The Highs and Lows of Idaho
The Notier Notes
Our Sunday Scoop
I used to think Idaho was just full of potatoes. In fact, I never gave much thought to the state until someone told me that it was America's greatest hidden gem. And then more people told me the same. It took me a while to believe them, and to be honest, I still held some skepticism for years, figuring I might as well just go and see what they were talking about for myself.
Idaho's beauty may not be such a secret anymore, but it certainly still holds an allure created by legends of lost travelers who speak of this treasure of a state like it's a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
Tim and I had a dear friend in Boise, Idaho who we'd been meaning to visit. Brandon is a fellow motorcycle traveler and adventurer (and sometimes cowboy), and someone whom we had been in contact with for years. So this year, as we had a brief moment between Overland Expos to spend some time exploring out west, we decided to visit him and his incredible state.
We had just finished riding the Colorado Backcountry Discover Route through four fantastic mountain passes - Cinnamon, California, Hurricane, and Corkscrew. And since we were starting off in southern Colorado and wanted to end up in Idaho, we decided to ride through beautiful Utah along the way.
We had technically been to Idaho before on our original "Maiden Voyage" from seven years ago, but we had only spent a couple hours just scraping the corner of the state. Still, we decided to retrace some of our steps by going to Logan, Utah, and eating pizza at the very same pizza joint that we had found seven years ago - The Pizza Factory. And it was just as good!
We were eating our deep dish delight outside, when a passerby stopped to inquire about our crazy-looking motorcycle. As we proceeded to tell him about our travel plans, he stopped us in the middle and said, "But if you go that way, you'll be missing all the best stuff in Southern Idaho."
It turns out that he was a bicyclist and had given tours in the region, and he certainly had a few bits of good advice up his sleeve. So after a lunch of re-consulting the map, we changed plans (we didn't know what we were really doing anyway), and headed off in our new found direction.
As we entered Idaho from Utah, the grasslands were sloping and hilly, rolling to and fro like giant ocean waves embracing the road. Cattle grazed like pods of distant dolphins, and old farmhouses dotted the landscape like intermittent islands.
By the time we got to the flat plains above Craters of the Moon National Monument, and the wind picked up and tossed us around like a cat toy, I began to think that everyone who had advised us to go to Idaho had lost their minds. This was awful. There was a stark beauty to it all, and the black volcanic rocks and occasional ancient volcanic slope of a mountain in the distance did completely remind me of craters of the moon. But as the winds raged and rang in my ears, all I could think about was looking forward to next moment where we could find a shelter.
So we pulled into a gas station to take a breather from our losing battle with the winds, and a woman asked about our travels. We mistakenly informed her that along our intended route we were going through Idaho Falls, but what we meant was Idaho City. And apparently, there's a huge difference. This woman was from Idaho Falls just up the road, and corrected us to inform us that we would be heading through Idaho City instead, but she said it with a grimace. "But I don't like that place," she grumbled. "Too many trees."
"Too many trees?!" Tim cried, looking around him as if he actually saw one, he'd run up and hug it. He whispered to me, "Man, I would give anything to see a tree right now."
Once the afternoon started to fade into evening, we were happy to finally find ourselves amidst wind-blocking mountains again. And it wasn't just a welcome relief, these mountains and valleys were some of the most picturesque and perfect places I had ever seen.
If you were to google image search "heavenly landscape", it's more than possible you'll find a few pictures of the Dolomites in Italy, or perhaps a few Swiss valleys - its green, lush, soft fields contrasting with the rough and jagged and mighty stone peaks of the mountains all around. That image to many people is as heavenly beautiful as it gets here on earth, and Challis, Idaho would fit right in.
Originally, we had planned to camp that night in Crater of the Moon National Monument, but the biker man had told us to stay the night in Challis instead, particularly because there were some hot springs at a campground there that were some of the best he'd been to. And I am so thankful he changed our minds. Because instead of a stark, hot, and windy lava field, we found ourselves that evening in a Garden of Eden campground of grassy fields, surrounded by both red sandstone and white granite peaks. We swam in a blissfully hot crystal clear pool of water that naturally sprang up from the earth as if it was there simply for our pleasure. And if someone had asked me to move there the next day and forgo all our other travels, I might have.
But the next morning we forced ourselves to pack up and leave, because this day's ride was going to be through the famous Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. Heading southwest from Challis, the road snaked its way along a path long ago carved through the mountains by a river, and as the pine trees increased (joy!) and the mountains heightened, we eventually found ourselves at the very same lake that Tim's brother had visited the year before, Lake Stanley. And we what a great recommendation to stop there!
From that high point, we continued following the river down and through the mountains. The weather was perfect, the sun was streaming through the trees and sparse clouds, and the road was curving and paved. We kept pulling over to take pictures, but at one such spot, Tim turned on the bike to leave, and it just died. Our hearts sank.
This was the exact same problem that had occurred when the bike had broken down on the bridge over the Mississippi River. It was the same exact problem that forced us to get a tow from our friend Pete in Denver. We thought we'd fixed it by cleaning out a water-logged regulator, but clearly, there was something else wrong.
Luckily, we were able to get the bike started again, but as we headed down to Boise, our high spirits were now no longer so high.
We pulled up to Brandon's house, and couldn't have received a better welcome. Not only was his hospitality and family wonderful, but he immediately put our worries at ease with his positive attitude. "The bike will be all right," he told us with his warm and infectious smile.
The next day we headed out to see more Idaho friends, the guys from Upshift magazine who we had written articles for and had been meaning to meet for years. Upshift is one of our favorite publications because not only is their content incredible, but it's all online and it's FREE! We love just sending the link to people to read on their phones or tablets, computers or TVs... If you haven't checked it out, and you like our blog posts, I would definitely recommend that you do!
We had a great time over there, talking all things motorcycle travel, and on the way back, everything was fine with the bike as if it had just had a little hiccup before, and had now forgotten all about it. But the following day, when Tim started her up to go out and get groceries, she died once again. And this time, the bike wouldn't start at all.
"Well, at least we're not on the side of the road," Tim told me with a voice that was trying to be cheerful, but was clearly heavy with despair.
"And at least we're not stuck on a bridge going over the largest river in the US that's under construction," I replied, feeling equally down.
Tim called the KTM dealer in town, but they said they had a backlog of seven weeks out. Then the Upshift guys tried to work their magic, and Brandon tried to pull as many strings as he could, but to no avail. Even the neighbor came by to test his hand at mechanically fixing the motorcycle, but it was as dead as could be.
But Brandon told us he had a good feeling that everything was going to work out. "We'll get this all sorted, I'm sure of it," he told us. But after having gone through so many breakdowns, I honestly just couldn't get myself to fully believe him.
But I guess that's the thing about Idaho. You have to see it to believe it.
Since the Overland Expo West was coming up the following weekend in Flagstaff, Arizona, we didn't have time to wait for mechanics in Idaho. And so in a last ditch effort, we called the KTM dealership in Salt Lake City, the same place that we had gone to three times before on various journeys, and they'd always been able to work wonders. And they told Tim, "If you can get the motorcycle here, we'll take a look at it the moment you arrive."
"All right!" he cried. "Now we just need to get ourselves to Salt Lake City!"
And once again, Brandon's let's-get-it-done attitude saved the day as he offered to tow us in his trailer down to Utah the next morning. Now although we'd certainly had enough of being towed around, we accepted his generosity because this was the only way we'd even have a glimmer of hope that we could fix our motorcycle before the Expo West. And so we took him up on his offer, and headed down to Salt Lake City...
I hope everyone finds themselves safe and comfortable, and with working vehicles! Stay tuned!
Until next time...
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