Smoke ‘n Fire 2021: Third Time’s the Charm

Some brave souls take on the Idaho Smoke ‘n Fire 400 as their first bikepacking race, or even their first multiday ride. Some of them are fast and skilled mountain bikers and manage to finish in four days or less right off the bat.

These people are very impressive. I am not one of them! It took me three tries.

Back in 2019, with no idea what I was doing, I randomly showed up in Boise and eked out a 4.5 day finish on my Long Haul Trucker. After tasting the rugged beauty of Idaho and the warmth of Boise’s bikepacking community, I was hooked. Surely I could ride stronger and faster if I tried again…

In 2020 I turned in another 4.5 day finish, despite a much better bike (my new-to-me Fargo). Some evil route modifications, like Westside and Dry Creek, slowed everyone down a little and me quite a lot. I had spent all summer hiking, so whatever advantage I had in endurance was complemented by a total lack of bike-specific power. Though I felt more in control of my ride in 2020, my time was nearly the same as 2019.

So you could say I had some unfinished business with Smoke ‘n Fire going into 2021. The course mostly returned to its faster version, without the additions that had played to my weaknesses in 2020. Having spent most of the summer touring the GDMBR, my time-in-saddle training was as good as it would ever be. Finally, there would be far more women on the start line than ever before, and I wanted to be part of that.

In early September, just a week after returning home from Canada and the end of my northbound Great Divide tour, I drove myself from California to Boise. With the passenger seats removed, my bike and I had just enough space to cuddle in the back of my CR-V to break up the drive into two days. 

As I lined up at 4am in Hyde Park surrounded by new friends and old, I told myself and anyone who would listen: I want to break four days. I hoped that giving voice to this goal would carry me through the cold dark nights and early mornings when I have always been tempted to slow down, bivy early, get just a bit more sleep… (“It’ll make me faster tomorrow.”)

Spoiler alert: I broke four days! But just barely: 3 days, 22 hours, 25 minutes.

I hope this writeup helps other riders eying a mid-pack SnF finish or perhaps an entirely different bikepacking event. My goal is to show that it’s not just the fast folks who can have fun pushing limits and “racing” to meet totally arbitrary goals. We all race ourselves and the terrain in whatever way is meaningful to us. 

You can also see my original post, with details from 2019 and 2020, for a first-timer’s perspective and more of a back-of-the-pack pacing plan.

Different This Year

Before I get into the details, here’s an overview of what was different in 2021 compared to the two previous years I’ve ridden Smoke ‘n Fire.

Better training: If time-in-saddle is the best way to train for an event like this, I was as well trained as I’ll ever be thanks to 2700 miles of touring the Great Divide. My leisurely pizza-and-beer pace on the GDMBR didn’t make me fast, but it did improve the strength and endurance in my legs. On SnF I felt like the hard sections were still hard, but they passed more efficiently and with less profanity. 

Lighter bike (slightly): Putting water on my back instead of in my frame bag made the plentiful hike-a-bike slightly easier. I also saved a bit of weight carrying fewer power banks, though my extra light and Garmin eTrex might have canceled that out. In general, my bike was still a bit too heavy (49 pounds).

Better / more lights and navigation devices: This year I used two different helmet lights and an axle-mounted light, allowing more consecutive hours of night riding and less reliance on USB power. I also used a Garmin eTrex for navigation to save phone battery so I could carry fewer power banks. Details below in the Gear section.

Clear daily goals: From watching other riders in the past, I knew which locations I would need to reach or pass each night to make a four day finish possible (Ketchum, Redfish Lake, and ideally Garden Valley). I was also vocal in telling others about my goals, and welcomed their energy and support to help keep me accountable when doubt crept in. 

More civilization, less random camping: The “four day plan” aligns well with resupply locations, so I spent more time sleeping near civilization instead of camping alone in the wilderness. In fact, I didn’t camp alone once! I love sleeping alone in the wilderness, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes when you’re pushing hard it’s nice to have friendly humans nearby. The mental energy it saves can be deployed in other ways.

More real meals (including to-go): As a slower-paced rider, I often skip sit-down meals in favor of quick gas station stops. But this year I sat down for hot meals more often and also ordered seconds to take with me. I felt better fueled even though it was sometimes hard to choke down big meals on hot days.

More company: Smoke ‘n Fire is a solo self-supported event, but there were more riders than ever this year and my mid-pack pace allowed me to share more miles and words of encouragement with many of them. There’s something so fun about the fast-tracked bonding that happens when we recognize these “crazy” parts of ourselves in each other. Especially when riding at night – always a mental challenge for me – I felt less anxious knowing other riders were nearby. 

More women: A total of 19 women started the event this year, thanks in part to fabulous Laura Heiner and the Women of the Smoke ‘n Fire group. Nineteen! To put that in perspective, in 2019 ten women started, and in 2020 only four. In my opinion this is historic! It also changed the vibe of the event for me. Though I’ve always felt warmly accepted by the many great guys I’ve met on the course, I enjoyed feeling less like a curiosity this year, and more able to “take up space” as a female rider.

Only about half of the many strong and gutsy women who took on SnF this year. Why can’t every bikepacking event be like this?

My Ride Notes

Here are my notes from each day, including where I slept and resupplied. If you want to skip the narrative and just read bike and gear details, skip to the next section.

Day 1: 152 miles

To Ketchum (near town park / YMCA)

At 4am we were off to a festive and unusually warm start, zipping along the greenbelt by headlight. I reminded myself to stay slow and steady through the first rocky section, getting off to walk wherever it saved energy. Promisingly, the first climb felt easier than I remembered. 

After a surprisingly chilly descent, the day warmed up and the afternoon grew quite hot. The air was smoky but tolerable. I skipped Prairie as usual, made a quick stop in Pine, and sat down for a burger in Featherville before tackling the Dollarhide climb. It was fun to find myself riding with the mid-pack, including several strong women, and I met many kind and interesting folks. 

One of my favorite spots on the course. Sadly it was much smokier this year.

I knew I would need to reach Ketchum on the first night in order to break four days, so I pushed on in the dark up the climb. In 2020 I had been one of the last to make it over on the first night, so I was surprised to find a number of other riders near the top. I layered up for the descent but it wasn’t as cold as I remembered, and my new lighting setup worked really well. I nearly ran into three moose in the road, and had to scare them off into the trees in order to pass!

I reached Ketchum around 12:30am and a few others arrived soon after. The gas station was closed but I had packed dinner from Featherville and Smoky Bar. Many other riders were sleeping at the Rotary Park and YMCA, and I was happy to bivy down and grab a few hours of sleep. 

Day 2: 84 miles

To Redfish Lake (near first campground)

I woke at 6am and left Ketchum by 6:30 after grabbing food at the gas station. The miles on day 2 pass much more slowly than day 1, and my goal was to make Redfish Lake before sleeping, something I had never managed in previous years. The Adam’s Gulch singletrack slowed me down as usual but didn’t feel like quite as much of a slog, which I took as a good sign. 

The Harriman Trail was smooth and thankfully free from headwinds, but I’d forgotten how the climbs get punchier toward the end. I made Galena Lodge around 1pm and took time to sit down for lunch and chat with other riders (I also ordered a second meal to take as dinner). We psyched ourselves up for the hike-a-bike to Titus Lake, which was even steeper than I’d remembered, but over soon enough.

I took my time on the singletrack leaving the lake, and was impressed by some of the other riders’ skill there. The descent and flats passed easily enough, and then it was time for Fisher Creek loop. Last year I had started the climb in the dark and walked a lot, but this year I rode almost all the climb and managed to start the fun descent in the light. Still, it was dark before reaching the bottom and I was happy for the company of a few nearby riders, a big contrast to last year when I rode the whole loop alone in the dark. 

Cruising down after Titus Lake
Smooth singletrack trail leads through burnt forest on the Idaho Smoke n Fire 400 route.
Lovely to start Fisher Creek in daylight this year!

We chugged along the highway together and through Decker Flat before finishing with rough singletrack on Redfish Ridge. I hiked most of this section and marveled at how much more welcoming the forest seemed with the glow of another rider’s headlight nearby. We straggled into the first campground around 1:30am and bivvied by the pit toilet with a few other riders. I struggled to choke down my dinner despite needing the calories, then passed out for a few hours of sleep, happy to have made my goal for the day.

Day 3: 92 miles

To ~2 miles before start of Scott Mountain climb (pullout on side of road)

I was up and riding around 6am, and hit the singletrack climb just as the sun made my light unnecessary. It was short but challenging, like a mini Titus Lake climb, and the descent was too rocky for me to consistently ride. A new section of gravel trail led into Stanley where I took 1.5 hours to eat a hot meal and pick up enough food to last through the next morning, ideally all the way to Placerville.

Too rocky for me and my Fargo
Gravel road with snowy mountains in the background
New section of scenic gravel near Stanley

The section after Stanley was smooth and enjoyable, always one of my favorites, and the pavement to Stanley Lake passed quickly. The Elk Mountain loop slowed me down with its steep climb and rocky trail, but the second half was smoother and fun. It was great to leapfrog with other riders on this section. 

From here things got tedious. The section near Cape Horn and through Bear Valley is beautiful and mostly flatish. It should have been easy, but the gravel roads were all in worse condition than I remembered, and the washboarding was torture for my quickly escalating saddle soreness. A couple hours of rain and mud didn’t help my morale. Several riders pulled ahead of me on this section as I slowed down.

Badly washboarded gravel road shows difficulties of bikepacking the Smoke n Fire event
SO. MUCH. WASHBOARD.

My goal had been to get over Scott Mountain and down to Garden Valley before sleeping, but as the sun set I wasn’t even to Deadwood Reservoir yet. I continued to chug along in the dark, very thankful to pass the junction to Westside and NOT have to ride / hike it this year. After realizing my rear brake pads were almost gone (much faster than usual – I blame the hours of riding in gritty mud), I decided to camp before heading up Scott Mountain and swap them out so I’d be ready for the descent in the morning. 

About 2 miles before the start of the big climb I found another rider camped at a pullout and decided to join him, knowing I would sleep better with someone nearby. I had been feeling surprisingly strong on some of the punchy climbs but could feel my energy waning. It took nearly an hour to change my brake pads by headlamp in my tired state, but with the work finally done I bivvied for a couple hours around 1:30am. Though I hadn’t managed to reach Garden Valley, I felt sure I could still break four days if I woke early. 

Day 4: 97 miles

To the finish!

This would be it, the big day! To break four days I would need to finish by 4am. I still had a long way to go but it seemed doable. I’d mostly given up on finishing in the daylight, but perhaps I could still finish by midnight.

I snoozed my alarm once in a disoriented state but was on the road by 4:30am, hiking up Scott Mountain in the dark. It was almost pleasant, especially as the sun rose when I neared the top, revealing puffy clouds filling the valleys below. 

Clouds hover in forested valley as sun rises
Beautiful sunrise on the way up Scott Mountain

The descent was fast as usual, and the highway was quiet so early in the morning. I made the risky decision to skip the short out-and-back to Garden Valley since I still had a bit of food from Stanley. This section up to Mordor always seems to go on forever (I think the mileage is longer than the GPS track shows), and by the time I rolled into Placerville I was hungry and overheated. 

At Donna’s in Placerville I stocked up on calories for the final push and chatted with some other riders before heading out around 4pm. I knew that the last section takes longer than you’d expect, but I still underestimated it! The climb out of Placerville was steep and I walked a lot, growing tired of getting off and on my bike so often. Darkness fell just as I reached the first section of singletrack.

Despite riding this part in the dark for the first time, the singletrack passed more easily than I remembered. I made slow but steady progress all the way to the top of the final climb. Boise’s glittering lights in the distance promised rest. From here the route looks easy, a long steady descent and then ten miles of gentle elevation to the finish. Very misleading! 

For the next several hours I rode unfamiliar singletrack in the dark, feeling as though I’d entered an alternate universe where this is all I had ever done and would ever do. I gave up on finishing by midnight and started to worry that even 4am wasn’t guaranteed. The descent was slow and required a ton of concentration, followed by a couple steep hike-a-bike climbs, the lights of Boise ducking in and out of sight as if to taunt me. 

I could feel my body running low on fuel as I focused more on getting to the finish than on eating and drinking. My light died and I swapped to my secondary, and I could feel my front brake pads running thin on the final six miles to the finish. The flow state produced by all this concentration wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but I knew I was digging a little too deep into my energy reserves.

When I finally rolled in around 2:15am, four amazingly kind souls were there to welcome me. Good thing too, because I was loopy as hell. My voice was gone and I could barely string a sentence together. They helped me get back to my car and my wonderful hosts’ house, and the next day yet another lovely Boise local took me in for another day of much-needed recovery. 

I reveled in the post-race celebrations while welcoming others to the finish line the next day. How deeply satisfying to be among so many others who understand, appreciate, and even need this kind of craziness! On top of all that, I had met my goal. Another Smoke ‘n Fire in the books, and the best one yet. 

Bike light illuminates dirt road with lights of Boise in the distance
Boise lights in the distance, with many miles still to go.
Alissa stands with her loaded bike at the finish line of Smoke n Fire 2021
At the finish line and barely coherent.

Notes on Pacing

I don’t want to take all the fun out of planning, but if you’re unsure of your Smoke ‘n Fire resupply plan (there are currently no 24-hour stores on the route), here are some patterns I’ve noticed. I would still recommend you research all resupply stops and call ahead to verify hours. 

The “mid pack” finishes sometime on day 4 (that is, the day after the third night). Most push all the way to Ketchum on the first night and then to somewhere near Redfish Lake on the second night. Faster riders might make it a little farther. On the third night many aim for Garden Valley, but it’s still possible to break 4 days (that is, 4 x 24 hours) if you camp somewhere around Scott Mountain and then push hard the last day.

Faster mid-pack riders (those who finish closer to 3 days than 4) can make it to each of these locations in time for a hot restaurant dinner and then push on out of town.

Slower mid-pack riders like me arrive at Ketchum, Redfish, and Garden Valley after stores and restaurants have closed for the night. At this pace it’s important to carry enough food for dinner and maybe even breakfast the next day, if you want to start riding early.

Though there’s no official cutoff, the “back of the pack” mostly finishes sometime on the fifth day. Most 5 day finishers camp before the Dollarhide climb on night 1, and between Titus Lake and Redfish Lake on day 2. This means good daytime access to resupply in Ketchum, Redfish, and Stanley, though you might miss the kitchen hours at Galena Lodge. You’ll likely hit either Garden Valley or Placerville during open hours so you can fuel up for the last segment.

Bike and Bags

Bike

This year I rode my Salsa Fargo, a rigid drop-bar adventure bike and the same bike I used in 2020. It weighed 49 lbs without water, which is definitely on the heavy side for an event like SnF. It’s a heavy bike to begin with, and I like to bring plenty of warm clothes for those sub-freezing Idaho nights and mornings.

As you would expect, the Fargo excels for grinding gravel and a bit of rougher stuff. On the rocky singletrack I was sometimes forced to walk (ok, maybe not “forced” – it saves energy!) and would have preferred some suspension and wider handlebars. That’s the tricky thing about SnF: there is no bike perfect for such a varied course.

Hardtails are the most common type of bike on SnF and seem like an ideal compromise. A decent minority of us rode rigid bikes, and a few folks rode full-suspension trail bikes. In all cases I would say comfort and geometry are important. Weight is also a factor, though I’m the first to say “run what you brung” even if it’s heavy.

My Salsa Fargo bike loaded up for SnF
Just before sunset on day 4 I realized I had yet to take a picture of my bike! This is the best I could do.

Tires

I ran 29×2.3 Conti CrossKing ProTection tubeless tires. I’m a big fan! They were the very same pair that carried me 2700 miles on the GDMBR, and apparently still have plenty of life in them. I had no issues with flats or punctures and thought the tread was well-suited to SnF’s varied surfaces and terrain.

In past years I’ve run Vittoria Mezcal’s and WTB Rangers. While both performed fine on SnF, they lasted far fewer miles in general. My current pair of Conti CrossKing ProTection tires are at 3100 miles and still counting!

Pedals

I’m currently loving these Funn Mamba single-sided SPD pedals, especially for a route like SnF. I usually like to ride clipped in, but SnF has some technical sections where I really prefer to have my feet free since I’m not a very confident mountain biker. The huge platforms are more usable than other single-sided SPD pedals I’ve tried. 

Bags 

It’s taken a few years to get my bikepacking setup dialed in, thanks to limited tire clearance on my small 29er frame and my aversion to spending money on expensive gear. 

Here’s the setup I ran this year:

Handlebars: Revelate harness and pouch with Sea to Summit eVent compression dry sack (14 L). This is where I packed my sleeping quilt and sleeping pad, with food in the front pouch. I preferred this new setup to the Salsa Anything Cradle I’ve used in the past, because it’s lighter and the larger diameter bag fits better between my small drop handlebars.

Seat bag: Revelate Viscacha, which has been discontinued. This is where I packed all my clothing and my bivy. If I were to get a new one, I like the looks of the Spinelock 8 L. It would force me to pack lighter too!

Frame bag: Salsa EXP. This held some tools, electronics, and a spare tube. Usually this is where I keep a 2 liter hydration bladder, which this year I moved to a backpack.

Cockpit: Two cheap chalk bags from Amazon as feed bags, and Moosetreks top tube bag. These held food, electronics, sunscreen, and other small items. This phone holder worked great. A bar extender added space for my gadgets.

Backpack: New this year, I wore a running hydration pack instead of carrying water in my frame bag. I used an additional 1 liter bottle on my down tube for a total of 3 liters. This setup kept my bike a bit lighter for all the hike-a-bike, and made it easier to access my electronics and lights in my frame bag instead of seat bag. I noticed a majority of riders carrying some kind of backpack or hip pack, and I’d do the same next time.

Gear List

Here’s what I packed, what was different this year, what worked especially well, and what I would change if I rode SnF again (which I’m definitely not going to…. probably… maybe….)

Note on weather: This year we had mostly sunny weather, with a few hours of rain on my third day and night. A couple of the afternoons were uncomfortably hot, and on average the nights and mornings felt less frigid than normal (my water never froze this year).

In general, be prepared for anything. In past years we’ve endured freezing nights and mornings, the kind where your water stays frozen for hours. Descents in the night and morning hours can be brutally cold, especially around the Stanley area. This year it rained, and I’ve heard that in 2018 it snowed! Daytime temps are often hot, in the 80s or even 90s. Wildfire smoke can be a problem; this year was better than last.

Clothing (worn) 

  • chamois shorts 
  • baggy shorts (Club Ride Savvy are my favorite)
  • t-shirt (IceBreaker Tech Lite tee, comfy and stink-resistant)
  • buff
  • sun sleeves
  • merino wool lightweight hiking socks
  • sunglasses
  • Pearl Izumi X-Alp Canyon SPD bike shoes: very walkable, important for all that hike-a-bike
  • Helmet

Clothing (cold and wet)

  • Merino wool midweight long sleeve shirt with ¼ zip (fits over helmet): I often ride in this when it’s too cold for a t-shirt but too clammy in my rain jacket. 
  • High-viz windbreaker vest: helpful for warmth and also visibility on the rare stretch of busy road
  • Down jacket: essential for sleeping and cold descents
  • Warm tights: only worn for sleeping this year; possibly could do without
  • Gore-Tex rain jacket: I often wear this for warmth, and with the rain this year I was doubly glad to have it. It’s bulky, so if the forecast is dry I would consider a lighter weight rain jacket or even just a windbreaker.
  • Rain pants: worn often, mostly for warmth and briefly for rain
  • Pearl Izumi lobster gloves: essential for cold descents and night riding, since my hands get numb very easily
  • Pearl Izumi shoe covers: not worn this year, but I’ve been happy to have them for warmth in the past

Sleep

  • Enlightened Equipment Convert sleeping quilt, rated to 10 degrees (I’m a cold sleeper and the quilt is well-worn so probably not quite 10 degrees anymore)
  • Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-lite sleeping pad
  • Borah Gear Cuben Bivy, water-resistant: I love this, but could possibly do without it since I pack a waterproof emergency bivy anyway.
  • SOL metallic emergency bivy (not used): for extra warmth or rain protection if needed, in addition to my water resistant bivy. To go even lighter, one could ditch the water-resistant bivy and just use this, though condensation could be a problem.

Electronics

  • Two 10,000 mAh power banks
  • Two-port quick-charging wall charger
  • Three USB charging cables
  • Jabra Elite 75t wireless earbuds
  • Garmin InReach Mini for tracking and emergency communication
  • Garmin eTrex 22x: new this year, with the goal of using less phone battery for navigation. In past years I only used my smartphone and RideWithGPS for navigation. This year I still ran RideWithGPS on my phone and used it for the elevation profile and audio off-course alerts, but mostly used the Garmin for quick course checks. This allowed me to carry one fewer power bank and worry less about running out of juice.

Since I don’t have a dynamo hub, keeping my lights and phone charged through SnF always takes some thought. If you’re careful, you can probably get by recharging your electronics while you eat and resupply, even if you don’t spend any nights indoors. If you get really lucky, you might find an outdoor outlet while crashing in a town park or similar. For more on this tricky topic, see my post on Charging Electronics While Bikepacking.

Lights

I changed my light setup this year, and was really glad I did. Reliable lights make such a big difference for night riding, both psychologically and logistically.

In the past I’ve ridden with only one USB-rechargeable headlight that could not be charged while in use. So when it ran out of battery after a few hours, I had to stop and sleep. This year I had two good quality lights with different battery systems, so I could swap and keep riding. For example, when my first light died on the way down Shingle Creek I was able to swap to my second and still finish that night, instead of having to wait until morning!

Here’s the setup I used and was very happy with:

  • Headlight 1: Light and Motion Imjin 800 Onyx, helmet mounted, with spare battery pack. Nice and lightweight, especially with the battery in my hydration pack, which is nice when your neck and shoulders are already tired. Only downside: not USB-rechargeable. I brought two battery packs but left the charger at home.
  • Headlight 2: NiteRider Lumina 900 Boost, helmet mounted. Heavier than the Imjin, USB-rechargeable, but not while it’s being used. I used this as a secondary light, switching to it when either of my Imjin batteries ran out, then recharging it from a power bank during the day
  • Headlight 3: Princeton Tec Snap headlamp on M-Wave quick release mount. Got this idea from a fellow rider in 2020 (thanks Ian!) and loved it. Having a second point of light close to the ground helps create depth and makes those sandy reflective roads look less “flat.” It’s also helpful if your helmet light suddenly dies. I brought the headlamp strap and also used this as a normal headlamp for setting up camp.
  • Tail light: Blackburn Central 50 (USB rechargeable)

I liked this system a lot, but there are plenty of other options. My general recommendations:

  • Helmet-mounted lights are key. Even if you can manage to mount a handlebar light that isn’t blocked by your handlebar bag (I can’t), being able to shine your light in any direction is incredibly useful on twisty trails, and oh-so-comforting in the dark forest.
  • Diversify your power needs. I liked that all three of my headlights had different power sources (USB, AAA batteries, and proprietary battery packs). This allowed me to carry fewer USB power banks and worry less about depleting them during late-night riding. It can be stressful when you’re running through USB power and having to choose whether your phone / navigation or lights will get priority.

Water

  • 2 liter hydration pack, also used to carry extra snacks
  • 1 liter bottle on down tube
  • AquaMira chlorine dioxide drops. Many riders use filters like the Sawyer Squeeze or Katadyn BeFree, which also work great (I often use them too). But since the water on this route is plentiful and clear, I go without the filter and just use these drops for super-quick water treatment. (Read more: Water Treatment for Bikepackers)

Tools and Spares

I carry enough stuff that I can fix most standard problems and keep riding. Here’s a quick overview, or for more detail see Tools and Spares for Bikepacking.

  • Multitool (Park Tool IB-3)
  • Leatherman PS (mainly for pliers and screwdriver)
  • Mini pump
  • Chain lube and rag (very important, SnF is super dusty)
  • Spare brake pads, used this year! The sand, mud, and long downhills really chewed through them. I suggest starting with brand new pads and still carrying spares.
  • Quick link pliers, spare quick links, short section of chain
  • Spare tube and Park Tool preglued patches
  • Extra sealant, 2 oz
  • Tire plug kit, tire boots, tiny superglue tube, spare valve stem
  • Spare brake and shift cables
  • Assorted zip ties

Mechanicals: I’ve been lucky so far on SnF to only have minor mechanical issues (knock on wood!). This year, I had three:

  • Chain wedged between cassette and spokes on day 1, due to incorrectly adjusted limit screw.
  • Front tire lost air when I failed to screw the valve all the way closed before putting on the cap (oops!)
  • Rear brake pads wore through on day 3, probably accelerated by the sandy mud. In hindsight I should have replaced them before the ride even though they still looked pretty thick.

Room for Improvement

I’m very happy to have met my goal this year, but inevitably I still think about what could go better. Here are my biggest areas for improvement:

Singletrack skills: Though more time in the saddle definitely helped, riding gravel roads all summer did not turn me into a singletrack shredding machine. Go figure. It’s not my favorite style of riding and I don’t live near many good trails, but if I wanted to finish faster at SnF I would need to practice riding trails. 

Lighter and/or different bike: At 50ish pounds, my loaded Fargo is heavier than average. I am lighter than average, which is a bad combination. If a sweet carbon or titanium bike, perhaps even a hardtail, miraculously entered my life, I would probably be motivated to try SnF again.

Saddle issues / bike fit: After riding all summer on the GDMBR you would think I had my fit and saddle dialed. But alas, I suffered my worst saddle sores ever on SnF this year, and just couldn’t get comfy on the bike during long days. I ride a leather Brooks saddle and the tension decreases over time, changing the fit. By the time I thought to tighten it the damage had been done.

In Conclusion

This year more than ever, I found riding Smoke ‘n Fire to be a healing experience. We call it a race or event, but to me it felt more like a celebration. We came together to celebrate adventure, nature, and camaraderie with extravagant, inordinate amounts of biking. This modern-day ritual is about much more than just riding bikes.

Now that I’ve met my four day goal, perhaps I don’t need to go back to Smoke ‘n Fire. It’s been an unlikely obsession anyway, and there are plenty of other events I’d like to try.

But I miss it already. Perhaps I should go back next year. Three and a half days would sure be nice…  😉

Thanks and congratulations to everyone I had the pleasure of sharing miles and conversation with this year! What kind and adventurous spirits you all have.

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About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa. I’ve traveled over 14,000 miles (enough to stop counting) by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride. Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more or say hi.

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