In an ode to the early years, and contrary to previous plans, Jeremy, Joel and I begin our annual ride in the foothills of Moscow Mountain, at our mom’s house, and make our way to the first ever Brother Ride campsite on Crater Peak.
Last year’s route¹ was contorted to accommodate expansive wildfire boundaries seemingly gerrymandered to preclude camping. This year, in contrast, area fires have been minor. Instead, family and career commitments have gerrymandered our summer months, leaving little contiguous time for riding.
We had been planning to coordinate with our Uncle Pete to use his Elk City cabin as a meeting point to ride Magruder Road to Montana with a return on parts of the Lolo Motorway to the Selway River. It wasn’t in the cards this year. Maybe next.
Instead, we’re executing a “best of” plan we had in our back pocket, departing from our mom’s house to old favorites, Crater Peak and Lost Lake in the St. Joe region of the Clearwater National Forest, through the forests of our formative years.
Jeremy and I start the trip a day early with six hour drives — him from Western Washington, me from Boise — to our mom’s home among forested North Idaho hills.
Mom and Jeremy are settled comfortably in her warmly lit living room when I arrive up the steep gravel drive sometime after dark.
“Would you like some pot roast?” mom offers after greetings.
“No thanks,” I answer. “I snacked a lot — probably later.”
It was only a few days before our usual Labor Day weekend time slot when we arrived at a workable ride plan. We hustled to gather supplies and prepare bikes. We didn’t hear much from Jesse until finally in our group chat — “Sorry guys but I’m not able to go this year.” The ride was to be a day short; now also a brother short.
We spend the morning doing the packing and sorting normally done in advance then pose for a few traditional pictures.
Photo by Cheryl Reed
We rode the highway through Troy, Deary and Bovill when we had different bikes¹ but now over the mountain and along the Palouse River is a more enjoyable route to Clarkia.
We spent a decade as kids living in the presence of Moscow Mountain, prominent from most windows of our house, and common adventure destination. It has been transformed by logging in the last decade but there are still a few areas, like the spring and old lookout, that remain fixed in time, pleasant connections to a lost era.
“We can fix it later at camp,” I propose for Jeremy’s front light cowling. It’s a little cockeyed since he took a tumble this spring, a tumble that also broke his collarbone. It’s his first ride since then.
We pass by Laird Park to reach Sand Mountain Trail 330 which I’ve wanted to revisit ever since Jesse led me here eight years ago.¹ It’s been a long wait!
The smooth trail flows beside a moss-lined creek beneath the half-light of a conifer canopy, punctuated occasionally by stair step roots I remember well from the GS 1200. A trail like this makes everything better.
End-of-season riding is good for having trails cleared of winter deadfall — mostly. We could wrestle our bikes over an eight inch log perched a foot above the trail but a little woodwork sounds fun. I pull the “Big Boy” from my bag and snap it open.
Joel and Jeremy snicker at the name, Silky BIGBOY, until they see how it cuts.
I step back for the all-important picture while my brothers do the heavy lifting.
A switchback boardwalk is the main memory of my old ride here with Jesse. We park on the planks for a first break. Joel and Jeremy talk shop — a music project they’re collaborating on with their drummer friend Todd — while I snap a few pictures of ferns and mosses.
This is my first brother ride as a Gaia GPS employee. Between this and a hike we did in the spring, my brothers have taken full advantage of the situation to convey every niggle and feature idea they’ve had while running the app on their phones.
They have suggested, for example, that the software should give audible route corrections in character voices like Dirty Harry or Ren and Stimpy. “You eeediot! You’re off course again!” I think it’s a good idea.
Singletrack 330 joins ATV trails that catch us up to three older-than-us ATV riders. We’re in no hurry and are happy to follow until they see us and are able to pull over. It looks like they’re hauling wood back to camp somewhere.
A lot of the land we’re crossing these four days is owned by Potlatch Corporation, a timber company. Another Idaho timber company, Boise Cascade, recently sold 172,000 acres in which they also had allowed recreation and firewood collection. The new owners, as is their prerogative, are ending that access.¹
Beyond the issue of federal forest management shortcomings, some are angrily adamant that the very notion of public land is Socialism and probably tyranny (online forums have a way of turning the rhetoric up to eleven). To them, all land should be similarly private, on the tax rolls, likely closed to public access.²
Such hardline ideas are wholly at odds, I think, with the “general welfare” that is government’s first Constitutional responsibility (Art. I sec. 8). Hunters, hikers, skiers, anglers and riders know well the personal and social value of routine exposure to untamed places, to things vastly bigger than ourselves. The American ethos is grounded in such experiences, experiences that continue to make Idaho (and environs) great.
Just for the sake of seeing different country, we follow Forest Road 1952 to Talapus Creek out to Highway 3 instead of climbing over Palouse Divide to Emerald Creek. It’s mostly a winding, sun-exposed gravel road, now stricken from future routes.
We have been through Clarkia a couple times in recent years but it’s been a while since we took the direct route to Freezeout Saddle through the little meadow along the Middle Fork of the Saint Maries River.
My own upbringing may skew my perspective but the North Idaho camping trend seems to be away from tents in the mountains to camp trailers and a line of ATVs in “no trespassing” mowed plots along the river. We pass a series of populated green squares, like little Lego towns, reminiscent of recent views along the St. Joe and around Pierce.
Personally, we’re still hooked on seeing something new each time we’re out (and preferably each day of the outing) but there may be a future riverbank with our name on it.
“Huckleberries,” Joel proposes as the reason for several unoccupied cars along the rocky dirt road. That or something interplanetary, I hope.
I stop to chat when I see two guys on big bikes, one a Triumph Explorer and the other a GS 1200. I know what that’s like up here. Joel and Jeremy arrive a moment later to join me in watching the Triumph owner work to short-circuit his kickstand kill-switch that hit a rock.
“I have tools if you need anything,” I announce, “but it looks like you’re probably well covered.” Their bikes are loaded with panniers, tail bags and tank bags. They must be pushing 800 pounds. The GS man is cheery but Triumph man is pretty focused on his work so we think we shouldn’t bother them much more. “Good luck,” I say.
We are stopped for a little break at the secret trailhead to our first campsite when the big bikes rumble by. We wave then remount and putter up the faint trail.
We are pleased to find our campsite essentially untouched since we were here a few years ago.¹ The pavers Jesse put down, our stone tables, decorated globs of melted whiskey bottle, all just as we left them. If our memories were good enough, we might realize we’re having the same conversations too.
Ever since our mom sent us with potatoes for our first ride in 2008, we gently tease her about adding impractical produce to our luggage. This year we got corn on the cob.
We wanted to make a Flat-Jesse to bring along and photograph in his honor, as we did for Jeremy in 2011 (another Crater Peak campout),¹ but time was too short for an arts-and-crafts project.
“Maybe we can find a rock, draw a face on it and call it Jesse,” I suggest, but we don’t have much for drawing and aren’t excited to carry a rock around. Sorry Jesse. How ‘bout we just talk smack about you instead?
Mild concern over rain in the forecast is ameliorated by a clear evening sky. Last year was enough rain to last us a while.
The first night of a backcountry trip with brothers seems always to be the “remember when” night, covering the decade or so that we lived together in the old farmhouse outside Troy.¹
We know youthful memories are malleable, not to be much relied on, but enjoy travelling back to hear each others’ perspectives nonetheless. We’re all now older than our parents were at the time which adds a twist to our reminiscing. What would we do? What have we done?
In a few years we’ll start surpassing the age of our dad when he died. Such milestones carry the sense of reaching another planet, another world, albeit one that looks pretty much the same. I’ve mentioned before the prediction our dad offered when, as gradeschoolers, us brothers were fighting: “someday he’ll be your best friend.”
It seemed ludicrous at the time; probably why it stuck in my memory. I expected to prove him wrong. Although we aren’t best friends as some would count it, palling around and bear hugging, on the Abbott friendship scale, our dad was right.
We tried to accumulate mechanical needs for all the bikes to resolve in the dim, flickering light of a campfire. To Jeremy’s skewed cowling I added my USB connector finally broken off earlier today by the bouncing front brake cable. I should have been smarter about the placement.
I lay out the OBR ADV Gear work mat and tool roll from my sometime riding buddy Michael and start wrenching. Since riding isn’t affected, Jeremy decides to leave well enough alone. His cowling is already held together with stressed metal, tape and zip ties. We’d probably make it worse (unusually mature thinking on our part).
Joel, for his part, lets us down by having no issues at all. Try harder next year. We don’t carry eight (okay, maybe two) pounds of tools for nothing.
Joel reserved a slot on the evening agenda to talk business. “I’ve already had a better year than dad ever had,” he says. Joel would know. He served as business manager of our dad’s cabinet shop. Now, after his first year in business, Joel is getting busier than he can handle on his own. Should he raise prices? Hire people? Adjust shipping options? Build a bigger shop? Strong thinking fluid helps us consider his choices.
Without the cajoling of our youngest brother, we start to fade early — maybe 8 or 9:00. But somehow we rally and suddenly Jeremy is announcing it’s after midnight. Yikes. We don’t want to be sleepy for our day of singletrack tomorrow.