56.5 mi / 11.7 mph / 2139 ft. climbing
Home: This Old Frat House AirBNB
This morning was sunny, but even colder than yesterday morning’s forest camp, at 39F, and that was enough to kill the battery in Rett’s bike computer. I’d looked for some of the CR2032 coin-cell batteries at Albertsons or something a couple weeks ago but they didn’t have them, so what are the chances that the tiny general store at the off-grid Lochsa Lodge would have them? 100%, at least today! And able sell individual quantities out of their card, for possibly less than Albertsons. Amazing!
So yeah, we were back at the Lodge, treating ourselves to a rare restaurant breakfast on this long and challenging day (and making our campsite picnic table wholly unused).
Logan was there too, and also the other bike touring couple we’d seen last night. They were heading our direction, but onward to Omaha to start the 50th anniversary of RAGBRAI (the famous Bike Ride Across Iowa, which I hadn’t been aware was older than me!) They had actually met at a previous RAGBRAI, and stories like that of couples meeting later in life give Rett rare comfort and hope for the future if something killed me off before it did her in.
Then we were off to climb Lolo Pass. We’d get a warmup, 8 miles more of the gradual riverside uphill we’d been riding the last two days, but then we would have to leave the river behind and climb steeply uphill 1350 feet.
Somehow Lolo Pass is a monument that has stuck in my head since I started bike touring 20 years ago. Maybe it was on the cover of the first Adventure Cycling magazine I received when I subscribed, and the goofy name stuck with me (Missoula, the headquarters of Adventure Cycling is at the base of the pass on the far side, and the pass is on the TransAmerica route, the granddaddy of cross-country bike touring routes).
So to be tackling this white whale of a pass for the first time together with my wife (a phrase I never thought would be part of my vocabulary 20 years ago, much less “my wife the bike tourer”) was pretty awesome. Even better was that the climb was almost…easy? The stats told us that it should be a little steeper than the Winchester Grade, but 1/3rd shorter, but you never really know what it will feel like until you’re there. But Rett once again proved that she’s a mountain climber, making it to the top with just two stops, each after 500 feet of climbing.
It probably helped that we timed it to be early in the day, and the weather was perfect. Cool, but not cold, and we didn’t even need to wrap up for the big downhill. Which was a nice welcome to the state of Montana, #13 of our nomadacy! It was a comfortable 30+ mph on a smooth road with no traffic, and after 1000 feet of that we picked up a new river on the other side and it converted to a 17 mph no-rise downhill for nearly 30 miles into Lolo.
The landscape changed significantly and almost immediately after the pass. The river we followed was much smaller, the mountains were bigger and even snow-capped, and piles of lumpy poop rocks unlike anything on the west side appeared on the roadside.
It wasn’t all roses though. Montana’s love of “freedom” and speed is nice when you’re crossing the enormous state in a car on the Interstate, but it’s fairly insane that they grant a 70 mph speed limit to even a shoulderless 2-lane road. Traffic was light enough and the road was straight enough that most vehicles were able to pass safely, but getting close-passed by them at 70+ mph is still pretty annoying, and the Montana side definitely has a lot more civilization (and thus, traffic) than the Idaho side. Definitely the highest -speed shoulderless road I’ve ever been on!
An immediate entry into McDonald’s once we hit the town of Lolo was the about-face way we marked our return to that civilization after three days off the grid. Those ice cream cones were sure good though, and just what we needed for our final push into Missoula. Riding from the edge to the center revealed Missoula to be a surprisingly large city (certainly the largest since we left Seattle), and the annoying-but-not-terrible bike path that brought us all the way in from Lolo proved to be useful and maybe even necessary.
The 200 miles we’ve done in the last four days is the most we’ve done in any four-day period since the start of our nomadacy, so we were proud of our accomplishment, but definitely due for a rest.