Last fall, I pedaled 150 or so miles on a backcountry bike tour of Eastern Idaho and the west slope of the Tetons. I'd be hard pressed to think of a better way to explore a new place—and experience a wide breadth of its intricacies in a short period of time. When you're pedaling through the middle of "nowhere," every gust of wind, stretch of washboard and ray of sun feels stronger, bigger, more intense. And ends up being more memorable as it turns out.
When Todd Walton first called to invite me, I was immediately intrigued. Never been to Idaho, for one. As he relayed the roughly 150-mile itinerary, a lil anxiety twisted my gut. That's a lot of miles on a very foreign type of bike. I ride singletrack several times a week, but have never surpassed 30 or so miles in a day. Never mind tacking on an extra 20—and doing it three days in a row—with a far more seasoned crew of cyclists. What am I getting myself into?
Just as the leaves started changing in the high country, I flew into Idaho Falls, and traveled by car through potato fields and golden acres of wheat to the Teton Springs Lodge in Victor. The next morning, we met our guides and geared up at Fitzgerald's Bicycles. I was surrounded by fast-looking dudes in spandex, including Jay Petervary, one of the most badass endurance cyclists on the planet and the owner of the BikeTender guide service. He is driving this train from Victor to Island Park, along with all-star chef and support crew specialist Xander Ault.
I was off the back and we hadn't even left the parking lot. My fellow riders were hammerheads: writer/ripper Aaron Bible pedaled from Colorado to Salt Lake City this summer and spoke of it like it was no big deal. And Tom Puzak is an adventure racer with quads like a velodrome competitor. Aaron confided that he’d “seen his legs on Facebook” and that we were in for it. Great. I'll be lucky to survive this ride. Before I left on this trip, a friend told me there was no shame in jumping in the support van for a few miles. These guys might say otherwise…
My bike—a Salsa Fargo—was familiar and foreign at the same time. It has a fully rigid frame, 29-inch wheels with knobby tires, and "woodchipper" handlebars—very similar to a road bike with a slightly slacker angle on the lower bars that remind me of a mountain goat’s horns. The shifters are located on the bar ends and brake levers run parallel to the curves. The first hour or so I kept grabbing for my mountain bike levers and coming up empty.
As we peeled away from civilization, instinct took over and these mostly-uninhabited miles blurred into a slideshow of life beyond the main road. Rather than counting miles, JP talked in terms of "time in the saddle" and provided some sage advice. "If you ever start asking yourself, 'Why am I doing this?' just have some sugar."
By the time we reached Island Park and stepped off our bikes one last time, I was actually starting to feel like I could keep going. After a cold beer of course. I basked in the surreal sense of satisfaction as we came together for one last meal, and rehashed the trip's highlights. We saw bear and moose; pedaled for miles without seeing a soul; met some hardcore locals; visited a national park; and ate like kings the entire time. For a guy who's never really road biked, this trip was totally doable, and enjoyable. Cheers—
WORDS+PHOTOS BY MIKE HORN