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December 10th – 16th, 2019

Idaho Pahandle NF near Coeur d’Alene – Price, Utah

December 10th 

It was a slow, cold morning. After coffee I relocated a short ways to the Mineral Ridge trailhead to use the bathrooms. Upon arriving I discovered a minor coolant leak at the rad hose. It didn’t take much to fix but was still stressful. I have after all spent a significant amount of time over the past several months fixing one coolant leak after another. I lingered around the trailhead for awhile, doing chores and watching the wild turkeys. 

I’m not feeling much motivation to drive so after less than 10min I was stopped again to take Frank for a short walk on the Fourth of July Summit loop. Our was on a gated art road that I’m sure is really enjoyable for xc skiing which appears to be the primary use of the area given the nordic club has a warming hut shortly down the trail. 

After returning to the road I took my first opportunity to get off the freeway and take the slower community roads that ran parallel. I enjoy peering into yards and wondering about boarded up buildings and what appeared to be a pet moose. As I caught my first glimpse of Kellogg, ID I was completely shocked. After miles and miles of abandoned buildings and simple dwellings I was looking down upon a town engulfed by a car lot. Hundreds, maybe thousands of shiny, brand new vehicles mostly GMC, Dodge, Jeep.  ‘Holy Shit!’ I exclaimed out loud, and as I drove through town it got more and more mind blowing. Borded up buildings with their lots completely packed with new trucks, all with a neon pink rear plate that read ‘Dave Smith’. Then as I am exiting town I see it, the billboard welcoming you to the ‘WORLDS LARGEST Dogde/Jeep/Chrystler dealership’. 

I continued following the side roads until I got to Wallace, ID my destination for the day. After a brief stop at the very friendly visitor information I headed out to the ‘Pulaski Tunnel Trail’. The trail itself was rather easy and in a pleasant forest but the best part was learning about the ‘Great Fires of 1910’ and the heroics of the man who invented the trail building and fire fighting tool know as a Pulaski. With plenty of information boards along the way the trail leads out to where you can see the entrance to the tunnel where he gathered more than 40 men inside saving most of their lives from being engulfed in flame. The forest now has hardly a sign of any such epic fire but as I enjoy learning it was a great hike. 

The entire town of Wallace is listed as a national historic site and is extremely charming but rather than strolling the streets Frank and settled into Wallace Brewing Co where I enjoyed several pints of tasty fresh hopped IPA, charged my computer and soaked in the wifi. The beer was so tasty (and happened to be the weekly special) that we will be staying right outside the brewery which I’ve been told is no problem at all. 

Taking the slow road and stopping to enjoy the views, Northern Idaho

December 11th 

Today I woke to a horrible scraping noise to look outside and have my suspicions confirmed. It had snowed and people were out shovelling the sidewalks before it was hardly light out. It wasn’t too much snow but definitely not what I wanted to be dealing with yet, so I didn’t. I drove around the block and hung out in the cafe for several hours. The employee had the head cranked so Frank and I were very comfortable while I worked away on my computer. 

Then I was informed there was to be a LOT more snow coming in the next couple days so I reluctantly hit the road skipping my planned hike for the day and continuing East over lookout pass and into Montana. Not feeling like driving I spent awhile snacking and puttering at each of the rest stops along the way before eventually arriving into the outskirts of Missoula. 

All I really wanted all day was to be in bed as I am feeling rather ho-hum but I forced myself to take Frank for a walk regardless. His enjoyment of the trail helped lift my spirits a bit and since the trailheads are technically closed at night we are once again sleeping in a pull-out along the side of a road. It’s busier than I would like but I can see the trailhead I want to depart from in the morning so it’s a decent compromise. The nearby forest service road is a sheet of ice and I don’t have it in me to go on a adventure just to find a nicer place to park. Beside it’s a waste of money and once I’m asleep I am unlikely to notice the vehicles passing by.

Cooking dinner in the parking lot so I can be stealthier sleeping on the street.

December 12th 

Today is the 1 year anniversary of completing the Pacific Crest Trail and I am celebrated by staying away from wifi and going hiking. Turns out the street is dead quiet after everyone gets home from work and I slept so well I was up at 4am, which having switched times zones yesterday felt pretty early. Realizing I had already slept over 9 hours I decided to do my best to stay awake. First with Frank snuggles, then meditation followed by coffee and audiobook. By the time I got through all that I was allowed in the trailhead parking, warmed up the van, brushed off a skiff of snow and drove the 100m down the street to the official parking where I could spend the day without seeming out of place. By the time we hit the trail shortly after 7am I was eager enough to hike I didn’t care it would be dark for another hour. The full moon shone down on the open terrain and I was in love with Montana. 

We hiked up and up, and as we did snow started pounding down on us. High enough now that the fresh snow was accumulating upon residual making for slower and much more effortful travel. I brought micro spikes thinking the mountain would be windswept and icy but snowshoes would have been the better choice. While I had caught a few glimpses down to the valley I was not surprised that the summit was very cold, windy and snowy. I was also not  surprise that we were the only ones. There was no view and the weather was what most would consider ‘miserable’. The stairs to the lookout tower were so steep and icy that Frank got half way up the first flight and we decided against the dangerous ordeal. Yes, I could have made him wait while I checked it out, but we are a team. He was stoked as it was on reaching the summit which he expressed by tackling me and licking my face. I myself also had a shit eating grin on my face, but had skipped breakfast and only packed a couple bars so was happy to descend. The summit of Blue Mountains made for a fun day and having climbed up from the main parking lot it a great workout also. 

On the way down I finally had some open views, the summit behind me still in a snowy cloud. As we came into sight of the trailhead we began running into everyone and their dog which Frank enjoyed. Perhaps if I wasn’t so hungry I would have stood around chatting while he romped but instead I kept us moving. He ate and curled up instantly while I made a huge helping of pasta in the parking lot and set to writing. 

I might still go for a stroll this evening, but either way will hang out in this lot until the traffic dies down then move my van down the street to sleep for the night. I think tomorrow we will hike here again, but maybe not so early, and probably not so far. 23km is not at all a big day for us but the snow travel really worked  me over. 

Frank on out way down from the summit with Missoula, Montana down in the valley below

December 13th 

You win some and you lose some. Yesterday was a great day and I felt amazing; today I would have kept sleeping. Perhaps I should have just stayed in bed, but instead I decided before it was even light out to head into town for local coffee and wifi. I didn’t want to go in on the weekend and needed to download trail info the road ahead and check on weather. With no idea where to look I managed to find a local cafe/roaster who made a fairly decent brew. Then I spend hours checking the weather for every town in my path trying to find anywhere that wasn’t going to be really super cold over the next week. As it turns out I need to drive 1200km or head west (which I don’t want to do) just to find somewhere that is going to be warmer than -10c at night. Without heat in the van nights are cold and it wouldn’t be fair to Frank to be anywhere colder than that just to see a pretty sight. So I dragged my feet, recheck weather, refreshed social feeds I don’t care about, and then decided it was time to move. 

I thought of turning around and going back to my parents. Anxiety swelled inside me and I fought back tears as I headed south from Missoula. ‘Living the dream’ they say. Feels like a nightmare today. And I get it, it’s winter and this part of the world is cold. My feelings aren’t about my plans not working out. It’s depression, and today was a bad day. I should have stayed in bed, but instead I got up, made decisions, and committed to a plan I wasn’t thrilled about in order to take the best care of Frank. 

Lucky for me the dude needs a walk everyday so aways down the highway I found somewhere to do just that. Chaffin Butte, what an amazing sight. For the time it took to hike up the steep trail all I thought about was controlling my breath. Frank excitement for the summit and 360 views brought a genuine smile to my face that last until we were back at the trailhead. I decided to be kind to myself and spend the night there, until I saw the sign ‘no parking after dark’, FUCK!

I dove until after dark then decided I didn’t feel safe going up and over the continental divide at night with all the dark clouds around. Especially in my poor mental state with trouble focusing and crap-ass headlights on this old van. So here I am parked in a picnic area in Darby, Montana. There is no visible sign I can’t spend the night here, but it doesn’t matter. I’m paranoid someone will call the cops and all I want to do is rest. I should have stayed in bed today. 

Frank atop Chaffin Butte letting me know when he grows up he wants to be a Montana Mountain dog

December 14th 

Before falling asleep last night I laid in bed I focused on setting an intention for today. To see the best in everything regardless of how I was feeling or what was going on around me. Well I wasn’t up for more than 30 minutes before it began snowing. It proceeded to dump for the next hour and I dreaded driving another 1000m higher in order to cross the continental divide into Idaho. “I can go slow. I have chains. I have everything I need to pull over any wait it out. I can go slow” I assured myself several times before mustering the courage to leave town. I didn’t need the chains and I was able to go slow without putting people out. For the most part I kept it around 15-20mph under the limit. The pass was certainly white but it was stunning. I pulled over at the top in the middle of two states and looked around for awhile. 

Down the other side skirting the divide and the I saw it! The blaze for the CDT (continental divide trail). The first one I have ever seen in real life. Instantly dreams of thru-hiking coloured the world around me. Imaging the white world around dresses in green I knew I would be back. 

That heart seated assured feeling made passing through a easier. The land has so many stories even walking is too fast at times. Passing through time is best done sitting.

I left Missoula with the resolve to to be far into Utah by now and here I am in Salmon, Idaho. Side trips included I’ve managed to drive 280km in 2 days. Not exactly escaping the cold as I had planned. Frank is bundled in a nest obvious to the fact it’s very freezing outside. It’s nearing -10c outside and only a few degrees warmer in here. I thought I had a good plan, and that was the problem. I know better than to think to much about these things and do what feels right as long as it’s safe. If it becomes unbearable driving will seem like the better option. 

And so with giving up on forcing things I enjoyed many nice stops throughout the day. An hour spend chilli in Truck outside the North Fork General Store. I picked up chips for my salsa and chatted with friends utilizing their wifi. Then a riverside stop to enjoy the sunshine and views at Red Rocks BLM site before ending the day above Salmon. We spent the afternoon walking through rolling snow and sage bush surrounded by mountains of time. Their gentle face heavily sculpted by water flows into the valley below. The crunch of snow under my shoes inspires to podcast and by the time we return home it’s sunset and dinner is calling. 

Salmon, Idaho

December 15th 

The further I drove the wider the valley grew. Flat, cold, snow and sage. The mountains retreated, slowly replaced by buildings. I had made it to Idaho Falls and had zero desire to go into the city. We walked through the lava field at the rest stop and continued south to refuel in a smaller town. By this point night had fallen and I considered staying in the Wal-Mart parking for my first time ever, but also this one did not allow ‘RVs’. Onward south I found myself sick of driving fairly quick and spent the night in a travel centre lot. It wa so cold my computer froze itself off and refused to turn on again. 

All in all the day was rather unremarkable, and the terrain made it easy to keep driving. 

Wide open road heading south through Idaho

December 16th 

I awoke to a dusting of snow on Truck and a strong determination to get as far away from southern Idaho as possible. While I thoroughly enjoyed the north, the south simply did not beacon me to linger and my time in cities had run it’s course. It was time for me to get somewhere I could call home for awhile and explore based out of a town I enjoyed. 

So when we got on that highway we put the pedal to the metal and flew. Truck now settled into all the new parts and electrical components was driving better than ever and the 80mph speed limit posed no problem. With frequent stops to stretch our legs we barrelled into Utah. The freeway grew busier and having never liked driving around semi’s I opted to take the 84 and avoid Salt Lake City all together. Instead we worked out way thought the mountains heading southeast. Snow persisted for far longer than anticipated which only motivated me to keep driving. 

Finally after passing through the high mountains of Ashley NF and seeing countless oil wells we popped out in Price, Utah. Finally! A wide open desert scape not covered in snow. It was not yet our destination but as night had fallen I choose to call it a day. Just south of town I turned onto a side road and made a wide pullout home for the night. The waning moon still below the horizon allowed stars a plenty to reveal themselves from one side of the horizon to the other. The frozen desert and open sky reminded me of winters spent in the Eastern Sierra and for the first time this trip I felt a sense of belonging knowing that the next day we arrive to our new home. 

Distance travelled: 1499km 

Song of the week: ‘Make Art Not Friends’ by Sturgill Simpson 

Picture of the week: 

Frank in our home Truck during a riverside break in Northern Idaho