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Day 70: The March to Mountain Home, Part 1

Because sometimes you don't get to where you set out to go. Or even halfway there. But even when it sucks, it's part of the adventure. And parts of today were fucking glorious.

Day 70 started out pretty promising. And how couldn't it, a nice round-numbered day like that? We bid Ferret Bueller adieu, and Seth sent us packing with a ziplock of fruit leather and dried apples and dried pears that he'd dehydrated himself. Sara'd had a medium-rough night with her neck, but not an unbearable one. And we were off in decent time to grab breakfast at Black Owl Coffee, another great rec from Sara's friend.

We enjoyed our breakfast and talked with the owner and let things warm up outside. Then we rolled out and aimed our steeds west yet again. We occupied the first little stretch with one of the many extended philosophical discussions we've shared along this long trek — this morning we talked about speed. Yesterday, as Beau was powering through the last 15 or so miles into Hailey, he felt the grip of speed as he hadn't in a long while. And it set him thinking about both the appeal of speed and the danger of that appeal. It was a long-ish discussion; maybe we'll add It into an addendum when the trip is done. But for now…

We were about 4 miles outside of Hailey, following our mellow route back to the highway, when said route turned unmellow. First, the pavement turned to gravel. Then the gravel turned to washboard gravel — to that kind of grated pattern that seems designed for discomfort in the same way that a New York City park bench is made to prevent your resting on it for any length of time. And then the gravel started climbing.

There are reasons people make bikes specifically for gravelling, for going through the mountains, for off-roading: it’s because a regular bike will transfer all those bumps, dips, rocks, and rattles straight to your joints. And the gravel sections along this route were treacherous — our thin tires (especially Sara’s even thinner tires) feel prone to slide out from under us on bad gravel, sometimes no matter how careful we are. And from the looks of the map, there were another fifteen miles of this ahead of us.

Why did we push on? Well, maybe it was that first four miles we’d already come before the pavement disappeared on us — at a certain point, turning back is a worse choice spiritually, even if it means you’re going to suffer. Maybe the earlier sections of the road gave rise to a false hope that it wasn’t going to be so bad. There was probably even the glimmering lie that at some point it would turn back into paved road. It didn’t.

Since this section cuts through the mountains, we were climbing for the first long haul of it. We walked the bikes through the bad, the rockiest gravel. We pedaled through the other stuff, which alternated between dirt and finer gravel. We navigated each individual inch of this road to find the path of least bone-rattling. Beau talked us through every moment of it, keeping us focussed and as calm as possible with an ongoing mantra of encouragement. We were a little less than halfway through when we started reaching the top of the climb, and… Worth it? Like a lot of our recent travails, when we’re sitting somewhere afterward, looking at the pictures over either a beer or tea and coffee, the answer is a resounding Yes. But even in the moment we were astounded.

And then we reached the top, Beau pedaling between fist-sized rocks up to the best accessible peak, chanting Danny McCaskill! as he went.

Sara's in this picture — can you find her?

We lingered at the peaks awhile, enjoying the view and the moment, and taking some respite for Sara’s neck and our other aching joints. After our frustration over the roads and the struggle getting up here, reaching this spot was an especially sweet reward. And it felt particularly special because we’d gotten here by leaving the trail — though this whole journey has been an adventure of sorts, it’s felt lately like the real adventure began when we left the official TransAm, when we departed from the traditional trail of must-sees and must-stops and avoids — when we stopped just following in the footsteps of what everyone else who’s biked this country has done. By not following the map, we were free to blunder up this ill-suited road, and we were also suddenly at the tops of mountains that few if any other touring cyclists ever see.

And then it was time to descend. Which was actually rougher than the climbing, since we were moving faster. It’s like someone turned up the power on the poorly designed massage chair. But there’s nothing to do now but push on.

The occasional pickup passed — we’d learn later that we were traveling through Croy Canyon and that these are mainly hunting roads back here. Pretty soon we passed the piled innards of a couple deer or elk that someone had left on the side of the road. Killing season continues in the West.

This section of road followed a stream back out to the prairie, and we passed through ravines for much of the way, big rock outcrops towering over us, trees occasionally taking root near the water. It was another beautiful bit of road, though we spent a large portion of it with our heads down, again hunting out the cleanest possible path through dirt/rocks/gravel. And soon enough (after only a short-ish string of eternal-seeming moments), we were down and out of the mountains. Looking back, we saw this sign...

Did we miss this same sign on the other side?

We were still a couple miles from pavement, though now the terrain was mostly flat. We braved this last bit until we were back to the highway. Then we stopped and held each other for a little while. Then we pressed on again.

Riding paved road after the last 20 miles was shockingly nice. The difference in comfort was like the feeling of coming home from some long strenuous day and collapsing on a good couch — it was that nice. It didn’t feel like we were working or riding at all. For, like, a couple miles.

It was another thirteen miles to Fairfield, which miles we couldn’t help noticing were slightly uphill, even though the elevation profile claimed they were flat. Still, we’d picked out a brewery for lunch, and the brewery closed at 2 — when we’d planned today out, not realizing its gravelly beginning, we figured we’d be there before noon, easy. Now we were racing to get there before they closed between lunch and dinner. And we made it just in time (though they didn’t really close between shifts — Google Maps hours are worse than spurious in these parts).

We settled in and had a beer and some big ole satisfying sammies at the Soldier Creek Brewery, then looked at what we’d scheduled for the rest of our day’s ride. It was still 58 miles to Mountain Home, our intended respite for the evening. At this point we’d be getting in late, but that wasn’t the end of the world. We finally booked our hotel room there, then climbed back our steeds. It was roughly 3pm.

Ya’ll, we made it two miles. The fucking wind had picked up while we were eating, and while it wasn’t back breaking, it was a slog. We were already tired from the canyon road, and at this rate we’d show up to Mountain Home in the middle of the night, mute and beat beyond reckoning. We laid our bikes on the side of the highway. Beau called the one motel back in Fairfield, found that they had a room available (they hadn’t when we’d looked there yesterday, but a couple hunters had checked out early). Sara called ahead to Mountain Home and worked with the people there (this actually took several phone calls) to get our reservation moved to the next night. The whole time we’re cocking our heads sideways so people can hear us over the wind and the passing diesels and semis. We finally get things figured, and we turn around. On our way back we pass the dirt runway of the Fairfield airport, where this windsock approves of our decision.

The folks who run the motel in Fairfield are out of town and won’t be back till 6pm. We grab a milkshake at the Wrangler Drive-In, then spot an open pagoda by the closed-for-the-season tourist info center. Beau hoofs it to the nearest store and gets us a six-pack. It’s 60 degrees outside for the first time in memory, and we end up having ourselves a lovely late afternoon — complete with Baby Hondo's first appearance in ages!

Eventually our room is available. We settle in and put some work into this here blog, then Beau makes another run, this time to a local pub for two orders of fish-n-chips. Then we crash early, exhausted. Tomorrow we set out for Mountain Home again. At this point, who knows what’ll happen? It’s exciting stuff.

Day 70: Hailey to Fairfield, ID, 41.7 miles, 1350' elevation gained, 15+ miles of ass rattling, one epic adventurous stretch, and one wise decision to rest

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