Elderberries

One of my favorite memories from growing up was going out in the late summer and picking all the wild berries that grew around Humboldt County. It was always such a joy to eat these wonderful blackberries, huckleberries, thimble berries, salmon berries and know that you didn’t pay a thing for them! Yes, it’s true, I’m cheap and love free economies.

The first day that we had hiked up to Devil’s Spur we had noticed all of these blue berries in these tall bushes. They kind of looked like blueberries, but they weren’t. We looked it up on line and discovered that they were elderberries. There are three types of elderberries: red, black and blue. The red ones are poisonous when raw, so do not eat these. The others are edible, or at least the berries are.

All those berries!

We decided to go back and pick some and make some elderberry syrup from them. Overall, they were pretty easy to harvest as there are no stickers and the only challenge was bending the branch down low enough to cut the clusters off.

There were a number of recipes on how to do it. The biggest challenge was to get enough yield from the berries to make it worth your while. We harvested about 3 pounds of berries and brought them home. Susanne had read in one recipe that it helped to freeze them in order to get them off the stem. So we did that.

In the morning, we started working on getting just the berries. You don’t want the stems and leaves as they are mildly toxic. Susanne tried with what would have been my first thought ; that is she put the berries in a pot of water to try and get the stems and leaves to float to the top. Sadly, this method did not work very well.

I thought that maybe if you could get a colander and “sieve” the leaves and twigs out by shaking, this would make getting just the berries easier. It worked pretty well and then when you put them on a paper towel, it became pretty easy to get just the berries. It probably took us an hour or so to clean all the berries off the stems and get them ready to cook.

The culling process
wowzaa!

The next step was to crush up the berries with an immersion blender. That also worked well and produced a lot of juice, but didn’t crush up too many seeds as they are a bit bitter. We cooked the berries with a little sugar and lo and behold we had elderberry syrup. The color of the syrup was amazing and the aroma was also pretty incredible.

One of the recipes warned to not wear anything that would get stained. Looking at the pic, you can see why.

For dinner that night, we cooked a wild mushroom risotto with a pork loin served with elderberry sauce. Let’s just say yummy! The elderberries have a wonderfully powerful flavor. Next up, we will try it in a dessert. Probably panna cotta.

Anyway, it was really fun and we will probably go pick some more and take some with us to give to Esther and Casey in Tacoma and Jason and Cynthia in Aptos.

Three cheers for free economies and now you know how to harvest and use elderberries.

A super yummy dinner

Stab Wound

I am happy to report that the stab wound in my hand is getting much better. And I know what you are thinking. No, I did not get into some brawl at the local Wenatchee honky tonk. I managed to stab myself with my leatherman tool. They profess to be instruments of great versatility, like a Swiss army knife, but I have come to loathe them. They tempt me every time with the needle-nose pliers, which, quite frankly, I have never really used. The knife part of them is terrible and I end up cutting myself every time. I did this while in our campsite on Fish Creek. It was a deep stab, but as mentioned above, all seems to be well now. Why do I keep that damn thing? I hate it. Note to self, throw away the damn leatherman.

The weather has been quite nice so we have been out hiking a lot. Things have improved significantly from the first day where it ended up in a complete Fuster Cluck. The best day for sure was our hike up the Lake Valhalla (shown in the previous post). Hiking here is pretty challenging. Almost everything starts with a trail that just goes straight up the hill for about a 1000′ in a mile. Ouchy. The technical term for that, my friends, is “steep.” Our friend Esther summed up the hiking here the best:

How I hate you

“Almost everywhere there is steep. Long and steep. Short and steep. Steep…and steeper”

So let me do a quick sum up of our hiking experience here thus far.

Eightmile Lake: Don’t know. No dogs. Grrrr.

Old Pipeline Bed Trail: This located just outside of Leavenworth and was our fall-back from the disaster at Eightmile Lake. It goes along the Wenatchee river and is pretty easy. The road noise from Highway 2 is a bit of a bummer, but the river is gorgeous and we saw some huge salmon in there. Total length was about 3 miles out and back with minimal climbing.

Clara Lake: At the end of the road at Mission Ridge Ski Area, this is a quad-cruncher. 900′ in 0.85 miles. Ouchy pouchy. We thought this was going to be an easy morning hike. Nope.

Lake Valhalla: Wow, oh wow, oh wow. Not a hard hike, but man is it beautiful. Crowded for sure, but well worth it. 6.2 miles in length and about 1300′ of vertical. Most the vertical comes in the first mile. By local standards, this is easy peasy.

Merritt Lake: Located on highway 2 toward Stevens pass, this was a “shorter” hike that we spotted on the map. The trail description said it was a 6 mile out and back with 1900′ of climbing. Not too outrageous….until you find out that most of that climbing comes in the first 1.4 miles. Steep (see above). The weather started out pretty nice, but as we climbed up, it got quite smoky. I guess there was a fire pretty close by that was blowing smoke into the basin. Bummer. The lake was pretty, but the smoke made us forego any fishing and head on back down the mountain.

Ingalls Creek: This was a new area for us and after the last 3 days of quad-busting uphill, Susanne found us a nice hike along a creek that headed back in the Alpine Lake Wilderness area. It also had the advantage of being a bit of a shorter drive. We got there and decided to not take our hiking poles because it was supposed to be pretty “flat.”

Mistake. Although it only climbs 1400′ over the 14 miles of the total trail, the first mile climbed 800′ of that. Sheesh. So much for flat.

Ingalls Creek

It was a very lovely hike and creek was gorgeous with its waterfalls and emerald green water. We hiked in about 2.5 miles and then found a place to have lunch and try out a little fishing. It was very tight and quite different than lake fishing. My 5 weight rod was pretty big, but you could just flip it out into the stream where you needed. You would get at most 8′ to 10′ of drift before you had to recast.

Gorgeous little fishing spot

On the second cast I got a rise. Yeah! I handed the pole over to Susanne and she gave it go. After a few minutes she got a feisty little mountain trout on the line. It fought surprisingly hard for a 8″ trout, but these fish in the fast moving streams are pretty tough buggers.

A beautiful fall day
cool plants

We fished for a while and I caught a couple as well. It was really quite fun fishing and they were some gorgeous rainbows. There were some bigger pools down lower that probably had some good size fish in them, but we did not try them out. We met a guy on the trail headed up to go bow hunting for elk. He was quite friendly and we chatted for a while. He said his friend had told him there were some really big Dolly Varden trout in the lake and the stream. We will have to come back. I will say that the people here have been super friendly and talkative — small towns are nice that way.

Maybe not a lunker, but he gave us a good fight. Sorry for the bother, buddy, but now you are back home.

Lake Valhalla

I fussed around with my new fly reel and concluded that it was a piece of junk. No instructions, just an engineering diagram of all the parts. I pretty much took the thing apart trying to figure out how to switch it from a left-hand retrieve to a right-hand retrieve, but to no avail. Susanne came over to assist. She is good with that stuff, so I figured she would sort it out. Nope. She suffered the same fate. Damn. Well, I will just have to take it back. I guess you get what you pay for.

Dogs allowed. We made sure of it this time before making the long drive to the trailhead. The pictures from the web looked great and the distance (7 mi) and elevation gain (1200′) seemed very pleasant for this part of the world, so we headed out.

The trail description described it as very popular but we were hoping that since it was Monday and after Labor Day that maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. We headed out around 8 am and got there just after 9 am. The parking lot was already pretty full, but we managed to get a spot. We loaded up our stuff and started up the hill. There were enough people that we had to keep Sadie on leash, but a least we got to have our dog!

It was surprisingly cold and we were a bit under-dressed. I had no gloves, so my Raynauds flared up and my fingers turned white. Bummer. Luckily, Susanne had some glove and lent them to me.

The Cascades are really beautiful mountains that I would love to spend more time in. Thankfully the smoke was all cleared out too! I love the fir and spruce forest and all the lush green undergrowth. The mushrooms were really out in full force and we saw a couple of people collecting them.

The trail climbs up and over a ridge that gives you a wonderful view down into the lake. It was truly amazing. There weren’t too many people when we showed up, so we found a nice spot down on the beach and set up for some fishing. Susanne tried for awhile and got squat. I changed rigs and tried for awhile and got equivalent squat. I stood there for awhile looking to see if I could see any fish. Nothing.

Then the masses showed up…and they all had dogs. A young German Shepherd was SOOOOOO excited to be there chasing a stick in the water, she was barking her head off. Sadie, who likes to put the kibosh on other dogs having fun, was barking her head off at the German Shepherd. There was a Standard Poodle a little ways away, also getting into the barkity bark bark fun. A Black Lab showed up and was the only dog that didn’t bark, but it was still loud.

After a while, we decided we had had enough of the mayhem and packed it up. Clearly, the fish were not going to cooperate. We ambled our way back down to the car and what had been a few cars in the parking lot were now about 50 parked on the road and anywhere they could. Good god, I would hate to see the place on the weekend.

On the way home we stopped at Sportsman Paradise to return the reel. I told the guy it just wasn’t going to work. He asked why. I showed him the impossibility of it. He sighed and said “you’re right. that is a piece of S%$T.” He gave me my money back.

Next up was my arch-nemesis, the Safeway. It is one of the most oddly organized stores I have ever been in and I always end up walking back and forth about 8 times to find everything. The produce section sucks. Except for apples. They have lots of apples.

Wenatchee is the apple capital of the world. Or so they claim. According to the very reliable Wenatchee government website:

“One of the first white settlers in Wenatchee, Philip Miller, planted apple trees in 1872. The Peterson orchard, started in 1884, was the first commercial planting in Wenatchee. With the completion of the Great Northern Railway Company’s route across Stevens Pass in 1893, apples could be now shipped by rail to Seattle. The first carload of apples from Wenatchee to Seattle was shipped in 1901, and the future looked bright for growers. The apples were so well received that by 1902, the Wenatchee community began proclaiming that Wenatchee was the “Apple Capital of the World” (The Night the Mountain Fell, 1973).”

But I digress. The damn store didn’t even have limes. I hate that store.

All-in-all it was a wonderfully beautiful hike and a nice day, despite Safeway!

The Count

The count is 267 days currently. That is, New Zealand Immigration has had our application for 267 days now…not that I’m counting. We really thought we would be there by now, but alas we are not and with the ongoing CF called COVID, I am starting to lose hope a bit. I have tried to now just not even think about it and enjoy the adventure we are on. I will say though, it is a subtly stressful thing wondering if you will be leaving your country or not. In the mean time, we will just have a good time and enjoy the ride. Don’t panic and carry a towel.

We had a very wet dreary day on Friday, so I took the opportunity to have an exciting day in town taking care of some basic life maintenance things. Jiffy Lube for an oil change, the trailer to get all the dirty sheets and towels to wash, Discount Tire to rotate the tires, Bed Bath and Beyond for some new coffee mugs. Truly the type of day you live for.

On Saturday, we decided to drive up to a little lake up behind the house and try some fishing. The water is quite low and getting warm, so it is not really the best time to fish for trout, but what the heck. I did look into getting on a salmon fishing charter, but everyone I talked to said they were completely booked up for the season. Bummer, but I guess people come from all over the world to go fishing for Chinook on the Columbia River, so not too surprising we couldn’t get in.

We hiked up to the lake and found a spot. There were a few other folks there as well. There were a lot of weeds on the edge, so casting was a bit tough. Clearly, this would be better in the early summer. After a few trials and errors, we got fishing. Susanne caught a little one right away. Sadie, who thinks fishing is about as boring as watching paint dry, headed off and found a shady spot under the trees.

Susanne mentioned that there is a green algae in the area that was toxic for dogs and this made her, rightly, uncomfortable leaving Sadie alone, so she decided to go sit under the tree with Sadie while I fished. I fished a while longer and also caught a small rainbow. It wasn’t that great of a place, so we decided to just head back home. Not a great fishing outing, but not bad either.

That afternoon, I decided to go on an MTB ride in the park behind us. It was pretty nice and not nearly as dusty as it had been, thanks to the rain. I had replaced the grips on my bike that I hated and I was enjoying my new ones, which did not make my hands fall asleep.

The Upper Wheeler Mud Pit

I rode up to Upper Wheeler Lake and confirmed that, yes, it was drained and there were definitely no fish in there. Bummer. It was a bit more of a ride than I expected and after reviewing the data when I got home I realized I had gone around Robinson’s barn to get there.

Evidently, it is a private lake and they drain it when they need water for irrigation. This upset people back 2015, so the owner just shut down access. Since then, they negotiated a reopening and now you can go there. But they still drain it.

Which got me thinking, where did this phrase come from? Well, Joan Houston Hall (Editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) project at the University of Wisconsin at Madison) researched the term’s etymology. The first use of the term “Jack Robinson’s barn” was in the Chicago Tribune in 1891. I guess since then it has been shortened to “Robinson’s barn,” but regardless, it must have been a big barn if it took that long to get around it. I just thought you needed to know this.

This morning we drove up to the ski area and did a nice hike up to two small lakes to start off the day. It was way steeper than we had expected and wish we had brought our hiking poles. It climbed almost 1000′ in about a mile which clocks in at just around 20% grade. Doh! But it was nice and we are enjoying a nice slow pace of life up here in the mountains. Tomorrow we are going to do a hike up to a mountain lake and yes, we checked this time, dogs are allowed.

A good way to start the day…..straight up and straight down

Fuster Cluck

Today turned out to be a bit of a fuster cluck. More on that later, but first an update on the ongoing celebration called Susanne and Roger bumming around the country.

We have settled in nicely to our house up in the mountains outside of Wenatchee. I think Sadie is glad to be settling down in a place for awhile; we have really put her through a lot lately. At first she couldn’t settle, but once we showed her all the comfortable furniture that was at her disposal, she has been much happier.

Sadie using white noise therapy for a nap

The back decks are wonderful and face the small creek that runs by the house. It so pleasant to sit out there and listen to rushing water and just feeling the gentle flow of time…and a nice Pinot passing over your lips 🙂 Sadie definitely appreciates it (not the Pinot).

Wenatchee is at an elevation of around 700′. The house sits up around 3500′ and the ski area is another 1500′ above that. I was hoping to ride my bike up and down the “hill,” but the lower 3 miles are a bit narrow and busy. Above that, it gets much better…but the grade averages around 10%. Better start training.

The weather was pretty stinky hot down in Wenatchee, but has been very pleasant up here. The smoke has come and gone, but hasn’t been too bad so that made all three of us quite happy.

After a day of chores down in Wenatchee, I decided to go for a MTB ride in the state park next to the house. The trails were quite fun if not exhausting at times. They snake around and around and around. You are constantly making hairpin turns, but they are super well engineered so they are quite easy and they put so many in the gradient is low on the climbs

Twisty turny trails at Squilchuck State Park

There are a ton of little wood bridges you have to navigate as well. Evidently, the neighbor next door hand split all of the planks. Most of them were no problem, but a few were pretty elevated and were only one or two planks wide. I chose to walk those. Maybe after 60 years I am starting to get smarter.

On our second morning, we drove up the road to do a 4 mile hike up the Devil’s Spur. It was a pleasant hike that came out into a nice view spot looking all the way down into the valley. It was still a bit smokey, so it wasn’t a dramatic as it might have been on a clear day. I wanted to scope it out for riding as well, because it leads to an area that is, to quote one of the MTB websites “unquestionably the best ride in all of Washington”. Them is big words.

View from Devil’s Spur

Overall, the trail was predominantly blue and no problem. A few tricky steeps with some rocks, but almost all of it was rideable except for the last few hundred yards which were pretty exposed. The riding itself wouldn’t be hard, but the penalty points for screwing up are bigger than an old fart like me would be willing to experience. So, bottom line: Very doable with some hike-a-bike in a few sections.

Ok, so now on to the Fuster Cluck. I had wanted to head up toward Leavenworth and do a hike up to a lake where we could enjoy the amazing views and do a little lake fishing. There were a bunch, but I found one that looked like a good distance and not too hard — Eightmile lake. I sent the link to Susanne and she approved. The only minor concern raised was the “rough road to get to the trailhead.” Awesome, no worries for Lewis. He loves offroading.

We had coffee, packed up the stuff and headed out.

One thing here in Washington, is that almost everywhere you go, you need to have a pass (Discover Pass) that allows you to park on all the state lands. Normally, this would be easy to do online, but we have no way to print, so we needed to go to the forest service office and get one. So that was our fist stop. We got there and couldn’t quite tell where the front door was. After a few attempts, Susanne came back and informed me that because of COVID they only issued Discover Passes if you had an appointment. Doh! Boofer #1.

Yes, you really do need this

We figured there must be some way to pay for parking at the trailhead and lacking any other options, we headed out toward Leavenworth. The next logistical challenge was the fishing licenses. Usually not difficult, but nothing was open until 10 and again, we had no printer to do it on line. In Leavenworth, I decided I would just do it on line and save an image to my phone — hopefully that would be enough for the watchful eyes of Washington State Forest Service agents.

Super excited to go hike in there!

The drive up from Leavenworth was stunningly beautiful. A hint of fall colors, mixed with towering peaks and the gorgeous green color of the Wenatchee river. It was all going well now.

We hit the dirt road section and they were not kidding — it was pretty darn rough. Yeah for Lewis!

There were a fair number of people at the trailhead and we drove up to the information sign. Susanne let out a big “oh shit.” What?! She informed that there were no dogs allowed on the trail to Eightmile lake. Ugh. I have never experienced that before except in National Parks. WTF! Boofer #2. Neither of us had seen that on the trail description.

First up the rough dirt road and then right back down again

We drove back down the rough dirt road with Sadie wondering what the heck was going on. We drove down to another trailhead to see if that also was “no dogs allowed” and sadly it was. I guess there is a special designation for this wilderness where they don’t allow dogs. What the heck.

We looked around for another trail to hike, but couldn’t find anything that fit the bill. Susanne found a nice little trail that ran along the Wenatchee river, so we settled for that. It wasn’t great, but the river was beautiful. Deeps pools that were an amazing green. At one we saw a bunch of fish rising. On our return we looked down and could see a huge school of salmon in there. Sadly, or happily, the river is closed for spawning season, so we could only look at them.

cool footbridge

We now both had the full sense that the day had been a total Fuster Cluck and we should just probably head back to Wenatchee and get a fishing license and a parking pass and call it a day.

Editor’s note: Boofer #3 consisted of confirming that the National Forest office in Leavenworth was *also* closed except by appointment. Not surprising at this point. By the way, Leavenworth is a surprisingly kitschy town, branded as a Bavarian Village. There are signs in German all over the place, and even the Safeway sign is printed in some sort of Bavarian-looking font.

We successfully got our various passes, a new fishing reel and some quite useless fishing advice from the dude in Sportsman’s Paradise store and then headed back up to the house.

We spent some time researching other possible hikes that did allow dogs. I have to say, the whole “no dog” thing has soured me a bit on the Cascades. I get “dogs on leash” and “pick up your poop” but to not allow them is absurd in my book. You always hear the reasons stated as “dog pee will scare off the wildlife” which quite frankly isn’t supported by the science. Eeeeerrrrrggggg. But there you have it.

Susanne vandalized the bridge with her paint can

Feeling upset about that turn of events, I decided to go for a quick ride up to the ski area on my road bike. Now, as you all know, words need context, so quick was in the context of a 1500′ climb in 3.2 miles. For those that are good with math, you already realize that that is about a 10% grade average. For those that aren’t, let’s just suffice it to say that it was clucking steep and quick meant creeping along at the pace of a pregnant moose.

But the day ended with success.

Steep? Yes, sir

Wenatchee

A bit of a pause on the blogging, but back it at now. We finished out our stay at our beautiful little campsite along Fish Creek. We were very glad to have such a nice place as the hordes from Missoula showed up for Labor Day and it definitely turned into a bit of a zoo.

After the first day of fishing where I really started to feel like I knew what I was doing, the fish had the last laugh. I just couldn’t figure out how to catch one anymore. Finally on the last day, I got a bit more action and caught a nice 10″ cutthroat. Whew.

I really have enjoyed the fishing and do I like fly fishing in the creek. It is very consuming and you end up casting over and over again trying to get the fly to float “drag-free.” It is a bit like kayaking because you have to really read the water and try to decided how the currents are going to move your fly and your line and whether it will move naturally over where a fish might want to come try out a tasty meal.

Susanne found one fishing hole near our campsite particularly appealing. She spent a lot of time there figuring out where the fish were, how to cast the fly so it floated by them just right. She ended up catching quite a few there. There was at least one big lunker hiding under the big cottonwood tree that had fallen across the stream and she even got it to come out and give her a strike. I am sure that fish is super smart and wary as it probably gets fished all the time, so I was pretty impressed she was even able to get a rise out of it.

Beautiful Cutty from Susanne’s Hole
Susanne’s Hole — there’s a big lunker in there

The smoke really moved in which bummed us out as we had had 4 gorgeous smoke-free days prior to that. The good news was that we were moving on the next day (Monday, Labor Day). It seemed like another sign that it was time to move along on the vagabond journey.

We got up in the morning, had coffee and started packing up. The plan was to drive to Viola, Idaho and visit our friends Margaret and Ray who we had not seen for over 20 years. It is just crazy how time just slips by and next thing you know, several decades have passed and your friends’ kids are off being all grown up smarty pants doing amazing things.

It was about a 4 hr drive, so it wasn’t a long day in the saddle. We showed up at their house around 2 pm and the smoke wasn’t too bad. They live on a really nice 47 acre plot of land in the heart of the hilly wheat country in Eastern Washington, not far from Washington State University and where I went to 1st and 2nd grades.

We introduced Sadie to Bear (their dog) and it all went pretty well. Bear is a super nice, young, athletic dog with just the sweetest personality. He just wanted to play with Sadie, but Sadie, being the cranky old bitch, was less enamored with that idea. We walked around the property and had a nice evening catching up after so many years. One really nice thing about this trip is that we have been catching up with some folks that we haven’t seen for way too long. Sadly, I didn’t take one ding dang picture of us. Doh! Anyway, we all look young and healthy. Trust me.

A very beautiful drive

We got up in the morning, sat around and had coffee and then headed out to Wenatchee where we have an Airbnb for a month. It will be nice to just hang out in one place for a while and I know that Sadie will really enjoy that. We drove through Colfax (or near it at least) which is where I went to school for 1st grade, and that was blast from the past. It was a great windy road through the surprisingly beautiful wheat fields.

The Airbnb doesn’t have room for the trailer, but Tom, who is the owner, offered to have us park it at his place during the stay. We drove to his house and met them and started to rejigger all our stuff out of the trailer. Holy crap, we have a lot of stuff, although a lot less wine than when we started. The whole time I kept having this odd feeling that I had met Tom and Lorien somewhere before, but didn’t think too much of it.

We bought some supplies and drove the 20 minutes up the mountain to their house near Mission Ridge ski area. We unloaded and moved in. Susanne googled Tom and Lorien and discovered they ran a company that focused on getting pets back to their owners. Doh! I had met them before at a conference in Canada. What a small world it is indeed.

The place is quite nice and backs to a stream that creates a beautiful symphony while you are sitting out on the deck. Sadie was a bit wound up, so I took her for a little walk to check out whether we could get into the adjacent state park directly from out place. I tried just going across the creek, but this had two problems: (a) it lead into the neighbor’s driveway and (b) it went through a big patch of stinging nettles of which I had forgotten about until my legs started stinging. Susanne would not be amused by this route.

A nice creek in the back
Mr. Cabin

It did eventually lead up to the park and the system of trails there. Yeah! and on my way back I found an easier route. I was happy because now we have a good place to walk in the morning and it is supposed to be great mountain biking.

It should be a very nice and relaxing place to hang out for a month.

The Big Six Oh

It is hard to believe, but I am now sixty years old. I am not sure how this has happened, but it has. Time has a way of just moving forward. Or at least that is how we perceive it.

To quote something published in Nature:

“According to theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, time is an illusion: our naive perception of its flow doesn’t correspond to physical reality. Indeed, as Rovelli argues in The Order of Time, much more is illusory, including Isaac Newton’s picture of a universally ticking clock. Even Albert Einstein’s relativistic space-time — an elastic manifold that contorts so that local times differ depending on one’s relative speed or proximity to a mass — is just an effective simplification.

“Obviously you are not a golfer”

So what does Rovelli think is really going on? He posits that reality is just a complex network of events onto which we project sequences of past, present and future. The whole Universe obeys the laws of quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, out of which time emerges.”

whoa.

Fuck it Dude, let’s go fishing.

We unquestionably got the best campsite. Yeah for us! It was quite chilly in the morning, so we lounged around in the trailer drinking coffee and reading up on fly fishing in Montana. Susanne had a bit of work to do so I walked Sadie up the road for awhile. Fish Creek is quite a lovely little creek. The water is amazingly clear and it is a classic riffle-pool Western stream.

There was bear poop on the road and I had forgotten to bring the mace with me. That is one thing you see in Montana is that everyone walking around in the wilds always has a can of bear mace. I wasn’t too worried as there had already been a number of cars up and down the road, but something to keep in mind.

Our campground is about 45 miles west of Missoula

The campground had filled up last night, but was already emptying out. This seems to be a transitional campsite for a lot of people as it is near I-90 and easy to access. About 11, the sun finally hit the campsite so we rigged of the fishing gear and headed out to see if Fish Creek lived up to it’s name.

Like most stream fishing, it requires a lot of wading back and forth across the stream. Our feet hit the water on the first crossing and we both had the same reaction. BRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

We worked our way back up toward the trailer with out much luck. Susanne stopped at a really nice looking hole right by the campsite. I continued upstream. She proceed to get a bunch of strikes and caught a couple. Small but gorgeous buggers. They were pretty wary and didn’t take the fly very hard, so they were a bit tough to hook.

We headed back to the trailer and just hung out in the shade for the rest of afternoon. It was surprisingly hot for September. About 4, I decided to go back out fishing and headed up stream. I found one really nice drift that I tried out with the magic “purple haze” fly that had worked so well for Susanne. BAM! I got a big 16″ brown trout that was big enough I had to use my spiffy new fish net. I caught a couple more and then lost the magic fly to a big feisty Rainbow.

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately, things just don’t seem the same
Acting funny, but I don’t know why
Excuse me while I kiss the sky

I like fishing but always had a bit of remorse when I bring the fish in. If you snuck up on me after I caught a fish, you can always hear me apologizing and thanking the fish for letting me catch it and telling it to calm down so I can put it back where it belongs. I do like that aspect of catch and release. Evidently, according to Frank, about 95% of all the fish caught and returned survive. Much higher for those that are handled by people who know how to handle fish. That makes me happy.

We are camped near a huge Ponderosa pine. In fact according to the Missoulian:

“The aptly named “Big Pine” is the largest known ponderosa pine in Montana and third-largest in the United States. Its surprisingly unblemished red-orange skin belies its age, which would be roughly 100 years older than George Washington if he were not dead.”

The big tree

Evidently, it is in danger of falling into the creek, so they are working on a plan to save it. It really is quite an impressive tree and it is nice they are trying to save it from falling into the creek and creating yet another difficult obstacle to get over.

Now if they could just do something with all those slick mossy rocks in the creek I would be happy.

We had a nice dinner and enjoyed the cool weather of the evening. We are going to stay here until Sunday when we will head out and go visit our friends Margaret and Ray just outside of Moscow, ID.

It was a great B-day.

Moving Day

August 31st: We woke up to a huge wall of smoke outside the trailer. Ugh. My eyes had been burning all night and now with visual confirmation that the world had come to an end, we made a quick decision that our time in the Madison River Valley had come to an end. The thought of 3 or 4 days in this level of smoke was more than I could endure. How the people in Tahoe are surviving this is beyond me.

We packed up our stuff, got a quick rigging lesson from Frank and said our goodbyes. They have been beyond wonderful to us through our life and this visit was no different. Two of the best, most generous people that I know on this planet.

Susanne had scoped out a place about 45 minutes west of Missoula that looked like a good place to boondock for a few days. We were hoping that this far enough west to get us out of the smoke.

I often have asked myself, why do I take time to write these blogs and just who am I writing them for? As time has gone on and I go back and reread my old blogs, I have realized that I am mostly writing them for myself in the future. Well, that and Susanne’s sister Anita, who is, by all accounts and measurements, my blog’s biggest fan.

We were listening to a “Hidden Brain” podcast on the drive that was all about how bad we are at remember stuff and how quickly we can create memories that are just simply fabrications. The speed at which the details of our memories fade is pretty staggering and we tend to forget the things that are new and novel first.

They also talked about “memory athletes” who are people who compete in remembering long strings of things. Sounds kind of boring, but you probably won’t slice your shin open and scream out F bombs. They have a technique where they build a mental image of something that is familiar (like your house) and then mentally place the items they are trying to remember in that familiar image. It was quite interesting.

Anyway, I mention this because I believe that is what I like about blogging. It helps me keep so many precious moments from these adventures that would so quickly fade into the fog of past memories.

We stopped in Missoula to get some supplies, both food and fly fishing equipment. Susanne found us an Albertsons that was right across the street from a fly shop. We pulled in and the parking lot was very tight for a big-ass truck and a trailer. I found one spot that I could pull through on, but it was tight on each side. We debated and then thought maybe I should look for a better spot. I tried to pull out, but it was just too tight. I was stuck. I backed up and figured I would just wait until one of the cars next to me left. Susanne went in to get supplies. The lady next me left and I worked the rig around so I was eating up 3 spots and could easily get out without smashing into someone.

The fly shop was just across the street, so I strolled over there to get some stuff. I brought two poles, but not much else as I had not expected Susanne to get the fly fishing bug. I needed new stuff anyway, so it worked out. The dudes were quite friendly and helped me gather up the $221 worth of stuff. Fly fishing is not an inexpensive sport, especially if you put flies in the trees on your backcast all the time.

That trash you left cost you $60

Fully geared up, we drove out to the Big Pine Campground on Fish Creek. We found a gorgeous spot right on the creek and set up camp. Very private and nobody else was in the campground yet. Some jerks had left a lot of trash in the campsite. ERRRRRR, that makes me MAD!!! Really? How hard is it to just pick up your trash and take it out?

But Karma being Karma, they had left a bunch of trash and with that, a $40 fly box with $20 of flies. Serves you right you jerks. Now Susanne has her own fly box.

Later on a few folks showed up, but it wasn’t a big deal as we couldn’t even see them. We definitely got the best spot. Although one of them had a dog which was totally unacceptable to Sadie.

Fish Creek. Let’s hope it is aptly named

Tomorrow we will go out and trying fishing on this absolutely gorgeous little stream.

Cattle Guards and F bombs

August 29th: Based on Laura’s weather forecast which included increasing wind for the rest of the week, we decided to head on down to the lake and try to get some fishing in before the flotilla took over (the hordes of weekend people on kayaks and sups). Frank took the boat down and we walked with the dogs. All the good spots were take by campers, so we ended up further down the lake.

Susanne and Frank headed out in the boat and Laura and I were in the float tubes. I didn’t have any flippers, so they had to tow me out to the good fishing spot. The second we got there the wind kicked up and I had no hope of staying in place, so I just let the currents of the world drift me along down the lake.

Susanne’s big fish

At one point I heard a big hoot out of the boat. Maybe Susanne had a caught her first big trout perhaps? Then I heard her say she had lost it. Bummer. A few minutes later, there was another big “Woohoo!” and this time she had landed herself a very big beautiful Rainbow.

I ended up drifting all the way back to camp, but I had no luck fishing. I did see this very cool red fox wandering along the shore. I think foxes are some of my favorite animals on the planet. We had lunch and fished the shore for a bit. I caught one very large trout and one other one. Day complete!

That afternoon, I decided I would go for another bike ride around the ranch. The only tricky part about riding on the ranch was navigating through the exit gate which has a big cattle guard and no easy way to get around it. I got to the gate and started to work my way around it. There were two deer standing on the other side just staring at me.

To get over the gate, it requires lifting the bike up on to the cattle guard, then putting one foot on the guard and trying to hoist yourself up without either losing the bike or crashing through the slots on the cattle guard.

My bike started to tip over and I over reacted causing my leg to slip off the metal slot allowing my shin, at high speed, to crash against the metal as it went down into the depths of the cattle guard. To say it hurt would be an understatement. My response to this tragic set of events was to let out a loud string of F bombs that lasted for long enough that the two deer became offended enough to move away in disgust.

The source of many F bombs

Ugh. I assessed the damaged and after a few minutes decided I was still fine for continuing on the ride. What a dumbassian. The rest of the ride was quite pleasant.

[Editor’s note: Later on in the evening as Roger was re-telling the story, Laura pointed out that there were less hazardous ways to get through the gate, such as climbing over it sans bike, and punching in the code on the keypad on the other side, and THEN retrieving the bike through the open gate.]

Sadly, the smoke started to move back in a bit so I did not attempt any more star shots that night.

A smoky return for Lewis and Clark

No Smoking Please

All of our spirits have been given a big shot in the arm as the smoke has cleared out of the area and for the first time we have really be able to see the grandeur of the Madison Range looming off in the distance. I had forgotten just how amazingly beautiful this area is since for the last two years that we have been here, it has been obscured by smoke.

I was feeling a bit tired and pretty much took a down day lounging around, reorganizing the space in the trailer, and napping with Sadie on the bed. I think the last couple months of craziness really caught up with me. Allergies and the smoke probably contributed too.

I think I am going to have to take Lewis in for a few repairs when we are hanging around in Wenatchee. He has some weird electrical thing that blows the fuse all the time and now the gas lines are sagging underneath the trailer and need to be better secured. This is something no one wants to hear “excuse me sir, your gas lines are really sagging.”

Our spiffy solar system

On the good news front, the solar system seems to working quite well now. It was initially overcharging the batteries so I pushed a bunch of buttons to try to figure it out. Well, it works. I have no idea what I did to fix it, but at least it is working. I bought myself some time to figure out what it is I actually did.

We had planned on going through the Washington wine country to taste some lovely wines, but the whole explosion of COVID is now making us rethinking that plan a bit. That and the fact I got confused as to what day our Airbnb in Wenatchee started. So now, we will cruise west toward Wenatchee for a few days. We scoped a place just outside of Missoula that looks nice, so we will certainly spend at least one night there.

Life is nothing but rainbows and unicorns

Yesterday was my sis’s birthday, so we headed down to the Madison river to do some fishing. It was a bit chilly as fall is definitely in the air, but the sun was out and it was warming up quickly.

We left Sadie at home because she can be a bit hard to manage while fishing if there are people around and she pulled a muscle in her front leg chasing after a coyote the other day. Well, for that matter, I was a bit sore too because I had to chase after Sadie who was chasing after a coyote. I don’t know why she has decided to take up chasing coyotes, but it is really not something that I encourage. Maybe she is channeling her brother from the grave — Ringo definitely was a coyote chaser.

Is that Roger or Ussain?

Anywho, she took off and I panicked and took off after her sprinting through the sagebrush. Let’s just say that if you could have seen me sprinting, you would have definitely thought I was Ussain Bolt. At some point I caught my foot on a sage brush and took a gnarly tumble. She finally broke it off and headed back. Susanne was definitely not amused — either with Sadie for chasing after the coyote or with me for nearly killing myself. Sadie and I are both getting old and I think both of us need to learn that sprinting is not a good thing for old farts.

Hence, she got left in the trailer while we went fishing. I am glad Susanne did not leave me too.

The Madison River is a world famous trout fishing river. People flock here from all over the world to fish there. It is not an easy place to fish for beginners. I have caught a few fish there, but more often than not I get skunked. Frank set us up with a hopper/dropper set up and I headed out to the river. The footing around and in the river is super treacherous. Between the slimy moss and the big hidden pot holes you have to really be careful. I found a nice set of rocks to stand on and started casting in the riffle. I really didn’t expect to catch anything. Frank had warned me that the fish in the river are quite strong compared to the lake fish, so be careful not to horse them around lest you break the line.

On my third cast I got a powerful strike and I set the hook. It was a BIG fish! I was surprised how strong it was as I tried to slowly work it in while not falling off the rock. It took me awhile, but I got him in. I tried to reach down and pull the hook out, but couldn’t quite get it before he broke the line and swam off.

But WOOHOO! I hadn’t caught a big fish in the Madison before. I ended up catching 5 fish for the day. Not too bad for a beginner.

Fishing the Madison on a gorgeous day

We headed back to the house and hung out for a while enjoying the day and relaxing before Laura’s big b-day dinner. Sadie was quite happy at our return.

It was a clear sky, so I tried some astrophotography again. It is a total crap shoot, because I am too lazy to stay up at night and try to find the perfect set of parameters to get crisp looking starts. I just set the camera up on a timer and let it shoot all night long. The big risk is if some unexpected storm happens to come rolling in. I got a few cool ones, but still need to fine tune the technique.

Stars over the Madison range. The two straight lines are planes flying by. I shot it at 1600 ISO, f4.5 for 20 seconds.