A Perfect Introduction To BikePacking!
Recently, I was fortunate enough to participate in the BikePacking 101 Tour. The Tour was designed to help any mountain biker learn about bikepacking by working with experienced bike packers while we made our way around the Cohutta Wilderness Area. I was one of two participants. Jason, the other participant, was very far along in his preparation for his first major bikepacking endeavor, the Trans North Georgia Adventure (TNGA). Jason had already purchased much of the gear that he was planning on using and was in great shape. I, on the other hand, was more of a novice. I wasn't sure whether or not I would even enjoy bikepacking.
The opening day involved a 6-mile climb of 2,000 feet. Although I knew there would be climbing, I couldn't help but think about how difficult it would be to drag another 20 lbs. of gear up this climb. I had kept my bike pretty bare compared to the other riders. The only equipment that I had purchased for the ride was a 100 oz. CamelBak. The other riders had gear such as frame packs, lights, charging hubs, extra bottles with hydration, tents, and sleeping bags.
I had been reluctant about jumping on the bikepacking bandwagon. Most of the experiences that I had heard about involved racing and I just didn't want to work that hard. It also involved going over dirt roads and, God forbid, pavement. I always thought of mountain biking as traveling over gnarly singletrack.
I slowly started to come around, however. I realized that even these old dirt roads with beautiful views and high rollers can still bring mountain biking fulfillment, but just of a different kind. The focus is different. The preparation is different. The sense of accomplishment is different.
Much of the discussion focused on equipment. And much of the equipment is for when you are not riding. Brett Davidson showed us his Patagonia pants and shirt for after biking. This allowed him to walk into a restaurant if he were hungry and also afforded him some protection from the elements. He also showed off his stove like this one pictured here. I asked him if it was worth bringing the stove and titanium cup and he said that the morning coffee really helps. Power hubs creating energy made a great deal of sense when you consider your gps, your lights, and your battery. Supernova, SP, and Shimano make decent dynamo power hubs. A good resource for power and lighting can be found here.
I don't know if I would start with maps or use a gps, but ultimately a gps would make the most sense. Brett and Jason used bivy tents, but T. J., our other partner in crime, used a Hennessy Hammock. I liked that better as it seemed like I would get better sleep and stronger protection from the elements. Hydration was incredibly important. Even with my 100 oz. bladder and 20 oz. bottle, I didn't have enough. Brett had a Sawyer inline water filter that was easy to store and easy to refill. Planning for water stops was an important issue. Equally, we would discuss stopping by gas stations and convenience stores for restocking. Of course, that meant the pork rinds and Oreo Cookies may be part of the menu!
I think when I finally decide to try bikepacking, I will avoid the pressure and pace of a race and go for the adventure, scenery and desire to learn. I really found that it can be an entirely different kind of mountain biking adventure. Now if I can just convince my wife of the importance of dynamo charging hubs...