Faces Behind the Dots⎼Smoke ‘n’ Fire 2022

The Smoke ‘n’ Fire bikepacking race is a roughly 400-mile (sometimes closer to 500) race that starts in Boise, Idaho every fall. Aptly named, many years of the race see re-routes due to current fires, and haze in the atmosphere isn’t unusual. This year is no different, with a recent fire causing a last-minute course change from the familiar loop from the past two years to an out-and-back route. Changes to the course should spice things up. The climb up Scott Mountain is a doozy and Stanley remains to be one of the coldest places ever (I froze sleeping upright in a port-o-potty with my blue tarp one year). Boise Ridge Road is a series of “I’m gonna beat you up” climbs.

Many of the women racers planning to show up this year are members of the Idaho Women’s Bikepacking Facebook group and I was stoked to have gotten so many responses to my questions. This is all a new process (The Townie and everything associated with it) and amidst recovery and travel back to Minnesota following a hard effort on the Colorado Trail, I didn’t give the women much time to get their responses back to me. Despite the short window of time, I was able to have some good laughs at the responses. I teared up a little when I saw how many people Laura Heiner influenced, because she made a huge impact on my life as a bikepacker too. Years back, we raced in our first bikepacking race together (having never met) and she was my only contact point in the whole city of Boise after giving me her number midway through the race.

One thing that stood out to me was Megan’s quote:

“…one thing that is super cool about the IWBP group is ‘regular’ women are in the group and racing. IWBP has all ages, moms, people with careers, and everything in between. I don’t think I ever would have even considered racing without seeing these women with lives that look like mine (i.e., not professional racers) out there taking on SnF!”

I love the SnF so much, it’s a race that really showed me what the bikepacking community was like and I’m stoked to see how many women are lined up this year. 31! That’s the most women I’ve ever seen for a grand depart and I hope to see that happen in more races.

Here it goes: The Women of the 2022 Smoke ‘n’ Fire. May it be downhill, both ways.

-Alexandera


Danica Meng

Hometown: Kent, WA

Home Now: Boise, ID

Bike: Liv Pique 29

SnF experience: Rookie

Danica on her Frank Church solo trip

What’s your bikepacking background?

I did a ride with IWBP [Idaho Women’s Bikepacking] on a whim last May and loved it! I had wanted to train for SnF with IWBP this year but was unable to make most of their group rides. It forced me to do more solo overnight trips, which ended up being amazing! My favorite one, to date, was traversing the Frank Church Wilderness!

How did you hear about the SnF?

Laura Heiner

What are you most looking forward to out on route? Are you dreading anything?

Looking forward to exploring more of Idaho and eating as if there’s no tomorrow! Not really dreading anything but ask me again when I’m hiking my bike up to Titus Lake :)

What’s your biggest fear about this ride?

Riding through Featherville in the heat of day one at 101° and getting heat stroke. And conversely, freezing while sleeping in my 40° bag when it’s 25° out.

What are you eating out there?

Dot’s pretzels, meat and cheese sticks, Hi-Chews, peanut M&Ms, pickles

What’s your approach to sleep for this ride? Do you have a plan?

Plan?!? Hahaha I have no idea!

Is there a route highlight you’re excited to ride?

I’ve never done Fisher Creek loop, so I’m excited to ride that! Also excited for the opportunity to navigate Mordor alone without getting lost for once!

Do you have a secret weapon/superpower?

My secret weapon is filling my hydration bladder with White Claw.

Everything one needs for the SnF

Megan Null

Hometown: Boise, ID

Bike: Spot Mayhem 130

SnF experience: Rookie

Megan and her pigtails are ready for anything

What’s your bikepacking background?

My first bikepacking experience was in April with Idaho Women’s Bikepacking (IWBP). My husband and I initially joined IWBP learn how to bikepack for the San Juan Hut Trip from Telluride to Moab, which was an amazing experience! 

How did you hear about the SnF?

As I went on more rides with IWBP, women just kept telling me over and over again that I could race Smoke ‘n’ Fire, and here I am! These women had jobs and families, yet they were out there racing. The power of women supporting women is something special. Shoutout to Laura Heiner for creating the group, encouraging us all, and answering a million questions!

What are you most looking forward to out on route? Are you dreading anything?

The views should be amazing! Exploring Idaho via bike is one of my favorite things to do. Additionally, I’m riding with my husband, so I’m also looking forward to working through this challenge together (but in a self-supported fashion of course!).

What’s your biggest fear about this ride?

Cold rain. On a ride this summer, I got soaked and froze. Despite being better prepared with a new rain jacket and plan for my hands and feet, I have a very intense fear of the cold rain.

Do you have a secret weapon/superpower?

Falling asleep. I’m typically out within two minutes of crawling into my bivvy or laying down for a nap.


Liz Thurmond

Hometown: Little Rock, AR

Home Now: Boise, ID

Bike: Scott Scale

SnF experience: Smoky Bar Scratch

Liz and her pup

What’s your bikepacking background?

I “grew up” riding a bike in Gunnison, Colorado. Biking has certainly been the only constant in my life for the past 20 years. I went to college, met my husband, got married, had my kids, became a nurse all while living in Gunnison. Biking has been a part of all of those big life events, and my love for it always goes back to the trails in the Gunnison Valley. Biking, to me, is freedom. I pretty much strictly rode single track until I tore my ACL in early 2020. Getting back on the bike was made easier by finding gravel routes with wide open spaces, a wide variety of terrain, and not without a lot of technical aspects. While single track will always be a part of my riding, I found so much freedom, independence, empowerment, and spirituality on long rides that helped to heal my knee and my mind. My dear friend Kate not only took me out on my first gravel ride, but then helped me to connect the dots between riding gravel and bikepacking, and I’ve been to some pretty amazing places with some amazing people since then.

How did you find yourself going from a “person with a bike” to a person competing in a bikepacking race?

We have a pretty robust biking community in Boise. However, Laura Heiner played a large role in nurturing the bikepacking community, specifically for women. Her knowledge sharing and the community built around her ideas has been invaluable. Riding SnF is certainly something I feel lucky to do, and finishing would be quite an amazing thing for me! 

How did you hear about the SnF?

Other local riders that had previously participated

What are you most looking forward to out on route? Are you dreading anything?

I am most looking forward to disconnecting from every day life, connecting with nature and our beautiful state, and the sense of empowerment of getting myself from place to place on two wheels with my own power.

What’s your biggest fear about this ride?

The mental stuff, not being able to get out of my head in the tough times of self doubt. Also, fires seem to be popping up all over the place over the past few days.

What are you eating out there?

Not leaving with too much food packed that’s terribly exciting, therefore, I’ll eat whatever I find along the way.

What’s your approach to sleep for this ride? Do you have a plan?

Last year, I planned. This year, with intent, I haven’t. I know my body cannot function without sleep, so I won’t be one to power through sleeping hours on my bike. Going by the advice given to Harlan Pepper on Best in Show: “If you’re tired, pull over. If you’re hungry, eat something.”

If you’ve done this ride before— do you have a Smoky Bar or Featherville story?

Ahhh, Featherville and the pro-MAGA anti-Hilary paraphernalia for sale was just what this bleeding-heart liberal needed to feel right at home.  

I got so sick between Featherville and Smoky Bar. I was having major stomach issues, and I pretty much walked my bike between those two points on the route. I knew that I was going to have to call it during that trek that seemed to go on FOREVER. I walked in the door, and the owner asked me if I wanted a chili burger or chili hot dog (I can’t remember which), and I thought I was going to vomit all over her bar just thinking of chili. Instead, I did what any normal human would do, and ordered three Bud Lights, went outside, sat down at a picnic table, and hysterically cried. I couldn’t eat anything for at least another 24 hours after, but the Bud Light went down just fine!! Also, Margaret who works at Smoky Bar was a GEM.

Is there a route highlight you’re excited to ride?

The Wood River Valley is my happy place, and I always love riding there. I’ve never ridden the northern most stretch of the route, and I look forward to that. 

Do you have a secret weapon/superpower?

Dark chocolate, thinking about my family at home, and my dogs.


Cassidy Howard

Hometown: Boise, ID

Bike: Scott Spark 910

SnF experience: Rookie

Cassidy ready to roll

What’s your bikepacking background?

My first bikepacking trip was in March with Idaho Women’s Bikepacking. I have now been on four one-night trips with this group, but that is the extent of my bikepacking experience.

How did you find yourself going from a “person with a bike” to a person competing in a bikepacking race?

I have been a casual mountain biker for about six years. In the last couple years, I started to ride more and found a lot of joy in pushing my physical limits on the bike. Last September I heard of the Smoke ‘n’ Fire for the first time through the local community. It sounded like it might be a good way to push my limits further, explore Idaho, and spend more time on my bike. I started to connect with people who had ridden the race and quickly found the Idaho Women’s Bikepacking group. Connecting with this group and going on group bikepacking trips turned the Smoke ‘n’ Fire from a “crazy idea” to “something I am going to do.”

What are you most looking forward to out on route? Are you dreading anything?

I am most looking forward to seeing what I’m capable of. I’m also excited to race with all the incredible women riders I met this year. I am dreading riding or sleeping alone in the
dark. I’m hoping I’ll be tired enough that it won’t matter.

What’s your biggest fear about this ride?

Mountain lions!

What are you eating out there?

Meat and cheese, Goldfish, energy gels, pickles are some of my favorites for training rides. I’ll see what I can find out there!

What’s your approach to sleep for this ride? Do you have a plan?

I have “plans”, but mostly likely I’ll just fall asleep when I am tired and can’t ride anymore. Without having experience in a bikepacking race its hard to know when that will be. I just want to push my limits and see what that looks like.

Is there a route highlight you’re excited to ride?

I’m excited to ride new singletrack. I’ve heard great things about Fisher Creek loop!

Do you have a secret weapon/superpower?

Stubborn determination?

Exploded gear pictures rock

Carolyn Mason

Hometown: Coppell, TX

Home Now: A van (I live full time on the road)

Bike: Cannondale Cujo1

SnF experience: Rookie

Carolyn taking her bike for a walk…

What’s your bikepacking background?

I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016 then started bike touring right after. My first bikepacking trip was the Colorado Trail in 2018. Since then, I have been trying to get out as much as possible. I now live/work from a van, so getting to new trails is much easier! The Arizona Trail (2021) was my first big solo bikepacking trip.

How did you find yourself going from a “person with a bike” to a person competing in a bikepacking race?

I always look for bikepacking routes as I travel around in my van. I saw the Smoke ‘n’ Fire race and thought it could be fun but didn’t seriously consider it. I did a little more research and found the women’s bikepacking group in Boise. I had never seen that before! And decided I HAD to give it a shot!

How did you hear about the SnF?

Bikepacking.com

What are you most looking forward to out on route? Are you dreading anything?

Seeing Idaho! This is my first time in Idaho and I’ve loved it so far! I think riding at night will be tough for me. I bikepack because I love seeing things!

What’s your biggest fear about this ride?

Cutting sleep. Generally I get extra sleep when bikepacking, not less.

What are you eating out there?

Go-to’s are tortilla + sausage + cheese wraps, chips, peanuts + chocolate, bars, ramen, instant potatoes, Snickers

What’s your approach to sleep for this ride? Do you have a plan?

My rough guess is to try for six hours of sleep. But really go out there and see what my body can do. I have no idea.

Is there a route highlight you’re excited to ride?

Really excited to see the Sawtooths! I haven’t been up there yet.

Do you have a secret weapon/superpower?

A new water filter (it feels like a superpower :D ). But not sure, I get a lot of enjoyment by trying new things.


Irena Netik

Hometown: Nymburk, Czech Republic

Home Now: Roslyn, WA

Bike: Kona Honzo St

SnF experience: Rookie

Irena with her Honzo

What’s your bikepacking background?

I have been riding my bike as transportation in high school, college and through my early 20s since I didn’t have a car. In the early 2000s, I started competing in triathlons and completed four Ironmans. When I stopped racing triathlons, I found that I missed the bike and the competition, so I joined a local road bike racing team for several years. I spent a lot of time on my road bike year-round in Seattle but living in the Pacific Northwest, the mountains are a big draw. I found myself pursuing outdoor adventures such as mountaineering, hiking, backpacking, and backcountry skiing rather than devoting my time to training for local road bike races. My bike was used more for commuting to work, dragging my dog to the park in a bike trailer and riding around town until I set my sights on a long-time goal. In 2017, I cycled across Canada with a friend, which had been on my bucket list for over 20 years. I loved experiencing all the views, smells, sounds of a place from a bicycle, moving slowly and having an opportunity to stare and admire the view ahead for hours. When I returned home from that tour, I started planning the next big bike ride and I was fully hooked on adventuring by bike. Then I learned about the Tour Divide. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route was just a twinkle in my eye back in early 2018 and I knew I needed a partner. I introduced a friend to GDMBR and easily convinced her to join me. We acquired gear, researched the route, and tried a handful of short bikepacking trips. Fast forward to 2021, my friend Sarah and I completed the GDMBR border to border. After long discussions, we decided to ride the GDMBR rather that the Tour Divide. It was the perfect marriage of my love of the mountains and outdoor living and the bike and serious athletic endeavors. Upon our return, I got curious about bikepacking races and am drawn to exploring new areas. 

How did you find yourself going from a “person with a bike” to a person competing in a bikepacking race?

In general, I felt that I had the confidence and fitness to bike long distances and spend many back-to-back days on my bike, but I had to work through my fears and changing my safety margin. That included: going alone, not staying in campgrounds, carrying less food, giving up my stove, replacing my tent with a bivy, quieting my active imagination when alone in the forest, biking at night on all sorts of backroads, being comfortable with more uncertainty, sleeping without holding onto my knife, sleeping anywhere… to name a few. In the last year and a half, since my first bikepacking Grand Depart of the Cross-Washington Mountain Bike Route (XWA), I have slowly overcome these obstacles and go out bikepacking solo. 

How did you hear about the SnF?

I completed XWA last year, which had only two women signed up and finish, and I think about the same level of female participation again this year. I recall that the race organizer pointed out the large female turnout for the SnF somewhere in the online discussions and that got me curious about it. The community that Laura Heiner fosters is incredibly supportive. 

What are you most looking forward to out on route? Are you dreading anything?

I wanted to ride the Idaho Hot Springs Route this summer but didn’t quite make it happen, so this is going to take place of that. I backpacked through the Sawtooth Mountains many years ago but haven’t otherwise spent much time in Idaho, so I am excited about exploring a piece of Idaho on a bicycle. 

I dread the first night of sleep. After the first night, I tend to find a rhythm and some of the uncertainty that I have going into the event dissipates. 

What’s your biggest fear about this ride?

Wildfires.

What are you eating out there?

I start out with some Swedish fish, gummy bears, nuts/trail mix, snickers bars, Cliff Nut Butter bars, frozen burritos (which are generally good for up to three days as they defrost in my frame bag), fig bars and M&Ms. Some of that gets replenished as I pass through towns with convenience stores and then I go with what my body craves. In the past, that has included chips, rice crispy bars, various pre-made sandwiches, danish/pastries, etc. If I get lucky with timing through one of the towns, then I’d like to get a meal (burger and fries or eggs for breakfast). A gas station stop almost always includes an ice cream bar, Gatorade and a coke which are consumed immediately. 

What’s your approach to sleep for this ride? Do you have a plan?

My general rule is to ride (or make forward progress) until around 11 p.m., then start to look for a place to sleep and hopefully by midnight, find a reasonable spot and climb into the bivy for around five hours of sleep. However, since the grand depart is at 4 a.m., the first day is going to be very long and I am not sure if I’ll be able to stick with my ride plan. 

Do you have a secret weapon/superpower?

Until I completed the Utah Mixed Epic last year, I used to tell people that my superpower is the ability to suffer for long periods of time and enjoy the challenge (usually in the mountains on skis). And then I came face to face with UME and my grit scale was redefined. So now, I am looking for a new one. 


Connie Strand Hendricks

Hometown: Olympia, WA

Home Now: Boise, ID

Bike: 2022 Cutthroat

SnF experience: Raced in 2021, scratched in Garden Valley

Connie and her Cutty

What’s your bikepacking background?

My first trip was in 2020, 35 miles from Pine to Smoky Bar – I was immediately hooked. The freedom of having everything I need on my bike and long miles ahead is pure joy. This year I’ve ridden the southern portion of the Idaho Hot Springs loop, a ton of gorgeous Idaho backcountry, and just recently rode to Burning Man from Cedarville, California. I’d like to encourage more women to join this sport, regardless of their age or ability, you don’t need to be young or fast, just persistent and love riding your bike.

How did you find yourself going from a “person with a bike” to a person competing in a bikepacking race?

My neighbors told me I should do Smoke ‘n Fire, I said that’s CRAZY – they had way more confidence in me than I did in myself, so I set out to prove them right.  

How did you hear about the SnF?

I noticed it first on Strava, while browsing the Boise Trails page, and didn’t know anything about it, then friends mentioned it when I bought my Cutty.  

What are you most looking forward to out on route? Are you dreading anything?

The Finish Line. The Finish Line.

What’s your biggest fear about this ride?

Scratching again.

What are you eating out there?

Frozen burritos worked really well for me last year, also the PB&J tortilla roll from Cindy’s in Featherville took me up and over Dollarhide Pass.

If you’ve done this ride before— do you have a Smoky Bar or Featherville story?

The fresh bear scat at Big Hole certainly made me ride faster to Smoky Bar!

What’s your approach to sleep? Do you have a plan for this race?

I need six hours of sleep to function, my plan is to be in bed by 11 p.m., up at 5 a.m., and hope that I can actually sleep. If that fails, just ride.

Is there a route highlight you’re excited to ride?

Fisher Williams loop is glorious, as is Elk Meadows.

Do you have a secret weapon/superpower?

Slow and Steady….turtle pace


Colleen Smith

Hometown: Boise, ID

Home Now: Eagle, ID

Bike:Ibis Hakka MX

SnF experience: Rookie

Colleen just riding along

What’s your bikepacking background?

I bought my first road bike in 2019 when, after a lifetime of running, it became clear I couldn’t run anymore. I bought my gravel bike last year and went on my first bikepacking trip with Idaho Women’s Bikepacking in March this year. I’ve done a lot of backpacking and a lot of bike riding — so it seemed natural to combine the two. But, needless to say, I’m still about as green as can be.

How did you find yourself going from a “person with a bike” to a person competing in a bikepacking race?

I have friends that have competed in the Smoke ‘n’ Fire in the past. I always thought it sounded like an awesome event but was never at a point in my life until now where I could prepare to participate. I’m a goal-oriented person, so preparing for a race gave me the motivation and the structure to get into bikepacking. Finally, joining Idaho Women’s Bikepacking gave me the inspiration and the resources I needed to make it happen.

How did you hear about the SnF?

Through friends that have competed in the race in the past, namely my PT Mike Devitt.

What are you most looking forward to out on route? Are you dreading anything?

I’m looking forward to almost everything: spending time in the great outdoors, viewing some of Idaho’s most beautiful country, taking a break from work, challenging my body and my mind, eating all of my favorite high-calorie foods, and spending some solitary hours on the bike.

What’s your biggest fear about this ride?

Managing the heat and smoke!

What are you eating out there?

Pumpkin chocolate chip muffins I baked with my two-year old; my mom’s famous banana bread; gas station breakfast burritos.

What’s your approach to sleep for this ride? Do you have a plan?

I’m planning on six hours from stop to start the first night; I’ll adjust for subsequent nights depending on how I’m feeling and the race is going. I’ve opted for a warmer sleep system, but with fewer extra layers of clothing.

Is there a route highlight you’re excited to ride?

Bear Valley

Do you have a secret weapon/superpower?

My audiobook collection (I can spend hours on the bike engrossed in an audiobook!)

My two-year-old daughter (missing her always makes me pedal home faster!)


Kirsten Wallace

Hometown: Boise, ID

SnF experience: Rookie

Bike: Salsa Cutthroat

Happy bike, happy life

What’s your bikepacking background?

I’ve been riding a bike since the age of 14 or 15, exploring Europe, New Zealand, and parts of the U.S. by bike with my parents before graduating from college.

How did you find yourself going from a “person with a bike” to a person competing in a bikepacking race?

I’ve always been drawn to long-distance riding since I am not very fast but can go far. I just began bikepacking this year, joining the Idaho Women’s Bikepacking group to see what the craze is all about, and it’s been an awesome adventure.

What are you most looking forward to out on route? Are you dreading anything?

I have no set rules for this event – I just hope to finish by Sunday. I am dreading the climb up (and then down) Scott Mountain. And I don’t want to meet any bears or moose! 

What’s your approach to sleep for this ride? Do you have a plan?

I definitely plan to sleep along the way.


Kristen Bonkoski

Hometown: Idaho Falls, ID

Home Now: Boise, ID

SnF experience: Rookie

Bike: Salsa Cutthroat

Happy bike, happy life

What’s your bikepacking background?

Brand new to bikepack-racing (though not to bikepacking). My favorite bikepacking trip was the Rainbow Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon, with my then 6 year old. 

Good luck to all racing the Smoke ‘n’ Fire! You can follow their dots on Trackleaders.

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