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Sunglasses At Night

One XR650R, an Acerbis Sahara tank, one big-assed headlight, 755 miles of dirt, hypothermia, a forest fire, a deluge of biblical proportions and a long, long day. 

By Martin Hackworth


Photos: Martin Hackworth

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    I am a big one for epic adventure - life is short then you are dead a long time. That being the case you might as well go large. Damn the torpedoes, no guts, no glory and all that. No sooner had we finished the 2008 Tour of Idaho a few weeks earlier than I was hatching a scheme to ride the bulk of the Tour again solo and unsupported in 24 hours or less. I elected to start from Pocatello both because it was convenient and because the easiest sections of the Tour to ride fast are between Pocatello and Wallace, some 750 miles north. 
   
    The route ridden in this epic is all part of the established Tour of Idaho, but I did choose the fastest variants of the Tour everywhere there was an option. I left at a bit before 12:00 a.m. on Friday morning August, 22, hell bent for Wallace by the following midnight.

     The limiting factor in the first 30 or so miles of the ride was staying within a reasonable distance of the speed limit on the farm roads that wind through the Ft. Hall reservation to Pingree and the edge of the Snake River Desert. 
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I used the opportunity to aim both the excellent 100/90 watt Ricky Stator headlight on the BRP and my helmet light before encountering the first dirt roads at the edge of the desert. It's been a very dry summer in southern and central Idaho and a 40 mph wind out in the desert kept my own cloud of dust chasing me through the moonlight.    

    My first fuel stop was in Arco, 90 miles into the ride, and I arrived around 1:30 in the morning. I noticed that the temperature on the electronic bank sign on the way into town displayed 38 degrees - not a great omen of things to come.

     The stop in Arco took 2 minutes and I was on my way. The route out of town followed the road over Beverland Pass and then to Pass Creek. I first really noticed the cold while approaching the summit of Pass Creek (7722'), and by the time I got to the intersection with Dry Creek Road on the east side of the pass my fingers were completely numb. I had to stop for a few minutes to warm them on the headlight.
    The ride up the Pahsimeroi was otherworldly. It was bitterly cold and the combination of my barn burner headlight, the 3/4 moon and occasional frost created a surreal lightscape. My biggest fear - the one thing that kept my throttle hand in check on the fast sections of gravel road that characterize this portion of the Tour - was the sure knowledge that every large, lumbering, dumber than a fencepost beast in the world was out there lurking just beyond the reach of my headlight, eager to put a quick and dramatic end to my ride. Fortunately Ricky Stator makes a bodacious headlight, one capable of easily doubling as an aircraft search light, and I had no trouble seeing anything even at great distance. My only critter issues were the numerous rabbits and other small mammals that insisted on committing hari-kari by diving under the wheels of the BRP, with amazing frequency, like moths drawn to flame.

     The ride up Trail Creek to Grouse Peak (8307') was actually more fun at night than it generally is during the day. Interestingly it was not nearly as cold on the top of Grouse Peak as it was on the summit of Pass Creek some 80 miles to the south. Proof positive of the influence of micro-climate on mountain weather.
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    I rolled into Challis, 230 miles into the ride, at around 5:15 a.m. One hour ahead of schedule. Tres cool! Hell - I just mike make it, I thought. Another two-minute fuel stop and I was on my way to the Darling Creek/Morgan Creek divide.

    Somewhere in the miles between Challis and the pass between the Darling and Morgan Creek watersheds the cold changed from an occasional inconvenience to omnipresent and bitter. I had anticipated some cold but nothing like the record low temperatures I was encountering. I thanked my lucky stars that I had convinced myself to add an extra layer to my high-tech wardrobe just in case. I had to stop at the top of the pass to warm myself up on the bike's headers and exhaust just as dawn was beginning to break on the eastern horizon. I wasn't tired but I was very cold and while wandering around in the dark I tripped over a rock and wrenched my left shoulder. Waves of pain. I swallowed some ibruprofin and just before the header pipe was about to set my gloves on fire roared off into the dawn.   

    The miles between Morgan Creek Summit and Shoup were among the most unpleasant I have ever experienced. My shoulder was killing me and the first glimmers of daylight revealed an impressive amount of frost.
I was an hour ahead of schedule which meant that I would arrive at the Shoup store before they were open at 8 a.m. I stopped in the first pocket of relatively warm air that presented itself and spent a half hour trying to upgrade my condition from fully hypothermic to only mildly hypothermic by pounding power bars and water and doing calisthenics. 
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    Shoup rolled into view right at 8 a.m. and I downed cups and cups of hot coffee until my body temperature was within a reasonable semblance of normal. I anticipated that the coming sunlight would soon warm the canyon which was still unreasonably cold. 

     A half an hour of rest and rec at Shoup and I was back on the road again, climbing the grade over Beartrap Ridge and the Continental divide to Alta, MT. Traffic was light and I was able to average over 40 mph from Shoup, around Painted Rocks Reservoir, to Nez Perce Pass on the Magruder Road. But even by mid morning I was still unable to remove as much as a single layer of clothing and stay warm. The good news, such that it was, was that I was still well ahead of schedule and getting ready to tackle a portion of the ride with which I was very familiar.

     Traffic along the Magruder Road was very light and I was on course for a P.R. of well less than 4 hours for the 160 miles from Shoup to Elk City. It had rained hard very recently and the road surface was smooth and fast with excellent feel and traction.  
The one unfortunate feature of the recent rains was the appearance of many snags, some quite large, that had not been around when we'd ridden the road three weeks before. I had to dismount and drag the 300 lb XR over a couple of particularly large downed trees that there was no other way to deal with. Even though I was in a great hurry and grunting like a hod carrier I did spend some time pondering the likelihood of such large obstacles existing along the normally well-traveled Magruder Road in the middle of August. Hmmm...

     I took it easy approaching Sabe Saddle where, 21 days before, I'd taken a stick in the radiator that had ended my Tour of Idaho on the BRP. As I crested the rise at the top of the saddle I saw an apparent apparition in the middle of the road. Oh geeze, I thought to myself, hallucinations already? Nope. The green Forest Service truck and the large sign that said "Road Closed" were quite real.  

     The Forest Service person was very polite but insistent - the road to the west was closed by an active fire between Poet Creek and Meadow Creek. I would have to turn around and head back to Hamilton. I don't know if it was the stunned look on my face or my general appearance but after a long moment of silence he offered me up an option. If I could hang out for a couple of hours while the crew was getting the remnants of the fire under control he could get me an escort through the fire. Yowsa!
    It took about 2 hours for the escort to arrive and I then had to follow him for nearly 15 miles at a speed of about 15 mph. But at least I was moving north toward my lodestone. Riding through the smoldering remains of a recently active fire was one of the more unique experiences of my riding career. Surreal.

    I got to Elk City, about 475 miles along the way, about 90 minutes behind schedule but feeling pretty good about making the time back up. I stopped at the Reno Club long enough to wolf down a quick meal (with three Mountain Dews) and to text message my friends.

     The road out of Elk City, NFD 443, currently passes through several active logging operations and is incredibly dangerous to ride at more than a very conservative clip. I reached the intersection with NFD 464, 18 miles out of Elk City in about 45 minutes and began the descent to Selway Falls. It was here that an extremely unfortunate feature of the recent heavy rains reared its evil head - numerous downed trees - some quite large. It took about an hour to complete the 6-mile descent to Selway Falls and I dragged the XR over at least three downed trees that exceeded 20" in girth.
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    By the time I reached Lowell I was beginning to feel pretty gassed. It was still relatively early in the afternoon but the physical effort required to drag the XR over large snags down to Selway Falls had me blowing bubbles. The only redeeming feature of the moment was the knowledge that the fuel stop at Lowell would be my last. I gassed up as quick as I could, pounded a Vault and a Mountain Dew, and roared down US 12 seven miles to the intersection with NFD 101 just west of Syringa. From here it would be 220 uninterrupted miles to Wallace.

    The NFD 101 road surface is pretty firm this year. Traffic was non-existent and the 25 or so miles to Canyon Junction passed rapidly. I headed up the Lolo Motorway in the burgeoning twilight and bent to the task of making Cayuse Junction before dark. By Pete Forks two things had become apparent: that I was not going to be making up any time on the storm ravaged and snag choked Lolo Motorway, and that I would not be making Cayuse Junction before dark. I decided to head north to Hemlock Lookout and descend to the road that runs along the North Fork of the Clearwater to the Kelly Forks and the Cedars.

     While rolling along the ridges running north I took a wrong turn and rode 20 miles in the wrong direction down a road that eventually came to a dead end. I found a family camping near the end of the road who were luckily familiar with the area and were able to provide excellent directions to get me on the proper route to Kelly Forks. The darkness became complete as I rolled down the road from Sylvan Saddle to the river and began the long trek northeast toward the Cedars.

     During the afternoon the cold had gradually faded as a concern (though I was only able to remove one layer of clothing all day) but once the darkness descended the temperatures dropped once again to record lows. The 60 mile trek to the Cedars was the most brutal 100 minutes I have ever experienced on a dirt bike. By the time I began the climb up NFD 720 toward Fly Hill I was about 1/2 of a click out of complete delirium. I had about 110 miles left to Wallace and was in rough shape. It was the one time that I began to doubt that I would make it.

     NFD 715 was so eroded by the recent heavy rains that it was nearly unrecognizable - especially by headlight. I was sure that I was lost even with the distinctive views from the top of Gospel Hill. Football sized rocks everywhere. I was so blown out that I had little choice but to stand on the pegs then point and shoot. At some point I became aware of staring at the well-known sign at the intersection with NFD 320. Salvation! From this point it was about 85 mellow miles to Wallace and as tired as I was I knew that, barring catastrophe, I'd make it.

     If the truth be known I remember very little of the last miles into Wallace. It was desperately cold and hours of shivering had wrung nearly every last ounce of energy out of me. I was certain that if I crashed anywhere I'd just fall asleep lying under the bike and remain that way until someone came along to wake me up. 
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    I rolled into Wallace at 2:30 in the morning (Mountain Time) - about 26.5 hours after leaving Pocatello - alone and in the dark. Completely apropos. In point of fact I failed to meet my goal of doing the ride in 24 hours or less but if I get a mulligan on the hours lost on the Magruder - an act of the great wheel in the sky by the way - I am close enough to call it good. What do you think - can a brother get a break?

    Though I got lecture after lecture from concerned friends about the wisdom of such an undertaking I believe that most of the dangers in the outdoors pale in comparison to living one's whole life without ever doing an unusual thing, much less going for broke. We exist, like embers in the darkness, for a very small amount of time before we return to the oblivion from where we came. For my part I want every bit of life I can wring out of my time here - even if it entails a little temporary discomfort. And the naysayers can just bugger off.

The Tour of Idaho   
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