Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tour of Idaho T1 2014: Day 6, Lowell to Wallace

Day 6 started with some uncertainty. We all knew that it was one of the longest days of the Tour, so the earlier we could start, the better. We had been fortunate enough to get rooms and a place to eat breakfast at the Wilderness Inn, but according to the folks we talked to, the lady who owned the gas station next door (Cougar Canyon Station) might not open that day. Uh oh... gas was going to be a big deal on Day 6, so starting with a full tank was going to be a necessity. As we sat in the restaurant enjoying our breakfast, we were hearing that she might not open at all, and then we heard she might open at around noon, which wasn't good for us either. The fires around Lowell had come very close in the past couple of days, and I think the poor lady had gotten spooked by seeing flames just across the river from her gas station. I guess working at a gas station with forest fires around you could cause some anxiety. ;-)

The Wilderness Inn Restaurant (photo credit)
Shawn and Mike were going with the flow, and already thinking about an alternate plan for the day. They were thinking about riding just the first part of the day until they got to the Powell Ranger Station, where there is a motel, restaurant and gas (The Lochsa Lodge). If they were going to have to wait until noon to get started, this seemed like a pretty good plan. The rest of Day 6 could be completed the next day, so they would just be one day behind at the finish.

They could tell that I really wanted to go, so, being the awesome guys they are, they offered to give me all the gas they had to get my tank filled so I could go that morning. Wow, I just thought that was such a nice thing to do. Since I had filled up in Elk City, I probably only needed a couple gallons to top off my tank. Breakfast was on me that morning, and I was glad to do it.

Shawn left the restaurant and was draining gas from his bike's tank into his fuel bladder so he could pour it into mine. But then we got some great news -- the owner of the gas station was going to open that morning and she'd be there in about 20 minutes! It sounded like Shawn and Mike were going to stick with their alternate plan and not try for Wallace that night, like I was. This would be the last time I saw these guys during the Tour, and I had really enjoyed the time we had together. We've stayed in touch since then through Facebook (mostly with Mike) and I wouldn't be surprised if we run into each other again.

I rushed through getting my bike and things all packed up. By the time I rode over to the Cougar Canyon Station, it was open. I fueled up, paid, said my goodbyes to Shawn and Mike and took off up US 12.

The tire, with two days of wear on it
Day 6 starts out with several paved miles before you come to the first off-road section, which is the Van Camp trail. It's an ATV trail that climbs out of the Lochsa River canyon and up into the mountains. It was fast going and I was making good time. I felt more alone than at any other time on the Tour, since I knew that Shawn and Mike would be several hours behind me, and once I got past a certain point early in the day, they wouldn't be coming at all, or at least not until the next day.

Van Camp eventually comes out on Forest Service roads that eventually leads to the top of Fish Butte. I love riding to mountain tops and enjoying the view, but there was still quite a bit of smoke in the air and you couldn't really see very far at all.

I've seen other riders' pictures of their bikes on "top" of Fish Butte, but it seemed unsatisfying to just stop where the road ended. After all, even a Subaru could get to this spot. The actual top of the mountain was about 20 feet higher. I scoped it out and thought "I could do that... no, I NEED to do that." It was a short, steep climb mostly up a solid rock face, but big, solid rocks are always easier than a bunch of loose, small ones. It always feels good to take on that extra little challenge that a lot of other guys won't even try.

This was where the road ended on Fish Butte...

... but THIS was the top!
I headed back down the Fish Butte jeep road at a fairly fast pace and experienced my first back-brake related mishap of the day. After it got bent, the higher position of the brake pedal caused me to lock up the back wheel way too easily. The combination of locking up the rear wheel and the lack of side knobs on the rear tire created the possibility of a low side crash at just about every corner. Coming off the butte, I overcooked a corner a bit, grabbed too much brake and started to slide. I was able to get it slowed down quite a bit, though, before hitting the ground, so I didn't hurt myself or the bike, but it was a good reminder of something to be careful about.

Not far off the top of Fish Butte, you come to the Fish Butte trail, which leads you back down into the Lochsa. This is an awesome single track trail that's quite narrow in places while traversing steep slopes. I loved it.

Checking the brake pedal right before going down the Fish Butte trail. Right after this, I managed to get the tip of the pedal bent out just a bit more using a tire iron, so it was easier to find it with my boot.
Skinny and steep, just the way I like it!
There was less smoke here than Lowell, but it was still pretty hazy.

An interesting rock along the Fish Butte trail
As the trail progressed further down, it turned more green and lush
Crossing Fish Creek at the bottom of the trail
Time to hit the highway again
After hitting the bottom of the Fish Butte trail, I had about 18 miles of pavement to ride. It was a really nice morning and the highway ride was a good cool down after riding Van Camp and Fish Butte. And the further I got up the river and away from Lowell, the less smoke there was.

Oh no... detouring again
When I turned off on Saddle Camp road, I saw the sign... "Road Closed". Oh man. Well, maybe I can get through. The sign said it was closed only one mile ahead. So I rode up to the construction site and saw that there was a crew actively working on replacing a culvert and it didn't look like I could get through. So I went back down to Highway 12 to come up with an alternate plan.

I knew that I needed to get to Saddle Camp on the Lolo Motorway, which runs more or less parallel to US 12 all along that area. And I also knew that there were several other roads that connect the two. If I couldn't go up Saddle Camp road directly to Saddle Camp, there should be another way. Then I read the fine print on the notice that was posted:

So there it was... the plan was laid out pretty clearly. This detour would add about 30 miles to my day, but that was just how it had to be. I raced off up the highway, then up FS 108 and 566 to get up to FS 500 (the Lolo Motorway), then took that road down to Saddle Camp.

After a 30 mile detour, I was back on the route

Doing another Juan-style talk-to-my-helmet video
Indian Grave Peak
After taking a side road out to Indian Grave Peak and back, the route continued down the Lolo Motorway until coming to 12 Mile Saddle, which is where Day 6 got really good. This saddle is the trail head of the Windy Ridge trail, which is the start of 28 straight miles of single track through some of the most beautiful forests, mountains and ridges you'll find anywhere. When I passed through this saddle on my KLR ride four years earlier, I noticed the trail head and the sign that said it was open to bikes. I was wishing that I was riding a lighter bike so I could check it out, but I had no idea at the time that the trail was so long and was just part of a whole network of trails in the area where dirt bikes are allowed. I hope to revisit this area many times in the years to come.

Just starting up the awesome Windy Ridge trail

I tried to fix it, but I forgot my hammer and nails

Still a little snow on Cook Mountain

Took a break here to rest my hands and get a snack
Windy Ridge is an awesome trail, and I was really enjoying my day. The one thing, however, that was increasingly becoming a nuisance was my hands. I was especially feeling it after all these miles of single track. The blisters hurt, but not as bad as they did in the first couple of days. The bigger problem was becoming the pain in my fingers and hands, which was turning into tingling and numbness. After the experience of the Tour and how my hands felt, I've been rethinking my riding style. I think I have a plan for next time. Along with getting cushier grips and better gloves, I'm going to try to grip the bike more with my knees so I can relax my hands a little more. I found that I was actually already doing that on this ride, subconsciously, as a way to protect my sore hands.

I love riding a trail that's been recently cleared
There were many times on the Tour when I would come to sections of trail where there had been a lot of recent work done. Lots of fresh saw cuts and sawdust just reminded me of how fortunate we are to have a group of folks dedicated to preparing these trails for the Tour every year, with Martin Hackworth being the primary organizer and trail clearer. There are other guys who adopt different sections of trail, but Martin coordinates all of it, and none of this would be possible without his efforts. Salute!

Flower, flowers, flowers!

Camp George
Beautiful view as the trail starts dropping into Fourth of July Creek

Crossing the North Fork of the Clearwater
Windy Ridge, you've been great!
Riding the Windy Ridge/Cook Mountain trail was definitely one of the highlights of the Tour. 28 straight miles of single track is a unique experience, that's for sure.

I crossed the bridge at the Fourth of July Creek trail head and turned right on FS 250, racing toward Kelly Forks and Black Canyon. At this point in the day, I hadn't looked at the route ahead in detail, but now I know something that I didn't realize at the time -- I still had 120 miles left to get to Wallace! I was doing well and feeling like I was making good time, but I didn't really know how far I had to go.

As I made the turn up Black Canyon, I saw a sign I didn't want to see... "Road Closed 8 Miles Ahead". Oh no. Unlike the previous closure, I didn't think there was a way around. All the maps I had showed that FS 250 is pretty much the only route leading where I needed to go. I decided that my only choice was to just go up there and hope for the best.

The road seemed fine, so I was curious about why it would be closed. I was seeing quite a bit of activity -- cars and trucks along the road belonging to people fishing on the North Fork of the Clearwater (most of the license plates were Washington... what's the deal with that?), campers, ATVs, etc. It didn't seem like a closed road.

I got all the way to Hidden Creek campground, where there was another sign: "Road Closed beyond this point". Great, now what? Just then, two little dualsport motorcycle riders carrying fishing poles putted past me, right through the "Road Closed" sign. I decided to follow them. Right around the corner they pulled off to do some fishing. I asked one of them "Is the road closed?" She said "No, it's actually open all the way to The Cedars. There was a rockslide and they fixed it a couple days ago and just didn't take the signs down." LOL. I had been worrying about nothing. Sure enough, right around the corner I came to the spot where the bank had given way and had covered the road. But you could see the signs of the heavy equipment that had been there and the road was totally clear. And I was off to the races again!

Hiding out in the trees to get out of the pouring rain
As I was riding up Black Canyon, I began seeing dark clouds ahead. Just a couple miles after passing the landslide spot, the rain started coming down. It was a pretty heavy rain and I thought I could probably wait it out in the trees. I found a spot just off the road and waited.

I had a snack, drank some water and sat for about 20 minutes. The rain finally slowed down to a gentle shower and I decided that I couldn't wait any longer.

The route took me through The Cedars campground, which looks to be a major destination for folks who camp and ride ATVs. If you're not opposed to bumming gas from camping ATVers, this is the place to do it. But a day like Day 6, (which was supposed to be around 230 miles with no gas stations) is why I chose to get the 6.6 gallon tank, so I pressed on.

Within about 15 minutes after leaving The Cedars, the weather took a turn for the better. I was able to make good time again and start drying out and warming up.

Dropping into the St. Joe
Nice view from near the top of the Heller Creek trail
The last major trail of the day was a trail that starts on a ridge above Heller Creek and connects with a different trail that drops down into Simmons Creek. In the road miles since The Cedars, I had crossed over from the Clearwater National Forest into the St. Joe NF, which felt a lot more like home. I was still riding roads and trails that I hadn't been on before, but the trees and mountains made me feel more and more like I was almost home.

Heller Creek trail. Narrow and steep. The best kind.
The sun was getting pretty low in the sky as I was riding down Simmons Creek. I was starting to realize that I would probably be getting into Wallace pretty late. The rules of the Tour allow for using a support vehicle and/or a support person anywhere between the start and Pocatello and from Wallace to the finish. It's just the five days in the middle where you're required to cut the cord. So a rendezvous with Kathy in Wallace was my big motivation during those hours after finishing the Windy Ridge trail. I kept myself pushing through the cold and rain (and eventually the darkness), just thinking about getting to see her in Wallace. I was hoping she'd be there waiting for me, since we had talked about it before the Tour. We hadn't made specific plans to meet in Wallace in our phone calls, emails or Facebook posts, but in my mind, to keep me motivated to keep pushing ahead, she was going to be there waiting.

At the bottom of Simmons Creek, I hit the road and went as fast as I could, taking advantage of the dry weather and the last bit of daylight.

The sponsorship sticker on my helmet
It was at that time that I had quite a scary moment, where I was saved from what could have been a bad situation. I was flying up the road, climbing toward the state line, and started slowing down for a curve to the right. As I slowed down to make the corner, it was obvious that it was a tighter turn that I thought, so I got on the brakes to get slowed down quickly. But using the brakes in a high speed turn takes a good amount of finesse to keep from locking up your wheels. Because of the situation with my back brake pedal and tire, I locked up the rear brake and the bike started sliding a bit sideways. I still had a lot of speed and was sliding toward the left side of the road, where there was a significant drop off the road bank. I was trying really hard to let off the back brake just enough to allow the wheel to get traction, while still trying to get the bike slowed down so I could make the turn. Well, I had too much speed and the bike was headed off the road. I think I gave up on the back brake at the last second so I could stick my right foot out as a way to gain some control. I had managed to get the bike turned enough that as I was getting close to the edge of the road, the bike was almost parallel to it. As my front tire and then the rear dropped off the edge, I was just sure that I was going nowhere but all the way down the bank. But then, miraculously, when the front tire was about a foot below the road bed, it gained traction and rolled back up the bank onto the road, and the rear tire followed. I had so much momentum that all of this happened without using bike's engine -- I just coasted back up onto the road. I got the bike stopped and looked back in disbelief at the spot where I had just gone over the edge. It was like the hand of God just reached out and lifted me back up onto the road. I said a quick prayer and continued on.

Trail 81... looks easy enough, right?
(photo courtesy Idaho Trails)
There was one more section of single track trail that night. The one-mile Trail 81 wasn't one of the 50 challenge points, but I think it's one of those things that Martin likes to call an "optional challenge section". There's no mention of it in the detailed route description on the web site. When I was studying the route, it just looked like a little single-track shortcut that bypassed a couple miles of road. Looking back now, I guess it only took about 20 minutes, but I sure burned through a lot of energy and my last remaining daylight fighting my way through this trail. It started out easily enough. You could tell that it wasn't used very often, since the trail was fairly obscure on the mountain side. About halfway through, it got much narrower and rockier, and in a couple of spots, I had to get off the bike and lift the back end around a bit to get better traction. It was the toughest single stretch of trail I had ridden since the Hat Creek Lakes trail. Even though it wore me down a little, it was a fun challenge. I got through and was back on the road.

A couple of posts by Martin on Facebook at about this time (I didn't see these until late that night):
It'll be a late arrival in Wallace for Steve Taylor tonight, but it looks like he's gonna be just fine. Excellent job for such a late start out of Lowell. 
Steve Taylor is about halfway across State Line Road right now - about 45 miles out of Wallace. He ought to be there in about an hour or so.
St. Paul Pass
At this point I was racing along the State Line Road, trying to get to Wallace at a decent time. Straight ahead of me were some very dark clouds and I started seeing a lot of lightning. I was headed right into a big thunderstorm. I rode as fast as I could while it was still not raining, but I was up on a high ridge in the middle of a huge lightning storm, so I definitely was feeling some anxiety. Every time I broke out into the open near the top of a ridge, I just held my breath, gritted my teeth and went for it. And then it rained -- hard. I once again found a big tree right on the edge of the road that actually kept me really dry for the first 15 minutes or so (big trees can only keep you dry for so long... then they're kinda leaky after after that).

Old train tunnel
The temperature must have dropped by 20 degrees and the low clouds and fog came in. I was starting to get wet under the tree, so I decided I might as well get moving. Man, I got wet and cold. But I kept myself going, thinking that I'd get to see Kathy once I got to Wallace. I found out in the dark, foggy night that my auxiliary LED lights, that usually can turn night to day, don't help a bit in the fog. So I had to run just my bike's main headlight, which was pretty dim. I really had to go slow the rest of the way into Wallace, since it was raining pretty hard, it had become so cold and I was having trouble seeing the road. That last 45 minutes into Wallace was the most grueling of the Tour. It was quite a finish to a very long day.

Photo credit
As I dropped down from Moon Pass in the final miles of the day, I felt a huge relief. I finally made it. A warm, dry motel room was only a few minutes away now. And Kathy should be there too, right? Surely she's been watching my tracking points and knew when I'd be there.

Well, she wasn't there. I pulled into the Stardust and got my room. It was nice and everything, but I was surprised at how disappointed I felt that Kathy wasn't there. After all these tough days (and especially the one I had just finished), I was pretty worn down mentally and emotionally. I was pushing myself that whole day looking forward to the emotional lift I'd get by seeing my wife. I'm sure it would have been easier if I hadn't convinced myself throughout the day that she's be there waiting for me as a way to keep going, but the reality hit when I got there.

I got on the phone, and after we talked for a while, she said she'd come to Wallace. I was so happy. I really needed her that night to help lift my spirits and get me motivated to hit the trail for one more day.

An encouraging Facebook post by my mom that night:
Wow, you are one determined rider!! We're proud of you, Steve. Don't get too relaxed on the last day, there are still hazards ahead, but you're almost there!

Day 6 Stats: 258 miles, 12 hours, 20 minutes
Day 6 Track

1 comment:

  1. Another good post. I might have found an error, :-) Nice to read about areas that I have driven. We had to our route camping because of that slide. On to the final day!