Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Try stand up paddle boards on ponds, lakes, ocean waves and whitewater!

SUP's are popular for ocean surfing
Surfing with Fido

SUP nuts tying the knot

A scenic and relaxing sunset cruise
In the lesson, we started out on our knees ...

Some SUPs are set up for paddle-boarding and sea kayaking

Jo Cassin and Jefe Bates give us the skinny on how to get started ...
Hi all,

I've been seeing quite a bit of information about a new recreational toy called a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) in the last year, so I thought I would give one a test drive.

I took a class on Tuesday night, and the class was full -- that seems to indicate how popular this new sport is becoming. Idaho River Sports is offering lessons upon demand during the day Monday through Saturday, and evening sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays. Alpenglow Mountainsport also is offering lessons upon request with a SUP board rental.

Interest has just "exploded" in the sport of SUP in the last year, local paddling experts say.

"Number one, it's easy ... most people can do it," says Jefe Bates of Glide Paddleboards. "Eventually, the paddleboard is going to replace the canoe."

People also are drawn to the sport because of its potential sex appeal. Guys like being the surfer dude and showing off their beach bodies, and it's a sport where women can wear a hot bathing suit and show off as well. Bates said some people even teach yoga on SUPs.

Me? I just wanted to try it out and see what all of the fuss is about. Bates and IRS co-owner Jo Cassin walked us through the basics on dry land, and then we all got into the water at Quinn's Pond, kneeled on the boards, and nervously paddled out into the deep water, where we would all try to stand up and paddle.

I felt very stable on the board in the kneeling position, but quite unstable initially as I stood up, legs wobbling, trying to hold my balance and stand on both feet. I noticed that my other class-mates stood up and were paddling in a matter of 5 minutes or less. I managed to survive standing up, but my legs quivered for at least 10 minutes until I adjusted my feet to put one foot in back, and the other in front a bit, standing in the middle of the board. Finally, I felt a little more relaxed.

I have bad memories of trying to learn how to board-sail many years ago, when I spent hours upon hours trying to get started in a weak wind, only to fall over and try to climb on the board again. I was hoping that wouldn't happen to me doing the SUP thing, and fortunately, it didn't.

The paddle strokes came easy to me because I know how to canoe and kayak, so I know a J-stroke, sweep stroke and brace. The brace came in handy a couple of times when I almost lost my balance. That was nice.

A friend of mine told me he likes to paddle-board for balance and body core exercise. After trying it out, I can see how the balancing act works your core. After learning to balance a bit better, I felt the main appeal was relaxation while getting a low-key workout. I did get hot after a while, and had to drop into the water to cool off. One of my class-mates thought the flat-water was too boring ... she wanted to surf some waves! See what you think!

The board I used is a 12-foot soft top fiberglass board made by Surftech. It retails for $1,199. IRS also carries boards made by Doyle and NRS. Most of the boards were in the $1,000 price range. You can always rent and save money that way. I'm sure after a few years, the price may come down, or used SUP's will become available. The paddles are long -- they're supposed to be 6-10 inches taller than your head.

SUP's are very popular in the ocean for surfing. Check out this video on ocean surfing with SUPs. Bates has been focusing on running whitewater on the Payette River with a SUP, so that's a different twist! He says he has run the Main Payette, and is working his way up to running Staircase and Slalom on the South Fork Payette.

For most of us, still-water paddling venues will hold the most appeal. Besides Quinn's Pond off of Pleasanton in Northwest Boise, you also might try the Boise River next to Discovery Park, Redfish Lake, Lake Lowell, Lake Cascade, Payette Lake, the "Meanders" on the north end of Payette Lake, slow sections of the Payette River south of Cascade or by Smith's Ferry, C.J. Strike Reservoir, Swan Falls Reservoir (watch out for wind), or other bodies of water that you like to visit.

Check in with these local SUP dealers to learn more:
(I hope I didn't overlook anyone; let me know!)

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Go mountain biking in Sun Valley this weekend; enjoy the Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival

Ride Sun Valley! (Courtesy Sun Valley Chamber)

The trails are amazingly smooth and contoured (Courtesy Sun Valley Chamber)

Post card views around every bend (Courtesy Sun Valley Chamber)

I love to ride through aspens ... this was in Lamb's Gulch in Croy Canyon

Part of our crew on the Little Basin-Big Basin ride near Stanley. Those young boys can ride!

Crossing Big Basin Creek is a bit chilly
Hi all,

Cycling enthusiasts are faced with a vexing choice this weekend -- do you stay in town to watch the Boise Twilight Criterium or head up to Sun Valley to participate in the Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival and watch the USA Cycling National Mountain Biking Cross-Country Championships?

That's a tough decision, but in my mind, the participatory-nature of the Sun Valley bike festival makes it a pretty easy choice that tips in favor of heading up to Sun Valley. Former Olympic road and mountain bike racer Greg Randolph, a.k.a. "Chopper," who is now heading up the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce, has put together a super cool week of events for the bike festival. Maybe you've read Greg's advice column in Bike mag.

The Ketchum-Hailey-Sun Valley area has more than 400 miles of singletrack and 32 miles of paved trails. We know we're blessed in Boise with more than 200 miles of trails that stretch from Bogus Basin to the Greenbelt. Imagine if our trail system were doubled in size ... then maybe you can begin to imagine the huge sweep of trails that lace the mountains in the Wood River Valley. Check out an interactive trail guide produced by the Blaine County Recreation District and you'll be amazed.

But you have to experience it yourself to truly understand what a fantastic place it is to ride. I was up there last weekend for my son's baseball tournament, and I snuck away multiple times to ride some new trails west of Hailey in Croy Canyon and the Greenhorn-Mahoney Loop north of Hailey. We wrapped it all up with a gorgeous ride with four teenagers on the Little Basin-Big Basin Loop near Stanley on Sunday.

Chopper is making it easy this week by leading a series of show-me rides every day through Sunday. Here's the schedule for the weekend:

Friday, July 15

RIDE SUN VALLEY LOCAL STOKER - Departs at 9:00 a.m. Free to public space limited.

Cold Springs-Warm Springs. 16 miles, 2,400’ vertical, 3.5 hours. Ride from SV Visitor Center climb back side of Baldy via Cold Springs and rip around to the Warm Springs side via Warm Springs Trail. Apples BBQ awaits for riders at conclusion.

Saturday, July 16

RIDE SUN VALLEY LOCAL STOKER - Departs at 9:00 a.m. Free to public, space limited.

Easley Hot Springs aka Curly’s Trail. 11 miles, 1,500 feet, 2 hours. Break out your longer travel for one the valley’s classic brake warpers. Make two laps if you are feeling cheeky. Shuttle to and from Baker Creek.

Sunday, July 16

RIDE SUN VALLEY LOCAL STOKER - Departs 9:00 a.m. Free to public, space limited.

Fox Peak to Ketchum via East Fork Baker Creek. 22 miles, 2,100’+ vertical, 4.5+ hours. This is the mother of all Local Stokers! Strenuous, technical, long, hard, super awesome. Ride from Baker Creek back to Ketchum on over 22 miles of railer singletrack. Pack extra energy food.

The thing I love about riding in the Wood River Valley is that the trails twist through shady aspen groves, pine and fir forests, punctuated by wildflowers that are popping everywhere right now. It's postcard gorgeous around every bend. And the gradient of the trails is much more moderate than they are in the Boise Foothills, especially in the lower part of the rides. Many of the trails are pure butter-smooth singletrack, and they're a hoot to ride.

I rode the Fox Peak to Adams Gulch ride featured on Sunday for my book Mountain Biking Idaho, and that one is a truly a premium ride. It starts with a moderate climb up the Baker Creek Road, and East Fork Baker Road to one of my favorite ski huts of all time, the Tornak Hut and sauna, which looks out at a stunning display of the rocky Boulder Mountains. You ride a bit more toward Fox Peak, and then it's a wickedly fun downhill spanning several thousand vertical feet to Adams Gulch. Even if you can't do that ride Sunday, you have to do it sometime.

About 650 of the best mountain bikers across the nation are competing in the cross-country mountain bike races. Here is the schedule. Many of the events are located on Bald Mountain, including the downhill courses. You can check in on the action in the River Run area (the turnoff is just before you enter Ketchum on Idaho 75) and see where it might be best to watch your favorite event. The races run through Sunday.

If you have time, go home via Idaho 21 in Stanley and ride the Fisher-Williams Loop or Little Basin-Big Basin Loop a.k.a. "Potato Mountain Loop" on your way home. Both of those rides are a total blast.

To find a place to stay in the Wood River Valley this weekend, check here for the options that may work best for you. If you want to camp, there are many places north of Ketchum where you can pitch at tent or park your camper in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. I camped in a no-fee dispersed campsite north of Baker Creek last weekend.

In Hailey, you have to stop at the Power House and have a beer and a sandwich. It's a unique spot because it's a bike shop, bar and restaurant all wrapped into one venue. They have wifi. I was in there last weekend doing some online work, and their password made me chuckle ... "beer&bike." That says it all!

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Try renting a yurt in the Idaho City Park n' Ski Area, relax and go hiking and biking

Brenda Adams and Leo Hennessy on the deck at Stargaze Yurt.

Brenda approaches Stargaze on a new singletrack.

Leo grinds up the two-track to Stargaze Yurt on Forest Road 394B.

The fire pit and picnic table by Whispering Pines Yurt.
Park n' Ski Area overview trail map.

Hi all,

Everyone knows about renting the Idaho City Park n' Ski Area yurts in the winter, but not so much in the summer. To give folks an incentive, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation has dropped the price of yurt rentals by $30 for weekends and week days, meaning that rents are $60/night for weekends and $45 for week nights. The yurts sleep six.

In my view, the IDPR yurts provide a great venue for a family friendly weekend in the woods. You have six to choose from. All of them are close to hiking and biking trails, and in the summer, you can actually drive to within 100-300 yards from the yurts, making it easy to pack in your camping gear and super easy for parents to take young children.

No muss, no fuss: The yurts are set up with a double-burner stove, cooking utensils, pots, plates and silverware, so you don't have to bring that stuff from home. Just bring sleeping bags, food, water and beverages. Everything you pack in should be packed out. If the bugs are bad outside, you can hang out in the yurt. If it's raining, you can chill in the yurt. Bring lawn chairs, and find shady spots near the yurt or on the yurt deck to enjoy the views.

Summer prices are good from July 1 - Nov. 15. Here's the web link for reservations.

Next, I'll detail some hikes and bike rides that you can explore close to the yurts below:
  • Banner Ridge, Elkhorn and Skyline Yurts are all on the east side of Idaho 21. They provide immediate access to a complete system of singletrack and two-track trails adjacent to the yurts.
  • If you're staying at Banner or Elkhorn, try the easy singletracks called the Cougar Loop or Lehn's Loop. These were trails that IDPR built with volunteer help. Lehn's Loop is 2.4 miles, and Cougar is 3.3 miles. Both trails follow rolling terrain through shady timbered areas without any long major climbs. Good place to take the kids. See this guide for complete details. The loop also is detailed in my Falcon guide Mountain Biking Idaho.
  • A longer and more challenging ride is the Elkhorn-Alpine Loop. This loop is 7.5 miles long, featuring 4WD dirt roads and grassy two-tracks. The Alpine portion of this loop is the most scenic and intimate. I've seen elk and black bear riding my book on this loop. See this guide for complete details. The loop also is detailed in my Falcon guide Mountain Biking Idaho.
  • If you're staying at the Skyline Yurt, there are two possibilities immediately adjacent to the yurt. Hike or ride the Skyline Loop, 5.5 miles from Idaho Highway 21. It's a grassy two-track the whole way. Less than 1,000 feet of vertical climbing, but it is a climb to the yurt from the highway, and it's a fun and fast downhill back to the highway.
  • Another possibility from Skyline, especially for bikers, is to ride Ralph's Trail and Twister to the north and connect over to trails by the Elkhorn Yurt, such as Lehn's Loop and Cougar Loop. See this guide for complete details.
  • If you'd like to stay at Stargaze Yurt, the newest addition to the Idaho City Park n' Ski yurt system, we scouted a new trail in that area last week. It's a 7-mile mountain bike loop (could be hiked) that starts and finishes at Beaver Creek Summit on Idaho Highway 21. The ride starts at the Stargaze Trailhead on Forest Road 394. Bear right on Road #394B and climb a steep two-track dirt road to the yurt junction on a saddle (mile 1.1). Even if you have to walk the steep sections of the climb, it's not very far, and the rest is easy. Take a side trip to Stargaze Yurt and check out the view. Next follow the two-track road from the saddle out to the west to mile 2.3 and go right on a faint two-track. That little trail cuts over to a more major dirt road, which is a snowmobile trail in the winter. Turn right on the dirt road at mile 3.2. Bear right at a signed junction (mile 6.1) to return to Idaho 21 (mile 6.6), turn right and ride the paved road to the trailhead (mile 7). See map above.
  • If you're staying at Whispering Pines Yurt in the Gold Fork area, you could ride or hike the road up to Whispering Pines and then take the Moose Trail back to the parking area. There also are a few short trails nearby. See this guide for more details. Whispering Pines, by the way, has excellent shade afforded by large ponderosa pine trees.
  • Rocky Ridge Yurt, accessed from the Whoop 'em Up trailhead area, has a couple of trails nearby that lead over to Edna Creek Road and Beaver Creek Cabin areas. The Crooked River Trail can be accessed from Beaver Creek Cabin or Edna Creek Road. It's a sweet hiking or biking singletrack that goes downhill along Crooked River for several miles. Turn around and come back. See this guide for more details.
Be sure to print out the maps from the IDPR web site and bring them with you. A map from the Boise National Forest would be helpful as well. And don't forget your bug juice ... because of the big snows we had last winter and spring rain, it's very wet and moist out there in the forest, and the bugs can be fierce!

Other useful resources would be a birding book and wildflower guide.

Have fun!