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Two Thousand Miles in 22 Days: Beginnings and Central Idaho

Morning Bliss, Road Trips, Chasing Spring, River Roads, and Fine Hiking

semi-overcast 60 °F

Do you know how good it feels to wake up to the sounds of birds chirping all around you? Do you know how luxurious it feels to be bathed in fresh air all night long after a year and a half of the dank air of a ship? Do you know how intoxicating the smell of fresh green grass is, laced with the earthy potpourri of the nearby river chuckling steadily over the rocks? Do you know how pleasant it is to open your eyes and look in any direction, and see charismatic trees standing about you, almost waiting for you to awaken to appreciate them? Do you know the pleasure I feel in preparing a leisurely breakfast, making coffee in my small percolator, unpeeling the hard boiled eggs, slicing the aromatic oranges, and undressing the lemon poppy seed muffin?

These questions epitomize my ideals of waking up in this world, and let me say that I have almost reached the apex of morning serenity. The only thing lacking is a sweet soulful lady to share it with, but nine out of ten is good enough for me.

I am in Idaho once again, a state that calls me back time and time again. As it is April, I’m chasing spring around the state from north to south. The trip so far has been going very well, so far, and I am embracing my freedom, my emancipation from the clock, and my newly reacquainted love affair of traveling across the US by van. Things are good around these parts.

After stocking up in Coeur d’Alene on food, gasoline, sunglasses, and meeting my landlady, I was ready to head out onto that open highway and get this trip underway. However, since it was near lunchtime, and I was a bit hungry, I decided to stop in at the Moon Time for a Lamb burger and a Mac and Jacks. I didn’t know when I would be back, and I couldn’t pass up the lamb burger. After polishing it off in under five minutes, a new record, usually I have it gone in three, I told my waitress, “As you can see, I could barely choke it down.” She laughed and complimented me on my vacuum like skills.

I paid, jumped in my van and headed down the road. I didn’t make it too far, before I started to get very sleepy. It was as if they put a knock out drug in my burger. I pulled off the highway onto a little roadside park I knew about and hopped on my mattress to catch a siesta. The trip was off to a great start!
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I should mention that I drive a GMC Safari van named Marvin. Marvin is a she, and a very good van. I have custom designed and built the back of her to where I can comfortably travel out of it. I have a feather mattress, storage for food, clothing, water, computer, banjo, grill, a wok, a frying pan, a cooler, a book box, toolbox, utensil box and a tent. Organization is the key, there is a place for everything and everything goes in its place.

After awhile, my sleepiness wore off, and I got up. It was a beautiful spring day, well into the upper sixties with the sun shining bright on the land. I pulled out my banjo and set down to have a go with it. My fingers were working well, and I was thumping my way through one of my favorite songs when a big old’ diesel truck rolled down and parked. A dude got out and walked over to me. He introduced himself and his friend (Tommy and Dal) and told me to keep playing.

I played, and we chatted, it turns out they had specifically stopped because they wanted to hear me play. They cracked beers, didn’t offer me any, and we talked of Idaho, fishing, hunting, antelope, the banjo, the mandolin, and northern pike. I liked them. Dal was a bit negative, and he was packing a gun. Tommy was pretty chill and a big fan of the banjo. When they left, we wished each other well, and he said I had made his day, just by playing the banjo. I smiled. The banjo has that affect on people.
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I rolled on. I set a book going on my mp3 player and settled into my seat. This was more like it! I watched the miles of pines, small meadows, weathered mountaintops, small towns, and ranches roll by. It was getting on toward evening, and I still didn’t know where I was going to be staying that night. Part of the fun of vanning is figuring out where to camp. It gets tricky in early spring, because some of the forest campgrounds are still closed for the season. So, even though there is a tent sign on my map, it does not necessarily mean it’s going to be open. I had already struck out twice, driving off into the forest, only to be denied by snow, mud, or gates. I eye balled my map, and decided I wasn’t far away from Hells Gate State Park, just outside of Lewiston. I had stayed there on a previous trip and remembered it was a nice place. I aimed the van that way passing down into the Clearwater River valley. I passed through towns like Kendrick and Jullieta before catching Hwy 12 west to Lewiston. I noted that it looked like the good people of Kendrick and Jullieta had put in a nice asphalt trail that looked like it would be fun to ride my long board on.

I pulled into the park just after sundown. In the gloam, I set about to make some food, that being my favorite food of chili, for dinner, and some hard-boiled eggs for breakfast. It was well past dark by the time I finished cooking, eating, and cleaning up. I settled in for the night, with my windows wide open listening to the river, feeling the fresh air roll over me, and I was out.

My morning routines have been returning. I like to wake up to the birds, as there is no better alarm clock. I figure if the birds are late, than that is reason enough for me to be “late” in getting up. If I am hungry, I’ll make breakfast, if I’m not, I’ll do some yoga. After that, I’ll read or get my slack line set up and work on my balance.
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Eventually, I packed up and headed back east to Kendrick. I wanted to go long boarding, and so, I did. I love long boarding in springtime. There is a feel of complete freedom to be gliding through the warm fresh scented air in the sunshine. Everyone about me was at work or on some mission, but I felt like I was playing hooky from school. I soaked in the springtime sensations, and smiled. It was a good trail that followed a rushing river. Fresh grass grew along side of it, and the trees were budding. It was warm in the sun, and pleasant on the board. I felt great.
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I moved on, not making particularly good time. I kept pulling over at many of the roadside dirt “pull offs” that frequent the river roads in Idaho. Pull offs are usually just a small section of gravel large enough to park a couple of cars. They are frequented by fishermen, drivers who want to catch a break, or myself, who likes to take their sweet ass time getting anywhere. Idaho’s roads mainly follow rivers, as they are the easiest places to build roads in this mountainous state. I love both rivers and roads, and so I was constantly following my urges to stop and admire the river, or to keep going and enjoying the twists and turns of the road. The roads I’ve followed through this state have ran along the St. Maries, an unknown branch of the Clearwater, the Clearwater, the Salmon, the South Fork of the Salmon (I think), the Rapid, the North Fork of the Payette, the Middle Fork of the Payette, the Payette, and the Snake Rivers. I’ve loved all of them. The spring melt is causing them to run high and fast. They are surging, and gushing, roaring their way over rapids, rocks and bedrock. It is impressive!
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Along the Salmon River are numerous anglers’ campgrounds and access areas. I pulled into one of these sites, found a beautiful site right along the banks of the river with seven big Red pines to keep me company.
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The next day I left in the morning and made my way down to Riggins, ID. I was on the lookout for either a ranger’s station or a outfitter’s store to get some information on hiking in the area. Instead, I spied the city park. It was covered and green grass and had nicely spaced maple trees growing there. I pulled over and executed a U-turn. My other plans would have to wait, it was time to get my slack line out, and have a morning session.
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After that, I found my outfitter’s store, it was one of those little bit of everything places that sold rafting trips, t-shirts, espresso, a little bit of camping gear, and ice cream. They didn’t have anything I was looking for, so I asked for a dirty chai to go. The barista looked at me quizzically. “What is that?” She asked. I told her it was a chai latte with a shot of espresso, and she said she had not heard of that before. I told here it was good, and she ought to try one. I paid and thanked her, and went on down to the ranger’s station for some hiking info.
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About my only option for hiking that was open was the Rapid River trail, and since it sounded good, I opted to go. I was not disappointed. I went on a 8 mile day hike following the banks of the beautiful river into the mountain canyon. The river was roaring, and the steep canyon walls had limestone cliffs that towered above me. I wondered if there were any caves in them and it looked like there were.
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Young spring flowers had begun to bloom all along the path, and I saw many different kinds of flutterbys out enjoying the spring warmth, and sweet smelling flowers.
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I had stopped to take a break, and had sat down on two logs that lay across the river. I was sitting midstream enjoying the gushing river and sipping some tea when I heard the beautiful song of a Dipper not far away. I watched it jump from a low stone into the river, diving deep to pluck out a worm. Then it hopped back on to a rock, fluttered to a small waterfall, and ate it.
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Why do Dipper’s keep showing up wherever I am? I am beginning to think it is more than mere coincidence. This isn’t the last time I was to see a Dipper on this trip. More on that later. I enjoyed the show, and after resting for awhile, I decided to make my way back to the van. I had decided where I wanted to camp that night, and I had some distance to go before I was going to get there. As I walked down the canyon, a terrific wind kicked up and began gusting through the canyon. With it, came some rain. I could not remember the last time I had seen rain, and I laughed at the novelty of it.

I ate a late lunch at the van, and changed out of my dirty clothes. I hopped in the van, and pointed it south heading for a campsite east of Banks. I was heading into hot springs country, and this particular campground had a beautiful hot spring pool right across the road from it. I don’t even have to say this, but the first thing I did upon parking in my spot was to grab my towel and march off to the spring for a good long soak. It was awesome.

Little did I realize just how good the hot springs were going to be the next day…

There’s more to come from this adventure!
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Thanks for reading.

Posted by Rhombus 20:27 Archived in USA Tagged rivers hiking roads camping spring photography idaho vans longboarding roadtrips Comments (0)

Ski Bumming 2012: Powder and Longboards

Powder, How to Ski It, The Best Day, Coeur D'Alene, Longboarding, Riverside Contemplation

overcast 13 °F

If I never ski again, I will still die a happy man. I have had an amazing week, and I can sum it up in three words: powder and longboarding. Powder is every skiers preferred snow to ski on, we dream about skiing down mountain slopes with eight inches of light fluffy powder on which to glide. In the last eight days, I went skiing five times. On each day, there was at least six inches of powder. On some of those days, it was knee deep, and on others thigh deep. There are days where I can’t believe my luck.
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At first glance, skiing in powder looks easy. Good skiers make it look simple and incredibly fun. In practice, I’ve found it to be a lot harder than it looks. It is incredibly demanding on the leg muscles. Every move you make with your skis has six inches of friction (often more) to work through and it can wear you down. There is a technique to skiing through deep powder, and it takes practice to get proficient at it. Here are some general tips I have used to ski through powder. It is important to use your poles to set up your turns and keep your balance. It is better to keep your skis together to help you stay higher in the snow. It is often easier to get into a “hop” rhythm, where you hop though your turns to stay higher in the powder. All this extra effort wears down your muscles quicker, but the exhilaration of carving up a beautiful line of fresh powder helps you forget your muscles, at least until you reach the bottom of the run.

My Best Day of Skiing

My phone has been going through catatonic fits lately, and so on the night before the start of the snowstorm I wasn’t able to set an alarm. I figured my body clock would get me up sometime around seven thirty in the morning. When I got out of bed, it was eight. I checked the snowfall total on the hill, and found there to be six inches of fresh snow. Nice! I threw on my ski clothes, grabbed my gear, filled my coffee cup and was out the door by twenty after eight. I love walking to the gondola in the morning. It was lightly snowing, and beautiful.

There was not much of a line for the gondola, and I stepped aboard with three other older guys. We chatted for the entire twenty-minute ride up to the mountain house. Mostly, I did the talking, as they had many questions for me once they learned I was a ski bum. I don’t mind, I like to meet people, and introduce them to my lifestyle. I bade them farewell, and went down to the locker room to put on my gear and get my skis.

When I stepped outside, I knew it was going to be good. The six inches of powder was light, and new snow was still coming down hard. It looked ideal. I had taken a three day hiatus from the mountain (which I’ll discuss later on in this entry), and on my first run, it was though I had completely forgotten how to ski. I awkwardly made my way down my first run, a run through a thick gladed section. My legs were not moving, my mind wasn’t into it, and though I made it through the glades, I face planted hard when I broke onto an open area. I got up, wondered what happened to my skiing ability and continued down the hill.

Silver Mountain has two peaks, Kellogg and Wardner. Kellogg is on the east side and one hundred feet higher than Wardner peak to the west. I made it down the runs on the Kellogg side, but I was not in good form. It looked like it was going to be a long day for me. I usually ski the east side of the mountain during the first hour or so, taking my favorite runs until a line begins to form at the chairlift. Today was no different, and I went over to the Wardner side at about ten thirty.

It was though I turned on a switch: My skiing ability suddenly improved. I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden I had gained coordination and in fact was skiing better than I ever had in deep powder. And it was deep! I have not seen it snow this hard in my life, and it was snowing well over an inch an hour. Any tracks I made early in the day were gone by noon. I had a ball, there was no fear of falling, and I took any jump I could find, landing most of them. It was awesome.
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I made the hike to the top of Wardner Peak. I really like this hike. It is a relatively steep, winding mountain path. It exposes you to the biting west wind. I was carrying my skis on my shoulder and using my poles as walking sticks. My face was going numb from the strong breeze that was whipping the heavy snow across the path with frenzied power. There was hardly any visibility, and the tracks of previous hikers were disappearing into the drifts. I was in my element.
I wound my way up to the peak slowly and steadily, breathing hard in the raw elements. I was reminded of Lin Yutang’s observation that, “the winter wind is like ginger.”
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When I reached the top, I stuck my skis in the snow, and waded off to my mountain top temple. The snow was up to my thighs, and it was a bit of a struggle to get to my sitting spot. I sat in the snow, protected from the wind by the tall pines that reside there. I rested, cooled down, and ate a Clementine. I meditated for a while and said, “Thanks.” I really enjoy sitting in the snow in a beautiful copse of trees.

I struggled back to my skis, snapped in, and did not look back. It was an epic day, and I have never skied better, or have had better snow conditions. All told, I spent seven hours straight in temperatures near ten degrees (F). My body was exhausted at three. That is when I decided to stop for the day. I was once warned that if I continued to make weird faces that my face would freeze that way. Well, I have proven the old adage is true, and my face has frozen for eternity with this dumb grin on my face. Ah well, it was well worth it.
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I stepped off the gondola and started walking home through gently falling snow. I saw a young girl maybe about 8 years old. She was standing out in the open, her mother watching nearby, and she opened her mouth and gazed skyward. She began to catch snowflakes on her tongue and smiled with each success. I smiled too, it was too cute not to. Long live winter!

A Longboarding Love Affair
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I have fallen in love with my longboard again. On three consecutive days, I took it out for a ride. I spent most of that time riding the deserted “Trail of the Coeur D’Alene.” I also went to Coeur D’Alene, the city, located on the north side of the lake of the same name. It seems like this section of Idaho is all about the name “Coeur D’Alene.” I spent all afternoon in the lakeside park. I enjoyed cruising the pathways and enjoying the gigantic trees that preside there.

The Magnificent Trees of Coeur D’Alene
The sun broke through the heavy clouds and lit these trees in perfect light.
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The city of Coeur D’Alene is probably my favorite city in Idaho. Though I haven’t spent a lot of time there, I have been impressed when I have. It has a cool downtown area, a good park, one of my favorite restaurants in northern Idaho, The Moontime, a groovy yoga studio that I attend, and a nice lake.
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The people are friendly, and it has a good vibe to it. There were many longboarders out, along with other people chasing their muse.

I went on a couple of longer jaunts covering ten miles and six miles on different sections of the Trail of the Coeur D‘Alene. I have talked about the finer points of the Trail of the Coeur D’Alene in past entries, see Exploring Silver Valley (Jan 2010). I love long boarding, I love the freedom it offers me as I pump my legs easily and ride the board for as far as gravity will take me. It is good exercise and fun at the same time. I can easily cover a lot of distance in relative ease.

I took my small camera along and the following is my first collection of longboarding photos.
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Excerpt from my journal, 2-25-12
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"I went on another longboarding excursion today under bright overcast skies. It was pleasant as I cruised over a bare asphalt trail covered in a scattered bed of pine needles. After three miles, I was stymied by ice and snow, so I found a place to sit under an old red pine. I watched the life of the wintering river, and heard the chorus of Canadian geese bugling in the distance. At one point, it became silent, and I heard the distinct scream of a red-tailed hawk. You know, the “Keeee-hhhhurrrrrrrrrrrrrr” the clichéd punctuation of a truly desolate place. It was marvelous."

I now have options: If it snows, I head up to my wintry mountain. If it is warm, I stay down in the valley and take my longboard for a ride! It is a good life.
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Until next week!
Cheers!

Posted by Rhombus 18:21 Archived in USA Tagged mountains snow winter skiing hiking photography trails idaho powder longboarding Comments (3)

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