The Nez Perce Ride, ID: Earthlings’ Challenges in Paradise
After seven months and six days of having been registered for this rally, my brain finally connects the dots today: why did I register Mike, Dean, and myself to a rally in Idaho where we know absolutely nobody??? After covering the 600 miles from Seattle, we get to Atlanta – a ghost town in the middle of the Boise National Forest at 5400ft, 40+ miles from any pavement. Founded in 1864, it was, as many other towns in the area, a gold and silver mining community. Not much there nowadays!
Two rules prevail here: don’t ride alone, and don’t be late for dinner. I’m not joking.
That night I feel so inspired to walk around with my beloved 2015 Giant Loop rally glow-in-the-dark cup, a great conversation starter, and sure enough a guy (can’t see him in the dark) makes
a comment and we end up talking for half an hour. Turns out he came alone from Boise, knows nobody either, has NO experience riding in the dirt, and he dumped his bike earlier today. I can tell he is affected. It didn’t take long until he became part of our little family of three. Now, with Jason, four.
On Monday, Dean, Mike and I decide to go tour around “the hood” while Jason chills. The goal is Pine for gas and beer, through Rocky Bar, Trinity Mountain, and Featherville: a 96 mile loop, which on a dirt road will take the best part of a day. At top of the first huge hill, we can guess at a beautiful mountain scape through the forest and I reach for my phone to take photos. Except there is no phone to be had! I had left my zipper open and by now my brand new iPhone has become one with the immense Idaho forest. Oh the shock. I heard my voice, quite unsteady but calm “Guys, I have really bad news.” Yup, bad news it was indeed. Immediately, seeing the potential upheaval it could cause me, I decide not to let it color my trip. Besides I need all my concentration for the ride.
We go on through hill and dale, with me as the lead and Dean the sweep. As the lead, my job is to ensure that my team stays together, so when I fail to see those guys in my mirror for a while, I decide to look for a safe spot to stop. Safe has many requirements: it needs to be flat enough that I can get started again; wide enough that I can turn around if necessary; and straight enough that other bikers can see me and go around safely. Eventually I settle for a spot and wait. Five minutes is a good length of time – if someone dumped their bike, five minutes gives them time to pick it up, calm their nerves, get back on and catch up. It gives the lead a chance to NOT have to turn their own bike around, thus avoiding a potential additional disaster.
Five minutes have definitely gone by and there is no sound of any engine in the entire forest. With fifty riders exploring the area, that’s hard to believe. Can’t be good. I turn around and head down. And down. And down, still. Finally I come around a corner, and see a strange scene – the car I had passed ten minutes ago, and in front of it, a bunch of bikes pointing in all directions. And then I see Mike. Sitting between the rocks, rather pale, holding his left shoulder. Behind all that, more bikes are arriving and I run towards them while gesticulating madly, to get them to slow down. We don’t need more complications.
After a confusing moment, I understand that there was a head-on collision. Charlee is fine, his bike isn’t. Mike’s bike is fine, his body isn’t. Crap. After a considerable amount of time has gone by, it becomes clear that Mike is not riding anywhere. Turns out that the woman with the car is Charlee’s wife, that they drove from NW for him to ride the IDBDR, and that today (and today only!) she is happens to be following him with a trailer. I say – if you are going to have a collision with another bike, make sure it happens when a car with a motorcycle trailer is present. We load Mike’s bike on the trailer, Mike in the car – and poof, both get a ride back to the campground.
Dean and I continue our planned ride because now more than ever, we know we will need the beer at the end of the day: for Mike. We load up on gas in Pine and head for the shorter way back via Featherville and Rocky Bar. And wouldn’t you believe it … in the past few hours, a huge tree fell exactly on that trail! Dean and I are the first ones to arrive on the scene and can do nothing but turn around, and go back the way we came, through the mountains.
That night we work on our plans for tomorrow. “A”: Mike can ride the 40 miles of dirt and all is good. “B”: Mike cannot ride, but can possibly ride on pavement so Dean and I shuffle bikes. “C” Mike cannot ride at all, and our cooks take him to Boise in their VW van so he can get a bus to Seattle. I think I even heard him mention hitchhiking as a possibility. Even in pain, he remains his relentless optimist self.
A good night sleep on his camping pad brings some relief so Plan A is put to action. There is a flavor of Terminator III when he has to lift his left arm with his right hand, and position it on the handlebar. And getting his helmet on and off is another entertaining moment! But Mike being Mike, he manages it all with grace and a smile. We all agree however that after the initial (and unavoidable) 40 miles of dirt, he will take paved roads to the next campground, where Dean, Jason and I will meet him after our long ride through the mountainous trails of Idaho.
NF-555 starts with a bang –UP that mountain it goes. Whoever designed that trail, didn’t understand the concept of meandering. As we approach the top of the first mountain pass, I know that I haven’t seen Dean in “a while”. I make Jason promise that he won’t move until I come back, I turn around and head back down. By the time I see Dean, he has already taken his bike apart and put it back together! Plan “A”: his bike starts and we continue on our way. Plan “B”: his bike starts but runs poorly, and we go back down to the pavement. Plan “C”: his bike doesn’t start – hmm, and … he … coasts down and Jason and I push him on the uphills. Or something like that. I pray that his bike starts! It does. Thumbs up, we go on! I ride maybe 2 miles and once again, no Dean! I stop. I wait. I turn. I go down. I find a Jason who is half waiting for me, half riding downhill. He is confused! All he says is “Dean said you guys go on, I go back down”. No way. This is the time for “one for all and all for one”: we take one look at each other and head down in pursuit of Dean. He is an awesome rider so it takes us a while to catch up with him, and the only reason we do is that he stopped to talk to other riders who had similar issues with their bikes. A general guess (consensus) is that we all got bad gas – in our bikes, that is.
Finally we get to pavement. Dean will decide what he does next when we get to Garden Valley, a gas station/convenient store some 12 miles away. We ride maybe three miles, and I can’t fail to notice that now we’re missing Jason. Now what? So we pull over and wait a few minutes. What can go wrong on pavement??? Okay – I turn around and ride back. This is becoming a pattern for me. Finally I see him – he parked his bike safely on the bank, and he’s looking at it intensely. Too intensely for my liking. He turns around and walks towards me. Clearly he knew I would come back for him! He hands me a piece of paper with a bunch of phone numbers “My engine blew up. I got air coming out on the left side and oil on the right side. It’s a head gasket”.
You are kidding?
We kiss goodbye ‘cause there is not Plan A, B, and C here. My little family is falling apart.
Once in Garden Valley, I start organizing his roadside rescue. Of course I have to use Dean’s phone and find out that I can get service if I stand exactly at the SW corner of the Chevron station. After ten minutes of discussing it with his insurance, they refuse to go through with the order because I don’t have a delivery address for the bike. Now I keep thinking of him, out there – it’s about 94ºF and not even a shrub in sight. No shade. No nothing. This roadside assistance business will apparently take time, so I come up with one of my brilliant ideas – I jump on the first unsuspecting truck owner who comes in Chevron “If I give you $20, will you drive 12 miles and pick up my buddy and his gear, and bring him back here? His blew a gasket on his bike, and he’s stuck.” Mr Truck looks a bit taken aback. It is clear that he can think of a million things he’d rather do at this very moment. But it is also obvious that he doesn’t want to say no because he asks a bunch of questions. Forty-five minutes go by and nobody, nothing. With the help of Jason’s girlfriend over the phone, I have successfully obtained the services of a tow truck. Based on my Seattle experience, I know for sure that this is going to take hours.
Just when Dean and I start doubting that Mr Truck had any intention of coming true, Jason is delivered – not just with all his gear … but with his entire bike! This stranger went home, got a trailer and a friend, drove out, and the three of them lifted the 550lb bike onto the trailer. Unbelievable. By now, Mr Truck is very friendly and he refuses my $20 — “happy to help”. I’m glad he left before the tow truck arrived, mere minutes later. I guess this whole huge “Save Jason” operation involving half of Garden Valley’s population was not really necessary after all. But how could I have guessed that things happen so fast in the middle of nowhere???
Just about then, I realize that I have the tent! In other words, if I don’t ride the 150 miles to the next campground, Mike has to sleep under the stars. Well – that’s if there were stars ‘cause it’s raining where he is (not that I knew that at the time, as I’m fighting the 90º sun). It’s 5:30PM. I better get my gear on and start heading out. I’ll make it just before dark if I’m lucky. Forget about the “don’t ride alone and don’t be late for dinner” rules today. For a rule to exist, there must be exceptions. So now it’s Dean’s turn to decide he can’t let me go alone, so whether or not his bike is running properly, he is coming with me. That’s great ‘cause I don’t really know where I’m going. He doesn’t either, but two is definitely better than one and he’s been around these mountain trails when he did the TAT (Trans America Trail) last year. It turns out I would have missed the last turn for the last 12 miles to the camp.
We are about to get on the bikes when a couple arrives at the fuel station and says “you had better not go now, there was a big accident on the highway a few miles from here about two hours ago and the traffic was completely stopped both directions”.
In the end, we lucked out – the highway situation had been resolved, and our cooks who had struggled with their own set of challenging circumstances that day, served dinner two and half hours late: exactly as we pulled in! And man were we starved.