update 44: biking montana, idaho, washington and oregon22 September 2009
Total distance cycled: 61,966 kms/ 38,503 milesgoodbye again
Or in our case a single turn of the pedals. The bike bags were bulging with homemade cookies, all sorts of shiny new travel gadgets and never-worn before clothes. We'd gobbled down the pancakes, devoured the scrambled eggs and lingered over two cups of coffee. Now it was time to go. We've become something of experts at goodbyes over the years, but this time I fought hard to keep the tears from welling up. I would miss trotting out before dawn to fetch the newspaper. Silently contemplating the sunrise, knowing there were no kilometers to conquer. Slipping into the role of a carefree daughter. Never having to explain my unconventional lifestyle to strangers. Snuggling up with my childhood Teddy.
With a long hug and a cheery 'See You!' to mom and dad, we sprinted down the hill and set off for the Pacific. I pedaled hard, wanting to squelch the sadness and lingering loneliness that comes from leaving loved ones. Saying goodbye to my parents proved to be more heart-wrenching at 42 than at 22.
Autumn falls fast in Western Montana. There was a nip in the air as we sped along and already the leaves were breaking out into a riotous display of color. Destination: Lolo Pass-- elevation 5,233 feet (1,595 m). Our final climb before dropping down into the Columbia Gorge and on to the Pacific. By early afternoon we'd conquered the pass and were zooming down the other side along the banks of the Lochsa River, skirting one of America's largest wilderness areas, the Selway. This remote area of 1.3 million acres (5,300 km²), is home not only to one of the largest elk herds in the nation, but also packs of grey wolves. The reintroduction of the wolf into the region has been controversial, and the wolf issue provokes heated debates between hunters and conservationists. This we were soon to find out firsthand.
We set up camp next to a Grizzly Adams look alike who'd found a clearing in the dense conifer forest. Our new friend--Mike was his real name--was a forest service worker out on his last fishing expedition before hibernating with his computer games for the winter. Mike had served in the US military and various covert missions overseas had led him to believe that the CIA was ruling the world, "there's nothing those guys don't have their hands in." An accomplished outdoorsman, Dave began telling tales of his trek through the Selway...with his pet WOLF. "A real gentle animal. God, I loved her. Very loyal." Then the conversation wandered to life at home with the wolf "Lobo was real protective, too. Once when my daughter was just a baby Lobo bounded into her crib and curled up around her because she thought my baby was in danger. It's instinct--just like Lobo was protecting one of her own pups."
The next day we got the other side of the story when we dropped by the General Store in Lowell, population 23. The shop's owner was a hardcore hunter who next to the cash register proudly displayed a picture of his teen-aged daughter beaming next to her first brown bear kill. In the back of the store was a shrine to wolf hunting. Propaganda included a photo of a young man 'savagely ripped apart' by a pack of wolves and another of kids at a bus stop who were being terrorized by local wolves up in Canada. "Wolves are killing our livestock and must be stopped," proclaimed a pamphlet endorsing the hunting of the grey wolf.
not what you'd expect
Quick. What comes to mind when you hear the words Oregon and weather?
Rain, right? In fact, Eastern Oregon is a land of rolling wheat fields and complex desert eco-systems. Yes, deserts. Some parts of Eastern Oregon receive fewer than 10 inches (250 mm) of rain yearly, classifying them as deserts. And Eastern Oregon's got wind, a whole lot of wind. Westerly winds. Headwinds that make you whine and complain. When the blowing persists for days on end, you're driven to throw tantrums and declare you're finished forever with cycling. But then you meet up with a nice family like the Frosts (mom, dad and two exceedingly polite teenagers) who serve up piping hot pizza when you're famished and everything's okay again.
The desert gradually gave way to temperate moss-covered rainforests as we wound our way along the spectacular Columbia River Gorge, the only sea-level route cutting its way through the Cascade Mountain Range. One evening we made a stop in the Hood River Valley, one the largest fruit-growing regions in America. As we sprawled out on the front steps of the General Store wolfing down a half gallon of Rocky Road ice cream, migrant workers sucked on their beers after a hard day in the fields. We caught snatches of their conversation as they sized up our bikes and gear. "Las bicicletas pesan mucho. Los gringos son locos." Those bicycles are heavy. The gringos are crazy. The men broke out in laughter and shook their heads at the absurdity of loading up a bike with all your possessions and traveling round the world.
cycling just doesn't get any better
The Historic Columbia River Highway snakes its way to Portland through cool woodlands, past rushing waterfalls and up high cliffs offering panoramic views out over the river. The construction of this Highway was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the modern age. Its engineer, Samuel C. Lancaster, "did not [want] to mar what God had put there." It was designed in 1913 to take advantage of the many waterfalls and other "beauty spots." For us, It was some of the most spectacular scenery we've biked through in the US and a fitting way to end our trek west to Portland.
Portland is known as a city of bike loving, tree hugging, raincoat wearing, beer guzzling pale faced greenies. With the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the US, we feel right at home. But before its time to break out the umbrellas we'll be on our way to sunny California.
We'd love to hear from you. What's your favorite cycling spot in America? Any places not to miss before we jump across the border? Ever met any crazy characters on the road? Please share, inspire and entertain. And check out the books below.
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