Gravel Riding in the Sawtooths of Idaho
by Bill Turner • November 07, 2023
Backdrop: Last article you may have seen from me detailed the wonderful road Riding in the High Sierras in the fall of 2022 after recuperation from a Prostectomy. I ended the article with a new diagnosis of a “frozen” right shoulder that needed repair. After some encouragement from my daughter to just get it done, on April 5, 2023 Doctor Matt Buss of Southern Maine Health Care Orthopedics and Sports Medicine performed a Reverse Shoulder Joint replacement on my right shoulder. The Outpatient Surgery went very, very, well and my recuperation PT with Erica Pond at Premier PT in Bridgton, ME was doing so amazing that I overdid it pulling on something in my truck and we had to take a 10 day pause on strength training and do an X ray to make sure I had not dislodged any screws. The new shoulder joint 12 week recuperation period would now keep me off of my planned 400 mile May ride that was scheduled with the Fuller Center Bike Adventure in Southern Utah through Bryce Canyon. So once again I had to figure out how to keep training with 12 weeks of no serious riding. Rescue dog Tucker and I did our last fire ride on April 3, and we immediately started walking and hiking about 1 week after surgery in order to get ready for five backpacking trips in wilderness areas of Montana and Wyoming in August. However, first we had to detour to Idaho at the end of July and meet my 3 week old grandson Soren W. Turner in Moscow, Idaho. With the backpacking accomplished and a 2nd week of spending time with our grandson done, it was time to move on to a two month camping trip with my wife Lily and rescue dog Tucker in the Sawtooth Mountain Range of Idaho and some great Gravel Riding when we were not on a day hike or sitting in a hot spring.
Riding: For anyone who has yet to visit the Sawtooth National Recreation area, the access to the Forest Service campgrounds and incredible day hikes up to treeline is fantastic. Other than State Routes 21 and 75, most of the roads are gravel or dirt and as you might imagine are incredible riding and climbing opportunities. Kirk Turner and I again modified my 2017 Kona Roadhouse with the smallest chainring up front, and a great set of Panaracer Cinder X 700x35C that just squeaks inside the carbon fiber rigid fork and rear chainstay. While camping, it was mostly stored on the back of our Canyon set up with a Yakima swing out rack and Kryptonite Evolution chain, cable, and lock. This enabled me to move it out of the way to set up camp quickly each day and keep the bike fully assembled for fast deployment. Depending on the day, I either hopped on the bike at our campground, or got dropped off low and rode up. The gearing allows my older legs to spin at only 4-5 mph on a 10% grade and the cable disk brakes work well even when covered with Idaho dust. Some of the dirt and gravel roads are rather narrow and most pickups are not going too fast on their own climbs and are often noisy. I was never treated rudely and always ride with a flashing Cygolite front and rear light for safety reasons. Some roads are such that you are taking the whole road to avoid very loose gravel or washboards. I found I was typically in the small ring up front when doing 4-8 MPH and the larger ring above 8 MPH. The gearing allowed me to most often ride in the range of slightly above or below 85% of my maximum heart rate. I did walk on some hills with just too many loose cobbles.
No Stability Issues: I had not ridden such skinny tires on a drop handle bike prior to this adventure. I was surprised how well the Cinder grabbed on rough and loose sections and how much fun it was to again ride a rigid bike. I generally ran 40 to 50 PSI in the Panaracers.
Specific Roads to Ride: Most of the campgrounds we chose in September and October were at about 5-6,000ft of elevation with great day hiking. The major state routes generally run at 4,000ft so there is often a climb training opportunity. Many of the dirt roads often lead to lakes or trails to lakes. The Baker Lake Trail could have also been navigated by a rider with more talent than I, but no E-Bikes. My absolute favorite gravel ride was Forest Road 500, the 10 mile climb out of the canyon where the Upper Penstemon Campground and Magic Mountain ski area 9 are located was exceptional and I noticed that I had a moose watching me.
Fuller Center Bike Adventure FCBA 2024: For those who like inexpensive supported rides with an opportunity to meet great folks and work on housing, riding with FCBA is a very satisfying opportunity for training and some public service with some often very fun folks. https://www.fullercenterbikeadventure.org/registernow/
The Wild West ride looks like four weeks of spectacular riding and if you are limited by time you can sign up for only one week, however it would likely be best if you are in good shape.
Thanks for Reading. Rock On!!!!