We had met backpacking in college and had grown up into your standard PNW cyclocross enthusiasts. Bikepacking had always seemed like a logical next step to unite our passions but there had always been reasons to put it off. We can’t mount anything on our cross bikes, we get backpacking permits that will take up all our vacation, it’s plenty nice biking around Hood River where we call home. The kicking of the proverbial bikepacking can down the road may have continued forever had two precipitous events not coincided. A group of friends invited us on a truly epic looking loop, and Otso Cycles showed up in Hood River with demo bikes in stock one week later. We took the plunge, ordered a Warakin and Fenrir respectively, and RSVPed to 350 miles of intro to bikepacking.
It was on mile 49 cresting 5,000 feet of climbing in triple digit heats that we began to ponder if we were potentially in over our heads with this whole bikepacking thing. What had we gotten ourselves into?
Taylor chose the Warakin since it most closely mimicked the cross bike she feels the most at ease on. She did get a set of extra wide splayed handlebars for a more ergonomic descending setup. She liked how efficient the bike was in town and on gravel roads. Pierce, on the other hand, chose the Fenrir to be closer to the mountain bikes he is most comfortable on. While the bike was a little slower on pavement, it held its own on the uphill gravel and the descents. Both of us felt happy with our decisions and more importantly both held our panniers well.
Having bought new bikes for the trip we attempted to reuse as much backpacking gear as possible. We subsidized our trusty set of Ortlieb panniers with a friend's extra set and found all our veteran backpacking gear magically fit inside! We were definitely back heavy, but the extra weight on our back tires supercharged our traction for steep loose climbs. We would bring the same gear again!
The trip took us from the classic Idaho hot springs loop and the wild self-supported “Smoke ‘n ’Fire'' bikepacking race. The route started in Boise, looping through Prairie and Pine before going up and over the epic Dollarhide Pass and into Sun Valley. From Sun Valley we looped south through Hailey and met back up with our route through Pine. The final days we followed the Boise river back to the start. The overall length of the trip was 350 miles over 6 days. The group consisted of six friends we met through the group rides at the one and only Dirty Finger Bicycles in Hood River; we trusted all would be steady cyclists and even better companions.
For ease of car storage we started at the Boise municipal airport. The first day entailed 5,000 feet of climbing, 55 miles and predicted hundred degree heat!
We thought we were prepared for sealant-melting temps in Boise but the hike-a-bike and exposure of the first day truly kicked our butts. The group had to take more hydration and sunscreen breaks than expected and a small chocolate milk run happened at our first stop late in the day.
We hobbled into camp the first day and sat under a tree to get our temps down. We had five more days of this!
Day two proved to be a much more civilized day in the high country. We started from Prairie, with a lovely morning traverse into Pine. Trundeling across the flat prairie in the cool morning air was bliss after the hot climbing from the previous day.
Out of Pine we found a nice spot for lunch along the river, and spent far too long soaking in the cool water. The self proclaimed fishermen of the trip even managed to catch a few monsters! (A fisherman never lies…)
The first hot springs of the trip took place in a fortuitous spot while Al fixed the one and only flat of the trip. Sorry Al! Final miles from Featherville to the Baumgarten campground was our first taste of the Idaho Strade Bianche thick sand roads. The only sad part of the day was when the beer we were cooling in the river was swept downstream once we got to camp.
Day three consisted of a very mellow morning of pounding out miles, a stop at Smoky Bar, and a hot springs dip.
After lunch, we managed to crest Dollarhide Pass at the absolute high temp point of the day. This was our tallest pass of the trip and it turned out to be a beautiful steep grind up. Surprisingly we all loved it!
The descent into Ketchum was one of the most scenic parts of the trip, and everyone was in high spirits. Sun Valley on the other hand was a total culture shock to the system after a few days in the backcountry. Who wears high heels to the grocery store?
After cruising the excellent paved bike path into Hailey, we started the day with a bit of a slow start with fixing Al’s rear tire which had gotten progressively worse. All the shops in town were completely out of tubes and tires matching the sizes we needed, but eventually we were saved with a new child’s mountain bike tire.
Once again we hit the climb of the day in peak heat, but the final steep push up Road 893 was the unanimous highlight of the trip! Rocky chunder, requiring more than granny gear, gave way to stunning views from the top of a plateau. The traction from the panniers gave us super climbing powers!
At the top, the whole group enjoyed a well deserved late lunch before descending down to camp. Somehow we managed to get soaked blasting through the only mud puddle of the trip. No pictures unfortunately. An absolutely frigid night reminded us that a 30 degree sleeping bag is rated for survival at 30 degrees, not comfort.
We started the backtracking part of the journey back to Featherville, then headed up the final big climb of the trip. Like all our other big climbs, this one managed to be hot and dry! A few breaks in the shade were necessary. The descent was the gnarliest of the trip and a dropper post sure came in handy. Al and Morgan assisted a motorcyclist who had laid the bike down, our good deed for the trip.
We cut the planned riding a bit early to take advantage of a campsite with hot springs. The night concluded with an after dinner soak that was quintessentially relaxing. A plus side was the plateau above the hot springs had a geothermal ground that pre warmed all our tents. It was quite luxurious!
The final day was a tough one. A 40 mile washboard road fighting for space with boat-hauling trucks was rough to say the least. Then we all nearly s*** our chamois, dodging aggressive trucks and semis while biking the 7 miles on the highway back to Lucky Lake state park.
The day concluded with eating frozen snickers bars on the side of a busy road near the airport, and we gosh darn deserved them! What an excellent bike packing adventure! We were so glad for the invite, and are already planning our next round on the trusty steeds.