Photos by Brian Vernor for Blackburn Design
What is and what isn't bike packing? It's a question that's been on the tips of more than one tongue as one attempts to sort through everything that came out of Interbike last week. And before we go on, it should be noted that previously I've been fully camped (pun intended) in the zone that is decidedly not related to bike packing. In fact, I could go so far as to say that I have never once felt the urge to own a "bikepacking bike" fatty tires and all. And now that I've gone through this #Interbikepacking extravaganza I can definitely say...well, I'm undecided, but, DAMN if it wasn't a good time!
Actually, now that we're into the splitting hairs section of the article, it should also be noted that I own a bike that could very well be turned into one of these behemoths. Right Mr. Igleheart? That 29er could take 650's and transition well into a baby fat cruiser as our friend Cait would say. But, then there would be this whole dilemma revolving around how to actually get this bike and all this gear out into the wilderness. Do you just ride out your front door? Are you not "core" enough if you drive out somewhere to start? These are the questions that would rattle around in my puny brain and prevent me from actually going on a trip.
However, this is also why I liked our little Interbike trip so much; drop in, pick up your bike and gear, ride for a couple days, hand the bike back over, laugh about how hard it was.
Day 1 - Are We Rangers?
We picked up our bikes that our good friends at Blackburn Design had arranged for us. Jamis Dragonslayer (it must be all the rage because as soon as you start typing "Jamis Dr.." the Dragonslayer pops up for you to click on). This was a fun exercise in "you can't take it with you" like the play, not the movie. Layers of clothing were left behind or traded (Watts I'm going to need that shirt back at some point) out for warmer ones. Down jackets were stuffed deep into sacks that were then cinched down. Most importantly, ants, in what we should have taken as a strange bit of foreshadowing, got into and ate not one but two of my sandwiches. But, we'll get back to that later.
This was also the time that we were to meet our crew. It consisted of:
Hurl, Robin and Mark, Aimee, Jen, Two Chads, a Watts, GJ (as in THE Greg Johnson), Brian Vernor, Chef Mai, and myself. Neat pairing of twos if you ask me. Always someone new to talk to or bitch about the heat with or steal snacks from. Know your buddy and do not let them out of your site.
Not knowing anything about the actual packing side of the bike-packing was interesting. But, it was something that you can find out along the way. What's going to sway from side to side and be annoying? Where to clip your super cool Blue Lug cap? How accessible are snacks and cameras in those little bento boxes on top of your top tube? Very, it turns out. And most importantly, how do I use these lashes and straps on the fly (cinnamon bears and coca cola is the correct answer). Cinnamon Bears are SO GOOD. Don't care what you say.
"I just want something cold to drink" - Greg Johnson
We rolled out from Dirt Demo to a few excited whoops and cries that eased my thinking away from thoughts that this was going to be more a death march than anything. Plus, the bikes themselves were pretty fucking nimble when it came to maneuverability (+1 Jamis Dragonslayer). This is important when you're bombing down a path that feels a bit like that motorcycle chase scene in Terminator 2. You know, when they're jumping semi's and motorcycles around the LA river? But the Dragon handled it all well, and fully loaded too. The first bit of the ride seemed like it was going to be all down hill and no one seemed to be complaining about it either. And that's when we rolled across the Hoover Dam and started climbing. And climbing. And climbing some more.
Poop With a View Road Trip Tip:
"The Hoover Dam Has the coolest bathrooms in all the land" - Brian Vernor
It was about this time that the light was starting to fade. Well, to be more accurate, first it lit up like a fire in the sky and then it faded away into darkness. I wondered aloud how we were going to navigate the "trail" section that was allegedly coming up. This is when things started to get fun. You know the kind of fun I'm talking about, where you pedal pedal pedal and try to keep that rear wheel heavy and in contact with the ground because all it's doing is fishtailing from side to side. That's the kind of fun that we were dealing with in the dark.
Then there was the boulder crossing. A few slight folks with us slipped under though an opening that the two boulders had provided. But that was the only thing that would be going that way. The bikes themselves, those hulking behemoths, had to be dragged, turned, lifted and twisted through an opening that surprisingly allowed their passage. Watts and I had a system. Stay away from our system, stop sweating our system, we're sweating over here.
That was about all the adventure for day one. Sure, we still had some time to search around in the darkness for our firewood and food stash (we never found it) and we went to bed a little hungry, but personally I was feeling good and very generous in the "that's supposed to happen on a bike packing-trip" department. And while we searched that scrub brush in open toed sandals for creature comforts that we wouldn't find until daybreak — or set up our tents on top of fire ant colonies — we constantly reminded ourselves that we were "really out there" and at the very least we weren't being bombarded by the neon lights that are the strip.
Luckily someone had the forethought to load Mark and Robin up with a couple bottles of Makers Mark so, we stretched out on our Big Agnes inflatable mattress' and looked at the sky where the stars should be. Mmmm. Empty bellies warm better, quicker. And this allowed us a nice stretch of time to forget how hungry we were (pass the trail mix) and verbally contemplate what we had just done. Which, if we're going by my record book, was a lot. Or at least it was for me. Hurl seemed to be in "the zone" up there with his bike, we never saw him all day. Watts and Greg were right there with him, but the rest of us? fuuuuu. We were doing it, out there living it up! As Vince Staples would say at this point "on three lets jump off the roof." Maybe that quote isn't applicable here, but maybe it is.
"Well, that's about enough for me." Aimee said and she stood up and brushed the beach gravel from her hands. And that seemed like as good a time as any to call it a day.
Greg, far right, it literally freaking out in this photo.
Day 2: We Are Definitely Not Rangers
We can be singers. Because dammnit, we can sing. Don't go chasing waterfalls (we were really thirsty at this point). On the road again. A rendition of Shai's If I Ever Fall in Love - yeah, we did that too. Turns out no one is a fan of that song like I am. No big deal. Cool it now guys, ok? You're gonna lose control.
Anyway, we awoke to steaming pots of oatmeal with freeze dried blueberries (do this!) and lots and lots of coffee. The perfect setup for that small shovel and the even smaller roll of TP that was being passed around. No one wants to ride around on an 85lb bike all backed up. Believe you me.
Watts found the stash of goodies! There was chocolate (eaten by ants), firewood (it was the morning) and some chicken breasts that were supposed to be our dinner (ants too?). We would find out only later that the goof troop that were supposed to make the drop had their own little adventure while trying to stash our party supplies and maybe we weren't the only thing on their minds, like we had previously thought. Fear not, the river search and rescue was deployed and they were found before sunrise.
Just as soon as we were awake it was apparent that it was time to start packing. I guess that's what you do when you're bike packing right? Greg just kept wandering around camp going "are we getting up now? I guess no one wants to sleep in?" Surprisingly (or not, if you're into these type of things) everything found its way back into its proper stuff sack. And, in all actuality, when I was packing it myself (no offense Mark and Robin, you were packing for 12) I found a few ways to batten down the hatches, as it were, and make for an even tighter rolling bedroom.
Hurl wanted that blue jacket so badly that he bought it on eBay! Bring Back Giro New Road.
And just like that we were off...on a boat. A very big boat with a very serious captain to make a trip across a freezing cold body of water and start the journey back to Boulder City.
This second leg (depending on how many deaths you died the night before) of the adventure would prove to be even harder. Sure, we had daylight, but the lethal combination of ankle deep pea gravel, hot hot heat (not the band) and trouble actually sticking to an actual route (it got a little dicey in there when we realized that we would have better luck riding off the trail rather than on it) kept us on our toes.
"You can't go wrong, there are no more turns" - Robin just before the road split in three.
This was to be a day of climbing. Maybe the darkness had taken over our minds when we were rocketing towards our camp spot the night before, so we had fully yet to realize what it would mean to climb back out of that elevation hole. What this did though, all this climbing, was shatter the group to pieces — stick with your ride partner folks! But, at some point you have to come to the realization that you've just got to put your head down and (gravel) grind it out to the top.
There must have been something in that candy that found their way down from Portland. I swear, we ate a few pieces of it and the day just flew right by. I was seeing stars, bright lights, falling down, getting back up and snaking my way through the scrub brush. It was either that or the fact that the river guide who rolled up on our campsite that morning raised his bushy eyebrows at the fact that we were only using our water filtration system and not our filter AND tabs. Great, thanks for putting that doubt in our heads friend. I'm still waiting for it to strike.
Don't be fooled, that's a dehydrated desert tortoise.
Apparently you're not supposed to sneak up on a desert tortoise. If you scare them they could pee themselves and promptly die of dehydration. I don't know who told us this story while we were out there, but it seemed applicable. Especially that one time I couldn't clip out just as I caught up to Aimee and promptly flipped over into the sandy earth. She looked back just in time to watch this desert tortoise flip, flop and slide all over trying to unclip from beneath my bike. Not a funny feeling, but funny to watch I'm sure.
We laughed about it later. Rather, Aimee did then, silently, thank you, and then we did again later.
We laughed about a lot of things later actually. The two guys that were supposed to make the food drop. We laughed with them. Ha ha. Not funny. We laughed with the Jamis guys about how rad the Dragonslayer is. We drank a bunch of beer all at once and laughed at Old Man Hurl's reading glasses. He didn't hear us anyway. Sorry Hurl. Love you. We even laughed a bit at whomever's idea it was to each a bunch of chocolate covered espresso beans before trying to sit still through Blackburn's new move (see below). We also laughed at ourselves when Robin started handing out patches. We thought this was our time, that we were going to be properly knighted into the Blackburn Ranger program. "Oh hell no" was Robins response when we questioned him. Well, I guess that's what you get for being a bunch of ding dongs.
We could not stop laughing. I would say literally, but that's implied. Literally.
Ok fine, I'm not going to lie, I'd do it again.