Milepost 63 - 15 Years on the Scenic Route
An anniversary, of sorts, for Sandy Compton
Milepost 63 is the eastern alpha and omega of Idaho State Highway 200; one beginning and one end of an undulating, two-lane asphalt ribbon stretching from Montana to an intersection with US Highways 2 and 95 at MP 30, plus or minus, just east of Sandpoint. Once upon a time, 200 continued to Newport, and there became Washington 20. The highway numbering department deducted 30 miles from the west end of 200 sometime in the past, and that became just US 2. They did not, however, replace the mile markers.
MP 63 is the first or last milepost passed when entering or leaving Idaho from or to Montana, which I do often. I have a fair estimate that I’ve passed that spot nearly 15,000 times—in the driver’s seat. That’s a lot of trips on the scenic route.
MP 63, a tenth of a mile into Idaho, is on the south side of the highway, as most mile markers are on Idaho 200. (The exception is MP 39, on the north to accommodate the big pullout at Pack River). Once Idaho 200 becomes Montana 200, the markers continue on the south shoulder, beginning with 1 and counting the way east for 700 plus miles.
I don’t know what the last milepost before North Dakota might be. It lies between Sidney and Williston, in the midst of the latest petroleum feeding frenzy. MP 63 is just west of the border on the quiet side of Montana. I live much closer to Idaho than North Dakota. Thank you, God.
On dark—and often stormy—nights, I quietly celebrate passing MP 63, for soon I will be safely home. I have not as often taken note driving west, as I’m thinking about the coming day and making sure I have remembered everything I will need for it. When I fail that, I may pass MP 63 more than once on my way to Sandpoint.
Commuting the scenic route began as a family tradition before the highway was a twinkle in an engineer’s eye. My grandparents had a home in Montana and another in Sandpoint. They rode the Northern Pacific between them along a closely parallel route nearly as nonchalantly as I drive it today, though not as frequently. On more than one occasion, though, team and wagon was their choice of transport. That took a bit longer, as you might imagine, and as I have tried to as an exercise in family history.
In the 1930s, a new highway was built, and I don’t mean “reconstructed.” US 10-A (Alternate 10) followed a rugged course up the Clark Fork, Flathead and Jocko rivers and over Evaro Pass. It strung together Sandpoint, Ponderay, Kootenai, Hope, Clark Fork, Heron, Noxon, Tuscor, Trout Creek, Whitepine, Belknap, Thompson Falls, Eddy, Plains, Paradise, Perma, Dixon, Ravalli, Arlee, Evaro and Missoula. In the 1960s, Interstate 90 supplanted US 10 entirely excepting vestigial stretches in Minnesota and Michigan. With no US 10 to be alternate to, the 10-A monicker was decommissioned. East of Missoula, US 10 became MT 200 all the way to North Dakota, where it continues as ND 200. West of Missoula, 10-A became MT 200 all the way to Idaho and then Idaho 200.
During the transition between 10-A and 200, my folks transported kids across the border to dental appointments, matinees at the Panida, nights at the Autoview and “play dates” with Sandpoint kids. My first trip across the border in the driver’s seat was on Highway 200. Thirty years of commuting later, I began writing a column for Dennis Nicholls and The River Journal. I had no trouble picking a name for it.
Since I began The Scenic Route, I’ve passed MP 63 going one way or the other approximately 6,000 times. And written over 200 columns. Perhaps as many as 220, counting this one, but I’m no more sure of that than of how many times I’ve passed MP 63. Some seem to be lost in the ether; March of 1998, for instance, February, 2005, and a few others.
My three fans and fifteen critics might know that I took 2012 off from The Scenic Route, ostensibly so I could collect “the best of” for a book. The collecting is finished. Next comes sorting, culling, grading and winnowing. It’s hard to look objectively at 15 years of work and living and say this stays and that goes, this is of lasting value and that is not. But, it is good exercise, and not only for a writer, but for a human being. It is a chance to gain perspective on the past; opportunity to decide what will be carried forward into the future.
The planet is a crazier and more dangerous place than when The Scenic Route began. The Internet and Jihad have changed our world view incredibly. Our realm of experience is exponentially larger and less secure than we imagined it could be in 1997. We are less innocent and more exposed to the realities of the world than any three generations in the history of man. The folks who once in a while would put a team in front of a wagon and set out from the edge of Montana to Sandpoint would be agog at the times we live in.
But these are the times we are living in, and The Scenic Route has always been personal observations on our times. (A reader once accused me of having opinions, for crying out loud.) It will continue to be. It may not be as prone toward the poetic and make-nice as it once was. It’s hard to live in these times and see only beauty. But, I will do my best, my level best, to be level-headed and honest with you and to remind you that, even in crazy times, it’s good to slow down and enjoy the scenery instead of traveling always as fast as we can. Hand baskets tend to disintegrate at warp speed, after all.
Not that I believe we are inexorably headed for hell—at least, not all the time. It’s just that life is too short to miss completely the scenic route.
Sandy Compton is, in addition to being an essayist, world traveler and novelist, the owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press. His latest book is The Friction of Desire, available at www.bluecreekpress.com or The Corner Bookstore and Vanderford’s, both in Sandpoint.