Podunk Meets Paradise

Musings from Central Idaho

Archive for the tag “Idaho”

Can’t Hurt to Try

The morning started off the way many Saturday mornings have started — my sidekick Lucy and I check in to see how the rest of our day can fit around one of our outings.


When I read Lucy’s text, “Can’t hurt to try it,” I had a moment of self preservation when I thought about how that plucky attitude had led the two of us into temptation and staying in drug-resistant tuberculosis halfway houses, and landing upside down in stinging nettle patches, and hanging on the sides of cliffs hoping not to die, and trying snowbikes for the first time in 0 degree weather in the dark, in street clothes, with a belly full of scotch ale and chili.

But I’m still game, I quickly responded, temporarily putting out of my mind the wake of destruction the two of us have left behind us over the past 15 years. The ride down Fulton Street was brisk, as usual. The ride out the Lemhi was brilliant and green and pastoral. The new mountain bike the Iron Chef gave me for my birthday last weekend rode like a dream. And then we left the pavement, destined for Discovery Hill, just like Lewis and Clark. The trouble is, last night’s rain left our overland route in less than ideal condition. My new bike with its monstrous tires led the way through the way along the bentonite-rich two-track. Bentonite is Greek for “slimy, greasy, shit” and soon the substance had my monstrous tires and each one of my special new bike components completely encased. I tipped over into a medium sized mud puddle. As is our custom, Lucy skipped the part where you ask the other person if she is OK and instead focused on not wetting herself. “I’m OK,” I reported bravely.

Fortunately, we were only able to go about 300 yards, or meters, if you call them that, before the inglorious defeat. We determined to retreat, but by that time the bentonite was legion on our bicycles, making pedaling impossible. I drug my brand new bike through the mud with its back tire seized up like a dog on a leash that very much does not want to go where you want to go. Like to the pound, for instance.


In Podunk, we have a special soil additive called bentonite. Bentonite means greasy, slimy, shit in Greek.

When we got back to pavement, we had several problems. Lucy had ridden her mud-caked bike through loose gravel, for instance.


Crushed gravel topping for Lucy’s mud tires.

This turned out to be bad when Lucy started riding again and sharp pieces of rock flung off her tire and into her face. Smack, ow, smack, ow, smack, mother effing ow.

My brand new bike had the problem of still being seized up with greasy mud, and there was a loose bull on the road that we had to pass. I realize these are podunk issues, not urban issues, but there they are.

So I worked to de-gunk my bike in the creek so I could actually pedal past the bull. This strategy worked. Sadly, my fingers froze into popsicles on the way home so I could not shift properly and more swearing ensued.

Lucy and I arrived at my house, poured ourselves a wee dram of scotch and sat in the hot tub, congratulating ourselves on another day rightly lived.

Mistaken Identity

The Iron Chef and I recently put another notch in our collective gluttony belts. I have a new job with the U.S. Forest Service, thank you very much, and I was sent to Bend, Oregon for a workshop. I invited the Chef a) because I’m an awesome wife, and b) Bend is the beer playground of the world.  bend-oregon-beer-map-07

We managed to tag on a little weekend beercation, coming home through Hood River. So I’m not saying that visiting 10 breweries in Bend and 2 wineries outside of Hood River impaired my faculties, but something inspired me to jettison my purse at the first brewery we stopped at in Hood River.

For the record, I’m not sorry. The beers we tasted at the Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom were worth exchanging your firstborn for, much less a silly old purse with a net worth of my half empty Curiously Strong Ginger Mints.

When I realized my mistake, the nice people at Logsdon cheerfully agreed to mail my purse to Podunk. Problem solved.

Except that I had offered to take Odd Number to Boise for a hockey tournament. In a previous post, I reported on the City of Trees’ new hipster elitism. I even presented a certain unnamed establishment with the Too Big For Your Britches Jackwagon Award of 2015. I found the 2016 winner.

After watching 2 hockey games, I talked an unlikely fellow hockeymom into going to a nearby wine bar for a little nip.


The hostess asked for our IDs, which caused us both to giggle like school girls.

I explained that in a fever of approval for the Logsdon Barrel House & Taproom, I had recently jettisoned my purse. And then I showed her that I had crow’s feet that could legally vote and drink. The hostess moved back as I moved in. And then she called for the manager.

The manager tried to help me understand that Idaho state law requires me to show ID, and does not allow carbon dating or 90s trivia contests to be used as a substitute, as I was suggesting. And then, he turned me away.

The state of the world, and of the union, is in a fairly F*#@!d up state right now. Meanwhile, as surrounding states have legalized pot, Boise’s hipster elite are valiantly protecting civilization from fair-to-middle aged hockey moms sipping a glass of merlot. Congratulations, society, you’ve been protected.


Podunk — Too Complex for Pundits

My hometown of Podunk has been in the news lately. We made two Top 10 lists — one for Idaho’s #2 in the most beautiful, charming small town contest, and one for being Numero Uno in the Most Redneck Town in Idaho race. Frankly, if you know much about Idaho, the latter prize is the more hotly contested.

Which is it, Podunk? you’re all asking me. Hotbed of charm or hillbilly?

Let’s address the first issue. In the delightful and cheery Power of Positive Podunkery, blogger Jennifer Brooks mistakenly assigned Hailey the top spot for beauty and charm. Wrong. Hailey has traffic. Traffic is ugly. Podunk wins.


Frederick Marksman, who writes for the enviously named Roadsnacks.com, provides as a disclaimer that we’re not to freak out, the Redneck analysis is infotainment based on science. But then, you read the comments on the site, and you realize that Rednecks can type comments, but not read disclaimers cautioning against freak outs.

The damning evidence provided in Top Idaho Rednecks, includes a thorough analysis of:

  • Number of bars per city
  • Number of mobile home parks per capita
  • Number of tobacco stores per city
  • Number of places to get fishing gear
  • Number of guns and ammo stores per city
  • Walmarts, Bass Pro Shops, and dollar stores nearby

This is what Marksman was able to come up with for Podunk:

LanternPopulation: 4,608
High school graduation rate: 78%
Bars per capita: 7th in Idaho
Dollar stores per capita: 10th

Now while I am most definitely not freaking out, I am questioning the science. I feel like dollar stores (note that we don’t get any credit for being Walmart shoppers… a hefty percentage of our population has probably not been far enough out of the county to get to a Walmart), drinking establishments and diplomas might make us seem like Anytown USA.

Iron Chef and I spent our honeymoon in San Francisco many, many moons ago. When you’re from Podunk, navigating a big city is like going to a wilderness, but with more dangerous critters. We landed at a watering hole in the North Beach neighborhood, and when the bartender heard we were from Idaho, he asked us if we had a pickup truck.  Duh, we answered. Then he asked us if we had a gun rack in it. Where was he suggesting we would put our guns? The bartender was tickled, and we spent most evenings of that week at that fine establishment, since they so obviously understood us.

I’m curious…how do you know you’re in Podunk?


Forced Family Fun: Episode 2016.1

My sidekick Lucy was out of town for the weekend and Podunk had buckets of snow. So, I strapped on some new skiiing buddies and headed for the hills. As you may know, Lucy and I, along with our friends Zephyr and Piso Mojado, form the elite mountain bike team known only as the “Lost Riders.” We have yet to find any nearby x-country ski competitions worthy of our fantastic skills, but if we did, we would most certainly be the “Lost Skiiers.” Sense of direction is not our strong suit under any climate conditions.

So, when I had the unique opportunity to ski with Iron Chef, Odd Number, and his gal, I knew I had to demonstrate best behavior because all they ever hear about is misadventure. On Saturday, I selected a known, traveled route, rich with signs and comforting blue diamonds affixed to lodgepole pine. The snow was lovely, the skiing barely invigorating, the vehicle obvious at the trailhead. Responsible recreation success!

Sunday, Iron Chef had to attend to his duties as King of Podunk Hockey, so Her Royal Highness stepped in for Forced Family Fun. I found myself recommending a new route, a trail I knew about but had not actually skiied myself. This trail not only had a trailhead, but a carved wooden map, unheard of in these parts, where our trail signing motto is, “If you don’t know where you are, you probably don’t belong here.”


Her Royal Highness is so far not concerned that we have lost the Blue Diamonds.

The skiing rookies were terrific sports as the trail, not a groomed trail but a mashed down by snowshoers and their dogs kind of trail, soon became unfettered powder. Pure, steep-slope, unfettered hip-deep powder. My colleagues remained in good humor as I expressed the benefit of being able to traverse uphill for long periods on one’s backcountry skis. And they mostly believed me as dramatic views of the Podunkian valley emerged.


Before the children lost all hope.

But then, the comforting blue diamonds went away, and my genetic disposition against retreat kicked in. “It’s not a crevasse — it’s an adventure,” I jingoed, pretending that I didn’t hear some of the words coming from my 16-year-old’s mouth.

“I have matches and a headlamp,” I offered, intending to inspire confidence in my party. Alas, the confidence was in short supply, and dejected, I led the group on a quite invigorating descent to the trusty Honda Pilot (see Honda, this could by your sponsored spot).

I believe the children questioned whether our 2 minutes of downhill bliss were worth the 1.5 hours we had plodded through the powder and pines. I missed Lucy, who like me, would simply marvel that we had ever found the vehicle.



I’m Not Sure How to Respond

It’s not earth shaking news that I broke my fabulous fablet and had to buy a new phone. Why wouldn’t you engineer a multi-HUNDRED dollar device to be super fragile, shattering at only the third time someone drops you on your glass face? I switched from my no-name fablet brand to the illustrious, black turtleneck wearing iPhone. Even with its sexy name-brand cachet, I treat my phones like an old school walkie talkie, speaking into them on the infrequent occasion when I feel the need, expecting the person on the other end to be waiting for my words, and ideally, promptly reply.


But then, in a surprise move, Iron Chef gave up his rotary telephone for an iPhone, and in true Cheffy style, proceeded to learn how to use the device. How very annoying. The only thing that I knew about Siri the Talking Phone Robot was that she sprang to life at inopportune moments just because I was holding my finger on a phone button or two. Chef immediately began to treat Siri like a trusted friend, asking for advice and recommendations. A friend of mine in his 60s (whom I call Brian for this blog’s purposes, because his name is Brian, and unlike many of my friends, does not need to hide under the cloak of darkness) demonstrated Siri’s powers to me. “When is the World Series on tonight?” he asked Her Wiseyness, and she answered, in Mountain time, daylight savings or whatever fully taken into consideration.

In the privacy of my own home, I tried asking Siri a few questions whose answers had thus far eluded me.

“Siri, why should we criminalize the construction of a whitewater park?” I spoke my question into the rectangular robot goddess, thinking of the November 3 election and the Proposition One question on the ballot.

“I’m not sure how to respond to your question,” Siri told me, devoid of emotion.

Then, like a polite family friend, she offered some things we could talk about…


I’m not going to lie, I’m creeped out. I mean, I didn’t even know I had a sister. And who is this Nikkei person?

My advice — vote your conscience on November 3rd in Podunk, and Podunk-like places all over the land. Siri is stumped on this one.

More Microbreweries Than Dollar Stores

After the tiniest reprieve from hockey travels, we have resumed a steady schedule of consuming the earth’s resources gallon by gallon. By that I mean I’ve located some of the most backwater Podunk breweries in the free world. Here is a roll call of three ruralasaurus places with more microbreweries than Family Dollar stores.


The Podunk sister city of Ferdinand boasts a new microbrewery.

Ferdinand , Idaho. Trestle Brewing Company aka the Halfway Bar.I am not even sure that it matters that the Jerry Garcia looking owner was not yet serving his own brew. He had swag like this:


Not only does Trestle have a great logo, this silicon pint bounces!

and was in Ferdinand. Nuff said.

Wolftrack Brewing Company, Cottonwood, Idaho.
Not only can you swig this at the famed Keuterville Pub and Grub,



Wolftrack Brewing Company tasting room in Cottonwood.

but now they have a “downtown” tasting room, too.

Bandit Brewing, Darby, Montana.
I thought the tiny sign on Main Street Highway 93 was a joke because it led me to a dead end in sort of a meth lab looking neighborhood.


I followed the wee sign toward the railroad tracks in Darby, obviously lost.


Looking back toward the Highway, I remained convinced I was lost and that the Brewery sign was a joke, but at least I had a glimpse of the Bitterroots.

But then I saw a metal shed with kind of loud music coming from it and another tiny sign indicating the shed was a brewery, so I went in to await my death.


Wait a minute…

Incredibly, very good, very inventive craft beer and Darby chic design were being served up instead.


The outside of the Bandit Brewery warehouse might have connoted images of Breaking Bad, but inside was warehouse chic.






Nice Surprises

I am a sucker for nice surprises, like Sting making a cameo appearance at the Grateful Dead’s 1993 Vegas show, or Iron Chef giving me fancy chocolate when it’s not my birthday or anniversary … Or finding out that Garden City, Idaho is the somewhat unlikely home to some amazing wine tasting.

Garden City has always been Boise’s seedy 2nd cousin. It’s the go-to place for used RV’s, adult book stores, and bloody Mary’s at The Ranch Club. This last factoid turned out to be very beneficial to Kitty B. who had started the morning with the pretty little dress she’d been wearing the night before AND the mark of shame — double X’s on her hands to indicate she’d been bounced from the bar we’d frequented the previous evening.

The Ranch Club and its frisky stallion are conveniently located next door to the Syringa Winery.

The Ranch Club and its frisky stallion are conveniently located next door to the Syringa Winery.

Syringa Winery is next door to the Ranch Club and its frisky stallion on the roof, and a little deeper down Chinden Boulevard is the highly acclaimed Cinder Winery. Once we had gotten past a few minor concerns (will will be shanked in the parking lot?), we were ready to start our off-the-beaten path wine tasting excursion.

Mike Crowley, Syringa owner and winemaker, hails from Podunk. Bonus!

Mike Crowley, Syringa owner and winemaker, hails from Podunk. Bonus!

Happily enough, Syringa wine maker Mike Crowley hails from Podunk proper, so he showed us some down home hospitality before, during, and after tasting. Mike has been crowd pleasing with his wines, particularly his Primitivo. But his newly released blend of cab, merlot, Syrah, and Primitivo shows off not only the Snake River Valley’s suitability for growing great fruit, but also Crowley’s skill as a winemaker. Go Podunk!

Cinder Winery enjoys a hot reputation that has only been enhanced by Sunset Magazine fawning over the style of winemaker Melanie Krause. Cinder’s dry and off-dry Viognier vintage 2011 netted gold medals in the mag’s 2012 international wine competition, so if you happen to have a bottle, consider yourself lucky. Cinder’s Syrah is deep and sophisticated, on the pricey side for Podunk ($28 and up) and in demand enough you often have to clobber competing buyers like you are at Walmart on the Friday after Thanksgiving fighting over 2- for-1 Chicken-in-a-Biscuits. Instead, I opted for their dry rosé and Cinder’s 2nd label (read affordable) Laissez Faire. Billed as red table wine, the blend is a great way to enjoy the winemaking prowess of Krause, and save some extra dough to buy another Ranch Club Bloody Mary if you happen to need one.

The tasting room is warehouse chic and the staff super knowledgeable. Better yet, both Syringa and Cinder share space with other wineries. Even though I find it difficult to agree that Garden City is the new BoDo, I do have to admire the vision of these wineries. To change the look and feel of a neighborhood, some brave soul has to go first. They might be on to something…and in the meantime, you can see some really interesting movies once you’ve made the journey down Chinden.


Wine Tasting on the Wild Side — Cinder

Highway 12 — What an Obvious Choice

As geography would have it, to get to my new vacation oasis in Cottonwood, Idaho, I have to go through Montana. I hadn’t been on Highway 12 over Lolo Pass for a number of years, but I remembered it as a lovely stretch of blacktop that paralleled the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River, was rich with Lewis and Clark lore, and gave me my first glimpse of cedars in Idaho.

Visions of tamarack and the Lochsa from Highway 12.

Since my last visit, there has been much talk of Megaloads traversing Highway 12 to get to tarsands in Alberta, Canada. The gigantically oversized truckloads didn’t seem like the most logical fit for the narrow, winding highway with mountains on one side and a pristine river on the other, so I originally assumed the plans were a prank. Canadians and large corporations have such a dry sense of humor.
I knew that many of the rural residents of Highway 12, including writer David James Duncan of The River Why fame, were not getting the joke. He was now more like, “The River? Why?”
Duncan is on the Montana side of 12, but my Idaho peeps took a new craftier tactic.

Megaloads — Keeping Idaho Green. Road sign near Syringa, Idaho.

Around the bend from the pro-megaload cheer was a sign for a towing company.

I’m certain they are working on more billboards that proclaim “Wreck Your Big Ass Load in Our River for a Robust Economy.”

Excused Absence

So I am most likely the only person on Earth who noticed that I didn’t post anything in October.

I’d like to say I pre-empted author Philip Roth, who after an illustrious 50+ year career, announced he was retiring.

“I know I’m not going to write as well as I used to. I no longer have the stamina to endure the frustration. Writing is frustration — it’s daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It’s just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time.” — Philip Roth, author of this sentence and a lot of other books

But, nah, I was just messing around, looking for some new forms of podunkery to share. Let’s start with the fact that I stayed in my second nunnery within a 12-month period. It’s entirely possible that my travel agent believes I need more reformation that the Super 8 can offer. In any case, St. Gertrudes Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho is my top travel pick of 2012. The creed or totem or whatever of the St. Gert’s nuns is “simplicity, hospitality, and justice.” Imagine Martha Stewart and Sandra Day O’Connor running a bed and breakfast with really good coffee on the caboose end of the Palouse.

Although the sisters tried to keep me on the grounds by feeding me their addictive Benedictine applesauce, I went on the prowl to Keuterville, just down the holler from Cottonwood. When we arrived at the Keuterville Pub & Grub, we were greeted by the proprietess Linda.

Did I mention that Keuterville is pronounced Cooterville?

She seated us and then took a load off herself, handing us a Mead spiral notebook that served as her guest book. As I tried to think of a fake name, Linda started taking drink orders. “We’ve got home brew on tap,” she casually mentioned. By home brew, Linda actually meant craftbrew from Cottonwood (it became apparent I’d entered the twilight zone). Within moments, Linda’s grandson delivered a frosty Wolf Track Bushy Tail IPA.

Home Brew, Craft Brew, Good Brew

Linda asked if I was any good at pouring beer from a tap. I abandoned my project of thinking up a fake name for the spiral notebook and started thinking how to properly answer the question at hand. But Linda was too quick for me. “If you want another, just get up and pour it yourself,” she said.

Oh my, I thought, and wondered what real estate prices were like in Keuterville.

Once given that kind of encouragement, no one at my table seemed to mind when Linda confided that she wasn’t even going to bother taking our food order while they were experiencing a dinner rush, and then she nodded toward the only other table in the joint and the six camouflaged hunters occupying it. “It’s just Dewey back there on the grill so it’s not like he’s going to get to it anytime soon.” Mostly, she was correct.  But given the unexpectedly delightful Wolf Track brews, the wait was entirely tolerable.

Tell Me Where to Go

Meadow Lake

Meadow Lake

I read somewhere that the Salmon-Challis National Forest is like the Sawtooth National Recreation Area but with fewer people. The truth is, once you get away from Ketchum’s Main Street, there aren’t that many people in the SNRA either. A more accurate statement is the Salmon-Challis is like the SNRA but without any signs.

The Salmon-Challis is home to the Lemhi, Salmon River and Beaverhead Mountains with gorgeous alpine lakes, streams, and views unparalleled. But there is a cultural aversion to telling anyone about it.

So one has to have a keen sense of direction (which I don’t) or be willing to take chances (which I am). As part of my eternal quest to make the trip to-and-from Idaho Falls bearable, I finally made it to Meadow Lake. About 65 miles from Salmon, Meadow Lake is reportedly the highest alpine lake in Idaho you can reach by car. It’s at 9200′ and the drive is an easy 5 or 6 miles from Highway 28. Bonus.

My traveling companion and 13-year-old son, the Odd Number, reluctantly agreed to check out the hiking trail at the end of the lake. This trail had a very helpful sign that read “Foot Traffic Only.” Even though the Salmon-Challis did not want to let me know where it went, the trail was beautifully maintained — wide and smooth with real-live bridges that crossed the unnamed creeks — and definitely led SOMEWHERE. They went to the trouble of placing nice overlooky benches along the trail.

Odd# and Podunk on Meadow Lake Trail

Odd# and Podunk on Meadow Lake Trail

The trouble is, the Odd Number is not a big fan of hiking. So if my gamble that we were on a loop trail did not pay off, I was going to have some serious explaining to do and an incredibly cranky hiking partner. This would be hard for me to take after traveling from Mud Lake and through the Idaho National Laboratory botanical garden on Highway 28. But I saw a fork in the trail and a sign in the distance so I knew I could clear this matter up in a hurry.

When we arrived at the fork, the sign that pointed up the hill read “Divide.” No mileage, no further explanation and no mention of where the trail that we were on went. Let’s see, it didn’t seem like in 20 minutes we’d hiked far enough to be near the town of Divide, Montana. And I was fairly certain we were on the wrong side of the Lemhi Valley to be heading toward the Continental Divide Trail.

We took the low road and ended up on the other side of the campground. I went home and looked at my Eastern Idaho Trail guide and discovered that we were on the handicapped-accessible 1-mile Meadow Lake campground trail. But, shhh, don’t tell anyone.

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