Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Just Strap Some Stuff to a Bike and Go

Away back in 1980,  I lashed a sleeping bag and some clothes to my boat-anchor Japanese bicycle and followed my American Youth Hostels trip leader (barely older than the pubescent punks in his wake) over the length and breadth of New England. I liked it enought that, the next year, I rode the northern Pacific Coast the same way. In those Jurassic days, few Americans knew about this thing we called bike touring.

The author in July 1980, somewhere off the Pacific Coast Highway
Fast forward 35 years. After decades off the bike, I came to my senses and spent the last nine years buying and riding every kind of bicycle I could get my hands on. I've ridden on everything from glorious mountain roads to overgrown, unrecognizable double-track, to buff and sinuous mountain trails. All along I wondered if I would, at some point, return to the touring fold. People were certainly still doing it. Mostly very young people…

I looked at the pictures and thought, "Who would want to load a beautiful bike down with 40 pounds of luggage? It's so much more beautiful and spritely without it."

Then about five years ago, the young'ns started crowing about this new thing called "bikepacking." I guess it started out with someone piling a bunch of stuff on their bike—this time, a mountain bike—and riding it into the woods to sleep. While there, you could build a dangerously large fire, have a libation or two, and maybe listen to the owls hooting.

Hmm. Touring in the woods? Interesting.

These folk were folding in the ultra-light ethos of modern backpackers (another ancient pursuit overhauled for the 21st century). Also, moving the weight lower and more in line with the frame. This started to look like a solution for the elephantine nature of touring bikes.

Bikepacking setup  © 2010 The Lazy Rando Blog
Bikepackers also (being busy trying to keep their jobs in an overcompetitive, anemic economy) were very short on time. So they were going out for overnights, or weekend outings, and inventing cute names for them like the s24o and the microadventure. This meant you could pack less than ever on the bike—maybe even leaving it a little bit fun to ride.

My defenses were crumbling.

Finally, a couple weeks ago, I stumbled on this:
Heck, in India I met a Spanish guy who had cycled from Spain (over 15,000km) on a twenty-five dollar used bicycle which he had bought ten years before, and he couldn’t have been happier. If he isn’t proof that any bike will work, I don’t know what is […] The hardest part is taking that first step out of the door to leave, once you have left, the rest comes naturally […] Go out and try it. If you don’t have bike bags, don’t worry about it, just strap your backpack or a duffle bag to the back of your bike and head off for the weekend straight from your front door. 
I'm not too ossified to admit that this twenty-year-old young lady fired me up like a camp stove with this post. It was the last push I needed. I picked a weekend and started thinking creatively about how I could get a bona fide adventure in.

Where to stay? Too chilly for camping this time of year (for my blood), so my thoughts turned to the various cabin locations I've been researching in the area. I decided I could a) sleep warmer and b) haul less stuff if I went that route. I booked a lovely hut pretty far into the woods, with a wood stove, no running water or electricity, and well out of cell phone range -- but also less than a two-hour ride from my front door. Perfecto.

I'll ride up there Friday afternoon, fire up the wood stove and store up a bunch of water from the well. Then I'll make dinner and libations, and settle beside the fire with a book. In the morning, my friend Will, owner of Hampshire Bicycle Exchange in Amherst, MA, is going to join me for the second and third day. We'll spend the long middle day exploring all the dirt we can find, and return to town the following morning.

But wait! I don't have all those fancy bikepacking bags! 

Well, duh. I have a Salsa Vaya, a bike built for dirt road touring. It's got a rack and fender system perfect for commuting. Maybe I won't look like the trendy photos all over the bike blogs these days... but they Vaya been secretly pining to be returned to its natural habitat. What I do have is a huge, waterproof commuting pannier and a big ol' daypack: that ought to fit everything I need and then some. It'll be awkward and a little gooberish, but, yeah… whatever. I'll be riding a bike in the woods! Who cares if it's a little off-balance? 

The point of this exercise is to see if I really like this kind of thing. A bikepacking dry run, if you will. If it leaves me thirsting for more, maybe I'll get hold of some purpose-built bags and ride a fat or mountain bike next time. But if I'm not thrilled, I'll sure be happy I didn't spend $500 on the latest trend without knowing if it's really me.

Since I  got all of that mapped out, I haven't been able to think of anything else. The trip is three weeks away, and I've researched an 85% dirt route to the cabin, got a food shopping list going, as well as a long list of tweaks to the bike set-up to get through before roll-out.

And then, for even more fun, there are the shakedown rides!

Sunday morn, I strapped a simulated load to the Vaya, and took off for all of the gravel roads, double-track, and "is-this-really-a-road?" trails I could find. A few hours later, I was drinking coffee in a local breakfast place and writing down more to-do's. 

If I can't distribute the load a little more evenly for the real trip, I'll just work on my skills
You're never too old to get excited. Myself, I'm like a kid again these days, just thinking about the trip. Isn't that half of what adventures are for—the anticipation?

As the Wandering Nomads say on their blog: If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough. 




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Allison SMITH said...
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