By Brian Leibold
In the course of our bike trip together, my cousin and I disagreed about some things. For one, Richard despised Vienna sausages with a passion, while I ate them cold out of the can like a voracious vagabond wolf. Something else we disagreed on was hitchhiking. Richard saw it as an absolute last resort, whereas I saw it as something of a psychology experiment (Hypothesis: to see what types of people would pick up. Conclusion: the most awesome people) that should be conducted on many an occasion. But one thing we agreed wholeheartedly on was the incredible and heretofore undisclosed beauty of Idaho.
Of all the states I biked through from Montana to Arizona, Idaho was my favorite.
The story of why we entered Idaho in the first place is short but memorable. While we were at Grand Teton National Park, we exchanged travel itineraries with a woman who said her name was Lois. We asked her if this was really her name, and she said it was. We told her we were heading into Jackson, Wyoming and then due south into Salt Lake City. Lois asked Richard while I was away from the campsite,
“Why aren’t you biking through Idaho? There are hot springs there…”
And she explained how these hot springs were heaven on Idahoan earth, off the beaten path, and only heard of through word of mouth, an Eden-like paradise where 20ish tanned backpackers create a utopian society and stealthily steal pot from an endless marijuana field guarded by Thai farmers with AK-47’s but which quickly dissipates into confusion and dissolution.
But not really. That is actually the plot of The Beach by Alex Garland, a very good book and a much less good movie.
And when I got back, Richard said
“New plan, Brian! We’re going to Idaho!”
And I was all for it. Never mind that Richard was biking southeast home to Virginia, or that my destination was due south and Idaho was due west. I was on the road, living spontaneously and on the spur-of-the-moment, such as those on the road do. So, sure, I’ve never been to Idaho and let’s go!
And so into Idaho we did go, two vagabond desperadoes heading west into the setting sun on a detour for golden springs which would prove to be one of the highlights of the trip.
Words of Wisdom #1: In bike journeys as in life, some detours become the tour.
Idaho considered us brash and made her feelings known to us by deciding that before we could enter into the kingdom of her heavenly hot springs, we must climb Teton Pass, a six mile monster at a 10% grade. So we climbed Teton. This is all I will say. I will not say that we cried like Mormon babies who have not yet proselytized, or that we fell on our knees and begged for mercy from Lord Idaho herself, or that we beat on the ground and wailed and howled in pitiful tones that would ostracize us from any self-respecting society. I will say only that we climbed it.
But Idaho had tricked us. After the pass, there were still another 300 miles and three more passes to go until the hot springs. All the better, though, for Idaho had many surprises in store. Allow me, if you will, to entertain with some fun facts about the places we stayed in Idaho:
1)Idaho Falls, where we worked on a potato farm in exchange for delightful meals and warm beds and insightful conversation with Bruce Hansen and his family.
2)Arco, the first town to be lit by nuclear power.
3)Craters of the Moon National Monument, a unique landscape shaped by volcanic activity which stands in stark and wonderful contrast to the surrounding foothills of Southern Idaho.
4)Ketchum, where we had lunch at Johnny G’s Sub Shack, met the generous and aptly named owner, and set up our tent in his backyard.
5)And Stanley Lake, where I stared with wonder for many moments at the most glorious sunrise I have ever seen.
All of these places we stayed and the people we met merit far more than a sentence, and I have written more about them on my own blog which you will find in my bio below.
And so in the morning we woke up at Stanley Lake and we burned down the road, ecstatic at the prospect of steaming springs ahead.
Most of the day consisted simply of exhilarating downhill, as if the road was facilitating our date with the hot springs and was now moving us as swiftly as possible towards our goal. The wind disagreed though and she did her best to keep our speed manageable, but for once she failed and so we flew downwards with uncontrollable speed surrounded by firs and ponderosa pines and spruces, which towered on the tops of mountains on either side of the Ponderosa Scenic Byway. We hurtled onwards with hastening speed, powerless against the pulling magnetism of the promised hot springs, and yodeled excitedly at the thrill of downhill travel.
We biked into Kirkham Hot Springs.
The rest of the day we dawdled and waddled; we sprawled and crawled with perpetual grins in the fountains of warmth as if they were fountains of youth, which magically healed all ailments of the road, leaving in its place an uncontrollable child-like carefree wonder. The springs engulfed all our tiredness from weeks on the bike; she swallowed whole all our doubts in our ability to keep riding; she absorbed all that ailed us in her submerging warmth and idly washed them all away in the restless Payette River that rushed below. While I lay in her warm waters, she soothed my roving spirit that always in unabashedly crazy hyper-manic phases races and rages ever onwards and allowed me to rest, if only for a short time.
She was very kind.
But by the second night we were restless again, and we went to bed ready to hit the road and ride along the river, which was hurrying westward to the sea.
And that night as we were encircled on all sides by thousands of acres of towering trees swaying and flowing tranquilly in the slight winds of the chilly October night, the forest winked to us mischievously, glad to share its secret wooded home in the Idahoan wilderness with heavenly hot springs below and heavenly hot exploding stars above with two vagabonds whose rested bodies were matched only by our roving souls raring to ride on.
And so in the morning, saluting the hot springs that had propelled us into Idaho, we curved and winded down the byway, zooming onwards towards Boise, the next town on our journey. And though Richard and I may not have agreed on everything during the trip, we were in total agreement on the fact that Idaho was an indisputably beautiful and vastly underappreciated state.
And though it had been over 300 miles and we had climbed over 4 mountain passes, another thing was certain: the hot springs had been worth it.
Words of Wisdom #2 (which also became the first Rule of the Road): Hot Springs Are Always Worth It.