Early July, 2009 - After landing in Burbank, California, following our
seven week sojourn in Michigan, we collected our trailer and made a
circuitous route to Idaho in search of some R&R. We had fallen in love
with the small town of Kellogg, outside of Coeur d'Alene, two years
earlier, and everything we had heard about Idaho from other travelers
was outstanding. One six-year full-timing veteran we met in Pioche, NV
last year told us, "I just came from a boondocking spot in Stanley,
Idaho, and it was exactly what I've been looking for all these years:
gorgeous mountain views, meadows filled with wildflowers, clear
streams, and lots of wildlife." This image had been in the back of our
minds ever since.
After a long
desert, we aimed for Twin Falls, Idaho. We had thought we'd blow right
through town, but instead we got a blowout on one of the trailer tires
about 60 miles from town. We limped into Twin Falls on the spare tire
with eyes only for Les Schwab Tires. Once a new tire was in place, we
opened our eyes a little more and began to look around. What a neat
It is legal to
jump off the
spanning the Snake River with a parachute, and we watched for quite a
while as people suited up with all kinds of lines and parachute gear,
walked to the middle of the bridge, climbed over the railing, and jumped
off. In the distance we could see the spot where Evel Knievel tried to
jump the Snake River with his motorcycle back in 1974 (his parachute
opened too early and he landed on the water's edge just below his
There is a pretty bike path that goes along the edge of the Snake River,
offering fantastic views into the canyon and river below. The first settler
had put his farm on the river's edge smack in the middle of the canyon.
Today the same area is home to a beautiful pair of golf courses. As I gathered tourist material at the visitor's center, I wanted to
stay longer, but this was a hot time of year to be here, and the mountains were calling up ahead. I had emailed the head of the
Escapees' Boondockers club, asking where the best boondocking
spot might be in the Sawtooth Mountains, and got the response,
"There are MANY beautiful spots." I was a little bemused by this
vague answer, but when I arrived at the Sawtooth National
Recreation Area I discovered that she was right: there are
gorgeous spots all over the place, no planning needed.
Our welcome committee the first night was a young mule deer.
He walked through our campsite, totally unconcerned about our
presence. One special patch of grass kept him occupied for over
an hour. The second night, in a new site, another mule deer
stopped by to say "hello." We were quickly feeling all the cares of
the world slip away.
There is a wonderful rails-to-trails paved bike path that goes between
Bellevue, to the south, and Ketchum, to the north. Thirty miles or so
in overall length, it does several loops in and around the Ketchum/
Sun Valley area as well. We rode it into town regularly, although the
wide shoulder on Route 75 makes for great cycling too. Riding these
paths and roads, I kept feeling as though I was riding through a
bicycle touring catalog's best photos.
The town of Ketchum has its deepest roots in silver mining, but it also
has the distinction of being home to a world class ski resort. Averell
Harriman, a railroad baron, wanted a prime winter tourist destination
somewhere on his line. He hired an Austrian count to scour the
countryside along the railroad in order to find the best location. After
several months of searching, almost ready to call it quits, the count
made one last trip -- to Ketchum -- and decided this was the spot.
The Sun Valley resort opened to
great fanfare in 1936. It was such a
celebrated wonderland of ice and
snow and the rich and famous that far
far away in New York City my mom
grew up in the 1940's fantasizing
about visiting someday (and she did,
We first heard of Mr. Harriman
because of the mountain bike trail that bears his name. It runs from Ketchum north for 20 miles
to Galena Lodge, winding along the Big Wood River. Between that trail to the north and the
paved bike path to the south, we were very happy campers, getting out on our bikes every day.
Brilliant deep blue skies greeted us every morning during our first week,
giving way to puffy clouds every afternoon. It was paradise.
Our first stop in town was the bike shop, of course. There are many
bike shops in Ketchum, but the one in the center of town -- and the
one broadcasting the Tour de France every day -- was the Elephant
Perch. Lance Armstrong was in the hunt when we arrived, and there
were high hopes he'd pull off one of his famous maneuvers to win.
The Elephant's Perch has a group bike ride every Wednesday night,
and they were relying on Lance for inspiration to tackle the
mountains around town.
We saw some of the faster riders out on the road and vowed to join
them the following Wednesday. Unfortunately, ten miles into the ride
(just as I was wondering how I was going to fare on the big hill up
ahead) the heavens opened up, and it poured. Mark and I took that as our cue to exit and dashed back to the trailer as fast as we
could go. The ride leader, Nappy, had told us that the group never misses a date at The Roosevelt, a restaurant in town where
they reserve a private room to imbibe a bit after the ride. We didn't realize just how serious these post-ride dates were until later:
the whole group had turned back when the downpour began, but they went straight to the bar!
This happy-go-lucky spirit pervades the whole town. Whimsical statues
grace the main drag, from huge cowboy booted
flamingos to huge cowboy booted rocking chairs to
fun and crazy animals and other sculptures.
The summer is short here, so
everyone spends a lot of time
outside. There are a zillion cute
bistros, with cafe tables all over
the place, and there are events
going on every day.
If it isn't a musician strumming his
guitar in the middle of town, it's the
gourmet meat and cheese vendor
giving away samples (even pure
angus beef "sliders"). Every day
we came into town we were swept
up into something fun.
On a more serious note, the town was trimmed head to
toe in yellow ribbons, with plaintive signs stating, "Bring
Bowe Home." Beloved local boy, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, a
Hailey, Idaho native, had recently been captured in Afghanistan, and a video tape of him had
just been released by his Al Queda captors. The community had rallied around his family, and
there were offerings of support everywhere.
Grateful to everyone, past and present, who has gifted
us with freedom, we enjoyed many strolls around town.
There were flowers everywhere, pretty mountains in the
distance (with ski runs plain to see), and it was a big
enough town that it took several strolls on different days
to see all of it.
We had been out of our home and away from our
lifestyle for so long that these kinds of easy days in a
friendly town were exactly what we needed. Stanley,
which we had assumed would be our destination, was
still 60 miles up the road, but we couldn't tear ourselves
away from Ketchum.
We even got library cards at the local library so we
could take out some CDs and DVDs to enjoy in the
trailer (there was little radio and no TV reception in the
We scouted out many boondocking areas by bike, and
happened on the ideal spot 3 miles down a very bad dirt road. It was too tempting not to try, but
in hindsight it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I stood on the roof of the trailer and trimmed
branches for quite some time before we shoe-horned ourselves into the spot. Only after we'd
gotten in did we think about getting out. Yikes. On the day we pulled out there was thunder and
lightning in the distance and big, fat threatening raindrops falling all around us. Our patch of dirt
quickly turned into a mudhole. But Mark managed to do a 30-point turn with the trailer, dodging
two large boulders and three trees, and got us turned around.
In the end, however, the white
knuckles and scuffs were all worth it:
the many days between our arrival
and our departure were pure
We were camped on the edge of a creek with a
cascade of mountains rising behind us. The mule
deer came by every evening, except on the
weekends when the forest had too many human
The sun shone so warmly that we ran around in
shorts and tank tops, that is, until Mark decided to
sponge off in the water. Then the sun always
went behind a huge cloud and stayed there, leaving him in shade while he hooped and hollered and
thundered like an ornery bull, splashing ice water all over himself. It was all very impressive, but I preferred
taking a hot shower in the rig. Of course, by that time the warm sun would be out again.
We spent our days walking and riding along the dirt road,
reading and listening to things we'd gotten from the library,
tidying up the many loose ends that had been frayed with our
hasty departure in May, and generally getting back to our old
selves. It felt so good to unwind in our own home.
Our return to the rig had been a little rockier than we would
have liked. We dashed first to San Diego and then to San
Francisco in pursuit of one final sailboat deal before giving up for
the season. We had learned over the course of the preceding
months that the sailboat brokerage business is not one for the faint
of heart. It is a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world of ruthless
backstabbers. One broker told us how another had robbed him of
a deal at a boat show and then gloated openly for days afterwards.
Another lamented that his employer had stolen a deal from him at
the last minute and refused to pay his commission after he had
invested weeks of effort in the transaction. He later found out the
employer owed other employees tens of thousands of dollars in
commissions too. Apparently honesty isn't a policy in that industry.
So it was no surprise when the boat that we had been assured had
air conditioning ("I saw the compressor myself") turned out not to. However, it was a very big surprise when on
the same day, in the same town (tony Sausalito), a pair of well respected brokers who had been selling one of
the highest end European brands of yachts for years got hauled off to jail for embezzling several hundred
thousand dollars from their clients. How reassuring (though depressing) to discover that our assessment of the
California boat business was right on the mark.
We were able to laugh about all that now, in the shade of a tall pine with the water glistening on the rocks in
front of us. Our dream had sent us on a wild goose chase, including a whirlwind tour of Michigan. We hadn't
ended up where we expected, but all had turned out well. These woods, this town, our trailer -- all wonderful.
We were living a dream right now, and, as life has taught us over the years, dreams can
be very flirtatious and hard to capture. Sometimes they make us feel like toddlers,
running around on stubby legs, waving our arms, chasing butterflies. The best moments
in life are gifted to us like jewels from leprechauns, unexpectedly, as if by magic.
Thank goodness for our beautiful national forests. As we hung around Ketchum for a
month, we were able to take our "summer cottage" from one priceless creek-side
campsite to another stunning mountain-view campsite, and enjoy exquisite scenery all
around us every day.
We had partied long and hard with friends and family all winter, and then we had eaten
our way around Michigan for almost two months. Who can pass up fresh raspberry pie
made by the Amish? Or hot-out-of-the-oven pastries and cookies at a cute Canadian
farm stand overlooking Lake Erie? Not us! But now our clothes told the rest of the story,
as everything we owned was too tight. It was time to get fit and healthy again. We
started doing daily runs and bike rides, and we got our hand weights out of their hiding spot way under
the back seat of the truck.
But man, were we sore. A little exercise sent us
straight to bed for an afternoon nap each day.
What's more, the sun didn't crest the mountains
until after 9:00 in the morning, so why get out of
bed before that? For a while I think all we did
was sleep, exercise and nibble a little here and
there. We had driven 4,000 miles around
Michigan, and done another 1,600 to get here
from California. It felt really good just to stop.
And what a place to do it: Ketchum and Sun
Valley are worthy of a really long visit.