Cross-country bike ride
May 10, 2013
One of the things on my bucket list is a cross-country bike ride. I’ve thought about it for years, studying maps and routes, trying to figure out the logistics, and going back and forth on the camping vs. motel alternatives. There have even been discussions about finding a non-riding friend to drive a Winnebago as a sag wagon. With each birthday, the appeal of a shower and a soft bed at the end of a long day seems to gain traction.
Despite a lot of investigating, it has never happened. Friends were always too encumbered with work and family to take three months to disappear. Now they are free of all that, but don’t think the artificial knees would stand that kind of venture. There are commercial outfitters that run the trip, so I don’t technically need some of the usual suspects to go along. There are options. So it’s on the list.
I got thinking about it again this week when I was driving home from errands in town in one of those short but pounding rain showers, and passed a couple on bikes all loaded up with camping gear. From the size of the loads, they were making the big ride. My bike rack was on the car, and I thought about offering a ride, but that would be a serious breach of protocol, especially this early in the trip. If you are doing the cross-country ride, you don’t start hitching rides in heated cars when you are barely three states into it, just because of a little rain. OK, a driving rain that, if anybody looked up toward the pass, was about to become a full on blizzard.
It looked miserable. Character building, as my father used to say. The rider in front was making a break for the picnic pavilion at the church, while the more heavily loaded guy in back was pulling his lobster-fishing gear a little tighter, and checking the panniers to make sure they were as water-tight as they get. The joy would just go out of the day if made camp and found the sleeping bags were soaked.
Fortunately the storm was short. It was intense for a few minutes, but not an all day hosing. Of course it would have put down a couple of inches of snow at Wolf Creek Pass. It would be a slick, cold descent into Tabiona.
Challenging as weather like that would be, the more difficult part for me to work around is Idaho. That stretch from Boise across to Burley, through the lava flow, is challenging in a car travelling at 80 mph. Spending two or three days there seems insurmountable. Nebraska doesn’t offer a lot of scenery; the cornfields in Iowa would begin to wear after a couple of hundred miles. But they are paradise compared to the Snake River Plain. I guess there is the back road, south of the freeway, that hits an occasional town, and is closer to the river. That may be a little more scenic. But still . . .
The scenic alternatives across Idaho are longer and involve crossing a couple of difficult mountain ranges that the lava flats miss. There’s just no getting around the fact that there are few options when trying to go west-to-east in Idaho. If the staring point was San Francisco instead of Portland, there’s always I-80, or US-50 from Reno to Delta. If it was good enough for the Pony Express, it must be acceptable to people with nothing better to do than ride their bikes across the continent. US-50 is actually kind of interesting in its own stark way. Maybe not 4 days’ interesting, but compared to Burley, Idaho, it’s positively scintillating.
The rest of the trip all looks quite plausible; dodging tornadoes across the plains, mosquitoes the size of aircraft in the upper Midwest, traffic in the East—no problem. It all seems pretty reasonable. Somehow, you’ve just got to get from Boise to Idaho Falls.
I’ve got no idea what route the soaked couple I passed were taking. When the storm let up, I dragged the garbage cans out to the corner and looked for them. I wanted to talk about their adventure, offer them a chance to come in and warm up, maybe stick something in the dryer if they needed to. I hung around for a few minutes, but they didn’t come by. They either were still hunkered down under the church’s picnic pavilion (considering calling at taxi?), or had bravely soldiered on in the storm. If they were going to get across the pass and back down to a place where it would be tolerable camping, they still had a long way to go.
I went back to the house and cranked up the furnace.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.