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Old 10-05-2010, 08:44 AM   #1
Jason Abbott OP
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Four Brothers, Four Days along Idaho's Nez Perce Trail

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.

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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.

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Payette Lake

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Of course

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.

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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.

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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.

“Where’s Jeremy?”

“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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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
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Jason Abbott screwed with this post 07-28-2011 at 09:35 AM
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Old 10-05-2010, 09:47 AM   #2
Kodanja
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Thumb

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason Abbott
We stopped at Huckleberry Heaven in Elk River to give the bikes some gas and ourselves some sugar for the miles ahead.....[/indent]
Looking good! Last year my wife and I rode through Elk River from Orofino across the Dent Bridge and stopped for huckleberry ice cream at the Elk River Lodge.

Did you happen to see the map in the back room with all the pins locating where people visiting Elk River were from?
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Old 10-05-2010, 09:56 AM   #3
Jason Abbott OP
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Originally Posted by Kodanja
Did you happen to see the map in the back room with all the pins locating where people visiting Elk River were from?
Yeah, saw that. I was surprised at the distances some had come (though I think a few pins were just local kids being silly). My brothers reminded me the area is nationally famous for its fishing. Over at the Lochsa Lodge, folks at the table next to us were from Virginia.
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Old 10-05-2010, 01:58 PM   #4
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Thumb Great Start to an awesome Ride Report

I live in eastern washington and am interested in exploring that beautiful country! Ride Safe and keep the great pictures coming.

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Old 10-05-2010, 02:44 PM   #5
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Great RR...looking forward to the next chapter
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Old 10-05-2010, 04:37 PM   #6
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Nice ride... excellent quality pics! Let's see what happens next... it sounds ominous
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Old 10-21-2010, 04:58 PM   #7
Jason Abbott OP
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Day 3

Quote:
From this mountain I could observe high rugged mountains in every direction as far as I could see ... began to snow about three hours before day and continued all day ... I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life, indeed I was at one time fearful my feet would freeze in the thin moccasins which I wore. After a short delay in the middle of the day, I took one man and proceeded on as fast as I could about six miles to a small branch passing to the right, halted and built fires for the party against their arrival which was at dusk, very cold and much fatigued (William Clark, September 15–16, 1805, Bitterroot Mountains, present-day Idaho).
· · · · The day would demonstrate that little of these mountains has changed since they were traversed by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their party 205 years ago.
· · · · Wary of overnight precipitation after the previous day’s rain, I had setup a quick carport. Experience had taught the value of a little shelter when trying to pack in the rain. Of course, the better prepared you are for something, the less likely it is that thing will happen. So it wasn’t surprising when we awoke to a dry morning—not even dew on the ground.
· · · · It was dry but not so warm—about 42°F. We made hot breakfasts on a long abandoned folding table, its original color long lost, and sat around the fire while Jeremy and Jesse recounted their late night escapades.

my cold toes
· · · · Apparently a man-eating deer had repeatedly approached the fire like a ghost out of darkness until Jeremy felt he had no choice but to launch a spear he’d carved. He actually hit the deer, the story goes, but the spear bounced harmlessly (supernaturally?) off its hide. Hoof prints around our tents suggested the deer contemplated revenge as we slept.

the jug of yellow fluid on the left is Casey’s tablet-purified water
· · · · The two of them had also walked down the road for what reason I didn’t catch. They said they came across our late night “Forest Service contractor” asleep in his car. Weirdo. We didn’t see him again.

“Sunday Breakfast” from Jill
· · · · By that second morning we were all curious to see what Joel’s surprise meal would be (like Jesse’s MREs last year). “Hold still a second,” I asked him so I could focus in on the bit of bacon in the bite of potatoes he’d prepared. “It’s good,” he assured with a smile. Whatever the taste, the packages seemed all to contain a little merriment.
· · · · We quickly gained a few thousand feet of elevation from our campsite along Cayuse Creek travelling north toward the Great Burn area. I expected the day to warm up but if anything it was getting colder. I activated the heated grips while the others endured.

Joel, Casey, Jesse and Jeremy with cold hands
Quote:
The Great Burn is a geological wonderland at the northern end of the Idaho Batholith. Glaciation is evident with many U-shaped valleys and cirque basins ... Some of the higher ridges in the southern portion are defined by granite pinnacles called “dinosaur rocks” because they resemble the backs of these prehistoric creatures.
· · · · This primeval landscape burned heavily in the Great Fire of 1910 leaving charred snags, grassy slopes, and expanses of sub-alpine tundra-like meadows. High cirques, impressive stands of mountain hemlock, and dozens of clear lakes also adorn the high country (“Great Burn Wilderness,” Sierra Club).
· · · · A rough jeep trail splits from Road 581 to climb the final steep mile to the summit of Blacklead Mountain (7,326 feet) at the southern entrance of the Great Burn. Navigating the rocks was a welcome distraction from the cold.

· · · · We parked at a clearing to look out across untamed peaks under low, dark skies—perhaps a taste of Lewis and Clark’s experience. I felt small and vulnerable looking at the infinite desolation stretched before us.
· · · · The cold air penetrated jackets and gloves us as we stepped off our bikes. Heated grips and fat fairing had kept me warm but the others were clenching their fists as they ambled stiffly around. I suggested a little fire to warm up but generated little interest. Better to keep moving.
· · · · In spite of the cold, I was eager to see the Great Burn country I’d read of. A double-track trail open only to motorcycles headed in the right direction but ended in a small saddle after just a few hundred yards. Vehicles were prohibited from the obvious trail onward but after a moment looking around we noticed an unmarked single-track trail continuing up the ridge.



· · · · The path was so narrow I several times expected my panniers to strike trail-side rocks but managed somehow to squeeze through. When Jeremy and I saw the trail enter thick trees, we decided to hang back and wait for a verdict from our younger brothers. Threading that needle would require some reward.



· · · · Casey followed ambitiously behind Jesse and Joel but stopped short of entering the woods when one of his panniers struck a rock, tearing loose the zip-ties that held bracket to frame since one of his bolts rattled loose the day before.

zip-tie down
· · · · Jeremy and I offered sage advice while Casey cobbled it together a second time with my remaining supply of zip-ties.

look, pocket portable coffee

· · · · Joel and Jesse returned without major discoveries. With the sky looking ready to unleash a torrent, it seemed further exploration of the Great Burn would have to wait. “I think I’m gonna go home, guys,” Casey announced. The rest of us reacted similarly: “Okay. Good luck.”

· · · · Casey left in the middle of last year’s ride too. He avoided dirt naps this time but was concerned about his panniers. We weren’t going to twist his arm. “Before you go, can you get a picture of us,” I asked.

next year: hat


· · · · We congregated back at the intersection with the main road where Casey would go his separate way. Frozen pellets—not quite snow, not quite hail—began to fall and accumulate as we sat there on our motorcycles. Far from discouraging, it was kind of exhilarating. We could only laugh and be on our way.
· · · · Precipitation relented but roiled clouds continued dark threats as we followed the road along Toboggan Ridge toward Cayuse Landing Field, a little airstrip along a lower section of Cayuse Creek.
· · · · Low bushes in fiery autumn dress framed our expansive view of endless mountains, dark under grey skies, and swirled in the mists of low clouds. It was easy to understand why these mountains were the hardest part of Lewis and Clark’s journey from near St. Louis.
Quote:
The explorers took eleven agonizing days (September 11–22, 1805) to traverse the trail—the most arduous stretch in their entire journey to the Pacific. Battling rain, sleet, and deep snow, as well as hunger and dangerous mountain terrain, often hacking their way through dense underbrush and around fallen timber, gasping for breath in the rarefied mountain air, and eating some of their horses for sustenance, the half-frozen and thoroughly exhausted men trudged wearily onward. For some time, it appeared they might be stranded in the mountains or forced to turn back (“Lolo Trail,” National Park Service).

· · · · Appetites urged a break as we descended from the mountains to a wide road along the enlarged Cayuse Creek. Jeremy and Jesse put a line in the water while we ate. The wide but shallow creek held little promise of fish so after eating, we wasted no time getting back on the road by the airstrip, back up into mountains cloaked in clouds.





· · · · Our pace was cautious on the hard-pack road, dark and slippery with a persistent sprinkle of rain. The forest was quiet and green. A spray of water was the penalty for veering too close to leafy branches bowing into our path under wet weight.
· · · · We wound upward and then followed switchbacks back down to Moose Creek Road. Jesse immediately recognized where we were, having made several fishing trips up the North Fork of the Clearwater River, to which the world famous Kelly Creek is a primary tributary.
· · · · Sun and rain were dueling for dominance as we hopscotched along the road, following Jesse’s lead to fishing holes. Slow and deep, the water was green with the reflection of verdant moss and encroaching forest. Entire schools of fish could be seen, silhouettes swaying in the shadows. Abundant boulders were home to lichens and tiny flowers, and a perch from which to fish or photograph.




· · · · Joel and I were content to watch, to let our thoughts slow to the creek’s languid pace, as Jeremy and Jesse caught a dozen fish in as many minutes.







· · · · When sprinkles became steady rainfall we packed up and accelerated down the road in search of clearer skies. We unwrapped snacks and unzipped our jackets to dry a little when finally, after quite a few miles, road and sunshine temporarily coincided.
· · · · The inevitable subject of Joel’s meals came up again as we stood together at river’s edge. “She scowled,” he said of Jill, when she saw he’d thrown in some extra granola bars out of concern she wouldn’t pack enough food. “I ate granola bars the first day and I’ve been behind ever since,” he lamented. He really had it rough.
· · · · We hadn’t gotten much into the Great Burn so I wanted to actually reach our next and final high destination, Flat Mountain. It was hard to tell which way the weather would go. Probably intermittent rain and sun. If we got wet, just wait a few minutes for the sun to return and dry us out.
· · · · It began sprinkling almost as soon as we turned up Cold Springs Creek toward the summit. The road became more primitive as we climbed, from gravel to dirt, then ruts and rocks.
· · · · Flowers and berries, purple, orange and yellow, were welcoming garlands. It was a strangely threatening beauty, drawing us onward even as dark sky and canted trail whispered doom.
· · · · My brothers were cold—perhaps as cold as they’d yet been—when we reached the top of Flat Mountain. Somewhere below was Ring Lake and Pete Ott Lake but we had no view from the cloister of large evergreens we’d stopped within. I think the others could not have cared less about the view at that point. They immediately began gathering wood to build a fire. Expletives may have been muttered.
· · · · “I’m gonna go see what’s up that trail,” I announced, referring to an ATV trail heading off from the road there. I was still on my motorcycle, still warm. I wanted the view. The path was smooth dirt along an undulating forest floor carpeted green with small shrubs and grasses. It rose and fell steeply and veered sharply between giant trees.
· · · · From “this is pretty nice” I began thinking, “this is truly great.” Navigating the dirt roller-coaster required some attention but it wasn’t strenuous. It was perfect. I wanted to go and go but decided I should turn back to invite my brothers along.
· · · · Visibility suddenly dropped and the sky became thick with snow. Crazy! The trail grew quickly slippery. We’d have to wait for this to clear.
· · · · The snow—or snow pellets, to be more exact—was falling heavily when I parked next to the other motorcycles. I pulled my tarp from its straps on the motorcycle and walked to where my brothers stood to setup a shelter next to the roaring fire. “This would be a great campsite,” we observed, if not for the weather.


· · · · We realized this was something unique when lightning cracked the sky above us as close as I’ve ever experienced it. The rare phenomenon is called thundersnow. When it happens, the snow muffles the sound so that if you do experience it, you must be very close. The snow had a second effect, reflecting the light like a prism. The sudden, deafening brilliance appeared blue and red. It was truly awesome.

· · · · The lightning subsided but the snow persisted. Our enthusiasm waned. We thought we’d wait it out but it didn’t seem to be stopping. If it didn’t stop then we’d have to descend the rough trail under that inch or two of snow.


· · · · It didn’t stop. Jeremy did a little test run around camp then Joel and Jesse took the lead to leave a track in the snow for the heavier bikes to follow down the mountain.

· · · · A thousand feet lower, it was raining. Dips and ruts were filled with large puddles. We continued, perhaps cold and uncomfortable, but nonetheless glad for such an elemental, shared experience. I wouldn’t trade it. My only regret is being unable to follow that ATV trail through the forest on the ridge. Another time.
· · · · Mountaintop camping was apparently out for the last night of our trip. Jesse took the lead to find us a site back along the North Fork of the Clearwater that was familiar to him. We were back in RV country which meant sites were elaborately occupied or undesirable.
· · · · The road led us through time from afternoon to dusk. Nearly out of daylight, we had little choice but to camp at the next place we came to.
· · · · We were unhappy to compromise on our final campsite and a bit snippy—I should say brotherly—with each other as we setup. More rain seemed likely so I setup the tarp a fourth time while Joel and Jesse worked on a fire. In no time we were huddled around the crackling campfire exchanging drinks and silly barbs. It was happy times again.
· · · · Then a bullet discharged in Jesse’s face. He was leaned into the fire more than the rest but we all recoiled, momentarily deaf and stunned. After a few seconds we realized there’d been a live round in the fire pit. Nothing was hurt but our hearing. We had unkind words for whoever had left it there.
· · · · We weren’t sure what to do. Were there more? If so, we reasoned they weren’t likely to hurt us. The lighter casing would fly, not the lead. And the casing probably couldn’t escape the logs we’d piled on. That’s what we told ourselves. It took a little more whiskey before we were convinced.
· · · · The night wore on. I had a bag of pepperoni in my luggage left over from the last trip. We decided they would be good roasted so we carved a stick. After the grease dripped out there wasn’t much left.
· · · · Another bullet exploded. Again, Jesse was the one leaned in close. This time I thought he was hit. He yelped and darted behind a tree. The rest of us jumped up and took several steps back.
· · · · It was quite annoying. We had more unkind words for whoever left bullets in the fire pit. What to do? It was cold, dark and damp. We didn’t want to go without a fire. But none of us were willing to sit around that one.
· · · · A single option came to mind. I grabbed my little folding shovel and began a new fire pit adjacent to the existing one just as fast as I could dig. Dirt was flying. Then Jeremy and I quickly pushed the rocks from the old to the new pit and carefully picked out a few coals to build up a new fire. And finally I took the loose dirt and buried the old pit. Safe at last.
· · · · We weren’t sure which way we would go the next day. Would we have rain or sun? Would Jesse be able to dry his gloves that way or would they perish in the bullet-free fire? And what would Joel have for meals?
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. ■
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Old 05-05-2011, 07:51 PM   #8
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Well now, better late than never! It was long enough ago I had to reread the RR, The ending was a moving and stoical refection on ones youth, so, has your fathers "self fulfilling prophecy" been fulfilled?
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Old 05-05-2011, 08:12 PM   #9
Jason Abbott OP
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Originally Posted by Idahosam View Post
has your fathers "self fulfilling prophecy" been fulfilled?
The gist of it, yes. We're not able to hang out like pals all the time but when we're together, all I hear from our women is, "oh god, yours does that too!?" We don't have to say much because we already know we're all thinking the same things.
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Old 05-05-2011, 08:43 PM   #10
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Simply outstanding.
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Old 05-06-2011, 08:44 AM   #11
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Old 12-08-2012, 06:42 PM   #12
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Awesome read. I may not have brothers, but I suddenly can't wait for my son to be of age and go on a road trip like this. thank you for taking the time
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Old 12-08-2012, 10:59 PM   #13
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Outstanding photography!!
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Old 12-09-2012, 07:39 AM   #14
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Whoa! Epic pictures! Thanks for sharing.

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Old 12-09-2012, 08:45 AM   #15
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Great RR Jason, pictures and writing. What camera/lens were you using?
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