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"The towpath is pretty far down on my list anyway despite living pretty close to it,"
We liked the TA in that section.
Just keep in mind that picking up the Northern Tier that way will ultimately send you over four mountain passes in a row in WA.
Another option is to simply stay on the Trans Am to the coast. I fond some of eastern and central OR somewhat borning (and hot and dry even in early September)
I'm from Buffalo, Wyoming and have some strip maps I made a few years ago crossing northern Wyoming. The Bighorn Mountains are nothing to laugh at - big climbs - esp. from the West, 2000m.
I also have route guides for crossing Idaho through the Sawtooth Mountains. As for the Great Plains - if you ride through the Black Hills of South Dakota you will be surprised how lovely they are - plus by late July they are MUCH cooler. You may want to do a sunrise ride thru Badlands N.P. - but remember as you get out on the Great Plains it will be HOT!! 40C or more. Best to ride super early - from sunrise to 11am - then quit. There is a fabulous route - Nebraska Hwy 12 - that runs right on the NE/SD border and has very little traffic.
I had been hosting for a number of years - usually I check the person's background. There was a person who had recently pled to reduced charges after a fraternity hazing that was nothing less than sexual assault.