North Woodstock to Brunswick

Monday 29th to Tuesday 30th August – Stages 92 & 93.

Monday 29th August – North Woodstock to Bridgton (Stage 92)

We only have two days of our Coast to Coast adventure remaining, but that doesn’t mean we can take it easy, as today we plan to ride 69 miles & climb the Kancamagus Pass (pronounced Cank-a-Magus I’m reliably informed!). At 15 miles in length & 2,200 feet of vertical, it’s almost Alpine & the first BIG climb since Powder River Pass on Stage 46, way back on 26th June.

We continue to see reminders that Moose do exist, although this feels a little that we’re being taunted. as it’s one of the few animals that has eluded us on our travels! We’ve seen a whole load of animals I didn’t expect to see (like a black bear cub & a golden eagle), so I shouldn’t complain.

The towns of North Woodstock & Lincoln are ski resorts in winter, but they have also harvested the forest since the late 1800’s – between 1893 & 1947, 2 billion feet of logs were hauled out of the Loon Mountain forest on the railroad!

We’re riding the Kancamagus Highway, which is a scenic byway that links Lincoln with Conway, 37 miles to the East (it’s also our planned coffee stop in a few hours time). The early slopes of the climb followed the course of the Swift River & that resulted in the gradient being more friendly than either of us had expected – we were climbing at a fairly consistent 4% to 5%.

This was our last chance to get some action photos on a climb, so we took a few shots of each other – the best are included in the next two sets of photos. At this point we were about half way to the summit & were grateful it hadn’t been as bad as we had initially feared, although we knew it ramped up in the last half mile or so of the climb.

As we climbed higher, the views became more dramatic, as the road cut a way through the forest. We only had about 3 miles to the summit from here & we began to relax a little, as we climbed ever higher.

There was one final hairpin, where the gradient increased slightly, but then we passed a sign for the Pemigewasset Overlook & we knew the big climb of the day was almost over. Just before the summit I passed Paul, who was on a 5 day tour & he was towing his dog in his trailer! Sean was moments behind & we stopped at the overlook to compare stories.

The summit itself is about 1/10th mile beyond the overlook, so after taking in the view, we said our goodbyes to Paul & headed off to get a shot at the Kancamagus Pass sign. We also stopped briefly at Beaver Brook Overlook to take in the views on the other side of the mountain.

The White Mountain National Forest is very carefully managed & incredible as it may seem, all you can see in the photo below Sean & myself has been harvested at least once & some sections have been cut 2 or 3 times. The National Forest are responsible for ensuring that the environment remains pristine, while balancing our requirements for timber & recreational space – they appear to be doing a great job in this particular instance.

The descent was fun, so I’ve included some video, as well as the usual photos. There were a few large logging lorries doing the descent too, but they gave me plenty of room.

Lower Falls had parking for about 200 cars & about half of them must have been in use. There were families sat sun bathing & enjoying the glorious sunny weather. I had a couple of attempts at capturing the scene, but neither of them worked at all – it just looked like people sat on rocks!!!

Covered Bridges are an integral part of New England landscape & the White Mountains have more than their fair share. The majority were toll bridges, built in the late 19th Century. One bridge in nearby Lebanon made a 70% annual return on investment in 1870!!!

The examples below are the Albany Town Covered Bridge in the first photo & the Conway Covered Bridge in the final photo. We had the road to ourselves for the 5 miles between the two bridges.

We stopped in Conway for a portion of strawberry shortbread – we’d completed 38 miles & also seen off the big pass of the day, so were in a good place! Within a few miles of setting off again, we arrived at our last State Line & crossed from New Hampshire into the Pine Tree State of Maine. The end of our adventure really is close!

We also took a small Adventure Cycling Association detour onto our last piece of cycle track – we were on the Mountain Division Trail for less than a mile of the 6 mile track, but it felt like a symbolic moment. At some point I’ll work out how many miles we did off-road, but it feels like the answer will be at least a few hundred miles!

In Fryeburg we found more quiet roads as we gradually made our way towards our overnight stop.

We were following the Saco River upstream, so were gradually climbing. The long views across to the White Mountains in the distance help take our mind off the drag uphill. The few houses we saw were what I would call up-market with plenty of land too. We’d both checked the route last night & commented that it looked like there was a hilly end to the route – we were just about to find out how hilly!

The answer quickly became clear – quite hilly & quite steep at times! The forest protected us from the heat of the sun, although the ambient heat was plenty warm enough. The road rose in ramps, so we also had a few nice descents where we could recover before the next ascent – at times the climbs hit 11% & 12%, which is more than enough in the later stages of a ride!

Real moose had avoided us again today, but we did at least see a life-size representation of one in a front garden! This was at the top of the final climb, so all that remained was to freewheel the final mile or so to our overnight accommodation in Bridgton.

The Noble House Inn was located right across the road from a gorgeous lake – I captured the sunset as we were heading out to dinner. This is our last night of the cycling adventure, so we enjoyed a couple of drinks with our meal & chatted about what an absolutely amazing adventure this has been.

Stage Stats – 70 miles, 4,308 feet of climbing. Our final Mountain Pass of the adventure!

Tuesday 30th August – Bridgton to Brunswick (Stage 93)

Our final day of our cycling adventure is here already – I can still remember our first day in Seattle like it was yesterday, when we struggled to get our kit on the bikes! Matt & Lynn were the perfect hosts & served up a treat of a breakfast, fresh fruit & a cooked breakfast, washed down with fresh orange juice & coffee!

I have many competing emotions this morning. On the one hand, we’re a mere 58 miles from achieving our shared dream of cycling across the USA, Coast to Coast from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. On the other hand, I feel a sense of loss, as our adventure is drawing to a close. We’ve had the most incredible 4 months since we started in Seattle & I’ve made some memories that will keep me smiling for the rest of my days, so please don’t feel sorry for me!

I took a final photo of the idyllic lake opposite our hotel, then we made our way across town & headed into the forest as the road carved through the trees & followed the rising & falling contours of the land.

As we reached Long Lake, we stopped to enjoy the view at Naples & that was the moment that a seaplane came in to land. Once more we’d arrived at just the right moment!

The road through Naples was a slightly busier State Road, but we were only on it for about 10 minutes before joining another deserted County Road (the US equivalent of a lane in the UK, only wider). We’d identified that the remainder of the ride was either uphill or down dale, so we were expecting things to become a little bit tougher. The early climbs were quite comfortable & the scenery made it easy to forget about the gradient & simply enjoy the view.

Having said that, Sean looks to be putting in a lot of effort in the last photo!!

Our trip round Europe continued as we arrived in Poland – this is where Poland Spring bottled water is sourced. Waterford, Paris & Norway were all sign-posted as being within 10 miles of Poland, as was Wales, Monmouth, Yarmouth & New Gloucester!

As the temperature rose during the morning, we began to appreciate the shadow that the trees provided, especially on the climbs.

I wasn’t quite sure how many downhill sections were remaining, so I decided I’d get a final video of me descending quite early in the day. As the day continued, I found out there were still plenty of climbs & descents left!

The descent took us past a pretty lake & then straight into a brute of a climb – 15% for 400 yards was enough to make the eyes water & the legs sting! The next descent took us past Shaker Village & along the shoreline of Sabbathday Lake, where we found a great ice cream & soda stop on a sandy beach. The perfect stop for our final stop of the adventure! A scoop each of black raspberry & choc chip ice cream washed down with a black cherry soda – delicious!

As we left the lake behind, we hit our steepest climb of the entire adventure – a 16% section that went on for about 5 minutes & was at the very limit of what I can climb on a fully loaded steel bike! I was doing about 3 mph up this ramp & was close to having to weave across the road to keep going.

You might be able to see the look of relief of mine & Sean’s faces at having survived the climb! We spent quite a bit of time today talking about the whole adventure & how neither of us had really prepared for how we might feel at the end of it. It’s almost as if living in the moment every day enabled the end to creep up on me. A combination of planning the daily routes, riding & keeping my blog up to date took up most of my day – I’m pleased it did, as it means I’ve focussed on the adventure itself until the very end.

I had one final opportunity to capture birds on the water, as well as demonstrate how much the body loses flexibility over an 18 week cycling adventure! My legs were still in shock after the steep climb earlier & they were shaking as Sean took the photo for me!

As we reached Brunswick, we cycled past our motel for the next 3 nights & headed for Maquoit Bay on the Atlantic Ocean. It was an emotional moment (in a very British ‘stiff upper lip’ type way) – it took us 93 riding days to ride from the Pacific Ocean in Seattle to the Atlantic Ocean in Brunswick. In that time we cycled 5,689 miles & climbed 207,143 feet!

Ivan kindly took the photos for us – he had completed a supported Coast to Coast crossing in July, which added a nice touch to our finish. We exchanged a few stories, before heading back to the hotel, where we captured a photo at the finish point of what has been an epic cycling adventure.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way – I plan to do an August update, where I’ll take time to say a proper thank you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed joining us on our adventure of a lifetime – I’ve been humbled & delighted in equal measure that so many friends, family & strangers have chosen to engage in the adventure with us! If you have an opportunity, don’t be frightened to chase your dream, whatever that may be.

I’m off to The Big Apple for a few days of Rest & Relaxation. Once I get home, I’ll post an update on my time there too.

Thank you, once again for coming with us as we across the USA, Coast to Coast!

Stage Stats – 61 miles, 4,049 feet of climbing. The final day of what has been the most incredible adventure!

Rochester to Perrysburg

Thursday 4th to Saturday 6th August – Stages 74 to 76.

Thursday 4th August – Rochester to Huntington (Stage 74).

Yesterday was a rest day & I did 3 things of note – got some of my blog posts drafted for use over the weekend, planned the next few days of riding & had a haircut. I’m sure wearing a cycling helmet for over 3 months has expanded my bald patch!! Thanks Syd, I love it. You did a great job with very limited natural materials!

We had another 70+ mile day in the saddle planned, so were on our way by 9am, passing the city’s water tower on the way to picking up the Nickel Plate Trail. This is another Rails to Trail initiative & the 40 mile paved cycle path connects Rochester to Kokomo via the old Norfolk Southern Railroad route.

I was interested in how the name came about & after a bit of digging around on the internet, I can now share a little of its history – it’s nothing like I was expecting. The railroad passed through New York, Chicago & St Louis (NYCL) & generated vast sums of money for each of those cities. In the 1920’s, the editor of the Norwalk Ohio Chronicle described the NYCL railroad as being nickel plated (meaning it was guaranteed to make money, as well as being a pun on the American 5 cent piece) & the name stuck.

We only rode the first 15 miles of the trail as far as Denver, but that was enough to see how much care & attention had be spent on making it just right. There were trail maps at every trailhead, so you always knew where you were. The path took us along the edge of farming land, small residential outposts & through small pockets of woodland.

I was looking forward to reaching Denver, as it would put us back on the Adventure Cycling Association maps that I bought before we started our adventure. However, Denver Main Street was no more, as construction was underway to relay 3 miles of tarmac. Luckily, one of the workmen told us how to detour round town & get back onto the road further along.

The skies had been closing in since we set off from Rochester & about 20 miles into the ride we felt the first spots of drizzle begin to fall. The temperature had remained in the mid-70’s, so we were happy enough carrying on riding in just our shorts & short sleeved jerseys as we continued on our way between the soya bean plants.

There were a couple of unexpected surprises, firstly we passed a Christmas Tree farm that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere & about 30 minutes later we spotted a house with a statue that looked like it was Birdman from Flash Gordon – needless to say we then did awful impressions of Brian Blessed’s character Prince Vultan shouting “Gordon’s Alive”, as well as singing the Queen theme tune. 15 weeks on the road has turned our brains to putty!!!

The ACA route recommended taking a side trip to visit the Dam on the way through Salamonie State Park. Fresh tarmac had been laid in the last couple of weeks & we fairly whizzed down the descents as we followed the river. The Salamonie Dam was constructed in 1966 by the US Army Corps of Engineers (you may remember that they also constructed the complex Locks & supports for St Anthony Falls in Minneapolis). The dam is 6,100 feet long & 133 feet high.

In 2012, Indiana was experiencing a severe drought & the Salamonie Lake receded, uncovering Monument City, one of 3 small towns sacrificed in 1965 to create the lake.

However, this wasn’t what held our attention today, interesting as it was – you may see some small black blobs in the railings in the photo above. There was a wake of 8 turkey vultures perched on the dam railing & they seemed totally unimpressed by 2 skinny Brits in cycling kit stopping to gawk at them.

Just a hundred yards or so along the dam, there were a few committees of turkey vultures with between 3 & 6 birds all congregating on the stones. We were just missing a kettle of them flying, but seeing so many birds in such a small area was a rare treat. A little known fact is that turkey vultures have feet that resemble chickens rather than other birds of prey. As a result they normally feed off carrion that has been dead for between 12 & 24 hours. In desperate times they will hunt small reptiles & rats, but this is quite uncommon.

We stopped briefly in the State Park Visitor Centre, where we learned that this is one of 3 interconnected dams & reservoirs that provide flood protection to the Upper Wabash River valley.

As we left the State Park behind, we returned to farmland, with the familiar corn fields laid out in front of us like a patchwork quilt. Although the rain of earlier in the day was long gone, the humidity remained in the air & whenever we stopped to take a photo our arms seemed to leak sweat, as if an internal tap had been opened!

As we neared Huntington, we spotted a few more signs of civilisation & a number of the properties had lakes with fountains that appeared as if they may also double up as somewhere for the children to either swim or mess around in small boats. There also appeared to be a bit of competition between households, as each lake & fountain was slightly larger than the previous one!

We were still on the grid system of roads, so we could see there was a body of water getting ever closer. We were heading towards JE Roush Lake, another of the 3 flood protection lakes we read about at the Visitor Centre earlier.

We continued on quiet lanes all the way to Huntington, where we made our way across town to our motel for the evening. I stopped to add a new type of water tower to my photo collection.

We’re in a Super 8 motel this evening & the photo below gives an idea of the set up of some of the nicer places we’ve stayed. This one had a swimming pool & of more interest to us, guest laundry! There was a glorious sunset this evening, so hopefully that’s a good sign for tomorrow.

Stage Stats – 72 miles, 1,365 feet of climbing. Long straight roads for the majority of the day, with flocks of turkey vultures in Salamonie State Park.

Friday 5th August – Huntington to Defiance (Stage 75).

Huntington is where J Danforth (Dan) Quayle, the 44th Vice President of the USA, went to school & the Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center (US spelling) is located here. He was Vice President to George H W Bush from 1989 to 1993. As we left Huntington this morning, we both saw a sign for the Dan Quayle Museum (the old name for the Learning Center), so I wanted to find out what his connection was, as he was born in Indianapolis & spent most of his childhood in Arizona.

Setting off at 8.30am, we retraced out tyre tracks for 5 miles to Bowerstown, then picked up new tarmac. We were joined by Chris, a local, who was out for a 40 mile ride. He was interested in where we’d been & where we were going, as he’s previously done some touring. Chris rode with us for about 15 minutes or so & then continued on his way & in next to no time he was disappearing up the road! He’s on the crest of the hill in the first photo below.

As you can see, we had the long, straight roads to ourselves again. Although the fields have had the same crops in them for the last week or so, the scenery is always slightly different & there’s always the possibility of seeing wildlife, so it hasn’t felt like a continuation of the same ride.

One of my favourite vegetables is corn on the cob & I’ve been watching as the crops have developed as we’ve crossed the USA from Montana to Ohio. We’re seeing some fields where the corn looks to be almost ready for harvesting. It’s common for plants to produce between 2 & 4 ears of corn in a season, depending on how well the crop is tended.

I’ve even cooked sweetcorn on a couple of occasions on my adventure – you can buy an ear in its husk for $1 in supermarkets & if you microwave it for 5 minutes, wrapped in a damp paper towel parcel, it’s ready to eat. You can have this cooking tip for free, although you may have to buy my upcoming book to find out how to brew coffee from a packet & make your own trail mix from peanuts, raisins and M&M’s!!!

I’m a fan of the colours purple, yellow & orange – now I’ve admitted this, you’ll no doubt notice (if you haven’t already) that most of my action photos have at least one of these colours in. Nearing the small town of Poe, I’d dropped back to take a photo of Sean against a yellow background, although from this distance I couldn’t tell what the plant was.

As I got closer, I realised it was a small field of sunflowers – I don’t know why, but they always make me feel happy & bring a smile to my face. When I ride in the UK, there’s a field near Lacock that is turned over to sunflowers every summer & I always look forward to riding past it – I may also enjoy the coffee & cake stop just across the road!

We reached the small town of Hoagland, where I was hoping to find a coffee shop. However, the shop no longer exists so we had a very disappointing stewed coffee & processed lemon pie (it was so rank I didn’t even finish it) from a gas station. I didn’t take a photo, as I didn’t want to break the lens on my phone!!!! To be fair to the gas station, they did let us fill up our bottles with ice & fresh water from the soda dispensing machine.

We continued on our way & as we reached Monroeville we saw our 2nd jet plane of the day (there was an identical one in Hoagland, but it had electricity cables in front of it, so I couldn’t get a decent photo). This F-84F was built in 1951 by General Motors & Republic Aviation & was eventually assigned to the 122nd Tactical Fighter Wing just outside Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s now based outside the Monroeville Community Park & has pride of place.

As we left Monroeville, we joined State Line Road, which took us to the Lincoln Highway at the border to Indiana & Ohio. The Indiana photo is the one I used the other day when we entered the State & today we’re saying goodbye as we head into Ohio on our way ever East.

Crossing into Ohio, we immediately saw a windfarm – there are 152 turbines & when running at full power can provide enough electricity to service the equivalent of 76,000 homes. This is the largest windfarm in Ohio & farmers receive between $3,000 & $7,000 annually for hosting each turbine.

New tarmac had been laid recently & as we cycled along we could feel the road becoming more sticky, as the tar was still warm! As we neared the end of the new road, the road workers had finished for the day & were heading towards us. Baldwin is one of six ghost towns situated in Ohio, near to the Indiana border, but from later research there doesn’t appear to be much to see, so I’m glad we didn’t detour to try & find it!

As we turned onto OH500 heading East, we crossed into Ohio for real. The only obvious difference between Indiana & Ohio was the wind farm, as the crops continued to be corn & soya beans.

Heading towards Payne, farmland gave way to large residential properties, with equally large gardens – a recurring theme is how tidy the lawns are. We’ve seen many a person on their ride-on lawn mowers as we cycle in the mornings.

I also caught a fleeting glimpse of a white-tailed deer way off in a field. Just as I was getting ready to take a photo the deer was spooked by something & I ended up with an unexpected but very welcome action shot of the deer, mid-bound!

Some 10 miles on from the Indiana / Ohio border the wind turbines were still visible & some farmers must be doing quite well with their “good neighbour” payments.

As we reached Paulding we were both hoping there would be somewhere to stop for coffee & maybe cake. We spent 5 minutes looking round the Business District & eventually spotted Past Time Cafe.

The owner, Mike Iler, came over & asked us whether we were riding up / down the country or across it – he sees quite a few long distance cyclists & he welcomed us with open arms! In spite of him busy & needing to get to the bank, he stopped & chatted with us for about 20 minutes or so & was genuinely interested in our adventure – Mike, I know you’ll be reading this, as is Susan, so please pass our thanks on to your Team at the Cafe who looked after us.

We had a piece of cherry pie each & mine came with ice cream too – I need to keep up my calorie intake as I know people back home have been saying I look thin!!! The pie was delicious & I devoured the lot 🙂

Without exception, our interactions with people we’ve met as we’ve crossed the country have been positive & enjoyable occasions & they have really added to the experiences & memories that I’ll take home with me.

Leaving Paulding behind, we joined more deserted backroads that took us across more farmland. We were once more on the grid system of roads, where every corner was a right angle & the roads were at 1 mile intervals. It made navigation very simple & straightforward.

As we reached Junction, the road followed the course of the Auglaize River into Defiance, our stop for the evening. Defiance sounds like the name of a town that Jack Reacher would turn up in – we passed through Beyond Hope way back in Idaho & I had the same thought then!

The river is a tributary of the Maumee River, which it joins in Defiance. Hopefully we’ll see some of the Maumee on tomorrow’s ride. As far as today is concerned, we made our way across town & found our motel for the evening.

As it’s a Friday night, we found a grill/bar just across the road where we could relax & toast fellow Friday Beer Club members around the world! Apologies for the awful photo, we had red lights shining on us.

Stage Stats – 85 miles, 587 feet of climbing. Making friends over cherry pie!

Saturday 6th August – Defiance to Perrysburg (Stage 76).

We woke to blue skies & high humidity, with a slight cross-wind. As we had a slightly shorter ride, we were on the road for about 9.45am. Leaving town, we joined State Route 424 where it becomes the Maumee Valley Scenic Byway. Throughout our ride today we would be shadowing the Maumee River as we head North-East towards the next Great Lake on our adventure.

The Jack Reacher theme continued this morning, as Defiance led to Independence – I can almost picture Jack riding into town on the Greyhound bus with just his wallet & toothbrush for company! Independence Dam State Park is on the Maumee Water Trail which runs from Lake Erie in the North East to the Ohio / Indiana border in the South West – at the State Park we stopped briefly & chatted to a Dad who was relaxing with his young lads as they all watched the local fishermen doing their thing.

We’ve noticed that our Genesis Tour de Fer bikes are real talking points, not because of the bikes themselves, but because they identify us as a rare breed of person – people who measure our journey by the experiences we have & people we meet along the way, not how quickly we reach our destination! We’ve been on the road so long that we now have stories to tell about places we’ve been, whereas 3 months ago all we had were dreams & aspirations of what we hoped to experience & places we hoped to visit.

The original wooden dam was built in the 19th century to provide water for the canal system. This was replaced in 1924 with the concrete dam you see below which creates a weir. The canals that connected the Ohio river with Lake Erie were created in the 1800’s, but were eventually usurped by the railroad & they fell into ruin. In 1913 a flood destroyed most of what remained, however, 7 miles of the canal are preserved between the State Park & County Road 424.

Although it was a Saturday morning, there was hardly any traffic on the road. As we continued along the side of the Maumee, the scenery around us continually switched between woodland & farmland. I’d asked Sean if he’s take an action shot for me & we managed to time it so we also captured 3 local cyclists out for their Saturday ride – they disappeared into the distance! We’ve learned to be humble & accept that with our steel bikes & touring kit we’re easy pickings for everyone else on a bike & trying to catch up or keep up only ends in tired legs & bruised egos!!!

Jimbo, don’t get ideas – I’ll be trying to chase you down at every opportunity when I get home!!! 🙂

Ohio has also re-introduced us to Historical Markers – in this instance we learned about Judge Alexander Latty & the Camp that was named after him. These are a great source of information & also help to understand some of the history associated with the local area.

Entering Napoleon (yes, it was named for the French Emperor of the same name in 1832), we were on the lookout for coffee & hopefully cake. After a brief hunt around the Business District we found Country Gourmet & they came up trumps – I asked the barista what she would recommend & went with her suggestion of a pumpkin & chocolate chip cookie, as well as a blueberry muffin & a black forest latte. It was absolutely delicious!!

As we left town we passed the Town Hall, so I grabbed a photo to remind me of our visit.

The river had been hidden from view since Independence, but it was worth waiting for it to reveal itself again. There were tens of pleasure craft ploughing their way up & down the river. We were cycling along the left bank, so we were overlooking the river & had great views in both directions.

I was aware that at some point today we’d be picking up a gravel trail, but I was still surprised (in a very good way), when we arrived in Providence & stumbled on the Miami & Erie Canal. Canal boats once carried goods & people the 249 miles between Toledo & Cincinnati. We got a sense of what canal travel might have been like along a renovated section of canal, complete with lock.

The horse in the first picture is pulling a replica of an authentic canal boat, while the historic Isaac Ludwig Mill preserve features of a mid-1800’s Ohio.

This was also our gateway to the Towpath Trail, which follows the remains of the Miami & Erie Canal towpath for 8 miles to Farnsworth Metropark in Waterville. Initially we were on a paved surface, but it soon became crushed limestone & gravel. We were both happy riding on the gravel today, me because I genuinely enjoy it & Sean because it gave protection from the fierce sun overhead!

Along the trail we passed through Bend View State Park with vast vistas of the river in both directions. As we reached Waterville & crossed the river, we could see egrets & blue heron fishing in the shallows below.

All that remained was for us to make our way across to Perrysburg, where we would be staying for the next 3 nights. To celebrate another 3 adventure filled days we tucked into chicken alfredo, washed down with a Nordic IPA from Schell’s Brewery. As Saturday Beer Club was in session, we stayed for a 2nd pint too!

Stage Stats – 57 miles, 384 feet of climbing. Following the Maumee River, then the Miami & Erie Canal.

Heron to Rexford Campground

Paradise Lost to Paradise Found (again) – Saturday 21st to Monday 23rd May

Saturday 21st May – Heron to Libby (Stage 18)

Once more we were blessed to wake under azure blue skies with cotton wool clouds high above us – the perfect way for a day in paradise to begin as we looked out on deer, canada geese & peacocks all grazing on the expanse of lawn in front of us. We chose a 3 egg scramble for our breakfast with mushrooms, onions & bacon, ideal cycling fare! A huge thank you to Mike, Cookie & Jennifer for making our stay so memorable, this is somewhere worth travelling hundreds of miles out your way to visit.

Gene Genie (everyone names their bikes right?!!) was loaded & we were on our way by 9.30 for today’s epic adventure. We reversed yesterday’s route for the first 5 miles as we negotiated a small section of gravel, crossed Heron’s new bridge & took a right back onto SR200 for 10 miles. We continued to follow the Clark Fork river, but it remained hidden from view for most of the time as we were surrounded on all sides by pine forest – the smell was wonderful!

We took a left turn & picked up SR56 as we took a two-lane byway towards another set of snowy capped mountain peaks. We had the road pretty much to ourselves as we climbed at a gentle 2% to 3% for the next hour or so -the only sounds were occasional bird calls & the peaceful babble of the creek that flowed down the gradient we were ascending. We reached a scenic viewpoint where we grabbed a quick selfie to help me remember our route through the valley.

Almost without warning we stopped climbing as we hit a plateau where we met a lone fisherman just setting up on a small lake for the first day of the new season – Zak was from Missoula, but had spent a couple of years doing his post graduate qualification in Cork, Ireland. He was a keen outdoorsman & he shared a couple of stories about his off-road adventures, before we left him alone to fish in peace. We were on the lookout for a small turn-off which would take us up the side of the valley – everything looked big & steep from the valley floor.

Ross Creek Cedars had been recommended to us by Mike at The Amber Bear Inn. This involved taking a 4 mile detour up a small single track road which regularly hit double digit gradients & this took a bit out of us on fully loaded touring bikes! I’ve lost about 5 pounds of weight already on the adventure so far, but I was still hauling 40 lbs of kit, 35 lbs of bike & 175 lbs of me up a brutal climb. We were enclosed for most of the climb, but there was one viewpoint I’d earmarked for a photo on the way back down, however, first we needed to explore the Cedars of Ross Creek. They are a stand of ancient cedars that sit in a couple of acres of forest. If you’ve been to Sequoia National Park, think of a slimmed down (or decaffeinated) version – I thoroughly enjoyed it & it was worth the effort to get here.

We descended cautiously, constantly on the lookout for cars coming up the climb – I remembered to stop at the overview to capture some more snowy mountains! Re-joining SR56, we continued up to Bull Lake, where we took a quick break to eat some trail mix – remote days mean no coffee or cake – first world problems we have to endure!! As we altered course slightly we turned into a nagging headwind, which slowed our progress & dampened our spirits slightly. The road appeared to stretch just that little bit further into the distance. During a long ride your mind can play all kinds of funny tricks on you, as small things like a gradient (up or down) or wind (into you & behind you) affect how you feel. Headwind & uphill – answers on a postcard or email!!!

We eventually reached the junction with US2 at the 55 mile point – we’d crossed Stevens Pass using US2 on our way to Leavenworth 2 weeks ago, so it was like joining an old acquaintance (I would say friend but uphill into a headwind prevents me saying it!). Tracing the course of the Kootenay river upstream, this is where parts of The Revenant (starring Leo DiCaprio) were filmed – the river is powerful & beautiful in equal measure. I managed to capture a short piece of video in addition to a couple of photos.

For the final 15 miles, we cycled side by side making small talk, just to take our minds off the battle up the valley – in truth the ride was a bit further than we would have chosen, however, the location of towns dictates ride lengths to a degree. The vistas were a huge help too!

We finally made it into Libby, a town made famous in the USA for the Superfund that continues to clear up one of the USA’s worst man-made environmental disasters caused by toxic asbestos dust. Our host Mike recommended that we spend as little time in the town as possible, as hundreds of residents have died & thousands more are sick due to the pollution.

I’ve probably created the impression we were tired by the end of the ride – we were! This is where access to tv &/or the internet helps us to relax, process the day & generally recharge our batteries. I won’t mention the name of the motel we stayed in, but there was no internet & the tv ran off wi-fi that wasn’t working!!! Needless to say Libby doesn’t make my top 10 places visited so far. Having said that, we still made sure we celebrated another epic day of riding as we tipped over 1,000 miles for the adventure so far after 22 days of the trip.

Stage Stats – 69 miles, 3,205 feet of climbing. Mainly uphill & into a headwind on rolling terrain with one climb of note. 1,026 miles ridden since 30th April.

Sunday 22nd May – Libby to Rexford Campground (Stage 19)

We were up at 7.15am, aiming for an 8am leave as today was another big ride with a fair chunk of elevation. The best laid plans however, don’t always pan out & we had to wait for breakfast as the motel didn’t have any milk for our cereal & there was no fresh coffee. Regardless of these small delays, the steeds were packed & we left by 8.20am.

Today would be another classic Adventure Cycling Association route along deserted backroads – in the first hour of riding we saw 7 deer (4 are in the train photo below), 4 cyclists, 3 eagles, 2 trains & a solitary car (which was acting as support for the cyclists). The road presented huge vistas of the snowy peaks we’d ridden around yesterday.

Champion Haul Road & the railroad fought for space by the side of the Kootenay river as we weaved our way through the Kootenai National Forest – at times it was deciduous & at others it was dominated by pines. I’ve been trying to capture a shot of the enormous freight trains since Seattle, more than 3 weeks ago. I was happy as Larry when I finally saw one first thing this morning.

I was even more delighted when I stopped next to the railroad tracks for a nibble on some trail mix & in the distance I could hear an engine chugging & chuffing its way up the slight incline. I just had time to get out my phone & capture a small bit of footage – apologies if you don’t like trains!!!

As we left the Champion Haul behind, we crossed the river to join the even more remote Forestry Development Road that would take us into prime eagle territory again for a couple of miles as we made our way towards Libby Dam. The river was in full flow as it rushed downstream – we on the other hand trundled uphill!

Just beyond the turn-off for the dam was a big lookout area – we heard a group of motor-cyclists saying disbelievingly that it looked like two cyclists have made it up the hill without e-bikes!!!! We’ve become so used to riding uphill that what seemed like a normal day exploring our office of stunning vistas & lesser-spotted wildlife was not so normal to other people after all.

The Forestry Development Road is 45 miles in length, following the western shoreline of the Koocanusa lake (so called because it’s formed by the KOOtenay river as it flows through CANada & the USA). Today’s scenery & vistas stood out as being exceptional – given where we’ve been & what we’ve seen, this is the highest of praise. The lake itself extends 90 miles in total (42 miles in Canada & 48 miles in the USA) & holds 13% of the total water in the Columbia river system – the town of Rexford, where we’re staying this evening was moved in its entirety when the lake was formed.

We were riding through the Kootenai National Forest for the 3rd consecutive day – this gives a scale of how gigantic the parks & forests are. We won’t reach the end of the forest today either!

As we neared Big Creek (about 40 miles along the Forestry Development Road), we stopped to view the rapids below & a Golden Eagle swooped overhead – although I wasn’t quick enough to capture a photo, the experience of seeing the majesty of a golden eagle will stay with me for a long time to come. We were now nearing the only place where we could cross back to the (slightly) more inhabited side of the lake at Koocanusa Bridge – it was framed by the Canadian Rockies beyond.

Our cycling adventure for today was drawing to a close, however, Rexford Campground marked another important landmark. Up until today we’d been staying exclusively in hotels, motels & inns – today will be our first night camping under the stars! I walked into The Frontier Bar full of apprehension, however, I had the huge good fortune to meet Misty, who managed the place. She could clearly spot a waif & stray at 100 paces & soon found us a place to pitch our tents behind the Bar & near the shower & laundry block. Within 20 minutes we’d pitched our tents & were toasting one of the best days we’ve ever had cycling!

As we sat down at our table to toast a truly epic day, little did we know that;

a) we had the prime table to watch the huge ice hockey playoff game between Edmonton Oilers & Calgary Flames & the Campground was full of Canadian visitors,

b) we’d still be sat at the same table 5 hours later, still in our cycling kit, having re-hydrated to the tune of 6+ pints of Strange Haze IPA,

c) we’d have become friends with Misty – the kindest, most generous person I’ve met on the trip so far.

Surprisingly we managed to find our way back to our tents (all of 5 paces from the rear of the bar) & spent our first night camping on this adventure. I spent 1/2 hour chatting to Kimberly, one of our Canadian RV neighbours – these random meetings are generally unexpected & without exception hugely enjoyable. We shared a potted history of our life histories as the sun set on a great day – thanks Kimberly, it was a joy to spend time with you. Here’s looking forward to our 2nd night under the stars tomorrow as we’ve decided to have a bonus rest day here. Paradise Found!

Stage Stats – 69 miles, 3,507 feet of climbing. Rolling day along the Forestry Development Road with one climb up to Libby Dam. 6+ pints of IPA dispatched!

Monday 23rd May – Rest Day

Initial thoughts after my first night under the stars were that it gets properly cold between 3am & 4am!!! Other than that I had a good night’s sleep & woke up about 8.15am. We were both dressed by about 9.15am so popped our heads inside The Frontier Bar to get some breakfast – this is where Misty came to our rescue again, as the bar didn’t open until 11am. However, we were invited in with open arms, offered a pot of coffee with the bar crew & then offered some of Misty’s home made frittatas. You’ll already have worked out we weren’t allowed to pay for the food or coffee.

The Frontier Bar was one of the original Rexford buildings that was moved from its original location when the lake was created back in the 1970’s – it’s got a real character that exudes from its timbers. Misty took a couple of photos of us both by the bar & outside, to make sure we remember our stay here. We spent about an hour chatting with Misty – she shared her life story which has had a few very difficult moments but her resilience & generosity of spirit shines through. She’s always looking to help others & I won’t forget her or her generosity in a hurry. You’re a legend Misty!!

We spent a couple of hours hiking around Lake Koocanusa – as the photos show, the lake has plenty of capacity to receive more water from the mountains, should the snow continue to melt into summer.

We eventually found a way to reach the waterline – we didn’t see anyone else while we were exploring the lake & I certainly felt insignificant in such a remote environment.

We also took the time to have a nose around town – it’s a combination of buildings that were moved when the lake was formed, properties that have been recently erected & RV’s owned by visitors which remain onsite between April & October.

After lunch in The Frontier we spent a few hours sorting out a few admin bits & pieces, doing the laundry & packing as much of our kit as possible, ahead of an early morning start. I also managed to write up my blog covering Ione to Heron. During the afternoon I got chatting to another couple of our Canadian RV neighbours (now friends) – Karen & Lori were great fun to talk with & they offered us blankets if we needed then overnight. We swapped details & have already been in touch with each other.

We’d originally planned on having an early night, but we got talking to Misty’s partner Tina who regaled us with stories of her Trail Angel antics (2 state limit applies!!) when hikers had required assistance getting to or from trailheads in the past. We also picked up a couple of great tips for food & drink which we plan to check out over the next couple of days. We managed to buy Misty & Tina a drink as a very small (& inadequate) token of our gratitude. After our disappointments in Libby, our Rexford Campground stay has been an absolute tonic. My only regret is that I didn’t get any photos with our new friends.

Thank you to everyone in Rexford who took us under your wing – we really appreciated your kindness & generosity. Our adventure has been hugely enhanced & enriched by our 2 nights here. We have to break camp for the first time tomorrow, hopefully we won’t take too long to get on the road!

Republic to Ione

One More Mountain To Climb – Sunday 15th to Tuesday 17th May

Sunday 15th May – Rest Day

After a night on the tiles (we got back to our hotel about 1am), we were both grateful for a rest & recovery day. As I poked my head outside to test the temperature, the Fire Service were testing their equipment & hosing down the streets.

We met at about 9.45am & headed for brunch at 18 North Kitchen, enjoying a variation on scrambled eggs that looked & tasted delicious. On the way into town yesterday, we’d spotted a fossil museum, so we decided to pop in for a nose around. Gabby (who by her own admission was aptly named) talked to us for about 10 minutes about her role in both the museum & the historical society of Republic – it’s always a pleasure to meet someone who’s passionate about their hobbies.

Our next task was laundry – not one of my favourite jobs, but one that is essential when you only have 3 sets of cycling equipment & infection is your enemy. I updated my daily journal while waiting for our kit to run through the wash & dry cycles. The excitement of a long distance adventurer!

I went for a look around town in the afternoon to learn a bit about how Republic came into existence – it’s a late 1890’s gold prospecting town (our Motel is called the Prospectors Inn & has a replica wagon outside) that became a hub for all the services needed to run the gold mines.

With the exception of cars replacing horses & wagons, the town has retained its original look & feel. The Northern Inn is one such example. Built in 1903 to house the workers of The Northern Railway & Stagecoach company & to all intents & purposes looks the same as it did over 100 years ago, although the materials have been updated. The Wild West Farm & Garden Centre has taken a similar approach – it was easy to imagine the town as it must have been in those early years.

At the edge of town I was wandering along minding my own business when I spotted a deer sat in a garden, not 15 feet away. It sat there looking at me as if it didn’t have a care in the world, before calmly standing up & walking away – not the first time that’s happened to me!!!

Sean & I met up later to do some essential admin & planning – the end result was a plan for the next 3 days of riding which will take us from Republic to Sandpoint. We also researched accommodation options & phoned up a couple to book rooms – hopefully we’ve made some good choices!

We bought dinner in the local supermarket & sat in my room eating it, while watching more deer wander around the lawns at the end of the hotel property. After 5 back to back days of challenging riding, this R&R day was very much needed to recharge the batteries. It also gave us a chance to meet a few people & learn a bit about the town.

Monday 16th May – Republic to Colville (Stage 14)

We were up bright & early, knowing our office today was going to be the mighty Sherman Pass, the highest Pass in Washington to remain open all year. Setting off beneath overcast skies, we’d again beaten the weather forecast which had predicted rain until lunch time. Leaving town at the 303 Mile Marker, we took a left onto a cycle path (also used by roller skaters, skiers, walkers & All Terrain Vehicles) which kept us high above the road below, giving beautiful views across the valley to the mountains beyond.

We re-joined the SR20 after about 5 miles & the climbing started immediately at a fairly consistent 5%. Very early on I established that I had heavy legs, in spite of the rest day – this is a bit of an occupational hazard, sometimes a day off fixes sore legs, sometimes it doesn’t! We were still in the Colville National Forest, as the tarmac weaved through the giant pine trees. Every now & again we’d emerge from the forest & see the big mountains were getting ever closer.

As we reached White Mountain Fire overlook the road opened up, offering views straight up to the snow peaked mountains – these look so much more impressive than their snowless cousins. We also saw the first signs that we were approaching the snowline. At times I was in awe of the natural majesty of the surrounding scenery.

It took 2 hours 50 minutes to cover the 20 miles from our hotel to the summit of Sherman Pass, where we stopped for a customary photo of the sign. This is the highest Pass we’ve conquered so far at over a mile above sea level, but there will be bigger beasts to wrestle later in the adventure!

While Sean was getting himself ready for the descent, I took a few moments to capture my thoughts on the climb & the downhill yet to come.

Sean set off first which gave me the opportunity to follow & get an action shot as he approached one of the many gentle curves – this was a cracking descent, as the road regularly opened up to show the surrounding views. A combination of the shallow gradient & gradual bends ensured that there wasn’t any need to brake on the entire descent.

As we plummeted downhill, we started to follow the course of a creek & as it tumbled down the mountain it created small waterfalls along the way. At times it felt as if the road was never going to end & after one of my many photo stops I found that Sean was completely out of view as he’d carried on riding!

Sean doesn’t know this (until he reads it here), but I ended up chasing him down the mountain for almost 15 minutes as I gave it a ‘full gas’ effort to catch him up!!! I’d originally stopped to take a photo of the forest after it had been harvested by the loggers & in the 3 minutes or so I was stopped, Sean was well over a mile down the road.

As we reached the lower slopes, we started seeing signs to various trailheads & campgrounds – this would be a superb place to spend the night once the temperatures pick up a bit. By now the creek had grown in size & we soon went in different directions, as it headed through a steep gorge on it’s way to the larger rivers below.

As the road flattened out, we turned a corner & Lake Roosevelt was laid out in front of us. It was created when the Grand Coulee Dam was built across the Columbia River in 1941 & was named after Franklin D Roosevelt who was President at the time. The lake extends 150 miles up the valley from Grand Coulee Dam & has created over 600 miles of coastline. We crossed at one of the few bridging points across the lake at Kettle Falls, took an immediate right turn & then had a fabulous view back to the road & railroad bridge behind us.

We were on a quiet backroad, so were surprised to see a few logging trucks pass us until we saw the humongous timber & wood processing site in front of us – it’s stretched for over 1/2 mile & was stacked with what must have been millions of tree trunks. As the road bore left, we had our last fleeting views of Roosevelt Lake & headed inland though a pine forest with lots of colourful vegetation – perfect for staging an action photo!

We’ve really enjoyed the backroad options (more about how we found them tomorrow), as we’ve had the roads to ourselves & have got to see more nature, scenery & how small-town USA lives & is set out than if we’d stayed on the more busy State & US numbered roads. Heading through the quiet streets of Kettle Falls, we passed a small hydro-electric facility that looked like it was specifically for the local community.

By now we were only about 10 miles or so from our stop for the evening, at which point our nemesis “The Headwind of Hurt” blew into town & tested our physical & mental fitness! What should have been enjoyable & relaxing roll into town became just that bit more difficult as we were on roads that were exposed to the elements. The views to the mountains in the background gave us something to focus on, rather than our sore legs!

It was another wonderful day in the saddle & as we reached our motel we were ready to chill out & relax. Where we were staying in Colville was a big disappointment (our only one to date), the room was tiny, the floor was concrete, the walls were cinderblock – Sean summed it up best when he said “Gav, we’re staying in a bloody prison cell for the night!”.

I don’t think it’s fair to name where we stayed, as the people themselves were really friendly, nice & tried their best to help us – we’d simply chosen somewhere that didn’t fit our requirements.

Stage Stats – 57 miles, 4,354 feet of climbing. A Hors Category climb (the highest point so far). A rapid descent followed by a rolling finish to the stage.

Tuesday 17th May – Colville to Ione (Stage 15)

We were up early to the dulcet tones of Mr MacKay shouting “Fletcher, Godber, up & out your cell NOW!!!” – I jest! We headed up the road for a coffee at 9am – today is the first anniversary of Dad passing away, so I phoned Mum for the first time since I’ve been in the USA. It was lovely to catch up & find out Mum had a phone call from Ally (my brother in Cambridge) earlier in the day & had also gone out to the Forest of Dean with Greg & Nikki (my brother & sister-in-law in Bristol) for the day. We used to go there as kids & we all have great memories of the times we spent there.

We were riding by about 9.30am & headed through small residential streets as we climbed uphill right from the off. The road went up in steps – a steep ramp followed by a flat section – for a mile or two, before we left town behind & set off through farmland. At one point we passed an old barn that looked like it had a smiley face on it!

I mentioned yesterday that we’d been taking quiet backroads wherever possible & this feels like a good chance to explain how we found them. I joined the Adventure Cycling Association back in January, while I was planning our route. I bought about 15 cycling specific maps from them – at the moment we’re on Map 1 of the Northern Tier & without exception, their directions & deviations to get us off busy roads have been first rate.

We were gradually making our way across country to join the SR20 – along the way we passed a few lakes & as we passed one we could hear some birds warbling so stopped to see if we could see what was making the noise. As our eyes adjusted we could make out a number of predominantly black birds with flashes of orange on their fronts perched on the bulrushes. Research suggests they may be American Redstart Warblers, but if you know different, please let me know!

The road continued to gradually rise as we re-joined our old friend the SR20 (we’ve been following it on & off since Port Townsend on Stage 1). Over the past couple of weeks it’s delivered a number of scenic treats & today was no different.

We had the road to ourselves as we passed Starvation Lake (no coffee & cake stop here!) & climbed the ridge with great views of the mountains as they extended into Canada.

We knew it was unlikely to find anywhere for coffee today, but we were on the lookout for somewhere to stop & take a brief break. We saw a sign for a scenic viewpoint up ahead, so decided to give it a try. Crystal Falls was an absolute gem of a find & we enjoyed a few minutes absorbing the view & sound of rushing water, as well as enjoying a trail mix boost!

We continued on our way through the Colville National Forest, with large pine trees on either side of us. On rare occasions we’d get more views of the mountains ahead of us. There were trails, creeks,lakes & campsites in all directions & then out of the blue we saw a coffee stop!!!

Beaver Falls Lodge is set around Gillette Lake & the staff were stocktaking & getting ready to open for the upcoming Memorial Day bank holiday. They very kindly put on a pot of coffee for us & opened up the terrace so we could see the views for ourselves – yet more very generous locals. On the off-chance that they see this, A BIG THANK YOU from the two Brits who passed through!

In what we decided to dub ‘The Golden 15 Minutes’, we saw a convocation of eagles (there were 7 in today’s show), as well as 3 separate sightings of deer. This is nature heaven & we were in our element as the mountains continued to get closer. As if that wasn’t enough, I found a way of including my Worky Wife in today’s blog – Kate I hope Leo likes his sign when you read him tonight’s story. I’m still on the lookout for something Jacob related!

We finally reached the summit of the ridge & I saw a sign to make my heart soar – a 6 mile descent at 6%!!! Perhaps the mountains might finally show themselves…..I’ve fallen in love with snowy peaked mountains & they delivered again today!

We reached the small town of Tiger & turning North, saw a sign saying we were only 25 miles from the Canadian border. Our destination for tonight was now only 5 miles away – the small town of Ione (pronounced I-Own) is set on the Pend-Oreille river. You might just spot the osprey in the first photo below if you look carefully.

A military veteran owns a block in town & we visited the gas station to check-in & pick up our key. Once again, the people we met were incredibly friendly & genuinely interested in our adventure. We were just getting ourselves organised to head to our room for the night, when someone ran out of the gas station. Emmet came & introduced himself & asked our names, then said that we were the first people from the UK he’d ever met. It was a truly heart-warming moment.