BaseCamper Beth Collins did her first bikepacking trip all on her own! Check out her account of the adventure. Click here to read Beth's original story and gear details on her blog.
Bikepacking has been in my head for years. But having a business and a dog to take care of pushed it down on the list as races seemed to get prioritized. COVID-19 has provided some extra time, so this was the year.
Did it matter that I hadn’t camped without having my stuff in a vehicle in over 40 years? I like the outdoors. Ride, eat, sleep, repeat! Right?
It wasn’t that simple for me.
There were definitely some funny moments and realizations, but I don’t want to candy coat it. I didn’t make my 2- to 3-night plan; I only made it one night. As often happens, it had some of what I expected, but not all.
I’ve been riding CrusherEX courses as my main focus since covid brought us the various distance ITT format in 2020. I love it up in Marquette and Baraga Counties. I have learned so much riding the CrusherEXs. Some of the routes have taken up to 38 hours, which got me thinking – can’t I just carry a little more and sleep? So why not? Crusherland it is.
For this ride I loaded all three of 2021’s routes in GaiaGPS, as well as last year’s 225. Studying them, I came up with a plan that would be roughly 60 miles per day and also give me some options if things went haywire. As it turned out, I ended up with 114 miles with 5,237 feet of climbing – the way back was a beast!
What Worried Me
Bears disturbing my campsite looking for snacks. I surveyed several folks on what to carry -- bear spray and food hanging gear -- and as it turned out, I settled for a bag hanging setup and smell repellent zip locks. Granted none of my friends had ever encountered bears camping in the UP.
Unfixable mechanical resulting in calling for help. I really don’t want to bother people with my exploits. I have many caring friends, but still – I don’t want them to have to "rescue" or worry.
Riding slow loaded – I wasn’t sure how it was going to be up in Crusher land; it's tough riding.
Weather – Can’t control it, but I didn’t want to deal with it. Weather won.
Camping in general – I figured it would take me hours each day just to deal with the camping part. (This was true.)
I had a bunch of stuff to acquire to make this bikepack thing happen. I spent tons of time reading articles, watching bikepacking.com videos, and reading reviews, and I got advice from friends with a lot of experience. My 100-line spreadsheet kept changing. I ordered and returned many items – packed and unpacked things many times. Eventually I realized I just needed to go with it and figure out what doesn’t work later.
I had a bunch of hours and long events completed before this trip. My fitness was good. I gave myself a week to recover from the 36-hour, 260-mile Point to Point Crusher, and then I resumed intervals during the week and started riding "loaded" on the weekends. Though I thought I could set up my full suspension bike for the bikepack, I had some trouble with the front pack – not really enough headtube length and a tangle of wires. Trying it loaded, I didn’t like the way it was handling. I quickly realized why my Salsa Cutthroat is bike of choice for so many bikepackers. It handled better, even with the front roll weight. Still, riding loaded is no joke. It’s pretty hard. I was actually surprised by that, since I do ride with a lot of stuff when doing the long events.
The Weekend’s Takeaways
Bikepacking Rules – Umm…. My reflection on the weekend has led me to believe that I have romanticized bikepacking for years. I follow the Tour Divide, and I have amazing cycling athlete friends who bikepack. I don’t know if they stress out and make big spreadsheets like I do, but for me, it’s gonna take a few tries before I find my groove.
I can ride loaded! I got to my first night destination at 2:00 p.m., at least two hours faster than I expected. I actually pushed through Mosquito Gulch faster than I pushed it in July – most likely because I had better shoes and it was drier, so I took more direct lines.
Riding versus camping? Am I riding to camp? No. Not really – especially solo. Maybe if I was doing this with a friend, the camping part would be featured and relaxed. But I got to my destination too early, and though the Huron Crossing at Lake Superior is spectacular, I didn’t think about other potential challenges – big party spot for locals on Saturday night, sand is unforgiving camping (especially wet sand), sand flies love to get in the tent with you, there’s no privacy there, being on a cliff above Lake Superior is probably not the smartest place to camp with storms in the forecast (oh right, I had no forecast other than the sky), there’s no cell service out there.
Weather! I survived, but….I did not plan for what to do with the wet versus dry stuff. I didn’t plan time in for drying. Because my food plan relied on resupply at L’anse and I didn’t have a forecast for Sunday and Sunday night (though the idea of getting a sandwich and finding a sunny spot or even a laundromat sounded good), ultimately I decided to cut my trip short and return to Ishpeming. I am still a bit annoyed about that.
Navigation -- I figured out how to get back to Ishpeming in a relatively efficient (though uphill) way because I was prepared with digital maps.
Simpler setup – maybe skip the tent and the stove on short solo trips. Pare down the clothes. The rear weight didn’t bother me at all, and I wished I was able to put more stuff back there because the big front roll, though it worked, seemed really clunky. The fork bags were nice to isolate specifics. The tent in the bigger one and the cooking setup and other miscellany in the smaller one. Carry less! Unpacking all the stuff at a campsite with no table and sand everywhere – a mess!
Less time camping – more time riding or find a bikepack friend who is a pro camper.
Pick a route with C-stores/restaurants/food trucks – I love cooking at home, but I’m still on the fence about carrying a stove, pot, and foods that must be cooked on a bike. In all fairness, I had gale-force winds and rain at the Huron, so my cooking was limited. My little Snow Peak stove is pretty cool. My foil windbreak was my smartest move.
Get the weather plan on my inreach – this was the main reason I ended my trip. The Unknown Weather.
Have a rain plan – upgrade the rain jacket (it was soaked on the back within 15 minutes – Outdoor Research Helium II). Tarp? You know what – I really didn’t like being zipped up in my very tiny tent, regardless of the fact I was "dry." Bivy and a tarp?
Carry a dedicated point-and-shoot camera. I would have taken more pictures, but I was mainly using Gaia GPS for navigation and taking the phone off the mount is a PIA.
If I’m riding in the backcountry, I should have real maps, also, as a backup and know how to read them and navigate with them, because I did stress about my phone getting wet (has happened before) and not charging anymore.
So that’s it. It was an adventure and a cool way to cap off my summer. Many thanks to K and T for my pre and post trip home and friendship up north.