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My Tour of Idaho Manifesto

by Martin Hackworth 

Photos: Martin Hackworth, Dan Colvin

T1 Mile Marker 1

   August is Tour of Idaho time. The Tour of Idaho (T1) is probably the most adventurous dirt bike ride in North America and definitely one of the most difficult to complete - at least as we have described it. It's a tour not only through the flora, fauna, geology. people and places of Idaho, but also through oneself.

     Tour season is brief - dictated by snow levels on Oxford Peak and along the Magruder Corridor - and generally runs from mid-July through September. Those who return to the Tour year after year spend months planning and training for the trip - which resembles a mountaineering expedition as much as a motorcycle ride. Equipment selection is important, fitness is crucial, grams count and it is absolutely necessary to know what you are getting into. There are places along the Tour where you are far from help or rescue and should assume that no one else is coming along for a long time if things go bad.

     There are two ways to approach any challenge: the first is to accept it on its own terms and elevate your game, the second is to throw at it enough equipment or support - or just cut enough corners - to bring it down to your level. I was a climbing guide for 17 years and used to observe, with dismay, the frequency with which someone in possession of a lot of moxie would put up a great, visionary route - where falling off might mean serious injury or death - and others would repeat the route with an upper belay, completely eliminating the element of risk and all of the adventure, but still claim, without proviso, to have done the route. I don't think so.   
American Falls
     I guess that in a world where professional athletes, Wall Street Executives, politicians, corporations and a distressing number of students I encounter in my class at the University all consider cutting corners, cheating and the like merely competing strategies for advancement I should not be surprised at a widespread lack of ethics in something as non-serious as recreation. I am not - but I'm none too thrilled about it either.

     The Tour of Idaho is meant to be a challenge to mind, body, bike and spirit. The Tour was designed to be attempted by self-supported small groups or solo riders on light dirt bikes. The route is clear and unambiguous as are the challenges. There is no easy chair "Tour Lite" version. Over the course of 1300 miles you, your bike and your equipment will take a beating. You will crash, you will get lost, you will have to ride in the dark, stuff will break and all manner of things will go wrong. There will be numerous temptations as the days progress for you to bag the whole thing. Of the hundreds who have attempted the Tour only a handful have completed it - a bail out rate exceeding 10:1. And in our experience success or failure seem less determined by stuff than by character.
Big Southern Butte
    The adventure riding community is filled with individuals who collect rides like merit badges and for whom the end justifies the means. So though the number of riders - all accomplished athletes - who have actually completed the Tour may be counted on one's fingers without having to hold up any more than once, the number who claim to have completed it would produce carpal tunnel syndrome. The real shame is what the pretenders missed out on.

     The Tour of Idaho is being watched at close range by a curious black bear as you attempt to start your flooded bike, it's being chased by an angry moose on the Nez Perce Trail, it's fording rain-swollen streams and dodging forest fires, it's suffering from extremes of heat and cold in the same day, it's launching your bike off a steep single track in the worst possible place and having to wrestle it back into the trail by yourself, it's commiserating with the locals in Wallace as their town slowly disappears, it's pushing your bike the final two miles into Lowell because you're out of gas and finding the gas station closed, it's sleeping under your bike, it's being lost, it's riding 100 miles with your handlebars bent sideways, it's being a roadside mechanic, it's 
Massacre Mounain Loop
worrying about fuel, it's depending on your own skill and wit to get by and it's not quitting no matter how much it seems a good idea at the time. 

Until you've grappled with the Tour it is nothing more than a series of lines on a map. So I have no problem with anyone who attempts the Tour as a member of a large group, rides with a chase vehicle or even skips the parts they find problematic as long as they are honest about what they did (as most are). We've even come up with dual-sport variants, T2 and T3 of the Tour of Idaho for those who want all of the fun with fewer limits. But to experience the Tour of Idaho as it was meant to be, as a minimalist endeavor for dedicated outdoor adventurers, you have to be prepared to do more than just follow a red line on a map with a motorcycle, you have to allow yourself to become immersed in and accept the adventure on it's own terms - not on yours.

     Anything else may be (and probably is) a cool, very scenic ride in Idaho that makes a great story - but it's not the Tour of Idaho.
Rockland Valley
Tour of Idaho
Tour of Idaho Route Description
Tour of Idaho 2008
Tour of Idaho 2010
Tour of Idaho Challenge

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