In the back of a car on a road in the dark
In the stillicide, silently falling snow
I've packed everything that I own in a bag
And I'm driving, I'm driving to Idaho
(Driving to Idaho, Nerina Pallot)
There were a lot of reasons not to go. Eighteen hours behind the wheel. A forecast that looked grim, including the promise of snow. Fighting the RV current of desperate vacationers on twisting, two lane roads. It was a long way for a weekend and some of us had decided to bail on this reunion for various reasons.
But of course I went. I drove down to the sagebrush flats and back up the other side, because there is no easy way around Hells Canyon. I drove up into the lodgepole forests and into the falling snow on Banner Summit. I drove through a small mountain town that is my favorite place on earth. Then I turned onto a road that climbs along the east fork of a river, turning from pavement to greasy gumbo under my tires.
I spent a lot of time here, a long time ago. We fixed fence and patrolled hunter camps and hauled trash out of the mountains. We sometimes slept on the porch, watching the stars. Wrapped in towels, we wandered to the hot springs. In my memory it is always fall, the aspens burning golden, the frost lying silver on the meadow.
I was young when I worked with these people in the wilderness, still young enough to think that life could be a series of trails filled with possibility. You could take one path for awhile and if it didn't work out, there were plenty more. After several seasons in the wilderness I sold my soul for health insurance and a permanent job in the steamy southeast and never came back to work, although I always thought I would someday. Sometimes I still do.
I don't want to fall asleep and watch my life from fifty feet
My hands are on the wheel so I'm driving to Idaho
These are the kind of friends that you sit around with saying remember. Remember the time it dumped a foot of snow when we were blasting the trail in Chamberlain Basin. Remember when we heard a wolf howl somewhere in Little Boulder before wolves were "officially" back in the state? Remember? Yes, yes I do. How could I ever forget?
There's something about doing hard, sweaty work with someone that forges a bond that can't be broken. It's different than just going on an epic backcountry adventure. Even when I worked alone, which I did most of the time, I knew that the other rangers and the trail crew were out there over a few passes. I could raise them on the radio or I could hike all night long to get to their camps if I had to. These people got it. They knew me, the me that I was just growing into and would become.
This time I slept in the bunkhouse as snow fell, dreaming about my alternate life. If there ever was one I could have chosen, this would have been it. I would have found some way to stay even though winters were long and there was no guarantee of summer employment each year. All it would have taken was to turn the car around instead of heading south nearly twenty years ago. I don't think it takes away anything from my present life to want to somehow dip into this other one to see what it would have been like.
But life doesn't work that way except in science fiction, and all too soon it was time to get back on the road, driving away from Idaho.
I drove downriver, my heart too full. Going home is nice, but it always takes longer on the way back.