Thursday, June 10, 2021

Boise "Crank Queens" pedal 42 miles to Atlanta in a Bikepacking shakedown cruise

Jen (center) rides with Erica Davis (right) and Liz Thurmond (left), all members
of the "Crank Queens", a women's mountain biking group based in Boise.
(photo by Sharon Sell)

Guest column By Jennifer Isenhart
Wide Eye Productions, Boise

Ever since I first heard of the Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire, a 400-mile mountain bike race through Idaho’s backcountry, I’ve been intrigued by bikepacking. Bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping. Bike-packers are fully self-supported, carrying all their food, water, cook stove, sleep system, clothing, tools and supplies in bags mounted in and around their bike frames. 

The Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire race course tackles more than 40,000 feet of climbing on backcountry forest roads and singletrack trails, with a few hike-a-bikes thrown in to test your grit. Winning riders finish in fewer than three days. 

For a gal who loves mountain biking more than any other sport, I am intrigued, but not entirely sure I would be up for such a challenge. Luckily, several gals in my women’s riding group are preparing for the Smoke ‘n’ Fire this year, so in May, I joined them for a training ride -- a one night, out-and-back to the historic mining town of Atlanta. It was my first experience with bike packing. I knew I was in for a physical challenge and lots of beautiful Idaho scenery, but what I didn’t expect was a near head-on collision, high mountain Karaoke, “recovery” PickleBacks, and lots of local color.

What's the best bike for getting into bike packing? The one you have.
Here, a hard tail 29er is all geared up for the backcountry. (photo by the author)

 

Our 84-mile round trip followed the Middle Fork of the Boise River-- from Badger Creek Campground to the historic mining town of Atlanta, Idaho. The Middle Fork Boise Road is a graded, gravel road that is loose in some places, but mostly solid for riding. Conditions can change throughout the year, though. Spring is a good time to ride as recent rains have knocked down the dust.
 

The Middle Fork Boise River Road winds through steep canyons as it hugs the river
all the way up to the historic mining town of Atlanta. (photo by Megan Hamilton)


Our route is a long, steady climb with a total of about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The views are cinematic. Yellow arrowleaf balsamroot carpets the lower elevation hillsides. Rocky cliffs rise up from the river. Hidden hot springs give themselves away with puffy clouds of steam. Higher up and closer to Atlanta, the Sawtooth Mountains are still frosted in snow, a reminder that winter isn’t long behind us. 

Route map shows the route the Crank Queens took from Badger Creek CG to Atlanta.

 

This being my first bike pack, I had to borrow bags for the trip. My husband had a seat pack big enough to carry all my food, tools and repair kit; and a handlebar bag to carry my various layers of clothing. Spring in the mountains of Idaho can dish out just about any kind of weather you can imagine, so I carried a variety of layers, a shell, long pants, long sleeves, short sleeves, vest, hat, gloves, socks and bike shorts. Oh -- and a swimming suit for the hot springs!

 

A long soak in a hot spring is the perfect prescription for sore muscles after a full day
in the saddle. Here, the Crank Queens soak in Atlanta Hot Springs, just outside of town.

 

Since our trip was just a one night out-and-back, and because we planned to eat and stay at Beaver Lodge in Atlanta, I didn’t need much else in the way of cooking utensils or a sleeping system. I know, I know, that’s not an authentic, minimalist, self supported trip, but for my first foray into bikepacking, it was just the right combination of adventure and comfort.

Some may call this cheating, but I call it beginner's luck - a cozy one-room cabin
at Beaver Lodge in Atlanta was my 'tent' for the night. (photo by the author)

A few important lessons I learned on this trip:
  • Watch out for vehicle traffic on blind corners! While the Middle Fork Boise River Road cuts through a remote part of Idaho, there is still a fair bit of vehicle traffic on the road. You also could encounter ATVs and side-by-sides on the road. Coming around one blind corner, another rider, Megan Hamilton and I were nearly hit head-on by a truck. He was driving too fast, but we were riding side-by-side and spread out onto both sides of the road. I had to bail into the ditch to avoid getting flattened. It was a scary moment. From then on, we rode single file around blind corners.
  • If you're serious about bike packing into remote areas, take a bike tuning class. One gal on our trip had trouble with her derailleur and I was at a total loss for how to help. I know how to fix simple things like a flat tire or a broken chain, but a stuck derailleur was beyond me. Luckily a few women in our group who were mechanically savvy adjusted the deraillure enough that she managed to make it all the way out.
  • Dust is is a biking buzz kill. If you’re riding on a well-traveled road like the Middle Fork Road, a bandana or Buff is a good idea for covering your face and mouth when the occasional car or ATV flies by.
  • A “PickleBack” is a recovery drink! At least according to Crank Queens member Sherilyn Lindelien. What is a PickleBack, you ask? I had to ask, too. It’s a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice. The salty brine is supposed to help you “recover” from a long day of riding (or at least recover your taste buds from the sting of whiskey!).
  • PickleBacks also help you sing! At least they helped the entire group of Crank Queens file up to the Karaoke stage at Beaver Lodge and sing John Denver’s “Country Roads” to an enthusiastic audience of Atlanta locals!
  • Riding with awesome women is, well, awesome. Thank you Erica Davis for organizing the Crank Queens!
  • If you’re not sure if you need it, you probably don’t. For some great tips on how to dial in your bike pack, visit: Bikepacking.com.
Connie Strand Hendricks takes a break along the way. Connie planned our trip to Atanta! I'm so thankful she included me! 

 Jennifer Isenhart is a video producer and co-owner of Wide Eye Productions in Boise. She is the producer of "Idaho the Movie" available on Amazon.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

My oh my it's hot! Five paddling destinations in SW Idaho to keep you cool

Middle Fork Payette River 


Middle Fork Boise (courtesy John Keys) 
Swirley Canyon on the South Fork Payette River is a good alternative to the Cabarton run.
Hi all,

It's been piping hot this week in the Boise Valley, but fortunately, the temps should moderate into the 80s by the weekend. It's too early to see triple-digit hotness in Boise! 
Nevertheless, people will be itching to go paddling, swimming, and cooling off to beat the heat, no doubt!

FYI - The Boise River won't be open for floating at Barber Park for a bit longer. Watch the Facebook page for the latest information.
For my outdoor tip of the week, I'm recommending five paddling trips that would be doable for folks who have inflatable kayaks, rafts, SUPs, sit-on-top hardshell kayaks or whatever craft might be suitable. Pick a stretch that suits your ability. 
FYI - I'm not recommending the Cabarton run on the North Fork of the Payettte River this weekend because the water level is still REALLY low.   
1. Float the Upper Payette River from the Tenmile trailhead area to Helende Campground, upstream of Lowman. The Payette River is still running strong; be sure you are dressed for a cold-water situation. This is a Class 2 flatwater run with rocks to dodge and small rapids. 5-mile trip. This section would be doable for experienced whitewater SUP paddlers. Do a road scout and see what you think.

2. Middle Fork Payette River - Float the Tie Creek section through the scenic valley north of Crouch. 8-mile run. Class 1. Rated Easy. Just have to keep your boat in the current and stay off the brush on the riverbank. Put-in by Tie Creek Campground. There's a sweet takeout by the village of Crouch by the river. Plant a shuttle vehicle there before you go.     
3. Drive up to Arrowrock Reservoir, find a spot to hang out by the water, put up your sun tarp, and go paddling in the reservoir. A good truck works great for driving down to the reservoir's edge, and there are some camping spots along the Middle Fork road. Take ID 21 to the Spring Shores/Middle Fork Road and drive up-canyon to Arrowrock and find your spot from there. Any flatwater craft would work on Arrowrock, plus motorboats of course.

4. Drive up the Middle Fork Road past Arrowrock to Troutdale Campground or any other spot of your choosing, and float the lower section of the Middle Fork Boise River. This is a mostly Class 2 flatwater run with rocks to dodge and small rapids. A group of people I know ran this section last week and had enough water flow (450 cfs today) to make it through in hard-shell kayaks and inflatable kayaks. Strong SUP paddlers might want to try it. 
5. North Fork Payette River from McCall to Hartsell Bridge. 9-mile trip. Allow a full day. The float goes through the northern half of Long Valley, coursing through a million S-turns through the scenic valley. Potential for fishing, too. Put-in is at Sheep Bridge off of Mission in McCall, and takeout is at Hartsell Bridge, accessed from Smylie Lane. Be sure to plant a shuttle vehicle there. I've done the bike shuttle, and it's a long one!
Blackadar Rapids in the South Fork Canyon (courtesy Cascade Raft & Kayak) 

Another option if you don't have your own gear, go with a pro! Sample all of the fun whitewater trips on the Payette River, including the South Fork "Staircase" run, the South Fork Canyon, Main Payette and Cabarton.
 Cascade Raft & Kayak, Bear Valley Outfitters and Idaho Whitewater Unlimited all offer guided rafting adventures on the Payette River. Schedule a trip for your family and friends and have a blast!  
There you have it! 
FYI - The North Fork Championships are back! June 17-19. 
Have fun! 
- SS