In which we ride through very much hay and endure a hard morning on the way towards a wonderful evening — full of yet more first-rate kitties and rad new friends!
It was another bad night for my neck, and I admit I woke up not only physically misaligned but full of anxiety for the coming days. It's November 2nd, after all. The ride in front of us doesn't look particularly hard, but today the feeling of riding into the unknown is heavy on us — and also, it's no easy feat to say goodbye to Patrick and Rachel. Somehow, we manage it—what heroes, what good souls—and after a final cuddle with Yedi, we set out.
Before leaving Boise, though, we hit up Bikes & Beans (we can't resist a good bike-and-coffee-shop combo!) and get Beau an espresso shot and some tubes. He's still battling the goatheads, which, after learning about Boise's annual Goathead Fest, I'm unable to imagine without seeing their logo — this rascally little thorn demon dude. Then, we head for the Boise Green Belt, a cycleway that we'll be able to ride for miles and miles — pretty much our whole exit from the city. Way to go, Boise! Cycling friendliness for the win!
The Green Belt is mostly a relaxing and pretty idyllic riverside ride (we're still following that big beautiful Snake River and will all the way into Oregon). Eventually it starts to get broken up by big roots under the asphalt and then (of course) gravel, so we endure a little butt-and-bone-rattling. Which wouldn't be such a big deal if I hadn't started the day in a fair bit of discomfort. Frustratingly, my legs are also hurting me this morning — I've got tweaks in my knees and hamstrings that won't leave me alone. Ugh, why though? Was it the fact that we actually walked for 4 or 5 miles yesterday? Is it election stress? Am I just breaking? It's not that big a deal, but it starts to wear on me a bit. This is becoming one of those "This isn't a hard ride, why am I feeling so crappy?!" type of mornings.
The Green Belt eventually plops us down in the suburbs, and we weave through some cookie-cutter neighborhoods carved out of old farmland. Then, it's just the farmland. As we start to head into just-hay-for-miles territory, my various aches and pains get the better of me. We stop and stretch and Beau tapes up my knee while I sit and sniffle on a hay bale. Then I pee behind it. Then we eat a gigantic apple fritter that we've been saving from the donut shop in Mountain Home. (4 days old? Still great.) All these things are necessary and helpful. I perk up a little bit. We ride on.
And start climbing. We've got a ridge to get over between two valleys, and, like most of the climbs out here, this one is long and slow. The traffic is the worst part, and we gradually spin our way up the big incline while diesel trucks and farm vehicles roar by.
On the way down, it's time for a break, and we take a moment to pull off at a viewpoint and appreciate the big valley vista below us. We're at Freezeout Hill Memorial Park, looking down on the town of Emmet — including its high school, which features some very unique buildings. (Also, we now can't get "10th Avenue Freezeout" out of our heads. Which isn't so bad.)
Rachel sent us off with some excellent croissant sandwiches and deviled eggs. We enjoy them up on the hill, then get ready to zoom on down. OH! Did we mention it's practically warm outside? Beau's wearing SHORTS. We haven't seen our own legs in ages. It's another 42 miles to our destination in Weiser (say it ain't soooo!), Idaho, and the route follows the Payette River valley back to our old friend, the Snake River. This whole long stretch is ancient riverbed — overall incredibly flat, but it's still not quite smooth sailing. Beau's tire has (yet another) slow leak. But it's slow enough that, rather than change it, we just decide to stop every five or so miles and pump air back into it. By now, we're losing light quickly (hooray, daylight savings!) and we're pushing towards our Warm Showers host in Weiser before the 5:30pm sunset. But hey! Across the Snake River, we suddenly get our first glimpse of something epic — is that... could it be... it is! It's our final state! OREGON, HO!
Eventually, we climb partway up one of the bluffs along the floodplain, giving us a pretty stellar vantage for the sunset. Very "amber waves of grain." Though it feels strange and fraught to have that song in our heads today. As the sun sinks down in the west, we roll into Weiser with the last of the natural light...
In Weiser, we're greeted by another fantastic Warm Showers host: Sara! (That's right, another Sara-without-an-h! Meant to be.) She hikes and bikes and has a super comfy room made up for us in the basement, and soon her equally rad partner, Zach, shows up (Beau can't resist an immediate Ben Folds reference) and we all share beers and homemade pizzas. "We're, um, assuming you guys feel the same way we do about tomorrow...?" Zach ventures at one point. "Fire the liar," says Beau, and we're off. It's genuinely fantastic hanging out with them — so much so that we stay up later than we mean to, what with our usual old-people-slash-cyclists' bedtime. We talk books and music and politics and jobs and high school soccer and Idaho farmers rights and CATS. Because — glory of glory! There are more purrrrfect cat friends.
We continue to be overwhelmed by the folks we're meeting on this journey — not just by their generosity, but by their openness of spirit. There's something almost summer-camp-ish, or first-day-of-school about it — these awesome people open their homes and their hearts and you all just jump quickly over those first getting-to-know-you steps together. To a certain degree, enthusiasm and goodwill is assumed. Everyone starts out curious and eager and a little vulnerable. And magical things happen. In NYC, Beau and I used to joke about how it's hard to make friends in your 30s. Maybe age has nothing to do with it — maybe, to make friends, you just have to keep doing things. We're so grateful for the friends we're finding out here — and, in this moment, for the tacit way in which we're all holding each others' hands, holding each other up, sharing our concern and, more importantly, our hope.
To quote one of my favorite authors and favorite essays, "One can, at all events, show one's own little light here, one's own poor little trembling flame, with the knowledge that it is not the only light that is shining in the darkness, and not the only one which the darkness does not comprehend."
Tomorrow is election day. Tomorrow, we go to Oregon. Here's to tomorrow. May the lights gather and shine.
Day 74: Boise to Weiser, ID, 75.8 miles, 1375' elevation gained, a mostly great green belt, another leaky tire, some pushing, some praying, a beautiful sunset, some beautiful humans. (AND BORIS.)
OH! ALSO. Since we're less than a mile from the border, let's go ahead and ROUND UP, IDAHO:
The Idaho Roundup!
STATS SO FAR
Total miles in Idaho: 437.3
Total trip miles: 3358.6
That first frozen morning. Those lakes. That frost. That sky. Damn.
All our Warm Showers Heroes. Seth, Kirstine, & Indica; Rachel & Patrick; Sara & Zach. Idaho — you truly showed us unparalleled hospitality and adventurousness of spirit. (And lots of adorable pets!!!)
Best ID Eats:
The Donut Tree & Bakery in Mountain Home. We regret not getting more mini-loaves.
Pickle's Place in Arco gave us some burgers that were needful and fine but not all that special, and also the people were a little rude to deal with — BUT they also gave us a giant slice of chocolate cream pie that was one for the record books. Or blogs.
Black Owl Coffee in Hailey — a most excellent breakfast (with delicious pesto!), a well-made mocha, great stickers, and a super kind and bike-friendly owner. A+!
Soldier Creek Brewing Co. in Fairfield — good beer and BIG, very solid sammies (with an excellent vegetarian option!)
Last ID Thoughts:
4 Seasons: We saw them all in Idaho. We started the state in winter, came through a kind of spring back into summer, where we rode sometimes in shorts and hung out outside again, comfortably. Enjoyably. And then we reached Boise, where the deciduous woods were golden and burnt orange with autumn. What crazy and crazy-making variety in just 8 days!
Far north, though: Oh, but we know it's getting on in the year here by how low and southerly the sun keeps — riding these straight-east-to-west highways, whenever a big truck passed us it would blot us out from the sun, hiding us in its long blocky shadow, regardless of the time of day (so long as it's daylight). It's quite a thing.
Ida-Spiders: We must also have hit the state in some specific moment of the life-cycle of the spiders here, because we spent days — yes, days — where we were hit constantly by flying spiders. (Well, more like floating, probably, but at our speed, flying.) Armed only with our childhoods having involved Charlotte's Web, we guessed that they were all the baby spiders hatching and spreading out by sending long tendrils of web out and letting the wind carry them off. But we got hit by so many spiders. Nearly plague-levels of spiders. No bites, but constant web-in-your-face-while-bicycling-alongside-semitrucks can be a bit much. And also just puzzling.
ID detritus: And while not necessarily noteworthy, we can't help but continuously notice how unique the riding conditions have been in Idaho. For the first several days, there were pretty much only three kinds of roadside stuff to dodge: rocks that have fallen from near embankments, blocks of ice that have fallen from the wheel wells of big trucks (we assume), and bungie cords, specifically those cheap thick ones made of black rubber with an s-hook on either end. Apparently people lose these by the bundle out here, but they don't seem to litter much otherwise. Is it just where we were riding? The kind of traffic on these specific stretches of highway? Has a fascist-trending state politic implied a malevolent end to all littering vehicular residents and passersby such that it precludes a roadside trash situation that otherwise plagues America with a ubiquity outstripping even domestic light and laziness? Who the fuck knows.
Oh, but poop — we did find human feces on the side of the road in Idaho. Twice. On the same day. Huh.
Those fiends from Missoula: OH MAN HAVE WE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS ONE. WAITING SO LONG WE'RE GONNA STEP BACK OUT OF THE BULLETED LIST TO ADDRESS IT.
Ya'll. It's time to talk about the official TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. Because, yes, it's cool that someone went out there on the eve of our country's bicentennial and plotted a course for any biped wanting to bipedal from coast to coast. Yes, we admit, that's nice. But, friends, have your ridden the TransAm? Have you followed this plotted course through EASTERN FUCKING KENTUCKY? Have you seen the unseemly sections of America that this trail goes out of its way to drag you through? Have you climbed every mountain pass that could ostensibly be crossed in a single journey across the continental US? Have you noticed that it takes over 4,000 miles to cross a country that's 2,800 miles wide?
We realized in our first state — approximately two hundred million years ago — that, when we left the official route, the trip was suddenly easier. It was like the guys who plotted the TransAm were going out of their way (meaning: taking us out of ours) to make us ride up mountains, to veer southwest and then back northwest, when straight west was easier and just as scenic.
We all should've been suspicious when the route "from coast to coast" didn't legitimately touch either coast: both the start and finish of the TransAm are at rivers. Yes, rivers that are quite close to the ocean, but rivers are not the ocean. Right? Am I right here? Rivers aren't oceans? When people say, "Coast to coast," they don't mean, "From the coast of this river to the coast of that river"? Right?
Hence our first fit of perversity: starting in Virginia Beach instead of at Yorktown, where "the trail" begins. But it was in Kentucky, when we started to stray for long sections at a time, that we realized how needlessly difficult the trail could seem — as soon as we got back to the official route, we were climbing up big hills when it felt like there were no other hills in sight. We started trusting ourselves to leave the route when another course seemed safe, and it was almost always a more pleasant ride.
Pretty soon, we started wondering: Who were these guys from Missoula, way back in 1975, who first set the official route? What were their criteria? What were they like?
Two cultural references coming at you: has everyone seen Twin Peaks? What about Barry? We started imagining this dark, smoky room in Missoula, back in the 70's, with a specific tile floor and red curtains and a crowd of dudes gathered around a topographical map, picking out all the hilliest roads. And all these dudes were slightly different versions of the same dude: they were all Black Lodge editions of NoHo Hank. "Hey, man — are you seeing these excellent switchbacks?" "Bro! I was just checking out those switchbacks!" "Super cool, man." "These will make for most excellent 'riding.'" "Oh, the most excellent, man."
But, ya know, backwards.
Anyways… We've had this semi-hilarious vision of the nefarious Missoula folks for thousands of miles now. Meaning, partially: we appreciate the official course, but it ain't scripture, far as we're concerned. In fact, we take a not-insignificant amount of pleasure (too often paired with relief) when we depart from the trail. And our entire Idaho episode was a departure from the trail, and we've loved it, and not just because we didn't have to trek up to Montana, freezing our asses right off just to visit these goofy goons' hometown. (We know, we know: the real people are probably lovely. To your face…)