Content by:Norb DeKerchove
Photos by: Rob Huguez
Our first year event saw 30 enthusiastic riders leave from historic Hyde Park in Boise, Idaho at 7:00am. There was a long, neutral rollout on the greenbelt, paralleling the Boise River and snaking through three local parks. The weather was crisp, clear, and chilly and riders were invigorated by both temperatures and adrenaline.
It was very cool to look behind me and see a line of colorful bikepackers all kitted out, lights on and riding together. Just a few short years ago I think I may have been the only bikepacker in Boise. Our sport has come a long way locally and this was certainly a “who would of thought it” moment. Fortunately, I now have a group of local friends who are bikepackers to suffer with.
After I rolled out with the group and blew the air horn, releasing the hounds and signaling ‘race on’, I peeled off and watched them all head east toward the rising sun. To the west the full moon was descending. An Idaho landscape with the elusive Supermoon for night riding, sub-freezing temperatures predicted for the mountains and not a cloud in the sky; it seemed just about perfect.
There were lots of newbies to bikepacking at our event, but there were also many experienced multi-day bikepacking veterans of the game. Being the inaugural event, we were very curious to see how fast the fast guys would ride as well as how the new folks to bikepacking would do. What strategies would be deployed, who would bivy and when, who would partake of hot springs, which resupply options would be utilized, and who would not sleep and who would sleep in? So many questions! The answers came over the next five days.
We had nine Friday finishers, two that set the bar quite high: Blake Bockius and Brian Pal. Deemed co-winners since they rolled to the finish together under the cloak of darkness at 3:55am Friday morning, just under 45 hours from the start! We were not expecting such fast times and these two hardly slept at all. Their stopped time was just over five hours each. Unbelievable!
We had ten finishers on Saturday and the vibe in Hyde Park at the finish was just right. There was a street fair going on, the weather was still perfect, and outdoor bars and restaurants were packed. Local fans, new fans, friends and family came out to watch riders finish, drink some beer, hang out, and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Riders reported that they liked the finish, the sense of community, hanging out at the local establishments with other like-minded bikepack racers.
Our final riders finished up in the evening hours just before midnight on Sunday. They were knackered, had distant stares, a bloody hand, big smiles, and lots of stories. They were greeted to shots of Crown Royal and a cooler full of beer by their faithful fans and friends.
Some of the common themes we’ve heard from the riders is how beautiful Idaho is and how the route took advantage of some very scenic areas. The singletrack got rave reviews. The climbing is tough and the last 100 miles are the most demanding and come at a difficult point in the race.
September in Idaho is cold and low temperatures in the mountains hover around 21 degrees. Frozen fingers, toes, water bottles and Camelbacks were a collective theme. Forest service bathrooms were used as luxurious sleeping quarters when a few riders were lucky enough to score them. One rider found an open door at zero dark thirty to the Redfish Lodge and made himself at home on a leather couch under a heater. He was first in line for breakfast that morning. Score!!
The inaugural edition of the Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400 exceeded our expectations in terms of turnout and rider feedback. We purposefully kept a low profile since this was a first time event and we wanted to get it right. It grew to a manageable size and we had a good turnout of local Idaho riders, but nearly half were from out of state. Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington were represented. A big thanks to all the riders that rolled the dice with our race and to those who traveled across many state lines to get here. Next year we will look at the moon phase calendar for September and plan for our 2nd Edition of the Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400.Check out this great video By Aileen Frey.
About the Author:
Norb DeKerchove is an Associate Broker at Group One Real Estate in the Boise area. When Norb is not busy with work, he is out exploring Idaho on two wheels. Norb is a Tour Divide and Colorado Trail Race finisher as well as race director for the Smoke ‘n’ Fire.