Shawnee bikepack v2.2 - prologue

Commentary by Chuck in green.

In the beginning, it seemed like just getting started would be the biggest hurdle.

First off was the problem of finding a time to go. Despite a 2017 resolution of sorts to race less and adventure more, I'd once again crowded my fall schedule. A realization that I actually had an open September weekend -- sandwiched two weeks after Wolf Creek and two weeks before Spotted Horse, September 21-23 looked like the one low-guilt possibility left this year -- was almost immediately followed by Wolf Creek being postponed a week.

I mentioned to Jeff what a bummer it was that the race had been pushed back. "I was wanting to go bikepacking, but now that would mean being gone two weekends in a row............"

He didn't bite, so a couple days later I tried again, "Hey, I think the weekend of the 21st may be my last possibility for bikepacking this year. Would it be ok with you if I went, even though that would be two straight weekends away?"  This more direct approach, as indicated by the blog title, was more effective. I conscripted one more victim participant, and we made plans to revisit the route of my solo July bikepack, skipping the first 20 mile road section and hitting the singletrack I'd missed on the earlier trip.

The next issue was physical. While my mountain bike fit and saddle are perfectly adequate over 4-6 hour rides with lots of out-of-the-saddle climbing, they leave something to be desired on a flat 12 hour ride. The discomfort I ignored during the race manifested in next-level chafing. I've done much longer rides and have never before been so sore days after a race. I wore skirts until Friday because pants were too uncomfortable, and thought I continued with bikepacking plans I wasn't sure I'd even be able to sit on my bike.

Flashback to Wolf Creek
Photo credit: Janzow Photography

Then there was the forecast. By the time the weekend approached there was a high chance of rain on Saturday and a good probability for Sunday. I checked my weather app about a thousand times in the hopes of better news, but to no avail. Chuck and I discussed the chance of rain, and though I half-hoped he'd bail I certainly wasn't going to be the one to wimp out. Maybe, I told myself, the forecast is wrong, and at some point you're going to have to learn to deal with the weather anyway. Even if it's not a good time it'll be good experience. And this is your only chance to go.

Chuck: Kate's time crunch was similar to my own. The option to wait for a weekend with better weather just didn't exist.

This looks "fun".
Of course, a free weekend doesn't indicate an empty prep week. The first two days, I paired a post-race exhaustion with a bad cold and bowlegged limp while preparing for Jeff's birthday. We had a family party Wednesday night, then I drove Jacob to St. Louis for volleyball practice on Thursday night.  Since Chuck was picking me up from work on Friday, that left my packing for after 10 p.m. Thursday night.

I hit one hitch when I couldn't quickly make my Blackburn front roll work on the Fargo because of the aerobars. Rather than mess with removing them, I instead used the Revelate sweet roll I'd borrowed from my friend Nathan.  The dry bag is integrated into the harness, meaning you have to take the whole thing off your bike if you want to take off the dry bag. With a rainy forecast, I wanted to bring my clothes and sleeping bag into the tent with me to avoid getting them any wetter than necessary, so I packed my tent in the sweet roll and my sleeping bag and pad in the (easily removable) seat pack dry bag.

With the big items packed, everything else went into shopping bags; I'd figure out where all that went Friday afternoon. Making an effort to travel lighter than in the past, I packed fewer clothes. Then I filled my hydration bladder and finally got to bed sometime after midnight. Because it was late, I decided to get up earlier instead of packing my car right away. That, of course, didn't happen, but I made quick work of loading up and left right on time.

Chuck: I made an effort to lighten the load this time too. I used a 2 liter bladder instead of the usual 3 liter, packed fewer clothes, and brought less food. Even with focusing on carrying less, my loaded bike was just over 50 lbs. It was more than expected, but I was able to do without a backpack.

My bike tucked away in the corner of my classroom because I didn't want to leave it in the parking lot all day in case it rained. (Cue wild laughter) Also, I'd shown my students pictures from last week's race, and one of them, on looking at this bike, immediately said, "That's not the bike from last week!" Of course it's not, but she got that from just seeing the rear wheel. In other words, she's probably more bike-observant than me.

Work was good but hectic, and I was a little frazzled getting my gear across the parking lot to Chuck's Jeep. Since we'd planned to car camp at Giant City State Park before driving to our start in Alto Pass, I threw in a big tarp in case we needed it for some reason. And we were off!

We were due in southern Illinois early enough that I suggested riding that night instead of car camping. We could pedal a few miles, camp at one of the sites near Cedar Lake, and then stay at Ferne Clyffe the next night as planned, finally getting in a two-night self-supported trip. Chuck was down for that new plan, so we rerouted ourselves to Alto Pass.

We reached town in good time, but the parking lot I'd remembered from my last trip didn't allow overnight parking. Whoops. Welcome to the Kate school of half-assed planning. After driving around Alto Pass we decided to just start from the River to River Godwin trailhead. It added a couple extra miles, but we had plenty of time.

Once parked, we started loading the bikes. I soon realized that my seat pack dry bag, the one holding my sleeping bag and sleeping pad, was missing. While this would have been a non-issue the previous weekend, the temperature was supposed to drop overnight. We considered detouring to Wal-Mart to find a replacement for my missing gear, and both my cousin and a nearby friend offered gear; either option would cost us time, and I wasn't sure how unfamiliar things would fit on my bike. In the end, we decided, in the immortal words of Bob Jenkins, "it'll work itself out".

I stuffed my clothes, which now seemed pitifully inadequate in light of the missing sleeping bag, into the cheap dry bags I'd thankfully brought "just in case", then packed these and my tent poles into the seat pack harness and strapped the extra tarp near my handlebars. Finally, we were ready. The hard part was over; now we just had to ride our bikes.

Let's do this!


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