Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lost River Range – Found!

My packing is going  exactly as it went one year ago to the day. The GoPro mount is fiddly-fussy, and seems intent on keeping me from actually steering the Ducati, no matter what configuration of awkward connector pieces I choose. The day is getting on, and I’m this close to tossing the irritating contraption in the top box to deal with later.    A shift in my schedule has blessed me with an unexpected three day weekend, and I intend to use it. I recall my regret from last year, swear softly, and persevere.  The sun is high in the sky by the time the jumble of pieces takes a usable, if not ideal form, but this year, the Lost River* Range will not go unphotographed.

I cross the border into Idaho, and the landscape subtly shifts.  The valley is tilting this way and that in a dizzying fun-house sort of way.  Were it not for the lush grasses and smattering of farm houses, one would think the extinct volcanoes surrounding me had burst through the earth’s crust in a cataclysmic event some time around last Tuesday.  But all is quiet.

I’ve got a great tail wind, but I don’t realize it until I take a slow left hand turn into my first gas stop.  An invisible hand pushes the Ducati to a lean angle unsustainable at its slow speed. I catch it with my foot, but had I been on a taller bike, I probably would be spending the next few minutes unloading it, picking it up, and inspecting the damage.   I pull up to the lee side of a gas pump, but it doesn’t seem to help. When I dismount, I’m practically pinned to the bike by the wind. We’re holding each other up now, and I don’t know how to even begin the complicated maneuver of removing a glove, extracting a credit card, and filling the tank without at least one of us falling over.  I struggle to reposition the loaded bike at a better angle, and manage, but barely. I take a deep breath and dart 100 miles across the Snake River Plain in the crosswind.

It seems I am not the only one affected by the wind.  In a real life cinematic freeze frame moment, all time, sound, and motion abruptly stop. I’m face to face, eye to eye, with a hawk.  For a split second that feels like minutes, we contemplate each other from our surprisingly short range perspective. This huge bird can’t be more than two feet directly in front of me. Then, just as abruptly, the tape rolls again, now in double-time. I duck down, the hawk swoops upward, and the encounter is over before it began. I wonder how the hawk’s experience compared with mine.

It’s raining now, and the streets are flooded.  I motor slowly, carefully, through small running rivers at every turn.  Splashing arcs of water land directly in my boots and just as soon as I wipe my visor, it’s covered in raindrops again.

By the time I reach Joe T. Fallini Campgound at the Mackay Reservoir, the sun is shining through the clouds.

From one side of my tent, I see this:

Lost River Range, Idaho

And from the other, this:

Joe T Fallini Campground Mackay Reservoir

I reflect on my last blog post as I pour the water out of my boots. Heat, cold, rain, flooding, all in the first 100 miles. Yep, it’s good to be touring again!

I’ve been feeling hurried since February, and I’ve no intent on feeling that way this morning. My plan is to ride around, somewhere, for a while, and get back to camp before the afternoon thunderstorms pop.  Maybe I’ll loop around the Sawtooth Mountains, maybe I’ll finally take that dip in Sunbeam Springs, or perhaps I’ll investigate the valley to the east of the Lost River Range. It really doesn’t matter, because every direction is a win around here.

Remembering yesterday’s wind, I reinforce my tent with guy wires, and a few rocks for good measure.  I gear up, mount up, and the Ducati decides to point north.

It’s not soon before I realize my heart is simply not equipped to process beauty at this order of magnitude.  It hurts. I want to know this land intimately, in a way that would take a lifetime, or even generations. Every creek, and every flowering meadow, the song of every bird, the view from each towering peak, the texture of the boulders sprinkled in the river below me, the hiding places of its tender spring greens, earthy mushrooms, and sweet berries… I want to simultaneously savor it all slowly, and gobble it up, in the way I want to eat an entire pie, bursting each tangy sweet just picked cherry between my teeth, letting its juices tingle my tongue, and then finishing the rest of it, directly, no fork involved, as a blue ribbon winning pie eating contestant.

I need to distract myself, so my mind turns to the fresh asphalt before me.  I downshift, release the clutch just so, and seek the edge of my rear tire.  I’m a swallow racing the river around each sweeping bend.  But it offers little reprieve.  I’m simply trading one agonizing form of joy for another.  Later, I’ll vomit words into my notebook, but the relief will be temporary. Before I’ve ridden only a few miles again, the bile of useless ineffective words will rise up in my brain.
It’s only recently occurred to me to ask gas station attendants for dining recommendations, but it’s starting to seem like a good strategy. As I step into Bertram’s Brewery in Salmon, ID**, I notice there’s a “Juis Suis Charlie” sign in the window. I chat with the equestrians, motorcyclists, and pilots seated around me, and enjoy delicious, if not Baja-Certified-Authentic, fish tacos. I like this place!
The ghosts of Lewis and Clark beckon from the Montana border.  It’s just a short ride away, and I want to test my own skills on the same mountain passes that proved so formidable to them in 1805.  But the stormy clouds in the sky direct me back south, and I pass, for the second time today, the sign proudly declaring “45th Parallel. Halfway between the Equator and North Pole!”  It’s okay, August and I have big plans.

It may not look like it, but I'm pointed to the good weather in this photo.

I’ve got time to wander around the “Battleground Cemetery***” north of the reservoir when I get back, and chat with two huckleberry picking ATM riders, and their dachshund riding buddies.

Battleground Cemetary Mackay Reservoir Idaho

I get back to camp, confirm my tent is still standing, and prepare to ride into Mackay for some groceries.  My trip was hastily planned, and there’s not enough food left in the top box for both dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow.  The group next to me extends an dinner invite. “Why, yes, I think I would like to join you!” Dutch oven cooking is a formidable skill and these people have mastered it.  The meat is tender, the vegetables flavorful, and there’s just enough bacon added to make it sing savory songs in my mouth.

Dutch Oven Dinner

We look across the water into the hills directly west, and – Lo! – It’s the Ghost Horse of Mackay Reservoir!  He’s been living out there, wild, for over a decade. Another camp neighbor offers his binoculars. There’s no question now. A white horse has wandered down the hill for an evening graze upon the green grass alongside the reservoir. I squint a bit. Could it be… a unicorn?

Ghost Horse Mackay Reservoir Idaho
Yes, the white speck on the edge of a water is a horse.

My dining companions are fascinating company, and remind me a bit of musicians, doing all manner of odd things to make ends meet. This week,  they’re a paving crew, waiting out the daily rain to begin work. Other months of the year, they drive sugar beet trucks from field to Paul, ID, home of the biggest sugar beet processing plant in the US. (And you thought Idaho just grew potatoes.) Like bees to the hive, they scurry back and forth in a frenzy, feeding our country’s addiction to sugar.  Veritable mountains are moved on a daily basis.  One camper is a former ski instructor and published author. I share equine photos with a woman who has a side business as a farrier.  A third camper shows off clever little inventions put together in his spare time.  Another tells of how, inexplicably, he is paid twice as much to transport beets as he was paid to transport school children in a yellow bus.  On my way out the next morning, I’ll be delayed by a paving crew. I know they’re not my friends from the night before, but I think upon them warmly. From now on, paving delays will bring me fond memories of these good people.

The light is different tonight on the mountains.

Lost River Range, Idaho 2
When I return home, GoPro photos (most of which prominently feature my gloved index finger) and Lost River Range panoramas aside, I’ll have done nearly nothing to capture the reality of this ride.

Ducati at Fallini Campground Mackay Reservoir Idaho

My eyes are drooping, even before it’s dark. I stick my arm out my tent to capture tonight’s subtle sunset.

Sunsest from Tent

This trip home seems to be about picking up loose ends.  I stop at Pickle’s Place, home of not just the Atomic Burger****, but John’s Steak and Seasoning Spice as well. I’ve been curious about this little roadside stop in the past, and I need both breakfast and to charge my phone, which has decided not to work at ambient temperatures below 50F.

World Potato Museum? The Ducati and I come to an abrupt stop.

The place is packed!

Idaho Potato Museum Blackfoot, ID

There are informative panels on the history, farming, (potatoes are often grown in rotation with sugar beets, which explains a thing or two!),  and processing of the world’s favorite tuber; impressive collections of potato mashers, peelers, farming implements, and Mr. Potato Heads; and, of course, a wildly outdated constantly looping film. I find myself hoping I get a free potato upon exit. I do, sort of...

I take in a few other points of interest that I’ve never stopped at before.

Red Rock Pass

Red Rock Pass is a two-for-one deal. To see an overlook of the pass, you climb up the steep stairs of Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association Marker No. 119, dedicated to Mormon Battalion Caption Jefferson Hunt.

Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Marker 119

Here, the ancient Lake Bonneville burst forth, flooding the Snake River Plain.

Red Rock Pass

The Battle of Bear River has been aptly renamed to The Bear River Massacre.   An estimated 450 Shoshone were killed here in 1863.  There is a nice interpretive site on a small hill overlooking the area.  It’s hard to think about, even now.

Bear River Massacre Site
It's difficult to imagine violence in this peaceful, green valley.

I take a final detour victory lap to Bear Lake for lunch. After the informative video at the Potato Museum, my menu choice is obvious.

Bear Lake Fries

*Why is it lost? Both the Big and Little Lost Rivers dive underground at the Big and Little Lost Rivers sinks near Arco, ID.  They emerge again about 100 miles downstream at Thousand Springs, near Hagerman, ID.
**”Birthplace of Sacajawea!”
***Battleground Cemetery
**** From the menu: “Arco, Idaho, became the first city in the world to be lighted by atomic energy on July 17th, 1955.” Atomic City, ID is not far away, nor is the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 Atomic Museum.