A sudden jolt wakes me from an uncomfortable slumber at the end of a short early-morning flight. We’re still a few minutes away from touchdown, but the sage-covered hills are already filling the entire view outside the window. The sage seems close enough to touch. This must be Sun Valley! We’re here! It takes all of five minutes to get through the terminal and out to a rental car for the drive up to the town of Ketchum, our destination for the weekend for some adventures with Maxxis Tires.
This is not my first time in the area. About a year ago, I visited Sun Valley to work on a story about fly fishing, when I earmarked all the various roads and climbs for a future trip involving bikes. This time the trip involves bikes. I’m in town for Rebecca’s Private Idaho, a weekend of gravel rides and races culminating with a 100-mile headliner on Sunday—but more on that next time. We still have a couple of days to go before the big event…and I need some coffee.
I reach out to Eric Chizum and we arrange to meet at the local Starbucks—there is only one in town, and it also sells beer and wine! Eric works for the Sun Valley Resort, the year-round adventure center in town that’s known best for its wintertime skiing and snowboarding. But snow is still a few months away and we get to talk about Idaho bike riding. Eric looks like the kind of guy I am very used to being dropped by in my local races.
We head north along Trail Creek Road, a smoothly paved road heading out of town. We pass a golf course, some condos and a shooting range, and then…nothing. The road continues to wind into the mountains until the gradient turns up and it starts climbing along the side of a mountain. It takes a couple of miles for the pavement to switch to gravel. By this time, the town is far behind us and the elevation we have gained is obvious around every scenic curve and exposure that reveals the valley below. And it keeps going. After about another 4 miles we find ourselves at the Trail Creek Summit at an elevation just a smidge above 7,900 feet. No small feat for us sea-level dwellers…or at least I like to tell myself that.
After the summit, the road opens up onto the Big Lost River basin. The trees of Sun Valley have been replaced by the distant, snowcapped peaks of the Pioneer Mountains. In place of pavement: dirt and gravel. Horizon ahead. Dust behind. It is hard not to imagine what it must have been like rolling through this area with a covered wagon in pioneering days. They must have had the same amount of cell reception, which is to say, none.
We decide to wrap up and head back to civilization. The gravel climb is now a screaming (and slightly frightening) gravel descent before we make it back to the pavement and into town. I tell Eric that even if that were the only road to ride in Ketchum, I would happily climb it over and over again. He points out that there are plenty more places to ride in the area, but I don’t care, I’m sold. I like this place.