I’m a huge fan of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
During the Great Depression it was a public work relief program that put people to work in a time of need, taught them skills that made the participants employable and in general increased their physical fitness. It paid $30 a month (about $540 in 2013 dollars) split between the enrollee ($5) and his family ($25) back home.
In addition to road and bridge construction, the CCC helped develop the natural resources of the United States including reforestation and construction of over 800 national parks and also improved many state parks.
A byproduct of the program was increased public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors. Had it not been for the program that helped out this young man, the world may never have met the person that played the characters of Oscar Madison, Coach Buttermaker or Max Goldman to perfection.
If you happen to lean politically to the Right, before you dismiss it as a Big Government, Tree-Huggin, Peace Fest, tax dollar boondoggle, there was plenty of NRA approved activities performed by the CCC like the elimination of predatory animals on the rangeland, fish stocking of lakes and rivers so members could go blast fishing, and mosquito control (via fully automatic weapons with high capacity magazines, of course).
To the readers on the Left, you probably already know it was a FDR New Deal Program, so stop touching yourself, hug a homeless guy and start walking to the next Rainbow Gathering.
As I was planning the route for this trip, I was excited to learn that along our planned route was a project that benefited from CCC participation called the Lolo Motorway which followed the Lolo Trail closely.
The history of the Lolo Trail is fascinating. It was a route traveled by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 and 1806; the Nez Perce, Salish and other Native Americans for centuries before foreigners arrived; miners, trappers and settlers for a century after their arrival.
For the Nez Perce, the Lolo Trail was the “Road to Buffalo Country,” a route traveled each summer to hunt buffalo and trade with the Plains tribes to the east. Later, During the Nez Perce War of 1877, Chief Joseph and nearly 750 Nez Perce fled General Howard’s army along this trail to reach the Bitterroot Valley.
For the Salish it was the “Trail to the Nimiipuu,” a route to the salmon fishing and trading with Plateau and Coastal tribes.
Later, in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps built a primitive, often steep, sometimes rocky, winding narrow road known as the “Lolo Motorway” that sometimes deviated from Native American Lolo Trail.
For WanderWheels it became a much talked about, highly anticipated, off-road two-wheeled adventure. We had already ridden two shorter off-pavement routes (Dixie National Forest and Ant Flat Road) and found them scenically breath-taking, mostly peaceful and a pleasant diversion from traffic. The Lolo Motorway was different though. It would be our longest, most remote excursion to date. Additionally, the trail is challenging as it does not follow a contiguous hogback (long ridge) but rather is a series of mountain ridges and deep saddles.
We started the discussion of whether or not to tackle the 100+ mile (160+ km) route at the top of Lolo Pass, the border of Montana and Idaho. It was unusually hot (high 90s °F / 32+ °C) and predicted to be so for the coming week. The Forest Service ranger station at the pass did not have any information about the availability of water (running springs) along the route but they did have a nice gift shop with Lewis & Clark trinkets.
We decided to check with Forest Service ranger station near the beginning of the trail. A sign informed us that “As of June 30th, 2013, the ranger station at Powell was closed” and to seek assistance at the top of the pass at the Lolo Station. Not a good omen.
We filled up with water and pedaled to the start of the unpaved, Forest Service Road 500 and stopped to look up. We stared up at the beginning of an 11 mile (~18 km), continuous ascent of 8% to 13% grades. We were on bikes that with the full water bladders, weighed in excess of 110 lbs (50 kg) each.
Finally we decided that the regret of not at least trying the trail outweighed the climb in the heat. At that point I knick-named Sarah “Sacagawea” and she shot back, calling me “redshirt“. Not a good start.
The details of the day from that point on are hazy at best. What follows is a stream of consciousness transcript from my journal that was scrawled after a long, dehydrated, heat exhausted day.
Cross border, another state.Lolo pass ranger station, no water information.Ranger station closed at powell, see lolo pass, infinite loop.Parachute road, start of motorway debate – should I stay or should I go now? If I stay there will be trouble, if I go their will be double. Regret if no go? Strummer, Jones, other guys? Ringo? London calling?Heavy with water. Straight up all day.Slog, slog, slog. No water. Go back down? Give up? Regret?Hard pack road, not bad. Steep, Steep, Steep.Spring water. Overheating bad. Outside hot. Rinse off, soak shirt. Fill water, iodine. Heavy again.Flies, bumble bees, psuedo wasps start swarming. Can’t outrun going uphill. Small flys have big bite.First vista. All worth it. No car sounds. Fresh but hot air.Info signs, learn as you sweat. Not so bad compared to what Lewis & Clark Expedition went through.Spot forest fires. wonder if able to see fire at night.Spent, end of day, camp at first opportunity. Cook dinner, starving. Eat Ibuprofin …mmm red M&Ms. All pores purged out. Dehydrated – drink more. Night cools, feels good. Bears? uh-oh I’m “redshirt”