I’m not very “sporty." Skateboarding, hiking, and now cycling have all played major roles in my life. But the element of competition has never been palatable to me. When 2020 happened, bikes suddenly seemed like the solution for getting out more often, getting out farther, and mixing some meaningful exercise into the weeks and months of staying inside to avoid the plague.
Before I found my cycling niche, I generally felt put off by the spandex, the speed, and the narratives of conquest that one often encounters in cycling imagery and its corresponding culture at large. I don’t want to defeat nature, or even necessarily challenge myself. That feels like an indulgence in the “self," which is precisely the thing I seek to dissolve by immersing in the outdoors.
When I’m going outside, I’m trying to reconnect with the source and detoxify all the digital brain plaque that comes with working on the Internet in 2021. Nothing right now gets me there faster than ripping a bike through the woods loaded down with camping gear.
"Nothing gets me out of my head, into my body, and immersed in the experience like a little psychedelic boost."
It sounds funny, and I’ll shoulder any “hipster bikes” critique without much chagrin—but you can literally just get on a steel bicycle with some bags in your regular clothes and pedal your ass to wherever you want. I want to be clear here—I’m not an expert. I’ve done overnighters only a handful of times, and I have a lifetime of learning to do in the saddle. But I've got my wits about me.
When I first started what folks call “bikepacking," I scoured the internet to find people in the cycling world like me and my friends. People who don’t mind going slow, taking in the sights, and cultivating comfort and ease around camp. With some patience, I found them. I’ve integrated their wisdom and experience and I’ll try to impart some of it here, for you, dear reader.
What follows are my 10 dos & don’ts for the bikepack-curious, who maybe never felt athletic enough for serious cycling but have felt the itch to give it try nonetheless. Take what’s useful and leave the rest.
The 10 Dos & Don'ts of Fun-Oriented Bikepacking
1. DO pay respect to the indigenous heritage of the land you traverse. Each time I spend a night or two in another people’s ancestral home, I pay them whatever I can afford as a little rental fee. It’s only a start, but ‘Land Back’ needs to go beyond acknowledgements. I use the Native Land app to find out whose home I’m in. Many tribes accept monetary donations, and there’s always N.A.R.F.
2. DO bring some comforts. When you’ve only got your back to haul everything you need, it’s sensible to limit yourself to the necessities. While bikepacking, you’ve got a bit of a mule in your bike. I often bring a flask, and some whole foods like carrots and apples. It’s nice to break up the dehydrated stuff. Once on a pretty miserable trip, the chunky wool sweater I packed was the difference between “miserable” and “super fucking miserable."
3. DO set your own pace. Many of my friends are faster than me. This has always been true whether I’m trekking or kayaking or on the bike. Listen to your body. Communicate with your crew, and make sure to keep an eye out for the back of the pack. Someone might have a flat, hit a wall, or just need a break. Everyone has different needs and different goals. Respect yours and those of your crew.
4. DO research your routes. Google Maps is fine. Services like Ride with GPS are better. Any time you can get info from other cyclists is a win. Bikepacking.com and The Radavist are great resources for finding trails and getting intel. Sometimes wildfires or slides might close a section of a trail, and you don’t wanna find out half a day’s ride from the nearest junction, do you?
5. DO bring mushrooms. My pals and I hardly get on our bikes without at least a microdose. Somehow those magic little guys give me superhuman hill climbing powers. I can’t speak for everyone, but nothing gets me out of my head, into my body, and immersed in the experience like a little psychedelic boost. Be safe. Know your limits. Don’t bomb hills tripping balls if you’re not an experienced psychonaut. It’s fun as hell if you are though.
6. DO stay open to the experience. Having a route is great, and arguably necessary. But stay open to detours. Change the plan as needed. We bailed off the Olympic Discovery Trail one night and ended up sleeping on an actual mini golf course so we could drink beer and cook hot dogs over a fire. It was beyond worth it and now we’ve still got miles of ODT left to explore.
7. DON’T field test new gear. It’s fun getting new stuff. You might and you should be learning which things are working and which aren’t each time you go out. But need to swap your pedals or try out a new rack? Take the time to test ride new gear around town a bit before you hit an overnighter. Shit can get pretty real when your rack fails, your basket drops into your front wheel, and you bite the trail fifteen miles into backcountry. Don’t let this happen to you. TEST YOUR SHIT!
8. DON’T forget your tools. Bikes are machines, and machines break. A simple multitool can save you pushing your rig to the nearest shop for a common drivetrain issue. Pliers, allen wrenches, spare tubes*, and a pump will get you through most of your standard ailments. If you wanna be advanced about it, bring some spokes and a spare derailleur hanger. *There’s a style of self sealing tire that uses latex goo instead of inner tubes and I strongly recommend!
9. DON’T harsh out the trail. Going fast is fun. Skidding through corners and kicking up dust might make you feel like a badass, but you might also scare the shit outta some hiker and their dog. Pay attention to your surroundings. I ding my bell every time I take a blind corner. It’s dorky but I suspect some day it’ll save me or another outdoorsist. Stay on bikes-only routes if you don’t wanna respect the horses, hikers, birders, and foragers who share the trail.
10. DO have fun and enjoy nature! That’s the whole idea here, right? Gear is cool. Lord knows I love finding cottage industry bag brands and kitting out my rig with a buncha cool Japanese whatevers. Learning new techniques will help you stay confident and engaged, but none of that matters if it doesn’t facilitate deeper human ←→ nature communion and higher stoke.
This kind of cycling might not appeal to a lot of people, and that’s fine. Lycra and logos and carbon fiber are all well and good for the things they’re good for. For my fellow unsporty folks… Bikes are for us too!
Scroll on for a selection of favorite images from a summer spend pedaling empty backroads in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
"I don’t want to defeat nature..."