Erik Trautman logo crest shield seal

Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Idaho From Top to Bottom

Idaho was always a wildcard in my book; I just didn’t know what to expect. There aren’t really any feature destinations like national parks yet there are dozens of well known motorcycling routes that criss-cross the state and the region is full of winding rivers and deep forests. Our route back to Irwin, ID (where my girlfriend had left her car) gave us three full days to explore Idaho all the way from the Canadian border to where its southern edge hits Utah.

The ride south from West Glacier, MT took us past the long and scenic Flathead Lake. The air smells like apples and there are roadside stands selling sweet cherries by the pound every quarter mile or so (some of the best I’ve ever had). The air wasn’t warm but we were well bundled up so it actually felt quite refreshing.

South of Flathead Lake on 93 the land flattened out into pale yellow hills with towns interspersed a bit too often to be totally peaceful. The riding was fast, though, and we made good time. Dim mountains shadowed our route on the eastern side almost the whole way down until we pushed west towards Boise on rt 12 through the Clearwater State Forest.

The road through the forest seemed to typify a lot of the east-west routes in Idaho. It started with big ascents into the mountains and continued with hundreds of miles of rolling hills along a river. The riding was very good — sweeping curves at first and then sharper, slower curves through the middle as we followed the river’s course through the forest and among the hills. After a time, though, the sheer *sameness* of it all became a bit mentally taxing (even the hill heights were uniform). I think my girlfriend probably enjoyed that ride more than I did since she didn’t have to navigate 100 sharp turns but by the end of it we were both pretty saddlesore. At times the pavement quality suffered and caused some unnecessarily tough corners.

Whereas it was a bit difficult to maintain focus during the middle of the ride, the end was an absolute treat. Without a doubt, the last leg into Gransville, ID via rt 13 was another of the greatest I have ever experienced. Finally the wooded curves began to open up and the road quality improved so I could throttle up and get a good lean in. We popped out of the forest and into some of my favorite countryside anywhere — gentle rolling foothills covered by waving yellow grass and dotted with family farms and ranches. The underlying rock must have been soft because the rivers cut deep canyons and the hills were well-smoothed by the elements. The whole place had a soft, gentle feel to it as it was bathed in the warm glow of impending sunset. I would have gotten more photos but, as usual, a ride that good is difficult to interrupt.

The road began alongside the river but gradually made its way up the hillsides until we were coasting along the ridges of the hills. The horizon line would disappear for a minute as we rode to another crest and then we’d pop over the top and down into another scenic vista. The smell of horses drifted in the breeze and small herds of deer could be seen foraging in the fields by the roadside. Despite how long the day had been, it was a bit disappointing to finally arrive in Gransville for the night.

The following day’s ride to Boise, ID took us south on 95 for about 100 miles alongside the Salmon River. I knew it was the Salmon even before we saw the signs for it because I’d recognized the town that hosted a key USGS water flow gage from my time spent neck deep in forecasting the spring runoff in the Northwest. It certainly wasn’t the first time that I’d passed an interesting piece of western grid power infrastructure that I’d previously only known as a data item or a point on the map. I always get a little thrill out of seeing these things in reality. I’ve spent so much time staring at rivers in the northwest that it’s been a real trip to actually see them “in person” at last (though a bit too late to help that career).

The second leg of the journey took us onto scenic rt 55 past Lake Cascade and alongside the Payette River. Once again, we rode literally hundreds of turns along hills of approximately the same size and amidst pine trees that all looked the same. At times it was thrilling and, again, at times I had to fight to keep my focus. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the riding in Idaho — to the contrary, it has been great, but it sometimes lacks the variation necessary to keep up interest during very long treks.

We got into Boise in the late afternoon and I was immediately struck by a sense of similarity between it and Rapid City. It sort of seemed like a grown up version of Rapid, a big small town nestled as it was in the surrounding hills. One of the first things I did upon arrival was take the bike into a shop to put some new rubber on it, something I’d been trying to do for some time without success. There were points in the previous week that I cursed my worn tires and the lack of confidence they inspired.

One feature of our trip through Idaho that was as prevalent as the forests and rivers were the wildfires. When I left the hotel to head to the bike shop in the morning, visibility was maybe a mile or two. Smoke was everywhere. It irritated the eyes and reeked of burning sage. We had been seeing the side effects of the Idaho fires as far away as the Tetons and even the past few days there had been road closures due to fire but this was as heavy as it had been.

Though the smoke faded somewhat as the morning wore on and we traveled southeast back to Irwin, it still affected our route. We wanted to head north on a more scenic route to see the Craters of the Moon National Monument but the road was closed off. We actually passed a contingent of wilderness fire trucks from a friend’s crew heading the other direction when we turned around.

That left us stuck with main highways, so the riding wasn’t as good as it could have been and the scenery was hardly inspiring. The only interesting bit was the last part on 26 as we rolled back into Irwin. To make up for the poor final leg, we grabbed some local brews (the Teton Ale was good) at the Saddlesore Saloon before returning to the teepee, making a fire in the ancient canon stove at its center, and getting some much needed sleep.