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
For the Wild: NEPA update, BLM drilling along Kokopelli Trail & Bears Ears & Grand Staircase Escalante Final Management Plans
NEPA Update: Submit a comment
By March 10th, submit your comments here on proposed changes to NEPA, so that agencies continue to consider public input and cumulative environmental impacts.
Background from our January blog:
Early this year, the Trump Administration announced its intention to change the rules guiding the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one of our bedrock environmental laws. Since it was passed as law 50 years ago, NEPA has mandated that the federal government review the potential environmental impacts of proposed decisions and projects before proceeding. NEPA ensures the federal government is transparent with the public about its plans and decisions, is methodical when it researches the consequences, alternatives, and methods of implementing a project, and is mindful of the public’s input into the decision making process.
By changing the rules, the Trump Administration aims to expedite development on public lands. This objective will be accomplished by limiting public input opportunity, reducing environmental analyses, and eliminating consideration of projects’ ramifications on future climate change. Fortunately, the Trump Administration is required to accept public input before making these changes. We have until March 10 to voice our request to uphold NEPA’s foundational regulations and preserve our ability to be part of a public review process
NEPA regulations apply to federal and federally funded projects, including transportation, energy, and water infrastructure, and to decisions about the management of public lands. These management decisions include authorization and leasing of resource extraction, grazing, and logging, as well as recreation and trail infrastructure projects. NEPA impacts bikepackers by regulating development on federal land to minimize negative impacts on local communities and the environment. Through the processes required by NEPA, landscapes are protected from hasty, unresearched development or disruption. At the same time, NEPA and its regulations were written some time ago, and they can be responsible for long, drawn out timelines for all projects, including recreation and trail infrastructure projects.
The recently-stated intention of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), an executive agency within the White House, is to reform the NEPA regulations to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and timeliness of development projects. We believe that while these objectives are worthwhile in many instances, there are critical elements of NEPA that must be protected, because they uphold protections for the health of our environment and our communities. If you would like to see NEPA regulations that ensure public input, thorough, scientifically supported environmental impact statements, and analyses that consider a project’s potential impact on the climate , we urge you to write a short letter to the CEQ sharing your views. Here are some messages you could include:
Comments must be submitted on or by March 10.
You may submit comments via any of the following methods:
Pictured: Bikepacking south of Green River, Utah in the Mancos shale, backed by the cliffs of the Mesa Verde Group. These rock layers were deposited between 64 and 144 million years ago in shallow water coastal environments. These rock formations are known for their oil and gas deposits. And today, the USGS estimates approximately 24% of United States greenhouse gas emissions are related to energy development on public lands.
BLM tried to auction off parcels in Sand Flats Recreation Area outside Moab, UT for drilling: the victory and elephant in the room.
In late January the BLM shared plans to auction parcels of public land across Utah for energy development. Two of these parcels fell within the Sand Flats Recreation Area just outside Moab, Utah and would have impacted the iconic Slickrock Trail, as well as rock climbing and camping in Muleshoe Canyon. The Kokopelli Trail, a classic bikepacking route, starts at the Slickrock Trailhead. Businesses that rely on the recreation economy of tourism linked to the Slickrock Trail and Muleshoe canyon, plus thousands of individuals, flooded the BLM with opposition to the leasing of those parcels even before any public comment period about the plan opened up. Grand County and Moab officials and the Utah Governor unanimously rejected the proposed parcel leases voicing concern about visitor experience and impacts on the local water supply. These reactions demonstrate a broad recognition of the incompatibility of energy leasing and quality recreation experiences.
In response to the flood of opposition to drilling on these popular and iconic landscapes, the BLM withdrew the two parcels closest to the Slickrock Trail from the upcoming oil and gas lease sales. This is a victory for the public process, however the root of the issue remains present. The Trump Administration is pushing an energy development agenda that is leasing public lands for drilling. Drilling on public lands accounts for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and the Trump Administration is offering public lands for energy development leases on an unprecedented 461 million acres of public land and waters. How America’s public lands are auctioned off to drilling and the range of related impacts must be addressed for the future of the American West.
Pictured: Bikepacking through Bears Ears. This landscape was designated a National Monument in 2016 for its significant cultural and archeological resources. The Trump Administration has dramatically reduced the protections granted by National Monument designation.
Final Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument management plans released and face legal scrutiny.
On February 6th the Bureau of Land Management released its final management plans to open Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments to new mining, drilling, grazing, and logging. The reduction of these National Monuments is currently in litigation challenging Trump's unprecedented and illegal erasure of National Monument protection, and the new management plans fail to protect the monument objects as is required by the National Monument designation requires.
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!
Written by Kurt Refsnider, Executive Director
My bikepacking story began more than a decade ago when my mountain biking ambitions began to pull me toward bigger and bigger rides in unfamiliar landscapes or to connecting familiar but distant places. I spent hours pouring over print maps and fuzzy satellite imagery and enjoyed awe-inspiring trips with varying levels of success following the “routes” that I had created. But no matter the outcome of any particular adventure, I found myself absolutely enamored by multi-day mountain bike rides.
Early on, I shared some of these routes with other relatively new bikepackers who had seen my trip photos and wanted to experience those places for themselves. And with reliably unfortunate consistency, those folks bailed from my routes and sought more reasonable alternate tracks. It didn’t take me long to realize that where I opted to ride (or often push) my bike wasn’t necessarily about the riding but rather where I was riding. And that part of the passion often didn’t translate to other riders who more often expected where I had gone to have been driven by the search for great trails. That, however, wasn’t necessarily the case. A month-long solo trip across southern Utah in 2013 highlighted that for me as my focus was on conceptually connecting familiar parts of the desert landscape through the unknown country in between and trying to better understand the geologic relationships along the way. For me personally, bikepacking was a means for exploring and learning rather than seeking out as much great riding as possible.
This pattern culminated in 2014 when Bikepacking Roots co-founder Kaitlyn Boyle and I spent 30 days pedaling along the length of the Alps – L’Aventure Alpine. It was far and away the most arduous trip either of us had ever (or have since) done – 30 high passes, 320,000 feet of climbing, endless sections of above-treeline riding, countless hike-a-bikes of at least 3,000 vertical feet, and so much great trail. But despite the absolute magnificence of that 800-mile route, we never ended up sharing the data publicly because for most bikepackers, the over-the-top rigor simply wouldn’t be enjoyable. The same theme applied to long trips in Patagonia, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout the American West.
Subsequently, Kaitlyn and I devoted quite a bit of time to creating a series of 2- to 4-day routes on the Colorado Plateau and in the Central Rockies for Geology through Bikepacking, a Prescott College course in which we took groups of new bikepackers out on a series of self-supported trips and explored the diverse geology of the region. The impacts of the route development decisions are never more evident than while traveling with new bikepackers on those exact routes. Those routes and itineraries evolved from year to year, being honed by past experiences that went particularly well – or poorly.
It was through endeavors like those described above that I began to recognize the transformative power bikepacking experiences can have on individuals, and the vision for Bikepacking Roots as on organization began to congeal. On the route development side of our mission, the goal is to create professional and intentionally-designed routes with particular rider audiences in mind. Our initial offerings were varied in this way – the Colorado 14ers and Craters and Cinder Cones Loops are relatively short circuits designed for newer bikepackers seeking out singletrack and dirt road/4x4 track riding experiences, respectively. And the 1,100-mile Plateau Passage was created to offer experienced bikepackers a rugged, remote, and lengthy backcountry epic like no other.
The Wild West Route development was a whole different beast. The goal from the outset was to create a non-technical riding experience showcasing the wild and public lands of the American West – a place like no other on Earth. We sought to balance remote and immersive riding with regularly spaced services so as to make the experience as accessible as possible. And the physical demands of the route had to remain reasonable. Putting all this together resulted in a suite of criteria upon which the entire project progressed.
Scouting the Wild West Route took more than 8 weeks and involved more than 5,000 miles of driving on dirt roads, rough 4x4 tracks, and official Forest Service roads that really no longer were roads at all. In most areas, two or three parallel options for the route were scouted, incorporating input from local cyclists and land managers. For me personally, the scouting turned into a legitimate motorized adventure, allowing me to explore parts of the West that had been quite unfamiliar, but on a timeline that often dictated 12+ hours of driving for days on end. Dead ends, unexpectedly steep and blown out tracks, challenges associated with private lands, and completely annihilated “forest roads” turned me back on a daily basis. In Arizona, water resources dictated the alignment of the route in places, and I worked with private landowners in to offer additional water resources for bikepackers. On Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, I spent two years collaborating with their newly-launched Trails Initiative and the Navajo YES non-profit to envision, create, and institute regulations and a permitting process for the Nation’s first long-distance recreation route.
Upon completion of this extensive scouting, I set about determining how to best link up the sections that offered the most enjoyable and wild riding experiences while keeping the flow of the route on a broader perspective from becoming too taxing or remote. What I thought were the most stunning options that were scouted didn’t always make the cut for a variety of reasons. But the assemblage of sections that came together offered a consistent riding experience that met our criteria. By the summer of 2018, we had nearly 50 bikepackers ride some or all of the Wild West Route to provide feedback, help refine a few short sections, and build awareness of the new route in communities along the way. Personally, it was amazing to hear from these riders about how their experiences along the way were so closely aligned with the goal we set upon initiating the Wild West Route project. After incorporating the feedback from these riders, we released the Wild West Route in 2019 along with a 90-page route guide and an innovative new mobile app for bikepackers.
Since the Wild West Route was released, riders from across the globe have pedaled segments or the entirety of the route, and the appreciation voiced by these riders for the wild landscapes and public lands along the way has made my heart sing. A decade of adventures in route development, combined with input and feedback from literally hundreds of individuals, culminated in a route that will live on for decades. Hopefully one day I’ll have the opportunity to ride the Wild West Route, but for now, my attention has already been pulled elsewhere for other route development initiatives.
Written by Kaitlyn Boyle
Photos by Kurt Refsnider and Kaitlyn Boyle
The concept for Bikepacking Roots was envisioned on a shuttle bus ride to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. It was Christmas Day of 2015, and eventual co-founder Kurt Refsnider and I were on our way to catch a flight with our bikes and bikepacking gear for a month to Puerto Montt, Chile. We, or mostly Kurt, had spent the prior few weeks scouring the Internet for trails and rugged dirt roads to connect a loop around northern Patagonia. It was our third international bikepacking trip on a self-designed route and an endeavor that grew out of years of riding routes in the western United States. Despite the difficulty of finding trails on the Internet to create a 1,000+ mile route, we were eager to assemble and pack our bikes and pedal into an unfamiliar landscape and culture.
Over the prior 6 years, we each had been packing our bikes and pedaling for days, weeks, and months on bikepacking routes of all varieties. And by 2015, we were witnessing bikepacking beginning to boom. At the time, bikepacking and ultra endurance bikepack racing were often intertwined, and many people who went out and explored to create and share routes ultimately saw races on those new routes. The Adventure Cycling Association had gifted dirt-inspired bicycle tourists with the iconic Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, but the organization’s focus remained largely on paved touring routes and related advocacy in the subsequent decades. The Arizona and Colorado Trails also rose to prominence as unique opportunities for single-track loving bikepackers to tackle long-distance trail routes. And as these routes and new races grew in popularity, bag manufacturers popped up in garages and closets around the country. The once-niche pursuit of overnight mountain biking began to explode.
That Christmas Day on the shuttle, Kurt and I were mostly discussing the wave of impact that would likely follow the explosion. As more and more people discovered and tried bikepacking (which we hoped would happen, as it is our passion), resources for successful bikepacking experiences would be needed, and the once-small fringe group of early bikepackers would need to band together as an inclusive and cohesive user group to advocate for access and for a chair at the outdoor industry table. And, most importantly to me, this fledgling group of people could be inspired to care about and develop a sense of responsibility to protect the places through which they bikepacked.
Fast-forward one month. Kurt and I are riding the shuttle from the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport back to Prescott, Arizona on the tail end of our trip. Despite marginally reaching our objective of riding trail around northern Patagonia, we were relaxed and happy. We had found rugged hike-a-bike through the jungle and over volcanoes and had been turned back by repeated closed areas (fires, volcanic eruptions, areas in which bikes were not allowed, etc.) that led to long paved detours around massive lakes and National Parks. Plans were derailed by trail construction projects that had not yet reached completion, and we pedaled countless miles on once-dirt roads that were being forever buried under paving initiatives.
Despite all those setbacks, the happiness and relaxation we felt was a product of enjoying beautiful landscape, lovely people, a day-to-day pace that was not itinerary-bound, and an open mindset. After all, a self-designed route is rarely what you anticipate it to be. On the shuttle ride home we remarked on the incredible opportunities the United States public lands system offers for bikepacking, especially compared with other parts of the world in which we had bikepacked already. We returned to the concept of an organization whose mission was to increase and advocate for access to the bikepacking experience and the landscapes through which bikepackers ride.
Fast-forward another 18 months. Kurt and I launched Bikepacking Roots as a 501(c)3 non-profit with a small and talented Board of Directors to help guide the organization. Our first year saw the release of the 1,200-mile Plateau Passage route, 285-mile Colorado Fourteeners Loop, and the 185-mile Craters and Cinder Cones Loop. And we gradually began to engage in advocacy and access issues on behalf of the bikepacking community.
Fast-forward another 2.5 years to today. Bikepacking Roots is now an established organization that has a clear mission and vision for how to attain it. Our membership has grown to nearly 5,000 individuals, and our Board of Directors has more than doubled in size to bring on a more diverse group of cycling advocates. Our routes are inspired by landscapes that offer the bikepacking experiences our members are seeking with an emphasis on bikepacking on dirt surfaces in wild places. We take the necessary time to fully research and vet routes for the intended riding experience and compile detailed route guides that provide all necessary logistical information and data to ride the route. Additionally, our route guides include environmental education content to connect riders with the natural history of the landscapes through which we ride.
In mid-November, the Bikepacking Roots Board of Directors met in Colorado for a three-day retreat to wrap up a year-long strategic planning process. This group of volunteers from all across the United States is dedicated to determining how our organization can best support the growing bikepacking community and ensuring that we use our resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. We'll be sharing more about our vision for 2020 and beyond, but a few of the highlights include
Photos credit: Gabriel Tiller
And after wrapping up a year-long strategic planning process, Board President Kaitlyn Boyle is transitioning into a programming position within the organization. Andy Williamson, a long-time proponent of outdoor recreation access, conservation, and mountain bike advocacy, is taking the helm of the Board, and we also welcome Lizzy Scully, Nan Pugh, and Tom Flynn into leadership roles on the Board.
To learn more about some of the people hard at work behind the scenes at Bikepacking Roots, click here!
|Bikepacking Roots -- Explore. Inform. Connect. Conserve.||
News and updates
Bikepacking Roots is the only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, advocating for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride, and creating professional routes. We value human-powered experiences and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership (nearly 6,000 strong) that makes a positive impact as we adventure by bike.
Our Business Partners that support the bikepacking community, conservation, and public lands: