The Dirty Good Company Road and Trail Tour left from Bend, OR, on September 6. We don’t know just yet what exactly this is going to become, but we are enthused and optimistic about our travels and the prospect of doing some good, while getting dirty.
It feels like we’ve been at this for more than 10 days. Maybe partly because we spent most of August “practicing” van life, though interspersing our nights camped in the Bend, OR forest roads with some house-sitting gigs. Maybe partly because we covered a fair bit of ground in a couple short days. Or maybe it is because Mother Nature has moved us from hot, sunny summer in Stanley, ID to cold, stormy autumn in Ketchum, ID at warp-speed. Suddenly the mountains here are snow capped, the mornings are frosty, my hair is in a constant state of hat-head and our puffy jackets are an earlier than expected necessity.
On the kick-off day we drove across Oregon and Idaho along the 20 into Boise. We hoped to get beyond the smoke that had been sitting over Central Oregon for the better part of August and September. Unfortunately, a smokey haze sat upon Boise as well. We camped up on Bogus Mountain those first couple days as we elected to stay in Boise through the end of the week to pick up some last minute supplies we couldn’t get delivered to Bend in time. The weather was pleasant and we rode the Around the Mountain trail both mornings.
We would both prefer to be running the trails, but since injuries have sidelined us for the past few weeks and months we’ve turned to mountain biking to keep active and continue exploring. Dirt trails, and movement, are critical to each of us, not only for our physical health but equally for our mental health. Susan and myself have both dealt with depression and still slip into low moods if we don’t take care of ourselves. Active movement in the mountains (or on the sea) have become foundational to our mental wellness.
After a couple days mountain biking the trails at Bogus Mountain, breakfast at Big City Coffee, then an afternoon of sweaty urban errands (shiny new backpacks!) in the city, we headed further east toward Stanley. Arriving on a foggy morning, we took in the views over coffee and grub at Stanley Baking Co. and waited for the sun to lift the clouds from the valley floor. The town boasts one main street with several seasonal hotels and restaurants right at the base of the Sawtooth range. These are the kinds of mountains that seduce me; the jagged peaks lure me to climb high above their tree line through rocks, scree and stream crossings. We started our Stanley adventures with a steep hike up to Sawtooth and McGown Lakes via the Alpine Lake Trail. It was warm and sunny for our 2,400 foot climb but, not surprisingly, the mountain weather turned a bit threatening on the way down, with thunder in the distance and some intermittent rain. The road back to highway 22 was rutted and bumpy and we cringed the whole way waiting for something on the Beaumont to knock loose.
We finished up our 3 days in Stanley with a few rides: the Elk Mountain Trail Loop, Joe’s Gulch/Nip & Tuck, and Cape Horn Loop. The first is an awesome 11+ mile loop with a short gravel climb, then rolling winding trails through tree lines and meadows just north of Stanley Lake. The other rides are mostly gravel road and ATV trails on the east side of Highway 21. Bring plenty of water if you ride these dirty paths as there is little to no tree coverage so you will be exposed to sun and wind for the bulk of the ride. Plenty of free dispersed camping is available on the west side of Stanley Lake Road just before the National Forest Campground further up the paved road.
After the Cape Horn ride we treated ourselves to a well-deserved burger and beer along the Salmon River in one of Lower Stanley’s only eating establishments and hit the road again for a short drive south. Ketchum is nestled in a valley without the striking rocky peaks of Stanley, but with more rolling yet steep mountains suitable for the popular ski area the town is famous for. Strolling around town Monday night, we checked out various menus at the hip looking eating establishments, located all our taco options, and noted wifi spots where we were determined to start seriously working the next day. Paul has been here in the past and pointed out the library, used book store and movie theater before driving us up to a dispersed camping area only 3 or 4 miles out of downtown where he had stayed before.
I’ve been to Ketchum a few times in the past and love this sleepy mountain town. Ketchum, along with Hailey which is just down the road, is on our list of possible relocation towns. While Bend is an awesome place to live with an abundance of outdoor activity options, the cost (yes, Ketchum is more expensive) and the extended grey of winter (Ketchum is colder, but data shows it gets significantly more sunny days) has each of us reconsidering whether it should remain our home. The sun is critical to our mental wellbeing and sucking-it-up isn’t a philosophy we feel needs to be continued. We’ve simplified our lives to allow more flexibility, and as such we’ve decided sun and trails are essential elements of the dirty good life which we wish to lead.
Over these first few days in the Ketchum/Hailey area we’ve done a ride and a hike. The weather was good the first day, but it has turned and the rain and cold have arrived. We are camping in dispersed areas just outside each of the towns which has been great, aside from picking up a couple passengers that are waking me in the night as they scurry around the van collecting materials to build their nest. I think I’ve narrowed down where they are locating themselves but have yet been able to extricate them. The mice need to go if I’m to keep my sanity. Rodents aside, the campsites are beautiful and unlike much of the dispersed camping we did in Bend they are trash free. The ride in Hailey was a mostly exposed gravel road ride that had a hellish ascent in the middle. The steep path was strenuous and consisted mostly of loose terrain. We finished it, but there were definitely times during in which we questioned why we were mountain biking.
Another cold and cloudy morning on Saturday made us hesitant about riding, so we walked from our campsite up to the trailhead for Pioneer Cabin, one of the must do hikes according to all the locals. The Pioneer Creek trail climbs up to about 9,500 feet with undeniably spectacular 360 degree views. Once it opened up out of heavy tree coverage, Paul spotted the area’s celebrated herd of sheep grazing across the valley. They moved as a white mass down the slope, accompanied by their cowboy-hatted shepherd on horseback. Up at the cabin, the mountaintops were dusted with snow from the previous day’s storm, their peaks hidden by the clouds. It was cold up there and we dug our jackets out of the packs for the trip back down after trying to capture the scenery with our cameras. The cabin had a couple bunks, a stove and walls covered with graffiti from those who had used it as refuge in the past.
We are learning about small hurdles and challenges that come with this voyage; for one thing, grocery shopping proved to be a bit of an ordeal as we are trying to stick to a budget and meals that fit in a cooler.
Nutritionally we’ve been trying to stick to a healthy diet, as nourishing well is also one of our foundations to mental wellness. We are trying to narrow down a few easy go-to meals to prepare at campsite and on the road. So far we are doing well with lots of veggie medleys along with some proteins and fat. That said, the fare in town has tempted us a few times. We’ve done tacos at KB’s and pints and pub food at Sawtooth Brewery (Susan would like to comment that their Moustache Ride Dark Rye IPA is delicious!). To be upfront, we both have a weakness for tacos, and chips and salsa, so we will be seeking these out in the name of research where we travel.
- Climb up to Sawtooth Lake after breakfast at Stanley Baking Co.
- Sweeping loop around Elk Mountain trail.
- Climb up to Pioneer Cabin outside Ketchum, altitude 9,400+ feet, spotting the sheep herd.
- Views of the McGown Peak in the Sawtooth Mountains.
- Fish tacos at KB’s
Until next time, get dirty and feel good.