Bikepacking Tips Learned the Hard Way

Darkness set in only a few miles earlier than we reached Lake Powell. We closed in our focused tenting spot for the night time after using 70-odd miles on tough and rocky four×four roads. Through 9 hours of warmth and solar publicity, and some falls on technical climbs and difficult descents, I assumed, “What’s the worst a few downhill miles could be?” and continued pedaling the house stretch to the lake. Oh, was I incorrect. It might be worse.

Our group donned headlamps as we started the gradual descent into a decent sandstone canyon. Soon 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 received furry.

Andy Cochrane

While some journeys go to plan, this explicit bikepacking journey didn’t—the truth is, the plan was modified earlier than we even began. Originally, we had been headed to Big 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 a substitute, to deal with a gravel loop round Grand Staircase-Escalante. We rendezvoused at the sprawling nationwide monument’s customer middle to run by way of gear, fill water, go over maps, and do a shakedown trip earlier than departing the subsequent morning. The night was upbeat and filled with laughter slash naïveté that had a manner of bringing out the optimist in us all.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

After a four-day slog, we finally made it again to the vehicles, finishing a 280-mile loop on blended roads. To be sincere, I’m nonetheless not precisely certain how we did it. No accidents (nicely, perhaps some bruised egos), no mechanical points, and no fights. Just a couple of shut calls, however none we couldn’t remedy. The hardest 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 cross out in a heap as the solar was setting. Then stand up and repeat.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

Our desert bikepacking journey did have some classes, they simply didn’t floor instantly. I’ve discovered myself lacking these heinous climbs, appreciating the onerous conversations we had, and laughing about the chilly nights once I couldn’t really feel my toes. At first it felt like nothing went proper: water was inconceivable to search out, the group needed various things and pedaled at completely different paces, and the solar and wind had been relentless. But in actuality, these had been principally constructs in my thoughts. After time to mirror, right here’s what I discovered.

 

1. Even throughout a worldwide pandemic, large adventures are attainable. But orchestrating a visit simply takes somewhat extra time and work. For instance, all eight of us received examined for COVID-19 per 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 individuals exterior our group. Putting all these measures in place, it’s attainable to journey and journey responsibly.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

2. Always have a backup plan—and one other backup plan. We discovered 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 wholly new loop in case your water sources run dry (see under). If you’re bikepacking by way of terrain as distant as southern Utah, ensure you print or obtain all your mapped backup choices earlier than you get began. I had a couple of routes loaded on my Garmin Edge 1030 earlier than the journey, however nonetheless may have executed extra contingency planning.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

three. Bring the proper tires. It’s vital 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 strong grip for free terrain, but nonetheless let me roll rapidly on smoother sections of highway at simply 38mm vast. My solely miscalculation was the sand. A 45mm tire would have helped there, however been a bit slower on the paved sections of highway we encountered. Durable and dependable, I had no points with flats or punctures.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern Utah extra beersAndy Cochrane

four. You can by no means have sufficient snacks. I favor quite a lot of savory and candy on lengthy endurance missions, and customarily attempt to get hold of snacks with ample sodium, electrolytes, and amino acids which assist muscle mass and psychological acuity. I additionally hunt down liquid energy like GU Energy Labs Roctane Drink Mix, perfect for warm race days and lengthy slogs in the desert. Nutrition varies rather a lot by the particular person, however nearly everybody ought to strive drink tabs and produce a Ziploc of electrolyte capsules.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

5. Safety is horny. When you’re using a motorbike loaded with 50-plus kilos of meals, water, and tenting gear, simple trails are trickier than anticipated. We needed helmets that might breath, be snug for lengthy days, and nonetheless shield us if we made a mistake, which occurs rather a lot whereas using by way of sand in the darkish. I used a Ventral Spin from POC paired with Aim sunnies. No complaints with this combo. Trying to not burn, all of us introduced our personal ChapStick and sunscreen and utilized them steadily and liberally.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

6. Smooth out your trip. Long gravel rides have a manner of breaking your physique, even for the most seasoned riders. Some 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 Specialized Diverge which has an modern entrance suspension known as the Future Shock, with 20mm of journey. This smooths much more than you’d count on. I additionally wore a pair of Long Sr Gloves from Hestra and my arms had been very grateful.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

7. Think about water. Then give it some thought some extra. This was very true for us, whereas using throughout the desert. It could also be much less related on journeys in moist locations 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 manner. With only one refill on daily basis (usually at our campsite), we had been pressured 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 known as the Guardian Gravity, which has a big 10-liter quantity and filters out almost all the things.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

eight. Pack as mild as attainable–with out freezing at night time. Just a few kilos could make an enormous distinction, particularly over a protracted distance. Try to chop out duplicates, lower luxurious gadgets, and produce gear that’s versatile. We opted to share stoves and water filters to chop weight, solely carry a pair first assist and restore kits, and pack simply sufficient heat layers to get by. This is a difficult steadiness in the desert with scorching days and chilly nights (our final night time it dropped under freezing). I introduced a Patagonia light-weight bag and to remain heat, a Puffer Hoodie from Topo Designs.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

9. Learn 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 reasonably a take a look at of stamina to see if we may simply maintain pushing by way of. On large climbs I used to be grateful to have a SRAM AXS Eagle cassette and groupset, a know-how imported from the mountain biking world. This allowed me to avoid wasting energy and energy, due to a 52-tooth mechanical benefit.

Grand Staircase-Escalante bikepacking expedition southern UtahAndy Cochrane

10. Even once you’re drained, heat meals is value it. Some bikepackers lower weight by leaving their range and gasoline at house, however I promise you it is a mistake. A MSR Pocket Rocket 2 and a Good to Go Cuban Rice Bowl is actually the identical weight as a meal of path combine, cheese and salami, and the heat is a big morale booster after a protracted day of pedaling. Sure, it takes somewhat little bit of time to boil water, however this night ritual grew to become one thing we might sit up for as we took a couple of minutes to course of the day.

 

— See more moderen dispatches from Cochrane, together with a bike-to-ski circuit of Pacific Northwest volcanos, a have a look at life on an Alaskan crab boat, protection of the Baja 1000, and the story of an emergency canyon evacuation deep in the Mexican jungle.

 


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