Bitter Winds in Bitterroot (USA Day 81)
We were woken up by a herd cows surrounding our tent who’d gained the ability to make the most horrific noise. Imagine a rusty hinge trying to do a donkey’s ‘Hee-Haw’. I don’t know how this has happened. Cows outside of Wisdom don’t make this noise, and yet here they do. Whatever the case, its alarming effect made for an effective alarm, and so our morning began.
Emerging from our tent to air that froze our lungs, we watched a vivid orange full moon set behind the gloomy mountains, the dawn sky a dark blue. Beneath all those great colours lay Isaac (Isaac), without a tent, presumably frozen to death.
Huddled in the little cabin that called itself Wisdom’s American Legion Post, we slathered our bits o’ bread with Nutella and willed ourselves warmer. It worked. Our last morning at altitude frittered away, and our day began, first up a gentle climb that steepened as it approached Chief Joseph Pass, a cheeky thousand foot ramp that wouldn’t pack much punch if it weren’t for the undeniable fact that it’s our last crossing of the continental divide. As we crested this hump, an uncanny feeling hit us.
“I never thought we’d actually do it,” said Amy. “All those crossings. I’d just assumed that at some point we’d quit, or get injured, or get bored.”
It’s true. We’re done with the great divide, or perhaps it’s done with us. From now on, just like every droplet of water we see, we’ll be flowing gradually towards the Pacific ocean. As we sailed down the other side, we were struck with the significance of the situation: we’ve begun a new section of this adventure.
In Sula, over cheap coffee filled with a range of flavoured powders, we watched two bighorn sheep make their way across a nigh-on vertical rock face. I don’t mean on top of the rock face. They were halfway up. Must’ve been magnets or magic or something. With every hoofstep, stones and gravel clattered down to the busy road below, but these beasts kept on boldly traversing as if strolling in the local park. If they could do that, the final forty downhill miles should have been nothing for us.
Unfortunately, headwind. It wasn’t so bad at first, but at about Darby we were hit with an immense storm front travelling south, with gale-force wind that bent the trees and gusts that almost stopped us in our tracks. Pedalling through honey, we pressed on, stopping only to pick fully-arranged Japanese rock gardens from our eyes and put on a jacket for the oncoming rainstorm. That came in thick warm drops, heavy upon landing and a good 30% wetter than normal rain, especially when blown directly up your face holes by the relentless headwind.
We could track the storm by the black clouds, and knew that persistence would carry us out of it. By the time we reached clear sky, Hamilton had arrived and a quiet bike path next to the highway that would carry us the rest of the way to Corvallis. The wind never stopped, but it certainly lost its panache. The moral of the story here is that just because the road looks downhill, there’s no reason to believe it’ll feel that way. Those were some tough miles.
Our hosts waited for us with wine and cheese biscuits in their English garden. Their old house was cool, quiet, full of art and cats and the perfect place to wash off all that wind. By the time we’d settled down for roast chicken and more wine, the road and its airborne grit-fest were long-forgotten. Across their great oak dining table, separated by a couple of generations and a full continent, we swapped stories and cultural differences, and felt wonderfully, excitingly far from home.