Thursday, July 28th
I’ve taken to sleeping in the tent without the rain fly on, mainly because it’s warm enough and dry enough with it, but it also allows you to look up and see the stars at night, and wake up naturally with sunrise in the morning. The downside is noises out side your tent have a little more clarity. I was the only person in the campsite last night, which made the chance of bears probably smaller, though the fear a little a greater. But I’ve come to realise that if you follow all the protocol, which are pretty straightforward, then really the chance of having a bear problem is very unlikely. But still, your mind is quick to jump to conclusions when you are on you’re own in the dark.
I woke up just after 5 and took my time getting ready. I knew today was going to be a shorter day. Firstly 17 miles along the river and crossing into Ione, then 37 from there to the bike hostel I’d called yesterday. With any luck I’d get there with a decent amount of time to relax and catch up on things like email and laundry. I’ve also begun to think more about a) what to do when I reach the coast if I have a few spare days and b) what my route back to the UK will be once I leave Amsterdam in mid-August.
I take a look at the water and think about swimming but it’s still warming up from the night and doesn’t look to inviting so I leave the campground. It’s $16 but I only have a $20 or $5 note. I put $5 in the slot, which seems like a fairer amount, and cycle off. Half expecting someone to catch me up later in the day demanding their eleven missing dollars.
As I leave the campground I bump into two guys cycling a stretch of the northern tier. I forget their names. We exchange conversation across the rode before I come to their side. One of them has s tattoo of a snowboarder and gives me a totally unironic fistbump as we split. They say it’s a shame I don’t have time to see some of the Oragan coast (they’re from Portland) and I tend to agree. Right now if I could swap a few hundred miles in South Dakota for some down the coast then I wouldn’t think twice in doing so.
Minutes later I run into a couple hot on their tail. Riding the northern tier for a bit then joining the Transamerica. I cut the conversation a little shorter to keep moving.
The road continues as pleasantly as it did yesterday, and I reach an arched metal bridge painted Golden Gate red which crosses the Pend Oreille river, leading me into the small riverside town of Ione.
On my approach I’m overtaken by surprise by a single cyclist crossing the country as part of a supported tour. His bike probably ways half the weight of mine and even keeping up with him for the last half a mile for the gas station is an impossible challenge.
I fill up on water then get coffee and a surprisingly good $3 breakfast burrito at a roadside coffee shack called Highway 31 Grind. These drive-past coffee booths seem especially popular in Washington. It’s usually a shed sized building with hatches on both sides where coffee and drinks are served to motorists as they pull up next to big signs which say espresso in all caps.
I pass by the supermarket then head out of town on the route 31 toward in pursuit of the hostel.
Turning on to the route 20 after a few miles I’m caught by surprise by the steepest climb since leaving the Rockies. It lasts, up and down a little, for about 10 miles. The toughest thing is the heat which is well above 30° with little breeze or shade. I stop a couple of times to down water but try and get it out of the way in one effort. Though I’m forced to stop as a herd of wild cows stop traffic.
It begins to level out a little and after a few final climbs around a small chain of lakes I stop at badger lodge, a cafe and camping place at the side of the road and at what I assume is the summit. A guy outside confirms that fact. Sitting in the sun is the guy who’d passed me coming into Ione. He seems not only to ride faster than me but his entire group, since he’s sitting on his own in the sun drinking Dr Pepper.
I stop briefly for coffee and a slice of pie and then begin the last 22 miles to the hostel. It’s not quite as smooth sailing as i’d hoped it would be.
A headwind does a pretty good job of sucking the fun out of the downhill. And the coarsely surfaced road also slows me down. I get some speed up on some of the steeper sections, but then i’m met with a couple of short, but challenging climbs.
The road emerges out of the forested sections and passes through farmland where I make a turnoff for the last 5 miles towards the hostel. It’s a this point I notice a familiar feeling at the rear of my bike, and one I dread. The tyre is squirming slightly and I stop and give it a squeeze to confirm what I fear, that i’ve got a puncture.
Perhaps if i’d had more on this trip I wouldn’t be so annoyed by this. It would just be part of the course. But since i’ve gone well over 4000 miles and only had three flats it’s hard not to get a little frustrated, particularly when it’s on the rear wheel which means removing everything (apart from the pannier which is cable tied on semi-permanantley). I dig out my pump and try and put enough air in to take me the remaining 2.8 miles to the hostel so I can fix it there but the idea is short lived. I have so much weight on the back that the tyre just can’t handle the low pressure.
So I pull over at a small junction and begin the process of replacing the tube. It’s even hotter now. My iPhone is flashing that warning about needing to cool down. When that happens you know it’s too hot.
My stuff is a mess. I’ll sort it out when I get to the hostel. I get the wheel off with the bike on the side, dig out a tube, and quickly make the switch after I establish and remove what caused the puncture – a thin bit of wire, probably from an exploded truck tyre, and possibly lodged in there since the interstate riding at the beginning of the week.
A couple of different cars stop and ask if I need help. It looks worse than it is. My stuff is scattered all over the small area at the side of the road i’m working in, it looks like something exploded.
My bike pump works but getting high pressure is difficult, especially in this heat. I put enough air in and try and coast the last little bit with my weight shifted toward the front of the bike.
It’s an anxious few miles but quickly enough I come by a black mail box with a sign hanging from it with an arrow and the words ‘Bike Hostel’. I follow a short gravel drive uphill and then it emerges like an oasis in the desert.
A white building surrounded by trees, the entrance door on the second floor via a footway suspended on stilts like a bridge. I lean my bike outside and enter. I’m the only guest. It couldn’t have arrived at a better time. It always seems things seem to go wrong when i’m just about to reach a destination and i’m glad to be inside, where it’s slightly cooler.
There’s four rooms, probably at least 12 beds, some bunks. I pick the most shaded room with a large single bed in and dump all my stuff in a heap and take a few minutes just to sit on the sofa in the bright living room and drink some cold water. It’s been a shorter day than usual, under 60 miles, but the puncture, the miles of climbing, and above all the heat have made it feel twice as long.
I spend the evening resorting and reorganising all my belongings, trying to get rid of any excess weight or space in order to lighten the rear of my bike. I do my laundry in the first floor of the building, and later sit on the balcony listening to the crickets. I see two white tailed deer dash through the field below.
The owners of the hostel live in a bigger house down the gravel driveway. They had lived in the hostel house when they were building it. Shelly, the owner, comes to say hello before it gets dark.
I’d heard about the place just by a chance meeting with Craig and Nicky, two cyclists i’d bumped into outside a supermarket in Ennis, Montana. It still amazes me a little that people not only open their homes but create an entire second space dedicated to cyclists, entirely for free. On the walls are maps with pins showing where people have come from. I’m their 81st guest this year, and people have come from as far as Ecuador and New Zealand, as well as most of the 50 states – they had to get a second map just for the US visitors.
The air seems to be staying in my tyre. What is worrying though is a crack I found in the rim close to where I had a spoke replaced, presumably because of the tension in that area. I can’t imagine there being a good bike shop until I reach the Seattle or Vancouver area. That’s 5 days and 300+ miles away. I should be ok as long as it doesn’t spread to the side of the wheel, then i’ll be in trouble.
I have one set of mountains to pass – the cascades, and a couple of high mountain passes coming up in the next few days. I thought it would be all downhill after the Rockies, but there are still some challenges ahead.