West from Whitefish: Horse-and-pasture country, the mother of all headwinds, and--of all things--a Stude in Libby - Over the hills and far away - CycleBlaze

July 3, 2016 to July 4, 2016

West from Whitefish: Horse-and-pasture country, the mother of all headwinds, and--of all things--a Stude in Libby

Eureka, Koocanusa Lake, Libby and the Fourth of July in small-town Montana

Leaving Whitefish early on a Sunday morning, I followed back roads parallel to and west of US 93 through horse-and-pasture countryside.  It was peaceful, fresh, and green, and mostly flat:

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As I returned to US 93, I found I had a nice tailwind, and with little traffic on the recently resurfaced highway, I rode north towards Eureka.  Just south of Eureka, I had an early lunch at the little "Eat on the Fly" café, and enjoyed a first-rate cappucino, waffle-with-bacon-and-maple-syrup, and freshly-squeezed orange juice.  Oooooh...I thanked the cheerful women whose place it was.  "We don't find roadside cafés like this in Eastern Ontario," I said. "You wouldn't consider relocating?  It's hard to get better maple syrup, and health care won't bankrupt you."  They laughed.  As I was leaving, two young guys in their late teens rode up. Robin and Warren were from Tacoma, WA, en route to Minneapolis.  They had older bikes, laden with bulging Arkels, and we complimented each other on our choice of panniers.  I envied their ability to manage those loads with double chainrings, and wished them bon voyage.

I reached Eureka after lunch, and rode through the small centre of the village to Stein's, a supermarket on the northern edge of town.  I restocked with groceries for the next couple of days, and turned off US 93 onto MT 37.  This would take me west to the valley of the Kootenai River, which I would follow for several days. The Kootenai (-ay in Canada) flows south into Montana from the western slope of the Canadian Rockies.  The Libby Dam, a day's ride south from Eureka, has created a substantial narrow lake with the lumpy and unappealing name of Koocanusa.

The name may be unappealing, but Koocanusa's lakeside vistas are dramatic:

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As highway 37 turned south along the eastern shore of Koocanusa, the welcome tailwind I'd enjoyed in the morning became a brisk and then a monster headwind from the southwest.  I was heading for a campground about 32 kms to the south.  High above the lake, the road gave me a gradual descent for the entire distance, but this was no easy doddle beside the water: the headwinds were so tough that I found myself in 8th gear, pedalling downhill, and working just to keep the Rohloff in its upper range!  On flat ground, the most I could manage was 3rd or 4th – the same gears I’d used on the climb up Logan Pass.  On a couple of occasions, I saw Harleys coming towards me, their riders working hard to keep their big machines in their lane -- and this was with the wind at their backs.  I needed about  2 1/2 hours to cover the 32 km downhill.  Reaching the turnoff to Peck's Gulch, I said "Enough" to the The Mother of All Headwinds, and wheeled downhill to the campground beside the lake.

The campground was at lake level, windswept, with not a lot of shade. But the hosts and campers were friendly as always.  My neighbours, cyclists from Nebraska who were about my own age and on this trip in an RV, pronounced my ride into the headwind to be "awesome", and the fellow said, "And he did this with a white beard too!"

The campground was sunny, hot and dry in the late afternoon, and the wind continued to be as strong as any I've ever cycled in.  So, a prolonged splash in the lake, including some proper swimming, was all the more delightful.

My tent handled the gusts well, but to be on the safe side I rigged a couple of extra guylines to the main hoop pole. As it turned out, the wind dropped overnight, and I enjoyed a cool and quiet sleep.

The Fourth of July in small Montana towns

Monday was the Fourth of July, and with a long-ish 120 kms ahead of me, I made an early start.  At 6:45 I had a 75-mtre push up the 15%-plus grade up and out of the campground.  I reached the 37 by 7 AM, rolling south on a fresh morning towards Libby Dam at the south end of Lake Koocanusa.  The road was nicely shaded by the steep hills on my eastern side, and I had regular views of the lake through the trees on my right. 

Libby Dam
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I felt a bit slow and sluggish, though, and as I emerged from the shelter of a rock cut, the sudden headwind reminded me that it might be more than just one of those days.  Seeking some carbs, I stopped at a marina-cum-resort on the lakeside, and inhaled some Pop-Tarts and Snickers bars. Quaintly but happily, the store had a payphone, so I was able to phone ahead to my friends in Nelson, BC, whom I hoped to visit a few days later. Rejoining MT 37, I stopped and chatted with a couple of touring cyclists from Park City, Utah.  They were doing a circuit of Koocanusa, and were tickled to know that I used to visit Park City regularly, as part of family trips to my wife's parents' home in Salt Lake City.

Joining US 2 just south of the dam, I headed west and reached Libby at mid-day.  A young gas-station clerk recommended Henry's Restaurant for lunch.  There, I found an unexpected treat, and the lunch was pretty good too.  The treat was in front of Henry's:

It's a '55 Stude, dude
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The modern products nearby were boring by comparison
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This is an original, in the family from new in 1955.  Last year, it was restored, a present from the family to mark its 60th birthday.  And here I didn't even know that Studebaker had even made trucks, let alone charming red-and-cream ones.  This one came complete with floor starter button, robust enough to be mashed daily by work boots, and a three-on-the-tree tranny.  I complimented the owner of the truck--a diner in Henry's, she was well into her 70s--on its continued existence and terrific paint job.  She smiled, and said that her dad had taught her to drive in that truck, and that she just couldn't bear to let it deteriorate.

My lunch was a good spaghetti bolongaise, followed by lemon meringue pie.  And, I solved a recurring nuisance:  as I put a couple of small creamers into my tea, I thought, "I'm nearly out of my dried-milk-and-sugar mixture. I wonder...?"  I asked the kindly maîtresse de tout, who had marshalled me and my meal, what she would charge me for a few. "A dollar a dozen," she said. "Done," sez I, "and thank you." 

Back on my bike just before 2 PM, I angled NW towards the little village of Troy.  And from there, across the Kootenai River towards the Yaak River campground of the National Forest Service.  Libby and especially Troy are modest, weather-beaten towns, dependent on lumber, some beef, and some tourism.  A cyclist sees some very modest dwellings along the road, both fixed and mobile, but everyone I spoke to in both places was welcoming and curious, and appreciated my "Happy Fourths".  A thirty-something guy on his ATV (with a Bud 24 strapped to the front) was pleased when I asked about Troy's celebrations.  He said it was one of their best ever.  He also gave me a heads-up on the bike path beside the road on the hill out of town--it offered cyclists a safe route away from the traffic.  I thanked him for that.

The Yaak campground, a few kms from Troy, turned out to be one of the best on my entire trip.  It was quiet and well wooded, with large sites.  Mine was beside the river, and the river had--of all things--a pool for bathing.  This had been assembled by a woman from Cranbrook, BC, who was a regular visitor and--my neighbour!

Yaak River, with its thoughtfully constructed bathing pool
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My end-of-the-day immersion was fabulous, and I thanked her for her thoughtfulness.  She was very matter-of-fact about it: "Since we come here each year, and it's a shallow river, I thought I might as well make a small pool for a dip at the end of each day, for ourselves and others."

I made my regular cous-cous fandango for supper, and found that the Heet I'd bought in Whitefish had thoroughly fixed my stove's sooty problem. These little details help a lot.  The night was cool and comfortable.

Today's ride: 228 km (142 miles)
Total: 1,248 km (775 miles)

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