Spokane, WA to Missoula, MT

Introduction

In late may of 2018, I took a five day tour and cycled from Spokane Washington to Missoula Montana. I typically try and do a long distance cycle tour each year (dependent on available time off), and chose this route as I wanted to see more of Montana and the outlying region. For me, it’s a great way to unplug and reconnect with a bit of nature, a bit of cycling, and see rural parts of the country that I typically wouldn’t see in Chicago. It helps me slow down as well, as all of the gear loaded on the bicycle can put you at a snail’s pace at times (until, you go downhill that is!).

Logistics

Route
  • My initial plan was to cycle the Great Allaghany Passage and C&O Canal Path that goes from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC. Late May, as I found, can be a tricky time for weather. After reading multiple instances of bridge failures, trail closures, and impassible areas, I decided to re-route my trip. Looking at options, heading west on Alaska Airlines became my decision as their checked baggage policy for bicycles was incredibly flexible (Bicycles count as a normal checked piece of luggage. On airlines such as United, they can charge up to $150 for bringing a bicycle onto a flight!).
  • Weather was my second concern. After hearing about all of the washouts on the east coast, and seeing 10 days of additional rain in the area, it was refreshing to see the forecast for Washington and Montana. They predicted a full week of sunny weather, with a very small chance of storms (more on that later!)
  • With this in mind, and after reviewing multiple routes, I plotted out my touring route using the app Komoot. I’ve embedded these maps for each day of the tour. I estimated an average of 50 miles per day over the course of 5 days, and planned to ride less miles on days with large inclines or hills, and more miles for days with more flat or declines. The route consisted of around 250 miles of cycling on back roads and trails including the Couer d’Alene trail, the North Pacific Trail, and Olympia Trail. These trails were all former rail lines convered into either paved or dirt trails.

Gear List

I had most of the gear available and only had to buy a few items. I purchased a new 3-4 season tent this year, which provided some relief against cold weather (although the weather never dipped below 45 degrees at night).

ItemLink
Bicycle Frame2011 Surly Long Haul Trucker Surly Specs
TiresContinental Ride Tour 37cc
Handlebar BagLone Peak Bag
PanniersOrtlieb Panniers
Water Bottle CagesTopeak Modula Cage Waterbottle Cage
Front RackTara Front Rack
Rear RackTubus Cargo
SaddleISM Typhoon Bicycle Saddle
TentMarmot Fortress 3P
Ultra Lightweight Dufflebag (for transporting cycling gear)REI Co-op Roadtripper Duffel – 100L
StoveGoHiking 2 Lightweight Burner Classic Camping and Backpacking Canisters
Rain JacketThe North Face Venture 2 Rain Jacket - Men's
Hiking BootsTimberland Thorton Mid GTX Hiking Boots
CookwearMSR Trail Lite Duo System
Bear-resistant containerBearVault BV450 Food Container

Weather

During this tour I had 4 days of sun, with temperatures ranging from 60-90 degrees. Approaching Montana, the weather became cloudier and rain began to set in. It was unusually cold for late May, and I was only caught in about 3 hours of rain throughout the whole tour. It did rain throughout the night on two of the nights, but cleared up by 8am each day. The video below details how in a couple square miles, it can be sunny, raining and possibly snowing in one shot!

Lessons Learned

  1. Tires: My surly has 700c wheels, and for some of the primitive roads, 37cc tires were not comfy to ride on. I met another tourer who was riding on 26″ wheels and 2.15″ tires, which I imagine would have made some of these back roads more manageable. If I were to return or plot a similar course, I would upgrade my tire size to 42CC tires or ride a mountain bike.
  2. Bear Country: I bought a bear box for storing food and other smelly items prior to the tour. Most of the non-primitive campsites I stayed at I didn’t have an issue with, but I did stay at one site that had a bear box for storing goods. I was the only one camping at this site so I took full advantage of that box, and stored most of my gear in there for the night.
  3. Water: There were infrequent stops along this trip, and some long periods without any form of tap water available. I fortunately had a cheap 5L BPA free plastic water container that I brought with. For next time I would want to invest in some sort of MSR water carrying bag, or something a bit more sturdy.
  4. May: Something I hadn’t concerned was the length of days in late May. Sunset was around 8:30pm each night, which gave plenty of daylight for riding and allowed me to pace out my riding throughout the day without having a fear of riding into the night.
  5. Just because you checked your bicycle with the airline, doesn’t mean it is coming with you. Alaska Airlines did not check my bike box onto the plane in time, and therefore it sat at O’hare. Fortunately, they were able to find it and place it on the next plane out for delivery in the morning!
Two of these three bags made it. Guess which one didn’t :-).

The next 5 pages detail each day of the tour. I highlighted routes in green that I thought were cycling friendly and had little to no traffic, or a large shoulder/bike lane, and routes in orange that presented more challenges, such as rocky terrain, steep inclines, or high traffic volumes.