If you’re into bikes, whether talking about them around the campfire--we refer to this as ‘biking off’--or riding them in exotic locations all over the world, being a magazine editor is about as dreamy a job as you can imagine. Everyone treats you like a king, and you never need to pick up the tab. For most guys, it’s their only chance to see what life is like for an extremely hot woman in a bar. People pay attention to you and smile at you and buy you drinks.
This is because, as a manufacturer, you try to get the editors attention. Often that means taking them to a beautiful place, or maybe a strip club. Since they usually don’t write about the strip clubs (at least not in their cycling publications) that leaves them only beautiful places to write about. Oh, and hopefully the product that you’re trying to convince them is worthy of their blessings.
On more than one occasion, we have accompanied journalists on these journeys, or even shamelessly sponsored these journeys.
One such sponsored journey happened way back when, in the Summer of 1992 to be exact, when we organized a company trip with a journalist (Captain Dondo from Bicycling & Mountain Bike), some IMBA folk and a few of our employees’ spouses or spousal equivalents.
The starting point was Sun Valley Idaho, an absolute paradise for mountain biking. The trip was a bit of a company picnic along with our very good friends at Western Spirit Cycling out of Moab. We visited 14 different hot springs on this trip, and soaked in every one.
1992 was before we carried digital cameras, so instead we brought along a photographer named Beth Wald. She snapped a few shots for us, including the infamous, legendary “From the Bums at Ibis” Christmas card, to this day the only Christmas card we’ve ever sent out, probably because this is such a hard act to follow.
Not only did we have a professional photographer, we also had a professional writer (Dondo). Since we had someone who was paid to write, he actually took notes and remembered things that we've long since forgotten. For that reason, we feel as if it’s best to let him tell the story, by simply sharing an article he wrote about the trip for the March 1993 issue of Mountain Bike magazine. We’ve transcribed the article for you to read below, with a couple of our own pictures thrown in.
There’s more below the transcribed story, so don’t hesitate to scroll all the way down.
Clicky here or on the image to download the PDF of the article, or scroll down to read the text, sans Beth’s pictures and weird old ads from 1992.
It’s just before sunrise, and the moon has set. So why are the coyotes howling? I crack a crusty, sleep-filled eye and check my watch. It's 4:43-time to wage that never-ending battle between the urge to roll over in my cozy sleeping bag for another hour or 2 and the urge to relieve my loaded bladder. My bladder wins.
As I wiggle myself and my sloshing gut free of the tent, my half-comatose brain makes some calculations that would startle me if I was more awake. It's cold and white stuff is falling, therefore it is snowing. I smell wood smoke, therefore Lu has started a campfire and will soon have coffee on. The coyotes' yipping is becoming more insistent, therefore....
The forest is on fire.
The white stuff accumulating on the rain fly is ash, and Lu hasn't lit a campfire all week because of the forest fire danger. A thick bank of smoke is rolling through the valley and obliterating the surrounding peaks. I'm wide awake now. And I feel like whimpering along with the coyotes.
This story isn't supposed to end this way. This is supposed to be a tale of a 5-day, fully supported, point-to-point mountain bike adventure through the rugged terrain outside Ketchum, Idaho, traversing 14 hot springs (that's 2.8 springs per day for you calculator types) with a group of people so cool that I wouldn't mind being marooned on a desert island with anyone of them. SO WHO WROTE THIS DAMN FOREST FIRE INTO MY MOST EXCELLENT ADVENTURE?
Okay, let's compose ourselves, shall we? No need to blither.
FUN HOG COMPANY PICNIC
Let's roll the tape back to the beginning.
Our trip started last August on a Monday with a LeMans style, one-legged race to our bikes piled in a parking lot on the westernmost outskirts of Ketchum. I gave Lu Warner (the loudest resident of Moab, Utah, and chief guide/cook/bottle washer for his company, Western Spirit Cycling) a hefty shove in order to reach my bike first. As a card-carrying, club-car sport racer, I can’t resist cheating in a mountain bike race--even if it's on foot and only lasts 10 seconds.
In a flash, we were mounted and rolling swiftly down the pavement Warm Springs Road, which quickly faded into a sandy dirt washboard stretching 100 miles to Atlanta, our final destination. But our first stop, Frenchman's Bend Hot Springs, lay an easy 11 miles to the west, and we could barely contain our excitement.
Four-fifths of Idaho is mountainous. But the peaks aren’t as high as Colorado's (good for oxygen sucking lowlanders like me), and its backcountry isn’t as crowded California's or Washington's. Best of all, nearly 90% of the state is either Forest Service or BLM territory, which means trails are abundant and open to cyclists.
I normally avoid guided tours . They're much too fraught with itineraries, set menus, and scheduled stops for my walkabout adventure tastes. The thing I fear most about such groups, though, is member incompatibility. But this trip promised to be different. The clients were picked from a talent pool of fully certified Professional Funhogs-not a whiner among 'em.
The core of our group was Scot Nicol, his wife Ginny, and the merry pranksters who operate and hang around Scot's mountain bike manufacturing company, Ibis Cycles. This tour was their company picnic. I'm not sure why I was invited, but I accepted without hesitation. Maybe that's why.
RUNNING A BATH
In what seems like no time we reach Warm Springs Creek (which is anything but warm). You must ford its icy waters to reach the natural hot springs on the far shore. The trip over isn't bad, when you're still pumped from riding. But the chilly return trip, when you're all mellow from a good soak, sucks. The trip notes call this painful sensation "a refreshing interlude to some serious soaking." Hah!
Since Frenchman's Bend is so close to Ketchum, the Forest Service has barmed bathing in the buff. So when Lu told us we had to wear suits, we stripped our bike clothes and donned beachwear right in.the middle of the road. Lu rolled his eyes and followed, perhaps wondering what he'd gotten himself into. This was no timid bunch taking a 5-day walk on the wild side. These were wild-side dwellers on vacation.
The hot springs emanate from fissures along the shore, spilling nearboiling water into the stream. Over the years, bathers have stacked rocks to collect the hot water and form pools. There are 3 pools at Frenchman's Bend, providing enough room to accommodate our group of 15, plus Lu and his employees, Rachel and Harley (who are driving 2 Chevy Suburbans laden with all our camping gear, spare parts, food, water, and beer).
You can adjust the pools' temperatures by arranging rocks to admit or divert the frigid creek water. I tune the middle pool to a perfect 105 degrees Fahrenheit, using my Casio thermometer watch as a gauge, and ooze into it with a blissful sigh.
"AAAAIIIIIIYIYIYIYIYI1 " We recross the "Refreshing interlude," redon bike duds, and continue the day's ride. So much for bliss.
I should know better. When a guy like Lu, who competes successfully at the national level (a week after our trip, he took 10th in the master's cross-country race at the NORBA finals in Durango), describes the route in his propaganda sheets as "moderate, some steep climbs," I should plan on sprouting wings.
"Lunch will be waiting for you at the top," says Lu as he motors away in plume of dust. "The top" is Dollarhide Summit, elevation 9,000 feet and change, roughly a mile higher than Ketchum. But we don't know this yet. All we know is it's 15 miles to lunch, so we ride.
And ride, and ride, and ride. It's easy cruising to the base of the climb, but from there on it's a 20x30T, lowgear meditation session. Gravity groups fuller-figured riders- Gil Willis, Jim Hasenauer, and myself-in the rear echelon. Paucity loves company. Good thing, since the climb takes 2 hours.
Fortunately for us, gravity doesn't let up on the downhill. So after a lunch of mostly water- to mitigate the effects of the high altitude, low humidity, 90-degree temperature, and morning's sweat loss in the hot spring--the fat boys take revenge on the climbers.
The narrow road down from Dollarhide is a fiendish combination of washboard surface (due to the summerlong absence of rain) and hairpin turns. Mountain bike heaven, in other words. Gil thunders by, cutting me off in a tight right-hander. Jim has already gone ahead and I feel compelled to chase them, pushing closer to the limit that fine line between control and disaster. The only thing I'll stop for now is a Rock Shox salesman.
Although total mileage for the day was only 35 miles on dirt roads, I was glad to see the Suburbans ("Mormon Porsches," Lu calls them) being offloaded at our camp, tucked amidst the Worswick Hot Springs in an undeveloped valley. The first items off were 15 folding chaise longues, which were set up in the shade of a free-standing tarp. Next came the giant beer cooler.
After quickly pitching our tents in 2 distinctly separate sectors- snoring and nonsnoring-we reconvened under the tarp to drink beer, eat tons of guacamole and chips, swap tales, and zone out. There we wallowed like yuppie bedouins, waiting for the servants to bring us more to eat and drink. It's a program I could learn to love-as long as the avocados and Ballantine Ale hold out.
After an amazing meal of Cajun' style fish and numerous forms of tasty carbohydrate prepared by our guides on a pair of Coleman camp stoves, we all took a bath together in a giant hot spring-fed pool. Naked. Sure, we pretended to not be checking each other out, but we did. I did, at least. The most curious part of my curiosity, however, was how quickly it ebbed. Once the novelty wears off, nudity seems pretty bland compared to the diversity of clothing. Frederick's of Hollywood was no dummy. We soaked until the stars came out, then stumbled, pleasantly exhausted, to our tents.
It was frosty cold when I awoke----typical high-desert weather. I made a naked dash for the hot springs pool and met several others who'd been similarly inspired. A later arrival brought a single cup of coffee and shared it with us. It felt good to stretch in the warm water after yesterday's ride and a night's sleep on the ground. Mist rising from the hot springs gave the valley a primeval appearance. A grazing brontosaurus would not have been out of place. I dressed and went looking for more coffee. After 2 cups of Harley's espresso and a bran muffin, I was primed for the groover.
"What's a groover?" you say.
One of the moral conditions of operating backcountry tours in the West is self-containtnent. That means carrying out everything you carry in, except the water filtered through your kidneys. That's right, used food must be carried out. Thus, the Groover.
The groover is a fixture commonly used on river trips. Conveniently located 100 yards downwind from camp, it's an ammo can with a plastic garbage bag liner. It's called a groover because sitting on it puts grooves in one's butt cheeks. Although ours was a deluxe model with a toilet seat, it was nonetheless a groover and, as such, governed by the "Groover Rules of Engagement." Rule number 1: no peeing.
I've never considered simultaneous sphincter relaxation a luxury until this morning. But there's plenty of incentive for one-at-a-time control. Anyone caught peeing in the groover has suck the air out of the bag when we pack up and move on. At least that’s what Lu said. I'm not going to take chances when the stakes are that high.
That mastered, we break camp and continue west along the Little Smokey Creek, as sing up a dip in Preis Hot Springs at the 5-mile mark in favor of a more intriguing option farther along.
At the confluence of Little Smokey Creek and the South Fork of the Boise River we hang a right onto the first singletrack of the trip. Our destination is Skillern Hot Springs, but it's the going, not the getting there, that's good. We climb northward for more than an hour and regroup in the shade of a pine grove.
"The spring's dry," says Lu, returning from a high-speed reconnaissance ride farther up the trail. But that's okay. We still have a humdinger, return-trip descent to play with.
Buffed singletrack is a foreign surface for me. I'm more at home picking my way over the rocks and roots so prevalent on eastern trails. Such lowspeed riding carries little consequence should your mind wander. Not so on this fast stuff.
I wiped out so hard that when I got up I couldn't find my bike right away. Riding too fast into a turn where the trail had become deeply channeled, I lost my balance when both wheels wedged against the far berm. We're talking bigtime, high-side, end-over-end, yard-sale endo. The landing tore a hole in my saddle and cost me a little elbow skin. I was bummed nobody saw it (even the Rumanian judge would have given me a 10), but glad my bones were intact.
Maybe all this nude bathing is sexier than I thought. Today, I feel like a victim of testosterone poisoning. I charged. up the first pitch of James Creek Summit in my middle ring, topped it, then started down what I figured was the other side, only to find another pitch that was far steeper than the first. Now, about a mile up the bitch, er, pitch, I’m looking at my thermometer watch, which reads 107º F. Jim and I pause in the shade of a small tree and I try to ask him, “Can I have some of your water?” But the only sound my throat will make is an imitation of a bull frog with laryngitis. Jim hands me his bottle.
After lunch at the summit we descend the gnarliest section of dualtrack we've encountered yet. My arms are so tired from getting pounded by washboard that I take my chances riding the loose section between the tracks. It feels like surfing, or maybe skiing powder, at 40 mph. I drift through the corners, steering solely with my hips. Cool!
On the final stretch into Atlanta I get an overwhelming feeling when I realize how far I am from civilization. We're 100 miles of bad road and 2 passes away from the world, adrift on an ocean of wilderness. I'm always amazed and thankful when I learn that places like these still exist within the continental United States. I can see peaks in the Sawtooth wilderness area in the distance.
During the war between the states, Atlanta was a major confederate gold milling town, but today it’s a near ghost town of roughly 25 year-round residents. One of them is sharing the shade of the general store's porch with us when a cloud rolls through the valley with a deep, rumbling sound. Lightning strikes the mountainside before us, and rain spatters the ground. The few drops that fall evaporate instantly, stirring the dust on the road, but do nothing to reduce the tinderbox condition of the forest.
"Money cloud," says the Atlantan. Forest fires equate to employment in this rugged region. But it's an ugly industry.
A forest fire at its worst moves faster than you can drive. According to those who've been to the brink, then the flames devour oxygen so quickly when overtaking you that they literally suck the breath from your lungs. As you lie there suffocating, your hair and clothing ignite from the intense heat and your skin begins to blacken and peel as you lose consciousness. There's no time for pain-unless you survive.
The lightning strike smolders overnight, then ignites in the morning breeze. Soon the entire camp is awake. Lu heads for town to check on the fire's location. Rumor has it that Willow Creek campground, our previous night's digs, was fully involved. I wondered if my story might, instead, be a eulogy for this great place.
Despite the heavy smoke, the Forest Service claimed we were in no immediate danger. So we spend the day, as planned, riding singletrack around Atlanta.
We follow a dualtrack along the Queens River through smoke as thick as London fog, with one important difference: London fog won't kill you. There's a wariness in our group today. I catch myself keeping note of the nearest stream, pond, or other body of water large enough to offer refuge from the unseen flames, should the wind shift our way. But the smoke simply blots the sun, making our fourth day of riding ironically chilly. We climb a gradual singletrack to an unnamed lake, then return via the same route. Making a big loop over the next ridge and taking a chance on losing our way could be fatal on a day like today.
We had planned from the start to fly, in shifts, out of Atlanta on a small charter plane while Harley and Rachel drove the Suburbans to Ketchum with our bikes loaded on top. Fire paranoia changed our departure time from Friday afternoon to early Fridiay morning. We packed for the last time in the pre-dawn darkness, then rode to the airstrip to make our escape.
From the air I saw Dante's own private Idaho. Several hellish walls of smoke rose from the forest floor where 15,000- 20,000-acre patches burned. The smaller blazes would soon be left alone, the firefighters called to contain the 280,000-acre inferno endangering Idaho City. (It would smolder into autumn.) But the fire would spare Atlanta and our Willow Creek campsite.
One day we frolicked in the wet and reveled in the wild. But then Idaho's natural playground became a menacing battlefield. And, at least for the moment, its torrid heat charred the memories of those soothing hot springs.
WHEN YOU GO
Round-trip and unsupported, the 100 miles between Ketchum and Atlanta is a difficult ride, but not impossible. You'll have to haul 7-8 days worth of food, but treatable water is plentiful despite the arid conditions. You can ship the bulk of your gear to Ketchum (as we did), fly into Boise, and take the bus to Ketchum. Or fly with your gear to Stanley (a more expensive air ticket), just north of Ketchum, and ride from there. Or you could spend a month just riding singletrack and , camping near Ketchum.
The Elephant's Perch in Ketchum (208/726-3497) is a good source for maps, information, bike gear, and service.
Or you can take a trip like ours with Club Decadent, better known as Western Spirit Cycling, 800/845-BIKE.
That conjured up some good memories of a great trip. Time to book another trip to Sun Valley.
After we got back to Ketchum, being the overacheievers we are, it was time for more riding. We did a photo shoot out on one of these rides, then Dondo published a nice little skills how-to of Chuck on his Mountain Trials bike. Click the image for a big view of how relatively lame we were back then compared to the crazy stuff they're doing today, like triple back flips. By the way, this Mt. Trials bike now resides in our little Ibis museum in our Santa Cruz HQ.
When we first started writing this series, we asked a few friends of Ibis to write up something about Ibis and some of the experiences they've had with us. One of the people we asked was Dondo, author of the two pieces above. He's not writing for Mountain Bike or Bicycling any more. But he's living in Vermont and still is very passionate about bikes. And he still complains (as all of us do) about not getting to ride enough. Dondo's still got his writing chops as you can tell from the piece below.
This installment of our 30th birthday series is called "Fun With Magazines", and the note below from Dondo is a good reminder of a few of those fun trips that we have taken together. Chuck's a bit embarrased by this, but it's getting published anyway. So here you go, some kind and flattering words from one of our favorite magazine guys.
Scot Nicol was a pretty not famous guy when I met him at the West Hill Bike Shop in Putney, Vermont, in the summer of 1984. He would go on to be one of the most influential owners of a mountain bike company ever and I would become the author of, among other things, a column in Mountain Bike Magazine synonymous with my nickname, Captain Dondo.
What Scot is not famous for is what a great teacher he is. He was married to one for a while, but I don't think that's where it came from. My first lesson from Scot was all about the merits of TIG welding steel tubes versus fitting them into lugs and brazing them. It was unheard of in 1984, except maybe on Schwinn Varsities and department store BMX bikes. Scot's bike was neither. It was the lightest mountain bike I'd ever seen. It had grease fittings everywhere: bottom bracket, pedals, hubs, and I think maybe even the headset. It had drop handlebars. It had two chainrings instead of three. And it was screaming pink. Most of the mountain bikes to that point had been painted to maybe appeal to hikers and other depressed people.
Scot was in town for the Ross Four-Day Stage race in Wendell State Forest near Turner's Falls, Massachusetts. He was in Putney visiting two friends who worked at The Putney School. We had dinner with them in their dorm apartment, which is now 100 yards from my office at The Putney School. Little did I know then that that's where I'd end up. Anyway, I was also bound for the Ross race and Scot needed a ride. We shared a hotel room with my buddy, Charlie Tartaglione, in Northampton.
Lesson number two came the night before the observed trials competition. Scot showed me how to ride trials in the hotel room, bouncing from floor, to bed, to bathtub. He was number two in the nation at the time but still, somehow, not famous. I was a bike shop grease monkey. Life was simple. We went out for pizza with some people we knew from Putney. Four years later, one of them would become my wife. It was the really, really pretty one.
The following year I visited Scot's first shop in Sebastopol, California. His house at that time was two Airstream trailers welded into an ell shape. He taught my bike shop boss, Neil Quinn, and I a neat trick to use in San Francisco. You start at the top of Lombard Street--you know the one, all twisty and switch-backed—with the parking brake locked. You then drive down really slowly, making horrible skidding sounds, and watch the tourists leap off the street and into the shrubs. It's very useful if you value cheap entertainment.
Scot taught me the nuances of riding dropoffs in Moab, Utah, the following year when I became an editor at Bicycling Magazine. We had dinner in my tent during a sand storm. It was crunchy. In Idaho Scot showed me how to draft really closely at high speed on buff singletrack so as to not get blinded by the first riders' dust plume. While we were there, Scot did a photos shoot for Mountain Bike with Beth Wald on how to negotiate singletrack switchbacks. None of the Lombard Street lesson carried over, but that was fine, too. On a ride in a swamp in Borneo I got to see him pick a leach off his leg. I learned what "I just threw up in my mouth a little" meant.
Besides selling boatloads of really cool Ibis bikes (I still ride mine. It was born in 1988. It's name is Big Pink, below), Scot was hip before it was hip to be hip. He got me wearing plaid shorts and those elastic-waisted jammie-bottom-style pants the weight lifters later absconded with. He inspired me to wear Ray Ban Wayfarers before they were cool again. And when my wife, Carlotta, and I visited his house with our baby daughter, Emily, he schooled me in the ways of Chai steamed by a Pavoni espresso maker, before anyone even knew what Chai was. Without Scot, I'd have been even more of a dork than I am now.
So when my conscience started telling me that I'd written all that could be written about mountain biking several times over and that I had become a paycheck player, I quit my famous-making job at Mountain Bike Magazine. I said to Carlotta, "Now I get to find out who my friends really are." Some, believe it or not, were mostly nice to me so I'd write about them in magazines. Can you imagine? Scot wasn't one of those. He was actually among the first to check in and see how it was going. Now I'm much happier and writing again for Dirt Rag. And Scot is still my friend.
That's really no reason to buy an Ibis. But all that knowledge, style, innovation, iconoclasm, and concern for his fellow riders is in every damned bike that's ever gone out of the warehouse, except maybe for that ugly period when somebody else thought they could make Ibis bikes.
I learned that an Ibis is also a shore bird with a big pecker. So is Scot.
Only it's not the end. There's more coming. Thanks Dondo and thanks to all of you who made it all the way down here to the end.