I’d never thought much of Idaho before (or rather, thought of Idaho much), and if you live a ways away from the landlocked state, you probably only associate it with potatoes–or at least that’s about as far as my thoughts of Idaho ever went. Yet, my knack for adventure-on-a-whim led me into a land of splendor untold, a place that holds much beauty and history and vibrant life. Every mile truly held something new, beginning with waking up in an open field and watching fat, reddish spiders endeavor to climb wide, thick blades of grass (he kept falling, lol) and realizing that not a soul had crossed the land within hundreds of feet in any direction. Tuning my ears to the sounds of so many birds, beginning with morning melodies drifting through the cool bright morning air, Canadian geese beside the river honking audaciously at my passing, the gentle plopping splash of ducks descending into water, the caws of gulls and crows, and the high-pitched whistling chirp of tiny birds up in the trees.
From Sunday to Tuesday, I spent these three days riding along rivers and lakes, large and live bodies of water that dispelled all my qualms about being in a landlocked place. At some points the trail ran alongside the Interstate 90 (but not too close); at some points the trail cut through the humble towns that dotted the Northern Idaho landscape; at a number of places the trail cut away from being a trail altogether, and my guide was simply signs and markers cutting a path through rural neighborhoods where bikes, nerf guns, dogs and horses populated families’ yards, telltale signs of a peaceful life in the uncomplicated Northwest, and where the road was lined with hay and tufts cottonwood fluff. At other times the trail cut through parks–this is where it was most confusing, when the trail dissipated into these green spaces and commingled with other local bike paths and walking trails. A significant amount of land development is also taking place throughout the area lining the Centennial Trail–signs of imminent urbanization in some of America’s last open spaces, taking place by way of bulldozer, crane, backhoe and the rudimentary men in hardhats orchestrating the whole evolution.
After leaving the Centennial Trail and setting myself back onto the proper route, I came to find myself facing a choice between one Interstate and one winding mountain highway that would take me well south out of the way before routing in the proper direction: East. This is where I chose to detour in neither direction, but rather towards the Wolf Creek Lodge Steakhouse and nearby Wolf Creek campground, in search of water and sustenance.
I reached the Lodge first, a ghostly empty structure, where upon the door of the restaurant was painted an unfriendly message “This building is guarded by an electric fence and a man with a shotgun 3 nights a week. You guess the nights.” Beside the door hours were posted; on Mondays the place was closed. Well, there I was on a Monday afternoon…so I kept on towards the campground, where I met Gary, the man behind the counter at the campsite office, who upon learning the basic details of my adventure, identified himself as a fellow cyclist and traveler. We soon became friends, and spent the afternoon chatting while I waited out the rainstorm that had followed me into the campground and an opportunity to catch a ride over to the next segment of trail and skip the highways altogether. Gary, a retired martial arts instructor, reassured me that I wasn’t short on sanity for taking up my haphazard journey, and additionally inspired me to feed my thirst for adventure and exploration, telling me of his departure from the working world and into an existence of exploration that he shared with his wife Sherry (whom I did not have the pleasure of meeting). He told me of their travels to some of America’s most fascinating and breathtaking outposts, such as Chaco, New Mexico; to Moab; to Canyonlands, Utah; the Badlands of South Dakota; and of his entry into the realm of work-camping, an opportunity to live in the outdoors and have a foundation, and sometimes extra income, to continue living a life filled with the greatness of, and gratitude for, the treasures of America’s wilderness.
Once upon the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, I kept my eyes open for moose–Gary had told me I was out at the right time to chance a sighting. Though I did not come across any moose, several elk frolicking across the path ahead of me, and wild horses grazed across the water, which was at some points a river and at others a still pond. I passed ponds blanketed in lilypads, with bright yellow bulbs on the verge of blooming (forgive me if I tell this part twice, it remains vivid in my mind), where the reflections of the mountains and trees and pristine skies peeked between the lilypads. I rode for miles through undaunted wilderness, hearing only the sounds of rivers and birds and my own steady hustle. I rode on until I reached Cataldo, where I spotted a hundred yards from the trail a small eatery called the Mission Inn; a place Gary had told of during our ride to the Bull Run trailhead where we had parted ways.
For those of you who have been to Bombay Beach, the Mission Inn had a feel much like the pubhouse we patronize during our visits, a place whose name escapes me at the moment. A humble setting with a wood interior, bar, tables, pool table, view into the kitchen, mugs hanging from the ceiling, and dollar bills with names of past patrons lining the walls–everything but the fish assholes. The beer was cold, the food was satisfying, and when my meal was done I returned to my bike–which I had left out front unlocked, with all my bags strapped on, to find that the only molestation had been from another rainstorm that I had missed completely during my dinner stopoff. Back onto the saddle I went, and headed east again. I rode past Pinehurst and Enaville and through much more wilderness, and eventually came to Kellogg, where I got the feeling that the next town would be distant, and decided to settle for the night in a hotel, to avoid a night on soggy ground. At the check-in desk the host confirmed the growing realizations that I was in mining country. Not just any mining country–but Silver Mountain Valley, where the country’s largest silver deposits had been uncovered during the mining heyday. A much-deserved shower, warm bed, hot tub and free continental breakfast coffee & waffles were a good way to recharge. In my next segment I will tell you of my trip to Wallace, Idaho, a hotspot for miner respite and entertainment in the city’s once-thriving bordellos.