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Challenge 2012

by Brad ‘LegIron’ Johnson
Originally Published in the IAMC Newsletter, February 2013

In the late months of winter, I began planning routes and dates for the upcoming Challenge 2012 ride. I knew from my poor planning in 2010 that good, detailed plans were the key to saving miles and time which would allow for a more enjoyable summer.

I set out to complete the lower and warmer southern sites first before the snow had melted in the high country by departing Boise on May 13th. Yes, this was Mother’s Day and as I rode out the drive-way and looked over my shoulder, I could to see my wife Connie, mowing the lawn while mumbling some ‘not so encouraging’ words that I’d prefer to forget. Deep down, I knew she’d be back to her “old happy self” by the time I returned, so I aimed the KLR south and cracked the throttle.

By early afternoon, I’d reached Three Creek Store and Jarbidge, and then continued on to set up camp along some unknown creek in a grassy valley. It had been a long day of wrong turns and I was ready to hit the sack. The next morning I hit nearby Rowland and on to the infamous Rd. 67 to Charleston before camping near Wells NV. The trail along the Bruneau River was a little rough in places, but the remote scenic ride was well worth it. The next morning I found Metropolis, chowed down on a big breakfast at a local café and departed for Tuscarora on my return to Boise. As I pulled up my drive-way, I noticed how nice the lawn looked as I was greeted with a quiet stare from Connie the gardener. I wasn’t worried though…I knew she’d be back to her “old happy self” in no time at all.

Once home, I began planning my next leg of sites to check off and focused on heading west since the snows had begun to melt away. I posted an invitation on the website and ‘Idahosam’ joined me on June 26th for part of the ride towards Oregon and sites along the way. We hit Mineral City amidst rain which created slick and muddy roads. I proceeded on to Cornucopia after spending the night along the shores of the Snake River. While in the area, I decided to ‘run’ the Hells Canyon road which took several unplanned hours, but was well worth the time. I checked Homestead off my list as I headed towards Sheep Rock Overlook and Helena where I met a small group of ATV riders that knew the in-depth history of the surrounding area. So, I spent a couple hours riding around nearby trails while learning about the old mines, towns and some of the colorful residents that called this area their home. Finally, I headed towards home…12 sites completed and I’d been able to avoid mowing the lawn once again as I’d learned the true meaning of the words ‘deafening silence’ from my bride. But, I wasn’t worried…I knew she’d be back to her “old happy self” before I headed out on the next trip. And besides, I’d just been to Helena and back so I wasn’t worried at all.

The Big Trip: By the first week of July, tensions around the house had lifted slightly and I was finally allowed to speak when spoken to. Our son, Matt, arrived in Boise from Seattle with his KLR and I headed out on July 7th for a memorable week with my favorite riding partner. Before we left however, I made sure the lawn mower was fueled up as a gesture of ‘good will’ knowing how much it would be appreciated by his mother.

Our first nights camp was near Worswick Hot Springs after hitting Danskin Mountain LO and Rocky Bar. And, while crossing the river, I checked off my water crossing too. The next morning it was off to Sawtooth City, then Muldoon. Muldoon was a fun visit…Mr. Peterson, who owns the ranch and the old town site was one I’ll remember for a long time. Seeking directions for the exact site, we rode up to the ranch where he greeted Matt and me with a warm and quiet smile, typical of many remote ranch cowboys I’ve come to know over the years. If I’m ever in this area again, I’ll make sure to stop in again to say ‘hi.’

That night, we camped along a river and departed for Custer and the Yankee Gold Dredge the next morning. At Custer, we learned that the road to Pinion Peak was still closed from snow drifts, downed trees, and washouts. But, as luck would have it, we ran into a Forest Service maintenance team who radioed the LO tower and were informed it might be passable with motorcycles…so off we went! And yes, the road was every bit as bad as they’d warned us, and it took the better part of the day to make the loop which included Langer Monument. We lost about an hour to fix a flat tire when I picked up a horseshoe nail. Having Matt along to fix flats is the only way to go (hmm, I wonder if I could get him to mow the lawn for his mother when we get home?).

We camped again near Langer Monument and hit the highway in the morning for Bayhorse and MacKay Hill Mine Dist. (Yes, I know…highway is a bad word, but we wanted to make up for lost time, and we also needed to stop in Leadore to visit some old friends so we did it…shhh, don’t tell anyone!) After we crossed Gilmore off the list, we spent the afternoon in Leadore with our friends Dan & Dianne Clark. Dan is the valley’s trapper and hunting guide, so he had a bundle of stories with which to update us. It was another fantastic day before we headed to Salmon and treated ourselves to a motel, a shower, and café food!

The next day…Leesburg. What a great ride that was! Beautiful country! Then it was off to Ulysses where we were met with a ‘less than pleasant’ lady along the main road in front of their house. She was a tad demanding as to exactly what we were doing there, but her husband soon came to our rescue, and calmed her down as he pointed out the historical spots of days long gone. They’d relocated from New York to the backwoods of Idaho after buying Ulysses from the mining company. They tore down all the buildings and burned them to rid themselves of the vermin and threat of disease that was present in the dilapidated buildings. Considering their options, I probably would’ve done the same although another piece of history is now gone forever.

That afternoon, we checked off Yellow Jacket and camped up stream in a peaceful little grassy meadow. It was another evening of sitting around the fire, listening to the sounds of the night and talking about days gone by and days yet to come. This is what I’ll remember and treasure the most.

The following morning…it was off for a long, rainy, tiring day that proved to be a real challenge for us both. On our trek to Middle Fork it began raining and it continued as we completed Twin Peaks and struck out for Sleeping Deer. Several miles from reaching Sleeping Deer, we encountered a snow drift along the side of a steep hill that was impassable. We kicked out a trail through a snow drift about 40 feet long by 2 feet deep and attempted to ride through it but our bikes started sliding down the hill. After a couple hours, we finally made it through the drift by pushing and dragging them…a foot at a time, and then we proceeded in a downpour to Sleeping Deer. Our return through the drift was just as challenging, but we came through with no issues…at least for now.

From Sleeping Deer, we dropped down to Fly Creek Point where the fog was so thick it made it difficult to see more than a few yards ahead of us. After clearing fallen trees, we finally made it to the top, snapped a quick picture, and dropped back off to the main road. As I was negotiating the slick trail, I hit a rock that bounced my bike into a tree. The nerf bars saved the radiator, but the plastics and the tank suffered some ugly damage. We were able to make some trail side repairs and headed for Challis in search of a warm motel room, café food and a hot shower.

The next morning (our last day of the ride), we headed for Boise, arriving by early afternoon and the repairs began. Matt had to leave the following morning, so he loaded up his KLR and prepared for his trip back to Seattle.

I spent the next 6 days working on the KLR. The nerf bar was broken in half, the tank was pushed in, and the faring was smashed. Luckily, I had a damaged fairing (from a previous encounter with something, somewhere) that I was able to plastic weld. I welded and straightened the nerf bars, and pounded out the dent in the tank. While everything was dismantled, I went ahead and serviced the swing arm and knuckle, replaced all the wheel bearings along with a new chain and sprockets. After a shiny new paint job, it looked like new, ran great, and was ready to hit the trail again.

During the repairs
During the repairs
After the repairs

On July 20th, I tested my mechanical skills by making a quick run to Lucky Peak Bird Observatory. Everything worked as it should, so I made a day run to Trinity Mountain LO the next day, and again, everything performed as it should. When I got home, I packed up my gear for another day trip…the next leg of the Challenge.

July 22nd. The lawn looked good…proof that the lawn fairy had been taking care of things in my absence, and the cold stares from Connie had transformed into simple looks of disbelief as she shook her head and walked away. I knew it…she was finally coming around to being “her old happy self” again! So, I again hit the dusty trail to ensure that her recovery continued as I’d strategically planned all along.

Ruby City and War Eagle Mountain came next before I turned the KLR westward towards Inskip Station, Rockville, and Birch Creek Ranch before pounding the pavement for home. It had been a long day (294 miles) but I’d scratched off another five sites with only ten left on the list.

July 23rd was a day of rest and a chance to strengthen my improving relationship with the lady of the house. The lawn looked good, the grease stain on the carpet that I’d made while tracking across the living room was magically gone and I hadn’t been served with any legal papers yet, so I knew I was making some serious progress in the right direction. Not wanting to take any chances on my improved progress with the lady warden, I packed up to complete the final ten sites in the morning.

Pearl was the first, and then Squaw Butte LO followed by Quartzberg and Scott Mountain LO before I attempted to check Meadow Creek LO off the list. The map, the GPS, and the road signs all directed me to Meadow Creek LO from the Ice Hole CG south of Yellow Pine…they were wrong! I spent hours trying to force my way through before finally giving up and pitching camp at the CG for the night. A group of ATV’rs camped there took me under their wing and invited me to ride along with them the following day which I immediately accepted. So, I spent the next day joining with eight ATV’s moving at a snail’s pace…but we had fun! Dick Feller from Yellow Pine led the procession with informative and frequent stops along the way. Today…Roosevelt Lake, Cinnabar and Meadow Creek LO…done! I made my way to a campground above Warm Lake and called it a day after chowin’ down on a huge chili burger at Warm Lake Resort.

July 26th was my last day after checking off No Business LO and Packer John LO on my way back to Boise. The Challenge 2012 had taken me across 4,115 miles in 17 days of riding. I’d seen bears, elk, deer, coyotes, skunks, badgers, moose, turkey, antelope, and mountain sheep. I’d been able to slip in all the Challenge sites between the late snow pack and the wild fires that would soon follow that prohibited travel to many of the sites. I’d spent a fantastic week with Matt and met and made new friends along the way while reconnecting with old ones.

And yes, Connie has returned to her “old happy self again.” But, I need to start buttering her up now for next year’s Challenge 2013 even though she’s always known how lucky she is to have me. Since her birthday is just around the corner, I think I’m gonna get that gal something extra special this year…maybe that new snow shovel that’s on sale at Wal-Mart. She’s just gonna love it!

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