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.

Ovo Energy Tour of Britain

Beautiful Britain By Bike – Tour of Britain (stage one).
Back in July I entered a competition to win a day in the Vittoria UK Neutral Service Car for Stage One of the Tour of Britain – I was fortunate enough to have my name pulled out the hat & today I got to experience the thrills & spills of a top professional cycle race at close quarters! Even better, the prize was for 2 people, my good friend & long time cycling buddy Sean would be enjoying the experience too.

A mere 30 minutes after leaving our hotel in Llanelli, we arrived at Pembrey Country Park, for the start of the 2018 Tour of Britain. There were only a few hundred people on site when we turned up at 8.15am, but it wasn’t long before the fans & teams started turning up. We met our host Jon at 9.15 & he took us straight into the VIP section, where we enjoyed a coffee & panini as he talked us through the plan for the day.

There was time to catch up with Ian Ruck & Bryn (who was racing later at Pembrey – he finished 2nd!) for a fun 25 minutes looking round the team buses (they varied in size from camper vans for the domestic teams to the Death-Star (as it’s lovingly known) for Team Sky. The winner of best team car went to Team Pro One Cycling, as they’re sponsored by Aston Martin & three of them were on display!!! It was great to see so many of the riders making time to sign autographs for their young fans.

 

We then had exclusive access to the teams as they signed on prior to the start of the stage – Alex Dowsett was the British rider (& previous ToB stage winner) for Katusha Alpecin, while Connor Swift is the current British road race champion & was proudly sporting his stripes. Jon managed to get us in amongst the press, so we were right next to the riders, in fact I nearly bumped into Team GB’s Ben Swift! From here, Sean & I went our separate ways, as I went off to the Vittoria car, while Sean made his way to the finish for VIP access to the Tour village.

 

I was introduced to Marco (our driver) & Matteo (our mechanic), two Italians who made me feel welcome from the moment we met. We were in the lead Vittoria car, which would provide neutral service (drinks, spare wheels, mechanical assistance etc) if there was an early break. This is the biggest race in the UK cycling calendar, so I figured that it was a nailed on certainty that some of the domestic teams would want to have a rider up the road getting their sponsors some air-time on ITV4.

After an 8km neutralised start, the race began in earnest, with a mere 174.8km to go until the finish in Newport! It took about 45 minutes for the day’s 6 rider break to finally escape from the main peloton – there were representatives from Team Dimension Data, Team GB, Madison Genesis, JLT Condor, Canyon Eisberg & Team Wiggins.

 

The excitement began for me when we pulled to the side of the road to let the breakaway past, as we were now officially in business. If anyone needed any assistance, we’d be in the middle of action! As we headed for the first intermediate sprint in Camarthen, it was clear that the supporters were out in force to support the Tour of Britain – in places the crowd was 4 or 5 deep. The race was taking place on rolling closed roads, where the entire race convoy is protected in a bubble of road closures, which is expertly organised by the local police & race marshals. The riders can race safe in the knowledge that they won’t meet any oncoming traffic, but the roads are also only shut for a short period of time.

After an hour of racing the peloton had covered 47km & the break had a lead of almost 2 minutes. We were now nearing the first of the day’s climbs Bethlehem Hill & it was here that misfortune struck Richard Handley of Madison Genesis – a rear wheel puncture! His team car was there within seconds of him stopping, but the convoy of service cars (including us) were past in a flash & it looked like his time in the break was over. However, Richard had other ideas, as he sprinted past us as the climb began & he tucked in behind the Canyon Eisberg car to get some aero assistance as he chased down the rest of the break.

 

Up ahead, the break split in two on the descent & Richard joined the chasers of Canyon Eisberg & Team GB, as it became a 3 vs 3 time trial for a couple of kilometres. Eventually they managed to join up with the 3 leaders again & it were back to a 6 man break. Then out of the blue we were called into action, as Nic Dlamini of Team Dimension Data needed a drink & we were on the scene in no time! Everything looks so simply on tv, but the reality is that both bike & car are speeding along at in excess of 45 km an hour & the slightest mistake will spell disaster. However, all went well on this occasion & Nic soon joined his 5 escapees.

 

As we headed for the 2nd King of the Mountains climb, the peloton still had the break in their sights – a mere 1 minute 30 separated to the two groups & all the support vehicles were called out of the gap & we were sent ahead by race control. Although this was the last of the action that we’d see, we had a front row view of the incredible crowd that had turned out to welcome Geraint Thomas as he rode on his home roads. A Welsh winner of the Tour de France & here he was being lauded by his countrymen & women, what an amazing sight it was!

20180902_150127

We sped away from the race that was taking place behind & we were able to park up & get to the finish line just ahead of the action, as Andre Griepel just held off Caleb Ewen & Fernando Gaviria for the win! Marco, Matt & I had our photos taken together, so I had a memento of a special day at the Tour of Britain.

 

Then as I was heading to the presentation podium, I passed the Team Sky bus & managed to get a snap of Geraint Thomas & Chris Froome as they were warming down!

 

The final act of the day was to meet up with Sean & Jon in the VIP village, where we climbed aboard the Vittoria bus for a coffee & to catch up on all we’d seen. I want to end my update by saying an enormous THANK YOU to Jon, Marco & Matt for a truly exceptional day & to Katie at Vittoria UK for organising everything.