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Mastering the Magruder Corridor by motorcycle

Rocks, ruts, sand, snow, skill, heat, cold, a long day on the trail. If these nouns and verbs sound like the kind of challenge you enjoy when you're riding a dual sport or adventure motorcycle, the Magruder Corridor is one to add to your bucket list.

But if these things sound treacherous and your gear and skill levels aren't up to handling a day on the trail like this - as one rider put it - don't go.

The Magruder Corridor is an old wagon trail cut in the 1800s that runs as the south border of the Selway-Bitter Root Wilderness, and the Frank Church River of No Return Wildernesses north perimeter. For much of the year it is impassable due to snow, but by July it gets a grooming where needed and can be ridden up into mid-September, perhaps even into early October on warmer, drier years.

It's easy enough to make the trek across this wilderness in a day, but you can opt to take an overnight stop along the way if you want to break it up into two days. Any such stop will be nothing more than primitive camping requiring you to pack out what you pack in.

The road is 122 miles in length. Fuel is a consideration. On the west end you can top off your bike in Elk City. But it's anyone's guess how much longer Elk City will exist. A large mill shut down in the late 2000s and population is on the decline. There were 202 residents in 2010, today there are 74. The median age here is 65 years old.

On the east end lies Darby, Montana. Between Darby and Elk City there are no services. No fuel, no restaurants, no repair shops, no Subway. Lunch today is on the trail consisting of whatever you packed in.

The road is primarily two-track. You'll be stopping along the way for breaks, lunch and refreshment. Be sure to park your bike out of the track so others may pass. Although it is rare, there may be other riders on the trail, or even 4WD enthusiasts.

The route consists of many burn areas, but also forested sections and even streams now and then for cooling off on hot days. Views from the vistas are stunning on clear days, but this is Idaho and, in the summer, smoke from nearby fires is a given.

Side routes include the 20-mile out-and-back to the Hells Half Acre fire lookout on the east end. Although shorter in distance, the short ride up to the Burnt Knob lookout midway in is steep and rocky. Hiking it might be more prudent based on your skills and that would add a few more hours more to your already long day. But if it's clear, this is one of the best panoramic views of central Idaho anywhere.

As for accommodations, Elk City has a small 15 room motel. Otherwise, the nearest accommodations on the west end are a scrappy motel in Kooskia and some slightly better offerings north in Kamiah. Formerly known as the Lewis & Clark Resort, today a KOA on the south side of Kamiah provides RV and tent camping, as well as several motel rooms and small cabins that can be rented.

In Darby there are several motels, a more upscale lodge, and a bed and breakfast. Riders looking for more options should head south over Chief Joseph Pass to Salmon, Idaho.

Back to your day on the trail. How sound is your bike? This is no place for grandpa's 1972 SL 350. Breakdowns can be a real pain, especially the further in you are. Imagine being towed by a buddy 62 miles to the nearest town? You brought a tow rope - right? A solid set of tires, innertubes, chain, sprocket, and cables on a well-tuned motorcycle will provide plenty more piece of mind than a beater that is overdue for new cables, rubber, and drive train.

Tools? A basic set of tools that would cover anything you need to crank during a level one service interval are essential. Why you may ask? When you're bumping a bike around on gravel and over rocks all day, screws, nuts and bolts have a way of loosening up. Also, in your arsenal of tools, there should be an inflation pump (not Co2 cartridges) and a well-outfitted tire repair kit. Spare innertubes are never a bad idea here either.

If you like to ride hard, The Magruder may win out. Riding hard means slamming the bike around and doing the things that the average rider would not. Pounding the bike over baby head rocks, goosing the throttle back and forth up a 20% incline of rock and sand, and hammering the bike in general -- all these things put excess strain on drive trains and eventually lead to broken splines which cannot be fixed on the side of the trail. That tow rope is the only way out. Hard riding over rocks, with say a thorn-proof innertube can result in not just a blow out, but a tube that explodes beyond repair.

Crashing a bike beyond the tow rope option. Don't. Imagine the bill for a wrecker to drive in 61 miles to retrieve what's left of your bike. You don't want this.

The Magruder Corridor can be a great feather to put in your cap. Just keep you, your bike, and that feather all in one piece as you enjoy your day on the trail here.

TM/May 2019

The Magruder Corridor was part of the 2012 Sasquatch Dual Sport Tour and will once again be a part of the 2019 tour this coming July. More information about the tour is available here.


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