The third of our five day ride has no food or fuel stops. We descend from Shefoot and follow the Idaho-Montana border south to the St. Joe headwaters to camp near Simmons and Washout Creeks.
Most of the snow is gone by morning though we’re still socked in with fog. We rekindle the night’s coals to warm fingers and dry gear.
We can’t help but feel a bit victorious to sit comfortably, sipping hot coffee after the frigid night. Jeremy’s comment on my tent last night — “oh, you’re gonna face into the wind, eh?” — was more significant than I expected. A mummy zip and fetal position helped little against winter winds blowing directly on my sleeping bag. Obviously I acknowledge none of that.
Brenna’s third day note continues to mock our situation. We’ve repeatedly quoted her words with laughter since yesterday. “Fun in the sun — ha-ha.”
Clouds begin to part just as we’re breaking camp allowing us to see for the first time where we are.
As on many bare mountain tops, there was a fire lookout here from 1931 to 1961.¹ I am glad for the opportunity to see the amazing view.
Low clouds move rapidly, dragging mist across ridges, thick curtains to occlude the sun. Wind tugs at our pants and jackets above a cliff face that drops a thousand feet to forest below.
After a few minutes to marvel, we descend from clouds, four horsemen, towards Montana.
“What’s in your pack that you haven’t used?” Jesse asked last night. About the only thing for me was my tire patch kit, which I mentioned. Apparently that was bad luck. I noticed the front tire was low this morning, aired it up, and now it’s low again.
After passing in and out of Montana on State Line Road, we descend to Simmons Creek in Idaho. I stop by a camp trailer at the end of the road. I don’t see where to continue. A middle-aged man emerges with a greeting and points out the narrow trail along the opposite ravine edge. Now we’re getting serious.
Although the words might now inspire more dread than assurance, I tell my brothers anyway, “the site is right on this creek. It can’t be that hard to get there.”
At first we miss the turn to the wider meadow where Simmons and Washout Creeks meet. The trail is a bit overgrown and the sign off to the side.
The meadow is perfect, if a bit overgrown for lack of visitation. We look for the best place to pitch and find the remnants of a pack station fifty yards up Washout Creek.
The remains of neat fences, a small bridge, hitching posts and tables are strewn around a large area. It must have been quite an operation at one time.
Before clouds make good on their threats, my brothers erect their tarps and I pop off the front wheel to dunk in the creek and look for escaping air bubbles. I find the problem was just a loose valve stem. The repair kit remains unused.
A second day of rain and no gas to spare requires some fire starting jiu-jitsu, beginning with a small altar to the gods.
We have everything set up just as rains descend in earnest. We’ve been fortunate, having yet to pack or unpack in the rain.
We move our chairs under and out from the tarp as showers come and go.
The soil is loose. Rocks are under kickstands and chair feet suddenly sink.
Although we’ve come quite a ways from Big Creek, where we camped the first night, the 1910 fires that killed many there were also active here. “Practically the whole basin of the St. Joe above Simmons Creek was cleaned out” by those fires.¹
An overgrown footbridge over a dry creek indicates many years of disuse.
The wood posts are all intentionally cut down suggesting purposeful abandonment. I can’t find any story of it, though.
Pro tip: used liquor bottles on camp chair feet keep them from sinking in soft dirt. “We can’t tell anyone,” we agree when Katy Perry comes on the Braven speaker as we’re exchanging bottles of flavored schnapps.
starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
Without the fancy tarps my brothers brought, drips find their way inside my tent as I get in and out. I give it some time to air out before I stuff it into the pack for the day.
“I slept good,” we all seem to agree, probably thanks to the evening’s free flowing libations. Jeremy offers to share his raspberry crumble and we eagerly pony up dishes.
I am eager to see what Brenna has to tell us today.
We talked last night about changing our route. We’re a bit lower on gas than predicted. Four trails leave this meadow, single track no matter which way we go. After reviewing the topo map, though, the planned route remains the most direct option. We just have to go for it.