A wise man once told me that I should never take my wife on a road trip, he also told me that he never goes on road trips with his wife anymore, so I started my first road trip with the wife in a bit of fear. I had fear that we would have a spat and demand to be left on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I had fears of her demanding gourmet home cooked food, despite the fact that all I had was a lot of tuna, pasta, and condiments for eggs. I had this extreme fear that my two bikes, hiking boots, and backpacking gear would gather dust as we skipped from one small town boutique shop to another. I also feared that our diverse and not necessarily agreeable music tastes would ruin it as well.
Luckily, I have a mighty fine wife who rose to the challenge of road tripping with a stubborn white trash wannabe like myself. We went for days without showers, only to find creeks and hot springs to wash off the grime of the woods, we wandered the mountains, deserts, and back roads of Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, and we had a grand old time doing it. The trip materialized due to work scheduling and the need for me to meet my new niece in Montana. There doesn’t really need to be any excuse to take a road trip, I’ve logged hundreds of thousands of miles doing them, but I’ve never done one while living out west. The difference is that from California, one not need to drive to far to find something new. In my case, the trip started just outside Reno, where I’ve not yet gazed at that part of Nevada besides for when I’ve passed through at night.
About 150 miles east of Reno, we pulled off the highway to find some hot springs I read about. I had a philosophy that I like to stick to and it’s never to pay for a campground, let alone camp around other folks. We drove 20 miles down some middle of nowhere road to another road, this one dirt. After some navigating, we found Kyle Hot Springs and for as far as the eye could see there was nothing but desert filled with tumbleweed, sage brush, and reddish earth. Of course, as we got out of the car my wife let me know that my rear tire was flat, which kind of sucked because we were 26 miles south of the interstate and even that was far from any town. On the bright side, there were some kick ass hot springs, a great place to sleep under the stars (I like to sleep tent-less whenever possible) and an amazing sunset to enjoy. I tried not to think about whether or not I had a spare, a jack, or the ability to change my first tire.
Turns out the tires were dead anyway, I showed off my blue collar skills by getting all dirty and changing the tire. We got two new tires at Wal Mart in Winnemuca and ended up driving a most beautiful Nevada highway 225 north from Elko into Idaho. The road was stunning, filled with canyons, swimming holes, ghost towns, and an endless array of abandoned things to wander about.
One of my non-wife related fears of the road trip was that I wouldn’t love the places as much as I loved them in the past. I’ve only been to south central Idaho once and it was years ago, a different time in my existence. Sun Valley was more beautiful than I remembered it, although in my more extreme mountain biking state of mind the trails fell flat. On the other hand, we hiked a bit and the views, greenery, and gulches were amazing. The town of Ketchum kind of sucks, it’s not really filled with interesting stores or watering holes, but the area is extraordinary. It’s extremely green, the mountains immediately outside the valley are small, rounded, and covered with aspens and pine. The trails are gentle, sandy, and there are wildflowers all over the place. Hike a bit in and you get these amazing views of the Sawtooth range.
On the second night of our visit, after talking to some locals at one of the trail heads, we got the directions to an amazing hot spring that was right in the of a river. Someone had placed stones around the source and you could literally sit in this hot spring while an icy cold river rushed by on the side. The creator of the springs ended up being the last one left after this large contingent of folks left and we had a long chat with him about his feelings and the history of the area. We camped right near there on a soft bed of grass, with the river rushing right near us.
One of the other differences between this road trip and many others in the past, was that we were visiting friends and family who live in far off places. The next stop on our trip was one of my wife’s oldest friends, who happens to live near Jackson Wyoming, which can not be explained other than a gift from God. You see, my wife and I have it worked out that I can go on a ride or hike while she either wanders around the area or hangs out at the trail head reading and practicing Tai Chi, but there’s always a tinge of guilt and I never feel totally free when doing this. So when I found out that her friend lived in Jackson, definitely on the top ten list of best outdoor adventure areas in the country, I jumped for joy.
Not only does her friend live in the area, but her friend lives in a 100 year old log cabin within the boundaries Teton National Park with one of the most incredible views of the Teton range I have seen. Sure, we camped out on the floor, but having access to a fridge and a stove top are quite nice (I brought a few pans and a portable stove). I was also able to have what I might call an ultimate adventure day to myself without any interruptions. This included a 25 mile road bike ride around the area, an amazing 14 mile hike into Teton National Park up through Death Canyon (one of the nicest hikes I’ve done in a long time) and then a ride on some of the gnarliest downhill bike trails I’ve ridden (Teton Pass has some extremely built up trails and like all the locals I stood with my bike at the bottom and hitched up, twice).
Most folks come to the areas were in for one thing and that’s to visit Yellowstone, I’m not sure why but I’ve been to and wandered around Yellowstone several times and it always fell flat. Yes, it could be the mobs of people pulling off the road every two seconds to photograph moose, look at geothermal oddities, or take pictures of themselves in front of the welcome signs, but I could never fall in love with it. In fact, I told my brother (who lives 100 miles north of the park) that I thought it was overrated and he readily agreed. With all this in mind and the consent of my wife to bypass the park we drove around the park through Idaho. We ended up passing through some amazing farmland with the towering peaks of the Tetons framing all of the pictures. In Driggs, Idaho we stopped at a farmers market and I noticed that all of the produce was what we Californians grow in the winter, radishes, kale, chard, and lettuces.
We rolled into Montana on Friday afternoon and immediately went to my brothers house. To make a short story shorter, my brother and his wife were on a road trip and happened to be eating at Chabad of Bozeman where they met the owner (their future boss) or a kosher caramel factory, the rest is history. There are exactly 2 other shomer shabbos families in Bozeman and the closest big Jewish city is Denver, 10 hours away. My brother did mention that if any folks reading this happen to be in the Bozeman area and need a place to eat, hang, or stay, they should hit me up for contact info. Like most frum Jews in the middle of nowhere, my brother and his wife are always in the mood for guests. I hadn’t met my new nice yet and I hadn’t seen my brother in over a year, so it was super rad to be there. The Bozeman area is heaven for the outdoors person, the mountain biking and hiking is endless and the views are constant. The weather was a bit drab, but when the mountains peaked through it was nice. Eating good hot food was also a welcome respite from canned goods or tortillas.
We went hiking, floating down the Madison River, and I did some good riding while we were in Bozeman. We went to chabad on shabbos morning and it was the fastest shabbos morning davening I’ve ever been to. Unlike most chabad houses that enjoy the sport of dreying a-khop, the chabad of Bozeman is almost Yekishe in it’s times. They start at 9:15 on the dot and end at 10:45 – every single week. Upon walking into a shul, this yeshivish looking guy told me that he saw on Facebook that I was in the area, it took me all of davening to remember that this was one of the folks I correspond with quite often. He and his two buddies were on their way to the Rainbow Gathering that was to be held somewhere in Montana, my brother was thinking of going and seeing some disenfranchised quasi-frum like minded folks going kind of got me thinking.
We left after shul and the rabbis wife was away, so I can’t really review the food or anything else. I can say that the davening was fast and I got an aliyah. I can also say that the rabbi didn’t give any speeches during davening and that there were no sidurs other than Tehilas Hashem, bravo to those chabad houses that do provide siddurs other than chabad style.
Sometime over shabbos we decided that we would hang around Montana an extra shabbos to meet my brother and his wife at Rainbow, just because people have been telling me for years that I should attend. For a belated wedding gift my brother and his wife decided to sponsor a two day canoe trip on the Upper Missouri River, we were stoked because my wife and I both like that sort of thing and it was finally a chance for us to do something outdoorsy together. On Wednesday morning we bid the family goodbye and drove 4 hours north to Fort Benton where we had arranged a shuttle. We rented a canoe and the shuttle company would drive our car 40 miles downriver to where we were to get out. I haven’t canoed in years, but I always wanted to do an overnight trip and following the trail of Lewis and Clark on a wild river in Montana seemed like a memorable time. Plus, it was a gift and a darned good one (definitely the best wedding gift)
The wind was at our backs and we made good time, canoeing downriver on a river that floats 3 miles per hour is pretty chilled. The river was in a canyon, big cliffs, grasslands, and farms lined the river. We did 20 miles in a little under 6 hours and made it to a beautiful campsite that only had river access. There may have been people within several miles but we could see no man made things and all we could hear was the army of bugs trying to kill us, we had to tend a raging fire to keep them at bay. At this point I wished I had something that could be cooked on a fire. The sunset was glorious and the howl of the coyotes accompanied the moon rise. The next day we canoed and wandered the shores of the Missouri river, once again we did 20 miles in about 6 hours.
We got in the car and proceeded to drive south towards Rainbow, after wandering around the incredibly sketchy, yet somewhat interesting downtown Great Falls, we made our way south and decided to stay in a motel in Helena. My brother had warned me that Interstate 15 was beautiful between Great Falls and Helena but I really wasn’t prepared for it, it’s definitely up there as one of the prettiest sections of Interstate I have driven. We were burned from the sun and we didn’t have much energy left. Of course, I had some energy and remembering what a cool town Helena was I dropped my wife at the hotel and went to see about some early evening mountain biking. I was directed to Mount Helana city park and decided to ride up to the top of the mountain. I had to go through downtown to get there and noticed that Helena had some great looking brewpubs and bars, but I was too wiped to go back out once I hit the bed at the motel.
So many people have tried to describe Rainbow to me over the past 10 years, so I understood that 20,000 people showed up and lived in the woods for a short period of time, sometimes up to 2 months. I knew that the location of Rainbow isn’t really announced until right before it, I also knew that it was on national forest land and that the locals and police force didn’t like them much, regardless of the legality of it. Basically I thought it was a bunch of hippies camping out in the woods for a few week, which it was, but it was that and so much more. Other folks tried to compare it to Burning Man, but a free event where there was no electricity and mostly hippies seemed more like the opposite of Burning Man. For some reason I missed it every year, I almost made it in 2011, but decided that a backpacking trip was more in order.
My biggest fears were parking, food, and finding the Jewish camp, since reading the wikipedia page I was a bit concerned for getting arrested, not that I had done something wrong, but I have a fear of angry cops. The actual gathering was held 60 miles due west of Dillon, Montana. We stopped in Dillon and immediately noticed loads of dirty hippies hitchhiking and looking tweaked out, it didn’t help that everyone in the town had hired security guards to protect their stores. We drove past plenty of broken down cars, but we needed enough time to find the Jewish camp, called Home Shalom. We ended up finding the proper parking lot and my brother had just gotten there, so he knew where to go. The parking lot was filled with old buses, converted campers, and the regular old subaru that looked like folks slept in the back.
I have a lot to say about Rainbow, but lets just say that if my wife and I didn’t have to be back this week, we would have definitely stayed another week. It was an incredible experience and we both felt very inspired from the people we met and the things we saw, but it deserves its own post because too much went on there to put in a post outlining why I haven’t been writing in the past two weeks.
We stayed an extra day at Rainbow and than Monday morning we headed out onto the road, driving through some very hot weather in southern Idaho and Northern Nevada. At one point the thermometer hit 105 and then we drove through a thunderstorm and it cooled down, allowing us time for a picnic and creek bath. We slept in Elko and then drove back home today.
Coming home from a big road trip is always bitter sweet, we spent 16 days on the road and drove 3632 miles. I have no idea how, but my car averaged 30-33 miles a gallon most of the way, could it be the 85 octane gas? We did come home starved and I’m not sure I ever fully appreciated having a garden until today. Despite having no fresh produce in the fridge, I had a few zucchini and green beans ready to be picked, I also grabbed some thyme, thai basil, and parsely to throw in the mix. Coming home wasn’t so bad after all. I have hundreds of pictures and hope to get some of them up soon.
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