We woke to another rainy day today. If we were traveling by bike we’d probably wait out the rain, but since we have our minivan it was no problem and we hit the road. The rain stopped by the time we reached Idaho and soon we crossed the border into Washington. We’ve decided to take a back route through northern Washington so we can drive through Northern Cascades National Park.
On our way out of Missoula today we stopped by the Adventure Cycling Association’s headquarters. Alan bought the maps for the Pacific Coast leg of our tour and I poked around their lounge for cyclists. Missoula is on the Northern Tier Route and they see a lot of cyclists coming through. Alas, we are not currently cyclists, so we didn’t dawdle too long at the ACA. Instead, we gassed up the minivan and hit the road for Glacier National Park in northern Montana. We planned another scenic day of driving, taking the route that Alan had biked previously on his trip to Alaska in 2007. The highway wound through beautiful forests and picturesque lakes all the way to Glacier. We arrived at the west entrance to Glacier around lunch time, so after a quick stop at the Visitor Center we found a picnic spot on Lake McDonald. Alan enjoyed some smoked salmon that Helen and Gary sent with us from Boise. At the Visitor Center, we found out that the main park road, the Going To the Sun Road, was open only about halfway across the park to Logan Pass. We decided we would drive there and back, stopping wherever the spirit grabbed us to see the sights.
After breakfast and a last photo with Gary and Helen, we headed out of Boise for Missoula, MT this morning. We planned to do a long drive to get us all the way to Missoula in one day. The weather promised to be cloudy, so we were worried that we might not get to see some of the Sawtooth Mountain scenery that everyone was raving about. Even with the clouds, though, we saw plenty of beautiful Idaho scenery. Along the way we ran into a VW Thing Club out for a tour and saw some hot springs right on the side of the road. But mostly we had beautiful views of the mountains along the Payette and Bitterroot Rivers until it got dark. At times the road followed the edge of a gorge, high above the river, and at others we drove through broad valleys, looking up at misty peaks. Our drive today was truly one of the more scenic day trips I’ve ever taken.
Well, camping at Craters of the Moon last night wasn’t as enjoyable as we had hoped. It was a bit windy before we went to bed, but after midnight the wind really picked up. It was shaking the tent so hard it woke us up. I went out and used our spare tent stake to add a little extra support to the side facing the wind. Then I laid awake for a while wondering if the wind was going to tear our tent apart. I got a little sleep, but not much. Thankfully morning came and our tent had withstood the wind.
We got up this morning to see a moose wandering through the campground. For a little while it laid down near a small tent with a motorcycle. Someone thought it might be an orphan calf that recently lost its mom, but it was eating grass and moving through the campground well enough, so if it was on its own, it was doing ok. We also noticed lots of people with cameras on the edge of the campground looking out into a big meadow to the west, a sure sign of wildlife in any national park if ever there was one. Two moose were close by and a big bull moose was grazing out in the field. After observing for a while and snapping some pictures we had breakfast and broke camp for the day.
Today was a big driving day across the big state of Wyoming. We left Gillette and were flying along on the interstate at 80 mph. That’s the legal speed limit! Soon we left the interstate to climb up into the Bighorn Mountains west of Sheridan, WY. We stopped to appreciate the view since you can see for quite a ways to the east from up there.
We spent a leisurely morning at Sharon and Tom’s house in Rapid City today. Sharon had a meeting, but Tom was around for the morning, so we chatted with him a bit and got to work on blog posts and other sundries. As some of you know, I left a faculty position in Colorado before we started this trip. When this trip is all over, I want to go back to work in some capacity that still uses my scientific training. What that will look like, what I’m going to be when I grow up, is a big question to ponder right now. I love doing research and I really enjoyed teaching, so I would like to return to a job more focused on teaching undergraduates and providing great research experiences for that level of student. Last week, I found a job opening that would be a good fit for me at a college in Colorado, so I spent the morning polishing up my CV and application package. I sent that off to the employment office and sent some emails requesting reference letters. Fingers crossed that I hear back from them.
36 miles (unloaded bikes)
Last night we actually set an alarm to wake us up today, a rarity on this trip. We wanted to get to Mount Rushmore before the sun was up so we could get some photos with the first rays of sunlight on the sculpture. We left our tent set up and jumped in the van to drive the several miles to the monument. We were a little late, but we still got a few good photos before the sun was completely up. While there we walked around a short loop trail that takes you below the sculptures. It was very quiet this morning and we had the place almost to ourselves. After that we drove back to the campground to break down our tent and have breakfast.
Even though we camped last night, thanks to our new ice chest, we enjoyed the luxury of cold orange juice and yogurt this morning. I know it doesn’t sound like much to get excited about, but bike touring camping is pretty bare-bones. We didn’t waste any time getting on the road and driving to Badlands National Park. I’ve never been to Badlands before and I liked it. It has lots of nice scenery, almost as good as Bryce Canyon. Compared to other scenic areas in the Western U.S. it’s no stand out, but since we just came through a long stretch of fairly flat and unremarkable terrain, it felt more surreal than it otherwise would have. We had been told to be on the lookout for bison in the park, so when we saw a lone bison in the distance we thought “cool, we saw one”. Then a few miles up the road we saw about 800 more! The park staff had recently rounded up about half the bison in the park to count and tag them.
First order of business this morning was to rent a minivan. I biked six miles to the Rochester, MN airport and found the Enterprise rental counter. The guy there wasn’t the most helpful and after a little confusion and time wasted, I finally had a key in my hand. I threw my bike in the back of the van and rushed back to the motel to pick up Caroline. It was almost check-out time so we hurried to load her bike and our gear into the van. Whew, we just made it. First stop was at a nearby Target for some items we needed for our upcoming two week road trip. We got a small cooler, some ice, groceries, etc. With the cooler we’ll actually be able to carry cheese and butter without it going bad. What a luxury!
Last night we planned our route to take us beyond Austin, MN today, about 30 miles. There are two challenges of navigating across southern Minnesota: (1) the plethora of gravel roads and (2) the high chance that rare paved road will have heavy traffic with little shoulder. But thanks to some online resources for biking in Minnesota, we left the hotel armed with a tentative route. Unfortunatley, that route rapidly fell apart due to neither of these challenges. Instead we met the great bike tourist nemesis: The Wind. Oh, The Wind. As we left the hotel and got on the road, we faced a 20-30 mph head wind. Right in our faces. For a little while it would be a cross wind, and then, it would be back in our faces. Stupid wind. Making forward progress was very difficult, to say the least.
We set out this morning with plans to stay with a Warm Showers host in Spring Valley, MN, a little over thirty miles away. We did our final climbing out of Bluff Country, leaving the Driftless Area behind and returning to the rolling farmland of the upper midwest. Gravel roads, corn and soy, corn and soy, and more corn and soy. The Root River Trail ended in the little town of Preston, so we stopped for lunch in town. I got a slice of peanut butter chocolate silk pie with my sandwich that might just be the best thing I’ve had on this whole trip (after the Whoopie Pies of central Pennsylvania and coastal Maine). Seriously. It was made of chocolate peanut butter fairy dust and I swear angels made the crust.