When one thinks of a “Mancation”, it’s associated with thrilling outdoors activities with the guys, and dainty lilacs must be the farthest from one’s mind. But it was at venues in and around “The Lilac City”, Spokane, Washington, that I got to experience some thrilling activities that helped me “man up” as a traveler, so to speak. Because of Spokane’s location, outdoor enthusiasts in general have a feast of activities available that will connect them to Mother Nature.
A bird’s eye view of the rolling hills via triking
When Denny Reed of Backcountry Aerosports was first introduced to a trike, his reaction was quite negative. He refused to set foot in what he deemed a “flying weedeater.” But as time has passed, Reed has become one of the Light Sport and Ultralight Aircrafts’ best human friends, taking willing flyers like myself up, up, and away in his $60,000 motorized flying machine that has a 7:1 glide ratio. It reaches speeds of 40-60 mph, and has a 34 foot wingspan and a 10 foot fuselage to ride in, plus a range of 270 miles. The experimental aircraft can be transported in a pick up and set up in 40 minutes.
I’ve flown many times in airplanes, including classic biplanes, but this trike experience would be quite unique for me. I made myself vulnerable to feel a sense of freedom on a beautiful northeast Washington evening, beginning my triking from a spot roughly 25 minutes drive from downtown Spokane. After watching an orientation video, I was fitted inside the passenger seat with a helmet and microphone so I could communicate with the pilot of 9-plus years, who’s logged thousands of miles in this FAA- and DOT-registered flying machine.
The take off was right beside his home, where a flat airstrip is situated. Trikes like his Air Creation Tanarg need 250 feet to take off and winds of 20 mph or less for passenger comfort. As the machine sped up, I closed my eyes since I’m a fraidy cat about heights, but once air bound and with the wind blowing in my face, I opened my eyes and got views of deer grazing on the rolling hills, tree havens, and farmland anywhere from 6 feet to 120 feet above the ground, the lower altitude so passengers can literally smell the flowers! When Denny is cruising through the air, the feeling I had was one of amazement and wonder. I’ll never forget logging some frequent flyer miles in a “flying weedeater.”
Reed even lets those who are serious about training to fly a trike do a homestay on his property for 4-5 days, with a cost of $3,000.
The day of the rubberleg nymph
There is a sense of peace when one fishes. For me, to cast out my line and let it sit for awhile anticipating a bite is really fun. It doesn’t matter if any fish are caught or not, it’s the activity itself. I’ve never really had any experience with fly fishing, but after doing so on the Spokane River with G.L. Britton of Double Spey Outfitters and fly fishing instructor Stann Grater, I appreciate this kind of fishing all the more. I was hoping to catch (and then release) any number of trout (most notably the Redband) from the bottom end of the free-flowing part of the Spokane River that started around the Idaho border. It’s what the Redband prefers to still waters. We had to navigate down steep foothills in Spokane’s backyard (10-15 minute drive northwest of downtown), encountering many loose rocks and even poison ivy en route to the river after putting on our hip waders and fishing boots. Having a collapsible walking stick really helped.
Fly fishing skills are not acquired in one or two lessons. It takes time to master the art of casting and placing the fly where you want it and making the fly act ever so natural. G.L. remarked, “The river has personality…it talks to you.” He said that what makes fly fishing ideal is water temperatures in the 50s and cloudy weather. Well, the sun was shining hotly and brightly over the river as my personal instructor Stann Grater showed me the basics. He was patient, especially when I didn’t show the finesse he stressed, for he said several times, “It’s all about finesse.” But finally, I did get the hang of at least casting the fly out into the river and seeing the orange strike indicator move downstream in the constantly babbling waters, but had no luck despite the various flies used, including Beadhead, Pheasant Tail, Bloody Mary, and Rubberleg Nymph. Grater loves the sport, emphasizing, “What archery is to hunting, fly fishing is to conventional fishing.”
Being a guide for the last 15-plus years, the multi-talented Britton knows how to satisfy the hungry fisherman, as he prepared massive Cobb-like salads with pasta for the other fly fisherman in my party. Because of the strict diet I try to adhere to, he prepared me a salad full of fresh greens, cucumbers, onions, and yellow peppers. The scent alone was irresistible as was the taste, so much so that I had seconds and thirds! I’ve eaten salads all over the globe, and I can honestly say that ol’ G.L. makes the finest ones I’ve ever tasted. His salads put the majority of restaurant fare to shame.
Being led up the mountain by a “Yogi”
Even though I’ve been a life long resident of ATV-crazy Wyoming, I had never ridden on nor drove an ATV. There’s young people who love to go up and down the streets and pathways in my neighborhood with ATVs, and I worry I’ll be run over by one. But fate would see to it that I would be led by a “Yogi” up and down the Idaho Panhandle National Forest over the course of about 3 hours to see some stunning views of Lake Coeur d’Alene and Hayden Lake. Knowing I was about to drive an ATV, I felt intimidated by the challenge, but learned rather quickly from the owner of Adventure SportRentals, Yogi Naresh, how to navigate the vehicle. There are a few primary functions that one needs to get functional knowledge of: starting it, shifting the gears, one finger on the accelerator, at least two fingers on the brake, and steering. The real fun and challenge came from going up the long and winding mountain paths to and around the West Canfield Butte, as we departed from Coeur d’Alene, a city that’s a fast 40 minute drive eastward from downtown Spokane.
I was impressed by the stability and great suspension of the ATV, which didn’t bounce me around on those rugged paths full of ruts and rocks as we went up safely at speeds ranging from 5-15 mph. Butterflies fluttered around me as I could feel a pleasant mountain wind on my face, and with it, a sense of freedom that I don’t feel driving a regular car – it was as if I were one with the machine and looked forward to what I’d see and have to drive over with every twist and turn. We adventured down the hills at around 20 mph at most, as Yogi stressed traveling at safe speeds even though his 50 horsepower Polaris Sportsman ATVs can reach speeds three times that. Besides stunning mountain and lake views while surrounded by tamarack and spruce, I shared the road with hikers and other dirt bikers, one hiking group coming from China to admire the scenery. Another hiker did some sketching atop West Canfield Butte.
Despite the thrill of driving an ATV (16 age is the minimum to drive), the vehicle and the trail roads have to be respected because of the risks involved making oneself feel so free, yet vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to ask for extra safety equipment like elbow and knee pads (helmets are required and issued along with gloves), and never be afraid to ask questions or for tips that’ll make your journey as safe as possible.
Disclosure: I attended a press trip sponsored by the Spokane Regional CVB, but what I write is my own impressions and without scrutiny or vetting by the sponsor.