Day 114: Clark Fork, ID to Skookum Creek Campground - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

August 4, 2011

Day 114: Clark Fork, ID to Skookum Creek Campground

The sky turns light and the rooster on the farm down the road starts to call out at 5:30. Once he's done with his work, Idaho returns to its perfectly still morning, one without the rush of passing cars, the clunk of closing doors, or wind from any direction to shake or crinkle the rain fly.

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A few miles outside of Clark Fork the route cuts off onto a side road that hugs tight to short cliffs and looks down on the highway and out beyond to Lake Pend Oreille. The view is stunning, with tall and sharply defined peaks rising steeply from the deep blue surface of the lake, which lays flat except for a few ripples caused by three small white boats that motor slowly in the early light. I ride in the cool of the shade and it feels crisp and fresh and invigorating.

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The boats get bigger, the homes nicer, and the traffic thicker as I start to reach Sandpoint. Soon comes the Wal-Mart, the Burger King, the Taco Bell, and every other recognizable chain business that makes a city a city in modern America. My Sandpoint experience turns out to be a turd from start to almost finish. I wind my way through a series of lefts and right and ride to downtown, where I have a package waiting at the UPS Store. I walk in, give my ID to the older man behind the counter, and tell him that I have a box that's being held.

"You know, we don't normally hold packages for three weeks," he says with a sour look on his face. "You're lucky we didn't send it back."

"It's only been here since Friday," I tell him. "That's what the tracking info says."

"No," he says a little angrier, "It's been three weeks."

"I think you might have it confused with something else. I hadn't even ordered this three weeks ago and—"

"No, it's been three weeks and I was just about to refuse it and send it back!"

"It's only been—." I stop in mid-sentence, look down at the counter, and sigh.

Welcome to Sandpoint, liar.

Around the corner a car almost slams into me as it pulls out of a parking lot. Later I grab a giant calzone at a pizza place. After handing the cashier my card I hold out my left hand and wait for him to return it to me. Instead it's tossed in my general direction and slides across the counter, like I've done something to offend the guy. It's a big bummer, not at all a winning day for Sandpoint.

I don't ask questions anymore. I just eat whatever's put in front of me.
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The ride out of town is much better, taking me across a wide bridge that crosses a narrow part of the beautiful Lake Pend Oreille. It used to be for cars and trucks, but when the replacement bridge was built next to it, the old span was saved for people and bike riders to use. It's awesome. Less awesome is the busy highway I take after the trail runs out. Traffic speeds by at 70 miles per hour, including half a dozen tractor-trailers hauling cattle. When each one passes I hear the roar of the chugging engine, followed soon by the push of rushing air, and then it says goodbye with a wave filled with the unmistakable stink of cow crap.

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Not long after I jump off onto a back road and take a break at a state park. I sit at a bench beneath a tree near the visitor center and watch as a couple of four- and five-year-old girls chase each other around with skinny tree branches in their hand and yell out "I'm gonna shoot you! I'm gonna shoot you!" I wonder if I was in the same kind of place in France or Brazil or Japan if I'd see the same thing. It seems uniquely American.

When I walk to the trash can I pass the car the girls came in, a red late-model Dodge Charger with 22-inch chrome wheels. It looks a bit ridiculous, but that's not so unusual. What stands out is the sticker attached to the lower-left corner of the windshield, the one that reads "United States Illegal Alien Hunting Permit." So many touring journals speak of Americans only in glowing terms, about their kindness, their generosity, their support, and their general good nature. Often that's what I've found over the last four months. But it can't be ignored that there are a non-trivial number of Americans who aren't good people, that aren't worth knowing, that aren't especially kind or just. I picture the guy who owns the Charger sitting around with his 20- and 30-year-old buddies, drinking a rack of beer and smoking cheap cigarettes and laughing about what the sticker says, talking about how he'd take care of the illegal immigration situation really quickly if they'd just let him have at it. I know that people like him are out there—hundreds of thousands of them in a country as big as the United States—but most of them do a good job of keeping their feelings hidden from strangers. That makes it even more shocking and sad when the cover peels back and the truth peeks its head out.

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I pedal away the afternoon on a quiet road that rises and falls gently between ponds and lakes and looks out on low-lying mountains. I surprise a few baby deer grazing near the road's edge, spot hawks guarding a nest and hear them call out warnings when I ride past, and listen to the buzz of crickets all around me. Along the way I cross paths with four women out on a five-day trip that's starting and ending in Sandpoint. Two are from neighborhoods in Seattle near mine; one lives in Edmonds, the city I grew up in; and the other is from the city directly to the east of Edmonds. It's one more sign that home is just around the corner.

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I push out of Priest River in the early evening as the 90-degree temperature starts to backtrack and high clouds move in to contain the sun. At 6:40 p.m. I round a corner and see one of the most significant milestones of the last four months: a tiny Mile 0 marker that indicates the start of Pend Oreille County. As it looks back at me I feel a huge punch in the gut. I'm in Washington State. I just rode all the way from Florida to Washington on a bicycle. That's batshit insanity, right there. Even though I know I still have a long haul to the coast, and I'm in a corner of the state that I've never before seen, it feels like some kind of homecoming. It feels like I'm close to accomplishing something huge. Mostly it feels really, really, really good.

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The 14th and final state of the trip welcomes me back with a smooth road, trees to protect me from the sun, a perch above the Pend Oreille River that doesn't go up or down too much, and no traffic to get in the way. It's an evening meant for riding, so that's what I do, past a dog fetching a stick out of the river, a group of wild turkeys, a few abandoned buildings, and through awful mosquito clouds that leave me dotted with tiny black spots.

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When I look up out of the tent and through the pine trees I see the thin clouds above reflect purple and fade to orange before giving way to a pale blue sky that itself fades to orange at the horizon line. Ducks quack in a chorus for hours in the nearby creek. I head to sleep with the rain fly off, exposed to the cool of the night, in a campground in the middle of nowhere that's all mine, and a bit anxious about that fact.

Today's ride: 79 miles (127 km)
Total: 5,867 miles (9,442 km)

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