Salsa rider Neil Beltchenko takes a moment to reflect on his great bikepacking rides, accomplishments, and experiences of 2017.
Every time I’m at an event at a bike shop, it’s typical that comments and questions about my bike racing come up. Things like, “Your rookie run on the Tour Divide was impressive!” or, “Your record on the Arizona Trail was something else!” Perhaps the most common is, “How many hours did you sleep on the Colorado Trail race last year?”
These are fantastic memories of extremely rewarding experiences, but they’re not everything to me. This past Spring and Summer were seasons to remember. Spring started with a few casual bikepacking trips aboard my Cutthroat that involved some route planning and a few big days but were overall enjoyable times in the desert that’s three hours and change from my decade-long home in Crested Butte, Colorado.
In May, I decided to take on Scotland’s Highland Trail 550 – a race that had been on my list for the last couple years. Shortly after, I accepted a new job and got married to my beautiful long-time partner Lindsay. After big changes like those, I decided to rest, enjoy life, and not crush myself as I had done during previous seasons. There’s something to be said about efforts like those, but also for enjoying the moment and going with the flow.
The appeal to me of more recreational bikepacking trips is likely the same as it is for many others who also enjoy them. They lead to some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. There is no wrong or right way to bikepack, but I just don’t feel as though I’m doing these journeys the justice they deserve when I’m at race pace. When I’m on a casual trip, I feel like I get the most from my time outdoors, and the most out of the gear I bring along.
What I truly enjoy is stopping to take photos of a beautiful sight, or having the option to go off route to explore a waterfall or a hot spring. Sitting at a restaurant and indulging in a huge plate of food and milkshakes, and carrying a backpack of novelties like beer and cards.
It also allows me the time to always seek out the greatest campsite I can find, and while that may take more time than necessary, it’s almost always for the better. Once at camp, I love gathering wood for a fire, setting up my stove for a well-deserved meal, and just relaxing knowing that I’m at home for the night. It’s simple but good living, and the seven-plus hours of solid sleep each night are the best.
I’ve pushed myself a lot, and will likely continue to do so, but it’s times like these where you can sit back and gaze into the sky, fully alive to enjoy the moment. A reward can be as simple as cracking a beer at the end of a day’s worth of travel, not seeking a record or maybe racing a bit over your head.
While I’m not nearly as seasoned as some other bikepacking athletes, in both the racing and casual applications, I’m humbled and grateful for the life I live, and I’m ecstatic to share my passions with a world of inspired adventurers. So, as I sit here in my home, looking out at a dark sky at 5 p.m. in November, I feel a need to thank the world of bikepackers who continue to motivate me. I raise my glass to you and wish you all a healthy and happy Winter season. Now it’s time to get *FAT!
*In the tire-width department. – Ed.