By: Tim Notier
Marisa and I have traveled halfway around the world over the last 5 years on our KTM 1190, but on our journey to Alaska over the summer we have come across some pretty amazing places right here in our own country. We have learned that traveling through foreign lands, or even in our own backyard, it is all about expectations. Sometimes they can fail to be reached, be on right on par, or be exceeded.
Idaho was a good case of me underestimating what was ahead as we rode through the 'Potato State'. I had previously thought that Idaho wouldn't offer much to see, but my assumption couldn't have been further from the truth. The wide plains that spanned across its southeastern border may have at first caused me to yawn a few times within my helmet, but it didn't take long before we ran into our first of many Atlas Obscura destinations.
I needed a break after hours of riding down a straight road that left more scenery to be desired. As I turned the bike down a sideroad that led to something called EBR-1, we had no idea what we were pulling into. I looked around, and it appeared that we had come across something straight out of a 1950's science fiction comic book. Actually, we had stumbled upon the world's first nuclear power plant (Experimental Breeder Reactor-1) in Arco, ID that had successfully lit four lightbulbs using nuclear energy way back in 1951.
I parked the bike in front of two massive heat transfer reactors that looked like the heart of an interstellar spaceship.
"This was a pretty crazy place to randomly pull over for a break," Marisa said.
"I'm not sure how long we should be here before we start mutating," I replied.
But this was a stop that seemed to be destined, a place that I was drawn to by being a little tired but was now fully recharged by either the highly active atoms that still hung in the air, or by curiosity alone.
In the main building, Marisa and I walked around the mad scientist's laboratory in complete awe of what we found in each chamber. A control room with a thousand knobs and buttons lay silent after being decommissioned for decades. They no longer operated the safety valves and vents that must have been so carefully monitored long ago, but now spun freely like the fidget spinners and levers on a toddler's interactive toy.
With me having the same mindset of a toddler, I turned all of the knobs to 11, and pressed the buttons to see if I could trigger some alarm. The only alarm that sounded was the levelheaded guidance of Marisa telling me to stop messing around with nuclear switches.
I realized that there was probably more technology packed into the display on my bike's dash than there was in the entire building that we were currently exploring. It was a humbling acknowledgment, and I was thankful to be in an era when riding around the world on a V-Twin was less complicated than powering four lightbulbs with nuclear energy.
Marisa took videos as we walked around our accidental wonder and awed at the Dr. Strangelove facility we were touring. Thirty-nine panels of glass gave us a glimpse into where the hazardous nuclear core once rested. But now we could duck down and enter this room from the apposing side. Once we stepped in, it felt like we were in the center of a giant AA battery, and we quickly decided to leave the room.
After our hour-long expedition through time and science, we decided to get back on the bike and head further towards Boise. I was no longer drowsy, and we could now see foothills slowly climbing into the sky. The fields along both sides of the road were now filled with lavender-colored flowers, and the mountains peaked their heads out of the horizon and welcomed us into their valleys like the wide hugs of a grandparent.
The short ride into Idaho had a thin layer of flatness before suddenly springing into life with flowers, mountains, and a nuclear power plant. All of which was completely unanticipated, blowing our expectations out of the water. It was a good lesson for me to not judge any particular a State, region, or country until it has been given a chance to reveal its true identity to me.
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