Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tour of Idaho T1 2014: Day 3, Arco to Challis

The scoring system for the Tour of Idaho Challenge states that you can pick up some supplemental points along the way to make up for lost points due to trail closures. This year, we all knew going in that the Massacre Mountain Loop (a major challenge of the first half of Day 3, if not the entire Tour, from what's I've heard) would not be open, so taking advantage of the supplemental points could easily make up for it. A half point was available for having your picture taken with anyone at Lost River Honda in Arco. Talking with Shawn and Mike the night before, I found out that the Honda shop didn't open until 8 am, so I wouldn't be getting started as early as I had been the previous two days. Without the Massacre Mountain Loop to ride, Day 3 wasn't going to be too long anyway, so it was going to work out fine. Mike's XR650 had been spitting knobs off of his back tire, so they were going to get to the shop as early as they could to get a new tire.

The three of us had a really nice breakfast at Pickle's Place and talked about how we were all looking forward to the mountains ahead. We finished our coffees and meals and quickly got back to our rooms so we could get to the shop right at 8 am.

Nathan and I at Lost River Honda
I knew that the idea of visiting these businesses for supplemental points was a way to show appreciation of their support for the Tour of Idaho by spending some money, but I just didn't really need anything.  I wandered around the shop for a couple of minutes hoping to find some little thing that I could buy, but I couldn't come up with anything, and I didn't really have room in my luggage for any unneeded items anyway. I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but Nathan seemed pretty unenthusiastic to get his picture taken with me. I don't know -- maybe it's just the way he is, but I appreciated his help and I wouldn't hesitate to come to that shop in the future if I needed parts. I found out later that he's actually the owner.

It was a great start to the morning -- hardly a cloud in the sky and I was heading into the heart of the beautiful mountains of central Idaho. I was out in front and as long as I made decent time, I wouldn't have to worry about Shawn and Mike catching up with me.

Heading up Arco Pass Road first thing in the morning
Dropping down from Arco Pass into more farm country near Mackay
Not sure which way to go here... ;-)
After riding about 35 miles of gravel roads, the route turned toward the mountains. Pass Creek Road takes you from the Big Lost River valley through a gap in the mountains and eventually connects you to the Pahsimeroi River valley, which is a breathtaking area of huge spaces bordered by equally huge mountains, with almost no sign of civilization in sight. This picture is from a drive we had taken the year before in this area:

Upper Pahsimeroi area in the summer of 2013
I came to the junction where, if the Massacre Mountain Loop (more commonly called the Swauger Lakes trail) had been open, I would have been starting on a really fun and challenging section of single track that would probably add a couple of hours to my day. But thanks to a lawsuit filed against the Salmon-Challis National Forest by The Wilderness Society and The Idaho Conservation League, this trail was closed to motorized use. They're claiming that motorcycles and ATVs are damaging the ground and shouldn't be allowed to access this area, along with many other roads and trails on the SCNF. They're challenging the SCNF's travel management plan, claiming that they didn't work hard enough to analyze the environmental impacts of motorized access on many different roads and trails covered in the plan. I just did some research on the status of this case, and it looks like many of the disputed routes will stay open to motorized access, but many will probably not -- including the Swauger Lakes trail.

It's a shame, and I feel the conflict in my sport. I try to be a responsible, courteous and respectful user of trails. Riding a quiet bike is very important to me, so it's disappointing when I see so many guys throw out their stock exhaust and install an aftermarket "silencer", which is the most poorly named product I can think of. For better traction and less wheel spin, I plant my butt on the seat any time a trail starts climbing. I downshift, slow down and just tractor up the hill. There's plenty of flat and downhill sections of trails for going faster. And you don't need a lot of horsepower to go fast -- you just need good riding skill, balance and finesse. I sure do see a lot of guys who are way too heavy-handed on the throttle. I think they don't even realize how much they're spinning their back tire, leaving marks and causing a lot of erosion. This isn't a motocross track, guys! LOL. Okay, back to the ride...

Horseheaven Pass
Huge open spaces surrounded by towering mountains in the Pahsimeroi River valley
Finally going off road on Day 3 after 120 miles of roads
Finally, after about 120 miles of roads, the route went off-road. This was a fun trail that climbed to the top of a very high, broad, treeless ridge. I remember at this point just having such an exhilarating feeling -- riding fast and free on top of the world. "This is why I'm doing this!" and "I'm king of the world!" were two things that went through my mind -- okay, maybe I also yelled them out loud (gimme a break, there wasn't anybody around).

But then... I decided to look down at my navigation. Dang it! I missed a turn. So much for king of the world.

"I'm king of the world!" Nope, you just missed the turn, genius.
Dropping down Spring Gulch
I turned back and found where I was supposed to drop off the other side of the ridge, down the Spring Gulch trail. This trail followed the gulch down and down and down... it was fast and easy going and a lot of fun. I dropped 2,500 feet in elevation in about 10 minutes.
Further down Spring Gulch
This is where it started getting REALLY good...
After a few miles of roads, I came to the Little Boulder Creek trail head. Along the main road near the trail head, I had seen a few vehicles parked... I'm sure there were a couple of Subarus and at least one large horse trailer. At the trail head, I could see that there had been a lot of recent horse traffic. Throughout this ride, I had realized that my anxiety about having confrontations with unhappy horseback riders was directly related to what I was seeing on the trail in front of me. If there were horse tracks, but they were covered by dirt bike tracks, then I felt pretty good, as if my team owned the trail. But if there were horse tracks covering bike tracks, then I felt like I'd be running into horses and I'd probably get the stink eye. This trail going up the hill was TOTALLY covered in horse tracks and I couldn't see any sign of dirt bike tracks at all. "They own this one," I joked to myself. But the sign at the trail head was clearly marked as open for bikes, so I headed up, albeit with a bit of extra caution.

The trail was fairly rough and technical, but the further I went, I started getting peeks at the mountains up the canyon ahead.

Little Boulder Creek trail had a lot of... little boulders
I ran into a couple of mountain bike riders, and they seemed courteous enough. I smiled, waved and continued, feeling like I was going to run into horses at any moment.

Not super happy, but courteous enough

Same thing for his partner
Six-horse pack string
After a couple of miles, I finally got a glimpse of the horses I'd been following. I could see them moving slowly up the trail 50 yards or so ahead of me, so I just stopped, killed my engine and waited. After a couple minutes, I slowly putted up the trail until I was within sight again, and I waited again. I could see at least two or three horses, but I couldn't tell if anyone was riding them or not. I repeated the putt up the trail, turn off the bike and wait routine one more time, and this time I heard a voice say "Okay, go ahead!" 

Friendly encounter with the guy leading the pack string
Cool, he was letting me go around. As I got closer, I could see that it was a pack train of six horses, with just a single guy on the first horse. He had led them off the trail into the trees. I waved and said "Thank you!" as I went by, and he actually smiled, waved back, and asked "Any more?" and I said "Nope, I'm alone!"

So after all that anxiety leading up to the horse encounter, it turned out just fine. He seemed like a perfectly nice guy enjoying the outdoors, just like I was. We just had different ways of doing it. We treated each other with courtesy and respect, and everyone continued their day without getting bent out of shape. It was a perfect horse-dirt bike encounter that shows how we can all share the trails.

Getting deeper into the mountains
Not long after passing the horses, the scenery became really beautiful. Things had become more relaxed after feeling like I was done with horses and mountain bikers. I had the trail to myself and I could just enjoy the ride.

Castle and Merriam Peaks... my favorite picture from the whole Tour
More little boulders up Little Boulder
Some sections were very slow and technical
The "I dare you to try" bridge, but I wasn't feeling manly (or stupid) enough.
I might have tried it, but it was a little tricky at the other end
This was a much safer way across
Willow Lake, right next to the "I dare you" bridge
Starting the climb out of Little Boulder
Looking back down the trail from where I'd come
Hey, I've been here before!
The trail climbed out of Little Boulder Creek and took me into some fantastic scenery. I was really enjoying the trail, when suddenly I recognized where I was. Hey, I know this place! It was Frog Lake, where we had ridden with the Sims family several years earlier. We had come in from the other other direction, from a trail head at the old mining camp of Livingston. I studied the entire route extensively in the months leading up to the Tour, so I don't know how I missed this, but it was pretty cool that I was riding familiar ground for the next few miles for the first time on the Tour.

This is a great sign at Frog Lake... it's evidence of the unique privileges we dirt bikers have here in Idaho
The banked corners on this smooth, fast trail were a ton of fun
The next few miles of trail might have been my favorite of the whole Tour. After climbing to the top of the ridge above Frog Lake, the trail makes a long drop down Big Boulder Creek into Livingston. This trail is very fast and smooth, with numerous banked corners. I do remember it being a lot of fun years ago when I last rode it, but I also had a kid in my lap, so maybe the experience wasn't quite the same. ;-)

I was having a great time as I hit the trail head at Livingston. From this point, the route leads up the canyon behind the town toward the old Livingston Mine site. The old jeep road is rocky and steep, and I was pushing fairly hard to make good time.

But then came the big setback...

Everything was going nicely until this happened
From such a high to such a low... "Oh well, I can fix this" I thought to myself. I had been on a long ride just a couple weeks prior to this to test out my luggage, navigation, endurance, etc, and I had fixed a flat during that ride. The major difference, I'd come to learn, was in the quality of the tire. The back tire that was on my bike throughout the spring and early summer was a Dunlop D756, which is an excellent off-road tire with stiff sidewalls. It still had life in it to start the year, so my goal for the spring and early summer was to ride enough to wear it out before making one last tire change for the Tour.

I didn't realize, however, how big of a difference there is between different brands and models of tires. After getting a second flat on that previous ride, I actually rode the bike, on the flat rear Dunlop, for 30 miles to get to a spot where Kathy could pick me up in the truck. The stiff Dunlop had no problem doing this. This el cheapo tire, however, wasn't going anywhere while flat. When I realized it was flat, I stayed on the bike and tried to turn around in the road and ride back down to a shady spot to patch the tube. The cheesy tire just folded over on itself and totally resisted allowing the rear wheel to roll if I was sitting on the bike. The carcass of this budget tire was just totally mushy. I had to walk the bike down to the shady spot, and I quickly broke out my tools and went to work.

Classic snake-bite pinch flat
After realizing how mushy this tire was, it came as no surprise that the cause of the flat was the tube being pinched between a rock and the rim, which dirt bikers call a "pinch flat". If you've got soft sidewalls, are running a lower tire pressure (for good traction) and riding in rocky terrain, you will almost certainly experience a pinch flat. Probably the only thing that kept me from getting a flat up until this point was the ultra heavy duty tubes (4 mm thick rubber) that I had installed along with the new tires before the Tour.

I've never been highly skilled at applying patches, so patching the tube took me a little time. But then, like an idiot, I pinched the tube AGAIN when prying the tire back on the rim. I hadn't realized I had done it until after several minutes of trying to pump air in the tire and it wasn't inflating. I thought my pump wasn't working, but then I finally figured out what I had done. So I had to pry the tire back off of the rim, remove the tube and patch again. Except this time it was two holes that required two more patches. Great.

Field garage on the road near the Livingston Mine
I finally got it all back together and it seemed to be holding air. I pumped it up to a higher pressure than I had been running, since that would give me my best chance of avoiding another pinch flat. But I sure didn't trust it, and during all this time working on it at the side of road, thoughts were racing through my mind about what I was going to do for the rest of the Tour. I sure didn't trust those tires; I didn't like those patches; I was thinking that the nearest bike shop was in Salmon, which is a long highway ride from Challis, and I didn't even know if I could make it to Challis that night (it was still 50 miles away). I'm a little bit ashamed to say that this tire repair pit stop took me two stinkin' hours.

I just got my stuff packed up and my gear back on and was about to put my helmet on, and then I heard them... Shawn and Mike came blasting up the road.  We talked for a minute -- I told them about my flat and crappy tire, but I just finished patching it. Mike had a brand new tire and he said it was working great. "It's a Sedona, and man is it stiff!" They had bought the tire at Lost River Honda and installed it themselves right outside the shop. They said it was a real struggle to get it on the rim and took them quite a while, which is why they were so far behind me leaving Arco. I didn't really have any experience with Sedona tires, but Mike sounded happy with his so far and "stiff" sure sounded like a great idea to me at that moment.

Railroad Ridge challenge point
They headed up the road first, and I followed. At that point, I was going much, much slower than I had been. Any time there were rocks, I would slow way down to minimize the impact on my repair job that I didn't trust. But the more time that went by, I found that the tube was still holding air, so I slowly gained more confidence, and more speed.

Within only a couple miles, we were at the top of Railroad Ridge, which is the highest point of the Tour, at 10,400 feet. I took a couple pictures, and I wish I would have taken more, but I felt like I was behind and I needed to hurry... plus those guys were in front me and I couldn't give up that easy. ;-)

Railroad Ridge is the highest point on the Tour at 10,400 feet
Coming down off of Railroad Ridge, there were several miles of nice, fast ATV trails. If you haven't figured it out yet, I REALLY enjoy fast downhill trails. They allow me to just stand up and go as fast as I dare. It's a great test of riding skill and finesse, as you're using your balance, clutch, brakes and only a touch of your engine to go really, really fast. And you can be really easy on the trail, since you're not spinning your rear wheel.

This section of trail was pretty smooth and not rocky, so I was feeling pretty good about the rear tube. It was around this time that we got a light rain shower. It was the first time on the Tour that I had to ride through a little rain, but it was a pretty light shower that only lasted 10 or 15 minutes. I thought to myself, "That wasn't too bad. It was actually kind of a nice cool-down."

French Creek trail (photo courtesy MoJazz)
As the route started dropping down the French Creek single track trail, I came up on Mike. He was fiddling with his phone, which he had set up on a slick homemade mount on his handlebars (I might try to copy his design for next year). He started out using the phone as only a backup navigation device (he also had a Garmin on a handlebar mount), but I think he started favoring the phone later in the ride. He was having some trouble with the touchscreen, which had a few drops of water on it from the rain. I wasn't having the same problem yet, since my phone was in a waterproof case, but I sure did have trouble later. He gave up getting his phone to behave and said, "Go ahead -- I'll just follow you."

The trail at this point had become much more rocky, so I was being pretty cautious. Mike was right behind me for quite a while until we came up on Shawn, who had stopped beside the trail and looked like he was taking a break (he was shirtless -- what was that about? LOL). Mike stopped there and I kept going, hoping to be able to stay ahead of them all the way into Challis.

At the bottom of French Creek, I figured I'd have maybe 10 minutes at the highly-recommended Old Sawmill Station to gas up and get something to eat before Shawn and Mike caught up to me. Surely they would also stop and have a burger, right?

Old Sawmill Staton along Highway 75 on the Salmon River
(photo from
I topped off my tank, and headed inside to get something quick to eat. Just as I was walking to the door to go inside, I looked behind me and saw Shawn and Mike at the gas pumps. "Okay, they just got here, so I'll get my food before them and I'll stay ahead." I was feeling very hurried, since I knew that I was behind schedule for the day, and I wanted to be sure to get into Challis before the motel office closed for the night. Being in a hurry in this nice little gas station/restaurant was probably the wrong state of mind to be in. If I hadn't had the flat tire, I probably could have stayed longer and enjoyed it more, but I just wanted to get something to eat quickly and hit the trail.

I looked over the menu to find an item that I thought could be ready quickly. "Uhh, I'll just have a hot dog." Before asking how long it might take, I went ahead and paid and started waiting. After realizing that they weren't just going to nuke a frank and slam it into a bun, I asked "about how long do you think until the hot dog is ready?" The nice lady behind the counter, who was obviously on a different schedule than me, said "Oh, there's a couple of orders ahead of you, so it'll be about 20 minutes or so." Dang it... those 20 minutes were killing me. To make it worse, I peeked out the window -- Shawn and Mike were gone! LOL. I was losing daylight and some clouds were starting to roll in. I didn't really know how long it would take to get into Challis, so this was quite an exercise in patience. But the people were very nice, and when I finally got the hot dog, it was actually really, really good. I felt bad and hoped I hadn't left a poor impression by being in such a huge hurry to leave.

I ripped out of there as fast as I could, leaving Highway 75 and going up Squaw Creek. After several miles, the route leads up a couple of side roads to the Buster Lake trail head. I remember the last side road having a strange surface -- it was really smooth, so you felt like you could go really fast, but the corners would sneak up on you and the surface was more slippery than it looked, like it was all covered in BB's (maybe one of those Subaru-types sabotaged the road? haha). I almost low-sided a couple of times in the corners. I'd find out the next day that Mike had even more trouble with this road than I did.

At this point, it was getting pretty late in the day and I was concerned about making it into The Village Inn in Challis before they locked up for the night. I sent Kathy a message on my InReach, which is my satellite beacon/communication device that allows me to send and receive messages when I'm way off the grid. I asked her to call The Village Inn and let them know I might be coming in really late, and to ask if they could leave the key in my room for me. I waited a couple minutes to see if she'd reply right away, but I got nothing. So I went ahead and hit the trail to Buster Lake.

After busting through the Buster Lake trail, I came out at the trail head on a road on the other side of the mountain. As I went along on this road, it was looking like it was pretty serious about becoming a major road that would lead me down into Challis. I hadn't looked ahead on my navigation, but it felt like maybe I was done with trails. Oops, wrong... take a hard right, start climbing again.

The road led up Keystone Gulch up into the old Keystone Mine area. There were well-traveled two track roads everywhere and I had a little trouble finding the right one that would connect me to the final ATV trail that would lead me over the hill and down into Challis. I had to backtrack quite a ways at one point, but I found the right trail and was back on track.

Lombard Trail starting the drop down into Challis
This last ATV trail was called Lombard Trail. The double-rutted trail was typical of one that gets a lot of ATV use. These trails are okay on a bike, but you find yourself constantly needing to choose between the two ruts, and switching from one side to the other was a little sketchy because of the depth of the ruts and the poor traction in the middle. It was almost dusk and I had been pushing pretty hard and hadn't taken any breaks for a while, so I was ready to be done with this long day.

It was at this point that I stopped for a minute to look at my navigation to try and get an idea of how much longer it would be before I was in Challis. I could see the town way down below me, and I thought the trail I was on would lead me right down into town, but I wanted to check. I scrolled my navigation screen in the direction of what was ahead, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It looked like I had miles and miles to go! At that point, thinking I had many more miles of trails before I was supposed to arrive in Challis, I considered just heading down to town and finishing whatever was left in the morning. I was a little dejected, but I kept pushing on.

Well, it wasn't 10 minutes later and I was in Challis, at the end of the route and the end of a long day. I had to laugh when I figured out what had happened. My phone in its mount was sitting almost in a horizontal position so that I could see the screen as I was standing while riding. In all the jiggling and jostling on the Lombard Trail, the phone had gotten confused as to which side was up and had automatically changed orientation and stayed that way. So when I had checked the route ahead a few minutes earlier, the display was upside-down and I was actually looking at the route behind me. LOL. Needless to say, I was thrilled to be in Challis and finished with Day 3.

But there was this cloud of doubt over me that evening... what was I going to do about my tires? Should I just run a higher pressure and hope for the best? I'd probably have to go all the way to Salmon for new tires, and that long highway ride didn't sound appealing. Day 4 was ahead, which was being touted as the best day of mountain trails on the Tour, so I didn't want to mess that up with tires and tubes I didn't trust, or losing a lot of time trying to find new tires. I posted on the Tour of Idaho Facebook group, asking if anyone knew if there was a motorcycle shop in Challis. I knew it was a long shot, but I was pretty desperate for some help.

The weather appeared to be changing as well. Dark clouds had moved in from the southwest and it felt like the weather was going to start playing a role in this ride.

It had been a long day
I made it to The Village Inn office at about 9 pm local time, which I think was a good hour or two before they closed for the night. It was a real relief to make it without any more trouble with my tires. It sure felt weird walking into that beautifully decorated and clean office in my dirty, sweaty gear (I probably didn't smell too good either). I just kind of stood there and had a little trouble communicating what I needed, but I think the lady behind the counter knew what I needed and just asked a few easy questions. I asked if anyone had called about me, but she said no. It turned out that Kathy hadn't noticed the text message I had sent, which worked out just fine this time, but I sure was hoping she'd notice a message from me if I was actually in trouble.

Turning the clock back a few days... We had been to The Village Inn many times in the past, since it's our traditional place to stop on our way to Wildhorse Creek on our annual camping trip. We usually stay the night somewhere along the way, and then stop at The Village Inn for a mid-morning breakfast. On this year's camping trip, after eating breakfast, I started wandering around the parking lot of the motel, wondering if I might run into any other Tour of Idaho guys. Right away I spotted a nice looking KTM that looked like it was set up for some pretty serious off-roading. A few seconds later, a dirty looking dirt biker (that's a compliment) walked out of a motel room. It turned out to be Juan Browne, who was riding the Tour non-points style, since he had his wife and family with him each night and he was breaking up the days to suit his schedule. He seemed like a very friendly guy -- it was really cool to have a real connection with someone who would normally have been a total stranger. I talked with him about his bike setup, where he had been, tips for navigation, etc. Juan has turned out to be quite the cinematographer as well, putting together several great videos of his Tour of Idaho experience.

A typical scene each night
And now, back to reality: I didn't see Shawn and Mike again that night -- I think they were staying at a different motel. I was so exhausted, physically and mentally, that I didn't even venture out for food. I just stayed in my room and ate some of my overstocked snack food for dinner.

After I had posted the question about a bike shop, I actually got a response that sounded promising. It still felt like a long shot, But at least it was something. So I went to bed with at least a remote hope for some local help the morning.

Day 3 Stats: 227 miles, 12 hours, 20 minutes
Day 3 Track

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