Wow, is this a beautiful – and remote – part of the country or what? The vistas, the forests, the lakes, the rivers, the deer (and moose!), the empty roads, and, oh, did I forget, the mountains — what an awesome part of God’s country. And the people — friendly as all get-out, welcoming, incredulous (and supportive) of my trip.
I spent less than 48 hours crossing the panhandle of Idaho. I passed by the shores of the Pend Oreille River and Lake Pend Oreille, and spent a night in Sandpoint where I got a new chain at the Greasy Fingers Bike Shop and great coffee at Evans Brothers near the old grain tower. I can see why people rave about this place — the views in every direction are awesome.
After a morning cycling around the north end of this beautiful lake, I passed through Clark Fork and entered Montana just like that. Two states down, 14 to go.
Almost immediately the immensity of this state presented itself. Talk about wide open spaces, untraveled roads, enormous vistas, big sky. I get it now. Montana is one BIG place. And I’ve just scratched the surface.
I had a wonderful cycle up the Bull River Valley, with views of the Cabinet Range peaks, and stopped at the Halfway House on route 56 near Bull Lake. This is a bar, restaurant, and center-of-action for this valley. It was Saturday night of Memorial Day Weekend, and the locals invited me to camp behind the tavern — “live band tonight!” Folks came out of the woods as well as the woodwork — I had no idea so many locals existed in this remote valley. I was welcomed and included, captured by three 7-8 year old girls who took me under their wings. This was an extended family who live nearby, collect morels, drive 4-wheel ATVs, and probably have a very different view of the political world. Yet that never came up — they were so hospitable and friendly, it was a wonderful experience to include them in my world and me in theirs. Nice folks, close to the earth, good with their kids and loving this remote, rural life. The sense of family and community was deep.
I rode through Libby, Montana (site of the notorious WR Grace vermiculite mines and a town that had one of the highest asbestosis death rates in the world, but sleepy and well-kept today). Upstream, I rode by the Libby Dam (operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), an enormous dam on the Kootanai River that is part of the larger Columbia River system; the lake it creates behind it floods well up into Canada. I camped on this lake (Koocanusa) and rode along its remote shores for many miles through beautiful forests and quiet roads.
I turned a corner after Rexford, MT, and suddenly came out into an agricultural valley with views of the Rockies from Banff to Glacier. What an extraordinary spot, within 5 miles of the Canadian border.
I camped the night at a town park in Eureka, MT, and spoke with a couple who live in the town. They agreed with my assessment of its beauty, and said they loved it so much they’d never leave the area. I can see why.
Onward tomorrow to Whitefish, MT, where I’ll meet Mary Sue and son, Nick, who are coming in on Wednesday. It’ll be so nice to spend some time with them and chill a few days from the focus on my ride. After that… Up over Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, and onward East!