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    Otso Journal

    Bikepacking the Idaho Cold Springs

    Perspectives on climate change and the rides we love

    Photos and text by Kira Minehart

     

    Perhaps you’ve heard of the Idaho Hot Springs bikepacking loop. It’s a multi-day bikepacking trip that weaves along gold-medal trout streams, flower-dotted meadows, self-made towns, and of course, hot springs. Unfortunately, the season for enjoying this route is getting much shorter and riskier due to climate change.

    In June 2021, the Pacific Northwest experienced a record breaking heat wave — just in time for my bikepacking trip along the Idaho Hot Springs route. Before departing, the owner of the one-stop-shop in Lowman, Idaho warned that temperatures would soar above 100 degrees for the next week. My riding partner and I decided to forge ahead anyway, confident that a dip in the multitude of streams would keep us cool.

     

    After one hour of riding, my partner and I realized this was not the trip we had planned for. Typically, average June temperatures in Lowman, Idaho hover around 75 degrees Fahrenheit - not 105, as it were. In these conditions, the heat was visible and the air still as songbirds stayed perched in the shade of Pinus Ponderosa. This historic heat wave catalyzed many surprises along our route; all of which were consequences of the beast called climate change.

    The least concerning among them was our ill-prepared gear. The thin plastic bag of Winco chocolate-covered cranberries in my partner's frame bag immediately turned into a goopy hazard that threatened to destroy whatever clean and organized equipment we had. Secondly, I never needed my down puffy jacket affixed to my fork mounts; instead, it served as an insulating pad to keep my rear from roasting whenever I took a roadside snack break. Finally, a lightweight swimsuit seemed like a good idea for the “family-oriented” hot springs, but it was hardly used as we only stopped at two of twenty hot springs along our route. The warm baths were hardly appealing; instead, they felt like a menace in dialogue with the scorching sky.

     

    Perhaps a bit more unnerving was that no amount of water could keep me satiated — I yearned for more than a liter of water per hour and it seemed there weren’t enough electrolytes in all of Idaho to keep me thinking straight. We were not prepared for many of the higher-elevation streams (above 6,000 feet) to be dry or nearly there, likely due to the unprecedented heat and lack of precipitation. Unfortunately, yet another heat wave graced this area only a few weeks after our trip; certainly sapping whatever water was left in these fragile streams.

    The most alarming surprise was the proximity to and threat of wildfire. At the time, there were no active fires on our route; they would start a few days after we’d finished (and continue throughout the summer.) However, the omnipresent nature of wildland fire was all around us. A nearly 100-mile stretch of gravel roads in Boise National Forest was entirely burnt and no longer resembled the “green” forested land cover suggested by Google Maps. These vast expanses of blistered timber provided no shade and made for contemplative, if dangerous, bikepacking.

     

    Ultimately, we made it through the route with many laughs and musings. We affectionately referred to the experience as the Idaho Cold Springs adventure as our days were characterized by fully-kitted river baths — not serene hot spring soaks. Although I’ll hold onto many happy memories from this week in Idaho, more salient are the lessons I learned about being a bikepacker; or hiker, boater, birdwatcher, and camper in the era of climate change.

     

    Heat waves like this one will not seem novel in decades to come. Not only will global average temperatures continue to rise as carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, but extreme events such as this will become more common according to expert scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Extreme weather events, in addition to gradual warming and ecological shifts will yield more fire closures and evacuations, damaged roads and trails, and increasingly dangerous conditions for all pursuers of outdoor recreation.

     

    This is the hot world we inherited. It is also the world we choose to create. Until we have global, progressive, and thoughtful action on carbon emissions, land-use change, food systems, environmental justice, and more — this is the world that will remain.

    “Take precautions if you spend time outside,” stated the National Weather Service during June’s historic heat wave. Perhaps the best precaution we can take right now is to vote, trust science, and enjoy summer bike rides while we still can.

     

    Tour Divide 2021: Ken's Waheela C Setup

    Ken Zylstra is hitting the Tour Divide for the first time this year on his Waheela C. In our interview with him, he is referring to this attempt as his "Lemonade Ride" in response to some recent life changes. See his loaded rig and learn more about Ken's preparation ahead of the big event.

    Read more

    Etter Olson 2020 Look Back

    Perhaps like everyone, we had PLANS for 2020: international research (a collaboration with a Palestinian cycling club), bike tours, laid back bikepacking trips and more intense races. We planned to ride around things (Great Salt Lake, the Cedar Mountains, and Minnesota), through things (really big trees in Big Sur and the arches around Moab), across things (the Flint Hills of Kansas and the state of Utah) and over things (clear sandstone in Capitol Reef and endless gravel roads of the West Desert). In short, we hoped to ride the Waheela Cs through as many adventures as we could.

     

    Perhaps we should have taken the first day of our March tour through Big Sur as an indication of what was to come.

    Central Coast Tour (March 2-8)

    We left Fairfax in the cold, and by the time we had crossed the bridge into San Francisco, it had started raining, and raining hard. The state needed the rain, we didn’t. We took 6 days to ride from Fairfax to Santa Monica. Rolling along the beaches, over bridges, and through the forests of Big Sur. News of the pandemic chased us down the coast. On the last day of the tour, we learned that our spring break (we’re both professors) would be extended and we would be teaching remotely for the rest of the semester. We sat on the Santa Monica pier contemplating our return to Salt Lake City. Should we just keep riding? Skip the drive home and head to Vegas by bike? Alas, there was work to do, courses to prep. As we left LA, we heard news that restaurants would start closing. In Vegas, we saw people crowding the sidewalks for the last time as casinos closed the next day. We made it home just as travel and gathering restrictions were put in place here. We settled in to bend the curve and keep ourselves, and those around us, safe.

     

    #TWCC2020 (July 11-18)

    As everything got cancelled, we started dreaming up things that we could do close to home, and ways to try to bring other people into the adventure without actually riding together. We needed something to plan for, something to train for. The answer? This Week Contains Centuries. We’d ride 7 centuries in 7 days. For most of them, we’d leave from the front door (and sometimes swing back home to check on our foster dog who we weren’t sure could be left alone for so long) and we’d finish each day with a beer on the patio of a local brewery or some ice cream from the local ice cream shop. We encouraged people to plan their own big rides that week and make per mile pledges to organizations focused on racial equity, justice, and representation. And so, with the plan in place, we took 7 rides in 7 days, each of them just over 100 miles long. In a year that seemed to go on forever, we put 7 centuries into a week.

     

    Emigration Near the Equinox (September 20)56

    The year dragged on. Summer turned toward fall and in that moment of balance, with 12 hours of night and 12 hours of day, I (Brent) asked a question. How many times could I ride up and down Emigration Canyon between sunrise and sunset? The climb is a staple for cyclists in Salt Lake, not super steep or super long (7.6 miles and 1,286 feet of elevation gain) and the road had been closed all summer while they repaved it. At dawn, I left the park at the base of the canyon and started climbing, and descending, and climbing, and descending. Twelve hours later I stopped with an answer to his question: just over 10.

     

    Stupid Pony Gravel Race (October 2)

    Two weeks later, 28 or so other riders and I waited, hidden by the pre-dawn dark and distanced from each other at the start line of the Stupid Pony, a gravel race along the old Pony Express route across Utah. The 217 mile route included a couple miles of pavement, finely ground dust, some climbs that seemed endless, and 7 miles of washboards that fit right in with the rest of 2020. We worked to keep our distance at the start line, but on the road, in the big emptiness of the west desert, fellow riders were a rare and distant sight. Seventeen hours later, again in the dark, I rolled onto the old Air Force base in Wendover, on the far western edge of the state, picked up a finisher’s horseshoe, ate a couple slices of pizza, and promptly fell asleep on the porch of the Officer’s Hall. In the morning, Connie joined for a recovery ride in the emptiness of the Salt Flats.

     

    Belgian Waffle Ride - Cedar City (October 17)

    We’ve been trying to link up with our friend Toby (“Why doesn't anyone ride crits anymore”) H. for a cycling adventure for years, but the timing and travel (he lives in Indiana) has never quite worked out. So, when he called us last November (2019) and said he wanted to come out to ride the Cedar City edition of BWR, it didn’t take us long to find a way to make it work. Eventually, it became exceedingly clear that it didn’t make sense to travel all the way across the country for a day of bike racing. So, Toby stayed home and did his own big ride in Indianapolis while we headed south for another ride over gravel through the desert. Honestly we felt ambivalent about the ride and all the people in the midst of the pandemic. We kept our distance from the groups that formed and were diligent with our masks while we enjoyed the views, dirt, single track, and occasional hike-a-bike. 124 miles after the start, we finished with the requisite celebratory beer at the brewery.

    In the end, we each managed to put almost 5,000 miles on the Waheelas this year, including time on pavement, gravel, singletrack, and some time stuck on the trainer (hiding during Zoom meetings). We missed our friend who couldn’t travel, so we raced in masks without him through Southern Utah and lamented the cancelled events and plans. We had adventures and covered miles close to home. We learned more of the streets in our neighborhood and the roads through the Salt Lake Valley and the Wasatch Mountains. In a year that asked us to respond to unexpected circumstances, we needed our bikes to match our creativity and needed them to be ready for whatever we threw at them. The Waheelas were.

     

    New Voytek Colorways Now Available

    The Voytek has new paint, graphics, and three colorways just in time for winter riding. This is same Voytek that changed the world of fat bikes in 2016 with its narrow Q factor, agile handling, and incredible versatility. Four years later, the Voytek still has the narrowest Q factor of any fat bike—183mm compared to the typical 210-230mm of other fat bikes—and it is chosen by beginners and seasoned fat bikers alike.

    The three new colorways are Blue & Goldenrod, Black & White, and Purple & Watermelon. Three high-contrast color pairings were designed to stand out against a bright, snowy setting. There's a third color on each of these new frames, too, just for good measure. The Custom Bike Builder has options for an accent color for anodized bits and components.

    Here's how the Voytek is different from other fat bikes:

    • Narrow Q factor: A narrow pedal stance keeps your weight closer to the centerline of the bike, which creates responsive, tight control when cornering. It also allows for more natural biomechanics, reducing the knee and hip strain when pedaling that you might find on other fat bikes.
    • Adjustable geometry: With a quick change in Tuning Chip rear dropout positions, the wheelbase can be extended or shortened by up to 20mm, thus changing bottom bracket height by up to 4mm. In the forward position, it's an aggressive, responsive Voytek ready for racing. In the rear position, the Voytek has that same intuitive handling but with added stability to make it easier to ride in deep snow or adverse terrain.
    • Versatility without compromise: The Voytek blends the lines of plus and fat, keeping the party going all year long. When the trails are packed with snow, it can ride 4.6” tires. When spring comes and the trails turn to dirt, wheelsets are swapped to ride plus until winter returns.
    • Lightweight EPS molded carbon frame: A versatile bike must meet the technical specifications of versatile riders. The lightweight frame will meet the demands for any 10K race, multi-month backcountry tour, or anything in between.

    The Voytek is available as a frankset (frame, fork, cranks) and as a complete bike. Base build includes Shimano SLX 12-speed and 26", 27.5", and 29" wheelset options. The Custom Bike Builder allows upgrades on just about every detail of the bike, from tires, to drivetrain, to headset color, and more.

    All three new colorways, as well as some replenished inventory of our Matte Slate & Gray and Navy & White frames, are available now via our Custom Bike Builder and within our network of Otso dealers.