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:
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.