The twisting tongue of dirt roads licked the underside of our tires as we made our ascent to the top of Sundance. Clay colored access roads were etched into the sides of the hills, and from the peak, you could see how they trailed on for miles. The tools in the trunk rattled and clanked as we roared over the loose gravel making our way up, and up. 6,300 feet was quite the climb and as it turns out, hard on the brakes on the way down; but boy was it worth it.
I was surprised to see the grey remains of the dead trees still surrounding the fire lookout as we pulled up. The wind howled in our faces as the doors of the FJ80 creaked open and we all clambered out. Even at that height, the smoke still hung heavy in the air. A cold reminder of the fires that had ripped through the same mountain fifty years prior. Consuming with an intensity to scar thousands of acres.
On a clear day, you could look out towards the Northwest and see Priest Lake; however, that was not the case today. The boys ran around for a bit, shooting some portraits and landscapes before making the steep and narrow climb up the steps to the top of the fire lookout. To be honest, climbing the steps felt more like climbing a ladder rather than a staircase. Once at the top, we were humbled to be greeted by John, a volunteer that had dedicated six weeks of his life to live alone in the lookout. He welcomed us into his temporary home with great excitement.
John was a short in stature, and never seemed to not be smiling. He sported a silvery mustache, red suspenders, blue jeans, and weathered skin that looked like it had felt those cold winter winds of the northwest for decades on end. The lookout was modest, equipped with a cot, and simple stove. The most intriguing part of the lookout was the circular contraption placed as the centerpiece of the lookout. We later came to find out that the machine was called a Osborne Fire Finder, a machine in the alidade family used to triangulate fire locations. John was happy to tell us all about the fire finder, and show us how to triangulate a fire by simply lining it up with the equipped crosshairs of the machine.
Thus far, the summer had been uneventful for John. He had just started his shift as a lookout a few days prior, and had spent most of his time alone. He went on to mention how he would occasionally get visitors, but that things did get lonely at times. I thought of John sitting up on his cot at night all alone on this mountain, reading a book by lantern light. Seated just above the stars in this little lookout, it was clear that this job was not for any of us. We thanked John for his time and hospitality and started our descend.
Now, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that nothing connects man with the road like screeching tires and a ripping engine. The piss yellow, ’82 Subaru came barreling around a hairpin turn, sending the ass-end skidding out to the far left. I was hung out the passenger window, hanging onto the, “oh, shit!” handles with one hand, and balancing a camera in the other; trying to pull focus on the constantly shifting car. James was screaming indecencies through the two way radio hanging from the visor above the driver’s seat. Through the dust and all the chaos, The Dukes of Hazard momentarily lived again.
We were brought together for a multitude of different reasons. A passion for photography, coffee, beer and just about everything in between. We rolled back to the cabin; every inch of us caked in dirt. Before long, everyone had a beer in their hand (and maybe even some rum), and began talking about our day and how rad it had been. One thing was clear, we are the wild ones; enveloped with an insatiable desire to get out there and keep exploring this wild, world.