May 5, 2013—The Winds of Change
The first time I rode on the highway I was picking up my new bike from the dealership in Boise and taking it close to two hundred miles home at Galena Lodge. The whole summer I’d been riding on dirt after taking a basic skills class through the Idaho STAR program in the spring. My interest in riding had settled into a full on obsession. After reading nothing but books on skills and accounts of folks’ two wheeled motorized travel, I was finally jumping in. Hard.
After doing a turn in the parking lot of the dealership to get a feel for the new bike, I pulled onto the interstate. Instantly I was doing seventy miles an hour, having never gone over probably thirty-five before. My first coherent thought as my heart beat crazily in my chest and a grin spread beneath my helmet was “Damn, it’s windy out here!”
The other morning, I awoke next to the Salmon River pulsing mightily in its banks. At one point the previous night I’d thought how that constant noise could just about drive someone crazy at a certain point. But between my somewhat supernatural encounters of the night before and waking to the smell of a skunk rooting around camp, the river’s cacophony was some welcome white noise.
I got packed up and went into town to find coffee, and hopefully some internet. I stopped at Two Rivers Coffee, noting the rather large volume of people in town. People in cowboy hats. It slowly dawned on me, as I sat on the patio drinking freshly roasted bean, that there was a rodeo in town.
Catching up on some correspondence and writing, I noticed a large number of folks gathering to sit on the roadside. Finally, my tired brain put it together: parade! I gathered my gear and got on the bike hoping to get out of town in time.
I almost made it. Just a couple of blocks from the end of town I ran into the start of the parade and was motioned off to the side of the road.
It turned out I was glad I didn’t make it. Sure, it was kind of hokey. There seemed to be a Queen, Princess, and some sort of runner-up Princess for any thinkable occasion. They were paraded by on flat bed, in cars, on horseback. There were floats for local businesses, rafting companies, and the Republicans of Idaho County. Fire engines and police rolled by actually throwing candy to watchers. There were a couple sweet antique cars. So, it may have been a little hokey, but it was also pretty rad. It was authentic Americana enacted in way I think is seldom represented anymore. This, I thought, is what traveling like this is all about. Getting off the damned interstates and interacting with real people.
Of course, “real people” aren’t always that much fun to interact with. It can get messy and less than pleasant, and they may have different views than you or hold different values important. However, I am a staunch believer that no one should let the messiness of life remove them from its interaction. Life doesn’t have to always be simple… or easy… or sterile.
I pulled out of town first out of the gate, so once again I had the road mostly to myself. The Upper Salmon River Valley was very beautiful and very different than where I’d camped next to it the previous night. It opened up, the river grew wide and less frantic, the turns mellowing and turning to easily linkable, loping graceful curves.
Cruising through Grangeville, Cottonwood, and Craigmont in big open plains, I then climbed up up the side of a mountain before soaring down into Lapwai where I stopped for gas and lunch. Everyone in Lapwai was very polite. One old man asking me where I was from and where I was going. Two others stopped me while I was looking for a place to get my bike out of the way and eat. They suggested I saddle up for a park a few miles down the road and truly seemed invested that I have a good experience.
After lunch I rode along the Clearwater River skirting Lewiston to climb another mountain. I entered into Washington, and then the winds came.
I knew the stretch from the border to Spokane could be rough. Just about a year ago I had been driving the opposite direction and followed some poor guy on his bike leaning over at near forty-five degrees mile after mile. I don’t think it was that bad for me… but it was, as they say, “hella windy.”
I was buffeted back and forth. I would tell the bike that we wanted to be over there, and the wind would slap me in the face calmly stating, no, you want to be right HERE. If I’d had a sports jersey on, I would have looked exactly like a bobble head doll.
By this time I was sore, too. My butt hurt. My knees hurt. I was tired, and my neck, from trying to keep my head straight, looking at the road, and atop my shoulder, was beginning to throb. The last hour of my trip into Spokane was the epitome of my if-you’re-gonna-be-dumb-you-gotta-be-tough ethos, and I milked it for all it was worth, gritting my teeth and riding on.
I was elated when I finally pulled off on a side street, and soon I had reached my destination. I felt like something the cat dragged in, but I had survived my first long haul on the bike. I’d packed what I needed, needed what I’d packed, and put close to five hundred miles on the bike. So along with feeling tired, I was proud.
I was also stinky. I needed a shower. And a beer.
Same shirt different day—You meet the nicest people in Spokane!