First Attempt to Traverse Idaho

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Steve Graepel & Chris Minson scoping the Bruneau River. Photo Credit:Erik Nystrom

You don’t have to be an elite athlete or a famous explorer to embark on an ambitious expedition, get sponsored for it and learn valuable lessons from the experience –- even if the trip doesn’t pan out quite as planned. And that’s exactly what Chris Minson and Steve Graepel did.

Minson, a 44-year old human physiologist at the University of Oregon in Eugene, and Graepel, a Boise-based medical illustrator and multimedia art director, 40, are both husbands and fathers who also love the mountains. For their most recent adventure, they set out to do something no one had done before — traverse Idaho from south to north by linking a series of remote rivers, roads, singletrack and hiking trails over an 840-mile journey.

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During a year of intense planning, the adventurers secured funding from Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent/Be First program and from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. Then, they did their best to train, while simultaneously holding down demanding full-time jobs and spending time with their wives and kids.

At the same time, Minson was working through a newly diagnosed heart issue along with a never-ending struggle to find balance.

“A climber/writer once said that when he’s in the mountains, all he can think about is getting home,” Minson wrote in an e-mail. “When he’s home, all he can think about is getting to the mountains. I hope this makes some sort of sense, as I know many couples who have this challenge in the marriage.”

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“The trip really instilled balance…balance in work/life/family,” Graepel added in a separate e-mail. “We may not have been able to train as much as we would have liked (though I did pull in a 20-hr week on the legs), but we were able to stay injury free and continue to train and plan around work and family obligations. We needed to train smart, plan smart — be efficient. In the end, aren’t we all looking to be efficient with our time? I’ll surely bring this into my work and life.”

The itinerary looked like this, according to the expedition blog:

• Run the Bruneau; 40 miles, 1-day

• Ride to the mining town of Atlanta; 100 miles, 1 day

• Ride to the Middle Fork of the Salmon;100 miles, 1 day

• Paddle the Middle Fork; 100 miles, 3-days

• Hike to the Selway; 60 miles, 2-days

• Paddle the Selway; 100 miles, 3-days

• Ride to Kelly Forks; 100 miles, 1-day

• Ride to Mullan; 100 miles, 1-day

• Ride to Naples; 100 miles, 1-day

• Ride to Canada; 60 miles, 1-day

The plan was to complete the journey in 15 days. After the first 300 miles, the men were mostly on schedule, and their next stage involved 250 miles through the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48. Suddenly, Graepel was struck by searing and blinding pain in his right eye. It turned out to be a chronic problem called “recurrent corneal erosion syndrome.”

“In short,” Graepel wrote, “when in a dry, dusty, windy environment, dehydrated or on too little sleep (how I spent my week on the route) it can precipitate a sloughing off of the eye’s epithelium, exposing the corneal nerves. The expedition was the perfect storm. The decision to bail was the right choice.”

The ultimate goal of the trip, Minson said, was to demonstrate that one doesn’t have to go to far-flung corners of the world to have a great adventure. And even though the men didn’t finish their itinerary, both say they achieved that goal.

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