This past weekend my friend Anna and I put together a last-minute bikepacking trip to a local county park … for one night. I booked the campsite, threw together a quick route, about 25 miles each way with different roads, and scrambled to get my bike packed up the night before.
Isn’t that a lot of effort for not a lot of payoff?
Sure. And because it’s only (basically) 24 hours or less, one can experiment with minimalism and going as light as possible. Do I need this for the next 24 hours? No? Awesome – not being packed.
For this overnight, I wanted to try out a few things:
38mm GravelKing SK tires (vs the 2.2″ Teravails that come stock on the Cutthroat that I’ve previously used for bikepacking)
Narrower Tires. For this trip, we had mostly pavement and smooth hardpack with the only chunky gravel in the county park. The narrower tires kept things light and quick, especially when the road started tilting upward. The narrower set up was squirrely in the chunky gravel so if this had been a longer trip, I may have switched to the 2″ tires for the added plushness and stability.
Compression Sack for front harness. I was able to cram my tent, sleeping attire, rain jacket, and a few other items into the compression sack and then smoosh it down to fit between my bars. Being able to thread the front harness straps through the compression straps felt more secure than my usual dry bag.
Inflatable sleep pad. I have only used the self-inflating kind so this was new. The Thermarest was extremely comfortable and warmth-retaining despite packing down well and being very light. However it does fit exactly under you so I had to figure out how to place my arms so they wouldn’t be laying on the ground (and cold). It crinkles when you roll over, which wasn’t awful but I was worried about waking up my friend every time I moved.
Ultralight, ultra-packable sleep system. The 50*F quilt, liner, and sleeping pad all pack down super small, making it easy to just toss in the seatpost bag.
Prepaying for firewood to be left at the site by the ranger. Once the sun went down, having a fire to hang out around was super nice. Not having to schlep it by bike was even better.
Water Drop. I was able to bribe my kid with gas money to drop off a few gallons of water for us at the campsite since there is no water available in the park.
ThinGs That Didn’t Work So Well
Summer-weight sleep quilt with spring overnight lows. I didn’t pay attention to the “comfort” limit being 57* for my 50* bag. So even with all my layers plus puffy plus thermal liner, I was chilly all night and slept superficially (low was 43*F) . Going to need to figure out how to bring my down 20* sleeping bag in the future for spring and fall bikepacking.
Forgetting to take my digestive enzymes with dinner. While my digestion has stabilized pretty well over the last 10 months, I still have issues with fats and sugars, especially at the levels most backpacking meals contain. The PackIt Gourmet Chili was delicious – but my guts were gurgling unhappily all night.
Shoes. This was a mix – they were very comfortable around the campsite but after a dozen miles or so or riding, I was getting uncomfortable under the balls of my feet. Likely because the shoes need to straddle being stiff enough for riding without being too stiff for walking around after. Seeing as these are a 2013 model that I bought for bike commuting but then never wore, I’m sure technology has changed and may be able to find something that straddles this divide better.
Somewhere to sit that’s not The Ground. Because we had the fire going, I rolled over a tree stump to use as chair. Anna brought a lightweight backpacking chair. Exploring the idea of getting a lightweight backpacking chair to bring for the good times spent hanging out around the campsite with friends. Need to weigh the weight to need return – but sometimes creature comforts make or break a trip.
Bikepacking overnights are a great way to satisfy the need to get away for a bit and try new things in a low-risk way. It also just feels cool to be riding around on familiar roads with everything you need for a day or a weekend while everyone else is just out for their weekend ride. The gear signals Adventure Is Happening and hopefully sparks others to explore their proverbial backyards too.
The first day of the year …. a day that no matter what we did activity-wise in the last 365 days, the slate is wiped clean. Back to zero. The grind starts again.
I’ll be starting my year with doctor-advised rest to let my body heal. I’ve managed to create an overuse injury that needs time and variety to heal and allow for future bike adventures.
But I can’t help but start imagining what I’m hoping this year will bring.
This year will be transformative. My youngest child is expected to graduate from high school and head off to college, meaning it will just be my husband and I and the dogs in a few short months. Younger Me, sitting in the hospital after birthing her first child, could only dream of the day when her house and time would be her own again. I blinked, time happened, and the house doesn’t need to be this big anymore. We’re looking forward to helping our youngest get settled into the start of their adult life.
I start a new job on Monday, one that I am very excited for and see myself growing with over the next few years or so. Professional growth is vital to my mental well-being.
Continue with therapy to build and maintain healthy boundaries and explore areas that need some work.
WALKING & HIKING – I plan to continue with daily walks as long as I am able to work from home. My senior dogs definitely appreciate that as well. Fresh air and all the smells. I picked up some trekking poles so I can get out and hike more without destroying my hips and knees.
YOGA – I started this year with a 10 minute meditation on Om and rededicating myself to a regular yoga practice. I’m not as disciplined when it’s home-based practice and I certainly look forward to when my studio can open back up. But I realize yoga is a huge part of my life that I miss. As I get older, my body also needs gentle stretching to stay limber and flexible.
BIKEPACKING – My arsenal of bikepacking gear is in good shape, so I’m planning to do more overnights/weekends and two longer trips:
* local overnights to various parks and forests in the Hudson Valley * Brace Mountain & Beartown (3 days) in the tri-state area * Roundabout Brattleboro (3 days) with some girlfriends, targeting June (pending vaccinations being readily available) * Taste the Catskills (3 days) triple century is a strong Maybe * Green Mountain Gravel Growler or VTXL (5 days) with my adventure partner (pending vaccinations being readily available)
GRAVEL EVENTS – I’m also keeping an eye on gravel events. Given covid’s unchecked community spread, I won’t be able to run the Frozen Apple again this year unless we do it late in the season. I signed up for Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder in May to have something to look forward to. But I’m also trying to keep it flexible because if 2020 taught us anything, it’s be ready to change plans.
I’m not sure yet if I want to target a bike goal this year other than having as much fun as possible. I love mountain biking and have been getting better in the last couple years, tackling terrain I previously was scared to think about. I enjoy riding on new roads and meeting up with friends to explore. I barely touch my road bike, but it’s super fun to ride because it’s titanium with carbon wheels so it flies.
Maybe it’s OK to just say I’m going to ride when I want and do other stuff when I want and find balance.
We have the whole year ahead of us … let’s make it a good one. See you out there.
nobody asked me for my opinion but you’re getting it anyway
Hey Laura, I’m interested in getting a gravel bike. What do you think I should get? Well … what do you want to do with that gravel bike?
I spent a lot of time reading about gravel bikes before pulling the trigger and getting one: various frame materials, geometries, gearing, and tires. It’s a lot. But it all comes down to what you are looking to do with your gravel bike.
Are you racing? Don’t buy a bike made for bikepacking. Prefer smoother hardpack to logging roads? You probably don’t need tire clearance for 2″+ tires. 38mm might be just fine. Want to load up your bike and disappear for a while? You need a bike that is in it for the long-haul too.
There’s other searches you can do to learn more about gravel specific bikes but here’s my recommendations based on my own research. Think about what’s important to you now and what you think you might want to try and get yourself a bike that will meet those needs and aspirations.
A word about bike brands: You will not see a Big Three bike on this list nor will you see Lynskey. Lots of people ride and love them. I have no beef with them (cue my girlfriends laughing hilariously about a certain brand I believe rides dead). If you have one and love it, keep riding it. More important than anything is the bike works for YOU and you WANT to ride it.
I prefer the “boutique” brands that cater to specific types of riders. All of the brands below are one I’ve ridden and loved because the bikes are spunky and fun. They WANT to be ridden and make it fun to explore. I subscribe to the Salsa ethos of Adventure by Bike and it remains my #1 brand.
Think about … Drivetrain (1x or 2x)
It’s a tradeoff – do you want lower gears or higher gears?
1x are good for general gravel riding and racing and yes, they do provide a similar range of gears as a compact road setup. If that works well for you, amazing. Get yourself a 1x set up. Enjoy!
For my purposes, DON’T BELIEVE THE 1x HYPE. Yes it’s lower maintenance and yes, it’s a cleaner aesthetic, but if you plan to do any bikepacking or major climbing, do yourself a favor and get a 2x and the biggest cassette you can MacGuyver onto your bike. You’ll thank me when you spin up steep hills like it’s Sunday morning while your riding pals grind it out and are ready for the post-ride beer well before you’re legs start complaining.
In the early days of my gravel riding, I mounted 26mm Panaracer GravelKing SKs to my titanium road bike and hit the dirt. This is the only gravel-specific tire I’ve found that comes in sub-30mm widths. GravelKing SKs are my go-to gravel tire for the low rolling resistance on pavement and just enough bite to handle most hardpack and light gravel roads in the Northeast. I like them so much I bought 38mm GK SKs for everyday gravel uses.
For bikepacking and mixed terrain that includes trails, I’ve been using the stock 2.2″ Teravail Sparwood that came with my gravel bike. When riding unladen, the wider tires are smooth rolling and P L U S H. Like riding in a La-Z-Boy down the road. When laden, the extra width provides stability, traction, and additional support as terrain changes.
In terms of width, wider tires generally have more rolling resistance so if you aren’t looking to ride in a place where width makes the ride safer and more comfortable, you don’t need the widest tires out there. Everyone has their preference for width, but generally 35-38mm works for a wide variety of situations. If you want the extra traction and stability in uneven terrain, look for clearance for 50mm or more.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER? Tires can be swapped to reflect the ride you’re doing or your preferences – but tire clearance on the bike can’t be changed.
When I took my Cutthroat out for the first few rides, I kept the stock 2.2″ tires on. The bike felt incredible on flats and descents – but sluggish as I pushed through the extra rubber on the ground when ascending. I started to question if I even liked the bike because I had done so much research but wasn’t able to test ride and omg what if I made a really expensive bad decision …..
Then I put on some 38mm GravelKing SKs and the entire ride feel changed. The bike was no longer sluggish on the uphill and I still felt confident screaming down descents, something I never did on my road bike with the narrow SKs. Swapping the tires aligned my lived experience with my research and the Cutthroat is now my favorite bike to ride.
Best for: mountain bikers, anyone looking for a swiss army bike that can tackle anything you throw at it, bikepackers
Pros: Confidence and stability come standard. The GRX hoods are much (thicker? wider?) than road hoods but that comes in handy when bombing down a chunky descent and you want something that helps you feel in control.
Cons: Overkill if you only ride manicured dirt roads and have zero interest in bikepacking. It looks like a mountain bike too so if you want that clean road-bike look, this isn’t for you.
Comments: This is what I ride. I bought this bike because I wanted to keep riding gnarly logging roads – just not with narrow tires. I also wanted to do more bikepacking (which I also started doing on my road bike) so a bike that can take me and my stuff anywhere I wanted to go was vital. I wanted ultra-low gears so I can climb every mountain and not get obliterated by the grind so I swapped in an 11-40 cassette. Paired with the subcompact 30-46 up front, my gear-inches are as low as 20. (calculate your gear-inches here – bikepacking/touring should be sub-23 with preference for sub 20)
Best for: roadies looking to go fast on dirt, gravel originalists, anyone looking for a sexy bike to take on dirty adventures
Pros: Look at this sexy bike! The first bike designed for riding on gnarly Midwest gravel roads before gravel riding was cool. The Warbird is a perennial favorite for good reason- it’s an awesome bike that will get you stoked on riding all kinds of dirt.
Cons: Definitely more road-end of the gravel bike spectrum although it looks like with the 2020 models Salsa updated the spec to be more bikepacking friendly (30-46 subcompact up front, 11-34 in the back).
Best for: Anyone looking for a really lightweight machine that crushes dirt and gravel for breakfast
Pros: Santa Cruz makes bikes that are just really stupid fun to ride. The Stigmata is no exception. Built around their deep background in mountain biking, the Stigmata and sister bike Quincy are for those who are looking for a lightweight bike that rips.
Cons: Only fits up to 47mm for a standard 700c. You can squeeze in a 2.1 if you get a new 650b wheelset … so not a pick for seriously-loaded bikepacking.
Best for: multi surface touring and those looking for a more traditional road bike aesthetic. To quote their marketing materials, it’s as if a mountain bike and a road bike got together …
Pros: STEEL IS REAL. and bombproof. This bike is going to take you places and still love you when it accidentally get dented by a wayward flying rock. 2″ tires are standard, which will make for a plush ride feel.
Cons: The standard gearing really only gets you down to 24 gear-inches, which is nowhere close to what a touring machine should come with. But it does split the difference of speed vs climbing. Steel can be heavier than carbon, if you care about that.
Hope this helps! If not, there’s plenty of publications that have Best Gravel Bike of <Year> on the web. You can also comment and I’ll do my best to help you figure out what to take a look at.
This year has been cray on top of the previous three years of political cray here in the US. At this point I’m pretty sure the Hadron Collider shuttled us into an alternate reality that we’re only now able to escape.
I’m sitting here two weeks from starting a new job, enjoying a few days off before becoming the New Kid At Work again. But wait, didn’t you just start a new job right as the pandemic unfolded? Yes, yes I did. Life is too short to waste time trying to please those who won’t appreciate it.
Despite the cray, it was still a pretty decent year. Instead of my usual bike pics, I’m going to share some of my favorite memes from the year because WHY NOT. For bike pics, check my Instagram.
We started the New Year back home in Colorado with family and friends. I continue to cherish spending the time together before the world seemed to fall apart. I celebrated Chinese New Year with my coworkers at a local Chinese restaurant. Laura, are you sure you want to go to a Chinese restaurant? You aren’t worried about coronavirus? Yes, I’m sure. I’m confident it won’t be an issue. I started a “training” series for those who wanted to ride my latest bike event brainchild, The Frozen Apple.
February involved more gravel riding, my youngest kid being featured in the school district art show, and a questionably-advised brewery and distillery trip with friends. Swag for the Frozen Apple arrived and I spent a lot of time ironing out details and getting volunteers.
March saw our world upended. I still can’t believe my goodbye happy hour was at a bar and we all hung out inside, laughing and talking and hugging multiple times. The simple joys of The Before Times. I then started a new job just across the bridge from NYC and 4 days later was advised to work from home for the foreseeable future. Westchester and NYS shut down. It was really scary to live in the epicenter county of a viral outbreak. So much panic buying at the grocery store. Then came the deep paycuts, reconfiguring our budget, and spending hours on hold trying to talk to a rep about mortgage payment relief. Finally see my GI doc. My youngest kid got to have the first Quarantine Birthday.
We end up canceling the Frozen Apple due to the president declaring a National Emergency.
April brought warmer weather and solo bike rides to help manage the stress and anxiety of Pandemic Times. Mask mandates begin and thing start to feel safer – but the grocery stores are still broadcasting an odd mix of 80s pop music and “During these trying times ….” messages. Feeling thankful we bought a huge set of toilet paper and paper towels when they were plentiful.
More solo gravel rides and I’m hitting my stride – seeing a big jump in speed and endurance. All signs point to an amazing bike year and I’m averaging over 100 feet of climbing per mile ridden. I buy myself a smartwatch to monitor my body metrics because it sounds interesting. My girlfriends and I lament not being able to have a Girls Bike Camping Weekend. I start to incorporate one other person on bike rides, and only mountain biking rides because it’s much easier to stay socially distant in the woods.
I’m also apparently in need of my gallbladder to be removed. So I bow out of a redux of Taste the Catskills.
June is a big pile of nothing. Elective surgeries had just started resuming within the last week or so so I’m thankful for the timing of having my gallbladder removed. I should write a post about that experience because there’s a lot that I thought I understood but really didn’t. Main take-away: Laparoscopic surgery is still major surgery. Next time, maybe take more than 3 days off work to recover. I rest, read, and walk the dogs. Celebrated another Quarantine Birthday for my oldest kid.
Ah yes, Birthday Month! Technically I’m allowed to bike again, but I keep it mellow and stop when my insides start to feel Not Great. I discover I still need to stay on a reduced fat diet (I decided to aim for 50g of fat per day because that felt ok) and add in digestive enzymes, which help tremendously. My oldest comes over for a long weekend visit. I turn 43.
Decide I’m officially IN for the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, a bikepacking trip my friend and I had been planning all year to do. A tropical storm knocks out our power so I have to go into the office to work for a day. It’s the weirdest feeling even though only a few others are there and the whole office has been rearranged to be socially distant and masks required when not at your desk. Work stress on top of everyday stress and anxiety are building up and my usual mechanisms aren’t working. I end up having an anxiety attack, signing up for therapy, and talking to my doctor about a low dose of SSRI.
I get my life back with therapy and Lexapro.
Training rides and bikepacking prep. Finally get a Girls Bike Weekend in the Berkshires and it’s everything we needed it to be. We booked adjacent campsites and brought all our own stuff (no sharing anything). We rode gravel and had campfires and talked. It felt magically to spend time with friends I love.
Green Mountain Gravel Growler pushed me to my limits and even though I had to push myself to the very end of my physical abilities, I have zero regrets and look forward to another week-long trip next year. I learned some valuable lessons and have some amazing stories to tell.
October started great – I recovered from my deep glycogen deficit and did some low-key rides with one or two others. I’m driving home one evening from running errands and notice a kitten in the road that looks like it may have been clipped by a car. So I stop and move it to the side of the road … and it bites me.
Cue a massively infected finger, several calls with the Dept of Health, and a mandate to go get a rabies vaccine. PEAK 2020: Potential for Death by Kitten.
I decide I don’t want to be working in the dining room anymore so we convert my middle kid’s room to an office. I redecorate with bike-themed posters. Pete and I celebrate 23 years of marriage. I decide my bike goal for this year is to average 100 feet of climbing per mile ridden.
I’m no political junkie but hot damn, this election was a roller coaster and I’m pleased with the outcome. I’m ready to get back to hating my elected officials a normal amount.
A rare warm November day meant I could meet up with my best bike girlfriends for a mixed terrain gravel ride upstate. I went solo camping with my senior beagle and had to cut it short because it was too cold for him. I rode bikes as much as I could.
As the year comes to a close, the long sleeve thermal jerseys come out, the days are too short, and it feels like time has been a raging river and slow as molasses. January and February feel so far away. But I have hope that with the covid vaccines being rolled out, we will have a shot to get back to mostly normal by this time next year.
I say mostly normal because this year has allowed space to refocus on what’s important. Suspending the things we distract ourselves with forces us to reckon with who we are, what we believe, and what we stand for.
My 70 year old dad got covid this month. He’s still not out of the woods yet but we are thankful he’s been able to ride it out at home so far.
A seemingly minor mountain biking injury blows up into a chronic knee issue so I have to abort my climbing-per-mile goal at an average of 99.4 feet of climbing per mile ridden. I’m not disappointed – this year is teaching me to be at peace with Good Enough (or Close Enough).
As I unwind myself from my current work obligations and prepare to engage in learning a new corporate culture and team, I am thankful for many things:
* Front-line employees and first responders * The privilege to work from home * My family * Friends who also take the virus very seriously * that this year is almost over
I’m still thinking of my bike goals for next year. To be sure they involve more bikepacking trips and hopefully time with friends and family again. And my middle kid will be celebrating his Quarantine Birthday later this month.
Until next year, keep the rubber side down and see you out there.
One of my favorite things to do is plan and go on adventures with my friends and our bikes. There’s something really sublime about putting everything you need (or most of everything you need) on your bike and heading out into the woods. I’ve learned a lot on each of my bikepacking trips, starting with a weekend at a campground to the most recent five-day adventure through northcentral Vermont. Here’s my Top 5 tips to make bikepacking enjoyable. Experience will help you dial in what’s right for YOU.
Note: I’ve linked to different products but they are not affiliate links. It’s just what I’m using.
Safety First: Know your route to dial your ride – and provide detailed information to your emergency contact back home
Planning is everything. Spend some time reading up on where you are going, what the road/trail conditions may be like, the weather, sunrise and sunset times, where resupply opportunities are and at what mile marker (both overall and daily mileage), and determine how long you intend to be out for both best and worst case scenarios. Write all this down. Bring a physical copy with you on the road to reference when cell service is spotty – but also share your plans with your emergency contact.
My riding partner and I created shared Google Docs and Sheets while planning our trip, which made it easy to update before the trip and the provide to our partners back home while we were out.
This will also help you choose the right gear. Chunky logging roads and singletrack are generally more comfortable on wider mountain-bike tires whereas hardpack and paved roads are more amenable to narrower gravel tires. Significant off-road will require secure loads that don’t shift much while dirt and paved roads will allow for a more DIY setup.
Start with the gear you have. It’s also ok to buy specialized items
It’s true that you can bikepack on the bike you have today with the gear you have today. This is often the cheapest way to get started. Borrowing gear from a friend to try it out first is also great! Sometimes this will mean things are heavier, bulkier, or don’t have a natural home on the bike. This is also OK!
Limited Space Tip: Separate the pieces of your gear to fit into the different bags you have … and yes, a backpack might be unavoidable given smaller framed bikes don’t have the same generous cargo space as larger frames. If so, keep the lightweight stuff in the backpack to minimize stress on your shoulders.
If you are like me and a shorter rider, you don’t have a ton of space on your bike and you’ll need to make tradeoffs to fit everything. Warmer-weather trips may be easier to fit everything on the bike whereas a spring or autumn trip – and the variable weather that comes with those seasons – may require using a rack or backpack to expand your carrying capacity. And yes, you absolutely can use your existing rack and panniers to bikepack – don’t let anyone tell you differently. Bikepacking isn’t an aesthetic – it’s using your bike to transport you and our gear over a variety of terrain.
For my 5-day trip, I wrapped my tent poles in my self-inflating sleeping pad and strapped them to the rack while my tent, rainfly, and stakes went into a 13L drybag harnessed on my handlebars.
If you had a great time and want to keep bikepacking, pick one or two items to swap and start lightening the load over time and as you have funds. Picking up items on sale or “old” versions when a company releases a newer version is also a great way to get high quality gear on a budget.
My experience: When I started, I spent about 6 months buying a lot of stuff because a car-camping 2-burner Coleman Stove doesn’t fit well into a bikepacking setup. I picked up a half framebag and a seatpost bag for my road bike. I used a backpack to hold clothing. I bought a hammock because it was cheaper than a small tent and sleeping pad – and fit into my seatpost bag. It also meant I could avoid a sleeping bag altogether. I read about hammock camping and bought an underquilt (lashed it to my handlebars with two straps I found at an outdoor shop). I bought a one-person backpacking cookset and backpacking stove with my REI divided (also went into my seatpost bag). The half-framebag held food/snacks and layers.
I eventually bought a tent and sleeping pad that I continue to use on camping trips – but came to realize on the last bikepacking trip that at 7 pounds total, they are too heavy for longer expeditions. So I am replacing these with ultralightversions for future longer bikepacking trips. This change alone shaves 5 pounds off my setup … which brings me to my next tip.
Make a packing list and edit it. Then edit again. And Edit once more before you go
Over the past couple bikepacking trips, I’ve started to develop a basic packing list for my adventures that I can add or subtract from based on my needs to a particular trip (see bottom of the post). Somethings will always be needed – on-bike navigation, ID, insurance card, and funds, charging cables for electronics – but for everything else, be ruthless. Especially if you don’t have a ton of space to begin with.
Because you did your research on the weather, conditions, and resupply opportunities you can start dialing in what gets packed. If you plan to stay in BnBs along the way, take the tent and sleeping pad off the list. If you are camping, you probably don’t need to bring a full toiletries kit; a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, and a way to clean up at the end of the day may suffice. I like travel packs of baby wipes or Wilderness Wipes. You may not need to bring meals for every day if you have frequent resupply opportunities – bring a day or so worth of food. Prioritize items that meet your dietary needs and anything with limited availability.
Then as you get closer to the time to leave, check your packing list against likely conditions and make adjustments. Edit out anything unnecessary. Can you live without Item X for Y Days? If yes, remove it from the list. If no, keep it.
And edit again as you are packing. Swap heavier items for lighter weight options. Prioritize items that can serve multiple purposes or can be worn for multiple days, like rain jackets or wool socks. Bring food in single-serve sizes, removing items from their containers to consolidate space. It is OK to decide to take something heavier or single-use because you want to … just remind yourself of that when you are in the middle of a challenging moment and ruing some of your life decisions around packing.
My experience: On my summer Catskills bikepacking trip, I packed a lightweight travel dress (swelter shelter dress) under the misguided impression we might have time to hang out after a days ride. We did not – but it came in handy when we only had one option for a place to eat the second night and it was a fancy restaurant. Zero regrets because it wasn’t a huge impact on weight – it packed down really small and didn’t weigh much.
But on the autumn Vermont trip though, I didn’t heed my own advice and started adding things right before I left. I brought two pairs of pants: one that rolled up to capris if it got too hot and a pair of athletic joggers to sleep in if it got too cold for just my wool baselayers. I did not need both and one packed better than the other. Next time, only the most packable and flexible pants will be packed. Don’t give in to Panic Packing!
A note on multiple kits: In the past I brought a fresh kit for each day. For shorter trips, this is fine – but on longer trips, that’s dead weight. Lael Wilcox talked about her ultralight bikepacking tips and one was bringing only one kit (although she doesn’t ride with a chamois). While my male riding partners have long subscribed to this tip, I was reticent because women’s plumbing is different. But! Fear not – on my last trip I brought 2 kits total, one to ride in and a spare, and used a travel-size package of witch hazel wipes to clean up my chamois before hanging it to dry each night. I rode three long days in the first kit before switching and didn’t feel unsanitary.
To be real though – putting on a fresh pair of bibs after three days feels amazing because the chamois isn’t so compressed.
Make peace with possibly needing to change your plans or route along the way.
Adventure means sometimes things go sideways despite all planning. Don’t hang your hopes on doing everything exactly as you thought it should be. Just starting is something most people don’t accomplish – so make contingency plans and be ok with modifications. Know you will be much slower than when you ride your unloaded bike.
My experience: When I knew I didn’t have enough stove fuel for the trip, I tried to locate more locally with no success. When I ran out on Day 2, we decided to make the trip into town to buy more. When we came across an outdoor shop, they didn’t have any. We called the next option before going and thankfully they did have the right fuel and we got back on route quickly.
When we attempted singletrack with our fully-loaded bikes early in the ride and it was much slower, we made a decision to skip the singletrack sections in favor of making up time on the road. With limited daylight and plenty of hike a bike sections, it was a good decision to keep our average as efficient as possible.
The whole point of bikepacking is to do something fun and different – so embrace the adventure! Your bikepacking trip might be to a local campground or it may be in another location altogether. The keys to having a good trip are being prepared, being realistic, and being open to possibilities. Make a plan, gently push your comfort zone a little further out, rinse and repeat.
It’s also important to know your limits and when to pull the plug and head back to civilization. Especially after my last trip ending in a taxi ride back to my car, I’ve heard so many stories of very experienced adventurers also having to cut their adventure short because something wasn’t going well. Those stories help me put my own experiences in the context of trying and learning when things don’t go well and adapting for next time. I’m already planning to do more trips next year, mostly focused on 1-2 nighters to experiment more. And of course, a redemption shot at the Green Mountain Gravel Growler.
See you out there!
Laura’s Basic Packing List
Here’s the start of my packing list. I add or subtract items based on the weather, where I’m going, and how long I’ll be out. It’s not exhaustive and I’m sure this will keep evolving over time and as I get more experience … but it’s a place to start.
Shortly after our 2019 Taste the Catskills ride, Curt mentioned he wanted to ride the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, a 250-mile bikepacking route that links iconic Vermont breweries. I was 100% interested but not able to commit. Apparently no one else was either so it never came together. But the seed had been planted and we started to make plans for this year.
2020 has thrown plenty of curveballs, including having to have my gallbladder removed in June. Even laparoscopically, this is major surgery that required 4-6 weeks off the bike. I spent the end of July, August, and early September rebuilding my strength and endurance – and researching and dialing in my gear for the ride. We also monitored travel guidance to ensure we were in compliance with Vermont travel requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic. For us, this meant self-quarantine in our homestate before traveling.
The first rule of bikepacking is Pack Light (or as light as you can). Originally we planned to bring summer-weight sleeping bags, but as it got closer to the ride, the overnight temps were plummeting towards 30*F so bringing a down sleeping bag (i.e., staying warm) became the priority. While I don’t think I brought an excess of things I didn’t use, my gear isn’t necessarily designed for anything but car camping. I had my shop install a rack and I used the panniers I bought several years ago for bike commuting.
(AFTER I got home, I weighed everything and discovered I had been hauling around at least 27 pounds of gear, food, and clothing. TOO MUCH!! This will be an important factor later in the ride.)
Exiting Burlington was a combination of bike lanes and multi-use paths and far too many turns – but once we got out of civilization, the number of cars declined and the dirt dialed up. The route was mostly flat until we climbed out of Waterbury towards Stowe. The last 12 miles of the day was a portent of things to come.
The scenery was amazing and pedaling along pristine dirt roads so packed they were like pavement was a nice entry to the ride. We rode a short section of singletrack before deciding to stick to the road with our loads that were less than compatible with the agility singletrack demands. Also, pushing our loaded bikes up a steep incline to get back to the road was ridiculously hard.
We lunched at Stone Corral on the patio and were very careful to wear masks and use santizer when we didn’t have access to soap and water. The food was good and the first pint was had. Well, Curt had a beer. I’m just along for the ride and the adventure. On one of the phenomenal descents, Curt yelled for me to stop. Something was not right with his bike. He tightened up his headset, but I noticed his front skewer looked off. Turns out it wasn’t closed and tight. A few seconds later, we were back to descending … safely this time.
We arrived at our intended campground right on target, got set up, and then rode into town for dinner. It was chilly that evening and the down sleeping bags were very much worth their weight so far.
Curt is an early riser, so by the time I rolled out of my tent at 7:15am, he already had enjoyed a cup of coffee. I am Not A Morning Person so I had to set my alarm clock to wake up in time to eat, get dressed, pack up, and roll out by 9am. The way we had divided up the route, this was going to be the longest day for miles. The route also had several significant climbs and more singletrack, which we knew would bring our average speed down significantly.
Unfortunately, my isopro fuel ran out while making coffee so when we got to the singletrack section, we opted to backtrack to the road and go into town to see if we could find fuel (and hopefully gain some time back into the day). Stowe Hardware to the rescue! Back to the road and the climbs that awaited us.
The climbs were slow but the descents were fantastic. The full load on the rear transformed my bike into a freight train and I had to scrub speed constantly to keep from flying out of control. Any bump or jostle, especially at speed, disrupted the weight balance and required conscious effort to keep in control. We passed through the first of several covered bridges and enjoyed lunch on the patio at Lost Nation Brewing.
With no campgrounds near our end point, we stopped by the Hardwick police station to ask for their recommendation (and let them know we’re here camping). They recommended a town park that turned out to be perfect. We set up camp and watched the sun set across the pond before turning in the night to avoid the mosquitos.
The temps didn’t drop until about 4am, at which point my down bag felt like a good choice. Or was I looking for reasons to justify bringing a bulky bag on this trip? I just knew I didn’t want to spend nights cold and sleepless because there’s no “out” on this trip, no calling to get picked up by a sympathetic spouse. Today was going to be tough, as the route was shorter but the climbing was still intense.
We rolled out under cooler temps to the Hardwick Village Market for more water and supplies. The employees there were super kind and helpful – if you are in the area, Hardwick is good people!
The route gods had a good belly laugh at our loaded folly when we started up an ATV road that as littered with boulders and washouts – and pitched skyward. This is where I learned that pushing my 80-bazillion pound loaded bike was actually more work than riding mechanically speaking. The energy to keep it upright in the conditions would have been too much though. So we hike-a-biked it where we needed and rode where we could.
It took us 2 hours to cover the first 12 miles of the day.
Lunch was in Montpelier at Three Penny Taproom. While we waited for our outdoor table, we stopped in at Onion River Outdoors and I had the guys check my brakes (and picked up a set of spare pads). ORO also runs the Muddy Onion Spring Classic, which is an excellent event that you should totally sign up for when events can run again. You can read about my experiences in 2017 and 2018. Montpelier is also good people.
We decided to once again skip singletrack sections where we could to try to make time to our destination, Waitsfield. We knew we’d either be camping in a town park again or trying to find a room at an inn and wanted to finish before dark.
Important to this route is paying attention to the names of the roads. Anything with “hill” in it usually has a substantial climb. So Hill Rd as our first climb out of Montpelier was peak Truth In Advertising. As we came up to Bear Barn Rd, I was running out of gas and decided to walk the steepest portions of the hill.
Being a rural area, there was a young girl on a quad riding up and down Bearn Barn Rd. She smiled and nodded at me and I reciprocated, a tip of the hat to a fellow female doing bad ass things. She became my spirit guide for this challenging hill as she kept tabs on Curt and I as we slowly pedaled up the hill. When the road ended in a class 4 two-track, she helpfully told us “it gets really steep near the top.” I smiled and thanked her, said we would be OK with that. She smiled and ran off with her dog while we continued onward.
The two-track quickly turned into a gnarly jeep road that did indeed get very steep as we approached the top. Much of this time was hike-a-bike again – which meant further wrestling my overloaded bike over significant chunk and boulders erupting from the earth. Curt mused that the other side was probably not the smooth descent we were hoping for.
It wasn’t. The descent was so steep and littered with rocks, logs, roots, washouts, ruts, and debris that it became perilous to try to ride it. So I ended up wrestling my overloaded bike DOWN the chunky descent. Whenever I tried to ride, the weight on the back of my bike made staying in control and using finesse to navigate the features nearly impossible. Knowing we still had to get through this -and a few more miles- and still find a place to sleep with only one more hour of daylight left- safety took priority.
The route then dumped us onto a class 4 road that was overgrown and had a few blowdowns to navigate (and thankfully no electric fences). Here is where is started to rain. We debated putting on our rain jackets or just leaving our vests on. We opted to not open up our bags to the rain and continued on. When we got to an actual dirt road, Curt noticed something was wrong with his front brake. It had loosened up to the point where it was about to fall off. He tightened the screws and we continued on.
After a long day of wrestling our loads over chunky terrain, we decided to stay at an inn. The first few places we phoned didn’t have any availability, but we did find one that had rooms available and booked online from the parking lot of another inn that didn’t have room for us. We biked over to Mad Taco and phoned in our order from the parking lot. It was dark and we were cold with sweaty gear when we arrived at Lareau FarmInn as the only guests. A hot shower and a comfortable bed awaited us.
Soul Asylum sang about being so tired that you can’t sleep and that was my experience. I didn’t get to sleep – real, deep, restful sleep – until around 3am and we were up at 7:30am for breakfast at 8. The proprietor was our chef and the whole wheat pancakes with berries sounded good but too sweet so I asked for scrambled eggs. This was my first mistake of the day, as I really should have just had the pancakes for the carbs. I also ended up eating the farm-made sausage, which I knew was going to mess up my digestive system but didn’t want to be rude. So no carb breakfast before a significant climbing day is Not Smart.
We lubed our chains and headed out under cloudy skies to be met with a decent hill within a few miles. I was climbing slower than the previous days, but attributed that to it being Day 4 and how much effort we had expended the day prior. My legs were stiff and it took a few miles for the ligaments in my left knee to soften enough to pedal without soreness. Soon we found ourselves at the base of the Lincoln Gap.
Knowing I would be climbing very slowly and possibly pushing my bike, we agreed to meet at the top. Curt was able to ride the entire Gap by switchbacking the whole way up as cars allowed. I had to hop off as soon as it started to get steep and ended up pushing my bike the final 2 miles to the top.
Pushing my loaded bike over the Lincoln Gap is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The grades pitch to 20% and are unrelenting. The road would be challenging on an unladen bike; coupled with my load, I ended up pushing for 100 feet or so and then taking a break. Push, stop, catch breath. Push, stop, catch breath. Repeat for a half hour.
Once at the top, I was destroyed. We sat in the grass for a while until I had eaten enough to feel like I could continue on. This was mistake #2, as I only refilled what had been depleted.
A few miles later, Curt noticed I was climbing even slower so we took a break beside a pasture. I laid in the grass for a few minutes before deciding I needed to eat something. Curt also said I should eat something. I dug up a protein bar and started to nibble.
“How do you feel?”
I’m out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, completely bonked, and with no options but to keep pedaling. Exactly my worst fear for the trip come to fruition. And by my own hand.
We decide to abandon the route in favor of getting into Middlebury for food and descended on a beautiful dirt road that followed the river. I remembered the fruit slices candy in my pocket and ate those to try to keep going. We found a sandwich place, but I couldn’t eat. I sipped ginger ale and tried to find an Uber back to Burlington. No cars available. We decide to ride to the campground we found on the map and see if we could get set up so I could relax.
6 miles later, we arrive at the campground and are told we can’t stay because the bathrooms are closed. I’m wrecked. Curt is handling everything at this point and for that I am grateful. He calls the only hotel in Bristol and reserves two rooms. 5 more miles. I put a few more candies in my mouth, take a swig of ginger ale, and pedal on.
Robin the Innkeeper (Bristol Suites) met us at the front door and got us in our first floor rooms immediately. Of course you can bring your bikes into the rooms. The rooms are good size, well appointed, and very clean. I take a cool shower and decide to keep nibbling on ClifBars to stabilize and hopefully eat my sandwich. Curt heads out for a burger and beer. I’m able to get to a place of feeling stable and fall asleep by 7:30pm.
By the grace of a deity, I wake up at 7:26am and panic because I forgot to set an alarm for Saturday. We’re meeting at 8am for breakfast, mostly ready to go. My stuff is still strewn everywhere from the day prior. I get everything packed up , clean up, throw on my bibshorts under my joggers and t shirt, put on flip flops and head across the street to the Bristol Cliffs Cafe.
Bristol is a quintessential Vermont small town, rimmed with mountains that were ablaze with autumn foliage and turn-of-the-twentieth-century buildings on the downtown block. I have been to several Vermont towns but never felt so comfortable. It was a truly magical morning moment, the kind you daydream about when thinking about your next adventure.
After getting my egg & cheese on a bagel (carbs with my protein breakfast!) and coffee (Curt got pancakes again), we walked to the town park to enjoy breakfast. I was feeling hollow still but hoped breakfast would satiate me and allow me to finish strong.
“You have to finish that.”
“I know I do.”
I got 3/4 of the way through my sandwich.
We decide to take the shortest route to Burlington because I’m suffering. All road, no more dirt. Minimal hills. Only 30 miles. A few hours. I can do this.
6 miles later I am nauseated and feeling lightheaded. We pause at mile 10 and I eat a little more. I re-stabilize and we push on, but Curt notices I’m riding slower on the flats now as well as the hills. He pulls over at mile 12 and I follow suite.
“Curt, I’ve got nothing left. I have to be done.”
We take a few minutes for me to eat and drink and I’m not stabilizing. I am so far into the red I’m wondering if there is a color deeper that that for the hole I’ve dug myself. Curt walks up to the nearest house to ask if they will call a taxi for me, which they do without any question. Taxi will be here in 30 minutes. We move ourselves next to their driveway and wait. I nibble a ClifBar and eat ClifBloks and sip my water. My arms and legs are tingling. By the time the taxi arrives, I am feeling stable again – but I know better than to try to do anything. Curt and the taxi driver load my bike into the minivan.
I thank Curt profusely for taking care of me and tell him I will text him when I get to my car, when I am leaving Burlington, and when I get home. He finishes the ride solo.
Once back at my car, I get changed and it saps my energy again. I gas up, pick up snacks to nibble on and a ginger ale to sip, and begin my drive home. A few hours later I feel well enough to finish my egg & cheese bagel, a short can of Pringles, and four Nature’s Bakery fig bars. I’m singing along to the songs as I drive. Just stopping the ride was a good place to start recovering. We ordered in pizza when I got home and I fell asleep surrounded by my very happy dogs.
As I sit here at home, doing my best to do as little as humanly possible and eat small amounts frequently … What an amazing adventure! This was far harder than I expected, in no small way compounded by my own errors of not ruthlessly packing light, not eating enough, and underestimating how long it would take to get through some of the gnarliest bits. I know better but sometimes I think it won’t matter as much – and I am basically wrong.
And maybe a small part is taking on a challenge like this only 3.5 month after major abdominal surgery that has altered my digestion. Even using digestive enzymes with each meal, I’m not positive my body was processing the fuel I was giving it optimally.
Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect for great weather and near-peak foliage. Although it could have gone in either direction (too hot or too cold), I think it would be better to do this ride in early September to go as light as possible if camping.
I need to review my gear list and figure out what could have been left at home and what needs to be replaced with lighter or smaller gear should I want to do something like this again. My 2p tent was 5 pounds, each pannier was 11 pounds, plus I had my sleeping bag and a self-inflating sleeping pad. Too Much Weight.
For sure, the best way to experience this route would be a credit card tour – book a room at your final destination so you don’t have to worry about bringing more than a few things. If it doesn’t fit in the handlebar bag, framebag, or seatpost bag, it shouldn’t come along. Or – have someone be your SAG with all your gear and meet you along the way for water, supplies, and keeping the ride as efficient as possible.
I’m looking forward to doing this route again, possibly extending the trip and recalibrating daily stopping points to accommodate the time it takes to clear the class 4 and singletrack sections. Also, if you are looking to do this route and hit up as many breweries as possible, you will need to factor that into your time to complete each day.
“Laura, are you sure you want to go out to lunch for Chinese New Year?”
It’s late January and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading rapidly in China. My Chinese coworkers are understandably concerned that their non-Chinese coworkers will be worried about enjoying an authentic meal together to celebrate the New Year here in New York. We assured them it was not and enjoyed an amazing meal together to celebrate.
Three weeks later (mid-February), I had a new job offer that I could’t refuse. I had been looking casually since last September but a recruiter reached out and it was a match. I put in my mandatory 3 weeks notice (plus a few days to end on a Friday), and spent the next weeks training other staff to take on my current role. I also made sure we had a weekly “team lunch” so we could spend maximum time together. I am so glad we did. My husband and I went to the brewery to celebrate.
I started my new job on March 9, right as New York is starting to shut down due to escalating cases of COVID-19. I tell myself as long as I can get into the office to go through orientation and get my laptop, I can work from home as soon as they allow.
March 11 my high schooler’s district shut down for a few days. I send out a notice to registered riders for the Frozen Apple that we will be taking extra precautions at the event on March 22. My oldest child was furloughed from their job.
Two days later, the president announces a national emergency and I cancel the Frozen Apple. I work from home and have been ever since.
The last two and a half weeks have been a surreal trip into the unknown.
Grocery stores were mobbed with people panic-buying everything in sight. There hasn’t been paper products like toilet paper and paper towels or bleach-based household cleaners and alcohol-based hand sanitizer since. It’s only been in the last week that levels of other products like meat and produce have stabilized.
My entire spring gravel event plan has been gutted, most of them moving to late summer and autumn. My girl friends and I are waiting a bit longer before we cancel out late-May bike camping weekend and our mid-June mountain biking weekend. It’s probably inevitable that we will cancel but none of us want to pull that trigger just yet.
This past week in particular has been rough. On Monday my husband was told he is taking a 35% paycut for the next 3 months, possibly longer. I narrowly avoided being furloughed/laid off and took a paycut to a flat salary that everyone in the company is getting (80% paycut). My direct boss left so now I’m scrambling to ramp up as fast as possible with zero context. It’s a good thing I am comfortable asking questions.
Pandemics are no fucking joke.
I am thankful none of us are sick with the virus. That we have enough food in the house right now. That we have a roof over our heads. That the national stimulus bill passed, which will help us navigate that our financial ends literally cannot meet for a while. That our two adult children will benefit more from the stimulus bill than we will (Gen Z deserves a break). That I still have my bikes and can ride locally.
And if we’re being real, I am only riding literally locally from my front door or within a 5 minute drive. I’m increasingly uncomfortable traveling to ride, given the spread of the virus and the levels of cavalier behavior I see among other people. I’ve been doing a lot of walking because it’s quick and easy. Yoga has gone to the wayside because I don’t have a space for it. Forgive me for not wanting to rearrange the living room. Once my mountain bike is back from the shop, I’ll probably do more mountain biking because even though there are fewer cars on the road, they are still there and even less tolerant of a bike these days.
My heart is with my friends who are first responders and medical staff – they don’t have the choice to stay home and avoid exposure. My heart aches for families who are suffering or losing loved ones to this virus. I am angry that I live in the United fucking States of America and our federal government is botching the response, allowing needless suffering and death with a shrug. We are in this TOGETHER and states should not be forced to compete for limited medical supplies.
I realize all this is temporary and at some point we will go back to “normal,” whatever that is. For now it’s nice to still be employed but have nowhere I need to go and nowhere I need to be.
The first time I experienced yoga nidra was the same day as my friend’s funeral. It had been a long morning of gathering with my fellow friends and coworkers, a full funeral mass in Spanish, and bearing witness to the pain in his mother’s cries as his casket was being prepared for interment. I had resolved to not hide my emotions as I might have in another era of my life and cried so deeply, so many times. I found a new level of connection with my friends by being open and vulnerable. We had lost a friend and a work-family member far too young.
Yoga nidra is a state of deep but conscious relaxation. Done completely laying down, fully supported by props, yoga nidra allows the physical body to fully and completely relax while the brain enters a state of consciousness that is awake and aware yet also supporting deep relaxation. It’s like taking a nap while being fully awake.
I had scheduled this initial session so far in advance there was so way to know how raw I would be. I broke down while explaining to our yoga nidra instructor the events of the day, somehow uncovering more tears and heaving, stuttering breath. My head hurt from so much crying and I was hoping yoga nidra would sooth my aching heart.
In this state of grief, I settled in for the practice and succumbed to wave after wave of sensation. It was like floating in a dark pool, the harness of the instructor’s voice bringing me up to the surface to direct my attention somewhere else in my body before lowering me back into the inky water. My third eye ached like it was going to split my head open from sadness.
Gently back into the waters.
So effortless yet so painful. Soaking inside my sorrow.
When it came time to bring my body back to sensation, it as like breaking hard clay off my body to find movement. I had fallen so far into myself it hurt to move.
I’ve been chasing that level of radical relaxation ever since. My brain doesn’t ever seem to stop; my body perpetually in motion. And I miss my friend so deeply … for someone I only had the privilege of experiencing for less than a year, he left a hole in my heart that is slowly repairing itself. But in this loss, I found a way to go so far inside, to the core of my being, to sit with my grief and really experience it.
I wish it didn’t take tragedy to give ourselves permission to be radically vulnerable.
Picking back up a good six months after my last adventure, you may be wondering if I fell off the Earth or what. Maybe not – but let’s pretend for a moment.
The first half of 2019 was a targeted effort to do gnarly gravel rides and build up to the Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder in May. I was out almost every weekend either riding or doing trail maintenance on my local trails … and sometimes, both. I spent not one but TWO amazing weekend with my girlfriends camping and biking and having a blast just relaxing. I decided to go on the Taste the Catskills ride, a definite stretch but well within my capacity.
Then there’s the let-down period after a series of epic adventures.
I switched back over to mountain biking and spent a few months doing low miles/high smiles rides. I raced my mountain bike for the first time ever and placed first in the Cat 3 Beginner Women (19+) category. I went back to organizing my fall gravel event, which always takes more time and effort than one might think. I was doing trail maintenance.
I was stressed out, constantly running from one thing to the next … it just wasn’t fun anymore and I couldn’t remember the last time I had a day to just wake up and sit on the couch with a mug of coffee and my dogs.
I hit a wall of just being Too Busy. So I wrote all my volunteer obligations that I was taking a break.
Of course, in that break I came up with other things I wanted to do, like host a spring classic gravel grinder. And just ride my bike because I want to. And sleep in because I love it when I can do that.
So here we are, in January 2020, and I’m slowing working volunteer obligations back into my life and figuring out – what do I want to DO this year??
About a week ago I learned I’ve been selected as a 2020 Nuun Hydration brand ambassador and I am super stoked about this! I’ve been a big fan of Nuun since my brush with heat exhaustion on Day 3 of a 4-day bike tour and adding that little electrolyte tablet to my water profoundly revived me. Nuun has been my go-to hydration product for years and I’m proud to be able to represent the brand!
I recently picked up a 2020 Salsa Cutthroat GRX600 (a bike I’ve been eyeing for years but they didn’t make my size until this year) and am in the process of dialing in a gravel/adventure set up as well as a bikepacking set up. I love my other Salsa “groad” (gravel-road) bike but the Cutthroat has taken my gravel game to the next level. I’ve named her Monster Truck for the incredible traction, stability, and confidence the bike inspires.
For 2020, I’m starting to stack my spring gravel calendar with an eye towards pivoting to bikepacking for the the summer and fall.
April 19, 2019 – Coming this summer is a three day gravel ride through the Catskills. Slightly modified from what Ralph rode last year. No date yet, but thinking June. – Curt
The beginning of epic adventures is so small – casual words in passing or an idea that pops in your head … or in this case, posting a call for comrades on a social media site for bike rides. I’ve ridden several rides and events with Curt and Ralph so I know their style of riding, which made it easy to say YES to the invite.
Taste the Catskills is a 320-mile self-supported bikepacking route with over 22,000′ of climbing developed by local randonneur Ralph Pruitt. Ralph is known for seeking out every hill and every inch of dirt he can find. Deeming a route a “Ralph Ride” can only mean it’s stupid hard but incredibly fun and rewarding. It should be noted that Ralph previewed the route last year in one shot.
Lodging. We stayed at Blue Hill Lodge & Cafe in Clarysville and Hammo’s Pub & Lodge in Hensonville. Having a room booked in advance gave us a pre-determined end point each day as well as a cool shower and comfortable bed.
Packing. With the daily distance, heat, and humidity – packing light and fast was paramount. If it wasn’t necessary for three days on the road, it didn’t come. Everything fit in my seatpost bag, half-frame bag, and handlebar bag. Also, “fast” is all relative as we were out for 10-13 hours each day.
For a full list of what was brought and what was purchased along the way, check the end of the blog post.
Training. I’m not a fan of formal training plans in the same way I am not a fan of riding on a trainer. My general plan is to figure out what I’m getting myself into and build up to something that’s a reasonable facsimile. 2019 has been a year of challenging rides, with most including around 100’/mi of climbing.
The climbing didn’t feel like an issue so much as I haven’t ridden a century in something like 4 or 5 years. Looking at the daily breakdown of the route (we were riding this over 3 days), there were lots of beastly hills in the back half of each day – pacing would be key to make it through each day.
It was super hot & muggy and not very shaded. Once we climbed out of Pawling, we cruised on the rail trail for 30 miles – so most of the climbing was concentrated into the back 55 miles. Once we left New Paltz, opportunities for refueling and refilling water from commercial outlets dropped dramatically. After climbing Mohonk and Peekamoose, we were pretty shredded. A 15-mile downhill awaited us, which was such a relief. But we were rapidly running out of water and we still had a crazy climb to get to our rest stop for the night. Only 1 of the three camp stores we tried was open. The final 5-mile climb was obscene in places and I’m not ashamed to say I hopped off my bike and pushed it in places.
We arrived at the Blue Hill Cafe to find the restaurant portion closed. All three of us were tired and hungry; the thought of choking down another ClifBar as dinner was nauseating. Fortunately, the owner was closing out her register and set us up with fresh homemade chicken salad sandwiches, pickles, chips, and beverages. The cafe wasn’t going to open before we needed to leave in the morning so we were able to grab delicious coffeecake to go.
Day 2 – The Longest Day.
Coming off day 1 and seeing a forecast of even higher temps (near 90* F) and humidity paired with an additional 18 miles until our next overnight accommodations, we opted to leave earlier. Curt had to repair his front shifting cable so we ended up leaving only an hour earlier than Day 1. The morning chill was most welcome as we zoomed out of town and found our first good hill within a few miles. Today was Dirt Day and we knew there would be some formidable climbs in the latter half of the day. Dirt always takes a bit more energy than pavement but is generally mercifully shaded, which provides much needed respite from the sun.
Brunch was 45 miles into the day at a diner in Downsville where we gobbled up eggs and toast and homefries while draining glasses of lemonade as fast as the waitress could bring them. When asked where we were headed, we replied Windham … to which another patron exclaimed “That’s far!” About 75 miles far. Two women on motorcycles stopped me to ask about my bike setup … turns out one of them is planning a ride from Portland, OR to Denver, CO in September. She asked if I would be interested in that journey. I wish I could have said yes.
Leaving Downsville I noticed my rear tire had gone flat … not from the chunky dirt descent to NY30, but from a staple on the road in town. The guys had my tire changed before I could protest and say I could do it myself. Back on the road, we started the 10-mile climb to De Lancy that was happily mostly shaded. The same could not be said for the road between Delhi and Hobart, which was paved and radiant in the sun. It was so hot the tar was snapping under our tires. We ducked onto the rail trail but it was very slow going and overgrown. In the interest of time, we popped back out on the road into Stanford.
Maybe the best part of touring is ice cream stops. We were hot and sweaty and in need of inner cooling. A massive twist cone was just the ticket to keep moving. We’re at mile 82 with 36 hilly miles to go. By mile 101, we’re all cooked again and just want to get to our next overnight room but we have four more “bumps” to conquer before being rewarded with a 5-mile downhill into Windham. From Windham, it’s only another 3 miles to our room. We finally get cleaned up and head next door to Vesuvio Restaurant in Hensonville. We ate like royalty and after a long day, it felt good to put real food in the belly.
Knowing our final day would be lower miles and lower climbing, we opted to see what time we woke up to determine when we would leave in the morning.
Day 3 – The Easy Day
We woke around 6:30am and headed down the street to Nana Gail’s for breakfast, filling our bellies once again with eggs and bread and bacon for the guys. The day was overcast with a 50% chance of thunderstorms so we made sure our rain gear was easily accessible should we find ourselves in a downpour. A short climb out of the Windham area gave way to an epic 15-mile descent back to the Hudson River. We crossed on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and made our way to Copake, where we would stop for lunch at Dad’s Diner. Our energy is high because we’re on our way home.
This is also the only day I beat the guys up any hills. It should be noted they both have McGuyver’d their gravel bikes to have a 40t or 42t granny gear on their cassette – so they were mostly spinning up the hills like it was Sunday. My granny gear is 34t on my cassette so Grind is my middle name.
If I ever find the funds to start building up a custom gravel bike, you can be sure mountain bike gearing with deep low gears will be top on my list.
After lunch the clouds had given way to brilliant sunshine so we made our way to the rail trail for some shaded goodness. The connection between the two segments from Copake to Millerton is still under construction so we headed onto the pavement. We stopped for cold snacks and water in Millerton before heading back to the cool and shady rail trail to Wassaic.
Sometime after Wassaic, we decided to skip the remaining bonkers hills in favor of an “easier” route to the end. It ended up being only 600′ less of climbing (over 20 miles) but the hills were more rolling than challenging. We’re tired, our bodies are protesting, and frankly this is the second or third day in a kit so it’s getting a bit … funky … around here.
Rolling up to our start location, we decided to get cleaned up and have one final meal together at the local pizza place to celebrate our incredible journey.
Ride What You Got. I love my bike but it doesn’t take tires wider than 30mm. I ride the only gravel tire I’ve found sub-32mm. Sure, I can’t bomb down chunky descents and I have to pick my lines carefully, but I’ve become a skilled technical rider in the meantime.
Learn to Pace Yourself. There is nothing worse than bonking even a few miles from your final destination. Don’t dig yourself into a hole – be sure to eat and hydrate regularly. Take a look at the course so you have an idea of where the hardest parts are and don’t go for KOMs. You need energy for more than just today.
Learn to Eat & Drink On The Ride. “I can’t eat on rides.” You wouldn’t drive your car around on Empty, so why try to bike that way? It’s not a race – Don’t dig a hole you can’t climb out of. The way to do this is to eat something every 90min or so and sip your hydration beverage every few miles. Eat real food like trail mix, salted nuts, potato chips, pretzels … convenience stores are generally well-stocked with these foods. Some even have sandwich counters, which can save the day.
Be Clear & Copious. If your pee isn’t clear and copious, you aren’t hydrating enough. This isn’t always possible to achieve but it should be on your mind as an easy way to monitor your hydration levels.
Have Fun! The whole point of a bike adventure is to get away from it all and explore new places. Remind yourself that all you have to do today is ride your bike. And then go ride your bike.
Thank You to Ralph for creating an amazing route that showcased the hidden gems of the Catskills, to Curt for wanting to ride the route over 3 days, and to Yorktown Cycles for keeping my Salsa in top condition and for the excellent upgrade recommendations. The Nox wheels were clutch in keeping my energy transfer to the bike and not on rotational resistance. And to all my bike friends who have come out to ride bonkers events and routes with me in preparation for this adventure.