Mettle Riders Aden Kailin and Bennett Shane set out on a "Farewell Summer Tour" through some of the most iconic, Mid-Western riding they could find. Both sent a Field Report of their favorite day of the trip with some good photos from the rest...
Day 1: Sun Valley Road - Ketchum, Idaho - Bennett Shane
After rolling into Ketchum, Idaho in the middle of the night and hastily making camp, we woke up to a sunny and smoke-free autumn morning, eager to get caffeinated, kitted up, and on our bikes. Without time to do the whole 120-mile loop, we decided to do a 50-ish mile out-and-back on the route of Rebbecca's Private Idaho, over Sun Valley Road and into the valley to the northeast. Just like all things Ketchum, the road leading north out of town was nothing short of posh, with gently curving rollers, smooth pavement, and inviting views of the mountain landscape, just beyond mansions and lush golf course fairways. The easy times didn't last long. After a couple miles, we were reminded that this was rugged and remote northern Idaho. The road pitched up to over 8% and turned to gravel, traversing the shady east side of a dramatic mountain cut, with the opposing, west side of the cut beginning to glow in brilliant morning sunlight.
The surface continued to gnarlify as we climbed, with cue-ball size rocks littering the road, loose and sandy sections in the apexes of turns, washboard, and ever-decreasing "A" lines. My usual method of gauging progress on unfamiliar climbs by watching the sky gradually broaden overhead was futile in this case, as a multitude of rocky peaks with sparse vegetation seemed to spontaneously generate ahead of us at every turn in a beautiful yet ominous display of deep wilderness. The big sky of Idaho containing it all in a private, sealed capsule of crisp mountain air and diffused light.
Eventually, we were threaded through a chute of fir trees, past a campground and realized we'd reached the high point on the ride profile. The descent to the east was short, but combined with a block tailwind, enabled us to hit the valley floor with a good bit of pace, and we took turns letting each other roll ahead while the other sat up to take photos of this magnificent theater.
The pristine gravel road flattened out, and the valley began to broaden and simplify, eventually punctuated by an airstrip just off the road, which seemed to demarcate a sensible turn around point.
In general, out-and-back rides don't make a ton of sense, because vast road networks make all sorts of loops and other route configurations possible. But in a remote and mountainous setting, out-and-backs are often the only option, and can actually be super dope, because you get to see a stunning landscape from different angles and in different light conditions. This route certainly falls into this category. As we began to work our way back out of the valley, heading southwest toward Ketchum, our perspective flipped along with the wind direction, essentially hitting the reset button on what had already been a thrilling ride. We climbed back out of the splendor of the valley, gazing upon peaks that were previously obscured. We hit the gas hard into a hectoring wind, knowing we had a long and gorgeous descent ahead of us, back down the valley to Ketchum.
As the most scenic and speedy section of the descent commenced, we caught up to a slow-moving SUV and its pawl of noise and dust. Rather than trying to pass it, we stopped, letting it shudder down the road out of sight and mind. We took in the view for a moment, then decided to take turns sessioning and photographing this top section, which was now boldly contrasted in the late morning sunlight. Once satisfied that we had captured this segment of road, and seeing no vehicles around, we began to make our way down. The twisty, rock-strewn road that had been moderately challenging to manage going uphill at 8mph, soon became a harrowing, G force-triggering, bone-rattling freefall back to the valley floor.
Back in Ketchum, we had lunch at the Kneadery. Over much-needed cheeseburgers, we hashed out the logistics of the following day's ride, which lay another seven hours to the east, in southwest Montana, and would turn out to be the most epic day either of us have ever had on our bikes.
Day 10: La Sal Mountain Loop – Moab, Utah - Aden Kailin
Adventures are inherently unpredictable. Adventures often start when things stop going according to plan. Adventures aren’t always fun all of the time. But nearly every time, we look back and laugh at those times when the plan goes out the window, when all you want is to be somewhere warm drinking coffee, when nature tries its hardest and succeeds in making you feel like a tiny and helpless speck of dust on earth. There’s something about the unpredictable nature of an adventure that keeps calling our name, luring us in for another. One quickly learns to accept that the lows of these experiences are what make the highs stand out in high relief. On a two-week road trip with ambitious rides planned across six states, we were guaranteed to have plenty of adventures, and that nice plan that we spent hours perfecting… you guessed it. It flew out the window more than once.
I’ll preface this day of spectacular riding around Moab with a recap of the 24-hours leading up to the ride. I was alone, having dropped Bennett off in Denver so he could fly back to Portland for work, and I spent the day driving from Denver to Moab. I was anxiously trying to get to Moab by late afternoon so I could set up camp and do a short ride out Kane Creek road to keep my legs moving and catch the sunset. By 5:00pm I was making my way through Moab, following Bennett’s detailed directions to “turn right at the McDonalds, and stay on that road until you hit the campground.” Unfortunately, this first campground was full so I continued down the road another mile or so until I came across the next. I stopped to read the campground sign, which displayed two camping options: “premium” and “budget”. The premium sites featured a picnic table, fire ring, and nice shade trees for $35 a night. Not my idea of premium amenities, but I suppose when compared to their budget option, they were. The budget sites were located in a large, mostly dirt field, with no table, no fire ring, no shade or protection from the wind, and the option to set up camp anywhere you pleased for a cool $20 a night. Due to my lack of familiarity with the area and in my haste to get riding, I decided it was good enough, and started to set up camp using my car to block the wind and dust.
With about an hour of light left, I set off on the short out and back ride up Kane Creek road. My legs were heavy from the 30,000ft of climbing they had endured the week prior. Brain: fried as well. As I slowly picked my way through washboard gravel and descended into a large canyon, I discovered a string of campgrounds that were $15 a night set in one the most picturesque landscapes I had ever laid eyes on. I tried to keep positive, and simply enjoy being surrounded by such beauty, but I couldn’t help but be a little sour about the $20 I spent to get sand blasted in a field down the road. As the sun slipped behind the canyon walls, I made my way back to my tent and began to formulate a dinner plan in my head. There’s nothing like a warm meal to lift your spirits after a long day of travel.
As I heated my rice and refried beans in the dark, I made the unfortunate discovery that a small rodent had at some point found the bag of tortillas, nibbling multiple holes through all of them. Tired, hungry, and feeling defeated, I decided to change the dinner menu to “rice and bean bowl”, adding a pack of taco seasoning for flavor. I succeeded in making the saddest, most disgusting, inedible pile of salty food of my life. After serval attempts to mask it with generous swigs of whiskey, I gave up and opted to swallow any remaining pride, and made a PB&J before crawling into my tent and contemplating how on earth I was going to survive the big ride I had planned for the morning. It’s times like these when you tell yourself “tomorrow is a new day”, and begin to have resentful thoughts about the plethora of highly curated Instagram and Tinder accounts touting their love for “adventures”.
In an effort to beat the desert heat, I got an early start the next day and had camp packed up shortly after sunrise. With one last quick look at Google Maps, and a queue sheet scribbled on the back of my campsite receipt, I hopped on the main highway and pedaled my way out of town into a determined headwind. After about twenty minutes on the highway, I saw a sign for a left turn towards La Sal Mountain Loop road. I stopped, confused for a moment, as my first turn was supposed to be on my right. Another quick check of the map confirmed a sneaking suspicion that I had started the loop in the opposite direction that I had planned. Google Maps has a habit of inverting itself at the worst possible times when you’re half asleep in strange cities. User error aside, I dredged on into the headwind, climbing my way out of the valley. Not long after leaving the highway I came across signs warning that the road was closed 15 miles ahead. Between feeling rather like an idiot for my navigational blunder, and the fact that I was riding alone, up a hill, into a fierce headwind, I decided I’d ride until the road was closed and turn around making it an out and back ride and cut the mileage in half.
As I continued to climb, I started to find my legs and finally found protection from the wind in the hills. The road turned to switchbacks, eventually offering a reward for my work with a photo-worthy view back down into Moab. It was here I left my struggles of the morning to die. Game on.
The landscape began to change from Martian desert to lush green hills. After a long 10 miles, the road turned to gravel and I was stopped by a construction flagger. I asked if I could continue riding, and was directed to talk with the driver of a pilot van. When posed with the same question, he looked at me like I was crazy and offered to give me a ride to the top of the mountain pass. I politely declined, feeling like it was rather obvious that I was out in the middle of nowhere with the intention to ride my bike. Without another word, I had a personal pilot van to draft while riding gravel that couldn’t have been laid more than a day or two before. It was big. It was loose. It was sketchy. The looks on the construction workers faces were priceless as they stopped to watch their buddy in the pilot van lead a lunatic in lycra up the mountain road.
Our time together came to an end with a smile and a wave as we reached a gate that read “road closed”. Not wanting to turn around at this point, I begrudgingly began descending down the detour route and was immediately met with a greeting committee of curious cows in the middle of the road. I stopped to take pictures, and called Bennett, updating him on my blunders and progress. After being reminded that the best part of the ride lay beyond the road closed signs, I decided to turn back and investigate. I talked with another flagger, and when posed with the question of continuing on, her shrug was my permission to try. I proceeded, dodging massive heavy machinery, waiting for fresh gravel to be laid in front of me, waving at the construction workers, and trying not to piss anyone off or get run over.
I crested the top and began one of the most jaw dropping gravel descents of my life. With the road closed to cars, and construction traffic thinning, I was again graced with a view of the desert valley below before being thrown into butt-puckering S curves that belong on a racetrack. This continued until I was spit back out onto brand new tarmac that swept me back down to the Colorado River. Yet again smacked with a hellacious headwind, I powered my way along the river, sprinting over the rollers, counting down the mile post markers to Moab, and riding the waves of adrenaline that come from true adventure.
As I rolled back into town, bottles empty, all of my matches burnt, I thought back to the morning. Ashamed to think that I had almost let the fear of defeat turn me around. I was reminded of two important lessons that day. One: adventures aren’t all glory. They are the coexistence of the highs and lows, and are only what you make of them. Two: never take a road closed sign at face value.