Spokane to Toledo Tour

Summer 1995

It was the best of times and the worst of times, all at once. It was a "Bike Tour". The ecstacy of a hot shower, sun shine, eating big, living simple and other marvelous moments. The manic depression of rain, cold, hot/muggy, deer flies, gravel shoulders, hay fever, etc.

June 16, 1995

Breakfast and off on another great adventure. This first day we traveled to Coeur d'Alene, ID via a bike path. This was a great ride. Away from downtown Spokane the path wasn't busy and a treat to be away from traffic. It's euphoria to be starting a long tour, not our first but always exciting to begin after months of planning and anticipation.

We assembled our bikes last night. We're traveling on two SWBs bikes which I built. They collapse and go into soft bags which we have with us. Our extensive luggage is behind our seats in panniers and in stuff sacks behind the seat and on top of the rack. Each bike weighs right at 80 lb loaded. This weight was with little food and no water, so rolling we're probably pushing 90 lb.

June 20, 1995

We followed US 95 to Sand Point and then onto Montana 200 which we'll follow to Missoula. Great tail wind the last few days, at least until we rounded the top of Lake Ponderay. This area looks like excellent moose habitat (complete with "watch for moose" signs) but we saw nary a moose. We went through Hope and East Hope on the way so for the rest of the trip we'll be "beyond Hope". It started to rain yesterday afternoon, hard, and we became, surprise/surprise, soaked. Stopped outside Noxon for coffee, decided to have dinner, then decided to get a cabin for $25. Camping sounded like too much of an adventure and not at all pleasant. Today it's still pouring so we're not moving. Small pleasures, like being out of the rain. We're reading and watching weekday talk shows on the TV which has incredibly poor reception. There are a lot of these talk shows. If we had a phone, we'd call and suggest a show on "Crazy People Who Travel via Bicycle When They Could Be Home In A Warm And Dry House".

June 25, 1995

Today we're taking a rest day in Missoula. Bike maintenance (clean & oil chains), shopping, cappacino and reading. We're staying at the KOA which has a hot tub. Well deserved hot tub. Real nice to soak our overworked bodies in the hot tub. Our camp is shared with five other tourists, 2 Ausies, 1 Englishman and 2 bikers from Eugene, OR. Nice break but this big a city is too busy for us, at least on this trip. Did I mention the hot tub?

After leaving Noxon the weather improved, rain or heavy dew at night but warmer days with fluffy cumulus clouds. The ride along the Clark Fork river was wonderful. The roads are good with generally good shoulders. There are a surprising number of osprey who will nest anywhere. I saw one nest, a distinctive mass of helter skelter sticks, on a telephone pole 10' from the highway and another on a very active railroad bridge. We also saw a small herd of big horn sheep along this stretch. Beautiful bike touring, stories are written of this.

June 29, 1995

From Missoula we continued along MT 200. The weather turned temporarily hot with beautiful sunshine. This part of 200 follows the Blackfoot River, a nice route with little traffic and good shoulders, high basin country with an upward tendency. As we approached Lincoln it became cold with the worst head wind we'd see during the trip. We popped for a motel that night, the coldest night of the trip. We were up early for an assault on Rogers Pass, the highest point on our trip. (Lotsa ...est along this portion.)

It was cloudy and cool but not a bad climb for the continental divide, this must be one of the easier ways to the east. After a short celebration and pictures at the top of the pass, which by the way is very close to the coldest recorded temperature in the lower 48 (according to a sign on the way up that went slowly by), we put on all our clothes and started down.

Now if you've been correlating dates and locations you'll notice we travel some 40 miles/day. To some an incredible accomplishment but to most tourists less than a leisurely pace. Hey, we have no apologies, we're old and ride funny bikes. Anyway, the stretch from Lincoln to anywhere is some 60 to 70 miles. We can do this, and did on a few day, but why? The one time we free camped was on this stretch at the Dearborn River. Looking back this was probably the nicest camp we had, certainly the most private. On the eastern side of the pass, the trees are replaced with drier country and incredible vistas. These vistas, however, mostly show how the highway winds over "little ugly sh... hills". These "rolling hills" are short enough to give no feeling of accomplishment but are still traversed at 3 mph up and 30 mph down. One, after another, after another,... Ugly. The weather was OK though and the second half of the day was great. Cruising through flat farm country with a tailwind.

We're now in a private campground in Great Falls, another bustling city. We feel like we should move to East Hope or Dixon or maybe Ovando. We're not cut out for city life, and this one is tiny as cities go.

July 4, 1995

We're making better time today than we have all trip. It's easy going too, traveling close to Route 2, cruising at 60 mph. Ah, Amtrak, the easy way across North Dakota. We'd always anticipated skipping North Dakota, somehow, but we added up the miles to Toledo again and to retain our leisurely pace decided to catch Amtrak in Havre. So we're spending this Fourth of July evening looking out moving windows trying to catch a glimpse of passing fireworks. But to no avail, we went explosionless. Should arrive in Grand Junction, ND around three in the morning. We're running some 2 hours late, but our schedule is flexible.

After leaving Great Falls the country turns to rolling hills with infinite expanses of agriculture. Our route followed US 87, a busy highway with excellent shoulders. No towns, no cafes, not much but infinite expanses of agriculture. It's near enough to spring here to kick off ALLERGIES for both of us. Not the mild passing allergies your thinking of but ALLERGIES. (?? take 4 more antihistamine and drive off the road or not, the first 4 haven't had any effect.) We stopped in Fort Benton, home of the famous dog Shep. This is a beautiful town on the Missouri River. Quite a hill down into the Missouri River canyon too. It was late enough to stop but there was no campground and the motels were quite pricey. We asked several people about camping and they all said, "no, don't know of any campgrounds around here but you can camp in the park". After four or five people said this we believed it. We camped in the city park next to the swimming pool, even got hot showers at the pool for $1. No one bothered us. There were, however, giant cottonwood trees everywhere. Beautiful to see but they were shedding cotton something fierce, it was piled up on the ground like snow. Did I mention we were having trouble with our allergies?

Our last day into Havre we hit a drenching rain storm. Nice tail wind much of the day and very flat, but it poured and poured. Funny things happen to your mind at times like this. "We're takin' on water capt'n and the bilge pumps are broke. Abbandon shoe, abbandon shoe, children and toes first, abbandon shoe." One of those squish, squish days. It cleared to showers in Havre where we got an inexpensive hotel room, cleaned and packed the bikes, and tried to dry everything. Nothing really dried but we sure steamed up the room.

July 12, 1995

We arrived in Grand Forks on Amtrak about three thirty in the morning and put the bikes together. I also re-packed my bottom bracket which got some sand in it during the storm going into Havre. That storm, the one we survived coming into Havre, we went through it on Amtrak and now its passing us again. It has picked up some intensity coming across North Dakota though. Wind, pouring rain, not good. Denise called around and found a motel not fard and found a motel not far from here that would let us check in at 7:00 AM and stay through the following night. Just what we needed.

Getting to Grand Rapids we mainly followed US 2 across Minnesota. This is relatively flat (relative to the west) and a nice ride. The shoulder was wide enough we could ride side by side most of the time. The weather has been pleasant but we're getting more down pours at night as we progress. Many nice camps and interesting towns. It's nice to feel the country unfold, not too fast but continuously. One of the joys of bike touring.

Coming into Winnihigoshish Recreation Area the deer flies were terrible. These biting flies would swarm around us as we biked and we couldn't out run them under about 17 mph, which is way beyond our capabilities. This went on all afternoon and was a true low point. They weren't too bad at our camp and we enjoyed a pleasant evening. It rained buckets that night but soaked right into the sandy soil. Great tent our Stretch Dome. Our neighbor was up splashing around, making a terrible racket in the middle of the night. How discourteous. Turns out he was up but most of the racket was from the black bear going through the garbage. We miss all the excitement.

We're now in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and staying in a nice Corps of Engineers park just west of town. Denise was listening to the radio at 6:00 this morning in our tent. 'sssss.. storm warning 6:00 to 6:20 for the Grand Rapids area, winds to 65 mph expected. Move to an interior room away from windows. Etc, yada yada...' She moved to the center of the tent! It was the most intense storm of the trip. We did well though, our Sierra Designs Stretch Dome is an excellent home. It's a three person tent and gloriously roomy, excellent for bike touring. A little heavy for backpacking but just right for touring. It kept us dry through some ugly down pours. I highly recommend this tent.

July 13, 1995

We waited two days in Grand Rapids for a 17" Moulton tire to arrive from Lightning. They swore they'd sent it but it wasn't at the USPS. We put a forward on the package and planned to pick it up down the line, ya right. Denise's bike has a 17" front and 20" rear and mine is 20" front and rear. We started with a spare 17" and phone numbers for several suppliers thinking it would be hard to replace. Early in Minnesota her front tire was punctured, sort of. The Mr. Tuffy was pushed through the hole forming a bubble which went tunk/tunk/tunk on the crown. No flat but the tire was bad so we put on the spare and called around the country for a replacement.

From Grand Rapids it turned hot and muggy. When bad, this hot mug is as bad as rain. We live in the desert and just can't handle hot and muggy. It was hard to sleep. Stay in the tent because there are "a few" mosquitos, keep the fly on 'cause it will rain, lay on our mats and sweat.

Coming into Duluth was refreshing. Next to Lake Superior it was cooler and very pleasant. We followed the Minnesota bike route into Duluth, well, until it dead ended us at a freeway which prohibited bikes. Such planning and foresight. Actually the state bike route maps are useful and well prepared (except going into Duluth). After guessing and following "Sky Line" we arrived in town unscathed. We started noticing roads like this though, "Sky Line", "Hill Road", "Summit", "Mountain View", "Hill Crest", "Steep Muthr", etc. Bike touring does strange things to the mind.

I looked for and bought a new pair of bike shoes in Duluth. My walkable SPDs hurt my right foot. These new shoes aren't "walkable" but have much stiffer soles. Now I can pirouette on tile floors and clip clop through super markets. (Moral: Always fix what's a problem before starting a tour. Shopping during a tour is a pain.)

We stayed in Duluth this night. It was expensive but we were lucky to get a motel at all what with the Legionnaire's Convention. Great Mexican dinner, cool dry motel, life is good.

July 14, 1995

The bike path across the bridge into Wisconsin was a trip. This is an inspiring ride and unlike a car you can stop and look around. Look back at Duluth, out onto Lake Superior, at the curving bridge we were on, nice visuals. But after leaving Duluth, and Lake Superior, it turned hot and muggy again.

I've heard stories of this. We were, biking along a county road starting to think about where we could camp. A couple had pulled off the road and were standing in front of their pick-up waiting for us. I was too tired/hot/etc to talk much about, "nevr sen biks lik dat", "dat a lota stuf on dar", "wer yo hedid". Wasn't at all prepared for "you two need a place to stay tonight". "Um, well, ya, sure could use a tent spot." Don and Jeannette were great, they took us in, gave us a room, fed us, took us for a boat trip on their lake, showers and even let us wash clothes. Great people.

I did solve a bike problem we'd been having since Grand Forks. Denise had a creak in her fork. I swore it was in the fork crown (maybe from being hit with the Mr. Tuffy :-) ) which comes apart for packing. In Duluth I finally put her 17" wheel on my bike and rode around the parking lot. By golly, it was in the wheel! I check the spokes and the build. It's in the HUB! Not the crown I built, not the wheel I built, but the bullet proof hub I bought! This is good, in a way, but try to find a new 28 hole hub in Duluth. I finally put some penetrating lock tight around the pressed bearing seat which solved it.

July 18, 1995

It rained for a couple of days, then it was broken clouds for a day or two. All in all marginal weather. Heading for the KOA outside Hayward we saw a bear. He loped across the road some 100 yards in front of us. Busy highway here so he was in a hurry. Cool!

Today was a good biking day but with a few down moments. In Prentice we tried to pick up the 17" tire we put a forward on in Grand Rapids. Ha, it wasn't there. We called Grand Rapids and it hadn't arrived there even. We called Lightning, they checked and it hadn't even been sent. When I called from Grand Rapids they assured me it had been sent. So here we are, in the middle of Wisconsin with one dead tire and one on the bike that seems to be going (it wasn't very round and looked to be bulging in places). I called Angle Tech and told our sob story to Kelvin. He promised to try and send us one or two, new if possible or good condition used. I asked him to Fed Ex to Shawano.

We decided to shoot for Tomahawk, a long ways but not much between Prentice and Tomahawk. A few campgrounds close to Tomahawk but we passed them up and went into town. Ya see, it was Denise's birthday so we needed some good wine and a motel. So why would the day get better? We got some wine but all the motels were full. So, back to the campgrounds we passed, tired and getting late. But it did get better, we found a very nice camp with a bicycle rate, $2 each, what a deal. So we had birthday maca&cheese with a good red wine. Not much of a birthday I'm afraid.

July 20, 1995

Denise was sick yesterday. More than a hang over as we first thought but a 24 hour bug, and besides it rained all day. We didn't travel.

We're famous. The folk at the campground called the local paper and a reporter came out and interviewed us, pictures too. Does this count as our 15 minutes?

Great day biking. We're moving from lake resorts and scrub forest into farmlands. Close to muggy around 2 or 3 but a nice day for the mid-west.

July 25, 1995

We rode through the Menomonee Indian Reservation. It's a well preserved and maintained forest, nice. We did feel out of place at times. I had a beer can thrown my way but an empty beer can is a poor projectile. There was a giant casino towards the south and heavy traffic.

Picked up two new 17" Moulton tires in Shawano, no problems no hassles, our thanks to Kelvin and Angle Tech.

In Appleton, another city kind of place, we tried to do some shopping but couldn't find what we wanted. It became late with no campgrounds in sight so we started looking for a motel. Well, there were few options. "What, you don't have a reservation, didn't you know the whizba Softball Tournament is this weekend?" We finally found a room at the "Hampton Inn", yes it's as fancy as it sounds. Two 'traveled' bike tourists pushing loaded recumbent bicycles through the lobby and up the elevators, quite a sight with appropriate stares, but as always friendly questions. In the morning we took our bike touring appetites to their continental breakfast evening out the high room cost.

Today we again had a fast day, cruising. Similar to traversing North Dakota but this time on a ferry from Manitowoc, WI to Ludington, MI. It's been hot and muggy but on the lake, away from land, it was very pleasant. I parked my bike in just the wrong place getting on the ferry. Getting off it was blocked ever so perfectly that we were the last ones off.

August 1, 1995

It has been hot and muggy for a long time. The only time it seems to cool off is when there is a down pour. Not good touring weather.

In Homer (south central MI) we were looking for a campground we understood would be there. No one at the convenience store knew of it or could help. We stumbled around here for maybe an hour trying to think through what we were doing. Several people offered to help and Tom offered us his yard. However, by this time we'd located a campground about 8 miles down the road and headed for it.

The camp we found was on the Kalamazoo river and very pleasant. We sat in the two foot deep stream and cooled off, ate dinner and relaxed. In the evening, Tom stopped by with home made zucchini cake. This was great, more nice helpful people.

Our camp on the Kalamazoo was the first place we saw fireflies this trip. A romantic touch to the evening. Later four or five rockies (raccoons) came around for the crackers we left them. This was one of our nicer camps.

August 3, 1995

The roads have deteriorated. They've been getting worse since we landed in Michigan. Before we left I heard the roads here were bad and the rumors were true. Rough surface, broken or missing shoulders, heavy traffic, cliffs, etc. How can the roads be this bad this near the car capitol of the world?

It's been fairly flat since we hit Minnesota, well compared to Montana. The county roads in Wisconsin has hills, sometimes disheartening, but OK. Then we traversed the Irish Hills in southern Michigan. These were steep little suckers. We followed small country lanes until the wife decided she'd had enough. The major highways are much better graded and she decided that's where we'd go.

Then, all of a sudden, I was following Denise on city streets being very lost. She grew up in Toledo so seemed to know where she was going. And she did 'cause all of a sudden we were at Tony Paco's. A place of chilly dogs, good beer and our destination since leaving Washington. A guy out front asked us where we were going and we said Tony Paco's. He was Tony Paco, took our picture in front of his place and let us park our bikes safely around back. Good beer. It is very hard to find good beer in rural (.......) (fill in blank with Washington, Idaho, Montana, Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, etc.) Lots of Bud, Blitz, Stroh's, etc., but good beer?

We live in Oregon and got a ride to Spokane, WA to start pedaling. In Toledo a woman in a van asked "where are you going?" and we answered "Toledo". She said, "well you made it. where are you from?" and we said "Oregon (state of)". To which she replied "Oregon (OH). What's not far." So we had to explain.


Two months on the road. Our expenses were right at $50/day. This excluded transportation such as Amtrak and the ferry, and bike repairs. Necessary bike repairs were under $100. We didn't stay in any bed & breakfasts opting for campgrounds and a 'cheap' motel once in awhile. (A few expensive motels when necessary.) We cooked most of the time but weren't religous about it. All in all we were frugal but didn't deprive ourselves. $50/day was a comfortable budget.

We never felt threatened either on or off the bikes. We probably should have once or twice but we're nuts. I learned a new traffic law though. It goes like this:

"When aproaching a bicycle from behind and there is no oncoming traffic you should move into the oncoming lane and proceed safely around that bicycle."

"If there is oncoming traffic you should likewise proceed around the bicycle and are entitled to 1/2 of the oncoming traffic's lane. This leaves the oncoming traffic 1/2 of their lane and the ditch."

They used it too. Cars passing us would give us ample clearance by take up a good portion of the oncoming lane forcing oncoming traffic onto the shoulder. This was better than for the passing car to force us into the ditch! We found the vast majority of truckers safe and courteous.

So what can you say about a long tour? It was certainly an adventure. Some day I'd like to take a credit card bed & breakfast tour that you could call a "vacation". A camping tour is an adventure, a change of pace, exciting and a little psycotic but not a "vacation". If you have done long distance touring you understand, if not you should try it. It will change your life, at least while you're touring. :-)

I have toured on diamond frame bikes but after I discovered recumbents I'll never do so again. Recumbents are much more comfortable and allow you to see more while riding. They are ideal for touring. I prefer a SWB but I'm sure this is a personal preferance.

Finally would we embark on another long tour? You bet, next summer, Idaho.