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Friday, September 25, 2015

Cluck Truck Adventures: Smoked Chicken

(This post, being written four weeks after the happenings, is ancient in the world of blog posts and I was considering not writing it at all.  But then this happened, “Alan, where did we eat that giant slimy fish?” And since it took us at least 20 minutes to figure it out, I thought chronicling these trips, even tardily, is good for the memory bank.)

As is our usual, a good two weeks prior to our return from Orcas to Colorado, I had planned our complete trip:  It consisted of some favorites (North Cascades Highway in Washington, Fish Creek in Montana) with some soon to be favorites (meeting up with my cousin, hiking in Grand Teton) and was to be our longest return drive yet at six nights; providing us that one delicious all-hiking-no-driving day.  But just under two weeks before our departure, Alan, hearing of the fires raging across eastern Washington, suggested that we should have a Plan B.  Little did we know that we should have continued further down the alphabet.

The decision was made three days prior to our departure when Washington State Highway 20 was still closed in many places (and all the places we needed it) we set out on Plan B:  South by Southeast.

Days that start or end with a ferry ride don’t make for good long driving days, so our first day was a short drive over Steven’s Pass to the USFS Nason Creek Campground near Leavenworth.  It was closed (despite not mentioning it on that website.)  Apparently it has been closed for years.  Luckily, adjacent to the closed campground was Lake Wenatchee State Park.  We found a nice pull through spot (no unhooking!), put the chickens in their run and set off for a short walk along the river. 

This park, made up of two campgrounds, is quite lovely, although clearly has room for a ton of campers.  But in the off season it was great; allowing for solitary and easy hikes along the river and lake.  (Most pitches had water and electric and there is a dump station on site.)

Our first goal for Day Two was to not leave Washington until we packed up a box of peaches.  We found a great little stand just off Highway 2 and gathered them in before heading toward Orofino, Idaho.  More and more, we aim to travel less and less on the interstates; enjoying the American backroads whenever possible.  This usually makes for longer days but almost always more interesting scenery and our route on Day Two was no exception on either score.  After a long driving day we pulled into McKay’s Bend, a BLM campground next to the Clearwater River on Highway 12 in Idaho.  (Highway 12 is delightful; a definite new favorite.) 

McKay’s Bend turned out to have about 15 sites, all pull-through or back-in and looked more like a KOA (i.e., not more than 10’ between pitches) than any BLM sites we had ever seen.  Even though we were hot and tired staying there just wasn’t appealing (the last pitch available backed up to the bathroom.)  So we opted to continue down Highway 12 to Pink House, another BLM site, about 20 minutes away.  So glad we did!  Lovely spot and we were one of three in the campground.  Pull-through, a full hook-up and right on the river for $15/night.  Unbelievable.  (We still didn’t have to unhook Salt!)  We halfheartedly attempted fishing (Clearwater River is quite large and we were equally unprepared for casting that far out) before sitting back and enjoying a quiet evening.

Our goal for Day 3 was Pettengill Campground, outside of Wise River, Montana on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic By-Way, but first we had to make it off Highway 12, skirting multiple fires sometimes with smoldering logs just barely off the road.   What would have been gorgeous scenery was almost unrecognizable in the smoke-filled haze.  We gasped our way out of those fires and headed southeast across the Bitterroot Natonal Forest.  

As we dropped down toward the town of Wisdom, Montana, we could see billowing clouds of smoke on the other side of the valley, right where our campground was due to be.  We stopped in Wisdom for some gas and received timely information from the lady behind the counter:  All the campgrounds along the north part of the Pioneer Mountains Scenic By-Way were closed due to the fire--not that we were in any danger of continuing on that path anyway. 

Now, we hate to go backward on such a long drive, but after much debate we did indeed opt to head back to May Creek Campground up in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest which we passed about 20 minutes prior.  It turned out to be a nice little campground, more full than usual with all the detours happening, but pitch #3 was delightful and we set the Ladies to roam in their tent while we crossed the street to fish.

After much bushwhacking we made it to the river and Alan almost immediately pulled in a Brook Trout.  Although small, they are one of our favorites as their meat is very sweet and tender.  I was worried about the Ladies so I returned to camp and let them free-range while I relaxed.  In no time at all, Alan returned carrying two fish; the original and another that was the biggest Brook Trout we had ever seen.  Was this going to be tasty!


Although campfires were (amazingly) allowed at May Creek we opted not to light one as it just didn’t seem right when there were people putting their lives at risk less than 50 miles away.  So we fired up the oven, wrapped the trout in foil and baked them with some butter and lemon.  Oh we were ready to open those packets up and dive in!  And this, my friends, is when we ate the Giant Slimy Fish.

We have never seen the likes of it, but the big Brook Trout emitted a slime while cooking that was simply disgusting.  I could not get past it to eat the flesh but Alan did.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get any better; the flesh was tough and not flavorful at all.  Ahh, old age gets the best of all of us.

So with our plans shot to hell for Day 4 (no going up and around Wise River to join I-15 and cut down to West Yellowstone) we opted to head south, pick up I-15 at a different spot and try a cut-off back road to get to West Yellowstone.  (I had two primary objectives at this point:  (1) Make it to our reserved campsite at Wapati Campground on the outskirts of the Grand Teton National Park and (2) do not stop in West Yellowstone, a town that is more un-navigable when towing than many small European villages we had visited.)  So off we went with a full lunch packed and stopping for gas often to ensure we would not have to fill up in my least favorite town.

We took the appropriate exit off I-15, turned left and came to an abrupt stop.  Dirt road.  Dirt road for miles and miles and miles.  Although disappointing, that was an easy decision to make; miles of filling Salt with billowing dust was simply not going to happen.  So with me driving in a general south/southeast pattern, Alan set about finding us yet another detour.  At this point, hiking in the Grand Tetons was out of the question, as was making our reservation which, being the Thursday and Friday before Labor Day Weekend was made to ensure us a camping spot.  We were now officially One of Those People:  The people who take off on one of the busiest camping weekends in the country without reservations anywhere.

But Alan’s patience (and ability to read maps and Google without getting car-sick) found us a lovely drive:  We crossed Idaho on Highway 26 which was beautiful (and finally no smoke in the air!) and then turned up to Hoback Junction locating Hoback Campground along the same-named river and finally stopped moving. 

Everyone except for JJ.  

All the chickens were in their free range tent but JJ just wouldn’t stop trying to get out.  So finally we let them all out for some real free-ranging.  After a few minutes of dutiful pecking, JJ jumped up into the back of the Shaker.  Alan brought over one of their travel cages, opened the door and in she climbed.  She spent a good hour making a lovely nest but no hours actually laying an egg.

The other Ladies joined her at the normal bed time, little did they know it would be awhile before they got out again:  The morning dawned with ferocious winds, the kind that, our experience has shown, knocks over free-range chicken tents and sends the chickens running for the truck.  So we opted to leave them in their cages with me reaching in and freshening the cages as best I could before hitting the road.

But Louise had a different idea:  She thought she would enjoy some free range time and, when I opened the top to clean out her cage, she jumped right out and ran off.

We still had a lot of packing up to do so we just left her alone.  She didn’t move far from her friends in the truck.  But holy chicken did they all talk about it!  What were they saying? 

“I heard Louise, that skinny hen, got out!”
“Where did she go?”
“No idea, but I imagine it wasn’t to the donut shop.” 

Yes, chickens can be catty.

Eventually we had to get Louise back in and potato chips proved the best lure.  We placed a chip inside her cage and she willingly hopped into the Shaker, then on top of her cage.  At this point, I managed to grab her and, let’s just say, encourage her to get inside.  After such rude handling, she refused to actually eat the chip until much later in the day.

At this point we were four nights on the road and 500 miles from home with no plans on the Friday before Labor Day Weekend.  Two of Those People.

So we set out to see how far we could get.  We knew of some boondocking sites south of Walden, Colorado on Highway 125 and set our sights there, which would make it a long drive day of over 400 miles.  But alas, what is one more change of plans at this point?  Of course all the sites were taken so we just kept going and going and eventually pulled into our driveway after every one of those 500 miles were done.

I closed the gate and opened the back of the truck and one by one the Ladies hopped out of their cages and ran freely in their yard; a just reward for having spent 24 hours in their travel cages.

Well, everyone but Louise who took just a second to polish off that chip.