Zen On Dirt

Idaho Hot Springs Double Date

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As I look outside, the leaves of the Colorado high country are changing, the air is crisp, and I’m wondering what happened to summer. It’s been the usual pattern of play as hard as possible until we crack, take a week to rest and catch up on work, and then go again. I always plan on catching up on this blog during down times, but in the end, good books, trying to learn some Spanish, and occasionally some trashy TV take priority.

Back this Spring, Alexis and I had planned a tour of the ACA Idaho Hot Springs Route for the fall. Sandwiched between Denny getting back from Peru and the two of them having to go back to teaching, our time window wasn’t exactly huge, but good enough for some quality bikepacking.

My one main goal for the trip was to ride the Boulder-Whiteclouds section of trail. I could rant about how this Wilderness designation came to be (to me, it seems much more about political gains rather than actual land conservation), but I grew up in Boulder where mountain bike trail politics, at the time at least, were horrible, so really, I’m ranted out. With five nights to play with, we figured that we’d plan the rest of the route based on how long the ‘singletrack option’ took us.

We all met up in Hailey, just down the road from Ketchum, and eventually found parking in at the Galena Lodge 20+ miles up the road from Ketchum. While this shortened our distance to the first set of hot springs on the route, we knew we’d be hating life when we rolled back into Ketchum at the end of the trip and had to pedal back up to the cars.

Our first task was to get lost. We weren’t really expecting a route that claimed to be fully-loaded pannier touring friendly to go on some overgrown singletrack.


The fact that we hit a little section of hike-a-bike straight off on the climb to Galena Pass made us smile.


The descent down the backside dropped jaws. Views! There were views! I was so happy.


We started on the singletrack section late in the afternoon, climbing what seemed like a million feet on barely rideable trail and the dropping down the next valley on what I’d call ‘fairly challenging’ trail. This route apparently wasn’t going to mess around. We made it to Bowry Hot Springs (I’m writing this a full 6 weeks after the fact, I’ll probably make up some names) at dark, ate some dinner, soaked under the stars, and passed out quickly.

Breakfast was burritos complements of Denny, and cinnamon rolls complements of wherever I bought them. I think it was the Albersons in Hailey. Now, with 4 fewer cinnamon rolls on my bike, and a liter less of wine in my frame bag, we could really start riding.


Breathtaking views.


Before we got into the heart of the Whiteclouds, we opted for a soak at a nearby hot spring. This one was super sulfery, which we’d later read was good for skin. It smelled like ass.


We opted out of the first PUD (pointless up and down) since we could see that it was entirely hike-a-bike and skirted around to start the main climb of the Boulder Whiteclouds. There was a lot of hiking.


I’d hate for someone who’d never bikepacked on singletrack to think that this was what bikepacking singletrack was always like. We were going pretty light, and even Scott couldn’t claim to have ridden much more than half the climb. Still, the views were worth it.


We went swimming at a small lake in the shadow of the iconic Castle Peak. It made it all the more special knowing that this area would be off limits to mountain bikes in the very near future.


The trail that mountain bikers actually used and maintained (as opposed to the climb we took to get up to the basin, which is rarely ridden in the uphill direction) was beautiful and rideable.


We each got our glamor shot cresting the top.


Then down to another lake. Up for a bit. Down for a bit. A climb up to Ants Basin.


Somebody please pinch me. Is this real?


We raced shadows down to pick out the best campsite of the trip.


Here? Should we spend the night here?


The morning brought a descent further into the basin to The Meadows, where we saw Sandhill Cranes. #birdnerd


Then more hike-a-bike up Martin Creek. Martin Creek doesn’t really seem to get a whole lot of use…especially in the uphill direction. The sheer amount of hike-a-bike was frustrating even to Scott, which is saying something.


The views of the Sawtooths at the top, and the subsequent descent almost made it worth it. Though I’d firmly say I wouldn’t take that traversal of the mountain range again…which is a moot point because now it’s firmly closed. The west to east way seemed to be much friendlier.


Luckily, there was a hot spring at the end in the form of a cauldron. We had to haul countless buckets of river water up to make the spring water tolerable. It was a lovely, happy soak and river swim period in time.


To Stanley for pizza and resupply. To camp in a dead forest where a wind storm and crashing trees forced us to relocate camp in the middle of the night to a more open area. To smooth and open roads in the morning.


Onto the Lowman cutoff and to the daily hot spring. I nearly scalded my feet and had to fish an abandoned flip-flop out of a pool with a stick because it was too hot to touch. More river swimming. More soaking.


After lunch and resupply at the Sourdough Lodge, we took a cut-off from the Lowman cutoff to save time. A massive, but perfectly graded climb took us from one valley into another.


We camped at a legitimate campsite where we were the only ones because you had to carry your stuff into the site. It’s flip flop o’clock! Down by a river, it was cold, but it had picnic tables. Picnic tables! It’s the small luxuries in life.


We finished off a climb in the morning to get back on the route only to find a defunct hot spring. Bummer. So we kept pedaling up and over another massive climb. If there’s something the route wasn’t lacking, it was huge climbs. I don’t mind climbing, it means you get to coast back down the other side.

We found ourselves in Featherville for a late lunch. A massive amount of food was order to eat there and to haul down the road for dinner. The cafe has fully embraced being on a bike touring route.


With the sun setting, we weren’t sure if we’d actually make the 30 miles to a hot spring that our book had described as the Shangri-la of hot springs. We stopped at a smaller one sooner on the route. Stay or go? There wasn’t much camping to be found in the area, and at most, we could have fit two people in the little hot box, so we kept going. Alexis chugged a Dr. Pepper and set a pace none of us could really maintain.


We rolled in right at dusk and enjoyed a soak and set up camp a stones throw from the pool. It made for a frosty morning.


It also made for a good morning soak where hands and feet had to initially be kept out of the water to avoid cold extremities from heating up too fast. We called it ‘The Turtle.’


Up and over one more big pass and down to a local favorite hot spring for a second soak and then onto Ketchum.


Beer, burgers, and fries distracted us from the fact that there was still 20 more miles of pedaling to partake in. It was the celebration before the actual finish. The beer buzz lasted Denny and I a solid 10 miles out of town.


It was…painful. But really only because we were racing daylight. We eventually bailed off the trail that paralleled the highway and rode pavement to save time. Back to the cars, the last ones in the parking lot. The sun was just disappearing over the pines. Alexis and Denny quickly pointed back towards Logan, Scott and I stood there, What next?

The previous six days were some of the biggest days we’d ridden this summer. We felt a little bit epic’d. As we stood there, watching A&D driving away, we laughed. ‘How awesome is it to have good friends like that who’ll voluntarily go out and undertake something like that, with a time limit, and pull it off?’

There aren’t all that many people like that out there. Especially not ones that make as amazing of a breakfast burrito to bring along for breakfast the first day. What fun.

We drove a few miles down the road. Put out our big tent and warm sleeping bags and promptly passed out, smiling. That was a good way to spend a  week.


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