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Remi McManus rides past an ancient stone-walled barn near Ward Massacre State Park

Venturing Out: Bicycling Joplin Road

An Out-of-the-way, Destination Ride for Every Level of Cyclist

Story and photography by Pete Grady

Remi blurs by one of the numerous cornfields along the route

Remi blurs by one of the numerous cornfields along the route

Temperatures are coming down, vacations have been performed and the kids are back in school, all of which direct our attention to activities close to home. It’s Fall, the perfect time to tune up your bike and head out with a friend or the family to take in the beauty of the central Treasure Valley and get a little exercise. While thinking about possible cycling destinations in and around Eagle for this article, my thoughts turned to Remi McManus, former USA Cycling National Champion road racer and a long-time veteran of the Boise restaurant scene. I got introduced to Remi when he and partner Jay Henry opened the much-heralded State & Lemp restaurant last year.  As renovations to the building were being completed, I participated in some initial photography for the dining house’s Web and social media pages and found McManus easy to get to know. Our developing, casual friendship put me at ease in contacting him to see where he thought Eagle cyclists might discover some new sights.  I knew that his wife, Courtney, teaches at Eagle’s Seven Oaks Elementary and both of his children go to school in the district, so Remi would be familiar with the city’s byways.  Without hesitation he blurted out “Joplin Rd.” with enough conviction that I had to agree and set a date for our venture.

Remi cranes his neck to follow the arc of a passing crop-duster

Remi cranes his neck to follow the arc of a passing crop-duster

My tires produce a familiar crunch as I roll onto the gravel driveway of a farm at the corner of Star and Joplin roads. Turning off the radio and cranking down the window, the silence immediately invites me to get out of the car.  Wow, I think to myself, it is so quiet here and I’m only a mile from town center and busy Hwy 44.  With distractions stifled by the silence, it’s easy to notice a hawk gliding in the distance and the horses over by the barn nipping at each other, forever asserting and reasserting their position in the equine chain of command.  Soon I hear the delicate chatter of precision bicycle gears and turn to find Remi gliding up behind me.  He squeaks to a halt as a crop duster arcs over head, then hurtles earthward, roaring toward the next swath of crops.  “Hey dude, beautiful morning, isn’t it?  Did you smell that mint on the way over here”?  Remi asks excitedly without waiting for an answer.  We begin chatting about the route he took to our meeting place.  “It’s all about being safe.  You just can’t under-emphasize the importance of not putting yourself in harms way”, Remi instructs.  “Today I took the most direct way, but you can also download an app called Strava that shows you popular bike routes from wherever you are.  Check this out”, as he proceeds to demonstrate how this remarkable tool can not only show you nearby biking routes but also track new ones of your own design and measures your progress as you go.  When you get home you can download the directions, time and distance to your computer for sharing with other riders or as a way to measure your fitness progress.

McManus shows offf his balancing skills while passing a roadside stand of hollyhocks and sunflowers

McManus shows offf his balancing skills while passing a roadside stand of hollyhocks and sunflowers

As cool as these apps and the current era of smartphones are, bicyclists have to be more cautious than ever because of it.  Texting while driving may be against the law, but that knowledge does you little good if someone veers a little too far right and clips you, or worse.  Rather than worrying about it and spoiling your trip, Remi suggests taking the less-traveled path.  Today, for instance, he started out from Eagle Rd. and spun down Floating Feather out to Star Rd and south to Joplin, almost exactly 10 miles.  For a veteran racer, who at 39 still maintains an active bicycle race schedule, that’s just a warm up.  “Hey, cycling should be about getting out and having fun,” he says. “If that makes for too long a trip over all, folks can toss their bikes on the back of the car and drive them down here and just enjoy Joplin Rd. itself ”.  In fact, from Star Rd. it’s just 6 miles to Middleton Rd. where Joplin ends, making for an easy twelve mile back-and-forth ride if shuttling makes more sense to you.

“Hey, cycling should be about getting out and having fun.”

McManus adds whimsical pose to a mailbox of a house on the rim overlooking the Boise River

McManus adds whimsical pose to a mailbox of a house on the rim overlooking the Boise River

I opted for the car this day so I could bring along an assortment of camera gear in hopes of capturing the visual highlights of our adventure.  We started off on the east side of the intersection to check out a small herd of longhorn cattle in the south pasture and a group of horses across the street.  The horses ultimately had the stronger curiosity this morning, eagerly ambling over to us as we approached, no doubt thinking we might have a carrot or other delicacy.  Equine send-off accomplished, we started out, heading west past fields of wheat, hay and corn punctuated by the occasional farmhouse or iconic barn.  The road is indeed lightly traveled and we encountered more cyclists and runners than autos.  What cars do come our way give us a wide, slow berth reinforcing this road’s reputation as a cycling mecca.  Starting off flat, after only a couple miles the road climbs gradually out of the river valley and up to the flats above within eyesight of Hwy 20-26.  The million dollar view of the river valley, Boise Front and Squaw Butte are spectacular, but it’s also fun to check out the canal that parallels the road for a bit, then ogle at the mansions perched on the rim overlooking the Boise River. Meander along this stretch for a mile more until a right turn takes you rolling back down to river level passing some well-groomed fields and ranch houses.  The shoulders of the road are a blaze of color from stands of flowers both cultivated and wild.  At this point the road has changed names to Lincoln, but no matter.  There are all the same sights and sounds and the climax of the trip lies just a short distance ahead.  Pedal past an ancient barn with a charming stone foundation and on to more cornfields and some equally old cottonwoods and maples lining the road.  Finally you come upon Ward Memorial State Park commemorating the massacre of early settlers.  A large, grassy field with comfortable tables under shady trees and clean restrooms, it’s the perfect spot for your picnic or simple refreshment and conversation about the highlights of the ride.  From here you have the option of turning back the way you came, or if you’re more adventurous and have the stamina, head up Middleton Rd. and find your way back to Eagle via Foothill and Beacon Light roads.

“If it’s only about getting exercise or training, you won’t do it very much.  The beauty of cycling is the pleasure gained by what you see, smell, hear and feel.”

EM_Feature1_092014_small4Remi and I choose the latter, agreeing to meet at Wild West Bakery for coffee, a debriefing and a glimpse of the pictures on the rear LCD of my camera.  “Oh, dude, can I get a copy of that one for Instagram? Sweet!” cheers Remi.  We settle in further to our spot on the patio and the conversation turns from today’s ride to that of cycling in general.  McManus is adamant that people cycle for fun.  “If it’s only about getting exercise or training, you won’t do it very much.  The beauty of cycling is the pleasure gained by what you see, smell, hear and feel”, he says. “The exercise will just happen as a sideline if you go out first with the intention of having a good time”.  That’s championship-caliber advice from someone who’s been there.