Darkness set in just some miles earlier than we reached Lake Powell. We closed in our focused tenting spot for the evening after using 70-odd miles on tough and rocky 4×4 roads. By 9 hours of warmth and solar publicity, and some falls on technical climbs and difficult descents, I assumed, “What’s the worst just a few downhill miles may very well be?” and continued pedaling the house stretch to the lake. Oh, was I mistaken. It may very well be worse.
Our group donned headlamps as we started the gradual descent into a good sandstone canyon. Quickly sufficient, the ground turned to deep sand—forcing us to hike our bikes greater than we may peal, muttering unpleasantries between heavy breaths. Mentally exhausted, we finally made it to the pin marked on my Garmin, which ostensibly had potable water close by. That’s when issues obtained bushy.
Whereas some journeys go to plan, this specific bikepacking journey didn’t—in actual fact, the plan was modified earlier than we even began. Initially, we have been headed to Massive Sur for a coastal California bike traverse of the wilderness space, however forest fires and nationwide forest closures had pushed our resilient band of eight to southern Utah as an alternative, to deal with a gravel loop round Grand Staircase-Escalante. We rendezvoused on the sprawling nationwide monument’s customer middle to run by way of gear, fill water, go over maps, and do a shakedown journey earlier than departing the following morning. The night was upbeat and filled with laughter slash naïveté that had a means of bringing out the optimist in us all.
After a four-day slog, we finally made it again to the automobiles, finishing a 280-mile loop on blended roads. To be trustworthy, I’m nonetheless not precisely certain how we did it. No accidents (properly, possibly some bruised egos), no mechanical points, and no fights. Just some shut calls, however none we couldn’t resolve. The toughest journeys are sometimes a blur and this misadventure was no completely different. We’d get up sore, pedal till our legs screamed, cease for espresso and ice cream, pedal some extra, and finally move out in a heap because the solar was setting. Then rise up and repeat.
Our desert bikepacking journey did have some classes, they simply didn’t floor instantly. I’ve discovered myself lacking these heinous climbs, appreciating the arduous conversations we had, and laughing concerning the chilly nights after I couldn’t really feel my toes. At first it felt like nothing went proper: water was not possible to seek out, the group needed various things and pedaled at completely different paces, and the solar and wind have been relentless. However in actuality, these have been largely constructs in my thoughts. After time to mirror, right here’s what I realized.
1. Even throughout a worldwide pandemic, large adventures are potential. However orchestrating a visit simply takes a bit extra time and work. For instance, all eight of us obtained examined for COVID-19 every week earlier than our journey and quarantined earlier than assembly up with one another. We wore masks in public areas, introduced hand sanitizer, slept in our personal bivys, introduced separate meals, and customarily stayed away from folks outdoors our group. Placing all these measures in place, it’s potential to journey and journey responsibly.
2. At all times have a backup plan—and one other backup plan. We realized this numerous instances, whether or not it was a small reroute, a brand new place to camp, close by gasoline stations for restocking on snacks, or a completely new loop in case your water sources run dry (see under). In case you’re bikepacking by way of terrain as distant as southern Utah, ensure you print or obtain your entire mapped backup choices earlier than you get began. I had just a few routes loaded on my Garmin Edge 1030 earlier than the journey, however nonetheless may have executed extra contingency planning.
3. Convey the proper tires. It’s necessary to do your analysis and know the kind of roads and trails you’ll be using—that’s, not all gravel roads are created equal. I repeat, not all gravel roads are equal. I opted for G-One Ultrabrite tires from Schwalbe, which provide a stable grip for unfastened terrain, but nonetheless let me roll rapidly on smoother sections of street at simply 38mm large. My solely miscalculation was the sand. A 45mm tire would have helped there, however been a bit slower on the paved sections of street we encountered. Sturdy and dependable, I had no points with flats or punctures.
4. You possibly can by no means have sufficient snacks. I want a wide range of savory and candy on lengthy endurance missions, and customarily attempt to get your hands on snacks with ample sodium, electrolytes, and amino acids which assist muscular tissues and psychological acuity. I additionally hunt down liquid energy like GU Vitality Labs Roctane Drink Combine, ideally suited for decent race days and lengthy slogs within the desert. Vitamin varies rather a lot by the individual, however nearly everybody ought to strive drink tabs and convey a Ziploc of electrolyte capsules.
5. Security is attractive. Once you’re using a motorcycle loaded with 50-plus kilos of meals, water, and tenting gear, simple trails are trickier than anticipated. We needed helmets that might breath, be comfy for lengthy days, and nonetheless shield us if we made a mistake, which occurs rather a lot whereas using by way of sand at the hours of darkness. I used a Ventral Spin from POC paired with Goal sunnies. No complaints with this combo. Attempting to not burn, all of us introduced our personal ChapStick and sunscreen and utilized them continuously and liberally.
6. Easy out your journey. Lengthy gravel rides have a means of breaking your physique, even for probably the most seasoned riders. A few of that is inevitable—ache is a part of the journey—however that doesn’t imply you shouldn’t attempt to mitigate the worst of it. I rode a Specialised Diverge which has an progressive entrance suspension referred to as the Future Shock, with 20mm of journey. This smooths much more than you’d anticipate. I additionally wore a pair of Lengthy Sr Gloves from Hestra and my fingers have been very grateful.
7. Take into consideration water. Then give it some thought some extra. This was very true for us, whereas using throughout the desert. It could be much less related on journeys in moist locations just like the Pacific Northwest. We scouted 4 dependable water sources on the loop and, frankly, I want we had twice as many, even when it meant going barely out of our means. With only one refill day-after-day (usually at our campsite), we have been compelled to hold 6-plus liters on us. I introduced Sinskin 12 from Osprey Packs with a 2.5-liter bladder and 4 bottles to take action. I used to be additionally testing a brand new filter from MSR referred to as the Guardian Gravity, which has a big 10-liter quantity and filters out practically every little thing.
8. Pack as gentle as potential–with out freezing at evening. A number of kilos could make an enormous distinction, particularly over an extended distance. Attempt to lower out duplicates, lower luxurious gadgets, and convey gear that’s versatile. We opted to share stoves and water filters to chop weight, solely deliver a pair first support and restore kits, and pack simply sufficient heat layers to get by. This can be a difficult steadiness within the desert with sizzling days and chilly nights (our final evening it dropped under freezing). I introduced a Patagonia light-weight bag and to remain heat, a Puffer Hoodie from Topo Designs.
9. Be taught to like granny gear. With three back-to-back-to-back days of 75 miles over difficult terrain, we centered on staying regular, not quick. This wasn’t a race, however quite a check of stamina to see if we may simply preserve pushing by way of. On large climbs I used to be grateful to have a SRAM AXS Eagle cassette and groupset, a expertise imported from the mountain biking world. This allowed me to save lots of power and energy, because of a 52-tooth mechanical benefit.
10. Even once you’re drained, heat meals is value it. Some bikepackers lower weight by leaving their range and gas at residence, however I promise you this can be a mistake. A MSR Pocket Rocket 2 and a Good to Go Cuban Rice Bowl is basically the identical weight as a meal of path combine, cheese and salami, and the heat is a large morale booster after an extended day of pedaling. Certain, it takes a bit little bit of time to boil water, however this night ritual grew to become one thing we might look ahead to as we took a couple of minutes to course of the day.
— See newer dispatches from Cochrane, together with a bike-to-ski circuit of Pacific Northwest volcanos, a take a look at life on an Alaskan crab boat, protection of the Baja 1000, and the story of an emergency canyon evacuation deep within the Mexican jungle.
For entry to unique gear movies, movie star interviews, and extra, subscribe on YouTube!