Boondocking the Nation: 17 Days, 8300mi, 1 Motel
Hwy 20, OR > Helena, MT
Thunderstorms rolled through just south of me after I was snug in my hidden home beside the highway. I was awoken often by passing double-hitched semi trailers and the brilliant flashes of lightening accompanying the deep rumble of high desert thunder. I rose around 5:15AM, clumsily packed the tent and gear, then set off into the still darkness of predawn, stars shimmering in the heavens.
I watched the sun’s glow illuminate the horizon and reflect warm colors on the inky river winding beside the roadway.
Cresting the rise, I took a snapshot of the morning clouds then continued down into the fertile irrigated crop lands of eastern Oregon.
I stop for gas in Vale and note the many murals and painted historical scenes on turn of the century buildings in this stop on the Oregon Trail.
I continue into the fertile onion and potato growing fields of eastern Oregon soon coming to the confluence of the Weiser and great Snake River at the border town of Weiser, ID.
Crossing the river.
A cup of coffee brings a morning chat with a local farmer outside a McDonalds while I lube my chain. His inquiries take longer than I wanted to stop but I enjoy the company and advice for things to see on my trip through Idaho. The warmth of the low crop lands begins to fade as I wind my way up the topography with many 4000ft passes and rises usually descending back into desert and pasture land.
I turn around and snap a shot of the signpost marking the 45th Parallel, halfway between the North Pole and Equator.
After some time, I rise into a National Forest and take in the rich smells of pine, the recently passed rainstorm moisture evaporating from the roadway and nutritious forest floor.
Each turn offers views of white and blue rapids contrasting against the greenish yellow Aspens sporadically brightening up the morning scene.
Cold rivers flow from their headwaters down into the Salmon River cascading for miles beside the roadway.
White Bird Pass had a huge elevation gain and steep grades. If ever you travel this way, make sure to take the old road up by turning in Hells Canyon. I saw its beautiful twists stretch out beside me and wished I had chosen that route instead.
Each small town’s snail-slow 25mph speed zone warrants respect while I snap pics to keep occupied and remember the sights and architecture.
Within no time, I turn onto Hwy 12 toward Montana pausing to photograph the road sign reading “Winding Road Next 99 Miles”.
I aim upstream slowly closing the 80miles toward Lolo Pass at the ID/MT border.
Nice place to stay a while...
The weather warms and I stop at a picturesque beach beside the road to cook a lunch of rice and tuna while dipping my feet in the gold-flecked shallows of the cool river.
Back on the road:nod
This scenic 50mph route closely keeps with the river, workings its course along the very route that Lewis and Clark forged hundreds of years before. For me, this road and exploration into wilderness is just as personally momentous and grand.
The scenery, fishing (judging by the many parked trucks) and potential for outdoor enjoyment in Idaho is extensive. Continuing against the river upstream, the temperatures slowly dip while the river’s width narrows.
A little early in the season for these guys though.
Soon I am chilly and up at 7-8000 ft through Lolo Pass into Montana.
I hit some construction stops on the Montana side but the 70mph speed limit takes me swiftly through my first windscreen cleansing rain showers approaching Missoula, MT. I call family and check in.
They are following my spot and my aunt announces a spaghetti dinner will be waiting when I arrive!
Missoula and the storm I passed:
Off to war...
Chasing this dark storm which just dumped on Helena with heavy winds and hail...
Two hours on the interstate and an hour on a two lane over MacDonald Pass and I descend to Helena following the dark clouds of a retreating severe storm.
I arrive and quickly shower away the days of grit then sit down to the wonderful company of my family and a home cooked meal.
My uncle offers me a locally brewed beer and I taste the crisp delicious “Moose Drool” Brown Ale, my first beer of the entire trip.
After relaxing around the house, I am given a night time driving tour around Helena followed by a stop at a downtown bar for a local IPA brewed a few stores over in the same building.
I show pictures and discuss my trip then we return home, change and sleep in a warm clean bed.