Location: White Bird, ID (town park)
I woke early this morning to find that the four cyclists we met last night were packed and ready to leave. They rode off through the park around eight, just as Brian and I were getting around to eating breakfast.
Last night, the temperatures dropped dramatically. I had to zip my sleeping bag up to my chin to stay warm. The winds subsided and only the traffic on the highways and the sprinklers made the morning move. The sprinklers had run all night, about twelve hours, and they flooded the park. The grass was covered in standing puddles of water, and water drained rapidly from the field into the storm sewers on the street. The park in New Meadows was pretty poorly maintained. The bathrooms were filthy. They were utterly disgusting and practically unusable. However, the town let us stay there for free, so I guess we got what we paid for.
We rode out of town early, around nine o’clock MST, which until yesterday was eight o’clock on our watch. The headwind didn’t blow like yesterday, though I could feel that it would kick up as soon as the day heated up. We had a few short climbs first thing this morning, but the day was downhill or flat mostly. We made incredible time, and I pushed myself hard to climb the hills as quickly as possible without needing to break to rest. Brian kept pace, and by lunch, we had knocked out around fifty miles.
We stopped for lunch at the Slate Creek ranger station in the Nez Perce National Forest. The station was a cluster of buildings on the side of the highway. We were able to get water there, and I got the chance to check out a really neat museum. A small log cabin, built in the 1910s but recently dismantled and relocated to the station, served as a museum with artifacts of the area’s history and the National Park Service’s role in it. The cabin was once a cabin for forest rangers, and it had been kept in that condition, with the ranger’s desk, kitchen, and tools still in place, labeled, and described. It was great to have visited because a couple days ago I told myself that I need to start seeing more on this trip. I decided I would make it a point to visit a museum of some sort in each state.
After a lazy lunch, Brian and I started to move down the road, and I realized I had a flat tire, AGAIN. That makes three flat tires in two days. I couldn’t believe it. The leak was slow, so I pumped up the tire and decided that I could make the next eleven miles to White Bird without changing the tube. I was frustrated and hot, but I managed to make White Bird without having to stop. Brian wasn’t so lucky.
At one point in the road, when we crossed a small bridge, rumble strips appeared out of nowhere. Brian plowed right into them, throwing his back tire out of alignment. When the wheel rotated, it rubbed his brake at one spot, so he disconnected his brake so that he could finish the last few miles to town.
When we rode into White Bird, we could not immediately find the town park we knew was there. Brian asked the postman, and he pointed us to a small patch of grass at the corner of the town’s main street and the exit ramp from the highway. There were a couple of picnic tables and it was shaded, so it was all the space we needed to repair our bikes and take a break from the hot afternoon.
Before long, the town’s maintenance man stopped by the park to change the placement of the sprinklers. The man didn’t introduce himself at first, but I spoke to him and found out his name was Lonnie. He had a long gray beard, dingy rainbow suspenders to hold up his jeans, and an old black lab named Annie. Lonnie discouraged us from attempting to make the climb out of the gorge in the afternoon heat, and he stressed that there was no cover and no water on the mountain. Brian and I had been looking for an excuse to stay the night, and Lonnie’s words provided just that reason.
Though it was only two o’clock, we chose to stay in White Bird, having cycled over fifty miles already. White Bird was the tiniest town. It had two restaurants but no gas station or store. The library was only open a couple days a week, and the most popular place in town was the Silver Dollar, a bar across the street from the small park where we had decided to sleep.
Brian and I wasted the afternoon making small talk and drying our clothes in the hot sun. We put our clothes through the wash cycle at the Chief White Bird Motel Laundromat, but we didn’t have the dollar seventy-five in quarters to dry the clothes in the machine. All afternoon, people came and went from the Silver Dollar. By motorcycle, pickup truck, and foot, dozens of people went in and out of the little brown building. The building was built in the same style as an old saloon. It looked like something out of a grade B western flick mixed with modern times. The windows on the front were small and head high, and each had a neon beer sign flickering behind the glass. I couldn’t see into the place, but my curiosity was stoked enough that we decided we would go there for dinner.
Well before dark, Brian and I tied up our bikes and walked across the street to the Silver Dollar. Several people sat on the front porch, drinking beers and smoking cigarettes. Inside, there was a short bar along the wall and three long tables in the middle of the smoky room, which were mostly full with boisterous people propped on barstools. A few people shot a look our way, but once they realized we weren’t someone they knew, they were back to their beers and table talk. It was obvious that the Silver Dollar was the locals watering hole, and that we were in store for a loud Friday night in White Bird.
I asked the bartender where we should sit if we wanted to eat, and she pointed through a small hallway to the next room. The next room was a totally different establishment, a restaurant separate from the bar. We had come to the place because we assumed it must be the better of the two restaurants in town. We thought it might be the best restaurant within a hundred miles since so many people came and went by way of the highway. But, when we walked through the crowded bar and into the next room, we found that the restaurant had no one in it except the waitress, who, after we ordered our cheese burger and patty melt, also turned out to be the cook.
I was skeptical now of the restaurant, but the food was good. I ordered a beer, and I saw our waitress walk through the small highway. I saw her buy a beer from the bar and bring it to me. I assume, it seems, they had a clever little scheme going to avoid purchasing a second beer and liquor license. The legality of that practice I really couldn’t say. Regardless, I enjoyed my beer and my burger, and I paid cash for the meal since she didn’t accept plastic.
Brian and I returned to the campsite before dark, but I climbed in my tent anyway to work on my journals. I can now hear the laughter of the people outside the bar, and each time the door swings open I can hear the music blasting. Thank goodness for the earplugs I keep in my tent.