At first glance our recent Idaho trip is pretty straightforward – just over 2 weeks total with 11 days on the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Biking Route, a few days visiting Emma’s big sis in northern Idaho, and a couple transition days throughout. But for whatever reason, upon returning home, both Emma and I struggled to form a cohesive narrative of the trip. We were certainly able to talk about the trip, about the things we saw, the people we met and our experiences, but sitting down and beginning the usual post-trip write-up was hard. Emma tackled this by just writing a series of 11 vignettes about sections of the trip – not necessarily in chronological order and clearly not covering all aspects of the trip, but I think doing a good job evoking the feeling of the journey. You can read her write-up here.
As for me, I’m committed to writing the full tour journal, so hopefully as I write this, almost 2 weeks since the end of our trip, some clarity has descended upon me and the story will unfold.
June 23 – Travel Day
Normally I am a pretty patient person, but air travel makes me a bit anxious. Not so much afraid of the flying as the general logistics of getting to airports, hoping flights don’t get delayed, etc. So scheduling a 5:45pm flight out of Pittsburgh was probably not the best idea as I fidgeted my way through most of the day. Dirty Jones picked us up and drove us to the airport in some heavy rains. Pittsburgh flight left on time and we had a layover in Phoenix. Earlier in the week they had been delaying flights out of Phoenix due to the temperatures being too high, so we were hoping all would go well. Our connecting flight was actually on the same plane, so we de-boarded, got some passable airport burritos, then almost immediately re-boarded onto the same plane. A couple of weird delays once we were boarded (not due to weather), had us leaving about 45 minutes late, which meant we landed in Boise around midnight. Got to the hotel and checked in by around 1am where our bikes were waiting for us in their boxes. We weren’t going to put them together that night, but decided to open the boxes to check for damage and see how they shipped. Everything was fine…and then we just got to work and put them together cuz why not? Everything was re-built and we were in bed by 2am.
June 24 – Prep Day
We planned this as a day to collect final provisions, recover from air travel and hopefully get to check out a bit of Boise. Our friend Shane had connected us with his friend Rae, a Pennsylvania ex-pat who has lived in Idaho for a while now. Met up with her at a cafe called Big City where we got caffeinated beverages and huge (and I mean huge) baked goods. Rae, who has been an outdoor guide in Idaho in the past and who has lived and explored many of the points on the route we were heading out on, eagerly listened to us talk about the planned trip and offered some advice. A nice way to start our time in Idaho and it’s always nice to make a new friend.
From there we rode back across town via Boise’s wonderful network of bike lanes to a Home Depot to get some denatured alcohol for our stove fuel. Then back into town to hit up the Food Co-op for trip provisions. Also checked out the local farmers market, checked out a local adventure shop and got some other provisions (sunblock, bugspray, etc). Then back to the hotel to take a nap, shower, sex, then another shower.
With all our provisions purchased, we did a final test pack to make sure everything fit. All looked good so we headed back to the food co-op for dinner and used their bike maintenance station in the parking lot to do some final bike checks. We had brought a bottle of tubeless sealant along to fill up our tires before heading out. Neither of us had ever done this before so it was a new experience. With a full bottle, I was able to add some to Emma’s front tire, having a little trouble I think due to the bottle still being full and having no air in it. Then Emma tried it on her back tire and had a much easier time, almost dispensing the entire bottle into her rear tire. I was left with just a little bit to add to my tires, but luckily my tires had really recently been set up as tubeless, so they were probably fine to begin with.
Back to the hotel and in bed by 10pm to get a good sleep before the real trip began.
June 25 – Trail Day 1
Up at 6am, hotel breakfast (snagged some sugar and jelly packets for our trip), dropped off our bike boxes at the hotel office for them to hold for our return, and then we hopped on the Greenbelt, a bike path literally connected right to our hotel’s parking lot. The Greenbelt would be our first 12 miles of the trip.
Despite riding on a fairly level, paved bike path, I think both of us were struggling during the early miles out of town. Looking down at Emma’s tires and noticing how they squishy they looked, I made the connection that perhaps we had our air pressure just a bit too low (the co-op bike pump did not have a pressure gauge), so we stopped and topped up our tires with the hand pump. Due to the excessive sealant in Emma’s rear tire, it sprayed juice everywhere and made a tiny mess but we were able to get some air in there. After that, we both felt much better.
Once the Greenbelt ended we had our first big climb of about 1000ft in altitude over several miles. It was paved and it hadn’t warmed up too much yet, so we did the climb quickly and felt strong. After the descent on the other side, we turned off onto Middle Fork Road, which would be our only road for the rest of the day. Following along the edge of Arrowrock reservoir, the road was a mix of loose gravel, dirt and dust, and was mainly a rolling and gentle climb with a few tougher climbs thrown in. The proximity to the reservoir and being a hot, beautiful summer day meant a good bit of traffic – trucks, trucks with boats, RV’s, ATV’s, etc. Not excessive, but just enough to keep you on edge.
The road did not offer much in the way of shade, so we took shelter when we can. Most notably we stopped at the Twin Springs “Resort”, a beat up old building that doubled as a bar/general store that was surrounded by cabins they rented out and somewhere in the vicinity there was a hot spring. We got some Gatorades and a small bag of chips and hunkered down for a good break on their front porch in the shade. It was at this time that Jacob, a young boy of about 7-8 years old, came up to the porch and started hanging around us. He apparently belonged to one of the women who worked there. He kept saying “iiii’m soooo huunnngry” as he played with various pieces of scrap metal and also told us how he hates bats. We assured him we weren’t giving him any of our food and instructed him to ask him mom, but he persisted. Finally the Twin Springs staff closed the store so they could go prep one of the cabins and took him with us. We just continued to hang out on their porch and avoid the mid-day sun.
Eventually we left and rode a few miles up the road to the Sheep Creek Bridge Spring, our first hot spring. It was one where they actually divert the hot spring water into a circular tub (I think it was a cattle feed trough) mounted on a platform away from the river. There was a tiny corner of it with some shade but mostly it was exposed in the hot sun, so we only stayed in briefly and then were on our way.
We arrived at Neinmeyer campground in the late afternoon. The site was no longer maintained; I believe it suffered either fire or flood damage and has been somewhat abandoned. But there was a nice flat spot to put our tent and easy access to the river for water, so we had all we needed. We set up camp and took a quick nap in the tent, which at one point was buzzed by a hummingbird. We then got up and made tacos for dinner and successfully hung our first ever Pacific Crest Trail-method bear bag (after many attempts). Slept well that night.
June 26 – Trail Day 2
Up at 6am again but slowed down a bit by a guy on a dual-sport motorcycle who swung by our camp hoping we had an airpump that would work on his bike. No dice but it was fun to talk with each other about our adventures. Our first 9 miles of the morning were quick and then we opted to stop for a morning hot spring soak at Dutch Frank Hot Spring. This spring was just a pool created along the river out of rocks. Due to the river being high (record snowfalls this last winter!), the river water was lapping over the edges of the pool cooling off the hot spring considerably. However, we were able to find some spots in the water where the temps mixed nicely and we enjoyed ourselves a lazy morning soak.
After a few miles of relatively flat road, we turned onto the side road which would become our first big 2500+ climb on a dirt road. We started off strong and in the beginning there was ample shade, but then the road ventured into mostly burn zones as the day got increasingly hotter. Most of this hill would become a brutal hike-a-bike punctuated with frequent stops in whatever shade we could find. Luckily water continued to be abundant as we needed to re-supply partway up the climb. We reached what we thought was the peak, but oh no, there definitely is a false peak on this stretch, so after enjoying a brief downhill, we struggled with a couple more miles of uphill.
Eventually a true uninterrupted descent. We had been somewhat perplexed why this road was so loose and dusty until on our downhill we saw a guy in a pickup truck pulling a rake behind it, coming up the hill raking the road clean. He looked at us, gave us a “sorry” shrug and it all became clear.
Before making it to Featherville there was one more fairly small climb, but by this time Emma and I were fairly spent. The mixture of the huge climb, dealing with breathing at these higher elevations, the heat, etc. must have made us look pretty rough. I know I looked over at Emma a few times and she had that glazed over look. I’m fairly certain I had it too. So you can imagine how happy we were to roll into Featherville and find some cold beverages and some food.
A lot happened in Featherville that night, so i’m just going to bullet point these:
- Got dinner at Cyndie’s Restaurant. They had Gardenburgers. And Dr. Pepper. I was stoked
- Pickup up some generic Pop Tarts at the combination grocery/baitshop/gem store.
- Sat on the porch of the bar, letting dinner settle, talking with some random folks and eventually watching a storm roll in and wondering how we should proceed with our night.
- Eventually it starts raining, which we watch from the porch, until Cyndie’s partner Pat comes to the restaurant, sees us and our bikes and tells us “You’re not getting to Sun Valley that way” (pointing in the direction we need to go).
- We go back into Cyndie’s where Pat proceeds to show us photos another bicyclist took of the many washouts along Dollarhide Summit (which would have been the next day’s ride) and then via Mapquest shows us a potential detour.
- Back out onto the porch to continue watching the rain and then the electric in town is knocked out. The local drunks exit the bar and come out on the porch too
- Emma suggests that we ask the drunks if any of them are available to drive us to Ketchum the next day instead of taking the longer detour around. One of them, Jake, says he has to work until noon but could do it after that. Surprisingly we all agree to this plan.
- After the rain stops, we set up camp right in town along the stream, in what feels essentially like a little hobo encampment. We are literally like 30’ from the street but nobody can see us and it is quite comfy and beautiful.
June 27 – Trail Day 3
In the morning we rolled out of our tent and waked right up to Cyndie’s to get breakfast. I ordered the “pancake as big as a plate”. It didn’t specify what size plate; it was a big plate and it was also like 1” think. I did not eat all of it. Pat was working the restaurant in the morning and he got to talking to us about this, that and the other thing. There was mostly Seahawks gear in the restaurant but a couple Bears things, and I made the mistake of asking him who was what fan and he just went off talking about the NFL for way too long. It was during this run that he made a few off color comments I didn’t care for (i.e. referring to Tony Romo as Tony Homo), but then redeemed himself by later saying (in a different conversation), “We got rid of those idiots like the Aryan Nation and the skinheads”. Then we went and tour down camp and worked on some writing while Jake finished up working (which was happening just outside the bar next door, so we were able to check in with him to make sure that he remembered our conversation from the night before and was still into driving us.)
At a little before noon he was ready to go, so we tossed the bikes in the back of his truck and hit the road. Emma sat up front because she’s better at being talkative. I hung out in the back with Jake’s dog. The ride was actually really nice. Contrary to my fears, Jake was actually a really good driver. He did drink several beers over the course of the drive, which wasn’t ideal, but I guess that’s not such a big deal if you drink all the time, right? Along the way we filled up his tank with $56 worth of diesel in exchange for the ride and he dropped us off right in downtown Ketchum.
We had an AirBnB reserved just outside town for the night but it wasn’t check-in time yet, so we took a little time to checkout Ketchum. We strolled through town, including rolling through their farmers market, located the supermarket for later reference and then sought out a place to get lunch. The first place we looked for was closed but there was a burrito place on the corner, so we went there, sitting outside in some shade and had an extremely talkative old guy seat us and talk with us about our bikes and trip. Big burrito was consumed and then we went to the local adventure shop where we got some electrolyte drink powders and conferred with the guy in the bike shop about the status of local trails. He told us part of the Harriman Trail might be closed but said most of our stretch for the next day should be good. Emma then bought some sunglasses big enough to fit over her regular glasses as the bright sun was really getting to her out on these exposed roads.
We rode the bike trails out of town to our AirBnB, a weird A-frame building with a huge carved sign out front that read “Another day in paradise”. We took showers, did some laundry and lounged around for a few hours before heading back into town to do some grocery shopping for dinner that night and food for the next leg of the trip.
Back at the BnB we made up some gnocchi and broccoli with tomato sauce for dinner. I had picked up a local-ish root beer called “Buck Snort” that was delicious but seemed a bit flat. We debated whether that was by design or if I just had a bad can. After dinner we wrote up a first batch of postcards to send out and then prepared for bed. Right before we were ready to go to bed, the other guest at the BnB showed up (it was a shared space with 2 separate bedroom areas). He was a 20-ish professional downhill mountain bike racer. We chatted with him for a bit and since we all had to get up early in the morning, we called it a night relatively early.
June 28 – Trail Day 4
Right before going to bed the previous night I had checked the weather and it looked like the rain they had been calling for in the morning was no longer being predicted. So in the morning we just ate our breakfast and headed out, not bothering to re-check the weather or think anything of the overcast skies. Of course, no two miles away from the dry comfort of the BnB, the raindrops began to slowly fall. We put on our rain jackets and continued on as we began to hear thunder and see dark dark skies ahead of us, hoping we might come upon some type of shelter to hide under. Then the rain picked up and we ducked into a grove of trees just as some light BB sized hail began to fall. We waited out the rain for about 10 minutes until it nearly stopped and then headed on our way. We made our way out to the main highway 75 that we would need to take for several miles when the rain began to fall again and we found another grove of trees to hide under for another 5-10 minutes. Then the rain stopped. The skies were still dark and there was still bits of thunder but we pedaled forth and slowly the skies cleared up and the sun began to come out.
We found the Harriman Trail and hopped on that, a fun rolling trail that went through some bits of forest and some open fields. There was a section that had suffered some flood damage and was closed, so we did have to hop back on 75 for a stretch. Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the trail and were just a short ride to the Galena Lodge, which had a cafe/restaurant and a bike shop. We stopped in at the bike shop to ask about the status of the trails leading over the Galena Summit. They dude working was super friendly and helpful (he actually had been in the Ketchum the day prior and had seen us rolling through the farmers market) and said he couldn’t guarantee the status of the old toll road that we were supposed to take as nobody he knew had been all the way through it this season. He did say that at the junction of several other main trails in that area that there were 5-6’ of snow still standing. This information cemented our decision to take the paved highway over the summit instead of the dirt.
Emma got a soy latte from the cafe and then we ate a quick lunch of hummus and tortillas. As we sat there, various people were heading out on some of the mountain bike trails and we got a bit envious of their ability to just rip around at that time. And there was a trail called the “Rip and Tear” that we really wanted to ride. We considered taking all our bags off our bikes and doing a quick run on some trails but we still had a pretty good stretch of road to ride before Stanley.
The Galena Summit is at 8701’. Taking the highway meant adding maybe a couple miles to the day’s total but meant doing so on some nice smooth payment and a consistent grade. We killed it. This was a huge emotional and psychological victory for us – being able to deal with the altitude, the heat and the long climb after the struggle of 2 days prior. Sure it was easier on pavement but we were doing it. About ¾ of the way up, we stopped at a pulloff to admire the view and almost immediately the winds started whipping up, really intensely and we heard a clap of thunder. We feared a storm was coming but there didn’t seem to be anything indicative in the immediate surroundings. Nonetheless, we hopped back on our bikes and pushed forth to the summit.
At the top we were supposed to get off onto some dirt again but we were really enjoying the pavement at that time, so we decided we would take the pavement down 75 until the Smiley Creek Lodge and then get back on the main route. Shortly after the summit there was an official overlook area that we stopped at and received much praise from other folks who thought we were crazy for climbing these hills. The remainder of the descent was fast and intense and kinda cold and the wind continued to push us around. When we made it to Smiley Creek Lodge, I was cold enough to want a cup of hot tea. Emma tried conferring with the old dudes at the next booth over and the waitstaff about the condition of the next section of roads/trails but nobody really knew, so we hoped for the best.
We backtracked a mile to hop back on the route, connecting with Valley Road, which was just a long mostly completely straight stretch of road, gravelly with great views in all directions, including our first good views of the Sawtooth Mountains. This then connected with our final section of trail on Decker Road, a road that according to the elevation profile in the official route map would be downhill all of the way. Of course, elevation maps often miss out on some of the detailed contours of a road and this one was a lot of a little bit up and then a little bit down. Not really rolling though, rough road and really washed out in many spots. The going got pretty tough. At one point we passed another biker walking his bike on the trail and he asked “Does this meet up with the road?” My best response – “It better.”
Finally made it to Sunny Gulch Campground just south of Stanley. We had a reservation and found our spot. I set up camp while Emma prepped a dinner of split pea soup and kale. Lots of various chipmunks and squirrels were curious about our food and kept jumping up on the picnic table. Despite the warnings directly on the table about bears, it was clear rodents were our bigger concern for the night.
When the camp host came by we asked 2 questions – 1) Were they still calling for temperatures to drop into the 30’s? And 2) what should we do about bear-proofing our site since we were on bikes? His response – 1) Possibly. Maybe even below freezing, and 2) “We haven’t had any bears yet, so don’t worry about it.” Not being sure how to take his nonchalance about the bearbag situation, we put all of our foodstuffs in one stuff sack and hogtied it to the underside of the picnic table – safe from the many rodents and somewhat inconvenient for any bear. Emma was really stoked to get to use her newly learned knot-tying skills to do this.
Even before the sun was down it was cooling off considerably. I was a bit concerned that I didn’t pack enough layers to stay warm. Despite the cold, we slept cozily through the night. At one point Emma got up to pee and declared the stars amazing. I kinda didn’t want to leave my cozy cocoon of a sleeping bag but I knew she was probably right, so I hopped out of the tent and sure enough “HOLY SHIT LOOK AT ALL THOSE STARS THIS IS AMAZING!” We worked a bit on doing some constellation finding (poorly, but we tried) and then went back to bed.
June 29 – Trail Day 5
Since we knew it was going to be potentially freezing in the morning and because we had planned for a short day, we decided to let ourselves sleep in a bit. Despite sleeping in there was still some frost on our tent and our bike bags. We packed up quickly and headed into Stanley to get breakfast at the Stanley Bakery.
The place was bumping when we got there and there were 2 fully loaded cyclists leaving as we rolled up. We started talking to them and learned they were doing the same route. They offered some intel they had received from another cyclist who was doing the route clockwise (all summits were passable and the stream crossing scheduled for that day was around knee high but passable). They had done the route the previous year and said they had learned so much and it had allowed them to pack much lighter. Emma and I looked at their fully loaded bikes and wondered to ourselves “How much did you bring last year?” Turns out their target campsite for the day was the same as ours, so we bid farewell to them and said that we would hopefully see them again later that day.
Ate breakfast and got a cinnamon roll to go. Then stopped at one of the adventure outposts in town to get more sunblock (we used so much sunblock!) and also to just do another check with someone else about the passability of the upcoming summits. The dude working at the place was dubious about several of the summits, saying he had recently seen photos from one showing lots of standing snow. He recommended calling the Forest Service, which we did, but they weren’t much help. They suggested calling the North Lodge, located smack dab between several of the summits; they would know. And they did. North Lodge dude said that they had just finished clearing all the roads and all summits should be passable. Feeling reassured, we decided to hit one of the hot springs in town for a soak.
The Snakepit Hot Spring is about a mile outside of town, right before the Stanley Museum. Down a short dirt road and over a bridge and you’re there. Another guy was leaving just as we got there and we had the place to ourselves. Just a little pool a short stretch from the river with an amazing view of the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance. Probably our best hot spring experience of the trip, since the morning air was still pretty cool and the water temperature wasn’t too hot. After that we stopped in at the Stanley Museum and checked out their exhibits on the history of the Forest Service in the area and took a little time to write up some postcards. Rolling back through town we stopped at the post office to drop off our postcards, filled up our water at the bakery and then were on our way. Slow poke morning meant we weren’t hitting the road until about noon.
Emma and I had discussed it over breakfast. The idea of a knee high stream crossing in these freezing, fast waters wasn’t that appealing, so we opted again for the paved option. We headed out of Stanley on Route 21. It wasn’t the best stretch of road, but not the worst. Still had beautiful views of the surrounding Sawtooths but we were fairly exposed again and dealt with a consistent if not particularly strong headwind along the whole stretch. Emma struggled a bit with this stretch, worried we fucked around too long in the morning and feeling like we weren’t really making good time because of the headwind. But checking out the milemarkers versus the clock, we were actually doing really well.
We re-connected with the route and turned onto 579, the stretch of dirt road that would take us almost all the way to North Lodge. And as we turned onto the road there was a sign listing all of the upcoming summits and their current status. All of them listed as: CLOSED. As we stood there wondering who to trust – the sign or the various people who assured us the summits were passable, an older couple in a mini van pulled up and looked at the sign also. They then turned around but stopped and asked us where we were going. After telling them, they assured us that we should be fine, saying “You can always carry your bikes over the snow.” Buoyed by their confidence, we pushed forth.
The climb up to Cape Horn Summit was our first big climb up a dirt road since day two. Unlike that climb, we had a real strong showing here. Emma’s doubt and feelings of sluggishness were gone and we reached the top triumphant. From there we had some nice invigorating downhills and rolled through some beautiful fields of wildflowers. After a bit, the ride began to drag but we eventually made it to camp and discovered that indeed our fellow bicyclists were camping there.
We took the opportunity to talk with our fellow campers a bit and find out what all they were carrying on their bikes. Tent and hammock? Yep. Multiple sets of clothes, both riding and camping? Check. All the camp food they would need for the entire trip? Sure thing. Not our way of traveling but they seemed to be enjoying themselves, so who are we to judge?
Dinner was ramen with veggie jerky and fresh snap peas we had been traveling with since Ketchum. After dinner we made some tea and took a walk around the camp and down the road a bit but the mosquitos were so bad, that once back at camp we retired to the tent around 9pm just to get away from them. We spent some time catching up on our journal writing and then fell asleep early.
June 30 – Trail Day 6
Big day with several climbs today, so we were up early at 6am again. First stretch of the day was mostly flat with some downhills. At one point we came down a hill and around a corner and there was a straight section ahead. As we came around the bend I slowed down and said “OOOOHHHH SHHIIIT!” as I could clearly see what was a pack of some sort of large mammals ahead of us on the road. Were they moose? A couple adults and clearly some babies. Then more emerged from the trees. After looking a bit closer, we determined they were elk and not moose, so less dangerous, but we still weren’t eager to charge forth in them, so we were gonna take a seat and hope they moved on on their own. But then as we shifted our bike tires in the gravel, they heard us and all took off into the woods. Problem solved! So we pedaled onward with Emma singing loudly and me yelling “Coming through!” to ensure they didn’t return to the road.
The next big climb up to Deadwood Summit would be the real test: would it be open? The climb up was pretty steep and was marked as an avalanche zone. The climb was hard but we pushed forth pretty quickly since it was an avalanche zone and we didn’t think it was wise to linger. As we got towards the top we did see some snow on the hillsides but nothing on the road until we were near the very top and then there were two sections with 8’+ snow drifts right along the road. They were plowed through so we were able to proceed without issue. Summit one for the day was a success!
The road for our second summit of the day leading to Warm Lake (and the North Lodge) became fresh pavement right as the climb began. It was just before noon and the sun was out in full force, combined with the fresh black pavement, it made for a hot, sweaty climb. But once again, the magic of flat, smooth pavement allows you to push through these conditions so much easier. At the top we stopped and talked with a couple other cyclists riding the route in the opposite direction. Then we had a seven mile descent down to Warm Lake on a wonderfully twisty and turny section that was also freshly paved (but also, had some evidence of recent rock slides, so nice easy riding as long as you watched out for the random rocks/gravel). Luckily we encountered no traffic on this stretch and bombed down this. Frightening but invigorating.
We got to North Lodge where we broke vegan edge and had grilled cheese sandwiches, fresh-cut fries and sodas. On the TV there was a youtube playlist of amazing videos playing – AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Kid Rock. When the John Denver song came on, the dude working the bar told us about how he won tickets to see John Denver and how almost every concert he’s gone to he’s won tickets to and how he met Chuck Norris and on and on. He also told us about how many dumptrucks full of boulders they removed from Deadwood Summit and it for the first time became clear to me that “clearing the summit” at that point had less to do with the snow itself and more to do with what the snow may have pulled down onto the road over the winter. Crazy.
We chilled on the patio for a bit after lunch and then pushed for. We found our next road right outside of town. Being there was no signs there, we inquired with some Forest Service staff sitting at the intersection who asked us where we were going. They confirmed we were on the right path, warned that the road was “skinny and real curvy”, but couldn’t confirm if the next day’s summit would be clear or not.
It was indeed skinny and real curvy until we reached our final summit for the day at Poverty Summit. From there things straightened out a bit. After accidentally blowing by it, we retraced our steps and found the Mile 16 Hot Spring. It was right off the road, along the river, down a dangerously steep walkway. There were two pools – one that was waaaay too hot and another that was a mix of hot/cold water, both totally in direct sun. We tried enjoying ourselves but when another crew of folks came along asking how long we would be, we gladly told them we were getting out and moving along.
We cruised a bit down the road and found the next hot spring at Teapot Hot Springs. Also right along the road. This was also directly in the sun and had several pools, one of which was also way too hot, but the other had a nice mix of hot water and cold river water that made for some nice soaking. We had a nice short soak and then made our way to Buckhorn Barr Campground for the night. Surprisingly for a Friday night, we were the only campers there. A generally uneventful night in camp and called it an early night in order to get up early the following morning for the biggest climb of our trip.
July 1 – Trail Day 7
Got up early and broke out the first seven miles quickly as they were all downhill. Then we turned onto the road that would begin our 16 mile climb. Emma was having a psychological issue with this climb all day the previous day. She was sure it was going to take us all day. I, on the other hand, tried my hand at staying positive. Looking at the elevation charts and doing the math, I had hypothesized that it might only take us a few hours. Emma wasn’t buying it.
The first few miles were a slight upgrade and we were feeling good. Still I was surprised by the time we stopped to take off our legwarmers at how far along we had already gone. We had probably already put in 4 miles. It got hotter and hotter as the day went on and there was less and less shade as we got closer to the top, but still we never walked one section of this hill. We rode the entire way. And we ended up doing it in just a little over 3.5 hours. Hellz yeah!
At the top we were gonna stop and eat some snacks, including some garbage cookies we picked up at North Lodge. There was a dude sitting in his pickup truck right in front of the big rocks that constituted the overlook. I started to walk away from him towards some other rocks, but Emma walked the other way towards him and gave him a quick “Hey – how’s it going?” on the way to sit down. Of course that was all the opening this guy needed to begin talking and talk he did. He asked us how much nice mountain bikes like ours cost, like a couple hundred bucks? And then proceeded to tell us about every possible bike path in a 3 state radius and the places he has lived and explored and how this has changed, etc, etc. Nice enough guy but I just wasn’t feeling the interaction at that moment. I had hoped for a bit more solemn summit moment after the big climb.
The descent down was fast, loose and dusty. And as we got closer to McCall there was more traffic than we had seen since day one of the trip. Trucks, RV’s, ATV’s, almost all exclusively coming towards us as they left the “city” in search of wilderness. Lots of dust was kicked up and it was not the most pleasant riding. Eventually the road did become paved and while that helped us move quicker, we were running low on water and energy, so the final miles into McCall with all the traffic were a bit stressful.
Arriving in McCall we followed some well marked signs to “Downtown” only to arrive at a marina/beach area overrun with tourists. Slightly disoriented after days in the wilderness, we tried to get on our phones to check in with Emma’s sister and her partner who were picking us up and look for possible places to eat, etc. Strange thing – our phones showed there was signal – 4 bars, 4G, all that but nothing seemed to work. Frustrated, we found our way to the main drag and found a cafe where we got iced soy chai’s and were able to check in on the wi-fi.
Cooled down and relaxed, we hunted down the supermarket and got food for a picnic lunch, then returned to the lakeside to eat. Our phones continued to only work on the actual cellular network sporadically, so we became slightly worried about our plans to meet up with Maggie and Rajal, but we hung out observing the local teenagers, eating our picnic lunch and generally relaxing on the shady hillside. Eventually Emma was able to get a message through to Maggie and Maggie was able to text back an “Ok”, so we waited patiently for them to arrive. Once they arrived, we loaded up the bikes and they swept us northward to Moscow where they live.
July 2-5 – Interim Daze
We spent 3 full days chillin’ in Moscow with Maggie and Rajal. A nice few days to shower, do some laundry and relax. Ate a few great Moscow Food Co-op breakfasts; visited a local reservoir where we did some hiking, found some huckleberries and got in the lake; picked some flowers at a pick-your-own flower farm; took a bike ride around town to see some graffiti, public art and interesting houses; and went to a Fourth of July party.
On the 5th, we loaded up all our gear again and headed south again towards McCall. One our way we stopped at the Nez Perce National Forest visitors center, visited the Dog Bark Park dog-shaped BnB and craft shop (where the proprietor – an old woodcarving dude talked with us for a long time), and saw the Mammoth skeleton in Grangeville. We also stopped for cold drinks. That night we camped at Ponderosa Park right on the edge of McCall. We had the opportunity to take a dip in the lake right at sunset, then made dinner and played some cards before calling it a night.
July 6 – Trail Day 8
Up early, said our goodbyes and then back to the main route. It was cool enough that we started out with our puffy jackets on and gloves but by the time we reached Farm To Market Road on the other side of town, we were taking them off. We were on that road for awhile which felt very Pennsylvania like – a rolling hills sections through fields of cattle grazing. Stopped in Roseberry, a few houses at an intersection, to sit in the shade, grab a snack and use their convenient bathrooms.
On FR-400 the road became a single lane, fairly even grade and the shrubbery was growing in on either side creating a very tunnel-like path for much of our climb. It was definitely not a very frequently used road. While stopped for lunch, another bicyclist came around the bend and we talked with him a bit. He was currently solo but only because his wife had to drop out due to developing some bad saddle sores. She was now driving along and meeting up with him every night with most of their gear, so he was able to ride a largely unloaded bike. It sounded like they were making the best of things.
The descent down off that hill was crazy – skinny road, dusty, loose, rutted with washboarded sections. One of those ‘one wrong move’ type roads where you could really fuck yourself up. And it just seemed to go on forever, even though it wasn’t that long in reality. It was amazing but we were happy to see the next road was another stretch of fairly fresh pavement leading us the last few miles into Cascade.
In Cascade we stopped at the first gas station we saw and got Gatorade and trash pies, then sat outside and consumed them right in front of the firewood for sale. By this point the sun was once again very high and the temps were no doubt in the 90’s by now. After running a couple more errands in “town”, we rode over to Cascade Lake where we chilled in the shade for awhile and then did some swimming in the lake.
We only had another 10 miles to go to get to our destination for the day but it was hot and we put it off for awhile. But we knew it wasn’t likely to cool off much until the sun went down, so we eventually headed off. The 10 miles were relatively flat but the road was very loose gravel and sand, heavily washboarded. Emma was fading and was definitely getting crabby. I looked over at her a couple points and she was definitely almost in tears (She had promised me that she was likely to cry at some point on this trip. Was today the day?) Then we had a nice section that was in the shade and I think that re-invigorated her a bit and we hammered out the final couple miles to camp.
Our campsite for the night was the Clear Creek RV Campground which has a restaurant attached to it, so obviously before setting up camp we went inside to get some drinks and a big order of tater tots. They brought us the tallest cups of soda i’ve ever been given in a restaurant before and we drank them all.
True to its name, the camp was all RV campers; there wasn’t a single other tent when we setup. Around dusk, another bicyclist rolled in. He was also doing the hot springs route but clockwise. Since we had set up by the only picnic bench in the tent area, we offered to share it with him. His name was Kirk. He came over and we shared stories from the trail so far and past adventure stories. Based on the heat of the day and knowing tomorrow was only likely to be worse, we were planning on getting up at 5am to help avoid the heat, so we said our goodbyes and were in bed by 10.
July 7 – Trail Day 9
Up at 5am, on the road by 6am after a breakfast of some runny oatmeal. First climb was similar to the previous days climb. Skinny, tunnel like road with another epic downhill. At the bottom of that descent, we sat at the crossroads above the river and ate lunch. At this point a Prius with a mountain bike on the back rolled up. The driver stopped and it turned out to be Heidi, the wife of the guy we had met the day before (yeh, the one with the saddle sores). Despite the change in plans she seemed to be having a good time and enjoying her time in Idaho. It was nice to chat with her a bit, but it was getting hot, so it was time to press on.
The next climb was rough in the heat, especially for me. We came to the very clear determination that he or she that is wearing the Camelbak is the one who gets crankier in the heat. Having something on your back just makes you hotter; not rocket science but there was definitely a clear pattern developing here.
We had been intending to stop in at Silver Creek Plunge Hotsprings, less for the hot springs than because the map told us there was some type of store there. If only cold drinks, that was enough. Unfortunately we misunderstood the location of the hot springs (we thought they were past the SCP campground but they are right at the campground), so we missed our opportunity. We thought about turning around but then noticed a nice access point to the creek right along the road. We were able to access the icy creek in a nice shady cove. We got our feet wet. Purified some ice cold stream water and made some electrolyte drink and just escaped from the heat for awhile. It was perfect. The stream was also full of lots of flakes of mica, no doubt the reason it was called Silver Creek.
Once again realizing that it wasn’t going to cool off until after dark, we left our cozy cove and hit the road for one last short climb and then a number of miles before hitting our target campground for the night. As we pulled out on the road, a woman on an ATV pulling off the road said “You’re brave!”. It was hot but we felt revived and made quick work of the last climb and then were treated to another fairly epic downhill.
Being that it was as Friday afternoon, we were getting relatively close to Boise (for car traffice anyway) and because there were numerous campsites along this road, the traffic started getting pretty busy again. The road was super dusty and we were getting passed by lots of RV’s so we travelled in a near constant haze of dust.
When we rolled into Tie Creek Campground, it looked like all sites were occupied except for a double site. We were ready to just accept having to pay for a double site when I suggested we do another lap just to make sure. Luckily I noticed that one of the sites didn’t have a tag on the post. After asking around, we learned that it was just some dudes who were down along the river for the day. They had no intention of camping there, so the site was ours for the night!
Being that it was still like 100 degrees outside, we held off on putting up the tent and instead opted to just get in the river. After cooling off in the river, we came back up to came to still find only a small corner of shade, so we hung out in that corner and prepared our ramen and jerky dinner. The camp was right near the road so every time a vehicle passed, another huge cloud of dust would rain down upon us. Finally the sun went down below the treeline and we were able to set up our tent.
We were pretty spent and ready to go to sleep by 8:30 but the rest of the campsite was still pretty bumping and the sky was still bright so it seemed unlikely that we would get any sleep just yet. We decided to take a walk around the camp and ended up talking a bit with one of the camp maintenance guys who came through. Then we ran into the woman from the one other campsite who had a kayak and mountain bike on her car and chatted her up. She was in Idaho for a kayak school. It was fun to hear her talk about her kayak school experience and she was interested in learning more our trip. After talking for a half hour or so we were able to head off to bed.
July 8 – Trail Day 10
We had planned to wake up at 5:30. I woke up at around 5:25 to Emma vigorously slapping the side of our tent. I said something along the lines of “What the hell are you doing?”, to which she replied “Skunk!” Sure enough there was a skunk under our rainfly trying to dig around in the Camelbak. I quickly reminded Emma that scaring a skunk was a bad strategy. We wanted to disperse the skunk but we didn’t want to make it feel under attack. So we continued a strategy of gently shaking the side of the tent until it got annoyed and wandered off into the weeds.
Despite the early wakeup call, we didn’t hit the road until 7am. We rode the first 8+ miles into Crouch and arrived a bit too early for any of the stores to be open. We decided to push on to Garden Valley where there would be a store. Right outside the instructions were to get on a bike trail that was kinda lumpy and rocky and Emma got needlessly pissy about the trail; I reminded her that she had just been complaining about sharing the road with cars and RV’s. You guessed it, she was the one wearing the Camelbak this morning. We dubbed it the “crybaby bag”.
In Garden Valley we stopped at the convenience store, loaded up on some provisions for the day ahead and got a second breakfast – some trash pies and Vitamin Water. As we sat outside eating, another kid on a road bike rolled up and we talked with him for a bit. He had started in Missouri and had been planning on going all the way to the coast but was running low on cash. He was going to have to take a bus home. He then told us fucked up stories of riding Greyhound; always a good time.
The road from Garden Valley to Placerville was mostly one big climb. We were already feeling pretty beat but we did well. Another climb with no walking of the bikes. In Placerville we got more cold drinks and a bag of potato chips and sat on the porch and watched traffic go by. A strange trio of folks rolled up – a guy wearing a bike helmet riding a dirtbike, another guy on a Vespa and an older woman on a four-wheeler. A local told us about a cold spring about a 1/4 mile back on the road, so we re-traced our steps and filled up our bottles there.
Riding out of Placerville, another guy on a motorcycle stopped us to confirm he was going in the right direction. We confirmed it for him. He replied “I’m doing it.”, then looked at us and said “You’re doing it too. Harder.” We nodded and were on our way.
We made it within 5-6 miles of Idaho City when the combination of heat and climbing got to us. We knew we only had a couple miles of climbing but the dirt was so loose, our legs were so tired, the air was so hot. At this point we were pretty much doing 80% hike-a-bike with occasional sections of riding when it seemed doable. It was under these conditions that a pickup truck pulled over and a retired couple offered/insisted that they give us a ride into Idaho City. It was just too hot they said. After a moment of reflection, we took them up on their offer.
After loading our bikes in the back of the truck, they pulled out two ice cold Powerade’s from their cooler and handed each of us one. We then hopped in the back seat of their truck and they gave us a ride over the mountain. As with most of the other Idahoans we had met, they spent a good portion of our time together telling us everything about the state of Idaho that they loved. They dropped us outside Idaho City, instructed us where to get ice cream, pointed out a weird house we should look at, gave us hugs and sent us on our way.
Despite being called Idaho City, it is not much of a city. In about 4 minutes we had ridden from where we had been dropped off to the other side of town and found the Idaho City Visitors Center. They had bathrooms and a porch with shade. This was all we required. Then we found they had free wifi, so we parked ourselves on the porch and made that our afternoon home for several hours. We only left to go next door to the market to buy some chips, salsa and bean dip for our lunch.
Our original camping plan for the night was Grayback Gulch campground about 3 miles south of town. We had found out while in Moscow that the bridge leading to this campground had washed out and the campsite was technically closed but we thought we might be able to cross the creek and camp there anyway. So late afternoon we headed out to test this hypothesis. Upon arriving at the turnoff it became clear this was not an option. The dropoff at the bridge was a good 8-10’ drop and the section of stream was not something that would be easy to cross. Luckily we had a backup plan, a commercial campground another few miles down the road.
So south we went, stopping at a pulloff and taking another opportunity to get in some water. I was content to just soak my feet/legs but Emma stripped down and laid down in the water. We relaxed here awhile, drank some cold electrolyte water and then got back on our bikes. Arriving at Creekside Campground we noticed the wedding sign and all the people dressed fancy and immediately got a bad vibe. No clear “office” seemed available and we poked around with people ignoring us. Finally we asked some dudes if somebody who worked there was available and they just told us “We rented this place out for the whole weekend. You can’t camp here. There are plenty of other places to camp around here.” Of course, we knew, there were not. Another guy unhelpfully stated – “Well, we’ll all be getting really drunk so you could probably sneak back in later on and nobody would notice.” No thanks.
So back to the highway and we continued heading south, hoping that we might find a place to do some stealth camping along the way. But since we were getting closer to closer to Boise and further and further from the land of everything being Forest Service, there weren’t many options. At one point we stopped to take a break and Emma noticed some folks enjoying themselves down by a swimming hole so she went to ask them if they knew of anywhere we could camp. Apparently they took great interest in our trip and telling her about their motorcycle trips, etc, as she was gone for awhile. I just stayed up by the road and occasionally waved down. They made several suggestions, none of which were particularly good.
At this point we knew there was a real good chance we would just have to push on and get back to Boise that night. We were about 20 miles away at this point. Twenty miles isn’t that long except when you’ve already rode almost 60. There was one other option we knew of – we could turn off when he returned to Arrowrock Reservoir and go 4-5 miles up to the first campsite that we passed back on day 1. Of course there was no guarantee there would be any open spaces when we got there.
When we hit Arrowrock, Emma just kept going straight so I assumed she decided that we were just pushing on. However, about a 1/2 mile later she said “Back there is where we should have turned off if we were gonna do that, huh?” Yep. So the choice was made…we’ll push forth to Boise. One last climb back up to Highland Valley Summit with the promise of cold drinks (oh god do I love cold drinks!) at the top if the store was still open. Legs so tired but we pushed on, stopping frequently to catch our breath and wipe the sweat from our eyes. Got to the summit and the store was still open. Hallelujah! Tallboys of Arizona Iced Tea were procured and we sat on the bench outside and guzzled those down.
One final descent down on the road and we’d be back to the Boise Greenbelt. At the bottom of the hill we stopped to try to get some cell service but no luck. We were hoping to call ahead to Boise to see if we could either, 1) stay with our new friend Rae, or 2) get a room at our hotel. Those calls would have to wait until we got closer to town.
We stopped at the restrooms at the park there and as we were preparing to mount up again, we saw a fully-loaded bike rolling out of town towards us. “Wonder where that guy’s going at this hour?” as dusk was starting to fall. The guy stopped as he approached and talked to us. He called himself Peaceful Valley Walker and began telling us about his travels. He then revealed he had recently come from this year’s Rainbow Gathering and some things began to make sense. He then told us about how this year’s prayer circle was the best he ever experienced and how he looked over the crowd with his third eye and saw a bright white light (“but not like the color white”) and I thought to myself “Hellz yeah, ya did!” Sweet, super stoked dude who has been travelling around by bike for thousands of miles. Safe travels buddy.
We parted ways and got back on the Greenbelt. Up a little climb back towards the main road and then BAM!, perhaps one of the best sunsets we experienced the entire time as we rode back towards town. We stopped at the Diversion Dam to take it all in and Emma was able to get a cell signal. She texted Rae about us crashing at her house and Rae replied immediately saying we could. About 10 more miles and we’d be done!
We clicked on our dynamo lights and rode into town. The Greenbelt has a bunch of offshoots along the way, so figuring out if we were doing it right in the dark was a small challenge, but we eventually made our way back into Boise proper. While stopped to check on directions to Rae’s apartment a couple bikes approached and one of the people yelled “Bikepackers!”. Two dudes stopped and asked us about our journey. They were locals who had done parts of the route, so it was fun to hear their take on things. They wished us luck finding our friend’s house and then were on their way.
We eventually ended up back right by our hotel and I was like “Should we have already turned off?” So we checked the maps together and figured out where we needed to go. Just a couple miles of zigzagging through the neighborhood and we’d be at Rae’s. Rolling up to her house after 10pm, we found her and her dog sitting outside waiting for us.
Showers were had. We made some food. And she had half a house recently vacated by the resident, so we just slept on a bare floor in an empty room. As we fell asleep a storm rolled through town. We rode approximately 80 miles over the course of the day. It was a crazy ending to our trip.
July 9 – Boise Rest Day
Rae had to go to work early in the morning but let us sleep in. In the morning we packed up and headed to the co-op for breakfast. I wanted to find an Idaho shaped sticker to put on my bike as a commemorative stamp of the trip, so I looked up and we found a gift shop just up the street called Mixed Greens. So after breakfast we rode up there where I found an appropriately sized Idaho sticker for my bike (put it on the top tube to cover up the ding I put in the paint) and Emma scored a little Idaho shaped necklace. Also got our last round of postcards and sat outside the store and wrote those up.
By this time it was late enough that we could head to the hotel and check in. Arriving there we reclaimed our bike boxes and set about disassembling everything and re-packing them up. It went a little quicker this time now that we had a system down but still had its challenges. Once that was complete, we took advantage of the hotel pool to get one last swimming excursion in. Not quite the same as the various rivers, streams and lakes we had spent our time in in recent weeks but it felt good. Then back to the room for showers and some relaxing (watching Office Space on the TV) until later when Rae was going to pick us up for dinner. Being late on a Sunday night in Boise made choices rather slim but we found a chain pizza place that had vegan options, so we hit that up. Pizza, good conversation, catching up on the details of our trip. It was good. Then Rae dropped us off and we called it an early-ish night since we had a long day of travel ahead of us.
July 10 – Travel Home
Travel day back home was largely uneventful. Spent some time at the Denver airport reacquainting myself with the conspiracies about that place. Landed back in Pittsburgh around 11:30. Our friend Sara picked us up and ran us home but was on auto-pilot mode so totally drove past the 40th Street Bridge exit off 28 and so we took a detour through Highland Park to get home. Back home around 12:30 and into bed by 1pm. Back to work the following morning.
Sometimes you go on a trip just to go on a trip. Other times you go on a trip and hope to walk away from it with some great awakening. The last couple years I’ve done some struggling to figure out where I am in my life and what i’m doing it with it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to find some greater clarity by getting away from Pittsburgh for a couple weeks. Did I? I’m not quite sure yet.
What I do know is that this trip was amazing. Idaho is a special place and the Hot Springs Route is a great route. Kudos to Adventure Cycling for the work that went into putting the route together. As we discovered, the challenge of finding that sweet spot where the snow was gone but the weather wasn’t too hot and the wildfire season hadn’t begun yet is perhaps an impossibility. The trail is going it give you some adversity and that’s part of the challenge, right? Each bike trip we do we keep pushing ourselves and each other just a little bit more to see what we can do. So far we’ve come out the other side successful and our relationship stronger than ever.
I think one thing we definitely learned this time around is that the adventure isn’t always in the plan, but sometimes how you react to changes in the plan. A bike trip isn’t always about your time on the bike. Our two excursions in pickup trucks on this trip were as defining towards the essence of this trip as much as the time we spent cranking those pedals or careening wildly down a dusty descent. Plans change. If you’re on the Hot Springs Route and the hot springs are too hot, put your feet in the cold river instead.