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COGS Summer Tour - August 21-29, 2021 - Ride Report

COGS August 2021 Idaho Sawtooth Mountains Ride: COGS Summer 2021 Tour PDF

Saturday, August 21 we arrived in Ketchum, ID. (Sun Valley Resort). The wildfires had turned daylight into near night. At 4 p.m. it looked like 9 p.m. All the cars had their headlights on and the western sky glowed orange with the defused afternoon sun.

Day 1: The outside temperature was 31 degrees when we awoke. It “warmed” up to 41 by departure time. Bundled up we took the bike path out of town heading south. We started at 6000’ of elevation. Our entire ride would be on the Snake River plateau with most days ranging from 5000+ to 6000+ with some higher passes to cross. A very pretty ride with a warm and pleasant group of riders. Of course, we were spread out along the way, gathering together at the sag stops and lunch. Craters of the Moon National Monument is a collection of lava flows, cinder cones, lava tube caves and similar features of volcanic eruptions in the area.

Luckily, the smoke had cleared by the morning of our start. Craters of the Moon was actually the hardest part of our 90-mile day. Lots of steep ups and downs and strong winds. Riding the 6-mile loop plus some side roads involved the bulk of our elevation gain. The last 21 miles after Craters was mostly a slight downhill slope and we could cruise at over 20 MPH to reach the end at Arco in less than an hour. Arco is known for its nuclear research facility and for being the first entire town to have all its electricity generated by nuclear power.

Our motel in Arco had cancelled our reservation, so we shuttle-bussed to Mackay (pronounce MACK-ie, not ma-KAY). Another small mining town. We chowed down at the L-7 tavern, where you can also buy ammo and tackle. The ribs were terrific.

Day two we rode from Mackay to Challis. This is farming, ranching, and formerly mining country. Very picturesque cliffs and prairie with occasional homesteads in between. We saw cabins nestled against rocky bluffs, large irrigated hay fields, and more prairie. We passed Mount Borah, Idaho’s highest peak at 12,662’, but our highest point was a 7172’ pass. Mt. Borah actually grew 6” in 1983 and the valley dropped 9’ from a large earthquake, which left a fracture 26 miles long and 7 miles deep! We are learning that the mornings are cold, within 10 degrees of freezing, but the afternoons warm into the 70s or 80s. Today we also dealt with strong cross-winds and some pressure blasts from passing trucks, but the scenery made up for those issues. We gathered for lunch at an opening between two large ridges, which allowed the road to pass through. We frequently cycled past amazing bluffs with complex rock features facing the road.

Day three we rode from Challis to Redfish Lake Lodge. We left the prairie to follow the Salmon River north along a mostly steady climb from 5000’ to over 6500’ with a cycling elevation gain of 2800’. We passed the site of the Clayton Smelter, which was a major lead and silver producer from 1888 until almost 100 years later. Now Clayton has a population of 7. The Salmon River is beautiful and this stretch of ride was a constant visual pleasure. Unfortunately, after lunch, we ran into strong headwinds for the final 20 miles. We sea-level dwellers were already suffering from biking at altitude. Each grade here feels like double at sea level. So, a 4-5% grade is like climbing a constant 8-10% grade. Now, the headwinds added an additional challenge. We used pace lines to the extent we could and that helped fight the headwinds. But it was definitely a slog to get to our destination of the resort at Redfish Lake.

Wednesday was our rest day. We took advantage of the beautiful lake with the Sawtooth range in the background. Some went kayaking or fishing. Others relaxed. Seven of us went river rafting down the Salmon River.

We rode some out-and-backs from Redfish Lake (named after the abundant Kokanee salmon in the lake and adjacent creeks) and from Stanley, where we enjoyed the motel’s nearby hot springs after each day. More beautiful scenery, little smoke, and more climbs to enjoy. Pictures tell the story best. See the link below.

Our final ride day brought us back to Ketchum via Galena Pass at 8700’. Good thing we had a week to acclimate to the elevation. The return to Ketchum returned us to the excellent bike trail system in and around town, which we were told also serves as a skate ski route in the winter.

Overall, a great trip. Thanks to Ralph and Carol Nussbaum and our intrepid sags. See more pictures at You might need to sign in.

Mel Simburg


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