Ryan puts out a late season invitation for a night along the beautiful Louie Lake. About five of us answer the call to ride a couple hours north and climb the rocky trail to the lake’s edge where we sit around a fire and tell stories of old rides. After a wet and windy night we ride autumn-colored backroads by Yellow Pine to home.
I hadn’t expected any more overnight rides this year but when Ryan invited us¹ to his boyhood stomping grounds for what promised to be a beautiful autumn weekend, I had to sign up. On a scale of one-to-five, he categorized the trail to Louie Lake as level four,² fairly difficult. I was kind of worried about that but excited all the same for one more mountain ride.
The seven of us who went traveled in five groups according to whenever we could get out of town Friday afternoon. For most of us, including myself, it was highway until about McCall, then a few miles of country road and finally an ATV trail. I rode alone and caught up on This American Life³ episodes.
The real ride began when we turned off Boulder Lake Road to cross Boulder Creek on the other side of a gate blocking anything larger than ATVs. Low water made the crossing easy—one less worry.
Propelling a 600 pound machine with a fast first gear and clutch that can’t be slipped, up that incline and through the maze of rocks, required a somewhat moronic approach: pick a line, pop the clutch and hang on for dear life until the engine stalls (several times) or I run hard into something (a couple times). Then get pointed the right direction and repeat.
It was with considerable relief that I crested the trail at the edge of the lake. Jim’s¹ tent and motorcycle stood near the water’s edge but he was nowhere to be found—hiking I guessed.
Aspens adorned in their autumn colors decorated the circumspect shore. Jughandle Mountain, crowned by a barely gibbous moon, looked stone-faced across the placid lake to our campsite, the last rays of sun just kissing its cheek.
I think no aware person can but feel awe, the smallness of his own concerns, in places like this—“Nature’s Temples” as John Muir¹ was fond of saying.
The three of us sat by a small fire of driftwood and brush as afternoon faded toward dusk. The sound of engines revving and falling silent signaled the approach of others picking their way through the rocks. Buoyed perhaps by our own safe passage through the gauntlet, we made mirthful comment on their approach.
“Wow, did it take me that long?”
“Maybe I should go give them a tow.”
Headlight beams bouncing wildly in the trees atop the trail suggested they were making the final climb. Finally Phil (HeadingNorth¹) and his neighbor Joe emerged and found their way lakeside. Three became five around the fire.
Dusk was nearing dark when the familiar engine ruckus reached our ears from the trail below. A roar and then silence, repeating itself. I can’t imagine riding that trail in the half-light that remained.
The sound of struggle went on for some time before the trail spat Tyson (av_mech²) from its mouth. It was fully dark. It sounded like he and Ryan had helped each other but their combined effort could coax the 950 no further. The trail was silent.
“My grandpa and I used to come here,” Ryan began, after making peace with the 950 predicament and joining us around the fire. He went on to tell of their fishing trips, riding slowly between lakes on Trail 90s, and his grandpa’s defiant attitude. We could all talk about rides we’d been on, good or bad, and the wonders we’d seen. We had that in common. As the hour grew late, stories turned to El Diablo the elk and grizzly defenses.
I had left camera on tripod for one night photograph before bed. I realized when I stood from my seat at the fire that the sips of drink had added up. I had to concentrate to set the right exposure but I was glad to record the moment—water pooled at the foot of a dark mountain, reflecting infinity above.
I woke in the dark to the sound of rain and rushing wind. It seemed the year’s perfect record of camping and rain would hold. The wind could be heard whooshing, almost roaring, in the trees around the lake before it reached us in waves. By the sound of it, I half expected the tent to pull loose of its stakes but the wind’s strength did not match its sound.
Our tents held against the wind but Tyson was unhappy to discover that his was setup in a slight basin. He had a wet night.
The morning was cold but not terribly so, and the sky was blue. Our individual cook stoves sprang up like hissing mushrooms to prepare coffee, oatmeal, even freeze-dried eggs. Bikes were checked, coffee shared and a homeward route planned.
The possibility of a slower pace, braking instead of accelerating, simplified the trail descent. Soon we were back at the gravel road and ready for the next adventure.
A plan to ride the East Mountain ATV trail was deferred with Ryan’s expedited return to Boise. None of us remaining were prepared to lead that route. Instead we would simply take back-roads as much as possible as we made our way home.
We rode through McCall, northeast along Payette Lake to Lick Creek Road. We travelled a ribbon of asphalt black with the morning rain, laced with fluttering, golden leaves. The idyllic drive brought to mind the observations of Robert Pirsig.
“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming” (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).
Road and creek entwined in a shadowy embrace as asphalt became dirt and we ascended titanic stone-scaled mountains.
Efforts to record the vast hinterland seemed futile. I stopped and stopped again, falling farther behind, unable to squeeze that land into my small black box.
An alien world inhabited by ancient lizards the size of mountains, large enough to support their own flora and fauna, was the subject of one of the short stories I listened to while riding home.
Except it was real. The mountains northeast of McCall were covered in grey scales, wrinkled rocks as large as my yard, the thin spaces between them home to low bushes, red and yellow, and spindly evergreen trees. The landscape could hardly have been more impressive had it suddenly rose up, a titan to lumber across the earth.
We descended slowly along the shoulder of a wide valley, it’s forest floor hazy in the morning light. Small aspens stood among stone blocks above the road like children cautious but curious to see the passing strangers. Rocky crags rose high above, sharp against the bright sky. I wished to stop and spend a day watching light play across the many still forms. Another time.
The road eventually followed at the level of creek and river many miles to our expected turn south to pass the Forest Service helibase, Krassel, and Buckhorn Campground on the way to Warm Lake.
A big orange sign said our intended road was closed. The nearest alternative was to loop by the tiny mountain town of Yellow Pine, adding about thirty miles to the trip.
Tyson expressed uncertainty about having enough gas for the added distance. You can imagine our sympathy.
Yellow Pine didn’t have telephone service until November of 1996.¹ There are no stoplights and no pavement. They don’t always have gas but Tyson got lucky. He filled his bike from a red five gallon jug at the town’s rustic market before we continued southwest along Johnson Creek toward Warm Lake and Cascade.