I came in on the Flowery Trail Road Tuesday morning the 13th. I’d eaten ALL my food the day before. I’d had no coffee for days and yes I had food on my mind. The Flowery Trail Road is a long, steep, winding mountain road with log trucks racing down Chewelah Pass with full loads and Jake Brakes popping off a machine gun like rattle. (the drivers were very respectful of me and the horses.) I get over and off the road for them, turn in the saddle and tip my hat, give them a nod, let them know I’m ok, they don’t have to worry or slow down. They are after all out there trying to make a living. The last thing they need is a couple of horses and rider making it even MORE dangerous for them by not paying attention.
Any way back to the issue of food. Well it has happened again….
I rode into a BLUE Ribbon Community!!! So I rode in about 9am from the east on the Flowery Trail Rd. it drops right onto Main Street. I could smell Paul’s Coffee before I actually saw the place. The view of main street made me whisper “nice, this is going to be nice.” The smell pulled my head right, “there’s a coffee shop” I said, “a real coffee shop.” Big windows, place was busy. They all watched me, but here in this part of the country it’s not uncommon to see a pack horse and rider. I tied the horses around back and went in. “I’m liking this place more and more,” I said as I walked past a massage therapy business attached to Paul’s Coffee Shop. “I need a good cup of coffee.” A friendly man with a long pony tail gladly made me a latte’, a pretty latté! “where ya from?” Yes well I think,” this is getting complicated, trying to explain where I am on this ride, where I have come from, where I have gone and now I am going back home.” Trying to roll this into a quick concise answer is not so easy at this stage. So I say, “I am coming from New York.” and that usually gets their attention.
“The name Chewelah comes from the Indian word “S che wee leh”, meaning water or garter snake. There was a spring in what is now the southwest end of Chewelah. The motion of the water gave the illusion of snakes moving about in the water.” Prior to colonization by European-Americans, Chewelah was home to a band the Kalispel people. The Chewelah Band of Indians is currently part of the Spokane Tribe. “What must it have looked like for those people?” I thought as I came down off Quartsite Mountain into town. Such a rich and beautiful valley it is. A gathering place of 14 tribes who fished salmon. These mountain ranges, the Selkirk, Okanogan and Kettle River are considered the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In 1811 white explorers led by David Thompson, embarked on a trip downriver from Kettle Falls to what would become the site of Fort Colville Trading Post. Mining was the reason Chewelah prospered as a town in the early 1880’s and in 1883 silver and lead were discovered. Those log trucks I mentioned earlier were heading for the mill north of Chewelah. The WELCOME TO CHEWELAH sign I passed as I rode into town had a skier on one side and a golfer on the other. Its a vacation town. Some surrounding farms and ranches. Spokane is only 45 min south of here. Lots of recreational tourist.
So how did this pretty town get a “blue ribbon rating?” I have this list in my head. First it must be attractive, it must be obvious there is town pride. Second, business and public buildings should be centrally located ie. the library, post office, city offices, sheriff and……laundry with in walking distance of one another, oh and stores, hardware and grocery. The town must have green spaces, parks, water, trees, flowers. I like to see people out on the street and I did. It must have a thrift store as I do much of my resupply from thrift stores, it did. Of course to be greeted into town with handshakes and smiles extended by interested town people, well that sure ups the rating. The newspaper or radio must show interest, it did. And then there must be a café, a place where people gather or…..a coffee shop. Paul’s Coffee Shop. Sometimes I must admit I feel like I am from another planet. I surely must look like it at times. I can not tell you how often I have ridden into town, tied the horses up out side to a propane tank or garbage dumpster or telephone pole or ?. I have stepped inside a café or coffee house, pulling my leather gloves off finger by finger as I do, tilt my big hat back and take a deep breath of humanity as people turn heads and stare at the weathered face and odd looking woman that has just entered their world. I had been in the mountains camping for 5 days on the ride over from Newport and had talked briefly with only two woodcutters during that time. The whole scene at Paul’s was like soup, a thick medley of spices. People talking in groups at tables others waiting in line for an espresso or some fancy concoction we like these days. This is a luxury item I will tell you honestly. But what caught my attention was the fact that there were so many women, my age or older, and they looked REALLY good. They had been exercising at the BodyShop Gym next door. They looked fit. I got my coffee and sat down across from two interesting looking women talking to each other. One was telling a moose story. She thought it was a statue, she just could not believe it and so walked closer and closer and just as she reached out to touch the “statue” the moose came to life and sent her startling and stumbling backwards quite shaken.” Must be Alaska,” I thought. Sure enough. With in a half hour I had met a couple of dozen women some my age some older and what a bunch they were. Lively. Some had recently moved here with husbands or had returned to care for elderly parents or had come and fallen in love with the place, “never left.”
Shelly Walden introduced herself. She works next door as a healing arts practitioner. Within a few minutes she was on the phone and had a place for us to camp. The ball has been rolling ever since. I could not have ended the year in a better town. I have now, after two days, made necessary preparations for my return in March at which time I’ll haul back to Chewelah and resume this journey. Later that day Shelly gave my tired aching body a much appreciated hot stone massage. She knew Stan who helped me get new horseshoes on because my horseshoeing equipment did not show up at the post office, just a befuddlement. I have had such a wonderful 3 days here in Chewelah. I am rested. I feel recharged. I feel satisfied to have ridden thus far. I am very glad I chose to ride across the mountains this fall instead of going home as I so wanted earlier. I’ve picked up supplies for the return ride to Sandpoint. I am hauling with Debra Gullo and her husband Dave to the Back Country Horseman’s annual “Ride and Wine” in Ellensburg, Washington on the 29th of this month. I have NEVER done anything like this before, NEVER. Debra said last year over 600 horse and riders attended the event! We return November 1st and the horses and I will be hauled by Judith Hemphill to Libby. I have a talk at the Cabinet Mountain Brewery on November 4th at 6pm.From there I’ll ride north to my cabin in Trego, a 2/3 day ride and call it a year.
Tamarack (larch) trees are transforming the forest floor into a soft golden carpet of dry needles. They are the only evergreen to do this and the sight of a Tamarack forest in full fall glory can match even your finest New England fall colors. Nights are much cooler, most mornings I discover a thin layer of ice covering the horses collapsible water buckets. The horses are fuzzy again, they sport fat full bellies and dance around at things they normally would ignore. Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit, the true, proven champions of this story. I am so proud of those two.
Often this “reentry phase” as I refer to it can be very difficult for me. I come in and I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what to do with my self. I must reestablish a new routine, not let myself fall into a slump and stay motivated. But this year it feels different. Perhaps I’ve been long riding, long enough so the transitions in and out of travel mode are easier, smoother. I love what I do. I so appreciate that I CAN do this. I am filled with gratitude for those who have helped carry us along the tens of thousands of trail miles. And with that I ride out in the morning. Happy trails. Bernice