Adventure May 13, 2015

Throttling into the Backcountry

Dirt Bike Riding Opens Up a World of Exploration

Living in the Wood River Valley, it doesn’t take much time or effort to slip civilization and escape into the wilderness. A short hike or mountain bike ride puts you out of view of roads, houses or other indications of development save the occasional single-track trail threading through the mountains.

However, it also doesn’t take long for those jaunts to become the norm and for the feeling of adventure to dissipate, as each tree becomes recognizable, every rock familiar, like so many cracks in the sidewalk in front of your favorite coffee shop.

It’s at this point that the desire to venture farther and deeper into the mountains drives you to look for a means to access these far-flung reaches. And it’s at this point you might find yourself swinging a leg over the saddle of a dirt bike.

“You can just see so much more in the day,” said Bruce Smith, who’s been riding dirt bikes in the Wood River Valley since 1980. “As much as I love skiing, it’s usually all over in three or four minutes for a run. On a motorcycle, you can keep going for hours and have constant entertainment without having to stop when you get into that groove.”

For the uninitiated, and perhaps contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing easy or lazy about taking a motorcycle off road and onto the hundreds of miles of narrow trails that course across the mountains of the greater Sun Valley area. These machines, usually weighing between 250 and 400 pounds, demand your full attention, a significant physical and mental effort to navigate between trees, over rocks and up steep terrain.

“This sport really complements a lot of the other activities we do around here, especially mountain biking,” said Smith, one of those mid-50s Ketchum residents who easily appears 10 years younger thanks to a steady diet of exercise and mountain air. “It gives you the strength and gets you used to speed. It’s the sense of motion that allows you to get in a flow where you learn to relax and kind of zone out. As with skiing and mountain biking, this three-dimensional motion—it helps you be one with the universe.”

Yancy Caldwell takes a wide line up Red Warrior trail.

While there are two local motocross tracks, at Ohio Gulch and Croy Canyon, the majority of the riding community can be found in small groups on the extensive trail system that spans both sides of Bellevue and spreads north, stretching into the Pioneer, Smoky and White Cloud Mountains, and up over Galena Pass into the Sawtooth and Boulder Ranges.

“It’s not about going fast or hearing the motor rev,” said Chris Click, who, at 68, has been riding in the Sun Valley area for three decades. “I’ll ski 80 days in the winter, but you just don’t have the same access when skinning or hiking. What’s really specific to dirt biking is seeing how big the world is—this amazing quantity that can come with the quality.”

With a pair of dual-sport bikes, which are heavier than dirt bikes, but well suited to the state’s innumerable fire roads, each with over 80,000 miles on their engines, Click is no stranger to the endurance rides that are available from his mid-valley door. 

“I just like to ride with a couple friends and not see anyone all day. I guess that would make my favorite route the ‘No See ‘Em Trail,’” Click said with a laugh.

Unlike many other states, where motorized access to trails is becoming increasingly restricted, Idaho has an enormous amount and variety of terrain available for exploration. 

Broc Sheue braves a deep water crossing of Warm Springs Creek.

“I hate having to put my motorcycle into a truck, but the Boulders and White Clouds are just so unique because you really feel like you are up in the mountains,” Smith said. “It’s a true backcountry experience where you’re up into the rocks and alpine environment. When you go up between the two ranges and come out in a completely different drainage, you can see and feel how lucky we are to be able to ride here.”

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.