A series of entries, written while I had no internet access and posted together now that I do. I have quite a few pictures, but the internet is so slow here that I'll send this text and then send pictures in the next day or so when I get decent internet.
Saturday June 25
This, I gotta say, is about as good as it gets.
It’s 2:30 PM at the Wilderness Gateway NFS campground. I’ve been here maybe 24 hours, having left Pollock and the Canyon Pines RV resort about 9 am yesterday. It was cloudy and cool and spit rain all the way. I loved it.
The route went up US 95 to Grangeville, then over and up ID 13 to Kooskia, then north and east up US 12 in the direction of Lolo Pass and, eventually, Missoula MT. It was a spectacular drive. At times the road followed the river canyon closely (first the middle fork of the Clearwater, then the Lochsa. This is premiere whitewater country. The ex-river rat in me had to concentrate on NOT looking over, trying to read the water and find the best line through the rapids. Sometimes I pulled over and did just that. Then the country would open up into something more like river valley than canyon: big vistas of green fields, cattle, and farmland, sloping up to the ever-present ridges and peaks. Lots of little towns; a few small cities like Grangeville. Many places to pull over, either to gawk at the country or let traffic pass, or both. I realized at one point I was driving along with a really big grin on my face.
The elevation gain wasn’t all that much until I went through White Bird and headed up the White Bird Grade: miles and miles of steady 6-7 percent grade. I stopped at one pullover with a historical marker commemorating a battle with the Nez Perce more than a century ago, as much to give Beastie some time to breathe as to admire the view and learn a little history.
Lots of NFS campgrounds along the way, whose names I recognized from my map study. And finally into Wilderness Gateway campground where I had reserved three nights. The sites here were described as in complete shade, and I thought I might have to run the generator to make it through. The shade was overstated, and yesterday’s clouds and rain have given way to clear blue sunny skies. The solar panel is pumping watts, the temperature is in the 70’s, and I have butterflies, ground squirrels (chipmunks to us native Easterners,) honeybees, and hummingbirds for company.
And people. When I pulled in yesterday about this time the place was more than half-empty. By 8PM, it was about full. Now, it’s pretty empty again. Lots of tent campers; many more trailers than motorhomes. Families with children, mostly. As I walk around, lots of chances to talk with folks. The background sound is the river. To say that it’s pleasant would be a VAST understatement.
Sunday morning June 26
And although I haven’t really decided anything, it feels like I am staying here today. Beautiful morning; the solar panel is scavenging what it can from the partially-shaded sun, with plenty more to come as the sun moves higher. It’s cool, with only the sound of the river in the background. Ooops — not quite: the hot water heater has just fired up its annoying blow torch sound; guess it’ll be time for a sponge bath in a little while.
I was a bad boy this morning. I drained the grey water tank (wash water) into the surrounding shrubbery. If I were tent camping, of course, like the folks next door, I’d have been tossing my dishwater out in the same way, so the net environmental impact is about nil. So I tell myself.
I’ve been trying an experiment here: I’ve left the bed in position. My standard sleeping arrangement involves collapsing the “dinette” table into a platform and putting bedding on top: thick blanket as a “mattress pad” and then a sheet and then a top cover of a thin cotton blanket and then a lightweight sleeping bag folded like a quilt over that. It’s surprisingly comfortable, but it’s a minor pain to do every evening and undo every morning. So here, I’ve been eating on a little folding table, and leaving the bed set up. Minor inconvenience, but great for naps! And since there’s no internet, I don’t spend much time on the laptop: right now I’m typing this at the picnic table. So far, I like this arrangement.
The water heater has shut up, so perhaps it’s bath time.
I didn’t take as much of a bath as I could have. What I did was go for a hike. Yes, a hike. An actual damn hike. At end of this little road is a trail sign. “Overlook Trail. 1/2 mile. Dead end.” So I got a water bottle, my phone to take pictures, and my hiking staff. It was about 11am when I took off down the trail: A well-maintained little day hike trail, with no rocks or roots to speak of, and a slow gentle incline. Somewhat to my surprise, my knees were fine, my back was fine. It was … glorious. It smelled like forest: slightly damp, pine-needle-y. I felt great. I went at a comfortable (glacial) pace, catching glimpses from time to time of the river below me, getting further and further below me as the slow climb continued. I was a truly happy camper; it didn’t matter how slow I was moving. I was sweaty and loose and strong. I was, by God, HIKING.
After a while I began to doubt that “1/2 mile” sign, but it didn’t matter. I had managed to silence the part of me that kept wanting to know “how much further,” and tried, successfully for the most part, to simply enjoy where I was: in the woods again. I wasn’t trying to get somewhere. I was there.
And then …
I stubbed my toe on a root, and kept myself from falling with the staff. I paused, took a drink, and knew fear. There I was, alone, with no one knowing where I was. What if I sprained an ankle, or worse? Stupid! I stood there for a while, turned around, and slowly, carefully, made my way back down the trail to “home,” no longer loose, but tight with fear around the edges of my mind, returning to my day job as a somewhat doddery old man.
Despite this moment, it was a good experience. Most of it was the best time I’ve had outdoors in Lord knows how long. The fearful part, not so great. For a little while, as I hiked back, I berated myself for turning around. For not leaving a note about where I was going. But that wore off. I swallowed the last of my water as I headed down the campground road to the Beast. I’ve been turned back from summit attempts in the Cacades by bad weather. I’ve turned back on rock climbs in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when it turned out I was attempting a route that was beyond my abilities. The idea that an easy 1/2 mile stroll would prove beyond me was hard on the ego, for a little while. But only a little while. It was a really good time.
Early morning, Monday June 27
I’ll head out in a while, up US 12 to Lolo Hot Springs. Maybe there’ll be usable internet and I’ll post this. As I picked things up last night, and stowed the solar panel for travel, I realized that when I take off from here, it will feel like leaving home. More than other departures on this trip, even the week-plus I spent in Cascade. I think it’s because this leafy, green place with a river running through it feels like the places of my young manhood. The terrain reminds me of New England and the Adirondacks, with fewer rocks and bugs. It brings back memories of youth and strength, a little foolishness, unlimited energy, and the companionship of like-minded folks.
Monday afternoon, June 27
I got out at about 9, and wound along Rt 12 up over Lolo Pass and on to Lolo Hot Springs. Nothing special: roomy sites on grass. I’ll go investigate showers in a bit. (UPDATE: ummm ... no thinks on the showers. Good thing this place is cheap!) The wifi is really slow, but I’ll try to get this out this afternoon.