“You alright?” I asked the young guy as he stood, straightened his shirt and brushed off the dust.
“Yeah, fine,” he answered in a subdued tone.
“You guys are haulin’!” I observed.
“Yeah,” was all he said in the same tone.
The hills facing Boise are criss-crossed with trails, most of them for hiking and biking but a few are marked for motorcycles as well. Hunter has been saying he’d like to ride and camp but when the day arrived he wasn’t feeling like it so I decided to make a quick run up around the ridge by myself.
As young children we tend to believe that our parents are the best, our place is best. About ten years later we come to the opposite conclusion and perhaps ten years after that we begin to fully appreciate what we had to begin with.
Having had some occasion to travel and almost infinite opportunity to see others’ adventure travels on sites like Adventure Rider¹ has made me appreciate just how great the possibilities are in the place I’ve always lived. About five minutes from home and I’m on dirt riding unfettered into big mountains or, if the mountains are cold, the opposite way to ryholite spires and sharply incised canyons in the Owyhee high desert. If you can make the Idaho culture and economy work for you, it’s a great place to exchange mental clutter for the experience of wild places.
“Two trails are open to motorized use within the Ridge to Rivers system — 8th Street Motorcycle Trail #4 and Curlew Connector #6. Both trails are considered expert level due to steep grades and exposure.”¹
A Trail Four descent is a modest affair of dragging the rear, feathering the front through the rough patches but the ascent requires decent riding experience. A minute of inspection at the most rugged area, Devil’s Slide, “usually leads to the discovery of assorted broken motorcycle parts including brake and clutch levers, as well as plastic pieces that have been broken off. Caution should be used on this section of the trail.”²
The KTM handled this with aplomb. I’ve been down it on the GS but never volunteered to go up. Whereas the GS required a perfect line and momentum for rock climbs the KTM seems hardly to need a rider at all.
A disheveled man and mangy dog stood alone in the low brush some ways from the trail looking placidly out across the hills. I waved but didn’t see him respond. His appearance made me think he was a transient until I saw several untended, shackled horses under a tree and figured they must be associated in some way. Are there such things as horse-herders?
The trail narrowed and steepened above the hobbled horses where I was startled to see a mountain biker flying at me full speed from around a blind corner just a dozen feet ahead.¹ I barely had time to lean left into the bank to allow him by without collision.
“Two more!” he yelled with doppler effect.
Yikes. The hill there was too steep to go off trail (not pictured) so I drove the front up the bank as much as I could and leaned over.
“Thanks!” the next guy yelled as he flew by a moment later.
The last guy rounded the corner and glanced up from watching his line to notice me just as he hit scattered, baseball-sized rocks. His front wheel jammed sideways and he became superman for a second. He dusted himself off, said he was okay and coasted away. It could have been worse.
For most of the year the hills facing Boise have all the color of a chocolate chip cookie with none of the deliciousness. But for a short time in the spring we enjoy their transfiguration with lively snow run-off rivulets and abundant sprinkles of yellow and green.
My helmet camera resisted all attempts at activation back at the parking area along Eighth Street.¹ It turned out I had fully charged the WiFi back² but the camera itself was dead so it was in the bag charging during the exciting events of Trail 4 to be activated once I reached the uneventful ridge.
My mission was twofold: find campsites that Hunter could reach for our eventual overnight ride and map as many of the unofficial trails as I could. After making it to the ridge I followed the road to the fenced enclave of ramshackle cabins posted with stern variations of “no trespassing.”
Each time I pass there I wonder at the unseen owners. I think if I had some land on the ridge I would build a tiny cottage with a potbelly stove and porch overlooking the endless mountains. Jessica and I would sit there in our rocking chairs while the wind gently rang chimes hung from the oiled wood beams above. You all could visit anytime.
After passing the fence and forest ensconced compound I turned down the backside of the ridge on the trail apparently called Humpty Dumpty. Why that appellation? I can only guess some poor rider couldn’t be put back together again. I threaded my way downward on the clear but narrow path until it coincided with the trickle that begins Robie Creek.
Once lines connected on the GPS, meaning I had mapped the trail between already known roads, I turned back toward the ridge I’d come over, back toward home. Remaining daylight seemed adequate for a little more exploring so I turned from the main Eagleson (243) to Trail 211 where I found a beautiful knoll just off the beaten path.
I felt the mental smile I had all along spread across my face at the sight of so many yellow flowers swaying in the breeze sweeping in from distant snowcaps across mountains patched green with forests.
Objective met: it is the place Hunter and I will camp off our motorcycles before he leaves for the summer, him and I around a little fire while the stars come out above dark mountains.
My ride up Trail 211 ended at large trees across the trail. What looked like a bypass didn’t go anywhere (I tried a few options) and the trail beyond looked unridden, on it’s way to being overgrown. As I get older it seems easier to accept the end of things. I cut my losses and returned quick as I could to Eagleson.
Eagleson was pretty busy. I’d already passed a UTV and a couple dirtbikes and seemed to be catching up to a two-stroke (that or someone is badly burning oil) so when I saw some single track peal off, I went for it — just more tracks for the GPS.
The trail was a shortcut from Eagleson back down to the small Robie Creek crossing I’d passed earlier. The little trail was fun. I didn’t mind turning around to ride it again (as opposed to returning all the way to the ridge the way I came). Eagleson was clear of two-stroke dust and emissions by then and I made quick time back to Boise Ridge Road.
Having come up Eighth Street and Trail 4, I aimed for a Rocky Canyon Road return. On a whim (and since there were no signs saying not to), I turned to hit a long climb next to the road for a final hurrah. The first stage wasn’t bad. The second stage, where fewer had gone, took some finesse to keep the front wheel on the ground.
I parked atop the bare hill and stood in the breeze. It felt good.
It turns out the terms you might search for to learn more about this phenomenon return a lot of noise — children’s stories, irrelevant taxonomies and yellow tractors. Suffice to say that this time each year, constellations of caterpillar nurseries fill miles of hilltop shrubs.
As I walked around the hill, it became increasingly evident that our dark overlords are not the illuminati, freemasons or NSA but mule deer. A blanket of scat like a million cigarette butts proved they stood there in superior numbers contemplating the future of our city. Seriously: the entire hilltop looked like this.
This was my first annoyance-free KTM ride. Yea. Earlier rides kept teaching me what needed adjustment but other than some right mirror vibration audible in the video and an already present, slight leak from the chain oiler, this ride was flawless. This bike is a lot of fun!
(For those familiar with the bike, can you spot the four aftermarket modifications here?)
Almost ten years ago, as the lives of myself and wife-to-be were converging so too were Mars and the Earth reaching their closest point in decades. I don’t remember what led to the idea — perhaps pure whimsy — but Jessica and I set off at dusk on the motorcycle for this hill above the twinkling lights of Boise. We walked what we couldn’t ride together on the XR then sat on uncomfortable rocks to watch the darkening sky for Mars.
We began to hear strange noises in the dark while we waited for Mars. Jessica’s description then seemed accurate: dying rubber ducks. That’s probably what it was.
After some time in the dark, serenaded by strange sounds, I noticed a growing point of light to the north that we both watched enthusiastically for some minutes until realizing it was becoming far too bright to possibly be a planet. A few minutes later the large plane with active landing lights passed overhead.
I don’t think we ever did spot Mars. Jessica still laughs at me sometimes for confusing an airplane with Mars. Thankfully that wasn’t the real point of the ride.
I was recently watching some motorcycle videos from 1998, including one of my friend Brett climbing this hill on his XR 600. It took him a few tries. Still in a reminiscing mood, I guess, I felt like reliving that memory too so I turned off the main road just above Aldape Summit and discovered that either the climb or my skills have gotten worse. Going down that darn thing was the hardest part of the whole ride.
From there I was back on the ridge road and down Rocky Canyon to home a few minutes later with daylight to spare. If you haven’t been on the ridge during the spring, whether by car, motorcycle or bicycle, I highly recommend it. It’s only minutes away and it’s beautiful.