Seattle to Chicago On A Bicycle
by Denis R. Kertz
Copyright 1994 Denis R. Kertz. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced, transmitted, transcribed, stored in a retrieval system, or translated into any language in any form by any means without the written permission of the author.
Part 2 of 6Day 8: 9/11/94, Sunday - Colville, Wa [64.9 miles]
I woke to a heavy overcast sky. There was a streak of clearing in the distance but that quickly disappeared. Most of the folks in camp were still sleeping. The groups around me were mostly from BC and there was a gathering of motorcycles not far away.
After packing up, I headed back to town for breakfast. I immediately noticed my rear tire was soft so I pumped it up and hoped it would hold at least into town. I bought a paper at a grocery store and the cashier recommended the restaurant across the street from where I ate last night for breakfast. The food was good and inexpensive - less than $5 for oatmeal, pancakes, and coffee.
After breakfast I decided I better check my tire while in town. I took the tube into the restaurant restroom and used the washroom basin and water to locate a slow leak. The fix was relatively quick as I was getting better at this with all my practice.
On the way out of town I stopped at the foodmart to see if I could find something to fix my rear rack missing bolt. Since I could not find any bolts, I bought a toilet bowl deodorizer and used its wire hanger to temporarily hold the rear rack in place. I also bought a maple nut muffin that was so good I bought another one for the road.
The road, after a short descent, climbed from 2500' to 5575' at Sherman Pass, the highest pass in Washington, over an 18 mile stretch. The road was through conifers and I spent most of the time in my low gear. As I went, the sky cleared up and I removed my windbreaker. Near the top, I stopped to check a display along the road of the 1988 forest fire that hit the area and took some pictures. I reached the top around 1:30, three hours after starting my assault.
I donned my windbreaker and began my exhilarating descent. The first 10 miles were fast and I was continuously in the 30s with an average of about 35 and a max of 39. The next 10 miles were fast also and required almost no pedaling - a just reward for climbing a pass. I noticed on my descent that the road was wet. Apparently, I just missed the rain and perhaps should credit my flat tire with slowing me down just enough to miss it.
I stopped to view the Little America display along the road. This display described the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) established by Roosevelt in the 1930s to create jobs. Workers received $1/day, room and board, 3 meals a day, and were required to send $25/month home. The CCC was a collection of folks from all over the country, hence the term Little America.
Descending the remaining miles, I crossed the Columbia River at Kettle Falls. I debated staying at the Coulee Dam National Recreation Area campground with its tantalizing scent of pine needles but its $10 fee warded me off and I hoped to do better in Colville. I took the Bikecentennial back road route to Colville. The few minor hills I had to climb told me that my legs were tired, probably due to the four passes in four days. My legs were also suggesting I consider making tomorrow an easy day. The terrain was rolling hills with golden fields in both the valley and the surrounding hills. This was scenic country all the way to Colville.
In Colville, I checked out the bike shop and found it opened at 8:00 in the morning. I stopped at a Subway and ate a foot long tuna sandwich. The host told me that the county fairground's campground in town might be filled due to the Northeast Washington fair that was in town. But I got to the campground just before 6:00 as the fair was closing. I made a quick tour of the fair and it looked like I hadn't missed very much. Then I walked the length of the town in both directions and back to my camp. I grabbed my diary and retired to the Acorn Saloon to write these notes.
Day 9: 9/12/94, Monday - Ione, Wa [47.6 miles]
When I woke up the sky was clear as it would be all day except for a few wisps of clouds. But it was COLD, probably about 35 degrees. Since my tent was wet and the sun wasn't up yet, I rode to the B&P restaurant for breakfast and a paper. After a leisurely breakfast of biscuits and gravy, bacon, and potatoes, it was just after 8:00 so I headed to the sports shop to try to get a replacement bolt for my rear rack. I was in luck and my repair cost me all of 48 cents.
I headed back to camp, moved my tent into the sun to dry off, packed up, and deposited my $5 in the camping fee receptacle. Next stop was a card shop to get a birthday card for my brother whose birthday is the same day as mine. Given this fact, it's hard to pretend forgetfulness so a birthday card is a must! I picked out a card, wrote a short note about my trip, and mailed the card. Since I had decided to make this an easy day, I stopped at the Book Depot to browse. I saw several interesting books about the West and this area as well as a couple of science books but I didn't buy anything. I doubted I would read them on the trip and they would just end up as extra weight that I certainly didn't need. Next stop was Wal-Mart to see if they had any polypro underwear (which I guessed I would need before this trip was over) or a waterproof AM/FM radio for entertainment at night but they had neither. Finally, I stopped at a Safeway. First, I called the Port Townsend police and learned my wallet had not turned up (I didn't really expect it to). I bought some pastries and some Cajun smoked salmon.
Around 11:00, I headed out for Ione, my day's destination. I immediately saw a sign that warned bicyclists that the road (highway 20) had a narrow shoulder and logging truck traffic. Despite the ominous sign, the shoulder was nice and clean and the logging trucks with one exception at the end were all going in the other direction and were not a problem. It was interesting though that I did see a couple of trucks going in my direction that carried a load of wheels. I figured the first one was just an oddity but after seeing several of these I finally deduced these were empty logging trucks with the rear logging section loaded on to the front section for faster travel.
I had thought the route to Ione was only about 30 miles but it really was more like 40. More importantly, it climbed from about 1600' to 3300' so my “easy” day was not quite so easy. Nevertheless, it was definitely easier than any of the previous four days. After an initial climb, the route kept up a pattern of a moderate climb followed by a level section. I kept the bike in an easy gear whenever possible to save me legs. The air warmed up to the 60s and I removed my windbreaker, comfortable in tights and short sleeve shirt. About halfway, I stopped at a scenic fall and devoured my smoked salmon and a couple of muffins that were really good. I continued along 20 through a stand of conifers. Later I passed several nice lakes along the road. Finally, I peaked and began a 4 mile descent to Tiger that lost about 1000'. It was also a twisting descent and several signs warned to slow down to 15-25 mph from my 30+ mph. I was fairly confident I could take the curves faster but I chose discretion since I was not familiar with the road. All-in-all, a nifty descent with reasonable speed and comfortable temperature that didn't require my windbreaker.
At Tiger I turned North to head four miles to Ione. In Ione I checked out the city park on the Pend Oreille River (which I had thought was a lake at first glance). It didn't look like a camping area and someone in town confirmed that. So I headed to the RV park at the Ione Motel and found I could camp for $5 and pitched my tent on a lawn area that jutted out a short distance into the river and away from the RVs.
After setting up camp and showering, I walked into town to the little Mexican Cafe and had a surprisingly good chicken burrito meal for $5. Not bad for a town of about 600. Then I headed to the city park on the river and wrote the day's notes.
As the time neared 7:00, I thought about where to go to watch the Monday night football game between the Bears and Eagles. I decided to head “downtown” because it was closer than a motel up the road. I went into the first bar, the Boots and Saddle Saloon, where there was a woman bartender and four guys and a woman sitting at an L shaped bar watching the game on TV. I saw a sign that said $1 for Keystone so I ordered a Keystone Light, figuring beer wouldn't run me too much in the hole at that price.
Unfortunately, the game was at the 9:23 point of the 2nd quarter with the Bears already behind 14-0 and the Eagles scored shortly to take a 21-0 lead. Though it looked like the game would not be much entertainment, there was other entertainment. The woman (Diane) was getting a lot of flak from the guy nearest her with an empty seat between then. Diane was from northwest Iowa and was a true blue Bears fan and wearing a Bears sweatshirt. She was giving it right back to the guy who was a Seattle Seahawk and Washington Huskie fan (Washington beat Iowa in the Rose Bowl several years ago and he repeatedly brought up that point). Eventually I learned the guy and Diane were married though you would never have guessed that from the bantering that went on. Then the guy decided to retire for the night and got up and walked through a door behind the counter and I learned that he was also the owner of the bar. So it turned out to be an interesting night with unexpected entertainment. The bar owner and another guy kept buying rounds and I could hardly keep up as I must have been the recipient of 4 rounds. After the bar owner retired, the Bears must have sensed the need for entertainment and they proceeded to fight back from 30-0 to make it interesting at 30-22 but the Eagles managed to hang on. All in all, an unexpectedly interesting evening.
Day 10: 9/13/94, Tuesday - Sandpoint, Id [95.2 miles]
When I woke up it was nippy and there was heavy fog. So I rode up to the Pend Oreille Inn for breakfast where the cook was one of the guys at the saloon last night. I had ham and 2 pancakes. Since the pancakes were good and the fog hadn't burned off yet, I had 2 more pancakes and then headed back to camp to pack up.
It was about 9:15 before the fog finally burned off and I was ready to leave. Shortly after leaving I noticed my front fender wobbling and I feared I had lost another bolt or something. Fortunately, all I had to do was tighten the nut that attached the fender to the fork.
Highway 20 went along the west side of the Pend Oreille River. My route took me to the east side of the river on a road with little traffic although there were several logging trucks heading North and a couple headed South. The sky was cloudless and I was comfortable in my tights and windbreaker. The view was nice as the road meandered through the river valley with conifers on the slopes of both side of the river valley. About half way to Newport (25 miles) the valley widened considerably and became a little less scenic.
About 20 miles from Newport I came to a stop where I met two other women cyclists. One was an older woman out for a ride and the other from Chico, California, and a recent Massachusetts college graduate who was riding cross country with a friend. They had started July 26 and were going East to West. She commented that was a mistake based on headwinds they had had. She also noted that people were really friendly in Montana and North Dakota and that Logan Pass in Glacier was a breeze. The conversation was enjoyable as we traded experiences. The older woman was thrilled to meet us both, thinking that we (and other tourers) were really something special.
Reluctantly we continued our separate ways. About 5 miles South, I met the companion of the Chico woman and we talked for a few minutes. They had met in college in Massachusetts. She had just quit her job and was hoping to get one in Toronto. She was meeting her friend in Ione and was anxious to move on to catch up with her companion.
Near Newport, I crossed the river on US 2, stopped for lunch at a foodmart. I headed out shortly having decided to shoot for Sandpoint. After having been flat, the route now became a roller coaster. For a good part, the route tracked the southern shore of the Pend Oreille River. Eventually the route turned away from the river for about 6 miles and intersected 95 which I took north to Sandpoint.
I crossed the Pend Oreille Lake into Sandpoint on the bike path. On the other side, I came out by the police station and asked a police officer about camping. He referred me to the Springy Point Recreation Area which meant I had to retrace my way back across the lake and head West for 3 miles. Before I did that, I ate at the Panhandler Pie place recommended by the police officer. I had chili and cornbread for $5 that included a refill of both so it was a pretty good deal.
When I reached Springy Point, I found they charged $10 for a campsite which was more than I wanted to pay but I had little choice since it was virtually dark. The camp sites were fairly nice but showers cost an additional 25 cents and mine didn't have any hot water. The night was clear and I was comfortable writing my notes outside on the picnic table in my windbreaker.
Today marked my exit from the state of Washington after 10 days of riding. After having spent that much time in one state, it was funny that I would spend only about a day in Idaho before I would exit it too.
Day 11: 9/14/94, Wednesday - Bull Lake, Mt [80 miles]
I woke up to mostly clear skies and pleasant temperature - somewhere in the 50s. I packed to go to breakfast and reviewed a dining guide I had picked up at the campground office. I spotted a buffet cafe and headed for it which meant retracing my way back across the lake (for the third time) and a couple of blocks to reach downtown. Unfortunately, the buffet place closed after Labor Day so I headed to the Pastime Cafe, my second choice, for pancakes.
After breakfast I checked out the bike shop but they really didn't have much. They had synchilla underwear but it was too pricey at $32. I found an Army/Navy surplus store that had $10 polypro but not in my size. Nearby was a donut shop and I picked up a couple of banana muffins and a donut and ate the donut right away.
Heading out of town, I picked up the Kootnai Cut-off Road. It went right past a Kmart so I stopped and found a Sony water resistant AM/FM digital radio which I bought. It was now about 10:30 so I was late getting going. In a few miles I picked up SR200 which had almost no shoulder but fortunately not much traffic. Still I kept a close eye on traffic through my rear view mirror. The clouds filled the sky and it looked as if rain was likely sometime during the day. SR200 followed the north lake shore. Initially, there was flat land to the North but shortly the mountains moved in next to the road. Near Hope I picked up Business 200 that went by Hope (pop 99) and East Hope (pop 216) - quite a business loop. Hope and East Hope were right next to each other and it seemed like they should have merged to form a metropolis of 315. Eventually, the road merged back into SR200 and led me into Clark Fork where I stopped for lunch. I also bought some Wheat Thins, oat bran muffins, and a pepperoni stick. This was some non-cooking food (I had no stove) for later since I expected to stay at Bull Lake and figured it was likely food wouldn't be available there. I also called VISA about my $600 to be sure I could pick it up when I stopped to see my sister in Hamilton. I spent about 20 minutes on the phone as they did some tracking of $100 from a previous trip. When they were satisfied that that was legitimate, I was told to call from any bank in Hamilton and I could get my $600 replaced.
Back on the road, my route took me across the river to catch a back road that paralleled SR200 but with less traffic. The mountains to the North started getting hazy suggesting it was almost certainly raining in the distance. I left Idaho about a day after entering the state and entered Montana. As I neared rejoining SR200, I put on my rain gear in preparation for the rain that never really materialized other than for a few sprinkles. Rejoining SR200, I continued until I reached SR56 that headed North. The scenery started changing to rocky hills on both sides of the road. The weather couldn't seem to make up its mind whether it wanted to clear up or rain. At one point the sun broke through momentarily just as I came to a valley. The sun light on the valley floor contrasted with the hazy clouds up in the mountains making a spectacular view. I also saw my first real wildlife - a white tailed doe along the road who headed back into the brush as soon as she saw me.
A short while later, I encountered Mark from Buffalo who was riding from New York to Los Angeles and was now in his 44th day. We traded notes (he had camped along the way and frequently on private land by just asking for permission) and then we continued on our separate ways. A little farther and the Cabinet Mountains rising from the meadow came into view. Then just a little farther Bull Lake came into view. Bull Lake was a fairly long lake and I headed to the campsite at the north end, a mile off the road. This was my best campsite yet. No fee, no one else around, my own private beach on the lake, and a campsite surrounded 180 degrees by the lake. I took a dip in the beach area for a shower and it wasn't even as cold as the 25 cent shower was last night. This was truly a nice area and I had it all to myself.
Day 12: 9/15/94, Thursday - Peck's Gulch, Mt [82.7 miles]
I woke up in my private campground to some low overhanging clouds that were starting to clear up. I ate a breakfast of granola and a banana muffin. Then I packed and headed towards Troy. At the intersection of 56 and US 2, there was a rest stop where I refilled my water bottles.
US 2 had a fair amount of traffic but a very wide shoulder. It paralleled the Kootenai River into Libby, a town of about 2500. I stopped in town to eat a sandwich and picked up food for the evening that I expected to be on Lake Koocanusa. I also bought a newspaper and read it in the park next to City Hall.
From Libby I caught 37 heading North. 37 followed the Kootenai River upstream as did a railroad track and I watched a couple of trains chug along on the other side of the river. The Kootenai River was low and just kind of meandered its way South with forested mountains on both sides. About 16 miles north, I climbed several hundred feet and stopped at the Libby Dam Visitor Center. The Libby Dam on the Kootenai River forms Lake Koocanusa which was a narrow lake extending for many miles all the way up to Canada. I asked the ranger about two campsites up the road and he thought neither would charge a fee at this time of the year. He suggested checking the first campsite since the second one required a steep descent (and ascent the next day) to reach.
The road now roller coasted its way above the lake shore. A coyote trotted across the road just in front of me with barely a glance. After stopping to take in a view of the lake, I noticed my rear wheel going soft and I had my fourth flat. I unloaded my rear panniers, found a piece of wire stuck in my tire, and located and fixed the flat. However, the tire would not hold air so I took the tube out again and checked for a leak but couldn't find one. In the interest of time, I installed a new tube and was on my way after almost an hour delay.
I skipped the first potential campsite I had asked about and headed 6 miles to the next one. As advertised, it had a very steep exit to an open campground that jutted out into the lake. The bulletin board said $6 but there was no attendant. The campground had space for 75 RVs but there were only a couple present. I picked a site that was furthest from everything and looking South across the lake. I felt as if I almost had my own campground.
After another dip into a lake for a shower, I checked my bad tube in the water and it looked like my latest patch missed the hole. I pulled the previous patch off and repatched. The tube still didn't hold air and was leaking next to the new patch. At that point I assumed this must have been a multiple puncture and decided not to waste any more patches at least for now.
Dinner was pepperoni sticks, wheat thins, and some sourdough muffins. After dinner a three quarters moon rose in the southeast as darkness descended and I wrote my notes.
Day 13: 9/16/94, Friday - Whitefish, Mt [79.9 miles]
The morning was clear with just a couple of low hanging clouds over the lake to the South. After my two cups of granola, I packed and oiled my chain and cleaned it as best I could. Then I struggled up the steep hill back to the road and climbed a little more but at a more moderate grade. In a short while I saw a couple of cars on the right side of the road and wondered what was happening. Then I saw a couple upon the rocks along side the road and realized this was a climbing area.
The mountains flattened out as 37 curved to the East but a row of north-south mountains rose out of the valley in the distance. Unfortunately, this mountain range gradually disappeared as I headed South on 93. When I got to the intersection with 93, I took 93 South to Eureka. This was a bad stretch of road with no shoulder and a lot of cracked asphalt at the edges. This combined with a good deal of traffic made this a distasteful stretch of riding. In Eureka, I stopped for a tuna sandwich, a pop, and a newspaper and read it in a small park along the road. I had thought there was a bike shop in town but there wasn't. I was interested in a bike shop because I considered looping through Canada and back to the States through Waterton/Glacier. I asked a guy at a foodmart and he said he had heard there was a popular loop but he didn't have a map. It was about 12 miles to the border but I didn't know if I could get in without any real identification, what the route was like, or whether the Waterton route to Glacier was really closed from mid-September as my Glacier/Waterton brochure stated. Given all the uncertainty, I decided to head South to Whitefish 51 miles away.
Immediately out of town, the road went from bad to worse. For about a 5 mile stretch, the road was under construction with a gravel base in preparation for repavement. I had to take it slow to avoid more flat tires. Finally, I reached pavement again with a wide shoulder. The road stayed good for a long stretch then the shoulder narrowed but there wasn't much traffic. The scenery was nothing special being flat with only a couple of lakes along the way. Near Whitefish, traffic picked up and the shoulder disappeared. I pushed the pace as I saw a chance to make Whitefish before 5:00 and hoped to catch the Glacier Cyclery bike shop open. The last few miles started climbing as if determined to prevent my 5:00 arrival. However, the bike shop was right along the route and it was open until 6:00.
In the shop I talked to a woman and got advice about camping and eating in town. She thought the Canada route would have added 2- 3 days but wasn't sure about the Waterton route status. Since I planned to ride through Glacier and then circle back to visit my sister in Hamilton, I asked about Glacier. She advised going through Glacier from the West and then swinging back along the southern route. Her rationale was that she believed climbing Logan Pass in Glacier was more scenic coming from the West so climbing in that direction would be slower and give more time to enjoy the view. She also suggested how to go from Hamilton to Yellowstone based on a tour she had done. She predicted that this route would be the most scenic of my trip. Grateful for all the advice, I bought a spare tube for $4.25, a small price to pay for all the advice plus it was better to have a new tube than the one I had with its four patches.
Heading South on 93, I stopped at the Chinese restaurant that had been recommended and had Szechwan Chicken and a Bud Light and charged it ($11.95) to preserve my cash. The food was very good and plentiful which was just what I needed. Next I headed a couple of blocks South to the RV Park. It was more expensive ($11) than my advisee suggested but I wasn't too surprised and charged it.
After setting up camp and cleaning up, I headed across the street for ice cream. I stopped at a grocery store and bought two pumpkin muffins for tomorrow. Then I chose a vanilla shake at McDonald's since I couldn't find a real ice cream store.
Tomorrow looked like about 25 miles to West Glacier and then a decision on whether to tackle Logan Pass the same day and I expected I would. Then it looked like at least 3 days to Hamilton, at least a day to take the southern loop around Glacier and then 196 miles to Hamilton. So three days looked like the best possible and that would be really pushing it.
Day 14: 9/17/94, Saturday - St. Mary's, Mt [80.1 miles]
I got up just a little after 6:00 figuring I should get an early start. After packing, I headed South on 93 to catch 40 going East and stopped at Jack's Diamond Back (a casino) for breakfast. I asked the waitress for 3 pancakes and she warned me that they were huge and she had never seen anyone eat all 3. I said “good - bring them on.” They were indeed large, about 9” in diameter and thick and good but I had no problem putting them away. I probably could have even eaten another one but I was pretty full. Better yet, they only cost $2.25 plus $0.25 coffee for a total of $2.50 and I was almost embarrassed to pay that little.
After breakfast, a short distance on 93 brought me to 40 which ran into US 2 to take me to West Glacier. 40 had a nice shoulder and US 2 did too for a while and then disappeared for a while but traffic was light on a nice Saturday morning. The ride to West Glacier was fairly pleasant but I wondered what it was like in the summer. The area around West Glacier was very commercial with many tourist traps and RV parks including one park that was nothing but paved asphalt.
At West Glacier I turned left into the Park and paid my $3 entry fee. It was 26 miles to West Glacier and an additional 33 miles to Logan Pass but the next 21 miles were flat. The road along Lake McDonald was very nice with views of the lake and passage through the trees with a hint of fall and a pleasant temperature of near 70. The Lake view was a bit hazy and I later confirmed with a ranger that this was due to smoke from a forest fire that settled over the area. After Lake McDonald, I had expected to start climbing but it continued flat until 12 miles from the Pass. As I pedaled I noticed my right front pannier wobbling so I stopped to check and discovered the pannier hook was loose. Fortunately, the bolt attaching the hook hadn't fallen out so I collected the loose washer and nut inside the pannier and reattached the hook. I noticed the other hook on this pannier was the one I had lost on my second day out and hoped this quality defect was not contagious.
Finally I began climbing and the view was spectacular. I had already traveled 47 miles and my legs were doing fine. Must have been the 3 pancakes fueling them since I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I stopped periodically to take a picture and hoped my pictures would do some justice to the scenery. The road was narrow and several times a car had to wait behind me for opposing traffic to pass. Up through Labor Day, bikes are not allowed on the road between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and I can understand why - there is almost no place to pass along the climb. On my ascent, a guy passed me on his racing bike and I debated offering part of my load. Later I saw him coming back down the road as well as a couple of other tourers.
Along the road I talked to a woman from Chicago and a guy who was presumably her husband. She lived in Montana now and we both agreed that Montana was an improvement over Chicago. Near the top of the Pass, I saw a couple with a young teenage daughter viewing the other side with binoculars. They pointed out a mountain goat across the valley and I stopped to view with my 9X binoculars that were barely strong enough to make out the goat.
Finally I reached the Pass. It was a spectacular ride that started at 8:30 and ended at 3:30 covering 59 miles. Shortly after I arrived a couple arrived on their Burley tandem having come from Whitefish as well. They were out on their first day of a tour headed to Jasper. At the Visitor Center, I talked to several folks who thought doing this ride was a superhuman task. I tried to convince them that it wasn't that superhuman and that they could possibly do it some day but I don't think I was convincing.
After eating a pumpkin muffin, I headed down the descent to St. Mary's. I actually hoped the view wouldn't be nice so I could just enjoy an exhilarating descent but there were a couple of times when I just had to stop. I'm sure I would have stopped more but the sun was out of the West and it was hard to look back in that direction, much less take a picture. However, the real descent didn't last very long and soon the descent was modest with some pedaling required. Near the St. Mary's campground, the tandem couple who started descending just before me but stopped to take in the view caught me and beat me to camp.
The St. Mary's campground was a primitive one (no showers) and today it was even more primitive with the water turned off and the restrooms locked for the season. At least the price was right - no charge. The best campsites were already chosen and I picked out an OK one. But after setting up my tent I suddenly noticed a brown grocery bag over a post to mark the campsite as taken. Fortunately, the adjacent site was available and it was easy to move my tent.
After I was settled, I headed into St. Mary's about a mile away for food. There was very little available in St. Mary's so I had a hamburger meal (fries and Pepsi) for $5.70 and quickly downed it. Next door at the grocery store I bought two ice cream sandwiches for desert. Back in camp I ate a couple of English Wheat muffins and honey and downed my last pumpkin muffin. Then since every table had a stapled note warning about bears, I hung a food bag. After I retired to my tent, I broke out my radio and picked up an AM station in Casper, Wyoming, and listened until going to sleep at 9:45.