“This has got to be the craziest sport I’ve ever done,” my friend George said to me as we rested on our mountain bikes gazing down a precipitous slope toward pine forest and spiky mountains in the distance. “Here we are in one of the most beautiful places on earth and when we’re on our bikes we can’t even look at the scenery!”
The mountain bike trails from the top of Sun Valley’s fabled Bald Mountain (9150 feet elevation) wind through meadows, switchback down sheer slopes, weave through pine forests, and really get the adrenaline flowing. We were cruising (or rather, braking) down eight-mile-long Warm Springs Trail because the friendly fellow who sold us tickets for the gondola to take us to the top sized us up and said, “Take Warm Springs Trail. You’ll see when you get up there that you have two choices, Cold Springs and Warm Springs. You folks want Warm Springs. It’ll be a lot better for you.” Then he grinned and said, as if questioning our resolve, “Cold Springs is not for the faint of heart.”
It’s not a stretch to say that one of us could easily have flown off the mountain over the three hours we made our way down. The widest part of the trail was about two feet, most of it was loose rock with the occasional boulder and gnarly tree root, and hairpin switchbacks took us down the steepest sections.
We were novices. At one point when one of us picked himself up from a minor crash and brushed off his skinned knees, a more experienced biker who stopped to help commented merrily, “If you aren’t bleeding it ain’t mountain biking!”
Even though we took our sweet time and stopped for lots of breaks to make sure we didn’t lose anyone, we saw few other bikers and felt we had the mountain to ourselves. And when we stopped we could appreciate the stupendous scenery over Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest.
The wildflowers on the open slopes near the top dazzled us with their pinks and purples and yellows and blues, but as we descended and entered a forest burn zone we came upon a scene “straight out of the ‘Wizard of Oz,’” my friend Lee said: wild hollyhocks as far up and down the slope as we could see. In 40 years of mountain hiking (probably 200 years collectively), none of us had ever seen a wildflower show so spectacular.
When we reached the bottom, bruised, dusty, fingers locked in a claw grip and forearms aching from squeezing the handlebars, we all marveled that we had made it.
“Heck, I’d do it again,” George said. “But not tomorrow!”