Route: Lewiston, Idaho to Pomeroy, Washington
Sho’s (age 12) quote of the day: “Today’s ride was harder than any of the mountain passes we rode over.”
The temperature, terrain and wind have a significant impact on cyclists, and some days they combine in brutal fashion. Today started off pleasant enough. Sho, Saya and I pedaled out of Lewiston on the flat, fairly busy Highway 12 but enjoyed a wide shoulder safe from the traffic. The temperature was in the 80’s and climbing, but a cool breeze off the nearby Snake River kept us comfortable during the first hour.
We took a break in Chief Timothy State Park on a beautiful island at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. Lewis and Clark passed through this part of the Nez Perce homeland when the future Chief Timothy was five years old, and the landscape is much the same as it was over 200 years ago. If I had read the journals more carefully, I might have known what we were in for. Two miles upstream from the park, William Clark wrote, "Worthy of remark that not one tick of timber on the river near the forks and but a fiew trees for a great distance up the River." The terrain was becoming more desert-like.
At the park, we met with Dylan Brown, a reporter for The Lewiston Tribune who was writing a story about our ride. While I spoke with Dylan, Sho and Saya splashed in the river then kicked the soccer ball, full of playful energy. By the time we resumed cycling, the temperature was well into the 90’s. Soon our route left the Snake River and headed into the hills. Immediately, we noticed the loss of the cool breeze and felt the reflected heat off the sizzling pavement. The road started climbing through desert-like, treeless hills that offered no shade, no escape from the sun. The climb was long, relentless and hot. After a while, I started to take salt tablets to replace the electrolytes I was losing in the alarming amount of sweat pouring off me. Sho began lagging and complaining about the heat. Saya stopped talking for long stretches, a sure sign that she was tired. I poured water over their helmets and down their backs. We took frequent breaks, but they were short, because I didn’t want to spend much time standing around in the sun.
I started to feel like a cruel parent making his children suffer for no reason, but there wasn’t much I could do other than press on. I promised cold milkshakes when we reached the next town. We emptied many bottles of water – both drinking and pouring them on ourselves – at an alarming rate. The exhausting drama was ironic: in the newspaper interview, I emphasized to Dylan that a trip like ours, re-tracing 1700 miles of the Lewis & Clark Trail by bicycle, was completely reasonable to attempt, even though it sounded hard. The trick was to keep each day’s ride manageable, take frequent breaks and look for fun activities for my kids. That is true, but when the temperature hits the high 90’s, and you’re pedaling up a long, steep climb, cycling is simply brutal.
After several hours, we finally reached Alpowa Summit, having climbed about 2,000 feet in 10 miles. Once we neared the top, the change in my kids was remarkable. Now that our ordeal was over, they became chatty, playful and silly. We re-filled our water bottles from a spigot at a rest top at the top and congratulated ourselves on not giving up. “I actually did give up,” Sho said, laughing. “But there was nowhere to go after I gave up, so I just kept riding.”
We cruised down the other side of the mountain, pedaling easily with gravity’s help and enjoying the cool breeze and clouds that blocked the sun. We ended our day in the town Pomeroy and celebrated with huckleberry milkshakes.
Here are some pics:
Leaving Lewiston, ID
View from the road
Celebrating by spraying water on each other at Alpowa Summit