My brothers and I set out for our fourth annual motorcycle camping ride in the mountains of North Idaho. For the first day, we revisit our favorite subalpine ridge site behind Clarkia.
We hope it doesn’t cause a fire. He expected the new rotor by today but the folks here at Moscow Motorsports¹ are telling Jesse it hasn’t come in. They’re cool guys and we shoot the breeze a bit but nothing to help his dragging back brake.
“I think it will be fine,” I tell him. I have no idea, really, but what else can I say?
I rode up yesterday on my GS 1200 from Boise for our fourth annual Abbott Brother Ride. I enjoyed swift roads winding through mountain towns and beside long stretches of the Payette and Salmon rivers of central Idaho. I fell in with another BMW rider on an RT out on the Camas Prairie. We were cat and mouse around cars and trucks until near the Clearwater River. It was exhilarating. It was fun.
After getting into Moscow, three hundred miles from home, I arranged to visit my daughter Laura at Washington State University. I’d wanted to join her for dinner but scheduling was off so we toured her dorm and nearby cafeteria.
I have been asked a couple times in the last month how I feel about Laura leaving home. It seems a mournful answer is expected but Laura leaving, going between homes, is something I long ago had to accept. I remember missing the “little bean” desperately. I miss her again but it is different. She is smart, confident and sensible and I am much more glad for her than worried.
“What is different about college from what you expected?” I asked her as we were walking back from the cafeteria.
“How easy it is,” she answered with typical confidence. After a pause: “How easy it is to live here, I mean. The people are all nice …”
“I guess the bullies didn’t make it to college,” I interjected.
“Yeah,” she laughed before explaining how close she’s already become with her room and floor-mates.
It was great to see my oldest daughter settling in so well to her first year of college. She likes the life. I’m really proud of her.
Before bed I called to check in with my wife Jessica and family back in Boise. They had lost power—no hurricane but some local electrical malfunction. It sounded like the little kids were loving it but Kayla was struggling to do her high school homework by candlelight.
Our brother Jeremy bowed out of the reunion ride a week ago citing work obligations. He’d been warning us about difficult summer scheduling for months. Sad. And then our guest rider Casey texted just last night to say he couldn’t make it either this year.
Our numbers were suddenly slashed by forty percent. More than that, I’ve been hearing about bears on the Idaho-Montana border¹ and was kind of counting on Casey. “I think I’m the slowest runner now,” I lament.
So today it’s just Joel, Jesse and I making ready for the ride, each of them piling gear on their 250s until they resemble the Grinch with his physics-defying load of stolen Who gifts.
Idaho’s St. Joe Ranger District, “an area of blue-ribbon cutthroat trout streams, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and extensive roadless and primitive areas,”¹ is the quintessential wilderness of our youth, the place our family of grade school boys might camp by creeks or rocky crags or later where I, the high-schooler, might motorcycle with a friend if we wanted to go somewhere distant and unexplored, beyond our own nearby, well known mountain and forests.
We nod and snicker empathetically as we talk of waking up in the night lately, thinking about the ride so much we can’t get back to sleep. We are all excited to go.
“I’ve programmed a route across the mountain to Hatter Creek Road then to this place where you can pan star garnets² for like ten bucks. We don’t have to pan but it might be cool to see. It would be gravel all the way to Clarkia. Or we can just take the highway as usual,” I offer.
“Highway,” Jesse answers. “I just want to get there and set up camp.” Joel concurs.
We pass through our old hometown Troy then our high school rival Deary, then towns not big enough for a high school, Bovill and Clarkia. As usual, I accelerate past my brothers, “Team 250,” on the final stretch into Clarkia to enjoy the narrow, twisting highway through tall pines, then wait for them at the tiny town’s one retailer (the store, bar and gas station all in one).
From Clarkia we are on gravel then dirt then a mountain side as we make our way to our first campsite on a ridge between outcrops and thinning trees. We first set up camp here in 2008 and are surprised to find it untouched.
“Woah, I think this is the melted glass from that Gentleman Jack,” one of us says, referring to an evening fire a couple years ago so hot we melted down a whiskey bottle. The bits of decorative glass are piled just as we left them.
As Joel sets to work on a fire we think about our brother Jeremy. He camps more than all of us, it seems, and on last year’s ride was quick to help with proper fire building. Sure enough, he’s not very impressed with Joel’s effort.
Jesse mentions more than once the luxury of the large chair and foot rest he labored to bring, worth its weight in taunting if nothing else. It is also Jesse who breaks out the summer sausage and choice of jalapeño or smoked cheddar cheese—mister fancy pants this year.
I plug a little set of speakers into my music player to accompany our sips of whiskey and hors d’ouevres. We break out an occasional dance move but mostly sit contentedly as the sun settles beyond the immeasurable mountains that seem to stretch everywhere from here.
It is at once strange and comforting how unchanged this place is, every arranged stone just as we left it. Evening into night, we see and hear no other soul. This is a perfect start.