Smoke Gets In Your Eyes...RideIdaho
I’m sure you’ve heard that song made famous by the Platters…”Smoke gets in your eyes” Well, that pretty much sums up RideIdaho 2015. I was really looking forward to this year’s route in the green mountainous forested areas of northern Idaho and western Montana. Last year’s route was down in the flatter drier (usually) high desert region of southeastern Idaho near Twin Falls. But it rained… a lot, “the 50 year storm” they said. So with high hopes for dry and green mountains, I’d signed up for my third RideIdaho. But be careful what you wish for. The week was foreshadowed by a nearly 300,000 acre wildfire southwest of Boise the blocked Hwy 95, the only route to get into that corner of Idaho. Being mostly grass and low sage the fire burned through very fast and the road was reopened just hours before I arrived. I met my good friend, Bogie, in Boise and we set out for the tour start in Coeur D’Alene with clear skies early the next morning. “CdA” as it’s known, is a lovely city and this year’s tour started out from the newly completed Waterfront Park with an early morning 3 hour boat ride down the length of beautiful blue Lake Coeur D’Alene to Heyburn State Park.
As the morning warmed, we rode a smooth, flat 53 mile portion of the “Trail of the Coeur D’Alene” east to the town of Kellogg, ID. This is a wonderful example of the extensive rails-to-trails system here in northern Idaho and eastern Washington. That night thunderheads loomed to the east and north making for a picturesque sunset. So far so good! After long lines for a lackluster breakfast, day 2 was a very short ride up to Wallace, Idaho, the official “Center of the Universe” according to the manhole cover in the center of town. We’d signed up for a Zip Line tour there and I sheepishly admit that I was a Zip Line Virgin, as was Bogie. Our minor pangs quickly evaporated when we saw all the redundant safety equipment and procedures and met our engaging guides. Seven Zip Lines later, we were both grizzled smiling Zip Veterans. Not shaving for three days added to that look. Day 3 was the longest of the tour at 90 miles and over two notable passes, the second, Thompson Pass, at 4862ft. The refreshing descent was a delicious 21 miles with long straights and smooth sweeping turns, just perfect for our recumbents.
The day warmed very quickly, reaching into the muggy 90’s and the lunch stop had a nice coffee vendor (iced mocha!) though the levels of smoke were increasing with every mile. We were relatively early into camp in Noxon, Montana, but the smoke was now really irritating our eyes and lungs as flakes of ash occasionally wafted down. After a pleasant chicken or salmon dinner we were informed the next day’s route to Troy, MT. was blocked due to the fires and smoke. The eerie red ball of the setting sun gave the flavor of an off-world sci-fi movie. Ash lightly covered our tents in the morning, so the best option for day 4 was to head straight for Sandpoint, Idaho on the north shore of Lake Pend Oreille with lots food and grog options. Here in Noxon we had one small store, a bar, and lots of smoke. Due to “communication issues” another lackluster breakfast was delayed for over an hour and beset with shortages. After breaking camp, the early portion of the route found itself on more than a few miles of washboard gravel “to avoid a busy Hwy” before reentering Idaho. Later that day the word got around that one of the riders didn’t wake up that morning, casting another pall along with the smoke and ash. The food lines at lunch were again taking too long, so we pressed on, though running low on cheerfulness.
Our “camp” for the next 3 nights was the City Beach Park in Sandpoint, with nice lawns, an easy quarter mile walk into downtown and a tenth of a mile from a very active railroad line. Who knew they ran freight trains every 20-30 minutes, 24/7? You could feel the levels of disappointment and frustrations rising amongst the riders as several were deciding to bail out for health issues as the levels of smoke here were now worse than in MT.
The air was now officially “very hazardous” and the views almost completely obstructed, so I too decided to pull the plug and get a ride into Coeur D’Alene to retrieve my truck and not ride any of the last 3 days, though many did. We all felt bad for the hardworking volunteer staff that not only had to deal with air and smoke issues but the levels of rider discontent as well. The last morning we got a break! The sky was almost blue as the winds shifted the smoke elsewhere and gave the riders a nice tailwind for most of the way back down to Coeur D’Alene. As I had my truck, I gave two riders lifts to the long term parking and the Spokane Airport. It was a long smoky drive down to Boise with Bogie that afternoon and alone back home to the Bay Area the next morning. What can I say, smoke got in my eyes.