On the second day of our tenth annual ride, my brothers and I descend from Lava Mountain for gas before heading deeper into the mountains. At least that’s the plan. Mountains have a way of messing with plans.
“Look, there’s our campsite!” I announce again with mock enthusiasm, facing back down the hill to where we camped beside North Star Lake. It’s been stop-and-go getting the bikes up this climb. The dry summer has turned the trail to powder right where we’d like some traction to launch over rocks. We seem hardly to have moved when we look back to where we started.
Joel and Jeremy have stopped believing me when I say, “this is the hardest part.” We scramble through one bit of rubble only to find more. I’ve seen enough YouTube videos to know this is easy riding with proper technique and reflexes. Lacking those, we rely on pushing and heaving.
Some might see our account of a trail like this and assume we’d regret it. But it’s actually these times when we’re cursing and yanking off sweaty helmets in frustration that become our favorite memories to be recounted with laughter around future campfires.
For a little balance and the sake of the ladies in our lives, though, I’ll add that we’re no dare devils. We’ve gone a decade without mishap because we aren’t ashamed to turn around or get off and walk when conditions seems unsafe.
starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
It is another day of above-average heat. We don’t let the shady spots go to waste.
The descent on the other side of the ridge is rough enough that we reach the bottom nearly as worn as we were after the climb up. There was no relaxing.
This next meadow over, below Potter Lake (hidden somewhere above), is bereft of living trees but nonetheless beautiful as the newly enriched forest floor gives rise to a floral garden.
It has been disheartening these recent years to see so much of the Boise National Forest burned. A stand of charred trees was once a curiosity. Now a living stand is unusual.
There are so many factors influencing wildfire — expanding urban interface, decades of ever-drier summers, reduced logging, pestilence — that many remedies can be proposed and legitimately argued.
From a recreational perspective, the clear cutting “remedy” around Clearwater National Forest, the North Idaho area we ride most often, is far more destructive than burning. Even the pro-logging vanguard on the far-right objects to the disaster it leaves when it goes on in their own forests.¹
I have no solution to propose. I kind of doubt any are feasible. It may just be another occasion to choose a cheerful perspective about circumstances beyond our control. These flowers are pretty nice, after all.
The next ridge over brings us to Smith Creek Lake which in other places would be called a pond. We stop and sit a moment on shoreline logs before remounting for a steep but brief descent to meadow trails.
The hillside shortcut I thought we’d take over to Trinity Mountain Road is non-motorized so we continue through a ravine, back-and-forth across creeks and up wet, stair-step roots. I’m just going, going, trying not to stop on any little climbs which I know would try hard to have me stay a while.
The last mile or so of the Lava Ridge Trail is in the open, weaving over and around gentle hills. It’s time to speed again.
We agree at the road to forego both Trinity Lookout and Bear Hole Trail. The lookout was mostly for Nick and the remaining trail into Goat Lake will amount to as much trail time as we can afford. Instead, we hustle down the mountain on the gravel road then over arid hills around Anderson Ranch Reservoir into Pine, Idaho.
I haven’t looked at a clock but I have the sense we’d better not dally much. Instead of another burger and beer at the Pine Café, as good as that sounds, we grab a few things to go while getting gas at the Nitz Pine Store.
The attitude of the place is funny. Other than credit card stickers, the only things on the door are negative. “We have the right to refuse service”; “No public restrooms”; “No smoking.”
“You guys can’t have a fire, you know,” adds the lady behind the counter.
“Oh, we know,” I answer. “We sat around a lantern last night.”
There are no seats or shade to eat our lunch near the store so we continue up the highway past Featherville and turn, as fate demands, into Abbot Campground (even if spelled slightly wrong) along the South Fork of the Boise River. I’m surprised to see it’s still closed from spring flood damage.
“Road Washed Out: 9 Miles,” a sign reads. I take it as a positive indication that we’ll have roads and trails to ourselves beyond that point. But nine miles later, the road is truly gone. Not just half or three-quarters eroded, still passable on two wheels, but erased. There’s just the river running by natural canyon walls.
I keep an eye on trail closures through the spring and summer but never thought to check for a main road still unrepaired months after it washed out. I’m sure I would have known if I’d paid closer attention in the rider forums. Oh well.
“Is that a trail,” I wonder aloud. I see what looks like a path through the rocks above the road’s end.
“I just saw that too,” Jeremy says.
We scramble up and start along it. Maybe this isn’t the end after all.
“Someone put a lot of work into this,” I say. Many, many rocks had to be moved to make a path through this unbroken slide of chair-sized rock. On and on it goes until finally, around the bend, a road reappears and the rock path descends to meet it.
It looks reasonable for unladen bikes except for one spot we can’t figure out. If possible at all, one or two of us would have to stand below, balancing on rocks poking out of a steep face to lean the loaded bikes outward while pushing them around a boulder that only leaves inches of path.
We give it some thought as we walk back to where we parked. A couple guys on bicycles have just reached the road’s end and notice us walking along the trail.
“About how far is it?” one of them asks.
“A couple hundred yards,” I answer.
“Yeah,” Jeremy concurs.
“Are you going to try it?” the cycler asks.
“We’re still figuring that out.”
We aren’t able to reach consensus on its safety so we decide to turn back from the rocky bypass, to forego Goat Lake. We take a quick look at the Jumbo Creek Trailhead a few miles back, which shows a connection to Goat Lake, but find it’s non-motorized.
“We could go to Trinity Lake,” I propose. “It’s a real campground so we could even have a fire in the ‘official’ ring. And it’s not hard to get back on the route from there tomorrow.” It’s agreed.
We like to avoid roads and campgrounds but the alternative, staying somewhere along the river here, where it’s hot and dusty, doesn’t seem great.
We ride quick as we can back to Featherville then up the gravel road to Trinity Ridge and into Big Trinity Lake Campground. Ironically, we’re just on the other side of the mountain from where we began the day. But no complaints. It’s a beautiful spot and will be nice to have a fire.
starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
A few clouds have gathered so Jeremy opts for shelter tonight. At least that’s the story. I think last night’s squirrel scolding is still weighing heavy on his mind.
We take notice when a brother’s gear works better than ours which has meant, as things have worn out over the years, we’ve slowly ended up with all the same stuff. This year Joel has joined the Silky BIGBOY ranks. We haven’t needed it on the trail but it’s put to good use preparing firewood.
Joel and I employ our usual fire starting technique which is to grumble about the lame fire until Jeremy fixes it.
“I wonder if all the frogs are here again,” I think aloud. They were swarming the shores when we camped here three years ago.¹ It was quite a curiosity — not at all expected this time of year.
Jeremy and I walk out in the marshy grass aside our campsite and confirm, even here across the lake from where we camped last time, it’s frog heaven again. I think I see a few sway in unison when Jeremy sings them a little song.
My battery was weak for the test ride Nick and I went on earlier this month but still started the bike. I figured it would charge with more riding but that hasn’t been the case. It’s basically dead now. I’ve been kickstarting, hoping it keeps enough charge to power the fuel pump.
Somewhere a kick went wrong and I’ve had worsening pain in my calf (waah). I’ve been trying to find neutral to let the bike idle when I stop for pictures instead of turning it off, so I don’t have to kick again. (Foregoing pictures is out of the question.)
Getting older is its own adventure. I sometimes hear someone’s age mentioned and think “that’s kind of old” just as I realize it’s also my age.
This trail we’re on becomes more technical with time. It requires closer attention. I have to think about what foods I should eat. I have to think about whether I’m getting enough exercise. I have to make adjustments. If I don’t, I’m sure to be surprised by odd pains and muscles pulled for no discernable reason.
It doesn’t seem like a bad way to be, though, any more than the tough trails this morning. Little hardships are inspiring. The trail will inevitably become harder until eventually it kills me, as it does us all. But for now it’s a good ride.
The day’s heat has turned granola bars into granola gargoyles, twisted and bent. I snack on a couple as we heat water in our matching Jetboils around the growing fire.
I notice as we sit talking, laughing, and the light begins to fade, that we haven’t mentioned our dad. These are the times he usually comes up, out in the environs he loved. He drowned sixteen years ago. Now that I think about it, our ride will end on the anniversary of his death.
This year we’ve talked more about our mom — our mom who has ever been caring and consistent, not mercurial or mysterious. It seems more fair, really. Our dad was gone before we did anything as adult brothers. It’s our mom who’s supported us all these years, listened to our joys and sorrows, and been an important link between us.
We talk also of our absent brother Jesse. This is the second year in a row he’s missed, this time without comment. We see him other times but only in the mountains are we alone as brothers. We miss him — his quick laugh and funny if blunt descriptions.
We wonder about his reasons, if there’s something we can change. Our routes became more technical once we all had smaller motorcycles. Is that it? Or maybe using the Husqvarna became too frustrating. “Do you think he’d come if I let him ride the TW?” Jeremy wonders.
“Maybe,” I reply. “We can try different marketing campaigns to get him back,” I add in the spirit of evening talk about Jeremy’s and Joel’s business operations. We’d sure like to.
“Did you hear that?!” Jeremy asks with widening eyes and more alertness than I thought his Vodka-Crystal Light mixture would allow.
“No,” Joel and I answer in (typical) monotone. We’re on the opposite side of the crackling fire so maybe he heard something … or maybe he didn’t.
In a moment we hear it too: something big is moving in the water right by our campsite. Loch Ness? Sasquatch? We hope so.
“See!” Jeremy says with a tone of vindication. We stand, turn on phone lights and walk toward the water with hushed voices. It’s creepy in a delightful way.
“I think it’s a moose,” Jeremy suggests. I don’t know what he’s seeing. I peer harder into the darkness but even with our lights I only sometimes see a vague shape.
“I’m going to get my camera and a brighter light,” I say. With those I’m able to agree, there’s a moose! I’ve never seen one in Southern Idaho. We stand and watch a while, at first hesitant, nervous it will charge. But slowly we realize it doesn’t care about us any more than the little frogs.
The moose kept feeding long after we grew tired of watching it last night. “It’s mom will be mad at it for staying out so late,” we thought.
We have an easy morning then pack slowly, methodically, as we prepare to ride to the quasi-ghost town of Atlanta, Idaho. After yesterday’s route change, it’ll be there-and-back instead of along the way. But Joel and Jeremy seem interested. We may even have enough gas. But don’t count on it.