Boise to Ketcham (175.33 miles)
“If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
-Said by anyone who’s tried to do something hard
After 8 days, Eric and I are happy to report we are alive and well, skin mostly intact, and muscles not as sore as we expected. In summary, the first part of our journey has been an eye-opening, uphill adventure. They say there is no true downhill in Idaho and we are here to say with certainty, that statement is 100% true. With one week down and 2 of the hardest mountain passes of the entire trip under our belt, we’ve learned a great deal about ourselves and what we’re capable of. It’s incredible what you can do when your mind and body are in sync with one another—or what you unable to achieve when they are not. Both have unfortunately occurred during this first segment of the trip which I will explain in more detail below.
First, I have to say that Idaho is magnificent, ruggedly wild, and at times, intimidating as hell. Despite our efforts and countless hours of research and planning, I am embarrassed to admit that Eric and I may have underestimated the difficulty level of this trip. We knew it would be tough as neither of us are elite athletes, but for the common person, I think we would both agree that this trail should be rated either extreme or at minimal, strenuous. It’s quite possible that we walked nearly as many miles as we rode from Boise to Ketchum—175.33 in total. During that time we encountered 2 mountain passes (one above 8,000 feet), rock slides that took out miles of roads which we had to traverse, swift, freezing cold river crossings, animal sightings, and temperature extremes (hot/cold) all while riding/walking on several surface variations from thick sand to large chunky gravel (and everything in between). Speaking only for myself, by the end of each day, I would sit back and reflect on the day’s challenges and think, “You are a bad ass!”. No matter what was thrown my way, I made it through—it was quite empowering. Even though I was slow and it wasn’t always pretty, I did it. If I wasn’t smiling on the outside (likely from the huffing and puffing) I was grinning from ear to ear on the inside. I was in my happy place. Here are some stories and lots of photos from the trip. Enjoy.
We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to start our trip. We left the house around 9:18 a.m. since Eric was technically working until then. We rode the familiar Greenbelt east through Boise until we hit the foothills and our first major challenge. We met a weathered soul who lived right by the entrance who stated, “There is no way I would do that on those bikes”. With a worried look she said, “Some of the best riders come out here and tell me that was some of the toughest riding they’ve ever done”. She was a wealth of knowledge as she warned of all the deadly animals, steep inclines, and the possibility of failure. In the spirit of Iohan, a Bulgarian mountain bike explorer extraordinaire, Eric and I looked at one another with a spec of fear in our minds and an overpowering sense of adventure in our hearts and marched on. I’m sure the lady thought we were crazy, but we weren’t here to take the “easy road” at every turn. Thankfully we felt that way because this hill was only the beginning of the climbing we were about to face on this trip. Looking back we laugh because this road was short and easy in comparison (despite some 29% grade).
It helped that the gentle breeze sent dollops of cotton-like clouds floating by for miles on end as we heaved and hoed our way to the top. The stark beauty of the foothills along with the spotted sky eased the pain of hike as we watched Boise slowly disappear behind us.
A single wrong turn did cost us about 1.2 additional miles uphill. It was all a learning process. The map app, Maps.Me was a huge disappointment. I married an amazing, well prepared man though. Eric had multiple other GPS apps to use just in case one didn’t work the way he wanted it to. Plus, we also had the official map of the Idaho Hot Springs Loop, but we were already plotting our own course (as we knew we would throughout the trip).
That smile didn’t last long because we were now at the dreaded spot where we were no longer able to avoid Highway 21. By 2:30 pm on Friday, the road was hopping with speedy drivers seeking their own great escape from the city. Travel trailers and trucks filled with camping gear whizzed by one after another as we slowly made that 1 mile climb to Hilltop Station at the crest of the hill. After hours of climbing (by bike and by foot) we took a short break, replenished our energy sources, and mentally prepared to get back on that dreaded road to complete the decent to the Arrowrock Dam turnoff 2.8 miles away.
Let’s just say that part, while still scary, was a LOT more fun. BIG downhill. NO shoulder! We were lucky enough to have less traffic on this section. Likely because we were moving a lot faster than while going up.
After making our turn onto East Spring Shores Road, traffic got heavier and heavier. Vehicle after vehicle loaded down with everything except possibly the kitchen sink zoomed by. Eric and I got a little concerned as we didn’t have reservations and we didn’t want to be up all night listening to the party. We ended up riding another 9.5 miles to Arrow Rock Dam when we decided to backtrack and stay at Macks Creek Park a few miles back. Not knowing what was ahead or if we would have a spot if we pressed on another 20 miles helped us to make that decision. It wasn’t a great experience, but it could have been worse. After at first being turned away, the woman recalled that there was a cancellation up in the RV section which we gladly accepted. On a positive note, the site did turn out to be free since we were on bikes.
We relaxed for a bit when a truck full of boy scouts pulled up. Not long after, the leader walked over and proceeded to talk about himself for a good 15-20 minutes. Attempting to be kind, we listened. He did promise to keep the noise to a minimum and warned us about the raccoon problem in the area so that was nice. Tired as we were, we pitched our tent, made dinner, and by 9 pm were fast asleep—until THE noises came. Eric had slipped some trail mix into his feed bag earlier that day and it apparently did not air out enough to help the smell dissipate. I had just lulled off to sleep when Fatboy merrily came snooping into our camp. I can’t complain because Eric was the one that dealt with him throughout the night. I felt bad for Eric though because I knew that he was tired. The next morning, Eric mentioned that the raccoon figured out how to take the pannier partially off his bike, open his feed bag, and made an attempt to pocket his knife. Whoa. Crazy raccoon(s). I’m not sure how many of them there were, but my bike was untouched. I’m a stickler for the food because I absolutely do not want ANY bears to mess with us on this trip. Lesson learned. Animals ability to smell far supersedes ours. I told Eric he needs to keep his nuts in his sack. 😉
Accent: 1571.53 ft
Total Ride Time: 4:17:04
Despite the fact that the incline was mild and the views stunning, Eric and I were not a fan of this section of our ride. With the influx of people in the Boise area we should have known that there would be tons of traffic moving through here on a Saturday. The question we kept asking ourselves was, “Where are all of these people going?” We never did end up finding where all the cars went, they were just enjoying the drive on washboard gravel roads I suppose. We personally were not enjoying the washboard road and neither were our hind ends but to each their own. We eventually found our groove, tried not to let the speeding cars and mass dustings get us down, and we pushed on making the most of the day.
The terrain was ever changing with sections of large rock formations at one turn and lush greenery with a desert backdrop at another turn. Add in the reflections on the water and a few moments of silence between the passing cars and it was quite peaceful.
As I mentioned, the dreaded traffic and people flying by on gravel roads. No waving, no friendly humanitarian acts of kindness like I don’t know–SLOWING DOWN! Eric and I made the executive decision to stop for the night after we were lured in by a private, dispersed camping site away from everyone and everything else. It was only 2 p.m. but we didn’t care. We decided we were on vacation and we wanted to enjoy the rest of the day.
We relaxed and enjoyed the views until the sky darkened and the air smelled of rain. A few droplets of water speckled the dull, dusty rocks and that’s when we decided to put up the tent just in case it started to pour. Of course, that is also when the wind reared it’s ugly head. I’m sure we looked like quite the pair trying to manage a lightweight tent in 30+mph winds while keeping sand and debris out of our eyes and oh yes–chasing down our ever so important camp chairs as they tumbled round and round toward the river. Eric made a nice grab by the way and saved his chair from the river of no return while I stood there at the winds mercy holding down the tent. Eric staked us in for the night using several of the perfectly situated rocks nearby. This tent would have held up to a hurricane by the time he was done. Just one of the many reasons I love him. He keeps us safe <3
Of course, not even 10 minutes after we got the tent up, the wind died down, the sun popped out, and the clouds scattered revealing the beautiful blue sky. What can you do? Sit back and enjoy a nice dinner with a big smile on your face. It may sound treacherous or annoying but really, it was fun. Nature is unpredictable. Sometimes you just have to react and overcome—it’s called survival.
Accent: 280.84 ft
Total Ride Time: 3:26:30
One of my favorite things about this trip is the amount of time we’ve spent riding along the Boise River. Numerous twists, turns, and horseshoe bends provide scenic views that never end. It’s breathtaking. I never want to leave this place. We thankfully only saw a few cars today which was a much needed break from civilization. Sadly, we have seen the aftermath of human interaction with nature as there has been trash and graffiti everywhere. Why do people leave their lives, pack up almost everything they own to go camping and then leave a bunch of trash and markings in their wake? Humans. We are cancer to the Earth.
On a lighter note, this section of the trail was fairly easy with gentle slopes and not a lot of climbing. The roads continue to be washboard gravel, but at this point, we have gotten used to a bumpy ride.
The mornings are generally crisp and cool before the sun tops the hills and warms our bundled bodies. It hasn’t been unbearably cold, but enough to make you think twice about changing out of your pajamas as you crawl out of your sleeping bag. I’ve learned how to get dressed while squeezing every ounce of heat our 3 season tent has to offer. I’ll be utilizing that skill quite a bit when we hit the mountains!
As the day went on the sky appeared to get bluer and bluer. Is that even possible? I suppose it is. A very nice contrast between the burned trees of time past and new growth starting to form on the hillsides. A bonus of doing the trip this time of year is that we are starting to see some color transitions from greens and yellows to oranges and reds. I’m in my happy place right now.
How could one not be happy among the water, the hills, the trees, and an empty road?
Another one of my favorite times of day is between 4-6pm when the lighting is superb.
It’s usually around that time that we make camp and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us before reflecting on our day and planning for what is to come.
Total Ride Time: 4:14:49
Our morning started out with the coldest temperature so far at 28 degrees. Bur. We did the smart thing and camped a 4-5 miles out from the base of the climb to give us a bit of a warm up before the dreaded accent. We passed a nice outhouse, decided to stop and relieve ourselves and make some cappuccino to kick start the ole ticker.
Best. Decision. Ever.
The views were nice and it wasn’t until we crossed this lovely bridge onto Pheiffer Creek Road, that our lives drastically changed. It literally is/was/and will always be the road from hell.
Looking back, it wasn’t that bad. Was it? Ok, at the time, it was very very bad. I was smiling, grunting, sweating, straining, exhilarated, fatigued, and dead tired which all came in waves throughout the day. I’m really surprised that tearful and grumpy didn’t enter the scene, but they kept a safe distance. It was HARD but it was FUN. I was doing what I wanted to do and that made it all ok. I kept chanting in my head, “I’d still rather be doing this than be at work right now”. That saying, a positive attitude, and sheer determination pretty much got me up this nearly 3,000 foot non-stop climb with an 80 pound bike and a middle aged body. Eric is a trooper but I think he may have been questioning either our intelligence or insanity for wanting to spend almost a month covering this kind of terrain.
During day one, as we naively climbed up Highland Road, we made jokes about knowing what Sisyphus must have felt like as he pushed the boulder up that steep hill. We obviously had NO idea what was to come. Ah, a young, inexperienced mind. This was much more strenuous than we’d ever imagined when planning our trip. But, when you’re in the middle of nowhere you push through. In the process, I realized that I’m much tougher than I thought I was. Additionally, I really felt like a confident (not to be confused with cocky) bad-ass. I made it! I knew in that moment, I could do this trip. I had what it takes!
Here are some photos from the day!
We went up….
around multiple switchbacks, and….
then up some more!
Every half hour or so Eric would proclaim, “You know, this is the highest I’ve ever been on a bike before”. It never got old, until…it did 🙂 Haha. No, actually, a little comic relief went a LONG way on this section of the trip.
Because it went on for what seemed like for-ev-er!
It was beautiful though and worth every minute.
It’s funny how we each respond to the answer. I smile because that is more becoming than tears. Eric jokingly frowns. I’m not sure if it was because we still had quite a ways to go or I asked him to be in my photo! It really could have went either way.
Eventually, we did make it to the top—or at least what we thought was the top. False summit! Are you kidding me?
Steel Mountain has it’s name for a reason. You have to be tough to do it. Those guys who do this all the time on their lightweight bikes and bikepacking setup are both insane and smart! This was tough!
After a short downhill (which really pisses you off on a false summit), we still had nearly 500 ft of elevation gain to do before our serious downhill into Rocky Bar. We pouted for all of 5 minutes and then we moved on. What else can you do? It was just after this photo we had our first bear encounter! Luckily, the bear took off down the mountainside first because I would have considered that as a viable option if I could have reacted faster!
We were a bit distrusting of the true summit so when we crested the top it was a bit anticlimactic in comparison to the first go around. The smiles did eventually surface on the big downhill which was a real butt clincher let me tell you! It wasn’t until half way down when my brain registered the fact that we spend nearly 8 hours climbing this beast and it would only take us maybe 30 minutes to come speeding down! Not fair.
We reached Rocky Bar a bit exhausted and ready for the day to be over. We knew that we still had 400 ft of climbing to do but thought it would be fine over the 8-9 mile stretch of road ahead. We were right about the climb, we were wrong about how easy it would be! This was probably the low point in our day. I was exhausted, Eric was in a hurry to just get it over with. Let’s just say, I was only brave enough to snap one photo during that stretch. There are much scarier things in the wilderness than bears and that is an angry Samquanch….(aka Eric). lol. Joking. In reality, I wanted it to be over with as well, it was getting dark, and we were both starving!
You see why I had to at least take one photo? The views is what led me out here to begin with! Stunning.
At 6:29 p.m. we landed in Featherville, ordered a pizza since that was the only thing available and checked into our room for the night. Just like that, everything was right in the world and the grueling 11 hour day was behind us (but never to be forgotten).
Accent: 2,877.30 feet
Total Ride Time: 5:30:37 with a total of almost 11 hours for the entire day!
I woke to the sight of our loaded down bikes reminiscing about our trip thus far. A huge smile swept across my face. This trip has been a lot more strenuous than I ever imagined with extreme grades in the road upwards of 29+ percent! That is huge! I felt really proud of myself in that moment. I got up to use the bathroom when I noticed the napkin from our pizza-gorge-fest from last night. It said, “Tell me about your day and what made it OK”. Well, here I am telling you. My days have been more than OK. I feel like I’m living the adventure I’ve always wanted to have. Life is good. Jenni is happy!
Eric and I thoroughly enjoyed our zero day in Featherville. Around 10 a.m. we walked over to have breakfast at Cyndie’s Featherville Cafe. Little did we know that this place would soon feel like home. If you ever have the chance to visit this quaint town, I highly recommend dropping in at the cafe. If you don’t eat, at least get some of Pat’s amazing homemade ice cream! Pat, his wife Cyndie and the mayor Maggie Mae are some of best people we’ve ever met. Instantly, we felt like family. Pat was also kind enough to give us tons of information about what to expect on the upcoming section of the trail. This was invaluable as we faced several dangerous boulder crossings, river crossings, and road wash outs. We spent nearly 3 hours that morning visiting with Pat and stealing soft kisses from Maggie Mae.
After breakfast we regrouped and decided that getting rid of some bike weight was a must. When we left home we felt like we had paired down from our original item want list by quite a bit. Knowing we would be gone for nearly 30 days, there were a few comforts that we wanted to have for example, our lightweight (2 lb.) camp chair. Well, after tackling Steel Mountain nothing seemed all that important anymore. Pat provided us with a large box and offered to ship it back to Boise for us the next day and we could pay him when we returned home. See, good people! We filled that box to the brim and around dinner time we walked it back over to the cafe. Pat weighed us in at 18.5 pounds!!!
We had dinner with Maggie Mae and more stimulating conversations with Pat and Cyndie. In chatting about everything from politics to football, Pat offered to drop our box off at our house for us since they would be in Boise anyways. I’m telling you, these are the nicest people that you could ever meet! We were so grateful for their hospitality and their generosity! They also have customers for life! The homemade ice cream is to die for 🙂 We closed the place down that night before heading back to the motel next door and calling it a night.
Pat and Cyndie, if you ever read this please know how much you are appreciated!
Total Ride Time: 0:00:00
Another long but glorious day. This was by far the most rugged and secluded portion of our trip so far. This is the day we traversed several river crossings, the boulder field where we climbed our bikes over the side of a mountain, and rode several miles along the most intimidating stretch of gravel we called, “Bone Road”. It got the name because this is where we saw mass quantities of animal bones and fresh bear scat. This is also the stretch of 10-12 miles that was inaccessible by anything except for a bike or by foot. It looked like something out of The Walking Dead. It was creepy and exhilarating all at the same time. Thick bush covered the road and we were on high alert. If we were going to have some type of animal encounter, this would have been where X marked the spot! While a bit intimidating (if you let your mind wander too much) it was the most fantastic stretch and probably our favorite section of the trip!
You can see why! Magnificent. Glorious. Rugged. Beauty. Words can not describe how beautiful this place is.
But like I said, it was also desolate and void of humans (except for us!)
This was where we decided to stop for brunch. The stillness of nature comforted us as we enjoyed our snacks in silence. We watched the salmon swimming in the stream and in that moment my mind was quiet and my heart was full.
Ah yes, the “boulder field” as we called it. It is difficult to see from the photo, but a road used to be here. There was an enormous rock slide and now it’s a playground for us crazies who try to cross it. The rocks are much larger than they seem. At first, Eric and I thought we had to cross the river so we spent a lot of time trying to determine our plan of attack. Also difficult to tell in the photo, the river was much higher and much wider than it looks. It really wasn’t an option to cross, especially since we had no idea where it would pick up on the other side. After climbing around for a while, we noticed what looked to be a game trail up near the black rocks to the left of the photo. We decided this is likely where everyone crosses, then felt stupid that it took us so long to discover it! We made this one a lot harder than it needed to be. The pro was that we worked well together to come to a solution and didn’t get aggravated at one another when things got tough. We are awesome together. <3
So up we went carrying the bike 100 yards then going back for our bags, back to the bikes, then the bags, and so on until the job was done. It took us about an hour to get through this 500 yard section of trail. Not only was it steep but a potentially dangerous zone to be respected. So we moved slow but steady until we were both safely across.
The pay off?
Eagles. Several bald eagles flying everywhere!
I wasn’t able to capture any of them due to time constraints, but it was absolutely awesome!
This is the section of the river where they appeared to be searching for their next meal.
The last few crossings were a bit hairy but doable. We walked our bikes along a 4-5 foot tall, 6 inches across dirt embankment for about 1/4 mile before we had no choice but to hop in the river and cross over or risk falling in when the ground gave way. We thought we’d take our chances in the water! Hard to tell in this photo but that water is about 4, maybe 5 feet down. I couldn’t even take a photo of the more narrow sections because it was too dangerous and it required all of my attention.
But, once I was safe then it was selfie time! I mean, come on. It’s beautiful. Plus, check out all the red salmon to the bottom right, just above the bushes. They were everywhere! It was so cool.
After we made it through our last crossing and obstacle of the day, we had a mini celebration and then rode like the wind. We were going to run out of daylight if we didn’t hurry and we still had about 9 miles to go and we were exhausted from the day’s rigorous demands.
But, we made it to one amazing spot all to ourselves in the middle of nothingness. It was absolutely perfect and we had our own private hot spring! Life doesn’t get much better than this.
Total Ride Time: 6:24:35
Our second mountain pass, Dollarhide, proved to be another struggle. Two 3,000 foot mountain passes in a week, it doesn’t seem like much but it does play a toll on the body when you’re lugging around a heavy bike. All-in-all, it was honestly easier than Steel Mountain for sure. The grades were much more realistic and the road was in much better condition. This one was more of a mental challenge for us and being in the higher elevations was playing a toll on Eric’s lungs. At this point, the big question was, “Are we still having fun?”. For the most part, I think the answer was still ‘yes’. I think we were sorely disappointed that we seemed to be walking more than riding at this point. I mean, this was supposed to be a bicycle trip, right?!?
Mid way through, I think we both just really wanted it to be over so we could be sitting in Ketchum with a beer in hand and a bed under body.
The mood was definitely lower today, but that’s part of the game. The trick is keeping your head in it because if you don’t, you’re going down for the count! 3-2-1 knockout! I wasn’t going to go out like that. So, we both marched on.
Here are a few photos from the day.
And just like that….it’s over.
We cruised through Ketchum, found a motel, ate dinner and some ice cream, then crashed. We knew we had a lot of decisions to make during our zero in Ketchum. One of which, how to shave more weight off these bikes!
Total Ride Time: 5:46:24
That was one full week! I know this was a long blog, but I hope you enjoyed reading! There is still more to come! Stay tuned for more details on where we’re at, why, and what’s next.
Until next time…..