Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pacific Standard Time

After (yet again) a snowy morning of record and thrift stores in Missoula, we took off down Highway 12 toward Idaho – one of my favorite drives in the whole country.

This was the fourth time I've done it: Emily and I took Highway 12 on our honeymoon up to Lake Louise, we drove it again when we moved to New York in 1999, and last year my mom and I went that way on May 28th, her 60th birthday. This was the first time I followed Highway 12 from East to West. The weather had cleared up and the road was as amazing as ever.

Highway 12 is the only way through the largest forest in the Lower 48, following the contours of the Lochsa River and winding its way between some fairly large peaks in the Idaho Panhandle. You don't see many other cars.

There are a few little towns along the way, which usually consist of a mercantile with a gas pump, a small hotel, and maybe a diner or bar. Sometimes there's a taxidermist.

It was cold outside but mostly clear, so we decided that we'd camp out on the last night of our trip, before going to Emily's parents' house in Moscow, Idaho and then on to Seattle. We found the perfect campsite right by the river in a Clearwater National Forest campground off the highway. After we set up camp, we explored the river.

The next morning, we took a hike (the only real hike of the trip) up a horse trail toward the Sawtooth Bitterroot Wilderness.

After about four or five miles straight up, we realized we had misunderstood the map, and that the first lake was sixteen miles into the trail – so we turned around.

The forest is so gigantic, it felt a little like it was just toying with us. We didn't get to any spectacular vistas or see any wildlife (except this weird squirrel/chipmunk hybrid) but there was subtle beauty at every turn.

We doted on this furry little caterpillar for a ludicrous amount of time, realizing we had been on the road for over three weeks and were really missing our cats.

Camping along Highway 12 was a great way to end the trip – it has come to be a very significant road to me. When we got back from the hike we had some sandwiches, and then packed up and headed out for the two-hour drive to Moscow. It struck me for the first time that this in-between time on the road was coming to an end.

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