Today is a town day. My brothers and I will resupply in Avery then return south for another lakeside night. At least that’s the hope. On this “best of” ride, tonight’s is the only campsite we’ve never been to. We weren’t able to make it last time we tried to get there.
Woah. Jeremy has his tent down and is nearly packed up as Joel and I are still rubbing our eyes and waiting for coffee water to boil. Maybe he’s excited for this year’s Scheffy’s selection. “Just gettin’ it done,” he assures us.
Coming in through the little obstacle course means we get the same on the way out. After the rest of us have our chance at coffee, oatmeal and packing, we proceed in LIFO (geek-speak for last-in-first-out) order.
We all ride over the teeter-tottery logs this time. I guess it’s easy. The steep bit up to the ATV trail is more work. We lend each other a hand and have it done in ten minutes.
We are quick down the Lost Lake ATV trail and back to forest roads, pointed north to Avery. As far as gravel roads go, Fishhook Creek is one of my favorites. High cliffs leave the creek’s clear water in deep, mossy shade.
We cross the St. Joe River into Avery and look mournfully at the empty lot where once stood the Trading Post restaurant and bar.¹ We have good memories there.
Libations were forgotten in our hasty trip preparation so we’re relying on Scheffy’s to supply the evening’s revelry. “We agreed you get the beer,” Jeremy tells me. I don’t know how that worked out. I guess because I wasn’t in the store with them to vote.
A V-Strom rider is relaxing in one of the chairs in front of the store. He’s pretty interested in sharing a trail guide, so much so that we begin to guess he somehow has ownership in it. He says he’s riding up to Red Ives to check with fire crews about trails him and a group hope to ride in a few weeks. It sounds like the trails we rode last year around Simmons Creek.¹
The maps in his little guide aren’t as nice as what we already have but its trail “remarks” could be useful. “It says that trail over Lookout Peak is ‘expert,’” I tell my brothers with mild triumph.
An important addition would be an “extreme” rating or separate danger scale. None of us minded having a go at the “expert” Trail 52 since nowhere was it dangerous. You just end up being stuck. But trails that can take your life for a moment of inattention¹ are something we try to avoid.
From Scheffy’s we take Kelly Creek Road, parallel to Fishhook Creek, south toward our next lakeside campsite.
I fixed the USB plug our first night but now the other end, into the tablet, has gone flakey. It’s been a common issue on our Android devices. The micro-USB attachment gets loose and we can no longer charge them. I guess my tablet hours are numbered.
The same day we previously tried Trail 52 to Lookout Peak, five years ago, we also tried 123 into Noseeum Lake. “We are ashamed of our single track record today,” I said then.¹ Today is redemption.
It seems about half of the trails that allow motorcycles on the Forest Service motor vehicle use map only show a hiker image on the trailhead sign. I wonder if it’s to deter ATVs and require checking the map.
A pickup truck is parked across the road from the trailhead so I expect to find someone at the lake. The steep and root-riddled trail makes our bikes growl so I know we won’t be a surprise.
My trail difficulty scale would be 1) Enjoyed the nice breeze; 2) Not sure how I made it up that; 3) Helmet liner is gross and sweaty. Trail 123 is a (2). You might get a bigger bike in but you’d need some luck or better skills than ours.
Based on well-worn, crisscrossing trails along the shore, Noseeum Lake must have decent fishing. I don’t see the pickup owner anywhere, though.
“Something’s dripping out of your bag,” my brothers noticed earlier when we stopped at the Clearwater’s Little North Fork. It was beer. I never have much luck carrying it. We found the injured can and did our best to dress its wound. It seems to have pulled through. It’s still mostly full.
And yes, Coors was the fanciest Scheffy’s had.
The one campsite choice is perfect. It’s a rare year when we have all good ones.
“Stand there and I’ll get our picture done,” I say. Nobody objects. We know it’s required.
Even the Silky BIGBOY has a hard time with the hemlock growing here. We (mostly meaning Jeremy) cast around instead for bark and branches that don’t need cut.
I feel a bit grimy and think a bath is in order. As if on cue, the sky opens up with a barrage of cold sleet as I’m arranging my wash cloth and bar of soap by the one spot I found with rock extending into the water.
We have tromped around the lake to the ends of all the trails now without seeing the pickup driver. I figure he must not have come to the lake at all so don’t hesitate to answer nature’s call in sight of the trail before bathing. It’s that moment when a young bow hunter and his girlfriend come down the trail. I move behind a little brush and freeze, hoping they won’t see me, but he stops and stares my direction.
“Hey, just using the bathroom,” I yell, friendly as I can. “Hope I didn’t scare you. You’ll run into my two brothers at the campsite.”
The guy mumbles something and they continue on. After sleet and random people in the woods, I hustle to disrobe and scrub after they’re out of sight and before something else happens.
“I’m gonna get the last bit of sun,” Jeremy announces as he stands and carries his chair to the sunlit water’s edge. Joel and I dutifully follow.
“The map showed a trail to another lake up there,” I nod. “Maybe we should hike it.” We should have an or hour two yet before darkness. After some hemming and hawing, it’s a plan.
The trail we’ve seen that direction seems to end, in spite of the map and in spite of wherever the bow hunter came from. We cut different directions through the woods to find it again, without success. The woods are reasonably clear of undergrowth so we decide to keep going anyway. Jeremy was smart and brought his phone so he can see we’re heading toward the lake on Gaia GPS.
Avoiding heavy undergrowth pushes us up toward the eastern end of the three Monument Buttes that rise above the lakes. I’m in flip-flops and Joel in his sparkly slippers so when we can’t find a non-treacherous way to the lake, we decide instead to go for the butte.
“I’m gonna go use those rocks as a tripod,” I gesture as Joel and Jeremy take a seat to watch the shifting, pale hues of the day’s last light.
Totally worth it. Darkness falls like a black curtain as we begin heading back. We were smart enough, at least, to bring headlamps. We find it’s a good thing Jeremy recorded a GPS track getting here. The right way is no longer obvious in the lightless woods.
I miss the thrill of fearing the dark. My route to the neighbor’s house as a kid was across a field along the woods. I would think of everything unseen amidst the trees beside me and run the whole way.
The mysteries of life multiply with age — consciousness, biogenesis, quantum mechanics — but aren’t so worrisome. I wish walking through these dark woods was scary.
With that in mind, I make a crack about not having guns, making fun of friends who think it’s really important we bring them on our trips. If you see much news, you know the same thing formal research demonstrates: far more people hurt themselves or friends when firing a gun than protect themselves. It’s a pretty bad bet, statistically.
The odds either way are really small, though, so if someone feels better with a gun, by all means, bring one. I assumed everyone growing up with me in North Idaho had guns at home and never thought twice about it. Just as I assumed they had hammers at home. But amassing guns and being insistent about them makes as much sense as doing the same with hammers. It’s weird.
“I heard the rain on the tent this morning and thought it would be wetter,” I say. The ground still seems dry.
“Yeah, always seems that way in a tent,” Jeremy observes.
Last night’s hike was just right. We got back into camp, eager to sit fireside and finish off Joel’s summer sausage, which is just what we did before retiring. The night was quiet until the patter of morning rain.
Today we need to get out of the mountains, back to mom’s, load up our bikes and gear, then drive home. We also want to pack up before the rain gets any heavier. We don’t need to hurry but after hot oatmeal and coffee, we don’t dally.
Rain falls heavier as we depart, none too soon.
Rain comes harder still and the temperature drops as we climb over mountains on the way out. I go into full rain mode with the wind screen up and tablet slipped into a baggy.
Thick fog reminds me of last year on Cemetery Ridge.¹ That ended with snow. I hope we’re not so lucky today.
I have to remind myself that if I don’t stop for pictures, I’ll later wish I did. Okay future self, I’ll do it.
I haven’t wanted to dismount to zip up vents so I’m a little wet on the inside but I think Joel is soaked through. “I think I’ll give that cappucino machine a try,” he says wryly, referring to a new sign we noticed a few days ago at the store in Clarkia. That does sound great right now.
We hunker down and motor off the mountain and into town only to find the store closed, midday Tuesday. Drat. Missing the expected gas-up may be a bigger problem than the cappuccino but there’s no other choice out here. We just have to go for it.
My low fuel light comes on just minutes after leaving Clarkia. That’s not good. Twenty-five miles later, under a tree out of the rain at the Laird Park entrance, I lay my bike on it’s side to pour the couple inches of gas from the right lobe to the left where the fuel pump is. It’s going to be close.
A momma moose and two juveniles are standing in the middle of the road up the north side of Moscow Mountain. Two leap into the brush but one juvenile is stupefied and runs awkwardly down the road in front of me. I slow down to let it figure things out.
It is a relief when we reach the end of Hatter Creek Road to descend Tamarack on Moscow Mountain. We can coast without engines a long way and be nearly back to mom’s. We’re cold and wet and don’t bother to check how close it really was when finally we pull into her drive.
We start our vehicles so we’ll have hot heaters in a few minutes as we immediately strip gear and load bikes. We wish we could thank our mom and say goodbye but it’s a work day and we didn’t know when we’d get here. And Jeremy and I have a ways to drive yet.
Thank you for hosting again mom. And Jesse, you’d better make it next time. Next year is the tenth. (I think we have to give each other jewelry or something.)
starEnhanced to better show the gas level. The other side is completely empty.