Our trips are known for their rocky starts. So we were not surprised when we were all packed and ready to go on our first four day ride when it started hailing and blowing winds like in the Wizard of Oz. We both looked at each other and we knew that this ride was not going to happen and we should come up with a Plan B. In fact this whole trip was a Plan B. We were actually planning to go to Oregon and cycle some of the Scenic Bikeways we haven’t done already. However, when Gili went to pick up the rental car (we don’t own a car at the moment) it turned out that there is a ridiculous extra charge for going anywhere outside BC and Washington. So we came up with Plan B: cycling in eastern Washington.
We left Vancouver mid day on Sunday without a clear plan. Only at a rest area, shortly after we crossed the border, we sat and looked at some maps and decided where we’ll head to first. Our route took us through the mock Bavarian town of Leavenworth, where Neil rode his balance bike, and on to Wenatchee where we spent the night exhausted at a local campground. Then we drove to Soap Lake, where we were hoping to start riding the next day. The campground at Soap Lake was completely deserted except for the host, but we were still not allowed to camp in the lake-side RV sites, and had to pitch our tent right by the road instead. In any case I didn’t like the amount of trucks on this otherwise quiet road, so I was not totally disappointed when our plan fell through the next day due to the weather.
Following our experience in New Zealand, we got a local sim card which proved to be very helpful. While it was still hailing, Gili called Gregory who agreed to host us through Warm Showers in Clarkston, Washington. Of course, until that moment we had no idea where Clarkston was, and it turned out to be in the farthest possible spot – the southeast corner of Washington, just by the border with Idaho. Gregory agreed to host us for two nights till the weather cleared, despite our very last minute request and even invited us to dinner at his friend’s house that evening. So we found ourselves driving along one of the most scenic roads we’ve seen, till we finally reached Clarkston. Just as we were pulling into town we got a text that the dinner was actually in Lewiston, Idaho! We stopped by the river, overlooking the bridge to Lewiston, like Moses overlooking the promised land. We could not drive into Idaho with our rental car or we’d risk having to pay a large fine, so Gregory took us with his van to his friend’s place.
Warm Showers Hospitality
Our stay with Gregory and his daughter Sky, who graciously gave up her room for us, was the first of the incredible hospitality we encountered through Warm Showers during the trip. In two weeks we stayed with five different hosts on eight different nights. It’s common to think of the US as a sometimes hostile place, but once again we (almost) only had good things to report. In Moscow, Idaho, we stayed with Caroline and Jim who took us in for two nights and gave us their guest unit downstairs. They fed us throughout the weekend and we enjoyed strolling through their property including visiting their llamas and playing on their antique playground. They found chairs and toys for Neil from when their now 19 year old daughter was a baby. We shared many stories throughout the weekend, and when we left, Caroline joined us for the first section of the ride.
Then there were Debi and Rob in Spokane who just love hosting people through Warm Showers and Couch Surfing. Neil enjoyed playing with their grandson’s toys and we all went out to a local farmer’s market and enjoyed some local food trucks. When we got back to Spokane after a three day ride we stayed with Nick and Addie and their two cute boys. We were hosted in their basement suite which is also a giant playroom so Neil was in paradise. In addition, the two boys were awesome playmates especially when Addie blew up some balloons with water to splash on the ground on a really hot day. Last but not least was Cassie, on our final stopover, in Ellensburg. Over tacos for dinner and pancakes for breakfast we heard about the challenges professors face in this somewhat beaten up college town. We also shared stories about recent cycling trips and slept very comfortably in the guest room.
The Snake River Loop
We were following the forecast closely and on Thursday the weather finally cleared up and we were ready to go. There is nothing like locals’ knowledge and Gregory helped us to come up with a world class cycling loop that involved quiet roads, bike trails and cute little towns. The ride started with leaving Clarkston on Wawawai Rd., a really quiet and incredibly scenic road by the Snake River. At the end of the first day we found ourselves in a beautiful campground that felt like an Oasis and since it was mid week and off season we were the only people there.
The next day involved a big climb and it started to get warm. Once we were done climbing we were on a beautiful plateau of green and yellow hills all around us. This area is called the Palouse and these were classic Palouse views. From there we made our way to the College town of Pullman, Washington. The campground there was a bit of a dump there were a few homeless people living there, so it was quite a disappointment after the previous night’s campground. It was fine for one night though and on Saturday morning we pulled into Moscow, Idaho, another cute college town and we made our way straight to the Farmer’s Market where Neil enjoyed dancing to some Kleizmer music.
We stayed in Moscow for two nights with our hosts Jim and Caroline and got to know the town a bit better. Everywhere we turned there was another park which made it seem like an ideal place to raise a family. We also noticed many signs saying that “no matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor”. It seems that many Americans feel they need to constantly apologize for their president and his unfriendly policy towards immigrants, and everything else he’s doing.
The way from Pullman to Moscow was a separated cycling path, which we continued along when leaving Moscow towards Troy. We could see the busy highway not too far from us, and we were very happy to have this great trail to cycle on. Caroline rode with us till Troy, joined us for lunch in the park and eventually turned around to go back home. We continued to Juliaetta climbing once again but then descending a very steep road down to Kendrick. From there we connected with another bike path by the river to Juliaetta.
At that point it was already very hot so an ice cream was in order. We reached the park in Juliaetta where we intended to stay the night. At first there was no one there, but then more and more kids showed up, some of them playing baseball in the junior league (mostly boys) and some were just playing in the playground (mostly girls). I did some research to see where I could find the closest ice cream and then when Neil wasn’t paying attention I rode my bike to bring it. When I got back with the ice cream I became Neil’s hero for life (or at least for the next two days), as he did not stop talking about how Mama went to bring ice cream.
Finally when all the kids and parents left we could cook dinner and set up camp. The night was peaceful, no one bothered us, and we woke up to an extremely hot day. It was crazy to think that just the week before it was hailing on us and now it was boiling hot. We later turned off on to a really quiet road along the Clearwater River, towards Spalding, where we had lunch. From there we were stuck riding along the main highway, and that was really hot and busy, with dirty shoulders full of glass and rubbish. Luckily Neil was sleeping so he was not bothered, but his poor parents were. We were very happy when we finally reached a cycling path took us all the way back to Clarkston, and back to Gregory’s place for another night. Gregory let Neil play with the water hose which was very refreshing and also Neil’s shower for that day. Then we had dinner at Jose’s Tacos, the local Mexican Joint before collapsing for the night in Sky’s room.
Visit from the Police on The Centennial Trail
A rest day was in order and we took advantage of it to visit the local pool in Clarkston where we were treated as kings as they basically operated the kids’ pool only for us. I don’t think they get a lot of tourists there and they seemed excited to have a visit from the exotic people from Canada. Then, just in time for Neil’s nap, we drove to Spokane, about two hours away. Since we weren’t allowed into Idaho we took the longer way around, which included the first two days of our ride along the Snake River Loop, only that now we did it in 45 minutes. We easily found our way to Debi’s house and we spent the evening at the the Kendall Yards Night Market. The problem was that there weren’t hardly enough food trucks for the crowd and we ended up waiting 45 minutes to order our food and half an hour to receive it while Neil was doing somersaults on the grass, dancing to the live music, chasing kids, and basically going crazy till the food arrived.
Over the next three days we cycled the Centennial Trail, which is a paved trail from Spokane, Washington to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It was really nice to cycle on a separated cycling path and the riding was smooth and easy. We found the Washington part a lot nicer and greener than the Idaho section. In Washington we cycled mostly along the Spokane River, hearing the chirping birds and the sounds of the river. As soon as we crossed into Idaho the trail was suddenly right by the highway and instead of nature we heard cars and trucks. Since we didn’t manage to find Warm Showers hosts or campgrounds in Coeur d’Alene or along the way we were left with the option of ninja camping in a park for the night. We set up camp at dusk in Post Falls overlooking the artificial lake. Just as we finished putting our tent up the sprinklers started running. Our tent got a bit wet and it was a bit noisy but otherwise fine. The rest of the night was uneventful and the next day we carried on to Coeur d’Alene.
Leaving Post Falls we came across a housing complex where each narrow yard had fences on either side, and three houses had trampolines one next to the other. The whole thing was very ugly and such a waste of space. They could have easily made it into a communal yard where kids could actually play with each other on the trampolines and other toys instead of being all fenced up. I guess it’s the American way…
The last section of the ride entering Coeur d’Alene was quite scenic by the lake, and then entering the very touristy town. We’ve been there before so it felt somewhat familiar. We decided to ditch our tortilla and cheese lunch and look for something more interesting and we found a cute and cheap burger joint with music from the 60’s. The swim in the lake was a bit cold, but Neil loved the five star spray park. In the late afternoon we turned around making our way back on the trail. Our efforts to find someone who would let us pitch our tent in their yard in Post Falls were not successful. We thought we almost scored a spot with an older guy, but either he was really bad in picking up hints or just played dumb, but in any case we found ourselves again searching for a place for the night. We didn’t want to go back to the same park, so we found a different one and again set up camp at dusk.
It was one of those rare mornings when Neil decided to sleep in, and around 7:30am we heard a noise of a car close by. This was not a good sign since cars could not enter where we camped. It could only mean one thing – trouble. Sure enough we suddenly heard a cop calling “Police”. The cop said someone had called the police because they saw the tent. Come on, didn’t they also see two pairs of bicycles and a kid’s trailer?! Luckily the police officer had some common sense and he didn’t think it was a big deal and even sounded a bit annoyed that he was called in. He just told us to break camp when Neil woke up which we intended on doing anyway. Too bad Neil slept through the whole thing, because he would have been excited to see the police officer and his car.
The ride back to Spokane was pretty much the same, just backwards. However when we reached Spokane things got a bit complicated since all of the sudden there were a few bike trails and at one point we somehow found ourselves on the trail riding back towards Idaho. It didn’t help that our battery on the phone stood on 1% and we couldn’t really get the directions from there. We finally decided to leave the trail and go through the streets to our next hosts. We took photos of the map from the phone with our camera and Gili wrote some directions on a note, just to discover that the pen got all smooched up before we found our destination. It’s crazy how we have become so reliant on technology. Somehow we found our way to our hosts, Nick and Addie, arriving in the middle of a nice BBQ dinner with their friends from down the block.
We made one more stop, in Ellensburg, to break the drive back and spent the night at Cassie’s place. After a yummy pancake breakfast we started the long drive home just to get stuck in Memorial Day long weekend traffic. We made our traditional Trader Joe’s and Mexican food stop in Bellingham before reaching the border and entering Canada. In the end, our Plan B was excellent, and despite the hail and cold of the first few days we sure found plenty of sunshine and heat by the end of it. Thank you US, you were very kind to us, except of course that bastard who called the police on us, shame on you, I wonder who you voted for in the last elections….