Our love for traveling by bike emerged a few years ago between Victoria, British Columbia and San Diego, California, during our very first cycle tour. Since then, the idea of getting off busy highways and onto gravel backroads and trails has become more and more appealing. Fortunately, North America’s backcountry is covered in forest service roads, fire roads and mixed use trails, providing all the backcountry access a bikepacker could dream of!
When we travel by bike we aren’t in any particular rush. It’s all about the journey; the places we discover and the people we meet. We like to keep our schedule flexible so there’s plenty of time for nature breaks, coffee and the odd mechanical failure. The unexpected will happen when you’re bikepacking, and if you pin yourself down to a rigid schedule, it’s hard to enjoy the adventure.
Some of the people we meet think we’re crazy, ultra-fit athletes when we describe some of the trips we do, but that’s not the case. We wanted to share our experiences and to prove that bikepacking can be a leisurely way to travel despite athletic and technical ability. So, in 2015 we launched the Steel + Rubber blog as a way to document our adventures and encourage cyclists and non-cyclists to try bikepacking.
We tend to pack a similar amount of stuff despite the length of the trip. We always have the same amount of cooking supplies, camping gear and about two days worth of clothes. Everyone packs differently depending on their gear, bike set up and their own comforts. If it’s your first trip out, just pack the bare essentials. Our biggest mistake on our first tour was over packing a pile of clothes (including a few pairs of jean shorts), a heavy telephoto lens and a tripod that was never used. Neither of us are obsessed with shaving every gram off our bikes, but having light gear makes a difference.
We also make sure to have lots of water. We normally carry a water bladder, a water filter and our water bottles when exploring remote places. We also find it essential to pack two shammies (padded shorts). You don’t want to wear those things more than once without washing them. If there is flowing water nearby, we wash our clothes by hand and hang them in a sunny spot to dry. Other then that there really is no special formula for what to pack; everyone cooks differently and has different set ups.
Bikepacking is an excellent excuse to eat lots of delicious food. We always load up our handlebar bags with snacks, so we can fuel up while riding. It’s far too easy to get “hangry” when you’re out on the trail especially if the food isn’t accessible. Our favourite snacks include trail mix, boiled eggs, gummies, crackers, salami and cheese. If we’re riding in the heat we avoid soft cheeses which tend to get sweaty!
We like to cook hot meals for dinner but usually keep it simple, especially after a long day of riding. Some of our top meals include curry with rice or quinoa and instant ramen noodles with fresh veggies and an egg. For short trips, we usually prepare our meals at home so it’s quick and easy to throw together at camp.
What to expect on your first bikepacking trip
We have recently taken friends out on their first bikepacking trip which got us thinking about some important things to keep in mind:
It will take longer than you expect to get from point A to B. Our average speed during our daily commutes can be thrown out the window. Riding a loaded bike: navigating new terrain, (which of course needs to be constantly photographed) then having to factor in all the food breaks; distances which should take a few hours can easily turn into a full day of riding. On more than one occasion we have been racing the setting sun to get into camp.
Everyone we have traveled with has been surprised they are not physically exhausted or sore after a day of riding. It is more the mental exhaustion which can be a challenge. Riding on backcountry roads with loose gravel and doing the same thing for an entire day can take a lot of concentration.
You will want to eat all day as you ride. We learned that we would need to eat way more than we thought on our first tour, luckily there were lots of amenities around but our food budget went out the window.
The best response we’ve received after bikepacking with friends for the first time is how easy it is. They were surprised they were able to achieve what they did. If you’re interested in biking and camping, you will easily be able to take on your first bikepacking adventure!
Follow the two-wheeled adventures of Mikhayla and Geoff on Instagram @steelandrubber.