Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tour of Idaho T1 2014: Day 5, Shoup to Lowell

After the roller coaster that was Day 4 had ended on such a high note, I got a great night's sleep in the Creek Cabin at Shoup. That sound of running water just does wonders for your sleep.

The night before, there were a couple of posts on Facebook that seemed to foreshadow some trouble ahead:

Posted by Joe Smith:
Vic just called to report that Selway road into Lowell just closed due to forest fire.
Posted by Martin:
Be sure to check out the pinned notice about the fire in the Selway Corridor. I think that you could come down O'Hara Creek and be OK, but it's probably best to stay on top of the ridge and come down right at Lowell.
Not knowing the area well enough to understand exactly what alternate route Martin was talking about, I kept these warnings in the back of my mind and decided to just try to ride the route and only worry about re-routing when/if I had to.

Martin also added another post that boosted our egos a bit:
I am tickled to death with the caliber of rider that is coming through this year. Lots of "A" level riders - and they are all having fun. Really nice folks too. At first it was one or two a year, then it was a handful, now it's most of the field. That's nothing but good stuff. When the Tour attracts talent of this caliber and they dig what it's about, something must be right.
I was really feeling like I was not only successfully overcoming a big challenge, but I was exceeding expectations. It felt pretty good and motivated me the rest of the way.

My rear tire at the start of Day 5,
after only one day of use
I walked into the dining room in the store and took a seat next to Shawn, who was already sitting and looking over a breakfast menu. Dan was there and ready to cook up a deliciously greasy breakfast for us... did I mention he's awesome? I asked Shawn about Mike and if he was able to talk him into continuing. Shawn seemed pretty unsure -- maybe 50-50. But then I spotted Mike limping toward the entrance to the store, all dressed in his riding gear! It looked like he had decided to push on. He was still in a lot of discomfort, but he was at least going to ride another day and see how it went, knowing that Day 5 should be much easier than the previous day. Way to go Mike!

I had my best breakfast of the whole Tour -- Dan cooked up a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns. I finished eating and quickly got up to get to work, because I still needed to do an oil change before I could get going for the day. I had planned on how to do this oil change for several weeks and decided to drain the oil into a large Ziploc freezer bag, because I obviously wasn't going to pack a drain pan with me. I grabbed the oil from the store shelf and headed for the door, then Dan said "there's an oil pan outside you can use, and when you're done there's a barrel out there to dump the old oil into." Awesome. That took care of two things I had been unsure about -- having no pan and no good ideas about what to do with the old oil, other than just throwing it in the garbage in a Ziploc bag, which is a no-no. Dan really does a great job of taking care of his customers.

Wralf waiting for his breakfast
Wralf, me and Dan at the gravity-feed gas pumps
I quickly knocked out the oil change, then got all packed up and loaded the bike. The last thing was to get gas from one of the gravity-feed pumps. Mike and Shawn were there with their red Hondas waiting to get gas, and Dan was standing by the red pump. So I jokingly said "I'm riding a Yamaha -- I think I should use the blue pump." Dan smiled and said, "Oh, will your bike run on diesel?" LOL. Okay, red pump it is.

I took care of my bill with Dan, and I was ready to head out. Shawn and Mike were taking a little longer to get going, so I would be on my own, just the way I like it. ;-)

It was a perfect morning -- the temperature was just right and the recent rain had made the surface of the road firm and not dusty. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and it felt like the weather had changed for the better.

After only about a mile down the river from Shoup, the route turns left and you start climbing up Spring Creek. In only about eight miles, I had climbed close to 4,000 feet.

Riding the road up Spring Creek
A nice view on a beautiful day
Horse Creek Pass at the Idaho-Montana border
After dropping down the Montana side of Horse Creek Pass, the route leads you to the West Fork of the Bitterroot. It was here where I had to ride a few miles of pavement for the first time since Day 1. I was also now riding roads where I had been before. Four years prior to this, I had ridden my KLR650 through the Magruder Corridor, so it felt good to not be totally dependent on my navigation screen. I could just enjoy the ride a bit more.

This might be the most photographed sign on the Magruder Road
This sign screams what the Tour of Idaho is all about... except it's located along a paved road. ;-)
Nez Perce Pass... crossing back into Idaho
At Nez Perce Pass, I got a good look at the horizon to the west -- it was the first sign that there might be more weather moving in, even though it had been such a perfect morning. But I was having a great time. I was actually enjoying the pavement and the high-speed corners, and the lack of side knobs on my back tire didn't seem to matter.

The bridge over the Selway -- the road gets steeper, narrower and more primitive after this

Looking ahead to the west... storm clouds a-comin'. That road you see in the far distance on the right side of the photo is where the Magruder Road climbs up to Dry Saddle, which was where I was headed.
And then the rain came... I hunkered down under a tree and spread a rain jacket over my lap.
Mirror selfie under the tree in the rain... still giving the thumbs up!
When the rain came, I tried to hunker down under a tree for a few minutes to stay out of the worst of it. But it seemed like it wasn't just a quick, passing shower. It still was a fairly light rain, so I pushed on.

After dropping down the other side of Dry Saddle, it was obvious that a pretty substantial thunderstorm with high winds had just passed through. The temperature had really dropped, the ground was soaked and there were branches down everywhere, and even a couple of trees across the road. After passing Poet Creek Campground, where there were several people camped (I had camped there on my ride a few years ago), I came to a tree that had blown over and was blocking the road. This was my first chance to try out my new Sven Saw that I bought for this ride.

Maybe my technique isn't the best, but it was taking me longer to get through the ten inch log than it probably should have. Right as I was almost done, I heard Shawn and Mike. They came bombing up the road and looked like they were moving right along. They stopped, we visited for a minute and they rode off. The rain started to pick up again as I was dragging the log off the road. I tried to sit under a tree again, but I thought "I better just go... the rain isn't going to stop and I don't want to get too far behind those guys."

I pushed on, right into a cold downpour. It wasn't bad at first, but if you've ever ridden in the rain before, you know how getting a little bit wet is a lot different from getting soaked all the way through to your skin. It's actually not that mysterious when you think about it, but there's just something about freezing water finally making its way inside your underwear that just instantly makes you miserable. When cold water attacks that area, it's like your body temperature instantly drops and you get really cold. "But I'm having a great time!" I reminded myself. ;-)

The route leaves the Magruder Road and turns onto trail 505, which leads into a large network of ATV trails in the area. This would normally be a great time on Day 5, because up to this point, I had ridden 130 miles of roads and this would be the first trail of the day. But I was riding through a cold rain shower and was just trying to survive and keep my bike upright. I had to chuckle later on when I saw this comment on Facebook by Martin, who had been watching my progress through my InReach tracking page:
Steve Taylor is having some fun right now. He just hit the 505 trail. Rail those berms Steve!
Umm, no. LOL. I sure appreciated that Martin was watching our progress and was there in case we needed help. Too bad those satellite tracking points don't include real-time photos and videos. ;-)

Early along the 505 trail, it passes through an old burn area. The recent storm had knocked down quite a few of the little dead trees across the trail. I moved several of them off the trail and figured that Shawn and Mike were just jumping over them or going around them and moving on, but I found out later that they also moved and cut a lot of logs. So there was plenty of work for all of us -- we were all trying to do our part for the riders who would be coming through after us.

I remember one spot along that trail where I got a pretty good scare. There was a wet, bare log down across the trail in the middle of a blind corner. If you've ridden dirt bikes in the wet, you know how sketchy crossing logs can be, especially bare ones with no bark. If they're at an angle, like this one was, your front tire will just slide and you will go down fast! You're on your head before you know it. On this log, I was able to slow down and lighten the front end just enough to get the front tire to roll over the log safely. When my back tire hit it, it slid pretty good, but I could deal with that. Going down because of a sliding rear end leads to a much softer landing than a sliding front end.

While riding the 505, I actually was working enough that I started to warm up a bit. The rain had slowed and I thought things were going pretty well. I thought to myself "as long as I'm on an open trail and not going through any brush, I should start drying out." Well, wouldn't you know it -- the trail turned really brushy, with thick buck brush laying out over the trail for the next two or three miles. So instead of drying out, I got even more soaked. This was the first time that I started having trouble with my touchscreen phone, which I had been depending on for navigation. Usually, when I came to a junction along the route, I would glance down to make sure I was choosing the right way to go. Sometimes I would zoom the screen in or out or check the route ahead. With water on the screen, each touch resulted in the phone doing crazy, random things and the navigation became almost impossible to use. To get through the rest of the wet, brushy section of trail, I had to stop several times and pull the phone out of the mount and try to get all the water off the screen and my fingers to look at the route. It slowed down my pace quite a bit, but I finally finished that section of trail.

I had a few roads to ride and then came to the Anderson Butte trail. By this time, the weather had cleared up nicely and I was really enjoying the ride.

Finally getting a break in the weather
Al enjoying the sunshine

Cockpit view... navigation screen working fine as long as it's dry

Don't get too close to this rock...
... or this will happen
I was really enjoying the Anderson Butte ATV trail. It was really fast and I felt like I was making good time since the weather had cleared up. But since it was an ATV trail, it had that tricky double-rut that can be a challenge sometimes if you're on a two wheeler. Something to watch for when you're riding at ATV trail is unexpected things hiding in the grass along the edge of the trail. At their widest point, ATV's are made of rubber (their tires)... on my motorcycle, my widest point is my foot peg and my foot. There was a spot along this ATV trail where there was a large rock, firmly rooted in the ground, hidden in the beargrass along the right edge of the trail. I was riding in the right rut and got a little too close to the edge and didn't see the rock. Suddenly, my foot was ripped off the peg and the bike was deflected to the left while I heard a rock-on-metal scraping sound. "Oops, that's not good." I thought. I probably would have just kept going, but when I tried to step on my back brake pedal, my foot couldn't find it. Uh oh.

I stopped to get a closer look. Oh man, my brake pedal was scrunched right up against the engine case and the tip was totally flattened out. I just had to laugh, since I've never done that before. I had bent a brake pedal at a 90 degree angle away from the bike before, but I had never flattened a brake pedal into the bike like this.

I did a short Juan Browne-style selfie video,
talking to my helmet
I got my tools out and managed to get the brake pedal bent away from the engine case enough to free its movement. I used a tire iron and wedged it between the pedal arm and the case -- I was amazed at how far it could bend and just spring right back to where it was. I had to put a lot of effort into it to get it to bend out and stay there. I also bent the tip of the pedal (where the toe of your boot grips it) out as much as I could, but it wasn't anything like what it was supposed to be. The arm of the pedal was a little pretzeled and the tip was only sticking out about a half inch. After that, I decided to call my newly-adjusted brake pedal configuration the "high and tight", since it was in a higher spot than my foot was used to, and there was barely anything there for my boot to grab when I needed the back brake.

Just after it had happened
After I had worked on it for a while... good enough for now
I had lost about 20 minutes working on bending that brake pedal, but I was finally back on the move. In the back of my mind, I still wanted to catch up with Shawn and Mike, but my little delays had probably put me around 45 minutes behind them by this time.

It wasn't long until my next little mishap. My foot was still trying to get used to the new spot for the brake pedal. If you've ridden trails on a dirt bike, you know how important your back brake can be when doing tight downhill turns, like switchbacks. Well, the first switchback was fine, because I saw it coming and slowed way down, but I started going a little faster and the next one snuck up on me a little bit and my foot missed the brake pedal:

Here comes the switchback. Better slow down a little... hey, where's that back brake?
Uh oh... starting to go down
Hey, why aren't my hands on the handlebars?
Check out my new boots I got for the Tour!
As usual, the skid mark tells the story
Well, that was pretty comical... some time soon, I'm going to work on editing some of this GoPro video for people to watch. This clip will be pretty funny. I was saying something about how "I have to be careful on these downhill switchbacks because I can't get my foot on the back brake." Then, just a few seconds later -- bam! I had this unscheduled dismount. LOL.

I didn't know why there was this corridor cut through the trees, but it made for some fast, fun riding.

Overall, despite the bent bike and sore shoulder and elbow from the dismount, I had a lot of fun on the Anderson Butte trail. It finally came out on a road where I continued on the route toward the next major destination on the Tour, Selway Falls.

Once I was back on the road, it was apparent that this area had also been hit by the storm. There were branches down on the road, and even several trees. What a mess. I could see Shawn and Mike's tracks ahead of me, and where they had broken branches of the trees that were blocking the road and had gone either over or under them. I knew I was getting close to the area where there was supposed to be fires and possible road and area closures, but there was absolutely no sign of fire anywhere. I didn't even smell any smoke.

Then I came to the gate...

I had a tough choice to make here... do I go around and hope
to find a way through, or do I go back to Elk City where
I know I can make it?
This gate had me a little confused... its purpose wasn't totally clear. I knew there was supposed to be a fire in the area, so I thought there was a good possibility that they had closed this gate because of that. But this gate had an obvious wide spot to go around, like it was designed to allow motorcycles and ATVs to pass. I walked to the gate and could see that Shawn and Mike had gone around. Hmmm... I got my phone out and checked over some of the comments on Facebook that had been going on that day (I must have picked up a cell signal at some point, so I could see some updated comments, but I didn't have a signal at this spot). Everyone was saying that the road between Selway Falls and Lowell, my destination for the night, was closed due to the fire. I had seen signs on the road behind me that Elk City was only 18 miles away, and I knew exactly how to get to Lowell from there, but it would be a long highway ride. I remembered that Martin had mentioned some alternate routes down to Lowell, but the maps I had didn't show enough detail to show me how to do it. I had ridden the Elk City Wagon Road a few years earlier, but I didn't know if it was open, and even if it was, it would only save me a few miles (but not time) getting to Kooskia, and I'd still have to take Highway 12 for 25 miles or so to get to Lowell.

I decided that the only sure way to get there at a decent time was to just go down to Elk City and then take the highway down to Kooskia and then on to Lowell. I could have tried to cruise around all the back roads and try to find one that was open and would get me to Lowell, but that could easily have turned into hours and hours of wasted time, and gas, and I'd still probably end up taking the highway after not finding a way through. At the time, from memory, I was thinking that the highway route would only be about 60 miles of pavement all together... that turned out to be wrong. LOL. But it still would turn out to be the best choice.

Photo courtesy Big Dog
I set off at race pace toward Elk City and got there within a few minutes. I stopped at the little gas station in town, where I had gassed up several years earlier. Knowing I'd probably get into Lowell pretty late and not knowing how late the office at Three Rivers Resort (where I had reservations) would be open, I tried to make this stop as quick as possible. I went inside to pay and asked the cashier "Do you know about the fire near Lowell?" She told me "Yeah, I heard they shut down the whole town. They evacuated a couple days ago." What??? Man, this just got a lot more complicated.

I thanked her for the information and went back outside. I was going to go for it anyway, and just see if I could get to Lowell and then play it by ear. When I went back out to my bike, there was another rider who had just pulled up for gas. He was on a big BMW ADV (adventure touring) bike with a huge luggage setup and aluminum panniers. He was a bit of a heavy guy, but he was riding a heavy bike, so I guess that made sense. Man, he just wanted to chat chat chat about "where you been? where you going? what's that bike? I went up road 215 over potbelly mountain and down 346 along wet creek and up 995 that goes over rocky ridge and..." and on and on. Those ADV guys sure can rattle off those routes and road numbers and what not. I actually would have liked to have taken more time to chat, but I really needed to go. I told him I was in a hurry and sped out of there. I know that some Tour of Idaho guys find the ADV crowd extremely annoying, but I consider myself to be a hybrid Tour of Idaho / ADV guy. Now that I've done the Tour and I see this side, I do look at those guys differently, and I think I understand some of that irritation. Okay, I've even felt a little irritation, but I still like that style of riding sometimes. Just don't try to tell me that you can take your fully loaded R1200GS on the same trails that me and Wralf ride, okay? ;-)

Highway 14 along S Fork Clearwater (photo credit)
I threw in my earplugs and hit the highway. It was a pleasant evening since all the bad weather had passed. It's actually a very scenic ride, following the the South Fork of the Clearwater River. The speed limit was only 50 mph, which suited me just fine, since I was riding a dirt bike. My poor memory told me earlier that it was only about 35 miles from Elk City to Kooskia, and then about 25 from Kooskia to Lowell. Well, at least the 25 was about right. When I saw the first sign that showed how many miles I had left to Kooskia, I about fell over. It's not 35 miles -- it's more like 80. So I had about 100 miles of highway to get to Lowell. Wow. Oh well, at this point, I was glad I had made the decision to take the highway, because I was done thinking about the route. It was actually quite relaxing just droning down the road and looking at all the whitewater rapids in the river next to the highway.

Some posts by Martin on Facebook around that time:
It looks like Steve Taylor went back through Elk City and is taking the really long way around to Lowell through Kooskia. Hmmm. I don't know if this is because everything is closed or he just made the longer but navigationally easier choice. Communication to Lowell is iffy, but hopefully we'll find out later. If you have to detour through Elk City and take the road to Lowell, that just plain sucks.
There are, btw, numerous options to get north from Elk City to either Lowell or Kooskia - but you need good maps for any of them. Looking at the closure area and reading the closure data on the InciWeb, it looks like one ought to be able to get around the closures without taking the really long paved roads.
It appears that Steve had no choice. Everything down to the Elk City Wagon Road is, indeed closed. That makes the pavement from Elk City to Lowell the best option. Let's hope that this fire, currently 0% contained, gets some rain soon.
I was also getting a lot of encouragement from home... I didn't even see these two posts by my buddy Dean Bennett until the next day:
What's another 87.2 miles when you are doing 1400? Keep up the pace, no forest fire can stop you!
Doing the tour huh, Harpster, Stites, and Kooskia. Kraig would be proud.
As I got further down the river, about half way to Kooskia, I finally starting seeing and smelling smoke. Ah, there really is a fire. If I hadn't been hearing about it, I wouldn't have believed there was a fire, but I guess the wind was blowing all the smoke away from where I had been. It became really hazy in that canyon coming down Highway 14, and my eyes started to sting. I even started coughing a little bit. I'm not one who is usually sensitive to smoke, but it was pretty thick and was getting worse the further I went.

I got into Kooskia just as it was getting dark. I turned on US 12 and headed for Lowell, hoping for the best. I had heard about an evacuation, so I wasn't sure if US 12 would be shut down ahead. There weren't any signs about a closure, so I was hopeful that I could at least get there.

It was fully dark as I turned off of US 12 to cross the bridge over the Clearwater River to get to Lowell. But the other side of the river was pretty much completely dark, like there was no one around. At the other end of the bridge, I could see someone standing in the road with a flashlight. As I got closer, I could see that it was a police officer. "You can't go any further, this whole area has been evacuated." I still had my earplugs in, so I didn't understand what he said "What's that?!" I said, in a voice that I'm sure seemed way too loud. He looked at me strangely and started to say something else. I said "hang on a minute!" too loudly again, I'm sure, while I started to take my helmet off. "I have earplugs in!" He immediately had a look of relief and understood why I was shouting. LOL. He explained that everything on that side of the river had been evacuated for two days, which included the Three Rivers Resort, where I was supposed to sleep that night. I thought about what to do, and was thinking about going back to Kooskia, but I looked back across the river and noticed some lights and remembered that there was another motel on the US 12 side of the river. It was called The Wilderness Inn. "Is that motel on the other side of the river open?" I asked him. "Yes, I think so. They're not evacuated yet, so they should be there." I thanked him and headed back across the bridge.
The Wilderness Inn

Our spot in front of the Wilderness Inn where we sat and
swapped our Day 5 stories (photo credit)
And guess who was kicked back in lawn chairs sitting out in front of the motel telling stories? Shawn and Mike! "Man, am I glad to see you guys!" I said. "We're glad to see you too!" they said. It turns out that they had waited for me at the gate above Selway Falls for quite a while. They weren't sure what to do either, and they had even less knowledge than I did about how to get around the fire closure, so they just decided to go around the gate, stay on the route and hope for the best. They said they probably waited at least 30 minutes for me, but I'll bet I might have been close to an hour behind them by then, with the various mishaps and delays I had.

It turned out that the gate was only there to keep full-sized vehicles off that road and it wasn't directly related to the fire. The road beyond the gate became narrow and steep and had a few spots where the road bed was washing away, so they've closed it for now, but only to vehicles larger than 50" in width.

Shawn and Mike made it down to the Selway and started heading down the road. But then they came to the spot where the Forest Service had the road blocked. They said the guy manning the closure seemed kind of annoyed at them -- "how did you get here?!" and "no, the road is closed. you'll have to go back the way you came." Stuff like that. They weren't getting anywhere with this guy, so they headed back up the road to a campground they had seen. They were planning on just staying the night there and trying to get through again in the morning. They even found an old rubber raft laying there that they were going to use as a shelter. Before giving up for the night, they decided to try one more time. This time when they rode up to the blockade, they tried to find someone else. They found a different person who had a friendlier attitude. They gave this person their story about how their GPS track had led them there and they probably didn't have enough gas to go back the way they had come and stuff like that. Well, this person said "Sure, we can escort you through." Awesome job, guys!

So, after hearing this story, it turns out that I probably could have gotten through with them, if the timing had been right. If I would have made it down to where they were before they started their escorted ride through the closure, I could have gone through with them. But if I had been a little late, there might have been no chance ("what, another one of you bikers??? no way, go back!") and I might still have had to go back through Elk City and Kooskia on the highway, and I would have been at Lowell even later. So I couldn't really second guess myself. Everything worked out just fine. We were all in Lowell and were pretty sure we could stay on schedule for Day 6.

Mike's ankle was doing quite a bit better and he was really glad he hadn't given up. I had been on my own for several hours and it sure was nice to catch up with these guys and talk about the day.

My room and the office for the motel (photo credit)
The last task for the night for me was to try to get a room. Shawn and Mike said they'd be happy to let me sleep on their floor, but I was really wanting a decent bed of my own. The motel office was closed, but there was a man a few doors down, sitting outside just like we were, who said "they live up the hill!" I walked down to where this guy was and he pointed me to some stairs that led up the hill behind the motel to a trailer house with a deck on the front. I walked up there looking for the owner. It was really dark and I was trying not to fall down. I took a step up onto the deck and was about to try knocking on the front door, but I hadn't noticed the guy sitting on the deck behind me. "Go away, we're closed!" I almost jumped when he said that. "Just kidding... give me a minute and I'll be right down." he said with a grin.

After a few minutes he came down, unlocked the office and we took care of getting me a room. He kind of fumbled around and said "My wife usually does this... uhh, let's just call it $50." It sounded good enough to me. I found out later than Shawn and Mike paid something closer to $70. I guess I deserved a break after riding an extra 100 miles of highway. ;-)

Martin posted a couple more things on Facebook that night, that I didn't see until the next morning:
Looks like everyone is in tonight except Mike Powell's group (who I am not actively tracking). Great work - especially Steve Taylor who had a really long day. 
Steve Taylor made it to Lowell. It appears as if he's staying at the motel next to the gas station. If so, no internet, no cell.
He was right, I had no internet and no phone service. But we'd get internet figured out in the morning.

It had been a long day and I was one day closer to the finish.

Day 5 Stats: 298 miles, 12 hours, 30 minutes

1 comment:

  1. You going to tell everyone that they had a land line phone, but you forgot to call your wife and tell her you were OK? LOL I feel like I made the big time cuz you quoted me in your blog.