Monday, July 16, 2007

Western Mountain Ride - Conclusion of the Trip

I'm in Cheyenne tonight, on my way home to Houston after several wonderful days of ridng throughout the Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington states.

I arrived in the Missoula area last Wednesday evening. The off-road riders would not arrive until the next day, and I wasn't sure who else would be getting there who wasn't doing the off-road ride. Thursday morning, I was tired and did not feel up to riding the 550 mile roundtrip to Washington state to get the national park stamp, so opted to take a local ride, going out highway 12 towards Lewiston. It's a beautiful twisty road that follows Lolo Creek and also follows the path that Lewis & Clark took through this area. It goes over Lolo Pass, at 5200 feet. This is deer-infested deep woods and had a couple of "brake-and-swerve" incidents. I went 100 miles west on this road, then turned around and returned to Missoula, not wanting to commit to the entire route, which I would have had to do in order to get gas, as there are no settlements along this route until Kooskia. But it was enough. I returned to the hotel and had a late lunch and waited for the rough riders to arrive.

That evening, the group assembled in the parking lot and began to make plans. Some of the off-road riders were leaving the next day for home, their participation in the event being over. The remainder decided to ride a loop suggested by one of the organizers: South on 93 to 43, toward Wisdom, then north to Anaconda where we'd pick up the western half of Pintler Loop. This was a fabulous route. 93 climbs steeply into the Bitterroot mountains, going over Chief Joseph Pass and the turn onto 43 put us onto high chaparral. Along this route, we stopped at Big Hole National Battlefield, where the Nez Perce Indian wars took place. The road north out of Wisdom was a pleasant winding road going past marshy bogs where we saw a moose standing in the water. It turned to gravel for three miles, but fortunately we turned off onto a fine little gem of a road, SR-274 up to Anaconda. Here we got onto SR-1, the Pintler Loop, which took us past Georgetown lake and down a nice twisty descent. This got us back to the hotel with an hour or so to get ready for dinner at Jaker's in town.

Many decided to head for home on Saturday, rather than stay another day to ride. The heat was suffocating and many were eager to get back east where the temps were more moderate. My friend Claye and I chose Saturday to get over to Washington state; I needed the national park stamp, and she had plans to visit friends south of Seattle, so this worked out well for both of us. I-90 west of Missoula becomes a terrific mountain road, climbing into the mountains, then descending, more than once as it passed through Fourth of July Pass, Lookout Pass, and national forests. West of Spokane, we headed north out of Davenport WA toward Fort Spokane and the national park there. The small two lane road rolled over miles and miles of fields, which were gorgeous! Miles and miles of rolling fields of golden wheat, brilliant green barley, and fluffy canola.

I departed Sunday morning for home, taking 93 south all the way to US 20 where, first I headed west to Craters of the Moon national park, then backtracking east toward Pocatello for the night. Even though we'd ridden a small part of 93 on Friday, it was only a taste of what the entire route was like. Coming down the other side of Chief Joseph Pass, I saw a deer and two fawns in the middle of the road. I slowed way down, yet they still would not move. I was quite close to them, and was nearly to a stop, and could get a good look at this beautiful, little family standing there in the morning sunshine, looking at me. I finally feared for their safety, and honked my horn to disperse them, and they scampered off together. I hope they found safety, and was glad that the road was nearly deserted. As the road continued south, it varied from being a flat windy road along side the Salmon River to racing through a deep gorge, climbing mountains, rambling through farmland. 200 miles of never-ending scenery and continuously changing terrain.

Monday morning, I rode just a short ways on interstate to get onto US-30 headed east. This was yet another fantastic secondary road...smooth, well-maintained, and out in the middle of absolutely nowhere! The landscape changed from prairie, to volcanic rock, to rolling hills, and around every bend I never knew what I'd find. About 3/4 of the way to I-80, I came to Fossil Butte national park, and stopped here for a visit, to get the national park stamp, watch the film, and take some photos. Very cool! Once on I-80, it was 290 miles to Cheyenne, much of it the same, stark landscape of rocky, lava-bed hills covered in scrub. But as I got into eastern WY, the landscape changed dramatically as we gained altitude. Across the Continental Divide at 8,900 ft and the temperature plummeted and the land changed yet again to high plains.

Now I'm in Cheyenne and will be leaving in the morning and heading south through far eastern Colorado. I should make it to Amarillo for the night, then Houston on Wednesday nite.

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