Oct 19, 2016

Bikepacking The Bitterroot Loop 2.0

Last year, I rode the Bitterroot Loop solo and upon my return, my brother was intrigued by the adventure and decided we wanted to give it a go too. So, here we are again.

The only change from last year to now was we decided to go a few weeks earlier to make sure we could traverse through the Taft Tunnel (it closes at the end of September) and avoid the beginning of hunting season in the area. Avoiding going up and over the tunnel was also on the agenda as that fireroad climb is brutal (mostly a hike-a-bike actually).

Please enjoy our little photo essay and leave us a comment if you have any questions.

My kit. The only things not pictured are the clothing/gear items I'd be wearing. The bike handled perfectly and the new Ortlieb Bikepacking Bags were flawless. I think this was the best pack job I've ever done as I used everything and didn't feel like I needed anything else on the trip.

The brother modelling our accom's for the night before the trip starts. These little cabins were pretty simple and located in the campground in Wallace, ID. Also on site is City Limits brew pub - great food, worth a visit.

Pre-ride inspiration.

Map of the route and area. Sure wish I had this last year :)

Day 1: All day rain and single digit temperatures made for a tough, but rewarding day. This shot is from the first tunnel we encountered after descending off of Lookout Pass (Continental Divide passage #1). We were both soaked and frozen from the descent and stopped here to add more layers and catch our breath, so to speak. There was still another 30 minutes or so of descending to go before we'd begin the 5km long climb up to our next crossing of the Continental Divide.
The Taft Tunnel and second crossing of the Continental Divide. It is also the start of the "Route of the Hiawatha" - 25kms of preserved and reconditioned rail trail with many tunnels and trestles. The Taft Tunnel is 9000ft long (almost 3kms long!) and was one of the most interesting places I've ever ridden a bike. Cold, damp, slightly spooky - a true highlight of the whole trip. From here to Avery, our home for the night, would be 40kms of muddy, kinda rough rail trail and fire road.

One of the many trestles on the Route of the Hiawatha. We were a little bummed that the fog/rain was obscuring the beautiful views of the valleys below but it was still breath-taking in its own way.

One of the many tunnels on the Route of the Hiawatha. As we worked our way down the trail, the rain of the day got harder and harder until it was pretty much pouring. At the end of the rail trail we were faced with the infamous "9 Miles of Hell" section of fire road into Avery. What makes this section so-not-fun is the consistent washboarded surface, soft gravel, and in this case - made even softer by the heavy rains. Thankfully there is very little vehicle traffic on the road and it is slightly downhill all the way to the end.

Sheffy's Motel, gas station, deep fryer, liqupr store, and warming hut - known to us on this day as "Sheffy's Oasis of Awesome". Our original plan was to ride here, load up on supplies, and head back up the 9 Miles of Hell to a campground but with both of us feeling like exhausted drowned rats and with the whole area soaked (no campfire possibility) we decided to stay the night in the motel. The right call.

"Sheffy's Bar" - aka the warming hut. Gravel floor, double-barrel wood stove, drying racks for all your wet gear, and so much mysogynist cack on the walls it was dizzying. Current temperature at time of photo: dry heat of 30c! We hung out in here for quiet awhile drinking cheap US beer, trying to get our core temperatures back up to normal.

So much mud. Ortlieb's new bikepacking bags worked flawlesslyover the whole trip - including the first day's all day deluge of rain and mud. This trip made me realize that full fenders are going on my next touring bike for sure!
Walk a mile in Sheffy's shoes. Or maybe spending an evening in his shoes is enough. When we rolled into Sheffy's my only pair of shoes were soaked and muddied so I walked into his store barefoot asking if he had flip-flops for sale. He laughed and trundled off while I decided which cheap US beer was going into my belly. Lo and behold he returned, throwing these at me, laughing "I hope you can fit your feet in them". I'm a size 8 - these were 13's :)

Day 2: Daybreak, looking promising. Todays itinerary was suppose to be decidely easier then yesterday: slightly downhill on pavement for 80kms to St. Maries, lunch there, then about 40km to days end. There is also a 5km long road climg after lunch with a 10km long decent afterwards. Disn't work out to be as easy as we hoped.

After a night of hanging everything out to dry, we were ready to head out but Jesse noticed that his saddle was still soaked through so we deployed this classic saddle drying technique which worked flawlessly. Same concept as stuffing your wet shoes with newspaper to dry them out.

1/2 way to St. Maries. The -2% rail grade was being nullified by a 20kph headwind that both of us were feeling not-so-fantastic about. Also, both of us were dealing with weird muscle pains in our calves/achilles that we think we aquired from the cold/wet day yesterday. The last 10 miles into St. Maries were particularly difficult for both of us, requiring frequent rest stops. Those same 10 miles were also really disturbing in a way: so many dead animals/bone piles in the ditch (stink!) and what seemed like 1000's of beer cans, making us wonder if anyone on this road was sober.

Home for the night, the campground in Harrison, Idaho. Situated right on Lake Coeur D'Alene it was quite a nice little spot with only 6 tent sites. The "Trail of the Coeur D'Alene" runs right beside the campground too, which would be our route back to Wallace tomorrow. Harrison is a sleepy little summer town, with everything shutting down at the end of September, so if you plan on visiting, get here before October. The warm evening spent here was beautiful! No bugs at all meant sleeping with my head out of my bivvy all night long - my favorite way to camp.

Day 3: Todays route would be totally on the Trail of the Coeur D'Alene right back to the campground in Wallace. 100ish kilometres of buttery asphalt like this was on tap and it did not disappoint. The legs pains that we were suffering with yesterday were gone for both of us, we had a light tailwind, and slighly overcast/warm conditions made for perfect bike riding weather. The trail itself is really beautiful rolling forst through an interlake region, then into lovely farmland, and eventually into the "Silver Valley" of Idaho which is famous for all the mining (and polluted landscapes). DON'T DRINK THE GROUNDWATER!

The trail also rolls through historic mining and railway villages including Cataldo, which has the oldest building in Idaho (a mission) as well as the Mission Inn, Enaville (home of the Snakepit), and the towns of Kellogg, and of course, Wallace - self proclaimed "Centre of the Universe". Seriously, look it up.

The finish line! Tasty eats and drinks a the City Limits Brew Pub. Another great adventure in the bag.

A little slice of Idaho. Thanks for reading.

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