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A road less travelled (and poorly marked): Part 1

On Thursday Jimmy and I set out in the Man Van, ultimately en route to Columbia Falls, Montana, where we had a date with the Middle Fork of the Flathead River on Sunday. But first we wanted to visit a lesser-known river along the way: the Thompson. To get there we travelled east via I-90 to Cour de A’lane (I never get the spelling right). Before we could get that far we were forced to enjoy an hour+ delay just west of Spokane where the interstate was shut down for an accident. Not to make light of the accident, as it looked like a bad one, but we had a good ways yet to go on previously untraveled roads and I preferred to not travel in the dark if it could be avoided (first world problems are hard).

As we sat in traffic, going nowhere fast, we kept noticing large puddles of dark red fluid on the roadway in front of us, connected by thin dribbling lines of the same fluid (imagine a drop and pool river—it was just like that). Either someone ahead of us was dragging a bleeding animal carcass or someone had a badly leaking transmission. Inching forward we pondered from which vehicle in the long line ahead of us it might be. By the time we realized it was the emanating from the truck in front of us it was too late to warn the old guy behind the wheel—he took a right and we took a left after we were forced to exit the interstate. Poor old codger wasn’t likely going to get much further down the road before his tranny seized up. Hope he got to where he was going before that happened.

Unsavory delay

An unsavory delay and a trail of transmission fluid.

After the detour we resumed a faster rate of travel on the freeway for another 75 or so miles. Twenty miles east of Coreau d’ Lane we once again exited I-90, this time by choice, and proceeded north along the Corda’ Lane River for several miles. The river was not-surprisingly very low, and while it looked as though it would be a decent trout fishery with a good bit more water, it wasn’t on our radar for this trip. The road was narrow and winding, but paved, as we proceeded onward toward Thompson Falls. Beautiful country; again no big surprise here as Idaho’s panhandle is a place of abundant beauty.  The leaves on deciduous species of flora were beginning to turn the colors of Fall, as well they should in this country in mid September. Somewhere along the way we crossed the Idaho/Montana state line without much fanfare.

Idaho panhandle scenery

Idaho panhandle scenery

After a couple hours we reached highway 200 where we turned right toward the town of Thompson Falls. This was game-abundant country, as evidenced by several blood splatters alongside the highway (definitely not transmission fluid). This was the main reason I didn’t want to travel at or after dusk. Despite new brakes and a Buckstop front bumper designed to withstand animal impact, I didn’t necessarily want to test either out. It was fully light as we drove through town and still we had to stop to allow 3 Bighorn Sheep to run across the road in front of us. The other reason I didn’t want to drive at night is because my damn eyes are getting old we would be searching for a campsite along another road we’d never before traveled.

We passed through Thompson Falls without seeing the road we sought. Perhaps I should rephrase: we may have seen the road, but it was unmarked. After crossing over the Thompson River we turned around and doubled back, taking a right onto what we assumed was the Thompson River Road. It had to be. The sun was behind the canyon walls as we proceeded up the road, following the Thompson River. From what we’d read, the Thompson River Road was a gravel surface. This road was paved, or at least it was paved for the first 5 or so miles. We found a nice campground less than five miles up the road: it was small, with only two vehicle sites and 3 tent sites. Fortunately for us only there was only one other rig in camp which left the remaining site to us. It was right alongside the river and a perfect place for the night’s lodging. In fact the only thing that could have made our campsite better would have been the ability to have a campfire. The burn ban was not unexpected, though, so after a couple grilled ribeyes and a beer or 3, Jimmy and I sat around the lantern before retiring for the night. We had 40 or more miles of Thompson River Road to travel the next day, much of it following the river. We would need our beauty rest if we hoped to look our best for the many trout we intended to meet in the morning.

Sportsmobile EB 50

Our hotel for the night.

You may now proceed to Part 2.

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