Doubling Down With a New Salsa Cutthroat As My Steed
By Guest Blogger Jeremy Whitman
As I complete my packing at 11 p.m. the night before I embark on the Smoke and Fire 400, several thoughts whirl through my mind: Sure hope the body is ready for 444 miles; really wish I had ridden a few sections prior; boy, I’m sure glad I snagged this Cutthroat off the demo rig.
The noble Cutthroat, dressed for the occasion ...
In true adventure cycling fashion, I arrive to the start. It doesn’t really qualify as a start line, just some cross streets in a hip section of Boise’s Northend. I’m early for a reason: I want to enjoy a cup of coffee with the man who created the race, Norb DeKerchove. This race is just in its second year and has since drawn an immense amount of national attention. The number of riders for its second year has more than doubled (even J. Kato and Rebecca Rusch mingle at the start line). Norb tells me to enjoy the beauty the ride offers. We shake hands, and I thank him for making this event happen. He proceeds outside to get on his bike. Norb leads the neutral rollout through town and onto our paved trail that contours the Boise River. Nothing is said, and all of us are on our bike when our clocks show 6 a.m. The race is now underway.
Pre-dawn ride start: Par for the course ...
My first 50 miles are a mix of enjoyment, pain, laughter, and an appreciation for where I have chosen to live. All of these emotions made the first segment of the ride almost feel like a dream, until my body began reminding me that it hadn’t seen that type of intensity in some time. I stop to refill water, snack, and stretch when I see riders, including Rebecca Rusch, roll on past. Suddenly I’m thinking I might have ridden that first segment a little too fast.
Prairie view ...
As I get back on my bike and pedal out of Prairie, it sinks in that the journey has begun, and I am ready to accept whatever might occur over the next 400 miles. I ride along, mostly by myself for the next section, relishing the beauty of the backcountry views I had hoped to experience. I roll into Pine, where other riders are congregated around the local convenience store. I chat with a few of them, and most of the discussion is based on the next segment. A week before the race, a flash flood had washed out the original route (a winding Forest Service road), and now we have to climb 14 miles up a paved road to a plateau where we will explore the Idaho Centennial Trail.
My climb from Pine is brutal. Not only is the hot breeze and sweltering sun beating down on me, but my full stomach is harshly reminding me that the Chipotle burrito, chocolate milk, snickers, and banana might have been excessive. Finally onto dirt, I feel as though I should have a 10-gallon hat and a horse. The terrain is sagebrush intermixed with native plants that do well without water. It’s beautiful, but there is no shade in sight. I find this section relaxing as the route winds, and the views are majestic.
Hot, dry sun, with no shade in sight, makes for a glorious scenescape ...
At the grocery store in Fairfield, I discuss with Rob, a fellow racer, the necessity of snagging some real grub before venturing over one of the bigger mountain passes the race has to offer. We agree that Jim Dandy’s pizza parlor sounds solid, and it is indeed. Cool air, a place to practice what I learned from JayP, and WiFi, to sneak in a few minutes of Facetime with the family.
Recharged and now riding with Rob, I’m ready to embark on the journey up and over Dollar Hide summit (9,000 feet), into the ski town of Sun Valley. The temperatures have cooled, but the terrain has gotten more technical, and I find myself lumbering with my bike up a gnarly section of what must be a hiking trail. Damn you, Norb!
The legs are on fire and the pizza seems to be clawing its way back up. I slow my pace and soon return to the gravel road that will lead me to Dollar Hide summit. Darkness has set in and works in my favor, as time doesn’t really seem to exist, nor can I see how steep the road is in front of me. Almost to the summit, I come upon a fellow coworker walking his bike. He is exhausted and in a stumbling stupor. We have a few laughs that seem to give him the boost he needs to make it to the summit.
The descent goes by quickly. Temps are chilly, but spirits are raised as we pass a hot spring on the side of the road and get cheered on by those reveling in water from the warm depths of the earth. As I continue the descent, fleeting thoughts of turning around to soak pass through my mind, but I start to see the lights of Sun Valley.
I’m now hanging out at the only store open in Sun Valley at 1:30 a.m., the Veltex. It offers several warm cups of coffee, a pair of cotton gloves (must have left mine on the couch), and a place for Rob to gather himself (he had been struggling with the pizza since Fairfield). While Rob is lying on the floor inside the convenience store, I wander outside to talk with a rider who I don’t know. Looking rough, as I am sure we all do, I ask him how things have been. Not good, he hasn’t held down anything since Pine. Holy crap, this dude has pedaled a singlespeed this far with nothing in the tank! “I’ve had it good,” is what I’m thinking. We chat a bit more, and he wants to get rolling, but is looking for some motivation as he tells me he won’t make it far solo.
Rob has his color back, and all three of us slowly roll out of Sun Valley with no particular destination in mind. Our singlespeed friend keeps rolling down the trail as Rob and I decide to stop. I’ve ridden 208 miles, which has doubled my longest ride to this point in the year, and I feel good as I slide into my bag for a few hours of sleep.
Up in just a few hours, the bibs are a little tough to pull on. Healthy smears of bag balm on the chamois and off we go. Only 14 miles down the trail, we hit pavement and our long climb that will take us into the Stanley Basin. It feels like cheating, but the Galena Lodge (a warming house with great grub) is open, and we’re going to stop. There’s no sense in passing up a warm meal. The breakfast sandwich and Americano fuel my next 8 miles, and I am now looking at what I believe is the true beauty of Idaho: the Sawtooth Mountains.
Mountain view ...
Most of the day is spent navigating this beautiful valley. It is here that we embark on the first section of singletrack, a popular mountain bike trail called Fisher Williams. The day has been heating up, and I find myself stopping multiple times to dip bottles, or my jersey, in the stream that parallels our trail. The singletrack is amazing as it always is, but with the weight on the bike, caution comes into play.
On the short climb out of the Fisher Williams trail, a friend snaps a few photos ...
No stopping on this section to chat. I’m interested in one thing: getting to the Salmon River for a cool dip. The soak is needed, as the cold water aids in reviving the muscles and the mind. As we ride away from the refreshing stream, I begin to think about the evening to come. Was I going to ride through the night to try and move up a few positions? Winding our way into Redfish Lake was relaxing. No spectacular views, but the calm feeling of being in the forest washes over me. Onto pavement and headed toward a stop that Norb feels is the iconic image of Idaho, I am planning my food for the coming 12 hours. I’m leaning more toward riding from here back to Boise without sleep. It’s a quick stop at the Redfish Lodge, as we know the sun will be setting quickly and the most technical section of trail is on the other side of town.
At the grocery store in Stanley, it was a hunt to find what items had the most calories. I had now eaten through all the food I had packed. To my delight I find that frozen burritos have almost 1,000 calories, so I start to unpackage a few of those and feed them into an ancient microwave. It takes a long time for those to cook, which has it pros and cons. I find additional items that I can consume. Who knew that pop tarts had the calories they do? Framebag packed with food, this next section has no means of fueling for 112 miles. However, as we leave Stanley, my legs have loaded up with lactic acid while I was shopping for food, and the darkness looms as we approach the technical singletrack. I prefer not to ride this section in the dark.
With headlamps now blasting light, we ride through sharp, jagged rocks, over off-camber roots, and down technical descents. I really wish I had the Bucksaw at this point, but the Cutthroat is nimble and carries the weight well, allowing me to keep speed through the most technical sections. Relieved to not have a cut sidewall, it is onto the road where it is time to put on the layers. Stanley is known as one of the coldest places in the lower 48, so on went the puffy jacket. For the next two hours, Rob and I don’t speak but a few words to each other, but both of us are thinking the same thing: The long refueling stop coupled with the day’s heat has drained both of us. We decide to grab a few hours of sleep at a relatively high elevation that will be much warmer than the valleys we would soon be exploring.
We agree to get back up at 2 a.m. and continue on, since we still have ambitions to make Boise by midday. Instead I'm jarred awake by a chilled riding partner who needs to get moving at 1:30, which is alright as I feel rested.
What I experience over the next three hours tests me for sure. Temperatures seem to plummet, and I am shaking my hands out to keep them warm even with BarMitts on the bike. Both of us go to take drinks from our bottles only to realize they are frozen. The sky is clear and all that is heard is the crunch of gravel under our tires. We chat at this point to keep from dozing off and to keep warm. Too cold to continue, it is time to find shelter in a sleeping bag.
The slapping of a chain on chainstay wakes Rob and I. We have slept longer than desired, but it feels good. Temperatures are warmer, and I’m appreciative of the decision made to rest more as we get back on the bikes and descend for 10 miles over massive washboard ruts. Riding along the edge of the reservoir, an area I haven’t visited in the beautiful state, puts a sense of accomplishment in my pedal stroke. The landscape is peaceful as the sun rises. My journey today will lead me back home. Next comes the longest climb on the route, and I actually bring on the challenge with a sense of joy. I love to climb and find it rewarding once at the summit. The views never seem to disappoint. Rob and I decide to part ways, as we both know what it is like to wait for someone on a climb.
Almost to the summit, my Achilles begins to ache. I continue to ride, planning to stop at the summit, but every turn in the road just continues to climb. I eventually stop before the summit, put some kinesiology tape on the Achilles and push on. Descending off Scott Mountain feels like a roller coaster, dropping at speeds of more than 30 mph through uneven, jagged terrain that is supposedly called a road. Descent finished and onto pavement toward my last resupply, I’m thankful for my safe arrival. The Achilles is getting worse, and thoughts of pulling the plug on the ride haunt my next 10 miles.
At the resupply point, I decide to check my phone. I have over a dozen texts with words of encouragement from friends that are following me. A few even project when I will be in Boise and highlight that I’m on the final stretch. Dosed on Advil, I ride off, hoping the pain subsides soon. No such luck. As I begin to climb the pain is so bad that I can’t stand on the pedals. I must stop 20 times over the next 5 miles, adjusting the seat height, trying to find the happy medium. Nope, looks like I am climbing the next 9,000 vertical feet in the saddle. (Sure hope those burritos keep powering me along.) Hours later, after climbing with the aid of some Joe Ely, I reach the trail system at Bogus Basin. I know these trails, but struggle to get my bearings correct. Who rolls up but Rob? Of course we laugh that we will get to ride out the last segment of trail together. With two half-functioning brains we get started down the correct trail, and off we head toward the finish, home, and the end of an epic journey.
Arriving at the finish, I can only laugh as my ass and other parts are as raw as my brain. I accept greetings from two good friends, who look forward to epic tales of my journey and offer me the liquid refreshment needed to numb the pain. We stroll to the clipboard, and I sign my name next to a finishing time I’m proud of, 65 hours 22 minutes. I’m partially broken, jonesing for some real food, and excited to be standing knowing the next seat I sit on will be more comfortable than my bike saddle.
Reflecting on the race, I’m beyond grateful to be living in the beauty of Idaho, excited to take the Salsa Cutthroat on future journeys, and stoked to be surrounded by a supportive family and friends who know, come this time next year, I’ll be back for more.
Born and raised in Michigan, it only took one trip at age 8 to Yelllowstone National Park to put visions of big mountains and open spaces in my dreams. Introduced to Edward Abbey by my father, I began to dream of endless adventures in the wilds of the west. After college I emigrated from the Great Lakes area, established myself in the best little city of Boise, Idaho, and began my career by providing authentic learning experiences that turned high schoolers into stewards of the environment. However, I knew my true calling was to help educate people of all ages about how inspiring it is to be powered by two wheels, and earned a position as store manager of Meridian Cycles. Now I share my passion for adventure with customers on the trail, in the store, or over a few hoppy beverages at a local watering hole.
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