Do you know what a huckleberry is? Have you ever eaten one? Have you ever seen one in the wild? Did you know that they cost $75/quart wholesale?
My only real interaction with a huckleberry until today was the book of the same name ending in “Finn.” But then, grinding slowly downhill on a washboardy, gravelly, chugholey road, I saw a fellow with a bucket.
“What’s in the bucket?” I asked.
“Huckleberries,” he said.
A little farther on there was a woman, also carrying a bucket filled with huckleberries. Earlier that morning I’d had my first gooseberry, a rare little berry that is more delicate than a raspberry, sweeter, and more tart, so I was ready to try more berries.
Let me tell you, of all the berries you will ever eat, there is none superior to the huckleberry. It is sweet and tart like a gooseberry, but better, way better. They only grow for a short time and they only grow at about 4,000 feet. Because they are scarce you need a commercial license in order to deal in them.
By the end of the day I would have eaten a giant piece of huckleberry pie topped with ice cream, but before all that happened I had to climb up Forest Road 123, a pleasant little 23-mile jog whose last seven miles were paved with what the sign called “loose gravel.” Personally, I like my gravel chaste, but that’s another story.
I left Randle at 6:30. The lady who ran the RV park was from McAlester, Oklahoma, and she carried a sidearm. The campsite was not rife with gunfire but rather with shady fir and soft ground. The sixty-mile ride to Trout Lake was one of the prettiest and most quiet rides yet.
I’d deviated from the map route, which would have taken me along horribly congested roads, roads made more congested by the closure of all parks in nearby Oregon. The Oregonians, not to be deterred, simply drove their RVs over the border to Washington. I’m not sure the covids cared whether people got sick here rather than there, but it obviously makes the Oregon folks feel better to say “All the covids is in Washington.”
This magical route had come at the suggestion of Dan Melkonian, a long suffering reader and one of my two subscribers. Dan had suggested FR 123 and a stay at his farm as an alternative to the bitter byways set forth on my map. Dan met us near the top of the climb, and as we descended, we crossed the Pacific Crest Trail again, which I rode on my bike.
After a couple of miles we reached a pristine spring that some traveling nature lovers had decorated with used wet wipes, trash, and cigarette butts. The water was clear and pure and of a taste that I’m getting accustomed to, the taste of amazing.
The town of Trout Lake is tiny and beautiful; it’s a refueling stop for hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. There are folks who live in Trout Lake who make a habit of helping PCT hikers with logistics, getting food shipments and mail, and being generally good people. They are called “trail fairies.” Dan his wife Laura weren’t trail fairies, but they were about to become “exhausted bike touring fairies.” We stopped at the grocery and in the pie case they had a peach-blueberry pie.
“I’ll take that pie,” I said.
“It’s frozen,” the lady said.
“I’ll still take it,” I said. $25 later it was ours.
In addition to the Wanky Bacolette, I hereby introduce you to my second culinary invention, something that is certainly the most wonderful summer food ever created. Please don’t claim to have eaten or made it before without proper documentation. This item is called the Wanky Piesicle.
The way it works is this: You take a pie that is made with fresh fruit and no artificial anything for the filling; the crust must be made with butter. You freeze it. Then you cut it up into wedges and eat it frozen. It is the best thing that you will ever eat. Like the Bacolette, zero calories. Tastes best if you put the pie in your lap and eat the whole thing. With ice cream, of course.
After the Piesicle we went to one of the only dairies licensed to sell raw milk, bought a half gallon, and drank half of that. This is milk that is so thick, creamy, and rich that it will instantly erase the pain of the entire 60 miles and 5k feet of climbing you’ve just done at an average speed of 8 mph.
Back at Dan’s farm I asked if he could get me a date with his bike shop so that they could put on new brakes and a new derailleur. My dear old SRAM Rival shifted slower than a tectonic plate and skipped more than a record carved up with a butcher knife. The rear brake was permanently on. When Dan lifted the wheel to spin it, he was impressed.
“The wheel doesn’t move,” he said.
“Sure it does. You just pedals harder.”
“Before you replace all that stuff let me take a look at it.” Living in Trout Lake and having numerous bikes for numerous disciplines and numerous family members who rode and raced said bikes, Dan was the go-to bike mechanic in the area.
After an hour of open heart surgery the patient had revived. The gears purred. The brakes squeezed on the discs only when squozen. “We can ride to Hood River tomorrow and if it starts again you can still get it all replaced,” Dan said. “But if it looks like it’s going to hold you can keep on riding.”
That sounded like a great plan but not nearly as good as the plan of his wife Laura, whose plan was hamburgers and huckleberry pie. We enjoyed an astounding meal; the beef was home-raised, and of course the huckleberries had been picked and baked just up the road. In addition to laundry, a spectacular view of Mt. Adams, a magnificent body washing in the ice-cold water of the river that ran behind their house, well … there really is no addition.
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