-to-cellular zone. For some reason (pride?) they run on Mountain Time here, even though we haven’t actually crossed into the Mountain Time Zone yet; that must cause endless confusion, but I guess it gives a good slogan? Either way, it’s an incredibly valuable and value-filled oasis in this river-carved forested (non-)desert.
I ate a giant double-patty burger with fries, and dessert, the type of ridiculous bike-touring meal I used to eat in my pre-Rett days, but haven’t really done with her. That goes to show the long-term energy burn we’ve been doing lately is near the highest Rett has done, thanks to her fitness and health.
On our way out we saw a couple obvious bike tourers coming in, and then met Logan setting up his tent in the yard behind the store. Turns out we could have camped right here ($10, vs. $14 we paid), and would have gotten access to nicer bathrooms and been closer to the restaurant. But we would have had to make do without a picnic table. Which we didn’t use. Because we ate at the restaurant. Oh well, next time! (what I’d read online indicated that the Lochsa Lodge used to allow camping, but no longer did, so that’s why I didn’t even ask. Perhaps it just depends who you ask that day!) Logan was heading west, so we had a nice chat and shared info on the road ahead with each other.