“Not all who wander are lost,” says the Tolkien poem, the same clarification I offer Brenna when I admit I’m unsure which is the right road. Taking the direct route is overrated.
“Do you want to camp this coming weekend?” I asked Brenna several days ago.
“Can we ride the motorcycle?” she asked in return.
“Yeah,” I affirm, “for sure.”
“Oh yea,” she said with drawn out enthusiasm. So I knew it was a go.
Or so I thought. Yesterday she was invited to a B.S.U. football game with one of her school friends and now she’s indecisive. I let her know it’s time to choose.
“I think I want to camp,” she concludes after considering it for a while.
That was a close one. She’s at the age where I know I’m on borrowed time against the pull of peers and pre-teen predilections. I am glad I won this day since I already bought food and packed the motorcycle.
These little trips are a highlight of my life. I have in mind an easy ride to somewhere along the Boise River North Fork where I know if it’s busy we can cross the bridge to Barber Flat that doesn’t allow automobiles.
It is a typical late summer day in Southern Idaho as we begin up Highway 21 — hot under a smoke hazed sky.
“Remember your field trip there?” I ask as we pass the Forest Service tree farm above Lucky Peak Reservoir.
“Yeah,” Brenna answers.
Intercoms allow easy conversation as we glide along at a mile-a-minute. I am dad and docent, hoping to vivify her connections to this space and time so she might grow up feeling grounded and empathetic.
“This is where a car with a mom and three kids went into the water,” I say as we cross High Bridge. It is a story deeply tragic and troubling.¹
I have never thought to hide hard realities from the kids. I’ve probably done the opposite, pointing them out, hoping to give them a safe opportunity to process and ask questions without moralizing or minimizing — to be thoughtful.
“It was Gwyneth,” Brenna says sorrowfully, remembering one of the kids, a girl a year younger at her school. She doesn’t say anything else so I leave it there, to fade behind us.
I didn’t want the ride to be only highway and gravel roads so we’ve turned up Pine Creek right after Idaho City and then onto arbitrary forest roads that go generally the right direction, toward Rabbit Creek Road.
I plotted a route but haven’t yet added a device mount to the 1290 to see it as we go. There are too many intersections to stop at each one and pull out the phone so we’ve gone a bit aimless. Brenna says her buns are getting sore.
“Why don’t you try standing,” I suggest. “That’s what I do.”
“Then I can’t hold on,” she demurs.
“Hold on to my shoulders,” I propose.
“Oh,” she exclaims after standing, “that’s nice.”
Riding aimlessly isn’t working so well so we stop to look at the map long enough to memorize all the turns we need to get to camp. Brenna lies on the ground the whole time as a subtle hint she’s ready to be there.
We end up on a bit of Bannock Creekbed singletrack (rocky!) then some climbs in the tight network of trails near the highway of the sort I feel relieved to surmount, two-up with luggage.
“That was scary,” Brenna says more than once.
Finally we do make it to Rabbit Creek Road and quickly to the North Fork of the Boise where the road turns to follow its meanders.
“That’s really pretty,” we remark intermittently as we catch sight of eddies deep and clear against dark stone walls or sandbars wreathed in sparkling ripples.
The thwup-thwup sound of helicopter blades grows louder as we ride and is suddenly upon us, hovering. I quickly pull to the side of the road so we can look up to see what’s happening.
The blast of downwash is more than I expected. For a second I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold us upright. We’re pelted with pebbles. I hear them tink, tink against the motorcycle.
Less fortunate than us are three people who were fishing on the bank below without the benefit of helmets, gloves and armored jackets. They’re scrambling up the bank, clutching gear, as the helicopter lowers a basket into the same hole they had lines in a moment ago.
“That didn’t look very fun,” I say to the disheveled trio once the helicopter has departed with it’s basket of river water. They don’t say much.
The couple official campgrounds back here look full but primitive sites are available. It’s not as busy as I thought it might be, maybe because the other two routes into the North Fork, Crooked River and Pikes Fork Roads, have emergency fire closures.
“Shall we check it out?” I ask Brenna as we approach a turn-off into trees toward the river.
We find a wide-open area inside a river curve with room for a dozen people. I prefer more foliage but Brenna is excited to camp on the sandbar.
“Can you bring me some big rocks?” I call to Brenna with mild urgency, interrupting her play.
Gusts of wind pushed the tent over just as I got it framed up, before I put any stakes in. I’m holding it down to keep it from blowing away while she waddles over with one big rock and then another.
Firefighters are working to get a handle on several wildfires that sparked during a lightning storm on Thursday night. Strong winds and poor visibility created challenges for firefighters working the blazes on Saturday ...¹
Once we’re set for sleep, I join Brenna in the river. The water is warm and clear.
Brenna wants to play “survivor” wherein we’ll apparently pretend to scavenge for items that can help us survive out here. But first she wants to finish building a staircase in the sand by our tent so I’m permitted a few minutes to look around.
I don’t smell it in the air down here but we can see smoke growing thicker across the surrounding ridges. And it seems like more wildfire fighting vehicles are passing by every thirty minutes. We must be fairly close to an outbreak.
Brenna and I both have an overdeveloped sense of campsite feng shui. She’s refused to camp before when I didn’t arrange the tent and chairs like she wanted.¹ And I’ve found it hard to accept campsite arrangements that don’t compliment lake or river waterlines. But we soldier on.
I help with the final steps of Brenna’s staircase and we begin our “survivor” game.
“Let’s begin the expedition,” I call out with added enunciation.
“Alright!” Brenna agrees with similar intonation.
We wade across and down the river, pausing to analyse and dramatize each curiosity.
Long shadows extend from the ridges, enveloping us as we continue downriver, aimless but resolved.
“Ow, something cut me!” Brenna cries mid-way across the river on our way to some boulders.
I rush to lift her from the water and cradle her in my arms, filled with paternal instinct. We look closely to see her foot is okay, poked by something but not cut. Our game resumes.
“What are all those things?” Brenna asks with disgust, referring to inch-long bug husks dotting the river rocks.
“Nymphs,” I answer. “They’re from bugs that are babies in the water then shed their skin when they grow up.”
I know some about them because we have them in our backyard pond. To be more exact, “the insects remain in the nymphal form for one to four years, depending on species, and undergo from 12 to 36 molts before emerging and becoming terrestrial as adults” after which they “generally only survive for a few weeks.”¹
“They crawl out of their skin?” Brenna asks to confirm, even more disgusted.
I have often wondered how much of time is an objective reality versus a subjective experience, a mental construct. Is the fact that we remember events from only one direction in time (the “past”) and not the other (the “future”) a constraint based in reality or just a peculiar brain adaptation?
I recently read “The Order of Time” by Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist specializing in quantum gravity. At the smallest scales of reality, he observes, modern physics demonstrates there is no space, time and matter but only interactions among fields. What we perceive as reality is just our heavily blurred (to use Rovelli’s word) perspective.
Since Einstein, it’s been fully proven that time has no inherent rate. It can move faster or slower depending on gravity and relative velocity. Atomic clocks in orbit, for example, tick faster than those on Earth.¹
But what about the direction of time? As Rovelli points out, the equations we’ve found governing fundamental reality have no time component. They hold true whether events sequence one way or the other. What does that tell us?
I guess I don’t know. I’m just a guy who read a fairly short book, after all. For Rovelli, it’s among the reasons to believe the order of time is localized, surely different in other parts of the universe where different conditions prevail. And honestly, I’m not sure what that means.
I used to call these pebble wrapped pupae “perrywinkles” but those are actually little snails. Maybe my parents steered me wrong. The half-inch stalks attached to underwater rocks, swaying in the current, are caddisfly babies, called by some “underwater architects”¹ for the various cocoons they build.
Dusk looms across the river valley. After surviving the near foot injury, we decide our “survivor” game is complete and begin picking our way upstream, back to the sandbar that’s home for the night.
Current restrictions preclude all fires, even in campground fire rings. That’s usually a bummer but the evening is fairly warm so we really only need a way to cook our traditional camp meal: hot dogs.
I knew we would find green branches along the river so didn’t bother bringing a metal roasting fork. I forgot Brenna hasn’t seen me do this. She watches curiously as I pull the big knife from the bottom of my pack, cut off a green branch and whittle it’s end to a point.
“See, it’s easy,” I announce. She seemed suspicious.
I light the Jetboil burner and start roasting. Gosh, it’s actually easier than a fire. Maybe we should do this every time.
“Did you get enough to eat?” I ask after she’s had two hot dogs.
“Yeah,” she confirms.
With no fire to sit around, she crawls into the tent while I put things away for the night.
“Can we listen to a story?” she asks when I’m done.
We have been listening to Moth stories at bedtime. Funny thing is, we usually don’t hear the whole story. We fall asleep first. I’ll ask in the morning, “do you remember the story at all?” and she’ll answer, “no,” almost every time. But still we try.
“Well yeah,” I answer enthusiastically. I think my phone is set up to automatically download new stories so we should be able to put it in a tent pocket and listen.
“Yea!” she says.
In spite of the usually soothing story, Brenna keeps fidgeting and finally sits up.
“What’s wrong Brenna?” I ask.
“I can’t sleep.”
“Just lay down.”
“Brenna,” I insist, “lay down.”
She does and I begin softly rubbing her arm, which I know relaxes her.
“My palm,” she mumbles sleepily after a minute, turning her hand over so I can gently rub there too.
Something about a child’s hands is so endearing. They tell a story of life and lineage. I remember her hands so tiny and soft, now thick and toughened by gymnastics, but still those of a child, innocent and vulnerable.
Morning comes at what time I don’t know. We slept well except for a couple times in the dark when we heard several trucks passing, probably more fire crews.
We lie there a few minutes before Brenna opens a book she brought for some assigned reading.
Brenna stays in the tent while I go for a little walk to get the sleep out of my eyes and see what there is to see.
When I come back to the tent I find mobile games (no service for anything else) have replaced reading.
I carefully pack to avoid getting sand in things then we hit the road. Well, sort of. First the 1290 is stubborn about getting out of the sand and I have Brenna stand off a ways while I curse at matters. Then we hit the road.
Today we just stick to the main road and are soon in Idaho City for a breakfast stop at Trudy’s Kitchen. All good camping trips end with a small town restaurant stop.
I think Brenna likes the motorcycle camping thing. I am excited for more.