I had a trove of narrative and pictures from my July 17th ride on the Coeur d’Alene Trail yesterday, but the thing that I lacked was sufficient cell or WiFi signal to stitch them together and upload for posting. Undaunted, I set off west on I-90 to find the signal strength I required. Over 40 miles later (yes, 40!) my signal meter indicated 4 strong bars and I pulled off the nearest exit and into a Wendy’s parking lot to complete my mission. By the time I was back in Wallace it was after noon. I ate a quick lunch and then confronted the question of “what to do next”?

The weather favored a walking tour of the heart of Wallace, so armed with my camera and wearing my hiking boots I set off in search of the unknown.

I strolled the streets, visited a number of shops, and then set foot inside of the Northern Pacific Railroad museum.

$3.50 is the requested donation for admission to this treasure. Cindy efficiently manages the front desk and her smile is infectious.

I received a personal guided tour of this small but immaculately preserved facility from the early 20th Century. My guide was John, an expressive gentleman dressed in period attire who seldom fell out of character.

He delighted in my interest and knowledge of minutia that was relevant to his discourse. He is a retiree, volunteer, and actor in the local Melodrama Playhouse troupe. Among the visit’s highlights were the Ladies and Children waiting room with heat and its own private lavatory.

Men were not allowed as most were dirty mouthed, tobacco spitting, miners.

The station office contained its original furnishings, including working telegraph (operators could send and receive at the rate of 40 words per minute!), the original Oliver typewriter,

a press duplicator that could make up to 5 images of an original bill of lading by pressing onion skin paper under the original and leaving them in place overnight. Low tech,but it worked.

There was even an original candlestick telephone that was still wired into the network. My guide produced his cell phone, apologized for being out of period, and “dialed” the 100 year old phone. He and I then held a brief conversation… he using 21st Century technology and me the early 20th Century tech. I was amazed by the clarity with which the old phone reproduced his voice.

The office also contained the original station safe, which was specially manufactured for the Norther Pacific RR by the Diebold Company of Canton Ohio.

It was structured with laminated layers of steel and concrete, and there was even a high security safe within the safe for keeping silver bullion. If one unsuccessfully attempted to open the internal safe the mechanism timed-out before allowing another attempt.

He was especially proud of a Hartmann Luggage Company (still in business today!) steamer trunk that had been owned generations ago by one of the town’s dignitaries. It weighs over 100 pounds empty, and contains a drawer for jewelry, a mini-bar (that came with decanter and glassware), and a compact electric iron to press clothing.

John explained that the station had been moved about 200 feet from its original location to make room for the construction of I-90. He continued to explain that in the early 1970’s the Idaho Department of Transportation proposed to build the Interstate through the heart of Wallace. Virtually the entire downtown would be condemned and demolished in the interest of transportation progress. The citizens instituted litigation and obtained injunctions that prevented Idaho from going forward. However, after 20 years in the Courts, Idaho prevailed… sort of. Final judgments were rendered in favor of the State, but during those preceding 20 years the citizens, largely through the hard work of one woman, secured a designation for the entire town that placed Wallace on the Register of Historic Places. The State was forced to build the Interstate ABOVE the town, and in the case of the Depot, move it unharmed to a safe location.

My tour of the station ended and I proceeded on foot to another tour that had been recommended to me.

The Sierra Silver Mine had a storied history that began with miners and hand tools exploring a silver vein in the area known as the richest silver producer in the world. The men dug for 7 years yet made less than 100 feet of progress with their shaft. Later owners using pneumatic drills and dynamite would make similar progress with a small crew in only 4 days. Subsequent operators expanded the mine to thousands of feet of tunnels on many levels but never found the “mother lode”. As it turned out another mine, digging from miles away, extended its shafts horizontally 1,800 feet below the Sierra and struck rich oar that produced over 50 pounds of silver for every ton of ore. The best that the Sierra had done was a few ounces of silver for every ton of ore.

The Sierra could not extract silver from the ground, but its modern operators learned how to extract silver from the pockets of tourists, me included.

For $14 (with senior discount) we customers were driven to the mine in a trolly bus. We were met at the mine by a retired miner, in this case “Fast Freddie”.

Freddie had dedicated his entire working life to the mining profession.

Taking us below he explained the workings of a silver mine and then demonstrated with the actual machinery. The experience was both delightful and deafening.

Freddie showed how miners had once worked assisted solely by candlelight, then by carbide lamp, and finally by modern lithium powered LED lit hard hats.

I have previously toured coal, gold, iron, and even salt mines, but this was the best such tour by far. Again, I was not a silent observer. Like the train station guide, Freddie became happily animated by my questions and interest. It doesn’t take much for my child-like wonder to kick in.

Tomorrow is my last day in Wallace. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?… not me.

Peace Everyone. Pete

I arrived in Wallace Idaho noon on the 16th. It’s a quirky town of about 1,000 souls that holds itself out as a major tourist destination, and the only town in the US that is listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places.

One intersection in town declares itself to be the “Center of the Universe”. Who am I to say otherwise… I’m writing this missive within its confines.

“Quirky” may also describe the Wallace RV Park where I am situated for the next 4 nights.

It is not a typical camp selection for me. It sotmewhat resembles a parking lot, but there is some grass and a creek bubbling behind my trailer.

It’s just that there are no picnic tables, no fire grates, and few children. There is an abundance of retirees, large motor homes (we call those “sun-blockers”), pets, ATV’s, and cigarettes smokers. It’s just a different camping group than I am accustom to. This sounds like a complaint so let me clarify: There is a terrific brew-pub located at one end of the park, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene (“CdA)” is located about 200 feet outside the park, and the heart of downtown (and the Center of the Universe) is just a 2 block walk. I really like this place! What’s more, I have full hook-ups (electric, water and sewer) for only $35 a night. Wallace RV Park is popular and rightly so.

On my first night here I walked 2 minutes to the City LImits Brew Pub here in the park and enjoyed a “flight” of beer samples.

All were top-notch craft beers. The burger I ordered was excellent as well. Outside on the patio I had the pleasure of hanging out with fellow campers Kathy (a solo camper from Michigan) and Donna and Terry, a couple from MIchigan also staying in the park. The three had met for the first time here and rode the Route of the Hiawatha the same day (the 15th) that I did. Terry and Donna rode the CdA early on the 16th and paid an unfortunately high price for the shuttle back to Wallace.

My plan had been to ride from Wallace to the west end and transport back. I had been told that the cost was one dollar per mile. What I had not been told was that the miles include the drive to deliver me to my destination AND the shuttles drive back to Plummer… over $150!! I was taken aback, but I still intended to go forward the plan on the morning of the 17th.

Kathy piped up that she was heading to the west end of the CdA where she had a camp reservation at Heyburn State Park. She offered to take me and my bike with her and I could then bicycle the 60+ miles back to Wallace. What a stroke of luck for me to find a Good Samaritan! It was agreed that we would hit the road in the morning.

The morning arrived cold, a bit dreary, and with a mild threat of showers. True to her promise, Kathy made room for me and my bike. We set off on the nearly 2 hour drive to Heyburn which included a stop at Walmart and a fuel up. We said our goodbyes at Heyburn State Park and I was spinning down the CdA by 11:30 a.m..

The CdA is a 73 mile long 10 foot wide ribbon of well maintained asphalt that was created in the 1990’s by a partnership between State, Federal, and Tribal governments and the Union Pacific Railroad. It is a recreational trail reserved solely for use by bicyclists, inline skaters, and pedestrians.

The CdA is one of the true jewels of America’s Rail to Trails movements. It was not created out of an abiding love for recreational cyclists. Rather, it was created out of the expediency of remediating an environmental catastrophe.

Between the Idaho towns of Mullen on the east and Plummer on the west is a 73 mile stretch of highly toxic earth. Beginning in the late 19th Century the Union Pacific Railroad had been transporting mining ores along this stretch of track. The ores were lead, zinc, and silver. The ore cars leaked a soup of acids, heavy metals, and poisons that permeated the earth along the rail line. The Union Pacific wished to abandon this section and the price was partnering in its cleanup. Options included the monumental task of removing the effected rock and soil or encapsulating it on-site by covering it with a barrier to protect the public. A layer of untainted gravel, covered with asphalt was the answer that created the Coeur d’Alene Trail. One is reminded that it is an imperfect solution as cautions abound to remain on the trail, don’t drink from surface water sources, clean clothes and equipment of any dust from the trail…

The CdA Trail nearly spans the Idaho panhandle from Washington to Montana. The west end lies within the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation. From Heyburn State Park the Trail crosses the 3,100 foot long Chatcolet Bridge and Trestle.

As the CdA extends east it follows the Coeur d’Alene River past marshes and many small lakes.

In the east it begins to gain elevation as it wanders with the railbed through an area once populated with mines and small mining communities.

There are 20 trailhead access points and 17 waysides with picnic tables, benches, and some with toilet facilities.

Today I bicycles from Heyburn State Park to Wallace. 60 miles, otherwise known as a “metric-century” (61 miles = 100 kilometers). It was a nearly perfect day for the ride. 71 degrees, and overcast. There were spits of drizzle now and then and a breeze piped up that was as often a head wind as it was a tail wind. For 4.5 hours I rode that ribbon of asphalt and enjoyed the eye-candy of lush wetlands, waves of grasses, wildlife, and the surrounding mountains.

I crossed a number of trestles, Not the high trestles of The Hiawatha, but sturdy low bridges that dated to the start of the 20th Century.

With the exception of the beginning and end this was a flat ride. There was no coasting, but then there was little hard peddling too.

There was a brief stretch through a couple of towns that passed industry, a trailer park, and that Walmart,

Otherwise, this was a ride of remarkable beauty.

Unlike the Hiawatha, I did not stop to read the information signs as I felt pressed by the threat of rain and the need to finish by late afternoon. There were picnic tables and pit toilets at appropriate intervals and even bicycle repair stations that provided tools and a tire pump.

I enjoyed a midpoint rest for lunch at one such trailside spot. The sandwich and trail mix I packed provided a needed energy reboot.

The trail deserves a relaxed rather than a frenetic approach in order to allow one to savor the sights that unfold along the way. I witnessed an Osprey swoop and pluck a fish from the lake adjoining the trail. The bird was faster than the fish… and my camera. I also missed by minutes a moose in the waters by the trail. I encountered the occasional beaver lodge, a menagerie of birds, an abundance of waterfowl, and the usual assortment of small mammals.

Again, I found myself very pleased with the versatility of my new bike. I intend to do more riding on the CdA while here in Wallace. I only hope that I can find adequate cell/WiFi coverage to upload this post and the images of the day. If you are reading this I succeeded.

Peace Everyone. Pete

In 1905, after exploring nearly 1,000 miles of options, The Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad settled upon creating a route to the west through the Bitterroot Mountains at St. Paul Pass, located at the border between Montana and Idaho.

To be suitable for passenger and heavy freight service the grade through the mountains had to average 1.7% or less. In other words, for each 100 feet traveled the change in elevation had to be less than 20 inches. The rugged Bitterroot presented a daunting obstacle, particularly the 15 miles from St. Paul Pass to Avery Idaho.

Engineers devised a solution in the form of 10 tunnels boring through the mountains and 7 tall trestles bridging the river valleys.

The grandest of the tunnels, the Taft Tunnel, would be 8,771 feet long, its east portal in Montana and its west portal in Idaho, and 1,000 feet below the summit of Roland Mountain.

It was also a literal tunnel through time as the Mountain and Pacific time zones change midway through the tunnel.

The trestles presented a different set of challenges, spanning wide and deep rifts. The Kelly Creek Trestle stands 230 feet above the valley floor and extends 850 feet end to end.

This was a railroading on a grand scale.

It the “golden years” the Hiawatha was a world class passenger train that sported gourmet dining, and futuristic accommodations for travelers crossing the continent.

Unfortunately such varied circumstances as the opening of the Panama Canal, the Great Depression, corporate mismanagement, and the growth of the trucking industry created an environment that eventually brought an end to the rail system that had come to be known as “The Milwaukee Road”. It’s last of 3 bankruptcies resulted in the sale and/or salvage of all of its assets between 1981 and 1985.

In 1986 the Bitterroot section of “The Road” was acquired by the US Forest Service, and in 1998 the Route of the Hiawatha Rail/Bike Trail opened. Today it is acclaimed as one of the finest such bicycle experiences in the nation.

For the cyclist the experience begins at the Lookout Pass Lodge where one purchases a trail day pass ($12) and if in need can rent a bicycle, helmet and light.

There is a restaurant and comfort facilities on site. During Winter this is a ski lodge. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the “Urinal Instructions for Snowboarders”.

Pass in hand I drove 5 miles east to the gravel access road that takes one up to the east portal of the Taft Tunnel. It is here that the 15 mile downhill journey begins. Lights are mandatory as the Taft and other of the longer tunnels are pitch dark. Moreover, they are cold, wet, and muddy.

The trail is not for road-bikes and their narrow high pressure tires. Unlike many of the rail to trails that use fine limestone “chat”, the surface is rough gravel… think driveways and country roads.

My recently purchase Surley “Long-Haul-Trucker” proved to be an excellent compromise for the ride. It is very road capable, yet quite at home on the rough gravel surface.

One attraction of the Hiawatha for experienced and neophyte cyclists is that the outbound ride requires very little peddling. It is almost entirely a downhill coast through magnificent mountain scenery.

The ride could easily be accomplished in an hour, except for stops to take in the breathtaking views and to read the nearly 50 informational signboards that provide information on the history of the route, the trains, and other relevant details that add dimension to the experience.

Here is a link to a site where these signs can be accessed on-line: Hiawatha Trail Signs

This is just one that I found particularly interesting:

The ride is definitely family friendly, with parents and children alike sharing in the experience. At the end of the 15 miles there is a shuttle service ($10) that will transport you and your bike back to the west portal of the Taft Tunnel with the parking lot only a short ride back under the mountain. This is the line for the shuttle.

I estimate that less than 1% of the folks who bike the Hiawatha elect to turn around and bike the 15 miles back uphill. I was among those few.

It is an entirely different experience. Virtually no coasting and constant peddling. There is a constant flow on oncoming “traffic” to contend with, but then there would be no sense of accomplishment if it were “easy”. It took me over 2.5 hours to ride downhill because I stopped to take pictures and read the informational displays. Uphill took less than 1.5 hours.

This was not an “adrenaline” experience, but I can’t imagine a better way to have spent this day. Tomorrow I leave for Wallace Idaho in the morning where I will be camped for 4 nights during which I plan to bicycle the 73 mile long Coeur d’Alene Trail.

Peace Everyone. Pete

I made it to Missoula Montana last night, but struck out trying to find an available campsite late on a Friday. This area north and west of Missoula is extremely popular with campers this time of year. I did a fallback to an overnight in a huge Pilot Truck Plaza. On the positive side I got all my laundry done for less than $3.00, and there was a terrific stand-alone bar & grill restaurant where I enjoyed an excellent dinner and a breakfast the following morning. I also had a good cell signal and the opportunity to research camp options for the two nights before my reservation in Wallace Idaho.

I found that there were a number of US Forest Service campgrounds on the route to Wallace. None of them take reservations, which is a plus on an otherwise busy weekend. I elected to head 90 miles up the road to one named Cabin City.

22 campsites, water, picnic tables, fire pits and pit toilets. With my “geezer pass” the cost was $3.50 per night!

Cabin City is located a little over 2 miles off the expressway in a dense pine forest. The park road is paved, the sites are level, and all facilities are spotless thanks to Susi and Tom, the volunteer campground hosts.

Susi and I engaged in a lengthy conversation about the area. The campground is a mere 20 minute drive from the “Route of the Hiawatha” bike trail, and is actually a more convenient launching site for that bike ride than my reservation in Wallace Idaho. She also shared that just 5 miles down the road is the remarkable Savenac Historic Tree Nursery. I would have probable passed on it, except that Susi (who was a former volunteer there) was so insistent that I not pass it up. It was my good fortune that she pressed the point.

Elers Koch was a man who loved trees and who had vision that spanned beyond a human’s life-time. While on his honeymoon In 1907 he came upon an abandoned homestead located along Savenac Creek and the original Mullen Road which was built between 1859 and 1863. This was the first road engineered in the northwest, connecting Montana, Idaho, and Canada. It later morphed into the Yellowstone Trail… a portion and bridge are still visible.

Koch determined to build a forest nursery on the spot. Work began in 1908 but tragedy struck in the form of the “Big Burn of 1910”. A number of smaller forest fires, aided by drought and tinder-dry conditions grew to become a single conflagration that ultimately consumed the nursery, nearly 4 million acres (roughly the size of the State of Connecticut), and snuffed out the lives of 79 Forest Service Firefighters.

The fires of that season created similar catastrophes in other parts of the United States, most notably Michigan.

With the ashes still smoldering Koch began clearing his nursery of the charred detritus and readied the land for replanting. He was determined to reforest the region. Soon the Savenac Nursery became a pioneering research facility creating innovative ways to propagate and harvest trees for replanting. By the mid-1930’s Koch’s nursery grew to become the largest producer of tree seedlings in the United States, shipping over 3 million trees annually. In 1935 200 men from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) cleared land for expanded operation and built the facilities that can be seen today at the Savenac Historic Tree Nursery.

A number of the buildings are available for rent, including the “Bunkhouse” which sleeps 28 and “Cookhouse” which sleeps 9. It currently costs less than $95 per day (not per-person!) to rent each of these facilities.

The oldest building on the grounds was built in 1930 and is available for use at no cost…it is an outhouse.

The Nursery grounds are impeccably maintained by volunteers such as Andrea and her husband Walt.

She serves in the Administration building which features a museum for the Nursery and also the Big Burn.

Within the museum is a photo reproduction of the daily log entries of the CCC workers in 1933. Clearly idle hands resulted in some artistic entries that were not necessarily relevant to the Nursery.

Walt tends the grounds and physical facilities. Today he was aided by two young volunteers as they readied for the coming week’s “Passport in Time” event.

Each year over 40 volunteers assemble for the week, and much like the CCC of old they lend their muscles and talents toward maintaining this treasure. It is not all work as there are communal meals prepared for the workers, they sleep on-site (either in the buildings or their own campers), and each evening there is a grand campfire gathering and just maybe some liquid libation to go around.

There is professional staff as well. It was my good fortune to spend time talking with Erica, a very personable mother of 3, wife to a “smoke-jumper”, and holder of advanced degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Archeology.

She also has a “take no prisoners” handshake that one won’t soon forget.

The Cabin City campground and the Savenac Historic Tree Nursery may just be the top finds of this trip. I have decided that after my four days in Wallace Idaho I will retrace my steps back this way and spend another couple of nights here as I head down to Salt Lake City and then east back to Denver.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I bicycle the Route of the Hiawatha, it’s tunnels, trestles, and through the 8,765 foot long Taft railroad tunnel. Until then…

Peace Everyone

PS. Don’t be surprised if in the next couple of years the “Family Schloss” children and grandchildren all join here to take advantage of the bunkhouse… or Christine and I decide to lend a hand at a Passport in Time gathering!

The Beartooth Highway spans a little over 70 miles from Red Lodge Montana in the east to just beyond Cooke City Montana in the west. It is there that it enters the northeastern portal to Yellowstone National Park. Its journey is split between the States of Montana and Wyoming as it serpentines across the boarder 3 times.

Built in early post-depression America it was a marvel of engineering that sought to flex the muscle of America’s emerging optimism, the despair of the late 20’s and early 30’s becoming more a scare than an open wound. It has been declared “America’s Highway”, a pre-Interstate Highway conquest of terrain and climate.

The Beartooth retains much of its rugged individualism. It is closed in the winter, is subject to late Spring and early Fall snowstorms, and in mid-season frost heaves occasionally pock and fold the pavement.

It is not a road of commerce as vehicles longer than 30 feet are discouraged by the daunting switchbacks that demand white-knuckled attention to steering and brakes.

Interspersed along its path are US Forest Service campgrounds. These are primitive affairs offering only pit-toilets, picnic tables and fire grates (no water, no electricity, and no cell service) yet they fill quickly in mid—season. They attract a certain type of camper who wishes to flirt with the edginess of the wild, yet have the security of a shared encampment. Cautions of bear activity abound and are not mere words. Many campers, and the camp hosts walk about with cylinders of bear repellent holstered like a six-shooter. I count myself among them.

What a rare bear encounter may do in one paw-swipe, swarms of mosquitoes (the little blood sucking bastards from hell!) invariably do a drop at a time. These mosquitoes are a hardy lot as they seem just as active at 40 degrees as at 80. Oh well, another predator, another spray.

Most folks don’t linger on the Beartooth. It is a passage experience with occasional stops at overlooks that flood the senses with Nature’s proudest sights, and smells.

The day visitor tends to embrace “the other Beartooth”, to be found in Red Lodge on the east and to a lesser extent at Cooke City to the west. For those desperate for a tourist fix mid-route there is the Top of the World Store which features a single gas pump, a concentrated assortment of souvenirs, and a few shelves of snacks and booze.

Cooke City is a city in name only that is narrowly spread for a few blocks on both sides of the Beartooth.

Eateries/bars, souvenir shops, sporting goods, lodgings, fuel, and a couple of minuscule casinos are its main offerings. It attracts visitors from beyond America’s borders.

At mid-day many of the restaurants present waits of up to an hour for a table. I found an exception at the east entry to town.

The Antler Lodge features a newly opened restaurant and bar, yet to be discovered. 15 craft beers on tap and gourmet burgers… I saw an “appetizer” of onion rings, enough to feed two lumberjacks. They were at about 50% capacity when I lunched there. That should change as the word gets out. While the restaurant is new, The Antler Lodge itself is one of the oldest traveler rests in the region.

Log construction, lots of trophies adorning the walls, and a welcoming hearth room make this an original Beartooth experience.

The “town” of Red Lodge is a much larger and more vibrant big brother to Cooke City.

It is more accessible and features stores and shops that serve the needs of a general population as well as the tourist trade. It’s a fun visit, but for me only as a punctuation mark to the experience of 4 days camped at 9,000 feet on the Beartooth.

At camp last night I engaged a couple of my generation in some fireside chat. The conversation took a turn to “the young people of today”. The couple launched into an opinionated slog that the youth of today are lazy, lack ambition, lack morals, and in spite of those deficiencies, generally worthless. The wife offered as proof, “I worked retail.. I know”. Rather than engage into controversies I held my tongue and shortly thereafter excused myself.

I have heard it said that “youth is wasted on the young”. Perhaps youth may reply that “retirement is wasted on the old”. In either case is seems that some of my generation are jealous of the world that waits to be explored by the young…perhaps regretting opportunities missed in their own youth.

Many who read my “Thoughts” have expressed that they are traveling with me vicariously, taking in as a virtual experience what they can not in everyday life. Similarly, I take vicarious pleasure in visiting with young people… tasting the thrill of a seemingly limitless horizon of possibilities.

The camping couple have apparently missed the joy of knowing my children and youth like them. Hard working, moral, bright with optimism for their future and the future of the children that they bring into this world.

In that same vein I wish that the couple could have met my server at the Antler Lodge Restaurant.

Sarah is a recent college graduate who bubbles with excitement as she shares that she will soon be off for a year in Austria. She has hired on for the year as an au pair to a family with two small children. She will assume the role of nanny and English teacher to the children for 18 hours each week, living with the family and taking intensive German language classes throughout her tenure. Beyond that graduate school awaits Sarah.

Bright, personable, hard working, and ambitious. She is “the youth of today” who hold America’s future in their hands. It is the duty of the older generations to give them an America worthy of their talents and ambitions.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. In Red Lodge I came upon an unusual fossil shop. I was fascinated by the mounted trilobites and crinoids. Is it possible that I may be bringing a souvenir back home?

I awoke at sunrise to a 32 degree morning brushed with heavy frost. Fortunately, my trailer has an adequate heater that kept things above 50 overnight and when turned up it gave a toasty 68 degrees that made for a comfortable breakfast.

Still in my bedtime “scrubs” I wandered toward the outhouse but was stopped dead in my tracks by the explosion of light and color radiating from Beartooth Lake and 10,000 foot high Beartooth Butte in the background.

Reversing course I grabbed my camera and headed through the woods down to the shore. Glorious!! The snowcapped Butte was a beacon of light. Its mirrored reflection on the lake doubling the effect and elevating beautiful to breathtaking.

On the distant shore two elk played in the water, while the herd sunned and grazed on the slopes above.

They were only discernible to the naked eye through focused attention and were barely captured by my camera, the lens and zoom pushed to the limits.

I stood to take the scene in for nearly an hour. While my legs were idle, my mind was not.

What I am about to share is not meant to proselytize. This is merely an expression of my own beliefs which are neither superior or inferior to anyone else’s. I was raised a Catholic in a Catholic family and provided a Catholic education. While I self identify as “raised Catholic”, that provides no more insight into who I am or what I believe than does my identification as a Caucasian, second generation of immigrants. Who I am and what I believe continue to be a work in progress.

At two significant moments in my life, separated by 41 years, Catholic clergyman have admonished me to unconcern my self with dogma and “the rules” and instead listen to my conscience. They each tasked me to honestly follow the guidance of my conscience. I try and mostly succeed.

I find it impossible to listen to my conscience without also exploring some of the larger questions that have been pondered for millennia. Among those questions is whether there is a Creator, and if so does that Creator (“God By Any Name”) intervene in our daily lives.

We are (perhaps) unique in the animal kingdom as having a “free will”. We are burdened by innate physical urges to satisfy hunger, procreate, protect, survive… just as other animals, but we have the capacity to intentionally override those compulsions. Humans can starve themselves to death just to make a point. They can choose to be celibate. They can choose passive resistance. They can choose to end their own life. We can make choices in ways that no other creature can. We can make good choices and we can make really bad choices too.

If the Creator intervened to rescue us from our bad choices then our free will would be a fiction. I have made my share of mistakes (as the song goes, “Mistakes, I’ve made a few, but then again too few to mention…”) and I have usually had the good sense to discern and make other choices that resolved matters. Some folks avoid the mistakes in the first place, while others never abandon their bad choices. I don’t see an active hand of the Creator in these matters, except perhaps in the voice of conscience.

Life by its very definition is a lottery that sooner or later ends in death. In a river a salmon spawns thousands of eggs from which a few will survive a gauntlet to the sea, returning later to repeat the circle of life. My daughter gave birth to very tiny naturally occurring quads, one passed at 7 weeks and the remaining 3 thrive on their way to adolescence. In the last year we have lost good friends to accident, disease, and intention. All were good people in the truest sense of the world. I don’t believe the Creator actively chooses the fate of salmon, children, friends, or World Series victors. Nevertheless, I find that my senses are inadequate to fully explain all that occurs with me and around me.

My parents gave me an excellent start in life. I was well fed, well clothed, and well educated. They provided me with a model of parenting from which I could choose how I would later parent. Christine and I have strived to do the same for our children. My parents are not entitled to credit for my successes, or blame for my failings. They are entitled to my gratitude for the start in life that they gave to me. The same goes for the Hand that gave me breath and free will.

I am grateful for my life, for my humanity, and for this day. But the life that was breathed into me did not include a parachute to rescue me from my free will.

Peace Everyone. Pete


Nice Post Peter Michael. Who do you think has been posting the suggestions to your conscience all of these years?

Sincerely, God

A Semi-Tractor powering up at 6 a.m. was my alarm clock this morning in the parking lot of the Thermopolis Exxon Southside Travel Center. With the exception of a brief 3 a.m. trip to the bathroom I slept through the night. A rarity these days. I thanked the morning cashier who gave me a breakfast recommendation a few minutes farther into town. The Black Bear Cafe (not part of the chain) served up a great southwest omelet, covered liberally with green pork chili.

As I left the cafe and walked toward my rig I surprised another early rising visitor. A mule deer sporting antlers in velvet. He assessed that I was not a threat and continued calmly on his way between the buildings of downtown Thermopolis.

I on the other hand had 160 miles of winding and steep road ahead of me. My auto GPS said it should have taken 3 hours. Frequent photo stops added nearly 2 hours to that.

The unfolding panoramas presented brilliant upward thrusts of rock and snow topped peaks that seemed to split the earth.

Miles of two lane road spread before me like a spool of ribbon unrolling into the distance.

The road would lift its face to the sky and just as suddenly cast eyes into a deep valley with the sign of caution to use a lower gear. Towing a trailer gave me pause to take the warnings to heart.

Overlooks provided opportunities to not only appreciate the surrounding wonders, but to see the tread-like apparition of the road that I would be traveling miles in the distance.

I reached the Beartooth Highway in due course.

Christine and I drove the Beartooth during one of our first post-retirement trips. We checked out a number of the Forest Service campgrounds and the “Top of the World Resort”, a one gas pump, four room motel that is anchored by a log cabin “store” that features a humble assortment of souvenirs. It advertises groceries, but that really means a few shelves of candy bars, chips, and booze. The gas is nearly a buck a gallon more than it is 70 miles down in Cody, however Top of the World is the only game in town for at least 30 miles. I topped up my tank with out complaint.

This is bear country and signs abound with such warnings as “BE BEAR AWARE!”. When we were here before a couple of the campgrounds were closed to tents because of problems with bears. To my knowledge that proscription is not currently in place.

My first choice campground turned out to still be closed due to the late snows and lingering winter-like conditions. Apparently, Beartooth Pass was closed less than 2 weeks ago by a late June snowstorm.

I am camped at 9,000 feet above sea level in the Beartooth Lake Campground. It features 21 sites, pit pots, picnic tables, fire pits, and stunning scenery. It lacks drinking water, electricity, and cell service. I am one of just a few campers. The cost is $15 a night, but with my “America the Beautiful Pass” (aka the “Geezer Pass”) there is a 50% discount. I have paid for 4 nights, $30.. a bargain and the lifetime pass only cost me $10. It has paid for itself scores of times over. To be eligible for the pass one must be at least 62. Since Christine and I bought ours (each person should get one as they are not transferable between spouses) the cost has gone up to $80… still a bargain.

As I said, I am without cell service. Not having the benefit of my electronic encyclopedia is like losing half of my brain. Moreover, I miss being able to just call Christine on a whim to share such minutiae as, “Hey! A mule deer just walked through my campsite… Way Cool!”

Well, one actually did.

Temps are falling faster than the sun and it just will get into the low 30’s tonight. Tomorrow I’m planning a bit of a driving tour of the Beartooth without the handicap of having a trailer in tow. Hopefully I will find an opportunity to post this.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. It occurs to me that a person who habitually talks to himself or to people who aren’t actually there is either “mentally ill” or a Blogger. Bloggers just do it in writing.

I was up early, made breakfast, broke camp, and was on the road by 8:30 this morning. With a slight press to make my scheduled arrival in Idaho I decided to make this a driving day.

By 8 pm this evening I had put 400 miles behind me. That may not sound like much, but the siren song of remarkable non-stop scenery imposed frequent camera stops.

Tonight’s challenge is to pick the best pictures from a portfolio of great shots.

On the route I passed through Walden Colorado and proceeded the 51 miles north to Riverside Wyoming.

This remote stretch of two lane state highway is a popular byway for bicyclists traveling cross-country. I and 15 companions did so on July 3, 2010 as we worked our way south from Cape Flattery Washington to Key West Florida. The drive today was full of memories which included the cabin I shared with Christine in Riverside, and the Antler Inn Hotel where we stayed at in Walden.

As I left Colorado and entered Wyoming I saw cyclists in the distance.

I waited for their arrival at the State Line and then offered to take their picture. Somewhere in my 2010 archive of shots there is one of Christine and me at that very spot… I FOUND IT! (The miracle of “cloud storage”!)

I had thought to stop at a State Park for the night. North of Riverton Wyoming is Boysen State Park near the Wind River Canyon. I stopped long enough to assess that $35.00 would buy me a parking spot, cynically called a campsite, pit-pots, and nothing more. To be fair the scenery was grand but 40+ mph winds blowing off the Boysen Reservoir guaranteed I would not be out to appreciate the view. I passed on the State Park.

I then spent the next 45 minutes winding through the sheer cliff walls of the Wind River Canyon. I regret that I couldn’t stop to take some shots until I came to the north end of the Canyon.

Seven miles later I stopped at the Southside Exxon Travel Center in Thermopolis. Christine and I learned early in our retirement that when the goal is to make miles it doesn’t make sense to pay $30+ for a campsite when many truck stops feature showers, laundries, and other amenities intended for over-the-road truckers, but just as available for RVer’s. I filled the gas tank and bought my first real shower since Denver for the princely sum of $8.00. They provide towel, washcloth, soap, and shampoo. Overnight parking is free, and there is even free WiFi. The scenery isn’t much, but there is indeed something to be said for gas station camping.

Tomorrow I should make it to Red Lodge Montana and the Bear Tooth Highway.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: More pictures follow below.

The ultimate destination of this trip has alway been the Coeur d’Alene bicycle trail that stretches the width of northern Idaho, from Plummer Idaho in the West to Mullen Idaho in the east.

73 miles of asphalt that is dedicated to bicyclists and pedestrians. It winds through the Bitterroot Mountains and is the former route of the “Olympian Hiawatha”, a legendary 1st class rail connection founded by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (aka “The Milwaukee Road”).

This star of America’s rails to trails boom was featured years ago in National Geographic. I bookmarked this in my mind as a thing to do “someday”. Someday almost passed me by today. My plan had been to camp at an Idaho State Park near Plummer, leave the trailer and ride my bike to Wallace ID, near the trails end. I was going to secure a motel, and the following day add another 30+ miles by riding into Montana on the Route of the Hiawatha trail, passing through old railroad tunnels and over high trestles. Included would be the 1.66 mile long Taft Tunnel before returning to the motel in Wallace. On day three I planned to bicycle back to Plummer and my camp.

A call to the State Park brought shocking news… no suitable vacancies, period! I shifted into problem solving mode. There were no other options at the west end of the trail, so turning to the east end I found a small private RV park located in Wallace. Jackpot! They had ONE vacancy that suited my needs. What’s more, the park is located 200 feet off the bike trail and next door to a craft brew-pub. The original plan will require some alterations, but the core of my intentions now remains intact. I dodged a “bullet”, but in the process was forced to abandon flexibility and set a date certain for my ride on the trails.

Today I broke my new touring bicycle out for a spin. A 20 mile round trip from Winter Park Resort to beyond Frazier.

I would have continued to Tabernash but dark clouds and drizzle turned me back. My new bike is a Surly “Long-Haul-Trucker”. It is not a replacement for my much lighter custom built titanium “Seven”, but is better suited for the kind of riding I wish to pursue while traveling.

The ride proved the wisdom of this bicycle choice, and with a little fine tuning it should be perfect on the Coeur d’Alene and Route of the Hiawatha.

This is my last night in the Robbers Roost US Forest Service campground. I treated myself to a “real” breakfast this morning, a sausage, Anaheim pepper and cheese omelet. This evening I added to the culinary celebration with a Dutch Oven pizza, drawing from an unusual assortment of available ingredients: Salmon, mushrooms, Hatch chilis, chipotle cheddar cheese, and a liberal topping of Cholula hot sauce. Oh yes, there was also a salad.

As I monitored my Dutch Oven, cooking time synchronized with two beers, a very unusual rig pulled into the campground.

The owners are Denny and his wife from Texas. He is a grizzled looking Vietnam War Army veteran. The couple had been avid motorcycle travelers, but the gradual age-related loss of his balance drove Denny to his Polaris manufactured “Slingshot” tricycle. It’s powered by a 200hp 4-cylinder Chevy engine. A custom option exists to drop in a small-block Corvette V8… bet that would shame some $200,000 4 wheel exotics. Denny is exploring teardrop trailer options to pull behind his trike.

In the morning I head north into Wyoming. I have been fortunate to have good cell service these last few days. No guarantees going forward. In the meantime…

Peace Everyone. Pete

It was a good day for a hike. Breakfast eaten, dishes done, and camp made “ship shape” I drove to the Second Creek trailhead.

With my camera, Camelback (water), and trekking poles I began my ascent. 10,600 feet to about 11,600 feet. For a local this would not qualify as much of a climb. As a non-acclimated flatlander I found this to be challenging enough. Snow banks became plentiful as I reached and then continued above tree line.

The sapphire blue sky was pierced by a full sun that baked the skin and pained the eyes.

Step into a shadow and the temperature seemed to plummet. Amidst the trees, sweatshirt on… in the open, sweatshirt off.

The vistas did not disappoint and my 3 hours spent hiking provided ample opportunity for pictures and thoughtful rumination.

There are populations that make their homes above 12,000 feet, principally in the South American Andes Mountains and the Asian highlands of Tibet. However, over one-third of the world’s population lives less than 300 feet above sea-level. Far less than 1 percent live above 10,000 feet. This is the study of hypsographic demography.

As I periodically stopped to catch my breath I began to consider how quickly the air thins as elevation increases. Humans are not well designed to flourish above the clouds… there is a reason that the salinity of our blood closely matches the salinity of the oceans. We are physically happiest at the altitude of the seas from whence we emerged eons ago.

So here I am loving the mountains, the dry air, the smell of pine, the big brown bear that wandered through my campsite… yet I will never achieve the full aerobic capacity that I enjoy at 900 feet back in Kansas City.

The world is approximately 8,000 miles in diameter. Depending on the scientific discipline, the Earth’s atmosphere may be deemed to extend upwards to about 60 miles. Of course no human can survive at that altitude. Mount Everest (29,029 feet) is the highest point on Earth, not even 4 miles in elevation, and yet the fittest human can only briefly survive at that extreme.

Our inclination to be species-centric burdens us with the illusion that we are masters of vast (near endless?) realms and inexhaustible resources. However, if the Earth were reduced to the size of a 3 foot diameter ball, then the corresponding atmospheric equivalent of 10,560 feet (2 miles) above sea-level would be 9 thousandths of an inch (0.009”)! To put that into perspective, that is roughly the thickness of two pieces of ordinary copy paper.

The reality is that we are fragile creatures living within an incredibly thin envelope of breathable air. Borrowing upon an ancient proverb, “It’s an ill bird that fouls its own nest”… or perhaps more to the point, it is an ill fated humanity that chooses to break the wind that it breaths.

Peace Everyone.