Date: July 2 / Origin: Challis National Forest, ID / Campsite: Boise National Forest, ID / Time in Westy: 3-4 hours
It was hard to leave behind our fly little campsite in Challis National Forest, but it was northwest toward Oregon for us. We stopped off in Lowman at Sourdough Lodge for a long breakfast with lots of coffee.
Insert: I love that Laura and I both enjoy long breakfasts on road trips.
“America does a great breakfast,” Laura told me one morning. “I don’t think people appreciate that.”
I do. I appreciate that.
Before leaving, we asked one of the owners where we could fly fish nearby.
“You could try the North Fork of the Payette River,” he told us. “Past Crouch.”
Eager and with the entire day ahead of us, we hit the road, stopping only at a nearby campsite where we’d seen a sign for hot springs. I’ll admit, it wasn’t the best time of day for hot springs. The sun was high and sweltery, and our non-air conditioned van chugged up to the hot springs complete with 2 sweaty humans and 2 sweaty dogs.
By this point, neither Laura nor I had showered yet on the trip, and Laura was keen to wash her hair. She packed a little Ziplock of toiletries, leashed up the dogs, and we headed down. Immediately after planting our feet in a boiling little pool, an older man sidled down the mountain and into the water with us.
We were polite enough, but I was too hot and headed down to the river to stick my feet in. The man left the pool and stood under a pipe emerging from the rocks, where a stream of hot water trickled. He called out to Laura that this was as good a place as any for a shower, so she headed up with Chaska, who was going nuts on her leash.
I made my way back up to the hot spring pool to collect my shorts. The man was stretching out luxuriously in the hot spring.
“Where are you both headed?” he asked.
“Toward Oregon,” I told him. His eyes lit up.
“Well! You need to check out the Rainbow Gathering,” he told me with a smile. “You ever heard of the Rainbow Gathering?”
I shook my head. He sat up.
“It’s a yearly gathering. About 20,000 of us get together in the national forest.”
“What do you do there? Is there music?”
“No, no. It’s not a festival. The Rainbow Family gathers to celebrate our values. You don’t even need to contribute anything. You can donate or you can simply help your sisters by cooking or cleaning up.”
At this point, Laura returned to the hot pool looking cleaner and bright-eyed.
“Have you heard of the Rainbow Gathering?” I asked her.
“Is it a music festival?”
“It’s not a festival,” said the man, and he continued to describe the peaceful gathering he hoped we’d attend. “Two rules: No alcohol, no guns. But we know that people like alcohol. So when you get there, that first parking lot, that’s where we send the people with their alcohol. If you get heckled, just keep walking. That’s not what we’re about. That’s just those frat boys with their beer.”
I wondered if there was also a parking lot for the people who brought guns, but I didn’t ask.
Departing the hot springs, noting his orange VW van with racing checkers on the side, we decided we would check it out the next day.
“It’s near that lake we wanted to go to in Oregon,” I pointed out.
“I’ve never heard of this festival,” Laura went on.
“It’s not a festival.”
“Do you think it’s clothing-optional?”
“I think there’s probably a lot of drugs.”
We continued to question the gathering on our way to Crouch. Unable to Google anything, as most of our trip was through areas of the US where 4G is nonexistent, we conjured up creative and colorful images of what the gathering might be like.
Before we knew it, Crouch was upon us. Another small town with one grocery, a liquor store, and some strangely named establishments, Crouch looked like a town where you lived with all of your extended family and spent your weekends floating in tubes down the river, beers in hand. We loved it.
We stocked up on beer and food at the store before trying our luck at finding a campsite in Boise National Forest. We were hoping for a site right on the river – and how lucky we were! Coming up on a metal bridge, we noticed a van down below on the riverbank where a couple appeared to be packing up. We asked if they were leaving and they replied that they were.
“Great spot here, too!” they told us as they pulled out and we eased the van down to the epitome of a campsite: lively river, sandy riverbank backed up against steep mountains of pines. It was glorious.
We set up everything, prepared our fly rods, and waded out into the river. I’d lost a lot of leader the day before and had to try to tie on tippet without any instructional video. The knot wasn’t holding, but I finally managed to tie one that seemed pretty sturdy.
About an hour into our fishing, Laura got a few bites off a rock, so I tried a nearby spot and got a tug almost immediately. Too shocked to reel it in, I called to her excitedly before losing the fish – and my fly. But, I am proud to say that my tippet stayed tied. I can also say that there are few better ways to spend an afternoon than standing in a cold river surrounded by nothing but nature – no cars, no people.
We stopped fishing around dusk and started a campfire. There were no mosquitos. We played guitar, drank beer, whittled sticks into spears and roasted hot dogs, and soaked in the stars before popping the top and falling asleep to the sound of the river rushing by.
If you’ve never slept beside a river, you are missing out. For real.
Categories: United States (USA)