Springing into Mountain and Gravel Bike Season in Boise

I recently celebrated my 3-year-mountain-bike anniversary which is a bit of a misnomer since there was not an actual celebration – but it made me reflect on how much can change in 3 years…


My first group ride was late March 2021 and was led by my dear friend Megan who suggested we ride “Shane’s Loop”. Shane’s is a 7 mile double track (as opposed to singletrack) trail with approximately 800 ft of elevation gain, there is an unwritten rule that Shane’s should be ridden in a counter-clockwise direction to ride the more flowy, sweeping banked turns downhill and ascend the steeper, straight sections of the trail. I’d never heard of Shane’s before the ride, but I was all in for the ladies-only afternoon on bikes. At the time I was wearing a pair of flat shoes and admired Megan for being able to wear clipless bike shoes, they seemed so advanced. She explained the benefits of wearing clipless shoes and emphasized that on long rides, they were a lifesaver. By interlocking the cleat, the small metal tab screwed into the bottom of the shoe, with the pedal, you’re able to more efficiently transfer power from your leg into each pedal stroke while also stabilizing your foot when navigating technical descents.


I subconsciously made it a goal to graduate from flats to clipless bike shoes. It took about 2 months until I was, or so I thought, ready for clipless shoes. I brought my bike into the shop and asked to have my flat pedals swapped out for clipless pedals, please. I picked out a pair of mountain bike shoes and I read the instructions in the box included with my new shoes and watched a YouTube video on how to screw the cleats into the bottom and embarked on a test ride. I gave myself ample space approaching intersections to ensure I had time to get my shoe out of my pedal as I made my way to the trailhead. Back to Shane’s Loop, a now familiar route that I could anticipate any sudden stops and mentally prepare to get my shoe out of my pedal before I tipped over. Boise’s Ridge to Rivers had recently built a new trail at the bottom of Shane’s loop called Bucktail, a flowy bike-only trail that is directional, meaning you’re only allowed to ride downhill. The friend I had recruited to come with me on my practice ride suggested we take the new trail and because I was feeling confident with my ability to unclip, I agreed to go down the new trail. We made it about 100 yards before we heard yelling, I turned my head and to see what the commotion was about and did what would become fondly referred to as “The Turtle”. When the yelling caught my attention, I forgot to anticipate putting my foot down and tipped over in slow motion both shoes still clipped into my pedals. Helpless, like a turtle flipped on its shell, I waited to be rescued. My friend freed me from my pedals, and I got back on my bike and finished the ride feeling a little embarrassed but more prepared to navigate trails with my shoes clipped into my pedals.

The motivation to graduate to clipless shoes and pedals came from my interest in going on longer rides and feeling more comfortable climbing up trails with roots and rocks. Getting into mountain biking presented me with the chance to improve my fitness and see more of the trail system Boise has to offer. After the girl’s ride in March, I mentioned to Megan I wanted to familiarize myself with the Boise trail system and she suggested I sign up for the Boise Trails Challenge, a month-long expedition to cover 175 miles worth of dirt trails. Over the 3 months leading up to the Boise Trails Challenge I increased my weekly mileage from about 30 miles per week to about 65 miles per week since I needed to build my endurance for some of the longer trails. Going into the Trails Challenge I knew it was going to be a lot of riding, but I underestimated how much planning it would require linking the trails together in an efficient way. I also didn’t want to do it alone, so I jotted down rides and solicited my friends to join me. The Trails Challenge was a learn-as-you-go proposition for me, I’d never ridden my mountain bike for more than 2 hours at a time, so I leaned on my friends to teach me the ropes of how to prepare for long rides. They helped me calculate how much food and water I needed, the tools I needed to carry, and the value of a lightweight windshell for long descents. I experimented with different combinations of sweet and salty snacks - Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels and homemade blondies are the reigning champions. I also learned to love my portable water filter - its compact design makes it easy to carry in your pack and is invaluable for rides over 2 hours in the summer heat.

Of the 94 trails included in the Trails Challenge, my favorite genre of trail to ride became abundantly clear: the ones that get you to the Ridge Road. The Ridge Road, as the name suggests, is a road across the ridge of the Boise Foothills. The term “road” might be a bit generous because in certain places there are deep gullies that even on a full-suspension mountain bike feel dicey to navigate. I came to love the Ridge Road because of the view, the shade, and because it’s the most direct way to get to Bogus Basin on dirt. I loved that once I made it to Bogus, I could fill my water bottles with cold water and pee in a toilet and wash my hands with soap and water, but most exciting – ride down Eastside trail and Sweet Connie to mile 6 on Bogus Basin Road and was only a short climb up the pavement to get home. The sense of accomplishment I still get from riding up and down from Bogus on dirt is the same now as it was the first time I did it three years ago. The long rides to Bogus have also provided the opportunity to strengthen my friendships. Pedaling alongside a friend and recapping their work week and unpacking why I picked a fight with my sister (hi, Meredith!) is what I’ve found to be the foundation of strong friendships. Long rides aren’t the only way to build friendships - for the past year I’ve organized an hour-long girls-only ride (almost) every Wednesday after work. It’s been such a joy to see new friendships blossoming between girls who were introduced on the Wednesday rides.  

This Fall, Megan, and I along with another girlfriend road to Bogus on our mountain bikes and took our sweet time as we pedaled up the Ridge Road chit-chatting, laughing about the juxtaposition of who we are at our corporate jobs and who we are when we’re mountain biking with our friends. I’ve learned a lot in 3 years: how to eat and drink enough on long rides, how to take my foot out of my pedal, and most importantly how lucky I am to have friends that can teach me so much.

This Spring I have been given the opportunity to co-host a few events that aim to empower and inspire women on gravel bikes and build confidence in their skills and fitness. I’ll be co-leading a women’s gravel clinic alongside a few women I admire greatly and am fortunate to call friends. I will also be co-leading monthly women’s gravel rides throughout Spring and Summer as a way to build the women’s gravel community in Boise. I’m looking forward to connecting with more women on bikes and continuing to grow with, and give back to the Boise cycling community.


Written by Amelia Shankwitz


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