I was loading up my bike for an overnighter last spring. Scott and I had hatched a bikepacking plan that involved riding, floating a river, and doing some side hikes along the way, so there were a lot of things to think about. Onto the bikes went boats, PFDs, paddles, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a tent. Two days’ worth of food, stove, utensils. Bike repair tools. Boat repair patches. We carried everything needed not only for a bike ride, but for a hike and a river trip as well. Our bikes rode like loaded-down pigs.
It seemed absurd. What happened to the light and fast bikepacking of my past? The days of racing, where I was on a set route and only brought the bare minimum, seemed long gone. I was missing the simplicity of eat-sleep-ride-repeat, where there were no decisions to be made at intersections, only a line on the GPS to follow. Racing always provided me a great framework for pushing personal limits, but speed just didn't interest me anymore. So I found other ways to challenge myself.
Since my last bikepacking race in the spring of 2013, Scott and I had managed to make bikepacking more and more complex. A four-month trip on the Continental Divide trail trying to suss out which parts of the "hiking" trail were open to bikes and worth riding; a few open-ended trips to New Zealand, where each intersection was an opportunity for a decision; multi-sport trips that involved riding to the bases of mountains and hiking up them. The addition of packrafts this past year added a whole new dimension: now we were thinking about trail quality and whether a route passed through private land or newly-designated wilderness areas, as well as water levels and water safety.
Multi-sport trips are hugely satisfying. Bikes can get you where cars can't. Foot travel can get you to where bikes aren't logical or legal. Boats open up whole new areas of maps that were previously inaccessible. Combining multiple forms of transport allows for some unique trips that can’t be done with just one.
Route planning also provides its own rewards. There's nothing better than opening a map of an unknown area, charting a route through it, figuring out the logistics to make a trip happen, and then going to see what there is to see.
But extra sports lead to extra gear, and unknown areas lead to extra stress. Sometimes the hassle just didn't seem worth it.
Late in fall, Scott came across a four-day bikepacking loop on Bikepacking.com that went through an area that we'd both been interested in. We'd done some hiking and canyoning in the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument but hadn't really gone deep into the area. This loop drew a handful of lines through the heart of the monument, and the pictures on the trip report looked intriguing. As desert dwellers, the landscape didn't feel overly intimidating.
It had been a long time since we'd embarked on a route that someone else had created, scouted, and written up. It seemed so easy to pack the bikes just for riding. With chilly overnight temperatures predicted, we didn't pack quite as light as we would have for racing, but it wasn't far off. Our bikes felt light and nimble. We had documented water sources and a pretty good idea of what the roads would be like. With a set route and time frame for the trip, there were going to be very few actual decisions we'd have to make.
It was delightfully simple.
For four days, all we had to think about was pedaling and enjoying the landscape that surrounded us (and what a landscape it was!). It was a far cry from the logistics involved in trying a new route, adding other activities, or being on an open-ended trip where the possibilities are endless, but the difficulty lies in making choices. Temperatures were mild, and the water plentiful by desert standards. There wasn't a whole lot that we were concerned about.
And I have to say, it was amazing. I loved it. There is a time and place for exploring and pushing limits, and then there's a space for simply going out for a bike trip and enjoying the routes and research of others.
And sometimes, just going out for a ride is plenty satisfying enough.
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When Eszter Horanyi was in second grade, living in Tucson, Ariz., her dad bought the entire family Schwinn mountain bikes; she’s been riding ever since, dabbling in racing disciplines from road, to cross, to track and mountain biking. Most recently she’s loving adventurous long rides, bikepacking and exploring the world from two wheels. zenondirt.wordpress.com