We are on plan, my brothers and I. We camp aside the scenic Selway then finish Magruder Corridor in Montana before enduring some highway miles and turning back to Idaho to ride the Lolo Motorway. The hoped-for campsite doesn’t materialize, however, and just like Joseph and Mary, we have to go searching for a place to lay our heads.
It seems too small to be the Selway River. I guess that’s because I’ve never been this far up it. My brothers and I will camp somewhere along here tonight.
We have gone about thirty dirt road miles since we were together on Burnt Knob. I expect Joel and Jeremy will be several minutes behind so I park on the bridge, take a few pictures and do a little local reconnaissance.
Wilderness on all sides, Forest Service restrictions requiring fires only in rings, and being on bigger bikes limits us to what we’re calling “glamping” — you know, glamorous camping with a table and outhouse somewhere nearby.
I scouted this spot while I was waiting for the others to arrive. As the closest decent site to the road, it seems popular with Magruder travelers. We watch several vehicles come by, look glumly at us setting up, then turn around.
“Wow,” Jeremy says, “someone did a lot more work than we did on the fire thing,” referring to the time we all spent a couple hours making a diversion around a spot in the middle of the Clearwater’s North Fork for an epic, mid-river campfire.¹
The rock weir here goes all the way across the river and also encloses a couple pools. That had to be a ton of work.
We bring filters instead of carrying water so there’s always ritual pumping when we stop — captive photo subjects.
Joel invites us to see a tree uniquely large for its species that he noticed while doing some other woods business. He owns a company in Sandpoint that builds custom studio furniture.¹ He has an eye for all things wood so Jeremy and I trust that we should be impressed.
“It’s cold but not terrible,” I offer in review of the water temperature for bathing. We strip to our skivvies in turn for a refreshing rinse-off in the clear water.
We all know as an absolute truth that any one of us, including Jesse who isn’t here, would drop everything, give anything, to help another. Our affection exists within that inviolable bond rather than bear hugs and back slapping.
It is in that mode that we pretend to be appalled to share soap or stand too near another bathing. “Gross,” we moan.
It is dusk, hours after we’ve set up camp, when finally the Jeep and crew arrive.
“Are you guys staying another day or leaving tomorrow?” the driver calls out.
“Leaving tomorrow,” we answer.
We expect them to set up for now at a kind of horse camp spot right by the bridge, not far from us, but hear none of the expected group hullabaloo. Maybe their day wore them out.
I have mentioned before that we’ve all migrated towards having exactly the same gear as we observe on each outing whose stuff works a little better. On the KTM 500 I saved space with a NEMO bivy but this year I’m pleased to be back in the brother-standard Half Dome tent.
It is Jeremy who has the clever idea to dry the tent’s bottom the next morning by cradling it upside-down on our motorcycle seat and handlebars. Now we’re hoping people drive by so we can baffle them with the spectacle.
We are in no hurry to break camp. We never are. But we do eventually get back on the road. And what an interesting road it becomes; a kind of post-apocalyptic highway, still paved but with great whoops and swales from years of disrepair.
We pull off for a first stop at the border between Idaho and Montana on Nez Perce Pass.
A lone rider on a newer, blue trimmed GS 1200 with Klim gear and Mosko Moto luggage (the things we notice) pulls in nearby and we eventually exchange greetings.
“Just finished the BDR,” he explains, referring to the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route.¹ “Or I will have when I get to Darby,” he clarifies.
“Oh, that’s cool,” I offer, though I don’t actually remember how far that means he’s ridden.
Pavement smooths, houses appear and soon we’re back in civilization. Darby, Montana doesn’t look like a very big town so I stop ahead of the first café I see. We’ll get a cooked meal before returning to mountains.
“Do you have beer?” I ask the young waitress after we’ve been led to a table. I’m a little worried since I didn’t see any taps.
“No, we don’t have beer.” She almost seems to put a fine point on it.
Fluorescent lights and unadorned, white walls make me wish we’d found a place with some character and cold beer. But not so much as to leave now that we’ve settled in.
We see through the café window a man and lady walk by wearing Victorian fashions of the 1800s and enter the doll shop next door.¹ It’s a bit peculiar.
We top up on gas and head north on Highway 93. I looked into some ways to avoid the highway but traffic isn’t bad and these bikes cruise fine.
We are glad to reach Lolo and turn west back into Idaho mountains. It was getting too warm in the Bitterroot Valley.
The plan was to see if a questionable campsite marker on Google Maps, along Crooked Fork Creek, was viable, otherwise to return to the highway and the campground by Lochsa Lodge.
But by the time we’ve travelled far enough up the side road to know the marker is mistaken, I think we’re close enough to the next day’s ridge route that I propose continuing on. We should be able to find a good spot.
Only a minute after recognizing this as the road where we were stuck behind a line of ATVs on a previous ride,¹ the driver of an oncoming side-by-side stops and begins wildly gesticulating. I can’t discern his meaning — not sure why the usual, simple hand signals aren’t sufficient — but I gather I should proceed with maximum caution.
I am far to the right and riding slower for the next three side-by-sides. And the same for a fourth except she is hauling ass on the wrong side of the road around a bend.
“Woah!” I see her shocked expression and hear her startled yell as she swerves to narrowly miss me. Maybe that’s what the lead driver was trying to signal: watch out for my crazy friend!
No campsites have appeared so now we’re targeting Cayuse Creek where we enjoyed camping eight years ago. I pass a turn that goes the right direction off a saddle but it looks nothing like I remember so I continue on. After a hundred yards, I realize that must have been it. I can see Cayuse Lake below.
The saddle, called Cayuse Junction, is populated by a dozen tents, pop-up canopies and a U-Haul truck, of all things. As I’m riding between them a second time, a lady waves me down.
“Just a sec’, I can’t hear you,” I say as she starts speaking before I’ve paused the music in my ears.
“Did you see a white van?” she repeats.
“Yep,” I confirm, “I sure did.”
“Oh good,” she says with relief.
Jeremy arrives and we chat with her a little more while waiting for Joel. The van is bringing their customers, we learn. The tents are for them. She is a rafting and hiking guide. They paid some $300 a night to have everything taken care of.
“We had problems with our truck,” she explains of the U-Haul.
We hear Joel coming and offer our goodbyes.
“We’ll probably come back up when we smell dinner,” I joke. It looks like they’ve hauled a full kitchen up here.
We descend the rough road to Cayuse Creek, cross the bridge and find both sites there already occupied. Darn. I’m not sure now that we’ll end up by water so I take a minute below the bridge to pump my bottle full.
We are getting well beyond the day’s expected end. I kind of regret not turning back to the Lochsa Lodge as planned. We keep going and going along the Lolo Motorway, finding nothing. Finally I see a nondescript side road and stop to wait for Jeremy before turning to check it out.
The little used road leads to a decent campsite below Indian Point. Yea. It’s kind of dusty and there’s no water but it has great views. And it’s too late to be choosy.
As always, we go quickly to work setting up tents and chairs. “Were either of you planning to use this spot?” we’ll ask as we figure out who has dibs on which bits of flat ground.
We stocked up on some six-packs back in Darby. We never pack beer from the get-go — too heavy — but it’s nice to get something other than our vodka and whiskey staples if we pass through a town midway.
Once we get fireside, we’re planted until bedtime. Joel and Jeremy have been musicians since they were teens, playing guitar and singing, an avocation that waxes and wanes with the years.
Jeremy has lately been prolific with his Jeremy Abbott Music (JAM) project, playing at open mic nights and putting out albums. I have talented brothers. I am more than pleased to listen to the two of them chatter about musicians, venues and audio tech.
Knowing my plight of late and having a rare mountain interaction with a female (the hiking guide) seem to be the factors that have us laughing about a new product idea: Mountain Tinder. With pretty much no phone service and nobody for miles and miles, it’s sure to be super.
Or maybe that’s the beer talking.
It is the middle of the night when we realize we’d best retire. Where does the time go?
We came so much farther than planned today that the ride to the next planned stop, Rocky Ridge Lake, should be pretty short. Theoretically.