I hauled the bikes to the Gather in White Bird and we packed and departed Sunday morning. First stop was Grangeville for gas and a headlight bulb for my bike. There are not a lot of places open on Sunday so we continued without the bulb.
The Post Office in Grangeville and the Post Office in Elk City are connected by the Mt Idaho Grade Road and Highway 14, the best 51 miles of twisty pavement in the northwest. There is no traffic, you’re going to Elk City after all, and the road is excellent. We set a brisk pace and Gary had my six the whole way.
Except when I pulled up to the store in Elk City there was no Gary. I spent a minute looking around the big dirt parking lot and then I saw him coast downhill to a stop on the next street. I asked him why he parked way over there and he said he needed the hill to get started, the battery was dead. What! Yep, barely a click.
Time for some MacGyver on the Magruder. Gary’s bike ran perfectly, just wouldn’t start, so we figured the battery was bad and decided we needed a jumper cable. The grocery store/gas station/general supply store had everything we needed. I bought a six foot household extension cord and a package of crimp terminals that fit the battery. The first extension cord I picked was a brown one but I realized it did not have polarized plugs, so I got the white one that did. I cut the cord in half, added the crimp-on terminals being careful with polarity, and wired one end to Gary’s bike and the other to mine. Whenever it was time to start Gary’s bike we plugged in and his bike fired right up. Worked perfectly the entire week. We just curled up the cords and tucked them away while underway. A piece of electrical tape kept my bare positive terminal from causing any problems.
We’re off! The Magruder doesn’t start in Elk City, it’s about 15 miles south. Just stay on Main Street which turns into Mother Lode Road and then turns into Forest Road 1818 and then comes to Red River Road which you take almost all the way. At the Ranger Station, Red River Rd branches east and Dixie Rd continues south to Montana Rd where you turn east, finally off the pavement for one and a half miles and turn right onto the Magruder Corrider. Easier than it sounds and your GPS will take you right to it.
“The history of the current corridor dates back to 1980 with the passage of the Central Idaho Wilderness Act, which left the unique road open between two sprawling wilderness areas: the 1.2 million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to the north and the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to the south.The original road was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Not much has changed since then.
The corridor bears the name of Elk City merchant Lloyd Magruder, who was murdered – along with his four companions – near the Selway River in 1863. The murderers was captured, brought back to Lewiston, Idaho, and found guilty. Their hanging was the first legal execution in the Idaho Territory.” – various
The Nez Perce Pass is a fine wide highway at either end. Soon the pavement ends and you have a nice wide gravel road. But gradually the road narrows, the gravel gets thinner and eventually you are riding on a rough bare rock road. Amazingly, near the border between Idaho and Montana, the road is paved for a few miles on either side of the pass.
Near our camp the road was steep and rocky with lots of ruts and we picked our way carefully. We had not gone far before we came upon a sport bike loaded for travel, parked near a trailhead. Two helmets were perched side-by-side on a rock nearby. We wondered at the choice of bike but admired the skill to get this far. He was right in the middle of the roughest section of the road and to get there he had made it through deep gravel, ruts, and lots of steep rocky sections. We were in awe. And we hoped his low profile street tires and fragile rims would survive the rest of the journey. Respect.
No plan survives contact with the opposing forces and ours didn’t either. I had planned to make a big circle route taking us back into Idaho and south as far as Challis, then northwest through Yellow Pine, over the mountains to Riggins and north through the backcountry, returning to Elk City. Some of this was new, some I had ridden in previous trips. It was not to be.
We rode east into Montana and headed to Darby for supplies. Then we retraced our steps south to 473 and then on to Painted Rocks Lake. Our intention was to continue south over Horse Creek Pass, crossing back into Idaho.
We got past the lake and then just south of Woods Creek we were stopped by a Forest Ranger who told us all the roads south were closed by the fires. Rats! He said there were several nice camping spots nearby so we looked around and stayed in one near Woods Creek.
This site had a nice rock fire circle and after a quick dip in the very icy Woods Creek, Gary was hard at work on dinner. If Gary offers to cook, say “Yes”. The first of many excellent backcountry meals.
We rinsed a few things in the creek and strung up a line to let them dry. There was a little smoke but it was not troubling. A most pleasant evening in the Montana woods.
There is more than one way to get to Idaho. We decided to backtrack past the lake and take US 93 south over Lost Trail Pass to North Fork, ID where we could turn west and get back into the backcountry. It was nearly all pavement but on the other hand, US 93 is a fine twisty mountain road that is always fun. Off we went.
Foiled again! The riding and weather was perfect to the top of the pass, but down the other side it was socked in with smoke. You could not see the mountains from the road. In fact, you could hardly see across the road. And breathing was not too pleasant, either. We went to the Ranger Station, looked at the maps, chatted with a Ranger who pointed to all the roads that were closed and left. Even if the roads had not been closed, there was just no way we were going to ride in that mess.
So after a bit of discussion we backtracked again. Back over Lost Trail Pass into the sunshine, and back over Nez Perce Pass into Idaho. We camped at the same place we did our first night. Not a lot of photos as the day was getting along. This was not our original plan but it was a fine day of on and off road riding in the wilderness.
The area around Elk City is full of roads, north and south so we decided to check some of them out. We cooked our leftovers for breakfast, packed up and headed west like thousands of pilgrims before us. Perfect weather with a little smoke, but not at all bad. We rattled our way past the rough stuff, zipped along on the gravel sections and were shortly back in Elk City for supplies and gas. KLR 6gal tanks are da bomb!
More backtracking. South again to the Magruder turn-off, but this time we continued south toward Dixie. This is all paved and we tilted the horizon aggressively, roosting a couple other dual-sport riders in the process. Sorry! We crossed Dixie Summit at 6438 feet and eventually passed through Dixie, the very definition of ‘a wide spot in the road’. We camped along Crooked Creek a few miles south.
Lots of adventure today. It was great. We packed up and headed south to Mackay Bar. Just follow NF-222. Oh wait. First you’re on Dixie Rd, then NF-222, then by the north end of the dirt airstrip stay to the left or you’ll be on NF-222I. We followed Lemon Creek on a road not labeled until the junction with NF-222F. What, did they run out of numbers? Maybe the 2 key was sticky.
NF-222F is a fine road through the woods. Eventually you climb up on a ridge and were it not for the thick smoke, the views would be territorial. The further south and the lower we got the worse the smoke got. Elk City was on the northwest edge of the fire area.
From the intersection you climb up again to 6500 feet and then the road drops steeply down to Mackay Bar. The ATV bridge across the Salmon River is at 2200 feet. The last 4 miles are an 18% grade.
While Gary and I were taking a break by the bridge, and sweating in the heat of the river canyon, a guy on a 4-wheeler rolled up and began chatting. Turns out he is the owner of the Mackay Bar Lodge just over the bridge and around the bend. He said they were serving lunch if we would like, so we followed our basic principles and said “Yes”. What a lunch! I don’t remember what all it was, but meat, potatoes, salads, iced tea and dessert. Easily enough for 6. We did the best we could there was no way we could really make a dent in all that food. The cook was concerned we didn’t like it, but we assured her it was delicious. They took pity on us and only charged us half.
Were it not for the smoke and the heat, it would have been a delightful spot on the river. Bring a couple of books to read and enjoy the quiet. No cell service, no cars, just the river and few deer in the evenings. You can get there by road from Elk City and by boat from Riggins. If you drive, you have to park across the ATV bridge, so pack light.
Getting back up the hill was an adventure but because of the hill. Gary was leading and wanted to get some shots of me coming up the hill. Because of his starting problem, he took a side road to get up and turn around so he could bump start. He didn’t realize I was so close to him and while he was turning around out of sight of the road, I rode past. Of course, I had no idea I was now ahead of him. Short version, we both got to ride the road between there and the dirt airstrip a couple of times before we connected again.
One thing that rankled us both was that we had separetely asked two young ladies in a pickup if they had seen the other. I was first to ask and then Gary saw them again and asked. They said “no” both times. On reflection, I think they probably thought it was the same person asking both times. Same bikes, nearly same helmets, riding gear and bags. I’m sure the differences were not obvious. Everyone survived.
When we did get back together and back to the dirt airstrip, we turned north toward Orogrande. A pleasant ride even with a couple of wrong turns due to an old map. We found an excellent camp site with water just a few steps away. Life is good.
No trip to or from Elk City is complete without taking the Elk City Wagon Road. Word.
We packed up on our last morning in camp and headed back to Elk City. NF-233 goes due north from Orogrande along the Crooked River to highway 14. Very pretty ride along the river in the morning. We went in to Elk City for gas and a few munchies.
Sweeney Hill Rd northwest out of Elk City to the junction of Bear Trap Rd and the first sign for the Elk City Wagon Road. This is the way the early wagons got people and supplies in and out of Elk City and in many cases, all the way east into Montana over the Nez Perce Pass. I wonder how many days that took.
Basically, this route goes northwest to Clearwater. It zigs and zags north and south quite a bit and was one of the most fun roads to ride of this entire trip. There was bright sunshine and deep shade in the trees so sometimes the road provided some serious suprises. In one particular rough section Gary decided my pace wasn’t sufficient so he blasted past, not seeing the big ditch in the shade just ahead. Flying W! I saw it and I still was way off the seat and pegs. This road had ruts and ditches and steps and roots and deep shade and even some fast gravel sections. Good times!
We took a few breaks not wanting to end our adventure and to enjoy some of the first smoke-free sunshine in a week. We got back on pavement in Clearwater and we got to tilt the horizon on 13 back into Grangeville. After a break in the shade of a park, we returned to White Bird, loaded the truck and drove to Lewiston and our first shower in a week.
An epic trip with a good friend and a couple of fine running KLRs. Life is good.