Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cameron Did It!

Congratulations to Cameron, our friend who we rode with in Montana, Idaho, and Washington, for making it to the Pacific Ocean!  He rode from Maine to Oregon, accomplishing his coast-to-coast goal in under three months, and he's not stopping now.  See you in California, Cameron!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Clear Skies Sept. 29

When we woke up today the sky was perfectly blue, not a cloud in sight. Seeing these conditions I excitedly threw some things in my backpack and started to hike. Feeling great after my rest day yesterday, (during which I read Cheryl Strayed's book Wild) I headed up south sister. Soon the lake we're camped by turned into a far away blue circle and I had incredible views of the landscape below. 
Moraine lake (our campsite)

Perhaps it is so impressive because it was created by a combination of volcanos and glaciers. Standing out from the rest were Mt Bachelor and Broken Top, two beautiful mountains. All the way up it was perfectly clear, and the view just got better and better. Near the top I saw another female hiker making her way down. She told me that she turned back because of the thick clouds up top. I could see some clouds starting to blow over, but decided to continue and see for myself.
Highest alpine lake in Oregon 

 I'm glad I did! By the time I made it up to the summit it was clear again- the clouds had blown through. It was so neat to see the other two sisters and several other huge and snow capped volcanic mountains in the distance. 
The other two sisters!

No one else was around, it was just me and the crazy wind, the snow and the jagged mountains. I let out a joyous woop woop!
The snowfield up top.

On the way down I saw a few others heading up, but the trail was much less crowded than it was for Danny yesterday since today is Monday.
Views on the way down.

 Back by our lake I met Marsha and John, a friendly couple from Bend who were out for a hike with their dog. We chatted for a bit and they offered to have us over at their place! So kind!
The rest of the afternoon I spent painting and reading. Danny came back from a short hike out in the direction of Green Lakes and we shared stories from the day. What a beautiful place we are in.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The South Sister, September 28

The South Sister

We didn't sleep much last night because the wind was so strong.  Even with all the guy lines staked out, we worried about the poles breaking.  Fortunately nothing broke, and upon waking up, as the wind was still howling, we built a large windbreak around the tent with piles of dead wood.  Then we ate breakfast and crawled back into the cushy sleeping bags.
The plan for our short backpacking trip was to hike all the trails near our base camp at a little lake, including the climber's route up the 10,358 foot South Sister.  Mountaineering is less fun when it's cloudy and raining, and the forecast said today would be the least cloudy day out of the next few.  Even so, the clouds looked ominous and we couldn't decide whether to stay or go.  We were also both pretty tired and would have been fine just napping and resting all day.  Then around 10 am, the clouds lifted a little bit and gave me a view of one of the glaciers high above.  I had to go.  Tam chose to stay, so I set off hoping the weather would subside.
I walked through expansive alpine meadows, following the trail among old, gnarled trees and tiny montane flowers. At times I was joined by chickadees and ravens, but most frequently my only partner was the howling wind.  I could see nothing above me except clouds, and the trail disappearing into them.  I went up and up, faster when I got cold and slower when the view started to emerge behind me.  It's hard to keep up any speed when a landscape begins to reveal itself behind you; the temptation to stop and look at the ever-changing scenery is too great.  After just an hour or so of steady walking, I could see Mt Bachelor, its top blanketed with a saucer-shaped lenticular cloud, and countless mountains and lakes to the south and the west.  The east was still just clouds.  Up and up I went, passing people who told me they had turned around: too windy and cold, and no views.  But as I continued, a wonderfully strange thing happened.  I would hike up into the bottom of the clouds, then they would recede and again I could see out.  Then I would catch them again, and once more they would retreat.  The trail ahead still disappeared into the mist, but generally I had an unimpeded view of my surroundings.   A contrast, it seemed, to everyone who was in front of me.
I reached a ridgeline at one point, and there in front of me lay a glacier, the highest alpine lake in Oregon at its toe.  I followed the ridge up steeply now until the lake was a blue marble below, my traction underfoot turning gradually from sandy dirt, to red volcanic scree, to snow.  The snow was just a day or two old and a foot deep in places, but the trail was mostly packed and made for relatively easy going.  And the clouds were clearing further!  I reached the top of the ridge after a bit and walked along the edge of what looked to be an icefield, perhaps what once was the spout of this dormant volcano.  I soon reached the summit.  The view was spectacular in all directions; Broken Top to the east, endless mountains to the west, and the Middle and North Sisters jagged and icy to the north.  Even farther were Mts Jefferson, Washington, and Hood, their classically volcanic forms rising out of the ground.  And the best part was that the only clouds were far below and the wind had ceased too, making for a comfortable summit stay in shorts and a light jacket.
I stayed a few minutes then headed back down.  I had no idea what time it was, but I guess I moved pretty fast because I arrived back at our campsite at 3.  Tam said she hadn't been up to much, reading and sleeping, mostly.  For the rest of the day, we enjoyed some sleep, dinner, a colorful sunset, and catching up over the phone with our friend Connor.

The only photos I have from this mountainous jaunt were taken with my camera and will be uploaded to my flickr page (click the Gallery tab above) as soon as I am able.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Broadcasting From the Wilderness

About the last post, where I said we wouldn't have internet for a few days... Just kidding.  Turns out we have 3G from our tent in the "wilderness."  Go figure.  Anyway, here's Sept 27:

After packing up and saying goodbye to Rosemary and Will, our wonderful hosts for the last two nights, we headed to the post office.  We sent home our clipless shoes and a few other things, and though having one less pair of shoes seems like a small change, we both remarked how we felt freer, liberated by one less thing to haul around. I can't express how excited we are to do away with more stuff!
On the way out of town, I saw a bike shop and remembered I wanted to check my chain; I had had it for only about 2,000 miles, usually about half the life of a chain, but I'm glad I checked, because it was stretched over 0.75%: time for a new one.  Riding loaded wears through them fast!  All this took time, of course, and by the time we actually got going it was almost noon.  Our destination: the Three Sisters Wilderness.
We left the city behind and climbed up and up into the Deschutes National Forest.  Even though we were leaving civilization, plenty of cyclists were out and about.  Almost every car that passed had a downhill or mountain bike on it, and we saw a plethora of road cyclists, too, going much faster than we were.  It was a perfect fall day for riding: crisp and clear, but not too cold that going up a hill couldn't warm us up.  We had a whole lot of hill to warm up on: 20 miles and over 3,000 feet of elevation.  From the top we could see Mt Bachelor and the South Sister, their peaks cloaked in clouds and their flanks dusted with fresh snow.
A few miles later we arrived at Devil's Lake, our trailhead, and converted from biking to backpacking.  It was a nice change to be living simply out of a backpack.  We hiked steeply uphill for a few miles through pine forest, each trunk and branches streaked with neon green lichens.  
While walking, we discussed an objective standard by which to measure "good" and "bad."  I have never been able to come up with one definitively.  In a book I recently read, Wendell Berry, farmer and writer extraordinaire, argues that the standard could be health: of people, family units, communities, ecosystems, and all their components.  I agree with him, but it gets messy when considering that one such unit might be harmed by the continued health of another, as is the case with humans and, well, everything else.  And when we have these conflicts, decisions must be made according to personal judgments, which does away with the objectivity.  Maybe there is no objective standard of good; maybe it's "I know it when I see it."  What do you think?
Anyway, by this time the sun was setting and gave us a light show over the trees as we hiked.  
Soon after, we set up camp, ate a quick dinner, and dove in the tent.  It's cold at 6400 feet!

The Next Few Days

Three Sisters Wilderness, here we come! We will spend the next few days hiking and camping away from cell and internet service.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bend, September 24-25

September 24
We had been warned the night before of a mountain pass to start our day, and indeed, a few miles in, we started to climb.  We went up and up, gradually in places and steeply in others.  Soon before entering the Ochoco National Forest, the pine forest around us turned into a charred mess.  
It had burned earlier this summer, and the air smelled of a campfire that had just been doused. A light rain began to fall, and the wind picked up as well, a mild headwind.  Even with the inclement weather, we were at the top before we knew it.  
A short, chilly snack break at the top had us hoping for a big downhill into a warm, flat valley.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  Because the wind had picked up even more, we had to pedal hard to maintain any speed. A short while later, around 1 pm, we pulled off the road for lunch.  We realized we had cell service for the first time in a number of days and were only 44 miles from Bend, the site of bike shops and good breweries.  We decided to go there tonight, even though it would make for a long day of cycling.  
Even though the downhill from the pass persisted, so did the headwind, and progress was moderate.  Coming out of the forest, we had entered ranch lands with a high desert landscape: juniper, sagebrush, and a clear view for miles.  We passed through Prineville, battling traffic along with the wind, and shortly after, turned off the main road onto some small farm roads.  Anything to get off the heavily trafficked main road!  By this point, we were pretty tired.  60 miles down, 20 to go.  Why was the wind still blowing in our faces?  
20 long miles later, we turned into some suburban roads.  The sun was going down; a few more minutes and we would have had to turn on our headlamps.  But we arrived safely, and Rosemary, the warmshowers host we had contacted, greeted us warmly.

September 25
Errands.  Tam got a new shirt, replacing her very holey green one, and we both replaced our clipless pedals with platform pedals and Power Grips (fancy name for straps that go over the top of the shoe).  
The old shirt

Great to see the small, outdoorsy city of Bend and to re-orient ourselves with the world after the remote past few days.
Bend.  Photo credit: entrepreneur.com

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Oregon! September 21-24

Sept. 21st
Goodbye Fabulous Farm
We wake up at 5 AM to a loud screeching outside our tent.  Peering outside, we discover that it's coming from two Great Horned Owls perched on a nearby telephone pole. Pretty cool, but still annoying when you're trying to sleep.  We actually get up around 8 and make an amazing vegetable curry for brunch. It included 14 different types of veggies, all fresh from the farm! We spend the rest of the morning working on small projects, playing and singing music, and talking to our good friend Karis on the phone.  So excited to visit her when we get to Ventura.
It's late afternoon when we're ready to roll out. It's very sad to say goodbye to Liz; we've had such a wonderful time here! But we must continue on.  So many thanks to Liz and everyone at the farm for being so generous and welcoming.  What an incredible place to live and work!
This photo was taken by 4-year old Hazel

Just down the road, we realize we have to turn around because we forgot to pack the bread and hummus we'll need for the next few days. After removing multiple goat heads (nasty spiky things) from our tires, we actually are on our way out of Walla Walla.
The road we take passes little farms and orchards. We stop at one recommended by Liz to purchase delicious apples. Crossing into Oregon entails crossing "State Line Road." Our easiest state crossing yet!

We bike through the town of Milton-Freewater, and then into the golden hills. As first there's a lot of ups and downs, but then it flattens out.  We even have a bit of a tailwind! With the help of the good weather we reach our destination, the town of Pendleton, quicker than expected.  We find a small grassy spot along the river that runs by the edge of town. Perfect to enjoy dinner and spend the night.

Monday Sept 22nd
Pedals in Pendleton?
As we're getting out things together in the morning, we realize that the bearing on one of Danny's pedals is very loose- perhaps about to break.  Since this will be our last sizable town before Bend, we decide to purchase a spare pedal here so we don't get stuck down the road. Easier said than done.  The town has two bike shops, but they're for motorbikes, and the sporting goods store only sells guns.  We finally see a bicycle in the window of an antique store, which of course, is closed. Tells you something about this town. Luckily, a friendly policewoman stops to help us and directs us towards Bi-Mart, where we're able to track down a set of pedals.
It's past 10 when we finally ride out of town. 9 hot miles past farms and fields brings us to Pilot Rock.  It's 80+ degrees in the shade today- a typical temperature for June in this region, not September! We sit outside of a gas station and drink lots of cold water.  95% of the people who go in and out are wearing an article of clothing with camo print on it. Seems like hunting is quite popular here.
Once we leave town, we're immediately surrounded by dry, grassy hills, speckled with sagebrush and large mulleins.  It's hot and hilly.  We stop for lunch at the junction between 395 and 74, where we're able to find a bit of shade.

After lunch, we start riding on 74, and find, to our great enjoyment, that there is very little traffic- maybe one car every half hour. So nice to get away from the loud trucks! We've been climbing up all morning; now we go down, then back up again, then down, then up.  This final long up brings us to the top of Franklin Hill, Elevation 3,456ft. Someone has annotated the sign so that it now reads 13,456.  That's more what it feels like. From up here we have a clear view of the dry golden hills in every direction, a landscape too textured for farming but perfect for ranching. Danny describes the hills as a bunch of hands placed next to each other because they have such interesting shapes.
At this point, we're running low on water and going so slowly that we're losing daylight. I'm tired, but doing my best to ride fast.  Luckily, there's only one more hill before the town of Heppner. As we roll into town, the sky flashes with lightning and the temperature drops. We're grateful to have water and a nice little park to camp in.

Tuesday, Sept. 23rd
California Love!
At the gas station we meet a friendly guy who points out the better of two routes we've been considering on our map. He says this one will have less traffic and is a bit shorter.  We fill up water and grab some groceries before heading to the post office. Here we meet a few more nice older folks, who ask about our trip, and point us towards the historical courthouse. Apparently, it's the most photographed courthouse in all of Oregon. There's an unexpected Irish influence in town.  A giant shamrock is painted on the main intersection, and we pass "Hepner's own Blarney Stone!"
At the post office we receive zippers from Mountain Hardware to repair our sleeping bags, and an envelope full of love letters from people at High Trails. It makes our day to read these notes! I'm smiling from ear to ear. Thank you everyone! (Extra hugs to Lisa.)
As soon as we leave town, we start to climb. We see the occasional farm, some cows or horses, but mostly just barbed wire fences and dry golden grasses.
A blasting headwind greets us at every turn of the road, and makes every pedal that much more challenging. After about 4 miles of up, we go down, then up again, this time for 8 miles. Just over the crest of this hill we roll into Hardman- what the locals of Hepner told us is a ghost town.  We find ramshackle buildings, lots of abandoned cars and pieces of junk.  I see one old man emerge from a shack, the disappear again.  A few dogs bark at us.  It's kind of creepy, so we don't stay long.
Thankfully, our road begins to descend, and takes us into lovely forest. How nice it is to be among trees again! The fall foliage is beautiful. Down the road a bit we find a park, with picnic tables and water! What a nice surprise.  We stop for lunch.
A bit reenergized, we start to climb steeply up through the forest. It's cooler here, with a bit less wind.  We enjoy the silence and lack of cars.
After 12 miles of up, we reach a sign that says: Summit, 4,600ft! Hooray!
A long downhill takes us through the forest, and then out into a huge valley. The scenery is spectacular! Before us are desert hills, terraced and carved, painted in yellows and reds, dotted with sagebrush and juniper trees.
The high desert at its best. At the bottom of the valley we find the small town of Spray.  There's not much here, but there is a park where we can set up our tent.

Wednesday, Sept. 24th.
Journey Thru Time
Our day doesn't start well when Danny gets a flat tire rolling out of the park.  Oh well, even after fixing it we're on the road earlier than yesterday.
The road we begin to bike on is one of Oregon's Scenic Byways, "Journey Thru Time" presumably called this because of the interesting geological history of the area. This section of the road reminds me of Idaho's Highway 12.  We follow the John Day river and find beautiful scenery around every turn.  
We we see huge osprey, great blue herons, quail, and kingfishers. The first 13 miles are a breeze. I can't say the same for the next 25. We turn south on 207 and immediately start climbing out of the river valley.  This is not a flat section of the world! The "hills" here are worse than many of the mountain passes we have done. We round one twisty switchback after another.
Looking Back

After 5 miles or so our road curves and enters a new valley.  Here we see pronghorn antelopes,- two babies nursing from mom, Scrub Jays and Townsend's Solitaire- two new bird species! We also pass hills streaked in pale green, perhaps a copper deposit?
When we're tired and hungry we stop for lunch.  Although there was no summit sign, it so happens that we stopped at the top of the pass! It's almost all downhill to the town of Mitchell.
Mitchell is of particular interest to me, since I biked through here 4 years ago on my way across the US. Since there was so little activity the last time I was here, I'm surprised to find that it looks much the same. Everything is still closed and boarded up except for the grocery and a small cafe. There's still a park where we can camp, and an old empty cage where they used to keep a bear as a tourist attraction. Apparently they get enough tourists coming through here to see the Painted Hills that the small businesses have been able to continue to cling to life.
We're tired from all the steep climbs we've done over the past few days, so we decide to stop and recuperate with some chips and salsa.  So nice to have the rest of the afternoon off.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Liz! Walla Walla, September 18-20

Walla Walla Sunset

September 18
We were invited by Julie to come in for breakfast, and we sat down to a wonderful spread of scrambled eggs, pancakes, and bacon (for Cameron).  It was a delicious and fantastic way to start the day!  After breakfast we said goodbye to Julie and Curt, thanking them profusely, though never enough, for all their hospitality.
The headwind was already strong at 9 am.  A few miles up the road we met a Swiss cyclist named Max.  He was headed to Walla Walla too and decided to bike with us.  The more the merrier!  The going was slow even with drafting in our group of four, but eventually we arrived at Lewis and Clark Trail State Park and sat down to a long lunch.  
We passed a truck carrying a single, enormous windmill blade

Back on the road a few hours later, the wind was roaring.  We put our heads down and went up and down a few big hills, keeping a consistent pace.  Finally, around five pm, we turned off the highway and onto some smaller roads.  Our excitement built as we approached our destination, and upon arriving at our old friend Liz's farm, we were so happy to share big hugs and eat a lot of pasta with fresh veggies.

September 19
We cooked up some potatoes for breakfast and reviewed a crude map of South America drawn by Max.  He told us about his favorite places, inspiring in us wonder, excitement, and anxiety for the road ahead.  Though we were staying to spend time with Liz, Max was to meet his brother in a few days and had to go. Cameron decided to go with him towards the coast rather than head south with us.  It was hard to watch him leave after spending the last weeks together, but I am hopeful and optimistic that our paths will cross again soon.
After the guys left, Tam and I ran some errands.  Most exciting, her new pack was at the post office, purple and shiny.  Thank you, Osprey, for your fantastic warranty!
A delicious lunch, a short nap, a tour of the farm with Liz, and cooking gnocchi with Tam rounded out this restful day.
- Danny

September 20
We got up early and fueled ourselves with left-over gnocchi before hopping in Liz's truck. A couple hour drive brought us to one of her favorite hiking destinations, the Wallowa mountains. We then hiked up through peaceful forest and past gurgling streams into a gorgeous alpine meadow. The leaves were starting to turn vibrant shades of yellow and red, and simply lit up the mountainsides. Our destination for the day was mirror lake, a blue green gem nestled just under the spectacular peak known as Eagle Cap. We ate lunch by the lake, played with Liz's energy-filled 9 month old dog Charlie, and enjoyed freezing swims. What a wonderful place! It's already dark when we start the drive home.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's Hot In Washington

The idea this morning was to get up early and bike while it was still cool, so we woke around 7 and packed up.  While eating breakfast, a lady approached us and gave us some pamphlets about the Bible.  I was glad to hear that all suffering is soon going to come to an end; we'll see how it pans out.
We got on the road around 8:15.  Unfortunately traffic was worse than before, and the shoulder was pretty small.  Traffic got worse and worse until we finally got to Lewiston and found a bike path along the river.  
Along this path were exercise machines of various form and function, and we tried a few of them.
 Then we crossed the Snake River and passed into Washington.  We were all excited to be in this new state.  Were Cameron to follow his original plan, this would be his last one.  
We stopped quickly at a grocery to pick up a few items, then continued down the road.  We were still following the river, and now, since joining the Snake, had gotten even bigger.  Placid and content, its flow was barely noticeable.  
After leaving Lewiston and its neighbor city Clarkston, the traffic died down and the shoulder expanded.  We enjoyed the flat road as always, and the cliffs rising up alongside the road provided beautiful scenery.  
I got a flat tire at one point and found out that the tire was actually delaminating.  That's how you know you ride your bike a lot.
For the first time in days, the road left the river and climbed into a little valley between golden hills of dry grasses.  Without the cold water to temper the heat, the temperature soared.  We had left behind trees as well, so there were no good places to stop for lunch until we saw a bridge over a dry creek bed.  Under the bridge, in the shade and out of the heat for awhile, we ate, relaxed, and listened to a This American Life podcast.
After lunch, around 3:30 or so, the air seemed even hotter, perhaps because we began to climb.  And climb, and climb some more... It seemed like the neverending hill, partly because it was so unexpected.  We wound through more golden hills and dark cliffs, climbing up for about five miles, until reaching a summit roughly 2,000 feet higher than the river.  We were drenched in sweat and just about out of water.  The next town was about 10 miles ahead.  The good thing about going up, however, is that there's always a down, and the next ten miles were much easier.  Going into the town of Pomeroy, we stopped at a little farm stand advertising fresh produce.  We each ate delicious, juicy peaches and filled up our water.  Now it was getting dark, and all the land was private farms and ranches.  Like every night, we had no idea where we were going to camp.  Still, sparse traffic and the setting sun over the rolling hills made for a nice ride, especially because the road was following a creek gently downhill.
As twilight turned darker, we stopped at a farmhouse.  A woman saw us coming and came outside, and Cameron asked if it would be okay if we camped in her yard.  She said yes, then showed us a spot under some stately walnut and maple trees.  She also fixed up the bathroom and brought us towels so we could shower, then brought out biscuits with huckleberry jam as we were eating dinner!  She, Julie, and her husband Curt have lived in this area for over thirty years, and now grow mostly barley and wheat.  We joined them later to talk and watch the finale of America's Got Talent, and Julie invited us in for breakfast the next morning.  We are astounded  by and grateful for all of her and Curt's kindness and generosity.
Julie, Curt, and Pudge

Apples, September 16

Our morning was pleasantly warm even though we were next to a large river.  The road continued to follow the river, apple trees lining both shoulders.  Finally we stopped and picked a few: apples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!  
Within a few miles we came to the small town of Kooskia.  While filling up water there, we saw a  sizable covey of california quail.  Quail are such funny birds, their plumes bobbing whenever they move, and we enjoyed this sighting.  We biked a few more miles downriver until arriving at the town of Kamiah.  We stopped in the grocery store and bought a few things, then continued on.  The road continued by the river, as before, but now the river was much bigger.  What had been a creek, easily crossed, was now a few hundred feet wide with small rapids from time to time.  
We were now out of the National Forest, and into the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, and another town came up.  This was Orofino, population 3000+.   We stopped in the city park to eat lunch under some giant trees. We took awhile, not wanting to leave our shady haven, then played for a few minutes on the nearby playground.  Tam also checked out the farmer's market; a few tables were set up in the park.  The day was getting hotter by the minute; as we biked out of town, a sign read 92 degrees, and another, a minute later, said 100.  Quite the change from our water freezing solid last week!
Through the heat we biked until reaching a rest area with air conditioned restrooms, green grass under big trees, and the river nearby.  We deliberated continuing but eventually chose to stop even though we had only done 50 miles.  We all wanted to go swimming!  So we waded into the river, but only for a minute because the water was freezing.  Then Tam painted a little bit while I wrote this and prepared dinner.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Idaho Hot Springs Tour, September 14-15

September 14
We wake up, eat some more yummy granola and fruit for breakfast, then pack up. Lindsey has thoughtfully prepared dehydrated pears and bananas for us to take on the road. What a pleasure to stay with such wonderful people! Thank you again Lindsey, Tom, and Eli for sharing your home with us.
The ride out of Missoula isn't great since the only way to go is 8 miles on the expressway. But the shoulder is good enough and we get through it quickly. I'm happy to turn onto Highway 12. This road is one of my fondest memories from my trip cross-country 4 years ago, and now I'm about to bike it again in the opposite direction!
Our road climbs gradually along Lolo creek, passing small farms and pastureland. The forests here have been hit hard by both fire and the pine beetle. Most of the hillsides have only a very thin layer of trees. However, as we progress deeper into the mountains the houses disappear and the forest turns green and healthy.
We stop to read a few informational signs along the way. One hypothesizes various origins of the name Lolo. My favorite explanation is that it came from a native word meaning 'to carry on your back' as travelers through here had to carry all their supplies.
About 5 miles out from the Montana-Idaho border we start climbing Lolo Pass. It's a sustained climb, but overall not bad at all. At the top we stop to explore the well-done visitors center. They have a beautiful exhibit on all the travelers who have gone through this area, most notably Lewis and Clark. During their expedition they followed the ridgeline of the mountains instead of the river (like our road does). Apparently, bushwacking through this section was one of the hardest parts of their trip.
Our descent from the pass is slowed by a tremendous headwind, but still enjoyable. I remember climbing up this! How satisfying it is to go down, four years later. It's hard to express my happiness as I cruise down along the river, at 18mph, enjoying the slight downhill grade. Such scenery! The forested hill, the wide, clear river, giant old growth cedars draped in lichens, all are wonderful.

At this pace, it doesn't take us long to reach Jerry Johnson hot springs. A walk across an old wooden bridge and down a forested trail takes us to rock pools of hot-tub hot water. They're hotter than I remember!
We spend a long time soaking and enjoying these natural gems. It seems we have picked the perfect time to be here. This is a popular place, but since it is late in the day everyone is leaving and for awhile we have the place to ourselves. As it starts to get dark we set up camp at a campground just down the road.
The stars are spectacular; we can see the Milky Way tonight!

September 15
It was warm in the sun as we got ready to go, yet cool in the shade of the road along the Lochsa River.  A few miles in, we passed the Weir Creek trailhead.  Once we realized that this was where the Weir Creek hot springs were, we turned around, quickly changed, and hiked a half mile to the hot springs.  It was like a rock hot tub on the side of a hill, constructed at the exact distance from the spring to be a soothing 101 degrees.  It felt great, especially on my chilly fingers and toes, and we stayed for about 30 minutes.

Highway 12 parallels the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers for over 100 miles.  It is a constant grade corresponding with the grade of the rivers, which are always very gradual.  These are broad, shallow rivers, bumbling around stones every now and then, and sheltering trout in the holes and shadows.  
Kayakers should look elsewhere, but this is a fly fisherman's paradise.  Norman MacLean's classic book A River Runs Through It was set right near here (a wonderful story- also check out the movie of the same name).
The consistent downhill of this beautiful road allowed us to maintain a comfortable 15 mph, so it didn't take us long to get to 40 miles.  There we found a bridge leading to a trailhead on the other side.  We ate lunch on the bridge in the shade, enjoying the burbling water, the trees, the sun, the blue sky... We enjoyed simply being in the present on such a fine fall day.

As we were leaving the bridge, Cameron found an apple tree next to the road, and we all noshed a bit even though the apples were a little bit tart.  Our theory was that someone threw an apple core out their window 30 years ago here, and perfect growing conditions led to this tree.  Whatever happened, wild apples are tasty!  We biked down the road, bellies full, until we reached the tiny town of Lowell at the confluence of the Selway and Lochsa Rivers.  The air suddenly turned smoky, and a sign on the side of the road read, "Fire Activity Ahead."  It was as if twilight had begun a few hours early.  
The sunlight turned dim and red, and each layer of ridges floated farther and farther from the last.  Out of the haze rode two cyclists, girls who had recently graduated college, saved up some money, and got on their bikes. Like us!  As Tam talked with them, I picked blackberries by the side of the road. It was the biggest collection of blackberry bushes I had ever seen!  Cameron soon joined me, collecting enough to fill up a bag, and Tam shortly after.  They were tough to pick, as every part of the plants was thorny, but the berries were so sweet they tasted like candy.  There was also an apple tree among the briars, and a more accessible plum tree with cherry-size plums ripe and ready to be eaten.  We ate our fill of fruit and filled up a jar for later.  More blackberry bushes flew by as we biked on, and had we not had to find somewhere to camp in the oncoming darkness, we might have picked and eaten fresh fruit all night. But we had to continue, and we passed many groups of deer, wild turkeys, horses, goats, mergansers, and sheep.  Unfortunately a dog ran after Tam at one point, giving her a scare, but no harm was done.
We found a rest area and decided to camp there (incidentally next to a overflowing grapevines).  A quick fire was built and used to heat up our food, and the berries we had picked earlier were just as good for dessert.  It has been a full day: a soak in natural hot springs, lots of berry picking and eating, and 75 miles biked!
- Danny