Bike Intelligencer » curly’s loop All bike, all the time Mon, 20 Jul 2015 21:20:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sun Valley Mountain Biking, Day 1: The girl with the duct tape band-aid Mon, 09 Aug 2010 08:46:46 +0000 [In which our intrepid band, intent on acclimatizing gradually, is passed by a mysteriously bandaged female rider; dubiously opts to extend our first-day adventures, and is nearly devoured alive by blood-sucking flies the size of fighter jets.]

It’s a long day’s drive from Seattle to Ketchum, ID, around 680 miles. We packed Jim’s CR-V to the gills and headed out at 6 a.m., arriving nearly 12 hours later. After grabbing some food in Atkinson’s grocery in town (BigWood Bakery granola and cookies highly recommended), we pitched our tents at the Corral Creek campground just outside of town. It’s free, quiet and eminently convenient. Despite coming from sea level to a mile high in elevation, we slept well.

Upper meadow near Baker Lake

It’s always a good idea, upon arriving in Sun Valley from sea level, to breathe in slowly. For our first outing that meant a fairly tame, half-fire-road, half-singletrack leg-stretcher called Curly‘s, just outside of town near the Easley hot springs. You head up north from Ketchum on Highway 75 for 15 miles and turn left onto Baker Creek Road. There’s a parking turnout just a short way up the road.

While we were getting ready to roll, up drives an SUV with two Boise riders wearing racing colors from Reed Cycle. As they geared up, we couldn’t help but notice that one — a powerfully lean, dark-haired girl — had a big patch of gray duct tape just below her knee. When Jim asked her about it, she laughed and said, somewhat cryptically, “There’s a real bandage underneath.”

All summer long we’ve been reading Stieg Larsson’s posthumously best-selling trilogy about “The Girl.” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Girl Who Played with Fire. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

This was The Girl with the Duct Tape Band-Aid. Friendly enough, but the kind you wouldn’t want to mess with.

We jumped on our Mojos and headed up the road to the turnoff (to the left) of the jeep road beginning Curly’s Loop. We don’t know who Curly is, but we thank him for this little acclimatizer. The road is not really steep nor really long, but both are definitely more pronounced at altitude than they would be back home. We were huffing well beyond what our moderate output merited, but that was the point: Get used to it.

Halfway up the road, who should zoom by but the Girl With the Duct Tape Band-Aid. Make that “Without.” We couldn’t help notice it was missing.

“It fell off!” she exclaimed, moving by us so fast we barely caught a glimpse.

There’s a story there. Maybe not one that will put 23 million books in print, but we were naturally curious nonetheless.

Don't forget to smell the flowers

Just when you start to wonder if you missed the singletrack turnoff, there it is on the left. (You do need to pay attention.) Then, after a short climb ends in a promontory, you start a thrashing descent over sometimes steep, sometimes rocky, often switchbacky singletrack. Don’t forget to admire the wildflowers along the way, including a delicate white-petaled beauty with black (or deep purple) inlays — the white mariposa lily.

You can really rip this descent or take it easy — your choice. But its loose surface and sudden corners should not be taken lightly.

The trail eventually dumps you right into someone’s back yard. A couple was out watering when we rode in — they nodded hello, barely reacting to our presence. You pick up a flat access road paralleling the highway, and it takes you back to your car.

The whole thing took less than two hours and left us thinking. While we did not want to overdo things our first day out, this was like giving us bread sticks for our first meal. Fortunately, Jim had an Accessory Plan.

You have to understand that for someone who does not actually live there, Jim knows Sun Valley as well as if not better than most of the locals. Employing a process over the years he calls “Filling in the map,” Jim has ridden nearly all of the traditional routes, improvised his own and trail-blazed a couple that simply do not show up in the guide books.

One ride is never enough

We could head on up the road a piece and do Baker Lake, he said. It would have to be an out-and-back, but it would give us another 2k of climbing and bust our lungs a little wider.

We drove up Baker Creek Road another seven miles to a crowded trailhead for West Fork Norton Creek — we got the absolute last parking spot. Fortunately, all the vehicles were for hikers bound for Norton Lakes — a different trail, off to the right. We headed to the left, toward Baker Lake.

The trail was all up and mostly rideable, although our shortness of breath and the 95-degree heat, combined with moto’d-out sections of trail that made it feel like you were trying to get traction on split peas, left us pushing parts we normally would ride. Conditions also were ripe for Sun Valley’s least hospitable population: Bugs. We got horse flies, deer flies, mosquitoes, gnats, you name it. I’m quite lucky in that bugs don’t, erm, bug me. Most of the time they just circle around. When they land, they usually take back off right away. If they actually bite me, I don’t show the bites. A couple of times horse flies — Yowch! — got in pretty good nips. “That means you’re bit, my friend,” Jim told me. But I never itched, and nothing ever showed up.

Jim is just the opposite. Bugs love the guy. Every time we stopped to catch our breath or admire the view, Jim turned into a hazy column of small buzzing critters.

Endless singletrack you say ...

We got up to 9,500 feet and decided to call it a day. The ride back down was a hoot, featuring those little doubles that the motorcycles somehow install by default, some rocky rooty sections, creek crossings and laid-back meadow runs.

All in all, a satisfying day. We scampered back to town, where the new Ketchum Y(MCA), which looks for all the world like a private spa you might find in, say, Dubai, awaited us with $5 showers. We discovered our first casualty of the trip: Our shoulders. Lobster-red, and broiled in the same manner. I don’t use sunscreen, considering it one of the great corporate scams perpetrated on a gullible American public. Jim does use it, however. He was more burnt than me.

We concluded about the only thing that would have saved our skin that day would have been duct tape.

But you know, that stuff just doesn’t stay on.

Day’s elevation gain: Approximately 3,500 feet. Mileage: 18.

[TOMORROW: Further acclimatization, with somewhat less huffing, at royal Imperial Gulch and the decidedly less regal Cow Crick.]

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