We would see our highest recorded temperature and altitude on the motorcycle during our three days around the Stanley area. When plans to be at the Stanley Stomp Rally didn’t pan out, I thought the Stanley area would still be a nice August destination.
As we headed up Highway 21, the motorcycle display counted steadily up to 106°F. Back-roads over the Boise Ridge are usually more enjoyable but in that heat, we wanted to maximize airflow and altitude as quickly as possible. We leaned left, right, left, speeding along the asphalt bank of Mores Creek into Idaho City, the hot wind doing little to bring comfort.
“I think I need some ice cream,” I said to Jessica as we rolled into town, remembering the parlor we’d visited on a group ride.¹ Anything chilled sounded wonderful.
“I’m with you,” she answered, not usually one to imbibe. We pulled off, entered Sarsaparilla and paused in front of the air conditioning unit before ordering treats and taking a seat by the window.
It was still an oven outdoors but ice cream gave us courage to carry on. Back on the road, I observed, “this sure goes a lot faster on the motorcycle,” comparing the blur of passing trees to the tedious drive a few weeks ago up the same way to camp overnight with Brenna.
Light traffic permitted quick passage through the mountains to Lowman and more bearable temperatures.
A sign in Lowman warned of road construction ahead. I was glad we were turning off to follow Forest Service roads through Bear Valley. I flipped open my visor for some fresh air as we turned up the gravel road. It was good to breathe in the forest air — the damp, the bark, the sap, the soil.
“I always love the smell of the woods,” I told Jessica, as if she might have forgotten.
It became apparent that our late start and ice cream break would keep us from reaching the Sawtooth Wilderness around Stanley before dark. I figured we would ride until dusk unless we saw a remarkable campsite to stop us sooner, somewhere in the Boise National Forest.
“Wow, that’s pretty,” we repeated to each other at intervals while working our way into the mountains along creeks that meandered through shadows, around rocks and under mossy logs.
Thunder echoed behind us as we reached the mountain ridges huddled protectively around Bear Valley. Descending to the green meadow opened a view of smoke billowing from treed hills ahead — forest fire! At the same time, tall grasses doubled over under increasing wind.
“This is kind of surreal,” I remarked while leaning left and right against the gusts, hearing the lightning, seeing the smoke, wondering about the road that seemed to lead straight into fire.
I at first thought a gate across the road was due to fire activity. We had been expecting something to stop us before we rode into flames. Pausing to read the fine print, though, it was actually there because of a new bridge going in. Ironically, it was the detour that would take us into fire activity. Rather than attempt the detour that evening, we decided to put up our tent next to Bear Valley Creek.
Jessica had said she wanted a break from primitive camping. The several inns and hotels I contacted were booked so I tried to come up with another way to make our nights non-primitive. I settled on gourmet meals (relative to hot dogs or chili). I committed to doing the cooking and together we went to the store to find ingredients that didn’t require refrigeration, didn’t weigh much and could withstand jostling.
What came together as we wandered the aisles was pizza for one night — using little vacuum packed crusts and sauce, vegetables and turkey pepperoni — pasta for the next, and little boxes of red wine. Classy!
Dinner ingredients bounced against camping and cooking gear as we took the motorcycle off the road under some trees where Bear Valley Creek was running faster, hoping to minimize mosquito habitat.
Our years of experience camping in central Idaho woods seem unfailingly to involve ferocious insects, mosquitoes and horseflies bent on destroying hope of outdoor enjoyment. We set up camp hoping to sit and enjoy a fire and “gourmet” meal by the creek without drawing insect attention.
Unfortunately, the pattern held and attention we got. As the attack commenced, we responded with 98% DEET but it seemed hardly to slow the mosquitoes down. We ended up with bites all over. Jessica retreated to the tent while I labored to ward off our antagonists with a larger fire.
Attacks became less frequent with the growing fire and fading light. Jessica eventually emerged from listening to podcast fiction in our canvas enclave to assist with pizza preparations.
The pizza plan seemed rather clever in our heads. The cook stove is a concentrated flame but we figured the pie tins would distribute the heat. Well, it didn’t quite work that way. It took about one-point-four seconds for the stove to burn completely through the tin and begin charring the crust while the top of the pizza remained unheated. Darn.
I think it was Jessica who suggested the fire might be a more even heat source. That sounded reasonable. Plan B: cook pizza, cook!
Eventually the cheese did melt, which was all we could ask for at that point. Jessica had somehow lost a lot of her appetite. She ate a bit then left me angling the pie tin in the dark to catch a little fire light so I could distinguish charred from edible sections, take a bite, then repeat. It had a nice smoked flavor.
We awoke in the night to brilliant light coming through the tent, through our eyelids. Lightning ripped relentlessly all around us, on top of us, and it seemed through us. I can’t remember lightning so close since growing up as a boy in the north Idaho countryside. It was fantastic.
In the fog of half-sleep I’m not sure how long it was before the lightning gave way to steady rain. I remember wondering what the morning would bring — mud, new forest fires? — before the final fade to black.