Trans Am Week 4: Syringa, ID to Baker City, OR


EDIT 8/10/2016: This should have been published 2 weeks ago but I’m finally having the chance to do so now so here it is in it’s original form when I started writing back at the end of July 24th. 

I can’t believe it has already been 1 months on the road but here I am, riding across another state. This time, the state is Idaho. I am pleasantly surprised by how Idaho has been. Such a varying landscape that I wasn’t expecting at all. This is a good thing as Idaho is certainly my favorite state so far on this ride.

July 18, 2016 – Powell, ID to Syringa, ID

Hammock over van

The original plan was to stay ride from Powell to Lowell, which would have been 6 miles shorter but after reading about the “primitive” campgrounds and our budget, we opted to add the miles and stay at another site in Syringa. The video picked up from my ride into Syringa where we enjoyed a relatively easy day if it wasn’t because of the significant mileage. I believe I ended with close to 73 miles that day. It was a hot day as we traveled parallel to the Lochsa River the entire way. Every turn and bend gave way to a duplicate scenery. It felt like Groundhogs Day: river to my left, the road curving to the left, rocky cliffs to my right lined with tall green trees, and in the distance above was tall mountains covered in green trees. It was good the first 5 times but every time after that made it more uninteresting so I got impatient to get into camp. Only consideration was that I was riding sweep this day and was following 2 of our participants who had visited a hot spring earlier in the morning and was running a bit behind in schedule.

As we got to Syringa, we were welcomed to the River Dance Lodge where we stayed for the night. They generously gave us lots of space to spread out. Instead of taking advantage of the open spaces, I decided to try my hammock one more time this night. This time, I inflated my sleeping pad and it worked beautifully. It kept me warm through the night. I hung the hammock between the Adventure Cycling van and a tree. It worked very well as I was shielded away from the other tents. It felt like I was sleeping in my own little world. Jared also set up his hammock right before bed but as the night wore on, he retired in his tent.

July 19, 2016 – Syringa, ID to Grangeville, ID

Overlook of White Bird Hill

Today was going to be a short day but with a challenging climb into the town of Grangeville. Jared and I attempted to grab second breakfast in Syringa but the River Dance Lodge did not offer breakfast on weekdays and also required a reservation. Being that it was a Tuesday and we didn’t make any reservations, we were out of luck. Instead, we agreed to meet at Kooskia. I got there ahead of Jared and was waiting for him for about 20 minutes before he showed up.

I’m glad we waited because Kooskia was home to The Backroads Cafe (Facebook). This was one of the best places to have breakfast on the trip. Both Jared and I thoroughly enjoyed our meals. One of our injured riders decided that she needed a boost this day to see a doctor about her ankle issue in Grangeville. We loaded her bike on the roof of the van and started our journey towards Grangeville.

The ride from Kooskia into Grangeville can only be described as something straight out of someone’s crazy imagination as the road seemed to point up and high as we weaved into golden fields of wheat at the top. Instead of a downhill on the other side, we were treated to a plateau of farm lands until we were driving into the outskirts of town. We passed many of our riders and the self-supported group slowly grinding up this steep hill. When I reached the center of town, I dropped off our injured rider at the medical clinic for an evaluation and I went to shop for our dinner.

After shopping was done, I drove to the 1+ mile to our home at the Bear Den RV Resort. The folks who run the resort was very nice. They gave us pretty much all the grassy area for us to camp on. Many of the self-supported and half of our group was already seeking refuge from the sun when I pulled in to pay for camp. I quickly unhitched the trailer and dropped off people’s luggage so they can start pitching their tents and getting themselves cleaned up for the remainder of the day. I then drove back into town to pick up our injured rider and while we waited for her prescription to be filled, we went to the town’s ice cream shop. We ran into Jared and our last rider enjoying ice cream. Not sure if it was the first time this shop has seen customers but they were the most inefficiently run store in all of the town that we visited. The guy would take everyone’s order and then would take his time to fill everyone’s order. You would think that people who get ice cream would be able to get it within 2 minutes tops. Nope, it took a good 15 minutes after he is done making shakes or brewing coffee.

When it came time to pick up the medication and drive back to camp, we left Jared and the last rider with directions around the construction zone on highway 95. We lucked out and got through the construction without waiting at all while the detour for Jared added about 6 miles to their ride. Whoops!

In camp, I changed my tour leader hat to the sous-chef for the rest of the evening as my partner and I prepared for our groups dinner. We made BBQ chicken, boiled sweet corn, mash potatoes, and ended with a strawberry rhubarb pie.  Dinner concluded with our nightly map meeting with no time left to spare when the mother of all hailstorms decided to pay us a visit as we sprinted into our tents for coverage. I captured the entire storm on video as thousands of hail pebbles pelted my tent (see video below). The wind picked up and tried to blow our shelters over but everything held together as we braced through the 15 minutes of turmoil. At the end, our tents was surrounded by piles of hail and the storm moved east while revealing a beautiful pink colored sunset.

July 20, 2016 – Grangeville, ID to New Meadows, ID

Hammock time at Zim's Hot Springs Thumbs up for hammock

The next day would prove to be one of the toughest and longest riding days on this ride. We were to travel about 81 miles from Grangeville to New Meadows. This included an early morning climb and then a spectacular plunge down White Bird Hill by way of Old Highway 95. It was over 10 miles of downhills through sweeping switchbacks into the town of White Bird before we would pedal again. This would rank as the #1 downhill of the trip so far.

Out of White Bird was a gradual incline as we parallel the Salmon River along “new” Highway 95. This lazy river is popular amongst people who are looking for a mellow float downstream. This is more apparent as we rolled into the town of Riggins where multiple companies were advertising their river rafting adventures with billboards and flyers. I also wanted to note that before getting into Riggins, we crossed over a bridge that finally pushed us back into Mountain Time. This means we lost an hour on a rather long day as I didn’t get into camp until close 6PM while sweeping 2 riders.

Home for the night was at a hot springs called, Zims Hot Springs. It was about 6 miles north of the New Meadows town. Because many of us arrived so late for the day, Jared made the executive decision to eat in town. I jumped in the showers at the hot springs and then got all my things ready for the night before we all piled into the van for a quick shuttle into town for some warm food at The Intersection BBQ, Bar & Grill (Facebook).

After dinner, we all went back into camp ready to hop into our sleeping quarters. For this night, I thought it was a good idea to use the hammock. I strapped it along the rafters of the pavilion. On any other nights, this would have been the most ideal pitch but tonight, the winds picked up and I learned a very valuable lesson about hammock camping: pitch low when it’s windy. I ended up taking the rainfly off because of the wind flapping and was damped by the mist and fog.

July 21 2016 – New Meadows, ID to Cambridge, ID

After everyone left, Jared and I decided to have “second breakfast” in town at the Granite Mountain Cafe (Zomato). A very good breakfast but still not better than Kooskia. I left breakfast as I head into our next destination of Cambridge on Highway 95. I stopped in the town of Council for grocery shopping before continuing onto The Mundo Hot Springs. I was very surprised to see that over half of our riders was there as I pulled in with the van. It was only 10:30! They were so early that the office wasn’t even open to check us in until 11. So we waited a few minutes until the owner of the hot springs came by to check us all in.

Our group occupied the shadiest parts of the camp as the temperature started to soar. It was well over 100 degrees when the early afternoon came. We spent the majority of our time sitting under the shade just chatting as we waited for Jared and our last rider to come in around 3PM. Everyone was in agreement that this day’s ride was much better than expected as the road were a road cyclists “porn” as one of our rider put it. I ended up pitching my tent as all the tree spots were quickly claimed. I waited until the sun was setting when I started on my tent.

The self-supported group also joined us this day. For some reason our groups started to have some negative interactions which is unfortunate especially when most of it seemed to come from my group. The self-supported folks were very mellow and laid back. I knew this would be the last time we will be staying together for the rest of our trip.

July 22, 2016 – Cambridge, ID to Halfway, OR

One half of the tandem rider couple was sick the next day and couldn’t ride. He pretty much spent the night doubled over on the bathroom floor. Needless to say, there was no way for him to even try to get on a bike. Later he figured out it was because of an old turkey sandwich that he mistakenly ate. A bad lesson learned.

They both rode the van with Jared while I made my way out of Cambridge on bike and immediately was hit with headwinds and a gradual climb up Highway 71 towards the Brownlee Dam into Hells Canyon. The first 20 miles was uphill until the road dipped in my favor for another 7 miles until I hit a cool little shop called Gateway Store & Cafe (Facebook). The staff there are super friendly, especially to cyclists. They offered to fill everybody’s water bottle and their breakfast was very reasonably priced and delicious. The best breakfast sandwich I’ve had on this trip was from this spot. They keep the coffee flowing until you’ve had enough. Stop by here if you’re looking for a place to have “second breakfast”.

After the brief meal, I continue through the Brownlee Dam and followed the road across the Idaho / Oregon border where I still rode next to the Snake River. From there I followed the river until the road split off just before the town of Copperfield where we turned south on Highway 86 towards our destination of Halfway, Oregon. By the way, the hour we lost 2 days ago was gained right after we crossed into Oregon.

The steady climb from Copperfield to Halfway wasn’t too bad. We were lucky that it wasn’t a typical summer day where temperatures can rise pass 100 degrees. It was probably in the upper 80s so the riding condition was comfortable. We stopped by a gas station / convenience store / ice cream shop called Scottys Hells Canyon Outdoor Supply to enjoyed some ice cream and refuel on gatorade and water.

By the time the last rider and I made into the town of Halfway, we were slowly rolling about 4-5 mph through the downtown area looking for the Halfway RV Park which was 0.3 miles from the Halfway Motel. At first glance, this placed didn’t seem all that great but there was only 2 RVs and our group there so it made it really nice and quiet. Our spots were shaded by trees and bushes so the afternoon and evenings was nice and cool. We had the restrooms and laundry facilities all to ourselves. Not a bad stay considering we were near the outskirts of town. The self-supported folks opted to stay at the Halfway Motel.

July 23, 2016 – Halfway, OR to Baker City

Beer flights

The next morning, the tandem riders came by our camp after spending the night at the motel recovering. He felt about 80% better and was leary of riding the first 30 of the 50+ miles so I gave them a bump to our water stop. The drive out of Halfway to Baker City was desolate as we only passed the town of Richland. Everything else was just bare desert. Like the first day, there was a hill at beginning and at the end of the day into Baker City. Conditions seemed warmer as I sat at the water stop making sure I rehydrate all my riders before taking off into Baker City.

Our injured rider with the ankle issue, opted to call it a day at the water stop so we both drove into town with her bike on top again. The anticipation of reaching Baker City was pretty high because it meant that we could finally relax and have our rest day. I was certainly eager to check everyone in. Again, some of my riders had already made it into our hotel, The Oregon Trail Motel & Restaurant. We were given coupons for a free breakfast each morning with our stay. It was a decent meal too and not your cold breakfast with muffins.

I waited for everyone to finally roll into the motel before locking everything up in the trailer and van. I was sharing a room with Jared for the next 2 days so I brought his bags in while I enjoyed the air conditioned room. Jared made it in close to 3PM and he took his shower before we headed into the town to find some beer at The Barley Brown’s Brewery. I took on their sampler while Jared, who was not a beer drinker, rehydrated with water. We ran into the self-supported folks again here and asked about their ride. They eventually left for their dinner while Jared and I stayed to watch me finish off 9 sizeable samples of delicious beer.

We decided to have dinner at the highly recommended Mexican restaurant, El Erradero, where the food is as good as it gets to Los Angeles Mexican food one reviewer said on Yelp. It was good to change my food palate as I was getting sick of the usual burger and fries routine. Still feeling the effects of the beer sampler, I decided against ordering more alcohol. Instead we devoured our food and chips and then contacted the remainder of the self-supported folks for quick get-together at the next bar, Lefty’s Taphouse. This was a place that was little to be desired if you’re not a beer drinker. They don’t have good wine or hard liquor which was what Jared and the other tour leader wanted.

We ended up drinking 1 glass and decided to swing by the Dairy Queen down the street to cap off our day with some ice cream. It was the perfect cherry on top to a long hot night as we all walked home. The self-supported folks got on their bike to bike back to their RV campground.

July 24, 2016 – Rest Day in Baker City

The next day, we slept in. This means sleeping until 7AM before we decided to get up to take advantage of breakfast, which was very good for the price. Jared and I decided to do some planning for the end of the trip. This meant figuring out what to do for the final dinner celebration. We also pretty much sat in our room and did nothing until lunch came where we both walked over to the Lone Pine Cafe (Zomato), which served really good and healthy sandwiches and breakfast.

We ran into some of our riders there along with some of the self-supported folks. We left them to head back into our room for an afternoon nap. After the nap, I decided to walk along the Powder River which traced the back of our motel into the eastside of town. I walked about 2 miles before I turned around to come back to the motel.

By the time, I made it back, it was time for dinner. Jared and I ended up eating at our motel’s restaurant. It was close and simple. Seems like all we do is bike and eat. I suppose that’s not too far from the truth. We finished dinner with ample time to prepare for our map meeting for the next day. Everyone showed up to talk about how to get out of Baker City. The night wrapped up with Jared and I just relaxing in our hotel room vegging out and rejoicing the fact that we were entering our last week!

The Video


About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He’s also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association’s Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.