Paul Andrews

Ride Classics: Stanley’s Little Basin Creek

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips on December 17, 2009 at 1:53 am

Over the holidays the incredible news machine that is Bike Intelligencer inevitably slackens as cyclists of all bent don funny little pointed sticks or funny fat flat sticks and head for trails covered by snow.

We of course ride in snow. But we of course are nuts.

In any case, the holidays seem like a good time to run Bike Intelligencer “Classics” — that is, stories from our archives enabling readers to dream the big dreams about next spring, summer and fall. At the end of the day, all we have are our stories. If they involve bikes, they have to be good.

We’ll start with hands down the most memorable mountain bike adventure we’ve ever had, our 5-day stint in the Sun Valley-Stanley region of Idaho the summer of 2003. Because there isn’t much for the big-hit crowd in Sun Valley, it typically gets overlooked in a compendium of great MTB rides. Yet for everything BUT big hit, it’s the best place to ride phat. I took along the camcorder and helmet cam, and YouTube links are provided, but please forgive the lousy resolution. This is ancient equipment by today’s standards — the helmet cam alone took 8 AA batteries and didn’t even give TV resolution. Still, our humble package gives you an idea of the gut-sucking sweep of Idaho’s XC joys.


It’s a wrap, but not before running into the befittingly surnamed (in keeping with our theme of Idah-O) former Seattle SuperSonic John Hummer out thrashing the trails on a custom ti frame and then encountering that marvel of Mother Nature, the diarrhetic cow herd.

Right before we’d left Sun Valley, we’d taken a short ride out of camp so Jim could show me Armando’s Stump. It was at a trail intersection just off the main campground – a modest little thing, really. But it had taco’d Armando’s front wheel the year earlier when The Hammer, on one of his downhill slams, had a momentary mental lapse singing some Cult lyrics to himself while tapping out the drum solo on his handlebars. Jim took a commemorative photo of me standing over the stump, bike in hand, viewable on the Web page listed below.

I could easily have spent another week in Sun Valley, but those psychological handcuffs known as adult responsibilities beckoned. To get back in time for a dinner party Sunday evening, we’d have to leave Saturday afternoon. Jim scoped out a ride outside of Stanley that the book “Good Dirt” labeled “the next Fisher Creek” while warning to “get there before the crowds discover it.” We drove west of Stanley about 10 miles and turned off on dirt another five or so, putting us at the head of the Little Basin Creek loop. Moments after we pulled up, a pickup with two riders arrived. By the time we left in early afternoon, there were half a dozen vehicles with more arriving all the time. Apparently whole crowds were coming there to beat the crowds.

The loop was nearly all singletrack, starting with a middling climb through pine and meadow, then turning onto a long joyride of a descent with several creek crossings and some final fire road back to the parking area. Our two counterparts – one of whom had the tallest mountain biking frame I’d ever seen, a custom-built titanium Independent Fabrication hardtail — began the ride 15 minutes ahead of us. But we caught them on the first steep switchback and pushed our bikes together for a spell. It turned out the tall guy was just breaking in his bike and had chosen this for his introductory ride with clipless pedals (SPDs). It was a heckuva place for a clipless tutorial, but he was faring pretty well.

After we crested and took off ahead, Jim – who’d pushed up with the big fella – told me he was a former player for the Seattle SuperSonics. Turned out it was none other than John Hummer, a popular 6-10 forward/center from the ’70s era. I know his business partner, Ann Winblad, through her early relationship with Bill Gates. Hummer Winblad is one of the better known and savvier venture firms in the Bay Area.

John’s a congenial, talkative guy and I introduced myself at the first open meadow, snapping a photo of him crossing one of the creek bridges. We talked San Francisco and tech briefly, then got back to the serious stuff: Negotiating dirt and rock along babbling Little Basin and Basin Creeks while trying to keep our feet dry on the crossings.

When it comes to creek crossings, I usually try to ride. But I won’t get my Chris Kings or Burner pivots wet, that’s a losing proposition. So if I can find a log bridge or a rock-hopping pathway, I’ll do that. Jim, otoh, is more likely to simply shed his shoes and socks and walk across, which usually puts him on the other side faster than my putzing around. In any case, there are several crossings on Basin Creek, and most require getting wet.

I scoped out the final crossing, the longest, as potentially rideable but made it only three-fourths of the way. The typical problem with water crossings is not, as one might assume, the uneven, unviewable surface below, but rather which gearing to use. Too high and you stall. Too low and you spin out. With me it was the latter. A gear or two higher and I could’ve gunned my way through.

Still, I avoided soaking the Burner. And it was a warm day – wet feet weren’t going to bother me. Another strategy for wet feet BTW: smart wool socks. They dry quicker and feel dry even right out of the water.

Before the final creek crossing Jim mentioned seeing diarrhetic cow patties. I’m thinking, what the heck is he talking about? Then I notice star-shaped splats on the trail. They were dried out, fortunately, but still a bit tacky, unfortunately.

On the other side of the crossing, after jumping on Kelley Creek Trail for the final leg, we found the source. A herd of 20 or so cattle, some of them really big mothers, were grazing along the trail. We tried spooking them off, but cowpunching is not exactly our calling and we wound up piling the entire gaggle onto the trail ahead. From that point on it was a matter of hollering and waving to get the cows to keep moving ahead of us.

There was just one problem. These cows had dysentery. All of them. And I mean bad. At some points we were encountering projectile diarrhea, which quickly put us well off the pace. The trail was in a narrow ravine, providing no passing points. We were basically locked in behind these braying bovines for the duration.

Wet, splatted, intermittent cow diarrhea, it turns out, is pretty tough to avoid on narrow singletrack. Soon our frames were adorned with the stuff, and Jim’s rear wheel was kicking it up onto his back and into my face. The knobbies were picking it up in clumps and tossing it everywhere.

The physical product was bad enough, but the noxious odor just about put us into dry heaves. “This stuff makes horse manure smell like Faberge,” Jim muttered. But we were trapped. If we stopped to let them get ahead, they stopped too. If we tried walking to keep our bikes clean, our shoes got smeared with the stuff. Gawd nothing like this had ever happened to me on a mountain bike. Call me a rube, but even as a kid I hated spending time on a farm.

Finally – and I mean this slowed us down by at least half an hour – we emptied out onto the fire road, our singletrack sojourn ruined on its final descent. The cows milled around while we made our quick exit, and I don’t know where they went from there. The road was a quick spin back to the van. At that point we stopped every rider we saw and made them thank us in advance for herding the doggies off Kelley Creek trail.

It all added up to a mild anticlimax for our Sun Valley fantasy, but I was still in afterglow from the day before. And my rule on the negatives is this: It gives you something to remember the ride by. The rides that go smooth as butter quickly flee the memory bank.

It was time to say goodbye to our week of bimodal bliss. We packed up, noting that our first job upon the return to Seattle would be to wash our bikes. I thought about taking the Burner into the Downhill Zone, where I bought it, and asking them to clean it up. But that would be too cruel a joke even for the bros. After all, they use compressed air, and there’s no telling where caked-on cow dung would wind up in that scenario.

Cruising down the highway, we fell silent with our flashbacks, recollections and dreams. Sun Valley is just far enough away, and the mountain biking season just short enough, to keep it out of the casual-trip category. I see there’s another BBTC contingent heading over in September. Bon voyage, happy biking, and look for the spirits of Paul and the Lyon King on the trails!

Little Basin elevation: 1510. Time: 3:26.

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