Mountain Biking Adventure in Idaho

July 15, 2023

It has been a whirlwind year of travel for me! Back in April, a girlfriend of mine from my bike club told me about a trip she was planning to complete her “50 in the 50’s challenge” – a physically active trip in all 50 states while she was in her 50’s. Idaho was the last state she needed, and even though she was now 61, she was allowing for the lost years of fires and COVID. It sounded like a great adventure and I signed on. We would be camping with mountain biking, hiking and white-water rafting, quite a challenging itinerary. My attitude at this point is, “if I am in good physical shape, I might as well do it while I can!”

A week after Michael came home from a great time in Scotland, I flew to Boise and stayed over one night, meeting up with Kerry and her cousin Matt. The next morning, two adorable guides from Escape Adventure, Zach and Roy, met us and loaded us into the van for the drive up into the Boise National Forest and Sawtooth Mountain region. We drove along Rt. 21, the familiar road up to Stanley, where Michael and Emily and I had gone for the Middle Fork of the Salmon rafting trips. For this trip, we turned off the paved highway onto a gravel road for the 35 mile ride to Atlanta, a historic settlement up in the mountains. The weather was perfect, blue skies, clear air and 80 degrees. We set up camp right by the Boise River, the guys made lunch, and then we set off for our first mountain biking route. Matt was an experienced mountain biker, but Kerry and I had never really done it before – does that one day of wooded trails in Sweden count? Whatever, I felt like a six-year-old learning to ride all over again. The bikes were so different in feel, balance, shifting, I could barely get started and steer in a straight line. When Zach said, “and that lever puts the seat down,” I thought, “why would I want to put the seat down!!!???” Well, I learned why, and I also learned that I had to trust the bike to be able to do a lot more rugged riding than my gavel bike can do.  Kerry and I had a very similar experience that first day – terrifying. We came away with scrapes and bruises, and lots of falls and stops, but nothing broken, thankfully. Back at our camp site, we headed down to the water’s edge and paddled around the rocky shore between the cold river flow and the warm hot springs nestled right along-side, heaven.

Camping was wonderful, and my air mattress on top of a folding cot provided by the tour company was amazingly comfortable. The food was delicious as well. The next day we set off on a 9-mile hike through beautifully wooded valleys covered with wildflowers. We were at 5500 feet going up to 6000, and it felt a lot harder than I expected. After a quiet first night in that campsite, a large crowd of friends, family, kids and dogs arrived. They were surprisingly well behaved. We walked to the nearby Chatanooga Hot Springs after dinner for an evening soak under the waterfall. It was still light at 9pm and Kerry and I made our way back to the campsite and bed before dark.

The next day we tried the “single track” mountain biking trail that we had walked on yesterday. We could only go as far as the tangle of trees at an avalanche site about a mile up the trail. Kerry and I did a bit better, but the riding still felt scary and challenging. I was happy I didn’t go over the steep drop off down to the river! Back at camp, because of road construction on Rt. 21, we couldn’t get to the intended mountain biking route, so the guys decided to let us ride down the gravel road for 20 miles to Granite Creek hot springs. Kerry and I were fine with this – more what we were used to. The beautiful road snaked along the Boise River, with wildflowers and butterflies all along the way. After a picnic lunch and more paddling along the river and hot springs in our sweaty bike clothes, we loaded into the van for the drive to our second camp site, Pine Creek Flats. I felt sort of crummy and dozed in the van – is this COVID, or the altitude? After another delicious dinner, I went to bed early and thankfully felt much better the next day.

Wednesday was the rafting trip. We drove up Rt. 17 to Loman and the Payette River Company. Three other folks joined us to balance out the boat. The safety talk before we signed the liability waiver was terrifying – “this could result in emotional trauma” – yikes! I was remembering wiping out of my inflatable kayak in the class III Haystack rapid on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. On the Payette River we would have over 25 class III and IV rapids, “like the five days of the Middle Fork all at once” the guide said. Really yikes! I was in the front to start and got completely soaked right away. It was fun but also scary. Kerry fell out of the boat as we tried to “surf” one of the holes but managed to swim back to the raft and was rescued and hauled back into the boat by our experienced guide. She was a bit dazed at first but recovered her buoyant mood easily. We had to portage the raft around an amazing three-tiered waterfall – our guide had the process down – and we stopped on a sandy shore for a delicious lunch and some interesting chatting with our new boat mates. That night back at our campsite, I found a secluded sandy beach by the river and swam and washed my hair and relaxed in the sun before another delicious dinner. 

Thursday was another beautiful 10-mile hike by the Deadwood River with afternoon stops at the Kirkham hot springs right along Rt. 21, and a visit to the Loman Mercantile for frozen treats. That evening, Kerry and I soaked in the hot springs near our campsite and tried to stay up for the possible viewing of the northern lights. I was too tired and fell asleep early. When I got up around midnight, I saw a beautiful dark and clear night with many stars, but no aurora borealis. The next morning everyone in the campsite agreed that it had been a bust and they hadn’t seen anything. We had one more day on our bikes at the Banner Ridge Snow Park, a wonderful network of cross-country skiing trails, perfect for mountain biking. Kerry and I did much better today, though I was breathing hard in the altitude. Our guides congratulated us on our tremendous improvement. Kerry and I were thrilled to have survived the week with no major injuries!

Back in Boise, we said sad goodbys to our guides, Kerry and Matt set off for the drive back to Portland and I gritted my teeth for the long slog home via San Francisco and a red eye to Newark. Arriving in SF, I learned that my flight to Newark was cancelled, and I was rebooked on a flight to Boston. I did eventually make it from Boston to Newark, sharing the plane with John Kerry who was on his way to China, and my suitcase even made it with me! Considering all the flying I have done recently it is amazing that most of it has gone so smoothly. This was only a minor change to an otherwise fantastic week!

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