Post by Corrine
I was itching for a break from home and work, but Eric has a lot on his plate, I have a lot of home stuff to do, and we have a big trip coming up in July, so I started thinking of a way to get a quick break.
My First Love Doesn’t Love Me
When it comes to outdoor pursuits, backpacking was my first love. From my mid 20s to my mid 30s, I was off hiking in the mountains pretty much every free summer weekend. But then my knees developed arthritis and it became painful to hike, much less hike with a heavy pack. Finally, seven years ago, I had my knees replaced and could hike again.
|October 2015 - Bilateral knee replacement surgery with some complications|
Back when hiking started becoming painful, I started doing more biking and started getting into bikepack endurance racing. It filled my need to be physically active and allowed me to see spectacular areas of the country that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. After my surgery, I had several bikepack races I still wanted to do, so I continued concentrating on biking. Plus, my feet had developed arthritis (getting old isn’t easy) so carrying a pack was still uncomfortable. Despite that, I still did some backpack trips with Eric, including the spectacular Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park in Canada, but mostly we concentrated on day hikes.
|Skyline Trail - Jasper National Park|
When I began considering a sub-24, bikepacking was out of the question. My bike frame was in Tucson getting repaired. Unbound XL had done a number on it; mud and grit rubbing on the carbon fiber frame had caused several holes. It wasn’t safe to ride so I had shipped it to a company that repairs carbon fiber bikes.
|Yikes, those holes (in the black circle) are not supposed to be there!|
So, I started thinking of doing a sub-24 as a backpack trip. I immediately thought of the Stiles Creek Cabin. It’s not that far from home. And while we have visited it multiple times on day mountain bike rides and during the Chena River to Ridge race, neither of us had ever spent the night there. And it was available for Friday June 16. So, I booked it.
Sub-24: The Stiles Creek Cabin Part
Doing a sub-24 cabin trip around summer solstice has some distinct advantages. You have time at home for doing other things. You can eat dinner before hitting the trail. Light is not a problem. And you don’t have to gather wood for a fire.
Friday, after doing a variety of other things at home, we packed up, ate dinner, then drove to the trailhead, arriving around 7 PM. We started at the upper Stiles Creek Trailhead, hiking uphill for the first several miles. For rain, we timed it perfectly, as the afternoon thunderstorms had mostly moved through, and we only had a few sprinkles on our seven-mile hike in.
Just Us and 10,000 Friends
Unfortunately, the breeze mostly died down and the mosquitos were very annoying. Actually, they were downright irritating. Not quite headnet-worthy but getting close. Just stopping for a quick photo was enough for them to swarm us. We didn’t dilly-dally or make any major stops, keeping up a good pace all the way to the cabin. The trail is in pretty good shape, a little muddy in places with four-wheeler ruts, but overall, not bad.
|One of the worst places on the trail.|
When we got to the cabin, we entered quickly, trying to keep out as many mosquitos as possible. A few were inside, but they weren’t horrible. Not quite the relaxing hike in I had envisioned but being in the cabin was nice. It was a little warm inside and only one window, up in the loft, had a screen, but we eventually cooled down from our speed hike and the cabin was fine. We had a little snack, flipped through the logbook, read or did puzzles, and then it was time for bed.
|Relaxing in the cabin at 10:30 PM|
The cabin has no nearby lake or creek. It does have a cistern and Eric thinks a rough four-wheeler trail off the backside of the cabin might lead to water, but we didn’t need to worry about it. We each carried about four liters and had plenty for the hike in and out, plus for oatmeal and hot drinks in the morning. (Remember, we had already eaten dinner!)
I got up to pee at 1 AM and was bombarded by hordes of mosquitos on my mad dash to the outhouse. I swear they had been waiting for me to come out! I ended up scratching bites on my feet for the next hour while trying to get back to sleep.
|1 AM sunset|
The hike out Saturday morning was uneventful except for the continued swarms of mosquitos. Both Eric and I decided we prefer biking this trail rather than hiking it. It’s got a mostly gradual grade and a good surface for biking. On the downhills and flats we could have easily outpaced the skeeters. Hiking it is OK, but the views are mostly through trees, and it lacks any treeless ridges where small breezes can help get rid of bugs.
|There are some occasional nice views on the trail|
Sub-24: The Biking Part
Returning meant a lot of downhill hiking and my feet and legs were sore by the time we got back to the car. But I had put my bike in the car, thinking I might try to bike back home if I didn’t feel too tired. We got to the car at 10:30AM and while I was a bit sore, I still had energy and the day was sunny. I decided to bike. It would be only about 40 miles, mostly flat. I knew that once I got going, I would be glad. (Spoiler alert, I was glad I did it!)
|Taking off for home from the trailhead|
However, I was a bit of a space case getting ready while trying to avoid mosquitos and keep the car doors shut. I kept forgetting to get things out of my backpack and had to keep re-opening the car. First, I forgot my raingear. Then, I forgot my sandwich and snacks. And finally, 10 miles into my ride, I realized my money and credit card were still in my backpack. I had taken only one water bottle, assuming I would buy a drink at one of the gas stations. Luckily, I had remembered my cell phone, so I called Eric. He graciously returned 20 miles (though he did have fun teasing me for being ditzy!). Dehydration avoided!
Chased by Storms (and a Number Obsession)
|Can I outpace those storm clouds?!|
The ride home was great although I had a 5-10 mph headwind the whole way. Where was that breeze when we were hiking? After about 20 miles, I noticed that the clouds to the north were building and becoming darker and more ominous by the mile. By the time I got to the Hot Springs Gas Station, five miles from the Steese, I was on the edge of the storm. Instead of taking a nice leisurely stop, I quickly grabbed a burger (it was customer appreciation day and I got a free burger!), guzzled a chocolate milk, grabbed a root beer, and got back on my bike.
|Those clouds are looking more and more ominous!|
I had to keep pushing the pace to stay ahead of the storm cell. It was moving southwest, and I was heading northeast so I managed to just stay out of its path, although I was on the edge for most of the last 25 miles.
As I headed up our road, I realized that my total would be about 47.5 miles. I debated if I wanted to do an extra 2.5 miles for an even 50-mile ride. I was tired and had already hiked before biking. The storm was getting closer. I didn’t want to get wet. But shouldn’t I prove I can push further even when I don’t want to? Isn’t 50 a nice goal? Why was I such a slave to the numbers? This debate helped me up the first mile of our steep road.
I thought I hadn’t decided until I turned on a side road, my subconscious deciding that I was going for the whole 50 miles. As I made my way to the top of our road, the wind picked up and the sky darkened. Now it was a race to make it before the storm unleashed its fury! I got to the road’s end and bombed back down to home, getting in my 50 miles while not getting wet!
|Success! 50 miles and made it home without getting wet!|
Sub-24: A Break with Time for Other Things
I also got back home well before the 24-hour mark. It had been a great little Sub-24, partly with Eric and partly on my own. (Eric decided to be a responsible homeowner and did some weedwhacking when he got home.) Our little adventure wasn’t epic, and it wasn’t to anywhere new or different, but it was still good to get outside and get a little break from work and home. But if we do that cabin again, it will probably in early spring or in the fall. Certainly not right after the Voracious Mosquito Hatch!