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Aug 9, 2008

Idaho Overview

Ride Idaho with the YMCA: August 10-16, 2008

Sheila and I decided to travel to Idaho for our 6th week-long state tour on the tandem. Sponsored by the YMCA, Ride Idaho had charted a course through the SE corner of the Gem State. The scenery was advertised as breathtaking and it didn’t disappoint.

Idaho Falls, the terminal point of our loop, is a long way from anywhere. It took us two days of driving to get there. After one uneventful, but long, day we were in Missoula, Montana where we stayed with a camp friend, Flower and her partner. We arrived after 7 having filled up at a biodiesel (B20) pump, the only one we could locate between Seattle and Idaho Falls. We had a pleasant evening visiting and left early the next morning.

Our journey south from Missoula took us through Spencer, Idaho. It’s the opal capital of the country. We got a small rock sample to commemorate it, took some pictures and continued on. In Idaho Falls we checked in, got the important ride information at the first night’s meeting, then retired to our hotel room. Our rule on these trips now is that we only sleep in hotels. Tents are for kids.

Ride Idaho route map

Then we set out on the first day of our 480 mile journey covering 17,763 feet of elevation gain . We traveled north to St. Anthony the first day on mostly flat roads. The second day we did more climbing, going east up to Mesa Falls on the way to Driggs. On the third day we had a short day as we rode south to Big Elk Creek Y Camp along the Wyoming border. We slipped in and out of Wyoming on the fourth day and ended up in Soda Springs. Now we were heading west again. On the fifth day we rode to Lava Hot Springs and sampled the relaxing pools there. Next we turned north as we rode to Pocatello. On the seventh and last day we rode back to Idaho Falls. Throughout the week the weather was stellar, with cool to cold mornings, clear blue, sunny skies, warming to 75-85 each day with just enough breeze to be comfortable but not too many headwinds. A cyclist’s dream.

Obviously there is more to be said about each day’s ride. That information is on following pages. Here I’ll just say the scenery was grand, filled with more potatoes and wheat than you could imagine, and that Sheila and I discovered a competitive streak that surprised us.

We got in the last day around noon anticipating getting a good jump on the return trip, possibly even getting past Missoula. (Home of the biodiesel we didn’t want to miss. We’d carted 10 gallons of B100 with us, but it was all in the tank by now even at 39 mpg.) As we left the finish area, I heard (amazing!) an odd sound from the tires. We stopped and I found (more amazing) a screw imbedded in the front tire. Our GPS came to the rescue and took us to a Les Schwab store. In 15 minutes, we were gone again. They are great.

We were in Missoula by 7 p.m. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant then discovered to our dismay that the B20 pump was not working today. Rats! We headed west looking for more miles before we got a room. Did we ever get them.

Turns out that since it was one of the last weekends in August and there was a Tom Petty concert at the Gorge, there were no rooms available. Not in Wallace, Kellogg, Couer d’Alene, Post Falls, Spokane (!), Moses Lake or any place else. Unbelievable. Finally at 1:30 AM we slept in the car in a parking lot in Moses Lake for an hour and a half. Got up, had a little breakfast at a diner, then drove the rest of the night. Finally we arrived home at daybreak, two very tired, punchy vacationers. We’d been going for a little over 24 hours counting our ride from Pocatello to Idaho Falls.

Dave & Lenette, pinochle partnersThe trip was wonderful. The support was great. The other riders were fun. We even got in some pinochle! That’s Dave & Lenette who we played with. (I was dealt aces around and a double pinochle one hand!) The food, as to be expected, was challenging but we survived and were thankful we made the journey. Next time we’ll reserve a hotel for the return!

Aug 10, 2008

Idaho Falls to Saint Anthony

Sunday: 79 miles, 2444’ gain

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Our introduction to riding in Idaho came on Sunday. The plan was to ride to St. Anthony, about 79 miles away. Of course, it is actually lots closer than that. The organizers must be randoneurs because they inserted a monster hill into what would have been a flat ride. The ride started at 4800’ elevation and ended at 5000’. It was just that stretch from mile 10 to mile 15, note the peak in the profile, left.

It was a hill. It was a pretty steady 5% grade with portions exceeding 10%. We just trundled along. We weren’t trying to race anyone up it, that’s for sure. At the top was one of the support staff dressed in a naval officer’s uniform, white gloves and all. He cheered us on as we rolled into the rest area at the summit, 6200’.

From there we could see we were in a wind-farm. Huge turbines slowly spun on the hillsides around us. We refreshed ourselves.  It seemed so civilized to have porta-potties available at each rest area. Mind you, climbing into a blue room on a trailer can cause rocking motions which might disturb the occupant of the adjoining room, but them’s the breaks.

Now we had the pleasure of rocketing down the back side of the hill. We zipped through some rollers then got into the real descent. Without working hard we broke 50 mph. It was grand. The joys of riding a tandem.

The rest of the day was pretty flat rolling through grain fields mostly. I don’t know if it was hay or barley or wheat. It was just large circular fields irrigated by enormous moving sprinklers. We mostly had cross- or tailwinds so that was nice.

We were on one stretch, all alone, minding our own business, going about 17 mph around 70 miles into the ride. We looked in our mirrors and saw a blue streak approaching. Three or four guys blasted past us like we were standing still. They had matching team kits on so we knew this was a group to watch out for. Turns out they were from the Reel Theatre team in Boise.

The group camped at a high school and we went half a mile into town for a hotel. Dinner for them was ribs, potatoes, corn on the cob, and ice cream. We got the potatoes and corn and iceberg lettuce salads. It was the first of many not-so-good meals. We’d talked with the organizers ahead of time and thought we were going to be taken care of. We’d brought some food to put on the refrigerator truck just in case. It turned out to be a good thing.

After the meal there was some excitement when the sprinklers at the high school went on. Yipes! Suddenly people were dragging tents, sleeping bags and lawn chairs out away from the deluge. Fortunately it was just in one area and the sheriff got the coach to come in and turn them all off. He was appropriately chagrined. He thought they were all off. We walked back to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

Aug 11, 2008

Saint Anthony to Driggs

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Monday: 83 miles, 4248’ elevation gain

We had a mass start on Monday because they wanted us to cross a major roadway in a bunch shortly after rush hour. (Rush hour? In St. Anthony? population 3,375?) We had a fun time passing and re-passing groups of cyclists. It’s just the way it works when you are a tandem in a group of singles. Eventually we started up the climb to Mesa Falls.

It was a gentle climb for the better part of the 9 miles. Mostly around 4%. At the top we had to drop steeply down to the park at the falls. We knew people were going to be unhappy with that on the return!

But the falls were gorgeous. We had to hike about a quarter mile to see them. We didn’t bring other shoes and Sheila’s left leg problem flared up again. She couldn’t hike all the way down, so I went with the new camera and got some spectacular closeup shots.

We climbed out from the falls, then dropped to the overlook for Lower Mesa Falls. We rode all the way to the viewpoint. It was a lovely view with the whole of the gorge there. Then we flew down to return to the road to Driggs.

That road to Driggs was tough. Up and down, up and down. Steep grades of 9 and 10% either direction. It was a lot of work. By now we were feeling the effect of having never ridden two long days in a row during the season. And here we were doing back to back 80+ mile days. Yikes. The heat that was blasting the rest of the west was absent though. We only got up to 85 or so. We were pleased with that.

We had wonderful views of the Teton Mountains, although there was a bit too much haze to see them as clearly as we would have liked.

The last 7 miles were pretty much level, at last. We were tired though. That’s when we got a boost from a guy named Eric and his partner. He was a big, tall, and strong guy who jumped on our tail as we went by them in the little town of Tetonia. We stepped it up to pull them. Then he came around and started pulling us. Then she pulled us. Then we took another turn. We were really moving, around 20 mph. But we couldn’t hold on to them. We let them go, but now kept our average up over 17. We needed their inspiration!

Another high school for the campers, but for us it was a hotel in Driggs. It was nearly across the street from a health food store. After we had a hot tub, we stocked up on some roll-ups for the next day’s lunch and even got some Coconut Bliss frozen dessert. Yum! We ate at a vegetarian restaurant that had fabulous food. Driggs is quite the happening place for vegans.

We didn’t eat our Coconut Bliss until we returned to the hotel. The hotel keeper shared bowls and silver and some of her homemade cobbler with us. We gave her a sample of the Bliss in return. Lots of happy tongues that night.

Aug 12, 2008

Driggs to Big Elk Creek YMCA Camp

Tuesday: 47 miles; 1717’ gain

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We had breakfast at the campground at Driggs. They had everything: waffles, oatmeal, bacon, eggs, juice, bagels. But we had to stand next to a dumpster to have a surface to eat off of. Oh well. We headed out kind of early.

Turned out it was too early. It was cold, cold, cold, which isn’t surprising for 6200’ elevation. We didn’t have long gloves or long shirts on. We were freezing after 5 miles. We tried to stop at a café to warm up, but it turned out to be closed. So we just sat in the growing sunlight until we were thawed and it seemed warm enough to continue.

We had a little climb that led to a steep drop. That was a hoot. We roared into the little burg of Swan Valley which was to be our lunch stop. We beat lunch by about 25 minutes. We hung out with other riders, particularly Deb and Dennis from Caldwell. Lunch finally arrived. Sheila had the sprouty veg sandwich. I ate one of our bean rollups. Then we headed for the Y camp.

We misread the cue sheet and so the end of the ride didn’t show up for three miles after we thought it would end. It’s horrible when your expectations don’t match reality! Now that is “suffering”.

The end of the ride was at the bottom of a 2 mile long gravel road that led to the camp. We parked our bike and waited for a ride up. I was stung by a wasp while waiting. Yowsah! Sheila got the bee sting stuff out of our first aid kit and I quickly felt better. We drove up to the camp and found a cabin to sleep in.

Our beds were plywood sheets on iron bed frames. We had Thermarest mattresses from Bill and Sooz (Thanks, guys!) and sleeping bags for this one night. It didn’t turn out too badly. At least we were warm. We had veggie burgers for dinner. I took a dip in the creek. We both had massages. Then our day was done.

Aug 13, 2008

Big Elk Creek Y Camp to Soda Springs

Wednesday, 85 miles, 3025’ gain

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This was going to be our longest day. We would do 89 miles. It started with the 2 mile gravel road back to the paved highway. Some people got sagged down, but we didn’t want to wait for the truck and we had big tires, so we just rode. This time we were bundled up, though. It was a good thing, too. It was cold again. Even the climbs around Palisades Reservoir didn’t warm us up enough to want to peel off layers.

We crossed into Wyoming at Alpine. We saw lots of osprey nests, some occupied. We saw sand cranes walking though the grass in a wildlife refuge. Actually, Sheila saw them and yelled, “Stop!” I, being the good captain, immediately stopped. It was worth it.

We rode down the Wyoming/Idaho state line for a couple miles. Whose department of transportation takes care of that road? Then we pulled into a rest stop and shucked off our extra clothes. I have to say here that the rest stops were plentiful on this trip. They were every 15-20 miles. Volunteers actually filled your bottles for you. There were plenty of snacks. It was quite pleasant.

We left there and started toward Tin Cup Pass (6854’). It was about 12 miles of climbing. Again, most of it wasn’t too bad. Just the last mile or so was 5%+. Then we had some swift downhills coupled with uphills short enough to fly up. Then we had our excitement for the day.

We had just finished a big down and were working our way up a rise. We saw a group of 4 pass a rider behind us and they caught us just shy of the top. We followed them over and found a 6% downgrade. Sheila started cranking. I caught on and started pushing too. We were going to catch them. Then I threw it into our biggest gears and we charged by.

They regrouped and took up the chase. The road went up and down. They were bound to catch us, but then, huzzah, the lunch stop came into view as we rounded a corner. We’d held them off! Cheers and applause all around as we all stopped to eat. That was fun!

The rest of the day was level and mostly downhill. We went through more grain fields. These were infested with grasshoppers. The bugs were bouncing of our helmets, glasses, chests, everywhere. There was no avoiding them. It was very strange.

That crew passed us again about 10 miles after the lunch stop. They had us in their sights for quite a while and said we’d pushed them to greater efforts. We were tired now. The temperature was in the high 80s and so was our mileage. We were ready to finish. Eventually we made it into Soda Springs, stopping at Hooper Springs on the way in. We showered at our hotel. Sheila did the wash. I did the shopping. Then we went in to eat with the gang at the pizza place.

I’d gotten some veggie burgers at the store and the diner made us burgers and fries while the rest of the crew had their ribs and taters. We also used some of our spinach and peppers to spice up the salad from the salad bar. It felt like real food.

Then we hung out in the campground with the Reel Theatre people. Turns out they are a family movie place that sponsors a team. Mom, Dad, and two of the sons and one spouse were on the trip. We had a great time swapping stories with them. Then we retired.

Aug 14, 2008

Soda Springs to Lava Hot Springs

Thursday: 66 miles, 1241’ gain

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We were ready for an easy day after the trip to Soda Springs. We got it. This was nearly all downhill. We bundled up against the cold and rolled out toward Chesterfield, the first Mormon settlement in Idaho.

We were there pretty early on. It was actually the second rest stop of the day, but we beat the porta-potties  to the stop. There wasn’t much “there” there. A log cabin general store filled with things you could have bought in 1880. Several scattered buildings in various stages of renovation. I think they’re trying to make it into a living pioneer museum. It was interesting, except for the wild bee that stung me. Twice I get it in one trip. What is that about?

Shortly after we left Chesterfield we reached 20,000 cumulative miles riding tandems. I took a picture of a bee hive, Sheila marked the spot as only cyclists can. Then we rolled on down to the lunch stop. As we were getting to lunch, a couple of the blue team swooped by us. Oh well.

After lunch it continued a mostly downhill track. We’d gotten out ahead of the Reel Theatre guys, but we saw them closing in. We decided to suck them in and spit them out.

We waited until they were 7 bike lengths back, then hit the gas. We pulled away and caught some nice downs that pushed us up to 30. One guy kept coming and we finally pulled back and let him catch us. He was impressed and he fell quietly back to his compadres who he’d left to try to catch us. A third teammate stayed with us for the last 4 miles or so hanging on as we cruised into Lava Hot Springs.

Lava was fun. Our motel was at the campground the rest of the crew were using so we could be more social. We hopped a ride into town with the owner. We spent an hour or two soaking in the hot pools and visiting with others from the tour. Some people rented inner-tubes to float down the rapids to camp. That turned out to be painful for many. One guy we know cracked his ribs. We looked up veggie restaurants in Pocatello and Idaho Falls on the library’s computers, then headed home.

The dinner was great. The chef knew what a vegan was and provided us with Quorn – a fake chicken that rounded out a nice meal. We connected with Lenette and Dave and played pinochle until it got dark. That was fun. Turns out Lenette is an elementary PE teacher too, as was a woman from Edmonds who was watching the play.

Aug 15, 2008

Lava Hot Springs to Pocatello

Friday: 45 miles; 2420’ elevation gain

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This was another day which proved to be interesting. We got out late because it was going to be a short day and we wanted to sleep in. Lots of downhill until about mile 27. Then we started an 11 mile climb. It went on and on and on. The cue sheet said that at mile 37 there was a rest stop “at the start of the climb”. Wrong. It did get steeper there, but it surely wasn’t the bottom.

We crested this hill with 3 members of our chase group from Wednesday. It was a very steep descent, pushing 10%. We picked them off one at a time. The last guy caught us as we went by and drafted all the way down. We were going a pretty steady 43 over much of it. It was twisty, but not too twisty. Lots of fun. Then it ended with a 10% downgrade that turned into an 8% upgrade over the course of about 100 yards! We were able to carry our speed almost to the top of the up. Wow.

Our new best friend (Kurt) was still with us. And then we got the real treat. We crested a rise and saw a huge long drop into Pocatello. Again we would exceed 10% only now it was straight and you could see where it ended. We didn’t even pedal to get up speed. We just tucked and rolled.

We hit 58.7 on that stretch. I had to touch the brakes toward the bottom because I saw some traffic way ahead. It turns out that cost us the speed record of the day. We didn’t pedal again, though until we got to the end of the ride at Idaho State University. Whew! We were wearing grins then, I’ll tell you.

We hung out and talked shop with the people setting up their tents. Then we drifted over to the hotel and cleaned up. Back to the school for more visiting, then we rode to a veggie restaurant that was ok.  Then back again to ISU.

There was supposed to be a slide show at 7, but it was too hot inside, so they postponed it to 7:45 and moved it outside to be projected on the side of the luggage truck. It still wasn’t dark then, so they pushed it back further. We were done by that point so we went to our hotel and made ready for the next day.

Aug 16, 2008

Pocatello to Idaho Falls

Saturday: 64 miles; 793’ elevation gain

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This day could not have been flatter. Be sure to note the scale on the elevation chart, left. We wanted to get an early start so we could get an early start on the road to Missoula. We were pedaling by 7. We were pretty much alone all day.

The only exceptions were between the first and second rest areas. We picked up a single named Cheryl who drafted us in to the rest stop with the giant baked potato. She took the photo left. We were disappointed the museum wasn’t open yet.

We actually picked up Gordon (shown below) along that stretch too. He’s a Canadian now living in Idaho who we’d spent a bit of riding time with earlier in the week. We split up after the second rest stop (no porta-potties again, hmmmm.) but we were together at the last rest stop. We pulled him into Idaho Falls. It wasn’t quite noon and we were done.

We gathered up our gear, said our goodbyes, picked up some soda for the road and headed back to Seattle. We just didn’t know it was going to be Seattle before we saw a bed again. That was a long day. If you missed that part of the story, return to the overview page, below the map.