A few weeks ago, my friend Robin and I were a couple of beers deep, lamenting how quickly summer goes by and how hard it can be to cram adventures into every possible weekend. “I heard you can bike across Idaho in a day,” I said. “The skinny part.”
Robin’s eyebrows went up and her calendar came out. We did some very cursory map research to make sure that you could actually bike across, and that it was a distance we felt comfortable-ish with.
We picked a date. And then summer resumed its crazy pace and suddenly it was the Thursday before we were planning to leave. We didn’t have a plan beyond “I guess I’ll meet you with my bike after work on Friday.” We set out for Idaho, car overloaded with unplanned chaos, not exactly sure of what we were getting ourselves into.
Saturday morning we woke up still unsure of how the trails connected, or what the access would be like. But 95-ish miles and a bunch of hours later, we rolled into Washington satisfied, tired and surprised by how many beautiful things we’d seen in a day.
Unplanned adventures can be the best kind of adventures, but there are a few things that are good to keep in mind.
Don’t stress where you sleep
By midnight on Friday, we were nowhere close to the Montana border, where we were planning to start the next morning. So we looked up free camping and found a flattish free public boat ramp, where we set up tents and slept.
Know what? it didn’t matter. I slept great, we woke up and we kept rolling. Especially in the West, where there’s lots of public land, you can usually find a non-ideal but totally serviceable free campsite. Don’t sweat the details.
Roll with the punches
We got to the top of Lookout Pass in a rainstorm. When we found the trail we were planning to ride, it was chunky dirt and gravel instead of smooth pavement. “This is not what I was expecting,” I told Robin of the route I had vaguely Googled.
But we were there, so we bought ponchos at the rest stop and slowly started riding downhill, road bikes jittering on the uneven soil. Twelve miles later, we hit the Trail of the Couer D’Alenes in a sun break, flat-tire free. We kept pedaling west.
Know what makes every adventure worse? Hanger. Being snack stressed makes the miles seem longer and your legs seem slower. Some well-timed gummy bears or cold pizza can easily remedy that.
So, if you plan anything, plan your food stash. The one thing we really packed was food. And that saved our butts when we were tired and sunburned and weren’t sure how many more miles we had to roll.
A liiiittle bit of foresight can go a long way, especially if you’re venturing into contact-free zone. Just because you’re playing it fast and loose doesn’t mean you have to be dumb. Have a map, have a sense of where you’re going and have a plan for getting out.
Remember that the unexpected parts are the cool parts
At the end of the day, we knew we’d have 9 miles of road between the end of the trail and the state border. I was hungry, sore and cranky by the end of the trail. When we turned onto the road and were immediately confronted by a hill, I was almost ready to give up.
But when we crested the hill, we rolled into a long, fast, smooth downhill. The sun was getting low over the fields of western Idaho and everything was golden. After, over celebratory huckleberry milkshakes, we decided it was the best part of the day, even though it was the one we had been dreading. You don’t know until you go.
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