Sunday, August 03, 2008

Luck, Unluck, and Unload

Not necessarily in that order!

For years I have been toying with the idea of a mountain bike tour across the Magruder Corridor/South Nez Perce Trail through central Idaho. This trail originally used by the Nez Perce Native Americans is now a corridor which travels rough terrain between two wilderness area.  The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness on the South (largest wilderness area in the United States outside of Alaska), and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness on the North. We almost tried it about 5 years ago as a 4 day one way supported trip, but that fell through.  This year, looking for an adventure tour, Karyn and I decided to try it solo on our mountain tandem. (click on photo to enlarge).

We have been planning this for months. We originally planned to take the tour last weekend, but the road was still closed due to snow. Delaying a week caused our excitement to grow.

Leaving after work, we drove most of the way to the start of the tour.  We camped that evening next to the South Fork of the Clearwater River. Just before dark a few dozen bats started flying overhead. We were mesmerized watching their acrobatic flying.

The cycling trip would take us from Red River Idaho over many passes to the Selway river, about 60 miles each way. Two days over and two days back. Each day would include over 3000 feet of climbing with the third day reading in about 6500 feet.  It will clearly be a difficult trek.

With no services available we had to pack all of our gear and food for 4 days of tough riding. The BoB Trailer is rated at 70lbs and we weighed in just below this threshold. Good thing the trailer would get lighter each day. We suffered through all of the pre-tour stress - did we bring everything, did we bring enough food, were we tough enough to complete the route, etc. It was a relief to get underway, committing ourselves to the journey.

The first day would take us from Red River Ranger Station to Poet Creek campground. Twenty five miles and 3800 feet of climbing. We expect this day to be the third hardest of the four day trip. We decided to take it easy on the climb, especially on day one! The first eight mile climb was fairly gentle compared to our expectations. We climbed through fairly dense forest by Idaho standards.  When lunch time came around we stopped and ate right at the edge of the road. We definitely didn't want to get behind on calories on the first day.

Over the top of the first summit we descended down to a beautiful campground. This would be a great place to stay, but we still have many miles of riding left for the day.

We realize later in the day that the availability of water will be a challenge. As this road tends to hang on high ridges, it was remarkably dry. We arrived at Granite Springs just as our water bottles were empty. We refilled here before the long descent down to Poet Creek.

Arriving after four hours of travel we find a beautiful campsite next to the creek. The day was a bit easier, but took longer than we had expected.

We spent the afternoon refueling and resting for the tough days ahead.  Tomorrow is expected to be the second hardest day.  Thirty five miles with over 6000 feet of climbing! We met some other people in the campground. They of course thought we were crazy. They are probably a good judge of character! We walked around a bit, but all the trails seemed to head up so we stayed close to camp.

The next morning starts with a relentless 3000 foot climb up to Dry Saddle. We crossed Bargamin Creek, then headed up!

We started a few hours earlier today to beat the heat. We had the road to ourselves. Due to our concern over water we decided to over hydrate and refill all of our bottles at every chance we could. We stopped twice on the climb to refill as we passed small streams cascading down the mountain. The road passed in and out of an old burn area. We could hear the sound of woodpeckers echoing through the forest.

About half way up we came across wolf tracks! At least three wolves had gone up the road today. The tracks were so fresh that the dust was still discolored from the disturbance. There were some elk tracks intermixed. Coincidence? We were passing near some of the wildest places in Idaho. Our spirits soared at the knowledge that wild wolves had been here less than a few hours before. Very cool. This is one of the reasons that I have been attracted to this place.

After two and a half hours we reached Dry Saddle, 7920 feet above sea level. 3000 feet above our camp the night before. Wow, that hurt!

This was the point of commitment. Descending down the other side means that we would be no longer able to return to Poet creek today. We were committing ourselves to go forward to the Selway River which would result in a very hard day with an even harder day tomorrow. We were tired already and had only completed half of the climbing for the day. We seriously considered turning back here. After discussing our options, we decided it had to be done. We were going forward!

Since we were still in reasonable moods and the deep rooted misery hadn't set in yet, we had to get the lovin' out of the way. Here is our best self portrait from Dry Saddle.

With that, we launched ourselves down the rough rocky descent into the Sabe drainage and toward the next summit at Sabe Mountain.

About a mile down the other side we hit a rock and immediately knew that something was wrong. The sound from behind was definitely not normal. Had we lost a bag? Blew a tire? No, we had lost the entire trailer! The Bob trailer had broken in half! The tongue of the trailer had broken off. Maybe that is why they now make a beefier off-road version! Our trip had come to an immediate and screeching halt.

We regrouped, cleared the debris from the road, and contemplated our fate. This was not our lucky day. I explored options for fixing the trailer. No good options presented themselves. We could stash the gear, ride to the van, and drive in to retrieve it. That would be a very long day.  We could wait for someone driving out and ask them to take the gear.  How long would that take.  It was already noon and we had not seen a single vehicle headed that direction. We thought about our options as we ate our lunch. An Olive-sided Flycatcher sang out nearby.

In the distance I spied a vehicle headed our way! What luck! We flagged them down and asked where they were headed. They were going out the road past our van to Elk City. We asked if they would take our gear and drop it off next to our vehicle. They agreed. Frantic scurrying occurred as we dug through the bags to pull out the essentials. Food, water pump, minimum first aid supplies, went into our jersey pockets.  The rest was on its way out.

It seemed like a long day of riding so far. We still had 35 miles and over 4000 feet of climbing to make it out back to our van. We started on our way.

Back at Dry Saddle we twisted the chain on the tandem. Dang!  The tools and spare links were stored in our bags currently being hauled out. We were now further crippled, but still rideable. It would take us hours longer to make it out. Making it worse, I broke my multi-tool trying to fix the chain. This was not our lucky day.

We descended off Dry Saddle and back down to Poet Creek where we stopped to filter some water. Can you believe it!  The couple carrying our gear had stopped here for lunch. We retrieved the tools and fixed the bike. Our spirits lifted once again.

Now we only had a full days ride ahead of us. Up the hill we climbed. More wolf tracks in the road! They may have passed near our camp the night before!

We continued the climb. The deep rooted misery presented itself along the way. We finished all of our food, refilled the water bottles again, and slowly peddled on. We suffered from the eight hours on the bike with over 7200 feet of climbing. We hadn't really rested all day. Back ache, neck ache, leg ache, hands, arms, shoulders... It all ached. The van was a welcome sight as we rolled back onto the pavement. Our gear was stacked neatly beside the vehicle.

Was it good luck or bad luck that caused our initial breakdown? What would have been presented by the rest of the trail? Clearly we could have done much worse. It was definitely good luck that the couple drove by at the exact right time to pick up our gear. One of only two vehicles traveling that direction that day. Bad luck that we twisted our chain.  Good luck that the couple had stopped for lunch which allowed us to fix it. Definitely good luck that we made it back out with only deep rooted misery. We will recover from that.

The Magruder Corridor remains a mystery to me. We turned back before reaching the best part. I might give it a second chance some day, but only with a better support strategy. It's rough and unforgiving territory, not to be underestimated. We were humbled by it.

Heed the sign!

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April said...

holy crap! ambitious!! I was thinking DRIVING the magruder corrider sounded a little intimidating, let alone riding on a tandem. so inspiring! i bet it was a gorgeous trip---hope your mechanical problems didn't take away from the scenery too much. fantastic post!

wolf21m said...

April, It was an excellent, although richly adventurous, endeavor. We had a great time regardless of how it worked out. I presume from your comment that you have been over the Magruder in a vehicle?

Anonymous said...

OH my gosh I was half laughing and half crying through this blog post... I have to say you guys are braver than I ever will be. I feel a 'smidge' guilty for taking any pleasure reading of your (mis)adventure! What a memory though! You can't buy that! Glad you two made it home safely...and thank you for sharing it with us.