I sat looking down the hill at Lewiston, Idaho. It lay at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, just across the border from Clarkston, Washington. Two miles below me as the crow flies. But I wasn’t going to fly there. At least not like a crow. I suppose I could have stayed on US-95 and rode into Lewiston that way, but what would be the fun in that? No, I was going to ride into Lewiston on the OLD grade. The road that has become one of my favorite roads to ride in the Pacific Northwest, the road they call “The Spiral Highway”.
While that hypothetical crow need only fly two miles to reach Lewiston, and US-95 takes about six miles to sweep down into town. The Spiral Highway takes eight miles to writhe its way back and forth and back again down the face of the ridge to finally roll into Lewiston.
This eight miles was the whole reason I had ridden across the state of Washington and into Idaho. While the speed limit is in the neighborhood of 25mph, the only time I have ever ridden it at that speed was the very first time. I was following some other riders along its path on the way up to Spokane a few years ago. It became one of my favorite roads that day. As I looked at the road I could feel a grin forming on my face. Squeezing the clutch, I dropped Miss Bettie into first gear and eased onto the roadway.
As I rolled down along the slope heading east for this first straight that roughly parallels US-95 for almost a mile. Allowing me time to enjoy the view of the river valley below. The Sporty quickly got up to highway speed as I ran up through the gears. Only to have to drop back down into third for a tight descending right hand hairpin that sent the road heading more or less westward again. Quickly rolling back up through the gears, I was back doing about sixty as the road brought out a couple of gentle sweepers that barely slowed me down. But after rolling along for about six tenths of a mile another hairpin came up to the left. I again dropped down a couple of gears as I headed off towards the Southeast. Getting back up to speed, and rolling through a right hand sweeper I was now heading almost due south. The hill rising above me on one side and falling off and away to my right. Another tight hairpin had me rolling back to the North as I again rolled back up through the gears. A wide right hand sweeper had me drop down into fourth gear before shifting back up into fifth. After the sweeper I was able to enjoy a bit of a glance at the view below. The mighty Snake River, and Hells Gate within eyeshot. But a couple of fast sweepers were bringing me quickly to another hairpin to the left around the spine of the little ridge I had been riding along. Quickly followed by a series of sharp sweepers snaking right, left, and then right again. Forcing me to slow down to about 40 before increasing speed as I round the end of the gulley. Slicing through a mild “S” curve that led to another sweeping right hander I was able to stay in fourth until having to drop into third gear as I rolled into a left hand sweeper.
By now I was about half way through the ride, and enjoying the hell out of it. I had planned to make this ride during midday, as I have done it in both early morning and near sunset. The shadows at that time of day could make the experience quite thrilling as you rounded a corner in darkness only to suddenly be looking directly into the sun as you reached the apex of the turn, or vice versa. This time, everything was bathed in warm wonderful sunlight. No shadows or glare to worry about. Just this twisting two lane patch of heaven and me.
Another broad sweeping “U” turn had me heading roughly Northwest again. Followed by a soft “S” that kept me on the borderline of lugging in fifth gear. As I reached the end of the little straight that followed, I had to downshift into third and give the brakes a little workout. A tight left hand hairpin brought me down to about 25 before I was free of it. Slinging the Sporty through the smooth sweepers that followed I was quickly back in fifth and my grin felt like it was running from ear to ear. Screaming into another combination of right and left sweepers I was able to get a quick look to the South again, and knew I only had a couple more minutes of this ride to enjoy. As I swung back North along the end of the ridge line on a broad sweeping “U” turn the road brought my attention back to it in the form of another tight left hand hairpin. The next to last really tight corner of the ride. Dropping back down to about 30, I leaned hard into the corner and was off again and with only a mild sweeper of a left I was doing almost 70 before I had to slow down for that last hairpin. A tight right hander had me back down to around 30 before I was out of it. And working back up through the gears. This section of road was more built up than previous lengths of the Spiral Highway had been. Urban sprawl having crept its way up the hill a bit. This just meant I had to keep my eye open for possible cross traffic while doing more than twice the posted limit. Passing the Kenworth truck sales yard on a broad sweeping I was heading back south and cooking along about 65. As I rolled through the last broad right hand sweeper I could see the end of my ride rapidly approaching in the commercial area of Lewiston. With a couple of quick final left hand turns, I reached the end of the road, and dropped down through the gears as I rolled up to the stop sign at the intersection with Down River Rd.
Sitting at the stop sign, I briefly wondered what I was going to do next. I wasn’t quite ready to stop for a bite to eat, but a cold drink would have sure hit the spot in the hot Idaho sun. Suddenly I could feel that grin on my face again. There was just one thing I had to do before riding into Lewiston for that long cool drink. With a quick check of the road around me, I pulled into a tight “U” turn and heading back up through the gears, I headed back up the way I came. Just so I could ride back down the Spiral Highway just one more time. I did say this is one of my favorite roads to ride. Didn’t I?
Catch you on the road sometime…