Mama Bear on Thorn Creek Butte.

It was somewhere around mile 13 or 14 of the climb. We were nearing the summit but knew we still had some pedaling to do before we would be allowed to cash in the potential energy we were gaining. It was kind of a warm morning and we had passed into the afternoon as we made our way up Lick Creek Summit. The mountains surrounding us were huge but despite having pedaled for a few hours, we didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the top.

We were in that moment when each stroke of the cranks becomes a chore. Our legs were passed burning and the only thing we had to go on was our will to make it to the top. It’s at these times that it is easy to justify giving up, getting angry or blaming someone else for what you are doing. I’ve often said that bikepacking has more to do with the ability to go spelunking in the pain cave than it does with actual physical fitness. It’s these times that prove to me time and time again that truth. The ability to continue when all you want to do is quit.

And then we had a head wind.

That map was our holy scripture for 11 days. We read it, studied it and followed it religiously.

It was Kenny and Heather that first planted this thing in our heads. They mentioned a route in Idaho that had 50 hot springs along it and, well to be honest, that’s as far as I remember from that conversation. 50 hot springs on a route, regardless of length had me intrigued. The time to do the whole thing was the only delaying obstacle. While strong riders who weren’t trying to hit every spring could finish in under 2 weeks, most people were taking 3-4 to do the whole thing allowing for way more relaxing and, well, soaking in the springs.

Fast forward a couple of years, I bought the map in December letting it sit in various different locations throughout the house, looking at it every once in a while pretending to “plan.” Somehow I weasel half of July off from work and the next thing we know we are on our way to Idaho. We still haven’t decided which direction we will go and only have a semblance of an idea of where we can stash our car for 15 days. What we had was a map, a GPS track and a cue sheet that we hoped would guide us around this state that we had only visited briefly.

Our mantra, “We’ll figure it out when we get there.”

Valleys and mountains followed by valleys and mountains.

The original draw of hot springs paled in comparison to my desire to be on the road. I’ve found that moving creates peace in my mind. I tend to be a fairly worrisome, anxious person especially when there is an unknown that I know will take some figuring and I haven’t been able to sort it out yet. The road is one giant, big unknown, but it’s a place where one is moving, always. Once in motion, I have to deal with what is right in front of me and the rest just fades away.

Every morning on the road, my anxiety slowly begins building as we repack the bikes. It always seems to take longer than expected and for some reason, if I have any semblance of a plan for time, and we don’t hit it, that makes me super anxious. Add on to the morning routine, being in a city, and I’m a hot, bothered mess all worked up over nothing. At least until we start pedaling. As soon as motion begins, my mind calms and I can get back to dealing with what is right in front of me instead of what might be in front of me at some point down the road.

I’m not sure why, how or even if there was a when, but traveling, has become the place I feel most comfortable. From the moment I first stepped off the plane in Chile, to riding my bike across the state or starting any journey that consists of moving, that’s all I want. I don’t get homesick, I get roadsick.

The view from Snake Pits Hot Spring in Stanley.

What about the hot springs? Oh yea, those were pretty rad. The above photo shows the first one we hit just outside of Stanley. With the Sawtooths as the back drop, I’m not sure if a soaking spot with a better view exists. If it does, I haven’t experienced it yet. 

We found along the route, that it was pretty difficult to hit hot springs at the right time of day. If we waited until the afternoon, when we were done pedaling, most of the tubs were in direct sunlight and it was too hot outside to really want to plunge into 100+ degree water. We found a couple that were perfect in this scenario, namely Mile 16 Hot Springs and Lotus Hotsprings. 

On the flip side, if we soaked in the morning when the air was cool and hot water was a dream come true, we never wanted to stay in the pools for too long as it will turn your legs to mush and make for a hard day on the bike. The best morning pool we found was Snake Pits.  All in all, we stopped and soaked about 4 times. We “checked” out many of the other pots only to find the routine of packing and unpacking a big deterrent or that the tubs were cold due to high water.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece I called Embrace for Cycling West. It explored the idea of learning to spelunk in the pain cave and how for some reason others are much better at it and that the physical condition of that person tends to not be a direct correlation to how well they can persevere. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure what the difference was, just that there was one and those that were better at it seemed to embrace the suffering.

On mile 13 of a huge climb, where you are waiting, hoping for that summit with everything you have and the only thing you can do is to keep pedaling, what do you do when the wind picks up and it seems that every piece of nature is attempting to keep you from the top? You be thankful that the wind is keeping you cool.

I’m not gonna get all new age, bull shitty on you, but that’s the difference. Mama Bear and I both found that over the 11 days, simply being able to find a positive, something to be thankful for, would turn the worst situation to something that we could enjoy, maybe even embrace.

P. L. and R.

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