Have you followed this whole journey from the beginning? Follow this link to find all the episodes of our North American Cycle Tour – 2019

Sunday 16th June: Libby to Halfway House (Highway 56, Montana, USA): 48.4kms

Ride Time: 3hrs / Ave Speed: 9.86mph

It was Father’s Day here today and the traffic was suitably busy. We said goodbye to the father and son duo, wishing them a safe journey, and left Libby enjoying a long downhill run alongside the Kootenay River.

A wide shoulder and a good road surface really gave us the opportunity to enjoy the stunning scenery as we freewheeled along, it was a great start to the day. We even saw another Bald Eagle!

Some pretty nice shacks along the Kootenay River!

Heading towards Troy, about halfway down the river valley, we stopped to rest at the Kootenay Falls Recreational Area. Shazz stopped at the kiosk to mind the bikes and get a coffee while I walked the 15-minute trail to the falls. The surrounding cliffs here aren’t really high, but the amount of water coming over them was impressive, so was the fall’s roar! I spent some time getting photos on both the camera and Shazz’s phone.

The fast-flowing river at Kootenay Falls.
Looking west along the Kootenay Valley after the falls.

Not far past the falls was the turnoff for the 56. It began with one very steep, long climb. Cresting the hill and a little out of breath, we had a quick rest and then continued south. The whole area was a series of rolling hills set amongst a thick forest on both sides of the road. The Cabinet Mountain range was now on our left-hand side and provided an impressive backdrop to the forests.

We turn south onto Highway 56, beginning with a nice, sharp climb.

We arrived at The Halfway House around 1.30 pm the place was busy with lunchtime customers, so we parked the bikes out front and took up a table on the verandah. After lunch and a few beers, we were joined by Willy and Larry, two other touring cyclists doing the Northern Tier, West to East. They had started out separately but had lately met along the way. They would leave for their own routes across the country later on in Minnesota. We directed them to the rear of the place where we had already set up our tent.

Farmhouses alongside the 56 with the Cabinet Mountain range in the background.
The welcoming facade of the Halfway House on Highway 56.

Later on, after several beers, we met the amicable owners, Jason and Dave, as well as Chef Chris. Barmaid Maggie was very chatty and Josh, a general hand around the place, kept us amused for some time. Everyone was doing their best to make us feel at home, and we certainly appreciated it.

At dinner, Willy and Larry joined us, and we swapped information about the road ahead.

Monday 17th June: Halfway House – Rain Stay

It’s nice to lay in the tent, warm, cozy, and dry especially when it rains all night and most of the next morning! No fans of riding wet, we made the easy decision to stay another day at the Halfway House. It was free, the weather didn’t look like improving till later in the evening, and Highway 56 would be way too dangerous in the wet.

Free camping out the back of the Halfway House.

On the other hand, Willy and Larry were on a bit of a mission and planned to get to Libby today, rain, hail, or shine. We all hung around together under the large shelter at the rear of the pub and drank coffee, which Larry graciously provided. Josh turned up and joined us as we wasted away most of the morning chatting.

After saying goodbye to the boys and catching up on our diary, we moved inside with Jason and Dave, keeping them entertained with stories of our travels which they eagerly ate up.

Inside the Halfway House, a pretty nice place to get stuck for a couple of days!

In the early evening, Gray, a cyclist from North Carolina, arrived. We soon exchanged pleasantries and got about knowing more of each other (as fellow cyclists most often do!). He had started from the west coast and cycled one hundred miles a day! It was fairly apparent that he was something of a loner, not uncommon amongst our fraternity and understandable to us.

Not long after, “Russian Joe,” a colorful, local character, entered the establishment – obviously already “three sheets to the wind.” Us being something of curiosity around here, he made a beeline to our table and promptly sunk his hooks in. There was no getting a word in edgeways as he layered on some first-class bullshit about working for the CIA and being shot by the Russians.

It seemed like a painfully long time, but he eventually left while we had been stunned into a zombie-like silence.  We finished our drinks and returned to the tent before other “special” people accosted us.

Tuesday 18th June: Halfway House (Highway 56, Montana) to River Delta Resort (Idaho): 54.43kms

Ride Time: 3hrs 30mins / Ave Speed: 9.59mph

The Halfway House didn’t open till 10 am, but Jason, who had been there since 6 am to do the books, opened up the back door for us and invited us in for coffee. The familiar smell was most welcome in the cool morning air, which still lingered with the scent of rain. Dave joined us as well, and we helped ourselves to another cup while they both balanced the previous day’s books.

We took some business cards and thanked the guys for their hospitality, setting out again down the 56. The road wound 20 miles down past Bull Lake and through some very pretty countryside. It followed the meandering Bull River that passed through lush, green meadows that stretched up to the foothills of the Cabinet Mountains.

Highway 56 follows alongside the scenic Bull River.

Along the way, we met Clint from Colorado. He was also cycle touring. He had spent the night at the River Delta Resort, across the border in Idaho, and said it was great, although he said the owner was a bit chatty and he had to pay $USD32.00. It seemed pretty pricey, but it was situated at around the right distance for us, and there was nowhere else around to camp. A recommendation can’t be ignored in this game!

Following the Bull River as it winds its way south toward Highway 200.

We stopped for lunch at the Big Sky Pantry at the junction of the 56 and the 200. There was nothing else around. Two SUVs pulled up as we got a coffee each and a bun. Nothing strange there, you’d reckon, but I immediately noticed the God-Squad stickers all over them. “You’re with God or Satan,” proclaimed one. “Ask me about the savior,” said another, and my personal favorite, “If God said it, there is NO discussion – Believe It!”

If that wasn’t enough to get our attention, the next minute, after a bunch of young kids appeared, out popped the adults, packing more firepower than the “Shock & Awe” campaign. Strapped stylishly low around their waists, they wore guns and holsters with enough spare clips to start and end a war! Like some modern-day John Wayne, they strutted bow-legged across to an outside table as if lining up for a gunfight. Hands swung wide by their sides as they walked in a manner that The Duke himself would have been proud of.

After they finished their lunch, the other guy they had been sitting with (who wasn’t packing) stayed behind to finish his coffee. We began talking.  It turned out he was the local Fire Chief, an important role around these parts. He told us the young family with the “open-carry” guns were none other than the local preachers! Well, that made a lot of sense (not!). I’d guess there’d be many “Don’t Argue” sermons in their church, and I bet the collection plate is always pretty full too!

The ladies in the bakery helped us contact another campground closer to Clark Fork, the next town on our route. The River Delta Resort didn’t have a shop (or beers). This other place meant cycling further, another 3.5 miles along the Heron Alternative route but was only two miles from Clark Fork.

When we finally got hold of someone, we were told it was closed for the season as it was being renovated. We’d have to go a night without a beer!!!

While we sat around digesting lunch, another cyclist arrived, cycling West to East of course. There seem to be way more cyclists on this side of the country.

We take a rest stop near the bottom of the 56.

Off we went once more, out onto the busier 200, following the Clark Fork River. Unfortunately, the 200 had almost no shoulder and a 70mph speed limit. This resulted in a few “close shaves,” which always get me angry these days. We also had to get off the road a few times to let cars coming simultaneously in opposite directions pass by us safely.

After about 13 miles, we passed out of Montana and into Idaho. This part of the country is called “The Idaho Panhandle” because of its long, narrow shape. We’ll pass through Idaho in just two days.

We cross out of Montana and onto the Idaho Panhandle.

Just before the campground, at the base of a huge bluff, was a gravel pit operation that doubled as a spare car parts place. It was full of old, rusting vintage cars and buses, which they used as a fence to display. Everywhere you looked, there were giant Fishtails and elaborate chrome grills. The autos were in various states of repair, but it was easy to imagine them in their former glory, their instant appeal harking back to the days when cars were made of metal and leather, without any plastic whatsoever.

Some rusting old relics of a bygone era make up the boundary of a local gravel pit.

Finally arriving at the Delta River Resort, we met Dennis “The Menace,” the park caretaker. Dennis was a short, rotund character who appeared rather unkempt. The smell emanating from his direction suggested that he’d long ago ruled out bathing as a necessary activity. His round, ruddy face was framed with wild, black scruffy hair and an even wilder, tangled beard. In his mouth, he was missing several of his teeth. What remained were stained an unmentionable shade of green and now stood at angles that transfixed your eyes. It was hard to look him in the eyes when talking. To be fair, though, besides his appearance, Dennis the Menace seemed like a genuine guy.

We inquired if he, or anybody here, was going into Clark Fork this afternoon as we’d like to buy some beers to relax with. The answer was a firm “No.” We’d have to give the ales a miss tonight. He gave us a spot right on the river’s edge and informed us that if we didn’t require a receipt, it’d be only $USD30 – cash it was then, and we were off to a good start with him! It was a bit expensive, but the view from the riverbank was sensational.

Our view for the night. The Clark Fork River from the Delta River Resort, Idaho.

The only other guests seemed to be staying in a mid-sized motorhome next door to us. That is, until a young bloke walked out of the adjacent toilet block and introduced himself. Eddie also lived in the park for most of the year anyway. We asked him if he was going into town, and he said he was, but not until later and wouldn’t be back till late. We explained to him that we were only after a few beers. He quickly said he had a few beers left in his fridge and that we could have them. We balked and told him we couldn’t drink his beers, but he insisted they had been there for ages and wouldn’t be drinking them. We thanked him and offered to pay for them, but he wouldn’t have that either.

Eddie returned about 15 minutes later with three cold Kookanee lagers, still refusing to take any money for them. Ten minutes later, Dennis pulled up in his golf cart with a large, round bucket beside him. In the bucket was a lot of ice and five more Kookanee lagers! What a save! He, too, wouldn’t take any money for them but told us about himself, his family, his work history, and the campground. He’s quite a funny guy! We asked him to join us and share the beers, but he informed us that he no longer drinks as he’d previously had trouble with it.

Dennis “The Menace” saves the day!

So, eventually, Dennis left us to our own devices, and we took the bucket of beers over to an unused cabin with a nice deck overlying the riverbank and sat and tried to take in this enormous alpine vista. The river water was crystal-clear and fast-flowing, with the occasional fish taking flight up and out of it in front of us. The forest grew to its edge on both sides, overlooked by a commanding mountain range wrapped around it, just like Mother Nature’s caring arms.

Our beers were sorted, and it was time to relax and enjoy the view.

We enjoyed our cold beers and ate sandwiches we had bought at the bakery for dinner. The neighbours, just a little bit curious, said hello, but returned to the comfort of their home on wheels as soon as the sun began to dip. We stayed, though, sitting around till almost dark, thinking about how lucky we were and how majestic this place was.

Read on for the next episode – Scary Times on the 200: cycling from the River Delta Resort to Newport in Washington State.