Friday, December 25, 2009

The Lolo Motorway

Heading out of Butte (Haha. Butte), I finally felt I'd made up enough ground on the slab to get off the interstate, and back on more interesting roads. My destination was Portland, where an ex of mine was waiting with my hot-weather riding gear. Northern Idaho looked like it was going to be fun, so this was my planned (quick) route across it. I probably could have/should have spent much longer there, it was really beautiful. Ah well, next trip.

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Man, it felt good to get back onto real roads again. Not many other cars, but (always a good sign), quite a number of other bikes. And simply pretty riding.

It was cool, and there were patches of rain through the day, which prevented me from riding as stupidly as I wanted to. And at times, some pretty great fog, as the road wound up into the sky.

Once I got down over the mountians, I headed north on 93, with the intention of hitting up Rt 12 to go across Idaho. Now, going into this I had no idea what Rt 12 was; it just looked squiggly on the map, and went in the direction I wanted to go. Rt 93 going up there was flat, but at least there were hills that promised good riding soon.

Now, Rt 12 was indeed pretty nice. Curvy, long stretches of up and downhills, and yes some rain, but not terrible.

Oh, what an unfortunate name . . . *giggle*

At some point it started to dry out some, so I stopped at a turn-off to take off my rain gloves, and open the vents some.

But as I was packing things back on the bike, I saw something off in the distance.

Waaaaaaaait a minute . . . what road was THAT? And more importantly, why was I on asphalt when I could be on it!?

I had to find out how to get to that road. I backtracked about 5 miles on Rt 12 to where there had been a Visitor Center, and I poked my head in there to ask about it.

"Oh, that's the Lolo Motorway", the forest ranger inside said. "It's a very rugged trail, you need a high-clearance vehicle or dirt bike to be able to travel it at all. You'll never make it on a cruiser."

What I said, was "Oh, thanks for the info." What I thought, was "IS THAT A CHALLENGE?!" She was kind enough to give me a little brochure, showing a map of the route, along with how to get to it. Hrm . . . this looked like it would be fun . . .

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Just to make sure I wasn't ACTUALLY getting myself in over my head, I stopped for gas at a little campground place that seemed to have a lot of other bikers milling about, and went inside to inquire about it. I mentioned the dire warnings the Forest Ranger had given me, and the owner laughed.

"Nah", he chuckled. "You'll be alright, I had my truck up there a couple days ago and they've cleared all the fallen trees on it. Cars won't make it, but on a bike you can pick your way around the boulders and ruts. The Forest Ranger probably just told you that because she thought you were one of them", he finished, gesturing to the line of pirates outside on their Hogs who were, at that very moment, all busily polishing their chrome. "They don't even like our gravel driveway here. But you'll be fine on that road, it's not that bad".

Sweet! I thanked him for his time, and off I went quickly finding the entrance road and heading into the hills.

Always a good sign! The roads started out dry, but as the elevation climbed, everything to progressively more damp.

Seeminly frequent rain and fog made a lot of things very slick.

Rt 12 stays at the bottom of the valley floor, but the Lolo motorway rides the ridge lines.

But once you make it up there, are you ever rewarded.


This road is absoultly breathtakingly perfect. I could not have asked for anything better. It was remote, it was rugged, it was challanging, and there was no one else around.

Did I mention that it was cut into the side of some pretty serious hills? Best not to go flying off the road here.

Well, I mean, you could quite literally fly off it, and get some decent air time. But the landing would be harsh.

There's nothing I can say to do this road justice.

Not only was it scenic, but it was really gnarled. This would be a blast on a decent grippy dirt bike.

As the elevation got higher, the road was often between two layers of clouds. Look down, and you couldn't see the valley floors.

Look up, and you could almost touch the clouds.

Soon the road was deep into the mist.

The combination of very dense fog, and stripped trees from semi-recent fires gave such an unearthly feel.

Sometimes I had to shut off the bike and sit there, just to remind myself that this place was real.

While this was a lot of fun, it was AMAZINGLY slow going. I don't have pictures of the really rough sections, because at the time I was too worried about not falling over/getting stuck to remember to pull out the camera. I made it about 40 miles on the road that day before it got dark, and I selected a clearing off the side of the road to pitch my tent in. (I swore I took a picture of my campsite, but I guess not).

That night brought rain, lots of it, almost without ceasing. At some times it would slow to a sprinkle, and occasionally increase to a downpour, but most of the time it was just a solid, steady, cold rain. And I do mean cold; my thermometer was reading about 38 degrees in the tent, and the oppressive humidity made it worse. This was just not a comfortable night, it seemed that no matter how many layers of clothes I put on, I couldn't get or stay warm. I wasn't to the point that I was dangerously cold, but I was quite uncomfortable.

And somehow, I felt farther away from the world then at almost any other point on the trip. I probably had been farther away from civilization at many points; up on the Dalton highway to Prudhoe Bay, through many parts of Canada, etc. So maybe it was just the constant rain, or the effort required to get here, but at very few times had I felt as distant from humanity as I did now.

It was brilliant. Sure, I was cold, and kinda damp, it was VERY dark, and bears probably outnumbered humans by a good ratio in the surrounding 20 miles. And to top it off, it was going to take a lot of riding until I was back to someplace warm and dry . . . but it was brilliant.

The next day still brought rain, so I stayed holed up in my tent for a while. I made breakfast out of my last two packets of oatmeal and hot chocolate, and settled in to wait the rain out. It never fully stopped, but at least there were some moments where it was only slightly sprinkling. I took advantage of one of these brief interludes to continue on.

As I puttered on the rain turned into more of a constant drizzle, or fog. Rolling slowly through these roads, with these tall trees and the fog illuminated by the sunlight that seemed only a few feet above was majestic. It felt like an environment out of Myst.

When I did drop out of the clouds, I could often see the road laid out in front of me. Sort of.

I stayed up in the hills, scraping the bottom of the cloud layer for the next few hours.

What a magnificent place.

While I probably could have gotten most of the way to Oregon on forest service roads, I was still on a schedual. Eventually I retired to the asphalt, although I was soon wondering if I'd have made faster progress sticking to the trails.

As the roads dropped farther out of the moutians, the sky started to brighten up and provided some very pretty photographing opportunities.

I joined back up with Rt 12, taking it all the way to Lewiston, on the Washington border. It was much warmer then it had been in the hills, and blessedly dry. I draped my suit over my bike to let it all dry out, and headed into a diner place for dinner.

Hrm . . . I hadn't eaten a real meal in two days; I hadn't eaten anything the day before and this morning had been a bit of oatmeal and hot chocolate. I was starving. So I ordered the largest hamburger on the menu. A . . . two pound burger?

(Holy shit that thing is the size of my computer)

The waitress looked at me funny when I ordered it. "Uh . . . you know that usually is ment to be split between two or three people, right?" she asked. "Hrm," I said "I guess you better get me some fries too, then. And some chocolate cake." Waitress: 0.o

And every single bit of it all went into my belly. I felt good :D

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