The Wrap Up: Idaho, Bikepacking, and The Loop

Here it is folks: Travis' genius at work. I never imagined a career in film, but give me something to gripe about and turns out I'm a great film subject. 

I'm in the Boise airport, getting ready to fly back to good old FLA. As you can imagine, I have a few thoughts and comments about this trip, and I've had a couple of days back in civilization (air conditioning) to mull it all over. So we'll get started with the basics. 

Idaho- People


Let's start broad. I will leave with a great impression of Idaho. When I told people that's where I was going on vacation this summer, they were like.... okay? We visited some pretty touristy areas, and we only ever saw Idaho license plates, so this is not a major destination. Everyone we met here was very nice, and I think it comes from the Western mentality of taking responsibility for your own well-being, and helping your neighbors when they need it. In urban areas, it's someone's job to help you. Not here, you and your neighbors are on your own. 

Idahoans are hands down the most courteous drivers we've ever encountered. In Boise, drivers stop for you to cross the road, which is pretty disconcerting for Floridians. Yes, they are just being polite and waiting for you to cross. WOW.  We had ZERO honks, the whole trip, and most folks waved at us as they passed. Additionally, Idahoans love ATVs, and they love taking their dogs on their ATVs. Extremely cute.

Now does that mean I was totally comfortable in rural areas? Not completely. Every homestead has a no trespassing sign. We were out of water quite a few times, and we waited to find a creek before knocking on a homestead door. This sums up rural Idaho pretty succinctly. 


Also, would people have been so friendly if we weren't a nice white couple? Apparently, Northern Idaho has the most Nazis per capita than anywhere else. They've been kicked out of every other state, and are populating the panhandle. But honestly if the election taught us anything, racism is everywhere in the US, and we can't just blame it on rural places and the South. It's pervasive in every community.

That being said, Boise has a pretty vibrant refugee population, despite the whiteness of the city. We checked out the farmers market this morning and I teared up a couple of times looking at the booths being run by refugees. We can bet that most of them were escaping desperate violence, but some of them might have grown food at home. It was very inspiring to see families learning to grow new vegetables in a new country, and making some kind of living at it. Way to go, Boise, keep welcoming refugees. 

Idaho- The Land


I am more ambivalent about the physical landscape out here. Our host Jen said she hasn't seen a heatwave like this in Idaho since she moved here in 2007. WELL GREAT. I got sunburned on the backs of my knees. Do you know how hard it is to get sunburned in the kneepits while riding a bike? Also, it is extremely dry, like think ashy legs 110% of the time despite lotion application. Furthermore, there is a reason that Travis used Hot & Cold in his tour video. There are no happy mediums here. It is 50 degrees in the morning and 100 degrees in the afternoon. The hot springs can be scalding and the rivers are freezing cold. You’re either biking through a flat valley or straight up a mountain. 

There was a lot of variation in scenery, from alpine lakes to mountain meadows, from rocky mountains to scrubby hills. But when I think back on Idaho, I will remember scrubby hills. Lots and lots of dusty roads and scrubby hills. That's probably not fair because there were some epic hot springs, and we only saw four of the 50 or so springs listed on the route. And we did see some epic wildlife as well, from elk to pronghorns to deer friends to beautiful songbirds. Alright, Idaho was beautiful, I just wish it hadn't been so hot. At least there weren't any wildfires. 



This is the second backpacking trip I've been on, but it was by far the longest. I never really explained how this trip was different than our others. We're using mountain bikes instead of road touring bikes, so we have fat knobby tires and heavy bikes that are great for gravel roads but heavier and clunkier. We didn't have any racks on the bikes, and all our bags attached to the bikes directly. So that means much less room to carry gear, and a lot less room for food. Subsequently, we basically ate out of convenience stores for two weeks. I call it the Vegetable-Free Carboload Bikepacker Diet: lots of instant mashed potatoes, pasta, dehydrated refried beans (my fav), and Cliff bars. Jesus I could really go a long time without eating a Cliff bar again.

Poor Travis carried the majority of our stuff because I’m so slow. We probably averaged 6mph for the trip, even slower for climbing. There were very few camping amenities, so I got really good about filling up water at creeks and pooping in holes. Travis said that the ultra-light traveling style is probably better suited to shorter trips, and then you wouldn’t even need to carry cooking stuff, it would just be Cliff bars for three meals a day (gag).

What we decided on about halfway through is that maybe we need a van. Travis has been talking about getting an adventure van for a while, and it would really make adventuring much easier. I mean we like hiking. When we bike tour, we don’t have hiking gear. It sucks walking up mountains in cycling shoes. We had to ride through some boring stuff to get to the cool stuff, and that takes a lot of time and energy. And you know what? Bike touring is hard. Like really hard. I just turned 33 this year. I might be wussing out in my old age.

BUT you know what’s awesome about bikepacking? No cars! We saw some places that just wouldn’t have been accessible from the road, which offers a very unique travel perspective. Usually at the end of these long trips I get very car-weary, and my head takes over and I imagine how each car that passes us will actually hit us and horrifically mangle our bodies. Not so on this trip! We went hours without seeing any cars at all, and as I said, Idaho drivers are very courteous so there were zero car issues.

Idaho Hot Springs Loop


Throughout this journey I kept thinking, “Would I recommend this route to people???” Honestly, I don’t know. I guess it depends on the person. This was definitely the hardest trip we’ve ever been on. The route is no joke. I guess I would say go for it, but really lower your mileage expectations, upgrade your bike for the max amount of gears, prepare for the heat and cold, take some breaks to enjoy stuff off-route, and most importantly be on the same page with your riding partner(s). You could smash out the whole route in two weeks if you wanted a legitimate suffer-fest. We're on vacation, and we prefer some fun with our suffering. As hard as it is, traveling by bike is really empowering, and I learn to push myself to new limits with every journey. You just don't get that same feeling from finishing a road trip. Travis and I managed to suffer just enough, and included just enough rewards to make it worth it. So are you up for it?? 

Last Day of Bike Tour

The next morning we were so over it. We both had permanent sunscreen coatings On our entire bodies, which in turn were coated in dust. One of our sleeping pads is leaking. We used our last two wet wipes (no pit toilets). We had one more hot meal left and just enough fuel to boil water for it. Travis wore a hole in his bike shorts and his thigh was chaffing. He threw them out. I accidentally left my crocs at the convenience store in Idaho City so I was avoiding pine cones barefoot. 

I would like to mention that I had not washed my hair in two full weeks, and if I had taken out my rubber band my hair was so stiff I'm pretty sure it would have stayed braided anyhow. 

We packed up our final campsite, washed our armpits in the creek and started the climb to Bald Mountain summit at 8am.


Travis did a good job of psyching me out for this one too, AND this road was mostly rideable. I have three standards for dirt roads now. First level: "Oh, I can ride that". Second level: "I can ride that if it levels off a little and it's shady at the top." Third level: "OMG why is that so steep, hell no I'm walking it." This road was mostly first and second levels. 

We made it to a shady spot and busted out some bars for lunch, when what did we see? Other idiots riding bikes up a mountain! And then minutes later... two more idiots! All of a sudden we had six Idaho Hot Springs Loop riders all chatting in the shade.


All four riders were about to get started riding the portion of the route that we had completed in our first week. One couple was from Oregon, and they had just started that day from Idaho City. They looked pretty normal (not bike freaks), and were hoping to maybe do the whole route in 11 days (HA HA HA HA HA HA). The other two were two extremely strong-looking women from Utah who had started further north than us, and had taken one of the single track options when they began a week ago. There were so many fallen trees on the route that they had to cross that they "rode" from 9am to midnight on their first day to try and cover enough miles to stay on schedule. They remarked that they had been quite comfortable despite the heat because there had been plenty of shade. Well get ready for that to change, ladies!!!!!! 

Eventually it was time to go, and it was disheartening to see the other riders just take off up the incline that we had to walk. We attributed their speed to fresh legs (Oregon couple), strong legs (Utah ladies), and more gears on their bikes all around. 

Almost two hours later, the trees cleared away, the road opened up and we even though the road was a level three (hell no), I pushed through and pedaled my way up to the FINAL SUMMIT. 

I admit, on many of these roads I thought to myself, "Why are we riding this??" This road was long, tough, hot and steep, but there was a beautiful payoff at the end. The wildflowers were blooming, and the view of the valley really was spectacular. 


Then it was time to descend the 4000 ft back to the reservoir where we first started the loop. This was another extremely fast downhill, but this time it was rocky, sandy and gravelly, with sharp cliffhanging switchbacks and hidden dips. It was the perfect time for Travis to break his brakes. LUCKILY he brought replacement pads, and was able to switch them out. We continued descending for like two hours. It kept getting hotter and hotter as we lost elevevation, and I could feel the beginnings of heat rash again.

And then...


We made it! 

We made a snack with the very last of our food and the very last of our fuel. We waited for it to cool down a little, and the ride out of the reservoir canyon was even shaded in the late daylight. By the time we made it out to the highway, it was past 8pm. The plan was to hitchhike back into Boise to avoid 20 miles of highway riding and climbing. It was so easy to hitchhike two weeks before when my tire popped... but we looked a little more scruffy this time around. Travis looked straight grizzled. I stuck out my thumb and quite a few pickup trucks passed us by. It was getting dark. We had no more food, fuel or water. We were so tired. And then......... a nice guy coming back from the reservoir gave us a ride in his truck!!! He even went out of his way to take us downtown, and dropped us off in front of a restaurant he recommended. Nice people, these Idahoans. 

We ate salad (omg VEGETABLES), drank beers and made our way back to Jen's house. She is so nice she told us to take a bath in her bathroom and even offered to get us bath bubbles. No Jen, it's cool. We'll use the bathroom in the bedroom we're using. I have been dreaming about this bathroom and its double shower heads for 12 days.


I washed my hair three times and it is still a little stiff. I didn't want to use all Jen's shampoo, so I rinsed off and went to go sleep in a bed. GOOD NIGHT BIKE TOUR!

Climbing to Idaho City

The next day had about 2500 feet of combined elevation in store for us, so we woke up early to beat the heat and Travis started psyching me out for the climbs asap. We still had a good little descent on paved road down a canyon into the lowlands, which was a nice way to start the day.


The first climb was into Placerville, and honestly I can't remember anything about it. I know it was 1500 feet, and that I didn't take any pictures because I was like, "How many pictures do we need of ourselves pushing our bikes up another damn dusty road?" I've blocked it out. I can tell you that we were probably thirsty, we were getting sunburned, and we got tired. 

I do remember turning the corner and arriving in Placerville.


What a funny little town! It looks the same as it did in 1860 or whenever it was founded. Unfortunately the town museum was closed and I couldn't learn anything more about it. But like all Western towns, it started out as a mining town with a saloon and a brothel and somehow grew respectable out of that. 


Donna's Place was open, THANK GOD. I thought surely a convenience/grocery wouldn't get much business on a Wednesday afternoon, but there was a steady stream of customers buying ice cream and Keystone Light during our visit. And boy did we have a visit. First we had to eat everything and drink every Powerade. Then we charged our phones and sat in the shade for as long as we could. We chatted with Donna and a couple who had ATV'd over for some ice cream sandwiches. They have a mining claim up in the hills that they stay at over the summer, with their only electricity coming from solar panels. A modern day mining claim. Who knew. 

Then it was time for Climb #2, another 1000 ft into Idaho City. We didn't get started till around 3:30 or so. Let me tell you about the heat. The heat was so bad that my fiance Travis Mitchell threw a tantrum. Travis loves riding bikes in any weather, but it was so hot he was freaking out. Somehow I just found my stride. I chugged a frappacino from Donna's, hooked up my headphones to Two Dope Queens and pedaled along unfazed. Meanwhile Travis was angrily pointing out the gravelly washboard road, the lack of any sort of shade, and of course the unrideably steep grade. If you want to see what this looked like, feel free to scroll down to the five other posts I've made that picture identical conditions. Travis would like to point out that by this point in the journey, he had taken the vast majority of our gear, and I was only carrying the tent and my clothes. He takes care of me. 

Later, we learned that the high that day was 101 degrees. 

We finally rolled into Idaho City, another anachronistic Western town. 


We had more huckleberry ice cream and signed on to reliable wifi for the first time in long while. We went grocery shopping for our last re-supply, and headed down to the Forest Service campground located 2 miles in the opposite direction of our route. 

Well we should have checked about that campground because it was a little... unreachable. 


So we had to turn around back up the hill, and we camped in a dust pile at a dirtbike park, making dinner to the soothing sound of revving 450cc engines. 

More Hot Springs

After the elk, we traveled on through Forest Service roads, past the old Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness (WTH Idaho???), and emerged out on pavement. We were turning onto the Lowman Cutoff, the highway that splits the Idaho Hot Springs Loop in half.  Ahh, looking back at our innocent first days of this trip, when we thought we'd be able to complete this whole route in like 12 days. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. We were headed back to Boise. 

There was a little climb up to a summit at the northern end of the highway, and then finally there was a blessed paved descent. We dropped 3000 ft in like 10 miles. We were sharing the road with cars and sheer rock cliffs, so I didn't get any pictures. But I can tell you that we didn't pedal at all for at least 20 minutes. It was great. 

It was still hot though, and eventually the road evened out and we had to start burning calories again. We were dropping elevation, so it got warmer. We watched the landscape change from the greener ponderosa pines back into the dry, scrubby sagebrush hills of the lowlands. 

Just as the afternoon sun was really starting to bear down, we saw the sign we had been looking out for all day, "Kirkham Hot Springs". Though it was 4pm and the sun was really blaring, we changed into bathing suits and went in for a soak. 


I have learned remarkably little about the natural or human history of the region on this trip, probably because all the land we've been traveling through is National Forest land. As we have learned in previous trips out West, the Forest Service gives zero effs compared to other state and national management agencies. It is probably because it's drastically underfunded, but in any case the Forest Service managed to put out an informational panel about how hot springs work. There used to be volcanic activity in this region, and 15,000 feet under the ground there is molten magma. Snow melt seeps into fissures in the rock and sinks because it's cold. Then it gets close to the magma, heats up and shoots back up through the rock fissures. Some of the water coming out of the hot springs could be 4,000 years old! That's cool. 

At Kirkham, the springs bubble up on the cliffside and run down in little streams, cascading over the rock overhangs. People have excavated little pools to collect the spring water, which is hot bath tub temperature. If you really know what's up, you soak in the hot water then dunk in the river. My extremities tingled as my poor little muscles relaxed and contracted in the temperature gradients. 


We still wanted to cover a few more miles that day, so we suited up and continued down the Lowman Cutoff. The high rocky cliffs shed all kinds of rocks from boulders to pebbles, and I did my best to point them out to Travis riding behind me. Well he was following too close for one of them and hit a small rock, which somehow jumped up and sheared a spoke in his front wheel, and shredded one of the bags he was carrying on his fork. Luckily the damage was rideable, but damn anything could happen on a trip like this. 

We stopped for the night at the next Forest Service campsite at Pine Flats hot spring. Wow, what a luxurious campground. Not only did this place have a pit toilet, they had real campsites with picnic tables and RUNNING WATER. My camping standards really dropped off  on this trip. I have pooped outside countless times on this journey, and after Kelly Creek and I'm thankful for any small accouterments. We ate a bunch of instant mashed potatoes (this IS Idaho), and went down to the hot springs. 

These spring gushed out of a cliffside and we soaked in pools about 50 feet above the river below. It was really nice. 


Then it was time to rest up, only two days and three giant summits left on tour.