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Maxed Out: Signs of summer’s end

'As summers go, I guess this one’s over, at least astrologically'
summers end max sept
'Summers always seem to go by pretty quickly...'

As summers go, I guess this one’s over, at least astrologically. Summers always seem to go by pretty quickly, notwithstanding climate change-induced stretches well over 30 C, and certainly summers that don’t get started until the middle of July are what I call paycheque summers. Paycheque summers are the ones you seem to wait and wait and wait for, then all too quickly, bam, they’re gone. Just like your paycheque. You probably ran out of summer long before you ran out of ideas on how to spend it.

But the signs of summer’s end are everywhere. A dusting of snow atop the mountains that disappears as quickly as it appeared. The sudden need to sift through your disorganized clothes to find out where you left your favourite fleece. The disturbing realization flip-flops aren’t going to cut it much longer. The jolt to your frontal lobe when you see your credit card balance and suddenly remember WB’s hit it for the remainder of your season pass.

A municipal election.

Being an optimist, I’m hoping for a prolonged Indigenous summer, or whatever it can safely be called. But I’m hedging my bets and heading down to my former home and native land—assuming they’ll let me cross the border—the southwest U.S. I haven’t been there in eight years, and it’s taken a long wait for a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon to get me headed that direction and an almost as long recovery period from my last road trip five years ago.

That was the time I thought it made sense to drive from one side of the country to the other. And back. It was the “and back” that left mental scars. If at all possible, road trips should not end with an endless drive across the prairie provinces. 

It’s not like there was any choice other than to drive across the endless flatlands, although I did inquire about the cost of putting my vehicle on a train and flying back from Toronto. In case you were wondering, the cost of that is in the win-the-lottery territory. 

And maybe I should have known there would eventually be disappointment when I was suddenly informed, the very first night of the three-month trip, I’d be camping instead of working out first-day road kinks in a comfy motel bed. 

I was okay with camping, but it had been a long day following longer days of preparation and, well... So we camped. Which was when we discovered the ol’ faithful camp stove had become faithless. No hot dinner. No coffee in the morning. After it rained all night. Which was a relief from the sultry heat. But not from the choking smoke from a nearby wildfire in eastern Washington. None of which would have mattered had we been in a motel. Near a restaurant. With a free breakfast. Assuming an adult can consider Froot Loops and indifferent coffee breakfast.

In between the first night and the purgatory of the prairies, everything was great. 

But this time I’m heading south. And I know the stove works. And I’ve looked at the maps of Washington, Oregon and Idaho to see if there is a way through the wildfires. There is. At least until the wind shifts. Which I’m sure it will.

I want to swing through Sun Valley in Idaho. I haven’t been there in decades. 

Sun Valley is a very old resort, at least by New World resort standards. It’s been the playground of the fabulously wealthy since it was developed 85 years ago by Averell Harriman as a show stop for the his Union Pacific Railroad. Harriman—trivia aside alert—had his railroad yard workers more or less invent chairlifts just for the patrons of Sun Valley.

At about 6,000 feet altitude, it sits in a vast, broad valley in the Sawtooth Range and seems to extend forever. Driving into Sun Valley is a bit like driving into Los Angeles—you seem to do it for hours.

The first signs of habitation are sprawling, ranch-like houses surrounded by several hundred miles of fence. The dwellings are what ranch houses would be if world famous architects designed ranch houses. They are resplendent in natural wood and stone and are built on such a scale that the homes in Kadenwood would be outbuildings by comparison. Driveways wind past stone entryways and large, electric gates. The houses, flanked by security installations, are about as inviting as the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. I do not believe they contain rental suites.

After a long couple of days driving, I didn’t know it was Sun Valley approaching, but I knew it was something out of the ordinary. As the diminutive town drew nearer, the houses grew denser. Instead of several thousand fenced acres, they were crammed onto lots no bigger than two or three hundred acres each with roofs covering no more than eight or 10 thousand square feet. Shacks.

It was my unfortunate situation to require gasoline in Sun Valley, and it was at the gas station I learned most of what I needed to know about life in Sun Valley. There was nothing, including fuel, I could afford. What fuel I purchased—I may have hallucinated this part—was pumped by earnest young men wearing white gloves.

I decided to make a strategic exit. I’d wanted to linger in Sun Valley, perhaps visit bars once frequented by Hemingway as I’d done other places in the world, but good whiskey is a bad investment when shots are the price of a bottle. As it turned out, it was good I did not dally in Sun Valley, because we needed all that time left in the day to travel beyond its reach. I knew I was safe when ranches began to look like ranches again.

It will be interesting to see what effects the run up and concentration of wealth has had on Sun Valley. I’m sure it’ll make me appreciate Whistler more. Kind of like business trips to New York City used to make me realize how small Toronto was. Not that Whistler is small. But the wealth that rankles here ain’t nothin’ by comparison.

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