Day 6: Kellogg Idaho to St. Regis Montana

Today I hoped would be an easy day. It is the 4th of July. Traffic should be light and the maps said today would be under 70 miles. After doing two centuries, which are 100 mile days, that sounded like a nice change of pace. The goal was to get from Kellogg, Idaho to St. Regis, Montana.

It didn’t turn out easy. Instead, it took so much effort to get to St. Regis that I have fallen asleep numerous times typing this entry.

The first hour or so of pedaling was lovely. I was again on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, which is a paved bike path. I even ran into the man who cleaned the path. He was driving an oversized golf cart. Attached as a trailer to the back of the cart was a large leaf blower on wheels. It was noisy, but certainly effective.

Unfortunately the trail ended, but the mapping program said to get on the Northern Pacific Trail, which was also an abandoned rail line. How different could the new trail be? For the first few miles, not different at all. Then the trail started to climb and not at a gentle 1 or 2% grade. Then the road switched from being paved to being hard packed dirt. Finally, it switched to rock and gravel. At a particularly steep part, I braked, got off the bike and switched from bike shoes with cleats to sneakers and started walking the bike up the hill.

I then spent the rest of the day alternating between riding and walking the bike. The map showed a large zig zag, which typically means a very steep part. As I was getting closer to the zig zag my legs started turning to jelly. I was a little concerned, but roughly every ten minutes an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) passed by me so I knew there would be help if I had to flag something down.

I soon discovered why my legs turned to jelly. I rounded a corner and saw that I was near the top of a large mountain and ¾ of a mile up in the air. It turned out I had pedaled and walked to “Lookout Pass” on the Idaho-Montana border. The legs turning to jelly was my feeling altitude queasiness.

Interstate I-90 was far below where I stood at the top of the pass. The signs stated the part of I-90 far below me is the highest elevation the highway ever reaches on its run from Boston to Seattle.

At the pass there even was a ski lodge and lifts (not running) which gave me an idea how high I had climbed. I figured having done the hard part, the easy part was next, the downhill. If the trail was paved or even hard packed it would have been a great ride. However, most of it was loose gravel. In some place the gravel was so loose I had trouble walking with the bike. The rough trail conditions made the ride down as punishing as getting up to Lookout Pass. One nice thing was after 15 minutes of riding downhill, my legs started recovering, which suggests altitude was a big part.

While the ride down was hard, I saw quite a few white-tailed deer. One even raced in front of my bike down the trail for a long way. Another stood in the middle of the trail and we had a staring contest. I lost.

While it wasn’t the easy day I was expecting, I made it to St. Regis without any serious problems to myself or the bike. There are a lot of fireworks going off right now since it is the 4th and the town has a big stand selling them. I don’t think the explosions will hamper my sleep in any way, shape or form.

Economist Biking Around America