Why you need a dedicated navigation device for the Tour of Idaho
Martin asked me to provide some guidance regarding dedicated navigations devices (GPS units) and smart phones, specifically, the roles these devices play while navigating in remote areas. Not surprisingly, I’ve discussed this matter on numerous occasions in the past 3-4 years with a wide range of folks. And as you might expect, there is no shortage of blog posts and technical articles about this topic scattered across web. In this instance though, my aim is to lend some advice to Tour of Idaho aspirants.
The ubiquity of the smart phone, and the proliferation of apps (i.e., MotionX, Gaia, Avenza Maps, . . .) that can leverage their internal GPS chip, have muddied the waters when trying to determine which type of device to employ for a specific purpose. It is true that the GPS chipset being used in today’s smart phones is pretty darn good. That, coupled with the fact that the phones can leverage cell-towers and WiFi to improve locational accuracy, means that they perform best in more developed areas. I’m always surprised how well a smart phone works for navigation on our nation’s highways.
But think about it, that is not the “primary” function of your smart phone. Calling, texting, and e-mailing is what your phone is all about. Taking pictures, checking the weather forecast, or monitoring the Tour of Idaho Facebook feed. It does all of those things and more, and it does them very well. It is a fully-loaded digital Leatherman, a modern-day multipurpose tool that has become indispensable in our daily lives.
One thing to keep in mind is that the GPS chip embedded in your smart phone, just like that bottle opener in the Leatherman, only accounts for a small percentage of the overall functionality and cost of the unit. It does a “good” job, but its reception capabilities, especially in remote areas, are limited. I can tell you, from first hand experience, that your phone will wear itself out trying to maintain a satellite signal in some of the central Idaho valleys.
On the other hand, a dedicated navigation device, like those in the Garmin Montana 600-series, can acquire and maintain satellite connectivity in the deepest, coniferous tree filled valleys and in the dense urban canyons of metropolitan areas. Their top of the line chipset and receiver provide high-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS reception. Additionally, the WAAS-enabled receiver takes advantage of ground-based reference stations here in North America to improve accuracy on the fly. Throw a barometric altimeter and compass into the mix and you’re equipped with all the necessary tools for navigation.
All of this technology is then wrapped up in a rugged, water-resistant (IPX7-rated) casing that isn’t phased by vibration, rain, snow, or even dust. This is the type of device you want for a backcountry adventure. Cover it in mud, dump it in the creek, drop it on some rocks, or strap it to your vibrating handlebars while riding 1,600 miles across the landscape of Idaho! That’s what it is made for. You don’t want to subject your smart phone to that kind of abuse. It is important that its camera is functional so you can take the required photos at all of the Tour of Idaho challenge point locations!
Look at it this way, dedicated navigation devices don’t have the multiple personality disorder of the Leatherman (i.e., smart phone) but rather are focused and specific like a nice Snap-On 10mm combo wrench. They do one thing and they do it very, very well. Sure I can try to loosen a 10mm nut with a Leatherman if I have no other option, but we all know the 10mm Snap-On is the tool for the job.
So when it comes to the Tour of Idaho, make sure your primary navigation device is a dedicated unit and not a smart phone or tablet. Sure, load your tracks and waypoints into a mapping app as one form of backup, but just do it as a safety measure. One that you’d hope to not have to use. It is my recommendation to take two dedicated navigation devices, a smart phone, hard copy maps, and the written route description.
One last thing, you can bet good money that the next generation of smart phones will employ advanced navigation chipsets that rival current dedicated units. But the companies that make those dedicated units will also be taking advantage of new technologies. Thus in the end, whatever smart phone or dedicated navigation device you have today will become obsolete. Just remember to use the right tool for the job, but always keep that multi-tool handy, you might need it to take a selfie!
Tour of Idaho Track Development & Map Study Tip: When you’re putting together your tracks, make sure to look at both aerial photography and topographic base maps. If you’re closely following the route description, many of the peaks, saddles, passes, and valleys are much more evident on a topographic map. Switching back and forth will help you to better read and understand the terrain you’ll be tackling. Martin mentions many of these features by name and those names are typically found on the topographic maps.
As users of this nation’s public or private trails, Sharetrails.org/BRC members likely rely on a variety of mapping technologies for navigation. Being able to visualize where you are, and where you’re going is important. Maps help us gauge distance and direction, and determine elevation or ground conditions. Personally, I feel that having a good map when venturing outdoors is as important as taking water and a first aid kit. I always carry a GPS, but having a paper map as a backup provides another level of comfort during an outing. It’s familiar, provides a tactile experience, and its fun to know where the heck you are on that piece of paper!
In the past couple decades, the transition from paper to digital maps has been accelerated. We can now carry more “maps” on our GPS or cell phone than would fit in a 100 tightly stuffed backpacks 20 years ago! Additionally, digital maps are dynamic, in that we can change the base from aerial images to a topography, layers can be added, turned on and turned off, and routing between destinations can be accomplished in a couple clicks or swipes on your device. These mapping tools and their information empower us in a variety of ways and can lead to a better understanding of various types of terrain and how we move across it. But, have you ever thought about the technologies that make all of this possible?
If you are my age, you probably learned to get a feel for your surroundings with the USGS Topographic Quadrangle Map Series or a state-based gazetteer, like a DeLorme map book. The government agencies and private-sector firms that created those cartographic products are now driven by geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), and remote sensing technologies. Collectively, those high tech geospatial tools make it possible for users to access vast amounts of mapping data from a GPS unit or phone.
Entities obtain spatial data through the use of survey-grade GPS units and GPS-equipped vehicles while satellites, airplanes, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are capturing land cover, aerial photos, elevation data, and even thermal imagery. For example, the acquisition of highly-accurate elevation data using LiDAR, and aerial photos with a resolution in the range of 3″ to 6″ per pixel allows us to visualize and evaluate ground conditions like never before.
Keeping this data as up to date is a monumental task, but very critical as things change almost daily. Think about it . . . new roads are built, boundaries change, land is graded for development, trails are re-routed, sewer lines are installed, and waterways cut new paths across the landscape. A myriad of public and private entities continually track those changes. The features are then organized as layers, categorized by theme, spatially analyzed, and shared in a digital map format using GIS and web mapping services.
The value of geospatial technologies, and the underlying data, is realized when you can stand anywhere on this globe and view a map that is centered directly on your current location. Not only can you see the trail you’re traveling, but you can turn on the aerial imagery and see the stand of trees east of the trail just over the ridge. The ridge can be visualized due to the use of hillshading on the elevation data and its obvious that the last creek crossing is about 3 miles away in the valley below the next 2 switchbacks. Wow . . . you’ve never been there before, but you can see what lies ahead.
A wide array of proprietary and publicly available GIS data makes this possible. It is leveraged to provide the mapping services and downloadable data we so conveniently consume. In most cases, maps for our devices are in-expensive and readily available on the internet in formats that are compatible with our phone and GPS units. It is getting easier to do this everyday and the cost is rapidly diminishing.
Just imagine how handy this has been to Martin while laying out, and fine tuning the Tour of Idaho or for Jeff Stoess and the compilation of the Kentucky Adventure Tour. The aforementioned mapping resources have been key to their success in putting a line on the map we can follow. Their understanding of an area of interest, coupled with the dozens of map layers they studied, made both adventuresome routes possible for us to enjoy.
One important thing that goes along with having great maps at our disposal is using them to stay on the defined trail. Part of being a responsible off-road enthusiast is sticking to the route. Please realize that getting off the trail, or traveling cross country where not permitted, gives us all a bad name. You can’t claim to be lost if you have a GPS or map in-hand!
In my opinion, bike preparation must be the easiest part of getting ready for the Tour of Idaho. Lots of other folks have done their homework and shared their successes accordingly. Martin has some invaluable info on his site and other finishers have offered their thoughts and guidance as well. Its my feeling that mental and physical readiness are more difficult to achieve and for some, navigation will be a big issue.
I’m not really worried about the navigation aspect (I’m a Cartographer!) and physically, I’ll likely be just fine. Basically, it is the mental part that freaks me out more than anything! I waiver between being very excited and down right terrified on a weekly basis. Randy and Jeff have both reassured me that everything will be just fine but my roller coaster ride of emotions has continued.
With all that being said, I’ll jump into what I’ve done to the WR450 thus far. I’ve studied pictures of Randy’s bike and have watched the Jimmy Lewis video on multiple occasions. Their setups are very similar and being as though they both finished, I suspect their path of prep is a good one to follow. And the rundown on Martin’s site of essential items is not be ignored.
As with all my bikes, I immediately installed an FMF Q exhaust. I don’t need or want any additional power but I do love a quiet bike. Loud motorcycles piss me off. The license plate holder (yes, I got it plated here in Kentucky) is mounted to a Baja Designs LED Dual Sport conversion tail light. They make good stuff. Tucked behind the side panel is the GYTR ECU. I don’t have the tuner yet, but that is forthcoming.
The Tour of Idaho has a day where no gas is available. If I remember correctly, there was a 230 mile stretch during the later days of the tour this year. My options were the 3-gallon IMS or the 4.1-gallon Safari tanks.The Safari is quite pricey but I felt the extra 1.1 gallons of capacity would be crucial. I also plan to carry a 1-gallon Giant Loop Gas bag. If that doesn’t cover it I can get some from Jeff’s 6-gallon tanker!
Mounting the tank was easy, however the wiring harness would not reach the fuel pump. The quality of the tank, and the hardware that came with it, are great, but the lack of a harness “extension” was not cool. I was able to get all the stuff I needed to fashion an extension from CycleTerminal.com. They had the exact connectors that Yamaha uses so it was fairly easy to create once I had all the components in-hand. Having the correct crimping tool and the ability to solder small components was helpful.
My next focus was the seat. Jeff recommended Fisher Seats. I’d never heard of them. He said Harvey used them too. I reached out to Harvey and evidently he has 4 or 5 them. I trust both of these guys so I shipped my seat to Eagle, Idaho so they could work their magic. You have to fill out a form for them before they’ll do the work and it’s almost like filling out a form at the Doctor’s office! When the seat got back to the house, I was shocked at the width. But, after riding it I can see that it will likely work well. The workmanship is outstanding! Honda style vinyl on the top (I don’t like a grippy seat), carbon-fiber style vinyl on the sides, and Yamaha blue stitching make for an awesome looking seat.
There is also one upgrade that is “invisible” but has made a big difference. I’d only ridden the thing once when I noticed the overly soft forks. It would dive going down hills and during braking. Not good. I just happened to have a set of KYB SSS forks in the garage from a YZ250. The spring rate in the YZ forks is a bit firmer and the valving is different two. I rode the bike last weekend with the YZ forks and was very pleased with that upgrade. They are staying on the bike.
Some smaller items are the Double Take Mirror and a Baja Designs combination switch that combines a Hi/Lo/Off for the headlight and a kill switch. I have horn but its not wired up yet but I did put on my standard full-waffle Scott grips. GYTR-radiator braces provide some protection for the radiators and a TM Designworks skid plate protects the frame and engine. The skid plate wasn’t an exact fit. It was like it was “sprung” outward a bit. A lift stand, some C-clamps, and a drill were needed to get it into place. Hopefully, it will retain that shape when I take it off. If not, I’m getting one from Flatland Racing.
There was a lightly used Scott’s steering damper in the garage, as well as the top handlebar mount. Once I got a Steering Stabilizer Tower I was in business. I feel it’s an essential upgrade for any off-road rider. Can’t imagine owning a bike and not putting one on it.
Below is a listing of the items I’ve installed thus far. The list is still growing but not as quickly now. A tank bag, front fender bag, saddle bags and so forth are the next items to be acquired. I’m good on gear, it’s almost all Klim. It is the best gear I’ve ever purchased in terms of durability. Period. Plus they use topo lines as a design element. Any cartographer would be a sucker for that stuff!
Yamaha GYTR Competition Programmable ECU Baja Designs Dual Sport Taillight Baja Designs License Plate Holder Solid Rear Rotor Cycra Yamaha ProBend Hand Guards Scott Full Waffle Grips FMF Q4 Hex Exhaust YZ250 KYB SSS Forks Yamaha GYTR Radiator Braces Universal 12 Volt Horn (Black 2.25”) Mirror Mount for Clutch Perch Safari Gas Tank Double Take Enduro Mirror & Mount TM Designworks Skidplate (Blue) Scotts Performance Steering Stabilizer Tower Power Tender Battery Charger Power Tender USB Adaptor Fisher Custom Seat DID 520 X-Ring Chain Sunstar Front Sprocket (14) Sunstar Steel Rear Sprocket (52)
Additional bike upgrades, GPS and navigation, and all other preparation efforts will be detailed in coming blog posts. I realize it is 11 months away, but I can’t help but plan. Just my nature.
Early this year, I was invited to do the “Tour of Idaho” in 2018 by Randy Block. If you don’t know what “The Tour” is all about go check out Martin Harkworth’s website, motorcyclejazz.com. One can find all the details right there in a nice little package. Martin is the Executive Director of the BlueRibbon Coalition(if you’re not a member you should be) and has spent years fine tuning the Tour for everyone’s enjoyment. To sum it up, the tour is a +/-1,500 mile off road adventure that begins at the Utah border and traverses Idaho to a mountaintop just a few miles from the Canadian Border.
I’d found Martin’s site many years ago and had perused it from time to time as it was in my bookmarks. I’d come back to it periodically, but mainly to view the pictures from Day 3 & 4 as each summer I’d ride in that area of Central Idaho. Additionally, I’d seen the TOI recount that was done by “Big Dog” several years. It’s worth reading as well.
Randy is the Eastern Representative for the BlueRibbon Coalition and lives just across the river from Kentucky in Indiana. I met Randy in early 2017 through a mutual interest in working with the USFS in Kentucky. He and his friend Roger completed the Tour of Idaho in 2015 right after Jimmy Lewis. Interestingly, I’d been riding in Central Idaho in 2015 with Will Lyons and he said that after we left he was going to film Jimmy Lewis doing the Tour of Idaho. Small world.
By the way, Will’s work on the video capture and production is phenomenal. If you want the real scoop on what the Tour is all about, you need to watch all 45+ minutes of it! Check it out here.
Randy had noted that Jeff Stoess also had an interest in doing the Tour. Thus, it only made sense for me to team up with him. Jeff is an incredible rider with lots of long-distance adventure riding and dual sport experience. Just the kind of rider you want to be teamed up with!
This was all coming together nicely but I really didn’t have a bike that was appropriate for that sort of undertaking. From what I could tell, most everyone that had finished the tour was on a large-displacement, street legal, four-stroke, dirt bike. My little YZ250s weren’t up for the task. Can you imagine how much premix I’d have to carry?!
Over the next 3 weeks or so I pondered about what bike to get. For me, a Yamaha WR450F came to mind first as I try to support my local economy and you can’t find an orange bike at JVM Motorsports. During this short 3 week period I’d discussed my intentions with several fellow riders. I’d asked Mark Edwards specifically if the WR450F subframe was up to the task of supporting some sort of saddle bag system. So he was aware of what I was thinking.
Mid-morning one day at work I get a text from Mark with a photo of a VERY clean 2015 WR450F. He said it had less than 100 miles on it. It had been traded in at JVM on a street bike. Within 48 hours it was in my garage. Step one. Done. Got a bike for the tour.
Mark was right. It only had 92 miles on it. The bike had never really been dirty at all. Factory-applied oil was still on the bright yellow and debris-free air filter. Wow. Deals like that don’t appear very often. Knowing that I had over a year to get it ready, I pushed it into the garage where it began to gather dust.
For the next several weeks it just sat there. I did get some nice Cycra ProBend hand guards for it, put a solid rotor on the rear wheel, and geared it down a bit. Otherwise, it got no attention. I didn’t even load it up for a ride.
As usual, we went out west in July. Visited Gary and Judi in the Black Hills, stopped by to see Keith in Billings, and made our way up to Glacier National Park for a few wonderful days! Afterwards we headed down to the Sawtooth Valley in Central Idaho for a couple weeks. Chip was in Stanley but unfortunately had a bad knee. My aim was to start bike prep for the Tour upon my return to the Bluegrass state. So the WR just sat there and gathered a nice thick layer of garage dust. Waiting for a little attention . . .
More to come on this topic in my next installment. This is just one of many. Stay Tuned!
Hat’s off to the organizer’s of the 2017 Renfro Valley Dual Sport once again! I’ve only done this three years now, and each time, I’ve been amazed at how well they mark the route. If you pay attention, you could probably do the whole thing without a roll chart. It’s marked that well. The sign-up process is a breeze and flows quite smoothly. Make sure to get it on your calendar when they announce the 2018 dates. Typically, it is held the first weekend in May.
I’d been talking up the dual sport all year long with some guys I normally ride with. Some had never done it before, and others hadn’t done it for many years. I was actually kinda worried that the group would be too big, but it all worked out just fine. In the end, there were five of us riding together on Saturday. Greg, Bo, Kyle, Travis and I all headed out on the route just before 9am. Ideally, 8:45am would have been a bit better but this crew is fairly quick and I didn’t expect us to have to wait very long on anyone.
Just like in 2016, there was a fairly strong possibility of rain on Saturday. Argh! I’ve never ridden the event when it was even somewhat dry. Well the forecast gods made a good call as it started coming down about an hour or so into the route. Luckily, I’d suited up in my Klim Traverse jacket with the d3o pads in the shoulders and elbows. This setup over my regular riding layers was the ticket. The vent zippers on the Traverse made it easy adjust to the conditions they changed throughout the day.
We’d hit all of the Green Arrow (Hero) sections that morning and folks were getting stuck all over the place. None of the crew had any issues with the hills or ruts and we tractored up, over, and around everyone and made good time as well. About 3 miles from lunch, we came out onto a paved road. It was in the mid-40’s, pouring down rain, and we were all ready for some shelter and food. Especially Bo. Evidently he was in dire need of nourishment. Everyone was in much better spirits after a good lunch and some “so-so” hot coffee.
They had gas for sale at the Sand Gap Community Center where we had lunch for $4/gallon. A bit steep in price, but it meant you didn’t have to head over to the store and wait in line behind 50 bikes to get gas. The guys on smokers mixed their gas accordingly and shook it up in the supplied milk jugs. I’ll do that again next year!
The rain was subsiding a bit as we pulled out for the second half of the day. There was some great riding ahead but it was going to be wet and sloppy for sure. Trail conditions were deteriorating quickly as the crew moved forward. Some sections had water running down the ruts in the trails. When we got to the 2nd afternoon Hero section, Greg indicated that the potato salad at lunch was not working out very well. I think he was getting a little green. Not good, as we had over 40 miles left to go. He and Bo skipped that Hero section and promised to meet us at the junction.
In the end, Bo and Greg had to wait over 30 minutes for us. It was not good. This was the only section where I had to hit a hill twice. Travis, Kyle and I were challenged for sure! Tiring to say the least. Things were just plain sloppy and it was hard to keep forward motion at times. For the first time ever, my “WR250” got a little warm. I never remember this happening to the bike before. We stopped for about 4-5 minutes so it could cool off. Not good. Bo and Greg had made a good call not running that section.
The next Hero section was the cool stuff at Big Hill. I rode that last year (in the rain) and it was OK, but this year it was wetter. Kyle was pumped to try it so we let him head his own way. I knew of one really steep downhill that I just wasn’t willing to tackle in these conditions. It just wasn’t wise, at least not for me. At this point we were less than 30 miles from the staging area and the rain was still coming down but you could see the clearing skies in the distance.
In a short while, we popped out onto the pavement and there was no precipitation. Excellent! A combination of pavement, gravel, quad trails, and jeep roads lead us to the final section of cool single track. Very, very nice to say the least. A wonderful way to wrap up the day. It flowed well and now that it wasn’t pouring, it was actually enjoyable! We came off the single track and dropped onto an old road that descended down a creek bed back to the final section of pavement. I’d say 4 miles later, and we were back at the staging area. It was nice to start loading up without the rain as an annoyance. Special thanks to Greg for being our leader for the day. I greatly appreciated not having to ride in the front for a change.
Bo, Kyle and Travis had other obligations so they headed back north. Charlie came by and said his shoulders were hammered from fighting the little Husky he was riding so he pointed his van northward to Indy. With the mass exodus underway, the plan was to seek out Jeff and John and see if we could tag along on Sunday.
Greg and I stayed for the evening. We got a good meal there in Mt. Vernon and went to our hotels to get some rest and recover for the following day. The forecast for Sunday promised to be awesome, cool in the morning with a high around 61 degrees and plenty of sunshine. Good deal!
Onward! Woke up to a light coating of frost on Sunday morning with clear skies. Things were damp, no doubt about it, but at least the sun was shining. I met Greg at the staging area around 7:30am. He’d had a rough time with leg cramps that evening and throughout the night. I’ve dealt with that before and it is not fun. Makes me cringe to just think about it. Wisely, he headed north as well, not wanting to chance getting 40 miles in and have to deal with the leg cramps. Plus, he had a 5+ hour drive ahead of him. Smart decision.
So I got in touch with Jeff and John and they were fine with me tagging along. Their friend Justin was there too. He was a good rider for someone that had only been on a bike for 3 seasons. Being young and tough benefited him as well. He kept up a good pace and dealt with most obstacles very well.
John pulled up in his Sprinter beside the MotoVan and everyone got their gear on and bikes ready. A group of four is a good size for this type of outing. The first part of the day was a bit too much pavement for me but as soon as we turned onto some natural terrain I got really interested. The lack of precipitation made it much easier to take in the surroundings. Mountain laurel were in full bloom and the ferns were popping out of the forest floor. Sandstone rocks and the associate reddish dirt were prevalent at certain elevations on the route. Neat stuff!
Unfortunately we encountered lots of bottlenecks on the route that morning. Some of the more challenging hills were making it tough on many of the riders. Luckily, our little crew was able to get around these sections with little effort and kept a great pace.
There was one particular Hero section that I really enjoyed. It traversed a hillside with sandstone cliffs towering on the ridge above. Evidently, this is part of the “Sand Springs” area where Travis rides frequently. Jeff said that he’d ridden there with Travis the year before. Some of that section had burned last fall and that made it easy to see through the trees. The steep hills and off-camber trail layout made it fun to navigate.
Just before lunch we went under I-75 and ended up in “downtown” Livingston, Kentucky at the local fire station. They were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers and had all the fixins’ laid out to embellish them accordingly. Just like, Saturday, the fire fighters had gas available for purchase, but this time for $3 per gallon. Good deal. We all gassed up after eating and headed back out for some more fun.
We saw a couple groups that were bypassing the main route and taking the road back to the staging area. Boy they really missed some awesome riding. The Hero sections after lunch on Sunday were some of the best we encountered all weekend. So glad I stayed for Sunday this year!
My favorite landscape feature of the whole event was a sandstone outcropping that had eroded into a series of passages that were 30′-50′ deep. As we approach this area, I noted what looked like pea gravel on the trail. My first thought was, “How in the world did they haul this pea gravel into here?” Hmmmm. When the sandstone became visible you could literally see the little pieces of gravel embedded in the geologic structure. These little pieces had eroded away and washed down the hillside, thus the appearance that someone had spread the gravel on the trail.
Not too far on down the trail from the sandstone outcroppings we came upon an overlook. It wasn’t a natural overlook, but rather a sheer drop off into what was an old mine. You could see the large shafts from the edge and the old railway that serviced the mine many years ago.
When we reached the end of that trail and hit the gravel road, Jeff turned right off the route and we headed down to the mine shaft entrances. There you could see 3-shafts and it was then obvious that the railway actually went through the mountain via a tunnel that we’d just ridden over a few minutes beforehand. Justin and I followed Jeff and John into the mine shafts. Kinda eery.
I didn’t think about it at the time, but what if the vibration caused by our bike engines had made pieces of the roof come down? Not good. I might not go in there again. I’ll just wait outside and take pictures!
The route had one more Hero section and then some old road beds, quad trail, gravel and so forth before the end of day. We saw a dual set of train tunnels a few miles before the end and actually road down the gravel beside a railroad bed for about 1/2 mile. The sun was still shining, everyone’s bikes were in good working order, and no one got injured! A great way to end the day.
If it isn’t obvious, this is now permanently on my “To Do” riding list for every year. I certainly wished that I knew about this event many years ago. I recall folks not coming to KORHS races because they didn’t want to miss the dual sport. Now I understand! Don’t miss it next year!
It was about this time last year when we decided to get either a 3/4-ton Diesel truck or a Sprinter. I didn’t know much about them then, but by September we were test driving one and by October a brand new 4×4 Sprinter was in our driveway.
One of the primary reasons for the Sprinter purchase is that it really suited our type of traveling. It secures the load (motorcycles and sewing machines), it is NOT a trailer (which I hate to tow), and it is one awesome and comfortable ride! Our recent westward trip confirmed all of this and taught us several things about the van.
I am honestly surprised at how comfortable the Sprinter is from a driving perspective. The seating position is great for long periods of time, it has every adjustment you can imagine, and the seat foam is firm but comfortable and provides excellent support. Power seats would be nice but the adjustability is still there.
Seems like so many folks get a Sprinter and immediately get upset at how it rides. Well think about it . . . it was designed to have a load. One motorcycle and associated riding gear makes a noticeable difference but having a full traveling load makes it ride like a dream! Once again I was pleasantly surprised with this big monster and how it behaved on the interstate. Cruising along at 75mph to 80mph was not a problem and the steep inclines were clobbered by the little turbo-charged V6. It would just pull and pull with no abandon!
Kim learned that it was easy to just stand up and walk to the back and sit on that bench seat. She could stretch out, get something from the cooler, our luggage or just enjoy a different view with no great effort. The spaciousness is second to none! Something about the additional space that makes traveling less tiring. I guess you don’t feel quite as confined as you’d be in a car or truck.
When traveling in our trucks, the whole back seat area would be crammed full of stuff. There was barely enough room and everything was wedged into place making it hard to get to things in the middle or on the bottom. We “kinda” had a system but nothing was efficient about it at all. With the Sprinter, all of our luggage, Kim’s sewing machine, and my gear bag all fit between the rear bench seat and the partition. Plenty of room. Very nice for a change!
One negative point regarding the Sprinter is its sheer size and how that impacts driving in strong winds. It does have the new Cross Wind Assist but nothing can prepare you for driving across Wyoming! Going out, it was hitting us in the front and on the driver’s side. I’d say there was about 5 hours of driving, where both hands needed to be on the wheel. Basically, you just didn’t know when it would hit, so you had to be ready with a dual-handed grip on the wheel. On the return trip we encountered similar conditions but it was not as long in duration.
We took the big rig on several Forest Service roads and it did very well. Our trip up towards Basin Butte Lookout was a good climb with several newly graded water bars to test the clearance. I started out in 2WD to see how it would do and in the end we never needed 4WD. The BFGs and manual shifting made it very easy. Really learned to love the manual shifting option on those dirt roads. I can think of many situations where it will be an advantage.
Most would think that fuel economy would be terrible in such a large, high-profile vehicle. Well, I’m very pleased! I’d been getting 13.8mpg -17.6mpg around the house which mainly included trips to Casey County to ride and maybe once every two weeks I’d drive it to work. On the trip, the worst I got was 14.6mpg and that was during the windy portion of Wyoming on the way out. Interestingly enough, the best I got on the way home was 18.9mpg and that was when the wind was working in our favor. Plus, there is a lot more downhill driving on the way back! There was no way I could achieve this type of fuel mileage in a 1/2 or 3/4 ton pickup truck. Especially if there was some type of trailer involved!
You know how folks that ride motorcycles on the street always do that “low wave” at each other when the pass on the roadways. Well for some reason, Sprinter folks seem to be that way too. I don’t know how many times we’d see someone approaching in their Sprinter and they’d be waving with enthusiasm. Didn’t see that one coming!
One evening I was standing out on the deck enjoying the view and a couple pulled up and parked out front. They jumped out of their Honda Element and ran towards the Sprinter. The guy got down on his hands and knees to look at the drivetrain and his better-half was just taking pictures like crazy. He jumps up and says, “It is a 4×4!” and she pointed at the emblem on the rear door. I never said a word and just took it all in. They were pumped they’d seen a 4×4 Sprinter to say the least! Gotta love it!
A couple weeks before the trip I was all torn up about the “biodiesel” availability between here and Stanley. I researched all sorts of things and studied Google Maps for appropriate fueling locations. Geez . . . that was all just a waste of time. We had no problems at all finding B5 or better . . . non-issue. I will know next time . . . having the diesel rotopax containers as a backup is still a good idea though.
One more note. The BF Goodrich KO2 tires are simply awesome. The ride is great, they did wonderfully on the forest service roads, there is no doubt they improve the look of the vehicle, and they are yet to show any wear after over 8,000 miles! If you have 4×4 Sprinter get some and make sure that you MB Dealer does the install and balancing. If you don’t, they will wear out sooner and will not give you the wonderful ride that I’ve enjoyed.
Bottom line . . . we’re hooked. There are lots of other cool things about the Sprinter but I don’t have enough “free cycles” to commit at this time. If you have a Sprinter, then Congratulations . . . if you don’t . . then maybe you should?!
Day 4 of riding in Idaho was great as usual. Dwayne, Chip and I set out on the Little Casino trail around 9:30am or so. Dwayne hadn’t ridden this trail since the re-route they’d done 2-3 years ago. I’d only ridden it once when the trail followed the original route but honestly don’t remember much about it except that there were multiple creek crossings.
About three miles in we stopped and Dwayne said, “This new trail sucks!” He preferred the old route that had less exposed side hill, more creek crossings and a good climb to the top of the ridge. It is not a bad trail, its just not what he’d ridden for so many years. My understanding is that the new route gets you up to the ridge sooner and it never crosses the creek. This is all part of a strategy to keep trails further away from running water thus reducing erosion and sedimentation.
Next stop was a couple logs down across the trail. They weren’t huge so we stopped and cut them with the hand saw. This section of the trail had been cleared recently and whomever did the work certainly earned their wages. Dozens of logs were across the trail just a week or two beforehand and the sawdust piles were still visible from the fresh cuts.
Chip wanted to stop where there is a good view of Redfish Lake and the Sawtooth Range. With that in mind we made our way up the trail looking for the best place to get some photos. A little climb and a few corners later the perfect spot came into play. Ended up being a great view in all directions! Chip got the photos he wanted and I took a few as well.
When we headed up the trail from where we were in this photo, I rode Dwayne’s new Beta X-Trainer for about a mile. The bike was very nice for the type of riding that we do. It’s plushness and linear power delivery are perfect for mountain trail riding. Anyone with a short inseam should try the bike as well. Dwayne said it is 10% shorter in both directions which makes it very maneuverable. It is a 300cc engine and all you have to do is dial it back a bit and you’ll be reminded it is a big bore. Oh . . . and electric start too!
Onward to the “4-way” where the Casino Creek trails come together with the trail up to the Rough Creek Fire Tower and Martin Creek that leads down to the Warm Springs Meadow. On our way up the hill you pass the junction with Boundary Creek Trail. I went down that trail about a week ago at the recommendation of a local bicycle rider. He said that anyone who can climb up Boundary Creek without stopping on a bicycle has iron lungs and legs!
At this junction we saw a bicyclist coming up that trail. We stopped and talked with him for a few minutes. If I understood correctly, he only stopped once on the way up. One thing for sure . . . this guy was fit! We told him where we were headed and he indicated he’d be going the same way. I’d cleared several logs off the trail ahead the week before so I told him it was probably clear. He waited for us to depart and then headed up the hill.
Martin Creek Trail was the plan so we took the right hand turn and made our way down the trail. I’d forgotten how darn rocky it was. I’d been up it once and there is this one rock step up that is just plain tough. As we approached the Warm Springs Meadow, the downed timber became more and more frequent. Looked like a big game of pick up sticks. That is just the best way to describe it. Forward motion was slow at times throughout this mess.
So we are sitting here on the trail, taking a break after crossing 50+ downed logs, and the guy on the bicycle rolls up. Yep. he’d caught us. Very impressive to say the least. I know Martin Creek is almost all downhill but he’d climb another 750+ vertical feet since we’d seen him and made his way down the trail and across all those logs and over all the rocks. Wow!
We were just getting ready to leave so once again he let us go first. About 20 more log crossings and we rolled into Warm Springs Meadow. What an awesome place! For many years I’d eyed this valley on the aerial photography and topographic maps. It was 2013 before I actually made my way to the valley. Awesome views!
About 1/4 mile past the location shown in the photo above you take a right and head up the valley. It is really marshy in that area as beavers are active nearby. We carefully picked our way through the wet spot and as we were getting back on the main trail we saw the guy on the bicycle coming our way. Geez!
The next mile or so is flat and there were several downed trees along the way to the next creek crossing. This crossing has a “bridge” if you want to call it that. Essentially, there are about two dozen logs laid lengthwise across the creek. No boards or anything on top. We came to a stop got off and carefully walked our bikes across.
On our heels once again was the guy on the bicycle. He was incredible. Chip told him it was all “downhill” just ahead and onto the Williams Creek Trail. Chip had forgotten there were two more small ridges to traverse before the final descent. Oh well, this guy was in the for the long haul.
Dwayne took off and I rode just behind his dust all the way to the Williams Creek trailhead just of ID75 near Obsidian. Chip rolled in about 3 minutes later and we took advantage of some shade offered by a pine near the trailhead sign. There were two vehicles parked there and within 8-10 minutes bicyclists arrived, loaded up and drove away. About 5 minutes after that, the bicyclist rolled right up to us. I was amazed! He’d climbed up and over those two ridges and cruised down Williams Creek with ease.
In the end, we learned he was from Washington State and was not acclimated to the high altitude as he lived at about 800 feet above mean sea level. His bicycle was a “Felt” and from what I figured the frame alone cost around $10K . . . yep, just the frame. He’d been “glamping” (his term) with his family at Redfish Lake. He was impressed with how we got our bikes over all the downed logs but we were blown away with the fact that he’d been keeping up with us for nearly 30 miles!!
Before he pedaled down the road, he took some pictures of us and grabbed a selfie or two. It is about 6.5 miles of flat pavement to the turn off for Redfish Lake from the trailhead. I estimate that the loop he’d ridden was ~36 miles. Wow! Dwayne put it best when he described the guy as “sculpted” . . . you can probably get the picture.
We too made our way up the road and back to the turn off for Boundary Creek. I was looking forward to climbing the trail back up to Little Casino. A group of horses was coming down and we all got off the trail as best as we could. One horse was spooked by the whole thing and almost bucked off the rider. It was kinda scary. Didn’t like it that that happened.
I met a hiker half way up so I shut off my bike. She walked by, said hello and high-fived me! Wasn’t expecting that! The trail was clear up to the junction and all the way back down to the Casino Creeks Trailhead. Simply awesome single track compared to anything we have in Kentucky.
Dwayne had an iced downed watermelon in his cooler so Chip cut it up and we enjoyed it before loading the bikes. What a wonderful way to finish up another great day of riding in Idaho. No doubt I’m fortunate to ride with these guys!
It was good to shed my gear and I was certainly getting hungry. Jumped into the Sprinter and pointed it towards the hotel for a shower and dinner. Already thinking about the next riding adventure!
Day three turned out to be adventure! Chip and I went out for the day and started right where his RV was parked. The ride began with about 4 miles of asphalt heading out towards Stanley Lake. Another 3+ miles of two-track leads to a frequently used section of single track that traverses some awesome meadows where the views of the surrounding mountains are wonderful. We stopped about 6 miles in where the trail intersects with the Elk Meadow Trail. The photo below shows the view just beyond the trail signs. We have to cross that meadow.
I’ve only been across this “trail” four times now. Each “crossing” was memorable. The first year, the meadow was flooded with about 7″ to 9″ of water with thick reeds and grasses stretching as far as the eye can see. I was following someone that had been across before and magically we emerged at a 10′ wide running stream where there was a sand bar that made it easy to cross. After that, you turn left and head towards this tall wooden post way down the meadow where the crossing is easier. More than half of this 1+ mile crossing was through the flooded type area I described above. Sketchy.
The second year it was relatively dry and the crossing was not too bad at all. I had the GPS tracks so that made it easier to find the trail and the best crossing points. Year number three was an adventure for many reasons. Check out this video for a cool riding blooper captured on helmet camera in the meadow. Hats off to Philip for keeping the bike out the water!
This year was a challenge. The middle of the meadow was closer to 10″ to 12″ deep. I followed my tracks closely but it just kept getting deeper. We reached the point where the initial creek crossing was supposed to be easy, but that was far from the case. The sand bar was gone and a tall bank had been cut into the far side. (We found out later that beaver dams situated downstream had raised the water level in the meadow.)
Retreat! We turned around, backtracked to the edge of the meadow and started riding along the margins as best we could. Patches of willows, large sinkholes, and narrow but deep creek crossings were encountered. Our goal had been to find that tall pole where the second crossing was marked and finally it was within reach. Some quick searching revealed a place to cross that was easy and wouldn’t tear up the meadow or the opposing bank. Less than 20 yards beyond where we crossed, the tall pole highlighted the path forward.
A mile or so afterward, we were at the base of the mountains where the trail intersects with two others (see below). This was a good opportunity to take a quick break and regroup. I knew that the climb ahead promised to be the next challenge.
What we found on the way up was not fun. There were dozens of downed trees and some portions of the trail had deteriorated for a variety of reasons. Not good. At one point, I had to use the hand saw to cut a path so we could move forward. I should have taken my chainsaw on this ride. Bad move on my part.
With some effort, we reached the top of the climb. The last portion wasn’t steep but it sure was rocky. Momentum was the key! Elizabeth Lake is visible from this summit and a good view of the Sawtooth’s is just a few feet away through the white bark pines.
We paused for a while to enjoy the view and rest up a bit. What a cool place! I feel fortunate to ride on this great trail system with folks that appreciate it and know it well.
The next section of trail is notoriously rocky. Keeping a good rhythm is tough as there are places where you have to bulldog your bike through the boulders. Reprieves are few and far between until you reach the next trail junction. The scenery is nice and the wildflowers were on display, but concentration on the trail was important.
We forged straight ahead at the next intersection and made our way down Swamp Creek trail. Someone had cleared most of the logs on that route, however some quads had pushed there way up the trail about 2 miles farther than allowed. Irresponsible use of the trail will eventually lead to its closure. The trail ends at the highway where we found a way across the meadow and over to Cape Horn road. After about 3 miles of gravel, we reached the Valley Creek trailhead. There is a short quad section that leads to some single track or another Forest Service road.
We chose the single track! The Forest Service had worked on this trail last summer and it wasn’t too bad considering it burned 2 years ago. The setting is surreal. The ground is seared black as are the trees. Wildflowers are abundant on the hillsides and the creeks in the valley are very lush in comparison. Riding the trail with the trees was certainly better but we still have fun on this slow and steady climb up to Basin Butte road.
Chip and I took another quick break at Basin Butte road. The view above is just a few feet from the trail marker on the opposite side of the road. Afterwards, we coasted down this trail which leads back to the Basin Creek trail. This mostly downhill route is favored by mountain bikers. All was going well until we encountered some downed trees in an old burn area near the end. Getting around a couple of the root balls was not easy and going over was not an option!
Some more nice single track back led us to another Forest Service road and then back to where Chip’s RV was parked. Just under 50 miles once again! Kim was nearby at the RV Park with her friend Kathy so she came over as I loaded up and peeled off my gear. It was about 4:30 and I was ready for beer! Back to Stanley for a shower, some beer, and a good dinner.
Doing a loop like this is nearly impossible in Kentucky. There are few places left in the US where riding like this is an option. I plan to ride as much of it as I can before it is all gone!
On my second day of riding, I was lucky to tag along with Bill and a friend of his from the Boise area. We went out on Basin Creek and up to Hindman Lake. There was a group of four riders there when we arrived so we took a break. Before we left another 3 riders showed up. As usual, I was the oddball in the group. All of the bikes were orange with the exception of one Husky (orange KTM) and there I was with my blue YZ/WR 250. Everyone else was from Idaho so the “Kentucky” plate on my bike stood out.
We left the lake and headed down the trail and over to the Valley Creek Trail. A short way down the trail, our group turned left (eastward) onto Prospect. Lots of deadfall was on the ground but Bill employed his saw and we made our way through the route. The first couple miles was bad but it got clearer as we moved towards the Basin Butte road.
After a short break we headed down Sunday Creek trail back towards Basin Creek. I hadn’t ridden Sunday Creek since the recent burn and it looks really bad in terms of erosion. The good part was the wide variety of wildflowers. There were more colors and shapes and sizes on that trail than any other that day. The purple lupine were shin deep and covered the blackened soil along the single track trail.
The end of Sunday Creek intersects with Basin Creek so we took that trail back to the trailhead where our vehicles were parked. Good timing. Bill had business in town and at the RV Park and I was looking forward to getting Smoke Prime Rib for dinner!
No pictures of this ride. I do have some GPS tracks as proof but nothing more!