Have you followed this whole journey from the beginning? Follow this link to find all the episodes of our North American Cycle Tour – 2019.
Wednesday 12th June: Eureka to Rexford (Montana, USA): 14kms
Ride Time: 1hr 33mins / Ave Speed: 5.5mph
We had decided to ride the short distance to the tiny hamlet of Rexford today on the recommendation of the lady who managed the Knee-Deep Bar & Grill back in High Water on our first night of the tour. She had a permanent RV site there and knew everybody at the local Frontier Bar.
So, off we went, choosing to take the shorter, more exciting way, up the mountain bike track (part of the Pacific Northwest Trail), which followed the Tobacco River. After all, this was adventure cycling! The trail afforded some really nice views along the river but was essentially rough as guts! It was both badly signed (as in, there was none) and exceedingly neglected. Fortunately, our bikes are pretty tough and very forgiving of the mistreatment handed out to them today.
The sign at the start of the trail warned about bears – great. It was bear season! We proceeded with caution. Along the way, we met Wendy. Out by herself in bear country, photographing various wildlife. She turned out to be a biologist/teacher and told us a little about bears and birds around here. She reckoned the bears were still up high in the mountains at this time of year. She had also come face to face with a mountain lion and lived to tell the story.
Alongside the old railway line, we met a group of teens from the Montana Conservation Corp, out picking up litter along the trail. By now, it was pretty hot in the sun, and the kids were huddled in a tight bunch in the only shade by the tracks. We stopped and chatted for a while, then pressed on over the broken ground.
After crossing under the highway bridge, the trail split in several directions. If Google Maps could talk, it would have apologized for its lack of detail on this section of the trail. We pushed forward in the general direction, not wanting to go up to the highway. We were soon lost! Not so bad that we couldn’t just turn around and go back, though. But I hate going backward, so we asked a mountain bike rider who had come up behind us, and he suggested taking our bikes up a near-vertical goat track ascending a headland just in front of us. He had obviously never taken a fully-loaded bike up there, and we had to explain the physics involved. Reconsidering, he told us we’d be better off backtracking to another road we passed earlier that would take us up to the highway.
It wasn’t the news I had wanted, but our current route led us directly into a lake with no way around it. It wasn’t such a bad place to get lost, though, it was beautiful, and there was almost nobody else about – except some mob who had left their campfire burning and decamped that morning. Shazz and I weren’t impressed. This was the exact kind of ignorant behavior that had seen us have to abort our tour last year. Our new friend used his water to put it out (mostly) and then called the fire service. I hope they find who left it there burning unattended.
We eventually turned tail and found the road up to the highway. It was steep! Rexford was just down the road and downhill all the way from the turnoff. The Frontier Bar is an impressive-looking log building in this tiny hamlet’s center. It had a spacious, shaded verandah that we quickly made a beeline to. We parked the bikes against the large wooden railings and sat down for lunch and a few beers.
After mentioning our friend at the Knee Deep Bar and Grill in High Water, the owner let us put our tent up on a patch of grass beside the pub, with access to the toilet and shower. Once we got our stuff put away in the tent, there was nothing left to do but settle in for the night.
Joannie joined us with her son and boyfriend at dinner time, and we wiled away the night. Joannie was originally from the San Diego area, so she gave us a lot of information about where to go and what to do. Apart from working two jobs as a waitress, she also stars in the local repertory society’s plays and sings like a songbird. Just another of the interesting characters we meet along the way.
Thursday 13th June: Cycling from Rexford to Rocky Gorge Campground (Montana, USA): 35.78kms
Ride Time: 2hrs 45mins / Ave Speed: 8mph
We had a 9.30 am start, and a slight breeze combined with clear, blue skies made it a great day to cycle.
Today the climbs began in earnest. It would be all about this from now on, and today’s ride quickly became a rollercoaster as we pedaled alongside Lake Koocanusa. The lake was formed when they dammed the Kootenay River just south of here. As it stretches well back into Canada, both countries had to agree on a mutual name. The “Koo” is from Kootenay, the original name of the river, then the rest of the name is simply the abbreviations of Canada and the United States of America, “canusa.” Gotta love cooperation!
We enjoyed fantastic views of the lake and its brilliant green waters as we traveled its eastern side. With all the climbing, it was great practice for the Rockies, but we took every opportunity to recover, hydrate, and take in the scenery. Two climbs were around 4 km long, so we had plenty of time to get used to pushing our heavy bikes skyward. We didn’t mind too much as we were undoubtedly in a pretty part of the world. The added bonus was that there was very little traffic to bother us.
The wind picked up for the last three or four kms to the campground, but we still found ourselves there relatively early. We checked in with the camp hosts. The place looked pretty much empty. We were surprised to see two other touring cyclists resting in some shade near the toilet block. It turned out to be a father and son on a Trans-America ride. Amazingly, the son was only seven years old. If they made it to the other side of the country, he would be the youngest to ever do so on a bicycle. He had already negotiated the Rockies with its five huge mountain passes, so I guess he just had to overcome the boredom of eastern Montana and the North Dakota plains, and he’d be a shoo-in to make it.
We found a nice spot overlooking the lake, but it didn’t have shade yet. So we parked the bikes next to a picnic table in the shade further up the bank and made some lunch while we waited for it to cool down and the sun to go over.
We relaxed and enjoyed our quiet little piece of nature for the rest of the day, giving our very tired legs a chance to recuperate for tomorrow’s push down past the dam and onto Libby.
Want to see how we got on the next day? Read on: Cycling Rocky Gorge to Libby.