Voices in the Wilderness – André Bircher

Dollarhide Sufferfest

If you spend enough time in the wilderness, you’re likely to experience one adventure that redefines the concept. Mine was day 4 of the Idaho Hot Springs Loop. Over the first few days we (a crew of eight pedaling panhandlers) were rerouted, derailed by equipment failure, and encountered marathon washboards that could only be smoothed out by whiskey breaks, small-town diners, and twice daily hot springs soaks.

After underachieving for the first three days, we had more than a few miles to make up on day four to reach our planned destination at a hostel in Sun Valley. But this was day four; the strongest we had ever been. Those of you that have enjoyed extended adventure know that there’s a threshold when fatigue, aches, and pain transition to strength and endurance. We needed every bit of it.

There’s no better way to set the tone for a big day than blasting 36 Chambers to drown out the rain. We hustled to pack our soaking wet gear and set out well earlier than our average departure. It wasn’t long before encountering our first obstacle. This remote stretch of road had recently been destroyed by multiple landslides and river washouts that completely eliminated all car traffic. For us, that meant pulling all gear off our bikes and doubling back to snag it after an over shoulder bike carry scrambling through boulder fields or wading through the South Fork Boise River.

Shortly after the second river crossing, I glanced upward to see a bald eagle soaring in unison with us. I was convinced he was spectating our journey. Quickly thereafter, I looked downward to the roadside stream to see flashes of red surging upstream, and realized the spawning salmon were probably of more interest to the eagle. We barely considered the wildlife sanctuary created by the impassable road until noticing the regularity of bear scat along the shoulder. There was a pile roughly every fifty meters for ten miles.

The chorus of “Hey Bear!” rang loud and proud.

We settled into a quick hot spring to recharge before the ascent up Dollarhide Pass. Dollarhide’s 8,717’ summit was our last true obstacle before the dream of downhill. Unless of course you consider weather an obstacle; as soon as we started up the countless switchbacks, precipitation ensued. We all found our cadence, grimaced and giggled our way toward the top before rain turned to snow.

The summit was something special! I’ll take snow over rain any day in the wild, but watching this crew strip and re-dress in a blizzard with any and everything dry left in their bags was pure comedy.

The initial descent was far from dreamy. As it turns out, brake levers are hard to manage when you can’t feel your hands. Even the wool socks we wore as gloves could only help so much. The icy glaze on our riding glasses added to the challenge and kept us guessing switchback after switchback as to which corners were muddy or dry. The team continued downhill with creative solutions to maintain enough body warmth to function and dodge hypothermia. Jumping jack intermissions were followed by aggressive hugging, as we persevered our way down to low lands for hot beverages and a quick fireside warm up.

We smashed the last 15 miles to the hostel through dusk with perfect pitch downhill; just enough output to warm our cores. The creaking and grinding of our drivetrains far outweighed our bliss by arrival at The Hot Water Inn & Hostel. Laughter was back on track in about an hour thanks to their incredible hospitality. Our bikes and laundry were washed and our bellies were full of pizza and beer when we retired for a night in domestic glory.

We pedaled onward and upward the next day over Galena Pass and into the Sawtooths. The objectives of days five and beyond were easily attained as we joked about a shift to “vacation pace”. It was clear that our thresholds had shifted. Years later, I am confident that if you asked any member of our crew for their measuring stick of adventure, the answer would be unanimous and resounding: The Dollarhide Sufferfest.


André Bircher is an equal opportunity recreationalist with Idaho Panhandle roots. 

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