June 25 -July 17 2014
Granted. Adventure Cycling did a marvelous thing when they mapped out the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 1997. They brilliantly took 2745 miles and over 200,000 feet of elevation gain from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, Mexico and laid it out in a user friendly format complete with where to get ice cream, coffee and a good micro-brew beer. They almost spoon feed you the route leaving space for other more important things, exciting things, like being chased by grizzly bears. Thousands and thousands of people from around the world have enjoyed the GDMBR and we’ve had the pleasure of hosting hundreds of them at our home, here in Del Norte, over the years. It’s a decent trade – the inspiration we glean is our only pay. We’ve ridden the route as well and can attest to all the hoopla – it’s well worth the effort if you’ve ever considered it.
So, we were more than excited to hear that Adventure Cycling was rolling out the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route in the spring of 2014. With maps ordered and an invitation in hand, plans were made to take it on. What’s not to like, right? 517 miles of off road touring with 50 hot springs!! And it’s a loop meaning no logistical complications with the exception of getting yourself to the put-in, right where you’ll end up a couple of weeks later. Sweet!
We had been invited to join our dear friends Shawna and Kent on this adventure along with 2 mystery friends we had yet to meet. Let it be known that Shawna and Kent are well seasoned sages at picking out and organizing adventures so for us it was a no brainier. We were in, hard. In mid June the six of us rolled out of the Springs Shores Marina parking lot, outside of Boise Idaho, onto the surface we love the most – dirt – and started peddling the IHSMBR
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS……..
Come to find out, our cast of characters was probably among the first dozen or so to attempt this route since the roll out of the new maps. No doubt there was a herd of hundreds to follow over the summer and fall. We were “loopers” dedicated to complete, come hell or high water…. the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route.
AND WHERE DOES THE RECLAMATION PART COME IN??? Let us tell you….
To start out with, personal goals are good, right? They come to to sit quietly next to us at the start of any adventure, like sleeping tigers. Our goals give us a structure, something to organize and something to move around in. We often don’t know how well tuned our body, bike, spirit and equipment may be for any given adventure, but we generally find out in short order and make adjustments accordingly.
Throw recovering from cancer into the mix and we all step aside, humbly, earnestly, trumped. That was the wild card that Shawna was playing and there was no way of knowing what was in store for her. In March of 2012, Shawna had been diagnosed with breast cancer, putting up the good fight with surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and chaos of the worst kind. On this first “post cancer” trip of this magnitude she was indeed taking herself out on a hell of a test drive .. a very, very big test drive. The significance of this trip held in it’s hands the potential reclamation of Shawna’s life. The guns were indeed loaded.
While Shawna’s tigers weren’t obvious to the naked eye…. Gary’s, well, not so much. This is what Gary rolled up to the starting line with….
The massive swelling in Gary’s right, lower leg happened a couple of days before the trip as a result of going through some basic stretches. It pretty much stayed the same throughout the entire trip, but didn’t seem to slow him down much. Six months later, it was just barely back to normal.
OK, back to the loop and some logistics…. First of all it’s all doable, just pick a pace you can live in and it’s all good. Much like the rest of life, right? As mentioned before, it’s a loop, a big, sweet loop. With the simple purchase of an annual park pass we were able to park our vehicles at Spring Shores Marina which was terribly convenient as it was also the starting point. To make it even more convenient we were able to camp in the parking lot the night before we left….. sweet…. so it seems. But, believe me, there was much tado about nothing, confusion and a variety of communication mishaps with the seemingly in-the-dark marina folks indicating just how few people had attempted this prior to us. In the end, they consented to let us stay there, but by their resistance to the whole idea we’re thinking we may have been some of the first and the last to benefit, which is a shame as it’s the perfect starting point. Y’all can give it a go, it’d be worth a try. The park has probably dialed in their regulations around the whole thing by now. Regardless, parking at the marina allowed us an additional 15.5 beautiful, dirt miles (31 round trip) along the shores of the Arrowrock Reservoir to the actual start of the loop.
The route proved to be accurately mapped with the exception, possibly, of the 4 mysterious single track sections which we’ll get to later. The longest climb is either at the beginning of the ride or at the end depending on which direction one takes. We headed east, putting the 3,300 climb out of Idaho City at the very end of the trip.
The first two days of the actual loop were along a gravel road in excellent condition which ran along the Middle Fork of the Boise River. It was the perfect grade for warming up the legs complete with hot springs, sun and rain. 55 miles later we took our only diversion off the main route towards the start of the first single track section (Willow Creek option) continuing up a gentle grade to the mountain town of Atlanta. Starving, we ascended upon the only bar/restaurant in town and along with some marginal food we got a heap big serving of local comic fodder enough for Gary and I to get a glimpse into the magnitude of Tom’s amazing humor. After finding out that the Willow Creek single track option was snowed in we opted the next day to take the rugged James Creek Road which dished up the most thigh burning climb of the entire trip. It might be advantageous to add at this point that 10 of the 50 hot springs are located within the first 36 miles of this loop. We sampled some of them finding them in good order some more-so than others. Some were lovely pools, some were at the rivers edge making temperature regulation more erratic.
The next day we made it to Ketchum early enough to catch breakfast at a local hang out with well amped appetites. We stayed for 2 days in this town of the worlds most beautiful people. Kent visited friends (Kent has friends everywhere!!!) while the rest of us rested up, ate, saw a movie and stocked up on food. We were lucky enough to catch Michael Franti on his Sunshine concert tour…. what more can a person ask for??
At this point I’ll spare you the day by day, blow by blow sequence of events, but do know that this is a very doable route with towns interspersed in just the right places to replenish ones supplies and perhaps catch a cooked meal. Just follow the map and you can’t go wrong. Much of it is along rivers, camping is plentiful and the climbs are all doable. We’ll let the pictures, not necessarily in sequence, say the rest……
At some point North of Stanley the days started to heat up making the hot springs a little less enticing. Shawna knew before setting out on this trip that modulating her own body heat was going to be a problem. Due to a round of radiation her thyroid went haywire and with it her internal thermostat. Sure, she had started a course of thyroid medication, but she was still in the “tweeking it” stage of the game. One tactic Shawna used was to leave early in the morning to make the climb before the days heat set in. Jeny and I joined her on a couple of those mornings leaving camp early when the day was still cool. The first early morning launch let us tick off the climb miles towards Lick Creek Pass, the three of us, tight in the braid, giving us a chance to really sus out the trip, chatting from down deep in the way that makes climbing almost unnoticeable. Well before noon we made it to Lick Creek Pass, a stunning pass and the last one before dropping down into the metropolis of McCall.
If you’re curious about the single track sections now is the time to listen up. Gary took the Secesh Single Track option over the Lick Creek Pass and his reviews were less than grand. Apparently, the trail was overgrown with a lot of downfall making it more epic than enjoyable. Hear-say from others as well was that all the single track options were poorly maintained and in similar condition. Now, there are very few people who have Gary’s passion for off-the-beaten-track adventure and high tolerance for undesirable conditions, so you gotta give a heads up when the guy says……….. “unless you really don’t mind walking your bike and carrying it over a heck of a lot of downfall best stay on the main route.” Maybe next year the single track options will get the attention they need. Enough said.
By the time we reached Idaho City and the gateway to the last climb of the trip it was well over 100 degrees, like 106 to be more forthcoming. Brilliantly, we arrived in the late morning deciding to wait out the heat of the day and knock out some of the miles of the climb that lay ahead in the evening. Not so brilliantly, towards late afternoon, we pounded down Rubin sandwiches and the likes with mounds of french fries and pie to finish it off. We thought we were good to go. OMG… I can only speak for myself, but I suffered more on those evening miles than at any other point of the entire trip. It wasn’t the steepness or even the heat, it was the insane amount of fat, carbs and calories I had just consumed. Stupid!!! A little beyond stupid!
About a third of the way up the last climb we dry camped along the side of the road, nothing fancy. Shawna, Jeny and I headed out early again making the climb to the top in the cool of the day. For much of the trip we had been either ahead of or behind a variety of Idaho wildfires making our last grand vistas from up high somewhat smokey as the pictures show.
On July 15th we rolled back into the Spring Shores Marina, where we had started almost 600 miles earlier with Shawna Marie in the lead, single file, witnessing the reclamation …… she kicked it! Was the trip hard? Sure, one can’t do a trip like this without effort even if recovering from cancer is not in your equation. Was it trying? Sure, how could it not be? Was it worth it, was it beautiful, was it rewarding??? Absolutely. It was about a commitment to life, to health and to vitality. It was about commitment to commitment the fundamental foundation of it all.
So folks…. put your hand together and give it up for Shawna Marie….. JOB WELL DONE!!
WE LOVE YOU !!!!!