90 miles - Total: 2816 miles
Just when I thought the mountains would keep me safe and protect me from the wind it came roaring back from everywhere. If I thought that I have put the wind behind then I had better think again because today the headwind was fierce and blustery. Even worse then Minnesota and North Dakota. The guy at the gas station said that it was the first windy day of the month (yet again great timing) and it is the prelude to the storm that's coming tonight. Better be a big freaking storm so I havent't ridden 90 miles into a headwind for nothing! On the plus side, I crossed into Idaho, the scenery was as stunning as any you can ask for and I am getting close to the coast.
Today I ride an area which was inhabited by the peaceful Kootenai tribes. These people loved to hunt and loved to live in the mountains. They were friendly with other mountain tribes but suffered frequently from incursions of their bitter enemies, the Blackfeet, who came across the Continental Divide from the plains on horse stealing and scalp raising expeditions. Then came the white men, fur traders and trappers from the Hudson Bay Company, some of them very cruel people who killed at random. The mess lasted for a while until the railroad was built and with it mining operations began in late 19th century.
I did not sleep at all. I fell asleep at around 11.30 and a few minutes past midnight I hear a jingle, a guy is opening my door, I bolt and yell to get the hell out. I am wide awake for a couple of hours and then I drift in and out of sleep until 8am. The air is fresh when I open the door in the morning. I decide to start the day in a very unusual way. Across the street from the motel there is a barber shop. So after a bowl of cereals I go for a haircut. The owner and the barber, Margaret, has lived in Libby for 16 years. I love the barber shop talk. It is almost a confession, you can tell and trust. Good music on the radio, the warm familiar smell of the barber's tools, the lulling sound of the clipper, the comfortable chair, the warm hands of the barber around your head, it is home. When I tell her about my trip and the cause she offers her support, haircut free of charge and a big good-bye hug. A nice lady indeed. I would need to make a list of all the wonderful people that I have met along the way. Different, completely different lives and yet one common value that we all share: solidarity. Or maybe understanding, respect, sympathy. I don't know, maybe when we hear the word cancer or death we all come close, regardless of income, race, political and sexual inclination. I suppose those words level things out for everyone. It's like you are shaken up by hearing a story that's actually way worse than yours just when you thought that your life was agony that nobody could equal or comprehend. Of course it is but for a fleeting moment that we show great sympathy, lasts as long as a handshake. No matter how long it lasts, I am seeing a lot of goodness on the roads of America.
I finally leave Montana after 7 days of fight. It is all there with me, in my mind, deep in my bones now. Montana. What a fight we gave. We should be proud. Among your hills and peaks I gave my very best and I rediscovered how tough I am on that bike even in the conditions I am in. Give me a tool and I will finish the job...Thanks Montana. I explode with all my enthusiasm at the sight of the blue sign announcing another state, the 11th: Idaho. Only one more to go before I can smell that Pacific breeze. Idaho takes me immediately down along the Pend Oreille Lake. Curiously for America and its monolingual disregard of foreign pronunciations, it's spoken the way the French explorers said it. The locals have even named a town phonetically after it: Ponderay. The lake in the noon sun - one extra hour thanks to a clock change - casts perfect reflections of tall, stiff pines that stand sentinel of the whole of the valley beside the water. Everything is rocked by the wind. The world shakes and rattles under the heavy gales coming from the West. The scenery is mountainous and lush, an untamed version of an alpine environment. I would enjoy it more were it not for the wind and the narrow road, highway 200. No shoulder and one lane shared by trucks and pedestrians alike. It makes for a focused ride, my front wheel as close to the white line as possible and I am on my guard at all times for approaching vehicles, especially trucks. Still at least an hour or so to Sandpoint. The road is slow and tire-dragging. There are cracks and holes on the surface. The road winds, climbs, falls and wheezes back up. The wind turns my ride into a fight then into a crawl. Some gusts are the worst I have ever felt and the bike shakes under the unsteady control of my hands and flexed arms. This is really frustrating. I thought the wind belonged in the open spaces. I was so wrong!
By the time I get within a few miles of Sandpoint the boats get bigger, the homes nicer, and the traffic thicker. Soon come the Wal-Mart, the Burger King, the Taco Bell, and every other recognizable chain business that makes a city a city in modern America. I am trying to remember when it was the last time that I rode through all that and it must be in Bismark, ND. So after many days of riding away from commercialization I feel like a savage that has been cut off from the world. I walk the downtown streets of Sandpoint and as crazy as it sounds, I feel a cultural shock ignited by the divide between the orderly world and my world. Does it take so little for us to grow accustomed to a way of life? Does a specific lifestyle become our essence so easily? I cannot even imagine what I will feel the day I enter Vancouver. The downtown area is filled with stores, bars, restaurants and guided tours offices. People seem well dressed, clean and highly civilized. My legs are oily from the dust, chain lube and sunblock, my hands are dirty, the skin is blistered and cracked all over, my jersey is heavy with sweat and visibly soiled, I certainly feel out of place next to these models and perfect law-abiding citizens. It takes a little getting used to I suppose. I don't long for civilization just yet. I can take more of mountains and deserts. It wasn't enough. I wish I could cycle all the way to Alaska.
I go to the bicycle repair shop, the last one there is before Vancouver. The tire of the back wheel has some lacerations, it might hold but I want to be on the safe side, I fork out 70 dollars and get a new one. Now it should get me all the way to the coast. No more excuses.
I check in at the hotel and I tear across the road to the supermarket where I buy at will. I am eating without control. My appetite got to a point where nothing fills my stomach completely. I can just eat and eat like a horse. I just wish the food was half as good as my appetite but it isn't. I eat jars of nutella on end. Good for energy and good for the soul.
The weather forecast calls for rain tomorrow and I still have a rest day that I can take and still be on schedule so why not? I might rest my legs and the bike and have a time out. Let's see the weather tomorrow morning. I am free.
The bike in the car park of the motel
Libby, pop: 2626, Main st
Highway 2, the road, the railway and the river, three ways of traveling
These drainage grates are a big hazard for cyclists, my wheels would get stuck right between the bars
Kootenai river from Highway 2
The vertical walls of rock rising from the road
It's not a postcard but the view from Highway 2
Road 56 lined by pine trees
Bull Lake from Road 56
Scenery along Road 56
One of the many creeks along 56
R56 in all its natural beauty, definitely one of the best roads I cycled along on this trip
A barn near the state line
Highway 200 in Idaho
The City Beach at Sandpoint