And Your Bird Can Sing (USA Day 86)
The best part about being driven seven miles steeply uphill yesterday is getting to ride seven miles steeply downhill today. We tried to use this momentum to freewheel the entire rest of the day, but alas, that’s not how physics works. There were two steep hills to contend with: firstly Lamb Grade, a twisting, steep-as-walls climb out of Stites that took us up from the hot river valley all the way to pastoral Idaho farmland. Up there the world looked different: wheat fields ripe to bursting, with tractors busily pulling in the harvest. Behind each one rose clouds of earth that collected, parted and formed little dust devils that spun across the fields, aimless but never ceasing. The road undulated and swelled but aside from the tractors and the beating sun we found ourselves utterly alone, so we entertained ourselves with a simultaneous playthrough of Revolver, which is by far the best Beatles album up to this point and I won’t have anyone say otherwise.
During our thirty-second mile, we realised we hadn’t eaten anything since porridge. Now, I love porridge. I love it so much that I’ll even keep the Americans happy by calling it ‘oatmeal’ if it means more for me, but it doesn’t keep me sustained until lunch when I’m sitting on my bum, so you can imagine how empty we felt after two thousand feet up and thirty miles along. We slumped into the shade of a retirement home and ate squidgy bread rolls and mushrooms dipped in salad dressing until our sweaty bellies were full, then slapped on a new layer of sunblock and got on with hill number two.
This one was supposed to be a switchback affair weaving through quiet forest, but we clearly missed the turn because our experience was hard straight uphill slog for five miles along the hard shoulder of a busy highway. Once on this road, there was no way off, so we climbed dutifully, podcasts plugged in and world plugged out. At the top, however, we did not miss the turnoff, and found ourselves whipping down into the dry Idaho desert, swinging into hairpin after hairpin, descending two thousand feet into the true wild west town of White Bird. Astonishingly, the temperature rose in palpable steps, from chilly to comfortable to warm to uncomfortably hot. I’ve never experienced anything like it: the hills swallowed us whole and we baked in the close atmosphere of the lowlands, weaving into town as our brakes screeched, meltingly hot from the bends, but happy having finally been used after so many uphills today.
In the tiny patch of grass at White Bird waited a congregation of touring friends old and new, who cheered us in like we’d finished a marathon. Here were Sam and Erik, pals from a few days back in Montana; Tom, a fellow Brit, who we’ve chatted with online over the past few weeks; plus Kyle and Nick, who we met on the road independently, one yesterday and one today, but who officially come as a pair. We’d planned to finish our day a few miles on by the Salmon River, but this jolly group was too good to pass up on. In groups that swelled and thinned we hit the bar for cold beers, then the diner for Taco Tuesday, then the creek for a cold scrub, then all met back at the park as the sun set for road stories, route planning and so, so much giggling.
We’re odd-ones-out here in White Bird. The Silver Dollar bar, the centre of the community here, is filled with old smokey folks with faded t-shirts and not quite enough teeth. A large flag on the wall celebrated Trump, and a tiny screen on the wall played black and white Westerns. They’re lovely, though: one kind woman gave us a polystyrene tub of plums from her orchard, then took them away to wash them and brought them back again; a man with milky eyes who’d built the highway bridge that dwarves the town, but decries the loss of manual labour in favour of button pushing; the woman behind the bar pulling cheap, good beer, who advised us not to buy the microwave pizzas she was selling and go next door for tacos, even though microwave pizzas is really what we wanted.
Between the seven of us TATters, we’ve cycled 25,000 miles since starting this trip. We each have less than a thousand until the Pacific, at which point we’ll all go our own ways. But for now we’re bound by the most incredible journey that we’ve each taken in our own individual way. I think my journey’s contained the most trail mix, to be honest.