What I love about a road trip: the heart, already full from a place just discovered, quickens in anticipation of another place, new, just up the highway a bit.
We downed our morning coffee and headed north out of Sun Valley with a crystalline blue sky above and the Sawtooths to our left. At Challis we joined up with the Salmon River, which would be our companion, hanging convivially just to our right or our left all the way into Salmon, Idaho.
I can see how, for climbers, the only way to conquer a peak is to claim it, step by step. But being fainter of heart and broken in body, I have to be satisfied with snapping photos from my shotgun seat in a car. In this country, even that is exhilarating!
Salmon was our halfway point, and a welcome one after nearly three hours on the road. I’d picked out a place for lunch, highly lauded by online reviewers. We easily found a parking spot right on Main Street; Salmon, population 3,050, does not fit the definition of a tourist town. As we tumbled creakily out of the car, we encountered a local and asked about the restaurant.
“Just came from there,” he said, a bit grumpily.
“Was it good?” I asked.
“Not in my opinion,” he harrumphed. Something about his stance and the cowboy hat square on his head told me his opinion was to be respected, so I asked him if there was a place he could recommend. He pointed down to the next block to Bertram’s Brewery, which was packed with cheerful locals enjoying a burger and some Mt. Borah Brown Ale. It turned out to be an excellent choice.
Thus sustained, we continued north on U.S. 93, crossing into Montana, trading out the Salmon River for the Bitterroot and then crossing paths somewhere around Sulah with the ghosts of Lewis and Clark’s 1805 expedition. In September of that year, they camped somewhere northwest of Sulah and recorded:
“…we set out at 2 oClock at the same time all the Indians Set out on ther way to meet the Snake Indians at the 3 forks of the Missouri. nothing to eate but berries, our flour out, and but little corn, the hunters killed 2 pheasents only. ”
We’d eaten far better than Lewis & Clark, and our road was easier, too. But it was comforting to know that some of the scenery we were seeing remains mostly unchanged from their days.
All told, it was about six hours and some change from Sun Valley until we pulled into our hotel parking lot in Missoula. Some of the most beautiful country we’ve ever seen and a new pin in the travel map, besides. We were hardly as enterprising as Meriweather Lewis but I have a new appreciation for these words from his journal:
“Entertaining as I do the most confident hope of succeeding in a voyage which had formed a darling project of mine for the last ten years, I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”