July 22, 2017 I’m visiting Idaho and hanging with my grandson, Wyatt, who is pushing thirteen. We went for a mountain bike ride up Smith Creek Rd. in the Selkirks. He dialed up his youthful energy and shot up the road. We know how this plays out. After a mile or two, the cagey veteran reels in the youngster. Wyatt went off script and continued to spin like he was on the rinse cycle. I looked at my gears thinking there must be one more. He was nice enough to wait at a shady bend beside a massive cedar tree. I busied myself with a photo-op of this great tree. And catching some air.
From this experience, I thought about Wyatt in the Montana Mountains. Like his dad, he is calm, observational, and competent. He is also the definition of low-maintenance. And he is strong on a bike. I offered the Idea to his mother who was rightfully circumspect. Sending a first-born into the wild with a semi-disabled pop-pop, lacking a plan, requires some thought. Eventually, Lyndsay came around. Since Wyatt and I are both planners and gatherers, camping gear and maps overran the living space of the snug cabin. Eventually the truck got loaded and we were off. The trip along RT 2 was a delight all the way to the weedy approach to Kalispell. I define Montana by its drainages and the Kootenai River is my favorite. It is the grandest river that no one has ever heard of.
Considering our love of maps, Wyatt and I failed a bit with the Flathead Forest map. When unfolded, it covered the Nissan’s hood. Our destination, Upper Whitefish Lake was on a fold so we settled on a combination of dead-reckoning, intuition, and luck. The first road seemed to peter out. It was only on the roundabout second route that we realized that route #1 was the one. Extra driving meant more time to fret about the campsites being taken. Arriving at the lake we grabbed the first open site. While exploring the neighborhood, we found a better site by the water. Move # 1.
After raising the tent and unloading gear we saddled up for the ride to Red Meadow Lake. It was a climb, with 8-12% grades hiding behind every curve. Our resolve would have been tested had the road been straight. Water bars, engineered to deflect run-off were placed every so often. These small flats were ideal for an occasional rest and relaunch.
It was a slow grind and little concentration was required. it was easy to enjoy wild flower patches swarming with bees and brooks overflowing with snowmelt. Hares and squirrels were darting everywhere. Near the top, dense patches of Bear Grass waved in the flattening light. Not another soul is in sight. We take it all in with bear spray at ready, just in case. Wyatt, resolute as a missionary on the long climb got to be a crazy-ass twelve year old on the rocky descent. I acted 65 and heated up my brakes.
Back at the lake we set sail with tent and gear for a site with a better fire grate. Move #2. I divvy up the labor with Wyatt owning the fire-starting. A huge pile of sticks fill the grate. I think of a gentle way to provide feedback regarding this exuberant approach. A cracking, roaring blaze lights the area before I can form the words. The lad knows fire.
The new site was adjacent to a lush small meadow, thick with grass and flowers. It was dense with flies, bees, and a host of biting gnats. We were down a notch or two on the Montana food chain. Still, we had a roaring fire and a lakeside site. Behind us the setting sun crawled a shadow up a massive rock ridge.
There was one more show before dusk. A squadron of tree swallows arrived to sort out the bug problem. The enemy was engaged and the battle was one-sided. Order was restored and we poked at Wyatt’s fire until twilight marched to darkness. It is early summer on the western edge of mountain time, so the fade to black took hours. I had time to watch my grandson at ease in his element: the fire-builder, navigator, finder-of-things, and sidekick.