For a handful of years I have been taking my boys out to the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Living in Saint Paul, Minnesota, we can typically leave home around 8 a.m. and have tents set up at a trailhead by dark.
This June my wife Amy and I planned our first extended-day family bikepacking trip. My two boys; Henry 14, and Frankie 11, have more or less grown up on bikes. We have logged a handful of sub-24 trips with them, and felt like this was the year for a longer stretch.
Our route, a 50mile/three-day loop combined level 2 and 3 forest service roads with OHV trails. Not knowing the trail conditions given the snowy winter, or how the boys would handle the elevation, I had tried to plan a relaxed route with allowance for these and other uncertainties.
On the second day we were all reminded that no matter how much you plan, facing challenge is a fact of life. We had been at it for 5 hours and logged just over 13 miles. Due to steep climbs on the ATV trails we had been hike-a-biking much of the day. Around 9,500 feet, approaching the top of a pass, we found snow. Lots of it. In places, five or so feet. In addition to the snow, the wind was starting to rip and a storm was beginning to move in – seemingly from all four directions. The sky dark as the bottom of our cooking pot.
When you are on a bike trip and can’t ride the bike, things can get increasingly difficult and arguably less enjoyable. We did our best to keep sight of the trail as we pushed over the top of the pass following what snowmobile pack was left from the winter. There was a lot of slipping, and post-holing, sometimes hip deep. Despite a gash on my shin delivered from my own gator-less post-holing, the storm continued to part around us, and by some stroke of luck never hit us. At least not until much later when we were snug in our tents.
After descending 1,000 feet we lost much of the snow, found a dispersed camping spot, got tents up, and set to making water. Frankie had the most challenging time that day. He doesn’t like to go uphill. He likes to know where he is gonna sleep – where home is. The physical and mental challenges from pushing and punching through snow, mixed with the dark storm chasing us, had rattled his sense of security and comfort. None the less, it was he who hollered out while eating dinner, “Holy crap I can’t believe we did that today. That was so crazy. We are gonna have such awesome stories!”
The next day we woke up to blue sky, sun, and an 11-mile downhill. Such is life. Both uphill and down. The best stories have both.
Ben Weaver is a songwriter and poet who travels by bicycle using his music and words to inspire deeper connections between land, water and the communities he performs for. Currently he is on tour supporting his new release Sees Like A River. You can follow along and learn more at www.benweaver.net. Instagram, FB, and Twitter @benweavermusic.