Monday, April 26, 2010

Training with Ticks: Coeur d'Alene National Recreation Trail


This was supposed to be a training hike for the Olympic coast. Test our gear, test our legs, no problem, in and out. The original plan was to take two vehicles, and leave one at the most northern trailhead of the Ceour D Alene National Recreation Trail, come in from the south and hike its entire 14 mile length, with an overnight in between at Jordan camp. This was not to be however, as a Forrest Ranger explained to me the day before we left, "All the trail heads are snowed in, 'cept one!"

Okay, new plan, no problem. We would do it the old fashion way, in and out. The place is beautiful, an hour away from Spokane, and deep in the Idaho panhandle. Wildlife viewing was plentiful right from the start. How lucky can we be? Two Bald Eagles perched on leafless trees less than 50 feet from the road. Five minutes later a couple of young bull elk fraternizing in the middle of the street. I exited the truck to take some shots with the Nikon, and as I crept in closer all I could think about were all the stupid tourists that get mauled by buffalo in Yellowstone every year and wind up on “When Animals Attack!” on TBS. I think I need a more powerful zoom lens because the 18-55 mm doesn’t cut the mustard for the wildlife shots.
We hit the trail around 10am, and after a quarter-mile dropped down into a gorgeous river valley. Spring was still in its infancy at these headwaters and the colors were those of the cold, but I could imagine that when the flowers bloom, and the leaves of the sleeping trees awaken, and the sounds of birds and bugs join in the rushing rivers song, then it is an even more beautiful place. 

 Another quarter-mile on the valley floor and we began to climb, probably the steepest of the trip. Finally we reached a hilltop at the base of the mountain that provided our best view so far. The meandering Coeur d’ Alene swerved determinedly through a plane of dull yellow brush, and around towering dark-brown rock formations full of mysterious caves and crevices. The riverside was a sheer rock cliff, dropping down perhaps 150 feet to the river below, whose currents caused a never ending cycle of waves crashing against its base. It was a spectacular view.

We were spoiled by the views for the next 4 or 5 miles, as the trail wound around the mountain sides dipping into saddles and forcing us to make several stream crossings. These streams, I imagine, are nearing full strength as the snows melt from the mountain tops. With such a mild winter, I wonder how far into the summer they will last…?

Jordan camp came too soon. It turned out to be an actual campground, but this early in the season it was deserted. Well, it wasn't totally deserted. The April residents of Jordan camp are ticks. Steve found one first crawling on his neck. Luke found one on his pants heading for his crotch. All-in-all between Steve, Luke, Michael, and me, we found around 25 ticks on our bodies by trips end. Most were picked up on the trail, some in the camp. Only two were actually “attached”, one on my shoulder, and one in Luke’s belly button. Luckily I had my trusty first aid kit that my mom bought me for Christmas, and I promptly removed them with tweezers.

The act of tick removal, high up on a cliff overlooking the river, started the funniest moment of the trip. Please, picture this scene in your mind’s eye. We were all standing around, shirts off, pants down, inspecting our bodies for ticks. My Uncle Steve mentioned that he “loathed” ticks and described them as the most “vile” of all creatures. He then got the quote of the day after I pulled a squirming tick from his right butt cheek, “Death is too good for a tick,” he said. This launched the talk into a competition over who could think of the most creative way to torture a tick. Not surprisingly Steve won the contest with this delightful technique. “You pin the tick to a board and pull its legs off, then prick your finger and let a drop of blood fall just a quarter-inch away.” The creative names we gave the ticks were funnier still; hitchhiker, squatter, freeloader, socialist, etc.

When all was said-and-done it was a great “training” hike. Luke unfortunately though got sick. He came down with some type of flu, exhibiting a fever, chills, upset stomach, and aches and pains in his legs and feet. I tried to give him some drugs but he refused, citing his infamous philosophy, “embrace the pain." He busted his ass for seven long hard miles, in what he described as one of the hardest experiences of his life, never once complaining or asking for help. He soldiered on.

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