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“We are familiar with the notion that the reality of travel is not what we anticipate. The pessimistic school . . . therefore argues that reality must always be disappointing. It may be truer and more rewarding to suggest that it is primarily different.” – Alain de Botton

Clearwater River in Idaho

I am intrigued with Alain de Botton’s description of anticipation which begins with the experience of a very grim winter and the arrival by mail of tourist brochures replete with photos of a tropical paradise.  Although September is clearly not winter, much of central Oregon has had the misery of being draped in forest fire smoke for a couple weeks and, anticipating driving across two-thirds of the U.S., I imagined we would leave behind the smoke of the Pole Creek Fire near Sisters and drive through gorgeous clear desert and mountain terrain of eastern Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Lolo Pass in Idaho would be our route to Montana. I anticipated lovely wild views and the first fall colors–of the startling yellow of aspen and sumac’s eye-popping scarlet.

Having driven an hour or so east of Lewiston, Idaho this morning, we stopped to take pictures of the hills reflected in the Clearwater River. I thought this would be the pattern of our travel along the Clearwater River which suggested to me idyllic fishing scenes in the movie A River Runs Through It. We did see fishermen standing in the river and trees already turned yellow, but as we gained elevation the smoke thickened. We passed through a “do not stop” area with all the pullouts blocked off and we switched the car’s air to recirculation. The smoke continued to worsen until we could not  see the mountains surrounding the narrow valley of the Clearwater.

It was a disappointment to not have seen the Clearwater in a state of clear air. Alain de Botton says that disappointment is an experience that is different than what we anticipate but I suggest turning this idea around and considering that traveling where everything works out perfectly is also a variation from an imperfect normality. Once we took the Alaska Railroad from Wasilla to Fairbanks in January. It was perfect scenery and an exquisite experience. Perhaps, when I have time and don’t have to get up to help drive to Fargo, North Dakota early in the morning, I’ll post some pictures from riding a train that still has a whistle stop route where people ski or ride snowmobiles from their cabins to pick up groceries delivered by train.

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Alain de Botton. The Art Of Travel. Vintage Books (2002), p. 11.