From Montana, through Idaho, and back to Canada again - Over the hills and far away - CycleBlaze

July 5, 2016 to July 7, 2016

From Montana, through Idaho, and back to Canada again

A strange sign, dodgy weather, an unexpected refuge, and a rest day with old friends in Nelson

Climbing out of the Kootenai Watershed

The next morning, I left Montana, climbing up and out of the Yaak River Valley and the Kootenai (sometimes Kutenai) watershed, and across the state line into Idaho.  I spent only a few hours in the northeastern corner of a state I’d never visited, except vicariously:  years back, I had read Donald Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, and I had been intrigued by his descriptions of its rugged beauty.  (Redford stars in the movie of the same name, which was made in Montana—but who’s to know?—and it's worth watching for the scenery alone.)  The combination of pasture and mountains makes for attractive countryside:

Good crop of hay in NE Idaho, in the cattle country N of the Kootenai watershed
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On the other hand, there is also what can only be described as a Very Weird Undercurrent to life in Idaho:

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A sign like this is deeply bizarre, but it’s not inexplicable.  When you see a sign like this, you know that someone has tried to do it at least once.  Is this why the state seems under-populated—there’s a queue of Darwin Award wannabe’s?  Maybe it’s best not to dwell on such things, nor to look too closely under the corner of the carpet…

Cycling in mid-summer, I never felt any urge to do strange things around snowplows, and passed through the border post around mid-day, just south of Creston.  With showers approaching, I took shelter under some trees for lunch.  Rejoining the road, I passed a white-on-green "Welcome to Canada" sign on a downhill, and thus missed a chance for a photo of a People's Amendment to Official Greetings:  in hand-painted yellow in the lower corner, "Please watch for turtles, and brake".

I had planned to camp in a provincial park on the eastern shore of East Kootenay Lake north of Creston—the Kootenay River, turning north, bulges into lake status when it reaches BC.  I checked with the Tourism Office in Creston, and the helpful young lady there assured me that yes, Lockhart Lake Provincial Park was no more than about 40 km up the lake, and the road, moreover, was quite flat.

In mid-afternoon I headed north from Creston for what I thought would be a fairly easy two hours’ ride.  It proved to be anything but, the road a series of stiff short climbs and rapid descents.  Rain clouds were massing on the far shore, and a brisk westerly began to raise a chop on the lake.  I pushed on—surely the campground was not far off—and the mist blew in and rain began to slant down.  I was getting tired, nearing the end of a long hilly day.  The campground which the kind lady in the tourist office had assured me was easily reachable was assuredly not.  But I wheeled around a downhill right-hander, and–lo!—there was the Holbrook Falls Motel, complete with gazebo and greenhouse, and a stream splashing down from the hills behind it.  I turned in towards what seemed to be the adjoining house and office.  An older gent came out to meet me.  I took off my wet gloves, and my helmet—by now, the rain had stopped—and asked if Lockhart PP was nearby.  He stroked his chin and said, “Well, no, I wouldn’t say so—maybe another 15 or 20 kms.” So I asked if he had a room. “Why yes,” he said “We do.” “And how much would it be?” I asked. “Well, how much do you think it should be?” he replied.  I said, slightly baffled, “I have no idea—your call, really.” He said, “How does $50 sound?” What could I say but, trying to sound measured and offhand, when I was knackered and slightly desperate, “Sounds good. I’ll take it.”  He showed me a large room with a kitchen, plus a bathroom and a spacious screened-in deck in the back for my bike—some kind of deal for a damp and tired rider.

The motel's owners are Pat and Ramona.  After I’d washed, rested, and eaten, they asked me to join them for a glass of wine with some friends who were visiting.  A congenial and occasionally raucous evening followed, with more than just a glass or two of wine and brandy.  He is an Anglo from the Eastern Townships of Québec and a few years older than me; she is about my age, an Algonkian from Maniwaki, just north of Ottawa, near le parc de la Vérendrye where I’ve paddled so many times.  The motel was their retirement project, and after twenty-some years, they are scaling back the size of their operation.  They were full of curiosity about my trek, and generous in their praise; in turn, I thanked them for choosing their motel two decades ago, and for their quality wine and brandy.  We shared stories about the Ottawa Valley and West Québec, and of course the great teams of les Canadiens.  Such a small world. 

From Holbrook Falls Motel to a rest day in Nelson

After a good night's sleep, I left the motel by 7:30.  Freed of yesterday's enveloping mist and rain, East Kootenay Lake made for a beautiful ride:

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 Lockhart Lake PP, which I had been seeking the day before, didn't appear for a long time--certainly not 10 kms, and more like 20. I had made the right decision to stay at the motel--but what if it hadn't been there?

I stopped for a second breakfast at the Junction Creek Café in Crawford Bay, a few kms from the ferry to Nelson.  They offer an excellent big burrito and A-grade coffee.

The view northward from the ferry going to the West Arm of the lake is achingly beautiful:

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Oblivious to the surrounding grandeur, Osi the Raven caught forty winks in the sunshine:

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A chance encounter on the Kootenay ferry to Nelson

A couple of hikers boarded the ferry with me.  I wandered over to say hello, and ask about their trek; they in turn were interested in my journey. They were German, and experienced hikers, wearing quality footwear (Lowa, as you would expect), carrying and well-organized and compact packs. I mentioned my route from Jasper, through Banff, Kananaskis, and Glacier, and they told me that they knew some of that terrain – they were hiking from Banff to Vancouver via the Trans-Canada Trail. They had begun a month ago in early June, and would complete their 1500-km trek in early September. I asked them about their journey so far, and they said they loved Canada—“The landscape is magnificent! The campsites are wonderful, so is the food, so are the people!”  I could only thank them, feeling a little self-conscious with their effusive praise (this is Canada, remember), but also tickled by their evident delight. The fellow I was talking with—he spoke fluent English, his mate rather less—was not a big man, maybe 5’6” or so, and perhaps 140 or 150 lbs. (His friend was taller, a bit less than 6’, but also slender.) I asked him about the weight of their packs. “Twenty kilos or so,“ he said. “Could I ask how old you are?” I said. Said he, “I’m 73, my friend is a bit older.” He was very matter-of-fact, but I was astonished, and full of praise for them both. I said to them that my trip was demanding, for sure, but it was pretty mild compared to what they were doing–and that I’d be very happy just to consider something like that in five years’ time.

On the run-in to Nelson, a once-upon-a-time grande dame watches over a passing cyclist. In the early part of the 20th century, the sternwheeler SS Nasookin was the queen of the lake fleet of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Launched in 1913, its beauty has been recognized and preserved, although its splendid form is now divorced from its original function:

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The local newspaper ran a nice story on its centenary:

Nelson is a small town of 10,000, beautifully situated among hills and mountains on the far southwestern corner of the Western Arm of Kootenay Lake.  A cyclist entering from the east and north, across the BOB (as the residents call the Big Orange Bridge, despite or because of the fact that it’s clearly pink) sees a town hugging the shore, its urban forest a blanket of green:

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I stayed with longtime friends for a couple of nights, resting and eating and catching up.  They live on the southern edge of town, well over a kilometre above the lakeshore – and their street rises in a series of steps, each with a grade of 15-17%.  I just made it up the hill, and only by pausing before each sharp rise.  It could have been worse—they have neighbours whose street has a 23% grade.

Nelson was founded in the resource booms of the late 19th century, and its downtown is studded with splendid old stone buildings built a century-plus ago.  By happy accident, these were not torn down in the widespread modernizing fervour of the '60s and '70s, and the town’s architectural heritage is now recognized and admired.  Sited as it is on a small strip of (sorta) flat land between lake and mountains, it’s been spared the excesses of big-box stores and strip malls which blight so many North American towns and cities.  It’s a centre for mountain-biking, skiing, and hiking, and has a thriving artistic life—on my second night there, my friends took me to the final night of the city’s annual literary festival, the EMLF.   The main meeting room in the old city hall was jammed full of people, all of whom seemed to know each other, and several of whom knew that I was “the guy riding his bike from Jasper to the Washington coast.”

Just above my friends’ house, one of the town’s old rail beds has been converted to a path for cycling, walking and trail running, and cross-country skiing.  Not hard to understand why they moved there in the mid-'70s (they just got so tired of the rain in Vancouver), and to understand why they haven’t left, except for a few years working as foresters in Mozambique in the mid-1980s, which is where we met.  Make no mistake, though – Nelson’s steep grades do present a challenge to walkers and cyclists, even without a load.  My friends minimize the use of their car, partly by using Pedego electric bikes.  They still have their conventional bikes, but say that the e-bikes really do make a difference – they now use those when they go to evening meetings downtown, instead of succumbing to the temptation of the internal combustion engine to get them home again up that blessed hill.  I had a chance to try one out, and my little test run included the near-vertical (well, 23%) street in the neighbourhood.  I now understand why e-bike riders seem so unfussed by long steep climbs—you just dial in a little more pedal assist, or even use the throttle to get under way.  Pretty slick when you’re starting on a such a steep hill.

Today's ride: 205 km (127 miles)
Total: 1,453 km (902 miles)

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