Road Trip 2019 Part 1, chapter 1

Despite being on a budget–truly beginning to realize what living on a fixed income in an inflationary economy means–we have big plans for 2019.  We did postpone our usual annual trip to the Southwest this winter, because we planned to attend the biennial weaving conference in our own Pacific Northwest.  However, since the conference this year is in Prince George, BC, 1000 km to the north, that event is part of a major road trip, which will be Part 2.

Part 1 is the result of our upgrade to our vacation shares a couple of years ago, which netted us, as a bonus incentive, two “free” weeks in the RCI vacation network.   Collecting on “free” means being at the whim of the sponsor: we found few resorts and time slots where we could use the coupons, where and when we were willing and able to go.  So, here in the suddenly blustery end of April, we find ourselves headed east, for a week in Iowa, followed by a week in Ontario, north of Toronto.  We visited the area in Iowa in 2017, close to the Minnesota border near where I grew up, and we did enjoy the bicycling and being close enough to visit relatives still in the area.

The Canadian part is a compromise: we have on our bucket list plans to visit Eastern Canada, Ontario, Quebec. and the Maritime Provinces, so this gets us at least a consolation prize in that category,  We don’t have time to explore, but will at least get a taste of what the eastern half has to offer.

Our first day on the road, we realized that winter is not done with us yet, running into hail and snow over Snoqualmie Pass.  Our plans to camp in Idaho to go bicycling got derailed a bit as the forecast was for freezing temperatures, and we experienced high winds all the way across Washington, settling in for the night at a motel in Coeur d’Alene, where, indeed, it did freeze overnight.

Day 2 dawned very cold, below freezing. But, with promise of lower wind and mid-morning temps in the middle single-digits (Celsius), we set off from Coeur d’Alene after coffee and fuel (under $0.80USD/liter!), we set out over Fourth of July Pass into the Silver Valley, with hopes of being able to ride another segment of the elusive Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

After considering options, we decided to just go ahead with Plan A (or Plan B, I forget which) and park at the Pine Creek Trailhead near Pinehurst and ride west until we couldn’t take the cold anymore. Despite being rewarded with great river views, 7.5 km was the frostbite limit today. We turned around at Milepost 44 and headed back, deciding not to stop at the famous Snake Pit bar and café at Edaville, but just press on back to the truck.

Eschewing the ambiance of the Snake Pit, we had lunch out of the shopping bag in the Walmart parking lot in Smelterville, cruised Wallace, and headed over Lookout Pass for an early evening in St. Regis, Montana.

During our grocery stop at Walmart, a new toy stuck to us: a dashcam for the truck.  It was “only” $25.  Of course, we updated the 8GB memory chip with a 32GB chip from our camera stash, but then needed yet another memory stick to hold all the output until we can review and edit it.  Most of the clips will be thrown away, we assume, but the sheer volume of data makes it impossible to review and edit in real time while traveling.  Hoping to include some windscreen scenery to add to our bicycling video travelogue.   Converting the AVI format to MP4 reduces the size of the storage required, but the first run took nearly 20 hours.

Wall decor at Liquid Planet’s main store on Higgins Avenue in the heart of Missoula, a few blocks from the headquarters of the Adventure Cycling Association, and 50 km south of the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, one of the largest Buddhist shrines in North America.

The morning of Day 3, we packed out to frost on the windscreen and headed for Missoula, where we indulged in coffee at Liquid Planet, lunch at Good Food Store, and a trip to the Bicycle Hangar for a new kickstand for our bicycle, all familiar haunts from when we lived in the area and from previous visits.  The bicycle repairs were necessitated by the old kickstand falling off the bike when we unloaded it at the trailhead the previous day, the threads stripped after six years of heavy use and a slightly short bolt.  I hit up Montana Ace Hardware for a new bolt the right length, while Judy checked out the Book Exchange nearby, where we still had an open account.

We paused in our travels for a couple of days, visiting with friends in the Bitterroot Valley, staying with our longtime quilting friend Connie in Florence.  Visiting Hamilton to catch up with Theresa, a bead artist friend, netted us a chance encounter with another quilter and lunch at the Cherry Street Cafe, with an awesome crêpe and a mug of coffee from next-door Zaxan coffee roasters, meeting the new (to us) owner of the Cafe, finding out she once lived near us in Washington.  Alas, we did not get any dashcam views of the Bitterroots, having left our new dashcam back at our host’s house.

Day 5 dawned cold, below freezing, time to move on.  We spent half the morning visiting and packing.  We said our farewells and headed north to Missoula.  We stopped again at The Good Food Store, where we chose the Wok Bowls.  We got an insanely huge amount of food for not much money, enough to qualify as a Buddhist monk’s daily begging bowl meal.  Judy got a box for half of hers.

A stop at Costco to take on another 85 liters of petrol, as we were eastbound, leaving Missoula in early afternoon.  We stopped at the truck stop in Rocker, where Judy found a stretch head band to protect her ears on our next bike ride, having discovered that winter was still upon us.

Butte showed us a scattering of snow on the slopes of the Rockies, but the road was dry as we climbed over Homestake Pass.  Of course, we stopped at the Wheat Montana bakery before making our way to the Missouri Headwaters State Park for the night, intending to ride the paved bike trail to Three Forks in the morning.

Day 6: we woke at dawn, dry camped at Missouri Headwaters State Park, with the overnight temperature near freezing.  We were cozy in the van, though.  After dining on stiff cinnamon rolls we bought at Wheat Montana the evening before, we settled our tab with the camp ranger, unloaded the bicycle, and headed off in the crisp, cold morning on the Legacy Trail toward Three Forks, with the thought of coffee.  The trail was one of the great ones, following the Montana Rail Link tracks under I-90, then around several ponds adjoining the Headwaters Golf Course, where the off-road bike trail stopped.  We picked our way through the neighborhoods rather than ride the arterial, eventually riding down Main Street.

Judy declared it too cold to get coffee and then back on the bike, so we headed through the neighborhoods on the shortest route back to the trail, where we were treated by flocks of little yellow-breasted birds fleeing the trail in front of us, as we passed a flock of white pelicans swimming close to shore, sheltered from the wind, which, for us, was a tail wind to push us back to camp. where we packed up and drove to the Remuda Coffee Shop, where we had passed on our bike shortly before.

With our bicycling goal for Montana this trip out-of-the-way, we headed east, pushed by the wind, stopping for fuel and lunch in Billings, then south through the Crow reservation to US212 and east through the Northern Cheyenne, cutting across a corner of Wyoming into South Dakota.  We skirted black rain clouds the entire day, with the mist occasionally dipping close enough to the ground to use the wipers, coming out into sun at the South Dakota border.  Our quest for low-cost lodging took us to a motel that shall remain unnamed: the key card machine wasn’t working, so the manager let us into the room and we took turns shuttling our belongings in and out.  The WiFi had good signal and bandwidth, though.

Canyon Lake, along the Rapids Creek Trail. the sign behind the information plaque shows the high water mark in the 1972 flood. We managed to outrun the rain clouds in the distance on an 8-km sprint back to the truck.

Day 7 found us at the Green Bean for coffee and breakfast in Belle Fourche (Bel-FOOSH, as we discovered after mispronouncing it for years), after which we headed to Rapid City to ride the Rapids Creek bike trail.  The day started off sunny and cool, which turned stormy and cold as we reached the west end of the trail, so we charged at full speed (which is not much, for us) back to the truck, getting the bike put away and us inside before the rain came.

We had planned to ride the entire trail, but 17 km was a bit over half.  We looked at the weather forecast and decided to try the rest the next day.  To fill up the rest of the afternoon, we visited the  South Dakota Air Museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base nearby, before checking in at yet another budget less-than-camping-fee motel, where we found it necessary to change rooms after being assailed by unidentifiable and disagreeable odors on opening the door.  The upper floors were at least tolerable, and the breakfast was acceptable.  Thinking of camping…

On the Rapids Creek Trail. The underpass under the bridge ahead was closed due to high water, but drivers were courteous where we had to cross roads along the trail.

Day 8: A sunny day!  We packed out, changed into our bicycling kits, and headed back to the creek trail.  On a sunny Saturday morning (May the Fourth be With You, for Star Wars fans), the trail was busy.  The National Guard was out in force, some jogging with heavy packs, most just sauntering along, in the guise of weekend training hikes.  Bicycles, moms and at least one dad with strollers, dog walkers, some elderly with electric scooters or bikes and trailers, an assortment of mountain bikes and road bikes, and kids on bikes wobbling along.  And, of course, the usual cityscape assortment of homeless, addicts, and pushers.  At one point, we had to detour around an aid car, apparently summoned for an overdose victim on the bridge in front of the Civic Center.  We put in another 16km, by taking alternate loops and side paths, plus a short section of yesterday’s ride before packing it in.

“Destiny,” a 15-meter-high statue at the rest stop overlooking the Missouri River at Chamberlain, South Dakota.  The northern plains indigenous people learned to make quilts from the European settlers, to replace hide robes after the bison had been hunted to near-extinction..  The six-point star pattern is now traditional for ceremonial quilts.

Bike stowed, we headed to the nearest Starbucks, which, due to a mass call-in of sunny-day sickness, was only serving drive-up customers.  Bah! Off to another near our motel, refuel at Safeway to get the discount, and off on the freeway to Mitchell, home of the one and only (should we be glad?) Corn Palace.  We thought about camping, but the tent spaces were soggy, and the regular campsites were nearly as expensive as motels, so we opted for one of the last motel rooms in town–graduation at the local college this weekend.  This time, the budget motel was very clean, and for the extra $10 we get breakfast and fast WiFi.

The “One and Only” Corn Palace, in Mitchell, South Dakota, a large auditorium decorated inside and out with murals made entirely of ears of corn and corn stalks, in natural colors.
The murals are changed every year. This year’s theme is South Dakota military contributions, to celebrate the christening this year of SSN 790, USS South Dakota.

One more day on the road and we hunker down for the next five days before again heading east.  So far, we’ve gotten in a few bike rides–short, but, then, we’ve had long drives before or after, along with unseasonable cold and the usual spring rains.  To be continued…