Freezing in Hells Canyon

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October 2, 2009

A forecasted chance of Sunday rain rising at the last minute to 100% and other trials and tribulations inspire an ad hoc overnight ride into the jaws of Hells Canyon.

Welcome to Montour
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Welcome to Montour
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Looking for novel adventure, I headed up Eagle Road until it turned first to gravel and then dirt. It was a fun route. It got a bit rutted and rocky toward the end but entertaining, not bad. Seeking scenery more than efficiency, I then looped around the relative oasis of Montour.

Black Canyon Dam
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Black Canyon Dam
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That Black Canyon highway is a good bit of fun. I passed my turn-off to check out the dam since I’d never been over there. I hoped to walk on it but clearly they must guard against terrorists (teenagers). Oh well. On I went.

Squaw Butte views
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Squaw Butte views
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The road up to Squaw Butte is gravel, the last few miles of which is unavoidable washboard. Meh. This is the final image of an un-dented, un-gouged, un-scratched skid plate, header pipe, cylinder head and pannier (queue tears).

The route so far
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The route so far
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This pretty well covers the way I’d so far ridden from Boise.

Endless horizon
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Endless horizon
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It is even more desolate to the west.

Trees!
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Trees!
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I was glad to be going north.

Doesn't look so bad
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Doesn’t look so bad
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Not about to break the adventure riding code of ethics, I’d found a route off the butte different from the one ridden up. It looked good to me.

Less fun
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Less fun
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It began all friendly and welcoming like you see above. “Come on big GS, this is easy” it cooed. Besides, it obviously would be downhill.

I enjoy a trail with some bumps. It’s the bumps that move and roll around that make me nuts. That this was one of the easier sections is made obvious by the fact that I’m on top of the motorcycle rather than under it! There are several sections where even on foot, I couldn’t help but stumble.

Too much of this
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Too much of this
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The thought balloon above my head: “This won’t be easy to lift.” A few minutes later: “I don’t think that will buff out.” And of course, tears.

The bike went on its side a few times. Other than this time, I was always able to step off the bike before it happened. Here, a peg or something landed right on my ankle and I was very glad for my riding boots.

Powered forward by cursing, I eventually made it off the butte. The ATV track crossed cow pastures, back and forth across a stream for a good ways. I dutifully opened and closed gates until finally, the road! What was this?! A chained and padlocked gate? No way!

Surely it violates the Geneva Convention to have stretched wire gates across one end of your land, with signs reading “please close behind you,” implying that access is permitted, but then a locked steel gate at the opposite end, just where you could return to the public road.

I saw no possible way to ride back up the butte given my difficulty coming down. After some thought, I opted to use a screwdriver to unwind the metal ties that held the barbed wire to the stakes. I rode through then carefully wired them back up, even a bit better, I think, than before.

It was a relief to be back on a proper road, Big Flat and Crane Roads. There wasn’t a lot out there to see, so much so that I was perplexed at the people who’d set up camps and homes there. At the first chance, I abandoned the planned route, the nothingness, for a line to Weiser.

Loud tarp
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Loud tarp
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The butte debacle put me behind schedule so after food in Weiser, I opted to camp at the first available spot which ended up being nearer the highway than befits true camping. I think I might actually have gone down what was meant as a walking path along the river but night was closing in and I was willing to risk disapprobation.

With rain in the forecast, I thought it wise to set up the tarp. Unfortunately, it was not rain but wind that came in the night. The tarp howled and flapped in protest. I got up twice to reconfigure it, poking around in the windy darkness in my bare feet, still expecting rain, expecting the tarp needed to remain up.

When I wasn’t getting up for the tarp, I kept waking up to what seemed like the sound of something large clawing the tent and cooler outside. It was not a restful night.

Survived the night
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Survived the night
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I was intentionally over-prepared for just an overnighter in order to test some new gear. A new camp stove failed the test. After the restless night of a wind whipped tarp and imagined beasts, I was eager to try the new coffee percolator. I prepared to fire up the stove. No? No!

Warming up
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Warming up
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It wasn’t cold like forecasted. It hadn’t rained like forecasted. Having come that far, shouldn’t I continue to the canyon? Of course, I reasoned.

The original plan was back roads from Council by Bear over to Hells Canyon. But now I was expediting. Highway 71 from Cambridge is actually a lot of fun with nice views. No complaints. I pulled up the thermometer and watched it click down to 42°F as I climbed up and over to Brownlee Reservoir. Brrr. Heated grips: on.

Making power
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Making power
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I cruised with no plan but to see where the day would lead. I think that’s my favorite kind of ride plan.

Hells refuge
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Hells refuge
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Near Oxbow, I decided it was time for a warm-up.

Busy place
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Busy place
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There wasn’t much company at the café. I guess some folks pay attention to the weather forecast.

Last warm-up
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Last warm-up
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As I emerged from the café, rain was picking up in earnest. Uh-oh. The ride out of Brownlee was a tough one. Steady rain became a driving rain. As I climbed, the temperature fell below 40°F. Then lower. Finally 32° and heavy snow. Gah.

Speed is what creates a mostly-dry cocoon behind the fairing and windscreen but the winding road out of the canyon required a slow-down, allowing snow to pile on my visor until I had to lift it out of the way to see, which then allowed wet globs of snow to hit my eyes, which required more slow-down to make it bearable.

You might say the situation snowballed.

The culprit
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The culprit
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Gear kept everything dry enough but a warm-up latte in Cambridge before highway home was nonetheless essential. From Cambridge to Boise, the rain never let up. In fact, it came down pretty hard in places. But the GS sped on, passing cars, passing trucks, slicing through standing water, offering protection behind its fat front end.