August 22 - The Heart of the Monster: Lowell to Lewiston, ID

Boy, the miles sure add up when we're coasting downhill on a tandem! We spent most of the day in the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, riding beside the Selway and Clearwater Rivers, leading to the Snake at Lewiston (and our final state).

Several days ago, I noted that we'd had three great days of riding during the trip, in Ohio, Iowa, and Montana. Well, since then, the days have all been superb. It's a big country, and the next time I go away to ride, I know where I want to be: in the Rockies. Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico - it doesn't matter. Going up and rolling down is what Cheryl and I like to do, and we did it today.

Early on, Cheryl hit me on the back - "Stop! Here; I want to take a picture." I looked around and couldn't see anything different from the scene we'd ridden thru for the past ten miles: river clear and noisy on our left, dark green steeply sloped ridges on either side, clear blue sky above.

"I'm trying to take pictures from a European's point of view. I bet they don't see that sign often." She was aiming her point-and-shoot at a yellow diamond with a dancing deer, antlers aiming forward, saying, "Next 22 miles."

Just down the road, the first meeting spot we'd agreed on with Cody and Joan: a piece of the Nez Perce National Historical Park, the Heart of the Monster. All people have a creation myth; the Heart of the Monster represents the Nee-mee-poo's idea of how they started.

Coyote was building a fish-ladder, to help the salmon get up stream in preparation for the coming of People. But a Great Monster was eating all the animals, making for a very lonely and quiet land. Coyote thought about how he could help, for he wanted to make sure the land was full for men when they came. He took up some flints for making fire, and some knives. He went to the find this monster, and do something about it.

He came upon a giant creature, bigger than the mountains. "Why are you eating up all the animals? Don't you know the People will be coming, and they will want a full land?" The monster just roared and laughed. Coyote said, "Here, monster, I'm not afraid of you. Come and eat me, if you're so brave." So the monster grabbed up Coyote, and stuffed the Trickster in his mouth. [Didn't somebody use this scene in a movie this summer?] It was a long way down the gullet and into the stomach of the monster. When he got there, Coyote saw all the animals, looking sad.

"Don't worry; who wants to help me get out of this monster, and make the land whole again for the People?" With that, he made some fires which sent smoke up to the eyes and nose of the monster. Then, he started cutting away at the monster's heart with his knives. Each of his knives broke, but Coyote kept cutting. At the end, he had to tear at the heart with his hands, but finally, he ripped it out, and the monster died. With that, all the animals got out of the monster, and started cutting and slashing at him themselves.

Coyote took pieces of the monster and flung them all around. Where the monster pieces fell and hit the earth, people sprang up and started to walk around. Some parts went west, and became the Salish and Chinooks. Some went north, and became the Flathead and Blackfoot. Some went south and became the Shoeshone. Some went east, and became the Lakota. When he was done with this, he felt very good, for the land was filled with animals again, and people, too.

But one of the animals who had lingered behind came up to Coyote and asked him, "Coyote, why do you leave nothing of the monster for this place? Shouldn't there be some people here for this land, too?"

Coyote said, "You're right, there should be people here." With that, he took the heart, and flung it down. From that spot came the Nee-mee-poo people. And that is how Coyote helped the Nez Perce come to this place.

The Nat'l historical park rest area is built around the Heart of the Monster, a thirty foot high and wide lump of basalt intruding from the river plain. Nearby, they have placed two audio displays. Pushing a button brings a Nez Perce elder speaking, first in his native language, and then in English, telling the story of Coyote and the Heart of the Monster. I've tried to reproduce it as best I can from memory. It's as good a creation story as any, I think. They all pretty much say the same thing: animals were here first, then we came along.

Our next stop was due at the Lewis and Clark Canoe Camp. This was where the Discovery Corps had come down from the ridge top to the river, and spent several days finding a suitable set of trees from which to carve canoes. Then they floated down the Clearwater, to the Snake, to the Columbia, to the sea. Of course, you can't do that now, whether you're a salmon or a person. Too many dams along the way. But Cody got the directions confused once again (not entirely his fault, as he was getting them from several different people). He did the right thing, and when we didn't show up, went looking for us.

In the meantime, Rod and I had driven down the road a bit, and found 10 miles of construction. We chose to drive, not bike thru this area, and started once again on the other side. At the Canoe Camp, we'd heard that the temp in Lewiston (where we were headed) was 103 F. I refused to believe it, as it certainly didn't feel at all like the days in Illinois or DC when it was that hot. But then, "it's a dry heat" here in the Rockies.

Dry heat is right. We stopped at a roadside rest area for our final respite, and I started exhibiting serial idiocy, a sure sign of early dehydration. First off, Joan complained about how her bike wouldn't stay in gear. She has down-tube friction shifters, like we all used years ago. But now, with indexed shifters even on road bikes, I've lost intuitive touch with the friction mode, and I forgot the easy fix she needed - tighten the wing-nut on the shifter. A ten second repair I wouldn't recognize until we'd camped for the evening, I'd re-hydrated, and the sun had gone down. Second, I forgot the front tire of the tandem when I put it on the RV rack. Luckily, Joan retrieved it, or it would be lying there still, and we'd be doing the first tandem unicycle ride across Washington State.

Nonetheless, Rod and I rode 28 miles into Lewiston, planning to go over the Snake to Clarkston for the evening's camp. After 10 miles or so, the shoulder widened, and became sheer heaven with a four-lane, smooth asphalt road for the last ten miles. I cranked it up to 23-27 mph in top gear, feeling perfect air conditioning in my cotton shirt. We pulled into the Last Chance indian gaming spot at the edge of the reservation, to buy cold drinks. Three thermometers read between 101 and 105 F. In the shade, it was actually tolerable. Either I've acclimated, or there's something to this humidity stuff. Of course, I have far less fat under my skin now then 6 weeks ago, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Our last six miles was down a river levee bike path, across the Snake, then back again when we'd learned that the girls and Cody were camped in a State Park on the Idaho side.

At Hell's Gate State Park, Shaine and I went up to make a phone call. While there, I noticed a smallish older man and a girl a little older than Shaine waiting for the phone also. They were standing next to two well-traveled touring bikes, one a Trek 520 with downhill mountain bike handlebars replacing the usual drops. I asked the man, "Where are you headed; where're you coming from?"

From there, it was hard to get a word in for the next fifteen minutes. They were from Spokane, just tootling around, going eventually to Kooskia (50 miles back up the river). He lit a cigarette, and launched into a diatribe about the state of touring bikes, how to carry water ("only way is in a cooler on the handlebars"), stupid thieves ("they broke into my bike shed, left all the tools and antique bikes, and just took my daughter's new Raleigh cruiser"), and the need to home school now that education and people in general just didn't care anymore.

It was actually a great talk, because the guy had done a lot of self-supported touring. He had all sorts of tricks for dealing with wind, with flats, with money, and with cigarettes ("just try lighting one when you're going 15 miles an hour into a 30 mile wind in Wyoming!"). It was a great way to spend the evening, sitting at the curb, finishing my beer, listening to someone who knew exactly how to bike, and didn't care if others agreed with him or not. It buoyed my spirits a bit; the next day, our friends were due to leave at 7 AM, and we'd be riding solo once again. The last five days thru Washington would be a test of will and strength, I feared, combining all the challenges and terrains and weathers we'd faced so far, into one microcosm of a state. I've heard two sayings, which I think might meld into a third. "If you can bike across Pennsylvania, you can bike across the country, but the reverse is not necessarily true." "If you can ski well in all conditions and terrains in Washington, you can ski anywhere." I suspect that might also be true of Washington State biking. Desert, mountains, rain, traffic, cities - we've got it all here, in 350 miles over the next five days. Stay tuned.

**Next Day's Journal**

-Al Bikrutz

Miles: Al (Tandem&single) 87; Cheryl (Tandem) 57; Rod, 61; Joan, 32.

Total Miles: 3206