IDBDR (Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route) - By Jon Beck


“Click.” That’s all I heard, followed by a voice. “I caught you coming out.” Not an unusual collection of words, I guess. However when they’re spoken to you as you emerge from a hotel room, on a brisk morning in Tonopah, Nevada, both hands overfilled with jumble of gear for an adventure motorcycle journey,

“Click.”

That’s all I heard, followed by a voice.

“I caught you coming out.”

Not an unusual collection of words, I guess.

However when they’re spoken to you as you emerge from a hotel room, on a brisk morning in Tonopah, Nevada, both hands overfilled with jumble of gear for an adventure motorcycle journey, after noticing the young woman lying on the ground with her camera outside your door, the phrase takes on a more peculiar gist.

“You’re probably gonna need to push that film a couple stops… pretty dark here.” Tit for tat. Bizarre greeting receives unusual reply. Although I think my response was helpful to whatever voyeuristic project was going on. I had other concerns anyway. I too, was carrying cameras, and needed to get them to the southern border of Idaho that same evening.

Offering up a brief but helpful photo tip to my rather fetching trigger-happy stalker was in truth a welcome delay to the present ordeal of lugging all my gear over the balcony and down the questionable stairway. This hotel stay underscored how much I was looking forward to camping. Lugging of panniers and climbing of stairs would be replaced with opening a lid and lying down on the ground next to the bike. So with Idaho in my sights, everything was again strapped to the Beemer, and I roared off into the vast blankness of Northern Nevada.

Starting a motorcycle adventure with an apparently impromptu paparazzi attack highlights the idea of “escape”. Whatever media madness, social or otherwise, that permeates modern life is easily erased for a time, if desired. North. It sounds cold, remote, wild, rugged. In reality it could simply refer to a suburb “that way” from downtown which works as an escape. In the case of Touratech’s Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route, the journey “north” from Los Angeles is possibly as close as one can get to walking in Christoper McCandless’ shoes, without the poison potatoes.

Elko, Nevada, became the last jumping off point from civilization after I fueled up the BMW and found dirt roads heading towards the rally point of Jarbidge, Nevada. This almost imperceptible town holds a wealth of cultural curiosity over a distance better suited to walking than driving.

Built in 1910, the community hall alone, complete with it’s working silent-film era Powers projector, captivates the Americana enthusiast with stories of found treasures, evaporating population, and resilient core which keeps this place on the map. Once a town of roughly 3000 people, Jarbidge has now dwindled to a community with as few as 20 people remaining during the winter months. This remoteness is both blessing and curse to the motorcycle traveler. Distance from urban fray is the goal, but when a rider swaps out, and requires medical attention to deal with broken bones, more distance equals more difficulty.

Our friend John found this out when he and his 1190 KTM parted ways, at speed, on one of these remote roads. As the medivac helicopter descended next to the gravel curve and collected its damaged fare, the good fortune of our group’s close proximity to a relatively major road became immediately apparent. It was a reminder; adventure riding is serious business.

Idaho at first was a place lost in time, literally. The time zone indicated on the wall of the Outdoor Inn restaurant disagreed with my cellphone, based on the last time it had service, which, of course, there was none of here. As we entered less remote places, time still seemed off. Six a.m. is really dark near Boise in August. Fortunately, the extreme tranquillity of the early morning afforded a walk around Trinity Lake that would impress a Buddhist monk. Once the entire group had emerged from their tents, we rode on to the Trinity Lookout. Jutting out from a 9500' peak with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, the natural expectation was for a wizened sage of some type to emerge from the structure and tell us the meaning of life. The volunteer in dolphin shorts tending to his ATV would do however, as he did have a wealth of knowledge regarding the area.

Perhaps the standout fact we learned was that our BDR team was the first group of any kind to reach this location on "big dualsport" motorcycles. Constant rocks, extreme exposure, and tight switchbacks with steep ascents await those riders, either skilled or foolhardy, who want to attempt the climb. Some of our group chose to leave the bikes at the base of the hill while others rode up. Wise decisions were made - know your comfort level. Hiking to enjoy a view is better than missing it entirely. After all, you can only see the sky when you’re strapped to a backboard.

Riding to Deadwood Reservoir the following day was perhaps the most accurate introduction to what Idahoian adventure riding is all about. Nothing overly technical, most always captivatingly scenic, but the rides are long! Road, and curves, simply keep coming. Miles turn to hours, and hours turn to expectation of finding a camp, which always seems to be a few more turns away. It's epic terrain, in epic quantity. How Lewis and Clark pulled off what they did in this land, without established roads, boggles the mind.

To help answer questions about the area’s early explorers, local historian Earl Bower joined our group for a couple days. Earl offered insight about how the original inhabitants did what they did in such challenging terrain. While I wouldn't dare compare the challenges faced by those in times long past to what we faced as a "leisure tour" group through the state, we absolutely did face a few obstacles along the way. Possibly the most glaring example, for my part, was a fallen tree.

The BMW R1200GS Adventure is a very capable machine. Even in stock form, getting it over a tree blocking the path is generally no problem. In this instance however, the simple fact that my bike lacked a skidplate, made the situation more dire. Pushing the machine over the obstacle with the help of my fellow riders ran the risk of crushing the exposed header pipes, or worse, cracking the case. Fortunately, the motor has more than ample zing to generate the lift needed in the all-too-inadequate run-up to the trail blockage. “Blip” the throttle takes on larger meaning when that throttle is connected to 1200cc’s of BMW water boxer chutzpah. In the end, rider and machine were thrown up and over the arboreous obstacle, landing abruptly, but unscathed, on the other side.

Delays are sometimes a blessing. The morning of the “tree jump” day, a 7 a.m. scheduled breakfast did not happen. To pass the time, several of our group opted to soak in the BurgdorfHot Springs until it did. Around 9:30 a.m., the dining room doors were opened and we begrudgingly emerged from the warm pools of bliss to grab a quick breakfast before climbing back on the bikes - another form of bliss to be sure. The long riding day ended at what was arguably a textbook “perfect” campsite by a river, save for the grizzly bears in the area.

Expect the best, prepare for the worst. These words didn’t ring so loud as the rain smashed against my tent during the night as much as they did the following day, when the only road through the canyon we needed to pass was closed. Mudslides. Given the choice of retracing hours of road to the next junction, or waiting for the graders to complete their task and allow us to pass, we chose the latter. Adaptability reigned supreme as coffee makers emerged, cameras powered up, and a delay almost became a welcome break. Nearly the same color as our coffee, the muddy river adjacent to the road was a reminder that these hillsides can collapse given the right encouragement from a storm. In less than two hours, the graders had cleared us a path, and we were again rolling north.

Lolo Parkway reminded me why I got into adventure riding. Simple, pure, unencumbered exploration. Perfectly remote, sensibly non-technical, and undeniably scenic, this stretch of the Idaho BDR also holds many historical gems that Earl stopped periodically to point out. The “Blue Cabin”, while not necessarily historical, was no doubt a gem. After so many days on the trail, enjoying a hot shower thanks to the wood-fired heat exchanger that also powered the stove, was amazing. Regardless, I still elected to sleep outside in my Nemo tent. The explosion that woke me at 4:45 a.m. turned out to be merely thunder. The downpour that began shortly afterward, nearly inspired ark-building. Once bright green, my tent was now starting to look like a small adobe building from the mud being splashed onto its surface.

As we left Bonners Ferry headed towards the BDR’s conclusion at the Canadian border, the immensity of the journey sank in. In terms of distance, this had been the longest BDR our team had attempted so far. What stood out was the diversity of people we met over that distance. Where states like Utah or Colorado contained a dizzying variety of terrain, Idaho presented our group with a cultural range unseen in other BDRs.

At Burgdorf Hot Springs, a fellow traveler presented us with a bottle of “free range” wine and talked about his last 17 years on the road. At Secesh Stage Stop, a local explained how the town was named after the secessionists who broke north during the Civil War and established the place. Even among our group, Idahoian Kurt Forget runs Black Dog Cycle Works between locations in Sand Point, Idaho, and an obscure Mexican town called Mulege. Interesting and friendly people seemed to be waiting with a story to tell nearly every place we stopped.

Although, not once during the trip was there a person lying on the ground outside my tent, waiting to take my picture when I emerged in the morning. I guess a state can’t have everything. Click.

For more details on the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route please click here: www.backcountrydiscoveryroutes.com/IDBDR

 

 

IDBDR Sidebar Infos

While the 14th largest state in the U.S., Idaho falls to number 35 when it comes to amount of paved roads. Being the 7th least populous state means there are typically very few people on those roads. Just 45 miles wide at it’s most narrow point, up to 310 miles at the widest, our BDR team took a south-to-north route following the western edge of the state. We met several friendly locals along the way, despite the state having an average of only 19 people per square mile (less than one person per square mile in some regions). These numbers work together to make Idaho an ideal destination for anyone looking for a remote backcountry adventure.

  • Population: 1.6 million
  • Area: 83,642 square miles / 216,632 square kilometeres
  • Average person per square mile: 19 (low of .6)
  • Miles of paved road: 98,649 (Falls to #35 in US states with most paved roads)
  • Distance west - east: 45 miles at narrow point, 310 miles at widest point
  • Distance north - south: 479 miles
Categoria: Adventure | Travel