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The 2008 Tour of Idaho

By Martin Hackworth

Photos: Martin Hackworth, Dan Colvin

Clifton, ID

    The thing about riding aggressively in the dirt is that it demands near perfect judgment. The higher the speed the better the decisions have to be. Each increase of just a few mph requires an order of magnitude increase in ability to scan the terrain and constantly make adjustments to speed and line. A million good decisions in a row won't prevent catastrophe over one bad one. But more on that later.
    Our 2008 TID was the smoothest ever (at least for one of us). The trails this year are generally in the best shape that we have ever seen them. The section from Utah to Pocatello is worth doing right now before the trails get trashed again by weather, ATV's and 4 x 4's.

    We set off at about 11 a.m. on Friday July 25 at the UT border and things were going ultra smooth and fast until we came around a corner in a remote road and encountered two little girls playing unconcernedly in the worst possible place bad dreams are capable of conjuring. Years of bitter experience have taught me to always assume that an ATV or pickup truck is coming at you sideways around every blind corner on an uncontrolled course (and even occasionally on a controlled course) but this, two stationary pedestrians, surprised me though I was anticipating the possibility of traffic.
Steele Canyon
Oxford Ridge I had no choice but to bail into the nearest ditch and deal with the consequences: a mild shoulder separation, tweaked forks and busted bark busters. Twenty miles into the trip. Damn.   

    We beat the bike back into shape while I was getting chewed out by the girls mom. I don't think that she quite realized how lucky everyone was with the outcome. Though I am willing to accept the consequences of a high speed get off for myself, my worst fear is coming around a corner at speed and meeting an ATV full of kids sliding sideways with no helmets - or some variant on that theme. This was my closest call ever in many years of riding. I swallowed some ibuprofen, hands shaking, and we were off.

    The trail up and over Oxford Ridge and down to Downata Resort are all in phenomenal shape and we were able to make excellent time. It was very hot - close to 100 degrees - and I considered, briefly, riding right into the resort pool.   
    The next portion of the route up and over Sedgwick Peak was, as always, spectacular and we appreciated the relief from the heat afforded by the 9000' elevation. The descent into Lava Hot Springs was smooth and fast and we found ourselves on the Boundary Trail north of town toot sweet.

    The blast around the Boundary Trail was fast and uneventful and we soon found ourselves descending the South Fork Inman Creek single track - one of the highlights of the Tour. We dropped into Inman Creek and coasted down the road to Inkom. Ten minutes later we were racing up and down the familiar trails of Blackrock Canyon, right in our backyard, and were unloading gear in my shop by 7 p.m.
Eight hours (total time) and 135 miles - not too shabby for the first, most technical day.
Oxford Basin
Oxford Basin     We decided to take a day off this year in Pocatello and do a full service on the bikes before setting off on the final 1160 miles of the Tour. It was great to relax and pack at a casual pace all day Saturday. We met Sunday morning at our favorite hangout, Mocha Madness, and were on the road by 11 a.m. The second day of the Tour involves some technical trail leaving Pocatello but after twenty miles or so settles into a nice combination of farm roads, mountain ATV trails, and desert roads. We were in American Falls in time for a late lunch and scorched the farm roads west of the reservoir to get as rapidly as possible to one of our favorite sections of the Tour - the Goodale Cutoff wagon ruts.

    This ten mile section of trail, which points straight as an arrow toward Big Southern Butte is otherworldly in quality. The ride across the Snake River Desert and around the Butte to Arco was wicked fast and we were dining at Pickles by 6 p.m. Another casual day. Two hundred miles and 6 easy hours total time. Buttah!
    The only proper coffee shop in Arco doesn't open until the crack of 10 a.m. so we were forced to set off on day 3 without our usual morning libation. The route up and over Arco Pass is very familiar and went rapidly. We took advantage of another low mileage day to explore roads and trails and even a bit of single track in the Little Lost River and Pahsimeroi Valleys. Though the area was, as usual, very dry - the heavy snows of the previous winter had left at least one beneficial lasting effect which was very low dust. Haze from distant fires permeated the entire valley.

    We spent a good deal of time taking photographs, filming high-speed passes and generally maintained a no worries pace and were still dining in Challis by 5 p.m. One hundred and fifty miles in about 6 casual hours. As we wolfed down Challis style haute cuisine I thought to myself "Man - I can sure get used to these short riding days."  Our decision to limit daily mileage this year to 250 (in previous years we've averaged over 300 miles each day) seemed to be pinging the fun meter.
Sedgwick Peak
Lava Hot Springs
    Day 4 found us up and on the road at the crack of 10 a.m. The route out of Challis, up Darling Creek and over the divide to Morgan Creek, is about as pleasant as imaginable - though recent flash floods have made the road more treacherous than usual.

    The road up Morgan Creek to Panther Creek, NFD 055, is a veritable dirt road superhighway and one of our least favorite parts of the Tour. While it's fun to wind out an uncorked XR650R on the wide, smooth and firm surface, going fast loses its appeal rapidly after encountering the first logging truck coming at you sideways at 70. Even if you cheat death in not becoming a Peterbilt hood ornament you still get hit with a spray of gravel coming at you with a relative velocity of over 100 mph. Next year we are going to route the Tour through some ATV trails that run north out of Challis down to Cobalt in order to bypass most of this stretch.  

    Panther Creek Inn was open this year on the day we came through and we enjoyed chatting with the proprietor over soft drinks before mounting up and heading down the road.
    We arrived at Shoup in early afternoon and were surprised to find a sign on the door that said "Closed on Wednesday's" Previous years we'd always come through on Wednesdays and if we'd been a day later, as usual, we'd have been out of luck for gas. The nearest gas (unless you can roust the proprietors) is about 20 miles away in North Fork. Since it's 250 miles from Challis to Elk City very few bikes would have the capacity to make this portion of the Tour without gas at either Shoup or North Fork.

    We didn't spend a lot of time at Shoup, preferring instead to get to the Magruder Corridor in time for optimum afternoon lighting to shoot some pics. The route up and over the mountains from the Salmon River to Alta, MT. was fun and quick. We took advantage of logging roads around the west and north sides of Painted Rocks reservoir to eliminate another 20 miles of pavement from the Tour this year and quickly found our front wheels easing onto the Magruder Road.
The Boundary Trail
Arbon Valley
    It's about 120 miles from our entry point on the Magruder, near Nez Perce Pass, to Elk City and we were already licking our chops over an early dinner at the Reno Club. Everything went well up to about a mile east of Saddle Mountain where I encountered the downed tree limb that would dramatically alter the trajectory of my trip - literally.

    It was about 12 feet long and sticking out about 1/3 of the way across the road from the left shoulder. It was inconveniently right in the middle of a curve with the bonus feature of being directly in the afternoon sun. I had just taken a peek back over my shoulder to look for Dan and when I turned around there it was. My XR650R has an oversized front brake rotor that generally allows me to reign in trouble pretty quickly but I was going too fast and the trajectory across the road to the right was filled with large loose rocks. At the last minute I though that I might just barely clip it and I pretty much did just that. Unfortunately my oversized Acerbis tank caught just enough of the limb to direct it straight into my left radiator where it brought the bike to an immediate halt vaulting me down the road about 10 feet.
    In spite of being stunned I was up pretty quick and inspected the bike. It was obvious that "Bodacious" was down for the count with a crushed radiator and that my Tour of Idaho, sans another bike, was over. Dan came along about 5 minutes later and we agreed that he should continue to Elk City and find someone along the way with a pickup truck willing to make some bucks in exchange for a ride into town.

    Once Dan left I settled down with some food and water to contemplate my sins and noticed almost immediately a cloud of mosquitoes in the process of descending. Not since my days climbing in the Northwest Territories have I encountered such a horde of undeterrable mosquitoes and I quickly concluded that it was put on all of my rain gear or be eaten alive. It turns out that the rain gear came in doubly handy because as the sun went down it began to get noticeably cold.
Arbon Valley
Knox Canyon/Big Canyon
    I gathered wood and built a fire in a sheltered alcove right in the bank of the road next to where I'd crashed and again settled in to take stock of my situation. A detailed inspection revealed that the bike was indeed toast. I had a couple of mildly dislocated fingers, the sun was going down, it was getting cold, I was stuck in the middle of nowhere and help was not immediately on the way. OTHO I was in the middle of one of the most stunningly beautiful landscapes on the planet with a dark night sky full of stars coming up. No worries.

    As the light faded I could see someone camped on a promontory about 5 miles to the east. Oh well, I thought, a one hour hike if it comes to it. Studying the sky I went through the checklist of naked-eye objects I show groups in the star shows that I give for the Astronomy course that I teach. It occurred to me after a while that I should at least give some thought to fending off curious or hungry wild animals so I found several limbs with the right heft and put the business end of one of them in the fire.
     Sometime just before midnight I heard the unmistakable sound of a truck making the slow climb up the grade from Poet Creek. Jim and Dan are a couple of Forest Service fire fighters who Dan had found at the Red River Ranger station in the middle of a barbecue willing venture into the night to aid to a traveler in need. Significantly, Dan had passed another group camped in relative splendor just a few miles from my bivouac whom he had been unable to convince to even drive out to check on me. The bad karma generated by this deed boggles the mind. I'd recommend avoiding any Toyota pickup with Washington plates for a while just to be safe when Thor finally decides to unleash the thunderbolt.  Pahsimeroi Valley
Pahsimeroi Valley
    As we were loading the bike into the truck I noticed a set of large distinctive eyes in the darkness some distance up the road fixed on us. My rescuers were very thorough at helping me put out the fire and though I'd occasionally lose sight of those eyes in the midst of the smoke and activity I'd always spot them again, in about the same place, the next time I looked. An owl, I assumed, as we went about our business.

    We had to drive down the road a little bit in order to get turned around and as we climbed back up the hill past my temporary accommodations I once again caught a glimpse of the eyes but this time illuminated in the high beam headlights of the truck. No owl, but a large (very large I was assured by the local boys) cougar standing right in the middle of the road. Not the least bit bashful either. He loped off the road into the trees only as we got very close. We got out of the truck with flashlights and a standoff ensued. Finally the cougar ambled off into the darkness with a gait that suggested "Next time." Nice to know that I had more company that I'd thought.
    We rolled into Elk City around 1:30 a.m. and I found Dan fast asleep in our room in the Elk City Hotel. In the morning it was decided that Dan should go on to the Locsha Lodge at the Powell Ranger Station, via the Lolo Motorway, while I waited in Elk City for my backup bike to get trailered up by our shuttle drivers Dan and Max who were planning on leaving Pocatello a few days early anyway. The Reno Club has Wi Fi and I was able to use my Blackberry to make all of the arrangements just as easy as if I were doing it from my living room. The march of progress and all that. Who'd a thunk it?

    Dan and his son Max wouldn't arrive until after dark so I had a day to hang in Elk City. The TV in my room provided me with a choice of Bigfoot documentaries or Dog the Bounty Hunter so I wasted little time in my room.
Pahsimeroi Valley
Pahsimeroi Valley
    Dan and Max arrived late Wednesday evening and we hit the hay right away. The next morning we were up at dawn and rolling toward the Powell Ranger Station. We arrived at noon and I eagerly unloaded my backup bike - the old trusty XR600R - and prepared to depart. I'd done a complete service on the 600R just before leaving and put it through its paces for exactly such a contingency. It was running perfectly when I left it in the shop prior to leaving town. So I was a little surprised when it didn't kick start immediately. I was even more surprised when it would bump start only with difficulty and horrified when it didn't run worth a hoot. The problem was flooding so we quickly yanked the carburetor and field stripped it. Nada. Float ok, main jet ok, everything spic and span. It was enough to make a grown man want to cry.
    After disassembling and inspecting the carb, the exhaust system, the electrical system and then whacking the cylinder head and frame a few times with a tree limb for good measure, we determined that the bike ought to be running perfectly even if it stubbornly refused to do so. In desperation I discovered that I could control the flooding manually by adjusting the petcock on the fly and if I could ride like this the bike would run reasonably well. Not exactly auspicious beginnings but it'd do. We were off.

    A 5 p.m. start ensured that we'd be rolling into Wallace late so there was no time to lose. We rode the next 110 miles in just a couple of hours without a foot touching the ground anywhere. And in spite of the less than stellar mechanical situation somewhere during the sprint across Toboggan Ridge, up the Clearwater and over Gospel Hill to the St. Joe an impromptu rally broke out. I had to keep the throttle in about the same position with my right hand and control engine power with the petcock and my left. It was not unlike flying a Cessna - attitude control with one hand and engine power with the other. But in a weird way it was fun. Flogging a wounded bike for all it was worth while trying to beat the darkness, essential since the headlight on the 600 burned out somewhere in the first 100 miles, was actually a gas. No pun intended.
Pahsimeroi Valley
Pahsimeroi Valley
     Dan and Max were camping along the St. Joe River road which was good for me since even with a 4.5 gallon tank the gluttonous XR was good only for about 120 miles. A couple of gallons of gas got me to within three miles of Wallace where I ran out coasting down the grade from Moon Pass. I ended up pushing the bike much of the last few miles to the Ryan Hotel - arriving at around 10:30. One hundred eighty miles in about 5 hours including the late night hike with the 600 as a wheelbarrow. Not too shabby.

    The next morning we were up looking for huckleberry shakes to speed us toward British Columbia and the Tour's end but we were a couple of weeks too early for the real deal. We gassed up, bump started the beast in a cloud of smoke and unburned fuel, and were off to points north.
    The last day of the Tour is our least favorite (until the very end anyway). There's a fair amount of unavoidable travel on pavement that is required to get around the Panhandle's numerous rivers and lakes. Most of the dirt roads north of Wallace traverse heavily logged forests and are otherwise eminently forgettable. One unexpectedly nice feature of the day was that we had a lunch of astounding quality at a Teriyaki joint in a gas station in Athol. From there it was Hoodoo Mountain over to Priest River just doing what it takes to get to Coolin where the real fun of the final day begins.    Pahsimeroi Valley
Grouse Peak
    The route north of Coolin around the east side of Lower and Upper Priest Lakes into the heart of the Selkirks is almost otherworldly in its beauty. And though we felt as if we'd been beaten with 2 x 4's for a week straight by that point the spectacular nature of our surroundings was not lost on us in the least bit. During the final sprint down NFD 1013, the last 15 miles to the Tour's end, we encountered a bear cub in the road. Surely a piece on the board placed there by the big wheel in the sky. I just hoped that mom was not lurking too close by.

    After riding to the gate at the roads end, just a few miles south of the international border, you have to turn around and ride back to meet your shuttle. Next time I'd arrange to have the shuttle waiting in Coolin and ride all of the way around the lake on its west side. This year, however, Dan and Max were waiting for us at Lionshead on the east side. It is significant that the XR sputtered to a stop for the last time while coasting down the final hill to our waiting friends (it hasn't run since). Two hundred and seventy miles in about 8 hours. Not a bad finish all things considered.

    In retrospect the 2008 Tour was the best ever. It was fun, incredible, crazy, scary, confounded some of our careful planning and beat the snot out of us. Was I a little disappointed in the bike situation? Sure. I'd have rather have finished on the bike I spent 6 months building for the trip. But in all true adventures great things happen and bad things happen and it's how you deal with them that matters. I'll take it just the way it was served up, thank you. Next year beckons already.

    A big thanks to Ian, Chad, Dan, Max, Dan, Jim, Jason, Jason, Greg, Allison and everyone else who was either kind or helpful along the way.

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