Back Road Magazine

Explore Idaho

RTW Waypoints & Reflections

In 2012 I set out to ride a 1988 Kawasaki KLR 650 built by Happy Trails Products around the world. Now 3 years later, I have completed a little over half of the intended journey. With geopolitics and life getting in the way, the remaining rides across Europe and Central Asia are on hold for the time being—I’ll finish the tour at some point in the next few years—whenever the Syrian refugee crisis and Ukraine/Russia tensions subside. For now, here are some reflections on the 3 continents I have traversed atop the Green Hornet:


The KLR carried me up the east coast of Australia, across the Savannah Way and deep into the oft-bleak Outback. Brisbane to Darwin—3,800 miles, all said and done. Here, I learned the value of preparation. Admittedly a little naïve to the whole international touring thing, I shipped the KLR from Long Beach, CA to Brisbane, Australia during the rainy season, in the hopes that I would be able to ride Down Under during the subsequent Dry Season. Not so much. Shipping delays meant the bike spent an extra 3 months in a dank storage container, which lead to carburetion and fuel issues (and an ironic amount of rainfall). I lucked out that the mechanical failures I experienced happened near urban areas with moto mechanics readily available.
The KLR picked up a new petcock in Gin Gin, Australia and new jetting in Cairns. The interior of Australia is a desolate but beautiful place. I learned a lot about myself here—requiring my full attention to make sure I didn’t get off’d by a King Brown snake, crocodile or funnel web spider while setting up camp for the night. Riding into Darwin after 3-weeks across Australian Continent, I got a sense that the scenery was about to change. I stored the bike with the service manager from Cyclone Cycles near the port of Darwin on the Java Sea and headed home to Idaho to plan SE Asia.

SE Asia:

SE Asia
Add massive population density and a language barrier to the mix. Remove traffic laws and first world right-of-way traditions. Mix, mash, bake at 350-degrees and you have SE Asia.
My 1am flight from Los Angeles to Singapore was a restless one. Nerves about getting the bike from the Port at Jurong, finding good fuel, and several upcoming border crossings were all superseded by just getting a good night’s rest at my rough and tumble hostel in the Lavender District of this filthy-rich micro-country/mega-city. That, and the wicked humidity quickly elevated to top-of-mind status.
After a restless night’s sleep, I met up with my contact, Luke Doherty—a 30-something Australian working in the telecom industry in Singapore. Luke showed me the ropes, helped me get my bike from the port and even rode with me into Malaysia. His guidance may have even saved my life on a few occasions (he insisted I get a GPS, as paper maps would surely lead to massive confusion for a foreigner trying to navigate SE Asia’s tangled roadway system).
We rode into Malaka, Malaysia and cut a lap around the local markets in pursuit of appropriate cuisine. We found it—Nasi Goreng, hodge-podge noodles, durian fruit—along with a heaping serving of Malay and Chinese immigrant culture. It was cool.
Luke headed back to Singapore and I stayed in Malaka for an additional day to get the stator re-spooled on the KLR. 7 months in another storage container (between Australia and Singapore) and the bike needed some love before getting into bigger mileage days.
I rode through Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands, and into Thailand. Border crossings can best be described as lots of friendly body language paired with multiple exchanges of Carne Du Passages paperwork and currency, usually leading to free passage into a new country. If you asked me to write a guide for how to get into Thailand or Malaysia, I couldn’t tell you anything other than be nice, smile a lot and have your paperwork and plenty of local currency handy.
I rode the KLR through the terrorist-friendly Thai southwest region (Yala Province) before getting lost in Hat Yai. Some of the most radical folks in Asia apparently live in this region—an exiled population from Burma who don’t care for Westerners one bit. It didn’t take long to debunk some of my original fears of this place though. A group of Muslim school girls on scooters wearing full hajib led me about 2 miles into the city’s center to my hotel for the evening. Their shyness matched their kindness and they rode off before I could thank them.
Tropical Storm Sonamu was hot on my trail in the South China Sea, so I burned tarmac over to the Ao Nang Region for a few days of island exploration and relaxation. It was awesome to be off the bike playing tourist for a few days. I hit up Maya beach (where the movie “The Beach” was filmed) and Railay beach, as well as Ko Phi Phi Don: elephants, hikes, swimming in the jungle, pirate caves—all the textbook Thai vacation haunts.
On my way out I met up with the BMW Motorrad of South Thailand for an afternoon of trans-peninsular riding. With Bangkok’s urban bubble taking shape before me and daylight fading, I elected to jump on the ultra-slow local train into the city’s center where I could avoid the nightmarish toll roads & traffic of fringe-Bangkok. The KLR rode in the rear carriage, and I collected it just in time to meet my contact in Sukhumvit Soi 65. I rode through Bangkok’s Financial District as my contact led the way through the urban chaos on a local tuk tuk taxi.
A few days of exploration in Bangkok and I headed back to Boise to regroup. I couldn’t ride into Burma or China, so I shipped the KLR back to Seattle.

North America:

Switching geographic directions, I would head eastward for Europe to finish the tour. I rode across the United States in 6-days, ending my trip just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. This was my 3rd tour across the USA, so I honestly didn’t spend much time exploring the scenery. Salt Lake, Laramie, Kearney (Nebraska), Davenport (Iowa), Cleveland, Oneonta (New York), Pittsfield (Massachusetts). The single cylinder of the KLR hummed across the USA like a singer sewing machine. The only pitfall was a dead battery from running heated grips across Wyoming. A trickle charge and I was up and running in no time.

Last Hurrah:

The KLR came back to Boise this summer after taking me a good portion of the way around the world. I took it out for one last ride—416 miles into Idaho’s back country with a few friends. Without getting too nostalgic, I can say that my original impressions of the KLR are still pretty much the same—although considerably refined. It is a supremely average machine that can do virtually anything moderately well, but nothing exceptionally well. Whether on single track, two-track, 2-lane or interstate, the mighty KLR is the unsung hero of all motorcycle genres.

Taking The Road(s) Less Traveled North to McCall

Sure, you can drive the 100 or so miles to McCall and reach your destination in two hours; better yet, take the backroads over 300 milles and spend three nights doing it.
The next time someone asks how far it is from Boise to McCall, I’ll say 311 miles.

Adjacent to scenic Idaho Highway 55, backcountry routes between Eagle and New Meadows are a special place to get lost. It can get rough out there, though: bear, moose, fire, venomous snakes and rednecks are part and parcel of any good weekend spent in the Idaho sticks. If someone tells you different, they’re full of shit.

I recently trekked into those sticks with Karp and Nolan, a pair of like-minded, 208-native gearheads and childhood friends. Karp was seated on his rod-modded BMW Dakar 650, Nolan on his BMW F800GS and I was aboard my trusty Kawasaki KLR 650 (a custom build by Happy Trails Products in Boise).

I’ve ridden this bike on three continents, but it’s nowhere more at home than in Idaho’s weird places.

When I was a kid, McCall was my happy place. Summer days were spent hiking, swimming, cliff jumping and wakeboarding. Winters were all about the backcountry skiing and hanging out in hot springs. Now that I’m old and grouchy, I don’t go to McCall to go to McCall anymore; I go because some rad side routes happen to end there. To quote philosopher and man of the road Robert M. Pirsig: “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.” Amen, brother.

Karp, Nolan and I went into some remote places you shouldn’t attempt to get to unless you are a savvy Idaho outdoorsperson and a skilled motorcycle rider—four-wheeled vehicles can’t even get many of the places we went—so I will not reveal routes in detail. But I will share some of the waypoints on our trip: Garden Valley, Yellowpine, somewhere near the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, Warren and McCall.

Leaving Boise on one of the two dirt routes heading north, we had 160 miles of less-traveled road and two track before reaching camp for the night. Adjacent to Garden Valley sits a reservoir amid some 7,000-plus-foot-high saddles, where thousands of stumps and a steeply sloped airstrip give the shoreline an apocalyptic feel.

From the northernmost side of this reservoir we ascended into the southern fringe of Valley County. The rough-and-tumble road opened up a bit, and it was time to let the bikes run. Rounding the corners at 60 miles per hour with a mild drift prompted a feeling not unlike what I imagine a bird experiences during its first flight.

After a quick stop for a burger and beer at a nearby lake lodge, we were suddenly a little too close for comfort to a pair of freshly sparked fires. Smoke spiraled high above the south end of the lake and began souring an otherwise blue sky. In concert with other area burns, a hot, windy microclimate had developed across central Idaho, which did not bode well for air quality over the next two days.

Following lunch, we goosed three tourists on BMW 1200GS’s before dropping down to one of the most scenic remote river corridors in the state passing through the tiny town of Yellowpine—population 32—by early afternoon on our way into me truly beautiful country on the fringe of the Frank Church wilderness.

We throttled up the road to a magical place where we set up for the night near a long-forgotten hunting camp, complete with two rat infested cabins and a babbling year-round creek.

Located off the last motorized access point to the wilderness, we enjoyed the peace and quiet amid massive peaks and thick lodgepole pines.

After some whiskey-fueled fireside conversation, we called it a night and awoke the next morning socked-in. Fire had reached the ridges, and we knew it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. We climbed north on switch-backed 8- to 10-foot-wide gravel tracks up to about 9,000 feet. Puttering past some of the most beautiful panoramas in central Idaho, we came to what became affectionately known as the “Big Descent”—a 12-mile downhill canyon path, which allowed us to kill our bike engines and coast all the way to one of the many forks of the mighty Salmon River.

The landscape changed from thick forest to aspen groves to high mountain desert as we rode up to the top of another 8,000-footer before dropping into the Baum Shelter bar/restaurant in Warren.

After lunch, we scooted over the hill to the Secesh River and our final camp, navigating five miles of tight, technical single track to a 1,000-foot-high ridge lake a big mama moose was known to frequent. She showed up the next morning, and we said hello from a safe distance before burning tarmac past Upper Payette Lake. After breakfast in McCall, we hit Highway 55 and got in line with all the vehicles heading back toward the Treasure Valley.

Door to door we traveled 311 miles up, 105 miles back. I prefer the prior every time.

Happy Trails

Idaho Dual Sport Flick

Backcountry Discovery Routes and Idaho Tourism made a flick about dirt squirting around the good ol’ Gem State. The premier is in Boise on February 4th. Here’s the trailer:

Crossing America

Round the World: Part III

Following a 2012 tour across Australia and a 2013 tour through Southeast Asia, I ran into a roadblock of the political and geographic variety. I couldn’t head west from Thailand into Burma, a dark state, and the cost of arranging a tour guide and securing a People’s Republic of China driver’s license—both legal requirements for entering China with a foreign full-sized motorcycle—all became prohibitive.

I had been following in my father’s footsteps: In 1977-78, he circumnavigated the globe on a motorcycle. Feeling a little deflated, I tucked tail and headed east, pursuant of finding my way back to my end point at 90-degrees latitude—approximately Almaty, Kazakhstan. North America, Europe and Central Asia remained. I would still ride around the world, it would just take two directions to finish.

After a three-month-long administrative nightmare to retrieve my custom-built Happy Trails Kawasaki KLR 650 adventure bike from Thailand—and rehabilitating from a broken leg and a torn ACL—it was time to tackle North America. I rode across the United States twice in 2008 during a 31-state, 7,700-mile barn-burner atop a Kawasaki Versys, but this time would be different. Now, I was on a single cylinder semi-dirt machine that is, simply, not intended for interstate touring.

Leaving Boise’s North End on Sept. 13, I had mixed feelings. Touring is a blast, and I love to travel solo, but I didn’t know what a week of mostly interstate riding would do to my recently recovered body. Riding highway speeds on a bike that is best suited to remote two-lane roads and dirt two-track meant I would take a beating. Hunched over my 10-gallon IMS tank at 75 mph, I felt a sense of urgency to find some roads less traveled, which would make this leg of the trip halfway enjoyable. It would have to wait: I needed to make time and had a tight schedule. My return flight, six days away, hung in the distance as both a motivator and an unwelcome reminder of mileage quotas for each day.

I rolled into Salt Lake City that evening and met up with a friend from high school who has carved out a successful niche in the SLC real estate market. We headed out for a night on the town, and an evening of revelry in SLC’s up-and-coming Sugarhouse District transitioned into a foggy jaunt the next morning through Utah’s Uinta Mountains.

Highway 40 was an ideal counterpart on day two. Its scenic twists and turns and lack of semi-truck traffic made it a welcome alternative to the I-84/I-80 corridor. A fuel stop in Vernal, Utah, and a lively playlist in my headphones helped the miles pass quickly before I rolled into Steamboat Springs, Colo.

I needed to snap out of the numb brainscape required to complete as many as 12 hours a day on the bike—I had to make some decisions. I have friends in Denver, but I was burning daylight, thanks to the previous evening’s shenanigans. A dreadlocked gawker at the Kum & Go gas station in Steamboat Springs told me about a “shortcut” sure to shave an hour off my ride into the greater Denver area. Tired and not thinking clearly, I took the advice. It didn’t take long for me to get turned around on Highway 14 northbound, and I ended up at a shithole motel in Laramie, Wyo., where I stayed for the night.

The next morning, I awoke to 33-degree temps and the dread of getting back on Interstate 80. Few things are worse when touring than semi-truck traffic. Semi drivers seldom see motorcyclists and almost never run at consistent speeds. The slight pitches in eastern Wyoming’s geography resulted in playing chicken with two, three or four tractor trailers while trying to pass. These trucks spin off mean vortices that can easily push a bike into the median. For the first time in my riding career, I longed for a big, powerful, midlife-crisis cruiser with a tall windshield and tons of power. From Laramie’s 7,000-plus-foot surrounding plains, I continued east to the Nebraska line.

Through previous rides across Kansas and Texas in 2008, the bar was set pretty low, but I knew two things about the Midwest: 1.) the people are relatively nice, 2.) the scenery is almost nonexistent along major transportation corridors.

I stopped for fuel and a bite to eat in Sidney, Neb., and I still haven’t determined whether what happened next was a stroke of good fortune or bad. After I scarfed down a six-inch turkey sub, I straddled the KLR and performed my pre-ride routine: helmet strapped, check; gloves buckled, check; wallet and phone pockets zipped, check; key on, hit the starter and roll. Not check. The bike gave a groggy squawk followed by an obnoxious buzzing. The battery was toast.

I knew exactly what had happened. While riding into Laramie the night before, I had been running the bike’s high beams and heated grips, which overloaded the battery and charging system, resulting in a dead battery. The bike turned over easily on the cold start earlier that morning but lost its remaining juice across the Nebraska border. Thankfully, there was a car dealership next to the restaurant, so I moseyed over to the shop. One of the mechanics, a squat, friendly guy in his late 20s, said he had a trickle charger at home. He was nice enough to get it during his lunch break, and he let me throw a 4-amp charge on the bike for an hour. As I pulled the plastic side panels off the KLR, I had flashbacks to similar troubles in Australia and Malaysia. After a few thousand miles, I had learned not to panic and roll with the punches. When you’re riding your machine hard, it will occasionally leave you hanging. That’s the name of the game. Being able to expediently review your options, find the right fix and get back on the road is all part of the fun.

With the delay, I only made it as far as Kearney, Neb.

The next day, I stopped in Lincoln, Neb., for a quick oil change. With a reusable oil filter, the whole process took me fewer than 10 minutes, and the guys at Frontier Harley were gracious enough to dispose of my old, blackened oil.

Next up was lunch in Omaha at JD’s Tavern with Dave, another old friend from Boise. He moved out to Nebraska with his wife and kids a few years back to take a job managing a real estate appraisal unit for a major bank. With his thumb on the pulse of land topics in the Midwest, I picked Dave’s brain for a comparison to Idaho. He distilled an otherwise complex answer into a single sentence: “We have awesome public land in Idaho and everything out here is privately owned.” I was suddenly overtaken with a sense of gratitude for my home state. I would hate to have to know somebody who owned frontage on a creek or river in order to go fishing. The majority of Idaho is public land—we’re spoiled rotten.

From Omaha, I crossed the Missouri River into Iowa—roller country. The relatively flat farm lands of Nebraska gave way to a pleasant 200-mile sequence of gentle hills neatly adorned with perfectly manicured troughs of corn. I descended into Davenport, Iowa, and found another cheap motel off of I-80. That evening, I walked over to the Iowa Machine Shed—a legendary restaurant with robust grub and a folksy vibe. The classic tractor collection at the entry and rows of 18-wheelers in the parking lot are indicators of the menu offerings: vegetarians need not enter. Pulled pork, beef brisket and corn bread were favorites at the tables surrounding mine. I opted for a massive chicken ceasar salad, cold Leinenkugel beer and apple dumpling for desert. Full and happy, I headed back to my room, a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River and Illinois State line.

The next day was a bastard. It seemed as though every semi in the Midwest converged on the cluster of highways and interstates south of Chicago. After navigating heavy truck traffic into Joliet, Ill., I stopped in Gary, Ind., for fuel. Seldom have I encountered the local stink-eye so fiercely as in this armpit of the rust belt. I gassed up in haste and made my way to the toll road bound for South Bend: Notre Dame country. By now, the farms and fields had been replaced by some nice fall foliage, making the ride more scenic. I cruised through South Bend, noting the collegiate atmosphere, and pushed all the way into Cleveland for the night.

I arrived just in time to take Jake and Camille, two friends from high school, to dinner. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, these two work an intense schedule. Jake hammers out night shifts in the emergency room while Camille works in cancer research during the day. They love what they do and maintain an almost-superhuman level of energy. Jake went straight to work after dinner, and Camille and I returned to their downtown Cleveland condo.

It was great seeing all these people I had remained in touch with, yet somehow rationalized not visiting for many years. For the record, Cleveland was one of the most charming and enjoyable cities on my entire trip.

The next day, I headed north along Lake Erie into Pennsylvania. I made a fuel stop in Erie, Pa., before hitting I-86 east into Binghamton, N.Y. Upstate New York is beautiful in the fall, and the mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees, and clean, crisp air, made for a relaxed ride. I rolled through the Adirondack and Catskill mountains before stopping for the night in Oneonta, N.Y. I was 175 miles from the end of this leg of my journey. I hadn’t been paying much attention to the minutiae of the cultures I subtly experienced atop my KLR but in Oneonta, the thick New York accent gave me my first sense of being far from home, and the people I met in this region were incredibly nice, debunking my previous opinion of “East Coast assholes.”

The next day, I passed through the outskirts of Albany, N.Y., and headed for the Massachusetts turnpike and I-90. I was on schedule, so I elected to take backroads to my final destination of Shelburne Falls, Mass. I stopped at the Creamery in Pittsfield, Mass., for the best avocado and bacon sandwich I’ve ever eaten, and then took my time putting along to my final stop. My GPS routed me all over the place before spitting me out on a long unpaved country drive leading to a 200-year-old barn. The barn and its surrounding 23 acres call Bill Cosby a neighbor, and belong to my friends Josh and Taresa, who offered to store my bike for the winter (in the 200-year-old barn). I had made it across America in six days, rolling 2,910 miles under the tires of my KLR.

Taresa, Josh and I made plans for a night of fun in Boston, 90 minutes away.

Weary from the week, I booked a room in an upscale hotel next to the Boston Commons, and after a traditional Irish dinner and a few whiskeys, I was on a flight back to Boise.

With 13 states and almost 3,000 miles behind me, I learned that every inch of America has something to offer a student of the road; the interstate highway system is an unsexy but extremely important piece of infrastructure; and there’s no place like home.

Europe 2015—Paris to Istanbul—is officially in the pipeline.

Chasing Snow

Here’s an expanded write-up on the first couple of rides of 2014, including Cuprum, the Kleinschmidt Grade, 10 Mile Creek and Garden Valley:
seven devils
Just over 12 months since I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Lateral Meniscus, broke my leg, and severely damaged virtually every other structure in my right knee, I’m thrilled to report that I’m back to roughly 100%. It’s a good thing too, as throttle lust had been getting the better of me of late.

I hadn’t ridden a single mile of dirt since last fall’s Happy Trails Lolo Motorway Rally in Kamiah—and even that was a weak showing with only 40-50% stability in my right knee following surgery. My orthopedic surgeon strongly suggested I stay away from the bike altogether until spring, but what does he know?

Throwing caution to the wind, three perfect September days in north-central Idaho riding two-track (able-bodied participants at the rally found their way into some way cooler single track rides) reignited a spark that had faded alongside my injury. I left Kamiah, for lack of better words—stoked.

2014 would present the perfect opportunity to relearn how to appreciate what I had long taken for granted—exploration, solitude, adrenaline, adventure—all the things that make a dual sport motorcycle the preferred method of transport here in the Gem State.

So now that spring has begun to fade into summer and the snow is gone from the immediate hillsides around my home in Boise, I scheduled the first pair of rides to see how far and how high I could get into Idaho’s back country. This time of year, the only limitation is snowpack, as the weather is generally pleasant and the landscapes are richly adorned with green undertones and myriad vibrant wildflower accents.

First up, Memorial Day weekend—Rocky Canyon to 10 Mile Creek to Garden Valley to Round Valley to Boise. This little three day, 322 mile jaunt was mostly paved, but presented myself and my riding companion (high school buddy Nolan Smith, and his BMW 800GS) with an opportunity to see how passable Central Idaho’s ridges were. We fully expected to hit snow—the question remained just how much, and whether we could ride around or through it.
Recent rains made for a swift and tacky run over Rocky Canyon to Robie Creek. Burning daylight, we made quick work over Mores Creek Summit on pavement before taking the 10 Mile Creek access bridge over the South Fork of the Payette River. We met a group of friends at a secluded spot along the river, and unwound before the rollicking flames of a massive bonfire.

The next morning, we burned tarmac to Crouch for breakfast at Wild Bills Café. Leafing through some old Forest Service paper maps for alternate routes to Round Valley—in the event that we were bamboozled by snow—we found a less-traveled lower elevation surrogate route that would come in handy a few hours later.

We cruised serenely up the road abutting the Middle Fork of the Payette to the confluence with Silver Creek and headed west up Road 670. We didn’t see a single soul after cresting the ridge at the 693 Junction. There was quite a bit of snow on the side of the road, and you could tell by the uninterrupted condition of the pine needles under tire that few if any travelers had gone this far in 2014. We reached the junction that sends you either west to Bacon Creek or northwest to Landmark, and decided to take the lower elevation route due to the amount of snow we had already seen. Not 300 yards down the south facing slope and we hit our first snowbank.

I carefully aligned my front wheel with the terrain’s flattest trajectory and gave the KLR some gas. I slipped and slid through without issue. Nolan navigated my tire groove without issue. A few hundred yards later, we came across what became affectionately known as “the big one.” This 60-foot long 2 to 3 foot deep snowbank laid between two steep drainage whoops would mean trouble in the event that we had to turn back. Getting the bikes back up this sucker would be impossible. I again lined up my front end and pulled the trigger. This time, I buried the KLR up to the boxes within 10 feet of entry. Frustrated, I hopped off the bike and started walking downhill to see what the upcoming half mile had in store for us. It appeared to clear out, so Nolan and I carefully pushed and feathered both bikes to the bottom of the snow bank. We were the first tracks through in 2014.

We both breathed a sigh of relief when we caught our first glimpse of Round Valley’s prairie through the trees above Bacon Creek. We were in Cascade less than 30 minutes later. We spent the next day-and-a-half riding lower elevation roads and tracks and unwinding by the reservoir with friends.

I debated heading over High Valley on my way back to Boise, but traffic on Highway 55 was surprisingly modest for the holiday weekend, and I had to get a head start on the upcoming short work week.

The following weekend, we commissioned the assistance of my room mate Matt (and his BMW 650 Dakar) for a run over to Cambridge, Brownlee, Hells Canyon, the Kleinschmidt Grade, Cuprum, Huckleberry, Bear, Council and back to Boise. This 360-mile mini-tour took us through some incredible scenery, dramatic elevation changes, and even more snow.

Leaving Boise at 6pm on a Friday, we knew we would be burning daylight by the time we hit Cambridge. We made quick work of Highway 71 down to the Brownlee campground just before sundown. A crisp evening between two rushing creeks was quickly remedied as we dropped the next morning into the low elevation heat of Hells Canyon. A quick run over the dam and we were on our way to the epically steep Klienschmidt Grade—5,000 feet from canyon floor to canyon rim in just a few short miles. The panoramas were incredible, as we transitioned from desert back to high alpine forest. We putted along the Cuprum-Council dirt road without seeing another moving vehicle the entire way. We elected to take the long route to Huckleberry campground along Little Bear Creek—making note of a potential afternoon ride to Black Lake after we set up camp.

After we were situated at Huckleberry, we detached our Happy Trails boxes and made a run for Black Lake. Not 4 miles in and we ran into a mud slick that promptly turned into a deep snowbank. Black Lake would have to wait a few more weeks.

We continued to ride side roads and trails through the afternoon before retiring to camp for dinner. The next morning, we rode through the town of Bear and on to Council for breakfast. We made quick work of Idaho 52 back to Emmett, and Highway 16 into Star/Eagle/Boise.

So there you have it. There is still plenty of snow up in the mountains, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get someplace cool over the next few weekends. One thing’s for certain—you’ll have most of the more remote places to yourself as long as nobody thinks the road is passable.

First Ride of the Season

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:

Tour de Rad
The first back country road trip of the summer
By Andrew Mentzer

Andrew Mentzer

Friday, 8:10 a.m. Me, via text: “Give me a call when you get a second. I have a rad idea.”

8:55 a.m.: ring… ring… ring.

Me: “What’s good, man?”

Nolan: “Nothing. What’s this brilliant idea you have?”

Me: “Let’s fire up the bikes and hit the back roads this weekend. I’d like to see if we can get over the ridge from Garden Valley to Round Valley. There’s still a ton of snow in places, but I bet we can find a clear route.”

Nolan: “Sounds like a plan. When can you get off work?”

Me: “If I put my head down, probably between noon and 2 p.m.”

So it began.

Rigging and loading my custom-built Happy Trails Products Kawasaki KLR 650 for the first multi-day ride of the year brought a Cheshire grin to my mug. I hadn’t been out for a proper ride since the previous September, meaning a winter’s worth of pent-up throttle lust had gotten the better of me. With Idaho’s massive playground–approximately 30,000 miles of two track, fire roads and trails–yet again at my disposal, winter’s fickle barrier was no longer a point of frustration.

Nolan, my neighbor and buddy from high school, rolled up to my house at 1:15 p.m. on his BMW 800GS (also outfitted by Happy Trails). He had a comparable look on his face.

A quick fuel stop and we were making tracks over Rocky Canyon Road toward Idaho City. A few friends were celebrating a double birthday over the weekend at 10 Mile Creek on the South Fork of the Payette River. Nolan and I figured we’d join them for a night instead of heading straight for Garden Valley. After all, it was possible we wouldn’t be able to get over the pass between Garden Valley and Round Valley.
An evening of revelry dissipated into a peaceful night’s sleep, set against the dull roar of the South Fork’s icy spring runoff. Up at 7:30 a.m.–bikes rigged. We burned tarmac into Crouch on Banks-Lowman Road pursuant of breakfast at Wild Bills. A hefty egg scramble was just what the doctor ordered, alongside a dark roast cup of joe. After breakfast, we pored over a series of U.S. Forest Service maps to find an alternate route, in the event that we got stymied by snow.

Cruising serenely up the Middle Fork of the Payette river to Rattlesnake campground, I got the sense that a little adventure might be in store. The farther we traveled, the fewer people we saw. At the confluence of Silver Creek and the Middle Fork, we crossed the bridge to Road 670: gateway to Valley County (and Round Valley). It had been about three years since my last run over this route–a July trip with nary a skiff of snow in sight.

A few Crouch locals had noted that people were still snowmobiling on nearby Scott Mountain. It was not a comforting notion given our mode of travel.

A group of rednecks on side-by-sides nearly ran us off the road about midway up to the summit. Thankfully they were the last people we would see before getting back on pavement.
At the intersection with the 693 loop road, we continued north on Road 670 over to the Bacon Creek cutoff. It was decision time. If we stayed on 670, we would surely run into snow–although the road loses significant elevation quickly, meaning we would stand a better chance of making it to low ground without incident. If we continued to ride the saddles on the ridge, we probably wouldn’t make it more than a few miles without hitting substantial snowpack. It was a no-brainer: 670 all the way.

Not 300 yards down the south facing ridge we hit our first snow bank. The road was completely covered in about three feet of heavy, wet slop for a good 25 feet. I slowly lined up my front wheel with what appeared to be the flattest coverage and gunned it through without trouble. Nolan made it through cleanly as well. There was no turning back, as we could never get the bikes back uphill through that much snow–and neither of us brought a shovel. Less than a mile later we came across “the big one.” A shallow 60- to 70-foot snowbank covered a pitched section of road between two mogul-like whoops. I again lined up my front wheel and went for it. This time, the snowbank won. Not 10 feet in and my bike was buried up to the panniers.
Frustrated, I hopped off the bike, which was now wedged perfectly upright–its full weight supported by the snow–and started walking downhill to scout the next few turns. From the lack of tracks in snow or mud, it was clear no other vehicles had even attempted to traverse this route. Again, not a good sign. While I was gone, Nolan was kind enough to stomp out a path from my front tire to the downhill edge of the snow. With a little bit of lifting and cursing, we got both bikes through.

If we weren’t committed to this route before, we sure as hell were now.

We poked and putted along with the knowledge that we would be the first people to complete this route in 2014, as long as we didn’t have any more mishaps. As I meandered down the rough, rocky whoops of lower 670–feeling pretty good about our prospects–I felt my rear suspension completely compress, followed immediately by a loud, sickening snap. I thought for certain that I had flatted my rear tire–a fix that would likely take us into the evening hours on this steep loose section.

I found a relatively flat spot to pull over and looked underneath my left pannier. I hadn’t flatted. I had however run over a load strap rated at 2,000 pounds that snapped in half under the rotation of KLR’s rear wheel. I was lucky this didn’t damage the wheel, or worse yet, buck me off the front of the bike into the adjacent ravine. I rearranged the load on my bike and we pressed on.

Not far down the road, we got our first glimpse of Round Valley through the Ponderosa pines. We made our way down to Highway 55 from Sixty Lane, and pushed into Cascade for some R&R. Two nights of sitting on the beach and doing some lower elevation rides, and we cruised back into Boise with a few good stories, some excellent pictures and a solid appreciation for our good fortunes.

Total ride: 322 miles–about half on dirt.

10 Mile Creek, Garden Valley and Round Valley

Here are a few pics from my Memorial Day weekend ride from Rocky Canyon to 10 Mile Creek to Garden Valley to Round Valley. We were the first ones to make it all the way over road 670 in 2014, as evidenced by the previously untouched snowpack in several places on the ridge. Total ride: 322 miles–roughly half dirt and half tarmac.

Full feature should be out in the Boise Weekly shortly.








Lolo Motorway Happy Trails Rally

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:

Tackling the Lolo Motorway
A motorcycle haven in North Idaho
by Andrew Mentzer

The Lolo Motorway provides the adventurous with access to countless mountain lakes and viewpoints.

From Boise, head north on Highway 55 through McCall. Continue on Highway 95 to Grangeville. Turn right toward the Harpster Grade and take Highway 13 to Kooskia to the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and Highway 12. You can head left to Kamiah or right toward Lolo, Mont. The Lolo Motorway (officially dubbed Road 500) runs parallel to the north of Highway 12, with a handful of steep, often rough, perpendicular access roads along the way.

Peering over the endless expanse of the Clearwater National Forest from my 7,000-foot perch above the Lochsa River, the realization that I had waited all these years to explore one of the coolest places in Idaho settled in. I have reported on dozens of epic stretches across the Gem State, but the Lolo Motorway might take the cake for scenery, solitude and sheer enjoyment.

It may have been the perfect weather that made the trip especially good, but most folks would feel a similar appreciation on their first trip out. Its rugged ascent from Highway 12 to countless mountain lakes and overlooks which provide a peace hard to find elsewhere. This is the backcountry, so staying aware amid the temptation to let your head float off your shoulders is paramount.

My early September run on the Lolo Motorway was with the folks from Happy Trails Products in Boise, a dual sport motorcycle gear company. The second installment of their annual Lolo Motorway Rally utilized the town of Kamiah as home base, which proved the perfect location for each evening’s meeting of the minds.

Each morning, dozens of hardcore dual-sport and enduro enthusiasts convened in small groups to decide which way to go. Some chose remote single-track routes. Others (like myself, coming off a recent knee surgery) chose one of myriad Forest Service roads to explore. While I only completed a roughly 50-mile segment of the Lolo Motorway, there are hundreds of miles of rides/drives in the area that are sure to adequately whet your adventure whistle.


A good orientation point is the Lochsa Lodge on Highway 12, just a stone’s throw from the route’s eastern origin. We accessed our route from Road 107, between Lowell and Lochsa Lodge, and came out at the Powell Junction. Side routes include scenic Horseshoe Lake and the overlook at Indian Post Office. The more adventurous can get off the Motorway and head toward Superior, Mont., from routes adjacent to the North Fork of the Clearwater River. A long weekend is best to cover a respectable amount of ground, but you could spend a week in this region and not scratch the surface. Bring fishing gear. Lastly, be prepared for anything and make sure you have a back-up map in the event that your GPS leaves you hanging.

I have no clue why Lewis and Clark ever ventured any further west after stumbling across this pristine gem

Shipping Nightmares

Originally published in Trail Dust:

Shipping Woes

by Andrew Mentzer

Perhaps the most time consuming, soul crushing and expensive logistic of any RTW motorcycle tour is bike shipping. I can only speak from my own experience—I’m betting there are a few folks out there who have had good experiences—but I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys shipping motorcycles overseas.

For the first phases of my around the world ride, I had to ship my custom built 1988 Kawasaki KLR650 from Boise, Idaho to Sydney, Australia. My father had completed a similar trip in 1977, and upon my return I learned that a lot has changed in the last 35 years when it comes to international freight practices. He told me about the days when you would simply ride up to the port, ask around, and generally within an hour you had found the arrangement you were looking for. This could range from loading the bike in a sleeper cabin and riding along on the boat, to simply leaving the bike at the port and it would be waiting for you on the other end 2 weeks later. The endless import/export red tape and relentless penciling for all sorts of barely legitimate administrative fees didn’t exist in 1977, making the whole process much easier.

Carnet du passages en douane (customs bond)

Carnet du passages en douane (customs bond)

I had to get a carnet du passages en douane (customs bond) in order to import and export the bike to and from various countries. The carnet usually takes about 2 weeks to secure, and costs a few hundred dollars plus a deposit based on the value of the bike. I ended up getting an “equipment” ATA carnet through my business, which took 2 days and cost about $1,200 in total. When you arrive at a border crossing, you simply have the carnet stamped into one country and out of the other and you can avoid having to pay any duties up front.

Getting the bike to the port at Long Beach was no problem. Using Ebay’s UShip website, I located an independent trucker in Boise who was heading to Los Angeles. 36 hours later the bike was in the hands of Schumacher Cargo. Schumacher had verbally guaranteed me that the bike would be on its way to Sydney by the end of the next week, and would arrive within 30 days of disembarkation. They ended up sending the bike on a transshipment through SE Asia, and it arrived in Brisbane (not Sydney) nearly two months later.

Lesson #1: You get what you pay for. Schumacher is easily the cheapest (my cost was $640) freight forwarder from the west coast, but they make you pay with their lackluster customer service and appalling disregard for time frames.

Collecting the bike in Brisbane, Australia for the start of the trip

Collecting the bike in Brisbane, Australia for the start of the trip

After a few days in Sydney, I took a train north to collect the KLR from the port in Brisbane. By then, it had sat in a musty shipping container for the better part of 3 months, which resulted in numerous carburetor and fuel problems.

Following a whirlwind ride across Australia, I ended this leg of my around the world ride in Darwin, Australia—gateway to SE Asia. I left the bike with one of the shop managers at Cyclone Honda for safe keeping, and made arrangements to have the bike shipped from Australia to Singapore upon my return a few months later. Toll Marine Logistics (AKA Perkins) were very helpful and fair in how they handled this shipment across the Java Sea. The bike left and arrived on time, and their staff was very helpful. About $900 later and I was on my way in SE Asia.

There were a few administrative battles in Singapore and Thailand with the carnet, but nothing held me up for more than 4 hours. Crossing into Malaysia was a breeze. When I crossed the border from Alor Setar, Malaysia into Sadao, Thailand, the customs officials appeared to have no clue what to do with the carnet. I attempted to explain that they needed to take an importation sheet from the counterfoil and stamp the “import” box on my carnet, but the futility of trying to navigate the language barrier proved too much. I simply left them with the import sheet and had the official stamp and sign the carnet. They gave me a letter stating in Thai (the lettering looks like spaghetti thrown against the wall) that I would be responsible for 360,000 baht (about $11,000 USD) in customs fees if I were to leave the bike in Thailand. In other words, the bike would have to be exported at the end of this leg of the trip.

SE Asia

SE Asia

Following a mystifying ride across peninsular SE Asia, I found myself at the end of the road. I couldn’t get into Burma or China, so I left the bike with some friends in Bangkok and began working on a plan to have the bike shipped back to the USA before the expiration of the carnet (they are only good for 12 months), which would trigger the enormous customs charge noted earlier.

So here we are today. I first attempted to have the bike exported from Thailand on January 17th. It took nearly a month just to find a freight forwarder who could get it back to the USA, not to mention nearly $2,000 worth of customs, crating and shipping fees. After nearly 120 infuriating emails trying to decipher the freight forwarder’s broken English, and two months of back and forth, the bike ended up being shipped west—through the Middle East and across the Atlantic—instead of east like I had requested. It is now in New York and the shipping company is attempting to charge me more money before they release it for final shipment via truck back to Seattle.

Lesson #2: Getting a bike shipped from Thailand to the USA is a doozy. Hopefully the bike will arrive in Seattle in the next 2-3 weeks…

Next up is a ride back across the USA before heading off to Europe for a barn burner transcontinental ride across Europe, the Stans, and Russia. Keep an eye out for future posts on my father’s ride from 1977-8.

Trail Dust is a publication of

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