Been burning my way across North America on the mighty KLR for the last few days. Just made it to Cleveland! Full posts with pics forthcoming…
Tags: cuprum, dual sport motorcycle, hells canyon, Kawasaki KLR650, kleinschmidt grade
Here’s an expanded write-up on the first couple of rides of 2014, including Cuprum, the Kleinschmidt Grade, 10 Mile Creek and Garden Valley:
Just over 12 months since I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Lateral Meniscus, broke my leg, and severely damaged virtually every other structure in my right knee, I’m thrilled to report that I’m back to roughly 100%. It’s a good thing too, as throttle lust had been getting the better of me of late.
I hadn’t ridden a single mile of dirt since last fall’s Happy Trails Lolo Motorway Rally in Kamiah—and even that was a weak showing with only 40-50% stability in my right knee following surgery. My orthopedic surgeon strongly suggested I stay away from the bike altogether until spring, but what does he know?
Throwing caution to the wind, three perfect September days in north-central Idaho riding two-track (able-bodied participants at the rally found their way into some way cooler single track rides) reignited a spark that had faded alongside my injury. I left Kamiah, for lack of better words—stoked.
2014 would present the perfect opportunity to relearn how to appreciate what I had long taken for granted—exploration, solitude, adrenaline, adventure—all the things that make a dual sport motorcycle the preferred method of transport here in the Gem State.
So now that spring has begun to fade into summer and the snow is gone from the immediate hillsides around my home in Boise, I scheduled the first pair of rides to see how far and how high I could get into Idaho’s back country. This time of year, the only limitation is snowpack, as the weather is generally pleasant and the landscapes are richly adorned with green undertones and myriad vibrant wildflower accents.
First up, Memorial Day weekend—Rocky Canyon to 10 Mile Creek to Garden Valley to Round Valley to Boise. This little three day, 322 mile jaunt was mostly paved, but presented myself and my riding companion (high school buddy Nolan Smith, and his BMW 800GS) with an opportunity to see how passable Central Idaho’s ridges were. We fully expected to hit snow—the question remained just how much, and whether we could ride around or through it.
Recent rains made for a swift and tacky run over Rocky Canyon to Robie Creek. Burning daylight, we made quick work over Mores Creek Summit on pavement before taking the 10 Mile Creek access bridge over the South Fork of the Payette River. We met a group of friends at a secluded spot along the river, and unwound before the rollicking flames of a massive bonfire.
The next morning, we burned tarmac to Crouch for breakfast at Wild Bills Café. Leafing through some old Forest Service paper maps for alternate routes to Round Valley—in the event that we were bamboozled by snow—we found a less-traveled lower elevation surrogate route that would come in handy a few hours later.
We cruised serenely up the road abutting the Middle Fork of the Payette to the confluence with Silver Creek and headed west up Road 670. We didn’t see a single soul after cresting the ridge at the 693 Junction. There was quite a bit of snow on the side of the road, and you could tell by the uninterrupted condition of the pine needles under tire that few if any travelers had gone this far in 2014. We reached the junction that sends you either west to Bacon Creek or northwest to Landmark, and decided to take the lower elevation route due to the amount of snow we had already seen. Not 300 yards down the south facing slope and we hit our first snowbank.
I carefully aligned my front wheel with the terrain’s flattest trajectory and gave the KLR some gas. I slipped and slid through without issue. Nolan navigated my tire groove without issue. A few hundred yards later, we came across what became affectionately known as “the big one.” This 60-foot long 2 to 3 foot deep snowbank laid between two steep drainage whoops would mean trouble in the event that we had to turn back. Getting the bikes back up this sucker would be impossible. I again lined up my front end and pulled the trigger. This time, I buried the KLR up to the boxes within 10 feet of entry. Frustrated, I hopped off the bike and started walking downhill to see what the upcoming half mile had in store for us. It appeared to clear out, so Nolan and I carefully pushed and feathered both bikes to the bottom of the snow bank. We were the first tracks through in 2014.
We both breathed a sigh of relief when we caught our first glimpse of Round Valley’s prairie through the trees above Bacon Creek. We were in Cascade less than 30 minutes later. We spent the next day-and-a-half riding lower elevation roads and tracks and unwinding by the reservoir with friends.
I debated heading over High Valley on my way back to Boise, but traffic on Highway 55 was surprisingly modest for the holiday weekend, and I had to get a head start on the upcoming short work week.
The following weekend, we commissioned the assistance of my room mate Matt (and his BMW 650 Dakar) for a run over to Cambridge, Brownlee, Hells Canyon, the Kleinschmidt Grade, Cuprum, Huckleberry, Bear, Council and back to Boise. This 360-mile mini-tour took us through some incredible scenery, dramatic elevation changes, and even more snow.
Leaving Boise at 6pm on a Friday, we knew we would be burning daylight by the time we hit Cambridge. We made quick work of Highway 71 down to the Brownlee campground just before sundown. A crisp evening between two rushing creeks was quickly remedied as we dropped the next morning into the low elevation heat of Hells Canyon. A quick run over the dam and we were on our way to the epically steep Klienschmidt Grade—5,000 feet from canyon floor to canyon rim in just a few short miles. The panoramas were incredible, as we transitioned from desert back to high alpine forest. We putted along the Cuprum-Council dirt road without seeing another moving vehicle the entire way. We elected to take the long route to Huckleberry campground along Little Bear Creek—making note of a potential afternoon ride to Black Lake after we set up camp.
After we were situated at Huckleberry, we detached our Happy Trails boxes and made a run for Black Lake. Not 4 miles in and we ran into a mud slick that promptly turned into a deep snowbank. Black Lake would have to wait a few more weeks.
We continued to ride side roads and trails through the afternoon before retiring to camp for dinner. The next morning, we rode through the town of Bear and on to Council for breakfast. We made quick work of Idaho 52 back to Emmett, and Highway 16 into Star/Eagle/Boise.
So there you have it. There is still plenty of snow up in the mountains, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get someplace cool over the next few weekends. One thing’s for certain—you’ll have most of the more remote places to yourself as long as nobody thinks the road is passable.
Tags: 10 Mile Creek, dual sport motorcycle, garden valley, idaho dual sport, klr 650, Round Valley Idaho
Friday, 8:10 a.m. Me, via text: “Give me a call when you get a second. I have a rad idea.”
8:55 a.m.: ring… ring… ring.
Me: “What’s good, man?”
Nolan: “Nothing. What’s this brilliant idea you have?”
Me: “Let’s fire up the bikes and hit the back roads this weekend. I’d like to see if we can get over the ridge from Garden Valley to Round Valley. There’s still a ton of snow in places, but I bet we can find a clear route.”
Nolan: “Sounds like a plan. When can you get off work?”
Me: “If I put my head down, probably between noon and 2 p.m.”
So it began.
Rigging and loading my custom-built Happy Trails Products Kawasaki KLR 650 for the first multi-day ride of the year brought a Cheshire grin to my mug. I hadn’t been out for a proper ride since the previous September, meaning a winter’s worth of pent-up throttle lust had gotten the better of me. With Idaho’s massive playground–approximately 30,000 miles of two track, fire roads and trails–yet again at my disposal, winter’s fickle barrier was no longer a point of frustration.
Nolan, my neighbor and buddy from high school, rolled up to my house at 1:15 p.m. on his BMW 800GS (also outfitted by Happy Trails). He had a comparable look on his face.
A quick fuel stop and we were making tracks over Rocky Canyon Road toward Idaho City. A few friends were celebrating a double birthday over the weekend at 10 Mile Creek on the South Fork of the Payette River. Nolan and I figured we’d join them for a night instead of heading straight for Garden Valley. After all, it was possible we wouldn’t be able to get over the pass between Garden Valley and Round Valley.
An evening of revelry dissipated into a peaceful night’s sleep, set against the dull roar of the South Fork’s icy spring runoff. Up at 7:30 a.m.–bikes rigged. We burned tarmac into Crouch on Banks-Lowman Road pursuant of breakfast at Wild Bills. A hefty egg scramble was just what the doctor ordered, alongside a dark roast cup of joe. After breakfast, we pored over a series of U.S. Forest Service maps to find an alternate route, in the event that we got stymied by snow.
Cruising serenely up the Middle Fork of the Payette river to Rattlesnake campground, I got the sense that a little adventure might be in store. The farther we traveled, the fewer people we saw. At the confluence of Silver Creek and the Middle Fork, we crossed the bridge to Road 670: gateway to Valley County (and Round Valley). It had been about three years since my last run over this route–a July trip with nary a skiff of snow in sight.
A few Crouch locals had noted that people were still snowmobiling on nearby Scott Mountain. It was not a comforting notion given our mode of travel.
A group of rednecks on side-by-sides nearly ran us off the road about midway up to the summit. Thankfully they were the last people we would see before getting back on pavement.
At the intersection with the 693 loop road, we continued north on Road 670 over to the Bacon Creek cutoff. It was decision time. If we stayed on 670, we would surely run into snow–although the road loses significant elevation quickly, meaning we would stand a better chance of making it to low ground without incident. If we continued to ride the saddles on the ridge, we probably wouldn’t make it more than a few miles without hitting substantial snowpack. It was a no-brainer: 670 all the way.
Not 300 yards down the south facing ridge we hit our first snow bank. The road was completely covered in about three feet of heavy, wet slop for a good 25 feet. I slowly lined up my front wheel with what appeared to be the flattest coverage and gunned it through without trouble. Nolan made it through cleanly as well. There was no turning back, as we could never get the bikes back uphill through that much snow–and neither of us brought a shovel. Less than a mile later we came across “the big one.” A shallow 60- to 70-foot snowbank covered a pitched section of road between two mogul-like whoops. I again lined up my front wheel and went for it. This time, the snowbank won. Not 10 feet in and my bike was buried up to the panniers.
Frustrated, I hopped off the bike, which was now wedged perfectly upright–its full weight supported by the snow–and started walking downhill to scout the next few turns. From the lack of tracks in snow or mud, it was clear no other vehicles had even attempted to traverse this route. Again, not a good sign. While I was gone, Nolan was kind enough to stomp out a path from my front tire to the downhill edge of the snow. With a little bit of lifting and cursing, we got both bikes through.
If we weren’t committed to this route before, we sure as hell were now.
We poked and putted along with the knowledge that we would be the first people to complete this route in 2014, as long as we didn’t have any more mishaps. As I meandered down the rough, rocky whoops of lower 670–feeling pretty good about our prospects–I felt my rear suspension completely compress, followed immediately by a loud, sickening snap. I thought for certain that I had flatted my rear tire–a fix that would likely take us into the evening hours on this steep loose section.
I found a relatively flat spot to pull over and looked underneath my left pannier. I hadn’t flatted. I had however run over a load strap rated at 2,000 pounds that snapped in half under the rotation of KLR’s rear wheel. I was lucky this didn’t damage the wheel, or worse yet, buck me off the front of the bike into the adjacent ravine. I rearranged the load on my bike and we pressed on.
Not far down the road, we got our first glimpse of Round Valley through the Ponderosa pines. We made our way down to Highway 55 from Sixty Lane, and pushed into Cascade for some R&R. Two nights of sitting on the beach and doing some lower elevation rides, and we cruised back into Boise with a few good stories, some excellent pictures and a solid appreciation for our good fortunes.
Total ride: 322 miles–about half on dirt.
Tags: 10 Mile Creek, dual sport motorcycle, Garden Valley Idaho, Round Valley Idaho
Here are a few pics from my Memorial Day weekend ride from Rocky Canyon to 10 Mile Creek to Garden Valley to Round Valley. We were the first ones to make it all the way over road 670 in 2014, as evidenced by the previously untouched snowpack in several places on the ridge. Total ride: 322 miles–roughly half dirt and half tarmac.
Full feature should be out in the Boise Weekly shortly.
Tags: dual sport motorcycle, kamiah idaho, klr650, lolo motorway
Originally published in the Boise Weekly:
Tackling the Lolo Motorway
A motorcycle haven in North Idaho
by Andrew Mentzer
The Lolo Motorway provides the adventurous with access to countless mountain lakes and viewpoints.
From Boise, head north on Highway 55 through McCall. Continue on Highway 95 to Grangeville. Turn right toward the Harpster Grade and take Highway 13 to Kooskia to the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and Highway 12. You can head left to Kamiah or right toward Lolo, Mont. The Lolo Motorway (officially dubbed Road 500) runs parallel to the north of Highway 12, with a handful of steep, often rough, perpendicular access roads along the way.
Peering over the endless expanse of the Clearwater National Forest from my 7,000-foot perch above the Lochsa River, the realization that I had waited all these years to explore one of the coolest places in Idaho settled in. I have reported on dozens of epic stretches across the Gem State, but the Lolo Motorway might take the cake for scenery, solitude and sheer enjoyment.
It may have been the perfect weather that made the trip especially good, but most folks would feel a similar appreciation on their first trip out. Its rugged ascent from Highway 12 to countless mountain lakes and overlooks which provide a peace hard to find elsewhere. This is the backcountry, so staying aware amid the temptation to let your head float off your shoulders is paramount.
My early September run on the Lolo Motorway was with the folks from Happy Trails Products in Boise, a dual sport motorcycle gear company. The second installment of their annual Lolo Motorway Rally utilized the town of Kamiah as home base, which proved the perfect location for each evening’s meeting of the minds.
Each morning, dozens of hardcore dual-sport and enduro enthusiasts convened in small groups to decide which way to go. Some chose remote single-track routes. Others (like myself, coming off a recent knee surgery) chose one of myriad Forest Service roads to explore. While I only completed a roughly 50-mile segment of the Lolo Motorway, there are hundreds of miles of rides/drives in the area that are sure to adequately whet your adventure whistle.
A good orientation point is the Lochsa Lodge on Highway 12, just a stone’s throw from the route’s eastern origin. We accessed our route from Road 107, between Lowell and Lochsa Lodge, and came out at the Powell Junction. Side routes include scenic Horseshoe Lake and the overlook at Indian Post Office. The more adventurous can get off the Motorway and head toward Superior, Mont., from routes adjacent to the North Fork of the Clearwater River. A long weekend is best to cover a respectable amount of ground, but you could spend a week in this region and not scratch the surface. Bring fishing gear. Lastly, be prepared for anything and make sure you have a back-up map in the event that your GPS leaves you hanging.
I have no clue why Lewis and Clark ever ventured any further west after stumbling across this pristine gem
Tags: dual sport, IMS Tanks, Kawasaki KLR650
Heading to the Happy Trails/Sound Rider AMA rally in Kamiah this weekend on the freshly rebuilt Green Hornet–now a slightly darker hue thanks to a new black IMS 10 gallon tank and some powder coated odds and ends. Big thanks to the guys at Happy Trails for restoring the KLR to pristine condition following its ride from Sydney to Bangkok. I’d also like to welcome IMS tanks to our sponsorship line up. Keep an eye out for a future post and pics from along the legendary Lolo Motorway…
Tags: dual sport motorcycle, pace, rtw, transworld tour
Originally published in Trail Dust.
Make Time to Take Time
By Andrew Mentzer
In 1977-8 my father, Terry Mentzer, circumnavigated the globe on a Honda XL 250. He did so solo, taking 207 days to complete his epic journey. He never broke down, and his cultural experience seldom required him to employ the guarded headspace that would be requisite of a circumnavigation today. Having completed nearly half of his route myself—recently completing rides across Australia and SE Asia—I often wonder how he got through it so seamlessly. How did he avoid not only mechanical catastrophe, but never even got a flat tire? No wrecks, never mugged—in combination these realities would seem a miracle by today’s adventure riding standards.
The world seems so very different now, but one thing remains exactly the same in 2013—pace.
I turn 31 in a few weeks and I have had some time to consider what the keys are to a successful around the world journey. Above all, I have realized the value of slowing down and looking at the road ahead not in terms of where I have to end up for the night, but rather how I will feel about the body of work when I return home. As with anything worth doing, there will be good days and bad. How you handle the bad is far more important than anything else. The pace with which an adventurer addresses what is in front of him/her, especially in foreboding territory, will ultimately determine the value of any tour.
I recently took some time to peruse my father’s article from the November and December 1978 installments of Motorcyclist Magazine to see if I could identify some take-aways that support my recently enhanced perspective. Here’s what I found:
On a freight ship between Perth, Australia and Singapore—“The next day we sail, and to my delight I have a four berth cabin to myself. Flies follow the ship until nightfall. In the morning they are gone, lost at sea like small carrier aircraft. The six-day passage is a fine affair: good company, 25-cent drinks, six course meals and a good library.”
After crossing into Thailand from Malaysia—“There is much less traffic in Southern Thailand than Malaysia. The countryside is a fairyland in shades of green encompassing miles of rice fields between low mountain ranges and beautifully maintained Buddhist temples, resplendent in gold leaf. It’s sunny and warm.”
A moment of introspection in Kathmandu, Nepal—“I’ve been away in foreign lands almost three months and my past no longer seems very real to me. The pressures of the business world have faded away. My daily concerns are simple: food, shelter, safe riding. The adventure takes care of itself.”
A windy ride outside of Tehran, Iran—“The next day the winds have shifted and come from ahead, gusting to 40mph. Oncoming trucks spin off vortices that slam against the Honda, wrenching against the fairing. The bike doesn’t want to pull the tall fifth gear, so I run in fourth for miles.”
There are countless examples of times when choosing the right pace was the difference between success and failure, efficiency and recklessness, or making it or not in my father’s RTW tour. It seems that no matter whether it is 1977 or 2013, the key to enjoying long tours is taking the time to consider what is around you. If you don’t, you are likely to miss the bigger picture while putting yourself and your machine at risk. I reckon there is nothing more detrimental to the mission of an adventure rider than a time constraint.
To read Terry Mentzer’s complete article, check out 1977-78