Monday, June 13, 2011

Been Out Camping

Apologies for the long post, but I haven't posted in a few days since meeting up with Brian and camping in places with no cell access.  From Bozeman, I left and rode all day to Missoula.  Very similar towns in that they are small-medium sized, flat, and surrounded by mountains.  I arrived in Missoula about an hour before Brian after riding across another beautiful section of wide-open Montana vistas.  The flooding was more noticeable in this area, but I would describe the rivers more as grossly-swollen rather than flooded.  I didn't see any water in areas other than the swollen rivers, but the flooding is a major topic of conversation anywhere we go around Montana. 

(in the picture Brian and I met first at a pizza place in Missoula and had some chips and salsa)

After meeting in Missoula, Brian and I headed towards a place just south-west called Lolo.  Since rain was in the forecast, we looked for some cabins near the Lolo hot springs, which is near Clearwater National Forest.  After inspecting the cabins, we decided bunk beds in a room with only a space heater with no fire pit wasn't worth $40.  So we went up into the forest and found a great site deep in the woods beside a river.  There are lots of rivers in this part of the country. 

For dinner that night, it was getting dark so we decided to go back to the lodge restaurant across the street from where we had looked at the cabin.  We were the last customers of the evening (the crowd had moved into the room adjacent to the restaurant which was the lounge where the band would be playing).  As Brian and I got caught up on each other's lives, we ate steak and prime rib on bread.  I describe it this way because the steak or prime rib as entrees were $18 each, but if we ordered them as a sandwich it was only $9.  Brian received a huge steak on some bread and I had an equally huge piece of prime rib.  I think they must have had some extra meat leftover from the main crowd and decided to give it to us since we were the last customers in the room.  The leftovers were great for lunch the next day in a park by the swollen river in Kooskia.  After dinner, we went back to the dark campground and decided to just hit the hay after a long day.  It was pretty chilly that night, which made for some great sleeping.  

After waking up the next morning and packing our gear, we headed towards Brownlee Campground near the spectacular (again, I just can't find enough words for these views) Brownlee Reservoir which is nestled in within this huge valley near Whitman National Forest. We had planned to arrive around 4-4:30 that afternoon which would have given us plenty of time to set up camp and for Brian to cook his special dinner. 

The drive to Brownlee was the most impressive and challenging yet.  It was a motorcyclist's dream - lots of winding roads running next to roaring rivers through forested valleys and across the tops of hills and mountains.  It was certainly physically challenging but also just a splendid experience to go through one of the most enchanting parts of our world.  The photos just can't do the views justice, they are panoramic and usually consist of a river/gorge, valley, hills, mountains, and giant pine trees.  Brian took some neat panoramic pics and will post a link to those in the next few days. Here are a couple of mine:

The second picture doesn't show it, but to the right of Brian is a river. 
This picture was taken just outside of Kooskia which was more hilly than mountainous,
 while the top one is more typical of the terrain we encountered during this stage of the trip.

We arrived at the Cambridge area sometime in late afternoon.  Brian had found a couple of campgrounds which were higher in the mountains than the Brownlee campground where Pirsig had stayed.  We agreed to stay at one of those instead so we could enjoy the higher view.  After passing the Brownlee campground, we reached the Brownlee Reservoir.  This was created by damming the Snake River (which is a very large river).  There were a few camp sites at the reservoir but it was pretty much an RV-type campground so we decided to head higher.  We traveled on what was shown on the map as a yellow road (two-lane paved road) to the next campground even higher up in the mountains.  However, that campground was closed due to what looked like to be flood-related reasons.  We decided to go higher on up another yellow rode and possibly a white road looking for a few more campgrounds.  We came to a split in the road where we could take the white or yellow road.  I reminded Brian that at the beginning of this sabbatical I stated I didn't want to merely survive this trip, I wanted it to be an adventure.  So we took the white (single-lane paved) road.  After a couple of miles, the road became dirt.  After a couple of dirt miles, the road became big chunks of gravel.  I was slipping and sliding all over the place and was sure I was going to lose the bike.  I was only going about 5-10 miles per hour for the next five miles.  What could be worse than dirt and gravel when you are on a 830 pound touring bike?  How about looking up the hill we were climbing and seeing that the path was now covered with snow! No way we would be able to get through that.  So, Brian had to back down that treacherous gravel road while I took about 20 forwards/backwards moves before I could get the bike turned around.  We headed back down the gravel and had remembered another site we passed on the way up because it looked too hard to get to.  Taking a pit stop at the bottom of this other "road", we hiked up to see if we could find the campground and the lake.  After a lengthy hike, we saw a female elk who at first ran away a bit then hid behind a spruce tree.  We started whistling and talking to her and she came out and looked us over.  It was a neat experience.  As we walked a few more steps, we noticed a baby elk (looked like a white-tailed deer) tucked between two rocks laying motionless.  She was breathing but she would not move an inch, we concluded she thought she was hiding from us.  Brian took some neat pictures of the fawn from just a few feet away.  And mom continued to keep an eye on us until we started walking a bit further through some snow.  We abandoned our search and headed back down to the parked vehicles, but before we left I urged Brian to build a snowman.  But it was getting dark and we needed to find a place to camp.  So we rode back through the five miles of gravel, dirt and "paved" white road to reach the yellow road.  We rode up the yellow road, even  higher, and finally found a deserted campsite in a place known as Hell's Canyon.  We were completely alone in this amazing location in the middle of the forest - and did I mention it had started raining a bit? 

It didn't stop us from starting our fire and cooking dinner.  Brian made a superb meal of Sockeye Salmon with a raspberry and onion marinade cooked on a cedar plank over the fire, salad with homemade vinaigrette, and corn on the cob cooked in foil over the fire.  It was one of the best meals in my life (but still nothing compared to the meal I had with my new bride on our honeymoon in Puerta Vallarta).  During dinner, the rain picked up a bit more which ironically seemed to make the meal even that much more delicious.  We finished setting up camp and sat down next to the fire with our beers.  Roaring stream in the background, all alone in this giant forest surrounded by 80 ft. pine trees and no other noise except the gentle rain falling through the pines.  It was a great adventure. 

 Brian is shredding Asiago cheese on the salad - yummy!

Camping in Hell's Canyon - there is a roaring river behind the cars in the middle picture

We woke up this morning and headed further up the mountain, through some more fantastic valleys next to rivers with views that went on for miles, and miles, and miles.  We ate lunch in Baker City, OR.  I had a slice of pepperoni pizza and Brian had some sort of beef on ciabatta.  After having two great days and nights touring some of the best scenery I've seen in my life and hanging out in some campsights I've only wished about, we gave each other a bro-hug and parted ways. 

OH - Brian probably thought I forgot about this part.  This morning Brian was talking about the bike and maybe taking it for a drive around the campground.  Sounded great and I reminded him about how heavy the bike was.  No problem.  Brian took off kind of fine (took two tries though after killing it the first attempt - I bet he thinks I forgot about that too!).  He rode around the camp site fine and I got some neat pictures as he returned up the drive with the pines in the background.  I didn't, however, get a photo of him botching the landing and laying the bike over on its side!  He almost had it... but then in an instance it was down.  And Brian's back was in a world of hurt.  As I worked to get the bike up, how did Brian help?  He asked me to pose for a picture next to it!  Don't know if he got one or not, but we were eventually able to lift that 830- pound-bike-with-probably-another-100-pounds-of-gear upright and then ride out to Baker City.  Sorry Brian, but the story had to be told. 

Another neat encounter happened when Brian pulled over in front of this small store in a small town with two-girls selling lemonade.  They were nine and when I got off my bike and walked up to the first one she was so excited to see a "motorcycle rider" that she gave me a big hug.  Made me really miss my Kate. 

I haven't missed my family too much so far.  There are moments when I really miss them, but it doesn't last too long.  I normally like to post some things that have gone through my mind while riding, but my time on the bike the last two days didn't give me much time to think.  The ride was very challenging due to the huge changes in elevation and continuous curve, plus the gruelling ten-mile ride on gravel...  during the rain... while walking through snow up to our waists uphill both ways (I made up the last one).  There were several moments when I was looking over a cliff or the side of a valley that was a thousand or more feet down. 

I ended up in the Westview motel tonight off Hwy 97.  $40 bucks for room #7 on the end of the row (next to the abandoned car and wrecked truck).  Has some nice red/orange shag carpeting and some lovely "antique" furniture. 

Had dinner at the Mexican restaurant across the highway and brought the other half of the El Grande Enchilada back to my room.  Gotta go now and eat it. 

Kevin from La Pine, Oregon


  1. What a great post. So nice to hear all about what you have been doing the past few days. Incredible scenery. Can't wait to see the pictures. I didn't know you guys fixed such a great meal on your last night together. Impressive. Love you.

  2. So glad you are having such a wonderful adventure!!! The photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing with us via the blog. It is fun to read and live vicariously!

  3. Alan and Kim, I still have several days of the return trip back home. You could meet me tomorrow in San Francisco, rent a Harley, and ride back with me to KC, see everyone, then turn south and head home.

  4. Kevin, As I was talking to you on the phone, Shirley was trying to send another comment. She says it was a great note but now neither one of use can find it! Anyway, I said your writing was vey interesting and entertaining, almost makes you feel like you're along for the ride.
    Sounds like you had fun with your friend and this adventure will be remembered by you forever.
    Be safe, take care and.....Dad says, remember to check your oil.