A growing group of adventurers in Central Oregon is seeking more creative means to escape the crowded campgrounds and trailheads. Like peanut butter and chocolate, avocado and toast or whisky and an ice cube, bikepacking is earning its rightful place on the recreational menu. Rather than sticking to roadways and paved paths, bikepackers cobble together routes on gravel and dirt roads, single track trails and off beaten paths. Gary Meyer, who recently rode 2,745 unsupported miles from Banff to Mexico, got hooked because he says he "loved riding bikes and backpacking for years, but no longer enjoy(s) wearing a backpack. Bikepacking was a natural fit for me, because the bike carries the load."
How to start bikepacking
Get fit: Riding a bike on bumpy trails with added weight of gear does require some fitness. USA Cycling Coach and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Chris Glover recommends simply starting by getting on your bike. "Get to know your bike and get in as much mileage as you are able, because lack of training is setting yourself up for potential injury. We have to walk before we can run," he says. Glover also notes that "cyclists tend to put emphasis on the legs, but the hips and core are the 'powerhouse.' Weakness here sets us up for many types of overuse injuries and imbalances."
Get packed: Hardtail mountain bikes and drop-bar gravel bikes are best. Plus-size and fat tire rigs produce a smoother ride while providing more tire contact area for loose dirt or gravel.
"Ride what you have. No need for a special bike," says Meyer. Commercially available soft-bags, like those made by Ortlieb and Revelate Designs, have helped fuel the growing interest in bikepacking, but they're not absolutely necessary. Dry bags and compression stuff sacks work great for loading up the space in front of your handlebars and behind the seatpost. Meyer says, "put your gear in a dry bag and strap it to your bike with a ski strap. For your first foray, pick up a burrito for dinner and breakfast on the way out of town. Leave the stove and cookware at home, as there is no need to complicate things."
Tom Karren, Bend local and avid bikepacker, remembers the best advice he ever received. "A local shop owner told me not to get the largest capacity bag I was pining over. I said I WANT IT. He said, "No you don't. You will just fill it up." A ground pad, a lightweight sleeping bag combined with tarp, hammock or tent are all bike-packable overnight gear options. Light is the name of the game. "I carry about 10 pounds less gear than I did when I took my first big trip," says Karren. "It only takes a few times out to fully understand the backcountry mantra, 'Everything you need and nothing you don't."
Get going: Get a map. Make a plan. Having basic bike maintenance skills, like fixing a flat or broken chain, will keep you rolling during times of mechanical duress. Karren says, "Take a modest repair and medical kit. You only need enough to get you to the next town as opposed to performing triage to the 7th Infantry, or having a toolkit big enough to open a bike shop."
With any endurance activity, "It's important to fuel our body as we continue activity or we'll simply run out of gas and bonk," says Glover. "I recommend regular intake of carbohydrates throughout the ride in some form at least once an hour." Quick to emphasize its importance, Glover says, "Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! If you wait until you are thirsty, you might already be too late."
EASY (1-2 days) - Deschutes River from Heritage Landing upstream
MODERATE (3-5 days) - Waldo Lake to Sisters via the Metolius-Windigo trail
CRUSHER (5+ days) - Oregon Timber Trail. 669 miles. 69,000 feet of elevation gain. 20-30 days. 4 tiers. 10 segments. You get the idea.