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Rocky Canyon Hot Springs in Idaho

This year, for the Thanksgiving holiday, my husband planned a somewhat random getaway to Idaho, taking advantage of our "extra" time off of work. In over a decade of exploring the greater Lake Tahoe area and beyond, we'd yet to venture to any hot springs, so finding at least one hot spring was paramount on this trip.

We set out to leave the Wednesday afternoon before the holiday, so we got packed up, ensuring to include enough layers for cold outdoor adventures, along with our swimming suits, hiking gear, and microspikes.

Though it makes for a long day, Idaho (at least the southern half) is within driving distance from Lake Tahoe. Our first destination was Nampa, ID, which is a 7-hour drive, excluding any stops, and factoring in the 1-hour time difference between Pacific Time and Mountain Time. We had great traveling weather and rolled up to the hotel by 9 or 10 p.m., depending on which time zone you're using. It felt great to relax and fall asleep.

We got up relatively early the following morning, packed up, and started the final 2.5-hour leg up to a lakeside vacation rental in McCall, ID, which would serve as our basecamp for the remainder of the week. Before we reached McCall, however, we diverted to a rural community called Crouch, ID, where we continued on a rural road to Rocky Canyon Hot Springs.

We pulled off onto the small gravel turnout along the road, which overlooked Middle Fork Payette River below. When we arrived, we were the only vehicle in this makeshift parking area.

On the other side of the river, you could kind of see some steaming water trickling down some boulders jammed into the hillside above the river.

"Is that the hot spring?"

We exited our vehicle and my body quickly came to the realization that it was 34º F outside and in no time I was shivering. I am instantly second-guessing this plan.

The hot spring was on the opposite side of the river. We surveyed the embankment for an obvious crossing. A downed tree, some stepping stones, anything to avoid trekking through the water.

There wasn't one.

Nope. I am not crossing a river in November.

My husband changed into his swimming trunks and Keen sandals, traversed down the steep dirt embankment, and proceeded to cautiously cross the river to decide if the hot spring was worth the effort. I watched him trudge through flowing water nearly up to his knees, dodging river rock, boulders, and a log.

He made it to the other side, checked out the hot spring pools, assessed the water temperature, then made his way back across the river, and up the embankment to where I'm standing – still next to our parked vehicle, still chilly, still unconvinced I'm going to do this.

"Is it worth it?"

"It's pretty awesome."

"How cold was the river?"

"Cold. You're just going to have to move quickly. I think we should use our trekking poles to cross it."

Wait. What? Why is he talking like I'm going to just do this?

The next thing I know, I'm changing into my swimming suit in 34-degree weather. I was already cold and I hadn't touched the river yet.

As a side note, I don't do well in cold temperatures. Physically, I'm not designed for it. I have what's called Reynaud's – some call it a disease, some call it a syndrome, some call it a phenomenon – it's all symantics, but what I can tell you is that in the blink of an eye, it can attack my fingers and toes, freezing them, turning them corpse white, and removing most of the feeling from them.

What physically, technically occurs during a Reynaud's attack is the blood vessels shrink, limiting blood flow. This is most commonly triggered by exposure to cold temperatures. While having your fingers and toes suddenly go numb and look dead is unsettling, once they start to warm up again, the throbbing, stinging, pulsing sensation that comes with it is awful.

Boy, oh, boy, I can't wait to submerge the lower half of my legs in the river.

We descended the embankment, and I tried to mentally psych myself up for what lay ahead. But unfortunately, this isn't one of those things that can be combatted with a "mind over matter" strategy.

I entered the river. It was worse than I even imagined. My heart raced. I tried to keep moving and move quickly, but my legs from my calves down stopped working. I am sure I was moving in slow motion. The combination of 1) frozen legs trying to 2) swiftly move through moving water across 3) an uneven river rock bottom was a challenge to say the least. I was yelping and whining like a toddler.

As soon as I reached the one log about 2/3 of the way across, I used my trekking poles to steady my balance enough to step up and out of the water and stand on top of the log, knees literally shaking and knocking together, for a brief reprieve from the water, not that the air felt much warmer.

My husband was nearly to the other side already, and I heard him commanding me to "just keep moving."

Easy for him to say. My legs had stopped working.

I finally talked myself into stepping down off the log and back into the ice-cold water to finish the last, maybe, 20 feet until we'd reach the hot spring.

The hot spring pool did feel amazing. The hot water was trickling down the rocky canyon into these pools.

We sat in the lower pool, surrounded by steam and chilly, fresh, winter air. It was magical.

Another couple showed up and took over the pool directly above ours, but other than that, we had it to ourselves.

So, we soaked, took a few photos, and then my hot spring euphoria plummeted when I remembered I had to cross that blasted river again.

I mistakenly thought that now that I was toasty warm from the hot spring pool soak, I would better withstand the frigid river crossing awaiting me on the way back.

I was so wrong.

In fact, I actually think the way back was worse.

I had to find raised surfaces on 3 different occasions to step up and out of the water because I could not continue. The first reprieve was the log, followed by a boulder and another boulder. My heart thumped in my chest. By the time I reached the other side, I was nearly in tears. It was torturous. By far, the coldest water crossing we've ever done.

When I returned to our vehicle, I was still moving in slow motion, but I wanted desperately to get out of my wet swimming suit. My whole body was shaking and my fingers had gone numb, but I was trying to quickly get back into warmer, dry clothing. It was a struggle to say the least.

Then, another vehicle pulled up behind us. A local couple got out and started chatting with my husband who was standing at the tailgate. I was too frozen to think let alone speak. I got in our vehicle and looked forward to the opportunity to turn on the heat and the seat warmer. Before we pulled away, I watched the local couple to see if they used a more desirable path to cross the river, but they didn't. They essentially did the same thing we had done, and neither one of them had to seek a midway reprieve like I did. I was dumbfounded. They simply rolled up their pant legs and walked across.

I held my fingers up against the hot air emitting from the vents. Soon, the familiar throbbing and stinging set in in my fingers and toes and I knew life was coming back. We had about 1.5 hours to drive until we reached McCall.

Upon our arrival to this small resort community, we drove through the town to get a feel for what was there and locate the restaurant we'd be heading to shortly. From what we saw, it was modestly touristy and frosted with winter, complete with a nip in the air. Luckily, we received a timely notification that stated we were able to "check-in" early to our vacation rental, so we rerouted and then quickly unloaded our things and got set up in the small, studio condo along the lake.

For Thanksgiving dinner, we'd made reservations at Shore Lodge on Payette Lake, so we had to quickly change out of our "road trip duds" into more suitable attire, and then we headed back into downtown McCall.

The restaurant was nice with a lovely shoreline location, but I would give the food a B+ rating. To make things even more interesting, the two of us were seated at a round table for eight, which meant we sat with three other couples, all of whom were complete strangers.

Considering most holiday gatherings are bursting with loads of family members (all of mine loud and boisterous), this subdued setting was quite the departure from the norm. I'm not the most adept at small talk with strangers, so I did a fair amount of listening and observing. I wouldn't qualify this experience as "painful," but it definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone. At one point, we swapped stories about our various experiences with "local" wildlife between Tahoe and McCall – namely bears, deer, and a mountain lion. One woman at our table said she came face-to-face (separated by a glass door) with a mountain lion on her deck! We shared a few of our bear encounter stories, and I told them my husband regularly chases them and once, he even treed a bear.

Overall, day one of our Idaho getaway was a success, and even though I almost froze my legs off, our first hot spring experience was incredibly memorable.

Tomorrow's adventure would be a (wintry) hike to Boulder Lake.


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