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The Cycle Sprog road trip across the NW USA and Canada continues, heading inland in search of great mountain biking locations. Having left Bend, Oregon (where we’d enjoyed some incredible single-track riding with the boys) we had a massive day of driving to get to Ketchum in Idaho. Renowned as a winter ski resort (along with adjacent Sun Valley) we’d heard it was also a great spot to do some mountain biking during the summer.
Two things struck me as we approached:
1) Ketchum is a “resort” – with everything geared up for tourists on a seasonal basis
2) The cycling provision is excellent (meaning I get to write another article at some point on cycling infrastructure – hurray!!)
We’d had two long days riding in Bend, and I’d hoped that a day in the car would have given us all enough time to recover before mountain biking again, but I think a combination of the heat and exertion of Bend had left us all a bit jaded. Plus, I had two nights of very little sleep – not good! When Mummy Cycle Sprog is grumpy, all the Cycle Sprogs get grumpy!
Add in the hours’ time difference between Oregon and Idaho and we weren’t out and about to pick up the bikes we’d reserved until almost lunchtime. If I was doing the trip again, I’d try and leave an extra recovery day – but as it was we had to press on with our plan.
With Ketchum clearly being a resort for affluent visitors, we paid quite a bit more for 48 hours bike hire than we’d done in Bend, for lower specification bikes. However, the team at Sturtevants were really helpful, and Nick recommended a few routes that were within easy riding distance of the town centre.
One of the great things about renting bikes is you get to try out different makes and models, and for the next two days Chris and I would both be riding Giant Trance 3 in Large and Medium respectively.
The two boys, 11 year old N and 8 year old T were on Scott Aspect 740’s in Small and XS.
These weren't kids specific bikes, and it was interesting to ride behind them and see their arms out at an angle that looked unfamiliar. It really brought home to me why some kids bike manufacturers go to such lengths to ensure their bikes are proportioned for kids. However, they seemed to get on OK with the larger proportions - so much more adaptable than big old mum, who was struggling to adapt to the Giant!
At this point we made one of those decisions that with hindsight we’d have done differently. Knowing we were all a bit tired we decided to ride along the cycle path for a couple of miles to get a trail called Corral Creek which several people had recommended to us. The MTB guide book we’d been loaned said
“This trail has it all, quick climbs (never too steep), quick turns in a slalom fashion, and one of the best downhills this close to Ketchum”.
Whilst I get very excited about cycling infrastructure and was pleased to be riding along a protected cycleway to the trail, the boys saw it as a boring stretch of tarmac that was sloping slightly, but annoyingly upwards.
We passed the entrance to the White Clouds trail system (which we’d also been recommended), but continued resolutely with our original plan. The clouds started to gather and the wind picked up, and I realised that we didn’t have enough food to cover off the inevitable energy slump. Then the cycle path ran out and we were on the road (albeit it for a very short way). Now I was grumpy, as well as the boys! However, we finally arrived as the trail – hurray – more uphill!
The trail itself was very similar to what we ride in the UK in terms of rocky and gnarly in parts and smoother in others - but just much drier as it hadn't rained for months (no mud in sight!)
By this time everyone except Chris was very hacked off and tired. It was almost 5pm, and tummies were starting to rumble. As the path ascended into a forested area the thunder started and we met a hiker who warned us about falling branches. This was enough to cause a mutiny and saw us turning around. Of course, what goes up, must come down and suddenly everyone’s spirits rose as we were descending the single track. The clouds behind us, the valley was bathed in sunshine, and I could understand what the guidebook meant! It reminded me that your mood can change so quickly when you’re on a bike – from desperation from euphoria in a matter of minutes.
Then it was back down to the protected cyclepath. What had been a long hard slog upwards was fast and furious on the way back into Ketchum and the smiles were fixed on our faces.
I decided that Chris deserved more trail riding, so sent him off to ride the White Cloud loops whilst the boys and I went into Ketchum to buy some tea. We’d all been fed and watered by the time Chris returned positively buzzing from the single track riding he’d done. The haze from the forest fire smoke that affects the US at this time of year had cleared whilst he was riding, so he also got some photos of the mountains (which again reminded us more of our home in Cumbria than anything we’d seen so far on our travels).
After a good night of uninterrupted sleep we were all feeling much better the next day, and headed off to the Adam Glunch loop, which again was in riding distance of Ketchum, again along a gently inclining protected cycle paths all the way.
The Adam Gulch area was a much better idea – not only was it nearer, but there are a number of trails to choose from. We included the boys in the decision making about which trails to ride and they were quickly familiar with the different names – Shadyside, Fobidden Fruit, Eve’s Gultch. I love that moment of anticipation before you ride a new trail – which will be new favourites, going down in family legend, and which will fade in the memory. The other thing I love about places where there are lots of short trails, all well signed, is that it’s so much easier to motivate the boys to ride to the next trail junction.
Thus, we did a great ride with a steep ascent along Heinelberg Hill Trail, then the aptly named Shadyside (which kept us protected from the heat)
It was then up onto Eve’s Gultch, and past these incredible scree slopes.
There was then another ascent up to our target of Forbidden Fruit, which we’d been promised was the best stretch of one-way single blue downhill in the vicinity.
8 year old T struggled slightly on the uphill portion of Forbidden Fruit, but then the tables turned. The downhill section was slightly beyond my capability on a bike I was unfamiliar with, and I confess to pushing round the first couple of berms, before gaining confidence and riding the rest of the trail.
T, however, was in his element and whooped and cheered all the way down without stopping. It’s a humbling moment when you realise your 8 year old is much better at riding a bike than you are!
We all arrived in one piece at the end of the trail, and decided that we didn't have the energy to do the loop again. That's the one thing about being in places such a short time - it would have been great to ride Forbidden Fruit again, knowing what to expect.
The ride back down the trails to Ketchum was fast and fun – everything we’d huffed and puffed our way past on the way up passing in a flash as we descended.
The surface of the trails once again reminded us of riding in the north of England. The main difference was that most are two way and shared with hikers (and dogs), which means you have to be more vigilant and can obviously ruin a fast flowing stretch. Thankfully it was fairly quiet and we had most descents to ourselves.
In what seemed no time we were back in Ketchum, in time for the boys to spend some time on the pump track. Why, oh why, didn’t we think to take them there the day before? There’s nothing like a pump track to get a smile on their faces. They integrated quickly with the local kids and other visitors, and an order for riding was established, with everyone whooping when someone “got air”.
All too soon it was time to take the rental bikes back and start to pack up again for our next stop – Helena, Montana. Keep following Cycle Sprog on Facebook to find out how we got on there.
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