Ketchum, Id - Lowman, Id: 120 miles. Total: 3005 miles
As I try to fall asleep pretending not to hear heavy footsteps from the room above I realize that these last two days through the windy desert have been an emotional drain. I suppose I was not mentally ready for it. When I was flying down the Teton Pass and I saw the Idaho sign I had the presumptuous feeling that I had mastered the elements and the miles; cresting that steep hill and coming down from it with the wind in my sails and coolly flying past the Idaho sign gave me reason to believe that the West coast was just around the bend. I thought the worst was behind. Little I did I know..I made a rookie mistake. And I am not a rookie!
Idaho is proving to be a very tough state to cross. The toughest state. It is the wind that is the real chink. Physically, I think and I feel that riding into a headwind has made me stronger but what has been hard is the emotional strain. Where do I find the discipline? How do I keep up with this regiment? Get up early, usually after a sleepless night, ride 120, 150 miles through the elements, get through the day in one piece, find a motel, write the journal, download all the pictures, eat and sleep. And after a few hours it starts all over again. Day in and day out. How am I doing this? From which hidden reserve am I drawing my strength from? I don't know.
Idaho Falls to Ketchum has been two days of relentless fight. The wind coming from the West has not let up and it has been indeed a draining stretch of road. Millions of ages ago the Earth spewed forth vast oceans of molten lava, which, now hardened, make for a visually stunning, though eerily lonely place. The occasional extinct volcano pops out on the horizon from time to time, only to be bothered by the D.O.E. and its nuclear arms manufacturing plant. The rest is pure dry desert. Hot and barren, this 150 miles of rock, sun, and wind made for one very wary cyclist. I won my fight because I got through it safe and fairly quickly but I am tired emotionally and I need to regroup and find the groove I showcased on the Beartooth pass. I lost my swagger. And that is why I have decided to go back into the mountains, not only on account of the windy desert but because I am a climber, amongst the steep hills, I am at my meanest! Frankly, by the end of day 23 and midway through day 24, I just wanted to go home. Today I am injecting pleasure into my ride. I need to find the love again. Anger is an essential ingredient but must be coupled with something sweet.
I have a rough night due to a 5000 plus calories dinner last night. I should really check my intake of junk food at night because I just go to bed totally bloated and it messes up my sleep. I am up at 6.15 and it is still dark outside. I can't go back to sleep and groggily I start to pack my few items, get dressed and apply sunscreen. This is a routine that by now I could carry it out with my eyes closed. I sum up all my concentration to get my groove back and I say to myself that this is going to be a good day and the scenic byway I will riding on all day will bring me luck. I am out of the door by 7 and the sky is bright blue without a cloud in sight, which is the very first time on the whole ride that this miracle of Aether has befallen upon me!
I want to love the climb, I want to love the mountains, I want to love the ride again. Getting to know America and some of the best scenery of America as far as I'm concerned, is a privilege that few people have. Ever. And this morning, this very moment when I open the door to my room and step into the cold mountain air with my bicycle under my legs is a unique moment in my life.
It is also unique because it is freaking cold and it takes me 3 seconds to immediately jump back into my room to change the jersey. I am wearing long sleeves and the rain coat. Everything I have. The clothes are semi clean, let's put it that way. I washed it all last night in the shower. My hand washing is not as thorough as a proper washing in the machine. I ride through the empty Main st of Ketchum and the traffic lights are flashing yellow, the store windows are dark and lots of 'closed' signs hang everywhere. A lone runner is doing his best to fight the cold and jogs with his head down, I try to wave but before I do so I decide not to waste the energy. The poor fellow hasn't even seen me. The air is incredibly sharp and cold. My hands hurt like never before. I am toying with the idea of going back to the motel. I have never done it before but for the first time I am seriously debating whether to wait for the sun. No way. Let's keep going, sooner or later the sun will hit the valley. I pass the clock of the Bank and it reads 39F, definitely the coldest I have ridden in on this ride. My feet say goodbye to me without regrets and my hands swell like I have just injected some botox into them. My nose is basically producing a squishy substance that goes all over my clean clothes. After 2 miles on the road I look like I have just biked 150. The road stays almost flat for at least 10 miles, the mountain tops way above are hit by sunlight but the bottom of the valley is still wrapped in total shade. I am cold for real, to the point that I need to stop, I rest the bike against a guardrail and I start jumping on the spot. It helps a little but as soon as I am back on the bike the ice-cold air makes meatballs of my extremities. I am sure that if it wasn't for the low temperature I would love the scenery but right now I can't think straight. Typical mountain valleys with green meadows interrupted by patches of forest and crackling creeks are all around but I cannot see the beauty of it. My whole body shivers. I am a ghost of the real me. Where is the dry hot desert air? No! Don't go there! You left the desert for a reason! And a damn good reason too!
After about 20 miles the climb begins and I dare to take the rain cover off. It works because I have just entered the sunline and the road rises to a 6% grade. I am not fighting too hard because I can feel the fitness in my body after weeks on the road and the many passes I have scaled. What bothers me a little is the ashy taste in the air that scratches my throat. There is definitely a detectable scent of smoke in the air and when I am passed by firefighters vehicles I realize that the fire threat is still very much real. However, I would never see them again today and the air clears up after a few miles. I will never know where they were rushing to.
So with the best intentions I begin the climb up Galena pass. 6% grade is almost a joke compared to the 10% of the Teton I am thinking. After a while I begin to sweat a bit and I regret having devoured all those Nutella jars but no, actually I don't. Despite the cold I feel superbly light and I am happy climbing. The six mile climb is over very quickly and from the top I see an incredibly large valley ringed by steep and rocky mountains. The peaks are not as dramatic as the Tetons and these are devoid of snow but they look majestic nonetheless, they seem to have been placed in the perfect place by a giant artistic hand. If I think of an ideal mountain scenery, this comes pretty close to it. The sun by now has begun to be pretty mean and in a second I am reduced to my usual white sleeveless jersey. I fly down the descent and then for about 20 miles or so, the road goes through an enormous valley, bigger than any I've seen so far. The valley floor is flat, and slopes gently down in the direction I'm heading, and consists of a vast meadow about two mile wide, and as long as the valley. Wooded foothills above the meadows, and the jagged rocky Sawtooth Mountains shoot up into the air just beyond the foothills, this is what I am getting today. Not bad I am thinking. The road has a smooth shoulder, just wide enough for comfort. The sky is blue, and the temperature, now!!, is perfect. I think I am nearing the perfect riding: without a headwind, in this weather and in this scenery, I might just be in biking nirvana. I ride without a hint of a wind into Stanley, a typical cabin and lodge-filled mountain town. Nothing like Ketchum or the Sun Valley but it is well geared for mountain and winter tourism. After 65 miles from Ketchum and at just 12 pm I turn west and take highway 21, another scenic route, I am on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, and the ponderosa pines start making an appearance. The forest thickens and the trees get taller and they do look quite...ponderosos. There is no shoulder at all here and I am really surprised that most cars don't give me plenty room when they pass me. There aren't many cars but the ones that show up give reason to fret. The really mean ones get my middle finger and one asshole almost clipped me and I yelled at him good.
Past Stanley, there is no sign of civilization for about 60 miles. The road goes uphill right away.
I am just enjoy the ride and I love the alpine scenery around me. But 2 pm I realize that this has turned into a very hot day, and the air is thick and smells like honey. I'm in the forest, but the road is wide and the trees offer no shade. I ride fast for about 15 miles up to the Pass, maybe a 4% grade but no more than that. I eat up the climb like a piece of cake. Past the pass the road goes downhill forever and I am following the south fork of the Payette River. It is wide and deep and rushes down the valley. But things change quickly. As soon as I crest, it has found me. The wind of course. The road descends into a valley for at least 5 miles and I am talking 6% grade and the headwind does not allow me to go faster than 20mph. It is insane. I am surrounded by giant pine trees that stand tall and stare at me powerless fighting against the wind. How did you find me? I came all this way up here and here you are? How can I pretend you are not here? How can I ignore you? That's the thing, with the wind, no matter how mentally sound and an experienced cyclist you are, there is nothing you can do to offset it, nothing, nothing, nothing. There is no right state of mind to get into to face up to it; nothing prepares you for it; you can't just focus on something else. It doesn't happen, maybe for a mile it does but then the bastard is back at ruining your life. I take solace in the fact that I am descending so I will not be as exhausted as the day before yesterday. I am in the wilderness today, not the desert wilderness but mountains at relatively high elevation with rushing rocky streams and tree covered hills all around me. Today is another day with next to no other people, other than those rushing by in their cars. or RVs However, I did have three conversations today. At the scenic outlook at the Galena Pass where some old folks from around here wanted to know all about my ride; at the tourist information center in Stanley with the guy there and with the lady that runs the motel I will be staying at tonight.
I set sights on Lowman, basically a collection of houses and RV parks along the road. I will find a shabby-looking motel and that's enough suffering for today. Around 4pm, with 115 miles in my legs and the last three hours trying to refrain from yelling the most absurd obscenities at the wind I decide to call it at the day. I had no choice anyway, the next motel would be in Boise, 75 miles west. At desolate Lowman they do have a room. 95 dollars is crazy money for this kind of place but I am out of the wind. I will take a long shower and think through what to do tomorrow. Boise, a relatively large town, is only 75 miles from here. If the wind keeps blowing so hard past that and given that I will riding through some very exposed roads in Oregon I might want to pack it in. I am considering all options here. Not writing this for the drama, I am seriously thinking that riding 100+ miles a day into a headwind is just pure torture. There is no joy here.