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!

Ione to Heron

From The Evergreen State to The Big Sky State – Wednesday 18th to Friday 20th May

Wednesday 18th May – Ione to Sandpoint (Stage 16)

The alarms were set for 7am, so we could have breakfast in our room & be on our way by 8am. Today was the longest stage of our adventure so far – Sandpoint was 86 miles away! As we set off under overcast skies, we crossed the Pend-Oreille river with beautiful views back towards town. We joined the LeClerc Road, which we would be following for the next 50 miles!

As we continued along the banks of the river, we saw two Canada Geese fly from the opposite verge as they were frightened by a passing car, one of the few we saw in the first hour. The 2nd bird glanced off the windshield as he set off & miraculously carried on flying, having suffered no obvious injuries. Not long after, a couple of deer crossed the road – one in front of us & the other sneaking behind us!! They were kind enough to wait for me to get a photo of them!

The profile of today’s stage was rolling, so no long climbs to speak of. As a result we made good time along the deserted road – we were in wet weather gear, as the forecast was for rain to roll in from about 10am. I just managed to get a selfie of us with the river in the background before the promised rains arrived.

As we reached the 25 mile point of our ride, we reached the small town of Usk (some of my friends will recognise this is one of my regular coffee haunts when I visit South Wales. Like its South Wales counterpart, Usk in Washington also had a gorgeous bridge across its river.

For the first hour we’d had a tailwind, but this became a headwind as the rain arrived. This was going to make the day a bit more of a challenge, but at least we had learned from our last soaking in Gold Bar. My friend Jimbo had been in touch to remind me of the waterproof qualities of latex gloves – we’d packed a couple of pairs of these for bike repairs. They kept my hands dry, even if the rest of my body was drenched to the bone!

As we left Usk behind, we entered the Kalispel Indian Reservation, passing their Headquarters as we headed beyond their fish hatchery complex. Before long, we were back in farming country – some houses were palatial, while others looked like a bit of TLC was required.

After 25 miles of riding into a cold headwind with rain being blown into our faces, we reached our 2nd Welsh connection, the town of Newport. This was a momentous occasion, although you may not know it from my photo! This was where we crossed from the Evergreen State of Washington into The Potato State of Idaho – our first state boundary crossed after 16 days of riding. Leaving Newport behind, the rain stopped just as we reached the top of a climb – right on cue we saw Station 41 Espresso, a small ‘drive-through’ espresso hut, so we stopped & tried to warm ourselves up with an americano & choc chip scone!

We took what we expected to be a quiet backroad, but were regularly overtaken by logging trucks – today we guessed that we’d be passing a timber processing complex of some sort & sure enough we soon reached a plywood making facility. A short, sharp descent took us down to the Pend-Oreille river, but this time we were on the opposite bank. A pretty bridge linked the pine forest with the plywood plant. As we continued along the shoreline, we were treated to a stunning view across the water.

Things continued to improve, as our kit dried out & we found ourselves back in Eagle Country, with wooden pallets placed on telegraph poles for the eagles to use as nesting sites. All the owners were out collecting supplies as we saw lots of eagles soaring about us, but none came close enough to be photographed…….until one of a pair perched itself in a nearby tree!!

We even picked up a slight tailwind. All was good with the world again until the skies opened again 45 minutes from Sandpoint! That was long enough for us to get chilled to the bone as we crossed what was now the Pend-Oreille Lake on a cyclist only bridge. I managed to capture a shot of it, but I would certainly have appreciated it more on a dry day!

We made our way across town on quiet, cycling friendly roads & checked into separate rooms at the Cedar Street Motel & Suites – I had to say sorry for the puddle of rainwater I left as I checked in! Tomorrow’s a rest day, so we nipped into a couple of different bars to relax & celebrate crossing our first state line! We even got to listen to a local musician doing his stuff.

Stage Stats – 86 miles, 2,552 feet of climbing. A rolling day into a headwind & driving rain for most of the day. First state line crossed.

Thursday 19th May – Rest Day

Rest days now have a familiar feel to them – a bit of a lie-in, sorting out laundry, finalising routes & booking accommodation. As we’ve headed east, we’re reaching more remote regions & we’re beginning to adapt our routes to fit where we can get places to stay. At the moment we’re continuing to use motels, as the weather remains on the cold side of chilly & is very changeable.

It looks like we may be camping for the first time soon, as our next block of riding from Sandpoint to Whitefish has a big gap where we couldn’t find any accommodation. We also did a bit of shopping – Sean’s rain jacket has a temperamental zipper, so he’s bought a replacement just in case & he’s also got himself some new shades. Bearing in mind our upcoming camping debut, I’ve invested in a beanie & also splashed out on new shades too. I even left the label on for their first photo!

We celebrated our purchases with coffee & an apple fritter slice – tasty! Although we’re in the middle of a town, there’s a greenspace just across the way & when I returned from our shopping expedition, one of the residents came over to say hello.

Sandpoint holds an annual ‘Lost In The 50’s’ event & this year marks the 35th anniversary. Covid caused the cancellation of events planned for 2020 & 2021, so everyone is gearing up for tomorrow’s big show. There are a wide selection of classic 50’s cars in town, which add to the atmosphere. That’s enough excitement for today – the next stage of our adventure gets underway tomorrow.

Friday 20th May – Sandpoint to Heron (Stage 17)

We woke up to blue skies overhead & after a quick breakfast of cereal & coffee we were packed up & on our way by 10am. There was no need for an early start today, as The Amber Bear Inn in Heron was only 43 miles away on rolling terrain.

Leaving town, we immediately picked up a cycle track which took us along the edge of the Pend-Oreille lake. As we joined the ID200 we passed through Ponderay (the little city with the big future), which was busy with local traffic going about their daily chores. Within 5 miles the road was significantly quieter, as we continued on through Kootenai & past a couple of golf courses with glorious views of the mountains ahead.

As we continued along ID200, we skirted the edge of the Pend Oreille Wetland Wildlife Management Area, where we passed over Trout Creek – it looked like a saline estuary seen in Cornwall, but we were 2,000 feet above sea level! Within a couple of miles it had become part of Pend Oreille Lake again – this is an enormous expanse of water, with a surface area of 148 square miles which makes it the 38th largest in continental USA. The lake is 1,148 feet at its deepest point & we have been following its coastline for 2 complete days!!!

We continued to be surrounded by mountains on all sides as once again our route started following the railroad track. Good news, as it guarantees the road will be fairly flat!! I was once given sage advice to stop & take a look behind you every so often & see where you’ve come from – this applies equally to life & cycling & I made sure I took in the huge views behind us.

Taking in the big views & cycling is hungry work – we’re always on the lookout for coffee &/or cake stops, although now we’re in more remote locations they’re becoming as rare as hen’s teeth. I’m delighted to report I managed to sniff one out at Hope Marina, where we picked up some mementos for our bike boxes as well as coffee & cream cheese topped cinnamon rolls. I see this as essential refuelling, although some of my friends might just say I’m a cake fiend!! If we hadn’t found food here, I would quite literally have been beyond Hope – you’re welcome!!!

As we set off again, there were dark & angry clouds ahead of us. It very much looked like we might be racing the rain to reach our accommodation for the evening.

Turning inland, we left the lake behind for the last time & headed up the valley of one its tributaries, the Clark Fork Creek. Passing another wildlife wetland protection area, we saw a bale of turtles (a dole or nest is also ok!) sunning themselves on a log. As we passed there were 10 of them, by the time I’d clip-clopped back in my cleats there were only 5. We were also back in eagle territory as they soared on the thermals way above us.

The town of Clark Fork marked the start of another long section of tarmac that rose at a very friendly gradient, as it followed the course of the river. Although we didn’t realise at the time, this was one of only 2 places to cross the Clark Fork.

Continuing up the valley we encountered a few slate quarries & they all shared a common theme other than slate – they had collections of upwards of 100 ancient cars/trucks. As the road was climbing, it was compulsory that Sean sit on the front & set the pace as the road disappeared into the distance.

Today was a landmark as not only were we crossing our second State Line from The Potato State of Idaho into The Big Sky State of Montana, we were also crossing our first Time Zone as we passed from Pacific Time to Mountain Time & pedalled forward an hour in time.

At last we reached the turn-off to Heron – all that remained was to cross the Clark Fork, climb the early slopes of the valley on paved roads & then take a left turn up a gravel road to Amber Bear Inn, our home for the evening. The rain was chasing us & no sooner did we pull up than the skies opened & didn’t stop for the remainder of the day!

The Amber Bear Inn was an out of this world experience – when we arrived there was a pride (or ostentation) of 9 peacocks & peahens on the terrace. In the far distance we could just make out 5 deer grazing on the grass & a heron flying overhead. As if that wasn’t enough, later in the afternoon a gang of elk joined the party! Canada Geese also patrolled the lawn out front.

Mike & Cookie were superb hosts from the moment we walked in – our upstairs room matched the image of what a lodge in the African Serengeti would look like, it included enormous picture windows on two of the elevations, 2 huge king-size beds, a separate jacuzzi room & plenty of living space.

At dinner Jennifer ensured we enjoyed our evening meal of salad, ravioli & tomato sauce & my first ever portion of huckleberry ice cream – it won’t be the last!! We then sat with Mike for upwards of an hour as we learned about his life, including when the US Military took over the whole of the Amber Bear Inn to tackle an out of control forest fire – at one point there were 300 military field tents of various sizes on his grounds & they served in excess of 16,000 meals in a 2 week period!!

We also learned survival techniques in case we meet an elk, moose, mountain lion or bear – we’re now a bit less keen to have an up close & personal experience with any of them!! Mike, Cookie & Jennifer – thank you for making this an experience I’ll treasure for many years to come!

Stage Stats – 44 miles, 1,634 feet of climbing. A rolling day that began under blue skies that became overcast as the day progressed. Second state line & first time-zone crossed.