A Wander On A Whim

Let’s go wandering… 

A Close Call 

I heard the voice over the white noise of the water rushing downhill quickly.  It was distraught and had a hint of desperation punctuating each chord.  My mind raced through each possible scenario as I crashed through the deadfall on the bank trying to make my way to the voice.  “What do I do?!”  The fear came shouting out of the voice.  With each foot step and snap of the dried wood, the passing of time was punctuated.  Each crack of timber was father time’s way of reminding me that precious seconds were ticking away never to be regained again.  My body and mind were on auto pilot as I burrowed under and through the massive wall of driftwood, scrambling to get closer to the voice.  If I could just see her…extend her my hand or my paddle…just maybe this situation would not take a turn for the worse.  I could get to the voice.  I had to get to the voice. 

The Spark

It all began as it usually does with a simple phone call:

EarlWe can’t make it.  We are heading to Bend to get our future sorted out.  Sorry.  You’ll figure something out to do.  You always do.

Me:  No worries.  Be safe and good luck up there.

Earl:  You too.

Click.  With the abrupt silence on the other end of the line my mind began wander.  It moved north towards the wilds of Idaho and its vast tracts of remote terrain.  There were lots of adventures to be had up there.  In a few short days, I was scheduled to be in Sun Valley and witness the celebration of two great friends as their lives merged into a single matrimonial partnership.  The original plan was to then meet up with other life-long mentors and friends for a week of car camping, whitewater kayaking, rock climbing and bike riding.  It was going to be a much-needed respite from a too busy summer of work.  Now what?

Now what?  What about some of this…? 

Inspiration

I looked down as the map scrolled out from the printer at my feet.  The colored lines stood out sharply on the crisp white paper.  Picking up the 8 ½ by 11” sheet my eyes began examining the fine details of the map…of which there were not much.  This blueprint to adventure was void of all contour lines with no relief of any kind depicted.  Three different designations of wilderness were shown by various shades of green, blue and pink.  Major roads and obscure trails crisscrossed the page.  Blue lines began from nowhere and moved across the page to intersect with each other.  With each scan of the page, my imagination began to engage…What is the terrain like?...Is it possible to ride this trail?...Where are possible resupply points?...As the shadows lengthened across my office floor signifying that yet another day was coming to a close, a plan into the unknown was forming.  I needed to find a partner or two.  

Adventure is not in the Guidebook.  Beauty is not on the map…Seek and ye shall find.

 (Terry & Renny Russell)

 

Lines on a map—where the dreams begin...

Bikers Beware...

The Cast of Characters

Me:  Can you get a flight to Salt Lake City in three days?  No need to bring any equipment.  I’ve got it all.  Just bring some appropriate clothing to ride and get wet in.

            Fireman Jim:  I’m retired.  Of course, I can make it happen.

            Me:  Awesome!  I will pick you up at the airport on my way north.  It’s a go.  Wahoo, brother!

And just like that my long-time friend and young retiree, Fireman Jim, was on board for an adventure.  I had met Jim years ago through rock climbing.  A career fire fighter in southern California, Jim was a super fit athlete who excels at anything he pursues.  After retiring at the age of 52, he lives the life adventure leisure—surfing, rock climbing, paddle boarding, etc.  You can nearly always count on him to be a willing partner in any endeavor involving the outdoors and strenuousness. 

Years ago, Jim rode a bike across the Scottish Highlands on a supported guided tour.  That was enough for him.  Seeking a more remote and authentic experience, he had mentioned that he would like to join me on one of my many harebrained escapades at some point.  He wanted to carry his own gear and food and not have to wait for those of a less fit constitution.  He wanted to suffer a little bit and collapse after a day of fun and hardship.  This idea had the potential to meet his criteria. 

Fireman Jim in his element as a retiree...

Next, a simple text went out to my neighbor, Nan, a busy working mother who is always on the go.  Nan is a crusher at juggling all of the responsibilities thrown at her.  She also gets after it in the outdoors.  Her garage is an outdoor gear shop with bikes, skis and associated equipment available for all types of backcountry fun.  Given her time constraints as a mother though, most of her sojourns are quick in nature, a weekend in length at most.  With my idea coming together, I immediately thought of her and trying to urge her to get a “hall pass” from being a mom for five days or so.  This trip was right up her “alley” (literally), as she grew up in the part of Idaho of where said adventure would take place.  Additionally, she was currently up there visiting her parents.  Maybe they could help her with that “hall pass.”

My initial text started a flurry of back and forth’s as I explained my idea and timeline.  Before long the convincing was done and she was excited to make it happen.  The arrangements for her daughter to hang with her parents were underway.  Now, I just had to round up a bike for Jim and a couple of pack rafts for the both of them, as well as get myself to Salt Lake to pick up the Fireman and onto Ketcham, ID.  In less that 24 four hours after the change of plan conversation with Earl, I had a new focus and two capable partners to join in the fun.  It was all coming together.

Nan—a badass mom and adventurer...

A Grand Prize

We had been told that the first trail of this trip had not seen a work crew all summer.  Given the recent hard winter, there was a strong possibility that the trail could be impassable with deadfall, and turn a day long ride into a hike-a-bike and lift-n-carry saga.  Our brief encounter with a couple of motor bikers seemed to confirm that we were in for much more of a work out than riding heavily laden mountain bikes uphill.  In their attempt to get over the pass, they were thwarted with tree after tree across the single track.

The Three Amigos ready for a wander...

After a debris-free morning of riding we pushed across a lone snow field and had some lunch.  We had made it to the pass.  It was all downhill to our planned camp and a remote hot spring to soak away the day’s toils.  What were those motor bikers talking about?!

No downed trees, just a few creek crossings...

Smooth sailing thus far...

Soon after beginning the descent, the fallen soldiers started piling up.  Was the odyssey beginning?  Pedal fifty feet or hike ten.  Manhandle the bike over, under, and sometimes through the bramble.  Ride/hike and repeat.  An hour into the process the doubt began to creep in.  Were we going to be shut down?  Was this a foolish idea?  What have I gotten Jim and Nan into?  I told them that there was a very real possibility for some type 2 fun, but this situation could easily sour the attitudes of both of them.

Let the fun begin…

How about some more? 

As we painstakingly got lower and lower on the mountain, the collapsed parts of the forest became and less and less.  The riding reemerged.  Within no time we were ripping through the sage with a tornado of dust spraying behind us.  With a little perseverance, we had successfully navigated the Grand Prize Trail where others had turned back.  Now it was time to collect our hard-earned “grand prize”…the hot spring soothed our tired muscles and made for an outstanding finish to day one.

Heading towards the Grand Prize...

One last crossing...

The “Grand Prize”... 

A fitting end to an amazing first day...

A Backyard Paddle

The water was clear, cold and in a hurry.  With gear strewn out like a yard sale along the rocky beach, I gave a lesson on how to efficiently and effectively load a pack raft.  This would be both Jim and Nan’s first experience paddling pack rafts down whitewater, albeit with gear and a bike strapped to them.  Things could get exciting.

Transition time...

The pack and launch went smoothly and we were soon meandering our way towards the next bike leg of the trip.  We had 26 miles of river to paddle.  Due to a lack of public river access points, the East Fork of the River of No Return hardly ever gets paddled.  The river cuts through a broad valley bordered by some of Idaho’s most majestic peaks.  High up in the rugged skyline lies three of Idaho’s most stunning wilderness areas.  The valley floor however, is the domain of the rancher.  Specifically, it is Nan’s family homestead.  We were paddling the river that was her constant childhood companion.  Though she had spent hours on its banks hiking and fishing, she had never ventured down its frothy waters.  This could be the highlight of Nan’s trip.

Let the paddling begin...

A casualty of the land... 

We didn’t paddle very far before the character of the river revealed itself.  The paddling wasn’t very difficult, mostly class I with a few class II rapids, but again, due to the hard winter and consequent large spring runoff, there were downed trees with their tentacle branches obstructing the river around nearly every bend.  It was a slow process to make headway downstream.  Additionally, the apprehension of my paddling novices rose with each tricky move around the grabby strainers.  And then it happened…     

The character of the river is revealed...

With the river bending to the right, the must make move was to get left in order to avoid the undercut bank with its pile of deadfall stacked up against it.  The water wasn’t particularly moving fast, but it would be a tight move for those not used to paddling with bikes and gear.  As I had been doing all afternoon, I demonstrated the move to Nan and Jim as they watched from an eddy above.  Now it was their turns.  Nan arced out into the current; had trouble placing her strokes; and in the blink of an eye, she was carried into the bank and its potential hazards.  My heart rate accelerated and my rescue instincts took over…  

…I gained sight of the current as I pushed my head through the final bramble of willows which choked the river bank.  The voice was below me, but I still couldn’t see her.  She must be trapped below me holding on for dear life.  Suddenly a voice pierced the chaotic atmosphere, “Let go!”  And with that command I saw my intended target floating down stream towards my beached pack raft.  Whew!  That was a close one. 

With gear collected and a couple of shaken mindsets, we continued down the seemingly never ending circuitous river.  Back and forth we floated across the valley floor.  Would we ever get some relief from the stuck wood and just move down valley in a more direct line?  Just as the self-doubt began to creep back in, the bends became fewer and the wood in the river became less.  We were soon moving steadily without as much consequence.  Whew.  We were going to make it.

Excited to be through the land of strainers and onto smoother paddling...

The Naysayers

That’s a bunch of bulls&!t for nothing.

(Idaho Local)

I am not sure which local coined the response when told our plans to ride bikes up the French Creek drainage.  Most likely it was exclaimed by Nan’s father while he watched us transition back to our bikes after a successful finish to our paddle.  Nonetheless, this response became a source of motivation and a rally cry as we took on the “absurd.”  The trail had the reputation for being steep, rocky, and relentless.  It was much more suitable for horses and hikers than two-wheeled fanatics. 

The Woodsmoke loaded for the challenge ahead... 

Refreshed from some of Momma Nan’s homemade biscuits and gravy, we began the initial stages of the climb with guarded optimism.  To our delight, the single track was smooth and forgiving as it wound its way through the sage brush.  As we climbed higher, the craggy cliffs above began to squeeze in on us, trying to squash our resilience to prove the naysayers wrong.  With the drainage kicking up and closing in, the riding came to an abrupt end.  Unfolding before us was a hike-a-bike through a mountainside of talus.  Was this the start of the foolishness?  Were the next eight miles going to be like this?  The self-doubt began its whispers.

The “absurdness” begins...

Nan finding some flow on the talus...

With the rally cry echoing in my consciousness, I pushed with resolve onward and upward.  Before long our rocky path gave way to more flowy single track that climbed gently into the pink, orange, and purple sky of a fading day.  Only suitable for hikers or horses…I think not.

The reward for doing the “absurd”... 

Upon topping out on Railroad Ridge the following day, a large “whoop” echoed across the expanse of the White Cloud Wilderness as it majestically stood before us.  Though I have proven it to myself time and time again on these journeys, I am still amazed by how easy it is to accomplish what others view as “unthinkable” or “preposterous.”  As humans we have proved time and time again, that nothing really is impossible.  What makes something attainable or not, really comes down to one’s perspective which is often determined by one’s mind set.  The self-doubt will always be there.  It is part of the human condition.  But for me and others in my tribe, the battles with this ever-present foe have propelled us into taking on challenges that expand our comfort zones and our views of the world.  Let the wandering continue!

A stunning view of the White Cloud Wilderness...

To see more photos from this “Wander,” check out Brett’s latest adventure with the www.thelessoncollective.com/imagery.  

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Click here to learn more about Woodsmoke; our trail biking/bikepacking wonder, as seen in the short film, Patagon...

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Brett Davis Explore Mountain Biking Sponsored Riders Woodsmoke

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brett Davis

Brett Davis

I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.

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