The four of us — my brothers minus Jesse, Kayla’s boyfriend Nick and I — ride northeast from Boise to rise above the desert in search of solitude along narrow mountain paths.
I made a request some weeks ago to make Boise our Brother Ride launch site so I would be able to join the rest of our family visiting Hunter at week’s end. Without that concession I would have to drive across the state, north-south, three days in a row.
Jeremy arrived from the west and Joel from the north yesterday afternoon. Our mom arrived Saturday to visit and is on hand to document our reunion and ride preparations. After downtown dinner together last night, we’re ready to roll.
We are propelled into the already-hot day with hugs and well-wishes. Since I live in Southeast Boise, we follow my usual route on the old Oregon Trail behind Micron and up to Bonneville Point as our gateway into the mountains. It’s a rutted, dusty and sometimes rocky Jeep trail amidst sagebrush that puts the first test to our packing.
starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
Strapping gear down for a rough ride is kind of an art so we aren’t surprised to see Nick fiddling with his things when we stop at the Point. “About right,” Jeremy says when Nick announces he’s broken a strap. “We got half-mile, maybe a mile … got something that broke.”
Joel and I don’t hesitate to reassure Nick with tales of Jeremy’s freshman strap failures.¹ Luckily, neither of them were around to see the shenanigans when Joel and I first camped off our motorcycles.²
We descend from the Point to Black’s Creek Road, speed around the Danskin hills then along the Boise River’s South Fork, cut deep in dark basalt. I’ve photographed it so many times now, I don’t bother stopping at any of the usual overlooks. It’s fun just to ride the curves and feel the wind.
I splash cool river water on my face after stopping at the bridge to regroup. It’s a few minutes before Nick arrives, explaining he stopped for pictures. “Take all the pictures you want,” I tell him. “We’ll always wait.” It’s funny to be offering those words to someone else.
Jeremy describes a giant cricket he stopped to look at. “Sounds like a mormon cricket,” I tell him. “They were covering the road last time I was here.”
“That was with Alexis?” Nick asks.
“Yeah.” We drove this way in the late spring as a last outing with our French exchange student.¹
We continue to Prairie then park side-by-side in front of the Y-Stop and decide we have appetite enough to ask the proprietor if she’s available to make lunch. The Y-Stop is a typical, tiny town establishment, combining gas station, store and restaurant. We’re the only ones here so she’s able to leave the store counter to go in back and cook. It’s cheeseburgers and beers all around. Wonderful!
The Lava Mountain trail is just up the road. A speedy couple minutes after lunch and we’re making our way through trees at the base of foothills. We’re making great time.
I stop just long enough at the Lava Ridge 642 trailhead to point it out to Joel (easy to miss while riding) then rev and start climbing. It’s a fun bit of narrow trail, an easy warm-up for obstacles I know await us above.
I pause where the trail levels a bit and turn around in my seat to get a picture of the others coming up. It’s odd that I don’t hear engines. I trace the trail back to the road below and see the others still parked there. Hmm, something must be wrong. I’ll wait a bit for them to sort it out.
There isn’t an easy way to turn around so after several quiet minutes, I begin descending on foot.
When I reach the road, I’m discouraged to learn it’s the Husqvarna behaving as it has in the past. I thought we fixed and tested all that.¹ Nick is finally able to roll-start it and we encourage him to “go, go,” hoping it was just a bit flooded or a fluke that can be worked out with throttle.
I walk back up the trail toward where I parked, sweat dripping from my face and a sense of foreboding in my stomach. I step aside each time I hear the doppler approach of an engine.
The trail is narrow so everyone is stopped behind my bike until I can catch up and ride on. The Husky again refuses to start. I put my kickstand back down and we take turns kicking it over, sometimes getting it started only to have it die a foot farther on.
It is discouraging. It is irritating. And it is very hot out.
“As soon as it starts again, keep it revved high and ride to that flat area,” I propose, nodding to the area around an outcrop, above. “We can’t work on it here.” I guess we could but it would be a hassle on the side of a hill.
Joel and I ride ahead and get out tools to prepare for all-too-familiar Husky carburetor work. This time Joel takes the lead since he rebuilt and adjusted the same Keihin carburetor on his bike. It takes a lot of kicking, cursing and try-try-again for Nick to finally get the Husky here. There’s no shade and we’re going quickly through our drinking water.
Joel hopes it’s a simple fuel-air mixture issue, a small turn of a screw on the bottom of the carburetor.
One turn out; two turns out; two-and-a-quarter turns out. He tries the recommended setting then leaner, richer and more so again. It doesn’t matter. “That means something is wrong,” he says. Even small turns should be making a marked difference.
We decide we’ll dig deeper into the carburetor in more bearable temperatures at our camping elevation, if the Husky will just get there. But it dies again after fifty yards.
It has taken two hours to come a quarter-of-a-mile and now we’re up against hard choices. Whether we ride directly to our campsite or back to Boise, it will be dusk by the time we get there. Any more delays will have us out in the dark.
My brothers have both taken time out of busy schedules and driven eight hours to be here. It feels terrible but seems the lesser of evils to point Nick back to Boise if the Husky will run well enough back on the roads where it seemed fine earlier today.
Being able to keep the Husky’s throttle open seems helpful. Nick and I make it quickly back to the Y-Stop just as the proprietor is closing up. We guzzle cold drinks from the store’s cooler as I try to get a call through to Jessica.
“I think you’ll have service if you stand out by that lilac bush,” the lady says. “A guy up the road comes down on his ATV and parks right there to make calls.”
The connection is weak and Jessica is in the car driving somewhere. I try to be concise. “Nick has to ride back,” I explain. “You remember where the Y-Stop is? Check the drive time on a map. If he isn’t back by then, start driving this way.” It seems a lot to suddenly dump on her.
“You should have phone service by the time you get to the pavement, the highway,” I tell Nick after hanging up with Jessica. “You’ll be able to call if you can’t ride into town for some reason.” He’s never been up here before so I remind him what the couple of turns look like. It all seems very sub-optimal.
I watch Nick struggle to kick the Husky back to life then ride out of sight. I have an urge to chase after and escort him but instead I get hard on the throttle toward Jeremy and Joel who have been waiting back on the trail.
We don’t have far to go but we’ve lost three hours now. My brothers and I reunite with little remark and begin up the mountain again. We’ll rehash when we’re at camp.
Late afternoon light splashes beautifully across the hills but it’s hard to enjoy while Nick’s fate remains uncertain.
I used the other trailhead the two previous times I rode up Lava Mountain. It stays in the trees. I’ve never been this way. It’s longer and sandier.
It remains hot and dusty even as we gain elevation. I’m eager to get high.
Above 7,000 feet, it finally feels cooler.
I stop for a break and some pictures while Joel and Jeremy catch up. I see them coming around the ridge but then they stop, still some ways off. After a few minutes, they continue and stop nearby. “Joel’s clutch stopped working,” Jeremy announces as they pass.
That doesn’t sound good. The last thing we need is more motorcycle trouble. Jeremy discovers he has spotty data service so he searches online for KTM clutch advice. The connection is too slow to read much but he sees enough to know overheating may cause a hydraulic clutch to lose resistance.
After a minute, Joel confirms the clutch is returning to normal. What a relief.
While Jeremy has phone service, I try to call Jessica but it won’t go through. We send a text message instead hoping it will be delivered at some point and she can let us know Nick is safe.
The trail along the ridge is a blast, a second and third gear affair weaving around trees and terrain.
These are moments of renewal, surrounded by the vastness of heaven and earth, forced by hazards to focus on the present moment, forgetting past and future.
I am starting to notice my headlight reflecting off leaves and rocks ahead. The sun must be getting low. “I think it’s just up there,” I say of the lake, gesturing to the space between peaks.
Verdant rivulets confirm we’re nearing water. The flowers are beautiful. I stop several times to look closely at their different shapes and colors.
The campsite on the near side of North Star Lake is as I remember, an idyllic clearing under tall evergreens at the water’s edge. Usually we go straight to setting up camp but this time we all spend a few minutes cooling down.
We each find our own place to wade into the water and rinse off. Then, as usual, we fall largely silent as we work quickly to set up for the night. We’ll rest when everything is in its place.
When finally we’re sitting in matching folding chairs around a lantern (fires are banned), cooking from matching Jetboils with water pumped from matching filters, we laugh as usual at imagined Mountain House marketing and catch up on business ventures.
“Where’s the music?” I ask Jeremy with feigned impatience. His bluetooth speaker superseded my wired travel thing some years ago making him the official ride D.J.
“Don’t worry,” he answers reassuringly.
Jeremy’s phone, surprisingly, has faint service again. I try to call Jessica but as before it won’t go through so I send another text message. I’m not sure if it sent but an hour later we get a reply: Nick made it back to Bonneville Point and got a ride home from there. What a relief. It would have been hard to sleep not knowing his fate.
Jeremy decided to sleep in the open last night. We did so regularly as kids but that didn’t stop Joel and I from teasing him about all the creatures likely to harass him in the night. He tries to pass it off as no big deal but eventually admits he was severely scolded by a squirrel resting on the branch above his head.
Our first ride evening tends to be one of reminiscence but last night we talked more of the future. Joel in particular has been rearranging his life. In fact, our youngest brother Jesse and I laughed heartily one afternoon this summer as we tried to cyber-stalk discover details of Joel’s life without actually talking to him.
We talked also of the day’s trouble, of course, concluding the ability to face adversity with a kind of self-aware humor is essential. I don’t think you’ll last long doing stuff like this if you can’t laugh at trouble. In a way, that’s what it’s all about.
I confess I didn’t feel too jovial on the arid mountainside with the Husqvarna yesterday. It was hard not to be mindful of how much time and anticipation Nick and I invested these last six weeks, for naught. But in general, yes: blood, sweat and broken metal are best seen as mere comedic moments in the ocean of time.
It is another way riding (or any unpredictable adventure) asks us to control our perceptions. Active riding requires attention to the present moment, as with the fast trail atop the ridge yesterday. But when something goes wrong, the opposite is required, to step back from the moment and remember how insignificant it is in the broad scope of our lives.
Equine campers left us a tool bounty. We find two shovels (one with broken handle), a nice hammer, a handsaw and can opener. The trade-off is all the horseflies. And of course the fact that we don’t actually need any of those tools.
There is a section of trail on tomorrow’s route between Goat Lake and Atlanta, Idaho, that I’ve never ridden. It’s likely to have some difficulties. But for the rest of our route, which I’ve ridden before, this morning is the hardest. Brothers have been warned.
“When do you guys usually get up?” Nick had asked. He sounded slightly concerned that we might be up at the crack of dawn to hit trails.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I answered. “Just whenever.” We try to ignore the time except to check here and there that we won’t run out of light. We definitely love the riding but just as enjoyable is sitting around, talking nonsense at camp, laughing at our funny selves.
Nick would be proud of us today. It seems to be nearly midday before we break camp.
starPhoto by Jeremy Abbott
“I couldn’t find my other GoPro batteries so I’ve saved it for just the section this morning,” I say to reassure my brothers. It isn’t dangerous, exposed to cliffs or anything. We try not to do stuff like that, first, because it scares us and second, because we have families who still need us.
But we are likely to get some exercise. We’ve all pumped water out of the lake to keep us hydrated, have armor on and are ready to rock. And rock we will.