While the actual ride didn’t begin until last Sunday afternoon, the planning for this ride can be traced back to last Fall. I started seeing photos and stories of bikepackers on multi-day backroad adventures and became very interested. I started researching the subject, and realized that I already had most of the gear, the same gear I use for hiking and backpacking (these adventures can be read about here). What I lacked were the bags to attach to the bike to haul all this gear. Not long later, I found a couple friends that were on a parallel path, so we started discussions and began purchasing the bikepacking gear over the long winter. Finally, after waiting and dreaming for months, the day had come to load up the bikes and pedal down the driveway for our first off-road bikepacking adventure.
Bikepacking could be described as a hybrid of bicycle touring, mountain biking, and backpacking. While bicycle touring on the road usually consists of metal racks bolted onto the bike to hold the luggage, bikepacking generally focuses on bags that attach directly to the bike, helping to keep the bike light, narrow, and nimble for challenging off-road terrain. Like backpacking, bikepacking also leans in the direction of being more self sufficient, since you will likely be away from services while you are out. There has been much development in the ultra-light backpacking industry in recent years, so there is a lot of gear like lightweight stoves and small packable tents that are perfect for bikepacking as well. While bikepacking isn’t new, it’s in a time of growing popularity. Bikepacking bags have only started to see mass production, with most of the gear being used right now still made by small custom shops. Helpful sites like bikepacking.com discuss all the gear and even give ideas for bikepacking routes. One of the best things, though, is the mountain bike you already have will work for most gear and routes!
For our first bikepacking trip, we chose Washoe Lake State Park. At about 23 miles out and back, it’s not far from home, and has a nice campground and easy water source. This would allow us to focus on trying out all the new gear for the first time. While a backpacker simply puts all the gear into one big bag, the bikepacker must figure out where each piece of equipment fits and works the best in a selection of multiple bags. Since we all sourced our gear from different companies, we each had a different way of packing. Two of us had small auxiliary packs on our backs for stowing lighter items, while one of us was able to get it all on the bike. It’s definitely a process that includes trial and error.
While we were carrying everything that we would on an unsupported ride, this ride evolved into a camping trip that included family and friends. This allowed us to stow a few luxury items with them before heading out, things that you normally wouldn’t bring like camp chairs, beer, and firewood. We wouldn’t exactly be roughing it.
One of the nice things about this route, is that we were able to leave from our driveways. We all converged at the northernmost driveway, then collectively made our way to Goni Road using some of the city’s available bike lanes and routes. The bikes rolled along pretty easily on the flats, but we sure felt the weight when we started our climb up the base of McClellan Peak. Goni Road turns to dirt and becomes steeper as it makes its way up the mountain. We just took it slow and steady, not having too far to go before our turnoff to Washoe Valley.
Soon we were at the high point of the climb, about 1,200 feet of climbing from the house. It was almost all downhill to camp, a little over 700 feet of descending to the valley floor. The hard work for the day was over. There were some pretty steep downhill sections on the route we picked, and we all agreed we may not want to come back up this way. Additionally, I really felt the extra weight of my tent on the front of the bike when descending, and it was adversely affecting my braking and bike handling. I would definitely have to pack differently for the return trip.
We joined family and friends at a campsite already in progress. They had trailered in horses to ride and camp with, so it seemed fitting that we parked our bikes near the corrals. After getting our camping gear setup, we got to enjoying the luxury items we had waiting for us. We supervised dogs and kids while the girls went out for a trail ride. The fire was going when the sun went down, and we stayed up late into the night as you often do with good friends and a nice campfire.
We awoke on Monday to a beautiful morning. It was hard to believe there was snow and freezing conditions just a few days ago. The group camp stove was fired up to start making pancakes, and we bikepackers used the small stoves we hauled with us to make hot drinks and freeze dried meals. Since I was just boiling small quantities of water, I brought along my Fancy Feast stove, an ultralight alcohol burning stove kit made from a cat food can, aluminum foil, and a disposable water bottle. It’s cheap, light, packs down small, and proved to be a decent option for this simple trip.
One of our friends at camp gave us a tip for a better road back. The route is longer and climbs higher, but not nearly as steep as the route we came in on. After packing up camp and saying goodbye, we headed over to the park headquarters to follow the road behind it up the canyon. It heads east and northeast as it gains elevation before heading south to Carson City. Along the way we had outstanding views of the valley and had a few wildlife sightings as well. Repacking my heavy items to the rear of the bike made for much better bike handling on the return trip.
The ride up over the pass turned out to be fantastic. Being a Monday, we had most of the place to ourselves. This changed, however, when we got back to the pavement and the industrial area of town. Dodging trucks, we got off the busy road as soon as possible, and followed a backroad over to Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint for burgers and beer. It seemed like we had just finished breakfast a bit ago, but we were already starving. We ended up having a great post ride meal and celebration on the front patio, completely satisfied with our first bikepacking outing. Tired and with full stomachs, we started the hardest part of the ride yet, across town to unpack and clean up.
Not only was our first bikepacking trip a lot of fun, it was very educational. We all experienced something along the way that we plan to do differently next time, like different packing strategies, gear changes, or bringing items forgotten. I’ll be looking for ways to free up some space. As space is freed up, I’ll move items off my back and into the packs on the bike. As far as where we’ll go next, we have lots of ideas. There are already groups mapping out and ground proofing routes across Nevada like the Trans Nevada Trail, and even NDOT will be soon be releasing routes to encourage bicycle tourism. Part of the fun, though, is to come up with routes of your own for a totally unique experience. We are lucky to be in an area that has endless possibilities for human powered adventures. Can’t wait to get back out there again!