Day 6 started with some uncertainty. We all knew that it was one of the longest days of the Tour, so the earlier we could start, the better. We had been fortunate enough to get rooms and a place to eat breakfast at the Wilderness Inn, but according to the folks we talked to, the lady who owned the gas station next door (Cougar Canyon Station) might not open that day. Uh oh... gas was going to be a big deal on Day 6, so starting with a full tank was going to be a necessity. As we sat in the restaurant enjoying our breakfast, we were hearing that she might not open at all, and then we heard she might open at around noon, which wasn't good for us either. The fires around Lowell had come very close in the past couple of days, and I think the poor lady had gotten spooked by seeing flames just across the river from her gas station. I guess working at a gas station with forest fires around you could cause some anxiety. ;-)
|The Wilderness Inn Restaurant (photo credit)
Shawn and Mike were going with the flow, and already thinking about an alternate plan for the day. They were thinking about riding just the first part of the day until they got to the Powell Ranger Station, where there is a motel, restaurant and gas (The Lochsa Lodge). If they were going to have to wait until noon to get started, this seemed like a pretty good plan. The rest of Day 6 could be completed the next day, so they would just be one day behind at the finish.
They could tell that I really wanted to go, so, being the awesome guys they are, they offered to give me all the gas they had to get my tank filled so I could go that morning. Wow, I just thought that was such a nice thing to do. Since I had filled up in Elk City, I probably only needed a couple gallons to top off my tank. Breakfast was on me that morning, and I was glad to do it.
Shawn left the restaurant and was draining gas from his bike's tank into his fuel bladder so he could pour it into mine. But then we got some great news -- the owner of the gas station was going to open that morning and she'd be there in about 20 minutes! It sounded like Shawn and Mike were going to stick with their alternate plan and not try for Wallace that night, like I was. This would be the last time I saw these guys during the Tour, and I had really enjoyed the time we had together. We've stayed in touch since then through Facebook (mostly with Mike) and I wouldn't be surprised if we run into each other again.
I rushed through getting my bike and things all packed up. By the time I rode over to the Cougar Canyon Station, it was open. I fueled up, paid, said my goodbyes to Shawn and Mike and took off up US 12.
|The tire, with two days of wear on it
Day 6 starts out with several paved miles before you come to the first off-road section, which is the Van Camp trail. It's an ATV trail that climbs out of the Lochsa River canyon and up into the mountains. It was fast going and I was making good time. I felt more alone than at any other time on the Tour, since I knew that Shawn and Mike would be several hours behind me, and once I got past a certain point early in the day, they wouldn't be coming at all, or at least not until the next day.
Van Camp eventually comes out on Forest Service roads that eventually leads to the top of Fish Butte. I love riding to mountain tops and enjoying the view, but there was still quite a bit of smoke in the air and you couldn't really see very far at all.
I've seen other riders' pictures of their bikes on "top" of Fish Butte, but it seemed unsatisfying to just stop where the road ended. After all, even a Subaru could get to this spot. The actual top of the mountain was about 20 feet higher. I scoped it out and thought "I could do that... no, I NEED to do that." It was a short, steep climb mostly up a solid rock face, but big, solid rocks are always easier than a bunch of loose, small ones. It always feels good to take on that extra little challenge that a lot of other guys won't even try.
|... but THIS was the top!
Not far off the top of Fish Butte, you come to the Fish Butte trail, which leads you back down into the Lochsa. This is an awesome single track trail that's quite narrow in places while traversing steep slopes. I loved it.
|Checking the brake pedal right before going down the Fish Butte trail. Right after this, I managed to get the tip of the pedal bent out just a bit more using a tire iron, so it was easier to find it with my boot.
|Skinny and steep, just the way I like it!
|There was less smoke here than Lowell, but it was still pretty hazy.
|An interesting rock along the Fish Butte trail
|As the trail progressed further down, it turned more green and lush
|Crossing Fish Creek at the bottom of the trail
|Time to hit the highway again
|Oh no... detouring again
I knew that I needed to get to Saddle Camp on the Lolo Motorway, which runs more or less parallel to US 12 all along that area. And I also knew that there were several other roads that connect the two. If I couldn't go up Saddle Camp road directly to Saddle Camp, there should be another way. Then I read the fine print on the notice that was posted:
So there it was... the plan was laid out pretty clearly. This detour would add about 30 miles to my day, but that was just how it had to be. I raced off up the highway, then up FS 108 and 566 to get up to FS 500 (the Lolo Motorway), then took that road down to Saddle Camp.
|After a 30 mile detour, I was back on the route
|Doing another Juan-style talk-to-my-helmet video
|Indian Grave Peak
|Just starting up the awesome Windy Ridge trail
|I tried to fix it, but I forgot my hammer and nails
|Still a little snow on Cook Mountain
|Took a break here to rest my hands and get a snack
|I love riding a trail that's been recently cleared
|Flower, flowers, flowers!
|Beautiful view as the trail starts dropping into Fourth of July Creek
|Crossing the North Fork of the Clearwater
|Windy Ridge, you've been great!
I crossed the bridge at the Fourth of July Creek trail head and turned right on FS 250, racing toward Kelly Forks and Black Canyon. At this point in the day, I hadn't looked at the route ahead in detail, but now I know something that I didn't realize at the time -- I still had 120 miles left to get to Wallace! I was doing well and feeling like I was making good time, but I didn't really know how far I had to go.
As I made the turn up Black Canyon, I saw a sign I didn't want to see... "Road Closed 8 Miles Ahead". Oh no. Unlike the previous closure, I didn't think there was a way around. All the maps I had showed that FS 250 is pretty much the only route leading where I needed to go. I decided that my only choice was to just go up there and hope for the best.
The road seemed fine, so I was curious about why it would be closed. I was seeing quite a bit of activity -- cars and trucks along the road belonging to people fishing on the North Fork of the Clearwater (most of the license plates were Washington... what's the deal with that?), campers, ATVs, etc. It didn't seem like a closed road.
I got all the way to Hidden Creek campground, where there was another sign: "Road Closed beyond this point". Great, now what? Just then, two little dualsport motorcycle riders carrying fishing poles putted past me, right through the "Road Closed" sign. I decided to follow them. Right around the corner they pulled off to do some fishing. I asked one of them "Is the road closed?" She said "No, it's actually open all the way to The Cedars. There was a rockslide and they fixed it a couple days ago and just didn't take the signs down." LOL. I had been worrying about nothing. Sure enough, right around the corner I came to the spot where the bank had given way and had covered the road. But you could see the signs of the heavy equipment that had been there and the road was totally clear. And I was off to the races again!
|Hiding out in the trees to get out of the pouring rain
I had a snack, drank some water and sat for about 20 minutes. The rain finally slowed down to a gentle shower and I decided that I couldn't wait any longer.
The route took me through The Cedars campground, which looks to be a major destination for folks who camp and ride ATVs. If you're not opposed to bumming gas from camping ATVers, this is the place to do it. But a day like Day 6, (which was supposed to be around 230 miles with no gas stations) is why I chose to get the 6.6 gallon tank, so I pressed on.
Within about 15 minutes after leaving The Cedars, the weather took a turn for the better. I was able to make good time again and start drying out and warming up.
|Dropping into the St. Joe
|Nice view from near the top of the Heller Creek trail
|Heller Creek trail. Narrow and steep. The best kind.
At the bottom of Simmons Creek, I hit the road and went as fast as I could, taking advantage of the dry weather and the last bit of daylight.
|The sponsorship sticker on my helmet
|Trail 81... looks easy enough, right?
(photo courtesy Idaho Trails)
A couple of posts by Martin on Facebook at about this time (I didn't see these until late that night):
It'll be a late arrival in Wallace for Steve Taylor tonight, but it looks like he's gonna be just fine. Excellent job for such a late start out of Lowell.
Steve Taylor is about halfway across State Line Road right now - about 45 miles out of Wallace. He ought to be there in about an hour or so.
|St. Paul Pass
|Old train tunnel
Well, she wasn't there. I pulled into the Stardust and got my room. It was nice and everything, but I was surprised at how disappointed I felt that Kathy wasn't there. After all these tough days (and especially the one I had just finished), I was pretty worn down mentally and emotionally. I was pushing myself that whole day looking forward to the emotional lift I'd get by seeing my wife. I'm sure it would have been easier if I hadn't convinced myself throughout the day that she's be there waiting for me as a way to keep going, but the reality hit when I got there.
I got on the phone, and after we talked for a while, she said she'd come to Wallace. I was so happy. I really needed her that night to help lift my spirits and get me motivated to hit the trail for one more day.
An encouraging Facebook post by my mom that night:
Wow, you are one determined rider!! We're proud of you, Steve. Don't get too relaxed on the last day, there are still hazards ahead, but you're almost there!
Day 6 Stats: 258 miles, 12 hours, 20 minutes
Day 6 Track