Our long trip is winding down. We seem to spend more time on blacktop and less - on dirt. Chris never announced any plans beyond Atlanta, so I have even less clue about our plans than before - but I care less, too!
But first things - first.
In the morning, Chris heads out to Atlanta to see if the bar/cafe/restaurant/whatever they have is open for breakfast; my plans are different.
I dig deep into the truck to retrieve a fifty-pound box full of spare parts in hopes to find a spare trailing arm bushing, known in Land Rover parts afficionados' circles as "NTC1772." That very part that was unobtanium in Boise the day before manifests itself in my box, neatly wrapped in Land Rover plastic bag and properly labelled! My joy of not having to whittle one from a generic piece of polyurethane is only diminished by knowledge of earth-shattering forces that are usually involved in pressing the old one out, and new one - in.
I choke the wheels of the truck and remove the trailing arm - hoping that the rear axle would not take a hike on me (it doesn't). The bushing's rubber is practically gone - the center piece falls out unimpeded. The normal repair process requires a 12-ton press; the usual trailside alternatives are - beating the bushing out and in with a sledgehammer, or using some gnarly and long bolt and nut to serve as a shop press substitute. As I find out, sometimes it is a combination of the two.
The next order of business is finding a socket close in outside diameter to the bushing, and another - with the opening larger than that diameter. First I have, second I don't. So... I put the socket against the bushing, end of the trailing arm resting on a rock, and start whacking it with a sledgehammer. By the time Chris is back, the bushing is pounded "in" by about 1/16 of an inch, the end of it meeting the socket jagged and with sharp edges, and the opposite - mangled beyond recognition by my attempt to collapse it using a screwdriver (with generous helpings of hammer action). I am thoroughly warmed up, although free of physical damage often incurred when the hammer misses its target.
Time for more intelligent approach - a long 1/2-inch, grade 8, bolt with a large, flanged, and expensive nut and an assorted stack of fender washers come out of the toolbox. A fan clutch wrench, and later - pipe wrench, serve as spacers on the "out" side of the contraption. With the help of Chris holding the trailing arm and an 18-inch breaker bar, the bushing is replaced in a fairly short time - maybe I shouldn't have bothered with the hammer, after all.
Soon after, we're on our way towards Idaho 21. There are still fifty-some miles of meandering dirt roads; now it's Friday, and we encounter all sorts of bizarre traffic - from a quad towed by another quad to a fully-loaded tractor-trailer. We emerge on the 21 about 20 miles North of Idaho City, and press on, North-bound. I am thoroughly enjoying the lack of self-steering capabilities of the Discovery - especially valuable on alternating-slope switchbacks of the highway. I ogle the bends of the creek near the road, trying to find a swimming hole - but Chris dismisses my attempts with a promise of The Best Swimming Hole In The World.
Deep into Boise National Forest, we turn left to Highway 17 to Garden Valley - where we stop for gas once again, and manage to coax a couple of phone calls from our mobile phones (if you're there, remember that they work better near the South-Eastern corner of the convenience store, right between the propane and a Dumpster). The road dumps us to Idaho 55 - which by now is choke-full with weekend warrior traffic from Boise. Motorcycles, kayak- and bicycle-laden family sedans, one-ton pickups towing huge boats and outright gargantuan trailers - travelling light, baby! - and even tour busses. This onslaught of civilization on the merge to 55 feels more shocking than a stretch of Interstate yesterday - and, by design of initial plan or simply by desire to get away, Chris leaves 55 near Smiths Ferry for the mountains.
We trade a graded road for dirt, then dirt road for a really rough dirt road, then to faint doubletracks climbing up, and then along the mountain range. Judging by the frequency of map-checking stops, it was not entirely planned - but glorious nonetheless. Eventually we start descending - and drop into the valley South of Lake Cascade. Our relentless pace suggests that The Best Swimming Hole isn't there yet.
It leaves us a few more miles before rejoining the Idaho 55 - by now at near stand-still, with the endless train of cars stuck behind a passive-aggressive stickler for the rules in a Prius, proudly keeping the speed 8 to 10 miles under the way-too-lenient 35 mph limit. We leap-frog the line wherever we can, earn ourselves about 10 miles of open space (all traffic ahead is gone, the traffic behind - stuck behind the Prius)... but then run into another rolling roadblock. The time passes slowly on our way to McCall.
McCall, Idaho, is somewhat like Big Bear Lake in California - a small town near a lake - but the road into town, with the view of the water, reminds me of Traverse City, Michigan. We stop to grab a burger at My Father's Place, and get back to the road. No swim call in McCall, either.
Highway 55 makes a 90-degree left turn in McCall and continues West-North-West through the mountains. We hit yet another reversed-direction one-lane traffic, pass Meadows and New Meadows, turn South on U.S.95 (that road again!) and stay on pavement until the town of Council. By now we're flat out of the bodies of water, so I start wondering if, by any chance, The Best Swimming Hole dried up... Just as my mind drifts in this direction, Chris takes a right turn - onto a road so non-descript that I'd have a very hard time finding it (I will have a hard time finding it tomorrow, I just don't know it yet).
We meander about a few minutes, and the road crosses a bridge - over a calm and wide Wieser river. We pull off to a dirt spot near the bridge, and head across the bridge - and into the bliss!
Photo by Chris Snell
Refreshed, we find that the road goes through a private property - so we have to retrace our steps for a mile or so, and find another path to Council-Cuprum Road. In places, it shows pavement - so we soon leave it for a network of dirt roads on the plateau overlooking Snake River. Turn after turn, the road becomes smaller - until we share a meadow with a large elk family. We stay, they leave; this is time to set up our last campsite.
There is a nice fire ring and plenty of already chopped firewood nearby; we spend the rest of the evening chatting, eating the rest of the rack of lamb, drinking the rest of Macallan, moving embers in the fire ring, and generally having a fantastic time.
Photo by Chris Snell
In the morning we part our ways; Chris has his long way North-West to Seattle looming ahead, my way home is very circuitous - North-East through Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and a little bit of Arizona thrown in the mix. I revisit The Best Swimming Hole In The World along the way, and take my sweet time at the Roadhouse coffee shop in New Meadows, emptying the cameras' memory to the hard drive.
A new adventure is waiting for me - more colorful, more social, more comfortable, and more expensive - but this is a different story.