Prologue – August 31, 2016 Wednesday
I’ve been following the Pioneer Fire on-line for several weeks now. The Pioneer Fire is located right in the middle of the Idaho Hot Springs Route and it is growing. Our estimated time of departure is September 2 for this bike trip or when we start pedaling. A couple days ago, just when it seemed like the fire was being contained, the wind changed directions and the fire grew by 30,000 acres overnight. Something else to think about…
After much discussion with my friends Jo and Scott, we decided to see how bad it was in Boise before formally scuttling this trip however we definitely are searching for a Plan B, just in case. Jo and Scott are flying in from Christchurch, New Zealand. My friend Andy texted me a photo of the Boise sky and it doesn’t look good.
I left San Luis Obispo yesterday to drive to Boise, ID a distance of 850 miles. Spent last night at Truckee. Got in early enough yesterday to fish the Truckee River just below town – no strikes, no fish, no interest. Leaves me wondering if the continuing drought and last year’s extreme low water is having an effect. Or maybe I just got skunked.
So today, after a pleasant drive through Reno and out Interstate 80 to Winnemucca, NV, I then drove north on Highway 95 through desolate SW Oregon into Idaho. I eventually rolled into Boise then picked up Jo and Scott at the airport – it’s been a few years – all smiles! Great to see these guys!
We stayed at Hyatt Place about 10 minutes from airport.
September 1, Thursday
Luck would have it, REI was very close to the motel, literally across the parking lot, and we stocked up on last minute gear. There was lots of last minute shopping and planning to be done. We also studied the weather and the USFS Pioneer Fire Update website again and again. Not looking great. Given the information that we had, we decided to ride the route clockwise with the hope that the wind direction would eventually change and blow the smoke away from us. Wishful thinking. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket, too.
We did have time to go downtown Boise for dinner and a beer. I liked downtown Boise. Definitely had atmosphere and character(s).
Day 1 September 2, Friday 37 miles Boise to USFS Cottonwood campground 37 miles
After breakfast and finishing packing, we checked the Pioneer Fire update website one last time.
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!
We left the comfort of our motel around 9:30 and I dropped off car at my friend Andy’s house (I couldn’t talk him into coming along). From Andy’s house, I pointed my loaded bike down the driveway said “adios!” and headed to our predetermined meet up spot down at Interstate 84 where Highway 21 heads out of town. It was quite exciting throwing my leg over the bike and jumping on. Pack ‘em up and move ‘em out!
As I pedaled the first couple miles, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Am I forgetting anything??”
After meeting up with Jo and Scott, we headed out Highway 21 toward Lucky Peak Reservoir on the “Boise Spur” of the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. We eventually stopped and had lunch at the Lucky Peak Reservoir marina – my favorite, a PB&J bagel (SARCASM). I’ve found that bagels tend to be dense and virtually indestructible – so they travel well in a pannier. At breakfast, I had stocked up on those little single serving jelly packets – much lighter than carrying a jar.
Somehow, I managed to get a flat tire not more than 10 miles into today’s ride while still on pavement – not a good omen…
Half way around Lucky Peak Reservoir, the road changed from paved to gravel. Lot’s more of that to come.
Very pretty ride along reservoir – nice basaltic canyon, very little traffic and no smoke. Good place for a dam, I guess.
Beyond the Lucky Peak Reservoir was the Historic Arrowrock Reservoir – in it’s day, 1915, it was the highest dam in the world. 101 years old- just what exactly was the design life for this dam, I thought as I looked up at that old gray concrete monolith from beneath. Better peddle faster…
Finally, at the back of the reservoir, we turned left onto Cottonwood Creek road and headed to the Cottonwood Campground arriving 4:30. We were officially on the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route!
We were the only folks at the little campground situated along a small creek and a stand of cottonwoods. This was the first of many US Forest service campgrounds that we stayed in. No frills – picnic table, fire ring and outhouse. The Forest Service does a really good job of keeping these outhouses clean but the smell can be quite overwhelming. One of life’s many little inconveniences.
Dinner was freeze dried Mountain House Lasagna – one of my favorites if that can be said about freeze dried food.
I tried using my new Sawyer Mini water filter but it did not want to work properly – just a slow trickle – disappointing. Why didn’t I test this before I left home? Well, I don’t know! We were planning on sharing this filter between the 3 of us. Now we’ll have to be creative until we can get another filter. Boiling water is the last resort.
It was a warm evening and I was in my tent by 9:20 where I studied tomorrow’s route.
Not a bad first day except for the flat tire … and the water filter that doesn’t work. But no smoke!
Day 2 Saturday, September 3 USFS Cottonwood campground to USFS Grayback Gulch Camp ground 30 miles on route but 40 over all
Up at 7 and left Cottonwood Campground around 9AM
Breakfast was oatmeal with dried blueberries – not a big fan of oatmeal.
This morning Scott pulled out his fancy espresso maker and bean grinder. Very luxurious cup of joe this morning. Great way to start the day! Thanks Scott!
On today’s agenda, the map shows a 4000’ climb, how bad can it be???
Turns out that it was a 4 hour climb to the top in approx. 15 miles – topping out at over 7000’ elevation … and I was at sea level only a couple days ago. My granny gear got a big work out today as it was a tough grind at times, on a very marginal rutted road. With resignation, I slowly watched my speedometer drop from 6mph to 5mph to 4mph and lower. At several spots on that climb, I knew that I could probably walk as fast but pushing a bike is a drag. Finally after we topped out, we celebrated by having lunch in a nondescript patch of shade. PB&J again. From this nameless summit, we could see smoke but we pretty much kept out of it. Somebody needs to put to a name on that summit, it was quite the grind. Turns out, this was the biggest climb on the route – on day 2.
Now the pay off – The very fast and fun winding 15 mile downhill into the little historic town of Idaho City.
Idaho City was an old mining town in its day but today the streets of Idaho City were lined with classic cars for a car show, probably from Boise. That was a nice welcome!
After a quick look around, we ducked in to Donna’s, a fine local establishment, and I had myself a banana split, as we discussed our next step. Since it was getting late in the day and not knowing what lie ahead for camping, we decided to stay at the USFS Grayback Gulch campground about 1.5 miles off route. When we rolled into the campground, we found out that it was effectively full. This is Labor Day weekend after all. Eventually, we found the unofficial camp host (the guy that know everybody’s business) since there was no official camp host. We discussed a couple options – stealth camp in the empty official camp host campsite (with no camping signs) or camp in a reserved site where it appeared that they were a no-show. In hind sight it probably wasn’t a big decision but we were tired and hungry, we didn’t want to have to move in the middle of the night. Under Scott’s leadership, we decided to stay in the reserved no-show site. We shall see.
So, OK, let’s eat! We rode into town for beer and pizza at a funky historic bar in pastoral downtown Idaho City.
As serendipity would have it, the campground just happened to be located very close to The Springs Resort Hot Spring. Earlier in the day I was told that I needed a reservation to get in but after dinner I stopped by again and talked with a different employee. This time they let me in without a reservation. I think that the reservation thing was because of Labor Day weekend. Enjoyed a nice hot shower and soak for $13. Worth it!
Tomorrow we hope to get north of the town of Crouch about 50 miles??
We were able to check the Pioneer Fire website and expect to get in to some smoke in Garden Valley tomorrow.
No smoke today but it was much slower and harder than expected.
Day #2 was tough!
Day 3 Sunday, September 4 USFS Grayback Gulch campground to USFS Trail Creek Campground 44 miles
Well, there were no surprises last night from the no-show campers. So we made the right choice to stay in the reserved campsite.
Woke up to a light rain – just enough for a wet tent to pack – an inconvenience. Putting a wet tent into waterproof pannier becomes something you have to deal with later since the tent doesn’t dry and everything else in the pannier becomes damp also. So at lunch, or first chance, I have to pull out my tent to air it out.
On the road by 9
We started the day with a 1000’ climb out of Idaho City then a nice downhill into the excitement capital of Idaho – Placerville. Not much going on in Placerville but we stopped for tea at the little convenience store. For Jo and Scott, every snack break is “tea” even though there usually isn’t tea involved– a Kiwi thing. Sounds quite cultured though ‘Tea time!” Anyhow, I had choco milk at tea. Lots of goldmining history in the Idaho City/Placerville area.
Short climb out of Placerville then long, fast downhill in a smoky Garden Valley. – A sobering reminder of the presence of the huge Pioneer Fire. Kept pedaling on to the little town of Crouch where we had a smoky lunch. Now who would name a town “Crouch”? I guess that it is more interesting than Idaho City. We had 27 miles in by 1 PM.
After lunch, we stocked up at the grocery store then headed up the Middle Fork of the Payette River.
As we ventured up along the river we slowly pedaled out of the smoke. It was a very pretty ride along the river and we stopped at the terraced Rocky Canyon Hot Spring located across the river. Being Labor Day weekend, several people were there but there were 5 or so pools. Very nice temperature and clean, even a couple cute girls in bikinis!
Again being Labor Day weekend, seemed like lots of trucks and ATV’s cruising by. Friendly bunch, as they all waved and smiled as they coated us in a cloud of dust. We ate a lot of dust today to go along with smoke.
We rolled into Trail Creek Campground around 5. Had time to give Scott a fly fishing lesson and a soak at nearby Fire Crew HS. Nice clean rock pools along the river.
44 miles today, a lot easier.
Day 4 September 5, Monday – Labor Day USFS Trail Creek campground to Cascade 37 miles with wrong turn
Cloudy this morning and very light rain last night, so had to pack a wet tent. I was hoping that the light rain might keep the road dust down but it dried off in short order. No smoke!
While studying the map last night I saw a short cut on Forest Service road 698 that saved about 20 miles and 2000’ of climbing. Generally, I don’t like to take short cuts but it got me into Cascade a little easier, as I noticed that the big climb on Day 2 was catching up with me. This shortcut also provided me a little time to fish on the Middle Fork of the Payette for a while. The river looked great but I only caught a little brook trout while Scott practiced his casting. There was a nice climb out of the Middle Fork watershed but it gradually got steeper. A couple pitches got very steep where I redlined, so maybe I should have pushed these sections but didn’t.
My odometer was a bit off so when I came to the route turn off, it didn’t seem right. Then I noticed Jo and Scott’s tracks going further up the hill. They had pedaled ahead of me as I fished and I had been following there bike tracks up the hill. In about 100 yards , I came to a 4 way intersection on top of the hill then lost Jo and Scott’s tracks. Where did they go – abducted by aliens? I wasn’t sure but decided to go straight. Yeah sure, straight looks correct. Turns out, Jo and Scott came to the intersection checked their GPS and realized they should have taken the previous turn. So they turned around and took the correct route. Me, on the other hand … created my own route. I wasn’t really lost because I saw Cascade Lake and knew that I could get there when I got to the valley floor but getting to the valley floor was a little bit of an adventure. I went through 2 gates and had to actually get out my compass. I had that gnawing feeling, “This can’t be right.” – and it wasn’t. When I finally got to the valley floor, I pulled out my map then headed to the highway until it intersected our route – conveniently at a restaurant. But of course, the restaurant was closed for some unknown reason. That’s just how today was going. I had hoped to get something to eat there instead I ate a Power Bar and a granola bar and pedaled on – 5 miles of dusty washboarded roads to the little town of Cascade. I rolled into Cascade tired and frazzled. I need a day off.
We stayed at the Rivers Edge RV park. Not very crowded and not bad. Showers, laundry, wifi, clean.
We decided to go into town for dinner – no freeze dried food for me tonight. During dinner we had a pow-wow and discussed time/schedule – basically we weren’t going to make the Idaho Hot Springs Loop in 12 days as planned. The route is 519 miles and we figured that we would average 50 miles a day. What we didn’t consider was the 37 miles from Boise to the actual route. So out and back, that would be an additional 75 miles or so. And, we weren’t averaging 50 miles a day. So we discussed options. Jo and Scott had reservations in Bend and Portland for after the ride that they really didn’t want to break. We discussed several options: one was get up early and push it every day; or maybe an out and back route which would be rather disappointing; or possibly loop back on the Lowman Cutoff but the road was closed because of the fire; or maybe a shuttle from Ketchum to Boise. Jo would check out the shuttle option tomorrow when we got into McCall.
I noticed that my knee started aching today. My knees generally don’t bother me so I was concerned.
Scott continued with his fly fishing lesson today at the Cascade lake outlet near our camp and caught a little bass. 1st fish on a flyrod. This guy has potential.
Looking forward to McCall tomorrow and a much needed day off.
For now, no smoke – not even thinking about it.
Day 5 Tuesday, September 6 Cascade to McCall 35 miles
Last night it got chilly – had to throw my coat on top my sleeping bag.
We woke in a fog – literally, and it kinda flash froze right around sun up leaving frost on my helmet and gear.
Being close to town, I went to town for a good hot breakfast and coffee.
I found that my knee was still bothering me so I short cut on Highway 55 over to Roseberry then back on route in to McCall. Roseberry is an old abandoned town sitting out in the middle of the valley. Roseberry became a ghost town when the railroad came through the valley and it decided to bypass the town, so everybody uprooted and moved to the railroad.
Today’s route was relatively flat but I was still tired all day – looking forward to a zero day tomorrow
It was a pretty day in a long, grassy valley with lots and lots of cows. Enjoyed the big sky – about 70 degrees with clouds rolling in during the day
We made it to McCall by 1:30 and ate at the supermarket deli. It seemed so luxurious at the time, as we wandered the isles thinking – what to eat, what to eat?
McCall is a hip little town situated on the shores of Payette Lake. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Hunt Lodge – more perceived luxury! It was a short walk or bike to town from there. After a hot shower and long nap, I met Jo and Scott at the Salmon River Brewery for happy hour and then on to dinner at the The Mill. We couldn’t put our finger on it but it had a funky atmosphere. Food was good though.
After dinner, we found the Jacuzzi back at the Holiday Inn. Couldn’t help but notice – lots of animal heads on the wall in the swimming pool/Jacuzzi area. Welcome to Idaho.
35 miles – much needed day off tomorrow!
Day 6 Wednesday September 7 Zero Day in McCall
Had a nice relaxing breakfast with a newspaper this morning. Oh, the luxury!
1st on the agenda was grocery shopping this morning. Under these circumstances, it’s hard not to buy too much food but the reality of dragging that food up and over steep mountain roads keep things in check. Wh
For lunch today, we found a pretty good burrito shop, KB Burritos, and then ate at the downtown park near the marina. Then Scott got me an after-lunch Latte. Very nice.
Next stop was Gravity Sports for freeze dried dinners and general gear review. We had a nice discussion with the owner who was quite an adventurer.
After such a busy day, I retired back to my room for a very pleasant afternoon nap, followed by some map studying.
Later on in the afternoon, I caught up with Joe and Scott down town McCall and then we headed to the posh Shore Lodge where we hung out on the deck and quaffed a beer or 2 while gazing across placid Payette Lake. Not so bad. Jo reported that she contacted a shuttle for a ride from Ketchum to Boise next Thursday morning. It’s approximately a 2.5 hour drive where it would have taken 4 days by bike. I’m sure that the bike route is much more scenic and interesting, though. Seemed like a pretty good option.
Next we moved on to the Salmon River Brewery and had a nice dinner outside as the sun set. For a small town, McCall has several nice restaurants, 2 brew pubs, a hockey rink and a whole lot more. Nice place to take a zero day.
After getting back to my motel room, I couldn’t help but notice that it looked like my panniers had exploded in my room. My tent and sleeping bag were airing out while my freshly clean clothes and restocked food supplies where basically all over. So, tonight I packed my panniers for tomorrow. On several occasions I had to stop and reassess – How did this all fit in before?
It was a fun day in McCall. No official bike route miles but several unladened tourist miles.
Day 7 Thursday, September 8 McCall to USFS 4 mile campground 50 miles +
We were on the road by 8:30 this morning with McCall in the rear view mirror. McCall was a fun little town.
We started the day with a 2000’ climb over scenic Lick Pass. Very pretty climb on a forested road that opened up to fine granite slabs and pine vistas. Unfortunately, the road was rough as a corncob. With the loose washboard road, it was hard to take in the exceptional scenery, especially when going downhill. So, several times I had to stop and put my foot down to soak in the beautiful day. As we headed down into the Salmon River drainage, we stopped along the creek at the USFS Ponderosa Campground for lunch. It looked like a nice place to camp and nobody was there.
After lunch, we continued down the road toward tonight’s camp and came upon a paved Forest Service road in the middle of nowhere. After the rough and jarring road this morning, this remote paved road was certainly welcome but I just could figure why it was there. Also, I noticed along the river posted on trees were gold mining claims, and we passed a gold sluice parked in the river. The gold sluice had a big sign on it that said “Keep off” just in case some industrious biker wanted to try to get lucky. We are in gold country, apparently.
We rode through a big fire scar area today. Seems like there is no shortage of forest fires in Idaho.
Today we ran into two guys on bikes heading north with camp gear. This was the first bike riders that we’ve seen that are riding the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. We are riding clockwise and they were riding counterclockwise which seems to be the standard M.O. Since they were bombing downhill, they didn’t stop. We got a smile and a wave. We were thinking that we were the only bikes out here when a couple miles up the road, we ran into another couple of bike riders who actually stopped and talked. In true bike touring spirit, we got their whole story in 10 or 15 minutes. They started in McCall 3 weeks ago and were just finishing up. They were riding counterclockwise. I was happy to hear that they said that the smoke wasn’t that bad ahead of us which was something that I was very concerned about. They were an interesting story – they were from the Bay Area and just got married, quit their jobs and went on a bike tour here in Idaho. They weren’t sure what was next but after Jo and Scott said that they were from New Zealand, they said that they’d like to go there. Turns out New Zealand seems to be on everybody’s bucket list. Come to think of it, I’m going to put New Zealand back on my bucket list, again.
As we pedaled along the river, Jo spotted an otter out in the middle of the river hanging out on a rock. We have been pretty disappointed with the lack of wildlife on this route – unlike the Great Divide Route. No elk, moose, bears – just a lot of squirrels.
We eventually camped at USFS 4 Mile campground which was pretty average/ no frills and a little too close to the road … and a little underwhelming. But, after 50 miles of pedaling, it was good enough and it put us close to the Mile 16 Hot Springs. We set up camp then pedaled 1.5 miles to the hot spring. It was a very pretty blue pool along the Salmon River – perfect temp. A perfect end to a long day on the saddle! As we got to the hot spring, 2 people were leaving. Always observant, Scott noted that the guy had an open carry pistol hanging on his Camelbak. Scott asked me, “What does he need that for?” From a Kiwi perspective, packing a weapon in such a tranquil place seemed pretty unnecessary. I didn’t have a good answer.
After getting thoroughly soaked, we rode back to camp and had dinner then rode a mile back up the road to try our luck fishing. So noted, Scott’s casting is getting much better but his catching still needs improvement. I caught 2 little brookies.
We shared the campground with 4 bow hunters from NY or that’s what the license plate said. They were elk hunting. Somehow these 4 guys managed to squeeze into a little tent – must be really good friends.
My Sawyer Mini is still not working right even with a lot of verbal encouragement.
50 miles on route today and 5 miles cruising around – felt pretty good – the day off helped a lot.
We took the biker discount on the camping tonight.
Day 8 Friday September 9 USFS 4 Mile Campground to Free camp over Deadwood Pass 40 miles
Woke up to another chilly morning with frost. It has been colder than normal on this trip which made it much nicer for bike riding – once you got going. Wake up was been pretty consistently around 7AM when daylight finds its way through my opaque tent. After breakfast and a hot cup of joe, Scott and Jo left a little ahead of me. As always they are ready before me – they are a model of efficiency, unlike me. I generally have a daily search for something. Like, my sunscreen buried somewhere in my pack or where’s my helmet? (on my head) etc. I broke camp at 9AM and continued on the mysterious paved road to nowhere in particular – it was cold pedaling this morn.
We rode past the USFS Poverty Campground about a mile past the Mile 16 Hot Spring. It appeared much nicer than our very average camp at 4 Mile, oh well.
Rode through the fire scar from 1961 Poverty fire, surprisingly it still hasn’t recovered – another big Idaho fire.
Had lunch at the rustic North Shore Lodge on Warm Lake – Friendly folks and nice campgrounds along the lake – maybe next time.
I made the mistake of eating a big burger and fries before pedaling up over the formidable Warm Lake Summit with 2000+ feet elevation gain. After climbing up over the top and down the other side, the paved Forest Service road unceremoniously ended. So, it was back to the energy sapping, washboard, rough as a corncob, gravel road that seems to be de rigueur here in Idaho.
As the day progressed, we kept riding through Tyndall Meadow and over Deadwood Pass. As we approached the pass we could see wisps of smoke rolling through the pass. After a short hiatus, the approaching Pioneer Fire has reentered our consciousness. It’s back!
At this point of the day, we were searching for a good place to camp as we dropped into the Deadwood Creek drainage. Since there were no Forest Service Campgrounds on the radar, the plan was to free camp somewhere. We cruised downhill about 3 miles through an avalanche area (no stopping… or camping) and then camped at the first turn out that we came to. There were 2 closed up campers parked in this large opening along the creek but no people. We were tired so we found a flat spot away from the campers and pitched tents. Along the road, Scott talked with some elk hunting guides that were driving by and got the scoop on where we were at – apparently, we were in elk country. It would be nice to see an elk at this juncture but not in the back of a pickup truck with tongue hanging out.
Before dinner while the sun was still up, I was able to clean off in the frigid Deadwood Creek. A cold bath is better than no bath.
Around 9pm the people who had the campers at our site showed up. We were already in our tents and I pretty much slept through their arrival.
By the time that we got to our campsite, I was pretty tired. So I checked with Scott for the day’s key numbers. According to his GPS – 40 miles and 4000+ feet elevation. Not a bad day considering the climbing.
Tomorrow, I’m expecting smoke as we are getting closer to the Pioneer Fire and being up wind.
Day 9 Saturday September 10 Free camp near Deadwood Pass to USFS Thatcher Campground 40 miles
As we were packing this morning, the elk hunters jubilantly blew their elk bugle several times. It was the weekend and they were happy to be there. Gonna get me an elk!
It was cold again last night. I had to wear my rain coat as a wind breaker to start the day since we started with a 6 or 7 mile downhill until we hit the road closure near the fire. Fortunately, we were turning left and rode on the fire perimeter road that was still open. We ran into fire crews at the USFS Deer creek campground who were preparing a fire break. They were a very professional bunch and they took a little time to explain things to us. Hat’s off!
Around lunchtime, we found a spot along the Elk River just off our route. Since the river looked quite fishy, we decided to try our luck flyfishing but we were humbly skunked. That’s been our luck lately, no wildlife and no trout. Blame it on the fire.
We jumped backed on our bikes and continued on the fire perimeter road as we observed lots of Forest Service Fire Crew trucks and support vehicles. These guys actually slowed down for us so that we didn’t eat their dust. Muchas gracias! The air became quite smoky as we approached the air strip and fire camp. – Lots of tents and some rather large catering trucks that got me curious. Hey, what’s for lunch??
Next on the itinerary was the long, slow, hot, dusty, smoky, bumpy climb up Cape Horn summit. This was by no means the most difficult climb on this ride but I just wasn’t feeling it today, and I’m sure eating the smoke and road dust didn’t help. Finally after hitting the summit, we had a nice downhill to the Highway 21 Lowman cut off where it was decision time again– should we drop anchor at the USFS Banner Creek campground here or push on another 5 miles or so to USFS Thatcher Creek campground up the road. Well, we pushed on with the hope that we would get a little farther away from the Pioneer Fire smoke. We rolled into the empty Thatcher Creek campground and I was cooked. We never located the actual Thatcher Creek but there was a swell pump that I was able to use for clean up . I took a well-deserved nap on the picnic table as the smoke gradually cleared with the change of wind direction.
It was 40 hard, smoky miles today.
Day 10 Sunday, September 11 USFS Thatcher Creek to Stanley 18 miles
Very cold last night – Scott’s thermometer read -3 degrees C as he cooked coffee. We woke up to blue skies, early sun and no smoke! Crisp, beautiful morning!
It was a short day today maybe 20 miles into Stanley. Since we were anxious to get into Stanley, we just rode Highway 21 into town rather than jump over on the slower, indirect Forest Service roads.
Just outside Ketchum we stopped and talked to 3 women from Boulder, CO who were doing Idaho Hot Springs route clockwise. They just started in Ketchum the day before. They said that they planned to ride 65 miles a day – that raised our eyebrows a bit – yeah, right!
We rolled in to Stanley just about lunchtime. Lunch was at the “Idaho chic” Stanley Bakery and Café. No Coca Cola here – just natural sodas… Very nice lunch and a fresh chocolate chip cookie for desert.
Stanley, ID has a population of 67 folks + or -. This quaint little hamlet serves as an outfitter town with convenient access to the Sawtooth Mountains and the Salmon River. It’s all about hunting, fishing, hiking, rafting – anything outdoors. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s been discovered as there are some pretty fancy houses being built on the outskirts of town.
We decided to motel it tonight so we checked in at the Mountain Village Resort – were we did laundry, took a shower and I took my a nap, of course. I caught up with Jo and Scott who were doing a walking tour of Stanley. Let’s just say that it was a short walk.
Serendipity – We met up with Jo and Scott’s friends from New Zealand in the out of the way town of Stanley. Mark and Hana are bike touring from Alaska to Patagonia but they parked their bikes in Whitefish, MT and drove to Burning Man in Nevada. On their way back to Whitefish, they had a little homecoming in Stanley! We had a nice dinner at Staley Sluice Alehouse and Eatery. Good food and good beer! We met a very nice waitress, Olivia, who bantered smartly with Scott throughout dinner. Her tip was well earned as Scott did his thing – all in good fun, of course. I think he calls it “Kiwi charm”. I asked Olivia about the local Snakepit hot spring. She said that it was pretty cool but recommended the hot spring at Mountain Village Resort which was closer, where you can usually sneak in at night. Well, turns out, we were actually staying there but the not very helpful girl at the front desk failed to tell us about the hot spring. The hot spring fed into a concrete tub in a small shed with a barn door that opened to a pretty spectacular view of the Sawtooths and Salmon River. Quite nice – and we had a fun chat with some younger folks from Boise that were in for the weekend.
Maybe 18 easy miles today – short day!
Day 11 Monday, September 12 Stanley, ID to Smiley Creek Lodge 30 miles
After several cold nights in a tent, it was really nice to sleep in a warm motel!
We went back to the Stanley Bakery and Café for a very nice breakfast. Of course, got a chocolate chip cookie to go.
After the brief reunion, Hanna and Mark headed to Whitefish and back to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and then on to South America and Patagonia. Good on them! We headed the other direction towards Ketchum.
Today, I was tempted to ride the paved road to get over Galena Summit since the weather forecast called for rain and cold this afternoon but I stayed on route. Glad I did, it was a very scenic ride up the Sawtooth Valley away from traffic. I saw 2 herds of pronghorns and a badger. It’s just poetry in motion watching pronghorns running across the chaparral.
At about 30 miles we stopped at the Smiley Creek lodge for a late lunch. When we walked in, we were surprised to see Olivia who was working at the Stanley Sluice last night. She works two jobs and we found her.
After lunch, we had a pow-wow – what to do? Basically, should we head over Galena Summit with possible rain and no place to camp or stay in a nice warm cabin at Smiley Creek and face a longer ride into Ketchum tomorrow.
Smiley Creek Lodge won out. We enjoyed a hot shower, fresh dinner and great conversation with Olivia along with her compadre Emily, along with Cade, the gentleman from Idaho Aeronautics, who was working at the airport across the street. Very pleasant, warm, dry afternoon and evening. It finally started raining at 7PM instead of the projected 3PM
Got in about 30 scenic miles in the shadow of the Sawtooths. Not a bad place to be.
Day 12 Tuesday September 13 Smiley Creek Lodge to Ketchum, ID 41 miles
Woke up in warm snug cabin – outside was frosty, foggy and gray.
After a very nice breakfast in the lodge, we said good bye to Emily and Rachel – Olivia had the day off.
We decided to ride the paved road over Galena Summit rather than the old unpaved road.
The fog and clouds lifted as we climbed the Galena Summit. The Sawtooths slowly emerged from the clouds for beautiful view. Very nice climb up the 8701 foot high pass at just the right grade.
As we went down the other side, there were fine views of snow capped peaks. The downhill was fast and winding …. and very cold – to historic Galena Lodge. I warmed up with a cup of coffee and pumpkin muffin at the lodge. October approaches.
At the Galena Lodge we jumped on the 19+ mile long Harriman trail and headed down toward Ketchum – home of Tom Hanks, apparently. Jo wants to say hi to Forrest Gump.
Well, the plan was to have lunch at the Russian John Hot Spring that is just along the Harriman Trail and apparently close to Highway 21. As we approached, I looked over and thought that I saw the Hot Spring but Scott kept riding as I saw the guy wave at Scott. So, Scott stopped up the trail a bit and I asked Scott, “Was that the Hot Spring?” and Scott said, “Yes” So, I asked why we didn’t stop and Scott said, “Did you see that guy waving at me with toilet paper in his hand? He was taking a poo!!” Ewww! Scott said that the guy found his spot 10 meters from the Hot Spring. Why???? For some reason, the “poo man” parked his truck along the highway and did his duty next to the Hot Spring. What a knucklehead. Needless to say, we rolled down the trail a couple miles before we had lunch. I had previously commented how clean the hot springs were in Idaho but after seeing this… anyhow, enough about that.
The ride down the Harriman Trail was really pleasant and we saw another badger.
It started to rain lightly as we approached Ketchum and the end of our ride.
Since it was a Tuesday and after Labor Day, I hadn’t bothered getting a reservation for a motel in Ketchum. That was a mistake. We found our way to the Ketchum Information Center conveniently located in a Starbucks. After several phone calls, we ended up at the Belmont Hotel which met our needs. Whereas, Ketchum provides all the restocking needs for a bike tourer and good restaurants, it’s also a little pretentious. But I can live with pretentious for a couple days. Kinda fun.
As we wandered around town a little, Scott spotted Rebecca Rusch 6-time world Mountain bike champ and 4 time Leadville 100 winner. She had just parked her car that was adorned with a very obvious Red Bull roof rack and “Rebecca’s Private Idaho” on the door. Scott chatted with Rebecca while I googled “Rebecca Rusch”. Shame on me. Obviously, that made Scott’s day while Jo kept hopefully searching for Tom Hanks.
Dinner and Beers at the Sawtooth Brewery and Public House – High 5’s all around! We made it!
41 miles – really fun day!
Post bike ride
We took a day off hanging out in Ketchum on Thursday. After 6 days of riding since McCall, it was luxurious. It pretty much rained all day as we relaxed a wee bit. On Friday, we caught the Boise shuttle at 8AM sharp at the posh Sun Valley Lodge. The ride back to Boise took 2.5 hours. By my estimation, it would have been 4 days and approximately 160 miles to pedal back to Boise from Ketchum. There are lots of hot springs in this stretch that we missed. It felt a little funny riding back in the shuttle as I think that my body had adjusted to the bike tour routine. I was ready to keep pedaling.
The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route is well conceived and at times challenging bike ride. I really enjoyed it. Thanks Jo and Scott for the fine company!
One flat tire on the first day
Fishing wasn’t very good and we didn’t see much wild life. Of course, timing is everything. Maybe it was there and we missed it?
In general, the hot springs that we visited were very nice with the exception of Russian John ( Thanks to one knucklehead bogan.)
I’d say that the route was harder than expected especially with loose washboarded roads. Coming from sea level probably didn’t help. I felt that I rode into shape and the 2nd week was much easier. Also, we were told that it hadn’t rained in almost 3 months so that might be why the roads were so loose and rough.
My Bike setup and gear was just right as I used everything that I brought. A Bob trailer would have worked fine on this route but I chose a more lightweight bikepacker setup. I would estimate that my fully loaded bike weighed in at about 75 pounds or 34 kilos. Each bike trip that I take, I find that I’m able to shave off a couple more pounds of gear.
I was disappointed to find that my Sawyer Mini water filter didn’t work well. I should have known better but make sure that you test all equipment before you leave. Subsequently, I aggressively back washed my Sawyer Mini and it works much better now but I expected better performance from a new filter.
We chose September to ride this route with the thinking that the weather would be cooler, no mosquitos, less people/campers on the road, and generally this was correct. But September is fire season and it almost scuttled our trip. The weather in September in Idaho is quite unpredictable so be prepared for cold, hot, rain, sunburn, even snow.