Thursday, February 28, 2013

Getting to the End of the Road

As the snow lingers, now officially into March, it's easy to let the mind wander to days past when a lonely gravel road gave access to some of Idaho's wildest country.

And it's big country, too. Tall. Empty.

It's a haul from the house. A couple hours, at least, although, when you explain that to a 10-year-old boy, it's easier to just hand him a smart phone loaded full of videogames and simply say, "Oh ... 45 minutes."

Moose, Idaho, fly fishing
One family checks out another.
The family bears with me on days like this. For me, a drive across the Big Desert to this lonely, yet fishy, destination doesn't seem to take so long. As I count the white hindquarters of a hundred pronghorns among the sage and enjoy the view of the Centennials as they rise along the Montana border, time passes quickly. The wife snoozes. The daughter, too, albeit restlessly, because there's a chance, she thinks, that she might get to drive once we get to the backroad biway that lead into the wild. The boy? Eyes glued to the lighted screen of a piece of East Asian technology--the world in a box.

Damn it to Hell.


As we make the turn at the far side of the desert and start to drive upriver, anticipation sets it. It's another 50 miles yet, but this is the final leg. This is where water starts to show up, where green pastures take over from dry sage and a taupe landscape. This is where, on a clear day, I can see the mouth of the canyon we'll pass through, and where the desert ends and mountains begin.

"How much longer, Dad?"

"Oh, about 45 minutes, I guess."

Tenkara, fly fishing, Idaho
Tenakara water
That's the standard answer. A good amount of time, but less than an hour. An hour means a real haul if you're a kid missing anything resembling an attention span. My answer earns a sigh and a groan. He looks out the window at the irrigation pivots and the hay fields. They interest him briefly. Eyes back to the black box.

About halfway up the road, I pull the truck over. The daughter perks up in the back seat. I open the door and step out onto the lonely road. We're so far from anything that, save for a breath of warm wind, there is no sound. Nothing.

She steps around to the driver's side of the truck. I hand her the keys. She has to practice, and this is as good a place as any. I settle into the passenger side and watch as she adjust her mirrors and buckles up. My wife climbs into the back seat with her son, who, other than uttering one simple phrase--"Try not to kill us all, Delaney"--barely notices the interruption.

fly fishing, bull trout, Idaho
Suddenly interested.
The left turn signal clicks on, and my little girl pulls the truck out onto the forgotten stretch of Idaho blacktop. We talk about the mirrors and the need to watch not just the road, but what's on either side. I tell her to lighten the grip on the wheel--her white knuckles tell me just how nervous she really is.

But she's cautious, and she's in no hurry.

"Are we almost there?" comes the exasperated question from the back seat.

"About 45 minutes," my daughter says quietly to her brother. She smiles.

Soon, we leave the pavement, and she pulls over, not quite comfortable on the soft gravel. I retake the wheel and guide us through the mouth of the canyon, slowing only to look at the river as it passes beneath the road.

"Looks good," I say. "Really good."


The boy puts the phone down and looks out the window. The desert is gone, overtaken by a lush mountain chasm, cut by a creek over eons and loaded with rainbows, brookies and, by chance, an isolated population of backcountry bull trout. These rare Idaho char are on the Endangered Species List, and catching them intentionally is illegal. Catching them accidentally ... well... what are you going to do?

fly fishing, bull trout, Idaho
Fishing in tall country.
I drive the truck all the way to the end of the road. The higher the better, I've always said. We drove past a handful of folks who'd pitched tents or parked trailers in makeshift campsites, but up here, where the gate crosses the road and locks the motors out, we're alone. Beautifully and perfectly alone.

In minutes, the wife and the daughter have Tenkara rods stretched and lined, and they're walking through the lodgepoles to the water. The boy waits patiently for me to string up the little 3-weight. The black box rests harmlessly on the back seat, its battery dead from two hours of Temple Run. The "45-minute" endurance test is over, and I can see life behind those brown eyes of his.

"Here you go, Chief," I say, handing him the rod. He straightens his hat, adjusts his too-big-for-his-face sunglasses and wanders down a game trail to the river, which is, at this altitude, just a small, high-country creek.

Through the trees, I catch glimpses of the family casting to wild trout, connecting often and laughing as they go. These aren't big fish, but they're willing and they're hitting dry flies. And they sport colors only found in wild, backcountry trout.

The mountains tower over the water, which runs freely along its ancient course on a warm, July day. There is no snow. There is no wind. My family walks in cold water beneath a cloudless blue sky, tight to wild fish in a wild place.

Yeah, there's still snow on the ground. A lot of it.

But it won't last. It will melt and drain into the rivers, even in the high country, where untamed fish rest in cold, deep pools covered over by ice and snow. There, they waiting patiently for the thaw and the next dry fly cast by someone who took the time to drive all the way to the end of the road, but no further.

17 comments:

  1. What a really cool post, and welcome change from 20 Questions, though I'm fond of that series also. I have those places too, just different scenery. Adding the family to that scene is all the better.

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    1. Thanks Jason... I like to mix it up now and then, but sometimes thee 20 questions gig is sooooo much easier ;-)

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  2. Cherish each and every moment with them Chris. They are precious beyond words. Even words as good as yours.

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    1. Good advice, my friend, and it means double coming from you. Looking forward to the flats!

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  3. Really great post, Chris! Reminds me so much of the Idaho I have left behind. Thanks, I needed that. Great to see the family enjoying fly fishing and the Tenkara way. Those fish are truly the ones you can't get out of your mind.

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    1. You're always welcome home, Mel... thanks for the kind words.

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  4. Chris I've enjoyed this as much as any I have read here on these pages and that's a lot. Good job.

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    1. Awe, shucks, Howard... thanks for that. One of these days, we need to get out find our own wild fish to chase...

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    2. Chris are you asking me out on a date?

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  5. Well.. I always love these type of stories over iinterviews... as good as the 20?'s are. Family fun and enjoying the great outdoors... the way it should be.

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  6. Very good story ... thanks for sharing

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  7. That's a great drive. I'm there. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks dude... really appreciate it. If you ever make it out this way again, we have a drive to make...

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  8. Your incredibly blessed, Chris. To have the entire family on the same "fishing page" is unique and precious in this day. My daughter lost her family interest around the age of 15 but it's slowly coming back at 22 today. Great post!

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  9. That little crick took quite a beating over the spring and summer of '07.

    Sounds like it has made something of a recovery, but I wonder how far it still has to go to once again be one of the best wild trout cricks in the Central Mountains ??

    John



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  10. Closing the gate to keep the motorheads out has really helped. It's still a tiny little thing above the gate, but the fish are surprisingly healthy and happy... it's one of my favorite little jaunts...

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