It is a special prime number year, eleven, for the annual Abbott Brother Ride. We finally make good on three years of intention to ride the historic Magruder Road Corridor and are also able to return to the regular five days of riding instead of just four. Let the good times roll.
Our meet-up point is Elk City in the mountains of North Idaho. We all begin travelling a day early to be ready for a Friday morning departure. I’ve been hoping it would cool down since a sweltering ride to Troy Days (annual hometown celebration) in July¹ but again I see triple digit temperatures as I’m departing Boise. Ugh.
I stuffed Brenna’s Puff the Magic Dragon behind the windscreen thinking she’ll be amused to see pictures of Puffy’s adventures. The Peter, Paul and Mary song is among the repertoire we’ve sung together each night since she was a baby.
Traffic isn’t bad and the 1290 makes passing both safe and fun on riverside Highway 55. Temperatures are more bearable in Long Valley. I grabbed a snack in Cascade at Harpos but haven’t needed an emergency slushy like the Troy Days ride.
I bypass McCall as usual then wait with others at road construction below the Little Ski Hill a few minutes before entering the small mountain pass along Goose Creek. There I experience one of the pleasures of riding, to feel and smell the rivers of cool air flowing from higher elevations through forest ravines. It’s refreshing and invigorating.
Like every year lately, wildfires factor prominently into the ride plan. The highway along the Little Salmon River between New Meadows and Riggins is reduced to 45 MPH to accommodate several staging areas to fight the Rattlesnake Creek fire. The riding is a bit tedious.
A downside to directly experiencing the air and environment while riding is the smell of death. I seem to pass ripe roadkill every few miles. Perhaps the fire activity is to blame. Puffy and I don’t like it.
After a fuel-up and another snack in Grangeville, I descend quickly to the South Fork of the Clearwater River and Highway 13. I’ve never ridden this highway before. My god, it’s a thrill, and beautiful too. And it just goes on and on. It makes me think I should get some lessons at a track to improve my cornering.
Our Uncle Pete, one of our dad’s older brothers, was gracious to let us leave our vehicles parked at his Elk City cabin while we ride. He won’t be there and none of us have been there, and his place is actually a few miles out of town, so I was anxious to arrive while it’s still light so I can look for the few clues he gave.
I passed by it at first (there are no mailboxes with addresses or names) but it’s easy to confirm this is the right cabin. Our family name is everywhere.
Joel won’t be arriving for a few more hours and Jeremy won’t be here until the small hours of morning so I said I’d leave my motorcycle or something by the road to help them find the place. I hope it does the trick.
The evening is pleasant so I just lay out my sleeping bag on Pete’s front deck with a cup of whiskey and a storytelling podcast playing on my phone. A few moments later, it seems, I realize the story being told isn’t the one I started listening to. I guess I fell asleep. I squint at the screen to turn it off.
Then next time I awake it’s to the sound of tires on gravel and the particular squeak and clunk of a trailer. I bet that’s Joel. I hear a truck door slam and footfalls.
“Joel?” I call.
He accepts my offer of some whiskey and we sit together on the deck making humorous banter until he retires to a mattress in the back of his truck.
It is the deepest part of night, still and moonless, when I awake again. I hear tires once more and see headlights stopping. It must be Jeremy. I’m relieved both brothers are safely here. The highway into Elk City was great afternoon fun on a motorcycle but I worried about them driving it tired in the dark.
We sleep as long as we like then, after some Jetboiled coffee, Joel and Jeremy begin packing their motorcycles. Since we’re riding some highway and nothing harder than forest roads this year, Joel is using his GS 800 and lending his KTM 450 to Jeremy for a bit more speed than the TW.
We stop for breakfast in town before beginning the real ride. The omelette portions at the café are huge. I think we could have split one order three ways.
It probably won’t do anything for my dating life, should that occur, but I’m more fond of these small town greasy spoons than a Barbacoa or Chandlers (nice restaurants in Boise). They seem more real. And quieter.
We have quite a few miles of gravel before we get to what I think of as the real forest roads, just dirt, with expansive wilderness views. I am impressed to come upon three moose standing in the road. I’m lucky to see some almost every year. They glance at me and do their gangly run into thick trees before I can come to a stop for a picture.
Much of the forest up here is burned and the road beaten to dust.
The historic, 101-mile, single-lane, mostly-unimproved Magruder Corridor Road winds through a vast undeveloped area, offering solitude and pristine beauty as well as expansive mountain views. The corridor was created in 1980 leaving a unique road that enables a traveler to drive between two wildernesses: the 1.2 million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to the north, and the 2.3-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to the South. The road itself has changed little since its construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.¹
The most common pictures I saw when reading about Magruder were of Burnt Knob. When we come upon the turn to the lookout, I know we’ll have to check it out.
The one-and-a-half mile road is narrow and quite rocky in places, requiring finesse on the bigger bikes. The 1290 continues to impress, though. I stand on the pegs and it rolls tamely over everything, even the last sharp turn littered with loose rocks.
I am a little surprised to find myself suddenly in a veritable crowd. I scan quickly for an available spot level enough to put the kickstand down. As I thread between some side-by-sides, motorcycles and a Jeep, my soft pannier brushes a supermoto that must have been leaning only lightly on its kickstand.
“Oh shit,” I think as I see it start to tip in the corner of my eye.
“What the hell!?” a man calls out.
I can tell right away he’s being facetious. Thankfully. I’m nonetheless a bit mortified.
“We were so impressed, you riding that thing up here,” he continues, “then you fucking knock over my motorcycle.” Everyone is laughing.
“Oh god, I’m so sorry,” I announce with my helmet still on. “I have whiskey!” I proclaim, having assessed this audience. “Everyone can have a shot!”
I offer more apologies as I verify the fallen motorcycle is okay then extract the Bushmills from the bottom of the same bag that caused this trouble. Several swigs are shared.
It is clear why this is one of the best known Magruder stops. We stand on dramatic outcrops plummeting to lakes and mountains in every direction.
Jeremy and Joel missed the excitement so as they arrive at the top, my mistake is reiterated with ever more hyperbole.
The Jeeps, truck and motorcycles are a group from Boise, we learn.
“Which way are you headed?” one of them asks.
“We’re probably going to camp on the Selway,” I answer.
“Oh, us too.”
Apparently this is one of the few lookouts that isn’t locked. It’s nonetheless in pretty good shape for such an old structure.
Perhaps because I’ve had enough razzing, nobody says anything when I pull the little stuffed dragon from my dash for a mountaintop Puffy picture to send Brenna.
I quickly turn while walking by and snap a picture of the side-by-side group taking pictures of one another.
“He just photobombed you!” one of the guys says, laughing, to the lady taking the picture.
The three of us stay until the raucous bunch have left to continue their travels. It was fun to meet some folks but also nice to stand quietly and hear only the wind in the trees.
Clouds on the horizon appear smeared towards the ground as wind picks up. It seems rain is on the way.
“We could wait it out inside,” Jeremy suggests, nodding toward the lookout. It sounds cozy but I’m a little worried that plan could have us stuck here too long.
Rain hits the powdery dust like micrometeorites. In my mind’s eye I see the slow-motion, close-up video of each crater throwing its ejecta skyward.
The road after Burnt Knob is more my speed. And rain is helping settle the dust. Coming around a corner to a saddle, I see the Jeep from Burnt Knob with its hood up. I swing around its far side to see if there’s any help we might offer but the former wisecracker is all business. I doubt he needs an audience.
“We’ll save you a spot on the Selway,” I say with attempted sympathy before speeding off.
A mile down from the saddle, three motorcyclers of that group are huddled out of the rain under trees aside the road. I rev the motor and pretend to be aiming at the motorcycle I knocked over earlier. They laugh as I abruptly stop.
“I don’t know if you guys have radios or something,” I tell them, glancing back toward the ridge, “but your friends with the Jeep are having trouble back there.”
“Oh, where at?” they wonder.
“Up at the saddle where the campground is,” I explain. They don’t seem surprised so I give a nod and resume riding.
The rain didn’t last long enough to settle the dust so I’ve tried to ride rapidly to stay well ahead of my brothers, hoping dust settles before they pass. But the turnout at Observation Point, right before a campground, compels me to swing in for the view south across half-burned mountains to the blue curtain of rain. This is the stuff we came to enjoy.
I hustle to continue on, stopping only a moment at the road’s namesake site marked by a sign explaining the 1863 history of Lloyd Magruder.
The road descends from here to the Selway. I’ve caught a few glimpses of the river between the trees far below so I know it won’t be long. I’m glad we’re getting there fairly early. I enjoy having time to visit with my brothers around the fire. I’ll stop and wait for them once I get to the river.