July 21: Sagle to Ione, Washington - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

July 21: Sagle to Ione, Washington

Recommended: The bakery in Usk, at the end of the bridge

Highly recommended: Cedar RV Park, Ione

SOME DAYS ARE so full of quiet enjoyment that it's hard to think of anything special. And yet there's been so much.

To be honest, we'd intended this to be a rest day, or anyway a gentle one. Steph gets stronger as the ride goes on but I'm ready for a day off. Some of it is the quiet accumulation of physical tiredness; more of it is a mental dullness that comes from a row of days of busy or uncomfortable roads. Like the ride to and from Sandpoint.

So, we said, let's have a half-morning ride to Priest River. There, others have noted, would be a campground only for cyclists, with tent pads, lockup posts and a maintenance stand, all beneath Douglas firs and beside the river. There would be a café and a library and we could spend the rest of the day reading and dabbling our feet in the water.

Well, it ain't necessarily so. Priest River has an enticing name that hides the reality of a small town slowly dying. Business are shut or shutting. A hotel with a grand French name - in France, posh hotels all have English names - is scaffolded and may be reopening or in the process of being stripped. Two adjoining shops have had their end walls taken out to make car-wash bays. The internet café has shut and the gas station beside the railway is unstaffed. The one happy find was the café beside the fire station, just off Main Street.

"Higher Dawn," a smiling white-haired man asked as he towed in a smaller, more timid man. "They treating you OK here this morning? If not, we may go off up the road." He said it loud enough for the waitresses to hear.

The oldest of the staff looked up. She was early thirties, dressed in green with short, dark hair shaped round her face. "Here's trouble," she said, "Double trouble."

"Every morning I tell her how good she's looking," the white-haired man said. The waitress adopted an air of amused resignation.

No, I don't know, either...
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"I notice she doesn't say the same about you," I said.

He smiled. "She's my niece."

"Is that true?", Steph asked. The girl said it was, making out it hadn't been her choice.

The two men sat at the booth next to us and ate their meal. Then they argued good-naturedly over who was going to pay for it.

"I ain't got money for the tip," the timid one said. "So I'll pay for the meal and you pay the tip. I can't afford the tip." It was a lovely bout of illogic, deliberate, that came of a lifelong, small-town friendship.

Whitey said he was clearing out the house after countless relatives celebrated his mother-in-law's 98th birthday there. He asked intelligent questions and described our road ahead, not with the "Geez, you'll never get over that hill" hyperbole but with honest sense. He passed us as we struggled up the hard hill out of town. His window wound down and we heard "Vive la France!" as he passed.

Wigwams along the valley, on an Indian reservation but with nobody in residence.
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Denied a short day, we opted for a long one. We rode on to Ione. There are hills all the way to the twin towns of Newport and Oldtown, where a black van scrawled in orange urged us to "Look out for Papa Bear and Baby Bear," described as crazy guys on bikes riding from Seattle to Montana and back. The van was parked at a junction. A large woman at the wheel followed what seems the American convention of never acknowledging a fellow cyclist if you're behind the wheel. She ignored us. The man beside her was sprawled back, his eyes shut, mouth wide open. The thrill of looking after bears had worn off.

Two moments later, at the bottom of the hill, we found a cyclist diagonally across the busy junction. We couldn't speak because of the traffic but he looked across and waved. Then he went back to peering up the hill, presumably waiting for the Bearmobile that was in turn waiting for him.

Idaho ends and Washington begins after the wide and busy bridge that takes US2 and US20's combined traffic. There is no border sign but the road flattens and the surface worsens. This is Leclerc Road, a name familiar in France because every self-respecting town has a road of the same name. Philippe Leclerc was the general who liberated Paris.

I forget who recommended the bakery across the bridge in Usk but we pass on the recommendation in turn. Steph's assessment, and she too has become an expert on the subject, is that it has the best Sticky Buns of the trip. Cinnamon cakes, to be exact.

The afternoon then grew uncomfortably hot: 36, I think. The road pulled away and up from the river, losing its freshness and gaining humidity. The tree tunnels made it airless. Gratitude and relief were what we felt as we crossed our third bridge of the day, into Ione. We followed another recommendation, to stay at the Cedar RV ground at the other end of town. It is another we pass on. We were greeted with a welcome and, moments later, a beer apiece. We are on the lawn behind the owners' house. The grass is lush and we have not only tables but camp chairs that have been brought out to us, and we have use of the mosquito-screened marquee with soft chairs. The shower rooms are stunning, fresh, clean and equipped even with a hairdryer.

And the ultimate of ultimates? In the morning, there will be a percolator of fresh coffee waiting for us on the terrace. And all that for $10 and the happiest, friendliest and most helpful hosts you'll ever meet. Any cyclist who rides by is missing a treat.

AMERICAN FLAGS SEEN: 136

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