Five years later

Five equals six.

My American and I celebrated five years together last weekend, and it marked my sixth trip to Hill’s Resort in Priest Lake, Idaho.

Every New Year’s Eve, the Friends of Spokane Valley would head up to the cabin village about two hours north of year. Some friends have grown up, moved on and/or found other things to do.

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Remembering Shep: A solemn escape

How do you make the best of the anniversary of the worst day of your life?

Aug. 20 marked one year since Shep left us. I hadn’t been looking forward to the day, knowing I was the one who made the painful decision to end his life. I still struggle with that, even with the awareness it was the best course of action for him and ailing, aging body.

I wanted to find a way to honour him.

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Photo gallery: Camping at Chatcolet

We just spent our third weekend camping!

That’s three times already this year, doubling the amount of times we’ve been camping with My American since we started dating in 2010.

We’ve done two trips to Bumblebee near Kingston, Idaho, and our most recent  was to our regular Memorial Day haunt, Chatcolet at the southern trip of Coeur d’Alene Lake. It’s in Heyburn State Park, the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest.

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A most perfect escape

It had been coming for months.

Some of you might say years, at least a couple.

Our American and I decided in May it was time to move forward with our relationship. And last Tuesday — a sweltering hot Tuesday in Spokane, Wash. — we put our heads together and filled out all the forms necessary to start an I-129F visa application.

All the forms necessary for me to become an American.

All the forms necessary for me to become his wife.

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Tough broads make great history

I come from a long line of tough broads.

My mom, who raised four pretty successful kids, alone for the most part, while my dad was on the construction trail.

My Gram, who mothered 12 kids and set to become an adventurer and traveller after her husband died in 1977.

Any number of MacIsaac women who could scare the bejeesus out of you with one luck but make the meanest damn pie you ever tasted.

And so, I like to hear stories of other tough broads.

Like Lady Jane Fortune who reigned over Kamloops in its early days.

Or the mother and daughter Estby duo, Helga and Clara, who walked from Mica, near Spokane, Wash., to New York City, on the promise of a $10,000 prize.

Thus, it was a terrific surprise to learn about more tough broads on a mountain bike trip last week.

This was no normal mountain bike. It was the Route of the Hiawatha, a 15-kilometre easy downhill that was once one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the United States.

It starts with a two-mile ride through the Taft Tunnel, a.k.a. the St. Paul Pass. Thanks to the eight tunnels, cyclists aren’t permitted onto the trail without head lamps and headlights on their bikes.

The two miles under the Bitterroot Mountains were dark and cold. We were surrounded by the sound of water, running along the walls of the tunnel and dripping into the drainage ditches on either side.

We rode carefully over the smoothed gravelly surface, taking care to stay in single file and well away from the ditches where members of our friends’ group wiped out a few times a week before we tried.

We emerged into the daylight and catapulted probably 25 C on the thermometer, welcomed by a lovely waterfall.

Waterfall after tunnel on mountain biking trail

The next 13 miles course through the tunnels and over seven rail trestles (terrific for someone with a slight fear of heights) and heads downhill at a 1.7% grade. According to the trail’s website, we start at 4,160 ft. elevation and drop to 3,175 ft.

The scenery was incomparable.

Mountain scenery

Rail trestle turned into a bike path

Meadow of daisiesMy chief concern for My American was my penchant to stop and take pictures. Of EVERYTHING.

He was, much to my glee, more than patient, even stopping with me at most of the signs to learn about the history of the trail and the rail company.

And the women without whom the men would never have survived their wild west shenanigans.

There was Cora (Ma) Van Antwerp, the first station agent at Falcon. The sign describes here as “crusty but respected.”

A lifetime resident of the area, Harold Theriault, left behind a story of Ma:

A runaway car full of lumber sped by Falcon after escaping from a work site and derailed further down. She chewed out the Adair operator because he failed to notify her of the runaway in time for her to halt it at Falcon. She wanted to salvage the lumber for her own use. Shortly thereafter, the Adair operator called her to say that another runaway car had just sped by Adair, so Ma blockaded the track making it spill its cargo. The recently chastised operator didn’t tell her, however, that it was the slop/garbage car from Roland that was the runaway!

You can bet that pissed her off!

Then there’s the tale of Ione (Pinkie) Adair. At 26 years old, she could ride, shoot and cook.

OK, so I’m pretty good in the kitchen and I’ve pretty much mastered my mountain bike but I ain’t ne’er held a gun.

Pinkie was hired to cook for 74 men — 60 of whom were prisoners — on hand to fight the 1910 Fires, capitalized on the signs because they devastated the area and are a monumental time in Idaho history. According to the University of Idaho Library, the fires took the lives of nearly 90 people, leveled entire communities, burned almost three million acres of timber, and set U.S. Forest Service fire policy for the next six decades.

Pinkie was almost one of the statistics.

On August 20, heavy smoke descended into their camp. The ranger ordered everyone to take blankets into the river and cover their heads. They all did as ordered and ran for the water as the fire roared and trees crashed to the ground around them. But Pinkie would not stay. She scrambled up and over the riverbank and disappeared.

Thirty miles away, Pinkie finally staggered into Avery, Idaho, as the last train was leaving. The engineer spotted the exhausted young woman with singed eyebrows and tattered clothes and told her to climb aboard. Clinging tightly to the caboose, Pinkie rode to safety.

They were different times and women played different roles, facing different challenges.

Pinkie and Ma remind me of that one great quote you see on fridge magnets, bumper stickers and maybe evenT-shirts:

Well-behaved women seldom make history.

It’s Laurel Thatcher-Ulrich whom we thank for those pearls of wisdom.

And to the women like Pinkie and Ma, Helga and Clara Estby and Lady Jane Fortune, who give me my inspiration to be a rabble-rouser and a pot-stirrer.

Or maybe just an adventurer with big dreams.


Cold weather camping in Idaho


I’m rarely envious of my Canadian friends who brave the typical wintry blast of weather we get on Victoria Day weekend. But it’s the official opening of camping season and thus they are steadfast in their defiance of Mother Nature.

So it seemed kind of crazy that CAMPING was my answer when Our American said ‘what do you want to do for Memorial Day weekend?’

And yes, I very much screeched my answer in all caps.

We survived our first night of roughing it as a couple at Farragut State Park in 2011 but we missed any chance to camp last year. (Fair’s fair, we spent three weeks on the road, travelling to Nova Scotia and back.)

We found a spot at Chatcolet Campground, Heyburn State Park, and started to plan what we’d need for supplies. I thought, ‘Heh heh, sucker friends camping on Victoria Day, I’m waiting a whole extra week before I go. It’ll be fine.’

Karma bit me right on the ass. My cold, rained-on ass.

Yep, we didn’t have any better weather by waiting a week, but the clouds, wind and rain didn’t deter us from two nights in the wilderness.

The clouds were foreboding as we rolled along the highway from Spokane Valley to Idaho.

Our American took control, setting up the campsite. At Chatcolet, the sites are about as rustic as you can get camping in a state park. It takes time to find a flat-enough spot for the tent and there are no showers, like at Banff National Park.


Heyburn is the oldest park in the Pacific Northwest. Created in 1908, it’s named for a U.S. senator who hated the idea of the federal government being involved in Indian affairs. The city of Heyburn in southern Idaho is named for good old Weldon, too.

Inspired by an upcoming allotment of land to the Coeur d’Alene tribe, he sponsored a bill in which he proposed that Chatcolet Lake be named a national park. He felt that state parks were “always a source of embarrassment.” While he was away from Washington, the bill came to a vote and was modified to allow the state of Idaho to purchase the land, turning it into exactly what he fear most. ~ Clark, B. (1998). A Falcon Guide: Scenic Driving Idaho. Morris Publishing.

So there.

Not many ventured out on the Friday, leaving us with a peaceful first evening. We huddled around the campfire, protected from the wind and occasional bursts of rain by giant ponderosa pines.

tall pine trees

On Saturday, we found a boardwalk to walk Shep and burn off some of his energy. The interpretive walk hosts signs that describe the wildlife and waterfowl you might see on your stroll.

We spied a trio of pelicans and a great blue heron in the distance but damned if my kit 75-200 lens is just too crappy to capture such an incredible moment. If you’re lucky (we weren’t), you might also spy bear, elk, moose, osprey, bald eagles and wild turkeys.

The best I can show you is some darned nice scenery.

marshy lake

Heyburn boasts 5,744 acres of land and 2,332 acres of water and Chatcolet campground is home to a trailhead for the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

The trail is one of the most popular biking trails in the western U.S. and starts at a gorgeous park just west of Plummer, Idaho. The park is a memorial for fallen warriors and veterans of the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe.

Memorial park with statue

The trail winds its way from Plummer to Mullan.

It’s 71 miles (114 km) of paved path that takes cyclists over the lake:

cycling, pedestrian bridge over a lake

Once over the lake, you’ll cycle along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, head into the Chain Lakes region, visit the historic Silver Valley of Idaho and finish in Mullan, just west of the Idaho-Montana border.

My one-day cycling record is 26 miles (42 km). I’ve taken my mountain bike from my old house in Calgary and almost all the way out to Chestermere. I’ve pedaled from my house in Kamloops around the North Shore and out to Westsyde and back. I’ve done a route from the house in Spokane Valley to Post Falls, Idaho, and back home again.

But 71 miles?

Maybe that’s something to consider when I invest in a road bike that’s lighter than my mountain bike. And I can go faster and farther.

In the meantime, though, I have another camping trip to plan.

Camping is a lot of work … from the preparation to Sunday’s takedown of the site and unpacking the truck once back home. But it all feels so worth it when I’m staring up at the stars with the two great loves of my life sitting on either side of me.

There’s nowhere I’d rather be.


Hey, look!

I’m finally getting around to editing our pictures from camping at Heyburn State Park.

Stay tuned for more!


Be prepared

I must have been a shitty Brownie and Girl Guide.

Or maybe I’m too hard on myself. After all, that was 30 years ago.

How the heck am I supposed to remember what poison ivy looks like? Hmmm … because you’ve considered yourself a pretty darn good hiker in the mountains for the last few years?

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Ringing bells

Priest Lake, Idaho … where we rang in 2011

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