My first trail ride on a new motorcycle along Lava Mountain ridge goes about as well as expected. I should be healed in time for the annual ride with my brothers.
The South Fork of the Boise River cuts deep into prehistory. Its short stretch between Anderson Ranch and Arrowrock Reservoirs marks the most scenic canyons around Boise, I think.
As usual for this direction, I followed the rocky tracks behind Micron along the Oregon Trail wagon route from the early 1800s — a route to the American Dream now marked by discarded mattresses and shot out TVs.
At first I hit the rough two-track to Bonneville Point at KTM 500 speeds. The 1290 seemed to be soaking it up well until the top luggage box I was taking on a test run popped off (I hadn’t secured it correctly). Then I tipped over while turning around on the rolly rock hill where the box landed and scraped up more things. It was not a proud moment.
So that’s how this ride started.
I thought I was set for clear skies but clouds are building overhead. After a stop along dramatic cliffs above the South Fork, I continue uphill to the Y-Stop and pull in alongside a group of dusty UTVs.
“Where are you headed?” a lady passenger in the UTV beside me wonders after pulling the dust filtering bandana from her face.
“Up to Lava Ridge, I think.” She doesn’t seem to know where that is.
“We were up by Trinity,” she says.
“Oh yeah,” I reply. “Were you able to get to the top?” I expect there’s still snow up there but am not sure.
“No, the gate at the bottom was closed,” she explains. I know that gate well.
Rain has started falling as I depart with a bottle of root beer and bag of jerky tucked in the now properly secured top box behind me. I didn’t need snacks but always feel like I should get something at the Y-Stop.
I enjoy riding in the rain. I had a sticker on the front of the 500 that said, “If you don’t ride in the rain, you don’t ride.” I twist open the throttle as water beads on my visor and lean into the curves down Long Gulch Road until I reach the right-hand turn to Lava Mountain.
I stop a moment at the trailhead’s little campground before venturing onto single track. I can’t remember what I was reading but something recently informed me the plants here I’d been calling skunk cabbage are actually false hellebore. Now we both know.
My difficulties on the Oregon Trail this morning have me a little anxious for the narrow, sometimes steep trail up the mountain. I gain confidence as I get underway, though. The big bike is well balanced and it’s easy to modulate throttle. I can do this.
Unlike a couple of my other rides up this trail,¹ I can see the seasonal deadfall has already been cleared. Fresh wood faces have been added to years of cuts now hidden in brush lining the path. That’s good since I don’t have confidence to try hopping logs on the 1290.
Past the initial switchbacks, I stand on the pegs and am riding briskly when I feel an impact to my right foot harder than anything I remember experiencing. I’m pretty sure I’ve broken it.
“Fuck!” I yell into my helmet as I grab the brakes and manage to swing the kickstand down before sliding off onto a large log. It isn’t pain that vexes me as much as the sudden expectation of hardship getting off this mountain and getting around in coming weeks.
My stomach is beginning to feel sick but I decide I should have a go at the root beer and jerky to maximize energy before trying anything else. I rise to get them and find my foot can bear a little weight. Maybe it isn’t broken.
With some calories on board, I rise again and try to back the motorcycle off the trail to turn around. But it’s steep enough that any use of the front brake just makes it slide instead of turning. And although I can put light weight on it, I find I can’t use my right foot at all like I’d need to wrestle the bike around.
That being the case, I think I’ll see if I can just keep riding up the mountain until I find an easier place to turn around.
I am really glad I geared the bike down with a 45 tooth rear sprocket. The trail gets steeper and looser before it gets easier. I think I might be close to stalling a couple times trying to navigate steep root and rock steps but the bike just keeps chugging.
When finally I reach an area with room to turn around I think I might as well keep going. My foot hurts but riding isn’t making it hurt any worse. If I’m going to be forced off the bike to recover, I might as well finish out this ride.
Once up on the ridge, the trail is a beautiful and easygoing meander among wildflowers and stoic evergreens. The rain stopped a bit ago but heavy clouds still loom overhead. It’s so beautiful.
I switched from a 1200 GS to the KTM 500 about five years ago with the idea we might have more fun all riding our own motorcycles.¹ Hunter took to it but Jess and Brenna never did. I was sad about that since adventure with loved ones is my favorite thing about riding. Riding without them is opposite what I intended.
I have therefore been planning for some time to get back to a bike that’s good for a passenger but better than the GS on trails. Smashed foot notwithstanding, I’m excited for the adventures we’ll have on the 1290.
I ride as far as the intersection with Bear Gulch Trail 126, beyond which it would be hard again to turn around. I stand there alone and look silently across Smith Prairie several minutes before I begin retracing my tracks toward home.
My memory must lie to me. Or I just like grumbling. I keep choosing to ride this way around Arrowrock Reservoir and every time feel disappointed at how slow and winding it is, even on a motorcycle. But it can be pretty.
The reservoir is busy with people camping. It seems every level inch, and some not so level, is occupied with tents and RVs. It’s surreal to be the lone stranger passing through shadows while campfires illuminate laughing faces all around.
Cottony clouds blush brilliantly overhead as I reach Highway 21 for the last miles home. I glide along dark asphalt in what seems a watercolor painting. I’m disappointed I hurt myself but this is a beautiful way to end my first 1290 trail ride.
I hobbled and even crawled around at home for a day after this ride before submitting to X-rays which showed my foot wasn’t broken. Its toes, top and sides took turns turning blue for several weeks — tissue damage, I guess — but two months later it’s only sore if I curl my toes or sit cross-legged. Good enough.
With the gear change, I didn’t have my emergency beacon with me but wouldn’t have used it anyway since I was in no danger. It has to be a real emergency before I think about paying for a helicopter ride. It does highlight the usefulness of having a non-emergency channel of communication like inReach or SPOT. Had I been unable to ride, I could see calling friends for assistance.