dean hyman's idaho spodefest journal

Dean Hyman

Thursday 8-22-02

I'm speeding through the Bronx, heading towards the George Washington Bridge and Newark International Airport, at 4a.m. Traffic is predictably light at this time. Like the next few days will be peaceful for me, the early morning is a temporary calm in the tumultuous city. At a time in my life that's full of change, challenge and uncertainty, I'm flying out to Idaho to ride some difficult terrain with people I've never met, sort of.

It started about six months ago. I participate in a community of dirt-bikers who share information, humor, insults and absurdity on the Internet. These participants in the newsgroup (rec.motorcycles.dirt) are known as Spodes, and they like to congregate at spectacular riding spots to ride and party in a ritual known as a Spodefest.

Back on my 41st birthday, a fine Spode named David Jones proposed a scholarship fund that would send a young, ignorant Spode to the 2002 Idaho Spodefest: "Ridaho". I was the first to send in my $20. Well, one Spode after another was unable to accept the scholarship. We made valiant efforts for this person or that to attend, but to no avail. Finally, David put out a plea for anyone to accept the gift. I nominated myself, knowing that my soon-to-be-ex wife couldn't really be any angrier with me that she already is.

So, we taxi for takeoff at 6:22 a.m.

Friday 8-23-02

The flight went smoothly and Chris Johnson picked me up at the airport in Boise. We stopped quickly at a bike shop to try to get my last few spares and biking goodies. I will hope that I don't need any of the items that were on my list, especially the elbow pads, since the guy had none of the items that I needed. I only bought a five-gallon can of 112 octane race fuel. We hit the local discount mega-store and I bought some camping goodies, two gas cans (one for premium unleaded and the other to mix down to around 100 octane), some snacks, and beverages. A quick pitcher of beer and pizza prepared us for the ride out to Baumgartner campground in the Sawtooth Mountains.

The mountains are a good example of how unprepared I was for this trip. I thought I was going to the Rocky Mountains and here I am in the Sawtooths (Sawteeth?). It's spectacular, and rocky too, so I'm a happy camper, literally.

It was odd and fun to show up at the campsite and see my bike waiting for me. I had shipped my 2001 Gas Gas xc300 to Salt Lake City and David had arranged to receive the bike, assemble it, and bring it up to the mountains for me. Murray, whose camper was parked next to David's, had offered me a bunk in his camper. But I wanted to tent-camp for several reasons. I'm not always holding my self together lately and I needed my own space.
After replacing the fluids in the bike and checking for loose bolts, Chris took me for a ride up to Iron Mountain Lookout at 9,714 feet above sea level (base camp was at 4,900 feet). The ride up was easy at first; indeed the whole trail is wide enough for a quad, all the way to the top. And the rocks weren't bad until we got close to the top, where they became omnipresent. The rocks, coupled with a serious side-hill penalty for the last stretch, made for a ride that was mentally challenging at the very least. I was tired too, and the thin air must've had something to do with that.
We stopped for maybe too long at the lookout hut. The panorama stretched all the way around with unending beauty. The landscape is stark, but colorful. The scrubby meadows offer greens and oranges, deep reds and pale lavenders. Crunchy peaks pop from the tops of the hills that are made from their crumbly selves. Whole sides of hills are made of big square boulders, while most others are made of softer sediment that can get downright sandy.

Chris asked if I wanted to try some single track on the way back down. I said sure, but we had some surprises waiting for us. We zigged off the Kelly Creek Trail that we had ridden up and took the Beaver Creek cutoff.

We had already done the hill that Chris said was best done downhill only. Those gnarly switchbacks were absurd on the downhill and certainly would have been a nightmare to climb. Besides, we were running out of light and they were twenty minutes behind us. But we came upon a fallen Ponderosa pine that was enormous, had fallen uphill and blocked the trail. Chris had a plan and it worked well for him. He went way back on the trail and hit a big natural jump that got him maybe halfway up the loose sidehill that we had to negotiate. He landed sweetly and burned his tire to the top of the pine. It was very impressive, but out of reach for my ability/confidence level. I burned myself out by doing a routine involving walking the bike up in gear under power, dropping the bike, and repeating. Finally I made it, but now it was dark and I was burnt out. It became stressful for me and the fun was gone. I was screaming in my helmet and I'm sure it wasn't pretty. I have to apologize to Chris today. He didn't know the tree was there.

I got back into camp and set up my tent in the dark. It's nice in here. I didn't eat or drink last night. I just was too tired and burnt. I crashed and that was good.


Saturday 8-24-02

Friday's ride was spectacular; 66 miles. We ran up Skeleton Creek trail and then down Decker into Atlanta. The Crew was Murray Avison, Dano, Chris, Eric Elvin and me. I was the slow rider in the group again.

It was 32 miles into Atlanta, which is a small town to redefine small towns. There are two cafés nestled among maybe two dozen shack-style homes. The meal was awesome; great burgers, ice cold beer. I drank soda and had an open faced roast beef sandwich with gravy, mashed spuds, and vegetables.

Dano and Eric got separated and met up with us as we were done eating. It was getting late and we decided to take the road back. It was a nicely graded dirt road that wound wildly through the hills. We were a pack of five flattrackers trying to pull each other down the hills. We were burning gas fast as we ran WFO, and I hit reserve just as we pulled off the road to cross a bridge for some single track into home. I had about 4 oz. of gas left in the tank.

Murray fed me awesome lasagna for dinner. Again, I didn't last long at the fire. I was hoping to take a mellow ride on Saturday, but so far was only hearing about David's group, which sounded fast and hard-core. I slept pretty well. It was colder, pushing the limits of my 35degree sleeping bag, even sleeping in layers of clothing. (Daytime temps reached well into the 80's and beyond).
Today Murray mentioned that he might take a ride up to Iron Mountain Lookout. I decided that would be a mellower ride, and my photos from Thursday didn't work out, so it was a good call. Andy Dragon and Jay C. went with us. We met some guys from San Diego who came up to check out the fest with little or no knowledge of RMD. They were pretty fast.
Andy broke off his rear brake lever when he got crossed up in the fast, sandy downhill. He took a good tumble and his shoulder hurts. He and René' are leaving tonight.
The fest feast, a catered barbecue, is going on now. I pigged out. Time to go back for coffee.

Sunday 8-25-02
Up Virginia Gulch to Grouse Butte, down North Fork of Lime Creek, to President's trail down, to Middle Fork, to Kelly Creek. 38 miles with Chris Johnson. A perfect day.

Monday 8-26-02
Boise airport bar-

Jeff Campbell drove me out to the airport this morning. He was picking his wife up there and heading to Oregon or something. We stopped at David's house to pick up Jeff's ski boat. Then he dropped me curbside and I was on my own. Spodefest is over.

Yesterday's ride was excellent. Chris was up for a mellow ride, so we just went as a two-man group. He took us up Virginia Gulch. It was fairly technical with lots of sidehill and some challenging but doable switchbacks. Eventually, we made it to Grouse Butte, where we consulted the map. The view was awesome there and the lookout loomed way above. We doubled back and took the President's trail down, which was like a flume ride. It was a lot of fun downhill, but it would maybe suck to go up.

Then we took Middle Fork, which was a nice New England-like run through the lowlands. It was not quite swampy, but it was damper and shaded, with lots of roots and river rocks. Still, the sidehill work was ever present. We wound our way back up to Kelly Creek (the ATV trail to the lookout). I was ripping down the top of it, which is wide, has good visibility and some fun whoops that offered nice little jumpy-jump opportunities. I knew that this was the end of my last ride. I was feeling fast and in the groove. I figured that I could just rip it to the bottom. But again I was reminded of the huge scale of these trails and the mountains that are their home. About halfway down my body cried Uncle. Every part of me hurt. I could feel the broken fibula from two years ago. I could feel the pegs through my boots. My knees were crying in pain. My elbows were stinging. My hands were cramped and blistered. My back was sore and I was out of pixels. I was done.

The natural hot spring is a blessing in many ways. First, it's a huge bit of good news for whoever sits next to me on the plane. But the therapy of the heat and clean made possible my four days of riding. This is the first time in my life that I've ridden four days in a row, and I feel remarkably well, yet totally spent. 156 miles in four days; small Idaho potatoes compared to the better riders.

Much like a good week of skiing, this routine makes you ride better. You begin your day with a fresh memory of the day before, and your muscles remember too. You are back in the groove faster and so you can move forward sooner in the day. Surely I didn't lose my fear and respect for the sidehills. One of the stretches before Grouse Butte had maybe a dozen spots where I could see that people had gone off the soft sidehill. You just had to ignore that stuff and focus on the trail. The groove was barely one tire wide. If you got six inches off line, you were either making a subtle save, or you were off the trail and down the hill; way down the hill. There's a fair amount of mental conditioning that comes from riding the Sawtooth Mountains.

I stayed late at the campfire on both Saturday and Sunday nights. I stood upon the blazing fire for the appreciative crowd. But time kept marching, the full moon rose, and it was time to pack it in.

This morning I took a picture of the Gas Gas in the campsite, with the river and the mountains. I pondered the beauty of the mountains. I thought again about the amazing circumstances that brought me here. This newsgroup on the Internet, a community of knuckleheads, raised the funds to fly me out there. They paid to ship my bike there (thank god, this would stink on an unfamiliar bike). They ferried me both ways with smiles, fed me, and led me. They provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They made my life better. I love those people. I was all choked up and had tears in my eyes. It was an emotional moment for me.

It was especially good for me at this time in my life. Things are changing rapidly for me. Almost everything in my life is a question mark. It was reassuring to see that these people, fictional Internet characters until now, are indeed real people. Friends that had been supportive could be thanked. Others who seemed intimidating were now mortal and friendly. Everyone was happy for everyone. Dirt bikes bring people together.

I'm on the plane now. Idaho Pale ale is good. Chicken pot pie soup was okay too. The bartender enjoyed hearing the stories.

I can't start thanking people without thanking David Jones. He's the brains behind the Spodefest, the brains behind the scholarship fund, and is an overall hero of RMD. Thanks David.

Next, thanks to Jim and Deb Cook. Their wise words on Wednesday night kept me in a strategy to fully fest. Jim told me to pace myself and not burn out on the first day. He warned me about the altitude and its physical effects on health freaks like Jim and me. He told me I'd be fine as long as I stay on the trail. Aside from a mission that I was supposed to work with Mike Baxter, I heeded the Cook's advice and had fun because of it. I'll work that out with Baxter next time.

Thanks to Chris Johnson for the chauffeur, shopping and trail guide assistance. We had a great time riding together. Chris is much faster than I am. He's a desert racer most of the time, and I bet his WR400 is great for that. He was smoking fast on the trails too. I felt slow with everyone who I rode with, but everyone was patient. I just felt it was better to hold them up by being slow than by tossing my bike and/or myself off the hillsides. Anyway, Sunday's ride was my favorite fest ride, largely because Chris is one cool dude.

Murray gets mad props for making his camper and its comforts available to me. Murray is fast and fun. I really appreciate his hospitality.

I ended up tenting next door anyway. The dome of privacy was good for me when I lapsed back into reality. I was able to have some morning privacy to get my thoughts together and write them here. I'll miss my tent, until next year. Chip says he'll go, as long as we drive.

I can't wait.

-Dean Hyman