The fourth of our five day ride begins with single track. We climb through trees from our meadow campsite to ridges that lead us to the historic Red Ives Ranger Station. Then we speed through showers on the little highway along the St. Joe River for much needed fuel in Avery before continuing back to forest climbs up to Huckleberry Lookout.
I attended a Meet the Teacher event at Brenna’s school a few weeks ago where we were given the opportunity to leave notes for our kids. I left a ridiculous stream of consciousness, semi-inappropriate for second grade, about her teacher’s dress, birds flying around my head and her little chair hurting my butt. I decorated it with little drawings. I think Brenna’s making a reference here.
My brothers and I leave our campsite in the isolated meadow and rejoin the narrow Simmons Creek trail heading upstream to the ridge and eventually, we hope, Simmons Tower Road.
Foliage already wearing fall colors carpets the airy forest. It’s a beautiful way to start the day.
Series of stair step roots give us a workout but we’re happy to endure that instead of exposure to big drops. We had some concern for the latter. We play it safe and use teamwork past a couple rocky climbs.
Jeremy achieves the most visually spectacular spill midway up a longer climb. It’s daunting enough that I stopped and walked it, to see what happened around its bend, before I ran it.
“Carry enough speed to coast past the bend,” I suggest. It’s obvious a few have been stuck there where it’s dug out against smooth rocks. What I don’t expect is the TW’s fat, happy tire to get there and latch on. Joel and I drop our bikes and begin running up the hill the moment we see the front lift and Jeremy go vertical (Jesse was out-of-sight, above the hill).
“You okay?” I yell.
“Yeah,” Jeremy answers, kind of casually. He sprang free before the TW finished its flip. We look it over and are surprised to find nothing came loose. Nothing broke. Just a bent but still usable brake lever. Go TW.
I find the bits of exposure we face stressful not for risk of injury — I’m pretty sure we’d just hop away from a falling bike — but for how much time it would take to recover and repair a motorcycle that’s tumbled down a hill or fallen off a ledge. Bones mend but time is precious.
My “almost to the road” promises finally come true as we emerge on Simmons Tower Road, all of three miles and nearly that many hours from where we camped.
Although glad to be done with that trail for the day, I think we’re all glad we did it. Pushing our limits and solving problems together is a lot of what these rides are about.
We stopped at the Red Ives Ranger Station a few years back.¹ It’s nice to see it unchanged, save for the trees we sat under apparently toppled by wind.
A small dog yaps as I enter the station’s front door. A fire is crackling across the room. It’s very warm. It feels good. I didn’t realize I was cold. An older lady emerges, half stooped, from a back room with a welcome.
“There’s a guest book there, if you want,” she says, gesturing. “Back there we have a room set up as a lookout and one as a small museum.”
The station host seems surprised when I mention we saw snow on Shefoot. “Nobody reported that in.”
“I took some pictures. Let me show you,” I say, circling behind the desk she’s sat behind.
“I’ll ride ahead to Avery for gas then return and meet you however far you happen to get,” I propose. The routing software lets me input fuel capacity and mileage to calculate where on the route we’ll need gas so I knew the Husky would need a transfer to make the last forty miles — no big deal.
Slow trails and missed turns mean we’ve all burned more gas than expected, though, so I don’t have quite enough to transfer and still make it myself. I’ll continue with recent tradition and play the fuel tanker.
We are pelted by solid rain as we speed along the St. Joe River — free car wash! Jesse gets within ten easy miles of Avery. I ran ahead, as planned, so him and Jeremy don’t wait too long aside the road before I return with a full tank to siphon from.
Clouds part and I see a pair of bald eagles descending from tree tops to the river as we ride together on steaming asphalt to town. It’s beautiful.
Joel’s 450 began dripping transmission fluid and Jesse lost part of his fender the first day. On the second day, Joel cooked a couple fuses. On the third day, the TW almost wouldn’t run (sticking float, we theorize) and my front tire began leaking air.
Today, Jesse is losing his clutch. We’re lucky it held for the morning’s single track. Barely. Fortunately, it seems only to be a fluid leak. Like the other issues, we’re able to patch things together.
The Scheffy store proprietors watch like Statler and Waldorf, the old men in The Muppet Show balcony, alternately chortling and criticizing as Jesse buttons up the Husky and we prepare to roll.
Filled now with gas and hope, we continue down the highway to turn toward Huckleberry Mountain just before reaching Calder again.
The day’s rain has again left tractable ground. We speed upwards, a race against sundown.
I had no particular campsite identified for tonight. I figured we’d encounter something but so far nothing has presented itself. Twilight may compel an inglorious spot along the road. The only flat area here on the summit is littered with splinters and nails from the removed tower. It’s too bad. Otherwise it would be awesome to set up here.
The 1975 tower was removed in 2014. The group that did the work thoroughly documented the effort on a Facebook page.
In Fall 2013, after many years of vacancy, weathering, neglect and vandalism, the lookout was placed for auction by the USFS through a Government Auction. Part of the purchase agreement is the lookout must be moved from it’s current location. Living in Idaho we’ve come to enjoy the rich history of lookouts and have purchased it to restore and preserve its rich history. Our goal to reassemble in N. Central Idaho for generations in the future to enjoy.¹
We set up along a bend in the road just below the old lookout. It’s an easy walk to the summit to watch the sunset. I go up alone for some images and am surprised to find I have cellular service so I make good on a promise to check-in with Jessica, if possible, today (I thought it would be from Avery, if anything).
As darkness falls, we sit side-by-side, staring into the embers of our final fire, passing the last of our drinks and delighting, as always, in a shared sense of humor.