Day 20: Friday, June 7, 2013
Kooskia to Wilderness Gateway Campground: 50 miles
It was a great day today. Not like the 1981 trip, where we had one of the very few days of rain on the entire trip. Easy riding, beautiful scenery, tailwind, good food, nice people.
I have business to take care of in Missoula. I can't do it on the weekend, and Missoula is about 150 miles away. So that gives me three days to get there. Should be easy. Except that there's a 66-mile stretch along the Selway Bitterroot Wildnerness where there are no services, but there are a few campgrounds. Plus Lolo Pass. I can camp in the middle of nowhere tonight, then go to Lochsa Lodge Saturday night (and hope for a vacancy), then tackle the pass first thing Sunday morning and see how close I can get to Missoula.
|The Middle Fork Clearwater River is a broad, generally gentle river.
The ride from Kooskia to Lowell is along the Middle Fork Clearwater River. At Lowell, the Lochsa and Selway Rivers join to form the Clearwater. So all I'm doing all day is making my way upstream. Generally north and east. And - what do you know? - that north wind is no longer with us. A nice tailwind even makes that upriver run feel like flat. Not bad.
This is on US 12, which Adventure Cycling warned has no shoulders, and is now heavily traveled by trucks from Kooskia to Lolo. But there are few trucks. And the shoulder is actually not bad.
|Experience shows these signs are directly related
to unpleasant cycling conditions.
But what's this? Road construction? Uh-oh. Nine miles. Torn up. Well, not actually torn up, but abraded - you know, where they remove the top layer of asphalt before putting down new. It feels all right in a car, but on a bike, it's like a washboard. Yuck.
And here comes a one-way section - where they lead a caravan through with a pilot car. How am I going to keep up with the herd? Luckily, all I have to do is unload the bike, toss everything into the pilot car (actually a pickup), and get a free ride. Not bad. It saves several miles of washboard, and a couple of hills. But I'll swear that the washboard is a lot longer than nine miles! One good thing, though, is that the one-way section causes the traffic to form into groups - so I have about fifteen minutes between groups where I can ride wherever the washboard is the smoothest. I think most of the trucks chose a different route to avoid this bottleneck. Fine by me.
After the washboard, smooth sailing. The Clearwater is quite wide, and docile, but the Lochsa is narrower and, since the grade is increasing, it has more rapids. There are a lot of kayaks and rafts out on the Lochsa today. I stop to watch a couple of groups navigate some rapids, and talk with some kayakers who have just come eight miles or so downriver. They all make it look so easy!
|The Lochsa is narrower and bumpier,
and provides much more fun for kayakers and rafters.
And then, eight miles before my destination, the washboard returns. It's not construction this time, but old pavement. I wonder if it's the same pavement we rode over in 1981?
A mile before the campground, there's a 1920s ranger station that is kind of a museum now, staffed by volunteers who are mostly retired Forest Service employees. I get there just as they're closing for the day, but I have a chance to look around. The volunteer says the campground is just up the road, and has plenty of water.
|The 1920s ranger station is worth a visit.
Of course, the campground has nothing. Well, it has a pit toilet. And some of those kayakers I saw. I set up the tent, then cycle back to the ranger station to get a gallon or so of water, which I use (after a delicious supper of canned beef stew) to take a bath.
|It wasn't quite as isolated as it looks.