Riding high: Idaho


It is not every day that I can boast the benefits of the Surly Pugsley or fatbikes in general, although I try.  I am often forced to concede to admonishing onlookers that “yes, the tires are heavy” and “no, there isn’t a motor hidden within”.  I’m more inclined to speak with those that are interested in what it can do, rather than what it can’t.  In fact, I haven’t found anything it can’t do, but there are some people that can’t be convinced.  “All the way from Alaska? Really?  Honey, did you see that?”.   I’m forced to stand and smile for pictures.  Italians want to know “what kind of bike it is?”, and before I can say Surly Pugsley they clarify, “is it a mountain bike?”.  I’m resting in the shade atop Togwotee Pass above 9658 ft.  Call it anything.

But when the trail turns to sand, described by the Great Divide narrative as “extremely soft volcanic soil”, I’m grinning ear to ear.  If only those sedentary naysayers could see this, or the Anchorage winter, or the miles of washboard I’ve ridden.  Now in Wyoming, I met an awesome guy on an old Schwinn Sierra that fell in love with the concept of framebags, and completely understood the concept of fat tires despite his first encounter.  Two of the same breed– the Pugsley is a little like the Sierra would have been in 1984.  What are the big tires for?  Aren’t they slower?  The simple fact is that some people want to go places on bikes, and some do not.  This old Sierra carried him cross-country in the 80’s, and he’s been in Wyoming ever since.  Bikes take people places.

The thrifty mile abandoned rail corridor, once called the Oregon Short Line, shuttled tourists to Yellowstone National Park; anymore is it signed and managed as an Idaho state multi-use trail.  It’s an ATV and snowmobile trail for sure, and it’s not suited to the casual bike ride as many improved rail-trails are.  Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are rich with similar trails whose main function is winter snowmobile use.  I’ve just met Trey and neither of us have met another Divide rider in over a week.  We are barely through the ritualistic questions about the big tires when their volume and low-pressure speak for themselves, and we part ways.  Sinking, spinning tires on his secondhand Kona mountain bike Trey opts for the alternate route which is 17 miles longer and half paved.

Evening is my time to ride and accounts for about half of all time in the saddle.  Swimming accounts for the remaining daylight hours.  Following side trails for fun, I lose my way and find myself at a gas station on the main highway.  I pick up a cold tall beer and ask directions back to the abandoned rail corridor.  Riding sand on a fatbike, swimming, and sipping a cold can of beer– I’m riding high in Idaho.



4608WP 2


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I’ve regularly begun filling the 64 oz. Kleen Kanteen as surface water become less plentiful.  Refilling my drink bottle and cook pot, the supply of water within is never-ending.  Sick of peanut butter for the time being, I’ve got an extra bottle cage on the fork for another liter of water which may be useful through the Great Basin.  And as the days become shorter, I’m finding myself riding into the night.  Cool evenings and distant national forest boundaries tempt me; at least, a half-hour of riding in the dark to reach free camping is better than packing into a national park campground for $8 a person.  An impromptu group of four cyclists can share a piece of dirt for $32, although I opt to ride to the Teton National Forest boundary.

Miles Davis performed at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 in front of a rock audience of over 500,000.  When asked the name of the tune, or the kind of music, he replied, “call it anything”.

13 thoughts on “Riding high: Idaho

    • If floatation was the ultimate goal, it would seem to be sensible that more groundcover equals more float. However, it might feel like pulling a sled. In the snow, a sled would be a good idea. As always, less stuff would also do the trick, as would bigger tires (Surly Big Fat Larrys will be joined by two new tires soon). TJ, you planning a beach tour around Florida? If so, I’m definitely on board. Cass and Joe are right behind.

      I’ve seriously thought about the Florida beach trip. I spent over 1300 miles in FL on my first bike trip. I loved almost every minute of it. Floral City and the Withlacoochee State Trail were favorites.


    • From 2005:

      Joe Cruz and “Tom and Sarah” (that’s the only way I know them, via Cass and others) will be cycling the Canning Stock Road in the coming year. Check the link to Tom’s site “bicyclenomad”: http://bicyclenomad.com/.

      Tom just received his custom Ti fatbike from Colorado, and built it with a Rohloff and assorted bits which cost more than your trailer at Whispering Pines. It makes my Pugsley look like an old purple Pugsley.

  1. Everyone is always welcome. I assume you are thinking about the cooler months…

    My trailer is a derelict that I am tearing apart and putting back together. But I could accommodate
    any number of people one way or the other. I have started making note of trails and parks in Florida and the Ocala National Forest is less than a hundred miles away. I have ridden there and it seems to me it would be fat tire hobbit-land.


  2. Hey, we hung out for most of a day with Tre in Banff. If you see him again tell him hi for us.

    We made afternoon coffee in the tunnel you photographed and then about 15 miles north of there we were chased by a grizzly after unknowingly getting between she and her cub.

    • Trey and i parted ways at the rail trail and loosely planned to meet up. I haven’t seen him in days, but I’m shooting for Denver by the 23rd so I may not. I love the rail trail.

  3. Wonderful photos, as always.

    Funny enough to shake one’s head at: When I’ve toured on my Bike Friday, people openly lament that the small wheels must require more work because they cover less ground with each revolution. (“Um, well, shucks, it has gears, you see, and, well, that nine tooth cog back there…”.) And then the Fat Bike, silly and obviously slower because the tires are so big.

    Pretty impressive PR coup for Schwalbe 1.3’s to be everyone’s mental prototype for touring.


    • What really kills me are the people who ask, insisting an answer they already “know” to be true. It’s self-serving, and I find it intrusive when I’m trying to enjoy a meal. “How much slower is your bike?”

      Slower than what? On sand or in a velodrome? Uphill or downhill? How much junk is the other guy carrying? What does it matter?!

      Combining all the imprudent touring technologies, how about a small-wheeled, fat-tired, full-suspension (crabon) bike? People would hate it.

      On a different note, lunch was interrupted today by a friendly man curious about “the purpose” of my travels. I explained that this was the purpose, dining in the shade at a Wyoming state rest area speaking to strangers. It turns out he had “concern for my soul”, which I let him know was doing just fine.

  4. Nicholas, Joe, Cass, et al:

    I have only been to the Ocala National Forest once or twice before. First way back in my canoeist days when I was trying to canoe all the streams in Florida (the work of more than one lifetime) and a second time when I went with friends for a long weekend of drinking and floating on the crystal waters of a small pond named Mary.

    But the forest was whispering my name and after about an hour of walking I realized “This place is BIG!” The next day I borrowed a crusty MTB and went back in to see what’s what.

    What was what was sugar sand and lots of it. Coming around a curve and startling a small herd of deer. Being cussed out by a mother raccoon while I pushed the bike through a sand pit. Empty trails that lead from one beautiful pond or spring to another.

    I believe, from what I have read here, that that damnable sugar sand will go from sour to sweet on fat tires. Subsequent reading since then makes me believe I may have been on trails that bicycles are not allowed on, but I am not sure. It is a really big place and I never saw anyone else on my ride, so there was no one to scold, ticket or berate me.

    If you read comments about the Forest you will inevitably see mention of the “homeless” people there. I was staying with locals, and drank a lot of beer with those homeless ones. They ain’t homeless. Thet live in the woods. They consider themselves “Forest People” and some are second generation dwellers in the wild.

    But then, you guys know about dwelling in the wild. Me, I’m just wild and live in a trailer.


    • Sugar sand and shady groves sound like magic fat tire hobbit land. In place of riding up mountains or across vast deserts, this kind of riding sounds like an enjoyable excuse to ride fat tires. I’ll be looking into it for sure.

      Lots of pleasant sandy doubletrack in every direction today at the southern end of the Wind River Range here in WY. With a good map and lots of water one could go for days.

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