The day started so well. From Hell's Gate State Park on the Idaho side of the Snake, a paved bike path (actually, a MURP, or "multi-use recreational path") follows the river levee. Five miles to the bridge to warm up and lubricate my legs.
Rod, Joan and Dani left at 7 AM, 15 minutes before me. Their company has carried us through the mountains and along the rivers of Montana and Idaho. As I rode along the Snake under the low morning sun, I wondered if we'd have the mental and physical stamina to make it through our home state, after biking, driving, and generally being in each other's way for 3250 miles.
"Looks like a marine storm's going to pass over the state this weekend. Tomorrow, the temp's supposed to drop at least 20 degrees, down to 75 ," I said as Rod and I shook hands.
"Boy, you guys sure need it. You're almost there; looks like you're going to make it all right."
"I don't know; ski injuries always seem to happen on the last run," I answered.
They were lucky - they'd chosen the best six days of the trip to ride with us. They'd experienced a little rain, cold, traffic, heat, thunder, and RV park life - a full sampling of Bikrutz. But now they were gone as we entered the Washington desert between the snake and the Cascades. Heat, hills, wind, and the bleak, blank landscapes of the Palouse, Hanford, and Columbia Basin lay ahead.
Pulling away from Clarkston on US 12, the road hugged the Snake River for 10 more miles. At Chief Timothy St. Park, I stopped for water, and to say good-bye to the river valley I'd followed for 5,000 vertical feet and 180 horizontal miles. From misty moss draped conifers, through hemmed in winding forested slopes, into warm cottonwood bottom lands, and now, leaving the Lochsa-Selway-Clearwater-Snake valley at its entrance into the Palouse.
The Palouse, in southeastern Washington, is a land of firm, smooth hills surrounding huge gullies draining to the Snake and Columbia. Appaloosa horses had their home here.Cattle graze the tilted land, carving endless terraces as they criss-cross the slopes searching for a better blade of grass, or any grass at all. A soft brown volcanic rock lies under the thin soil, in which even softer, lighter brown grasses cling. Occasional sage dots the highway. Where irrigation flows, hay follows, at this time of year a stubbly remnant.
I followed Alpowa Creek up 2000 feet in 10 miles, where the family waited with Bikrutz in a compact green rest area at the summit. Awning up, the kids outside playing cards, sun in clear blue sky, temp at 77 F, it was a small spot of paradise. After a thirty minute rest to refuel and reload, Cheryl and I hauled down the tandem, hoping to rocket into Pomeroy. We gave instructions to the kids to buy gas and lunch, and meet us there.
During the initial descent, the speedometer wavered, then stuck at "0". We stopped and I rigged a fix. When we got back on, Cheryl noticed the timing chain (it connects the pedals of the two bikers on a tandem, so they move together) was off the gears. I looked, and saw something much worse: the stoker's chain ring (the gears on the rear rider's left side pedals) were held on by one remaining bolt, out of five that are supposed to be there.
Unable to ride, we flagged down Bikrutz, and traded one bike for two. But something odd happened: while on the tandem, we'd floated downhill just fine. On the singles, we pedaled hard just to go 13-14 mph. We discovered a headwind had arisen.
I'd had a tailwind coming uphill, so I assumed this was the usual uphill wind so common in the mountains. As the sun warms the earth, the earth heats the air above it. Warmed, the air expands and thus tries to "rise" (if the ground were not there, of course, it would move out in all directions). Gullies and river valleys funnel the air up to the top of the surrounding land, making great vertical thermal highways for raptors to ride up, but frustrating bikers who want a free ride down.
In Pomeroy, Bikrutz was not to be seen at any gas station. But in the center of town, we saw Cody driving towards us. He smiled, but didn't stop. One more frustration. Now, we'd have to double back and re-bike the last mile twice more, once with and once against the wind. We followed him back to the edge of town, and a gas station/auto parts store.
When we'd gassed up, Cheryl and I gave instructions to the kids. With two missed connections in as many days, I was gun shy and Cheryl was anxious.
"Cody, you've got to do three things: get lunch, get money at an ATM, and meet us at route 261."
"Yeah, yeah, OK."
But three headstrong children all had different ideas of what lunch meant. Cheryl and I wanted them to get a treat and go to "Donna's Drive-Inn". Cody, the Scotch-Irish-Yankee-Engineer, didn't see the point in spending money for food when we had so much of it in the RV.
By the time we got to the center of town again, Cheryl decided she wanted eye drops for her contacts, and I was worried the kids wouldn't agree on a place to eat. Luckily, at the US Bank corner, Cody turned, stopped, and got out, screaming, "I'm going home! I can't deal with them any more! They want to WASTE their money when I said I'd stop at the city park and cook 'em hamburgers. I'm fed up! I won't do it anymore."
"Cody, give me my ATM card," I responded. Just like a dad, I was more worried about having enough money for my family than dealing with minor sibling squabbles.
Cody giggled as he handed it to me. "Oh, I forgot all about that already." I'd told him not more than five minutes before, and written it on the white board. I grabbed the card, and went to push buttons on the ATM for anger suppression therapy.
Meanwhile, Cheryl erupted at Cody. "What makes you King Snot [or words to that effect]? Why should you get it just the way you want when your dad and I are willing to spend a little bit of money to perk the girls up?"
I returned and added, "Cody, don't you understand this town is the only civilization we'll see for the next two days, until we get to Yakima?"
Cody hollered, the girls screeched, and Cheryl, getting madder, gave up. "All I wanted was a little riding time with your dad so I could get over 2000 miles. But, I've got to baby-sit you kids, I guess." She slammed down her helmet, ripped off her front wheel and put her bike on the rack. "All right Cody, girls, let's go!"
"No-o Mom, don't ride with us," moaned Shaine. "Dad, don't let her ride with us in the RV. She'll just go ballistic and yell at us and not let us do anything we want. We get along fine - she just disrupts things when she's with us."
"Yeah, disrupt things by making you put away your clothes, wash the dishes, and not beat each other up," Cheryl said. I could see the kids had been living in a kind of NeverNever Land with no adults, while we were out riding. I was more tolerant of letting the kids have and solve their own squabbles than Cheryl was. Since they had grown-up responsibilities (driving the support van), she wanted them to act like grown-ups.
So I went back to my Peter Pan quest, biking for home, while they all drove off. We finally left Pomeroy after more than an hour spent wandering around and yelling at each other there.
As I biked out of Pomeroy, the wind became more fierce. I felt as if it were trying to blow me back into the mountains. I hunkered down, and just zenned into pedaling. The road had an 18-inch chip-sealed shoulder that felt like riding on jumbled-up railroad ties. The air was 93 F, the sun piercing at 1 PM. Traffic had picked up, but I didn't care. I just couldn't ride anymore. I looked up, and saw a blacktop ribbon rising out of the valley at an angle of impossible steepness. My spirit broke when I considered trying to ride up that thing. I was going 10-11 mph downhill into the wind.
Bikrutz was parked below the wall of asphalt, at a turn-off which read, "Last Resort Campground and RV Park, 9 miles." "Oh, good," I thought. "They've decided to quit for the day [40 miles early], and are just waiting to tell me"
But no, Cody and the girls were outside, cooking burgers on the grill. "We're happy, dad, really we are!" Shaine said. "It's just Mom - she's mad cause we didn't go the the Drive-Inn."
I was peeved because Cody still hadn't learned how to park the RV to protect the door from the wind and sun. He was about 90 degrees off to keep the inside from warming up and the door from being blown off. But I was too bone weary to chastise him. My legs felt like Jell-o, my head was fuzzy, and I was done. I put my bike on the rack, and went inside.
We pow-wowed, and quickly decided to head up to Central Ferry State Park, 40 miles short of the day's goal. Tomorrow, we could try for 90 miles and Othello, where we could stay in a motel as no campgrounds of any kind were listed in our numerous resource books. Then, 80 miles more to Yakima, and the final push over the Cascades, two 70+ mile days, up Chinook Pass, then down and through the city. We could still complete our Bikrutz, and maybe the heat would break.
The state park was just what we needed. The RV got water, electricity, and sewer for $15, we got shade and wind protection, the bikes got fixed (the good thing about a tandem is it's got lots of chain rings, so spreading the remaining bolts around among them seemed to work), the girls got to swim in the Snake River, and Cody got to sleep the rest of the day.
We held a family meeting after dinner, using a bike helmet as a talking stick. Annie told everyone she loved them. Shaine reminded Cheryl not to go ballistic. Cody said he could do it, just trust him more. Cheryl asked for the kids' commitment and support to finish the trip for the next four days. And I reminded everyone that my goal has not been to bike every mile across the country, but to get my family from one end to the other without them killing each other. We seemed ready for tomorrow.
**Next Day's Journal**
Miles: Al (single) 40; Cheryl (single) 15.
Total Miles: 3246