“So, you did a 900 mile ride over the past two-and-a-half days. How was it?”
“I got rained on quite a bit. It was mostly really cold, with lots of wet roads. Even got snowed on a little bit!”
“Sounds like it wasn’t much fun.”
“No way! It was completely AWESOME!”
And so it was. FANTASTIC! Huh? Even with rain, cold and snow? Absolutely.
Now that October is upon us, for those of us in regions that have four seasons, that means riding season is drawing to a close. Always a bummer. Knowing this, I definitely wanted to try to find a few days where I could go for another ride before the weather starts to get too cold. I thought it would be great if I could see some nice fall colors along the way, too, which always makes for beautiful scenery and compelling photos.
As the weekend approached, and I thought my work schedule might allow me to get away for half a day on Friday, I considered various routes that would have decent weather, be reasonably close to home, and preferably something I hadn’t already done this season. I settled on a loop that would take me on about 900 miles of favorites, much of which I hadn’t yet done this year.
I was able to sneak out around 1 PM from work on Friday, which enabled me to ride the 250 miles or so from my home near Boise, out through Lowman, Stanley, Challis, and on to Salmon, Idaho, near the Montana border.
They call this spot between Lowman and Stanley “Grandview.” Easy to see why.
Last time I was in Stanley was six weeks or so ago, on the ill-fated flat tire trip on the Aprilia. It was so smoky from all the forest fires, that I didn’t really take any photos of the scenery, which is usually spectacular. Fortunately, this time was more typical. In fact, there was already even some snow on the Sawtooth Mountains. As I approached Stanley, I just had to stop to take a few photos.
I continued along the incredible road (Hwy 75) between Stanley and Challis, along the Salmon River. One of my favorites in Idaho, it’s super twisty and fun. Just don’t let your concentration falter – a mistake would mean you and the bike would be swimming.
As Hwy 75 comes into the Challis area, and meets up with Hwy 93, there is a particularly gorgeous section of rocks along the road, with big signs warning drivers (and riders) to watch out for Bighorn Sheep on the road. I’ve never seen any, though it would sure be cool to see them.
I headed north through Challis and on to Salmon. Another absolutely spectacular road for motorcycles. Beautiful canyons, pretty trees changing colors, and hundreds of great corners. Fantastic. I wanted to take even more photos, but it was getting pretty late, and I wanted to get there before it got too dark.
The next morning it was pretty cold, and the forecast where I was headed in Montana and Idaho was calling for a few showers here and there. I was really glad to have heated gear, because as I climbed the beautiful mountain highway near the border of Idaho and Montana, the temps were dropping into the high 30’s. At least it wasn’t raining. Yet.
On I went up into Montana, up through Hamilton and ultimately to Lolo, where I turned to the west to traverse the always incredible Hwy 12, back down into central Idaho. The skies ahead looked really dark and heavy. I pulled over to move my camera from my canvas tail bag (somehow I managed to lose the rain cover it used to have) to my hard side case on the Ducati, to protect it from the rain. I put the radar detector in there, too, since it’s not designed to be water-resistant. Of course this meant I had to be careful not to speed. Hahahahahahaha, I tried to write that with a straight face, I really did. 😊
Despite the rain, I had to make the obligatory stop for a photo at the classic sign.
My timing was perfect, as less than a mile ahead it started to rain on me. A lot. For hours, and hours. It wasn’t raining that hard, and the sun kept trying to peek through, but it was very wet. And pretty darn cold (low 40’s at best). I stopped at a little riverside café about 20 miles in, to have some lunch, and mostly to dry out and warm up a bit! It helped a lot.
Thankfully, my Klim GoreTex gear really did a great job of keeping me dry throughout the trip. It was really nice not to have to keep putting on or taking off rain gear, as I’ve done in the past. This stuff is expensive, but totally worth it.
One good thing about this sort of weather is that it often leads to really great light conditions for photos, and cool, dramatic skies, which I always love. There was also almost no one on this incredible road – cars, bikes, police – nobody! I was having a ball, zipping through all the thousands of corners, trying to be as smooth as possible in the wet conditions. It was completely wonderful. Only saw just a couple of deer, thankfully.
The 99 miles flew by, seemingly faster than the other few times I’ve ridden this road. I just loved every minute. The scenery was breathtaking. I stopped a bunch for photos, and it was tough to avoid stopping even more. It was just so perfect.
I stopped for fuel in Kooskia, and decided to travel out toward Elk City, on another one of Idaho’s best motorcycle routes. Once again, virtually nobody on the road at all. 60 miles or so each way, of just flying from corner to corner, taking in the beautiful scenery while being completely at one with my bike. Incredible. So much fun.
I decided I needed to grab a photo of this sign for Mrs. Whip – the Golden Retriever lover. I’m sure it must be her favorite name for a town ever. I think the population of this town is about the same as the number of Golden Retrievers in our house – six.
I was really glad to be able to go out and back on this road to Elk City. It’s just so beautiful and fun!
I headed back toward Kooskia and then north along the Clearwater River to my evening destination of Orofino. I went a little out of my way for two reasons. First, this road (Hwy 12) along the Clearwater is fantastic, and I also love the hotel where I’ve stayed before along this route. It’s the Best Western Lodge at River’s Edge. It sits right on the river. Check out the view from my room balcony – so great! They have a nice restaurant there too. Super comfortable, and not at all expensive for how nice it is.
Looking up river from my room:
and down river:
On Sunday morning when I went out to my bike, I found there were two complimentary bottles of water next to the bike, with stickers on them which said, “Have a safe ride, with compliments from Best Western River’s Edge.” Really nice of them! I’ll definitely be back, that’s for sure.
Forecast for Sunday’s route, heading south through Grangeville, McCall and back to home was generally pretty cool and wet. I was really glad for the heated gear once again, because at least half of the ride was around 40 degrees or less! Early on, I wasn’t sure it was working, because I was feeling pretty chilly. But it was, thankfully, otherwise it would have been unbearable.
More beautiful scenery along the Clearwater River
It got colder as I headed up the hill toward Grangeville. This road is super fun, but I had to take it pretty easy, because I thought it might even be icy in spots. When I got to the top, it was just 35 degrees.
The skies were sort of trying to clear, and I was hopeful that this meant I’d have super dramatic skies when I got to the top of White Bird Summit, which has an absolutely incredible view. Sure enough, it was pretty great. I couldn’t rip my gloves off fast enough to get to my camera. Unfortunately, they’d put concrete barriers up along the edge (they weren’t there a couple of years ago, last time I was up this way). This made it impossible to get a good photo with bike and the view, but I still managed to get some pretty good images of what a spectacular vista this is.
As I descended the massive grade (2,700 feet in seven miles of road), the temperature went up ever so slightly.
I rode on through the beautiful canyon along the Salmon River into the cool little town of Riggins, home of lots of outfitters for rafting and fishing. I stopped for fuel, and found a nice espresso café where I could warm up and get a hot drink and some food. It definitely did the trick.
I got back on the bike and headed south toward McCall. The roads were still soaked, and although the sun kept trying to get through the cloud cover, it wasn’t really happening much. As I climbed the mountain from Meadows toward McCall, it got colder and colder, and next thing I know – it was snowing? Yep. 33 degrees, and light snow. It was even sticking to the trees a bit, but thankfully, not to the road. I had to stop for a pic, since I don’t often (okay, never) ride in the snow.
About halfway through the little resort town of McCall, the sun came out a little more, and it was mostly dry the rest of the way home. I got home early enough on Sunday afternoon that I had time to wash my now-filthy bike (sorry, baby!), and check out my photos.
So, although the weather was a little crazy, it was still one of my favorite rides of the year. No question that part of the reason had to be how much we riders cherish every moment of those final rides of any season, knowing that soon the bikes will be put away for a few months, replaced by snowboards or work in my case.
Again, I’m so grateful to live and ride in such a beautiful part of the world – warm or cool, dry or wet!