Idaho

We were just visitors in Idaho, I think, somewhere between the surprising action of Montana and the finality of Oregon. Four hot days ending in a hotter canyon, the Cascade Mountains in rivalry with Appalachia for the champion demoralizer in height and heat. But even the Idahos of the world, on this trip and elsewhere, can give us something to remember.

            We climbed our last peak of Montana, summiting at the eastern wall of Idaho. The ensuing descent was spectacular, riding down Route 12, which, as we found in the one restaurant in a 60 mile length, has a legendary amount of merchandise in its name. It’s a highway that was frequented by many motorcyclists, a day’s worth of cycling gently descending along a wild blue river, occasionally offset on the other side of the road by a narrow waterfall that would cross under and enter the river. It was lush, for sure, and very tall evergreens shaded us from the sun, which shone only on the river we followed downstream. It was a relatively vacant passageway as well, and the ride still remains one of our favorites of the entire trip.

            So we entered the town of Lowell, population, seriously, 23. It was two competing restaurants on one shore, a resort on the other. We chose one of the restaurants based on the varied selection of their menu, and I think we all enjoyed a pretty decent meal, with Grant enjoying a gigantic bowl of ice cream at the end. Food out west, though, is typically expensive because restaurant owners need to travel no less than 60 miles to buy groceries and those prices are directly reflected on the consumer, but who’s complaining. The restaurant was owned by an older couple and what had to have been their daughter, given the lack of any other houses or establishments in town. The rewards of previous hunting endeavors hung in the darkened “banquet room”, a room that simply must only be used once a decade.

            We then set up tent in the woods, next to a beach of smooth grey rocks that coasted along the same river next to which we rode all day. Our tent, though, is a fairly large 6-person tent that fits the three of us quite comfortably along with a table and three chairs. So as we nestled into a brushy corner, Lauren thought our tent would definitely fit in a space that clearly our tent could not fit without infringing on holes, snake pits, prickerbushes and fields of brush that undoubtedly contained parasitic ticks. But, her vigilance was greater than my skepticism (and Grant’s, too, though it’s clear he would side with his fiancée). The tent fit, but to say the floor was level would be a lie only told by those stubborn tent-builders who are more content in satisfying their original claims than enjoying a comfortable night’s sleep.

            We left the next morning for Grangeville, only about 45 miles away, but these were some tough, hot miles. The morning ride was actually enjoyable and we thought perhaps the final ride of the day would not be as bad as our map depicted it to be. We were quite wrong. Idaho suddenly became a rough, canyonesque terrain, impassible if not for the roads somehow already built. And the sun, well, the sun was blazing at a mile high, radiating off the brown and red stones onto our bodies as we rode up the steep, enduring incline. And seeing exactly where you have to go ten miles away really only makes it worse. In the farthest distance our eyes could produce, the road would still be going up, and as we turned slightly to the right or left, always uphill, the peak never seemed closer, always impossibly continuing.

            But, in spite of the trials, we rode into Grangeville and, having no place else to go, and being fairly early still, we posted up in a cute restaurant owned by four women who were, in the mid-afternoon, sharing ridiculous college stories around a decorated table. The restaurant had closed already, but the door was still open and once we told them how far we’d come, they supplied us with plenty of local beer and some welcomed and warm hospitality. The restaurant was set in a town built with the bustle that accompanies the secluded, yet proudly populated, towns of the west. It ended up, however, being too much money to shower at the local pool, three dollars, so we just camped out in another city park after a tremendous dinner at Oscar’s.

            The next morning, we set out on a much longer day, around 85 miles or so, and after passing the 45th parallel (the line of latitude equidistant from the north pole and the equator), we ended up in New Meadows. This was barely a town, yet had two chain restaurants and a fairly large high school. The three of us ate at a barbecue restaurant recommended by a woman at that restaurant in Grangeville we’d been at the day before, and it really was a rather delicious pulled pork sandwich. Despite the meal though, Grant and I went to A&W for a root beer float or two, where we were met by the single most apathetic fast food employee I’ve ever encountered. He talked back to the boss, but in the calm and carefree tone of a disaffected high school student, and took our order with the same nonchalance that is not conducive to consumer confidence that their root beer float is going to be of any quality. I’ll say this, and leave it at that: he had to ask what the ingredients were.

            We spent the night in some park, which was really just a very big field next to a development of small, run-down houses, with some disgusting and curious dog desperate to get in our tent as we tried to fall asleep. In the morning, as we were just getting set to leave, a rather annoying, questionably sane man sat down at the table next to ours and went on at length about his time in the army, his seclusion in the Idaho wilderness for years and the consequent lack of knowledge in what a street light was until he ran one in Boise and got his car smashed. Now without the privilege of your presence at this conversation you may think this man is just a friendly local with some stories through which he can impart some hospitality. But, no.

            And finally we headed off to our last destination in Idaho: Cambridge. It was supposed to be a quick ride and after our lunch break, everything seemed to be right on track for an early arrival. Well, I arrived on time. About 20 miles out, Grant’s tire, unlucky as it was, burst open again. The heat that day, too, was quite overbearing. So I rode ahead as fast as I could to get Lauren so she could drive back and get him a new tire. He was out for about an hour or so, but from what I understand, he stopped off in a fortuitously established bar only a few minutes walking distance from where his tire exploded.

            When Grant arrived in town, we did some work in the library and fashioned a shower, cold as anything, out of a highly pressurized spicket on the side of the building, our only shower in Idaho, by the way. Passers-by saw some sights that afternoon that I’m sure Cambridge, Idaho had never seen. As we were about to leave, Grant asked the librarian if there was anything to do in this town and wouldn’t you know it, there was a rodeo for one night only. Well this was just fantastic news. We quickly ate dinner and went to the campsite for some festive spirits in preparation for the night’s event. Lauren went over early and Grant and I followed, giddy with excitement. The town closed during rodeo hours, the announcer’s microphoned voice bellowing all over the city limits. Now the rodeo never looks that exciting on television, but when you see someone holding onto a raging bronco or bull for dear life, and that is the first instance I can use that phrase with complete accuracy and intent, you need to cheer after every attempt. You just don’t see a human trying to ride such a wild and untamed animal, it’s all the great late-night college tricks and feats wrapped up in one dusty, rowdy ring. There is simply nothing like a small town western rodeo. After every cowboy’s attempt at taming, wrasslin’, or riding an angry bull or bronco, Grant and I cheered wildly, unaccustomed to, well, local custom. Strange looks were abundant as, for some reason, no one cheered as enthusiastically or as often as we did that night, but our support was founded and true. After the rodeo, the town came alive and all the cowboys, cowgirls and fans took to the several bars in town quite excitedly, though we decided to catch some sleep just off of the main street at the park.

            We slept under the water tower that night, as it was clear enough to forget the possibility of rain. In the morning, we rode through a geological wonder called Hell’s Canyon, which was as hot as it sounds. We climbed up to our last major peak of the trip, above a mile-high that is, on a winding road with vast vegetation on either side and giant mutant crickets everywhere. These startlingly large insects would hop onto our bike and the only thing I, and Grant too, wanted to do was lift up our feet so they couldn’t attack but we needed to peddle to get through that area of disgusting, disgusting bugs. They made a terrible sound when you crushed one, Lauren even could hear the sound in her car. Once we reached the summit and began our decent, we cut through a huge collection of mountains, a beautiful goldenrod color, only accentuated by the deep, rich blue lake that shifted to lighter hues at the shores. The sky seemed to be a darker blue than usual, perhaps due to the contrast with the vast, burnt mountains. It was hot alright, but the road winded alongside the lake swiftly, sometimes uphill and sometimes down, but always enjoyable.

We crossed a bridge, then, and at the other side, there was that last green state sign. Finally, with eagerness and excitement, we were in Oregon.

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