Bikepacking 101 - A First Perspective
Upon the successful completion of our programs first-ever bikepacking trip (see part two of Bike Packing 101—The First Trip), I began making plans for another fall trip. This time the focus would change and we would move from the mountains to the desert. We would travel on forest service roads versus single and doubletrack. On our tour of the Aspen Loop I learned what was an appropriate daily mileage for “bikepacking first timers” while riding the singletrack and Jeep trails of mountainous terrain. I was now eager to learn what we could accomplish on desert gravel roads.
This past July, my partner in crime in implementing our bikepacking program, Kevin, and I did a two-day tour riding from Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument to the famed climbing area of Indian Creek and back. It was a great two days as we started day one in the high desert and climbed up to the sub-alpine zone of tall ponderosa pines and aspens through the ever-present desert landmarks of the Bears Ears (around 9000’ in elevation). From there we traversed a high plateau looking deep into the Dark Canyon Wilderness to the northwest and down into the many canyons at the toe of Cedar Mesa to the southeast. Thirty miles into our ride we began a long gradual descent towards the stark beauty of Canyonlands and the stunning Bridger Jack Mesa. As I rode passed both Boundary and Cathedral Buttes I began visualizing the experience students would have doing this amazing ride. Could they ride 70-plus miles of gravels roads with fully loaded bikes over a weekend? That was the question to be answered.
Oh, where shall we go?!
The following is a trip perspective written by Fort Lewis College student, Josh Larsen, as he participated in his first ever bikepacking trip with seven other eager and enthusiastic students:
Put yourself in my shoes as I clip myself into the pedals of a 29er bicycle. Being attached to the bike is a similar feeling as being fastened onto a snowboard, or enclosed in the cockpit of a kayak—a feeling of being in control. Imagine being able to sleep under the stars during a meteor shower, and being able to see the entire night sky without interference from our world’s ever-present artificial lights. Trees were ending a transformation of colors resulting in a crunching underneath the tires of our loaded bikes. These were all feelings I experienced after an Outdoors Pursuits trip held this past fall.
Ten willing souls ready for a bikepacking adventure…
This new activity known as bikepacking takes concepts from both bicycle touring and backpacking creating a new means of travel. While friends back home were dreaming of upcoming winter snows, a group of my peers and I united under blue skies for an epic journey. Bikepacking allows someone to adventure many miles while being completely sustainable. Our bicycles held everything from our food to extra layers—my sleeping system strapped to the handlebars and water on my back. The mobility of the bicycles allows for many different options depending on the goals of the trip. Even with beginner bicyclists we covered 70 miles in a span of two days. Throughout the large distance the group traveled through desert sand, groves of aspen trees and back to desert canyons and spires.
Looking into Canyonlands…
The toughest part of the excursion was when we took an unexpected turn traversing the west side of the Bridger Jack Mesa. This four wheeled ATV track, known as the Bridger Jack Mesa Road, traverses the west side of the mesa revealing breath-taking views in all directions. The challenge of the trail was the exposure it presented to us riders. On our right were the steep walls of the Bridger Jacks, which so many climbers (including many of my own peers from Fort Lewis) flock to from all over the west. On our left was a dramatic fall into yet another steep canyon. Our mission was to ride the rocky doubletrack between these two obstacles. Many pedal strokes later and after several flat tires our group made it to county road 211—the end of our weekend’s journey.
Riding on the edge!
The weekend offered many new opportunities and opened my mind to the new possibilities that bikepacking presents to advance different adventures. I consider myself lucky to live in the four corners area, a region with many possibilities for adventures and to have the support of the Outdoor Pursuits program. I look forward to packing my life on a bike and finding more two-wheeled adventures on our amazing planet.
The “stoke” was high on this trip!
About the author: Josh Larsen is a Fort Lewis College senior majoring in Adventure Education. On April 27th, 2013 Josh will graduate and begin his next big adventure…real life or whatever that turns out to be…
The author, Josh Larsen, rallying some trail…
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I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.