Day 23: 67 miles from Walla Walla, WA, to Pomeroy, WA, home of Norma and Don, the sweetest kindest road angels ever.
Hot, sweaty, and not so cheery, Rachel and I rolled into Pomeroy just in time to greet the hottest of the heat. I'd just been gifted with my first flat tire of the journey, so we were on the look-out for a bike shop that we might replace the spare tube we'd just installed. We passed a lovely red brick house and the tail-end of a garage sale; the proprietor was a twinkly eyed woman with a ready laugh and generous smile--Norma, we'd learn. We asked for directions to a bike shop--there was none, but would we like to come swim in her pool? Um: YES! Hours later we were swimming and feasting with Norma and Don, in their pretty back patio. Where are you sleeping tonight? ...The campsite at the fairgrounds... We have 3 spare bedrooms for the grand kids! Yes: Norma and Don took in two hot and soggy cyclists and turned out two road ready human beings. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Day 24: 37 miles from Pomeroy WA to Lewiston, ID
On our ride through the Columbia Gorge we kept running into and occasionally riding with two fabulous Chicagoians--Roger and Barb. They, like us, were wiped from the heat and the morning's climb, and decided to call it a day once reaching Clarkston / Lewiston (twin towns named after guess who.) We went to visit Roger and Barb at the Motel 6, to chat and dodge the heat: picture a tiny motel room stuffed with 4 fully loaded touring bikes: 'twas a sight to see. My God look at all these bikes! said I. Roger responded in perfect Chicago tones: What? Is there a bicycle in here?!
Another road angel found us this day; when buying groceries we asked, again, about a bike shop. You should ask Brad, he's a biker! And lo: Brad advised us and offered us bunk beds under a real roof. Not only that, but great conversation, a kitchen in which to cook supper, a real bike pump, and the company of Mojo, the baddest ass cat I have ever met.
Day 25: 34 miles UP from Lewiston, ID to Winchester, ID
Old Winchester Grade Road: you are mighty, but we were mightier. So many switchbacks, so much up-ness. But trees again! We'd been through so much desert and field; to live among evergreens for a spell was heavenly.
Day 26: 56 miles from Winchester to Syringa, by way of Kamiah, ID.
This was a morning of roller coaster hills through wheat fields; really, it was like a grain-themed amusement park for bicycles. Except that it was hot and steep and not so amusing. But then we found the Clearwater River and followed it for two days through the Clearwater Forest. Magic.
Day 27: 40ish miles from Syringa to just bellow Powell Junction, ID.
I went to wash my clothes and me in the river and neglected my shorts for a little moment: splashy panicked half naked biker then chased them downstream. They were retrieved. Peace was restored.
Day 28: 30ish miles from our campsite-by-the-river to just over Lolo Pass, and our camp in the Montana timberland.
The day dawned damp and grey. A clap of thunder woke us sharply and Rachel's eyes met mine as we registered at the same moment: Imminent. Thunder. Storm.
We dodged raindrops to pack up the bikes and prep for the day's climb: today was the day we were to climb Lolo Pass; for two days people had been asking--you going up or down? Up. Oh....Lolo...they'd murmur, looking at us with fear and pity before backing away slowly from the crazy people with the bicycles.
Already Wet after only five miles, we stopped for shelter and cocoa at the Lochsa lodge. There we met Jack 'Chives' Bradley, a fellow touring cyclist, also going UP. I saw him from across the drippy driveway of the lodge: a friend a friend! I shouted and ran toward him. Bright red Ortleib panniers and stout camp cookware bungeed to the rack: this was an ally. Behind a mane-like sun bleached crown and bushy beard were shiny sea eyes; this boy was of the California coast, 'twas written in that turquoise gaze.
We three sat and drank warm drinks and used the internets to tell family we were still living: we'd been sans all communications for days. Three cups of coffee later and the rain would not relent. But neither would we: the three of us would climb Lolo together in the Wet.
And guess what? Lolo ain't got nothin on Old Winchester Grade Road. We climbed that baby in no time, crisp air and pines and rain wrapping us in a misty embrace as we pedaled ever upward, imaging ourselves on a quest through Middle Earth: Rachel was Frodo (she kept getting flats...) Chives was Strider, and I was Sam (cause I do the cooking.)
At the Top there was a visitor center with guess what: FREE COCOA for Frodo and Strider and Sam! Like a dream, the sun emerged as we began our descent, and coasted into Montana wearing fresh dry clothes and high spirits.
Flat tires are generally a drag, but meetings and partings on the road are all about timing, and Rachel's rear wheel was on our side this day, even if it was hard to see at first. While stopping to fix Rachel's third flat of the day, two more cyclists rolled up: Aaron and Sergei, of Santa Cruz and Brooklyn (by way of Voronezh, Russia) respectively. These two are made of nothing but tall young man muscle and bright smiles. Now a band of 5, we rode on.
Bees have to land to sting, yes? Not in Montana! A fly-by sting and two Benadryl decided our destination for us: we'd have to stop rolling before I got loopy and drooped from the saddle. Chives found a nice patch of timberland, Rach and I asked the nice people in the cabin next to it if we could camp--they said yes--and we made a fire and food. Lots. Feeding 5 cyclists in the wilderness requires Quantity: our food sacks were considerable lighter next day. After sleeping through Epic Thunder and Lightning and Rain, a morning fire and a another meal of Quantity, we rode on together, into Missoula.
Day 29: 27 miles to Missoula!
Our merry band was the bomb; I'm not sure I have the words yet to express the joy of finding and riding and camping with this crew.
Days 30 and 31: Missoula Missoula Missoula
This morning, after spending two days together as a posse in Missoula, Rachel and I bade farewell to our three new friends. The road has a way of flinging random humans at one another for brief wondrous moments...and then the inevitable parting happens and makes way for more meetings. I'm getting slightly more accustomed to these sudden hellos and too soon goodbyes, but this goodbye for sure made me sad. It's funny, though: though I feel a pang of loss, the parting ignited a sort of warmth: I'll think of Aaron and Sergei and Chives on their way to Yellowstone, as Rachel and I trek north to Glacier, our posse peeling off in perpendicular directions, each wanderer made warmer by our brief collision. A sort of energy is generated by these collisions and divisions--a little force is sparked that grows and lives on beyond the goodbye. And it is outside of us now, wandering worlds where wanderers wander...this bud of warmth generated by our posse of 5.