As we'd gone to bed the night before, it had been decided that we'd do a group breakfast the following morning. These are always extremely tasty affairs of bacon, eggs, and potatoes - this time, supplied entirely by Dan @drr. (Thanks again Dan!) By definition, these mornings are always a little more chill, since it takes time to get everything together, and no one wants to rush the eating part.
By 8:00am, Mike @Digiratus was cooking up potatoes, I was waiting for the last minute to make eggs, and Dan was busy with the bacon. Zane bounced between all three trucks, clearly in need of a clipboard for supervisory duties. Plus, I think he looked after Echo, which frankly was probably more work than any of the rest of us.
It was probably 10:30am before we finally wrapped up breakfast and rolled out of camp, back down towards the west side of Lake Koocanusa, to continue our southward journey towards Libby, MT.
We'd covered three quarters of the length of the US side of the lake the previous day, so it wasn't long before we passed a sign for Libby Dam - the reason the lake existed in the first place. All keen to check it out, we pulled into the parking lot and had the overlook to ourselves. Built in 1972, the dam is 422 feet tall and generates 600 megawatts for the Bonneville Power Authority.
'Lotta water held back by a bit of concrete!
Interestingly, water can be released from different levels of the lake, controlling water temperature downstream.
Continuing to make a lazy day of the morning, we hung out in the shade for a while before jumping back in the trucks to continue south. This was just fine with me, since it was a lot cooler in the shade than it was in my A/C-less cab! So, it was just before noon when we pulled into Libby in order to fuel up and grab a few minutes of LTE service in order to catch up on life and for Dan to download a few map tiles for the next leg of the adventure.
On our way out of town, a truck scale called our name - and we found out that the Redhead was no longer the heaviest truck in our midst. At least, not today.
- Dan (@drr) - 5740 lbs
- Mike - 5720
- Me - 5400
- Zane - 4980
Back on the road, much of the day would be on pavement as we made our way west towards Troy on US-2, and then south towards Noxon on MT-56 and MT-200. The highway made for dustless travel, all four of us travelling in a caravan much of the time. Well, except when I was passed by an F-150 as I slowed to miss a couple deer crossing the road.
As we reached the little town of Noxon, Dan mentioned that there was another dam here - appropriately named the Noxon Dam - where he'd previously done some of his engineering work. Well - there was no way we could pass up a stop at his old haunting grounds! Dan led the way, and we made short work of the road down to the overlook.
Where the Libby Dam had been primarily concrete, the Noxon Dam is an earth-fill dam - a mile long stretch of fill that's 260 feet high and 700 feet wide at its base. Generating 488 megawatts, it's the second-largest capacity hydro plant in Montana. (info sign at dam)
From Noxon, it was back on the highway, and then to the lesser-traveled old MT-200 where some of the views were striking. It sure seems to me that highways of yesterday optimized for pleasurable travel - at least, much more than todays thoroughfares do.
Striking cliffs along the Clark Fork River.
It was right around Thompson Falls that we headed back onto dirt and started looking for camp. Our goal this evening was similar to the previous - if possible, find a site that had a northwesterly view, giving us a chance to see NEOWISE - an uncommon comet that was gracing the night sky during our trip. Tonight we had a second - and perhaps even rarer - objective as well: find a site with cell reception so that Dan could get on a short work call to support his team.
For a while we wound our way up into the mountains - still generally heading south, but with a lot of east-west switchbacks thrown into the mix. Largely following some high-voltage power lines, the clear cuts made for some nice views ...thought he crackling of lines above us at these places was a bit disconcerting.
At the top of the ridge, Mike set off on an offshoot to see if he could find a nice spot to camp. We'd checked several others to this point, but they'd mostly ended up at the power line towers, and none of us really wanted to call somewhere like that home for the night.
Luckily for us, Mike's side road turned out to be just the ticket. Rougher than the road we'd been on, it led down and then out along the ridge and away from the lines. A clearing - made for some sort of radio reflector - was the perfect spot for us to setup camp.
Can't complain about a view like this.
It was only 3:15pm at this point - probably earlier than any of us had thought we'd stop - but I don't think any of us minded a bit of extra hang-out time after the nothing-like-we'd-planned trip we'd had the last several days. Plus, with our big breakfast, we'd skipped lunch, and that meant we were hungry. Mike, Zane, and I all pulled out some sort of mid-afternoon-sandwich-snack while Dan sat on his tailgate, the perfect place for a conference call!
Just as Dan's call was wrapping up, I figured it was time to head on up the reflector to get a bit of a different view on camp and our surroundings. Sure, a drone probably would have been safer to get these shots, but where's the fun in that (and who's going to buy me a drone)?
We also set about getting the fire ring set up - a job that Zane and Dan tackled with gusto, having outvoted my, "let's cut down a dead tree for wood," suggestion. Of course, their votes - to use a few of the dozens of dry rounds already on the ground made a lot of sense, so who was I to complain?
Even Echo got in on the firewood gathering.
As it had been an early arrival to camp, so was it an early start to the final camp fire of the trip. We sat around for a couple hours before the sun got low on the horizon, casting a warm yellow over camp and off into the distance.
Eventually that yellow turned to orange - not the awesomest sunset we've ever witnessed, but - nothing to scoff at, either!
With the sun down and the camp site higher than we'd been any previous night of the trip, we all pulled our chairs just a little bit closer to the fire as we prepped our dinners. Once again, meals were cooked over the fire and we all enjoyed a final night of Mike's salsa to boot!
As evening turned to night, the new moon set to the south west and we waited. Waited for the night sky to darken, and NEOWISE to make an appearance.
Alas, the appearance was far, far, less prominent than we'd expected - so faint that it was hard to see even with Mike's binoculars. The rest of the night sky however was splendtaculicious! The Milky Way was out in full force, and our middle-of-nowhere location meant that there was little in the way of light pollution for 360°.
The perfect night for a star trail.
With Dan and I getting an early start the next morning, and Mike and Zane following a few hours later, we called it a night around 11:00pm - each of us retiring to our tents in one of the most beautiful places we'd been all trip. Little did we know, the adventure wasn't over yet!
Dan wanted to get an early start the next morning - setting his alarm for 6:00am - so he could get home for some family obligations. What I didn't realize at the time was that he set it for 6:00am Mountain (fake) Time, while I'd kept my phone/alarm on Pacific (real) Time. So, when I woke up at 5:00am and snuggled down in my covers for one more hour of shut-eye, you can imagine my surprise when I heard Dan unzipping his tent and getting going.
It took me about 9 minutes to realize what was going on, but once I did, I was quickly dressed and we were out of there by 29 minutes after the hour. That's right, it was 5:29am Real Time. Three minutes after sunrise.
Now, we happened to notice the previous evening - after we'd made it to camp - that the route Mike had planned was in fact the road next to which we were camped. And, if we kept going on that road we would - theoretically - end up at I-90 and be able to point our trucks homeward.
But, not a quarter mile further down the road from camp, trouble. That's right - as if we hadn't gotten the message already, there was a dead end. Treefall over the road and overgrown underbrush meant that we weren't getting out this way - at least not quickly.
I was out in the lead at this point, and called back to Dan that he should turn around where he could and we'd have to go back out to the main road - where we could take a slightly more circuitous route down to the freeway. He acknowledged the plan, and I added that he shouldn't wait for me on his way out, since I knew I had to air up, would want to stop for photos, and of course, would be travelling at grandpa-speeds even once I hit the highway. We said our goodbyes and safe travels over the radio, and with that, we were caravans of one.
The trip down out of the mountains - especially early in the morning - was a great one. The light, the morning mist, and the cool air all made for special views out over the rolling hills to our south. At no risk of holding up anyone but myself, I tried to capture the feeling.
Soon, I reached the bottom. The end of the road as it were. Or the beginning of the next. Whatever it was, I was headed west for now, but I'm sure it won't be long before I pass this way again - in the opposite direction.
Thanks Mike for coordinating a great trip, and Dan and Zane for allowing me to tag along. Great hanging out, as always!