Monday, September 16, 2013

Back to the Bitterroots

The mountains are calling and I must go. -- John Muir

As one who has spent nearly his entire life in the Pacific Northwest, I am no stranger to mountains. I've lived in the shadow of the Cascades, the Olympics, the Big Belts, and the Blues. But I don't think I've ever been as impressed by a mountain range as I was last weekend when I got a birds-eye view of the Bitterroots.

I returned to Wallace, Idaho, on Friday -- officially -- to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday and cheer her on as she rode 150 miles in Bike MS, a fundraising event for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Unofficially, I returned to enjoy the mountain range that served as a backdrop for The Fire -- the recently-released fourth novel of my Northwest Passage time-travel series.

No matter where I went, I couldn't escape the majesty of the Bitterroots, which divide the states of Idaho and Montana and nourish numerous communities mentioned in the book: Wallace, Mullan, Osburn, Mace, and Burke. The mountains that once gave up their silver and gold so that these towns could thrive now provide unlimited opportunities for sportsmen, hikers, bikers, photographers, and history buffs.

Nothing, however, compared to the views from the Route of the Hiawatha, a 17-mile rails-to-trails bike path I experienced for the first time on Friday. When I emerged from the sheer darkness of the 1.7-mile St. Paul Pass Tunnel at the start of the trail, I saw the mountains and lush forests that had been devastated by the Great Fire of 1910, the climactic event of the novel.

I was able to see firsthand what drew so many to this corner of the United States a century ago and continues to draw them today. When I will have the opportunity to return to this magnificent setting, I don't know. But after weekend of taking in the mountains named for the Lewisia rediviva, Montana's state flower, I do know one thing: I will be back.

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