Intro by Laura Heiner, photos by Scott Conover and participants
Last weekend, 28 loaded bikes shoved off for the second ride of the year with Idaho Women’s Bikepacking (IWBP). Seven of those riders were first-timers committed to tackling all 87 miles of the gorgeous loop around Arrowrock Reservoir alongside the veterans. Since its inception in 2020, IWBP has made great strides in growing the bikepacking community among women in Idaho. Accepting new women daily, the group has grown to nearly 600 members.
Noticing early on that a major stumbling block to getting started bikepacking was having a proper kit, IWBP started a free gear library for the community. Donations from private individuals, Revelate Designs, and local cycling giants like George’s Cycles and SWIMBA have allowed the group to stockpile bags, stoves, sleep systems, navigation devices, water filters and various gear that can be borrowed by those who want to give bikepacking a try. Though the gear library is small (donations gladly accepted!), it’s already making a big difference in getting more women out with the group.
The group’s main focus is to get more women into the sport. Our secret sauce is hosting once-a-month overnight rides, where beginners can learn from experienced women how to pack light, ride loaded, find sweet camp spots, search out refreshing hot springs, and dodge wild ATVs.
Utilizing a private Facebook group to educate and build community, women are able to learn in a low-pressure environment. In past years, the questions were mainly being answered by a core group of experienced members, but the page has more recently become a burgeoning repository of knowledge and sharing, as have the rides and workshops. Riding in a group increases safety for all and provides hands-on support for beginners. No one is left alone or behind on our group rides.
Rides for the rest of the season May-October are already planned and IWBP looks forward to many hundreds of miles around beautiful Idaho together this year. Follow the group’s adventures on Instagram @Idahowomensbikepacking.
A First-Timer’s Perspective
By Whitney Schrader
In 2019, I lived in a small rural town in Northern Thailand teaching English as a second language. My transportation options were limited, and the farmland was too beautiful to leave untraveled. So, I purchased my first mountain bike and immediately fell in love with the freedom it gave me to wander. When I returned to Idaho, I bought my second mountain bike, an REI CO-OP DRT 1.1. in periwinkle blue. For two years, I rode singletrack trails, gravel roads, and rail-trail pathways on day trips. My favorite ride at the time was the Weiser River Trail.
A friend and I rode 84 miles daily because we lacked the gear to do an overnight bikepacking trip. It was one of the longest physical challenges either of us had done, and we were hooked after that! I used BIKEPACKING.com to see what routes were available in my area and weighed different gear options that could fit a women’s XS bike, eventually hoping to do an overnight trip. It took me a while to figure out how to pack my gear, what items needed to be smaller to fit, and what things I could leave “full size” to save money and use the gear I already had.
I finally made the leap into bikepacking with the support of Idaho Women’s Bikepacking. They were holding free classes on bike nutrition and bikepacking basics, and I felt more comfortable going with women who could help me in a pinch rather than making my first adventure a solo one. Meeting a group of women with a wide range of experience levels boosted my confidence to ride with others. I had no idea what my pace would be with a fully loaded bike, and I had to drown out the “what if” voice in my head that probed me with doubts related to my cycling pace and holding others back. With reassurance, I decided to sign up for a 2023 spring ride.
The route for my first overnight trip was the Arrowrock Loop, which begins with singletrack over a steep, rocky ascent and then weaves around the south fork of the Boise River through a small town called Prairie. From there, it follows the river to Arrowrock Dam and finally returns to Lucky Peak Dam. The trip was about 87 miles with 7,100 feet of climbing.
The first day, we rode 57 miles and ascended about 6,500 feet. The clouds were gray and ominous, and we wore extra layers to stay warm. We had five steep climbs, and my body really surprised me with what it was capable of. After the third climb, my legs started to feel like mush. A voice in my head kept telling me to continue pedaling, no matter the pace, and it kept me going. For me, climbing is about churning one crank at a time. When I climb, I drop all pace expectations and just keep on keepin’ on. When we got to camp, I felt extremely proud of what my body could do! The last 30 miles the second day were challenging, but since I’d already surprised myself the day before, I had a newfound confidence.
My favorite part about my first bikepacking overnighter was being physically and mentally challenged by a group of supportive women who shared in the pain and celebrated the push. We laughed, shared toilet paper, agonized over cold fingers, and let our hair down on the descents. Bikepacking can bond us as people and definitely as women. For now, I’d like to keep exploring my backyard here in Idaho. I’m working for Boise Bicycle Project, a bicycle co-op that promotes the personal, social, and environmental benefits of bicycling. We’re busy doing a lot of work in our community, but when I do get more time to travel internationally, I’d love to take on the Micro Vuelta De La Sierra Norte in Mexico. Ride on!
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