Route: Gibbonsville, ID to Lost Trail Pass in the Bitterroot Mountain Range
Saya’s (age 6) quote of the day: While listening to the song “Killer Queen,” Saya asked her brother, “Sho, is she a bad guy, because she’s a dynamite with a laser beam?”
Cycling up a mountain is both intimidating and stimulating. You will be exhausted by the effort, but the best climbs offer increasingly impressive rewards for your effort. As Sho, Saya and I made our way steadily up up up toward Lost Trail Pass some 7,000 feet above sea level on the Idaho/Montana border, we enjoyed the gurgling sounds of the North Fork Salmon River off to our left, the peaceful presence of Cypress, Western Red Cedar and Douglas-fir trees, and the quiet beauty of the green valley slipping away behind us.
We looked out for plants Meriwether Lewis documented in his journals and made a game of seeing who could spot one first. We saw bunches of fine, greenish/blue blades of Idaho fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass and fields of blue camas. William Clark and Meriwether Lewis wrote extensively in their journals about blue camas, which Native Americans living near the Rocky Mountains used as a source of food. Nearly every member of the Corps of Discovery became ill from eating too much of the camas. Sho excitedly claimed credit for spotting a cluster of yampah, white tipped herbs that grow up to four feet tall with edible roots. He pulled a few out of the ground to examine their roots. Lewis wrote, “I observe the indian women collecting the root of a species of fennel which grows in the moist grounds and feeding their poor starved children; it is really distressing to witness the situation of those poor wretches.” Identifying plants was not only educational, it offered us an excuse to take frequent breaks during the exhausting climb.
Cars and trucks passed us regularly, but we enjoyed many stretches without traffic, and a reasonably wide shoulder kept us safe. A few motorists gave us friendly beeps and waved, but one passing motorcyclist looked me in the eye and shook his head, as if to say, “What the hell is wrong with you?” I nodded back with a smile.
Cycling offers a respite from hectic modern day life, a chance to enjoy invigorating exercise while listening to the wind rushing by and the sounds of birds calling out from nearby trees. But the experience is altered somewhat when you add two children. Sho and Saya chatted constantly, made up songs filled with potty words that reduced them both to howls of laughter, and bickered over inconsequential details. I was often asked to referee their arguments, an annoying task when trying to pull a heavy load up a mountain. I usually answered, out of breath, “Stop arguing and just pedal, please.” I was hoping to see a moose on today’s ride, but if there was one near our route, I’m sure it heard the cacophony coming from my kids and lumbered off into the forest well before we arrived.
Our saddest moment of the day came when we spotted a dead deer by the road. “Roadkill!” Sho shouted out, and we pulled over to document the animal and send the information to Professor Fraser Schilling at UC Davis, who is posting our data on a tracking site, part of a project with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to reduce the impact of roads on wildlife. As we approached the deer, which was lying on its left side, the blood-stained shattered bones of its left leg visible, the animal opened its mouth and moved its head slightly. “Daddy, it’s still alive,” Saya said. It was a female that was obviously still producing milk.
Sho noticed and said, “It must have a baby somewhere nearby.”
Saya took one of the water bottles from my bicycle and dripped water in its mouth. “The sun is so hot, it must be thirsty.” The deer moved its right front leg and opened its mouth a little, but otherwise remained still. It would not live much longer. We stayed nearby for a few minutes, my kids speaking in soothing tones to the dying animal, then we pedaled away.
We reached Lost Trail Pass around 5 p.m., triumphant and happy that tomorrow’s ride would be downhill. We set up our tent at a rest stop next to the small ski resort Lost Trail Powder Mountain. The ski lift was visible crawling up a green patch cut into the side of the mountain waiting for snow. Dozens of semi-tame, overweight chipmunks darted around us, hoping for a handout of food, which Sho and Saya were happy to provide. At the pass, we met Stephanie Alberts, a friendly mother of four from Colorado who was visiting a nearby ranch. She hung out with us for a while, playing with Saya and talking with me about the joys and challenges of parenthood, among other things.
Before falling asleep in our tent, I read to Sho and Saya out loud from the Journals of Lewis and Clark, as they described their first meeting with the Shoshone tribe and their hopes to get horses and a guide to take them over the Rocky Mountains, eventually passing the very spot where we had set up our tent. We also started reading Naya Nuki, a book about Sacagawea’s 11-year-old friend who was taken prisoner by a Hidatsa raiding party at the same time as Sacagawea. Saya fought off sleep and begged me to keep reading the exciting story, even though it was well past her bedtime.
The dying mother deer
On the mountain road
Sho holding a yampah plant
At Lost Trail Pass
Well fed chipmonk at the pass
With Stephanie Alberts
Our tent at the pass