I recently read that males use fewer exclamation points than females. I had never really thought about it, but I looked back on a string of texts with three of my girlfriends and there were so many exclamation points it was like a vertical morse code. We were planning a bikepacking trip, and the stoke was high. So high! The texts read: “How are you setting up your bike!?!” “Are you taking a framebag?!” “Will there be water?!” “Are you bringing beer?!” How else can we express the overwhelming enthusiasm of an autumnal all-ladies bikepacking venture from our doorsteps?! (!!!!!!!)
There is something exhilarating and empowering about four women strapping camping gear on their mountain bikes and heading for the hills. I love riding and traveling with my guy friends and my husband, but in a male-dominated cycling world, an all-female crew brings an inspiring, noncompetitive, and supportive vibe. We laugh a lot and the whole ride feels like a rolling party.
We met at my house in McKinleyville on the north coast of California. My husband made each of us a breakfast burrito, tidily wrapped up in foil and ready to strap to our handlebars. We left the sounds of the ocean and made our way east toward the mountains. The area is not exactly known for bikepacking. The mountains are steep and remote, and there are not a lot of roads that connect to form loops. There are not very many roads at all, actually. But we are known for the redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. Humboldt County was built on a strong timber industry, with 4,000 square miles of forests and 135,000 people scattered throughout. It’s remote, a little rugged, and I am absolutely in love with it. The mountains abut the ocean, and the fog from the coast fades as you ascend the inland hills. A variety of conifers cover the slopes in 50 shades of green.
We pedaled down my street with its tidy lawns and kids on scooters under an overcast sky. Alyssa wondered if she had enough air in her tires, Natalie wasn’t sure everything was strapped on properly, Kelly hoped her new bike would work well, and I worried about saddle sores. Up we went on our bikes. A few rolling hills reminded us of every ounce we had strapped to our steeds. I tend to go super light when camping for one night, thinking, “It’s only one night. I don't need — ,” whereas my friends do the opposite, thinking, “It’s only one night, I should totally bring — .” They all brought multiple beers, but I wasn’t willing to put in the effort for the weight. I did bring a flask of whiskey and a first aid kit.
We headed east with the goal of arriving at Lacks Creek, former Hupa tribal land now managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It was only 30 miles away, but there were two significant watershed divides en route. The fall sun emerged and lit up the bright yellow maple leaves, giving us brilliantly glowing hillsides. We paralleled State Route 299, taking instead the original, now abandoned 299 route of empty gravel and paved backroads. It’s one of the only roads that runs east-west over the mountains from the coast toward Interstate 5 and “civilization.”
We tackled our first big climb on gravel, then turned away from 299 to the north. We coasted to the bottom of the Redwood Valley, where Redwood Creek runs year-round, sailing over potholes and sections of one-lane road where previous landslides either covered the asphalt or stole the supporting ground from underneath.
Once at the creek, we wondered for the millionth time: Would there be water higher up? We discussed this point back and forth, forth and back until we finally decided to fill up here instead of relying on intermittent springs higher up the mountain. After a dry summer marked by record wildfires, most springs were still dry. I filled my three-liter bladder and stuffed it in my framebag. The sides bulged out and almost hit my calves. I also filled up the three-liter bladder in my backpack. My shoulders and legs yelled in spasmodic protest under the additional weight.
We started on the arduous and agonizing climb up the mountain. The four of us spread out and regrouped like a slinky, each of us going at her own pace. It took about two and a half hours of pure ascending. With gnats circling my head, I tried to get my mind to wander somewhere else for a bit, but it was irritatingly present.
... the campfire was warmer, the food was more flavorful, and the views more dazzling.
The newly installed campsites at Lacks Creek feature picnic tables and firepits, and sitting at a table felt like a real luxury. We ate our tortillas, sardines, cheese, and olives, and my friends shared their beer! We watched the sunset, a glorious golden fuchsia that saturated every limb and leaf. Looking down on the coastal fog from the oak woodland meadows on Pine Ridge, we felt only a little smug about it. A hard-earned pedal heightens all of your senses and makes every aspect of life that much more phenomenal — the campfire was warmer, the food was more flavorful, and the views more dazzling.
The next day we took our unloaded bikes on a loop of the singletrack. The trails at Lacks Creek are a perfect mix of challenging uphill and rewarding, flowy downhill. We loaded our gear back on the bikes for a final descent on a trail aptly named Tomfoolery. From there we cycled down the mountain, retracing the tire tracks of the previous day. We sailed past cute cows, horses, and undulating kelly green pastures, smiles plastered on our faces.
It’s more downhill than uphill to return home, so we took full advantage of the nonchalant Sunday ride and stopped at a brewery for beer and tater tots. We high-fived each other and reminisced about how it took all of us a while to find a group of ladies to do trips like this with. We were proud of each other, proud of ourselves, and so damn glad to not be going uphill anymore. From there we went our separate ways. I was home for less than an hour when the text messages started up again. We were already planning the next trip! We shared photos! We shared kind and heartfelt words! We loved being outside in nature! We felt grateful and happy! Every statement had plenty of enthusiasm.
Wherever your local roads lead you on a bike overnight or weekend trip, have fun and keep the stoke high!
Lacks Creek management area includes 8,673 acres of BLM public lands. Part of the area is within the Lacks Creek watershed but other sections have no water source. It is surrounded by private timberlands, and you will see evidence of recent timber harvests on your way up. Mountain bikes are recommended for this route, especially if you want to incorporate the singletrack into your trip.
There are over 12 impressive miles of singletrack, catering to varying mountain bike ability levels. Driving there as a detour from a cycling tour, supported tour, or a separate road trip is a valid option. There are no places to resupply after the grocery store on Glendale Drive near the small town of Blue Lake, so stock up.
Summers are dry, which means that water is unlikely higher up the mountain even into fall. Like most places, trail and road conditions depend on the season. Be mindful of things like hunting season, prescribed burns, and wildfires in late summer. For up-to-date information, call or check the BLM website.
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