Camped only a few miles from Stanley, we decided to wake early and have breakfast in town. The sun was just beginning to find its way into the shallow river canyon as we made our start. Not waiting for warmth and light to find us and melt the frost from the outside of our sleeping bags, we set out on the nearly empty and still road. A few more miles following the Salmon upstream, and we entered Stanley, a small town with the grey, jagged teeth of the Sawtooth Mts. creating a dramatic backdrop for the high-elevation valley.
We rode circles around the town- deciding which of the cafes might have the best breakfast, restocking at the small mercantile, visiting tourist info for tips on road conditions, checking the gear shop for Da Brim (Hank had this fabulous helmet-specific hat as we rode north from Jackson, MT), and a final ice cream stop before heading west out of town towards the Sawtooths.
Assured that the wind from the west would cease as we left the valley, we pedaled out with optimism. Barely stopping, we powered our mechanized vehicles more than 20 miles to the top of Banner Pass. While not completely headwind-free, trees (their abundant presence long-missed) helped break the wind. At the top we stopped for a break in the shade, swatted at a few giant biting flies, and suffered comments from speedier two-wheeled vehicles (motorcycles).
Launching from the top of the pass, we dropped quickly and then joined the Payette River in its more gradual descent. Glimpsing the turquoise liquid shining and twisting, we took the first opportunity to dunk ourselves and wash off the heat.
Continuing to Lowman, the store/cafe stop we had been talking did not appear so we continued following the Payette west. Several miles later we eyed a riverside gravel pull-out and were considering its campsite potential when suddenly a large black pick-up pulled from behind the tall hill guarding the gravel road. Spooked, I was sure I'd seen this pick-up pass us at least twice today. But after quick chat we learned that this was National Forest land, that he was hunting rocks, and that there was a campground just up the road, with hotsprings at that.
Pine Flats campground appeared as a descent to the left. Swooping and switchbacking, we pulled into the large, populated campground. One ride around the loop told us there was no vacancy. Considering our options, we walked down to the river's edge. We could stealth camp, or meet people who would share their campsite with us. We could not ride the hill back up to the road tonight, and we needed to eat dinner right now. Cooking over our tiny alcohol stove near the trailhead to the hot springs, the camp host came over to enforce fire safety and let us know that while the people in 6 had also reserved 7, it was not being used.
Dinner consumed, we went to ask if we might occupy the unused campsite. Yes, of course! They said. Oh, but that was 8... over to 6 and another affirmative, along with a campfire invitation. Necessity is the mother of invention, but perhaps also of friendship... soon we were sharing a campfire with people from a company (Coldchain) that makes energy-efficient, bullet-proof freezer doors about to raft the Payette river. Learning more about the Payette river, morel mushrooms, and south African animals than we could have dreamed, we eventually headed back to our own spot under the star-spattered sky and fell asleep.