September 9-12 (Uhaul #2 and Crossing into Washington)

September 9: I wake up at 5:30 (living outside has led to becoming an early riser, even when I’ve slept indoors). By 6:30 I’m sitting in a diner considering my options. The evening before I reviewed the wildfire information provided to the town via info boards in front of the grocery store. There is a wildfire directly in the direction I need to go, only 3 miles outside of town. I sit in the diner for 2 hours trying to find a ride past the fire. Feeling the clock ticking away my time until winter, I break down and rent another uhaul. This one is an even bigger box truck than the last because they did not have any of the smaller trucks available. I drive 84 miles to Sandpoint, Idaho. My second-to-last state. I stay at the fairgrounds outside of town. There’s no real tent camping here. I’m required to pay the price for an RV and have to camp out of the way to avoid the sprinklers that will come on at night. The showers, on the other hand, are very nice. I take a long, hot shower. Hot water is something I have come to see as a treat instead of a consistent luxury.

September 10: Due to the distances between campgrounds, this is a short and easy day. I cross into Washington! My last state! I look at the sign at the border in amazement, and a little shock. Surprise that I’ve made it through 10 states yes, but on a smaller scale I just didn’t realize I would enter Washington this evening. I had thought the border was further along and I would cross it in the morning. Turns out the campground where I spent the night was just inside Washington. It seems less smoky here. The border crossing and the lighter sky puts me in high spirits. By the time I set up camp, I am too lazy to heat up the clam chowder soup I have for dinner, so I eat it out of the can, cold, like the heathen I have become.

September 11: This morning I am faced with deciding if I want to bicycle 40 miles or 80 miles to the next campground, which is really no decision at all. It only takes me until 1pm to reach Blueslide resort. I am now on WA route 20, the Cascade Highway, which I will remain on until I reach the Pacific Ocean. The weather is noticeably growing colder by the day, which reminds me that the mountain passes may close any time.

September 12: I spend almost all day walking my bike up a mountain. I rarely keep track of how far I walk anymore. Even the amount of miles I bike in a day doesn’t mean much. I can usually reach my intended destination. The miles are easier, even the walking is easier. I’m so much stronger than I was just a few weeks ago. I reached the top at around 1pm and stop for lunch at a lodging with a restaurant, Beaver Lodge. I ordered one of my favorite meals, a burger with an over-easy egg on top and french fries. While I am eating not one, but TWO cyclists come into the restaurant. They don’t know each other and I’ve never seen either before. The man is Phil, who is from Massachusetts originally but is traveling Eastbound to Havre, Montana. Kayla is from Boston, going west like me, and has been cycling the Northern Tier all summer. A solo cyclist! Westbound! From New England! And she’s FEMALE. This is the first female solo-cyclist I have met, and only the second female cyclist I’ve met at all (excluding myself). All three of us just happen to converge at this hotel restaurant at the top of a mountain. I stay the night at the Bacon Bike Hostel, located just outside of Coleville, Washington. There is no one staying here besides Dobby and myself. This hostel is run by a husband and wife for free. It is basically an entire house with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, a beautiful balcony, and laundry facilities. All they require is that you give them advanced notice of your arrival. There are some amazing people in this world.

I am so excited to get the smell of smoke out of my clothes.

We have traveled 2926.8 miles.

September 6-8 (Smoky Montana)

September 6: I wake up the day after the perfect zero ready to go. I have decided to stay on US 2 West instead of following the Northern Tier up to Eureka because of the wildfires in the area. Going off route has yet to be a positive experience for me. I eat another amazing breakfast at the campground’s Sunflower Cafe. Soon after departing, I discover there is a fairly new looking bike path along US 2. The air is very smoky; it is just bad enough to make me feel tired and irritable. I can tell that there are some beautiful sights to see but they are obscured. I connect with a warm showers host in Kila, Montana and learn that she is responsible for the bike path! Helen lobbied and raised the funds to get the 40 mile bike path put in from Glacier to Kila. Kila is a teeny town, adorable in its simplicity and Helen is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Helen earns a living making instrument cases and repairing camping gear. She lives on 40 acres on the side of a mountain, in an off-grid cabin that runs off of solar and propane. There is not toilet, only an outhouse. Helen built this cabin herself 30 years previously, and added onto it as her needs required. She has 2 children (around my age) who have in turn built their own cabins on the property, each choosing materials and locations that seemed to suit their personalities and preferences. Helen feeds me delicious food. She tolerates Dobby running all over her property, even jumping in her small pond and terrifying her fish. After we tour the property, which included walking up to the top of the mountain to look at the stars beginning to emerge, I look at Helen in awe. “How did you create all this?” I ask her. She just looks at me with the constant smile she wears and replies “I just did it.” I only met Helen for a night, but I still think about her sometimes. When I’m face with what I feel are insurmountable odds, or dealing with a challenge I’m not quite sure how to tackle, I think of Helen telling me to “just do it.” She’s right of course. Sure, you can sit and think about how best to handle a situation, but there are times when this pondering won’t do you any good, and you truly won’t know what needs to be done until you try something and see how it goes. I am no longer afraid to tackle things I’ve never done before. I hope one day to attempt to build a home for myself the way Helen did.

September 7: Helen serves up waffles with greek yogurt, maple syrup and peaches. It's amazing. Before I leave, Helen lubes up my chain and gives me cookies for the road. Did I mention how wonderful this woman is? I feel like I’m dragging today, the smoke is heavy and it seems to draw my strength out of my body. I stop for lunch at The Hilltop Hitching Post and then stop for the day around 3pm. I had planned to get further but I just don’t have the strength today. I think learning to listen to your body is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned on this trip. I stop at a campground at McGregor Lake. It’s a state campground, no showers or flushing toilets. I go for a swim with Dobby in the lake, situated just behind my tent. I clean the smoke off my body, and out of my hair and clothes. The smoke seems to sit on the water, and I can imagine it’s just fog creeping in. While making dinner on the picnic table, I spill 1/2 of a Mountain House meal. I realize what kind of person this trip has made me when I scoop the entree back into the bag and eat it.

September 8: It’s still smoky today, but the flatter ground makes for an easier ride. The air quality is so poor when I arrive in Libby, Montana, that a woman pulls her car over and offers me a mask. Everyone I see outside is wearing one. There are signs in front of all the businesses thanking the firefighters that have come from all over the country to help fight forest fires. I’m so sick of the smoke that I can’t imagine spending another night outside. I stay at the Caboose Motel, watching TV for a few hours and charging all my electronics. The smoky sky, while hazardous to my health, was also causing the death of my electronics. Without the sunny days to charge my solar batteries, I have no way to charge my phone, ipod, GPS, etc.

I realize how novel having four walls around me is becoming. I’m no longer used to having a solid room to hole up in, where I am insulated from Mother Nature and her whims. In the hotel room, I don’t know what the weather is outside. I don’t know how bright or dark the sky is. I can’t hear what animals are nearby. I’m not sure anymore whether or not I prefer the insulation of the hotel room or the immersion of nature.

We have traveled 2808.2 miles.

August 29-30 (Renting a U-haul)

August 29: Upon waking up to another cold morning, I made the decision to rent a U-haul in Valley City. I could say this was a difficult decision. I could say that the reality was if I kept at my current pace I wouldn't make it to the west coast before snow covered the mountain passes. I could (and did) say that I needed to get safely past the wildfires in eastern Montana. While all of these things are true, I will also say I was a little bit sick of biking. I had traveled almost 2500 miles to date on a bicycle, towing almost 100 pounds behind me. That's like trying to run with a parachute attached to your back. I calculated I had approximately 6 weeks left on my trip, which would put me well into October before I finished. Some mountain passes in western Montana and Washington close in early to mid-October, and I really didn't want to take any chances of coming so close to my goal and falling short. I have zero regrets about the decision to drive through some of the route. 

I loaded my bike into a 10 foot U-haul truck, (the smallest option you have if you're not bringing the vehicle back to the same U-haul location) rented in Valley City, and laughed at how little space I took up with essentially everything I currently owned. You really don't need nearly as much stuff in your life as you think. I had to reacquaint myself with driving since I hadn't driven a vehicle in almost 2 months. I don't think I exceeded 50 miles per hour for the first 100 miles, which I'm sure made the other drivers on I-90 super happy. I drove most of 600 miles and stopped at a rest stop somewhere in Montana. The great part about all that extra space in the back of the U-haul was that I had plenty of room to set up my sleeping pad and bag, no tent-pitching necessary. I closed the gate to the U-haul, leaving it open just a few inches to allow fresh air and a breeze inside. It was an incredibly peaceful night.

August 30: The next morning, I drove the rest of the way to the U-haul drop-off, located in Havre, Montana. I spent most of the day in the library, updating a severely out-of-date blog (like I'm doing right now). While sitting in the library, my phone went off with an alert about a wildfire twenty miles south of town. I returned the U-haul around 4:30 and biked back into town to Havre RV Park. The tent camping was really just a grassy area next to a gas station but it was quiet, had the nicest showers and even had laundry! I thought I might not want to get back on the bike, but it was like coming home. I might officially be a cyclist! Sitting outside my tent eating dinner, back up against a tree trunk, the ash falling on my tent was reminiscent of snow.