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A Good Bar, a Decent Ski Resort, a Loch Ness Monster-Like Creature — and a freshwater Naval submarine training facility — it’s all yours in the Idaho Panhandle.

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Finally, finally, we spoke with Lael Powell Rushing the other night about his Idaho Panhandle Trip. Lael, as many of you know, has recently been struggling with a rare combination of carpal tunnel and strep throat and has been difficult to reach. We just wanted to tell him that all of us at the CT wish him a speedy recovery, and we hope that he can hit the road again soon.

This is an excerpt from our initial De-Brief with Lael, in which we talked about a couple of key issues, such as where to stay, why to go, and the economics of Idaho’s extreme north. Judging from Lael’s testimony, we’ve determined that there are Five Key reasons to head to the furthest reaches of the Idaho Panhandle. The most compelling reason is clearly Number 5: “$165 in Lift Tickets — Panhandle style.”

1. See the Lake Tahoe of the Panhandle, Investigate Rumors of “The Paddler.”

Sandpoint sits on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, which is a large, deep, clear lake. Very beautiful. Apparently, it’s one of the few places with an inland, freshwater Naval submarine facility. There’s also local lore of the deep-water beast, “the Paddler”, as well as some really far-fetched ideas about deep, under-ground canals linking Lake Pend Oreille to Flathead Lake in Montana, and even the Pacific. (This was told to Lael by a drunk local, originally from St. Paul, MN, late at night in Eichard’s (More on Eichardt’s later in the Good Bar section.

2. Experience British Columbia… at Lower Prices.

Lake Pendpanhandlemap.gif Oreille sits between the Selkirk Mountains and the Cabinet Mountains. Never heard of the Selkirks or the Cabinets? That’s because they’re Canadian. Both are long, gorgeous mountain ranges that reside overwhelmingly in Canada and only duck into the northern Panhandle. It’s definitely a maritime influenced climate and ecoregion, with a deep snowpack and dank, dark forests. In other words, a lot like southern B.C.

3. Obnoxious Texans, Affluent Californians, New Yorkers with Bling — Not Here

The main resort in the area is Schweitzer. It’s a cool ski resort, sort of well known because of it’s proximity to the capital of the Inland Empire (Spokane - 2 hrs. from downtown to ski resort), and Coeur D’Alene. (Lael estimates that the whole Spokane/Post Falls, Coeur D’Alene, megalopolis have at least 500k - this has not been verified)…. It’s privately owned, which is kind of a bummer, because it means that the trajectory of condos and development around the ski area is likely to continue, and probably in a big way. Right now, it’s not that out of control, and Sandpoint (population 6,000) is definitely low-key, but this could all change in the future. The mountain itself is pretty impressive and boasts some world-class terrain. I’ve been there on 4 different trips, and had some good days there. Big parts of the mountain are “backcountry-like”, so it appeals to backcountry skiers, and there’s lots of easily accessible backcountry outside of the resort. But it’s got lots of “family” terrain too.

4. Eichardt’s — A Good Hippy, Gay, Metrosexual Friendly Bar.

Editors’s Note: Let’s face it. If northern Idaho has a reputation of anything, it’s for right wing, wack job extremists. This is the home of Ruby Ridge. It was a retreat for Ted Kacynski and Mark Furman. There are plenty of hostile local folk, said Lael. (Lael, as you know, with his dredlocks and hemp clothing is not the most discreet hippy traveler.) That said, Lael was enthused a bar in Sandpoint.

“Eichardt’s bar and restaurant in Sandpoint is a gem. Amazing food, great atmosphere, and a killer game room upstairs (pool, ping pong, darts, and a great shuffle puck board). Very hip place. We went there 4 nights in a row for dinner, because frankly it would have been impossible to find a better place in Sandpoint that met all of our needs (food, games, attractive, hip people). Meanwhile, across the street was an old-timers bar, I sent a photo, with a sign out front saying “Tervan” on one side and “Tavern” on the other. We went in for a beer and definitely did not feel welcome. The 3 of us stand out quite a bit I’d say - I’m the shortest at 6 feet, and I’d wager that our “ethnic” looks and fancy sportswear did not go over well. It was that experience that reminded me how contrarian the Panhandle is for dudes like us. (NOTE: By us, Lael means western hippy Jews, who car camp, and have dredlocks)

One older, drunk woman did come up to us as we were all watching this show on the TV about tattoos, and she asked us if we knew anything about getting our “dickies” tatooed. At that point, I was glad that I was only Jewish, and not gay. It was time to go. Back across the street — at Eichardt’s — we were where we belonged. Where Jews and Gays belonged. And Eichardt’s couldn’t be warmer.

5. $165 Worth of Free Lift Tickets — Panhandle Style.

Note: The final Lael remark that sold us on the Panhandle, involved his friend Noah, a Toyota, and the Schweitzer ski resort. Noah is — believe it or not — even taller and more rabbinic looking than Lael. Here is Lael:

Schweitzer’s had a special promotion during our visit, if you drove a Toyota to the mountain, they’d give the owner a free lift ticket. Noah has a Toyota with 215,000 miles. So he figured they owe him 1 ticket per 100,000 miles. Now, at a resort like Vail or something, if there was a give-away like this going on, you’d figure you’d have to go inside, fill out some kind of form, give away your SSN and your telephone number, talk to a Toyota rep, and the whole nine yards. Well, we’re heading up to the mountain, and we get to this lower parking lot, a full 9 miles away from the resort at the bottom of the mountain, and we pull in, and there’s this parking lot dude, you know, a real dude, some 35 year old dude, standing there with a pocket full of lift tickets and he’s handing us one as well pull up, since he recognizes the Toyota!

Sweet deal. So Noah pulls out his shtick about 1 ticket per 100,000, and the dude barely pauses and pulls out another ticket. Sweet. But there’s 3 of us, so I’m like, “hey, do you think our buddy could get a ticket”, pointing to Gus in the back seat, and the guy pauses, and he’s like, “you guys must be panhandlers! no prob!” Sweet! Fucking unreal. $165 dollars worth of free lift tickets. That doesn’t happen at Vail, or really anywhere for that matter. And I videotaped the whole interaction in stealth mode, and we had to reanalyze his comment about pandhandlers, and we now think it was a compliment.

You guys must be Panhandlers!

For more on the Idaho Panhandle, Lael or Noah’s Toyota, check back next month, when we talk with Lael about his visit to the urban core of the Idaho Panhandle.

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One Response to “A Good Bar, a Decent Ski Resort, a Loch Ness Monster-Like Creature — and a freshwater Naval submarine training facility — it’s all yours in the Idaho Panhandle.”

  1. Josh Says:

    Lael — Hope you feel better!! We love you!!!

    Missy (Toledo)

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