Idaho was calling and the BMW F800GS and KTM 690 Enduro R were our bikes of choice. Only the Beemer was comfortble enough to ride all the way from Oregon.
Two steps forward, one back – that’s the way things go sometimes. Others, like this trip into Idaho, are a bit more complicated.
Why Idaho? Our neighbor to the east has always been a starchy icon, renowned in the Northwest for its potato production. I wandered into the state for the first time last year, modest and expecting little, but as I turned to leave, the damn thing jabbed a dagger of lust directly between my shoulder blades and I’ve been unable to remove it ever since. I unknowingly rode straight into a burgeoning obsession, so throughout the spring I hatched a plan that took me back so I could discover more than mere tubers.
Being a journalist and one that often overcomplicates things, I booked the trip with a series of projects including race tests, bike comparisons, gear reviews, adventure rallies and general exploratory travels. A good friend and MotoUSA contributor, Chilly White, was already headed to the potato state for the Western ISDE Qualifier and he brought a KTM 690 Enduro R along with the intent to join me on the expedition. I would be riding a BMW F800GS, one of my favorite personal machines, for a 2010 Midsize Adventure Bike Comparison.
There was one specific target in mind – the Magruder Corridor. This pinnacle, the crown jewel of the entire voyage, is the only passable route straight through Idaho’s rugged interior wilderness. Getting from the western side to the eastern on pavement is a beautiful ride, but it requires heading almost to the panhandle or dropping down near Boise before looping around. Try Google Mapping it. The result is a 258-mile roundabout that refuses to acknowledge the esteemed 100-mile passage. But we knew better. Enhanced zoom on the digital maps, folding, refolding and highlighting paper atlases and multiple phone calls to local sources proved otherwise.
Plenty of people were quick to point out that we were a few weeks early and that surely only a moron, jackass or the standard addle-brained dunce would attempt the Magruder Corridor before July. However, as a dirt biker first and foremost, I wanted to find the limits of our machines as well as ourselves. The idea was not to make a safe, simple ride under sunny skies, but to attempt something challenging by adding the uncontrollable element of weather.
With a long list of necessities for our profession such as travel, acquiring test riders, arranging photographers and maximizing production, motorcycle journalists often have to haul bikes to a location and then perform the required assignment. I’ve done it many times and planned on shuttling the BMW to Boise. Then it dawned on me. I was missing an incredible opportunity. With such a great motorcycle at my disposal and adventure touring as the premise, why not just ride the bike all the way there? It would make the adventure all the more epic. Duh. No respectable AT rider trailers their bike somewhere and then rides it – that’s for the show-n-shine cruiser crowd.
Day 1 – Youthful, Stupid Exuberance
Having decided to actually act like an adventure rider, it meant a little extra prep on the bike by loading it with hard luggage. The F800 didn’t show up until the wee hours of Monday morning, the day I was scheduled to leave, so I begged a tire change from OMA-KTM first thing and we tag-teamed the mounting hardware. By the time the Continental TKC 80 tires and luggage were installed and I wrapped up a project in the office, I finally got on the highway at 3 p.m. with 500 miles of boring Eastern Oregon in front of me. Reaching Klamath Falls, the Beemer wasn’t blowing me away in terms of fuel economy and I was forced to fill up again in Lakeview. Apparently it wasn’t registering the way it should have. As I tapped the final drops out of the nozzle, the attendant and I shared a laugh about a cruiser rider who had been forced to get to Boise via the northern route through Burns because his tank wasn’t large enough.
“Ha-ha,” I thought. “He would have been a fool to try his luck through Nevada!”
Fuel range is an important factory in touring, obviously. My first move was to take it for granted as I entered Nevada.
It was 180 miles to the junction at Hwy 95, which I thought I could make. I also naively assumed there would be gas somewhere nearby, not necessarily the 40 miles north to McDermitt or 30 miles south to Winnemucca. Basically, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. With almost 90 pounds of luggage and running between 90 and 100 mph trying to make time, to say I overestimated the fuel range is embarrassingly inaccurate. The fuel light came on at only 120. It was getting dark and I wasn’t even close – I was pinched.
With no hope in the previous miles, I kept the BMW pointed straight ahead, looking for a miracle. In the final five minutes before dusk gave way to darkness, I spotted the outline of a farm house and a few twinkling lights about a quarter-mile off the highway. My plan was to find fuel or a barn to sleep in, but I knew it was my last shot. The outline of a dusty cowboy perched on a wooden fence greeted me as I coasted in and clicked off the ignition. It was Tim, the manager of the Quinn River Crossing Ranch.
Fortunately, this large-scale ranch has the need for more than jerry cans with a full fueling station for tractors and equipment, including a tank of regular gasoline. Tim waited patiently for me to top off and then charged a very reasonable three bucks per gallon. I gave him 12 of my last 13 dollars, the most humble gratitude I could muster and was on my way.
Not willing to risk an encounter with a deer at near triple digits, I kept it around the speed limit, but a jackrabbit tried to sniff my front TKC and wound up too close. After countless sightings of small birds, carrion eaters, ducks, deer, rabbits, ground squirrels, field mice, cattle and a badger, an actual impact convinced me to appreciate my luck and settle in Winnemucca rather than push another three hours to Nampa.
Day 2 – A Modern Day Shoshone
Trying to make up for my pitiful start, I was up and out of the hotel at 5:30 a.m. Friends were expecting to wake up and find me sleeping on the couch in Nampa, so I sent an explanatory text, pounded a quick, greasy breakfast at Sid’s Restaurant and jammed out of town. I made sure to hit the ATM for extra cash, just in case I made another stupid calculation.
I had to backtrack the 30 miles to where I had decided to discontinue my journey the night before, but it was worth it having rested and now being able to see the surrounding area in daylight, including some small sand dunes I hadn’t realized were there. Before long it was back across the Oregon/Nevada border and shortly after I broke into Idaho, cruising into Nampa at around 11. I rendezvoused with Chilly and the 690 at factory KTM Hare and Hound racer, David Kamo’s house. After a quick break to check some email, make some phone calls and scrape together a new travel plan we were off and running.
There wasn’t as much in Atlanta as we had expected, but Featherville was great. Darren, above right, shared dinner before saying goodbye.
Mexican food was in order before fighting lunchtime traffic as we headed for Horseshoe Bend. It was there that we met up with a local who supposedly knew every corner of every road. Chilly had been put in touch with him by a friend-of-a-friend type deal and our personal contact was limited to a pair of brief phone conversations – enough to place our full confidence in him, no doubt. Darren Johnson was waiting for us at the top of a small rise, sitting stoically on his KTM 950 Super Enduro like a Shoshone scout might’ve straddled his mustang 300 years ago.
As it turned out, Darren was a nice guy, eager to show us around and completely flexible with our late schedule and vague plans, not to mention a master of the area. We bailed off into the Boise National Forest, following the 950 as he guided us through Placerville and into Idaho City. The town had only just vacated after hosting the ISDE Qualifier several days before, and no one took a second glance as we posed for pictures at some of the old-time locations. Stopping to jot down every road number would have taken forever, so let it suffice to say that we wandered across the wilderness with a general direction. We passed through Rabbit Creek and then down the Middle Fork of the Boise River to Atlanta. One option had been to stay in the old mining town and enjoy soaking in the numerous hot springs that dot the area. But once we reached the settlement, the small grid of dirt roads was deserted and it was far more dilapidated than we had anticipated, so we decided to head for Featherville.
This was where the forward momentum slowed its path and we started perfecting the art of a U-turn. A series of late snows had delayed the yearly maintenance crews and roads were still in bad shape. The final leg took a little more effort than we expected as we bounced up and down several summits. Taking pleasure in the surprisingly wonderful dirt composition along Phifer Creek Road, we managed to drag the BMW and bigger KTM through nearly two feet of snow at the top to find our way across the range. From there it was down and through the abandoned Rocky Bar, following our headlights until pulling in to the Featherville Resort – a saloon, restaurant, hotel and general store contained in several adjacent buildings – at about 11 p.m. There we enjoyed some of the best deep-dish pizza I’ve ever consumed. The Featherville Stomper filled our guts with meat, pepperjack cheese, hot sauce, red pepper flakes and jalapenos, and a couple frosty brews cooled our burning tongues. Darren still had a couple hours of riding to get home, so we poured over maps with our new friend to plan the next day’s route and then bid him adieu.
It had been an 18-hour day for me, so I was happy to retire in the remarkably clean and comfortable hotel. They even had Wi-Fi, or so they claim, but I didn’t get a chance to try before my eyelids snapped shut.
Day 3 – A Mountain Ram Takes a Swim
After noting the Boise River’s cold and savage flow in days prior, we took care to avoid it as our route wound up the South Fork. Heading east out of Featherville and past the dirt bike hot-spot of Baumgartner, we rounded a bend in FR 227 and saw a Dodge Ram pickup bobbing in the middle of the river. With the undercarriage snagged on an underwater obstacle, the rig bobbed precariously as water spilled over the hood and cab, filling the interior through broken windows. The taillights were still shining as though it had just went in, so we immediately hopped off the bikes and tried to see if anyone was trapped inside.
We couldn’t see anyone so Chilly went back to a USFS ranger’s truck roughly a half-mile away to find help. I headed up the road to find where the truck had traded gravel for water. The tracks were only about a 100 yards up so I worked slowly back to see if anyone had swum or washed to the banks. Nobody was around so I joined Chilly at the empty ranger’s vehicle and started writing a note to leave on the window. Before I could finish, a black Ford pickup came up the road, ignored our frantic waving and proceeded to the accident site, followed closely by a sheriff. We chatted briefly with the policewoman and then joined the entire group at the submerged Dodge. Turns out five people were in it when the driver went into the water. As they explained it, the truck hit the water around 4:30 a.m. and rolled two or three times before stopping, which was evident by the dented cab. Despite one guy being pulled out and under the truck and another getting tossed out the window, all five managed to swim to shore in the dark and they walked the few miles back to town.
We wanted to stick around for the extrication but we had already wasted enough time. Our destination was Ketchum. Within an hour of our morning excitement, we found ourselves cruising the dirt equivalent of a freeway. The posted speed limit was 25, but the freshly graded road was 40-feet wide and smooth as glass, comfortably allowing 60 mph, 50 in the corners. Chilly hugged the right lane and I positioned my machine a bike-length behind and a few feet to his inside – just out of his wash. It was the type of road where I could trust his eyes for oncoming traffic, though considering
how mine were drawn away by expansive grass valleys, winding waterways and the jagged Sawtooth Mountains, I can’t imagine his were any different.
Again we were met with snow drifts which cut short, or rather lengthened, our ride. Once again we had to retrace our steps and wound up with much more pavement than anticipated, which was fine for whoever wasn’t riding the 690 and its torturous seat. We popped out on the 20 highway and decided to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument as we looped up and around on Hwy 93 toward Salmon.
We decided to try the dirt again, leaving the red and purple volcanic rocks behind in favor of rolling green foothills. Passing an abandoned ski lift rusting into the hillside, our route was a lengthy ascent up the northern face of Antelope Pass. We were only a few vertical meters from the crest before being thwarted by an icy cornice. Hiking to the top, not a single patch of white could be seen on the other side. Again, back we went. Frustrated with our failures and looking at some nasty oncoming weather, we conceded defeat and rumbled into Salmon for the evening.