Trail Dispatches: When the ride description says “bring your bear spray,” you know you’re in for an adventure

By Jason Welker
Reader Contributor

I had seen Scott Bourassa’s posts on the Bike Bonners Ferry and Ride 7B Facebook groups for months. Each Monday a ride description is posted to the different North Idaho mountain biking groups, along with pictures from the previous week’s ride. But I have a confession to make; until three weeks ago I was too scared to RSVP to one of these rides. The reality is that the riding in the farthest northern reaches of our state just always looked too… well, hard. Ride descriptions usually involved long hike-a-bikes and loose rocky trails better suited for horses’ hooves or hiking boots than for Mavic DHFs (my tire of choice). 

The author’s wife Liz Wargo, traversing the ridge between Canuck Pass and Keno Peak. Photo by Jason Welker.

Three weeks ago, however, I decided to toughen up and join a ride, thanks to my buddy Beny — who is always up for an adventure — saying he’d join me.

We rendezvoused with the Bonners Ferry bike crew just north of town. The eclectic group of riders included everyone from a 17-year-old hay farmer from Porthill on the Canadian border to 72-year-old Will, who only started riding a bike four years ago. An inspirational riding crew, all of whom were surprised to see our 7B plates pull up to the meeting point. They welcomed us and we soon were caravaning to the lower trailhead.

The ride I’d signed up for was Canuck Pass to Keno Creek, which includes a 7-mile singletrack ridge ride along the Montana-Idaho border. The ride starts at aptly named Canuck Pass, sitting at 6,000 feet just 5 miles from Canada. Northwest Peak looms large to the east and the Purcell Mountains of Canada are a stone’s throw to the north.

From the trailhead, we began south along trail No. 44, a ridge ride with about 1,500 feet of climbing over 7 miles. The views were insane and the grade was surprisingly rideable — with the exception of some slippery rock sections, most of our group was able to clean more than 90% of the trail. Personally I only had to put my foot down in a couple of places but for the most part rode nearly the entire ridge.

Our leader and ride organizer, Bourassa, guided Beny and me along the ridge, stopping often to soak up the stunning views down into Montana’s Yaak Valley, south toward the Kootenai River Basin, and north toward Kootenay Pass in Canada. The late evening light added an ephemeral quality to the ride, while the explosion of color from wildflowers in bloom provided a spectacular canvas on which the singletrack traced its way up and down the ridgeline stretching south.

The traverse culminated with a 400-foot, “no-fall zone” sidehill climb around the east flank of Keno Peak. We crested the pass below the summit at 8:15 p.m. With a cool wind blowing from the west, our group reconvened and we began what I can only describe as one of the funnest descents in all of North Idaho.

Over the next 7.5 miles we shredded a reclaimed logging road, now converted to a wide open singletrack, with bermy jumps and tight rock gardens to keep riders entertained. Over 3,300 feet the trail dropped into the Deer Creek Valley to where we had left some cars on our way to the trailhead. The last half-mile of the descent leaves the road grade behind and dips into a lush, fern-filled forest, carving its way downhill on a surface some mountain bikers might describe as “brown pow.” The sun had long since dipped behind the Selkirks to the west as we rolled up to our cars and dove into some post-ride snacks and beverages. 

I couldn’t believe what I had just experienced. Far from the ride being “too hard” or “not worth the effort,” as I had imagined most Boundary County rides to be, it was an experience I immediately wanted to repeat. 

The Bonners Ferry mountain biking group, known as 9B Trails, represents a small but dedicated group of individuals who are passionate about the riding opportunities in North Idaho. And they don’t just ride their trails, they build and maintain them, too. From beginner-friendly rides like Brush Lake and “Section 16” to the new “Enchanted Forest” trails in Paradise Valley just south of town, Bonners Ferry offers exciting riding opportunities for bikers of all abilities. 

Even better, there will be more new trails to look forward to as just last week Ride 9B members received a $25,000 grant from the Equinox Foundation to acquire their own mini-excavator, which will enable them to build new mountain bike-friendly trails all over the county.

If you’re interested in learning more about mountain biking in Boundary Country, follow the Bike Bonners Ferry and Ride 7B groups on Facebook. Scott Bourassa is always thrilled to share information about Boundary Country trails, and he can be reached on Facebook, as can the author of this dispatch. 

Get out there and explore, and hopefully we’ll see you on the trails.

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