Hungry Eyes

Jason Keen, Tyler Gustafson and Ross McCann blast through bear grass on the Beetop-Roundtop Trail in northern Idaho.

Hungry Eyes A Singletrack Feast in the Idaho Panhandle

When the eyes of a small-town bike mechanic light up and then go far off and dreamy when talking about a local trail, you listen.

Brian Anderson at Greasy Fingers Bikes N Repair, in Sandpoint, Idaho, is pointing at a collection of pins on a wall mounted map of north Idaho. In Brian’s parlance, there are two types of worthwhile trails: bitchin’ and super bitchin’. The pins clustered around Canuck Pass, near the Canadian border, highlight a trail that falls into the latter category.

Sandpoint is a timber-and-tourist town on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille, one of few communities of any size in the so called Idaho Panhandle. Squeezed between Washington and Montana, bounded by the Selkirk Mountains to the west and the Purcells and Cabinets to the east, the Panhandle has always acted as an antenna for folks looking to escape civilization. It’s a good place to get lost.

Looking for a quick dose of alpine riding close to my home in Spokane, some 90 minutes from Sandpoint, I had zeroed in on the Panhandle. The trails here had been on my radar for years, but, as backyard trails tend to be, they were always bypassed in favor of the famed Kootenays immediately across the border in British Columbia.

The Kootenay River turns to the Kootenai when it crosses the border, and with that one-letter swap comes a change in the character of the mountain ranges surrounding it. Ranges that push past 9,000 feet up north barely scrape 7,000 down south. In the same way, the world-class Kootenays riding morphs into something diff erent here—more horizontal than vertical, more about exploration than adrenaline.

But an extensive system of ridge-running trails looked like it had potential, and the area’s proximity to home allowed a group of six of us to come and go as work and life schedules permitted.

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