I’ve been working on both my mountain biking and backpacking skills all summer long, and last week I finally got the chance to combine them! One of my more hardcore outdoorsy friends works on weekends, so months ago we planned to take a backpacking trip during the week so that she could make it. I got last Thursday and Friday off work so we spent the beginning of last week planning our trip. Eklutna Lake was supposed to get great weather, so we booked bunks for the three of us that were going on the trip at the Serenity Falls cabin, located 12 miles down the Eklutna Lake trail. This is the same trail that I rode for my bike birthday party so I knew that at least the first half of the ride would be easy and flat.
On Wednesday it hit me that I’d have to somehow get all of my backpacking gear out to Serenity Falls on my bike. I talked to a few coworkers about different strategies for carrying my gear that would help me maintain my balance on the bike. I’ll write another post about this later because it was so tricky finding a cheap but safe way to do it! I ultimately ended up buying a cheap rear rack and then attaching a dry bag with my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and extra clothes in there. I put my food, water, and other essential gear in a daypack. After double checking my tire pressure and making sure that my bike was in perfect working order, I was ready to go on my first bikepacking trip!
It was drizzling in Anchorage, but when we got out to Eklutna Lake the sun was peeking out of the clouds. Even though it was midday on Thursday there were a surprising amount of people biking and kayaking out there which made us feel more comfortable for the first few miles as we biked through bear country. The bears have been crazy in Alaska this year, so our main goal on this long and secluded trail was to make enough noise to alert the bears that we were coming so they could get out of the way. We all had bear bells on our bikes, and my friend who led the way had a horn on her bike that she honked every minute or so. We also chatted as much as possible even though at times we were out of breath.
When we reached the end of the lake at mile 9, we realized we were probably the only people out at this part of the lake. The trail also started to get a bit tougher. It was all on a gradual uphill, and the dirt and gravel trail began to have big giant rocks all over it that were hard to navigate through. My bike was bouncing all over the place and was skidding out on certain sections. I fell a few times but managed to come out of it with no injuries. But my anxiety as a newbie mountain biker was through the roof and I was struggling to mentally stay positive as I kept falling and having to walk my bike through tough sections. By mile 11 we were tired, hot, and sick of the constant bumping motion, so we decided to walk the last mile to the cabin. But once we got there we knew the struggle was worth it to get out there!
The Serenity Falls cabin is the biggest public use cabin I’ve ever stayed in. It is set up for a maximum of 13 people, but we lucked out and were the only 3 people there. There is a separate bunk room and a huge kitchen/living area with giant windows overlooking Serenity Falls and Eklutna Glacier. After cleaning ourselves up a bit, we made dinner and then explored the area a bit more. We were the only people around for miles and it was so peaceful! We hiked over to the falls and then played cards in the cabin until we were too exhausted to stay up any more. We set up our bunks and went to bed before the sun set.
It’s always tough for me to sleep on a hard wooden bunk, but we all managed to sleep in until 8:30! After a quick breakfast and another bike maintenance check it was time to pack up and head back home. To be honest, we were all kind of dreading the bike back. I was a bit sore from 12 bumpy miles the day before, and I was not excited for the difficulties of biking the 3 mile portion from the cabin to the lake again. But there was no other way out of the remote area, so we got back on our bikes and resolved to make the best of it.
I was almost instantly frustrated by the giant rocks and slippery gravel, and once again found myself walking my bike through some difficult parts. But I slowly began to get the hang of it and found myself learning how to power through the tough parts without stopping. Before I knew it we were coming around the corner and looking at Eklutna Lake again! I was so relieved because I knew the final 9 miles were going to be easy and slightly downhill, so I was finally able to relax and enjoy the ride.
Overall it took us 3 hours to get out to the cabin but only 2 hours to get back to the parking lot. It was so much easier on the way back! We celebrated with lunch by the lake and then headed home for a well earned shower. In the end, I decided that it was the most hardcore thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never had to bike with that much weight on my bike in new trail conditions for that long. I’m so proud of myself for doing it and I really think I’m a better mountain biker because of that experience. I’m looking forward to making the trip out to that cabin again soon!
Have you ever gone bikepacking before? What tips do you have for packing your gear on your bike?