Friday, June 21, 2013

Chief Joseph Pass, MT

Day 34: Friday, June 21, 2013
Hamilton to Chief Joseph Pass: 58 miles

Wet. Wet, wet, wet. Did I mention cold?

But let's talk about the good part of the day first.

I awoke in time to say goodbye to Cassie, and then, feeling lazy, went back to bed. A real bed does feel good.

Tim arrived home at eight, and I figured it was time to show my face.

"What do you want for breakfast?"

"Oh, a bowl of cereal will do fine."

"How about some eggs? Or pancakes?"


"With cheese?"

"Why not?"

"How about some sausages?"

"And how big a breakfast do you usually eat before you go to bed?"


But he did humor me by cooking for two, and we shared a good conversation about bike touring and having strangers in the house. Then he headed off to bed, and I saw myself out the door.

First item of business was new front brake shoes. But the new ones are really making a lot of noise, and I'm wondering if I got some shoes that were meant for ceramic rims. (I do have an el cheapo pair I can replace them with.)

So it was 10:45 before I hit the highway. And I wanted to make it over Chief Joseph Pass today.

Indian paintbrush
Indian paintbrush in the morning sun

The bike path peters out just beyond Hamilton. Still the shoulder was generally good and the road lightly traveled. And, still flat, it was easy traveling. But - what's down that side road? Looks like an interesting bridge. Wow, this is cool! And the Bitterroot river looks so picturesque. Maybe I should just stay on this road for a while. It's gravel, but that's only for a mile or two.

bridge on Old Darby Road
Old Darby Road looks interesting - let's explore!

So I took the old road into Darby, and then it was time for lunch. Only sixteen miles, but I still have all afternoon.

Flowers along Old Darby Road
Flowers along Old Darby Road

Ten miles to Sula, where we overnighted last time. There's nothing there. Except a store and a campground. Then seven more miles of gently increasing grade before the real climb sets in.

Size of the gate
I think the size of the gate correlates more closely
with the size of the ego than the size of the ranch.

2000 forest fire
A forest fire in 2000 obliterated
more than 100,000 acres of the upper Bitterroot.

devastation still apparent
The devastation is still painfully apparent, 13 years later.

Lost Trail Pass and Chief Joseph Pass are within a mile of each other. They're two separate passes because the highway goes up to Lost Trail Pass, then forks down and to the right into Idaho. If you go left, you climb another mile to Chief Joseph Pass, and stay in Montana. I went 100 yards into Idaho, just so I could say I'd done it, then doubled back for Joseph. By this time, it was getting kinda late. I keep forgetting how long it takes to climb a mountain highway at 4 mph, especially when you stop for a minute to swig some water every half mile or so.

Chief Joseph pass
The Old Coot conquers Chief Joseph Pass
- the first of nine crossings of the Continental Divide.

So it was probably about 7:30 when I started downhill. My target was a campground ten miles down the road, and I figured that would be a piece of cake.

And here's where the wet comes in. About a mile along, it started to rain. I should have dug out my booties and warmer gloves. But it wasn't raining hard, and I thought it wouldn't be that bad.

Needless to say, by the time I arrived at the campground, I was freezing. Luckily, some RV campers had a fire going, so I invited myself into the circle and warmed my hands while I regaled them with tales of my exploits in the Alaskan wilderness. (Don't ask.) While we chatted, I had draped my soaked cycling gloves over the fire ring. When they were steaming nicely, I flipped them over. But synthetic fabric does something else when it's done steaming: it melts. The gloves came out nice and toasty and looking like something Freddy Kreuger would wear.

In the waning light, I excused myself to set up the tent. And in the waning light, and increasing rain, with fingers that still weren't quite functioning, I cussed that tent into position, threw all my gear into the bear box, and, wet clothes and all, slid into the sleeping bag.

It rained all night. But that's part of tomorrow's story.


  1. Wow. Makes me think we were kinda lucky to get all that (almost) consistent sunshine back in '81.

    1. You're not kidding. I hope it dries up soon. Of course, I need to be careful what I wish for. I suppose soon I'll be complaining about the heat...

  2. Hey Bret, you climbed a mountain pass and did not mention anything about pain in your chest. Does this mean your recovery is complete?

  3. Hooray for no chest pain. Bummer about the gloves.


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