It was a very early morning, Mike @Digiratus an I each requiring an alarm to rouse ourselves at 6:00am - the sky still dark around us, only the first hint of light on the horizon. I made a quick run up to Goose Lake - alas, the darkness still too deep for any photos.
We set to work packing our trucks and tents as quietly as possible, Monte @Blackdawg, Devin @MissBlackdawg, and Zane @Speedytech7 still sleeping nearby. Above us, early morning light illuminating the sky and the tip-tops of the mountains around us.
Just after 7:00am we were ready to go. Mike had (smartly) parked himself on the outskirts of camp and it was a simple exercise for him to get turned around and headed out. I on the other hand had chosen a spot at the edge of the wilderness boundary, Monte and Zane nearly boxing me in. Luckily, with some careful maneuvering and by driving through the fire ring, I was able to squeeze myself out - just.
As Mike and I headed down out of Goose Lake, our pace seemed slow - a combination of the early time, the lack of young-guns speeding up the pace, and our surroundings. The calm of the early morning, combined with the long rays of light lit up the landscape in ways that brought a whole new meaning to the word beautiful.
Despite the time, we fished out the cameras, and reveled in what we saw over the radios.
Everything was so calm - each lake we passed a glassy surface, perfectly reflecting the brightly illuminated rock and deep blue of the sky. Any of these lakes would have been amazing to stop at, so lucky were we to be able to experience them all.
In the end we made great time down the mountain, making it to the highway in one hour and twenty minutes - the same or a little faster than our descent at the beginning of the week with the young-guns leading. Perhaps a bit of tortoise-and-hare at play? Regardless, as we'd done many times before in this exact place, we aired up - freeway ahead. Mike, with his twin ARB compressor was significantly faster than my single ARB at this task, and I sent him off to Cooke City to find a morning cup of coffee while I brought my remaining tires up to pressure.
We headed south, our destination a section of the Lewis & Clark Trail between the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park and Salmon, ID. This of course meant another foray through bustling park - even in the morning, traffic heavy. We made it through with only a few incidents - though one, at nearly 20 minutes, tested both our patience. Along the way, looming mountains peaking out beyond the forest and Yellowstone Lake making for more-than-reasonable views. Even in this outdoor metropolis, nature was beautiful.
Travelling at speeds of 35- to 45mph, it was noon when we finally reached the south entrance of the park and turned west on the Lewis & Clark trail. Initially paved, it wasn't long before we hit dirt and had to decide if we wanted to air down. I'm not sure how or why - given our experience just a couple days before at Sawtooth Lake - but we decided not to air down. For now.
As the miles passed, we crossed the dam at Grassy Lake Reservoir before stopping for lunch at one of several designated camp sites along the side of the road, and used the opportunity to let some air out of our tires before continuing on. Now, none of the roads were terrible, and we were able to maintain good speeds and make good time - dust our only enemy.
And then, something crazy happened. The stars aligned. We were just north of Island Park, Idaho, having completed our trip through Yellowstone, a section of the Lewis & Clark trail, lunch, and a fill-up of fuel (where I registered my second-best MPG ever at 22.4mpg - thank you 35mph speed limit in Yellowstone). As we traveled a short section of pavement to the continuation of the Lewis & Clark trail, we spotted a first gen Tacoma - RTT in the back - headed towards us down the highway.
As it passed us at 70mph, Mike suggested over the CB that it could be Mark @idtrucks, since he's a Jackson native and might have been in the area. But I'd gotten a better look than Mike, and my response was, "Zane! Holy shit! You got your radio on?"
He did, and in perhaps the calmest voice ever he replied, "Hey guys, where you going?"
In all, there were a total of approximately 3 minutes that Zane was headed south and we were headed north on ID-20 where we could have passed each other. And yet- the stars aligned, we did. And it was awesome!
Headed westward again, we passed through fields of wheat and drove towards some spectacular clouds as the miles ticked away. We might have opted for the longer route home, but it sure was beautiful as sped through the Red Rock Lake Wildlife Refuge and then past a couple cowboys herding their cattle toward the enormous Clark Canyon Reservoir.
Just west of Clark Canyon Reservoir, we continued on - up and over Lemhi Pass - now on the search for a camp site for the evening. It'd been a long day of driving, and I think we were both ready to be done. I'd already pushed Mike further than he'd wanted to drive this evening in an effort to get us home a bit earlier than originally planned.
So, as we came down out of Montana and into Idaho for the last time, we enjoyed the trail - but maybe not quite as much as normal. Still, it was a beautiful trail, and we were on historic ground - Lewis & Clark trail markers a reminder of who'd come before us on one of the epic adventures of all time.
In the end, we stopped just short of Salmon on the edge of the valley, as the sun was setting and the few clouds in the sky were highlighted with the remaining rays. It was a short night around the camp fire - both of us tired and a little cranky, retiring to our tents around 10:00pm - the evening air the warmest we'd experienced all trip.
September 5, 2018.
Excited by the prospect of catching a sunrise over the valley, I was up early the next morning - only to discover a cloudless sky, and the valley walls too high to afford any real pre-sunrise light display. Nevertheless, the still morning and changing light was still nice, experienced from a ridge above camp.
In time we were packed up - coffee made, cereal consumed - and back on the road. We were headed north, to Lolo - where we'd turn west again on the Lolo Motorway, though not before a bit of excitement. It seems they'd been having trouble with falling rocks along this section of US-93 and so, for about 15 minutes we were stopped while workers on rappelling ropes started mini-landslides down the cliff walls. Seems like a fun job.
From Lolo, we carried on, up over Lolo Pass, signage in this area bringing smiles to our faces. "Now that's one of the most appealing signs I've ever seen!" Mike crackled over the CB as we passed a Winding Road Next 99 Miles. And to see Moose Xing painted on the road brought an, "I want to see some moose, crossing." from my lips.
It wasn't long before we were airing down - for what would be the last time - just after Lolo Pass, at the head of the Lolo Motorway. A trail Mike had run before, this was another one I was looking forward to, and one that I'm sure I'll be back again for in the future.
And with that, we were off! It wasn't long before Mike came over the CB to inform me that "This spot. This spot right here, is where we camped for two days on the trail after Frank blew a lower ball joint and had to be rescued by the FRV." (see the SOS report). Obviously, in such a hallowed spot...I had to get a photo.
Not much further up the hill, I saw Mike stopped in the road. "Whoa, you OK?" I said over the CB. Mike reacted with some form of "What are you talking about, I just took the wrong fork in the road." at which point I realized he had absolutely no idea that something was wrong - seriously wrong - with his truck. The passenger front to be specific.
Now we all know Mike is the coolest of cool, but even he would never slam his Tacoma to the point where he'd angle the wheels inward so! And when he got out to take a look, he knew it too - something wasn't right. So we got him pulled off to the side of the road in the shade and got to work taking off the wheel to figure out what was going on.
It was immediately clear that "what was wrong" was that the large bolt holding the upper control arm (UCA) to the shock tower had lost it's retaining nut and worked it's way out of the rear UCA bushing, resulting in the entire arm pivoting inward, taking the wheel and tire with it.
We were lucky to have found the issue, likely only a mile or so after the UCA pivoted off the bolt - if Mike had lost the entire bolt or even bent it going over rough terrain, we'd have been in a much worse position. Instead, we evaluated the situation and realized that the nut from the lower shock mount was the same size as the missing one from the UCA, and I had a OSK bolt that would work just fine for the lower shock mount until Mike could get a new one from Toyota.
So with a little wrangling and a lot of sweat, we got everything changed out, realigned, and tightened down.
Mike's truck wasn't as good as new, but it was good enough to get home, and we were thankful for that. Of course, a short discussion followed about whether we should head the few miles back out to the highway, or continued along the Lolo until it too eventually reached pavement - both of us wishing that we could continue on the Lolo having come this far. But in the end we both realized that the smart thing to do here was not push our luck - Mike was still missing a couple washers on his UCA that secure the bushing, and we had no idea if - even in the short time it was out of place - the suspension had been tweaked in some way that would compromise it...so we headed back down the hill to US-12, which would ultimately take us to I-90 and home.
September 6, 2018.
Having found a spot to camp in the National Forest outside Kamiah, we were up early the next morning - Mike once again humoring my desire to get home in time to pick @mini.turbodb up from school.
Our last camp fire had been both long and too short. We'd metered out all of our remaining wood - making it last - until the flames on the last logs finally went out. That meant we were working on less sleep that normal as we set out west - spirits high that the trucks were running, a bit bummed for the events from the day before.
Luckily for us, the remainder of the trip was uneventful - everything going as it should as we ticked the miles away, stopping only twice for fuel and bathroom breaks. We did notice however that as we worked our way west and eventually crossed into Washington state, the wildfire smoke once again thickened up - reminding us how lucky we'd been on the trip to have mostly-blue skies.
And then - as always - it was over. Mike going his way and I going mine. Another trip in the books. An amazing adventure for sure - ultimately more than a year in coming.
But it wouldn't be long before the trucks would be patched up and we'd be on the road again - that we knew for sure!
Thanks for reading, hope you've enjoyed the story. Don't forget to catch the rest of it if you haven't!