Saturday, July 28, 2012

Post 054 - Wilderness to Wheat

Day 49 - Sunday, July 22
Seven weeks on the road.

Camping in a forest along a river, deep in an Idaho valley, is good for the soul. Rushing water soothes the psyche.

As I packed up my gear, a small yellow rain jacket slid between branches separating campsites. An elderly woman, who I had not met the day before, approached holding something in her hands. My first thought was this, "I hope she's bringing me coffee." I stunned myself by the selfishness of it. She was holding a plastic medicine container. She could not open it, would I? I did, with difficulty. She disappeared back through the branches. This is my contribution to health care.

Out on the roadway it was damp enough from dew to wear my rain suit. The road was in deep shadow. My sinuses drank in the cool moist air. I drove slowly. High above hawks soared, black Vs against a blue sky. One deer paused on the road far ahead to look in my direction and determine what was coming its way. Timeless movement in space is how the dawn unfurled.

I came to a small town with a population of 23. It has two cafes, one on each side of the river. A third of the population either worked in or was having coffee at the one I chose. I asked the waitress what it was like there in January. She said the temperature often stayed above freezing, usually never going below 20. She said sincerely it was very quiet and beautiful in the winter. I believe her.

I continued rolling down the valley. At some point it widened out and small houses appeared. More sunshine coated the valley floor. The road clung to the river's edge and twisted along forever. I passed through the towns of Kooskia and Kamiah on my way to Orofino. I paused there for gas because I liked the sound of its name.

My plan was to continue west on Route 12 to Lewiston, then north on 95 up to Moscow. Traffic had picked up since Kamiah and I knew Lewiston was a major center. There would be much more truck traffic there and on 95. I saw a series of roads on the map running diagonally from Orofino up to Moscow. I asked a fellow at the gas station if he was a local and if the roads I pointed to were paved. He gave me his birth and fishing history to prove his local credentials, told me how locals pronounce Moscow (not the way you and I do) and yes, the roads are paved all the way. He then went into a description of the hills, plateau, and valley I would drive through. He was a very colorful word painter.

The choice of roads was superb. Old Highway 7 climbs out of Orofino and the Lochsa River Valley up into those mountains I had been snaking between the previous day and all this morning. Their tops opened up onto a plateau of wheat. It was my first taste of the western Washington wheat fields (in Idaho). My tour guide at the gas station was right to paint such a colorful picture. The area is memorable for it's seemingly endless blanket of soft golden fields.

A few miles and turns later I dropped down into the college town of Moscow, Idaho. It's home to the University of Idaho. As university towns go it's small with a population of about 24,000. However, that makes it easy to navigate. I passed the Coop Market on my way through town. It has a first rate eatery inside. I loaded up on a garlic macaroni salad and a regular salad. The fresh flavors sent my taste buds into paroxysms of joy.

On the west side of Moscow is the state line with Washington. I crossed over and left the remnants of the Rocky Mountains behind. I was now in high plain farm fields. Wheat dominates. There are no trees only endless plains of wheat. Here the horizon stretches on forever in all directions.

From the town of Pullman, Washington, just across the border from Moscow, I plotted a northwest route that would take me to this sojourn's namesake, The Grand Coulee. Of all the milestones in this journey, this is a major one.

I drove northwest through endless, treeless fields. The terrain was either in wheat or plowed fields awaiting its second planting. I could stop on a rise and see 20 miles in all directions. I began to wonder where I was going to camp. There is nothing stealth about open fields.

There was a campground on a lake in the town of Sprague, 70 miles away. That was very appealing. I headed there through the small and smaller farming communities of Colfax, Steptoe, St. John, and Lamont.

Now the terrain had two distinct types: soft productive wheat fields or hard barren primitive rocks. It was one or the other. Half of this land had been scrapped clean in the last ice age. In the afternoon sun, I drove along between these two landscapes. The air was hot. There was no wind.

I rolled into Sprague with its one gas station and a small restaurant-ice cream stand. A large lot in town displayed old rusting trucks of the same make and model from, I'm guessing, the 1950s. The only difference between the trucks was the amount of rust each had. It was a curious display. With directions from the gas station I drove to the campground on the lake. The land was so barren and dry, I wondered if the lake would have water.

It had water and greenery around its edges. I followed signs around different houses until I found the correct driveway. Trees, shade, grass, and water awaited. The owner came out to greet me. The lake had algae and was not suitable for swimming or wading. She wanted resort prices. We could not negotiate an amount. I left. I had no clue where I would camp.

At the restaurant-ice cream stand I had a milkshake and listened to the person in charge describe a free campground about ten miles away down a gravel road. She went into a tangent about walking her dogs there and all the rattlesnakes. That ended my interest. I asked about the next town on my way to Grand Coulee, Harrington. I believed her when she said there wasn't much there.

With plenty of light left I drove on to Harrington. It has large grain elevators and a golf course, but nothing is open on Sunday. I found a sign for an RV park and campground, followed it to beside the golf course. Their price was cheap, no lake, but a nice shower and grassy shade. I was in for the night.

I set up and was relaxing when the owner's son came out and asked if I wanted any Gatorade. Next, the owner came out and asked if I wanted dinner. She brought me a large plate of roasted vegetables. Then the son asked if he could take a photograph of me and Moto Fabini for their Facebook page. They never had anyone arrive on a scooter before.

The night was starry clear. I did not put the rainfly on. The wind picked up with passing hours. The temperature dropped. It was the coldest night of the trip.

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