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Travelogue -- Scenic Idaho, Famous Potatoes

Sunday, July 24, 2016

I'm writing this from a hotel near Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. We weren't planning on a hotel tonight. We were planning to be in Missoula, Montana, visiting Diane's college roommate Jeanne. The Big Rolling Crate had other ideas. A few miles from Coeur D'Alene this afternoon, it decided it had had enough and quit. So here we are, at a hotel, and the Big Rolling Crate is 4.5 miles away at the Chevy dealer, who will hopefully be able to fix it tomorrow so we can stay on schedule to make it to Maine by Saturday.

On the upside, Diane and I have time to work on the blog because we haven't made any updates in a whole week and so much has happened!

As we mentioned in our last round of updates, on Monday, July 18, we visited the Craters of the Moon. To be honest, up to that point, we were all sort of wondering if the whole "Scenic Idaho" thing, as the license plates here proclaim, was intended sarcastically. Southern Idaho is kind of ugly. Everything is brown. Brown hills. Brown plains. The towns are tiny (we passed places with populations under 100!). A huge swatch of what we drove through ran along a big fence and a restricted area for some nuclear laboratory, and the most interested geographical features were hideous lava rocks. 

Todd kept saying, "There's a numbered dirt road. We can probably camp up there."

And Diane kept saying, "Why in the world would we want to camp here?"

Nonetheless, we headed towards the big green area on the map where all the National Forests of Idaho begin. We turned off of the main road we'd been traveling towards Sun Valley and the Sawtooth National Forest, and things became scenic pretty quickly actually.

Fun fact courteous of the park ranger we chatted with in the Sawtooths: Sun Valley was the first ski area with a chair lift (as opposed to a tow rope or other sort of lift that runs on the ground), which was commissioned by the owner of the Union Pacific railroad in order to get more people to ride the rails in the winter.

We didn't linger in Sun Valley, though, because it was already getting well on into the evening and we had a campground in mind that was still a ways down the road. We made the long, slow climb up into the National Forests, stopping a few times to prevent overheating, a reality we are totally accustomed to at this point, and then back down into the valley. 

Eventually we came to the Alturus Lake area and found our intended campground, The North Shore Campground, which was a small National Forest campground with a handful of lakefront sites. We got the last spot, and it was perfect.

While we were getting settled for the night, two other campers came over to ask about our "rig," which is what people call campers of all varieties. It was the most curious its we've had directed our way in a campground, but it was the start of a trend that would continue throughout our stay in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. People here are so friendly and they aren't shy about asking questions.

We stayed for two nights at this camp, and the timing could not have been better if we'd planned it. We were here, right on the lake under clear skies, for the full moon.

Diane and Todd have turned into pretty lazy campers by now. When we first began our trip, they were all about taking out the big camp stove and cooking, grinding up coffee by hand, washing the dishes with the solar shower, and all that stuff, but here they used instant coffee, paper plates and disposable utensils, and even dipped into the "emergency meals" to have freeze dried beef stew straight out of a pouch for dinner.

I got to have the leftovers, and let me tell you, they were delicious.

We arrived fairly late Monday night, and we left Wednesday morning, so Tuesday was our only full day in the Sawtooths. In the morning, we went on a lovely hike where we saw beautiful wild flowers and I got to swim in the lake.

Todd took the good pictures of wild flowers with his real camera, which we have not way of getting onto Diane's iPad for the blog right now, so you'll have to settle for this one:

The water in the lake was icy cold because we were up at an elevation of about 7,400 feet. It was also as clear and blue as can be, and I loved it.

I was pretty worn out from all our recent activities, so in the afternoon I took a nap while Diane and Todd rode their bikes a mile or so down the road to a swimming beach that a park ranger had said was nice because the water there was "warmer." Warmer, of course, is a relative term. Diane says the water was as cold as the ocean in Maine in May. Todd managed to get all the way in and swim a little, but Diane never got more than knee deep.

On Wednesday morning, after instant coffee and another fight with the bikes, which really do not like being strapped to the back of the Big Rolling Crate, we headed through the forest toward Boise. As we drove, Todd realized that we had driven into such a remote area that there was not one single radio station on the FM dial. He was really happy about that because his whole goal on this trip was to get far from civilization.

We made a lot of stops on the way to Boise. The first was Redfish Lake, another big, clear, cold, popular camping spot. It was beautiful, a lot like the Tetons, except I was actually allowed to do things here.

While we were there, I had the extreme pleasure of rolling in a dead fish on the lakeshore, and then I had to face the utter humiliation of being given a bath in a marina parking lot. I was so embarrassed. I don't know what Diane and Todd hate so much about me smelling so great.

Shortly after our stop at Redfish Lake, we crossed into Boise National Forest, which was more crazy steep mountains and ridiculous mountain roads full of curves and ups and downs that make Diane and Todd very nervous about the state of the Big Rolling Crate. 

We stopped for a hike at the Warm Creek Trail. It was very steep, very dusty, and did not seem to actually have anything to do with any warm creeks, at least not where we were, but the views were nice.

We had to drive a long dirt road to get to the trailhead, and after our hike, instead of turning right back to the highway, we explored the dirt road more to see if we could get to an access point of the Payette River. When we finally did, Todd and I took a quick swim while Diane just waded. The water was, once again, very cold!

The river was very fast flowing and deep in the middle. I swam in a pool right up against the bank. Todd got into the deeper part.

It was getting on into the afternoon by the time we left, and Diane was eager for us to get a move on because mountain driving is very slow and she wanted to make sure we made it to Boise that night as planned, but we'd only gone a short ways when Todd saw something that made him pull over suddenly to the side of the road.

What he saw was a place where people were swimming in the river and splashing in waterfalls that emptied into it. He turned around and drove back up to the parking area and when she saw the sign, Diane became giddy. They weren't just waterfalls. They were hot springs. 

I couldn't go in the hot springs, which was fine with me because I prefer cold water, but Diane and Todd paid the $5 parking fee and took their time relaxing in the hot water. 

While they were down there, some white water rafting trips floated past. In this picture you can see that the water dripping down the rocks is yellow from the sulfur of the hot springs. The river is the same icy one we swam in the earlier. Diane says that where the hot (VERY hot) water from the springs mixes into the river, it's like bath water. 

Believe it or not, our adventures for the day weren't even over yet. While we were at the hot springs, some smoke began drifting over the ridge, and we all knew what it reminded us of: Colorado. There was definitely a wildfire burning nearby, so we decided to make haste and get out of there because we've had enough of that. What we didn't know was that by driving to Boise we were headed straight for it. 

The hilly road gave the Big Rolling Crate a heck of a workout on the ride out. We stopped at summit to let the engine cool down and Todd happened to get out and walk around the back and notice the exhaust pipe was hanging down. Apparently our dirt road earlier that day had knocked the rusty old thing loose.

Fortunately the Big Rolling Crate has a tool shed and Todd had brought some wire, so he strung it up and we continued on our way.

This was some of the wildest, least populated road we'd traveled yet, which was a concern as the fuel gauge began to dip towards E. We were all holding our breath to see if we would make it to a town with diesel. We definitely cut it close, because it seems most of the towns out there are ghost towns. Fortunately we were able to fuel up and continue our journey.

Shortly after gassing up, we came to a huge lake deep down in a gorge and a sight none of us had ever seen before: A helicopter picking up water to drop on the wildfire, which we'd been approaching this whole time.

We stopped and watched the helipcopter make three or four passes. Diane took a cool video of it but the app she's using for a our blog doesn't let us upload videos :(

At last we drove on, the hills all around us blackened and still smoldering, and soon we came to the town of Boise. 

We parked right by the State House and I explored the soft grass around the big building. Then Diane and Todd went to a nice restaurant called Bittercreek Ale House for dinner. They brought me back some poutine, which is officially the yummiest thing I've ever eaten.

Diane wanted to just crash at a Walmart outside of Boise for the night, but Todd was fired up and the proximity of Oregon and the Pacific Time Zone.

A few weeks ago, when we abandoned I-90 in South Dakota and headed south fo Colorado, Todd had decided he didn't want to go all the way to the pacific and that we'd just camp all around the mountains instead. That night in Boise, he changed his mind again and decided we needed to just do it to complete our cross country adventure.

We picked out a Walmart in Oregon past the time zone line and drove on. We crossed time zones at 12:10 Mountain Time, which was as 11:10 Pacific Time. We gained an hour just like that! A few minutes later, we crossed the 45th Parallel, the theoretical halfway point between the equator and the North Pole (the actual halfway point is some kilometers north). 

At last, at 12:51 Pacific Time, we arrived at Walmart in Island City, OR, and we all fell sound asleep.

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