72 Hours: Bikepacking Rocks
As in, bags over boulders.
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I’d never taken a nap at the top of a world-class descent before. Those trails are usually the kind of experience where, fed by days or weeks of anticipation, I drop in a little jittery, hyper-focused and extremely awake. So when I found myself slowly waking, looking blearily up at the tips of pines sitting still under the late-afternoon sun, only a handful of paces from the top few corners of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, I was a little disoriented.
Blame it on the bikepacking. That habit is hard. Of course, my partner Leah Lind-White and I hadn’t made it easy on ourselves; setting out not just to use our bicycles as modes of transport to spend a few days in the mountains, but instead choosing to use our bicycles as modes of transport to spend a few days in the mountains and enjoy plenty of legit descending, as unhindered as possible. That meant that we were sticking to chunky singletrack selected to maximize the fun factor, and riding burly full-suspension bikes with as little baggage slung to them as we could manage. But bikepacking, by definition, means carrying way more crap than you would on a normal bike ride, and we couldn’t escape that reality. It was just on our backs, so we could let our steeds dance freely. Or something like that.
The chosen venue, on and around the Rim Trail above South Lake Tahoe, was actually a backup plan. Late summer of 2020 meant that we were pretty well-adjusted to the uncertain nature of plans; that year having taught us that “plans” are nothing more than human folly until they actually become reality. Wildfire had shut the door on our original route further north in the Sierras, and so we’d gone to Plan B, anxiously monitoring fire maps and weather forecasts, hoping we wouldn’t have to resort to Plan C. That plan involved a lot more giving up, driving home and going back to work than we preferred, and it sounded like a lot less fun.
“Fun” isn’t necessarily the first word that comes to mind when you’re slogging the final mile or two up a mountain, sucking thin air into an overburdened, depleted body. But whatever the physical sensations of those moments were, more than anything we were grateful and excited to be on the trail, giving our shred-packing idea a whirl. The previous night, as our bags lay packed in the garage, the skies over Lake Tahoe were illuminated with dry lightning and wind whipped through the trees below. We’d lain sleeplessly, steeling ourselves for Plan C. But in the morning, our CalFire checks turned up a remarkable absence of any fire in the vicinity. (It wasn’t until several days later that we connected that lightning with the helicopter we heard overhead as we dozed at the top of Mr. Toad’s on our final afternoon on the trail…but that’s another story.)
And so, we pedaled. Then we pushed. And pedaled and pushed some more. We dripped sweat and began a steady intake of plastic-wrapped food, finding shade to replenish fuel and to simply rest already-weary muscles. But, with the only hurry on our time being the need to get to a camp spot before dark, we also made a point to enjoy the little things; lingering where the views were most striking and putting in a few extra pedal strokes when the trail briefly dipped downhill. And amidst just a few days away from the world, through the heavy backpacks and bright sun, every foot really was glorious.
Dusty and drained, we rolled back up to the truck, slowly teetering around the pullout until we could each convince a leg to swing over and plant on the ground. We were exhausted, yes, but it was that strain of fatigue particular to type-two fun where the exhaustion is laced with a healthy portion of elation. As we dropped our packs and sprawled across the tailgate, we just couldn’t manage to keep those satisfied little smiles off our faces. (Just don’t grin too broadly there bud, your pearly whites are bordering on brown.)
It wasn’t a huge, ambitious route, what we’d ridden, or anything particularly impressive. But that wasn’t the point. The idea had been, simply, to spend a few days on the trail; with the mountains, our bikes, and each other. I’d needed to unplug, to slow down, and to have my biggest concern involve not much more than steering a slightly-overweight bike through a pile of rocks. That nap at the top of Mr. Toad’s proved that I’d done just that. Somehow, by loading ourselves down and going for a big slow bike ride, we’d managed to lift the weight of everything else.
Bikepacking rocks. I can’t wait to do it again.
Photos and words by Satchel Cronk