Descending from the forested campground, we went for a quick, refreshing, and warm (comparatively) swim. Back on the main highway, we continued south out of the
Missoula valley towards Lost Trail Pass and the Continental Divide. But only a few miles passed before we came upon the small town of Darby, another historic ranger station, and the gazebo that would be our home for the next few hours. With picnic tables and electrical outlets, it was a great place to make tuna sandwiches and catch up on blog posts from the many days without phone service along the Lochsa River.
Just as we were finally ready to shove off and head out again, dark clouds rushed in from the south and the now brisk wind shifted 180 degrees (turning tail wind to head wind). A quick look at radar let us know that the edge of a heavy rainstorm to the south was only sideswiping our current location, and would soon be out of range to the east. With this information, we struck out. The next few miles held windy gusts and sporadic large rain drops, but the sky soon cleared and we were back with only the sun, our constant companion and challenger.
A snack stop near friendly horses and mules gave us the fuel to begin the ascent to
Lost Trail Pass - a grueling 7 miles and 4000 feet of elevation gain, thereabouts. Late afternoon, Lost Trail Hot Springs came within range as a steep gravel path down to the right. Curious and tired, we made the descent.
A tremendously tall wooden person greeted us before we rode through the assemblage of various wooden buildings. Unimpressed by the hot-springs-fed swimming pool and slightly spooked by the Deliverance-esque atmosphere, we climbed back to the highway and continued churning towards the pass.
Sun sinking lower, still three miles from the crest, Kevin heard a brook calling from a bend in the road. Low on water, we dropped our bikes and worked down the steep, thickly forested roadside to a cold, clear stream.
Dark under the doghair thicket, the forest floor was mostly bare save for baneberry, some unknown herb with deeply serrate edges, mitrewort, and one flower wintergreen growing lush and bright along the water's edge. Rosettes of rattlesnake plantain scattered themselves over the deep litter in the darkest places. Letharia, a dry side lichen, grew alongside more familiar Hypogymnias.
Finding the deep woods enchanting but too spooky to spend the night, we found a perch on a long pile of sand and rocks, likely left from highway construction.