Mild afternoons leading up to the Labor Day weekend gave us little reason to expect a rare encounter with thundersnow. Lightning flashed brilliant red and blue (its spectrum cut apart in the reflection of falling snow) and thunder roared around us like muzzle blasts from a cosmic cop, hot on our trail.
More than the usual planning was invested in our third annual brother ride. We were interested in seeing some new country and tried to find a practical route into Mallard-Larkins, a rugged expanse of high lakes isolated among rock-faced mountains that has been on our wish-list for a couple years. When I calculated that Joel and Jesse would need a full tank of gas just getting to Mallard-Larkins and back, it was time to consider alternatives. It wasn’t enough just to get there. We needed to continue mountain riding for four days!
So the plan shifted somewhat south where gas is marginally more available, we could follow the historic Lolo Motorway, visit the Great Burn, a rugged area to rival Mallard-Larkins, and all in fewer miles.
Seasoned GS riders will tell you that the clanks and thunks reminiscent of a vintage tractor are only the big bike’s happy ruminations. Since I’m not yet a seasoned GS rider, I decided to prepare for the trip by changing gear fluids to see with my own eyes that the drive-train was in good shape.
Good news: there were no chunks of metal, the fluids looked clear, and the shaft splines were clean. I’ll worry less about the noises. The exercise, however, would factor into a later adventure (stay tuned).
My trip from Boise to Moscow was an uneventful highway ride. Temperatures were moderate and traffic was light as I listened to hours of science fiction podcasts.
This was the first year our brotherly quartet would be complete. Like me, Jeremy would spend a day traveling to Moscow—in his case, from the Seattle area. Since he is between motorcycles, I started making calls in the spring to shops in Boise and Moscow. I wasn’t surprised to find that nobody rents motorcycles.
Seeing Toni in June during our Hells Canyon and Wallowa Valley ride, I was reminded that he is a University of Idaho student and so would have his motorcycle in Moscow come Labor Day. His KLR would be a good size for Jeremy. My discomfort at asking such a large favor was allayed by Toni’s graciousness.
I gave Toni a call once Jeremy showed up in Moscow. Toni offered us unique German beers left over from his twenty-first birthday party as Jeremy and I stepped into his apartment. What a guy! It meant a lot to us that Jeremy would be able to join the ride, thanks to Toni.
Back at our mom’s place, Jeremy worked his gear into various configurations—an effort not unlike stacking cards—validated with a brief test ride.
With the bikes ready, we turned our attention to securing rations (beef jerky, granola bars and whiskey). Well, except for Joel. Jill prepared individually wrapped meals and two snacks for each day in the mountains, complete with labels and cooking instructions. Abundant twue wuv apparently left Joel incapable of his own preparations. “What, no toilet paper? I think I saw some leaves over there ...” The rest of us weren’t about to share with mister I-have-everything-made-for-me.
Joel’s Saturday afternoon snack
Jeremy and I sat the next morning to a mom-made breakfast. Our rations and gear were compressed to portable dimensions, ready for travel. Casey would be joining us again this year on his XRL, our token non-Abbott. Although it’s a “brother” ride, we don’t mind having someone along to absorb the trip’s misfortunes, as seems to be his fate.
Soon Jesse and Casey arrived and we were just waiting for Joel. And waiting. Finally we got word he’d been called into work to fix an issue. Darn. Jesse needed to adjust his chain so we went to his place to finish our wait.
We would take Highway 8 to Elk River and mystery roads thereafter. We were barely out of Moscow when Jeremy lost a new water bottle to the unforgiving asphalt. We stopped in Troy to check straps and fend off further losses.
Jeremy hadn’t been this way in many years. Memories popping to mind gave him a bobble-head, eyes bouncing left and right at sites along the highway.
We stopped at Huckleberry Heaven in Elk River to give the bikes some gas and ourselves some sugar for the miles ahead. It was the end of highway riding.
Perhaps I clicked some option in the DeLorme mapping software along the lines of “avoid every convenience.” Outside of Elk River, we were routed in short order from pavement to gravel and then jeep trail. We were surprised those trails were even known to the GPS. It was fun going but made us question whether it really was the right direction.
After other uncertain but entertaining trails, we settled onto the gravel Aquarius Road leading to the upper end of Dworshak Reservoir. By then we had taken to calling Jeremy the freshman as he struggled to keep his camping gear attached to the bike, particularly on washboard roads.
Noticing his absence from our mirrors, the rest of us would stop.
“Oh, he probably just lost something again.”
Some would light a cigarette and I would shoot a few pictures to pass the time. It seemed safe to laugh it up a little since we’d all experienced the same hassles our first year out. Jeremy appeared to understand but didn’t laugh as much about it himself.
We stopped on Grandad Bridge to enjoy the view from high above Dworshak Reservoir. I think we also enjoyed seeing our route validated. We’d arrived somewhere as intended!
We seemed to enter a different ecosystem as we climbed eastward from Grandad. The forest around was lit beautifully by golden afternoon light as we passed in cool shade under moss-laden branches.
We saw hardly anyone across the forty miles of dirt and gravel we’d come from Elk River. That all changed when we arrived at Highway 11. It was like a series of RV dealerships along the road. I think the population density of most cities is lower than it was along the highway there. A peculiar “get-away” I thought.
When we saw the Pierce gas station only serves 87 octane we turned up our noses and remounted our bikes to find alternatives. At the opposite end of town, some twenty seconds later, we realized there weren’t alternatives.
According to the GPS, our journey should follow a curious route immediately east of town. We climbed up a little side street to what seemed like someone’s gravel driveway before the road opened onto a small clearing. Where next? We saw only an ATV track heading into the woods. That must be it.
A lengthy climb through trees was a little challenging but everyone continued without mishap. I think we were curious to see, once again, how this could possibly be the right direction. We dropped briefly onto a gravel road before the route directed us back to more ATV trails. It was fun going even as we went deeper into the woods and the trail narrowed.
Some challenging sections are fun—up on the pegs, modulate throttle—but when the trail became the slippery and rutted course of a little stream, I was just feeling lucky, moment-to-moment, that I hadn’t dumped it. It was time to turn back—too early in our trip for tumbles.
Fortunately, we’d passed another trail not far back. Casey’s and my GPS didn’t show that it would get us through, but hey ... that’s why it’s called adventure. We weren’t about to backtrack farther than that. God forbid.
On the other trail, we soon passed another intersection and chose the direction most likely to intersect our original course. But no. The dirt track ended abruptly at a muddy mine entrance. Not a good sign for our route but neat nonetheless. We took a few minutes to explore. We were able to walk quite a long ways back into the mountain, much deeper than other mines I’ve encountered lately.
What next? We were sure that God still forbade backtracking so we would try the other direction at the intersection. The trail curved and it didn’t take us long to realize we were connecting back to our original route, back to an actual dirt road. Hooray! It all worked out. Surely there are life lessons in there.
We had seen camp trailers and RVs stacked along the edge of Highway 11 like driftwood along asphalt shores. But in the miles and miles of dirt roads across valleys and ridges since then, back on our route, we saw no one. Well appointed campsites were empty—no people. Their loss, our gain, we figured.
I had marked Rocky Ridge Lake and Horseshoe Lake as campsite candidates. Although I thought we were close, I wasn’t sure how close, so when we came across Camp Martin, two large, adjacent campsites with stacked firewood, a table and iron fire ring, we decided to call it a day. It was hard to do better than that.
Making it even better, we discovered a freshwater spring just fifty feet down the Nez Perce Nee-Me-Poo Trail that runs between the campsites. Although probably safe, we filtered nonetheless, and in so doing realized that Jeremy, Joel and I all have the same filter. Who knew filter selection was genetic?
The large Coleman lantern that had played a lead role in Jeremy’s luggage woes finally had a chance to redeem itself, hoisted above our heads with a system of ropes in a show of Jeremy’s camping prowess. We were all illuminated, turning skeptics to believers.
I don’t think we realized how the long ride had worn us out until we sat there around the crackling fire. We found no energy for shenanigans, no energy to escape the gravitational pull of our tents, sleep and dreams.
these images are hosted at flickr
this post was automatically generated from my blog
text and images are © Copyright 2011 Jason Abbott. All Rights Reserved. ■