Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tour of Idaho T1 2014: Day 1, Utah to Pocatello

The final preparation in the morning was nerve-racking. I wanted to get started as soon as possible, but I knew that if I hurried, I'd probably forget something. I don't remember ever feeling so much nervous excitement. I had finally reached the day that I had spent so many months preparing for!

It was such a relief to finally be underway! All the worries of forgetting something just melted away as I was finally on the road with everything I would need either packed on my bike or in my backpack.  The destination for the day was Pocatello, which is the largest town along the way.  Anything that was forgotten or I needed and didn't have could be found there.

I had about 20 miles of pavement to ride before I hit the official start point. I was expecting to run into some of the other riders who were supposed to be starting on the same day. I was thrilled to see that NO ONE was there and there weren't even any tracks. I had it all to myself!
Beautiful morning early on Day 1 -- no other riders and no tracks... my own private Idaho!

The "Tour of Idaho" sign at the Utah border

Some T1 spectators
The first real off-road challenge -- climbing Weston Peak
More Weston Peak trail... beautiful and very fun

I saw a lot of this on Day 1
Okay, here's a possible "too much information" moment, so you've been warned. With all the nervous excitement and trying to stay hydrated, I couldn't believe how many times I had to make pit stops along the trail. I've never had to go so badly and so often in my life. I probably stopped every 10 minutes for the first couple hours of the day. I felt like I might not make it through the Tour if this continued, but it turned out being just a morning of Day 1 thing... thankfully.  ;-)

Keep Out!
I ran into my first real navigational challenge that morning. The route coming down Aspen Creek off the north end of Oxford Ridge looked like it definitely was leading me through a gate that was marked as private property. I spent a little while going up and down the trail looking for a turn-off that I had possibly missed, but didn't find anything. Some of the rules of the Tour of Idaho are that you lose points if you travel on closed roads and trails or if you go off-route. It seemed like either choice I made, I would risk losing points. The gate was only a primitive barbed wire type and would be easy enough to pass through, but I'd be on private property and might end up with a face full of buckshot. So the only real choice was to continue on the main trail, off of the GPS route that I had been so carefully following. I decided to follow this off-route trail and pick up the GPS route again after a few miles, hopefully.

I was relieved to find that the trail actually started circling back in the direction of where I was supposed to be and ended up on a road at a trailhead. The road continued taking me in the right direction to get me back on track, so that was very encouraging.

Back on the route
I ended up at the other end of the private property, back on the route, where there were more "no trespassing" signs and even a padlocked gate! Wow, I sure was glad now that I had made the right choice. Racing down someone's private driveway right past their house might work once, but finding the backside of a locked gate at the other end and having to go back might not have gone so well.

Nice spot for a snack break
Having a great time!
I had lost about 20 minutes wandering and wondering what to do at the mystery gate.  But after figuring it out, it felt good to get going again and get some miles behind me.

I followed the country roads down toward US 91, where I passed right by Downata Hot Springs (near Downey), which is a water park that was packed full of families with lots of kids. It occurred to me, as I heard the screams and laughing, that this is what most people do for thrills and fun in the summer. Man, I was so happy to not be trapped in that place and to be doing what I was doing.

Party on top of Sedgwick Peak
The next off-road section was the trail up Sedgwick Peak. I thought I was doing pretty well climbing up there and was looking forward to the awesome views from a secluded mountain top. But I wasn't alone... there was a huge group of people, on an impressive mixture of different types, sizes and ages of machines. They had come up from the other side, which was an easier way to the top.

I rode right up to the top in the middle of the crowd and took a few pictures, and then the biggest misfit came along. It was a middle-aged guy, with no helmet, wearing shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops, riding up to the top bouncing along like a madman on a little scooter! There were broken plastic body pieces hanging off the poor thing and the little tires where bouncing around on the rocks like basketballs. Something's gotta give when you're riding over 10" rocks with 8" wheels. But he topped the mountain with a huge smile on his face, receiving the cheers of the rest of his happy group.

A sandwich and a nice, cold water at the gas station
in Lava Hot Springs
After a few road miles, I passed through the town of Lava Hot Springs, which is another super busy place in the summer, apparently. They have quite a water park there -- it looked like fun, but again, I sure was glad that I was doing the Tour.

Just a few miles out of Lava, I was back on a trail. After about three miles of this trail, I ran into a navigational challenge that had me scratching my head. As I was riding, I would usually only check my navigation to make sure I was going the right way when I came to an intersection. I never saw an obvious intersection, so I just kept kept on riding on what I thought was the only trail. I glanced down at my screen and realized that I was off the route. "Dang it!" So I turned around to get back on track.

This was the spot where I missed the turn...
doesn't really look like a trail, does it?
I got back to the spot where I was supposed to have turned and didn't see a trail. I walked around until I found an extremely faint, old trail.  I was encouraged by some recent tracks, so I started down. After a bit, it looked like the old trail just went away and the tracks I was following just started dropping straight down the hill. Being solo, I was very hesitant to drop off anything that I couldn't get back up. So I took a break for a few minutes while I was thinking about it. I was really unsure of what to do. Nothing that I had read about Day 1 said anything about riding a section of non-trail like this.

But then I heard a couple of bikes on the ridge above me and realized that it was one of the groups that was starting on the same day as me. It was my first encounter with Mike and Shawn, two good riders from California who also happened to be great guys. I waited until they dropped down to where I was. We did some quick introductions, and they agreed that their navigation showed the same as mine -- that the route takes us straight down the hill. I told them I could see some tracks where a bike or two had gone maybe the day before. We talked about it and decided to go ahead and continue down. It really helped me to not only have a second and third opinion, but to also have a couple other guys to help if we had to come back up.

We came out on a road at the bottom and everything turned out just fine, I was just surprised that part of the route took us off of designated trails. It was a tough spot for someone riding solo, like me. When you're alone, you're extra careful to not get yourself into situations that you can't get out of without help.

I have to admit that when I first saw that Mike and Shawn were starting on MY day, I was less than thrilled. ;-) I really wanted to be totally on my own and not worry about other riders. But I was really glad they came along when they did and helped me out of the situation I was in... and they turned out to be a couple of really great guys who I enjoyed spending time with over the next few days.

I let Mike and Shawn go ahead of me, since I figured they were riding faster than me most of the time anyway. I let the dust settle, then started up the Robber's Roost trail. It wasn't far up the trail before I came up on Mike, who had run off the trail into the brush. He had just muscled it back onto the trail when I came along. He said I should go ahead and let Shawn know that he was running a little slow. He needed to catch his breath anyway, after lugging his big XR650 out of the brush.

I rode pretty hard after that seeing if I could catch up with Shawn, but I learned that Shawn was the faster of the two and was on a bike that was better suited for these tight, steep trails (I think Mike would say the same). I did finally come up on Shawn after he had stopped to wait for his friend. We had a nice visit and then I went ahead.

This is why I prefer being solo. It seems like you exponentially increase your wait times as you add riding partners. Somebody is always waiting on somebody else. If I'm not the one waiting, then someone else is waiting on me, which is just as bad (it's probably a worse feeling, actually). I know it's safer to be riding with someone, but all the waiting would just kill me, especially when you're riding the Tour and on such a tight schedule where all the extra minutes really add up. But that's just my preference. Mike and Shawn actually seemed to do really well together, so it really helps if you find the right partner whose skills and experience are a good fit.

So I was back in the lead, for now. When I know there are other riders around, especially behind me, I ride differently. I know I shouldn't let it affect the way I ride, but I can't help but ride faster and make fewer stops, because I just have this urge to stay ahead. I guess it's a competitive thing, which isn't always bad, but it does change the relaxed feeling of just being all alone with no one around.

Inkom Pass
So, knowing they were behind me, I rode pretty hard until I came to Inkom Pass, which was a challenge point along the Tour where I needed to stop and take a picture. I was getting pretty tired, so I decided to get a quick snack. I had realized in the weeks leading up to the Tour how important it was to stay hydrated and fed in order to avoid fatigue. I made myself stop at Inkom Pass and realized I was pushing too hard just to stay ahead of Mike and Shawn. If they passed me, they passed me.

I got my stuff packed up and helmet back on, and was about to leave, and there they were. They stopped very quickly to get a picture and were ready to keep on going. I just let them go first and stayed right behind them.

The next section of trail, which followed South Fork Inman Creek, was really nice. It was the only trail that day that reminded me of a North Idaho trail -- following a mountain stream in a cool, shady canyon with big trees and dense undergrowth. And it ended up being the only time on the Tour when Shawn, Mike and I actually rode a section of trail together.

Me right behind Mike at the end of the South Fork Inman trail
Thanks for the pic, Shawn!
The trail ended at a road that led us down into the town of Inkom. I let them go ahead a bit so that I wasn't riding in too much dust. I knew it was best to just let them go ahead so I could ride at a more leisurely pace, but my competitive side wanted to finish the day before them. I had started before them, so I should finish ahead of them as well.

I headed up the Sorelle Canyon road within sight of them. I had heard of some riders in past years having trouble finding a very obscure trail ahead that would connect us from this canyon to another trail system. The three of us ended up searching together for this cutoff trail for a few minutes. Shawn was the first to find it and all three of us headed up the very faint trail (after Shawn found it, Mike actually went up the road looking for me to show me where it was... like I said, these were really good guys).

It was slow going and I noticed that my bike was starting to get a little hot. Just as I was thinking about possibly stopping or trying to ride faster to cool the engine, Mike stopped in front of me with steam rising from his bike. This was my chance! LOL. I knew that they'd have to stop and let Mike's bike cool down for a few minutes, so as I rode past Mike I said "I gotta keep moving to cool mine down!" and I kept going. I told Shawn what had happened to Mike and then I was off to the races with the goal of getting to the finish first.

End of Day 1 at the flagpole
Now, I have to be honest... if I was in an actual race with these guys, I'm pretty sure they'd both beat me fairly handily, especially on the roads and faster terrain. If there was any kind of competition going on, it was all just in my head. But it was still fun to make it to the flagpole first.

After leaving Shawn and Mike, I rode just about as fast as I could over Chinese Peak and down to the finish, which is a flagpole out in front of the home of the creator of the Tour, Martin Hackworth. After a few minutes, Mike and Shawn showed up. It looked like Martin was in his shop, so the three of us went down the driveway and spent some time shooting the breeze with him. It was great to get to visit with Martin, since I had read so much of his writing on his site. He's an interesting character, for sure. I might never get him figured out, but all I know for sure is that he does an amazing amount of work to organize and maintain the Tour and basically works as a volunteer just because he loves to do trail riding in a certain way and gets a kick out of helping others do the same.

I probably spent a couple hours hanging around Martin's shop, which was a lot more than I had planned on. Just before dusk, I headed down into Pocatello to check into my room at the Rodeway Inn. That place seemed WAY too nice for a dirty old dirt bike rider. It was the "fanciest" motel I stayed in the whole trip.

One thing that had been on my mind and in my prayers that whole day was my family. They had been on the road traveling from Preston back home to Hayden (600 miles). My awesome wife Kathy had agreed to drive the truck all the way home, loaded with camping gear, two motorcycles, two boys and a dog and pulling our 26' camper trailer. I watched their progress and stayed in contact with them through the day when I had cell service (which was actually fairly often on Day 1). It was a nice load off my mind when I got the message that they had arrived safely at home, and Kathy had even backed the trailer into the driveway without hitting anything (unlike a recent attempt of mine... LOL).

Right next door to the Rodeway Inn was Elmer's Restaurant. I had a really good BLT sandwich, lots of water, and just had a good feeling about how the day went and I was looking forward to the days ahead. I felt good physically, my family was safe, and I had taken a big step toward proving to myself that I had the skill, experience and determination to make it.

Day 1 stats: 170 miles (from Preston), 10.5 hours

Day 1 track

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