The Long Road to Portland

It has been a while since we last updated thanks to innumerable distractions. Our last post was from Yellowstone and now we’re all the way in Portland. Here’s how we got here.

We left Yellowstone in time for the clouds to roll in and start raining as soon as we reached West Yellowstone. It rained and snowed for days so we were cooped up until we saw the first hint of blue in the sky. Cabin fever and boredom made us eager to hit the road again so on June 11th, Mi’s 25th birthday, we spent the day riding 71 miles from West Yellowstone to Ennis.

In 1959, an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the richter scale struck southwestern Montana. The quake, the largest in Montana’s remembered history, caused a landslide that dumped 80 million tons of earth into a section of the Madison River near the Hebgen Dam in the Gallatin National Forest. 28 people camping near Hebgen Lake were killed. The landslide dam created Quake Lake which is almost 200 feet deep and 6 miles long. Our route on US 287 took us alongside Quake Lake where the tops of trees still stick up out of the water.

Once in town we headed for the Gravel Bar for nachos and beers. Not surprisingly, Mi’s bike was making riding difficult. This time the gears were slipping because the back derailleur needed adjusting. A nice gentleman at the bar tried to help but the damage needed a professional so it would have to wait until we got to the next bike shop. So we went to the campground at a nearby fishing access point to spend the night beside the river.

Our next destination was Twin Bridges where there is a bicyclist only campground. The day’s ride took us over a pass that we gradually climbed for the first half of the day. It was another gratifying climb though because the view was incredible. We split a coconut water (something we highly recommend for anyone who is working out or needs some quality hydration) at an overlook about three quarters of a mile away from the top of the pass before setting off again. Once we crested the pass we shot down a 6% grade for the next five miles to Virginia City.

Immediately upon entering the city we were charmed by the rustic main street’s Old West style. Like other Midwest locations of its day, Virginia City was the fur trapper, homesteader, and gold miner’s dream. With the train bustling through this city, the population swelled to as much as 12,000. Today the population is about 140, but back then it was the most populated city of the Northwest. Along with the hopeful folk trying to get rich fast came the outlaws. They knew that the west was almost lawless and they too could get rich fast. After a series of robberies and murders a group of concerned citizens started a vigilante group. The group lynched suspected criminals on the spot if their capture, including the chief of police, who was believed to be the leader of one of the worst outlaw groups.

We had a picnic lunch on the grass of our usual fare: sandwiches piled high with avocado, tomato, onion, and kale. We took our time heading out of town as there were lots of old buildings exhibiting their original uses, like the mercantile and the blacksmith shop. The railway station also housed some old trains.

Our next destination was Twin Bridges where we planned to stay at a cyclist-only campground. It was lovely. The campground is situated across the street from the Fairgrounds and near the town’s only bridge. It is grassy, beside a river, and there is a building with tables and lots of information/maps/books left by previous travelers. The Weather Channel, which we’ve found tends to exaggerate, had claimed that rain was coming so we headed straight for the shelter of the building. Inside we found another cyclist who greeted us by exclaiming, “Girls! I never meet girls on the road!” She was cycling solo from Florence, OR back home to Iowa. After setting up camp between the picnic tables inside we spent the evening swapping stories from the road with our new friend, Kim.

It was overcast and misty when we set out the next morning. Throughout Montana we came across dozens of turnouts and signs detailing historically significant places, namely as they related to Lewis and Clark. As we traveled it was easy to imagine this pair’s famous journey, which we learned was called the Corps of Discovery Expedition. Although their transcontinental exploration to the Pacific coast took place in the early 1800s we could picture what they saw. The area is only scantly populated now- there are more cows and sheep than people. Other than the occasional ranch house, we mostly saw wide rolling fields of grass dotted by hundreds of cows.

The day’s ride to Dillon was an easy one and with a population of over 3700 it was the biggest town we’d been in for a while. Thankfully it is big enough to have a bike shop where Mi’s bike could be fixed before climbing the next day’s two big hills. However, the owner and operator of the shop, Alternative Bike and Board, has a day job so the shop is only open from 4 to 7 a few days a week. We got to town early enough to explore a little, eat at the Mexican food restaurant next door to the bike shop, and wait for over an hour on the bench across the street icing our knees.

The bike shop guy, Joe, made some necessary adjustments on our bikes including truing Kelly’s rear wheel, fixing Mi’s shifting by replacing the rear shifter/brake, and replacing one of Mi’s biopace sprockets with a circular one. He then told us that if we were unwilling to shell out the 26 bucks for the KOA in town (we were!) that there is a free campground a few miles outside of town. Though we were sold on the free part, he also said that the spot was especially worthwhile because it is beautiful and that Lewis and Clark camped there. So we headed out on our freshly repaired bikes to the campground. The wind picked up immediately and the few miles outside of town turned into more like six miles off our route.

By the time we got to the Barrett’s Park campground and started setting up camp in the least blustery spot we could find we were exhausted and moody and just ready for bed. Then the campground host pulled up and suggested a less windy spot so we picked up the assembled tent and walked it over to a nice spot next to the river shielded by trees. Too tired to cook we cracked open a can of baked beans which we ate cold with bread, followed by Oreos dipped in peanut butter. That night we slept soundly, lulled by the river that swept by only a few feet away.

The next morning Mi’s knee was especially bothersome, so much as to cause a limp. We rode back to our route and managed to get about eight miles before the pain in Mi’s knee forced us to stop. Every pedal stroke was agonizing and the short distance had taken an hour for Mi to travel. It seemed like we had a few options: we could wait it out and hope it will feel well enough to continue the rest of the fifty miles remaining, we could go back to the closest town to try again tomorrow, or we could catch a ride to the next town. We debated by the side of the road for a while until a car pulled over to ensure we were alright.

It was as if all our prayers had been answered. In our life we try to manifest things we want to happen so as we were sitting by the side of the road we wished a nice lady in a chase vehicle would pull over to come to our rescue. And that’s exactly what happened. Our savior, Gay, is the only woman who has ever pulled over for us so that in itself was cool but the most astounding part is that she was driving the chase vehicle for her husband, Dusty, and their daughter, Briana, who were cycling. She towed a small trailer, adorably named The Casita or Little House, and stops every fifteen or so miles to help the cyclists regroup with snacks, etc.

She generously offered to help lighten our loads by allowing Mi to rest in the passenger seat and tote Kelly’s bags while she rides with the other cyclists, essentially acting as her chase vehicle as well. We promptly accepted and loaded Mi’s bike into the Little House. Then we all sat on the ground, in true traveling cyclist fashion, to wait for the other two cyclists to arrive, to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches Gay made, and watch the herd of cows that were watching us just as intently from the opposite side of a barbed wire fence.

Before long, we spotted a pair of brightly colored jackets, one orange and one blue, in the distance. Dusty and Briana soon rolled up on their Specialized and Giant racing road bikes, respectively. After brief introductions and a break the caravan set off again, having arranged to meet farther up the road. We both decided to ride in the chase vehicle for the remainder of the day to rest our sore knees. Throughout the day we stopped a few more times every ten or fifteen miles, usually at historical markers that we could read while we waited.

At one such place we discovered a strange contraption surrounded by informational signs. The wooden machine was a hay stacker called a Beaverslide typically made from lodgepole pine and fir trees. While Gay and Mi stood reading the signs a woman came up and told us that she lives nearby, then proceeded to give us better, more detailed information than the sign. Apparently these devices create big mounds of hay as opposed to the modern round or square bales. The woman said that traditionally work crews of teenagers worked together to stack the hay to preserve it for winter but now there aren’t enough young people interested in the work. She blamed video games.

That night we stayed in Jackson, a place where we were convinced Brokeback Mountain had been filmed. As we walked from one end of town to the other, a distance of maybe half a mile, we saw buildings that we could have sworn Heath Ledger had cried behind. We enjoyed dinner and a beer at the lodge (as well as a giant bag of ice for our knees courtesy of Lucas the bartender) before turning in. Although the lodge does have a hot spring, we were too worn out to indulge.

The next day Kelly was feeling sufficiently refreshed and ready to ride with the others but Mi’s knee was still in pretty bad shape. The family had planned to ride toward Missoula and then head north to Glacier National Park, whereas we planned to head west at Missoula toward the Pacific Northwest. Knowing full well the discomfort associated with knees worn out from cycling the family invited us to tag along with them until Missoula. We gratefully and emphatically accepted.

This plan worked out best for both of us because it meant that Kelly could ride unburdened and Mi could see the sights at a slower pace than in a car racing toward a destination. At the lodge in Jackson we met two guys, Charlie and Patrick, who were riding in the opposite direction from Astoria to Yorktown. Patrick was wearing a knee brace so we got to talking about injuries. He said that he saw a doctor in Missoula who prescribed the brace and an Aleve regimen for tendinitis. However, he said the knee brace didn’t make much of a difference. His symptoms sounded similar to Mi’s.

The next morning we took our time getting ready, had a strained breakfast (confusion over whether or not continental breakfast is included resulted in some awkwardness), and hit the road toward Darby. This would be a 70 mile day so Kelly was glad to be unencumbered by our bags.

Even though Kelly had to climb to the 8th and final continental divide, it took hardly any time without any bags. It was a relaxing day knowing that Mi and snacks were waiting just up the road with Gay in the chase vehicle. We ate lunch at the Nez Perce Battleground historical monument. This battleground is actually a massacre site where 90 Nez Perce were surrounded by the US and slaughtered in the morning. The US soldiers made no distinction between warriors, women, and children. Of the 90 people killed, about 30 were warriors. Some of the Nez Perce were able to escape before Chief Joseph was forced to surrender later in the war.

It took only 8 hours to get to Darby which normally would have taken us about 11. We found a campsite, split the price with our new companions, then took a walk around town before we called it a night.

The next day we headed toward Missoula, a bike community where the Adventure Cycling Association is headquartered. That morning, Mi and Gay went on ahead to check out the Missoula Farmer’s Market as it only happens on Saturdays and would be finished by the time the riders got there. The Market was packed with more people than we had seen in a long time, especially young, like-minded people. However, there were more house plants than fresh vegetables so we only bought one thing- a piece of rainbow cake.

Milo and Gay drove back to meet up with the cyclists in Lolo to have lunch before they rode the last 18 miles to Missoula. Unfortunately, the Adventure Cycling Association is not open on the weekends so we would have to wait until Monday to visit. So, we all piled into the car and drove to the KOA campground (they spell it Kampground). We spent the weekend checking out Missoula and staying out of the rain. Mi’s knee had not improved so a great deal of our weekend was spent deliberating over our next move.

On the one hand, Kelly wanted to continue riding but on the other, the prospect of Mi having to travel the remainder of the way on a bus didn’t seem practical. It would have cost the same amount for Mi to take the Greyhound as it would have for us to rent a car. Kelly also has some friends in Portland, Olympia, and Seattle so instead of us each paying for a place to stay, it made more sense to go together and save some money for our next adventure: China.

So, bright and early Monday morning we packed everything into the car we had rented and drove to the ACA headquarters. We had been looking forward to visiting this magical bicycle haven for some time so we could hardly contain our excitement as we approached. Inside we got our photo taken for their touring wall, bought a couple t-shirts, and checked out the memorabilia left behind from past tours. A few more stops in Missoula and then it was time to hit the road.

Kelly drove for hours below the speed limit- partly because we both get carsick especially after traveling by bike for so long, partly because we were reluctant to leave, and partly because rushing through was something we wanted to avoid by riding our bikes in the first place. After driving for five hours we had only gone 200 miles so we realized we needed to step it up a notch. Besides, as darkness fell sightseeing was impossible and we needed to return the car in the morning.

We decided to call it a night about 100 miles from Portland in a rest stop. A few uncomfortable, cramped hours later we peeled open our eyes and drove on. Once familiar road signs came into view Kelly’s excitement rose despite her exhaustion. The grey sky and roadside choked by lush green trees told us we were getting close. Then, suddenly, Portland!

Although, we needed to get the car to the airport by ten, we had enough time to grab breakfast at the Paradox Cafe and for Kelly to enjoy a coffee from a roaster she’d been raving about called Stumptown. After returning the car we rode 20 miles to Kelly’s friends house where we have been camped out ever since.

Kelly still plans on riding from Portland to Vancouver, BC where we fly out to go teach English in China. Next time, read about our adventures in Portland and beyond!

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