Dear Bikepacking Roots community,
When we created the Bikepacking Roots non-profit 2.5 years ago, we set out on a mission to create exceptional and intentionally designed routes, to help connect bikepackers with the surrounding landscapes, and to advocate for the growing bikepacking community and the places through which we ride. Today, you’re one of nearly 5,000 Bikepacking Roots members! Collectively, you’ve given Bikepacking Roots a strong voice when we engage with communities, land managers, private property owners, and others. And together, our positive impact is being felt by bikepackers and communities alike.
Earlier this year, we launched the Wild West Route, a 2,700-mile-long epic highlighting the wild and public lands of the American West. Scores of you have already been on this route, and I’m thrilled by how many more of you have plans to ride some or all of the Wild West Route in 2020 and beyond. I’m also particularly excited about how many communities and individuals we’ve heard from that are proud to be situated along the route!
As 2019 comes to a close, we’re asking our members to help support a suite of new routes - we have 10,000 more miles spread across 10 routes and 15 states in the works. Some, like the Intermountain Connectors, the Bears Ears Loop, and Grand Canal to Grand Canyon, will expand the Wild West Route into a network of choices. The Northwoods Route will offer an exceptional bikepacking option in the Upper Midwest, and Orogenesis will be the world’s longest singletrack bikepacking route when completed. We also have a few entirely new route concepts to unveil. These projects require considerable resources and time, and I personally feel that these are an investment in the future of bikepacking - the extensive reconnaissance, outreach to communities and landowners, the development of extensive logistical and educational resources, print guides and mobile apps, and the long-term upkeep of both routes and resources.
Today, I’m asking you to make a small donation to help Bikepacking Roots continue to develop adventurous bikepacking experiences for you to confidently enjoy for years to come. Your contribution will support the growing community and further strengthen our voice as an advocacy organization. If all our members donate just $20, we’ll rase the $100,000 needed to complete these 10,000 new route miles and move on to new projects in new regions! Please click here to make a donation today.
Thank you all for your ongoing support, and happy trails.
Kurt Refsnider, Ph.D.
Executive Director and co-founder
Professional, intentionally-designed bikepacking routes like the Wild West Route, Orogenesis, the Northwoods Route are time-consuming to develop – extensive scouting and collaborations with local land owners, land managers, communities, and test riders are critical parts of the process. Creating the accompanying navigational and educational resources like the 90-page Wild West Route guide and the mobile app make routes even more accessible and impactful. But all this costs money, and it is for that reason that we are running our “10 Routes. 10,000 Miles. $100,000.” year-end campaign. As we look ahead into 2020, we have 10 new routes at various stages of development to bring the bikepacking community 10,000 more miles of bikepacking opportunity – opportunity for the empowering, inspiring, life-changing experiences that we believe bikepacking can facilitate. Help us finish the development of these 10 new routes by making a contribution toward the $100,000 goal for supporting these projects!
Words by Gabriel Amadeus Tiller
Tackling the development of a route on the scale of Orogenesis is an overwhelming undertaking. We understood this limitation early on in the process and created the Orogenesis Collective—a loose conglomeration of ultra athletes, trail builders, event promoters, and bikepackers up and down the West coast. Their knowledge, ambition, and nose for sniffing out overgrown singletrack is what’s enabled the Orogenesis project to grow into a more or less uninterrupted line for 4,500 miles.
That being said, it’s hard not to focus on those interruptions: those times when you hit Wilderness boundaries, a chasm, a gate, or a river and are begrudgingly forced onto unexpected miles of pavement. In 2019, we attempted to refine the many alignment iterations into the preferred alignment, figure out where those gaps were, and try to identify solutions for those remaining gaps. There are about 206 miles of ‘gaps’ where we’ve deemed there to be no current suitable option for riders. That may seem like a lot, but it’s less than 5% of the entire route—and all of a sudden, we realized just how palatable this entire juicy ribbon of trail was. Could we fast track it for a soft launch in 2021?! That remains to be seen, but it highlights just how close we're getting.
Photos above courtesy of Gabriel Tiller, Rick Ianniello, Dan Stranahan, Dylan Vanweelden, and Evan Sollberger
Already in 2019, our Collective—132 strong—logged over 2,500 miles sussing out the best riding across these three states and two countries. One rider, Rick Ianniello, travelled from Bishop south to Kennedy Meadows, west to the Plunge, and north to Camp Nelson, Bass Lake, Yosemite, Pinecrest, Tahoe, and Downieville—over 1,000 miles all told. Another traveled from Tahoe north to Oregon and along the Oregon Timber Trail. In Washington, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance introduced the concept to their state legislators, and Bikepacking Roots submitted comments on several land management changes that could negatively affect the route. The many trails organizations along the Orogenesis route understand the value of long distance connectivity and have in many places already begun reopening old trails with this goal in mind.
Now, instead of the project seeming dauntingly obtuse, its momentum is contagious and the speed at which the puzzle pieces are assembling themselves is unnerving. So what will 2020 bring? Relationships. We’ll be on the ground, riding trails, meeting y’all, talking to funders, and figuring out where goals overlap with all the rad people already doing countless hours of trail advocacy across the west. Stay tuned as we launch into this next phase of uncharted territory—creating the world’s longest singletrack bikepacking route.
Professional, intentionally-designed bikepacking routes like Orogenesis are time-consuming to develop – extensive scouting and collaborations with local land owners, land managers, communities, and test riders are critical parts of the process. Creating the accompanying navigational and educational resources like the 90-page Wild West Route guide and the mobile app make routes even more accessible and impactful. But all this costs money, and it is for that reason that we are running our “10 Routes. 10,000 Miles. $100,000.” year-end campaign. As we look ahead into 2020, we have 10 new routes at various stages of development to bring the bikepacking community 10,000 more miles of bikepacking opportunity – opportunity for the empowering, inspiring, life-changing experiences that we believe bikepacking can facilitate. Help us finish the development of these 10 new routes by making a contribution toward the $100,000 goal for supporting these projects!
Words and photos by Jan Bennett
The Pony Express Bikepacking Route was born of a desire to expand my comfort zone, push boundaries, and explore new places. What I hadn’t planned on were the intense emotions and rediscovery of self that caught up with me along the way.
After scratching from the Tour Divide in 2016, I found myself passing time scrolling through maps of the American West, an area of the country that had captivated me since my first drive down US-50, the ‘Loneliest Highway’, through Nevada a few years before.
The vast expanses of wide-open, uninhabited public lands spoke to my desire to disconnect fully from a world that constantly had me questioning my reality and searching for meaning amongst a life-long sea of confusion.
I wanted to go remote, on my own, and explore areas where the history of a place was still palpable. I quickly found myself drawn to a dot on the USGS survey maps labeled “Sweet Water Pony Express Station”. From there I discovered that many of the roads through the area came about because of the Pony Express and Pioneer trails. The Pony Express Route follows much of the same route as the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. In some places, the wagon ruts left by those enterprising pioneers, and in one instance even the very wagon itself, can still be seen along the route. As Native Americans had discovered well before the first pony rider crossed those mountains, the land tells you which way to go.
In the mid-1800s, a call was put forth by the US Postal Service for a contract to deliver mail as quickly as possible to California from the east in an attempt to keep the new territory as part of the Union as the American Civil War was brewing. Entrepreneurs Russell, Majors, and Waddell hatched a far fetched plan to create a route of relay stations whereby riders would launch themselves on hearty mustangs at full speed for 10-15 miles at a time to the next station, only to dismount and remount in a matter of seconds on a fresh steed and head off to the next station, carrying valuable news and mail in a purpose-made saddle bag called a mochila across the American West.
The prospect of propelling myself on a bicycle across such a historic route fully captured my attention. I started to map the original stations and plot the route utilizing the National Historic Trails website. After driving and riding certain sections of the route I decided I would tackle it via mountain bike, on my own, in the spring of 2018. My main concern would be the vast expanses without available resupply. Four hundred miles from Salt Lake City, UT to Austin, NV without knowing for sure where the next water supply would be was daunting. There are no convenience stores, no grocery stores, no restaurants, and no shops along long stretches of the route.
A week before I was to head out on my ride I received news that my father had overdosed and died. After quite a bit of trepidation, I decided that I needed this trip. For myself.
At one point, as I crested a pass that led to an expansive view of low mountain peaks to the southeast of Casper, WY, I was overcome by intense emotions.
I screamed. I cried. I laughed. I sang. I danced. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of freedom. Freedom from a burden that I had become so accustomed to bearing that I simply didn’t know any other way.
In that moment, on that dirt road in Wyoming, on a self-supported ride across half of the country on a route that no one had attempted yet, I discovered a new sense of self. As I hopped back on the bike to continue my journey I recognized the impact that the route had on me. The opportunity for healing and self-discovery I found along the way should be made available to everyone. I had found purpose in my struggles and wanted to do what I could to provide an opportunity for others to do the same.
The remainder of that ride and subsequent scouting rides allowed me to verify natural springs and identify supportive private landowners who agreed to passage for subsequent bikepackers and who were willing to share their water with other riders who would come after me. I rediscovered human connection and the good that still exists in a world of seemingly endless chaos. I found peace through the incredible interactions of those I met along the way.
Looking back now I realize that the Pony Express Route and the journey to make it a reality for others is precisely what I needed to give back to a community that has helped me grow in ways I thought unimaginable just a few years earlier.
Bikepacking Roots is excited to be supporting the final stages of development of the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, a vision and undertaking being driven by Jan Bennett. The route begins in St. Joseph, Missouri and covers more than 2,200 miles as it makes its way to Sacramento, California, crossing Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California along the way. 85% of the route is on dirt and gravel with a few car-free bike trails to get riders through major cities. But some sections, particularly in the mountains of Nevada, are rough, rocky, and are decidedly not dirt or gravel roads. History is alive and well along much of the route, with the remains of original Pony Express stations still visible in many places, and commemorative markers along the way denoting important landmarks, graves, and important information.
Interested in being one of our Route Scouts in 2020?
We are seeking adventurous, experienced bikepackers interested in being volunteer scouts. Although extensive reconnaissance of the route has already been conducted by Jan Bennett, we are looking for a cadre of veteran bikepackers who are eager to ride [some of] an ambitious new route, provide feedback, additional assessment and information about water and services along the way, share photos, and potentially help out in some other ways.
Click here to learn more about the Pony Express Route and how to get involved in 2020!
Professional, intentionally-designed bikepacking routes are time-consuming to develop – extensive scouting and collaborations with local land owners, land managers, communities, and test riders are critical parts of the process. Creating the accompanying navigational and educational resources like the 90-page Wild West Route guide and the mobile app make routes even more accessible and impactful. But all this costs money, and it is for that reason that we are running our “10 Routes. 10,000 Miles. $100,000.” year-end campaign. As we look ahead into 2020, we have 10 new routes at various stages of development to bring the bikepacking community 10,000 more miles of bikepacking opportunity – opportunity for the empowering, inspiring, life-changing experiences that we believe bikepacking can facilitate. Help us finish the development of these 10 new routes by making a contribution toward the $100,000 goal for supporting these projects!
Written by Kurt Refsnider, Executive Director
My bikepacking story began more than a decade ago when my mountain biking ambitions began to pull me toward bigger and bigger rides in unfamiliar landscapes or to connecting familiar but distant places. I spent hours pouring over print maps and fuzzy satellite imagery and enjoyed awe-inspiring trips with varying levels of success following the “routes” that I had created. But no matter the outcome of any particular adventure, I found myself absolutely enamored by multi-day mountain bike rides.
Early on, I shared some of these routes with other relatively new bikepackers who had seen my trip photos and wanted to experience those places for themselves. And with reliably unfortunate consistency, those folks bailed from my routes and sought more reasonable alternate tracks. It didn’t take me long to realize that where I opted to ride (or often push) my bike wasn’t necessarily about the riding but rather where I was riding. And that part of the passion often didn’t translate to other riders who more often expected where I had gone to have been driven by the search for great trails. That, however, wasn’t necessarily the case. A month-long solo trip across southern Utah in 2013 highlighted that for me as my focus was on conceptually connecting familiar parts of the desert landscape through the unknown country in between and trying to better understand the geologic relationships along the way. For me personally, bikepacking was a means for exploring and learning rather than seeking out as much great riding as possible.
This pattern culminated in 2014 when Bikepacking Roots co-founder Kaitlyn Boyle and I spent 30 days pedaling along the length of the Alps – L’Aventure Alpine. It was far and away the most arduous trip either of us had ever (or have since) done – 30 high passes, 320,000 feet of climbing, endless sections of above-treeline riding, countless hike-a-bikes of at least 3,000 vertical feet, and so much great trail. But despite the absolute magnificence of that 800-mile route, we never ended up sharing the data publicly because for most bikepackers, the over-the-top rigor simply wouldn’t be enjoyable. The same theme applied to long trips in Patagonia, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout the American West.
Subsequently, Kaitlyn and I devoted quite a bit of time to creating a series of 2- to 4-day routes on the Colorado Plateau and in the Central Rockies for Geology through Bikepacking, a Prescott College course in which we took groups of new bikepackers out on a series of self-supported trips and explored the diverse geology of the region. The impacts of the route development decisions are never more evident than while traveling with new bikepackers on those exact routes. Those routes and itineraries evolved from year to year, being honed by past experiences that went particularly well – or poorly.
It was through endeavors like those described above that I began to recognize the transformative power bikepacking experiences can have on individuals, and the vision for Bikepacking Roots as on organization began to congeal. On the route development side of our mission, the goal is to create professional and intentionally-designed routes with particular rider audiences in mind. Our initial offerings were varied in this way – the Colorado 14ers and Craters and Cinder Cones Loops are relatively short circuits designed for newer bikepackers seeking out singletrack and dirt road/4x4 track riding experiences, respectively. And the 1,100-mile Plateau Passage was created to offer experienced bikepackers a rugged, remote, and lengthy backcountry epic like no other.
The Wild West Route development was a whole different beast. The goal from the outset was to create a non-technical riding experience showcasing the wild and public lands of the American West – a place like no other on Earth. We sought to balance remote and immersive riding with regularly spaced services so as to make the experience as accessible as possible. And the physical demands of the route had to remain reasonable. Putting all this together resulted in a suite of criteria upon which the entire project progressed.
Scouting the Wild West Route took more than 8 weeks and involved more than 5,000 miles of driving on dirt roads, rough 4x4 tracks, and official Forest Service roads that really no longer were roads at all. In most areas, two or three parallel options for the route were scouted, incorporating input from local cyclists and land managers. For me personally, the scouting turned into a legitimate motorized adventure, allowing me to explore parts of the West that had been quite unfamiliar, but on a timeline that often dictated 12+ hours of driving for days on end. Dead ends, unexpectedly steep and blown out tracks, challenges associated with private lands, and completely annihilated “forest roads” turned me back on a daily basis. In Arizona, water resources dictated the alignment of the route in places, and I worked with private landowners in to offer additional water resources for bikepackers. On Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, I spent two years collaborating with their newly-launched Trails Initiative and the Navajo YES non-profit to envision, create, and institute regulations and a permitting process for the Nation’s first long-distance recreation route.
Upon completion of this extensive scouting, I set about determining how to best link up the sections that offered the most enjoyable and wild riding experiences while keeping the flow of the route on a broader perspective from becoming too taxing or remote. What I thought were the most stunning options that were scouted didn’t always make the cut for a variety of reasons. But the assemblage of sections that came together offered a consistent riding experience that met our criteria. By the summer of 2018, we had nearly 50 bikepackers ride some or all of the Wild West Route to provide feedback, help refine a few short sections, and build awareness of the new route in communities along the way. Personally, it was amazing to hear from these riders about how their experiences along the way were so closely aligned with the goal we set upon initiating the Wild West Route project. After incorporating the feedback from these riders, we released the Wild West Route in 2019 along with a 90-page route guide and an innovative new mobile app for bikepackers.
Since the Wild West Route was released, riders from across the globe have pedaled segments or the entirety of the route, and the appreciation voiced by these riders for the wild landscapes and public lands along the way has made my heart sing. A decade of adventures in route development, combined with input and feedback from literally hundreds of individuals, culminated in a route that will live on for decades. Hopefully one day I’ll have the opportunity to ride the Wild West Route, but for now, my attention has already been pulled elsewhere for other route development initiatives.
Written by Kaitlyn Boyle
Photos by Kurt Refsnider and Kaitlyn Boyle
The concept for Bikepacking Roots was envisioned on a shuttle bus ride to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. It was Christmas Day of 2015, and eventual co-founder Kurt Refsnider and I were on our way to catch a flight with our bikes and bikepacking gear for a month to Puerto Montt, Chile. We, or mostly Kurt, had spent the prior few weeks scouring the Internet for trails and rugged dirt roads to connect a loop around northern Patagonia. It was our third international bikepacking trip on a self-designed route and an endeavor that grew out of years of riding routes in the western United States. Despite the difficulty of finding trails on the Internet to create a 1,000+ mile route, we were eager to assemble and pack our bikes and pedal into an unfamiliar landscape and culture.
Over the prior 6 years, we each had been packing our bikes and pedaling for days, weeks, and months on bikepacking routes of all varieties. And by 2015, we were witnessing bikepacking beginning to boom. At the time, bikepacking and ultra endurance bikepack racing were often intertwined, and many people who went out and explored to create and share routes ultimately saw races on those new routes. The Adventure Cycling Association had gifted dirt-inspired bicycle tourists with the iconic Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, but the organization’s focus remained largely on paved touring routes and related advocacy in the subsequent decades. The Arizona and Colorado Trails also rose to prominence as unique opportunities for single-track loving bikepackers to tackle long-distance trail routes. And as these routes and new races grew in popularity, bag manufacturers popped up in garages and closets around the country. The once-niche pursuit of overnight mountain biking began to explode.
That Christmas Day on the shuttle, Kurt and I were mostly discussing the wave of impact that would likely follow the explosion. As more and more people discovered and tried bikepacking (which we hoped would happen, as it is our passion), resources for successful bikepacking experiences would be needed, and the once-small fringe group of early bikepackers would need to band together as an inclusive and cohesive user group to advocate for access and for a chair at the outdoor industry table. And, most importantly to me, this fledgling group of people could be inspired to care about and develop a sense of responsibility to protect the places through which they bikepacked.
Fast-forward one month. Kurt and I are riding the shuttle from the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport back to Prescott, Arizona on the tail end of our trip. Despite marginally reaching our objective of riding trail around northern Patagonia, we were relaxed and happy. We had found rugged hike-a-bike through the jungle and over volcanoes and had been turned back by repeated closed areas (fires, volcanic eruptions, areas in which bikes were not allowed, etc.) that led to long paved detours around massive lakes and National Parks. Plans were derailed by trail construction projects that had not yet reached completion, and we pedaled countless miles on once-dirt roads that were being forever buried under paving initiatives.
Despite all those setbacks, the happiness and relaxation we felt was a product of enjoying beautiful landscape, lovely people, a day-to-day pace that was not itinerary-bound, and an open mindset. After all, a self-designed route is rarely what you anticipate it to be. On the shuttle ride home we remarked on the incredible opportunities the United States public lands system offers for bikepacking, especially compared with other parts of the world in which we had bikepacked already. We returned to the concept of an organization whose mission was to increase and advocate for access to the bikepacking experience and the landscapes through which bikepackers ride.
Fast-forward another 18 months. Kurt and I launched Bikepacking Roots as a 501(c)3 non-profit with a small and talented Board of Directors to help guide the organization. Our first year saw the release of the 1,200-mile Plateau Passage route, 285-mile Colorado Fourteeners Loop, and the 185-mile Craters and Cinder Cones Loop. And we gradually began to engage in advocacy and access issues on behalf of the bikepacking community.
Fast-forward another 2.5 years to today. Bikepacking Roots is now an established organization that has a clear mission and vision for how to attain it. Our membership has grown to nearly 5,000 individuals, and our Board of Directors has more than doubled in size to bring on a more diverse group of cycling advocates. Our routes are inspired by landscapes that offer the bikepacking experiences our members are seeking with an emphasis on bikepacking on dirt surfaces in wild places. We take the necessary time to fully research and vet routes for the intended riding experience and compile detailed route guides that provide all necessary logistical information and data to ride the route. Additionally, our route guides include environmental education content to connect riders with the natural history of the landscapes through which we ride.
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Bikepacking Roots is the only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, advocating for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride, and creating professional routes. We value human-powered experiences and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership (6,000 strong) that makes a positive impact as we adventure by bike.
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