Bikepacking is very trendy in Teton Valley. Schedules finally align so that I can tag along for a weekend trip with Bruce and Kat, experienced outdoorsfolk who promise to be patient with my incompetence. Nan and Erica outfit me with all the necessary gear. The southern Big Holes are beset by fire so I pick a different mountain range and the Smithhammers, with some fine map-reading and a little social media stalking, create the Magic Loop.
|Our playground: Caribou National Forest and the Palisades Reservoir|
I am tentative on the heavy Krampus at first, but it feels so content fully-loaded. In its natural state. It works well all weekend, except when shifting from the big to little ring. That requires five minutes of murmured incantation to the drivetrain gods. We pedal for awhile and then turn up a seasonal road and begin climbing. Roadie Julia could happily climb on this road forever: butter smooth surface, perfect grade, big views.
|Cruising through deciduous trees=eternal happiness|
All pictures kindly provided by Bruce
After reaching our goal for the day, we convince ourselves somehow that there is a marina down the road, perhaps with a shop that sells beer to thirsty boaters. Kat and I decide to investigate while Bruce moseys up Bear Creek to fish. We pedal farther than expected and find a boat ramp and a campground but no other amenities. Foiled! We go down to the beach, eat snacks, touch the moist sand where the reservoir has receded during the season. Maybe we can pedal the tiered shoreline around to a shortcut and skip some of the road. It is surreal riding, choosing the widest and most stable tier, the sand crumbling under our tires, the smooth pebbles rainbow colored. No one has ever ridden bikes here. The shore steepens and we decide to be smart instead of adventurous. My IT band begins to hurt on the ride back to camp, but a few minutes of singletrack soothes it.
|Camp and a pile of calories|
We spend all morning making slow progress up the Bear Creek drainage. Infinite redundant creek crossings and beaver dam navigation. Thwacking through claustrophobic willow and cottonwood groves calling, "Hey bear!". Climbing and descending narrow slate shelves above the creek, sometimes tripod-ing on the unreliable slope. Every time we begin to doubt our path, a signpost appears to give comfort. We consume enough calories to maintain a positive outlook.
We climb out of the basin, growing concerned that we might have to dry camp, worrying about the dark clouds hurrying in from the west. Then the Loop provides a sheltered campsite next to a brook. At night it pours rain and I scooch around under my shelter, waiting to get wet. I never do. In the morning I examine the tarp--soaked and plastered in pine needles. Little piles of hail dot our campsite. I marvel at modern camping gear.
We pedal to Caribou City, an abandoned mining town, then hit singletrack, alternating between fun descents and wallowy, horse-stomped climbs out of muddy drainages. We snack and admire the views and then start a trudging hike-a-bike (the Krampus growing heavier with each step) but then Bruce and Kat double check the Loop so we backtrack and descend instead, forever and ever, down an open, mellow drainage with deeply saturated fall colors under an indecisive sky.
|A solid crew|
I am about to spout my revelations to my roommates when I realize: everyone who has ever gone backpacking already knows this. I'm just late to the game.
I am already hunting through gear websites for my own set-up.