Still in Spokane

Another day of rest and miscellaneous relaxation in Spokane. Mostly doing random stuff – we went to a bicycle shop and an REI, checking out downtown Spokane in the process. The whole town has a laid-back, open feel to it, though some of this is probably due to our being on vacation. There are a lot of one-way streets, even some that have 5 lanes going one direction. You’d think it would be more efficient to split those up into 2 going each direction plus a turn lane, but that’s evidently not how Spokaners feel about it.

Tomorrow we’re off again for a short ride to Sandpoint, Idaho, where we’ll rendezvous with some friends for a 4-day Labor Day weekend hike.

0 miles.

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In Spokane

I haven’t had as much time for philosophical musings as I’d like in this blog; most of the time I have to write is used up just trying to get a barebones account down. But now that we’re resting in Spokane I’ve had a chance to go back and add in a couple of bits about free will and karma. (Go to the end of the days in question.)

Not much happened today aside from that; it was mostly slowing down and resting from life on the road. A bit of coffee shop, a lot of lounging, and a run up into the Dishman hills above Spokane Valley.

0 miles.

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Missoula to Spokane – Arrival in a West Coast State

In the morning we continued our interstate theme, particularly since I’d messed up with the maps and thought we’d had only 100 miles when in fact it was 200. (For some reason I’d been thinking that Montana connected directly with Washington up here, but in fact there’re neaarly a hundred miles of Idaho in between. Chalk it up to geographical ignorance, and using state-by-state maps torn from an atlas that don’t clearly show the neighboring states). We were looking forward to arriving in Spokane and seeing A., so we mostly put our heads down and motorcycled, covering most of the distance before noon. We had a quick lunch at a gas station and rolled in to Spokane around 2. Pacific timezone!

We met A. and her husband M., who welcomed us warmly and grilled up some steaks to celebrate our arrival. For the next three days we’ll be here, off the bikes, and then we’ll ride just an hour and a half in to Sandpoint, Idaho, where we’ll meet some friends for a few days of backpacking. After that, it’ll be the start of our journey back East.

Here in Spokane we’re about 250 miles from the Pacific Ocean – not much problem to ride in a day if we so desired. A lot of people ask us why we don’t go out there, since we’re so close. They find it really puzzling that we’re not. Neither of us knows quite what to say to them. I guess it might be nice to end the outward journey with a Pacific sunset, to see that beautiful coast, to breathe the salt air and hear the sound of the waves. But the ocean is not our destination. The trip was not simply a lap out and back to the end of the road, to say we did that. Not that destinations aren’t needed. We had one in Colorado, we had one here in Spokane, and another in Idaho; we even had ones in Buffalo and Milwaukee, close though they were to our starting point.

In fact, there are many times in life one can see an obvious endpoint – the top of a mountain, the end of a trail, the length of a certain distance. And it’s one of the unique and most power-granting attributes of the cave man that he will strive to attain such goals. It happens that, regardless of whether the goal itself has any value, the seeking, the single-mindedness of focus, brings its own rewards. Because it is through seeking goals beyond the here and now, beyond the obvious, man accomplishes great things.

But the point of a motorcycle trip is not that of running a marathon, or climbing a peak, or finishing a novel. We are here to free ourselves from some of our habitual behaviors, from our most commonly expressed instincts. We must elevate ourselves above them – not in the sense of being any better off, but in the sense of seeing them with some perspective, and so of coming to better know ourselves. We aren’t very good at it of course – habits of a lifetime are hard to break; but we try.


195 miles.

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Big Sky to Missoula

Indeed any bears that were in the area left us unmolested, and our tent kept us dry this time, although I had to get up in the middle of the night and reset a peg that had pulled out of the rocky ground. Everything was still wet though, and we decided to pack up and go treat ourselves to a restaurant breakfast rather than doing our usual boiling oatmeal thing on a sodden picnic table. We were quite successful at this, finding a simple place called the “Restaurant at the Inn” along the side of highway 191 that made things fresh, with good ingredients and skill in the cooking. Our food was a long time coming, but worth every minute of the wait.

We continued on up to I-90, which we actually decided voluntarily to take. We’d had quite a generous share of winding narrow roads the past few days, and now we wanted to try something different and actually get somewhere with little hassle. This worked reasonably well, and I do have to say, if one has to ride interstate on a motorcycle, there are certainly worse places one could pick than the I-90 in central / western Montana.

Eventually we made it in to Missoula, an excellent college and outdoor town, home to the University of Montana. We moteled it there, so we could get ourselves cleaned up before meeting our friend A. in Spokane the next day.




230 miles.

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Exit Yellowstone, Enter Montana

Today was going to be a short day, less than a hundred miles, and so we made a lazy time of it in the morning at the campground. Unfortunately this meant that by the time we made our way out to see some more of the geyers and such, everything was packed. The fact that it was Friday only seemed to make matters worse. We nonetheless managed to see a few things, then headed out of the park for lunch and groceries in West Yellowstone. (I wonder what that town was named before the park was there.)

Then we rode up towards Big Sky, Montana, in the vicinity of which there were a number of campgrounds in the Gallatin National Forest. These were about 50 miles away. A couple of road construction areas later we found a nice one named for a creek where we rode up more than half a mile to the sites, and so for once we couldn’t hear the highway at all. Unfortunately what we did hear was the rain, which started a short while after we arrived. Päivi got the tent up in time while I registered, but then what looked like a short passing thunderstorm turned into a rising and falling rain that lasted most of the night.

So it was probably our nicest nature campsite yet, but we weren’t able to enjoy it in the evening. We didn’t even eat our dinner, and hoped the bears wouldn’t be around for theirs either.






95 miles.

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Along the Grand Teton Highway to Yellowstone

It was pretty cool in the morning, and even yesterday afternoon had been only warm, not hot, so it seemed at least for now that our difficulties with the heat were over. In fact we even put in our jacket linings before heading off.

Soon after leaving Pinedale and the Wind Rivers behind us, we saw another part of the Rockies chain looming in the distance: the Tetons. And after a surprisingly short time, we were in and amongst the foothills. The character of this area was different from either the Wind Rivers or the Uintas, though it’s difficult to describe exactly how. Maybe there was a bit more green, perhaps it was the blue / dark clarity of the stream we ascended along, but suffice it to say we were able to see what makes the Jackson Hole / Grand Teton area so attractive to America’s well-off with outdoors interests.

Eventually we came into Jackson, the major town in the area, and it was interesting comparing things with Steamboat Springs. Steamboat is much smaller for one – whereas it has one main street, Jackson was a rat’s nest of business district, most of it snarled with traffic. The character of the streets was similar though – outfitters, coffee shops, restaurants, brewpubs, much like Pinedale. We also happened to check a few real estate prices, and here the difference really revealed itself. The Jackson area was basically only millionaires need apply, making Steamboat almost seem everyman’s in comparison. Where did the difference come from? There were skiiers in both places, but where Steamboat also excels in mountain biking, Jackson’s strong suits are hunting and rafting. I guess for whatever reason afficionados of the latter disciplines have the larger bank accounts. Fortunately, although the climate is a little more moderate in Jackson, we both could see that our own interests were in parallel with our financial abilities.

After working hard and finally extricating ourselves from the lunchtime traffic jams of Jackson, we carried on past the high skyline of the Tetons. Although the Wind Rivers have a number of glaciers, we weren’t able to see them from our western approach. Here, however, we found ourselves on the east side of the Tetons, and we could see the glacier on Grand Teton coming straight down towards us. A sign told of a couple of others visible, but we couldn’t see them, and indeed, perhaps they have now disappeared completely.

We continued on through Grand Teton park itself, and then into Yellowstone. There we had lunch, made a campsite reservation (thankfully, we were there on a weekday, but this was still warranted), and then tackled the geysers. Geyser, or “geysir” (pronounced gay-sear), is actually an Icelandic word, and they had been found there long before any of our civilization made it to Yellowstone, but I remembered from my previous trip that the geysers here are more plentiful and generally more impressive than any we saw in Iceland. And so we wandered around the Upper Geyser Basin (Old Faithful area) getting splashed here, steam-bathed there, and generally enjoying ourselves. The weather also was not bad.

Eventually we finished up and headed to our campground, no full, seeing a couple of buffalo on the way (one of which caused a long traffic jam), and then some elk in the meadow near our site. It was, I suppose, a typical Yellowstone experience. Unfortunately we did not have the time to get off the beaten path and have an atypical experience. Like my brother and I had years before when we backpacked two days in to a remote geyser, got snowed on, caught some trout, and battled mosquitos. Thankfully the mosquitos were completely absent this time, and I didn’t miss the snow, but we could have done with the trout.

198 miles.






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Up to the Wind Rivers

After the heat of yesterday we were determined to get an early start, and we managed to get on the road by 7. We had over a hundred miles by the time we’d started the day before, but we perhaps didn’t need it. We climbed up to well above 8,000 feet through the Uintas in northeastern Utah, and barely descended going into Wyoming. This is some of the most spectacular riding or driving to be found in the lower 48. Signs along the road tell you the geological layers you are at now, and the sorts of fossilized creatures have been found here. Things like “Oldrivian Layer, Small Squidlike Creatures”, or “Cambrian Layer, Bizarre Sharks and Flowering Sea Plants”. Obviously all kinds of things can be and probably were found in each layer in question, but picking one somehow brings a dramatic aspect home as you pass through.

After descending a bit from the Uintas, we headed straight into Flaming Gorge, a great Lake Powell-like reservoir created by a dam which we ended up riding over. Then it was on into a sweeping land of broad hills covered with scrub. The road wound through it in long arcs, and there was virtually no traffic. It was now starting to warm up just a little – the ride so far had been rather refreshingly in the 60′s – and we stopped to pull off a layer of clothing.

For the next couple of hours we rode through this land, gradually descending into a flatter area, until we began to see the dark, hazy shapes of mountains on the eastern horizon: the Wind Rivers. These mountains are the highest section of the U.S. Rockies outside of Colorado, with several peaks just under 14,000 feet. Furthermore they are fashioned of white granite, like the Sierras of California. But they’re out in the western part of Wyoming, hundreds of miles from anywhere. On the east side is the Wind River Indian reservation, a place with very few roads. On the west side U.S. highway 191 heads up from northern Utah, eventually hitting Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I’m not sure how people really get here. The rich fly in to Jackson Hole, but everytime I’ve checked out flights there I’ve ended up looking for other options.

At any rate, we got a little closer to the mountains, then arrived in the town of Pinedale. This was a reasonably nice town, in terms of having traded some of its rough rancher / miner town character for a more outdoor recreationally oriented one. There were outfitter stores, a couple of coffee shops, and even a brewpub. I suppose many purists would complain this is mere tourism spoilage, and yearn for the good ol’ days when the only businesses in town were a general store and a farm supply, and the local watering hole was a broken-down shack with Miller Lite neon signs in its window. I happen to know a few places those folks could head, while we were happy to take Pinedale as it is now.

We made it in a little after 1, had lunch at the brewpub, took a short walk around, then headed up the road east out of town towards Fremont Lake. And here was the end of smooth sailing for the day. There was a big road construction operation going on within a short distance of the main road. It was hard to find out how long it continued, and since Päivi’s bike was not the best outfitted for gravel road riding, we ended up bailing on our planned campsite up by the lake, and taking one down in town. Then in the late afternoon we rode together on the Versys up to see what we’d missed. It turned out our planned campground was closed (also for construction), and it took us nearly an hour to make the 16 miles up a narrow, winding – but paved – road up to trail’s end at 9400 feet. By the time we got there clouds were threatening from all directions – afternoon in the mountains in certain seasons is always a chancy affair – and it was getting late, so we snapped a few pictures and headed back down. Another round at the brewpub finished off the evening.






244 miles.

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A Hellish Ride

Today we unfortunately had to leave Steamboat Springs. We would have liked to stay longer, but we have other places and people to see before heading home. The route we had planned was a spectacular one – west to Dinosaur National Monument for the first night, then up into Wyoming along the west side of the Wind River range, stopping in Pinedale and camping up above at the foot of the mountains, just to have a taste of the area. I’ve been wanting to hike the Wind Rivers many years, ever since I drove by the sheer granite of their eastern escarpment on the way up to Montana for a conference, but they are so remote that I’ve never been able to put it together. And this time we won’t manage it either, because it’ll be too cold at the 10K-ish altitudes that much of the camping is done at for our compact summer sleeping bags.

After the Wind Rivers we’ll head up into Yellowstone and see some geyers, then continue north into part of the the Absaroka range. Finally we’ll hang a left at this point and head northeast-ish through the very north tip of Idaho (avoiding the fires hopefully) to Spokane, where a mutual friend of P and I’s from our Saudi time lives.

All of this sounds great on paper, but this morning we had an appointment to get our bikes’ oil changed, which was a good thing but led to us starting out close to 11. The heat had already had some chance to build, and it built even further as we crossed dry rolling plains west of Steamboat. Clouds kept looming in the west, but the sun was more in the east and overhead, so it kept beating down unobstructed and seemed like it would continue to do so until drops of rain literally started falling on our heads. By the time we got to the Utah entrance to Dinosaur we were both in stupors from the heat, and things were getting oppressive. Even the roads were starting to melt in places.

We went in to the visitors center and took the shuttle up to see the (thankfully indoor) wall of bones, but even after this was over near 4 the sun was still high in the sky and promised to beat down for more hours still. The campground we had been planning to stay at in Dinosaur reportedly had very little shade, and we decided to abandon the camping idea altogether. (If there were any restaurants, bars, or coffee shops around we could have chilled in onne of those for a few hours, but there weren’t.) So we motored a bit further into Vernal, Utah, which was a positively depressing place but was able to offer a decent selection of air-conditioned motels. This was sad, because one thing we’ve learned is that motels are just about the same everywhere, whereas every halfway-decent campground is positively steeped in the natural character of its area. But I don’t think we were physically up for being in that sun for much longer.

Tomorrow, however, we’ll be back at altitude as well as a couple of hundred miles further north. Things should be looking up.



170 miles.

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A Different Kind of Biking

During the summer, Steamboat becomes a mountain biking mecca, and the lower ski slopes get converted into mountain bike runs. Every few cars on the gondola lift hangs a special car that can hold 3 or 4 bikes, and these and their riders get transported up the hill for a ride down that looks even wilder than what the skiiers must be doing in the other season. The riders actually wear motorcycle dirtbike helmets, along with extensive pads, and in a few minutes of watching we saw one guy taking unfortunate good advantage of this equipment.

However I’ve never been much of a mountain biker, for whatever reason, but have done a fair amount of road riding and have been thinking of complementing my existing hybrid, which I use for touring and miscellaneous local rides, with a road bike. Yesterday we’d found a shop that would actually rent you a carbon fiber road bike (yes, one of those bicycles that can cost more than motorcycles), and today we went in and rented a pair.

We got set up on some Giant Defy Composite 2′s and headed out for a 40 mile ride. We stayed in the valley, but this valley, like our Otisco Valley back home, has little or no flat ground. We were always going either up, or down, or both. Well OK not really, but with these feather-weight road bikes going flat felt like downhill, and uphill was mostly a piece of cake, at least until we got to some longer climbs – but I’m going to blame the sun and heat for taking their toll on those. All in all a great ride, and boy did we feel like we deserved our fajiita lunch afterwards.

40 miles (pedaling).

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Relaxing around Steamboat

We were going to have 2 full days in Steamboat with no motorcycling anywhere, and this was the first one. We headed downtown for a breakfast then took the bus up to the base of the mountain where all the ski accomodation is. Päivi had been an au pair with the owner/manager of one of the condo buildings here, but we hadn’t been able to figure out through various internet searching and asking around town whether he was still here. So we had nothing else to try but to head up the base of the slopes to the building and ask for him.

As it turns out he was not only still here, but he invited Päivi up to his penthouse, and I sat with them while they caught up for a while over coffee. He lived a lavish life by our standards, filled with heli-skiing, extensive hunting trips, and the flying of personally-owned private planes. But he was a very nice guy, easy somehow for me to relate to since he was from the east coast originally, and warmly remembered Päivi. He generously offered us a place to stay in one of the condos here, an offer Päivi wanted to refuse, but I was too weak to join her on this moral high ground and basically jumped in to the conversation to accept.

As a result, we headed down to our campsite and packed up, hopped on our bikes, and came back up to live in much more luxurious conditions for the next couple of days. After some suitable lounging around, we headed out to one of the apres-ski restaurants, which stay open in the summer for the mountain biking crowd, and then hiked off our meal and drinks heading up some of the slopes in the evening sunshine.





5 miles.

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