Wednesday, May 10, 2023

RoadTrailRide: My First Bikepacking Trip- Arrowrock Loop, Idaho Trip & Gear Report

Article by Christina Herbert

Since moving to Boise, Idaho, I’ve taken up mountain biking - as we have very easy access to a great trail system in town, as well as amazing and scenic terrain for adventures throughout the mountain west of the United States. I haven’t gotten into it for any competitive aspect, more for the sake of being outdoors, staying fit, making friends, and having fun. I decided towards the end of last year to try my hand at some bikepacking adventures in 2023. 

For a newbie such as myself, bikepacking can be very intimidating and overwhelming. There’s the gear, the logistics, the route planning, the sheer time and distance involved, etc. That’s where Idaho Women’s Bikepacking (IWBP) comes into the picture. 

Created and run by Laura Heiner, it’s a local organization dedicated to encouraging female cyclists to feel more comfortable with a big adventure that is a multi-day bikepacking trip. They provide resources such as lessons, how-tos, discussion forums, as well as an extensive library of loaner gear for new and first time riders. 

[All of my gear for 2 days, 1 night riding]

One of the barriers to entry for sure is the bikepacking specific gear itself. Many people may have general camping or outdoors gear, but you need to be able to carry it with you for extended periods on your bike. Light weight is key, and of course you need the packs themselves - these are bike specific and something that you wouldn’t have unless fully committed. They aren’t cheap either, so having a resource such as IWBP is amazing since you can test the waters before you fully commit to dropping hundreds of dollars on gear.

They also plan and organize trips throughout the year of varying length and difficulty. They’re designed so that newbie women bikepackers can be more comfortable knowing that they are riding with experienced and knowledgeable bikepackers. Here is the route for the trip -

[My friend and bikepacking partner for the ride - Amy - also a first timer!]

The starting point was a 25 minute drive from my house. Some experienced riders rode to the meetup point from town or other places, and others rode and joined along the way. We did 56 miles on Day 1 with 6,500 ft of elevation gain. Day 2 was a bit shorter at 20.5 miles with only 500 ft. of gain. There was a road section at the very end to get all the way back to the start which I didn’t do - it’s along a state highway on a narrow shoulder. I knew it would not be a fun way to end my first trip, so I arranged my endpoint/pickup a little bit earlier before that last highway section.

[Gathering at the start]

Here is a list of gear that I used for the trip. If you’re coming across this and just starting out, it may be useful to give you an idea of what you need. I’ve added some notes about how well everything worked, or didn’t work, throughout the drip.

Bike - Santa Cruz Tallboy (Size M)

Bike wrap - 

Necessary, especially due to the desert climate in Idaho, the dust between the frame and bike bags would rub off the paint on the bike like sandpaper.

All bike bags borrowed from the IWBP Gear library

Frame bag -

Stored my electronics, snacks, sealant, chain lube. Fairly small bag due to space limitation because of my mountain bike suspension 

Handlebar Cradle -

Had sleeping bag and pad in a dry bag and tent attached to it

Seat Pack - Clothing and toiletry. This was not ideal because despite having the suspension of my bike fully turned off when sitting on the saddle and going over bumps the bag would hit the tire. Since the ride on Day 2 was lots of potholes and washboard riding the bag got a little hole pretty early on, but we fixed it right away by putting duct tape on it and it was ok. 

Top Tube Bag - 

Sun glasses, 1 snack, bike tool, lip balm, sun lotion, iPod

Sleeping pad (also from IWBP) -

This was the biggest snafu of the entire trip for me. The pad was brand new. I tested it quickly at home for sizing, but during the trip discovered it had a slow leak, and deflated after 5 minutes. After multiple attempts of inflating, looking at all seams, putting duct tape on the valve, I ended up sleeping on the ground without a pad.

I put all the clothing I wore during the day under the deflated sleeping pad, as well as the foam padding/ bolster from my friend’s backpack under where my hip was, and her down jacket tied around my waist to keep as warm and “soft” as possible. 

***We do have several sleeping pads for camping that we’ve used before, but they were a bit too bulky to carry on the bike - that’s why I opted to borrow a lighter one from IWBP. 

NEWBIE NOTE - test all of your gear, even the stuff that is brand new !!!

[Loaded up for the trip - need that extra bagel strapped on the back!]

Other gear, not from the IWBP gear library:

Sleeping bag -

I didn’t extend the sleeping bag to keep it warmer. I used 4 hand warmers in my sleeping bag due to the lack of insulation of a sleeping pad. I was also wearing a Cotopaxi down jacket and a patagonia baselayer long sleeve shirt, and REI base layer long pants. At one point the tent was lying on my sleeping bag because of so much condensation (campground was next to the river), but despite no sleeping pad and wet tent on my sleeping bag, I was able to stay warm and cozy in the sleeping bag. 

Temperature at night was in the mid 20s - my estimate. I used the sleeping bag’s extensions when staying in a yurt a few weeks earlier - it was very roomy and comfortable, even when side sleeping with my leg extended to the side. There was a stove in the yurt, hence very cold temperatures weren’t a concern.

Hydration backpack - EVOC Stage 6

Tent: Shared with my friend Amy who had a lightweight one from her PCT Trip

Garmin inReach Mini - For emergency & communication for progress/pickup. There was no cell service along the route.

Fueling/Hydration (just a list, with some notes)

Yes Bars -

Ate two on Day 1

Stinger honey waffle

Ate one on Day 1

Bagel with jelly and almond butter - Day 1 Lunch, & some potato chips and a ginger ale from the Y stop (rural convenience store along the way)

Hydration - Only had water in my hydration bag, without any mix. Took approx 4 salt pills throughout Day 1. I carried a handheld Katadyn bottle filter which I used at rivers along the way. 

Mexican Quinoa Bowl -

Day 1 Dinner

Pro Bars - 

Packed but didn't eat one

Day 2 - No breakfast, just a little muffin from Amy. I typically don’t want to eat in the morning and knew I only had 20 easy miles to ride back. I had some filtered water from the river, and ate the last Yes Bar I had during the ride back

Trip Summary

The first 2 miles of the route was along the greenbelt, a flat, paved pathway along the Boise River which was nice as it allowed me to make some final adjustments before getting on gravel, which was necessary since I had only biked about 2 blocks around my house with the bags before. Not ideal, I know! 

[And we’re off!]

Once the first 5ish mile hill started, I realized quickly that going slow and steady is the way to go. That’s also when the group started to separate out a bit and smaller groups started to form depending on pace. I was very happy with my little group in the back (everyone knows the party is in the back :)

I am normally very comfortable on downhills and like to believe I know how my bike will handle on different terrain. But with all the gear loaded on it, it took me a good while to get used to it. Especially the initial miles were on more of an ATV road that had a lot more loose gravel with larger rocks thrown in. 

[View of South Fork of Boise River]

Once we got over Bonneville Point (which is along the Historic Oregon Trail) the rest of the way was a much smoother gravel road and I was able to find my rhythm. From previous camping trips I knew most of the route and knew there are 2 hills that I might not be able to bike. But with the encouragement of the group and knowing the beautiful view of the South Fork with snowy mountains is coming up we slowly peddled our way up. 

[That’s me in front (of our little group at the back of the pack)]

After a quick stop at the Adelman Spring to refill water, we continued on to Prairie where we had our extended lunch break. The hill into Prairie is a bit over a mile at a 9-10% incline, which I didn't plan to bike, because you don’t bike unless you hike…. well, and because it’s a long steep hill. 

In Prairie, there is a little Country Store where they also serve burgers, fries, etc. Some people in the group also grabbed some snacks, beers, etc for the evening at the campground.

The last 20 miles to the campground had some more uphills and downhills, but with the beautiful scenery and great company the time went by pretty fast. 

Getting into camp and seeing the whole group again was really great and an incredible feeling of accomplishment. After dinner, we settled down in out tents pretty early, and despite the sleeping pad issue, I fell asleep pretty early on and had a surprisingly good night. 

[Twilight at the campground]

After packing up in the morning we were just cruising back along Arrowrock Rock Reservoir back to the Marina where my husband and daughter picked us up with flowers and best donuts ever. 

The trip was so much more and better than I could have hoped for. Having such a supportive and fun group to ride with along with the beautiful scenery made it a perfect first time bikepacking trip. The next trip with IWBP is already on my calendar and I can’t wait. 

The two main changes I am planning on are 1) testing the sleeping pad for a longer time at home and 2) bringing my new 1 person tent (Mountain Hardwear Nimbus UL). At this point I am not yet planning on any solo trips, mainly because the group was just so much fun that I wouldn’t want to miss that aspect. But I could see going beyond a one-night trip.

Christina: Born and raised in Bavaria, Christina grew up hiking, biking, skiing, and exploring in and around the mountains of Southern Germany and Austria. Now settled with her family in Boise, Idaho - she's taken up mountain biking more seriously over the past couple of years. She enjoys exploring the mountain west through long and varied rides throughout the area. In 2022, Christina placed 2nd Female in the SWIMBA (Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association) Our Favorite Trails challenge. She just completed her first bikepacking adventure and is already planning the next ones.

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