After reading a motorcycle blog on the internet several months ago, I made up my mind that I wanted to plan and complete a dirt bike trek crossing a large swath of Idaho. I wanted more than just a Saturday ride. My riding cronies and I have ridden countless hours around southeast Idaho. Especially in the mountains that surround my home in Teton Valley. We are all relatively new to biking and because the novelty of buzzing up a mountain hasn't worn off yet, we oftentimes plan biking excursions that begin before dawn and end long after dark. I can't stand the thought of wasting daylight when I'm on my motorcycle. Days like that are precious.
Dirt bike trails in Idaho are many, but after some planning, I decided on a trip beginning in Cascade, Idaho, just south of McCall and ending in Challis with three days of riding in between. I'm not a very skilled rider, but what I lack in talent, I make up for with passion. I haven't met anyone beyond my close relatives that enjoy riding as much as we do. With one exception, Johnny Allen.
Johnny is a close family friend. He and Dad began riding dirt bikes together when they were both starting families and farming out in Monteview, Idaho in the late 70's. Our family eventually moved away around 1985, but kept in loose contact when the opportunities arose. I had no idea how good of rider he was until we rode together last summer out near Howe. We invited him that day via text message at around 8pm the night before thinking he would respond with a "Thanks for the invite, but I've got work to do." At 6:30 am the next morning en route to the mountains, I got a reply from Johnny asking "when and where?" That was a Thursday morning. The day was phenomenal; we didn't quit riding until Saturday evening. It was an epic three days.
When our trek destination was settled; I invited Johnny. Not only because he was so fun to ride with, but also because I wanted to spend three days and nights with the man my dad was so close to. I remember a conversation I had with my dad several years back when I asked him to describe his friendship with Johnny. He said, "If you're ever privileged enough to have a friend as good as Johnny, your life will never be the same." I didn't understand--still don't. But this ride gave me a brief glimpse. This is a pretty recent picture of Johnny and Dad at Henry's Lake.
On the first day, we loaded the bikes up and drove from Driggs, ID to Cascade, ID. We arrived in Cascade at around midnight after filling up on Panda Express in Boise. The group included (left to right) my brother in law Chad Williams, Johnny, Chad's brother Tagg Williams, my younger brother Val, and me. Chad's parents followed us to Cascade in their own car and agreed to drop off our truck in Challis for us to load bikes in at the end of three days riding. That night we stayed at the Ashley Inn right in downtown Cascade. Since I was in charge of accommodations, I got us one room each night we were on the trip. To say I'm cheap is probably an understatement. The one room I reserved this night had two beds and a hide-a-bed couch. The boys shared the nice beds and Johnny volunteered to sleep on the miserable hide-a-bed.
We awoke relatively early in anticipation of our trek. This is Chad and Val enjoying the breakfast at the Ashley Inn.
All of us were a bit worried about being dropped off in a town we barely knew. We were about to set off on a three day journey riding mostly single track that none of us had ever ridden before. We didn't have the luxury of having a vehicle follow us in case of break downs or getting lost. Furthermore, we were riding in one of the most remote parts of Idaho; no major towns or roads. Not only did we have to pack water and food for a day, we also had to pack everything we'd need for the three days including tools for repair, clothes and maps.
Because the whole area was new to us, I ordered some trail maps from Bill Dart. His maps are well-known because they provide a detailed view of all single-tracks that have been rated under one of the following descriptions:
- Easiest - green circle
- More difficult - blue circle
- Most difficult - black diamond
- Gnarly - double black diamond
We got dropped off by our ride at around 9am. We rode out of Cascade on dirt road 409. This dirt road went on forever. We couldn't find the trail we wanted so we settled on turning east onto the Tyndall Creek (106). The trail was blue circle and a very laid back fun trail. I noticed early on that Johnny seemed to always end up near the rear of the group taking the heaviest dust.
This is Tagg with Chad looking for something he can't find. Notice the large backpacks.
Tyndall Creek led us to road 474. We turned right and followed the road for about 4 miles until we ran into construction workers fixing a bridge. We were forced to turn around. Road 474 was suppose to take us to more single tracks that would lead us eventually to Deadwood reservoir. We had no idea this bridge being out was going to be such an obstacle. We returned North and turned onto Road 478 again going South toward our destination of of The Silver Creek Plunge. This swimming pool agreed to have some gas for us to buy.
This is Tagg eyeing the nasty side hill through this boulder field. His bike got a little hot here. Nothing to worry about though, because he'd just had his bike worked on by a professional.....
This is me and Val. In the background is a fire lookout. Apparently the guy last on watch failed because the whole landscape had recently been torched.
This made for awesome vistas.
We went over a summit of sorts and shortly after lost the trail. We backtracked for a long time and found another trail we thought would take us where we wanted to go. This trail dropped down a huge ravine.....where it disappeared again. Val and I were the only ones to make the mistake of going down something that we couldn't easily get back up. This tree root ate his lunch.
We finally got back up the hill and eventually found a four wheeler track going downhill the wrong direction. It was our only choice at this point, so we got on our way. The trail switched back and forth 20 times or more. It was all down hill so we were able to coast with our bikes turned off the whole way down giggling to ourselves at the roller-coaster ride. Val used his brake a little too much and just about started his bike on fire. At the bottom, we realized we were right back where we were 3 hours before. There was no way we could make it to the swimming pool for gas now. Cascade was far away, too and the extra gallon of gas each of us packed on our back wasn't going to get us anywhere. Desperation set in. We noticed we were in a campground of sorts. There was a camper trailer with around 5 gas jugs under it. Presumably, this belonged to the bridge construction workers. I'd never stolen anything in my life, but it was our only choice. We rushed to the camper and filled our tanks as fast as we could. One of us left some extra cash to help us justify our thievery. We then headed out on the only other trail left to take; Yellow Jacket Trail. Yellow Jacket trail ran parallel to Tyndall Creek and was equally entertaining. All of us were smiling at this point, even though we were now back on road 409 at the place we road past at about 10 am that morning. It was late afternoon now. We then went south down a different dirt road that would probably lead us South to The Silver Creek Plunge. This assumption again failed us. When the road hit a dead end, we took a very faint trail in our desired direction. This decision was brutally ill-advised, too. All of us went down another ravine and had to turn around at the bottom. Getting back to the top took all we had. Johnny led the way and it only took him one run to scale the rocky hill. The rest of us struggled. I couldn't help but start to worry about the gas we burned trying over and over to get back up this hill. Tagg laid his bike over and broke his clutch lever. Sweaty and tired, we eventually got back to where the road had dead-ended. Now we were really in trouble. There was no way we could get to any gas to refill our tanks. We could, however get to a main road to try and find help.
We got back to the main highway between Boise and Cascade at around 7pm. The traffic on the highway wasn't bad so we got into a single file line and headed South. Cars had to pass us often, but it was still light out so it wasn't much of a problem. Val was the first to run out of gas. Chad and I made it to the Banks intersection that leads East toward Lowman and Stanley. We knew we had to get help with our gas situation. Tagg visited a nearby county snowplow shed to see if we could have some gas while Chad and I put our thumb out in hopes of hitchhiking a ride into Garden Valley. A nice lady stopped and let me jump in the backseat with a bunch of pop bottles to fill with gas. The road to Garden Valley follows the river and is horrendously windy. Before I knew it, my face was pail, my body temperature was rising, and I was ready to throw up with motion sickness. I luckily made it to Garden Valley without throwing up, but I was ill. I laid on the gravel parking lot for several minutes to try and get my bearings back. Darkness was setting in.
After I filled all of my bottles, it shouldn't have surprised me that no one wanted to give me a ride back to my friends. I watched dozens of cars pass me with my thumb out. My face was dirty and I looked like a gangster with all of my riding garb on. About 30 minutes later I heard the unmistakeable humming of a dirt bike coming my way. Johnny and Val managed to get some gas and ride into Garden Valley leaving Chad and Tagg back at the intersection. I jumped on the back of Val's bike with the gas bottles in my hand and we returned to save our comrades. We arrived back at the intersection as darkness was officially upon us. As we were gearing up to travel back to garden valley, a cop passed by and gave me peculiar stare. We waited for him to leave and then quickly set off. None of our bikes have headlights so we put LED headlamps on our foreheads so oncoming cars could see us. The cop set us up. He drove away for 5 minutes and then turned around knowing he would meet up with us. Immediately his flashers turned on and he had us.
Tagg is a police officer. During the truck ride to Cascade I asked him if it was ethical for an off duty officer to tell another police officer of his common occupation in order to avoid a citation. Tagg replied this was wrong and unfair to the public. Very unethical.
Well, this police officer wasn't pleased with us dirt bikers riding down his highway at night without headlights, without registration, without insurance, and without our licenses. To make matters worse, I learned that he had given me that peculiar stare earlier because he believed I was concealing drug contraband in my backpack. After he obtained our IDs he got back into his jeep cherokee to figure out what to do with us. I looked at Tagg and asked, "any ideas?" After hesitation, he replied, "hold up my bike. I'll go talk to him." Three minutes later, we were receiving a police escort back to the gas station. I gotta believe Tagg didn't divulge that one of the riders in his party was a defense attorney.
Our situation at this point was still tenuous at best. Our bikes were full of gas, but we had another 40 miles to travel down the highway before we arrived at our lodging for the night. It was completely dark and chilly. None of us had anything more than a rain jacket. But we didn't have a choice, so we set off. Two hours of highway riding on a dirt bike destroys the morale of a group, especially in the cold dark. We made it to the Sourdough Lodge nevertheless with nothing more exciting than a close run in with a deer. The owner of the lodge was nice enough to return to the office in the middle of the night to give us a key to our bungalow. He also opened his store so we could get some food. We bought a package of hot dogs and sodas.
Our little rental cabin had four bunks and a futon. The kitchen had no stove or microwave so we cooked the hot dogs precariously in the toaster. It worked. All of us hit the sac hard that night. I noticed once again that Johnny volunteered to take the uncomfortable futon. I didn't take any pictures of our cabin, probably because of my frustration with the day's outcome. We had ridden in excess of 150 miles; most of it on pavement. If there had been a vote to cast someone off the island at this point, no question the tribe would have picked me. I was the navigator and there wasn't much to be proud of. Day 2 sucked.
That next morning, the tribe nominated Johnny to take over navigating duties. Johnny took me aside and said, "Don't listen to these guys, you're doing fine." We were determined to make this day more fruitful. After filling up with gas at the Sourdough Lodge, day 3 started with a trail that shot out of the Lowman Valley like a cannonball. Tagg, Johnny, Chad and Val standing in front of the trail-head sign. This trail was a Blue Circle "more difficult" route.
The Warm Springs Ridge Trail went straight up the mountain via switchback after switchback. This was a technical spot that threw Johnny downhill. Funny stuff.
Taking a break on the sidehill looking out over Lowman. Unbelievable views.
The trail led to a campground. We stopped and relished in the great single track we were enjoying. Chad and I knew the majority of the riding would be single track so we geared our sprockets way down. Everyone else envied our ability to lug so slowly.
Chad and Johnny riding the ridgeline. This felt like we were in serious back country.
Me and Tagg taking a breather.
This is Tagg jockeying his bike over another technical spot. His bike got a bit hot here, too.
A look North from the trail and where we are headed.
Unbelievable trail riding here. This switchback led
down to a bridge.
The Warm Springs Ridge trail, like all good things eventually came to an end. We landed in a campground surrounded by small lakes including Big Trout Lake. I remember thinking at this time; no matter how hard I try, I can't wipe this grin off my face.
From the campground we crossed the highway and embarked on some black diamond trails (Most Difficult). Bench Creek Trail to Swan Creek Trail and then to Elk Meadows Trail . The signs were pretty beat up and only a few could actually help with our navigation.
We found this Boise National Forest sign in pieces on the ground during a brief rest. We pieced it back together so we could symbolically conquer it, like we did that forest.
I wish the angle was better for this picture, because this trail was steep, rocky, technical, and made for good laughs. Val was leading the way and forgot to pack some extra mojo. One by one we passed Val on difficult and narrow spots. We didn't realize it until we stopped for a break and everyone was there but Val. Even funnier than 4 people passing him, was the back tire excuse he tried to pull. (turns out Chad had the exact same tire) I'm still laughing out loud.
Next, we rode through Elk Meadows. Lusciously green with a few bogs to cross. This took us into Stanley for some long overdue dinner.
We ate quickly and then decided in order to get to our next sleeping quarters, we'd have to ride some highway for about 20 miles. Once we arrived close to our day's destination, Clayton, we jumped off the highway and decided to try a brief loop. Once again I made a horrible navigation error. The Hermit Mine Trail was open and accessible according to my map. Either the trail hadn't been ridden in years, or the trail simply didn't exist. This didn't keep us from trying to find it, though.
I think Johnny only had three get offs the whole ride, and I captured all of them. This video is classic. After searching for a trail for a few hours, we ran out of daylight and headed back out to the highway to find The May Family Ranch, our place to bed down for the night.
Just before reaching the highway, Tagg's Suzuki bit the dust. This is Val towing Tagg to the May Family Ranch. Once again, not a lot of light left.
Day 3's riding was epic.
The May Family Ranch graciously allowed us to stay when I was making accommodations via the telephone a few weeks earlier. The Ranch was already booked for the night with a family reunion, but they made room for us.
We pulled up to the May House and parked along their fence. Val, Chad and Tagg began assessing the Suzuki's damage, while Johnny agreed to accompany me to meet Mrs. May. We knocked on what appeared to be the front door without a response. I poked my head in the door and heard a stern voice from upstairs, "who's there? Well come in! I'm not going to hold your hand." What had I gotten us into?
I looked at Johnny and read his thoughts like a book: These punk kids talked me into this damn trek. Navigation is horrible, accommodations..... at some random country home, and I'm too old for this sh!@#. Keep in mind Johnny is about twenty years older than the rest of us. If he was bitter, he had every right to be. But Johnny wasn't bitter. He was as amused as I was at the spontaneity of this trip.
Johnny and I climbed the stairs and were met by Mrs. May as she was taking hot bread from the oven. It was a picture of heaven after living off of jerky and hot dogs for days. The Mays were so generous, they called us all in to the kitchen to sit and eat with them at their table. All of us were filthy and smelled like a 6 month-old can of opened tuna fish. The food was amazing and the company was even better. The Mays were full of funny banter and made us all laugh while we fed our faces. They let us sleep in a barn-looking bunkhouse pictured here. Generally guests are required to bring their own sleeping bags, but we didn't have room so they hooked us up with bedding as well
The next morning, the May generosity continued with homemade pancakes made by Mr. May. (Center). I'm sure he initially thought Johnny was our dad. The night before, we discovered Tagg's bike was finished. This picture encompasses his sentiment well.
You can tell Tagg's smile is a little flatter than the rest of ours. His professional tuneup a few days prior to departure was overrated. Mr. May agreed to give Tagg a ride to Challis so he could wait for the rest of us to arrive via single track again. I wish I could say Tagg didn't miss much, but Day 4 was every bit as awesome as Day 3.
Tagg did get a smile out of sabotaging Chad's backpack with a souvenir rock.
For Day 4 we settled on the Peach Creek trail that started a few miles west of Clayton. It was an old logging road for the first 5 miles and then suddenly turned into a gnarly single track. There were tight switchbacks with a trail barely wide enough to hold a tire. This picture of Val is near the top. We then merged onto the most aptly named trail in Idaho: The Razor's Edge.
The trail followed this really narrow ridge with drop offs on either side. It lead to another fire lookout nestled at the top of the far peak.
At this particular ledge, I just about lost my balance. This picture doesn't do the cliff justice but there is a scary drop here.
This is Me, Johnny, and Chad atop the fire lookout. We could see for miles in all directions. Idaho has some spectacular mountains. I haven't seen many vistas that can compare to the Grand Tetons I view each morning from my front porch. But, this bird's eye view of the Sawtooths meandering clear to Challis was breathtaking.
From the Razor's Edge, we headed North down the mountain. Here, we witnessed the only double black diamond on our trek. We traveled down the trail which made it much easier. I can't wait to return and try it going uphill next time. About the time we were furthest away from a road or civilization, Chad had an instant break down. It felt like someone had held down his kill switch, so we disconnected the wiring. It solved the problem for this day, but we'd later find out his stator was bad and needed replaced.
In the afternoon, clouds and a slight drizzle made the conditions perfect. The last single track of the trip included a loop of McKay Creek to Aspen Creek. What a riot. Here is a link to a youtube video of part of it.
Late afternoon we arrived in Challis and met Tagg at the Challis LDS chapel. Again, notice the expression on Tagg's face. The rest of us had perma-grin, I still have perma-grin as write this 6 months after the fact.
A few weeks after we returned from this adventure, I was commissioned to give a lesson on friends in church. I've had my share of fair-weather friends--and I'm sure some think of me as a fair weather friend. But, as I prepared my lesson, I couldn't help trying to understand why Dad has such a love for Johnny.
I've learned, after asking, about many good deeds Johnny has done for our family over the years. Too many to count. He drove his semi truck all the way to Arizona one time to help us move back to Idaho. Another time he gave financial help to us in our time of need. What for? I'm sure Dad has come to Johnny's aid, too. But, of course I haven't heard about those events either because of the unwritten rule of true friendship -- good deeds aren't done for notoriety or reward, but because of the brotherly love that exists.
I still don't get it, but I do know that this ride was phenomenal. It had all the ingredients for a lifetime memory: beautiful vistas, laughter, spontaneity and tribulation. I hope I've got the cajones to follow four immature idiots on a mountainous adventure when I'm 55. It also gave me a glimpse of my dad's true friend.
From Challis, we loaded the bikes and drove to Idaho Falls. When we arrived at Boozer's gas station to unload the bikes and go our separate ways, the rain was coming down hard and fast. The kind of miserable rain that instantly drenches you. For one last laugh, we rochambeau'ed to see who had to get out and unload all the bikes in the rain. It was all or nothing. As luck would have it, Tagg lost. All of us exploded with hysterical laughter at his misfortune. Tagg reluctantly got out and slammed the door behind him so he didn't have to hear the hysteria. About two seconds later, Johnny slipped out of the truck to help. It was there, that I got to watch the literal, and figurative distinction play out between a fair weather friend and a true friend.
Like I said, Heroes and true friends can't always be distinguished.