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
We’re a month into the new year. Here at Bikepacking Roots, we have been working to implement organizational growth to fulfill our mission. A cornerstone of that mission is to conserve the public lands and landscapes through which we ride. As we look ahead into 2020, we’ve asked ourselves what do we anticipate advocating for, and what should you as a bikepacker be aware of to join us in protecting the quality of the bikepacking experience and the landscapes we value? After taking an inventory of the current land management and policy issues, here is our big picture forecast of what to look out for.
Keep Public Lands in Public Hands: National Monuments
At the end of 2017, President Trump slashed protections of two iconic National Monuments in Utah. National Monuments offer high levels of protection to preserve cultural, archaeological, and ecological resources for historic and future value. Designated through executive order under the power granted to President Obama under the Antiquities Act, President Trump’s Monument reduction was unprecedented and illegal. His action is currently being litigated, and in 2020 we will see progress in the pending cases as they move beyond an extended discovery phase. Meanwhile, under the Trump Administration, the Bureau of Land Management has moved forward with revising the management plans. A protest period occurred in 2019, during which Bikepacking Roots and some of our members submitted a second round of comments, and we are now awaiting the a decision on how the reduced status of these lands will be managed.
Our soon-to-be-released Bears Ears Loops are a network of bikepacking opportunities that bring bikepackers into the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. Here bikepackers can experience the landscape that has earned a place on the 2020 World Monuments Watch, a newly awarded status that highlights the global significance of this contested landscape.
Bikepackers pause to admire the Bears Ears buttes, the namesake of Bears Ears National Monument.
Photo credit: Kurt Refsnider
Keep public lands in public hands: NEPA
Public input in the public lands process is a critical aspect of how land management policy can support and empower Americans. Early this year the Trump Administration announced intention to change guiding rules of the bedrock environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Since it was passed as law 50 years ago, NEPA has mandated that the government engage in a review of any potential environmental and public health impact of proposed decisions and projects before proceeding. NEPA ensures the federal government is transparent with the public on its plans and decisions, is methodical and researched in the consequences, alternatives, and methods of implementing the project, and brings public input into the decision making process.
The aim of the Trump Administration’s ongoing reforms of NEPA rules is to expedite development on public lands. This objective will be accomplished by limiting public input opportunity (Bikepacking Roots and some of our membership already submitted comments on this realm in 2019), reducing environmental analyses, and eliminating consideration of projects ramifications on future climate change. Fortunately, the Trump Administration is required to accept public input on these changes. We have until March 10 to voice our request to uphold NEPA’s foundational code, and as we have in the past, we'll share key concerns and recommendations to include in comments.
How to speak up: https://ceq.doe.gov/laws-regulations/regulations.html
The forests of the West evolved with fire, however wildfire size, intensity, and frequency is influenced by climate.
Photo credit: Will Stubblefield
Maintain and increase connectivity for bikepacking routes
Whether you aspire to live off your bike along from Canada/U.S. border to the southern tip of Baja or you value the opportunity to experience a shorter point-to-point trip or loop, connectivity of trail systems and mountain bike access is critical to bikepacking opportunities. We aspire to be a voice in maintaining current access and expanding mountain bike access to build connectivity of bikepacking routes.
Our Orogenesis project is an example of a long distance route project with potential for connectivity initiatives to expand access and opportunity. These trail connectivity initiatives can serve as an example in creative land and recreation management solutions for the future. Along the entirety of the 4,500-mile-long the Orogenesis Route, there are only 206 miles of “gaps” where no logical, legal, or safe connections can be indentified between existing route options. These gaps are opportunities for the bikepacking community to work with land managers and local trails and conservation groups to pilot bikepacking connectivity projects, restore historic trails, and work with land designations that protect or increase bike access.
The first step in these projects is initiating conversation with local organizations, groups and agencies. Support from our membership base will be influential in the process, and members of the local cycling communities will be helpful in implementing local trail projects.
The Continental Divide Trail through the Lion Head boasts world class singletrack that has historically been open to bikes and maintained by mountain bikers. Henry Fork Mountains, ID/MT.
Photo Credit: Kurt Refsnider.
Support public lands designations that protect landscapes and allow bike access
We are bikepackers and we are for the wild. We believe that through responsible bikepacker stewardship, bikes can coexist with wildness in places suitable for bikes. While we believe bikes do not detract from wilderness character, we also believe in protecting the environment for intact ecosystems, healthy and recovering wildlife populations, clean water and air, and a stable climate. We also know that it is through experiencing wildness first hand through recreation such as bikepacking that inspires a sense of personal responsibility to protect the environment. Because of this, we are committed to support creative land management designations that ensure environmental protections and allow bike access to trails.
An example of this is the upcoming release of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest (CGNF) Final Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. The draft plan proposed designating the Lionhead Roadless Area (just west of Yellowstone National Park) as a Recommended Wilderness Area, which under this new designation would ban bikes from an incredible slice of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that has historically offered mountain bikers unparalleled mountain experience in the largest intact ecosystem of the lower 48. We support the CGNF in adopting an alternative designation, a non-motorized Backcountry Area, that would still provide environmental protections while maintaining mountain bike access. You can directly keep tabs on the process here or stay tuned for an announcement from us that either celebrates the CGNF hearing the voices of the mountain bike community or calls for protests.
Problem solving connectivity requires vision, collaboration, resources, and support.
Photo Credit: Gabriel Amadeus, Limberlost
Bikepackers hold a unique position in that we rely on large swaths of landscape that provides connective bike access to wild places. Valuing bike access and preserved landscape gives us a voice at the table for creative land management solutions that protect the present and future landscape for all, including bikepackers and the environment. As the forecast unfolds into the realities of this year under the politics of election year, management plan revisions, heated access debates, we encourage you to use your voice to advocate for your values and join us in our effort to ensure the future for bikepacking and the landscapes through which we ride! And as always, please help us stay informed of local issues that could/will impact bikepackers so we can create a collective voice by submitting issues through our advocacy submission form!
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!
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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 adventure and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership (now 5,000+ strong) that makes a positive impact as we explore by bike.
Our Business Partners that support the bikepacking community, conservation, and public lands: