After the weekend with my brother Tanner and his family, I had more people to visit.
First I traveled north to Libby, to see my former neighbors. Until the end of July, this retired couple had lived right next to me in Rainier, and they’ve been part of my life since I moved here in 2015. I’m sorry to see them go, but they are very happy in their new home and so glad to be in Montana. It was short but super visit, and it warms my heart that they are so happy after all the trouble and stress of moving.
Next I crossed the border back into Idaho to spend a few days with my stepdad Jim. He’s doing remarkably well up on his mountaintop all alone. I wish he would get a dog, but he’s afraid he won’t be around long enough to care for the dog. I think Jim has a lot of years left in him, and most of his kids and grandkids live nearby and are a part of his life. They could help out if needed. Getting a dog is not up to me, though.
He hasn’t slept in the master bedroom since Mom died, and instead sleeps in the little spare room, which used to be where Tara and I always stayed. So I set up in their old room, and I guess I don’t blame him for not wanting to be in there, because it has Mom stamped all over it. The whole house does, but that room especially. I never get over how beautiful their cabin is, and Mom’s exceptional sense of style. She had a marvelous sense of design.
Jim expressed his frustration that people his age don’t like to hike, and because of that he hasn’t been hiking. I was the right person to complain to!! “Let’s go for a hike!” I agreed. So after dinner, we tried to decide where to go. I pulled out my AllTrails app on my phone, and reviewed Trip Advisor, but Jim didn’t like their suggestions. The next morning he was still on the hunt, poring over old USGS maps. Finally we had our destination: Pyramid Lake. I surreptitiously checked AllTrails anyway, and it was lucky I did, because a recent hiker noted that a bridge on the usual route was closed, and said we had to take a different route. Jim knew the other route exactly, because he’s lived here all his life, and off we went. We went almost to British Columbia, but just 10 miles south of the Canada border, turned West and passed through fields and wetlands, up a ridgeline above the huge fields of hops owned by Anheuser-Busch, and then up a dirt road into the mountains. (Do check out this great blog post from Brewpublic, about touring the World’s Largest Hop Farm, right here in North Idaho.)
At the beginning of the trail, we found ripe huckleberries, and spent some time staining our teeth and tongues with this delicious berry. And let me state for the record that proper huckleberries are fat and dark blue. They are shaped and sized like blueberries, but are a deep, rich purple all the way through, whereas blueberries are white inside. Where I live now in Rainier, “huckleberries” are tiny translucent red berries with half the flavor. In my opinion, they shouldn’t be allowed to have the same name. But I digress.
Jim was going too fast along the trail and started making comments about the high elevation. He said the “high elevation” affected him more in the last couple years than he’s noticed before. I asked him to wait while I photographed things, and I managed to get in front of him and slow the pace way down. I had to keep finding new tricks to keep us going slowly, but when I did, my stepdad managed better. He kept going and really impressed me, though I offered twenty times to call it a day and go back.
Pyramid Lake was stunningly beautiful and all the work to get there was worth it as soon as we saw the place. We caught up with a Department of Forestry employee with his dog, who was measuring the length of the trail to update trail maps. He said he had been doing this job for 16 years: walking trails while rolling a wheel that measured distance. That may be the World’s Best Job. He was breaking in his puppy, named Lady. Learning her name helped answer a question I had developed earlier on our climb up, when I could have sworn the guy was trying to get my attention, but when I looked, he was not.
After we said goodbye to the professional trail-measurer, we each found rocks to sit on. My attention was caught immediately by a tiny squeaking critter. Shrill and persistent, this little voice demanded that wrongs be righted. It took me some time, but I finally spotted her, with the help of my zoom lens. She was out on a rock in the lake, calling out her dissatisfaction, and pacing rapidly along the rock, to a log, back to the rock, and then finally into the water. With the amount of fuzz on this little bird, it was clearly a baby. I spotted another, quieter one, not too far away. Apparently there were just two of them, parent-less. I don’t know the species, or what the natural course of growing up would be. These are clearly ground- and water-dwelling birds, so they didn’t fall out of a nest or anything. But they look too small to be on their own. Best of luck you tiny sweet things.
Jim recalled that the next two lakes, called together Ball Lakes, were not much farther and he wanted to see them. From Pyramid Lake there were some steep switchbacks and we looked for any opportunity to rest. We stopped and sipped water frequently. It was a slog, but we did make it to the next lake.
We said Hi to the professional trail-measurer, and his Lady friend, as they were finishing lunch and getting ready to head down. Jim said he was pretty sure we could spot the second Ball Lake from the first, without having to hike to it. So, we clambered out across a granite rock slide in search of a third lake.
All three lakes found, giant rocks all around and perfect for lounging on, I asked Jim to pull out the food. “There’s no food,” he says.
“Except for the granola bars and the tangerines,” I reminded him. “There’s that food, right?”
“No food,” he assured me. Jim has the most endearing and hilarious manner about him. I wish I could do an impersonation. It’s hilarious because sometimes he takes on this despairing self-deprecating manner with the utmost seriousness. That’s what he did now, while explaining to me that – while at the trailhead – the longer it took for him to get the canteen affixed to his waist with the broken belt, the more determined he was to make it happen, and eventually the only thing he wanted in the whole world was to make that goddamned belt work. And when he finally came up with a solution, the granola bars and tangerines lay forgotten on the front seat. At the trailhead I had been pretending, for dignity’s sake, not to notice his curse-punctuated attempts to make the belt work and had neglected to notice that we did not bring any fuel for our bodies. NOR did I think to offer to carry it myself. I’m the worst.
We sat on the rocks and laughed at ourselves. Jim said that, on top of it all, his water tasted terrible. He hadn’t used the canteen for years and apparently hadn’t rinsed it this morning, so he could hardly stand the water inside. I offered mine but he refused. *sigh* (PSA: If you ever hire me to guide your hike, understand it’s proceed at your own risk!)
On the way down the hill, he told me about his upcoming birthday plans. It was the opening I had been waiting for. “How old will you be this year?” I asked him. “Eighty,” he answered with chagrin. Eighty?! I had just been complicit in a six-hour hike with no food in the mountains with an eighty-year-old man? I can only hope that I’ll be able to hike to mountain lakes with my Tara when I’m 80 (and hopefully Tara will be a little more responsible than I was). Thirty years his junior, I groaned just as much as he did, climbing out of the truck at the end of a two-hour drive to a Bonners Ferry restaurant to indulge in a much-deserved dinner.
I am lucky enough to have TWO step-fathers. By coincidence, the other one also moved to Moyie Springs. After a few days with Jim, I stopped to visit my other stepdad before beginning my long journey home. We hadn’t seen each other in years and it was so good to see him. He’s got a lovely home and we sat outside in the shade in a big yard. He kept my cup full of coffee while we talked and caught up on each other’s lives and watched his puppy tear around and play and bark. Now see? Sometimes a man just needs a dog. I’m glad one of my dads has the good sense to get one. ❤