Ever since my trip into the Coeur d'Alene National Forest with John, Alex and Larry 4 weeks ago, I've been trying to figure out a way to go back. And ever since my first S24O two last year, I've known that at some point I'd need to do one solo. This weekend, both of those things happened.
The reason I needed to go back to the CDANF was because the first trip was a fantastic experience and going back is pretty much all I've been able to think about for the last four weeks. I'd have preferred company, but no one else could make it and I knew that provided me with the opportunity to go alone, which is important to do at least once because when you have only yourself to rely on, you have to do all your own planning and bring every piece of gear you might need. It forces you to cross all the t's and dot the i's and in return, hopefully, you achieve a new level of confidence and competence. If you don't get attacked and eaten by a pack of wolves.
Of all my fears about going into the forest alone, the two most prominent were 1) an animal attack and 2) crashing and getting injured to the point where I couldn't get out on my own power. While the area I'd be riding in isn't all that remote in terms of distance, there are surprisingly few people around once you get into the hills and there's no cell service. I managed to rationalize and deal pretty well with my apprehension about getting hurt, while blowing my animal fears wildly out of proportion.
I've been doing a lot of thinking about the forest and scouring maps and looking at terrain over the last few weeks. Just kind of trying to get my head around diffent ways to get in and out by car and what to do and where to go when I got there. For this bike camper at this stage in getting to know the area, the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River and the road that runs along it are the central nervous system of the forest. Here's the River Road Map. If you click on the terrain view, you can see that the river road is flat and low and from here, there are a multitude of routes you can take up into the hills and then loop back down again. Although John, Alex, Larry and I had planned to "tour" the forest (i.e. ride with our gear from campsite to campsite), our trip naturally evolved into a "base camp" style trip, whereby we set up camp on the river and day-tripped from there.
Day tripping makes a lot of sense for a couple of reasons: First, the typical climbs and descents on any of the routes are much more enjoyable without the extra weight. Especially the descents! And secondly, water, particularly at this time of year, is really tough to find above about 3000-3500 feet. If you camp at higher elevations, you will have to carry enough water uphill with you for all your overnight cooking and drinking needs and that can be a lot of water.
That said, I would still love to design an S24O that involves driving in, riding with a light set of gear to a 5000'-ish peak, spending the night there and descending back to the car the next morning.
For this trip, that was too much planning for that and more risk than I wanted to take on a solo trip. So I planned kind of a hybrid. I would leave work at 3:00 on Friday, fly out I-90 to the Kingston exit, then drive 10 minutes up the river and into the forest, where I would park at the Bumblebee Campground. This would be the quickest way for me to get into the forest and on the bike. From there, I would leave the River Road with a loaded bike, climb into the hills and then descend back down to the river at a point farther upstream and camp there overnight. Here's the Friday Night Ride Map. If you click on the summary tab, you can see that it's basically a nine mile climb followed by a nine mile descent. Here's are some pictures from Friday . . .
All set up and ready to go. The bike with rear load weighed 34 lbs, while the panniers and handlebar bag added 27, for a grand total of 61 lbs. Not including water. Holy hell. Way heavier than what I'm shooting for, which is 55. But some overkill stuff for the security of travelling alone and a couple of luxury items put me way over the top. Every trip is another assessment of gear and I'll continue to whittle away at the pounds.
I parked at a no-fee campground. That's me on the far left next to the portable toilet. This felt like a safe place to leave the truck. Coincidentally, Courtney, a friend from work was in the group on the right. I didn't find out until I returned on Saturday.
Once off the river road, the climb started immediately. The road was pretty rutty and rocky to begin with, but gradually improved as I climbed deeper into the forest.
I'd gotten away late from work, it took me longer to drive out than I'd thought, and I was getting a later start than I wanted. That gave me a sense of urgency and put me a little on edge regarding my aforementioned fears. I decided the last thing I wanted to do was surprise a momma and cub/calf of any kind, so I started singing. Song of choice? "I've Been Working On The Mountain". It's hard to sing while you climb and the words quickly devolved into "Mountain, mountain, working on the mountain." Which quickly devolved into "Mountain, mountain." Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Repeat.
During one breathing session, I heard some sort of faint grunt. "MOUNTAIN!" And POW, a small bear shot out of the brush beside the road abbout 30 yards ahead of me, flew about 10 yards up the road and then launched himself over the bank, crashing down the steep embankment. We scared the hell out of each other. I never even saw his head, just his hairy haulin' ass. Needless to say, I bumped the singing up a notch from here on out. But that was the only animal I saw all trip long.
Three hours ago I was sitting in a cubicle looking at a monitor and now I was deep in the forest hanging out with bears and looking at this. That's pretty rad.
This is Laverne Saddle, the top of the climb and the beginning of the descent. That's the road I just came up.
The roads on the descent were sweet. Unfortunately, the 27 lb front load was just too much for any kind of respectable handling and I just had to relax and mozey my way down. Without gear, I'd be bombing this for sure.
Cool bridge over a creek near the bottom.
River road. Now to find a camp spot.
I looked for quite a while, but all the more established sites were taken and it was getting dark fast. I found this flat spot next to the river, but also right next to the road. Any time a car would come down the road, the dust would just about choke you.
I decided to plow into a deeply wooded section a ways down the road. In here it was even darker and I had to work fast to set up.
With no threat of rain, I was able to leave the fly off the tent. I could see the stars through the tree branches and the sound of the river was wonderfully close.
During our last trip, Alex and John exposed me to gravity water filters. These rock so hard that I had to get one.
With the work finally done, I was free to enjoy the rewards of packing my three friends up and over the hill. I made freeze-dried lasagna by headlamp and dined under the stars.
The plan for the return trip was the same as on the way in: Up and over the hill and back down to the truck at Bumblebee, but by a different route with a little more elevation and a little more distance. Here's the Saturday Morning Ride Map. If you click on the summary tab, you can see that the route consists of two climbs. I was prepared for the first. More about the second one in a minute.
The ride turned off the River Road onto Forest Service Road 422 for a short time and then onto the infamous Road 812. This is the road we were supposed to come out on during our last trip, but instead took it in the wrong direction, adding unexpected distance and elevation to our day.
This is my new and improved navigational cockpit. It was totally sweet and the GPS saved my ass no less than two times from going down the wrong road.
The first climb was roughly 10 or 11 miles at a reasonable and fairly consistent grade. I was able to stay in the 6-7 mph range during most of this climb. There were countless awesome views on the way up.
Stull Saddle. From here I would continue on the first climb for a while and then finally crest and descend down to Skull Saddle.
I enjoyed the view down this transmission line because they've clearcut underneath it and it's cool to look at the exposed roads.
Damn nice view from close to the top of the climb.
I finally crested and started down to Stull. After all that work, this is the shit road I get??? What a ripoff. I had redistributed some of my weight to the rear, and along with the losing weight of the beer and food I ate from the front, the handling was WAY better. But I still had to pick my way through this kind of krap, or it would shake me and my equipment to death.
Fortunately, that only lasted about a mile and then some of the drug I crave appeared and I was able to get my fix.
At Skull Saddle, I began the next ascent. I knew about it, but it had appeared on the map to be more gradual. Instead, it was brutally steep. 3 mph stuff. My legs were toast from the previous climb and I was out of water and dehydrated, so I basically just got through it. Getting to the top of a hill never felt better.
There were a few nice sections on the descent, but it was too steep to let the bike run and fairly rocky, so I picked my way down. I'm not complaining. There was no such thing as bad downhill at this point.
I cruised the couple of miles back down the River Road to the truck in the warm sunshine, satisfied, knowing I had made it. I had a nice surprise waiting. Apparently, I hadn't read the fine print about where I could and couldn't park. But it was a warning, not a ticket, so no sweat.
All in all a great adventure in a great playgound. 40 or so miles with what looks like 4600 or 4700 feet of elevation. I continue to be amazed at how few people there are at higher elevations. Excluding the river road, I passed exactly two cars (one group travelling together), one motorcycle and one ATV. The trip was demanding in terms of preparation and it's a mentally and physically challenging environment. I've got my fill and I'll savor the accomplishment. For a while. My next S24O might be a bit more relaxed. But I'm already churning ideas for my next visit to the CDANF.