July 10 & 11, 2015
When we returned from Portland, I finally decided to do exactly what I had wanted to do since I was ten, I began looking in earnest for a dog. Thousands of miles from home, in the middle of a camping road trip, with no residence other than my van. My heart was calling out for a dog more than ever before. After a childhood of desperately wanting a dog and always being told I couldn’t have a four-legged best friend because we traveled too much, I also thought it crazy to get a dog right then, but encouragement from my supportive friends helped me rationalize what I wanted. Soon Morgan would fly back to Texas to spend time with his ailing dad, and I would continue the road trip on my own. I would be safer with an attentive dog who could bark at danger or defend me. I also could spend all my time with the dog, raising it on trails and in campgrounds to be a great outdoor dog. So I hopped on Pet Finder and searched in a wide radius of Spokane.
I looked for a medium sized dog, with high energy, a rugged creature, but also obedient, intelligent. And, of course, good in the car and around other animals. I also wanted a dog that was already house trained. I found several dogs that fit this criteria. I filled out a lengthy application for one perfect dog. I was approved, but then the dog was chosen by someone who lived closer. I applied online for a blue heeler in Montana, was approved, and then the dog was adopted when the woman I was email corresponding with was out at lunch. We went to every shelter in Spokane, walked several dogs, who looked plaintively up at us, begging to go somewhere other than back to their shelter pen. But none of them were THE dog. After a day of heart-rending searching, Morgan and I decided to head east toward Montana. We wanted to visit Glacier National Park, and the Thompson River Animal Care Shelter (TRACS) was on the way. At least 5 of the dogs there interested me, Plus, my application there had already been approved. So, off we went toward Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
On our first night heading east, we hit a large back up from an accident on the scenic, winding highway on the north side of Lake Coeur d’Alene. After two hours of bumper to bumper traffic, with the slight bonus of having a wonderful view from high above the expansive body of water, we pulled off the highway and began driving side roads toward Beauty Creek Campground in the Coeur d’Alene National Forest. This looked like a very nice spot, especially if the creek had been flowing. But the severe drought meant the creek was just a dry bed of rounded stones. Perhaps someday I’ll be back to see Beauty Creek flowing and stay in this forest for longer to hike in the back country. However, on this occasion we were on a mission, passing through, and just stayed for one night.
The next day, we took down our tent in record time. We had set up and taken down so many times that we each were very quick at our tasks. I disconnected and folded up the rods and Morgan rolled and restuffed the tent. We were on the road in five minutes, heading back to Coeur d’Alene. As much as I wanted to keep going toward Montana where I hoped to find my perfect dog, we both knew that this was the last major city we’d see for awhile, and we were already a little overdue on an oil change. So, we had to take care of our “steel horse” before we left civilization. Routine vehicle maintenance on a long road trip can be a hassle, but there are very few things more important than taking care of your van when it’s your house. After several frustrating stops at places that were either closed on Saturdays or didn’t let us bring our own oil and filter (which we had literally just bought), we finally found a non-chain, local mechanic shop, called The Dealer Alternative, that would change our oil and filter for a great price, and within the hour. Rather than just waiting around, we walked down the street to a local market, where we bought a pound each two variety of local cherries straight from a farmer’s street stand. I was instantly in love with the sweet and colorful Rainier cherries. This part of town had some character. There was a vacuum store with a sign that read “Does your vacuum suck? If not, bring it in!” and a motel office with a fireplace in the shape of Idaho.
Finally, it was time to hit the road again. Off we went to Montana, with two pounds of cherries riding between us for easy snacking. As we headed toward the highway, we spotted this cool cell tower camouflaged as a very, very tall conifer tree. Just as we were about to hop on interstate 90, we saw signs for a US Forestry building just on the other side of the highway. Remembering our map-less misadventure in Colorado, we decided to stop, and pick up a motor vehicle use map (MVUM) for the Coeur d’Alene National Forest. This turned out to be a REALLY good call, because Google Maps in this area was completely unreliable! Seriously, Google did anyone even ground truth this at all?
According to Google, we could take 9 through Pritchard, for a 2 hours and 19 minutes trip to Thompson Falls, or take 4 on a route that would take 2 hours and 21 minutes. We opted to stay on the interstate as long as possible, which meant getting on 4 at Wallace. However, Route 4 quickly turned into a dirt road, and we had to slow down significantly. But, no real problems yet, the van had pounded many dirt roads in its lifetime. It was just going to take a lot longer than expected. That was fine by us. The mountains and trees were beautifully mysterious. Mist shrouded all but the closest hills from view and drifted lazily in spectral whisps between the tree tops above us. Strange, stringy green lichen hung from the lower limbs and trunks. Perhaps another writer would say this was an eerie, depressing place, creepy even. But to me this felt comforting, cozy, we were a bubble of light and warmth rolling through dewy hills blanketed by soft clouds.
A private footbridge, complete with a chair, over a rushing creek lined with bright magenta fireweed and a power line junction made it clear what our map already showed, that a large swath of land along 4 was not National Forest land. This wasn’t an issue, except for in handful of places where an unmarked dirt road spilt off into the woods, and even looking at our moto vehicle use map (MVUM), I couldn’t tell if we were on course, because the quadrants outside of the National Forest weren’t mapped. We carried on anyway, using our intuition of which road was more frequently travelled. After an hour we began to wonder if we were on the right road after all, but finally we saw a road sign for 7623, which was great, because our MVUM showed that 4 eventually turned into 7623 near the border of Montana.
Then we reached another fork in the road, each one equally well traveled. Our system for deciding couldn’t help us here. I couldn’t tell if this was Rd615 on the map, or another unmarked road. We decided to go right. Turns out, this was the wrong choice. The road rapidly became more potholed and rockier, with a steep slope down to our right. There wasn’t much room to turn around, so we kept going until we reached a pothole filled with water that covered almost the whole road. I was just taking off my shoes to get out and test the depth of the puddle to make sure we didn’t go deeper than the van’s 9 inch ground clearance, when two ATVs and some sort of buggy with a roll cage came around the corner ahead. Wow, they looked surprised to see us! A powder blue Honda Odyssey minivan with Texas plates. The first ATV with a teenage boy, and the buggy with a Mom and 3 kids passed us, but the Dad on the second ATV stopped to talk to us through out open window. We explained where we were trying to go, and I asked, pointing to the map, if this was 615 or 7623. He said he didn’t know, but this road got pretty rough just ahead and led to a mountain lake (615, then I figured). We agreed that we should turn around. So the friendly fellow helped us back up and turn around safely. He also mentioned that there was a blues festival going on that night, back in his old hometown Wallace. There was free camping everywhere in town, great music and cheap alcohol being served in the streets. Morgan and I were quickly sold on the idea. It was already late in the day, so there was no way we’d make it to the animal shelter in Thompson Falls before they closed. Plus, the map I had was only good for this side of the border, once we crossed into Montana, we’d be in the Lolo National Forest, which I had no map for. So, that’s how we ended up finding the best party of the whole trip!
The Wallace Blues Festival was a blast! This quirky town had a flying saucer outside the Stardust Motel, which we quickly discovered was a good spot to hang out and watch the music. After we set up our tent in the last possible spot in a tiny quater lot sized public park at the end of Pine Street, we sauntered toward the center of town and found the stage outside the Stardust Motel. After getting our red cups from the table/bar outside, we hung out in the flying saucer and listened to some blues, feeling elivened by the music and energy of another era. We even met a guy who had an original “Are You Experienced” Jimi Hendrix poster which he brought to the festival just so people could take picture with it for the price of a few minutes of reminiscent conversation. Most of the people here were probably our age when Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana, The Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival performed at Woodstock, but that didn’t seem to hold anyone back from partying that night like it was still 1969. These were people who got to see all the good old bands live back in the days when counterculture was a way of life, not the name of a trendy coffee chain.
We became fast friends with our park neighbors, a couple of old biker guys. Mark, the “lone wolf”, who we met first, charmed us both with his story of finding God on a mountain top. God was in the air, water and forests, we all agreeded. Not that I share the Christian God he meant, but I share the sense of divinity flowing throughout the natural world. As the night progressed and we hung around the experienced guys, Morgan’s nickname became Tiger. Mark’s advice to him always started out, “Now Tiger…” and expressed the value of life experiences and good people, who we should hold onto for the journey, because, together, we are the journey. Though the music was great here, it’s not the music we listened to that I remember, it’s the characters we met who made our night fun, gave us coffee the next morning and wished us luck on the rest of our journey as we hit the highway headed back west to go east, to find the dog in Montana, who I was sure I heard in the night howling a psychic call for me, silently, but louder than the blues singers and their guitars.