Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Idaho Gravel: Part one.

The tent wall brushes my face as I roll over to find it still dark outside.  What time is it?  I wriggle an arm out of my down quilt and reach for my phone, the one with the alarm set for o-dark-thirty and find it to be deader than a doornail.  Nuts.  That requires a further search for my reading glasses and Petzl light so my watch can give me a clue.  06:00 AM.  In a tent.  In Idaho.  Ride day today.  How did I get here?

It began with an email invite to Rebecca's Private Idaho, a 93 mile gravel road event to be held in Ketchum, ID.  The idea intrigued me.  I had never been to Idaho.  Never ridden gravel.  And only once before had I come to the century mark off road.  I put it in my calendar and got back to day to day life, but I had a goal to get there in some state of readiness.

My summer was hardly a firestorm of riding success, as is typically the case.  I find So Cal summers to be pretty uninspiring for MTB riding.  It gets hot, dry, brown, dusty and hot.  Yuck.  Then the fires came though and burned a lot of the area I most like to ride.  Double yuck.  What to do?  I needed to get miles and hours in the legs, not just do hill efforts on the SS.  So I actually got out the old road bike and made some adjustments to get it worthy of some longer rides, clicked in, and pedaled for a while.  That, combined with the weekly MTB rides would have to do.  Would it be enough?  I was skeptical, but undaunted.  To Idaho we go.

I was lucky to have Ed the Tall with me for the folly in the Saw Tooth Mtns.  It would make the 16 hour drive palatable and give me a stalwart companion for the adventure.  Ed is a strong rider and fully capable of nearly a hundred miles off road with altitude tossed in and he was ready for a road trip.  Next stop, Ketchum.

Ed the Tall (middle) shows Rebecca that his last name has no vowels in it.  Always good for a laugh.

Salt Lake, Utah, kinda sucks.  I have driven through there twice now and both times it was hot, crowded traffic wise, and just did nothing to make me want to linger.  But leading up to that was a surprising showing across the Nevada desert of greenery.  Lots of it.  Big patches of grass and mud puddles lined the road, a mute but vibrant testimony to the heavy monsoonal rains that have been sweeping through the deserts and the tenacity of the flora here.  Nature is an opportunist and when it rains and in this case, pours, things just get all happy and make the best of it.  That led to the southern Utah area of St George and Cedar City, both parts of my favorite areas of Utah.  But Salt Lake?  No thanks.

We crossed into Idaho in the darkness and took a big gamble that there would be a campsite somewhere near Ketchum that we could base out of.  God was gracious and we found a killer site for two tents full of two tired persons and settled in right about midnight.  I really need to get a tent that does not require a refresher course in tent pole geometry every time I go camping.  Sleep found us and carried us away to the sounds of running water in the distance.

About 50' behind our tents.
The next day was all about getting to know Ketchum, eating pancakes cooked by a volunteer group in town, parade watching, shopping (don't go to Idaho without a sun hat),  picking up our race packets, and grabbing our bikes.  We never figured out the whole duck race thing but that was a great wagon.

Oh yeah.  the bikes.

I would have just run fast tires on my best hard tail 29er, but Specialized had a better idea.  They offered a test ride on some cyclocross scoots that were tailor made for this type of ride.  I normally do not risk taking something so unknown into the wilds but support would be generous and I did not expect and real surprises.  I had never ridden a cross bike before, so this would be new for me.  Can you ride a road bike in the dirt, even if it has sort of knobby tires?  Dunno.  I hedged my bet by bringing a saddle that I trusted that was attached to a smooooth riding ti seat post.  If the butt is happy, so is the rest of me, or close enough.

My Crux

Ed's Crux
And then, we set around the campfire, tossed out all kinds of thoughts about this and that, and then tucked in for a bit of nervous sleep.  And that is where I found a tent in the dark in Idaho, getting ready to get ready in the cold and dark of a smoky Sunday morning.  Ed was stirring in his tent too and we were on a course to adventure and quite possibly a good amount of suffering.

More to come...

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