Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tour of Idaho T1 2014: Day 4, Challis to Shoup

Photo courtesy
I had gone to bed the previous night truly not knowing what I was going to do on Day 4. First, it was a long and exhausting day on the trail, and I needed rest more than anything. But I had to figure out what to do about my tires. Should I try to run a higher pressure in my el cheapo mushy tires and hope for the best? That just didn't sound like a good idea. Day 4 had been the day that everyone this year had been looking forward to, and I didn't want to ruin the fun by constantly worrying about every little bump in the trail. I decided that I didn't want to ride the last four days of the Tour feeling the same way I had felt the last few hours of the previous day.

With that decided, now what? It felt like Salmon was the only sure place to find a motorcycle shop, but that was a 120-mile round trip highway ride, which is no fun on a dirt bike. And putting 60 miles of paved highway miles on a brand-new set of knobbies wasn't something I really wanted to do. Then, right before I went to bed, I got this comment on my Facebook post:
What happened to Mike McGowan? He was the Gas Gas dealer in Stanley. Moved to Challis a few years ago. No longer a gagas dealer but had a nice selection of tires in stock. I got ktm fork seals from him. South of town on Stanley hwy. Big log house with large metal shop on the right. Has a nice lil bike museum there. 
Well, that sounds promising. Then, early in the morning, I got this from Martin:
There is a small shop in Challis. Ask at either the hardware store or the FS. He has tires.
Mike McGowan is the owner. Real nice guy. PM me for his cell if you can't find his shop
I got up and had a good breakfast at The Village Inn restaurant. I had eaten there many times with my family and friends, so I knew the menu well. It was nice to sit and enjoy a meal in a familiar environment -- it kind of gave me a feeling of being closer to home.

Along with the cloud of doubt over my day regarding tires, there were literal clouds coming in from the south. By the time I was done with breakfast and was walking back to my room, it was obvious that there was about to be some serious rain.

I got all packed up and geared up and left The Village Inn looking for Mike McGowan's shop. Just as I was leaving, the rain started. I turned on Highway 75 and looked everywhere along the highway for a motorcycle shop, but didn't see one. There were several log homes with shops, but none of them looked anything like a motorcycle shop. The rain was picking up, and I decided I was just going to get soaked while blindly searching, so I turned back toward town and parked under the awning of an old out-of-business gas station to get out of the rain. I messaged Martin, and after a few minutes, he sent me this:

Mike's business card that Martin sent me
I made the call and was parked in front of Mike's shop within 5 minutes. His house and shop are located up a hill just off the north side of the highway, so it's really hard to spot it from the road. I think he did this on purpose, since he's mostly retired but keeps his business going more for enjoyment than for a serious source of income.

By this time, there was a pretty steady rain and it didn't show any sign of letting up. I realized that I hadn't seen Shawn and Mike since the previous evening at the Old Sawmill Station, but they were starting their Day 4 in this rain. So I had mixed feelings about switching out tires that morning -- I knew that it would take a while and if I was going to get to Shoup that day I'd be starting late, but I also was in no hurry to get going since I would just be going out into the cold, soaking rain. So I tried to make the most of my visit with Mike, and I'm so glad I did.

The legend, Mike McGowan
Mike McGowan is nothing short of an Idaho trail riding legend, as far as I'm concerned. You can read all about him at his personal web site. His involvement with off-road racing dates back to the 1960's, when he owned a dealership in California and began racing enduro and hare scrambles. He was a very successful national enduro racer in the 60's and 70's, and even qualified several times for the International Six Days Trial (known as the "ISDT", and later renamed "ISDE" for "International Six Days Enduro"), although he was never able to travel overseas to compete. If you know anything about enduro dirt bike racing, you know what a big deal the ISDT/ISDE is. Since moving to Idaho in the late 70's, he has been very active in the fight to keep trails open and accessible to motorcycles.

"Less Sound Equals More Ground"
I felt a great connection with Mike, since I felt like I was speaking with someone who shares my opinions on some of the biggest issues with our sport, which are riders who don't seem to care about things like excess noise, proper courtesy and respect of other trail users and riding in a way that causes damage to trails. When the topic of losing riding areas and noisy bikes came up, he showed me something he was very proud of and I thought was really cool. He knew back in the 70's that loud bikes were hurting our sport, so he came up with a slogan and logo that promoted what he believed. He showed me an old helmet he had on the shelf with the logo on the back. Using a mix of different technical symbols, it said "Less Sound Equals More Ground" -- meaning, the quieter we make our bikes, the better our chances are of keeping our riding areas open. I thought this was great, and it's something I'll continue to try and promote in the future.
Mike's amazing showroom/museum
Part of Mike's shop is an amazing display of beautiful vintage dirt bikes and racing memorabilia from all his years in the sport. I could have spent many more hours there listening to the stories and looking at all the bikes, trophies, plaques, photos and newspaper clippings.

When Mike told me about working with the Forest Service while living in Stanley in the 80's and 90's clearing trails using motorcycles, it reminded me of an old magazine article I had read nearly 25 years ago. I was in college at the time and was very interested in finding more challenging places to ride my dirt bike, and riding single track trails in the woods was my absolute favorite type of riding (still is). I was working in Libby, Montana, as a summer employee for the Forest Service and was part of a trail crew. We would go out every day, on foot, packing chainsaws, gas and various hand tools to clear trails. It was hard, physical work, but it was great. Being on foot, we could only cover maybe four to eight miles a day, depending on much work needed to be done. As a member of the American Motorcyclist Association at the time, I received a subscription to American Motorcyclist magazine. I can honestly tell you that, in all the many issues I read over several years, there was only one that I really connected with and remember to this day. It was a story about the motorcycle trail crew in Idaho in the Stanley area. That really hit home with me because it combined what I did for work and what I did for fun. And guess what? Mike was actually part of that story! I could remember a picture of a chainsaw scabbard-equipped XR200 being ridden on one of the trails they were riding as part of the story. I noticed an XR200 in Mike's museum, and I had to ask "is this the XR200 from that story?" "Yep, it sure is." he said. I was just blown away. Pretty cool. And that article definitely planted the seed in my mind of how much fun it might be to live in Idaho some day, where there are many, many miles of single track trail open to motorcycles. It was a whole different feeling in Montana, where I felt like an outlaw most of the time.

Photo courtesy
We talked a lot, but tried to accomplish the tasks at hand as we could. When it came time to choose a new back tire, he showed me an IRC one that looked pretty good. But then he said, "I have a Sedona that I think would be pretty good. And it's a little less expensive than the IRC. It's really stiff, though." To me, the stiffer the better, because I sure didn't want any more pinch flats. Getting the recommendation from Mike, as well as knowing that Mike (the Tour rider) seemed to like his new Sedona that he got the previous day in Arco, I decided that would be the one. The Sedona was very stiff -- before even being mounted on the rim, you could stand the tire up and put all your weight on it, and it would only flex maybe a half inch. After pulling my el cheapo mushy tire and dismounting it from the rim, I tried the same test -- I could bend it in half! I could seriously bend it back on itself where the bead of the tire could touch the bead on the opposite side. Wow, after seeing this difference, the decision to get new tires for the rest of the ride was looking like a great move.

Mike picked out a Pirelli front tire that he liked and looked great to me. We also installed a new set of tubes, since I wanted nothing to do with the patch job I had done. In addition, the patches were bubbling up, which is a sign that they were probably about to fail.

Mike was very generous with his time, shop and tools and I tried to do as much of the work as I could. He gave me a lot of great tips while we worked, and helped to show how routine changing tires should be. Since the end of the Tour, I have purchased a tire changing stand, bigger tire irons and better tire changing lube, because I want to be like Mike. ;-)

Alan Deyo & Donn Dennis in 2013 (photo courtesy Klim)
Several times while we talked and I told him about the Tour of Idaho, he would just look at me and my bike and say "Well, you're a lucky guy." It sure seemed like he was thinking he'd love to do a ride like this, but was feeling like his time had passed. I told him about Donn Dennis, who is from Coeur d'Alene and had completed the Tour the previous summer at the age of 71. I had a few phone conversations with Donn in the months leading up to my Tour, and I really enjoyed picking his brain to help in my preparation. This lead to another "small world" moment -- Mike had actually raced ISDT qualifiers with Donn's Tour riding partner, Alan Deyo (newspaper article from Orofino, where Alan is from). A couple weeks after my Tour was over, I got a call from Donn to congratulate me and to ask my advice for good places to ride in the Challis area, since he'd be going down there soon. I gave him Mike's name and number, since it seemed like those two would make good riding buddies, and Mike would know more than anyone I could think of for good trail riding in that area. I haven't heard if they connected, but I was glad to do my part to help get these guys to meet, since it seemed like they would have a lot in common.

The actual work of changing the tires went well, but that didn't mean we got it done quickly -- all together I actually spent about four hours in his shop doing a job that could have taken as little as maybe 30 to 45 minutes. As we talked and worked, I was feeling the urge to hurry, but then I would look outside and see the pouring, steady rain, and thought about Shawn and Mike out there riding in this stuff, and also about how much I was enjoying my time with Mike while staying dry. I started considering the possibility of not making it to Shoup by the end of the day.

Mike and I finally called it good, settled up and I was on my way. It was about 12:30 pm and the rain had slowed a bit, so I decided to head into town to decide what to do. An afternoon start just seemed way too late to start any day of the Tour, but a tiny voice inside me was daring me to do it.

I was thinking about giving it a shot, but cutting it short and missing a few challenge points in order to make it to Shoup and get back on schedule. I decided to go to the hardware store and see what kind of rain gear they had. I had a waterproof jacket and boots, but not pants. As I was wandering around the store, Martin messaged me on Facebook:
Martin: You have a new tire?
Me: Yep. I'm still trying to make Shoup tonight, but I might cut out some cp's.  It's really rainy out today.
Martin: Call me.
So I gave him a call, thinking I would get some advice about ways to save time without giving up too many points. I told him about the morning with Mike McGowan and what great visit we had. Martin was pretty skeptical of the durability of the Sedona tire, but thought it would be sufficient to get me to the end of the Tour (he ended up being right about that). But he strongly urged me to stay in Challis an extra night and just go the next day. Well, that was just the motivation I needed to decide to make it that day, dang it! LOL. I don't know what it is about us humans, but we seem to be at our best when we're out to prove something (or prove somebody wrong). I told him I was going for it, so he offered some advice about routes that could save some time, but at that point, I honestly didn't even want to skip anything. He felt strongly that I should call ahead to Dan at the Shoup store and let him know I'd be coming in late, probably after midnight. I didn't make that call, since I figured I could just send a satellite message to Kathy and ask her to call ahead for me if I really did end up being that late, but I was determined not to. After quickly grabbing a set of rain pants, I was off!

First look at the top of Twin Peaks South
After the phone conversation with Martin, a switch flipped and I instantly got into race mode. My mind was focused and I was doing everything with a new sense of urgency. I left town at about 12:45 pm and was riding really fast and it felt great. And best of all, after about 30 minutes, while heading up the road toward Twin Peaks Lookout, the rain stopped and the sun started to come out! Now the choice of going for it looked even better. I was just imagining, if I had decided to stay in Challis, how much I would have been kicking myself while just sitting there looking at a blue sky when I could have been riding. That would have been torture.

Twin Peaks Lookout
So far on the Tour, I had been riding at a pace that was nice, steady and safe. It was fairly fast, but the last thing I wanted to do was to overshoot a corner and end up on my head with Wralf on top of me. That can be a bad scene if you're riding solo. But this day was different -- I was pushing myself faster than I had in many, many years. I hadn't done any serious amount of dirt bike riding since I was a lot younger, so whenever I've tried to push the pace in the last few years, it always felt a little uncomfortable and I felt slow and rusty. But by Day 4, I had been riding 10+ hour days for the past three days and I was feeling more confident and in control than I had since I was 22 years old. I was really having a great time and enjoying the ride. Having total confidence in my tires gave me a big boost as well.

There are 12 switchbacks in the last 1/4 mile on the road to the top of Twin Peaks South...
in satellite photos, the road looks like spaghetti. ;-)
After climbing to Twin Peaks Lookout, I jumped off the bike to snap a couple of pics, not even killing the engine. I got right back on the headed off back down the road, this time really pushing the speed since I was going downhill. My GPS says I hit 55 mph a couple times, but I'm sure I was going far, far slower than that, because that wouldn't be safe. ;-)

At the top of the ridge at the head end of Van Horn Creek.
This was the first time I had stopped since leaving Challis,
so I needed a quick break and mounted up the GoPro.
One of the recommendations Martin made to me in order to save some time was to take the Darling Creek trail rather than Pats Creek and Eddy Creek trails. This wouldn't cost me any points, so it sounded like a good idea. I rode as fast as I could up the Darling Creek road and made good time when the route turned into a trail. Then there were a few miles of roads that led down into West Fork Morgan Creek. Martin had been recommending that people skip the West Fork Morgan Creek trail in favor of taking the road down to Morgan Creek, and then up Van Horn Creek on a trail back up into the high country. I had been thinking about doing West Fork Morgan anyway, but in this rush, I decided to just skip it. I also knew that Shawn and Mike were skipping it as well.

Ridge top trail above Van Horn Creek with a perfect, natural gravel surface
Skinny ridge dividing Van Horn Creek and Castle Creek... see the small logs and branches blocking the way? I found out later that Mike had put those logs there so that I wouldn't miss the turn in the trail, like Shawn did (the trail dives off the ridge to the left). He said Shawn missed the turn and kept going down this ridge before realizing he was no longer on the trail.
On the divide at the top of Alder Creek, about to start down the trail
Alder Creek trail, fairly rocky and technical on the way down
A bit of a challenging spot crossing Alder Creek that could have had me fighting the bike for a while...
... but there was a better spot to cross about 20 feet upstream
I loved this downhill section of trail coming down Alder... smooth, skinny and fast!
On the main Morgan Creek road, racing toward the next section of trail.
The next trail was Corral Creek which would lead me up to the Hat Creek Lakes trail
Going up Corral, my navigation told me I was leaving the route, but I zoomed out and it looked a little better. ;-)
Higher up Corral Creek... out of the sagebrush
A steep sidehill section on the Hat Creek Lakes trail

There were some fairly technical spots along the Hat Creek Lakes trail
There were a couple of spots where I had to get off the bike and do a little lifting to get by
A pretty cool section of trail near the lakes... I thought it was a great way to deal with this marshy area.
When you're way out in the boonies, you just improvise with what's lying around.
The trail passes right through this little campsite at one of the Hat Creek lakes

More challenging trail climbing out of the Hat Creek Lakes basin
A pretty cool spot, about to drop down into North Fork Hat Creek
Here's a cool Google Earth photo of the trail dropping into North Fork Hat Creek
Bridge crossing North Fork Hat Creek... it may be broken, but it's still doing its job!
Starting to climb again -- to the top of the ridge above Iron Lake

Going fast down the other side toward Iron Lake
At the trail head... and that's not a Subaru!
Off to the races! I was done with trails for the day and had about 50 road miles to Shoup.
I stopped for a quick picture on the Salmon River Road
Once I hit the road at Iron Lake, I knew I was in good shape and I wouldn't have to worry about being late getting into Shoup. I got rained on for just a few minutes, but once it stopped I dried out pretty quickly. I could tell that there were bigger rainstorms in the area that I missed, judging by all the dark clouds on the horizon.

After close to an hour of fast roads, I made it to Shoup with time to spare! It was only 7:30 pm, and there were Shawn, Mike and Dan Frederick (the owner of the Shoup Store) chatting on the front porch of the store. I was so stoked at how the day went -- after flipping the switch into race mode, I found that it was really hard to turn the switch off. I was just so excited to have made it as fast as I did and with no difficulty at all. It wiped out any doubts I had about my ability to finish the entire Tour.

Shoup Store (photo credit)
I found out that Shawn and Mike, however, didn't have such an easy day. I hadn't seen them since the day before and found out that Mike had taken a spill on the road leading to the Buster Lake trail head. He got his leg caught awkwardly under the bike as he was going down, causing a pretty painful ankle sprain, or at least that was our medical diagnosis at the time. ;-) He was limping around very gingerly and just looked exhausted.

I also told them my tire story and how I spent all morning with Mike McGowan. "And I got a Sedona, see?" I walked around behind my bike and took a look at how it was holding up. Holy cow... I'm losing knobs! I had ridden hard all day, confidently thinking that I had nothing to worry about tire-wise, but after one 7-ish hour day, I had already lost maybe a third of the outer knobs. The center knobs were mostly still there, and those were the main ones to be concerned about for making it through the end of the Tour, but those side knobs would affect how well my bike handled corners and loose ground the rest of the way.

The Creek Cabin at Shoup
Dan told me that I had the "Creek Cabin", which was a very rustic little structure right next to the creek that runs through the property. It was awesome. I had talked to Dan several weeks earlier to reserve a room, but he didn't ask how many people would be with me. So, not knowing if I was alone or was with a group, he just set me up with the Creek Cabin, which can actually sleep up to four in beds, and probably has room for another four on the floor. But I had it all to myself.

Wralf's parking spot for the night next to the Creek Cabin
I went to my cabin to get cleaned up for dinner. This would be the first actual sit-down dinner for me since Pocatello, and I was looking forward to catching up with Shawn and Mike to talk about our day. I guess I was supposed to supply my own towel for showering in the Creek Cabin, because all I could find was a small hand towel in the little kitchen at the back of the cabin, but it worked just fine.

The dining room in the Shoup Store
(photo credit)
As Shawn and I sat at a table inside the Shoup Store, he told me "Mike's thinking about quitting." And Shawn, being the great friend he is, wasn't going to continue on without Mike. But he also wasn't going to give up trying to convince him to keep going. Their Day 4 had, of course, started with several hours of rain. Mike did fine on all the roads, but the single track trails were a different story, which is understandable when you have only one leg available to ride a big, tall, heavy bike that's geared a little too high and doesn't have an electric start. There were many times on the Tour, but especially on Day 4, when I was so glad to have the magic button. In slow, tight, technical terrain, you're constantly killing the engine. If you have the button, it's an effortless thumb-press and you're going again. If you kill your kick start bike, you usually have to get your left foot on the ground and balance the bike while you try to use your body weight to get a good kick with your right foot. The footing, balance and leverage you need takes a lot more time and effort when you're on uneven ground. You really have to work sometimes to move yourself and the bike around before you can even get one good kick. And if you've just picked your bike up off the ground, it's probably flooded, so you can count on several kicks before it will start again.

You can can imagine how tough this routine would be if you were in excruciating pain every time you put weight on your left foot. Shawn told me about helping Mike quite a bit, helping to pick his bike up when he dumped it and even carrying his backpack for him through the toughest sections (carrying his own backpack on his back, and Mike's strapped on backwards, sitting in his lap). I think they said that Day 4 took them about 12 hours, and it was very tiring for both of them, but especially torturous for Mike. I felt for both of them. Mike came limping along after a while and joined us at the table.

Those two guys are a total hoot, teasing each other like brothers and enjoying every minute of it. Shawn almost couldn't talk because he was laughing so hard, telling a story about what happened late in the day. I'll see if I can do it justice, but maybe it's one of those "you had to be there" stories. Mike was having his toughest day of the Tour and was dead tired. After finishing all the trails, he was ahead of Shawn by a few minutes and on the 50-mile road ride to Shoup and actually felt like if he didn't pull over to rest, he might just fall asleep at the handlebars. So he stopped, parked the bike and layed down right on the edge of the road to take a nap. Well, after a few minutes, here comes Shawn... "Oh no! Mike crashed... is he okay?!" he thought to himself. As he got closer, he saw that Mike's bike was actually sitting there with the kickstand down. And I think Shawn was tired enough that he might have actually thought for a split second "how do you crash your bike and have it end up on the kickstand?!". He quickly realized that Mike had just stopped to rest, and just started laughing. I think a local even came along in an old truck and asked if Mike was okay, and Shawn said "yeah, he just needed a nap." LOL. We thought it was funny that he'd choose to sleep right there on the edge of the road and not off in the bushes or something.

Dan is the man!
We looked over the menu and we all decided that we had to have the "Shoup Burger", since that seemed like the thing to do. It was a huge bacon cheeseburger with a mini-mountain of fries. I got the feeling that Dan's menu was created by Dan and full of stuff Dan would like to eat. Dan was also the cook, and he made that burger exactly the way that he'd like it if he was having one. It was the best meal I had during the whole Tour.

So let me tell you more about Dan... he's such a great guy. He told me that he had taken over the Shoup Store a couple years ago. I had heard from friends that several years ago they had stopped at the Shoup Store and didn't have a great experience. But from what I can see, Dan has turned that completely around. I couldn't imagine a more accommodating business owner to us Tour riders, and I'll bet he's that way with all of his customers. When I had spoken with him on the phone a few weeks prior, I knew that I was going to need to do an oil change while I was there. I asked him what kind of oil he stocked in his store, and he said "what kind do you need?" I told him, and he had that exact oil available for me when I got there. Awesome. He also made runs to Salmon for parts for other Tour riders as well, and even on short notice. He was there to welcome us when we rode up to the store, he stayed there with us shooting the breeze on the front porch, and he even sat down with us for a few minutes as we were eating. He's not a dirt bike rider himself, but he seemed to enjoy our stories just as much as we did.

We sat telling stories for quite a while after we finished eating. Shawn and I spent some time talking to Mike about his ankle, trying to persuade him to not give up and that after Day 4 the Tour should become a lot easier. I had a lot of compassion for Mike's painful situation, but I also felt bad for Shawn who had come all this way and was possibly looking at not finishing because of something that wasn't his fault.

I think we actually stayed past Dan's normal closing time -- when we realized that we were probably keeping Dan from being able to go home for the night, we quickly headed off to our cabins for some real rest. Dan had brought me a Pepsi when I first got there a couple hours earlier, and I had just eaten a great meal, and I wanted to pay for the oil that I'd need in the morning, but he wouldn't take any money. "We'll just settle up in the morning" he said with a smile. Great guy. I don't think I've ever been a customer anywhere where they just let me run up a tab like that. It makes you feel like a valued guest. He said he'd be open at 7 am and we could get some breakfast and get gassed up from the cool gravity-fed gas pumps out in front of the store that I had heard so much about.

Wow, what a day that was. Starting off with such uncertainty and rainy weather and thinking that my Day 4 would be a lost cause, then being rescued by and getting to know Mike McGowan, then easily blasting through the ride in a faster time than I expected and ending with great food and stories at the Shoup Store. It had been an epic Tour of Idaho day! I went to bed that night feeling better than ever and excited for the next three days, as I would be getting closer and closer to the finish, and home.

Day 4 Stats: 147 miles, 6 hours, 45 minutes
Day 4 Track

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