Written by Kaitlyn Boyle
Bikes, outdoor equipment, and the collective ambition of mountain bikers have progressed so significantly in the past couple decades that with lightweight backcountry gear, capable bikes, and some determination, more people can take bikes into the farthest reaches of the landscapes. Steep, rocky singletrack, rutted, loose mountain trails, talus and scree slopes, alpine tundra, snow, and ice are all navigable with the right bike. Add in a packraft and sturdy backpack, and bikes can be carried across nearly any terrain that isn’t rideable.
But along with this freedom to roam nearly anywhere with bikes, there also are some notable limitations, as well as the onus to travel responsibly. The most substantial limitations are related to bike access as dictated by regulations and policies set by land owners and managers. The responsibility is for backcountry cyclists to travel with exceptional care to minimize our impact. Attitudes and opinions around bike access vary dramatically, and this short article discusses the current state of bike access from purely a factual perspective. It is critical that we, as a cycling community, have an understanding of these facts in order to both recreate responsibly and be able to have informed discussions about land management and access regardless of our own individual opinions. And it is on us to understand the complexities of bike access before planning trips and to reach out to the appropriate land managers with questions if there is any uncertainty about whether or not bikes are allowed to be ridden or carried (whether on your back, boat, or otherwise) on any part of your route.
Today, federal public lands in the United States comprise nearly 28% of the 2.3-billion-acre landscape of the country (see map below; for a summary on the origins of these public lands, we refer the reader to our brief history of public lands). Where bicycles can be ridden and possessed (i.e., carried or transported) varies with each agency and land designation. Four primary federal land management agencies administer 95% of these lands through a variety of land designations for a multitude of purposes. In descending order based on the total area of land managed, these agencies are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service (USFS), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Park Service (NPS). Bicycle access across the lands managed by these agencies varies by specific designation. On USFS and BLM lands, the least protective and restrictive designations allow bicycle travel on both motorized and non-motorized routes. On FWS administered lands, biking on dirt roads and trails is permitted as deemed compatible with a particular refuge’s statutory purpose, so some areas are open to bike access and others are not. The NPS expanded access in 2012 to allow bikes on dirt roads and singletrack as specific Park or Monument superintendents deem appropriate. There are currently more than 40 NPS-administered areas that allow bikes on dirt roads and trails.
There are three key categories of additional land designations that are important to understand with respect to bike access: (1) Wilderness, (2) pre-Wilderness, and (3) non-Wilderness special designations. These designations can be made by Congress, through the executive power of the President in the Antiquities Act, or through management at the agency level. The purpose of additional designations is generally to increase the protection of the landscape from extractive/commercial industries or other uses that threaten the landscape and/or wildlife or detracts from the area's benefit for future generations.
Understanding these three designations is important because (a) these are the most protected lands and therefore offer the most remote and wild experience for cyclists, and (b) to both protect landscapes for the health of ecosystems and future generations and bicycle access, it is our responsibility and opportunity as cyclists to understand, abide by, and intentionally advocate for conservation and bike access. The rest of this article will share how bikes do or do not generally have access to these three land categorizations. Remember, this is not an opinion piece about bike access, but rather these are the objective facts about current bike access across land designations in the U.S., written to help inform cyclists decision making, values, and advocacy.
Wilderness (and Bicycle “Possession”)
The 1964 Wilderness Act established the highest possible form of protection for lands to date in the U.S. While it is not without flaws (including Euro-centric misconceptions and racism), the Act has resulted in 750 Wilderness areas constituting 111 million acres - that equates to roughly 1/6th of all federal public lands. Among other things, the Wilderness Act prohibits both motorized and mechanized transport in Wilderness. Although subject to debate, the interpretation that has continued to be upheld in courts is that bicycles are mechanized, and therefore, the possession of bicycles in Wilderness is prohibited. Heated debates between and among legal scholars, conservation advocates, and mountain bike advocates are ongoing, but these exceed the scope of this piece. The primary takeaway here is that today, in 2021, the overarching law around bicycles in Wilderness is that they cannot be ridden, carried, or transported in or through Wilderness areas. That said, land management agencies may have discretion in interpreting whether or not a disassembled bicycle constitutes possession of a bicycle.
Many National Park units also have their own regulations and policies regarding bicycles being carried on trails that are otherwise closed to bike access, even outside of Wilderness areas. Canyonlands National Park in Utah will not issue backcountry permits for trips involving bikes being portaged on hiking trails. Grand Canyon National Park, on the other hand, allows bikes to be disassembled and packed for the 23-mile traverse of the Canyon on the Arizona Trail. This specific example is a discretionary rule established for only this one specific trail in the Park, and the exception was made possible by the advocacy work of dedicated bikepackers and the Arizona Trail Association.
Several other land designations are possible by an act of Congress or specific agencies to protect “Wilderness qualities” in a landscape. These designations essentially set the land aside to be managed similarly to Wilderness with the intention of eventually having the lands designated as Wilderness. These designations include Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs), Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWAs), and Roadless Areas (RAs). The status of bicycles in these areas depend on the governing agency and even the region within that agency.
RWAs on Forest Service land allow bicycles except on USFS Region 1 (northern ID, MT, ND, and the Black Hills of SD). The BLM has a blanket prohibition of bikes in WSAs on BLM land while Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming are subject to a clause that allows for the continuation of historic uses in new WSAs so long as those uses do not impact Wilderness qualities. In some cases, this clause allows bicycle use on trails in WSAs to continue, such as in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area near Jackson Hole. RAs can also vary in whether or not bikes are permitted on non-motorized trails. The Lionhead RA near Yellowstone National Park is an example of where bikes have been allowed in a RA. However, when the USFS included the Lionhead in a potential new RWA, bicycle access suddenly became threatened. The outcome, after extensive advocacy by cycling organizations, was the designation of the Lionhead as a new non-motorized Backcountry Area that will both increase protections while maintaining bike access to trails.
Non-Wilderness Special Designations
There are numerous additional designations that are less restrictive than Wilderness (and less durable from the perspective of conservation permanence). Many of these have been created as alternatives to Wilderness to appease various groups or to ease management burdens of federal agencies. These designations include National Recreation Areas (NRAs), Conservation Areas, National Scenic Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and Special Management Areas, as well as more than a dozen others. Although these designations offer flexibility in management for each individual designation, they offer no consistency for protections or access across landscapes. As a result, whether or not you can ride your bike in a National Conservation Area simply depends on the management plan for that particular area. And in some NRAs, bike access is also restricted, such as in Glen Canyon NRA where bike use is not allowed on or above the shoreline, a consideration for bikerafters. It is also worth noting that generally, National Monuments fall into the “non-Wilderness” category (although Monuments can have designated Wilderness areas within the Monument). As such, bicycle access within National Monuments depends on the management plan for each Monument and is often associated with the historical use and advocacy efforts to maintain bike access upon Monument designation.
Other public lands designations, state lands, and private lands
Finally, public lands without special federal designations may also have restrictions on where bikes can be taken. Non-motorized trails on public lands are often still closed to bike access for a wide variety of reasons, making it all the more important to carefully research trip plans. In winter months, wheeled travel over snow may also be restricted, meaning that fat bikes may not allowed even on snowmobile trails in some areas on public lands; some local snowmobile trail associations also restrict bike access.
And finally, state and privately managed lands do not fit into the federal land management umbrella, and thus, bike access in state parks, state trust lands, and private lands is at the discretion of the managers and land owners. Some state lands are not open to any public access. And private lands are rarely open to public access, although there is a gradual shift in attitude regarding recreation opportunities on private lands in some parts of the country.
Bike access is not black and white from any perspective. Moving forward with an understanding of the complexities of land management, the best decision you can make is to research the regulations of the agencies and designations for the lands you’re traveling on and near (the latter just in case you need to alter your route on the fly). Simply calling the office of the land managers should provide clear answers and an understanding of what is allowed and prohibited within your ride ambitions, as well as if any special permits may be required.
And if you want to become involved in advocacy for bike access and/or landscape conservation, advocacy organizations are a great place to start, whether that's Bikepacking Roots, the International Mountain Bike Association, the Sustainable Trails Coalition, or a regional group. These organizations, each having unique perspectives, strategies, and goals related to access, advoacy, and conservation, can keep you informed of specific opportunities and challenges, share the oftentimes lengthy backstories behind conservation and access issues, and provide specific opportunities for engagement.
To wrap up, you may read this and ask, “Geez, why even bother venturing off roads or well traveled bike-legal trails if it’s so complex?” Riding your bike in backcountry areas connects you to whole ecosystems, to less familiar places, and reveals the magnificence of the more wild and undeveloped landscapes. So we encourage you to get out there, but please do so where permitted so that as cyclists, we can continue to maintain and gain trust, respect, and access to protected lands while also supporting protections for the backcountry where we ride.
The 2020 election is just 2 weeks away, and voting is ongoing in many states already. Over the past 4 years, the United States has been subject to leadership that has rolled back environmental protections and exacerbated social justice issues that negatively impact the health of the nation, the landscape of the U.S., the global climate, and the experiences of bikepackers.
We ask that you vote in this election; all races are important to bring leadership around the U.S. that will lead the country toward a socially and environmentally healthy landscape.
Below, we share some of the issues relevant to all bikepackers that your vote can impact.
Use your vote to elect federal and state officials who will bring Indigenous leadership to land management.
The reduction of numerous National Monuments in 2017 was one of President Trump’s first major attacks on the environment and the American people. President Obama’s 2016 designation of Bears Ears National Monument marked the first time in history that a National Monument was created in response to the voices and advocacy of the Indigenous groups who call the landscape home. The language of Obama’s Presidential proclamation that designated Bears Ears National Monument took a step toward building more inclusive land management practices by including the voice of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition in collaborating on the National Monument designation and management. The language recognizes that Native Americans still use the land today and acknowledges that Native presence isn’t just a historical fact - it’s a present-day reality of the diversity of the United States.
A critical step toward rectifying Indegenous erasure and colonialism is centering Indigenous voices and perspectives in land management. Bears Ears National Monument was a step in that direction, but that was undone by President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke.
Bears Ears is on the ancestral lands of the Hopi Tribe, Diné (Navajo), Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, and Zuni Pueblo. Artwork above by Renee Hutchens.
Use your vote to elect federal and local officials who will recognize and address the devastating legacy of uranium mining on the people and landscape of the Colorado Plateau.
There is a long history of radioactive contamination from uranium mines across the Colorado Plateau. The toxicity of uranium has caused extensive illness and death across Native communities in the Southwest. Many communities located near abandoned uranium mines have also been directly affected by groundwater contamination, and this is not a historic issue - it is very much a current one! After a legacy of uranium-caused cancer, birth defects, and death across Navajo Nation, it is unacceptable for a uranium mine to be negotiated just outside Grand Canyon National Park, where contaminated groundwater will poison the water source of the Havasupai people.
Use your vote for roadless areas in National Forests, backcountry experiences, and the Traditional Homelands Conservation Rule.
The Roadless Rule is a conservation tool to protect National Forests from road development that comes with extractive development such as logging and mining. Just last month, President Trump stripped the Tongass National Forest from the protections granted through the Roadless Rule. Not only is the Tongass the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, it provides critical wildlife habitat, resources on ancestral lands to 11 Native tribes, and world-class recreation, but the amount of carbon dioxide the Tongass can sequester makes it critical in combating climate change. None of the tribes recommended a full repeal of the Roadless Rule, and around 95% of public comments opposed complete exemption.
Unlike more restrictive conservation measures, the Roadless Rule allows for mountain biking and winter grooming in conjunction with natural resource protections. Trump’s undoing of the Tongass protection by the Roadless Rule is threatening in setting a precedent for future undoing of the Roadless Rule. In addition to the ecosystem and climate services of undeveloped forests, roadless areas provide bikepackers with more remote, less-developed backcountry experiences - a value bikepackers in our 2019 Bikepacking Community Survey highlighted as an important part of the bikepacking experience.
The Tongass National Forest is on the lands of Tlingit and Haida. Photo above of mountain biking in Idaho's Lionhead Roadless Area (photo by Will Stubblefield).
Use your vote to elect federal and state officials who will take action to address climate change and bring Native peoples into co-management of forests and wildfire.
The western US has seen record-breaking wildfire this year. Wildfires across most western states have had devastating impacts on communities, watersheds, wildlife habitat, air quality, and recreation. Healthy air, water, ecosystems, and human communities are vital to the future of the West. Climate change is undeniably contributing to these increasingly widespread and severe fires - drought, beetle infestations, and record temperatures. Coupled with climate-related factors, more than a century of fire suppression has led to unprecedented fire-prone forests that are often choked with overgrowth.
Co-management of forests and wildfire between state, federal, and Tribal leaders offers the future of the western landscape a glimmer of hope. Indigenous peoples have been practicing ceremonial and traditional burning to mitigate extreme wildfires and cultivate desired plants for harvesting and attracting game. After 200 years of banned traditional burning, allowing tribes to return to their ancestral lands to practice controlled burning is an opportunity for co-management of forests.
The Karuk and Yaruk tribes in Northern California have partnered with the Forest Service to manage lands for traditional purposes concurrently with wildfire management. This is just one example of Indigenous/Federal collaboration in land management for the future health of the landscape.
Photo above of 2020 wildfire aftermath along the Arizona Trail (photo courtesy of Arizona Trail Association).
Bikepacking Roots is expanding and diversifying our Board of Directors, and we are welcoming applications from individuals looking to be a positive influence for and within the bikepacking community. The Board of Directors is made up of passionate volunteers who act as representatives of the organization and as advocates for the bikepacking community, the experiences we collectively seek, and the landscapes through which we ride.
Who is Bikepacking Roots? We are the only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, and creating professional routes. We also advocate for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride and for continued access to backcountry trails. Our organization values human-powered adventure and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership, now nearly 6,000 strong, that makes a positive impact as we all explore by bike. In the past year, Bikepacking Roots has created the Bears Ears Loops and the Northwoods Route, the BIPOC Bike Adventure Grant, developed a bikepacking curriculum for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, and has been involved in advocacy efforts all across the West.
“Our Board is instrumental in helping chart the direction of this community-driven non-profit,” explains Executive Director Kurt Refsnider. “The Board also makes sure that we’re as efficient as possible with our budget in order to maximize our impact.”
Bikepacking Roots is striving for the composition of our Board of Directors to reflect an increasingly diverse and inclusive bikepacking community. In particular, we are seeking applicants who represent non-dominant identities as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or FTW (femme, transgender, women). Individuals of all ages, identities, abilities, and sizes are encouraged to apply. Board members do not need to be bikepackers but preferably can contribute expertise, guidance, and dedication in areas that strengthen Bikepacking Roots’ ability and capacity to pursue our mission. These skill areas could include (in no particular order)
To learn more about this opportunity and to apply, click here. Bikepacking Roots will begin reviewing applications on September 14th.
We're excited to finally release the long-awaited Bears Ears Loops bikepacking route network - 700 miles of riding options through the high deserts and subalpine wilds of central and southeastern Utah. Their goal with these routes are to empower riders to confidently and safely immerse themselves in the remarkable but intimidating landscape, develop an informed sense of place, and experience some of all that is at risk to be lost if the Bears Ears region is not protected.
The 372-mile Bears Ears Loop, the eastern of two loop options, meanders through more than 100 miles within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. By helping bikepackers experience this and the surrounding landscapes and understanding more about the unique cultural history, geology, and ecology through the accompanying 100-page Bears Ears Loops Landscape and Route Guide, we are actively creating new advocates for Bears Ears. The 437-mile Swell Loop to the west connects with our already-popular Wild West Route, the Canada-to-Mexico epic.
The riding experience of this network has been intentionally designed as relatively non-technical, very manageable on a traditional mountain bike (fat bikes are not necessary, and gravel bikes are not recommended), and to be accessible for any mountain biker with some prior bikepacking experience. Most of the riding is on dirt roads and 4x4 tracks, and water resources along the way have been inventoried and scouted in different seasons to assess reliability. Bikepacking Routes also chose to not route the loops through the more seldom-visited areas of the Monument to avoid impacting their nature.
“The remoteness of this region, the scale and grandeur of the landscape, and the minimal development of any sort make this place the most powerful of anywhere I’ve ridden,” says Kurt Refsnider, Bikepacking Roots' Executive Director. “But the remoteness and perceived harshness of the area keep most bikepackers away. So we’ve created these routes and extensive planning resources to allow more riders to safely adventure through this region, to have immersive experiences here, to learn more about the landscape and its sacredness to Indigenous groups. That understanding and connection is what builds new conservation advocates.”
The designation of Bears Ears National Monument in 2016 marked the first time in U.S. history that a National Monument was created in response to the voices of the Indigenous groups who call the landscape home - the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe. Just 11 months later, the Trump administration reduced the Monument's size by ~85%. And in a direct affront to the request of the Intertribal Coalition, the southern unit of the reduced Monument was named the Shásh Jaa’ Unit (using the Diné name for Bears Ears). The Coalition had insisted upon the use of the English “Bears Ears” name for the Monument rather than in any one tribe’s language in solidarity and unity. The legality of the Monument reduction is currently being litigated in court.
"We often times hear phrases such as ‘land conservation’ and ‘protecting public lands’ in the outdoor industry which is heavily driven by preserving the ability to recreate in these places,” explains Diné (Navajo) conservation advocate and mountain biker Renee Hutchens. “We too advocate, but what drives our fight to protect our land is our belief that the land is us – our identity, culture, and way of life is held within Mother Earth. It is the same mindset you’d have if you were fighting for your own life or that of your loved ones."
More information about these loops, all GPS data, and the full 100-page Bears Ears Loops Landscape and Route guidebook (in digital and print formats) are available on our Bears Ears Loops page.
However, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is requesting that visitors refrain from traveling to the Bears Ears region given the severity of the health crisis in some local communities, particularly Indigenous communities. So now is the time for planning trips, not actually taking trips to this area - that’s how we collectively can best show respect and solidarity at this time.
By Gabriel 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, bikepackers, and ghost trail whisperers up and down the west coast. Their knowledge, ambition, and nose for sniffing out overgrown singletrack is what enabled the Orogenesis project to grow into a more or less uninterrupted line for 4,500 miles along the western lip of the North American Plate.
That being said, it’s hard not to focus on the few interruptions in this line: 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 them. We found 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—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?
Last year our collective—one hundred thirty-two strong—logged over 2,500 miles across three states and two countries while sussing out the hidden stories that trails tell us. One rider, Rick Ianniello, circled the Sierra 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 European rider traveled north from Tahoe, through Downieville to Oregon, and along the Oregon Timber Trail. In Washington, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance introduced the Orogenesis concept to their state legislators, and Bikepacking Roots submitted comments on several land management changes that could negatively affect the route. The many trail organizations along the Orogenesis route understand the value of long-distance connectivity and have already begun poring over old maps and reopening historic 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. Replacing 206 miles of ‘gaps’ with dirt ribbons comes with a conservative price tag of $5.5 million in this day and age. Gone is the era of pack and saddle routes to fire lookouts (1910s), aggressive Civilian Conservation Corps trail system construction (1930s), and dreaming up the National Trails System (1968). Today, scratching an 18” wide enabler of joy into the duff so I don’t have to ride my bicycle next to speeding traffic is a frustratingly complex process. Years of stakeholder engagement and environmental assessment must be completed before a shovel touches dirt. These barriers exist for good reason of course, but when you dream on a scale as large as Orogenesis they compound on each other and rip wind from my sails on each tack. Luckily there’s a lot of us with sails up. A shared dream is collectively buoyed—and we’re building a giant raft—throw us a line why don’t you?
If you’re anything like me, 2020’s uncertainties and sorrows have made my usual priorities seem relatively unimportant. I turn 40 in a few days, which comes as a surprise because my personal path had not shown itself until recent years. At this path’s beginning a wise man’s observation stuck with me: “Trails are the oldest form of communication known to humankind.”
What exactly are we all doing here on this raft floating listlessly in unison? Let’s set our sights on the same old ground but with new eyes and fresh optimism. Dirt ribbons, holding us humbly together and closer to earth. What do you want to say—or maybe a better question is—what do you want us to hear?
So what does the future bring? Relationships and connections. We’ll be on the ground, riding trails, meeting each other, talking to funders, and figuring out where goals overlap with the passionate people already doing countless hours of trail advocacy across the West’s crumpled and mysterious terrain. Join us as we launch into this next phase of uncharted territory—creating the world’s longest singletrack bikepacking route.
OROGENESIS TRIALS PROJECTS - 2020 and beyond
PACKWOOD TRAILS PROJECT, WA: 28 miles, planning begins 2020. Estimated cost: $740,000
At the end of 2019, we completed a Bikepacking Roots five-year strategic plan after a year-long process led by our Board of Directors. Our vision is centered around fulfilling our mission to support and advance bikepacking and the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride. To do this, we’ve identified our goals as:
We recognize that our goals are ambitious and require intentional, expertly guided strategic action. To strengthen our capacity for guiding and implementing action at Bikepacking Roots, we have sought the involvement of experts around the country. Our Regional Advisors bring passion, dedication, and experience to route development, advocacy, and stewardship around the country. They are folks who are tuned into and involved in their region and have volunteered to contribute their awareness, ideas, and guidance to Bikepacking Roots in advocacy related efforts and in route development. With our Regional Advisors, we are expanding our capacity to develop the highest quality routes, grow our awareness of local issues that affect bikepackers, build grassroots advocacy, and engage local bikepacking communities around the country.
Currently our Regional Advisors include Whitney Ford-Terry (Santa Cruz, Ca), Erin Carroll (Santa Barbara, CA), Troy Hopwood (Seattle, WA), Jessica Kelly (WA), Almer Casile (Coeur d’Alene, ID), Joe Riemensnider (Missoula, MT), Patrick K Hendry (Park City, UT), Dana Ernst (Flagstaff, AZ), John Schilling (Phoenix, AZ), Spencer Harding, (Tucson, AZ), Matt Mason (Las Cruces, NM), Jan Bennett (Santa Fe, NM), Sarah Swallow (Durango, CO), Steve Fassbinder (Mancos, CO), Greg Lessard (Minneapolis MN), Chris Tompkins (Danville, VA), Charly Aurelia (Asheville, NC), Karlos Bernart (DeLeon Springs, FL).
We will continue to expand the diversity and geographic representation of Regional Advisors. In the coming year these folks will be engaged in route development, community building, and fostering local bikepacking advocates and stewards.
To advise our efforts at advocating for bikepacking and the conservation of the landscapes through which we ride, we have formed a new Policy and Cultural Advisors group. These individuals bring diverse expertise and perspective to our organization and will help guide how we engage in and structure our advocacy strategies and communications. Currently this group is composed of
The ever-expanding Bikepacking Roots community is particularly inspiring during these challenging and uncertain times, and we are especially grateful to have this talented group of individuals supporting our mission.
By Kaitlyn Boyle
In late 2019, Bicycling Magazine published an article highlighting the Bears Ears Alternate to our Wild West Route, part of a larger bikepacking network in development called the Bears Ears Loops. We intended to release the route network and its guidebook in early spring, but the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent closing of much of southeast Utah’s public lands led us to withhold releasing the Bears Ears Loops. We're now excited to share the progress toward releasing the route!
As we stayed home looking forward to the opening of the Bears Ears landscape to visitors, we have been quietly adding the details and finishing touches to the Bears Ears Loops network and guide. The loops will consist of three loops plus an alternate to the Wild West Route and shorter point-point trips. The Confluence Loop is a 372-mile-long loop that circles the heart of the Colorado Plateau around the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The Swell Loop is a 436-mile-long loop that broadly encircles the San Rafael Swell over the Henry Mountains and Aquarius Plateau. The Plateau Loop is made by riding the outer periphery of the Confluence and Swell Loops for a larger 646-mile-long loop connecting the Wild West Route on the high plateaus of the western Colorado Plateau to a grand tour of Bears Ears and the Canyonlands Region.
This route network will be supported by GPS resources with hundreds of waypoints identifying the scarce water and resupply options. The Wild West Route mobile app from Bikepacking Guides will also be updated to include the Bears Ears Loops. A full-length guidebook will be available in digital or print formats to accompany the route and guide bikepackers through the logistics of planning and riding any of the routes. To help bikepackers further enhance their experience in the inspiring and sacred landscape that is Bears Ears region, a detailed landscape guide offers geophysical, biological, and human histories and perspectives of the area. The landscape guide weaves in a Navajo perspective on the sacred connection between landscape and culture and it gives a background to the ongoing National Monument designation issue.
If you’re looking forward to planning a bikepacking trip to the Bears Ears region, keep an eye out for the Bears Ears Loops network and guide to be released in early June! To support our work in professional and intentional route and guide development, please contribute to support more projects like this in the future - one of our current prizes is a night or two of lodging in one of Roam Industry cabins along the route, as well as shuttle support if needed for a point-to-point ride!
By Kaitlyn Boyle
I enjoy solo bikepacking, but generally I’d rather bikepack with people. For me bikepacking is a way of moving through a landscape at a pace that I can connect with the place and the people I’m with. Bikepacking with others forges new friendships, deepens existing relationships, and creates a shared experience. Inspired by our experiences bikepacking with friends and yet-to-be friends, we are excited to announce the first-ever Bikepacking Roots Rendezvous! This free, non-competitive gathering will take place in the mountains surrounding the Teton Valley in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming in late August.
The Bikepacking Roots Rendezvous is intended to increase access to the bikepacking opportunity, build community, and connect riders to local landscapes. We invite mountain bikers from the region to join us to try out bikepacking, ride a new route, and build community in an inclusive and welcoming group riding and camping environment. Those who join us will deepen their connection to the landscape by learning about the natural history, land management, and trail stewardship of the region that makes backcountry riding possible.
We invite you to join us at the Bikepacking Roots Teton Rendezvous for a multi-day group ride to experience the incredible backcountry singletrack that exists because of dedicated trail stewardship and advocacy. For this event, we've partnered with fellow non-profit Mountain Bike the Tetons, the local trails organization, to highlight the value of dedicated trail advocacy and stewardship for backcountry trails.
Details will be released with the registration page at the end of this month. The event, and all future Bikepacking Roots Rendezvous, will be free, encourage folks of all bikepacking experience levels to join, and facilitate a fun, educational, and inclusive environment that connects mountain bikers with other mountain bikers and the landscape through which we ride. Stay tuned for the registration and details!
And given the ever-evolving Covid-19 situation, we obviously may need to cancel the event. We'll only move forward with a small group event like this if travel at the time is responsible, if the local communities are welcoming visitors, and if the Caribou-Targhee National Forest is fully supportive.
Written by Kaitlyn Boyle
For over 95% of Americans, we’re weeks into state-issued stay home orders and federal social distancing instructions. For me, I’m hunkered into the transition season in the Teton Valley, Idaho. Snow is melting, precipitation falls as a rain/snow mix, and trails are many weeks away from being rideable. So like so many, I too, am beginning to feel restless with cabin fever as I wonder when I’ll be able to load my bike up to travel and pedal freely again.
Concurrent with lay-offs and furloughs from Coronavirus, Americans nationwide have demonstrated how valuable America’s public lands and recreation opportunities are. People who are looking for fresh air, movement, social interaction (often under the parameters of social distancing), and vacation have flooded recreation destinations from the closest urban trailheads and parks to the gateway communities adjacent to America’s most coveted landscapes. Our last blog post shared the needs and requests of small gateway communities. In summary, mayors of gateway communities have publicly requested visitors stay home and wait to visit their tourist town once the pandemic crisis has settled. But as states are starting to discuss the process of reopening local economies and lifting restrictions, how do we determine the responsible and appropriate ways to expand our personal recreation opportunities?
With these discussions happening in our federal and local governments, I’m advocating for the communities and landscapes that bikepackers impact. How state and local governments start to lift stay home orders will vary from place to place. Let’s wait and continue to listen to small communities. If you’re thinking of going somewhere as your state opens up, reach out and learn if those communities are ready to have visitors again. Just because local businesses open won’t mean that communities are at the same time open to visitors quite yet.
Curious for a broader understanding of the impacts of Coronavirus on recreation spaces, I’ve asked Board members at Bikepacking Roots who represent various regions of the country to share how their home communities are trying to flatten the curve in relation to recreation, travel, and land management. Here's what they shared:
These examples illustrate the concurrent marked value of access to fresh air, natural spaces, and recreation to this nation and the challenges that small communities and land management agencies face in protecting the health and safety of their community members and employees during a pandemic. As we begin to contemplate resurfacing from the lockdown, I ask that as a representative of the bikepacking community, you proceed in seeking recreation with the selfless perspective of the individuals, communities, and landscapes you intend to engage with. To us at Bikepacking Roots, responsible recreation in the foreseeable months looks like seeking the stances of local communities on outside visitors before traveling to or through them and diligently practicing the hygiene, social distancing, or group size guidelines asked of by the locals communities. And of course, local and solo riding is, now more than ever, an opportunity to explore your home while recreating responsibly.
-Kaitlyn Boyle, Program Coordinator
Hello fellow bikepackers,
From the Board of Directors and staff at Bikepacking Roots, we hope that you and your families are remaining healthy and are navigating the adversity and uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic as smoothly as possible. Our hearts go out to all whose health and livelihoods have been and will be compromised as a result of this health crisis.
Our mission at Bikepacking Roots is, in part, to advocate for the landscapes through which we ride. But at this time, we need to be advocates for all the communities that also make our adventures possible, and right now, those communities are who we’re listening to. And they’re asking that we all respectfully refrain from traveling for outdoor recreation or accessing the backcountry away from home.
During this critical effort to flatten the curve, it is imperative that recreationalists do not further stress the residents of small, rural communities by increasing their contact with the broader population or adding pressure to their already limited health care resources. Stay home and responsibly recreate locally. Furthermore, once we’re on the other side of this pandemic and recovering, those small communities will need us! So please, start dreaming and scheming of the adventures to come once we have moved past the threats of Coronavirus.
"Right now, what we and other gateway communities need is space and time," says Jonathan Houck, Gunnison County Commissioner and Bikepacking Roots Board member. "And when we're past this crisis, communities like ours will swing our doors wide open, and we'll need you."
Please take 2 minutes to listen to Jonathan's message for the bikepacking community:
Gunnison County is one of Colorado's popular rural tourism destinations including Crested Butte and sections of both the Colorado Trail and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Gunnison County has also already been hit hard by Covid-19. Gateway communities across the country are closing their doors to visitors and asking us to not recreate in their local front- or backcountry areas to protect residents and focus all their resources on their own fight in this crisis. So let's save our adventures for when they’ll benefit the economic recovery of small communities all across the country.
Here at Bikepacking Roots, we will be delaying the release of new routes, such as the Bears Ears Loops, until we’ve received word from small communities that they’re excited to welcome us back. In the meantime, we’ll be working hard behind the scenes on route development and educational projects.
Kurt, Kait, and everyone at Bikepacking Roots
Kurt Refsnider, Executive Director
Kaitlyn Boyle, Program Coordinator
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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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