This was my third time riding this dirt road on my bike. The two previous times, I had to dismount on the climb out of Egan Basin. Mentally, I vowed that I would conquer the climb the next time I attempted it. I started to refer to the trip this year as "The Ride." I started to train for it in the winter by doing some treadmill work after the holidays and then started some serious outdoor training in June. After the holiday season, I had put on a little extra weight and wanted to lose about twenty or thirty pounds for the ride. I figured that the hills would be a little easier if I wasn't lugging the extra pounds with me. In June, I started a running routine to cross train and help with the lung capacity. At 6:00 AM I was up and out for a morning run and actually got to the point where I could run 3.5 miles fairly easy. I even did an eight mile run one night to see how far I could push. When I was done and felt like I could still go farther, I felt I was getting ready. In the evenings I was putting power to the peddles doing some distance rides and hill work. I was able to drop the thirty pounds and look forward to the day of the ride. Labor day ended up as the day for the ride.
The actual road is not what hardcore mountain bikers would consider difficult, but for an older man it is somewhat of a challenge. The road is about 17 miles long and has a gradual climb right at the start that follows a tumbling, crystal clear creek.This section gets the blood circulating and the legs burning. About two miles into the ride it flattens out and winds through some neat meadows. The creek is backed up with numerous beaver dams and the water is mirror smooth. This part of the ride is very pleasant. About six miles into the ride, the road starts a gradual climb out of the meadows and up into the aspen and pines. Like I mentioned, it's not a major effort for the young and seasoned rider, but us older guys with aging bodies and eighteen year old brains--it can be a chore. The climb is gradual and just when you think it might level out around the corner, you hit a little stiffer climb to the summit. I tried to stand on the peddles at one point but found I lost traction with my rear wheel so I geared down and stayed in the saddle. I have to admit that at one point my mind was telling me to just dismount and walk up the hill--something about people would understand that a 50+ guy would get enough validation from friends for just being out doing such a ride. Just as this thought went through my brain and started to drain down into my legs, I thought of the training and the weight loss, and friends that knew I wanted to conquer the hills. Those thoughts made me stay with it and grind it out. As I came up the last incline, I spotted my wife (she was the support vehicle and photographer) up the hill. Her instruction was to park at the summit and wait for me to arrive. When I looked up and saw here, I knew I must be close and dug in for the final push. Finally, with a few more stern pushes on the peddles, I made it to the top.
Now the fun could begin! The last nine or ten miles of this road is downhill for the most part, right to the town of St. Charles, Idaho and the Bear Lake Valley. The first drop off the summit is steady and such a welcome relief to all the hard peddle pushing. I felt like I was flying as I looked at the speedometer and hit 18 mph. The second downhill area gets a little steep and I rode my brakes trying to stay in control. When I hit some of the downhill straight sections, I hit my top speed of 26 mph, which seemed fast as I flew through the aspen and pine lined roadway. I tried to be as safe as I could watching up ahead for any obstructions or change in conditions. I jumped over the three cattle guards and continued the descent. My only scary moment was hitting some looser gravel and sliding toward the trees. I had to brake and put a foot down to keep from mingling too close with mountain timber. The vibration from the rough road transfered from my hands, up my arms, and into the shoulder blades and neck. I could feel the muscles right between the shoulder blades starting to tighten from all the bouncing and rattling. It was okay. I had conquered the hills and I was almost to St. Charles. I was a little worried that being Labor Day weekend, I might run into the company of ATVs but I had the road almost to myself. I think I saw maybe five wheelers the whole day.
I rode alone with my thoughts and with the coolness of the shadows. I took in the green of the aspen leaves and the whiteness of their bark. I breathed in the mountain air and listened to the quiet. Every now and again I could hear the crunching of the gravel as my wheels turned and slid.
Back in one of the side canyons there used to be an old cabin and mine. My great uncles and grandpa built the cabin and worked the mine many years ago. The cabin was bulldozed and the opening to the mine closed by the Forest Service. My grandpa and great uncles traveled this road a lot. They travel it now as ghosts. "The Ride" was for them.