Do It Yourself Bikepacking – Not An Ordinary Vacation

It started as it always does with a simple question in an email.

It started as it always does with a simple question in an email:

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From: Davis, Brett

Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2017 8:38 PM

To: Diana

Subject: What do you think?

Check out the link below and let me know what you think:

http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/oregon-big-country/).   

Love,

b

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My adventure partner in life, Diana, was on the verge of graduating with her master’s in occupational therapy.  Wahoo!  It had been two years of hard work and sacrifice for her and for us as a couple.  Living in two separate residences that are eight hours apart for the bulk of two years, we were in need of some time together to reconnect.  We needed a vacation.  Originally, we had been accumulating airline frequent flyer miles for a trip to Europe.  But, as life would have it, between my work schedule and the start of her final clinical internship, our dreams of a European vacation would have to take a back seat for the time being.  

A western style family vacation photo on Oregon’s Big Country Loop...

For the past couple of years, I have been exploring remote areas of our planet by bike—creating adventures that take me deep into landscapes that few have ventured into.  To do such endeavors is a lot of work—hour upon hour is spent looking at maps; searching Google Earth; reaching out to locals, seeking out potential sponsors, training, etc.  I am my own travel agent and tour guide. 

No planes, trains, or automobiles needed here—just a loaded Salsa Woodsmoke ready for 360 miles of off-road fun...

Climbing onto the flanks of the Steen Mountains...

Our destination in the distance...

The capstone of day one of our vacation...

The word vacation is defined as a “period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel.”  Most people’s idea of a vacation is visiting beach resorts or taking a cruise where the emphasis is on the “rest” part of the definition.  Travel agents are consulted.  Plane fares are purchased.  Diets to fit into that new bathing suit are initiated.  The countdown begins to rest and relaxation.  Diana and I wanted that type of vacation…or at the least our own version of such a thing. 

Descending back to the lowlands...

The Alvord Desert...

Finding solitude...

Fast riding across a dry lake bed...

Given our personalities and inability to not be in motion, ours would have to be an “active” vacation.  The kind where “recreation” is the central focus.  As Salsa enthusiasts, I know that many of you can relate to such yearnings.  I would bet that like Diana and I, if you are not exerting yourself, sweating, and suffering a little bit, then your precious time off is not being maximized.  You know you had a great vacation when your co-workers shake their heads and look at you crazily as you recount what you did over the past two weeks.  You’re crazy, my friend.

It’s not a true bikepacking vacation without a little bike pushing...

The remoteness of the route is firmly felt with the negotiation of a bog after Big Sand Gap...

Diana choosing her line...

The “active” vacation market has become a big one in the recent decades.  Every imaginable recreation experience can be booked from scuba diving in the Galapagos to cycle touring through French wine country.  Open Outside magazine, and you will find a comprehensive list of tour operators just waiting to facilitate your vacation of a lifetime.  Itineraries will be designed.  Equipment lists created. Menus planned. Travel organized. It’s one stop shopping.  All you have to do is pick your price point, and you can be on your way—guided or unguided depending upon your experience level and willingness to pay. 

A highlight of this route is the abundance of hot springs in which to soak in along the way...

What a way to finish a day!

One of the amazing camps we found along the way.​..

Diana and I are cheap.  We can afford the commercial raft trip down the Grand Canyon, but can’t bring ourselves to pay the hefty price tag.  Our budget mindedness and experience don’t allow us to splurge into what most people consider luxury.  Rather, a vacation where all of the logistics are organized and our every need is catered to isn’t as rewarding for us.  It is a little awkward watching a young person set up my river chair when I am perfectly capable of doing it myself. 

A couple of curious friends...

We found a little more hike-a-bike in the Trout Creek Mountains...

Looking into Nevada and the route ahead...

All of the pampering is nice, I guess, but we need some element of “choose your own adventure” in our idea of a “vacation.”  Plus, these typical tour operator trips usually involve groups of people.  Our goal was to reconnect and just be together without anyone to distract us.  All we seek is solitude, exertion, a sense of isolation, and natural beauty.

Big Country...

Dropping in...

The growth of bikepacking has initiated an explosion of publicized routes and opportunities for guided “do it yourself” travel and adventure.  Logan Watts, the founder of bikepacking.com, has built an impressive resource of all things bikepacking related.  A visit to his web site leaves enthusiasts like myself drooling over all of the gear reviews, videos, and stories designed to educate and inspire the intrepid bike packer.  Perhaps the crown jewel of this information hub is the route section.  Enlisting such bike explorers as Mike Curiak, Gabriel Amadeus, Donnie Kolb, Casey Greene, and others, Logan has amassed a plethora of motivating routes in which to dream about.  For those lacking the time, know how, or motivation to put in the hard work to map out and strike out on their own two-wheeled adventures, the route section of bikepacking.com is a virtual tour operator/guide. 

The wildflowers were in full bloom and  abundance...

The colorful life of the desert...

Even the tiniest of flowers were out in full force...

Last year prior to departing on the Hard to Fathom Tour, I had been working on an exploratory route of southern Oregon.  Intrigued by its lack of significant population centers and its variety of landscapes (everything from high peaks to desert), I began to devise a potential route for the area.  Alas though, in a last-minute decision, my partner Travis and I decided to forgo the lengthy drive to Oregon and instead strike out for southern Utah.  The Oregon tour got placed on the back burner. 

A potential re-supply that had long since closed...

Just down the road in Denio Junction, NV we found plenty of sustenance...

Lo and behold at the end of that summer, Gabriel Amadeus submitted “Oregon’s Big Country Loop” to bikepacking.com.  There it was—the route I had been seeking to complete.  The hard work of putting it together was done.  Gabriel and his crew from Limberlost.co had linked everything I was considering together in one continuous loop.  I had to go check it out.

One of the many creatures we encountered along the way...

At the bottom of the loop we turned back north towards the Hart Mountains (seen way off in the distance)—our final mountain range of the trip​...

Thus, the email above was sent to Diana as I started to ponder a vacation for us.  The tour operator had outlined the entire trip…route description, suggested equipment, itinerary including must see and do’s, resupply options, campsite recommendations, etc.  It was all there on my computer screen.  There was even a downloadable GPS track for the entire 357 miles.  Best of all, the price was right.  This eight-day trip could be completed on the cheap.  Not accustomed to such help and ease of planning, I knew this trip exemplified our meaning of the word “vacation.”  Diana’s email response of “I’m game,” affirmed that we were on our way to Oregon. 

The abandoned ranches and homesteads along the route prompted our minds to wander into the past...

A window to the present.​..

For those new to adventuring by bike or seeking to get off of the beaten path with their time away from the office, bikepacking is a great pursuit to try.  As you can see from the photos, Diana and I had a great vacation.  It met all of our criteria, and we arrived home connected and reenergized for the next chapter ahead.  For me, it was a fun endeavor to follow in someone else’s tire tracks for a change—having let them toil away at putting the route together.  Oregon’s Big Country is a great ride, especially on the new Woodsmoke, which was my steed of choice for this route.  The terrain is stunning with nothing insurmountable.  Additionally, the hot springs along the route are a plus for soaking away each day’s tired legs. 

The Woodsmoke makes a great drying rack during its off-duty hours...

Who says there isn’t water in the desert?  Diana found plenty...

Hart Mountain Pass down.  Time to descend to the final hot springs of the route.  Wahoo!

With resources such as blackriver.cc, bikepacking.com, bikepacker.com, adventurecycling.org and other websites, there is plenty of information and “tour guides” out there to make getting out on two wheels an easy affair.  All you have to have is a willingness to exert yourself; a sense of adventure; and the inclination to do something out of the ordinary.  I would be willing to bet that when you return from such a “vacation”, your co-workers are sure to believe you are crazy.  J

Just doing what the sock says we should do...

A toast to a great “vacation”...

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If you enjoyed this tale from Brett Davis, consider attending Salsa RideCamp 2017 where he will be our Saturday evening presenter!

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