Why take a road trip from Tigard, Or. a little suburb of Portland, to the northeast corner of Idaho, turn around and drive back? Why drive a thousand miles in two days? Because we can… and this is where Kevin found a tool needed for his bamboo fly rod making company.
For people who enjoy the open road, a road trip seems to uncrinkle the mind and give the brain room to breath. It’s been awhile since my brain has had the space it needs to stretch out and consider the meaning of life. This is my chance.
It’s Friday noon. Kevin has the Land Rover packed and a little utility trailer hitched up for the long journey. One last look around the rig, double check the trailer and lock the garage before pulling out into traffic and starting this road trip adventure to a place well off the beaten path.
It always seems the longest part of any road trip is getting out of town to where the road opens up and traffic melts away. This road trip is no different. The flashing traffic sign reads accident nine miles ahead. A mile later we’re at a stand still on the interstate. Cars, trucks and 18 wheelers packed tightly, turning the highway into a parking lot as far as the eye can see. Every once in awhile we roll a few feet before applying the brakes again. We could bitch, honk the horn and pound the steering wheel like a few around us or we can relax, chat and accept the fact that we’ll be on the road a couple of extra hours tonight. Avoiding the road rage option we choose the latter and settle into our seats for the wait while we catch up on each others life. An hour passes as we finally crawl past the wreckage, tow trucks and clean up crew. Once again we are at cruising speed as our journey starts its ascent of the Cascade mountains.
The Cascades divide east from west and the Columbia River defines the line between Oregon and Washington state. 1,243 miles long and pushing millions of gallons of water from Canada to the Pacific the Columbia cuts a long, wide, meandering path. Interstate 84 follows the Columbia river through little towns long forgotten by the timber industry, past huge hydro power plants, along cattle ranches and over some of the richest salmon and steelhead rivers that feed into the Columbia. The gorge cut by the river over millions of years is now creating a new kind of farming community. Miles and miles of giant, white, streamlined windmills towering above the road with100 foot blades reaching out to grab the wind as it rushes down the gorge. The propellers spin hypnotically as we continue on our way east.
West of the Cascades the scenery is wet and green with tall Ceders and lush farm land. As we drive further east the land becomes drier and brown, covered in wheat and scrub grass. Crossing the Columbia into Washington state we’ve adjusted our heading to a more northerly direction. While our compass heading may have changed the only visible difference is the maximum speed limit as the long flat highway take us closer to Coeur d’Alene, ID., our destination for the night.
With no trees in the way, we can see for miles as the line between grey overcast sky and brown land blurs at the horizon. We pass field after field of recently plowed rich earth with small sprouts of green that foreshadow the bounty to come in the next few months. Into the darkness we drive, approaching Spokane followed by the Idaho boarder. Sometime around 9:00 p.m. we find a home for the night. An economically oriented (nice way of saying cheap) motel with the basics and several dining choices within easy walking distance to stretch out the cramps in our legs. The trailer and rig secured, our gear all stowed in the room, we eat and drink joining the locals playing pool and darts at a uniquely Irish sports bar.
It’s morning and driving in northern Idaho is an extremely rewarding experience. Ponderous Pines, snow covered hill tops, lakes, flowing creeks and wild life everywhere. Years ago little towns like Sandpoint may have only had a gas station, local grocer, bar, local hardware store and a Sears. These days art galleries, antique shops and Starbucks fill the main drag through town. Stopping the coffee and free WiFi at Starbucks is an oasis offering a chance to top off our caffeine levels and check emails before the final push north.
The reason for this road trip is to pick up a 1940, Sheldon 11″ thread cutting metal lathe. 500 pounds of metal tooling love perfect for turning bar stock into fly rod ferrules and custom real seats. Northern Idaho is a place where self-reliance is highly prized so the people there take care of the tools that take care of them.
When we arrived in Moyie Springs, a stones through from Canada and a few miles from the Montana boarder , George was holding court behind the gas/laundry/grocery store. George is the king of Moyie Springs when it comes to buying and selling stuff for his friends and neighbors in northern Idaho, including an old lathe. Gathered around George, several of his followers hang on his every word and do his bidding as he sends them off to fetch tools, or have them pick through boxes, cataloging items that could be sold on eBay. All the while George pontificates on what’s wrong with city people, how no one should pay taxes, or that government is taking away your rights and your ammo. But give George credit he is a survivor.
With the help of a tractor, tow straps and a few of George’s minions, a piece of Sheldon history is now resting securely in the little utility trailer. Of course there are still a dozen or so stories to listen too as George continues to negotiate and up sell us an antique lamp, case of .22 ammo, the odd tool and of course handmade pipes made from deer and elk antlers.
Aiming the Land Rover onto the highway we begin the long journey back to Portland. Each time we stop, we check the trailer and straps to ensure the 500 pounds of iron love hasn’t shifted.
Until now we’ve been ahead of the rains. Looking into the sunset we see thick grey haze ahead, watch as the outdoor temperature falls and start to count the rain drops hitting the windshield. Like a precision Indie pit we pull off to the side, engulf the trailer in a plastic tarp and secure it with countless bungee cords of all shapes, sizes and colors. The storm can’t dampen our spirits no matter how many state lines remain to be crossed.
The rain is hitting the windshield in sheets as we come down off the Cascades in the dark. Glare makes it impossible to see the dividing lines and the rig hydroplanes as Kevin hugs the shoulder of the Interstate. Although this nerve-wracking section does dampen the conversation we quickly pick it back up as the highway leveled off and the street lights of the big city bring back visibility to the dividing lines.
Kevin and I talk about the things most good friends do: family, kids, jobs, our last big fishing trip together and our next big fishing adventure together. We’ve known each other forever. Of course over the years life has taken us our separate ways. He served in the Air Force and raised a family. I moved my family all around. But we’ve always manage to come back together every so often and pick up our friendship as if the miles between us and years on the calender don’t matter.
I recently learned about Dunbar’s number and how people only have five to seven relationships that can be counted on no matter what. The are the relationships where the other person will drop everything to help you out. You can stop by without notice and they set an extra dinner plate and make the bed without asking why. You’ll lend them money and never ask for it back… those kinds of relationships. Kevin is definitely one of the guys in my Monkeysphere.
It’s a little after midnight as we pull into the driveway, disconnect the trail and unpack the Land Rover. A 1,000 miles in two days to retrieve a piece of equipment older than either of us and a long over due chance to catch up. Oregon, Washington and Idaho are amazing areas to explore even if it is done looking out the windshield on the interstates. As long as it’s done with a friend.