Words by brand ambassador Grafton Pannel. Photos by Grafton and Blake Bekken.
Grafton, Blake, and James go way back. The three of them all went to high school together and ironically were under the same photography instructor when they fell in love with being behind the lens. Since then they have all gone their own ways with Blake living in SLC, UT, James in Boise, ID, and Grafton has ended up back in Spokane, WA.
Last spring Grafton approached Blake about setting out on some sort of bike-packing excursion. The list of potential routes was long but the two eventually decided on the Idaho Hot Springs Loop. They originally set out a route that covered about 300 miles of the loop. Due to "real-life" circumstances, time was a bit of a limiter on how long they could be in the saddle. Once they decided this was actually happening and not just talk, James was convinced to join in on the suffer fest.
Our bikes all started weighing in at somewhere between 23-26lbs. Post loading our bicycles up to be "tour ready" they weighed in at somewhere between 60-70lbs. My original goal was to ride from Stanley, Idaho along the Idaho Hot Springs Loop around to Idaho City, Idaho. Due to time and my lofty aspirations on how far we could ride each day we had to take a few short cuts.
My original goal for the first day was to ride an estimated 80 miles or so and end our day at warm lake... we did not achieve this. That first mountain pass was only a taste of the mountains to come. We were high in elevation but started over 6000'. The descent after that climb was beautiful however. Once we dropped over the Cape Horn Summit it was as if we were truly in the backcountry. My nutrition consisted of huma gels, gu chomps, and some good ol' trail mix for the day. A couple of other riders on the route had caught up to us and after passing one another a few times back and forth they proposed we camp with them. That leads me to the people we met on the route. Every cyclist we ran into was so nice. In general everyone in the Idaho backcountry was abundantly kind to us (minus calling us crazy or saying that our bikes were defective because they didn't have a motor). So we stayed with Matt and Rebecca our first night on the route.
The next morning we knew that we were in for two big passes right off the bat so we drank plenty of coffee, downed our oatmeal, and chamois buttered up before getting back in the saddle. The climb up Deadwood Summit that morning was absolutely gorgeous. After summiting we got to ride through some awesome high alpine meadows that seemed to just continue on for days. Our next pass, Warm Creek Summit is currently under construction and being paved. As we reached the summit of the pass we were all ready for some downhill. Continuing onward we were headed for the Lick Creek Mountains.
I knew full well that this pass wouldn't be easy but I was nowhere near prepared for just how "relentless" (as a fellow hot springer put it) this pass would be. The views on our way down the south fork of the Salmon River were nothing short of amazing. Along the south fork we knew that there was one hot spring we couldn't miss. At mile point 16 there is a little hot spring down by the river with a mix of spring water and river water that is the perfect temperature. We rolled on to the hot spring in the middle of the afternoon with high morale and for how much we'd eaten, pretty high energy. We contemplated setting an alarm for when to get back on the road to stay on track for time but decided we'd chance enjoying ourselves too much. While sipping our free Coors Lights we met a couple that was on their honeymoon heading north from Colorado. They were kind enough to remind us how hard our climb up Lick Creek Summit would be the next day. We ended up setting up camp on the Secech River just before what we knew would be the beginning of our climb.
Day 3 begins...team morale was pretty high for being with no one but each other for the past 48 hours. We started up what seemed to be the big climb. We kept on climbing up into an area littered with alpine lakes and granite peaks. If you ever get the chance to go to the Lick Creek, do it! Under most normal circumstances climbing 3500' over 15 miles first thing in the morning is tough... climbing 3500' over 15 miles first thing in the morning on 70lb bike... its another beast.
We arrived in McCall. It felt like finally. We had only ridden about 35 miles for the day and we all were exhausted. That night we celebrated around a fire and woke up with "fresh legs", heartburn, and ready to begin our last day in the saddle. The plan was now to end at the Dirty Shame Saloon in Crouch where we would meet up with an old friend who would have cold beers ready and take us back up to Stanley. We decided to play it safe and just ride down highway 55 on the north fork. Late afternoon and we arrived in crouch.
Once we turned at Banks we had a measly 9 miles left. It seemed like nothing compared to the 235 we had already completed, but the worst part was having mile markers telling us just how far we'd gone. We finished late afternoon and we arrived in crouch. All in all the trip was physically draining, as well as emotionally. Take two of your best friends out in the backcountry and physically exert yourselves all day for 4 days in a row, you'll understand how. The good news is we're all still friends. Great friends.