On the second of our five day ride, my three brothers and I follow mountain ridges through sodden clouds from our campsite along Big Creek to Wallace for gas and lunch at the Red Light Garage then over Moon Pass to sleep on Shefoot. The weather is entertaining.
I read Brenna’s letter of the day aloud in the sarcastic tone I expect she intended: “Have you been having fun? Is the sun with your brothers camping? Ha-ha. Fun in the sun. So funny.” We laugh heartily at her prescient mockery.
We discovered yesterday that the head of motorcycle trail 44 has been moved about ten feet south. Current trails.idaho.gov tracks still show the old route which we fought and followed for an hour until it became impassable. We thought we might pursue the correct route today but it’s fresh dirt is surely saturated from the night of rain. We decide to play it safe with the forest road up to Cemetery Ridge.
Cemetery Ridge is named for the temporary graves of eleven firefighters (another account puts the number at 22¹) caught in the fires of 1910 along Big Creek.² In 1912 they were re-interred with the fire’s many other victims in St. Maries.³
Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), “To Remove Bodies of Fire Victims,” 12 April 1912
Road and sky converge as we continue to climb north above Big Creek and the St. Joe River. My brothers switch to warmer gloves while I set my grip heaters to high and raise the little wind screen. This is fun.
We are enchanted by autumn colors adorned with glistening, raindrop diamonds.
We will take a bit of rain any day over the dry, dusty conditions that prevailed for months.
We turn to an ATV track to continue following the ridge. There’s probably a great view here but fog is as thick as any I’ve seen. We can hardly find the trail in front of us. It’s like riding in a dream.
The trail becomes rockier as we ascend, requiring teamwork in places.
Although we see no hint of it, the GPS shows Elsie Lake below the ridge to our left. We camped there once¹ and might have camped there again last night if trail 44 wasn’t secretly moved.
Visibility doubles then diminishes as cloud banks stream across the ridge like waves crashing across the deck of some sky faring ship. What a place to be!
Some climbs force us to ride beyond our sight lines, speed against gravity as we seem to hurl ourselves into oblivion.
A new headlight assembly, radiator fan and rain are apparently bad for amperage. A wet, windswept ridge is fitting for a breakdown. By the time I backtrack to see what’s happened, Joel has already replaced the fuse and is buttoning things up.
I wonder a moment about following the single track shortcut down to Wallace. We could instead stay on the safe ATV track to Moon Pass Road. Then I think, it’s all downhill — how hard could it be?
Brief exposure to steep slopes is a bit unnerving but more difficult, especially on the TW200, are deep ruts cut by climbing riders. Overall, though, it’s an enjoyable bit of trail, this, just enough to warm us up before town.
Jeremy was unable to join us when we camped at Elsie Lake¹ so we made flat-Jeremy that year to come along and pose for pictures. We’ve decided real-Jeremy needs to pose wherever flat-Jeremy did. First up is the spaceship outside the Red Light Garage in Wallace, Idaho.
“I remember seeing this place when we drove to Montana,” Jeremy says of a family trip a few weeks ago. “Weird to see it again.” We’ve come at it from quite a different perspective today — single track instead of interstate.
My brothers brought an over-supply of food. If not for the cold, they might not be so interested in lunch at the Red Light Garage. But a hot meal and glass of beer sounds about perfect right now.
I bring the tablet inside to reconsider the day’s remaining route. With today’s rain and yesterday’s delays, we’ll expedite from here.
“God damn it!” I say to the waitress when she returns to tell me the keg blew on my selection.
For a moment I’m afraid she took me seriously, then she laughs. “Don’t swear at me.”
A light but steady rain accompanies us south over Moon Pass from Wallace. After lunch, we stopped at the gas station and grocery store so we’re ready to set up for the night as soon as we reach something suitable.
Finishing our stint on the wide gravel road over Moon Pass, we ride rapidly along Loop Creek. Rains have made tractable dirt, amenable to speed.
My simple heated grips were never robust and now they’re noticeably outmatched. The temperature drop is pronounced as we climb again from valleys to ridges toward Shefoot Mountain.
I notice the sound of rain on my helmet changing tone, deepening, before I see its transition to snow. Wow. I wonder what my brothers will think about camping up here.
I circle around the Shefoot summit area looking for a place to set up tarps and tents but fog in the air and snow on the ground make it hard to see. I retreat to an obvious clearing along the road just below.
My brothers seem as excited to set up in the snow as I am. I should have known. We move quickly, quietly, to the tasks we know need done.
Numb hands, twenty-four hours of rain and surrounding snow leave us confident to start a fire in spite of being unable to check updated fire restrictions.
I have written before that these little rides in the mountains give us reason to exercise a uniquely human capacity to determine our own attitude. It is exhilarating to choose happiness in the face of circumstances suggesting misery.
This capacity depends on a measure of self-awareness, a recognition of our cranially confined internal monologue that plays like a pied piper to follow unconsciously, even wantonly.¹ Without awareness we are prisoners to instinct.
Studying perspectives outside of and contrary to our own can foster this awareness,² help us see beyond ourselves, empowering us to choose the way we experience circumstances. Whether a cold, wet night or someone rejecting our beliefs, we can respond with grace and joy, if we choose.