Backstory: Ever get the feeling you’re sitting still? That you have a mess of goals, ideas, hopes, and fears that are all bouncing around? No? Just me? Okay.
Well, for the rest of you who don’t quite have your lives exactly where we’d like them, this article..this trip...is for y’all.
My head was going in circles, but reaching no destination, so I decided to get gone and let the road think for me for a day or so. It always works like a charm for me. This time I chose Idaho as my thinking ground, and the best new place to test out our new-to-us Smittybilt RTT we picked up from our buddy Steven at @stevenobrien_photography….. Join me as I take a whirlwind trip through Sun Valley, Ketchum, and Stanley Idaho.
I finished up my daily remote work assignments around 3pm and packed the truck. I prefer to travel extremely light, so I only brought a small cooler, backpack, and a makeshift ‘pelican’ camera lens case made from a Walmart-bought Plano box (with foam inserts it comes out to a little less than $20 per case). I made sure all my cameras were charged and had their SD cards. You’d be surprised how many times I forget to do this. Seeing as the point of this trip was mostly to just drive, my gear reflected that, bringing just my daily kit of recovery straps, Krazy Beaver shovel, and knockoff Maxtrax ($130 on Amazon and they’ve lasted 4 years of use and abuse without issue). Lastly, I grabbed my new favorite book (Surviving the Peace by Peter Lippman), and hit the road out of Bend, Oregon around 5pm.
Heading out of Bend, I went north on 97 'til I reached Redmond and hung a right until reaching the Ochocos overlook just outside of Prineville.
Across most of this trip I averaged about 21-23mpg depending on terrain, which was a nice surprise. Getting into Eastern Oregon around 7pm, I started looking for a campsite just east of the town of John Day. I found the quiet and empty Bates State Park campground and set up a minimal camp (basically just my RTT and some snacks, because...yep...forgot my dinner supplies). I spent the evening just thinking and relaxing, eventually pulling the trusty book out before bed. Oh, and for Verizon users, no service. It was a nice “unplugging”.
Managed to snap this shot in the failing light with my older Canon T6. Check out more of my photography at @aikens.photoart
Knowing I’d have a very long day tomorrow, I knocked out around 10pm with my alarm set for 4am. The Smittybilt was plenty warm in the mid-30 degree temps we had. No heater needed- just a basic sleeping bag. I probably would’ve been a bit more comfortable with some socks on, though. Oh well.
Day two starts with a cold, dark drive southeast toward Vale, OR, eventually hopping on the interstate toward Boise. When I exited near Nampa to start our turn toward Sun Valley, I happened upon my ‘quicksand’ paint code Tacoma’s twin.
Pretty remarkable, right? I can’t spot a single difference. Honestly, if it weren’t for the 120mm smooth bore cannon, turbine engine, tracks, and lack of the factory Toyota tow package, I’d say this Abrams is basically the same thing as my Tacoma. Twins. 100%.
Anyways, this Abrams MBT sat alone in the high desert as a tribute to veterans in Idaho. Speaking of veterans, have you read our recent article on Off-Road Outreach? They’re doing amazing things for veterans across the country and you can donate to their cause with our link here.
Continuing on, I stopped in Ketchum Idaho for some lunch at Smoky Mountain Pizzeria Grill. Heading North from Ketchum, I started the slow but easy going (but also breath-taking) climb up Trail Creek Rd into the Sawtooth and Challis National Forests.
On the way up we passed a number of vehicles, mostly trucks and SUVs all filled with friendly people who’d wave at you when one of y’all pulled over to let the other slip by on the narrow one way gravel pass- a nice courtesy we’d like to see more of on the trails.
The interior of the NF seemed to stretch on forever, and I was incredibly excited to try and snap some shots of these “strange deer” I later learned are called pronghorn antelope. I’m told they’re the fastest land mammal in North America- able to reach speeds of 60mph.
I’ll have to beg for some leniency from fellow photographers, as something seems to be off with the focus on my Canon T6 with its 75-300mm kit lens. No matter what I’ve taken this week things always appear in focus through the view-finder but are later blurry in the RAW file. I’m eager to return to Idaho ASAP to re-capture the antelope with some better focusing and probably with my Nikon d610 instead.
Anyways...photo geek-out over.
Idaho makes for some truly great truck photo ops- blue skies and perfect rolling mountains.
After a couple of hours on Trail Creek Road I eventually made by way back down into Ketchum and started to head toward Stanley. For our naturally-aspirated Subarus and lower-horsepower cars, I’d like to foreworn you that the highway summit toward Stanley from Ketchum does crest at around 8300ft and you might feel a related loss of passing/climbing power.
Stopping at Petit Lake to start the 6 mile hike to Lake Alice, I decided to let the truck rest for a bit, with this view to keep it company (notice Idaho’s “El Capitan” flattop mountain peeking around the corner).
The hike toward Lake Alice eventually came up short as I was running out light and constantly harassed by bees. (Apparently my conditioner made my hair resemble a flower. Neat.)
I snapped the following along the hike there and back.
With the day running out, I decided to end things on a high note and start looking for a campsite or at least making my way closer back to Bend.
The road just north of Stanley (which eventually does a giant u-turn around the western mountain ranges and heads south toward Boise) has earned my award for "best driver's road in North America". I know that’s a huge claim, but this is the Internet after all so take it as you will. Roughly 120 miles of high speed twisties made me envious of the WRX and Audi combo i tried to keep up with in my Tacoma. They won, obviously, but I think we all won just getting to be on that road in such beautiful weather and lack of local traffic.
I unfortunately didn't grab any pictures of the route since I was probably having a bit too much fun. However, if you start in Idaho City and head north 'til you reach Stanley, you’ll thank me later. The north-bound route is a gradual elevation gain of around 2000-3000 feet and I would highly suggest that you take this direction for your more “spirited” driving (from a safety perspective). However, I am not...repeat..NOT..suggesting or endorsing any kind of illegal or unsafe driving.
This is the route for the fun mountain road from Boise to Stanley.
The final notable part of my trip came around sunset between Idaho City and Boise heading south. After leaving the forested areas of Boise National Forest, the road opens up into a canyon/lake area that was absolutely stunning with the orange glow of sunset on the water. Take your time with this one if you can spare it and pull over for a bit.
The rest of my drive was fairly standard besides a major increase in my caffeine intake to stay awake for the drive home.
I know a few of you will scoff when you realize that I left on a Monday evening and arrived back on a Wednesday morning. I know you’ll say I rushed things, that I didn't even camp off-road. You’ll say I spent 95% of my time in the truck, on the highway.
And that was the point. This was my trip and I needed to get away with my thoughts, and I’m happy to say I did. The road is my therapy, and as some will say, it's not about the destination but instead the journey. I took my 21mpg truck instead of our 45mpg Prius because I wanted the capability that I probably wouldn’t use but wanted to have if I needed it. I got a lot of out the hours spent thinking at 65mph on pavement listening to my favorite bands and maybe you can too.
Thanks for listening,