What gear to take for a fat bike trip down the coast?
One nice thing about having taken so many bikepacking trips over the years (besides actually, you know, taking the trip) is that I don’t have to think about packing much anymore. I’ve got my systems dialed and know my preferences on all the big questions. Water? Chlorine dioxide pills over filters. Shelter? Fast-fly Big Agnes tents over bivvy sacks. Cooking? Yes please, on alcohol stoves with titanium cookware. I’m serious about saving weight, but not so serious that I don’t want a rainfly and a nice titanium mug of matte in the morning. Call me a civilized ultra-lighter, thank you very much, who knows how to pack for multi-day romps through the mountains.
I will say the only thing that continues to trip me up are shoes, which are always a choice between less-than-ideal options. Why can’t someone make a tough SPD shoe with a hiking sole? Is it really that difficult?
Fatbiking down Alaskan coastline, however, was a whole new ballgame. It’s all sand, sun, and wind. Or at least it was for us. Could just as easily have been all sand, rain, and encroaching hypothermia. You’ve got to be prepared for anything up there. Plus, packrafts. You need those and the accoutrements water travel requires. Here’s how I rolled.
Salsa Mukluk with a 22 x 20 gear. I’m more of a spinner than a masher and this ended up being a perfect gear for me. My trip partner rode a slightly stiffer gear and loved it. Personal preference rules the day here. For the type of trip we did (out-and-back with little to no bushwhacking) I wouldn’t even be averse to leaving on the rear derailleur. Our drivetrains got much less sand in them than I expected.
We kept front brakes on because we weren’t psychologically prepared to not have brakes…which was stupid. We didn’t need brakes. For my next flat, coastal trip, I’ll leave them at home.
Other bike stuff:
Revelate Designs frame, seat, and handlebar bags worked perfectly for us, and the harness on the handlebars worked perfectly for carrying our boats and paddles. The waterproof Terrapin seat bag was nice for paddling. There wasn’t much need for tools. We brought a good multi, a chain tool, a little pump, and a patch kit.
Though I think a teepee-style, single pole tent is ideal for this type of trip, we went with a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 3 because it’s what I had and it’s still pretty light. Because we were going in June when temps are warmest, I skipped a sleeping bag and went with a Brooks-Range 30-degree down comforter, which was great. Also a Therm-a-rest NeoAir sleeping pad, which is the best bikepacking pad in the known universe.
This was the tricky one, but actually not that tricky. I brought my favorite pair of bombproof Ibex bike shorts and a pair of ridiculously lightweight BackpackingLight pants, which aren’t made anymore and there’s nothing else on the market anywhere near as light (Why BPL, why? Please make more!). An Ibex LS hoodie was the perfect complement piece (actually brought a wool short sleeve shirt, too, but never wore it). I wore this combination for the entire trip, including sleeping. Okay, I actually took off the bike diaper for sleeping, but the pants and shirt stayed on. This is pretty much the perfect adventure riding setup. The hoodie kept me warm but breathed well and offered sun protection when it got hot. Even though it didn’t actually get above the mid-70s, it felt hot when the sun was beating down like a merciless god for hours on end. Plus extended UV exposure for hours on end, day after day, kind of saps your will to live. Tuck the hood under your cap, put your thumb through the thumb loops, keep the pants on, and you’re about as protected from the evil orb of death (and life) as you can be and still functionally ride a bike.
Montane Atomic waterproof pants and an Outdoor Research Helium waterproof jacket gave me a stormproof shell layer and a Montane synthetic jacket provided insulation at night. NRS neoprene socks in Scarpa trail runners were perfect for the feet. With all of this stuff on at once, I’m confident I could have weathered any June storm the Alaskan coast could throw at us…I think. Plus, if the skies really unleash holy hell on you there’s always the tent and down comforter. Oh, I also brought a pair of cozy wool socks for sleeping, because everyone needs a cozy pair of socks for sleeping.
Though I’m a fan of Mountain House freeze-dried dinners and warm breakfasts, we figured there’d be plenty of dry wood for fires and decided not to bring a stove. This was a mistake. Finding readily burnable wood proved more challenging than expected and once we did get fires going we spent a lot of time getting ember beds ready to boil water. You could do a lot worse things with your time than sitting around campfires on the Alaskan coast, mind you, but we spent too much quality low-tide time cooking when we should have been riding. If you plan to cook much, bring a stove.
For breakfasts I went with instant oatmeal, nuts, and dried cranberries. And yerba matte, of course. Morning without matte is a dark and scary place. For on-the-go food I made sure to bring a minimum of 1,500 calories per day, mainly nuts, granola bars, Hammer Bars, and Pro Bars.
I brought a titanium pot, spoon, and mug with a coozie on it to keep that matte warm.
The biggest packing debate I had was probably what backpack to use. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs are ideal for this type of trip, but their ultralight, frameless design is less attractive when you’re carrying a crap-ton of camera gear (Canon 5d Mark III, a 70-300, 24-105, 17-40, and a 15mm fisheye! Plus batteries, a Joby GorillaPod, and a Canon S110 point-and-shoot.) So in the end I went with an Osprey Variant 37 for the extra robustness and structure it offered. The Variant ended up being the perfect size for the trip, and not so big that it made pedaling difficult.
I used Hyalite Gear lightweight dry bags to hold my gear in the pack, which kept things organized and dry in case of storms or flipping while paddling. I also brought my trusty Nikon Travelite 9x25 binoculars for bear/wolf/whale watching and a SPOT unit for emergencies. My possibilities kit contained a Petzl E-lite, first-aid supplies, super glue, bailing wire, duct tape, waterproof matches, emergency fire-starter, a Leatherman S2, a one-ounce tube of Sawyer picaridin bug repellent, a two-ounce tube of sunscreen, and a tiny tube of Hammer Seat Saver for the nether regions.
ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER
Writer and photographer Aaron Teasdale has taken bicycle tours on six continents—pioneering routes in the Andes, dodging Maasai warriors and herds of giraffes in Tanzania, exploring the former war zones of Vietnam with his veteran father, and piloting a tandem with a trail-a-bike on the back with his two sons on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route for six weeks—and would gladly go back and re-ride any of them any time. Except maybe for Trenton, New Jersey, which he rode through with the bike-touring band Bicycle for a story in BIKE magazine about ten years ago. That town was seriously sketchy. A former editor for BIKE and Adventure Cyclist magazines, he currently lives, rides, writes, and shoots in Missoula, Montana with his wife and two boys. You can read his story about the trip in Sierra magazine here.
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