Frum Outdoorsman: Rare but Possible

The wanderings and adventures of an orthodox Jew

Archive for the ‘general Outdoors’ Category

Sunday afternoon rides that fueled my love for the outdoors

Posted by Frum Hiker on March 20, 2009

I can remember lying on the shaggy gray carpet of my living room on cold Sunday mornings watching the weather channel, even as a kid, before my love of jazz kicked in, I can remember being drawn to the funky yet soothing music of the weather channel. Sunday mornings where always started with H and H bagels, philly cream cheese, lox and red onions with the weather channel turned up and my father asking my brother and I if we wanted to take a ride.

A ride was not just a ride, a ride meant multiple things, it meant that we would leave the city behind for a short period and search for snow in upstate, I remember my father driving us over 2 hours north just to see some snow once, he truly loved the adventure of wandering the back roads of upstate, NY.

A ride could also mean going to the restaurant in the park, which was a small cantina Mexican restaurant located just off the Saw Mill River Parkway in Westchester County. It could have been in the middle of nowhere as we were concerned, for we would walk on this abandoned railroad track and look for old pieces of coal and rusty spikes. My father instilled the love of all things old and abandoned at this small county park just north of the city.

A ride could also mean a little farther drive to Harriman state park, where we would wander around, knocking over dead trees, checking out the ice fisherman and go sledding. In high school we would go shoot my BB gun and cross bow and later my .22 rifle. We never actually hiked, we parked and went into the woods, nothing was official. I don’t remember actually taking water with me into the woods until I got into my later teenage years.

We always ended up falling asleep on these long rides into the country with my father listening to the news or nothing, as we wondered why it was taking us hours to get home. He always took the “scenic” route, which sometimes meant going 80 miles out of the way. He would stop at the oddest of attractions. Old cemeteries were high on the list, as were abandoned railroad tracks, flea markets, main streets filled with old Victorian mansions and any time there happened to be a 57 Chevy in any condition sitting on the side of the road. I could tell my father longed for the days when he would own one of these beauties again, have a barn to store it in, in some off the beaten track barn in Vermont, and be able to walk out of his front door, with a piece of long grass in his mouth, humming Carlebach classics as he hobbled down the road in the dead of winter.

My father was what you would a call a four seasons man, but he loved the crisp cool air of winter. He would tell us random facts like, the clearer the night the colder it would get or how to tell how old a milk bottle was based on the way the glass was formed at the edges. He seemed to be a bottomless pit when it came to information and looking back on it now, it really formed who I am today.

Everything that he loved and that he shared with us, I took and went more extreme then he would ever have done. He instilled something I have grown to accept and this is what John Steinbeck has called Insatiable Wanderlust.
After those rides we would inevitably wind up at the Chinese Restaurant in Teaneck or at Ratners on the Lower East Side, with a warm bowl of French onion soup and melted butter dripping off of those incredible onion rolls they used to have.

Posted in general Outdoors, Harriman State Park, NY metro area, Rural America | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »

Funny how things turn out

Posted by Frum Hiker on December 3, 2008

I was definitely not a nerd growing up I just wasn’t liked when I got in group situations. There were several causes of this, some of it was my having to deal with people who talked about what their moms had made them for dinner- basically I couldn’t get around being the kid with a dead mom which is a terrible embarrassment for any kid. I was also real crappy at sports, until I discovered I had a knack for “extreme sports” I was always that kid who wasn’t necessarily the last kid picked, but I wasn’t the first either. Finally there was the fact that I stuttered, in fact I couldn’t really say anything without breaking out into a stutter- which always caused kids to make fun of me.

These three things attributed to the fact that I grew up an outcast. I couldn’t talk, had no mother and sucked at sports- life wasn’t too great for me. I don’t really remember much about these years because they have probably been blocked out of my memory, but I do remember several things.

First off I was a terrible student in school, by being terrible, I was not only a poor student academic wise, I was also very poorly behaved. Poor enough in behavior to have gone through 4 elementary schools each one being less frum then the last. I commonly answer that I attended Manhattan Day School for my grade school years, but I started out in Bruers, then yeshiva katanah of Manhattan and finally I had to be shipped away to Providence Hebrew Day School where I finally did ok.

My behavior patterns were interesting because I wasn’t really a bad kid, I was just doing it for attention, now I blog and do stand up comedy for attention. Back then I cursed out anyone of authority, broke things and caused all sorts of disruptions that got me in all sorts of trouble. Attention was needed for several reasons, first I stuttered, so I wasn’t that eloquent, second I had no mother and third I was bad at sports.

By bad at sports I should say I wasn’t that bad, I just hated getting up there and having all the attention focused on me. When I say get up there I mean during the upper west side Jewish little league known as Sunday Softball where every kid was guaranteed a trophy and hence the only trophy I ever got was from the Sunday Softball League. But I always struck out or did something that meant I would not get on base or get on base only to get caught off base. To this day I dislike sports probably because I was kind of forced into all these after school sports programs by myself who wanted to be like all the cool kids. I am sure there are plenty of kids who dislike major sports today because of their experiences as kids.

Of course somewhere along the way I actually became good at something and that something was very popular at the time so I started to become cool in my own way. I remember my first rollerblades, they were Zetra 303 and you could not detach the brakes like so many of the more advanced roller blades, so I sawed them off. I remember when we got our first skatepark in Manhattan on 108th street and Riverside drive. I used to hang out there and in central park and downtown and all over really- in a way rollerblading gave me this sort of freedom and independence I never had before.

I was also good, good enough to be one of those guys doing the cones backwards by the band shell in central park, good enough to always be the best Jewish kid through on rollerblades throughout high school.

Of course that never changed the fact I had a horrible stuttering problem. Any chance that I may have to get up and speak in public was greeted with a horrible knot in my stomach, I remember during 5th grade I had to play Lyndon Johnson in a school play, it was the shortest line of any character 2 sentences, I held my breath while I said it, I couldn’t breath anyway. The next time I had to get up publicly was when I said without trup the hafotorah at my bar mitzvah- it was pretty intense and I remember getting stuck on one word for about 15 minutes or so- painful as well and probably one of the reasons I do not get up at the amud ever- never have as of yet unless it is for an aliyah.

Its funny to look at my youth and wonder how I developed into something of an opposite figure of what I was growing up. As a kid I wanted to be cool, as an adult I want to lead and do my own thing. As a kid I couldn’t speak without stuttering and now I love to speak and talk publicly, I think I am making up for all the times I couldn’t speak as a kid. As a kid I hated sports and as an adult I have come to enjoy sports immensely, just not those sports that are popular. Sports like rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, wind surfing and kayaking are what I love to do with me free time.

I have no idea why I wrote this post, maybe as a little insight into where I come from or just for myself- who the hell knows.

Posted in general Outdoors | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

Afternoon naps

Posted by Frum Hiker on July 15, 2008

I have been getting real tired lately at around 4:30-5 in the afternoon so I have been taking naps, I am all about naps, it really breaks up the day. The problem is I never want to wake up and always feel a little groggy upon waking up. Yesterday I took an hour nap and then went riding. Napping also allows me to be outside during my favorite time of the day- Dusk.

Posted in general Outdoors | 1 Comment »

My brother needs to borrow a large internal frame backpack

Posted by Frum Hiker on June 25, 2008

My brother is going on a trip with the Jewish Outdoors Club to climb Mount Ranier- and he needs a 5500 cubic inch internal frame backpack. He just wants to borrow one- since he normally only does 5 day trips and never needs one so large. If anyone has one to lend or knows of anyone who may have one- please email me ASAP.

My brother is 5″4 so if anyone is between the heights of 5″1 and 5″6 it will do- ladies and gents either or.

Posted in general Outdoors, Hiking, Jews, Rock Climbing | 1 Comment »

Wow what a good article about learning in the woods

Posted by Frum Hiker on May 13, 2008

The author of the blog “a simple Jew” had a guest poster write an article called learning beside walden pond and I really like it so I am bringing it to you here.

Posted in general Outdoors | 1 Comment »

I started my organic veggie garden today

Posted by Frum Hiker on May 8, 2008

I started my summer vegetable garden today, I have been thinking about it for some time. I have planted a garden on and off for the last 7 years or so and have had varied results. This is the first year that I have actually planting seedlings, I usually plant already grown plants and watch them grow to their full height. I have always been wary of seedlings- too much water, too little water etc… and they may not grow.

However this year I have the best plot of land to garden that I have ever had. My house in Monsey has a fenced off south-east facing rectangle in the middle of the yard. The sunlight is full and there is a garden hose that reaches my plot. I was very excited when I realized it was planting season and tonight I went to Home Depot to buy some seedlings and plants.

I then returned and set to work on churning the soil and making a halfway decent garden. This year I decided to make rows- instead of doing it ghetto style and just dumping the plants in the ground. I made three rows about 15 feet long with trenches on either side of the rows. I must say it looks very cool with the raised rows of dark moist worm filled soil. Even my roommate thought I made purchased soil- soil is free in my mind- and besides I want my garden to be organic and it is sort of ( I am sure the plants I planted were not organic seed or heirloom seeds)

I also found a bunch of fairly sizable pots to put on my deck and experiment with different locations and away from animals. I planted one cherry tomato plant in a large flower pot on my porch, I had a large rectangular pot in which I planted sweet basil, Oregano went into another small pot.

In the garden itself I tried to keep the seedlings separate from the already grown plants. For seedlings- I planted three areas of each of the following. Yellow squash, cantaloupe, green beans, spinach and cucumbers. For regular plants- I planted 6 different types of tomatoes and 4 different types of peppers. I hope the seeds grow, I am curious- if they don’t I can always get some plants. Its supposed to rain the next few days- so hopefully the roots will take hold.

My next project is to start a compost bin. I need to build one, my yard is a mess of downed trees, overgrown lawn, leaves and pine needles- welcome to my neighborhood, lawn care and garbage disposal is some sort of luxury that many people don’t do- so cleaning up and then making the compost bin should give me something to do when I need to take a break from riding or hiking.

I will take some pictures tomorrow and put them up.

Posted in general Outdoors | 7 Comments »

I need a new job

Posted by Frum Hiker on November 12, 2007

So I quit my dead end job last week in hopes that I will finally be able to find something to do that I love. Seems unlikely considering the fact my resume is geared toward a political/legislative career in which my life would be surrounded by folks I dislike while I sat at a desk typing out constituent correspondence. In fact last year I searched with no luck for just that sort of job,now I am sort of stuck. Unlike most folks I actually need a certain amount of money to live, bare minimum is around 15k year for me to pay off my bills and rent. So money is not the issue, its peace of mind that is at hand.

So I obviously turned to the outdoors networks, but the problem is that my only experience in the outdoors is my own. I did not go to school for environmental science or a related field, so I am sort of screwed I think. A farmer I know may hire me, I will know in less then a month, but I am not expecting it and instead have been roaming sites in search of something Jewish and Outdoorsy at the same time. Yes its tough, because that is such a new concept.

My buddy Jason told me to contact the folks at Teva Learning center and find out about a job. The have program jobs listed on their site- you know- you work for 3 months get paid 250 bucks a week and get free rent. Problem is, what does one do after a few months, do we somehow just get another contract job, I have a feeling that only privilidged folks can afford to do such jobs. Judging by the way things really are, most environmentally aware Jews are from the upper middle class folks that go to baby Ivies and can afford to hop around locations.

I have also been thinking about doing the Adama program at the Isabella Freedman Center in Connecticut. I have some friends who did it and made some great connections. The problem is that besides only getting one day off per week- they work you like a dogs and dont bother to pay, once a again a job for newly graduated folks from wealthy homes who get gas money from mom and dad, what happened to us paycheck to paycheck guys working in these fields.

Sp once again I sit slightly depressed at my current situation, any suggestions on how to do what I love without spending more years in school or going bankrupt in order to work for pennies or even for free. Maybe you have a job for me.

Posted in general Outdoors, Life, Organic Food | 5 Comments »

Longing for the woods

Posted by Frum Hiker on November 5, 2007

Insatiable wanderlust is unlike any feeling I have ever known, the older I get the more it tugs at me to discover what lies around every bend, up every mountain and across every field. Not only does it hold me in its grasp, it gets tighter and tighter as the years go on. I cannot explain such a feeling to any person, the person who understands me most has the same desire, unrelenting desires to be alone with nature. Its not about being antisocial I can constantly hear myself explaining to the unknowing about my disease-like condition. I have my community like you have yours, but my community is small and tends to partake in their desires to the extreme, nothing is ever good enough- simply put its like a drug, a drug that drives most to the wilderness to seek out a cure for the pain of longing.

The only way I can relate this feeling to others is to put it in lamens terms- think about the woman you long for and just cannot reach, and when you reach her and grab her you just want more of her. Sometimes it is so out of reach and that folks do seemingly crazy things to put the wild within their reach. Though it is not only the wild, this needs to be explained for while driving down the road passing farmhouses and roaring brooks can cure the desire for just a moment, a fleeting moment that comes to a crash whenever a strip mall or interstate highway appears- breaking us out of our dreamy drive and back into reality as they say- although my reality is much different, you see my reality is the outdoors. The matrix for me is the working life and the life of stores and auto malls, my real life the one I live outside the matrix, my reality is commune with nature.

I feel a home paddling down a gentle stream, riding through the woods on a mountain bike and hiking up steep mountain passes with 2 weeks of supplies on my back, this when I am complete. Material possessions mean nothing to me, less they will me the ability to leave the matrix and enter into my reality. Vehicles that can allow me to enter the woods under my own power are all I want. I say bleh to the TV’s, Ipods and computers. I can type on a library computer and write in my notebook. Yes I own some of these items, but how I long to throw all my neccsities in the trunk of my car and set out into the great unknown.

Does every man long to travel west, hitchhike, by car or by freight train, is this pining in every mans heart? I wonder these things amidst a feeling of depression, I have no idea where this feeling came from. The feeling of being alone is great, but only for the time being. Someone to understand my longing, my desperate attempt to save myself from corporate society and the caste system we know as suburbia. Can somebody save me from the grips of modernity, throw away everything save for a potbellied stove and several knives, maybe an iron skillet. Give me my boots and my freedom and you can keep all your STUFF!!!

Posted in general Outdoors, Kill Your Television, Life | 1 Comment »

Road Trip Part 2: Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado…

Posted by Frum Hiker on September 17, 2007

I am stuck in Richmond Indiana getting some work doen on my car. When all is said and done I would have driven 8,000 miles in 1 month.
Sunday September 2:
I left Spokane before my hosts had woken up. I left them a note and a book as a donation to their English seforim library. I had brought along a few seforim to learn from on my trip, one of them was a book called Chassidic Masters by Aryeh Kaplan. I felt that it was an interesting relatively cheap book that could give its users valuable insight into who the founders of the Chassidic movement were. Since many of the folks visiting chabad of Spokane were likely to hear about the Baal Shem Tov and Alter Rebbe on many occasions I felt it useful for them to be able to read about their lives and some of their more famous philosophies. I grabbed some leftover cake and made my way quietly out the door.

I felt kind of sad to leave such nice people who had provided me with an awesome shabbos experience, but I was also excited because the last time I was in Washington was about 5 years ago and I didn’t stay long or see much. My first time in Washington was spent driving through to British Columbia, we did spend time at Mt. St. Helens and a shabbos in Seattle, but I wouldn’t say I saw much. Things were going to change, I thought to myself as I jumped off the interstate at a sign that said Grand Coulee Dam.

I love engineering feats especially dams and bridges, I always take a detour in order that I can check out a dam and may even take a tour if offered. The Grand Coulee Dam would be impressive to most, but to me, it just didn’t work out. I quickly left disappointed and headed towards the Cascades, I guess the Hoover Dam is so huge that everything fails in comparison to that. I would love to see the Three Gorges Dam in China if I had the chance. I have been to the Hoover Dam 3 or 4 times and each time is exactly the same, holy crap its enormous.

Spokane is in the desert and contrary to my ignorant east coast beliefs it does not always rain in Washington, in fact over half the state is desert. For about the first 200 miles or so, until you reach the Cascades, it is bright sunny and dry, I have no idea if the political tendencies of the state are due to weather, but it seems that the wetter and greener it gets the more left wing it gets. Until you hit the rain forests of Olympic and then it reverts back to radical right wingism.

Washington is full of fruit farms as well, not only Apples but all kinds and like New York they have a pretty large wine industry. I passed by huge crates stacked very high waiting to be filled by illegal immigrant fruit pickers. I pulled off the road and went to a fruit stand and bought two huge white peaches. I immediately ate the first one, upon the first bite I realized what treasure I held in my hands. Those peaches were the best peaches I had ever had, boy am I glad I made a bracha.

Washington is also similar to New York in that you can sense a certain location where the influence of the large coastal cities is felt. In New York a similar thing happens around Ulster and Dutchesss counties, these are the two counties furthest away from the NYC that still have much of its mannerisms. Like so in Washington, the instant I passed out of the desert and into the Cascades I could feel the pull of city people, it may have been the way they drove or the fact that I had just been stopped in traffic for the tourist town of Winthrop, but I felt it instantly and I didn’t like it one bit.

While driving through this canyon of towering cliffs that rose 2000 feet, and pondering all the traffic, I remembered that it was Labor Day weekend and that is why there was so much traffic. It seemed like every car was loaded with some sort of roof rack 75% with bikes and the rest with kayaks. Multitudes of cyclists hogged the shoulders and suddenly the traffic ceased and I found myself gazing up at the greenest lush slopes I had ever seen, then I saw two towering triangle peaks with snow on them and waterfalls cascading all over and I had entered the Cascades. I stopped for a few pictures and tried to find a hike to get me farther into the mountains. I came around a switchback and saw a bunch of cars parked on the shoulder by a trail head parking lot. I really didn’t feel like hiking with people, I turned around 5 minutes later thinking that on Labor Day weekend everything is crowded and this trail must be short and nice if it’s so crowded.

Blue Lake was the name of the trail and after 2.5 miles and 1000 feet of elevation gain I realized why. I passed through lush forests with huge old growth cedars and then small meandering streams, and finally a few scattered wildflower meadows, until I reached Blue Lake. Blue Lake was beautiful, it was this glacial fed lake that was bluish-green and had huge rock piles rising thousands of feet out of it. Snowcapped mountains towered beyond those and at the bases of everything was green, green grass meadows interlaced with flowers, truly breathtaking, if not for the scores of people that were disturbing the peace. I sat and marveled the lake for a bit before heading back down.

I then continued my tour of the Cascades and started looking for a free campsite, which I would learn is nearly impossible in popular national parks. The Cascades are a beautiful mountain range, they are very jagged and require climbing skills and ice gear to ascend them. They are also incredibly green, and they are filled with lush rainforests on the western side. Multiple unnamed waterfalls cascade down from the cliffs, and there are some huge glacial lakes that give the park a feel like that of Banff or Glacier.

My knees hurt for some reason so I opted to find a campsite rather then find an evening hike. The canyon or valley I was driving through is called the Skagit River Valley and it is interlaced with dams, old depression era dams that are beautiful to me for some reason. I took many pictures, I then found a free campsite, really a pull off that would do and took my bike for a ride up the canyon on the shoulder of the main road.

As I was riding up the shoulder I came to a tunnel, there was a button I could push to make some lights flash to warn drivers or cyclists in the tunnel, I have seen this feature on the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon as well, it is such a west coast thing to do. Well the lights in the tunnel were non existent and half way through it became pitch black with a small window of light coming from either end, scarred the hell out of me, because I couldn’t see anywhere but straight. Luckily no cars came in, on the way back however, it was worse due to the fading light and clouding up of the skies.

In the general store I was told by the locals that they smelled rain, something that folks in western Washington can do, so I opted out of my campsite which was without a tent. This is why having just a backpacking tend stinks, because mine is not free standing and I need to stake it, I cannot just set it up on pavement, and therefore need relatively soft ground, hence my having to pay for a campsite this night.

I let it b e known that $12 to set up a tent was piracy, to the national park ranger manning the site, she was kind of cute actually and if I knew how I would have hit on her, and tried to get her back to my 2 person tent which could barely fit me. So far this is the only time I have paid to sleep on the trip, I try to do it all for free, and when I resign myself to try and find a hotel I only sleep in one if I am sick or its under 30 bucks.

The Campsite was crowded with weekend campers, it was a white trash/redneck festival. Big dually tire trucks with campers on the back, folks sat at their campfires drinking bear and talking loudly, my neighbors had their truck radio tuned to the local country station until 9:30 at night. I hate to say it, but that was the best night of sleep I had so far, even though the money thing bugged me.

Monday September 3:

I woke up refreshed and decided to go do another hike in the Cascades, I drove up the road a bit and made sure the hike was through some rainforests. I chose a lake once again and this time hiked the Pyramid Lake Trail which was 1500 feet of elevation gain in 2.1 miles, not very long at all, considering any decent hike into anything in New York costs at least 5 miles each way.

I got my rain forests all right, tons of them and they were beautiful. I hiked past huge trees covered in moss with all sorts of bugs buzzing about the air, it hadn’t rained the previous night but it felt like it due to the humidity and dampness in everything, it was a rain forest though. I hiked past some little streams that made the area even more green and then I reached the lake which was tiny, but perfectly clear with a great reflection of snowcapped pyramid peak in the back round. Most of the other folks on the trail had seemed disappointed with the hike, I however liked the forests so much I hadn’t even cared the lake was more like a puddle.

I hiked back down and started heading west toward the coast, I still hadn’t made up my mind weather to go to Seattle, Vancouver or Victoria. I didn’t even feel like being in a city, but my stomach pleaded with me for its sake. I decided going through the border on a holiday weekend would suck so I stayed clear and decided to head out over the coastal area. I stayed on Route 20 west until I hit the Port Townsend ferry, which was $22 due to my bikes on the roof, I removed them an d threw them in my wagon, instantly I saved $11. I waited for the ferry and marveled at the coastline and birds flying all around.

The weather had changed as I went west, it went from partly sunny to dense grey clouds that threatened rain at any time. I also noticed that there appeared to be an espresso stand at every possible place they could place one, the common joke in New York that there is a Starbucks on every corner does not compare to the amount of espresso western Washington must drink. There were all these mini drive through ones that stood like a newsstand would look like in New York.

I sat on the ferry and donned my windproof fleece, well worth it since it got real windy and called. I talked some guy on the boat about the weather and realized that it would be gray like this almost the whole time I stayed here in the west. The ferry went to Port Townsend which was a wealthy, trendy coastal resort type town with a beautiful refurbished historic district and nice stores. I walked around a bit and took some photos of the stores. I then continued up the coast and eventually to Olympic National Park where I would spend the night.

The traffic was heavy as I drover past a bunch of state parks, I was driving over this bay and I saw something I had not seen in a few thousand miles. I saw frummies, that’s right a woman in a sheitle and a man with the baseball cap walking across the bridge.

I then drove towards Port Angeles and scrapped the idea of going to Victoria alone, I think the town would be enjoyed with someone better then solo. I kept onward until it was nighttime and found pull off near Olympic, I set up my tent and hopped in as it began to mist and drizzle, my sleep sucked for some reason and I just lay awake, waiting for morning as it rained steadily.

Tuesday, September 4:
I woke up in the rain and immediately rolled my tent up and hopped in my car, it wasn’t too cold, just a depressing rain and gray that seemed to hang over everything. I drove passed very large moss covered trees. I drove all the way to the coast which would have been enjoyed if not for the weather, I just kept going making a few small stops, I had to get out of the weather, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was actually getting depressed by the weather, I understood the need for all those espresso stands, the weather made me very dreary and tired. I stopped at the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic, marveled at this huge freakin Cedar Tree that kind of reminded me of Sequioa National Park and its huge trees and then I left the coast, I headed due east to try and get out of the weather.

Once I hit Seattle suburbs I knew I couldn’t step foot in the city, there is something to be said about hanging out alone in rural areas. It does something to your soul, I couldn’t stand to see malls and shopping plazas, the traffic got to me, I ran as fast as I could to get back to the woods. I rarely visit cities on trips, I find most cities to be the same, full of similar stuff and similar people. Seen one you’ve seen them all. With few exceptions, notably New York, New Orleans and San Francisco, I don’t take an interest in most cities for a vacation at least, if I have to go for shabbos, fine. I would be in Boise this coming shabbos, because I needed a place to stay.

I drove towards Mount Rainier, as I drove east the weather began to clear it brightened up and stopped misting. The clouds broke up and glimpses of blue and sun could be seen. It wasn’t quite sunny, but it was trying. I stopped in a bike shop and asked if he knew of any trails, he pointed me up the road about 25 miles to forest service road 73. I really didn’t feel like riding, just sleeping, but I knew it would cheer me up.
To say it cheered me up would be an understatement, to say that it was some of the coolest riding I have ever done and was super fun and I got ride through old growth rain forests by a rushing river of gray water would be much better. Not only did it get me out of my funk, it brought me to new levels of riding experiences. I passed under and next to towering trees, around massive stumps and watched the mysterious river that was gray. I also met up with two riders and chatted with them for a bit, one of whom was from Madison, Wisconsin. The trails name was Skokum Flats and apparently it has been written up by mountain bike magazines and is one of the more famous places in Washington to ride.

One of the riders recommended a free campsite and some more trails to ride. I hopped on over to the free campsite which was real freaky because it was back in the woods and there were these 200 foot high trees blocking all the moonlight out. I set up my tent then read a book for a bit. I had a great nights sleep and felt very refreshed the next day, ready to ride some more of the surrounding national forests.

Wednesday, September 5:

I woke up from a great sleep to find that the sun was out full blast, I thought about it for a bit and realized that this was the first time I had seen the sun in 3 days. I was overjoyed and after a breakfast of a couple of protein bars I set out to find some more trails. I rode the one the two guys from yesterday had recommended and after a couple miles it ended, I was frustrated and couldn’t find another trail so I rode back and hopped on the same one from last night. It was awesome, even though it was the same trail.

I then started droving towards Mt Rainier, which from the distance I was at appeared to be no more then a monstrous block of ice reflecting the sun to the extreme making it glare in every direction. After paying 15 bucks and being told that the old national parks passes which let you into all the parks for $50 a year were not made anymore I began the ascent up the road to the mountain.

The scenery changed from low lying old growth forest to tundra and alpine meadows, it was a beautiful transition until I reached a point where the mountain and all of its glory was in full view. One should remember that unlike Colorado which contains multitudes of fourteeners(14,000 foot mountains) Washington has only one, and this one is surrounded by tons of mountains that are much shorter making it appear freakin huge. Well it is huge, and it contains tons of glaciers as well, which give it this very powerfull allure of mountaineers and other extreme folks.

The road to the main viewing point is called Sunrise, and at the top you are greeted by wildflower meadows and grassy slopes leading up to rock and eventually ice. Many hikes lead off from this area and with no time wasted I picked one and was off. Unlike the east coast, one need not hike to far to achieve what they want, solitude and scenery. In the east coast you must hike at least a couple hours for this. I merely hiked 10 minutes and was atop this long ridge that gave me commanding views of the glaciers and rocky crags that surrounded this huge edifice. I hiked all in all about 6 miles to this fire tower overlooking a huge valley. I passed by a couple of very clear blue lakes and most of the time stared at the mountains with awe, and marveled in the smooth grassy meadows that surrounded everything giving it an almost gentle feel to it all.

After getting back down I munched on a can of rice and beans and my buddy a shot glass, I have no idea what the allure to collecting shot glasses is, but he wants them and Ill get them for him. I decided to continue east, so as not to leave so much driving for erev shabbos.

While driving away from the mountain I discovered this beautiful mountain lake that made for some very nice pictures with the mountain in the back round. I then continued downhill and was amazed at the geographical change that took place almost instantly after going over the pass.

I had come from snow capped mountains, rain forests and meadows, and was greeted on the opposite side by bone dry desert. Sage brush and dead trees dotted the sandy hills and tumbleweeds blew across the road. It was a stark contrast, as I drove futher it got amazingly flat and the land resembled more like something of the southwest then Washington. I drove past Hanford Reach, which is this preserve of 200,000 acres of desert with low lying hills rising from the flat as an ironing board desert. I decided to camp here beneath the clear skies. I found a sandy pull off and threw down my pad and bag, I then sat awake for some time listening to the howling coyotes and gazing at the amazing display of stars that was to be my blanket for the night.

Thursday, September 6:
Sleep was decent and a awoke to a blazing sun and clear skies. I drove on east slowly in no particular rush and marveled at the difference of the land between what I had seen a few days ago and not too miles before. It was desert with all its glory, dusty forgotten towns no speed limits and windmills giving life to the land.

I entered Pullman Washington and went to the library to use the internet. The town was relatively active and trendy and I realized that a university was there real quick. After I was finished I drove over to Moscow, Idaho which was home to the University of Idaho. I stopped into a bike shop and chatted with the guys there. Bike shops are funny places, when its not crowded you can literally chill for hours just shooting the shit and talking about bikes, bike parts, riding and stories. I got some directions for the best trails in the area and headed over to Moscow Mountain.

I was real tired and didn’t feel like riding, but I figured how often do I get to ride in Idaho, so I mounted my bike and began the long ride uphill through some high desert forest mountains to get to the trails. I finally found some sandy single track and began to ride up some more. There were many lumps and jumps and even some log rides so I looked forward to blasting down after riding up. I rode for over an hour uphill and started some slight downhills. It was pretty scenery so I didn’t mind my burning legs and sweat drenched helmet. The I stopped for a traditional chill and headed back, screaming down the hill and jumping after little lip in sight.

After getting my bike back on my roof, I headed south on US highway 95 which would take me to Boise. I reached the edge of one of the most amazing valleys I had ever seen and dropped into the Snake River basin where Lewiston Idaho was located. The west is interesting because unlike the east, any town with over 10,000 people is huge. Lewiston is one of the largest towns in Idaho with only 35,000 souls. I also stopped into this bike shop which said sale and chatted with the very friendly guy in there. He said there were 4 bikes hops in town.

I then drove through this beautiful canyon along this rushing river which had many fly fisherman in waders standing mid river. The canyon was very cool and in many places white sandy beaches were the norm. I found a beautiful place to camp a long a fast section of the river, the sun was just starting to go down so I walked a bit down the river and sat on a flat rock with a good book, life is good. Sleep was real good, and the stars were real nice as well.

Friday, September 7:
I love Fridays on road trips, no matter how crappy the day is, I can always hope for a bed and a warm meal. I drove into McCall, which had money according to the bike shop guy in Lewiston and he was right. I also took his advice and turned down Warren Wagon rd to find his trail which he said was great. I stopped a fellow mountain biker and asked her where the trail was, she handed me her book and after a quick glance some friendly bike chat I was off down what was one of the nicest roads I have been on in a while. A huge lake was on my right and complete with its sandy beaches and mountains in the foreground made for some nice driving. The speed limit was 45 and it was one of those roads that was real fun in third gear.

The lake ended and in its place was a winding river with beautiful shores and tall pine sticking out of the white sand that seemed to be everywhere. I came to a sign that said the road was closed ahead due to fire; I kept driving until the end and turned around. The mountains all around me were scarred from forest fire having stunted blackened trees all around made it quite eerie, but beautiful at the same time.

I turned around and started making my way towards Boise, when I got into town which was pretty big, I had heard around 300,000 in he city itself, I went downtown to wander a bit before going to the chabad there. The Rabbi called me and gave me directions he seemed pretty friendly, always a good thing. Downtown Boise was very nice, they had some tallish buildings and some trendy shops, I stopped into a thrift shop and looked at their books. Then I drove to the chabad, as I was driving I saw four black kids, the first I had seen in weeks.

The chabad family lives in one of these culdesac style developments with nice names which probably signify everything they killed in order to put this house in the desert with lakes near it. I parked outside and went in with the flowers I had gotten them. I met the Rabbis wife who was very friendly and she offered me some food, to which I readily accepted. She told me that they had a whole crew staying with them. There was one guy on business from Detroit and 4 Israeli kids road tripping around the west. I met them all and they made it an interesting weekend.

The food was amazing, this Rabbi Lifshitz originally from Cincinnati really knows how to cook, especially make dips. He had a whole bunch of homemade dips. Pesto, curry, tomato, pickle, and olive paste, also some charrif I didn’t bother with. The shortage of challah created problems but all was heeled when the main course of fried chicken, sweet potato kugel and luction kugel was brought out to my drooling self.

I noticed that out of the 4 Israelis, the only one who actually ate anything was the girl Adi, who was with them. Of course me the tactless one had to say something, first of all I thought she was kind of cool so I figured she could take what I was going to say and second I thought it was a compliment. I said “man I like a woman who knows how to eat” and she was really eating up a storm, even dropped her knife on the floor. I am also a violent eater when I am hungry. Her 3 partners in crime were barely making headway on the chicken, while she had a whole plate of food going into her stomach. My roommate for the weekend made a comment like, that sure aint a way to compliment a girl.

Motzoi shabbos I watched the movie Shooter with my roommate and then we went to the 1:30 in the morning slichos with the rabbi. The four Israelis left for Reno and we went back to go to sleep.

Sunday, September 9:
I awoke the next morning from a deep stupor from the smells of pancakes being fried up downstairs. I quickly davened and then chowed down on some great pancakes and listened to Avraham Frieds Yiddish classics, very good music by the way. I then bid my farewells to a very nice family and promised I would be back on some of my travels. I began to drive towards Utah, about a hundred miles in to the drive I decided I hadn’t gotten enough sleep and just began to get more miserable as the day wore on, I just hit cruise control and tried to lose myself in the music, I crossed state lines and began to plan out my route into Colorado.

I got off the highway and went through Provo Utah which is a very fancy town, I then hopped on US highway 40 which ended in this traffic jam which signaled me to turn around and find another way. I was tired, and wanted to go to sleep. I decided to go towards Moab, where I would ride the most famous mountain biking town in America the next day, maybe that would cheer me up. I drove towards Price, and ended up finding a nice slab to sleep on by a closed weigh station.

Monday, September 10:
Its surprising what a great nights sleep can do to someone. I woke up in a great mood and was excited to be in Utah, which is still one of my favorite states. I have spent much time in Utah and know it pretty way. I made my way to Moab and once again like always was dumbfounded at the beauty of the slick red rock that surrounds the area. I chose a trail called Gemini Bridges and began the ascent up a red earthed road, that was made for jeeps, ATV’s and mountain bikers. The thing about Moab is that there is really no single track, but hundreds of jeep roads which provide very technical riding and great views.

This was my first time in Moab that it was under a hundred degrees, in fact it was just 84. I have been in Moab 4 other times and every time I have suffered through the ride. Last time was a couple years back when I rode the famed Porcupine Rim Trail, basically a 10 mile downhill after a shorter uphill ride. I went through a hundred ounces of water and ran out, but I needed more and almost fainted, when I hit the Moab Spring where everyone fills up on ice cold mountain water that comes from a faucet out of the rock.

The trail I chose was very sandy in places but the views were like no other. I haven’t been around here for a couple years and every time I cheer for more. I love the southwest, only problem is the heat, the lack of rain and cool nights are great for open camping, but the days are sweltering, always causing issues. I walked around to the multiple bike shops in Moab looking for deals and began the long haul into Denver. I drove into Colorado and the temperature dipped. I once again was amazed to find I hadn’t gotten sick of mountains and the huge ones in Colorado are awesome. I ended up camping at this picnic area outside of Gunnison which had no sign banning overnight camping like most do. In fact there was this slab of concrete next to a picnic table which was flat and comfy. Once again I had a great night sleep.

Tuesday, September 11:
I woke up from my sleep and gathered my things, I was going to Denver today, I was going to eat some restaurant food and get to see my best friend. It was real cold out and after putting on pants and a sweatshirt and davening I began the drive. I would take my time but I wanted to get to Denver and it was a bit cold out for riding.

I drove to the town of Salida and wandered around the historic district. I went to the used book store and bought some great stuff, I love the used bookstores in the west, because people tend to read the adventure books a lot, and those are my favorites. I then hit the road and went towards Leadville, the highest city in America at over 10,000 feet above seal level. Once again I went into a thrift shop and found a great book to add to my collection. I already read 3 books on this trip and had plenty of more reading to do when I got back home. I like the bumper sticker that says “fight prime time read a book.” That should be my motto with my anti television stance.

I drove down towards Denver and slowly started seeing thicker traffic and more luxury cars then I had seen since Chicago. I drove past signs that said “Truckers its not over yet 6 more miles of sharp curves and steep grades”, it was weird seeing those signs. I drove out of the mountains and into the vast valley known as Denver, a huge western city on the straddling the end of the Great Plains and the beginning of the Rockies.

I followed my directions and wound up at the East Side Kosher Deli on Elm street on the east side of Denver. I had stayed in Denver once for shabbos several years back on the west side which is the yeshivish side and the ghetto side. This time I would be hanging out with one of my best buds who just moved here and lives on the east side, the nicer side apparently. I sat down in back of the deli at a nice table and ordered some ribs and savored every bit of them. I then went out back and made a few phone calls and waited for my buddy to show up. When he showed up I ended up eating a second meal consisting of a pastrami and corned beef sandwich. Oh and by the way while I was eating my first meal I heard a Jewish version of the Ghostbusters song- pretty crazy eh.

So I guess this is the end of my road trip even though I am in Denver for Rosh Hashanah and still have about 1800 miles to drive back to where I live. Fact is I have to be at work next week and I usually drive very fast back. Since it is Tzom Gedalia on Sunday I may just end up leaving Saturday night and pulling an all nighter through Kansas and Missouri.

I want to thank everyone for reading along and living vicariously through me. Now that I have a digital camera I may be able to document more of my adventures which tend to happen every day, with you.

Posted in general Outdoors, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Road Trips, Rural America | 8 Comments »

Road Trip 2007 part 1

Posted by Frum Hiker on September 12, 2007

Sunday, August 26:
Today I woke up at about 6:55 am and went with my host to shachris, I was kind of excited to get to the west already, but at the same time kind of sad to leave the community of Minneapolis. After a quick breakfast of some more cookies and grabbing a bunch of leftovers to be eaten later that day I embarked Minneapolis on highway 212 west which would take me straight across Minnesota and South Dakota into my favorite state of Montana. I cruised along the outskirts of Minneapolis and was then plunged into rural America complete with its grain elevators, long straight freight trains and wavy fields of wheat and corn. I passed through small settlements who’s only purpose of existence was due to the fact someone had decided to erect a train depot or grain elevator in the middle of the prairie, which starts somewhere west of Minneapolis and continues straight through to the middle of Montana.

I drove right into South Dakota marveling at the long flat plains that were filled with corn, I noticed that every gas station- even the most rural of them had E-85 fuel. I drove due west on 212 until there came a detour and I had to go around, so I decided to take highway 14 which goes through Pierre, the capitol. Good choice, although I had driven through the prairies many times, they interest me every time. Maybe because when driving west it is the first example of the extreme geography as compared to the east coast. The flatness of the expanse has got to be driven to appreciate and it does get lonely out there.

Just outside of Pierre the land changed, hills began to form and suddenly I was dropping down huge grassy slopes into the city of Pierre, an old dusty western town with not much to it. Almost every town west of the Mississippi is the same, a dusty main street that is wide and has cars parked sideways, a large grain elevator and a couple of tracks and sidings running down along main street. These towns are built of the prairie and are usually visible from miles before due to their outcropping of trees, which are a rare commodity in the great plains.

The large grassy hills continued and then the Nebraska style badland sandstone formations began. Large dusty washbowls and meandering dry creek beds were seen everywhere. The farmland changed from corn to livestock and ranches dotted the landscape for hundreds of miles. The frequency of the towns changed from every ten miles to every 30-40 miles and I was in the west. I drove through Sturgis just to check out the site of the world famous Motorcycle Rally that takes place every summer. I skipped out on the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, having been there years ago and not finding it too special.

I entered Montana cutting through the eastern corner of Wyoming while driving along the same route 212 that I was on in Minnesota. The land was vast and open, nothing for miles and I relished in it, though having just experienced shabbos I was kind of lonely. I stopped at a roadside table for my leftovers and while munching on them I wondered if any other Jews had ever sat at this exact spot. I looked down while I was engaged in learning from this new Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen sefer I had just bought and low and behold a magen david was carved out into the table. I found this totally surreal and unbelievable especially due to the fact that it had been painted over yet continued to be seen through the paint.

I drove over some low high desert mountain passes and started to look for spots to sleep in the low light. After not fining anything worthy I settled on a patch of sand on a road next to the interstate, I didn’t mind the cars too much, but at 3 in the morning when I freight train rolled by 100 feet from me- I realized the mistake I always make, never camp anywhere near an active line and always check if it is. You can literally feel the train shaking the ground if you are sleeping on it.

Monday, August 27:
I woke up bright and early after a real crappy nights sleep, cooked up some oatmeal on my stove and set out towards Billings. Hopped into the visitor center grabbed some free maps and then wandered the downtown a bit. I wasn’t on the trip to be near man made objects so I hopped on the Interstate and then Route 212 going towards Red Lodge. The drive was real flat once again through high desert, but off in the distance I could see the mountains rising real high, I was real excited at this point.

Red Lodge is a beautiful old western town, with its brick store fronts all dating from the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. These towns either die or become tourist traps, there is no in between. Red Lodge is a gateway to the Beartooth Wilderness area and near Yellowstone. One can tell immediately by the presence of out of state license plates and foreign cars that this is not a locals only town. The stores though charming are also geared towards the tourist. I hopped into a book store bought a more detail trail map of the area and then wandered around the historic district.

Not wanting to waste too much time I found the hiking store Sylvan Peak and went in to buy some bear spray and get some tips for good day hikes to acclimatize to the area. I was only about 5500 feet up, but the plateau is mostly above 10,000 which would do wonders for my head if I started out up there. The guys at Sylvan Peak were awesome, we spoke of the grizzly population in the area and of good day hikes and mountain bike rides in the area.

I took one of the guys tips and drove up towards the ski mountain and hiked to Timberline Lake which was simply amazing. I parked on a trail head on this smooth dirt road that snaked through a deep and narrow canyon. I hiked up the trail which gained 2,000 feet to top out at 8,000 feet. The trail was not too steep and offered great views at select moments, rather then east coast style where the only views come at the top.

When the trail leveled out slightly I started climbing gradually through a higher canyon that would take me to my eventual destination. I was kind of freaked out hiking solo in grizzly country, without the proper weapon which I would say to be a .44 or .357 magnum at my side, instead I had this huge bottle of bear spray, a huge high pressure pepper spray. While hiking I sang Jewish songs which because of the way they are structured can be sang over and over again, after all I didn’t want to stumble on some bears of mountain lions.

When I leveled out on this open ridge I came to a smallish lake that was surrounded by short steep cliffs, this wasn’t what I had come for. I kept going walking across rocks of this narrow fast moving creek. Then suddenly I crested the short hill from the other lake and was confronted with one of the reasons I love Montana. Before lay this perfectly clear glacial lake, rising about 200 feet out of the lake was a granite cliff and in back of that was what I would venture to call an amphitheater of rock, on all sides without breaks it surrounded me. The tops had snow patches and I could hear water running gushing forth from under them feeding the large lake I stood in awe before. Not wanting to ruin the moment I whipped out my siddur and davened a very heartfelt mincha, wondering the whole time if I was the first person to ever daven to Hashem on this very spot, thanking him for the wonders he created for us.

I sat all by myself relishing the silent wonder of this beauty and sat with a huge smile and hakoras hatov for all this. I then hiked down and cooked some dinner. Pasta and sauce was the fare, actually there isn’t much variety with me. I have pasta, chili, and rice and beans, and a few of those galil stuffed peppers and eggplant in a can.

I then found a great campsite next to a fast flowing, gurgling brook and set up my tent. My tent was moldy but due to the threat of rain I didn’t want to risk going tentless. I do try and sleep in the open whenever possible, its more convenient to go to the bathroom and a bit more interesting especially when the wolves and coyotes are singing in the night. I slept very soundly that night, all alone in the woods of Montana.

Tuesday, August 28:
I was surprised that it hadn’t rained the night before as I had dreaded. I truly hate waking up inside a tent during the onslaught of rain, fully knowing that you have to rub the sleep from your eyes and brave the cold rain and take down the tent and have it growing mold and dripping all over the back of the car.

I woke up with a clear head and glad to have gotten a great sleep and rid of the pounding head I had gone to sleep with. The day was mostly cloudy, with pockets of blue and sun shining through. I davened, ate a protein bar for breakfast and took down my tent. I hopped in my car and drove up the dirt road a few miles and went to a trailhead that I was told was great for mountain biking. It was called the silver run trail system, the trail lead into this grassy valley that eventually became a thick wooded canyon with a fastflowing stream through the center of it.

I rode my bike up this windy jeep road and marveled at the smooth hill sides that were devoid of any vegetation save for a few scruffy sage brush outcroppings here and there. I love sagebrush and when I realized I could make a bracha on it I did, it smells phenomenal so I figured I could rock me some “boray minay besumins” on some sagebrush. I had this whole idea in me about raising up the eternal sparks of kedusha as a Rabbi by the name of Ari Dreilich in Edmonton had told me last year. In fact I viewed a lot of my purpose of the whole trip, other then having a great time amongst Gods creations, to be this mission of elevating places that had never seen a frum yid before. I do figure that everything has its purpose, so maybe this is mine who knows. So any chance I had to make a bracha or daven off the beaten path I would do it, so I carried a siddur and sometimes seforim in my hiking or biking pack.

I rode up the jeep road until I came to a very narrow path leading into the dense woods. I rode up this as well, cursing under my breath at the altitude and uphill that would not let up. Where was my downhill or flat trail I wandered as I pushed my bike up some very steep hills, I wasn’t too excited about coming down such steep stuff, while at the same worrying a bear wasn’t waiting around the corner for me.

After what seemed like eternity I made it to the top of the hill, which rewarded decent views of the surrounding tree topped hills. I mounted my bike and began my decent on the other side. The trail on the downhill was way more gradual, with huge turns and long straight aways allowing me to really launch off the small jumps in the trail and go real fast. It was an amazing downhill, winding past big pine trees and huge boulders. Several stream crossings splashed water onto me and I had to ride through some mud pits.

At the bottom back at my car I noticed that the weather had turned sour, wind was whipping up huge clouds threatening rain, obscuring the views and making the air quite cold. I decided to forego the hike I had planned. I ate some canned eggplant and decided what to do. I decided on taking a drive towards Cody Wyoming just 60 miles away. I drove into Red Lodge and turned on my phone which had been off for the past several days. I called up the chabad of Montana and asked if I could stay there for shabbos. To my disappointment, the Rabbi said he would be out of town for the next few weeks.

Suddenly my plans were changed, I had planned on being in Bozeman for shabbos, but now I couldn’t. So I thought about other possibilities, such as doing it by myself in a town, right away I realized that labor day weekend prices would be higher and the chances of finding a hotel would be slim. The costs of food, and the loneliness of a shabbos by yourself without friends, family or a shull would be hard as well. I then thought about other chabad houses. It would be either Spokane, Washington or Boise Idaho. Both were about the same distance with Spokane being a bit closer. I settled on Spokane and called up, I was a bit nervous, because I usually have Lubavitcher call up for me, since many of them are weary of having strangers just shack up for a weekend. For some reason I just called without bothering friends to call for me. Luckily the Rabbi was extremely friendly and welcomed me to stay as long as I liked.

I quickly shut my phone and drove towards Cody. About 10 miles outside town I happened upon an abandoned mining complex, for those of you who know me, this brought a welling up of excitement within me. There is nothing I like more then wandering around old industrial complexes, mines included. That is exactly what I did for a few hours mind you, I found some great old furnaces made in the foundries of Erie Pa and just wandered and tried to figure out when it was abandoned and why. Rightway I was able to tell it was a coal mine, and I did not know that Montana had coal. I know that gold and copper are huge in Montana, but coal? I later found out that it was called the Smith Mine and it was abandoned in 1943 after one of Montana’s deadliest disasters.

I drove down to Cody on this gorgeous road that took me past lush farms that bordered up on dry desert fields that were completely flat until they jutted up against huge mountains in the distance. It was the classic western feel, and I loved it. I drove with the windows down, shirt off working on my seatbelt tan line and listened to country music.

I walked around Cody for a short while, the weather had cleared up and I itched to be out of the town atmosphere and back in the rural wilderness setting. I drove towards Beartooth pass, intending on hiking and exploring the area the next day. While driving up the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, I passed some beautiful red rock formations surrounded by lush greenery, reminding me of Utah. I then came across a beautiful jeep road that went up one of the ridges that had red rock on them, so I took my bike off my roof and started to ride up the road, which eventually lead me to this ridge overlooking a huge valley. Unfortunately the road eneded only after about 45 minutes of riding, but it was beautiful and well worth the ride. It ended at a ranch, and parked next to the barbed wire fence that seemed to stretch to eternity, was a truck made entirely of wood, even the bumpers were made of logs.

I drove towards Cooke City Montana, which is near one of the entrances for Yellowstone National Park. I looked for campsites at this point and found a primitive national forest campsite set right next to a beautiful mostly dry river, the river was a wide expanse of gravel and bigger rocks deposited in their moorings by the last springs snowmelt. A small sliver of water churned through a narrow passageway, gurgling its way downward with mighty speed. I set up my tent, since it felt like it would get pretty cold that night. I only set up tents usually if I am in the woods, it is likely to rain or snow, or it will be cold, tents are great for keeping one warm and trapping the heat.

I went to daven mincha in the fading light and had a great view of Pilot Peak, which is a very distinct mountain since its spire is narrow and point straight up. I read one of my books for an hour or so and hopped in my tent. Later that night when I woke up to go to the bathroom I marveled at how bright it was outside and the way the moon lit uo everything around me.

Wednesday, August 29:

Once again upon awakening I marveled at Pilot Peak, it was one of the coolest mountains I had ever seen. I cooked up some Kashi and loaded my car excited about going to hike up on the Beartooth Plateau. The drive up the pass is amazing and I would definitely recommend it to anyone, even if they are not fond of hiking. One need not hike in to the woods to appreciate such beauty. The environment changes constantly and you are rewarded with amazing views that are completely different with every switchback. The road is very challenging due to its lack of guardrails and it is closed in the winter.

I stopped at the trailhead that was recommended to me by the shop in Red Lodge. Island Lake was the name I was told was the perfect high altitude hike, it was supposed to be relatively flat, with the most rewarding views anywhere on the plateau, I was not disappointed. I threw my boots on and filled my pack and hopped onto this narrow sliver of a trail that could be seen rolling through fields and meadows a mile ahead of me. It was breathtaking to say the least, on all sides towering mountains covered in rock and snow met the flowing green fields and thin forests that were scattered about. About a mile or so into the hike I had an epiphany, I could totally ride my bike on this trail I thought, and so I tuned around and got my bike. A good choice, since it offered both beauty and a great ride down some challenging terrain. During the entire ride I kept thinking to myself, I cannot believe I am riding on a trail like in the magazines, down a great trail surrounded by majestic vistas.

Toward the end of the ride I met a National Park Ranger and stopped to chat with him. He works in Rocky Mountain now, but for over 20 years he worked in Yellowstone and still has a house nearby. I chat about the same things with these fellows every time I happen upon them. I love hearing their wildlife opinions and stories, especially on bear and mountain lion attacks. He told me about a study they did at Yellowstone, where this ranger would sit in this fire tower overlooking a very active grizzly section of the park, popular hiking trails also crisscrossed the area, giving the researcher a vantage point of humans and bears. He found something interesting in the study, basically that humans were almost never aware of the bears while the opposite was true of the bears. We spoke of the area and its beauty, he took a picture of me with my bike and the back round and I was off to my car.

I continued up the pass marveling at its height and beauty and snapping quite a few pictures of the surrounding mountains and glaciers on the hills. I then stopped for lunch at this rest area and popped open a can of chilli and ate it with some crackers. Two cyclists were loading their bikes on their truck and I chatted with them about biking the pass, which was a huge ride up and down. They told me that most of the drivers were relatively friendly and those that weren’t, got the finger and some expletives. These guys were old and the pass was huge, quite insane I may say.

I then drove down the pass, through Red Lodge and off to the lowlands eventually towards the northwest corner of the state. I drove north west and drove some beautiful country, huge treeless hills with tall grazing grass and bales of hay. I then hopped on interstate 90 for a bit, jumping over Bozeman, which I have spent many days in before. Bozeman is beautiful, but too commercialized for the wealthy to own their dream ranches. I used to love hanging out their with its beautiful main street, and tons of hot chicks wandering around. Bozeman is home to some of the most gorgeous girls and they are all into the outdoors like you would not believe.

I drove out towards Virginia City, which is this old silver mining town that has been preserved from its heyday. I drove into the actual town as it was getting dark and asked some folks for directions how to get in to the woods to camp. They directed me up what looked like a 4 wheel drive road and what turned out to be. Kind of sucks, because I realized they were screwing with me a bit too late, I carefully came back down the road, which was passable, but clearance was definitely recommended.

I drove back out of town and pulled out at a pull off and threw down my sleeping bag and mat, I didn’t need a tent. The night was clear and mild, when the moon came out, it became real bright. It was amazing, and when the coyotes started howling it was really special. I love the howling of coyotes and wolves, it is always so eerie. For some reason I couldn’t sleep, so I just lay back and looked at the stars and listened to the howling coyotes, and occasional livestock moo. My sleep was not too great.

Thursday, August 30:
I wandered around the wood planked sidewalks of Virginia City, marveling at the old shops and multiple national historic landmark signs explaining what each building functioned as. I am usually not one for tourist districts, but old mining towns get the best of me no mater what. It happens to be that I prefer anything that is in its natural state, and would rather things rot and decay then be turned into sites where people jump out of their rental cars and grab a few pictures before going off to some fast food restaurant for lunch. This is probably why I detest national parks so much, I just don’t like the crowded nature of them, most of them, not all of them are a big mob of people holding cameras and car keys as they rush to the roadside attractions of beauty without going much further then 200 feet away from their cars or RV’s. I also don’t like to pay to see what should be for free. This is why I avoid Yellowstone whenever I pass near, although its sister park to the south is not as bad, I usually stay in Montana, because crowds never come to this state.

After Virginia City I drove north towards Butte with anticipation. The only time I had been there had been several years back and it was getting dark and the weather was crap. Butte was home to the worlds largest copper mine, and in effect has this huge collection of old buildings including a bunch of industrial stuff, mines are still active in the area and there are these huge elevator shafts all over the town. The town to me is perfect, and I wanted to document the downtown, or historic uptown as they call it.

On the way to Butte I stopped at a pull off to eat some food, I noticed a trail leading into the woods and upon closer inspection found it had tracks of mountain bikes on it. Next thing I knew it, I was riding up a sandy trail through a forest that had signs of recent fire damage. I rode up the trail for about an hour until I reached a viewpoint over looking the desert and dry hills all around, I then rode until I hit the Continental Divide trail. I then sat up at the top and chilled, then I rode down. I rode down real fast, singing the whole time so I wouldn’t run into any bears at 35 miles per hour. At the bottom I had this huge euphoric sense from the amazing ride I just did. There were two angels at the bottom of the trail, well almost angels. There were two beautiful girls sitting near my car with their bikes strewn around them. These two hotties were road riding and I sat down with them and talked about our rides. They noted the road bike on my roof, and I confirmed my dual riding types. After I watched their tight bodied selves riding back down the pass they had ridden up I realized that they had in a backward way offered me to come riding with them. I guess its good for my soul I didn’t take a hint, it would have been very distracting to ride behind two beautiful golden girls in spandex.

Right in Butte I stopped at Wal Mart for an oil change and had a chat with the guy taking my information. He said he ground rails in New York a while back, he worked up near Batavia and being that I know the area well we talked of the area a bit. He told me Butte was a real rough town, and that miners in general are a rough bunch.

He wasn’t joking, the second I got into Butte I noticed a few things, a lot of derelicts hanging around and tons of pawn shops. When there are lots of pawn shops that can only mean one thing, poor desperate folks who need money for bad habits usually. I personally like it, because it preserves the town and keeps it from development, the type of development that chases the real folks out and brings in tourists and vacationers.

The “urban” area of Butte is rather large for a small city, further proof of its lost importance. Many large hotels of 10 stories with their old signs dot the landscape, red brick is the dominating feature here and many of the buildings have different style fire escapes, I loved it. Old advertisements are also plastered to many of the sides of buildings, another thing I love to find and take pictures of. I saw a few interesting things which also are a commonality in old mining towns, I saw a building that stated in blocks on the roof “socialist hall” and I also saw a lot of signs of a diverse ethnic community, proof that many folks came for work.

I spent a whole lot of time in Butte and then finally after many pictures and hours I decided to go up to Missoula, my all time favorite town in the west, and I would move there is they had a Jewish community. Missoula is the quintessential college town, and since it stands against a big mountain range with tons of riding, climbing, hiking, skiing and whitewater it makes it ideal for someone like me and the thousands of other outdoor nuts that go to school there.

Missoula has a bunch of main streets and all the stores are organic/outdoors type of places. It is one of the only liberal towns in the entire area, meaning between Minneapolis and Seattle. I tend to like liberal towns best, those towns that everyone has an Impeach Bush sticker on their car and rainbow flags are hanging from peoples houses. Per capita bike shops, used book stores and trendy coffee shops are quite high and it seems as if there are more bikes then cars.

I pulled off the road for gas and when I was finished this guy who looked like a Palestinian got out of his car and noted my yarmulke, his accent said Indian, but his Montana license plates fooled me. Her then told me that he had just spent 10 days in Israel and said it was the best time he ever had, surprisingly he was not Muslim, instead he was a Sikh and he lived in Missoula, but his ex-girlfriend was Jewish and apparently becoming religious and encouraged him to visit her in Jerusalem. I chatted with Indi for about san hour or so and then asked him fro some trail tips in the area.

I then drove up Pettit Canyon and rode the trails there. They were desert style once again, since most of Montana is desert with dry and sandy soil. I rode up and rode down this amazing downhill that wound down the hill with jumps and burm turns, I rode it twice and then went to this swimming hole I was at once years back.

The Water was too cold for a shower, so I asked these two fly fisherman on camping tips, they recommended I go up this dirty road, which turned out to be a real shitty road. I had to drove about 45 to cancel out the huge washboard sections that ratteled my car like a pinball machine. Then I made it out ot this beautiful campsite only to realize it cost money. I do not believe in paying to camp and hence I drove back to this old section of the road I was originally on. I camped at a dead end overlooking the Blackfoot River.

Friday, August 31:

I was excited the whole day about shabbos, finally I would sleep in a bed and finally I would take a shower and eat some real food. There is nothing quite like a shabbos spent while on the road, it really makes you appreciate what shabbos should be. I drove to Missoula and wandered around the downtown, and then went to a coffee shop to use the net. I then drove out towards Idaho and eventually to Spokane where I would spend shabbos.

While driving through the last bit of Montana I saw a makeshift sign on the side of the highway that proclaimed this little hamlet I was about to pass through had a used bookstore with 100,000 used books. As if the heavens were calling I immediately got off and entered into this small town with no stores it appeared, in fact I passed it originally and then made a u-turn realizing my mistake.

This ramshackle house that didn’t look like it could physically house 100,000 books, did just that. The aisles were narrow and the lighting poor, but that only enhanced the effect, you see the book store is something that cannot be mimicked in an internet experience. One must experience the musty smells, weird folks and crusty browning pages to really appreciate the aisles of books that were held up very high by some unseen nails. I took several pictures of the store and chatted with the owner for the better part of an hour.

It is funny how when you tell people what you are up to you get one of several reactions. There is the, “wow I wish I could do what you were doing, I wish I could just go.” Then there is the “you better do it while your young or you will never get a chance.” And then the look of understanding and content-ness that so few people have, the look that says, I did exactly the same thing and finally found my way. It seems that my trip always brings out the longing to just pick up and travel that so many Americans dream of doing but never get around to. I finally found a used copy of Travels with Charley, and the second part of Peter Jenkins Walk Across America.

I then continued onto Idaho, Idaho was the first place I was a little weary in wearing my yarmulke and tzitzis so publicly. It may have been my perceptions from the famous Aryan Nation incidents in Haden Lake just north of Coeur D’Alene where I was very near. Whatever may be I walked around the rough old mining town of Wallace and felt the eyes of the rather trashy youths on me. It is very rare that I feel uncomfortable with the whole public Jewish displays. I have worn my yarmulmke and tzitzis publicly in pretty much every part of the country, no one ever says anything, once in a while I hear people say, what’s up with those strings?

I went into a museum in Wallace and it had the last traffic light from Interstate 90 which was removed from Wallace in 1991 when they built their viaduct over the town. Interesting to think that the I90 was not a full interstate until 1991. I drove on to Spokane marveling at the beauty of Coeur D’Alene which is a city surrounded by a huge lake. I drove into Spokane and instantly felt uncomfortable at its size, since I had been alone in small towns all week I was not prepared for four lanes and sunken freeways. Spokane is about quarter million people. I got my hosts some flowers and then drove on up the hill to Chabad of Spokane.

Shabbos in Spokane:
My hosts were extremely friendly and the fresh challah was the greatest thing in the world. In fact everything was super fresh, since nothing was actually available kosher wise in the city. The food and hospitality was incredible as well as their determination to bring yiddishkeit to the city. The city lacks a mikveh and the Rabbi wants to build one, although it will cost $250,000 if he gets the one he wants. For now his wife must use the one in Seattle 300 miles away.

The accommodations were phenomenal and I actually felt wanted. In some chabad houses it seems a bit unwanted when you crash by them. But here I had my own side of the house with a great bed and great shower I couldn’t ask for more. On shabbos I walked around the neighborhood and marveled at the strangeness of Spokane. The cars were interesting, old Hondas from the 70s, next to huge monster trucks, parked right next to a Saab. Then you had dirt roads as streets, and one block over there would be a huge gated community with BMW and Volvo cars streaming in and out.

Posted in Abandoned Sites, general Outdoors, Hiking, Jews, Mountain Biking, Road Trips, Rural America | 5 Comments »