Trail Report: Imperial Loop, Ketchum, ID

The sun blasted its way through the large plate glass window of Java on Fourth and straight into my face. I shoveled an omelet down as quickly as I could between intervals of coffee and water. I searched for any excuse I could think of, “I haven’t packed my bags quite yet.” “I have to be online for a work thing.” It was Sunday, and the rest of the group could see through the excuses I was laying down.

We went up and up for a while

“You got time.” Scott said, “I’ll meet you back at the hotel in 45 minutes.” I nodded my head in reluctant agreement and shuffled back off towards my hotel.
At the trailhead, I took a few labored deep breaths before shoving off down the trail in hopes of resetting the night before activities. We crossed a small bridge and then a trickling creek before winding through a field of high grass and shrubs. The pace felt a little hot, but I’m sure it was one part altitude and one part poor life choices.

Perfect ribbons of dirt in an alpine meadow.

It wasn’t long before the trail was going more up more than down, and steep pitches greeted us every so often. I labored on the pedals as bike industry veteran Scott Montgomery chirped back “This a classic local loop.” We were riding in the area known as Imperial, just a few miles away from the town of Ketchum, ID. If one was feeling ambitious, they could pedal down the bike path straight from town and make a right on Greenhorn Rd. which leads you straight to the lot. Coincidently the name of the first trail is Greenhorn and so is the creek running down of the mountain. I, in this instance, also was a bit of a Greenhorn, new trails in a new town and my legs were failing me, or perhaps I had failed my legs.

Tom and Scott enjoying a bit of respite from all the climbing.

The evening before had found us at the Limelight Hotel for the annual NICA leaders meeting and fundraiser. Beverages were on our gracious host from Crank Tank, and with each drink ordered a small amount of money would go to NICA. Who am I to deny funds to the youth of mountain biking, or better yet, who am I to pass up free cocktails from a fancy hotel?

The view from the top was worth the suffering.

I pushed the thumb padel hoping the Eagle would save me, stonewalled, I was already there, out of gears as my body purged itself of toxins out every pore. I looked at the group and apologized as we reached the next split in the trail. “You live, and you learn.” smiled Tom Brady (calm down yinzers, not that Tom Brady, the other one that works for Light and Motion) I nodded, “Yeah, live and learn.” The climb continued through more stream crossings as the last of the winters snow was melting from the higher elevations, “Live and learn.” I mumbled it to myself as more of a question than a statement, have I? Would I? I feel like I have been here before, following the revelry of my compatriots only to struggle in the mountains the following day. I was undoubtedly living, but I wasn’t so sure about the learning part.

Scott Montgomery on his home turf.

After a solid hour of elevation gain, we received some respite. A few steep chutes through trees followed by rollercoaster ups back into high alpine fields. Either I had sweated out most the night before, or my body was relieved from the steady climbing, but I was coming around and trying to carry my speed and momentum over the rises. Soon we could see across to the big mountains of the Sawtooth range, still capped in snow, surrounded by moody skies, however terrible coming up felt it was worth this view. I stopped a few times to enjoy it, while I will debate anyone that Pennsylvania trails can compete with the best in the country we don’t quite have the big mountain vistas of the west.

We weren’t the only ones out enjoying the day.

“Time for the payoff!” Scott pointed down at the trail, “downhill all the way back to the lot.”
We plummeted towards the valley finding the breaking point of tires on the dry and kitty littered singletrack. Soon we were surrounded by wildflowers and small rock features. The discomfort of the morning had vanished, and perhaps I have learned at least one thing, always go on the ride. Sure, it might hurt in the immediate, but you will feel better about yourself in the end.