Idaho's Lochsa River a wilderness climb

Mirror smooth in late afternoon, Idaho's Loscha flows to the Pacific.

When the folks at Bikecentennial were laying out a cross country route for cyclists to celibrate our nation's 200th anniversary, they had the challenging task of getting riders across the rockies while avoiding the worst deserts, the most heavily trafficked valleys, and areas where water would be fairly abundant. They did a good job. For many cyclists their first ascent into the 'Rocky' mountains was Idaho Rt. 12, a long, unspoiled, pleasant climb up into the Bitteroot range at Lolo pass. Although the road is narrow and frequently used by trucks, although the state grumbles about 'not being consulted about the road being designated a bike route', and although you should make sure you have a days supply of victuals with ya when ya start on this section, it truly is a memorable ride. I doubt you will be as lucky as I was with the weather, which was warm and calm; still, this area does not get alot of rain in the summer so the odds are tilted in your favor. Formal and informal camping grounds exist all alone the route. I wild camped with a small group and we keep getting disturbed the resolute thumping of rabbits sending warnings all night long, probably about all the humans who have driven tent pegs into their underground tunnels!

Some people are mistaken into thinking Lolo pass is on the continental divide, but it is not. It is however, a gateway to the rocky mountain stretch of the TransAm trail: not until you wave the mountains goodbye in Pueblo, Colorado, many hundreds of miles south, does the splendor cease.

For the moment the bitteroots are your escort, for once you cross the Lolo pass going eastward you have a swift descent into the Montana valley of the same name. Missoula, a college town, is an excellent restocking point and rest stop for a day or two; the Birchwood hostel, one of the few hostels which I enthusiastically recommend, is located here and offers a bed to zillions of riders a year. In the summer if the Birchwood is full you might try and get a room at the University of Montana, not far in the east of the city. Then on a cool rocky mountain evening, head down to one of the local coffee shops, spread out your maps, and plan the rest of your trip from this most pleasant of college towns.