We climbed for a couple of hours then, as dusk settled in, we started looking for a place to camp. The Cabinet Mountains are wild and rugged. Steep hillsides and plunging cliffs border the winding road. It was getting late now, the sun had set behind a western ridge, and we had a short time to find a place to sleep. As the sunlight faded, the temperature dropped, and we put on jackets. I was riding behind Mike when he suddenly braked, swerved and made a 180-degree turn. “What’s up?” I asked.
“Follow me,” he said. We pedaled back down the road a few yards, and Mike pulled over. He pointed to an opening in the woods. “There’s our campsite,” he said, “made to order.” We walked our bikes into the nicest, flattest, mountain meadow any tired cyclist could ever want. There was a copse of birch trees and Mike claimed a spot among them where the ground was covered with a matt of soft mulch. Because he snores so loudly, it had become my practice to pitch my tent as far away from his as I could, so I went about searching out my own, distant site. Bordering the meadow was a denser forest of mature evergreens, and I leaned my bike against an old tree and began scouting the woods. It wasn’t long before I found what I judged to be the ideal spot; a flat area protected on three sides by ancient trees. The fourth side opened on a view of our meadow; a more pleasant place to spend the night I could not have imagined and I yelled at Mike to come see.
“Pretty nice,” he said, looking around with a practiced eye, “except for one thing.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
He pointed to a spot not five feet from where we were standing. “That dead deer won’t mind you sleeping here, but if the wind shifts, you might want less pungent company.” Sure enough, a rotting carcass lay almost within reach. I camped in the meadow instead.
Sometime in the predawn hours, Mike told me later, a faint rustling awakened him. He sat up and was delighted to see that his tent was surrounded by a heard of deer. It wasn’t until he reached for his camera that they noticed him and the whole heard bolted as one.
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The temperature dropped below freezing that night, and the ride down into the Kootenai River Valley the next morning was bracing. But talk about the views! We wound our way through deep forests and past rushing streams, scaring up myriad wildlife as we zoomed by. Deer and coyotes bound into the woods and eagles took flight, startled at the last moment by our nearly-silent approach. We spent the night at a campground in Libby called the Two Bit Affair, and though it was nice to have all the modern conveniences, I missed the stellar display of our wild camp the night before high in the Cabinet Mountains.