Though not a hall of fame Rail to Trail, the 86-mile Weiser River Trail was well worth the effort to ride. It was recommended to me by my brother Curt, who lives in Boise, who had heard about it on the news and thought that it sounded like something Martha and I would like to do. So we started planning the trip about a year ago, trying to figure out the best time of year to do the trail to avoid the late snow falls and the summer heat, plus avoid the goat heads, which we had heard were so rough on the bike tires. Since Curt’s daughter Cristin and Martha’s friend Cheryl also wanted to do the ride with us, we had to negotiate a weekend around all our schedules. We picked the third weekend in June, and it turned out to be a VERY GOOD choice, as the weather was wonderful. It was sunny but not hot.
As usual, Martha did a terrific job planning the logistics of where to stay and eat and how to shuttle ourselves and the bikes to and from the trail each morning and evening. (She had even read the blogs to figure out where some bathroom breaks could be taken, which were few and far between.) For the bike rentals, I had been in Boise the month before, and Cristin and I had checked out the bike possibilities. Cheryl wanted an e-assist bike, but the others of us did not. However, we were quite picky when it came to the height of the handlebars and the comfort of the seat cushion. Our choice of George’s Cycles on 3rd and Front Street provided us with just the bikes we wanted at a reasonable price, actually costing less than what Martha had been seeing in her Internet searches. Frank, one of the co-managers of the store, let Cristin and me take a trial ride over on the Boise Greenbelt bikeway to try out the bikes. They were Comfort bikes, not mountain bikes, so some of the employees at the store thought the ride would be a bit rough on the tires, but Frank thought we would be okay. So we rented the Comfort bikes with the higher handle bars to save our backs and necks from the strain of leaning forward the whole ride. When we picked up the bikes on Friday afternoon before the ride, they included a panier rack on two of the bikes, which turned out to be a much-desired asset for our lunches and extra shirt from the morning coolness, and the employee gave us a lesson on how to change the tire on a bike with disc brakes. Fortunately, we didn’t need to do that, but the precaution was important to us, as having a flat tire was our greatest worry on this ride.
The reason for the worry was that we had heard from several people about these little thorns on the Weiser River Trail called “goat heads” that cause many a flat tire. We were told to stay near the middle of the trail, rather than riding the edges, and not to ride in July or August because that is when the plant seems to be the most dangerous for bikers.
Now that we have ridden the trail, I can see why there is such a possibility of flat tires, not only from the goat heads but also from all the surface rocks, gravel might be the better term, that cover lots of the trail. The surface is supposed to be a packed crushed limestone, dirt, and gravel combination, but much of the trail has lots of small gravel pieces strewn across it like chopped nuts on an ice cream sundae. At least that’s what I kept seeing when I looked down.
And look down we did. The trail was pretty rough, so we really had to watch where we were going. It was one of our slowest rides also, averaging only 7.5 miles per hour. We rode the trail from north to south, so there was a slight elevation drop (mostly on the first day) and hardly any uphill, but it still was slow because of the trail surface. Patches of pavement in the two small towns along the way were like a ride in heaven, and we even welcomed patches of just dirt as long as it was packed, which it mostly was.
The scenery was the best part of the trail. This first day reminded me of parts of the upper part of the Michelson Trail in South Dakota and the Bizz Johnson trail in northern California. It was beautiful woodsy scenery. We started at the trail head in New Meadows, just southwest of McCall, Idaho, riding through forest areas of pine and hardwood, with wooden trestles over the streams flowing into the river. We didn’t see a whole lot of the river on this day because we were mostly in the forest, but we were seeing scenery that couldn’t be seen from anywhere else except the trail, and that was important to us. There was one detour because of a trail bridge being out, where we rode along a dirt/gravel road for a ways, but even that was a pretty ride. On this first day I think we saw two other riders on the trail. We rode into the little town of Council for a picnic lunch at a picnic table near the historical railroad marker and old-timey tractors in the park area. After a short break for lunch, we rode on down past the Mundo Hot Springs area to end the day and pick up our truck in Cambridge, Idaho.
So how did the truck get to Cambridge? Here are the logistics of our non-riding life: Martha and Cheryl had rented a truck in Boise, into which we loaded our bikes at George’s and drove 1.5 hours to Weiser where we had dinner at Legends on Main, a decent enough restaurant for a small western town, and then drove another hour to Mesa, to the Elkhorn B & B. There was a fiddler festival going on in Weiser, but we didn’t see any action in our drive through town that particular evening. When we arrived at the B & B, Debra, our hostess, met us (actually her friend met us at the gate to let us into the property) and showed us our rooms in her home. This was Martha’s choice of lodging, and she did a great job of picking it out. A little pricey, but compared to the other accommodations nearby, it was the best! After we each got settled in our respective rooms, Martha and Sheryl took the truck to Cambridge, following Deb in her truck, and after they parked at a Frontier Motel in town (parking pre-arranged by Martha), Deb drove them back to the B & B. When they got back, Cristin and I had already gone to bed, rather early because we needed to get going early in the morning. On Saturday, after a full hot breakfast, which was delicious, Deb drove us the hour north to the trail head and made sure we were off to a good start. About 9 something we were off!
The original plan was to stop at Mundo Hot Springs after the ride, on the way back to Mesa, and possibly go for a relaxing dip into the pool, but once we arrived there and actually saw that it looked just like a regular swimming pool and not a “romantic” adventure, we decided instead to just get a cool drink and head on back to the Elkhorn B&B.
“Back at the ranch,” our hostess Deb gave us a tour of her goats and mules and dogs and was an entertaining talker throughout the tour and throughout her delicious dinner, so it was an experience! She has quite a lifetime of experiences. We decided we could postpone leaving as early in the morning as Martha’s itinerary said, because the weather was not as hot as expected, so after a while we went to bed, planning to awake at 7 the next morning and leave at 8 or 8:30 a.m. Because Sheryl had decided not to ride the next day, we didn’t have to do any shuttling of the truck down to Weiser, which saved us a lot of time that evening and made for a less hectic schedule. It would have been nice for Sheryl to have completed the entire trip, but she really wanted to drive to McCall and see what that was like, and in addition she said her butt was very sore in spite of all the gel cushions on the bike seat. After another nice hot breakfast prepared by Deb, Sheryl drove us back to Cambridge where we had left the trail last night, and we were on our way once more.
After riding this part for an hour or so, we were glad Cheryl had decided not to ride today because it was REALLY bumpy with the gravel surface, and the ride might have been just agony for her. The scenery today was totally different from yesterday, and that was great. Almost the entire time we were following the Weiser River in what were termed canyons, though the mountains on either side weren’t really steep, but we were very close to the river and seeing a perspective that could not be seen from anywhere but the trail. That was a good point. We stopped at another little town, Midvale, for a bathroom break, and Martha and Cristin went into a nearby market for food and drink and were able to get us a published map brochure of the trail. Then we rode on.
This day was not a good one for Martha, with the first mishap being her cell phone dropping out of her pocket. Lucky that Cristin was a bit behind her and noticed it laying on the trail and stopped to pick it up. Then Martha accidentally slipped down a short embankment when she came to a stop at a wooden bridge, getting some scratches on her legs, but that was nothing compared to the dog bite that she got farther down the trail when she stopped to talk to a friendly man on a horse who was making a journey from Washington to New Mexico and happened to be on the trail at that time. She didn’t see the dog beneath her feet, stepped on his paw, and got bit in return. That led to consternation about rabies possibility and the current status of her tetanus shots, which led her to become very frustrated at the whole situation, especially when she had no cell service and couldn’t get hold of her husband to vent her concerns. But as I said, she survived. She’s a trooper. (epilogue comment: when we arrived in Boise to turn the bikes in, she went to an urgent care in Boise and got anti-biotic treatment and a tetanus shot and was able to go on to her trip with Sheryl to Stanley, Idaho, go hiking there, and have a good time) At times the trail today was mostly dirt and not gravel, which was fine with us, as we were a little tired of the bouncing and possibility of falling. Like I said, this was one of the roughest trails we have ridden but also one of the prettiest in terms of scenery.
For the last eleven miles of the trail, after a picnic lunch at a picnic table that sort of appeared out of nowhere from our point of view, we rode on the almost-parallel paved road which conveniently crossed the trail just before the trail got really bad. Martha had read about the poor upkeep of the trail these last eleven miles, so we were prepared to deviate from the purity of the trail, but what she didn’t tell us was how much elevation change was involved with the road part. It was a lot of up and down, good for the heart and lungs going up the hills, and fun going down the hills, and the best part was that it was paved. On this part of the trail we also rode past the zebra farm where we stopped to take a zebra selfie picture and enjoy the oddity of a zebra in Idaho. Then we rode on into Weiser on the paved road, passed the end of the actual trail in town, and met Cheryl at a pre-arranged spot in town to load the bikes onto the truck and call it a good journey.
Finished off with the ride back to Boise eating a McDonald’s strawberry shake, which hit the spot. We had a good time together, and personally I’m really glad Cristin was able to come with us, since it was her dad, my brother, who had recommended the trail. Therefore, I dedicate this blog to him. Thanks, Curt, for the suggestion of the Weiser River Trail. It helped Cristin and me become closer by sharing the experience.