We weighed our bikes at Northern Air Cargo in Nome, Alaska, before flying back to Anchorage and I was surprised to see that my extra-small Salsa Mukluk weighed in at 72 pounds—and that was without any food or water packed on the rig! What the heck did I have on my bike that made it so heavy?
I sure was glad that I didn’t know how much my bike weighed before the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI), because it would have definitely given me something to obsess about and blame for my tired legs. Keeping that negative out of my brain prevented me from digging myself into a deeper dark spot than I needed to be in out there. Casey’s bike was the lightest of the group, and Petr’s weighed in a little heavier than mine. It was just another time I laughed at the ridiculousness of what Petr, Casey, and I went through. Now that we’re all home I miss our inside jokes and how together we were able to have fun and stay positive despite Alaska throwing everything it had at us.
So how did I pack my Salsa Mukluk? I had a few alterations at the beginning of the ITI but after having to stop to adjust things on my bike I found the best solutions for the gear that I had. I think that’s one of the things that I love the most about multi-day trips—the ability to move things around and to really get a feel for the all-star items that make life better out there.
I utilized the mounts on my Mukluk’s fork by mounting the Salsa Anything Cages on the inside of the fork and Velocity bottle traps facing outwards. In the bottle traps I stashed a fuel canister with white fuel for my MSR Whisperlite International and a tool keg full of batteries in the other. I wanted the International Whisperlite specifically because of its ability to use white fuel, gasoline, or butane. Similar to why I stopped being a vegetarian for the ITI, I wanted to be able to use anything and everything that I came across out there. I wanted to be prepared for any scenario.
In the Salsa Anything Cages I stashed roll bags full of my “Oh Sh!t!” clothes:
These were the clothes that stayed dry no matter what and I could only access them if we were in a warm shelter and I was able to dry the clothes I was wearing or sh!t hit the fan and I absolutely needed dry and warm clothes. These were the items I was thinking about and grateful to have when we crossed through the Topkok hills. They were the items I would be thankful to have if I came across some overflow or fell through some ice somewhere along the way. Luckily, the Topkok cabin was stocked with wood and I never found myself in a scenario in which I would have needed these items. We were hit with a lot of cold weather at the beginning of the ITI but as we moved past Cripple the weather stopped dropping into the negatives. With warmer temperatures, I stopped using my vapor barrier sock and the roll bags on my fork stored them for me. I also began stashing dog booties picked up from the trail in those bags as souvenirs for friends back home.
On the Anything Cradle attached to my handlebar, I strapped my Z-rest sleeping pad and my Leatherman tool. I also had some stretchy paracord looped around, which enabled me to quickly strap items on top of my sleeping pad. It was a great place for me to stash a jacket quickly. After my coffee thermos was returned to me by a kind musher on the trail, I stopped strapping it to the front of my bike and began stashing it in the OR water bottle parka strapped below my saddle on the rear rack brackets. I originally had an insulated Camelbak bottle in the parka but after it froze completely through I ditched it when I got to a safety cabin. I figured someone else could make better use of it on the trail than I could.
On my handlebars I mounted my Garmin eTrex 30, a NiteRider Mako 250 light, a Bedrock Bags Tapeats handlebar bag, Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag, and my 45NRTH Cobrafist pogies. I stashed an insulated thermos in the feedbag and kept a rotating pile of snacks in the Tapeats bag. The fold-over flap of the Tapeats enabled me to keep my trail mix, cookies, snack bars, jerky, and gummy snacks dry between noms by folding over the flap when I wasn’t snacking. I opted to wear a helmet though they’re not mandatory on the trail because I do not mess with head injuries! I had another NiteRider 1200 Lumina light strapped to my helmet.
In my Salsa Top Tube Bag, I kept:
I also stashed cinnamon gum in this spot when I had it on hand! In my pockets I kept Chapstick, a valve-core tool, and a Joshua winter-stick for my face. I used all of these items a lot and was happy to have them in such readily available spots.
In my Salsa Fat Frame Pack I stored:
In the bottle trap and tool keg under my bottom bracket I stored matches, a lighter, fire-starter, some KT tape given to me in McGrath for my blisters, and one of my dog’s booties I brought from home that I used as my wallet. I chose to use three insulated thermoses to carry my water, opting not to use a hydration pack. Sometimes carrying water on my back makes it hard to regulate temperature and it can make my shoulders stiff. There were times when I wished I had my water accessible while riding but there were a lot of times when I would have had to stop to access the hose under layers of clothes anyways, and stopping to get a drink out of a thermos wasn’t a big deal at all. The thermoses definitely added weight but I was still happy with my decision!
I used small Bedrock Bags panniers, which I originally chose over my Salsa panniers because I could mount them lower on my rear rack and the smaller space would prohibit me from over-packing. I wound up cramming a ton of stuff into these panniers and had them filled to the max! Whoops. In the non-driveside pannier I stuffed:
I stashed my Naughtvind jacket in this pannier when I wasn’t wearing it so I could pop it on if I stopped to get anything out.
In the driveside pannier I stored:
I wore an Icebreaker wool sports bra, ExOfficio underwear, Sugoi Bun Toasters, and my Icebreaker wool leggings the entire time under a Patagonia Capeline Air shirt and my 45NRTH Naughtvind pants. When we stopped at places like Peace on Earth Pizza and the basement of the Elim City Building, I would switch my underwear and wash the old pair and my Bun Toasters and hang them to dry. (I finished the ITI without any saddle sores and I think it’s because I took the time to care about my hygiene and because of proper bike fit and a great bike saddle).
In the compression sack that I strapped to the top of my rear rack, I carried:
When we bivied outside, I slept in my boots and used the vapor barrier around my feet to keep my sleeping bag dry. I planned to use it if we needed to bivy and I wasn’t able to change out of wet clothes—luckily that opportunity never presented itself! The sleeping bag liner was clutch in places when my -40 degree bag was too warm, such as inside of bed and breakfasts, the Elim city building, and the ultra-hot Topkok cabin. Rather than zip-tying my Spot device on my handlebars or somewhere on my bike, I stored the device for Trackleaders inside of the compression sack and positioned it on the top of the roll. This gave me peace of mind that it would not fall off of my bike, which it did a handful of times—luckily Jussi K was able to find it and return it to me early on before Matt Lee made the suggestion that I store it differently at the Cripple checkpoint! When I knew that the weather was going to be warmer and that we weren’t going to get snowed or rained on, I stashed my puffy coat in this compression sack to free up some space in my panniers.
One of the things that I love so much about bikepacking is that you’ll find a new way to carry things every trip. The way I packed my bike was a culmination of things I learned throughout the years and what worked while on the trail. I tried my best to pack heavy things lower on the bike and to leave the front of my bike lightly packed to help prevent fatigue when wrestling through soft snow or pushing my bike. Overall, I was happy with what I brought, though three things I would pack next time are:
I found that I liked sausages and salami over beef jerky; I preferred hot apple cider to hot chocolate; and that dried apricots were hands-down way better than any gummy snack. Combos were almost too dry to eat on the trail and because we were constantly breathing in cold air anything spicy just had to go—while I’m regularly a hot-sauce fiend, I could not do anything spicy until about a week after being home from Alaska! Although we were constantly funneling food into our mouths and adding butter or coconut oil to our dehydrated meals, coffee, and oatmeal, we all still lost quite a bit of weight! I lost about 10 pounds over the course of 22 days, making me extra-grateful for the pair of Chums suspenders I bought the week before leaving for ITI. I was also happy that I packed fun things like the light-up glasses and notes from friends in my drop boxes because it boosted morale when I got to them.
There were times that we sarcastically joked about coming back to the Iditarod Trail, all completely over it and never wanting to do it again, but the more I think about it the more I do want to go back. It’s nostalgic thinking back to the trail times and although I know there were a lot of dark moments, there were a lot of bright times that you can only experience after going through the tough conditions. Raiding a friend’s drop bag and finding some delicious food that you had never thought of packing before, riding perfect trail conditions, meeting incredible people along the trail, sharing ridiculous experiences with new friends—it’s addicting and fulfilling. I am so thankful to have had this experience and was a little bit sad to be taking the winter gear off of my Salsa Mukluk this spring. ‘Til next time, ITI!
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The bicycle to me means a whole heck of a lot of things - friendship, community, exploration, the best job in the world, independence, self-reliance. I love that it can connect me with so many people and so many places, but I also love that it can disconnect me from those places and people.