The 60-mile (round-trip) Ashton-Tetonia rail-trail is one of my favorite adventures in Teton Valley. And fall is my favorite time to ride it.
Last month my boyfriend Derek and I loaded our bikes onto the back of Max, our Astro van, which Derek says is not a mini-van but a maxi-van, and drove over Teton Pass planning to ride the route, a former Union Pacific railroad track bed that was converted to a trail for non-motorized users in 2011 and includes three impressive trestle bridges.
But first we stopped at the newly finished house of some friends in Victor.
“Have you heard of the Jackpine Loop?” Jason asked us.
We hadn’t. Jason, who’s still as hardcore as I used to be, mentioned the 25-mile gravel loop as a possible addition to our rail-trail ride. The loop starts several miles north of Felt, Idaho, and is an easy detour from the rail-trail.
Only because we wanted to get back to Jackson early enough in the afternoon so we could spend some time doing chores around the house — and not at all because the thought of an 85-mile bike ride (60 miles of rail-trail plus 25 miles of Jackpine/Pinochle) made Derek’s and my quads and butts hurt — we changed plans. Out was the rail-trail and in was the Jackpine-Pinochle Loop (both roads are FSR 266). As much as I love the rail-trail, doing something new is even better. We looked at online topo maps of the loop; it went into an area of the western slope of the Tetons neither of us had ever explored without skis.
Depending on our soreness and fatigue levels, maybe we’d ride a short rail-trail section to one of the rail-trail’s trestle bridges at the end. (The trestle bridges, all three of which span Bitch Creek, are really cool.)
We parked at the intersection of Reece Road and W 12000 N (although now that we’ve done the loop, we know the best place to park is the rail-trail’s Judkins parking area near the corner of Reece Road and W 14250 N) and set off in a counterclockwise direction, riding up Pinochle Road, a wide, gravel road with few washboards. We did not ride counterclockwise for any specific reason, but arriving back at the car we agreed that counterclockwise was the best way to do it. In this direction you ride towards the Tetons and deal with the longest sections of loose gravel on the uphill rather than the downhill.
Whether you go counterclockwise or clockwise, the first half of the ride is all uphill and the second half all downhill. The middle part winds through aspen and pine forests — mostly pine — that break just often enough for you to be awed by how big and untouched this area is. What the northern Tetons lack in drama and snagliness they make up for with expansive views in which you can’t see any signs of people or civilization.
When we hit the high point of the loop we didn’t realize it was the high point. We just stopped for a snack break about 11 miles and 1,800 vertical feet from the start, near the intersection of the Pinochle Road and Rammell Mountain Road. The latter leads to the Indian Meadows trailhead, from which you can hike into the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. We briefly thought about riding to the trailhead because it was yet another place neither of us had been, but decided that relaxing in a flat grassy area nibbling treats we bought at Rise Coffee House in Driggs was a better idea.
Between bites of chocolate croissant, Derek and I tried to guess our elevation. Because of the short stature of the trees, and also because my legs felt like they had ridden up 3,000 vertical feet, I guessed 8,500. Derek went with 8,000. Consulting a topo map, we were both wrong. Our rest stop was at merely 7,200 feet.
And we were to go no higher. After our rest the road flattened, and then it went downhill, and downhill and downhill. Most of the downhill was that kind of downhill that is so gradual you can’t totally tell the road is going downhill. You just feel super strong and like you’re pedaling like a beast.
After a 2(ish)-mile stretch of road on which we passed no fewer than five piles of fresh bear scat — which the animal(s) had deposited in the middle of the road — I stopped coming around blind corners at speed.
As beautiful as the beginning and middle of the ride was, my favorite vista came near the end as the road dropped out of the forested foothills and back into the rolling farmland of Teton Valley.
Although half the distance of the rail-trail, this loop was more work, although worth it because its scenery is more diverse.