We are excited to officially release the long-awaited Northwoods Route, a 600-mile-long circumnavigation of the western half of Lake Superior through northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Following primarily gravel roads, relatively smooth two-tracks, rail trails, and short sections of pavement through thick forests and along countless lakes of all sizes, we created this loop to be inviting to riders on both mountain or gravel bikes. And for riders looking for more technical riding opportunities - loaded or unloaded - along the way, the route includes singletrack alternates and trail networks in route communities along the way. The loop is closed by utilizing the passenger ferries that travel to Isle Royale National Park to cross Lake Superior (note that bikes are not allowed on any of the trails on Isle Royale!).
Each of the three states along the route offers unique landscapes and riding experiences, from the cobbly beaches and cliff lines of Minnesota, to the heavily eroded ancient mountain belts of Michigan, to the glaciated and remote countryside of northern Wisconsin. Small towns along all these segments offer regular resupply and lodging opportunities.
Singletrack alternates along the route include the 43-mile-long Duluth Traverse, the relatively new Jackpot Trail near Tofte, Minnesota (with more trail construction coming soon), and some of the most popular trails in the CAMBA trail system near Cable, Wisconsin. A dozen additional mountain bike trail networks along the route provide many more opportunities for singletrack riding.
“This was an especially rewarding route to create,” says Kurt Refsnider, Bikepacking Roots’ Executive Director and lead route developer. “I grew up in Minnesota and rode and hiked extensively in the Northwoods, and I had ambitions to do some bike tours in the region before I moved away. That never happened, but now we’ve been able to create an amazing route for others to experience and learn about the region by bike.”
In the summer and fall of 2020, several dozen members of our volunteer Route Test Team test rode sections of the route and alternative alignments to provide feedback and help refine the loop to provide the best possible riding experience. These riders also helped identify cyclist-friendly businesses along the route to include in the route guidebook.
In order to make trip planning as easy as possible and to help riders more deeply connect to the landscapes through which they ride, Bikepacking Roots has also developed a 70-page guidebook for the Northwoods Route. In addition to providing all pertinent logistical details, educational chapters explore the region’s geology, forest ecology, the recovery of the gray wolf, and the story of the world-class CAMBA trail system in northern Wisconsin. The introductory chapter by Alexandera Houchin, bikepacker and member of the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, shares her perspective on her homeland and the treaties through which that land was ceded to the U.S. Government.
More information about the Northwoods Route, the digital navigation and waypoint data, and the full 70-page route guidebook (in both e-book and print formats) are available here. Development of the Northwoods Route was made possible with support from Bikepacking Roots’ members and from Otso Cycles and Shimano, companies that both believe in the transformative power of bike adventures.
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.
At Bikepacking Roots, our mission includes “advocating for the landscapes through which we ride.” Indigenous peoples are an integral part of the future, present, and past landscapes in U.S. America. Thus, as advocates for a healthy, vibrant, and whole Western landscape, we are responsible for communicating and educating ourselves, our members, and the riders of the routes we design in a way that progresses Indigenous liberation from colonial trauma. With that intent, we’re announcing the renaming of the 2,700-mile-long Wild West Route to the Western Wildlands Route.
Our goal in designing and naming this route was to celebrate the landscape that characterizes the Intermountain West - a landscape that consists of large swaths of public lands, large areas with minimal human development, and a diverse social landscape. Unfortunately, in choosing the “Wild West Route” for a name, we largely missed our targeted connotation that comes with a name. The Wild West in the context of United States history is strewn with a history of violence, forced removal, land theft, colonization, and attempted erasure of Indigenous existence. Thus, we now recognize that rather than inspire an appreciation of the Western landscape, the name “Wild West Route” is inspiring backwards progress in decolonizing and undoing Indigenous erasure.
Renee Hutchens, a member of the Diné (Navajo) Tribe, reached out to us and shared her perspective on why the name of this route needed to be changed. “This route was set out to be about experiencing the land through bikepacking,” says Hutchens. “But the fact is, words that are rooted in colonialism can make their way into the everyday language and how we think. Wild West shows were performed across North America and Europe from the late 1800s into the 20th century and dramatized Indian attacks on stagecoaches and cabins. One of the most popular was Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West Show’ where Native peoples were put on stage for show to enact mock battles, and the ‘savage Indian’ character was popularized while audiences watched. These shows, and related influences, inspired filmmakers to produce Western movies that romanticized the story about how the West was won. The truth is the West was actually ‘won’ through violence, forced removal, and genocide of Indigenous peoples.”
Hutchen’s lengthier, valuable, and powerful perspective is shared below - we strongly encourage everyone to take the time to read and reflect upon it.
We apologize for any harmful impact and trauma that the former name has caused. Bikepacking Roots is committed to seeking the input and voices of Indigenous peoples in the future as we name our work, write about landscapes, and advocate for lands. The new name, the Western Wildlands Route, is intended to inspire an appreciation of the entire landscape that comprises the Intermountain West, including the Indigenous stories, peoples and perspectives that shape the future, present, and past of the lands upon which we ride. And we all need to recognize that “wild” places need not be characterized by the absence of people - Indigenous groups have lived in harmony with and as stewards of these lands for thousands of years.
Please join us in celebrating the Western wildlands, including the people who first called these lands home, by adopting the new route name today.
An Indigenous perspective on the “Wild West” from Renee Hutchens
When I first read the name, the “Wild West Route” my mind went numb as I paused. This pause was so long it felt like I couldn’t move through it. I could not even finish reading the sentence or context within which it was written. In fact, I didn’t care to because whatever it was about, I wanted nothing to do with it. This is why words matter. Reading these words felt like trying to move through trauma on top of historical trauma. I immediately knew it was important to bring my experience and perspective to the attention of the Bikepacking Roots leadership. I remember saying, “as the name stands right now, I will never ride that route.” In the meantime, while I didn’t care to ride the route, others went on riding the route. I knew because I kept reading stories on social media tagged with the hashtag and stories in media outlets that celebrated bikepacker’s experience on the Wild West Route. What stood out to me in these unfolding stories was a deeply rooted colonial narrative. It became apparent that these stories reinforced narratives that continue the legacy of colonialism and remove Indigenous peoples’ voices in the discourse of bikepacking.
Wild West shows were performed across North America and Europe from the late 1800s into the 20th century and dramatized Indian attacks on stagecoaches and cabins. One of the most popular was Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West Show’ where Native peoples were put on stage for show to enact mock battles, and the ‘savage Indian’ character was popularized while audiences watched. These shows, and related influences, inspired filmmakers to produce Western movies that romanticized the story about how the West was won. The truth is the West was actually “won” through violence, forced removal and genocide of Indigenous peoples. These are the stories that played in my mind in that long pause as I read the words “Wild West Route.” I was deeply grieved to see a route with this name cross 100+ miles of my Navajo homeland. Every story I’ve read since this route was released felt like I was reading a romanticized Hollywood story about “cowboys and Indians,” but it was supposed to be about bikepacking.
Something inside of me wanted to yell, “stop reinforcing colonial narratives on sacred land.” You see, names aren’t always intended to cause harm. This route was set out to be about experiencing the land through bikepacking. But the fact is, words that are rooted in colonialism can make their way into the everyday language and how we think. To prevent harm, words and biases must be critically examined and Indigenous peoples intentionally included or engaged in discussions. It was clear the “Wild West Route” triggered something much deeper beyond some catchy words. This name conveys historical trauma, forced cultural assimilation, and a legacy of colonization that aimed to eradicate Indigenous peoples all together. I grew up near Monument Valley. My grandpa and I would go there often to visit my grandma in her hogan. I would listen to stories as she wove many rugs. I realized from a young age how much this place meant to my Diné people and our culture. People often ask me, “where’s that?” I do my best to give them geographic references and they still look at me puzzled. I finally tell them, “you know the place that appeared in all those western movies?” Immediately they nod their head. It grieves me that a beautiful and powerful place, such as Monument Valley has become narrowed down to an iconic symbol for Western cinema. It’s clear how stories, even Hollywood stories can impact the way we relate and think about the land and the peoples Indigenous to the land.
Names of routes are no different because words are what make up the power of narratives that impact our relationships to anything, anyone, or any place. I want to challenge the cycling industry to do better and be more intentional when it comes to names or words used in routes, cycling events, marketing slogans, and products. Words are powerful because they can either perpetuate Indigenous erasure or promote inclusivity of Indigenous peoples and their experiences. Unsure at first where my conversations would end up about the problematic name of the “Wild West Route,” I am glad to say they eventually led to more productive conversations, and the decision to change the name of the route.
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).
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
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.
by Heather J. Rose
How do you write a short post about a 1500 mile journey that took place almost two years ago? Looking through old photos and focusing on one or two moments that capture the essence of solo travel was key. In summer of 2018 I was fortunate to be one of the early pioneers of the Wild West Route (WWR) developed by Bikepacking Roots. I rode the northern half of the route from Eureka, MT to Park City, UT (segments 1-5); I rode with the first portion friends and segments 4 & 5 alone. Experiencing the beauty of a new place, and especially the shared experience of communing in camp with friends, is always rewarding; however, I have also done a lot of solo bikepacking and thrive in this environment.
The section of the WWR from Hailey, ID to Park City, UT is in many ways a transition between the northern mountains of Montana and Idaho and the Wasatch Range of Utah. Pedaling away from Hailey, alone for the first time in two weeks, everything shifted. Not only was I transitioning to the flow of solo travel, but the landscape shifted immediately to open plains and chaparral -- suddenly I had to be acutely aware of my water levels and resupply points. Additionally, I had to give the hot mid-day sun the proper respect and shift my riding patterns accordingly as I spent the next several days riding across the exposed Snake River Plain of southern Idaho.
It occurs to me that I am recalling the challenges and pleasures of the WWR during a time of transition for all of us. We are all trying to adapt to being quarantined in our homes (for those fortunate enough to have a home), and local communities, as the Covid-19 virus ravages the world and we do our part in reducing its spread. We are transitioning between what our world looked like before the Covid-19 outbreak and what it may look like after, with many of us hoping that we can leverage this tragedy into a more kind and just world. Personally, I had to cut a bikepacking trip in Oceana short to get home before international flights were reduced to nonexistent and more borders closed. What started out as a transition between a fulltime career and some yet to be discovered version of my life has now transitioned into an exploration of stasis. Transitions abound.
Long bike rides, such as the Wild West Route, are tools by which we learn more about ourselves. Riding the long, often hot, and exposed sections of the route between Hailey and Park City will help you explore your personal boundaries. How close are you willing to cut your water supply to save a few pounds? Are you willing to gamble on the unconfirmed stream on the map? Are you willing to set up your tent in an exposed location miles from anywhere with no hiding from the sun, wind, nor a passing pickup truck? Or do you hold out for a campground with the security of others, hopefully a family, nearby? These are all questions you have to ask yourself in this transitional zone of the WWR, especially as a female traveling solo. During these segments of the WWR (4 and 5) resources are much scarcer with water and towns farther apart. Often during the long summer days, I would start pedaling extremely early to beat the heat, carrying four or more liters of water and make large pushes from town to town because I did not relish the thought of spending the afternoon sitting in my tent in the middle of a field of chaparral with no shade.
For example, from Arco, ID to Blackfoot, ID you are riding through open country on remote dirt roads in the Snake River Plain with only the Big Southern Butte off in the distance for company (with an optional side trip to the top of the butte!). While the 63 miles between these towns may not be a huge distance to cover in one day, with temperatures regularly pushing well into the 90s that week in July, the section was intimidating. I was pedaling away from the KOA in Arco by sunrise and made it to a hotel in Blackfoot by early afternoon. Inside with AC was the only chance for respite from the punishing sun; however, in cooler weather camping alone on the plain with the Big Southern Butte in the distance and coyotes singing that high lonesome song would be an exquisite treat.
Leaving Blackfoot the next day I planned to camp at one of the designated campsites in my route notes, but they came too early in the day to stop, so I pushed on, planning to camp on one of the patches of BLM land ahead. However, as morning turned to afternoon, and afternoon to early evening, all patches of public land were heavily trampled by cows and covered in cow pies. Let’s just say I’ve had a bad experience with setting up my tent in a location that cows claimed as their own and none of these sites were calling my name; instead I pushed through the endless rollers and wind, finishing a 90 mile day in Soda Springs, ID just before the last restaurant closed. For the duration of the trip I only spent three nights in a hotel and two of the three were in this more exposed transitional zone to get respite from the heat.
After Soda Springs the route climbs into the Preuss Mountains. After passing through a huge mining area and being chased down the backside of the mountain by a sheepdog I started to look for water and a place to rest my head for the night. After cresting several more ridgelines with nothing but cows and dry chaparral I found nirvana! A sudden, and inexplicable, piece of alpine heaven surrounded by dry grazing land on all sides! I set up my tent next to Preuss Creek, surrounded by protective brush (safety from the eyes of folks passing by), pine trees, and a log to sit on – everything I could ever ask for in a campsite! As I headed toward Bear Lake the following day I skirted along the edge of the high plains of Wyoming, with views forever and a sky so big that Montana may have to give up its motto. At the gas station in Laketown I bought what were possibly the most expensive bag of instant mashed potatoes in existence and headed over to the state park campground for the night, but unfortunately the campground was full! This is where being a solo traveler comes in handy; there is always space for you. I started cruising the group sites for a friendly face and some open space; it didn’t take me long to spot the right bearded man with an open smile. This man turned out to be a fellow dirt bag down from Alaska and he was camping with his extended Mormon family for a reunion. He told me to go ahead and set up my tent in the back corner and he would go explain to his father. The family welcomed me to their huge dinner and that night this vegetarian ate the best sloppy joes of her life! While being a solo female traveler does introduce some risk, or at least perceptions of increased risk, the payoff is that people are incredibly open, kind, and protective of you on the road.
Coming off four months of solo international bike touring and being locked into one (relatively) urban place for an unknown number of months is quite the challenge of its own, but as someone who has trouble staying in one place I am trying to take advantage of this forced opportunity with daily Spanish and banjolele practice and, of course, fantasizing about where I will ride as soon as it is safe again. I don’t know about you, but I think the Orogenesis route tracing the western edge of North America, currently being developed by Bikepacking Roots, is calling my name. Let’s keep working together to protect our public lands so that we can continue to enjoy these explorations of self and place. Now please excuse me while I go tend to my sourdough starter!
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
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