By JASON WILMOTH
Coeur Voice Writer
The distance from State Line, Idaho to Lookout Pass is 74 miles, according to Google Maps, and 186 miles from Moscow to the Canadian border at Porthill. This is the area I consider my home turf. When I was younger I explored the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwest Washington and considered that mine, but having explored North Idaho for the last 18 years, my allegiance has shifted.
I have climbed granite cliff faces in the Selkirks, paddled rivers rushing out of the mountains that run so strong you can hear the boulders moving underneath you, reverberating through the plastic of your kayak, and resounding in your core.
I have picked mushrooms and huckleberries, trampled through the woods for antlers, dug in the ground for rocks, hiked into alpine lakes - and somewhere along the way become a connoisseur of camping spots.
There are criteria for the perfect campsite. Proximity to water. View. Availability of firewood. Access. Solitude. Over the years the final criteria has risen in importance on our list.
My wife and I bought a 1969 Bell 13-foot camper from a friend for 200 bucks and gutted it. I literally drove it to the dump and started ripping apart the insides, tossing the lime green laminate countertop and the very fake wood paneling straight into the dumpster. The floor was so rotten that I fell through while working on it, so I ended up tearing that out too.
This camper has become our lifeline. Because when the noise and traffic and work and the guy yelling at you because you didn’t pull up far enough at the gas pump, starts to build to an explosive level (remember the fire triangle, fuel-oxygen-spark), we disappear for the weekend to one of our secret campsites.
There is the one up an old fire road that no sane person would take a camper along unless they knew there was a spot a mile up where they could jack-knife the camper into the little pull-out, block the tires REALLY WELL because there is no flat ground, disconnect the truck, drive up the road to the next wide spot and turn around to reconnect the truck so you can get the camper back off the mountain.
Then, there’s the one where the sign at the bottom reads, “road not suitable for vehicles with trailers”, but we go anyway and park at the dead-end where we are granted spectacular views of the Selkirks with evening winds rushing down off the ridgetops to the valley below and not a soul around…at least not Monday through Friday because on Saturday morning at 9 a.m., this spot will fill up with vehicles in 15 minutes.
Or the spot where you have to back the camper down the rough, overgrown, road for a quarter-mile but will be rewarded with the best sunsets in Idaho, and in the morning with bald eagles and river otters right outside the door of the camper.
Spring and fall are the best times to look for solitude.
Most people don’t care to venture into the woods when the rain hasn’t stopped for a week. But the best “camping” memory I have, is when we all laid in bed with the rear window overlooking the valley, rain pummeling the aluminum roof of the camper, and watched movie after movie on the laptop hooked up to the car battery with a fire going just outside the door.
You discover some things when you are in the mountains.
Your children will entertain themselves by walking the creek looking for stones, building teepees with sticks gathered from your woodpile, or picking spring flowers. The sound of their happiness drowns out the city noise still lingering in your ears.
A favorite in my family is to build a rock cairn on top of a boulder and take turns throwing pebbles at it, trying to knock it over. I have spent entire mornings building cairns for my daughters to destroy.
To me, those memories are well worth the next five days we will spend in the morning commute, rushing to get to work, rushing to get our work done before we have to rush to pick up the kids from school before we rush to the grocery store to get dinner stuff.
The early settlers found precious metals in the mountains in which I now seek another sort of treasure - beautiful, awe-inspiring scenery and the solitude in which to revel in it.
There is an abundance of this treasure in North Idaho.
Go seek it.