Day 3: Garden Valley ID- Mackay, ID miles- 200, climbing – 10503 feet
In the early hours of my fourth day I was still cruising along the Payette River in Idaho. At sunrise, I was near Grimes Pass and my GPS elevation map was indicating climbing for the next 80 miles. In all honesty, there was no gradients above 3 percent most of the way up and it felt sort of flat. The scenery was breathtaking and the temperature tolerable. It was exciting to be going up at elevation and expected cooler climate there. My day started at 2000 feet elevation and I was going to face two major climbs at almost identical elevation around 7000 feet – Copper Mountain in the Sawtooth Range before Stanley, ID and Dickey Peak by Grand View Canyon after Challis.
I was on a long stretch before Lowman, ID with limited amount of food and desperately trying to reach town when the store opens at 7 am. The views along WIldlife Canyon were truly spectacular and I was enjoying myself.
The river was running at the bottom of the mountain and the slopes were covered in evergreen trees. Very interesting change of topography -from desert , the landscape quickly changes to forested area and then back to bare bone desert.
Upon arrival at the Lowman Mercantile store I was greeted by the friendly owner who offered hot coffee and freshly made breakfast burritos. The huge Shepherds dog really tried to snatch some of the sweets I was eating but the owner insisted I don’t give in. The dog had a better diet than me, who knew 🙂 My phone had no service pretty much the entire day so I decided to utilize their free WIFI. Sadly, it gave up on me -some sort of major error and a message to master reset it and delete the entire memory. I guess I am not the only one negatively affected by the hot temperature around here.
The next goal would now be Stanley, ID after the first major climb for the day, some 65 miles away. I was ready to move on and enter Boise National Forest.
At this point in the race me and Mike were separated by 10 to 15 miles and Barry was still in first place some 60 to 80 miles up the road. The temperature was increasing fast and I decided to switch my tactics for the day. I was trying to get to Copper Mountain and the first major summit at 7000 feet above sea level. The idea was to arrive there in the afternoon when hot and enjoy cooler temperatures. Sadly, as I reached the top, some of the forest was burned down to the ground. Honestly, I have been super fortunate to avoid wildfires so far considering the record breaking heat.
Luckily, I found nice campground with no tourists around. For some reason I decided to sleep on top of a picnic table and pulled up my bug bivy & sleeping mat. The ground was just a bit too wet for my liking and all kind of bugs were taking over. This didn’t really work for me as the shade moved and I was exposed to the heat, a really uncomfortable feeling. I ended up sleeping on the concrete floor by the restroom , it felt cooler and better than a wooden table under the sun. For whatever reason my adrenaline was high, I was not as tired as I wished and couldn’t really sleep for a long time. After wasting about one and a half hour with no more than 30 min of sleep time, it was time to go. I couldn’t waste more time as the chase for 2nd and 1st place was on.
As soon as I left , big dark clouds were forming above me and I got rained on. It was actually a welcoming experience and I enjoyed it like a little kid. After fast 15 mile descent, I arrived in the small but pretty and full of life town of Stanley, ID.
Fur trappers of the Hudson’s Bay Company discovered the Stanley Basin in the 1820s, but it was mostly avoided due to scarcity of beaver. Captain John Stanley, a Confederate Civil War veteran, led a party of prospectors through the area in 1863 (or 1864), but they found little gold and moved on and discovered the Atlanta lode on the south end of the Sawtooths.
I was now behind Mike some 65 miles . It appeared that he was done for the day and sleeping further down the road in Challis, ID. Stanley was a really nice stop with plenty of services. There were few resorts , takeout places and full of tourists and action. I was a happy person today being able to find food, drinks and having favorable terrain with a slight downhill for another 50 or so miles all the way to Challis. It was time to catch up to Mike while he is still sleeping.
Immediately after Stanley, I picked up US 75 E running parallel to the Salmon river ( also known as “The River of No Return“). This river apparently flows for 425 miles and drops more than 7000 feet from its headwaters near Galena Summit to its confluence with the Snake River. The area was inhabited for at least the last 8000 years by several tribes including the Nez Perce. The river was also considered sacred ground and a rich source of food for the indigenous people of the area, who relied on the abundant salmon species and other wildlife.
This was one of my favorite stretches of road in the entire race and everything seemed to work in my favor. Even when it rained on me, I was enjoying it and it was actually kind of strange. The climate is so dry that I was barely getting wet. Granted, it was just drizzling but it was so funny to physically touch my clothes and realize that I am not even getting wet.
There were many campgrounds along the Salmon River, nice cabins and a lot of fishermen trying their luck. Apparently, there was abundance of trout and salmon in this crystal clear river. You could see the bottom easily. I wished I had the time to stay here and enjoy myself outdoors but had to press on in attempt to close the gap on Mike. Luckily, he took about 6 to 7 hours off the bike time in Challis and that was enough to catch up.
I was finally in town when the sun started going down. Quick stop at the gas station right outside of town to grab the typical supply of cold sandwiches , Gatorade , coffee and some almonds. I checked my phone and Mike was still not moving. The thing about it was that the actual town is 3 miles up the road and off the official race route. I was not that tired to take a prolonged break, weighted in my options and decided to push on. I figured that if I move forward and establish a nice lead, by the time Mike leaves town, I will have enough time to sleep and still maintain 2nd position. Well, that was another tactical mistake.
As soon as I left, I was faced by another major climb of about 23 miles. There was some headwind but that died as the darkness arrived. It was surreal experience to enter Grand View Canyon at night time. It must be very pretty so see during daylight but a race is a race and you keep moving forward.
Checking Trackleaders today, it appears Mike left 1.5 hours after me. As I entered the Canyon it was already pitch dark and I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that it was a peaceful night with clear sky and I was moving forward. There was a spectacle of stars above, and by the way, where the heck are all the UFOs 🙂
It felt like I got swallowed into this never ending canyon. Not sure if there were animals around me, large cliffs or water on the side so I was pedaling in the middle of the road and keeping my eyes peeled. There was not a soul around but one passing car every hour or so. What earlier appeared to be a great idea and leave Challis without sleeping felt like a super bad move at the moment. I was struggling both physically and mentally and wasn’t sure how will I make it until sunrise. No idea where am I going to sleep, what and when will I eat next. . .
I gave it all I had left in the tank to get to the top of the climb and started descending. What was weird was that even the downhill was hard. It was windy and definitely not straight downhill and that really messed me up. I was cruising down for about half a mile and then immediate flat with a slight uphill, down again and then flat. The wind made the descent non existing since the gradient was no more than 2 to 3 percent. This continued all the way down into the valley. On top of everything, the temperature dropped to 43 F and I was freezing to the point where I had to put all my long sleeve clothes and rain gear just to stay warm. Before Mackay, ID , I was shivering, sleepy and tired , not a good combination.
The town was named in honour of John William Mackay who owned the local copper mines
Time to find some shelter and take a nap. I now remembered that USPS locations are great to charge your devices and even take a quick nap. Pretty sure they don’t advertise it as rest stop for bike travelers and I could be in trouble but tough times require swift and desperate decisions. In my mind the only way this was doable was if I get there in the middle of the night and just enter without anybody else noticing.
All went well, I was finally warming up, had my mat on the floor, all devices charging and able to sleep for about 2 hours. Altogether I was in town and off the bike for 3.5 hours. I purchased some supplies from the gas station in town at sunrise and took off. According to Trackleaders, by the time I left Mackay , Mike was about 40 miles ahead of me. It was a game of cat and mouse. Barry was still 1st , some 110 miles ahead. Nothing concerning this early in the race I thought.
My fourth day ended some 10 miles outside of Mackay ,ID on my way towards the border with Wyoming.