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Over the river and through the woods

To Mother Nature's house we'll go

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After such a sad, snow-less winter, my molecules are burning to get back on the trails, peaks and big water. I am an outdoor baby, but I don't own any matching spandex, and I don't get my gear furnished by big labels hot for my sponsorship. Basically, I love to bike, hike, fish, boat and backpack, but you won't see me cruising down the North Fork anytime soon or winning any trophies for my perfect roll cast. The great thing about summer is you don't have to be an expert to enjoy the weather and the treasures of Idaho's many landscapes.

For those who may not know, Idaho has five major rivers and some of the best whitewater in the Northwest. If you're just starting out, here's a beginner's kayaking itinerary that helped get yours truly in the saddle-er, cockpit. I had a friend with a huge swimming pool, extra boats and a lot of patience, but if none of those things had been available, I would have called Brett and Jadwiga over at Riverroots Kayak School. They are both monsters on the water, but I've heard their classroom personas are anything but. If you've never even sat in a kayak or don't feel confident in past training, sign up for their roll class first thing. It's only $35 for a private, one-hour lesson, $25 for two people or $20 for three or more, and knowing how to roll out of a sticky situation is the foundation of safe paddling. After that, you have the option of an introductory course that focuses on rudimentary skills in flat water and some class I to II rapids. Or there's a Payette River trip designed for beginners who have completed the introductory course or just want a refresher before jumping into heavier waves. Some people think taking classes is for sissies, but I can guarantee, when you're facing down a four-foot wave between some gnarly rocks, it's a lot less scary if you know what you're doing. (For more information, visit www.riverrootskayak.com or e-mail riverroots@yahoo.com).

Fishing is a different story. Guided trips are great if you have no idea where to fish (or how), but one thing I've learned is that a true fisherman will never take a stranger to his favorite spots-even if he's getting paid. Yes, you will get into fish with a guide, but the experience is very different when it's just you, a bunch of buddies and a lake full of cutthroats and brooks just waiting to be duped. No, I am not going to reveal the locations of any such places I may know about, but I will tell you some good places to start that aren't as crowded as the Clocktower Pond. The South Fork of the Boise River is accessible near Mountain Home, about 60 miles from Boise or a little over an hour drive on Interstate 84. Despite being heavily fished, it manages to yield a killer crop of young trout every season. Its continued productivity is due to the fact that the South Fork lies on the edge of the Snake River Plain, which lends the water rich minerals. Good mineral content equals big insect hatches, and big hatches equal bountiful fish. It also has good winter flows, thanks to the Anderson Ranch Dam keeping them above 300 cubic feet per second, helping trout survive low winter water. Flows change throughout the summer, making the river ideal for floating and some wading in the early season and better for wading as time goes on. Fish tend to be 12 to 15 inches standard, making a day on the South Fork great for catch and release action and quality time with your friends. Try to hit the evening caddis hatches, and don't be afraid to ask the locals what they're biting on (but be prepared for a somewhat "selective" answer).

Strapping on a frame-pack that weighs more than my 2-door Ford and setting up shop in the wilderness has always had a strange appeal, but I am equally fond of slinging on a satchel loaded only with lunch and my fly rod and tackling a hike that gets me back in time for dinner. Idaho has over 19,000 miles of trails, many of which are perfect for either summer strategy. Anything in sight of the Sawtooths is a good bet. If you've never seen them, get into your car right now with a map and a four-season tent-oh, and a camera. When it warms up a bit, I'm planning a trip on the nearby Hell Roaring Creek Trail. According to the handy www.visitidaho.org, the trail is densely forested with a grand finale at Imogene Lake. The hike beyond is rumored to keep snow through July, and anything that shares a name with Great Northern Brewing Company's award-winning Hell Roaring Amber has to be good.

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