Podunk Meets Paradise

Musings from Central Idaho

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Rigby, Idaho — Where TV Was Invented and Vegetable Jell-o is Put on a Pedestal

The Odd Number and I traveled to scenic Rigby, Idaho for his Cal Ripken baseball tournament. That part of the story ends in tragedy — I’ll just say that upfront. There was no joy in Mudville for Odd, who is typically a stellar southpaw pitcher, 1st baseman, hitter, and base runner, even if it is his mama claiming such things. But at this particular tournament his bat had a major aversion to the ball and when the last game of his season ended with him pitching a big fat juicy one to a meaty slugger from the Rigby Owls for a walk-off grand slam home run, I knew our fun factor was in major jeopardy.

Consolation seemed impossible until I remembered a trick I’d seen my dad pull with Odd during another ominous funk. At the time, I didn’t appreciate Big L’s method or intent when I saw Odd with a Starbucks Double Shot Double Mocha w/ Extra Whipped Cream, but the effect was not too shabby (keeping in mind Big L did not know this trick when I was a youngster). Since I found myself in the caffeine limited Rigby, I substituted an overstuffed bavarian cream donut and watched as the sugar moved into the corners of Odd’s shattered psyche.

Presto! We were able to forge ahead with our original plans of visiting the Rigby Museum with a favorite former classmate of mine and her two boys.

ImageImageWe were inspired to learn more about Philo Farnsworth, the son of a Rigby farmer who somehow equated the neat rows of potato fields with the yet to be invented television.

The Philo Farnsworth display consisted for the most part of a dated video created by a local news channel,  random patent paperwork, and gigantic glass tubes.

Although they lure visitors in with the sexiness of television, the curators’ real passion appeared to be the art of home cooking with Jell-o. Carefully preserved behind a glass display case were the historic relics of what may be the last celery and tomato Jell-o packages. The adolescent boys reeled with disgust. Now we were getting our $2 entry fee’s worth!

Odd managed to keep his donut down, despite the retching, and the day was saved.


Celery and Tomato Jell-o, yum!


Trolling for Sponsors

Salmon’s 12 Hours of Disco endurance mountain bike race attracted some serious endurance athletes. Don’t get me wrong, these were extremely nice people, but then again when you routinely run the risk of having a heart attack of losing other bodily functions in front of a crowd, it sort of makes sense to be nice, right?

My team — the Lost Riders — met our goal of not requiring the services of Salmon Search and Rescue at any point during or post-event.  We each completed two laps on the 8-mile track and were damned happy to do it. Other riders showed up with a little more ambitious agenda, however. If you look at this board…

Disco Hill Scoreboard

Disco Hill Scoreboard

you might notice that the men and WOMEN solo riders completed 13 laps or approximately 104 miles from 7 a.m. til 7 p.m.

As admirable as this feat may be, the Enduroletes pay heavy costs.

For one, while the rest of us were enjoying freshly grilled cheeseburgers with extra relish, the more passionate pedalers substituted a substance known mostly as “goo” for solid food. They must call it goo because  “asthmatic dog slobber” is already spoken for.

If your dinner looks like this:



you may need to question your life’s overall direction.

Some of the teams that came to Podunk to ride, like the illustrious MudHoneys, sported uniforms highly tattooed with sponsorships. But I saw no one with a major sponsorship from Gold Bond Medicated Powder or the like. You cannot tell me that, male or female, when you ride 104 miles on your mountain bike you have not permanently wrecked your nether regions. I won’t believe you.

One team showed us the upside to being serious riders when they set up their Ninkasi Brewing tent. In addition to the tent and team jerseys, the trio trucked in a keg each of Total Domination Double IPA and Radiant Ale. I asked how the Lost Riders might find a beverage sponsor (and not a salve or medicated powder sponsor). I was confused by the team captain’s answer and the close proximity of the icy cold brew, so I realized too late that he had said “You just need to pitch it,” and not “You just need a pitcher.” Oh well, I’ve made far worse mistakes…

Pedal Driven

The training continues for the Lost Riders of Discovery Hill. There’s only 2 weeks before Salmon’s 12 Hours of Disco endurance mountain bike race so my team is hot on the training trail. This is not us:

On Friday, 3 of the 4 of us even went to go see some mountain bike movies with our friends from SIMBA — the Salmon Idaho Mtn Bike Association.

We watched a cool flick called Pedal Driven. We watched people doing things like this:

After watching the film, we decided our 7:30 a.m. Saturday ride sounded mighty early, and we called it off. Sadly, we forgot to tell our 4th team member, Zephyr. So when Zephyr called from Disco Hill a little before 8 a.m., I hustled to the hill sans coffee or a water bottle. The good news is we pulled off a slightly abbreviated but super fun ride, even if I did do it in my pajama pants.

And I realized that Pedal Driven had done the trick. Inspired by that film’s reckless and acrobatic riders, I let go of the brakes a time or two. I might have even gotten a little air. A really small amount of air.

K-Dog and Lucy, our teammates, went all academic on us and took a ladies bike clinic Saturday a.m. and then went riding with the instructors, teacher’s pets that they are.

Two more weeks of training — know of any more good bike movies?

Hope Springs Eternal

Tomorrow, March 13, voters in Salmon, Idaho, will have what may be the 17th chance to pass a bond to build a new Kindergarten — 8th grade school. The trick is in Idaho, we need a super majority or 66.6% of voters to check the yes box. So the kinds of things we might be able to get a super majority to agree on include:

a) When duck hunting, I would rather have a black labrador retriever than a calico cat

b) We should restore our right to drink beer while driving a pickup truck that is 1985 model or older

c) Ketchup is a vegetable

The sort of things that are harder to super majoritize include taxation, education, forward looking statements, the importance of stretching, etc.

It’s just this kind of podunk pessimism that caused me to snort when our dear friends decided to hold a mountain top wedding on March 10 in Central Idaho. For the record, a March 10 outdoor wedding would be a gamble in Phoenix, Arizona. In the mountains of Central Idaho, a March 10 outdoor wedding, much less one in the Salmon River Mountains, just plain makes you wonder how much they really wanted to get married.

When what passes as your limo has to chain up to get to the makeshift chapel, you know you are pushing the envelope…


To add to the risky business, the couple plans to live and work in Salmon. The bride grew up here and she and her groom think they’ll try their hand at raising milk goats, selling cheese, building things.

So how ludicrous when March 10 boasted blue skies and high 60s on the ridge; when all the trucks made it up the snow-covered road without incident; when no one could imagine a more beautiful wedding…


In their bravery, the newlyweds and their families caused me to hope. If they could pull off this hare-brained scheme, maybe their livelihood in Salmon could pan out, too. Maybe this attitude of “anything is possible” would become contagious, and we’d all become infected with it. I swear as I was thinking these sappy thoughts, a bald eagle flew behind them, high above the Salmon River where the steelhead were migrating upriver.

What if people who believe in the podunk-meets-paradise dream become the super majority? Oh, sweet Jesus, let them be registered voters.

The Very Definition

Podunk. Po-dunk. \ˈpō-ˌdəŋk\: A small, unimportant, and isolated town.

I needed to start with the definition mainly because my Grandma Ruby, a lifelong Scrabble master, wasted my Christmas letter because I used the non-dictionary term waify to describe my anorexic looking 12-year-old son. Apparently “waif-like” would be appropriate, or “my son is a waif” would be fine, but just calling him “waify” put me in the Too Dumb to Play Scrabble with Grandma category.

Podunk, on the other hand, is a word. And I’m sure some people who know and/or love Salmon, Idaho, are already losing their wigs over the fact that I could associate that word with this town. Small and isolated — certainly hard to argue those issues. But unimportant — how dare you?

I’m not saying Salmon is unimportant to me; I’m merely observing that in the worldly scheme of things Salmon is rarely considered as a benchmark.

Weather for instance… Salmonites can check on the weather in Missoula, Montana, or Idaho Falls, and then split the difference by walking outside and checking to see what our own weather system is doing.

Currency … while everyone is measuring the dollar versus the euro and the yen, raffle tickets are legal tender in Lemhi County. Cordwood is the commodity price that locals can quote by the hour (1/24/12 @ 9:30 a.m. I can get a cord of split lodgepole for $125).

My longtime friend Kate, at the time of urban and retail ilk, once heard me talking about the prospects of growth in Salmon, ala the Bitterroot Valley in southwest Montana. “Whoa,” Kate reined me in, and then spurred me in the loins of reality, “You guys are a LONG way from the good shopping.”

Visitors walking downtown Salmon are often overheard (I have a Main Street office and keep the door open) remarking, “This place reminds me of [fill in the blank city or town] 40 years ago!” Usually that’s a good thing, polyester pants not included.

Podunk, Paradise, or Both?

From the January 19, 2012 Recorder Herald Police Log…. Caller said there was a black cow out on the side of the highway around mile marker 127 or 128.

Man reported traffic going up the draw. He thought it was poachers because the seasons were over. He didn’t know why anyone would be going up at that hour. It was a couple of hours till daylight.

Salmon, Idaho has a population of about 3,000 people. But to be fair, the county we’re in — Lemhi County — has closer to 8,000. We have more cattle than people, and more scenery than sense, usually. The Salmon River runs right through town, and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to the West hides the sunset from view. To most locals, the alpenglow that dazzles the Beaverhead Mountains to the east is the sunset. I came here from southern Idaho’s big horizons so I argue every now and then about the legitimacy of sunsets, never to any satisfaction.

This place is incredibly isolated. I don’t know why anyone cares where the nearest Walmart is, but if you did, you’d travel 150 miles to Missoula, Montana. The isolation serves all kinds of purposes, some bad and some good.

Salmon is foolishly beautiful, full of the brave people and cowards that lurk in big cities as well as tiny ones, kids who are brilliant and ones that don’t stand a chance. I never imagined myself living in a neighborhood where people complained of elk in their yards, but here I am, and of course completely in love with it all.

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