Day 101, to Woodhead Park Campground: Making the most of the riding conditions during a heat wave - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

August 1, 2022

Day 101, to Woodhead Park Campground: Making the most of the riding conditions during a heat wave

The sun sets behind the mountains, carrying an orange and pink glow over the horizon ridgeline, which reflects colorfully in the reservoir (part of the Snake River). In the foreground, an empty campsite, with a picnic table and a tree, stands, and Dani's silhouette walks toward me.
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Monday stats

Start: Hartland Inn, New Meadows, Idaho

End: Woodhead Park Campground, Idaho

The Daily Progress: 72.7 miles

Cumulative climb: 3460 feet

Cumulative descent: 5173

Elevation at endpoint: 2148

Ice cream flavor: Mint chocolate chip at the Gateway Cafe

Lodging expenses: $16.20. Pretty good for a campground in this region that has showers and nice bathrooms with electricity. You can even pay $5 extra for WiFi if you want.

Food expenses: $15-ish for Frappes and a muffin in Council, plus $28-ish for lunch and ice cream at the cafe

Monday moments

[Editor's note: You can probably tell that I wrote the following while I was hot and tired. It might make it sound like I'm not enjoying the tour right now, which would give you a false impression. I'm definitely still enjoying it. But I think this evening was what you'd call Type 2 fun.]

Unless the forecast has changed since we last had Internet access, today is supposed to be the last day with highs above 100 degrees. We are hoping for heavy cloud cover and slightly lower temperatures on Tuesday. But today, we still got super lucky with the weather. (I say that now, in the evening, sitting at our campsite, and I think I just felt a rain drop …) I'll let Dani share the details, but man, were we lucky — and we made the most of it by continuing further than planned, twice. 

But first, I just want to admit here that the past couple of days of cycling have reminded me that bike touring is very arduous work sometimes — but I am lucky that I needed a reminder. We've had some really great days, but right now, I'm riding mainly to make progress toward the ultimate destination, not because I really feel like riding and camping in this heat.

The heat reminds me of the year we kept our air conditioning off while living in Tempe, Ariz. Everything gets hot in heat like this. In the current situation, it's a slight surprise to pull clothes out of my pannier and find them hot to the touch. Or to put my toothbrush in my mouth and feel that the toothpaste is hot. It's not unpleasant, just weird at first. On the flip side, I discovered that when I unroll my inflatable sleeping pad, the center of it is noticeably cooler, which makes sense, considering that it is insulated and I rolled it up in the morning, when it was 35 degrees cooler outside. Hmmm … I wonder if I could use that to keep something cool.

For me, a tour like this is all about the journey, not so much about the destination. Right now, I guess it's still about the journey — stopping in small towns along the way, finding ways to cool off, meeting local residents, etc. — but the bike riding used to be part of the fun, and right now, the riding each day is just something we need to get through to justify everything else. (Also, the journey each day often ends with an uncomfortably hot night of camping.) So I'm just hoping for some cooler days and, in the meantime, trying to appreciate the scenery and other parts of the journey even more than I otherwise would have. And of course, there is still the satisfaction that comes with successfully riding a day's distance despite the challenging conditions.

It would be much harder to do this part of the tour alone. It's really nice to have my partner here to joke around with and to encourage each other and to share in the joy of the little things like cool water to drink.

That said, I have been appreciating the cool mornings and the gorgeous soft glow of the sky just before sunrise as we ride between the mountains of Idaho, which are pretty distinctive, with their diagonal contours and golden grass colors. 

Okay, here's Dani's recap of the day:

Dani's daily digest

Today one of my first conscious thoughts was "I don't really feel like going for a bike ride today."

But riding bikes was the planned activity, so I packed up and we sallied forth at 5:25.

One thing I remember from the early morning ride was the "town" of Tamarack, which seemed to house exactly one establishment -- a moderately-sized industrial facility that turned trees into particle board. The plant was called (somewhat disingenuously, considering its function) Evergreen Forests. It stretched over both sides of the highway and was chuffing away, even at that early hour.

We stopped at Council Mountain Coffee and Laundromat for frappes, which were cold and delicious and a highlight of the day.

By 10:48 and without much ado, we reached our intended destination: Water Tower Park in Cambridge, Idaho. Though small and simple, it provided all the necessities: a shady pavilion with power outlets, flushing toilets, and potable water. It would have been a fine place to camp, but the day's ride had been pretty easy and it hadn't yet gotten unbearably hot. Chris and I agreed it was worth biking another 17 miles -- uphill -- to reach the next campground, Brownlee.

I can't tell you much about those seventeen miles. I barely looked at them. Here's what I remember: the vegetation was dry and scrubby and there was a house with a blue roof. We took our minds off the climb with an activity I will call "Hot Brain Jukebox." For other people this might be called "singing," but since neither Chris nor I can carry a tune and the only song whose lyrics we know in their entirety, apparently, is "John Jacob Jingle-Heimer-Schmidt," it's basically breathlessly shouting snippets of songs until you can't remember any more words, at which point you either invent words or simply switch to another song.

Seventeen uphill miles of this and we reached the following tableau: A rutted, uphill dirt road leading to Brownlee Campground; a yellow road sign warning of a steep downhill grade for the next seven miles, and a billboard for a cafe six miles down the road.

I took this in. "Um, is there a campground maybe 10 miles further down the route that we could go to?" I asked Chris.

Chris, having had the same thought, was already looking at his phone. And sure enough, the Woodhead campground was about eight miles away.

We barreled down the road, descending into the hot, arid, beautiful, desolate depths of Hell's Canyon. We stopped at the cafe for lunch (both of us) and ice cream (just Chris) and enjoyed chatting with an elderly couple at the table next to ours.

Woodhead Campground is run by the Idaho Power Company, which operates the hydroelectric dam on the Snake River that creates the reservoir which the campground abuts. The campground is charmingly overengineered. First of all, it is HUGE: the iPad which serves as a check-in kiosk (iPad as a check-in kiosk!) says there are 98 available sites. The palatial bathrooms are squeaky clean, there are individual rooms for showers, and there are power outlets galore. We got a nice shady tent site with trees ideal in girth and distance for setting up the hammock. After arriving, we doused ourselves at the water hydrant and rested in the shade.

It's going to be another hot night. As I write this at 7 pm I'm sitting in the shade wearing nothing but my bathing suit and a wet bandana and I have sweat dripping from my elbow creases. At least today is supposed to be the last of the heat wave. Or it was the last time I could access a weather forecast. I guess we'll find out for sure tomorrow!

Today's ride: 73 miles (117 km)
Total: 3,709 miles (5,969 km)

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