Do The Lolo Motion (USA Day 84)
It’s hard to rival the beautiful scenery of our Mammoth Hot Springs day, or our Jenny Lake day, but I think today might just do that.
We bid an unwilling farewell to Craig and Sherri, before re-tracing our treads to Lolo accompanied by a friendly boy scout leader in his sixties cycling to Hamilton for the Celtic Festival, who asked, “Do you always go this slow?”
The road from Lolo town to Lolo Pass is 35 miles of constant uphill, but only the last four pack any real punch. The first 31 was made of picturesque curves that followed the river gently uphill, finding a route through the surrounding sheer hills but never being tempted to actually climb one. Halfway up we abandoned our bikes and clambered down to a flat rock by the gargling stream, munching on handfuls of trail mix and tracking the current as it navigated the rock obstacle course. With fresh legs and oiled chains from our rest day, we hopped back on the bikes with enthusiasm and cracked on with another thousand feet, particularly enjoying the odd black bogeys of rock formations that glorped out from the forest every mile or so.
Waiting for us at the summit, with figurative open arms and a sack of symbolic potatoes, was Idaho. We’ve enjoyed Montana in parts: moody Hegben Lake, Madison Valley and its incessant flatulence, Virginia City’s faded gold shine, the Bitterroot Range that forced us north, Missoula, with its nose ring and mug of herbal tea, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as we’d become used to with Colorado and Wyoming. For quite a bit of the state, you’d be forgiven for confusing it with Kansas (if you replaced the horizon with mountains). So what would Idaho offer? Where would it place on our state leaderboard that I’ve just now decided definitely exists?
It started well: free coffee and WiFi at the information hut at the top of Lolo pass. We glomphed down some lunch and uploaded a blog, then careered down the hill into the Clearwater National Forest, with an entirely new set of flora and fauna that I suppose you don’t get further east because…mountains? The cedars stand tall, proud and fragrant, with fuzzy lime ferns nestled at their base. Small birds pop about at the edge of the river that runs constantly to our left, and feeding on the wildflowers: wasps. That one surprised me.
From the peak of Lolo Pass to our campsite a full thirty miles west, we’ve gone constantly downhill. Just a little ramp that keeps the wheels turning smoothly. The roads in Idaho are equally pleasing: butter smooth and fairly empty of cars, so progress was fast and effortless. We left the road at a trailhead and promptly found evidence of prior camping: a fire ring, a neatly downed log. If it’s good for them, it’s good for us. We found a lovely spot on a sandy beach under an enormous pine, where we’ve swum in the river, eaten some delicious leftovers courtesy of Craig and Sherri, watched a bald eagle fly upstream, and launched all our smellies up a tree so the black bears won’t be tempted. The sun’s set behind the stacks of pines that carpet the surrounding hills, leaving a pink residue that faded quickly to black, and now we’re tucked away, listening to the river, feeling safer than either of us had bargained for.
Keep it up, Idaho. We’re fast becoming friends.