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Day 7: Powell, ID to Missoula, MT

Second-highest pass of the ride summitted! New state! New timezone! New friends!

Even though today’s ride was my shortest since I started, I really feel like I accomplished a lot. To start off, the lodge I was staying at didn’t start serving breakfast until 7, so I took this as another excuse to sleep in. But even at breakfast the day already started getting interesting. First, a woman at a nearby table noticed my cycling gear and mentioned that her husband and daughter were biking to Missoula but had already left. She was giving them support by car, which I’m sure helped keep their loads lighter than mine.

Second, I noticed another guy in cycling gear sitting at a different table, so I went over to say hi to him. Turned out he was also biking to Missoula, so he joined me for breakfast. In short, his name is Adam, he lives in Missoula, and he was doing an overnight bike ride where he had ridden to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs (about 10-11 miles west of Powell), camped, and had already woken up early and biked that 10-11 miles back east to have breakfast in Powell. He was also riding a bike that he had built himself, something I could never do.

Anyway, since we were going the same direction, after breakfast I finished packing and we set off together at 8:30 PDT. Three miles up the road, Adam wanted to visit this cedar grove he had discovered yesterday, so we took a short break to hike through it.

After another 5 miles, the serious climb to the pass began. For the final 5 miles in Idaho, the road maintained a grade of 5% or more, so we agreed we’d each go at our own pace, take our own rest breaks as needed, and meet at the top. This was working out fine for me until about two miles later, when I downshifted too quickly and my chain came off.

Normally when your chain comes off the solution is to lift up your rear wheel with one hand and pedal with the other hand to get the chain back on. But remember, my bike is rear-heavy when it’s fully loaded and can’t easily be lifted. So after a bit of a production that involved physically lifting the chain with one hand and pedaling with the other hand while moving the bike forward, I finally got it back on. Of course, my fallback was if Adam had caught up to me, we would have had twice as many hands available and could probably have gotten the chain back on easily. But as a matter of principle, I’m glad I did it myself.

Less than 3 miles after the chain incident, I was at Lolo Pass. We had climbed 1800 feet in 13 miles, with most of that climb being in the final 5 miles. I still can’t believe I did it. At 5225 feet, this is one of only two climbs above 5000′ I’ll have to make in my entire cross-country ride! (The other will come on Monday, if all goes according to plan, when I cross the Great Divide.) It also marked the first time I’ve ever biked across a time zone boundary.

And oh yeah, there was a new state as well.

The pass itself is very scenic and has a nice visitor center with a lot of historical information about both Lewis & Clark and the local Nez Perce Indians. In 1877 the US government drove the Nez Perce out of their ancestral lands near Lolo Pass and down to the current reservation 100 miles west. Because that’s how the government thought manifest destiny worked 😥 Contrast to today, when they actually had a booth set up where a couple of Nez Perce were talking about their language and efforts to preserve it.

Behind the visitor center was a small wetland with a short hiking trail through it. Adam had done it yesterday, but he was happy to accompany me on it today. There were some really nice flowers.

Going down from the pass, I once again had to watch my speed as soon as I felt the bike wobbling. Adam got well ahead of me, but we agreed to meet up at Lolo Hot Springs 7 miles down the road.

From Lolo Hot Springs it was 25 miles to the town of Lolo. The road was downhill the entire way, so you’d think it would have been easy. You’d be wrong. There was a headwind for almost the entire 25 miles. This is where having a biking buddy became a godsend. We took turns drafting off each other and switched every couple of miles. This allowed us to maintain 15-18 mph and got us down to Lolo much faster than either of us could have alone.

After a quick lunch in Lolo (where thanks to the time difference it was now 3pm), we took the Bitterroot Trail to Missoula. The trail is a very new (completed in 2016) paved bike path from Missoula to Hamilton that generally parallels US-93. It also features some nice views.

Fortunately, once we got on the trail we had a tailwind, and we made the 11 miles to Missoula in short order. From there I said goodbye to Adam and headed over to Adventure Cycling. Adventure Cycling is a non-profit that has been mapping out long-distance cycling routes, leading cycling tours, and advocating for long-distance cyclists across North America since the 1970s, and they happen to be based in Missoula. If you’re doing a cycling tour and stop by there during normal business hours, you can get free refreshments and a tour of their office, which includes interesting bikes like this:

Now, to fire Chekhov’s gun, remember that woman I chatted with at breakfast? I ran into her along with her husband and daughter here and we all did the tour together. I also took advantage of being here to buy some maps/guides to the best route from Great Falls to Fargo. Getting across the Great Plains is almost certainly going to be the most emotionally draining part of my ride, so it’s reassuring to know I’ll have some idea of the best route to take.

Missoula is the second city where I’m taking advantage of warmshowers hospitality, and I’m being hosted by a nice woman named Ethel. But before I headed over to her place, I couldn’t resist stopping off at Conflux Brewing, my first visit to a brewery that’s actually producing beer since Monday! (Recall that on Wednesday I went to a brewery-to-be in Idaho.) The brewery is only a year old, and unfortunately that means their beers are still stuck in the good-but-not-great category. I’d drink any of them if you offered them to me, but I wouldn’t seek them out unless they up their game. I’ll give them props though for a ginger lemongrass saison, which is definitely one of the most unusual beers I’ve had, even if its quality was only in line with their other beers.

After a nice dinner from Ethel (I can’t believe my hosts keep serving me dinner!) I headed out to GILD Brewing. Like Conflux, it’s only a year old. However, I thought their beers were overall better. Still nothing particularly remarkable, but Mugshot, their oatmeal stout with cold brew, was quite nice. Also, they have a video arcade in the basement, so that definitely deserves some points.

And that does it for today! I’m taking a rest day in Missoula tomorrow before I set out to cross the rest of Montana. Maybe I’ll post about the breweries I visit, but the next bike narrative will be on Sunday.

Total distance: 59.2 miles (includes doubling back from Adventure Cycling to Ethel’s house)
Average speed: 14.6 mph

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1 Comment

  1. Sounds like you’re having a great time! I’m sure you know that if your bike develops a shimmy on a fast descent you can dampen it out by grabbing the top tube between your knees (in addition to feathering the brakes). 🙂 Thanks for sharing with these fantastic blog posts. Always great to see them in my inbox.


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