Saturday, November 9, 2013


Many readers of this blog (if I still have readers with how little I post lately) probably "know" me exclusively because of my running. The reality is though, that as I came to endurance athletics I was at times as much or more of an endurance mountain biker as I was runner. In 2007 and 2008 I almost certainly spent more time on my bikes than I did running. My main focus as an endurance cyclists culminated in my attempt at the Great Divide Race in 2008. When that event was over for me I packed up my bike, shipped it back to Alaska, and have hardly ridden since. I would be surprised if I have ridden a total of 500 miles in the more than 5 years since that ride. Slowly these past couple months this has begun to change though.

I've actually started to go out and do some rides for the sake of going out for a ride (not just as a means to get around town). I've begun to walk into the garage once again and see my bike as something that can take me on so many great adventures (as opposed to something that I should probably just sell because I don't use it enough). This past weekend I even loaded up my bike and headed West, to Utah, for the specific purpose of travelling around in the desert on my bike for a few days. I wasn't sure what my health would allow, but surprisingly I felt really good and was able to do a 140 mile loop over the course of 3 days. In doing so, I was blown away myself to see how much I missed doing long self-supported rides.

Bikepacking is an unknown thing to a lot of people. It's essentially bike touring, but with much less stuff and through much more rugged terrain. Backpacking with a bike, but essentially more like fastpacking with a bike. To be able to ride on trails and rugged jeep roads on a bike you can't be carrying much gear and you need to be strategic about how you carry it. Racks and panniers are almost certainly not the best options and you really just don't want to carry much more than 10 or 15 pounds of gear or your riding ability is greatly diminished. The cool thing is that if you keep your weight low enough, and you have it positioned properly on the bike, you can pretty much go anywhere you would ever ride on a mountain bike and you have everything with you to stay out for as long as you desire. In a place like Utah this can get you to some pretty incredible places that even with a Jeep would take more effort to get to than almost anyone is willing to put in. In the 140 miles that I rode this past week I saw one other person and accessed some areas of the desert that probably see fewer than a handful of people a year.

I have no idea if this renewed interest is something that will continue to grow in me, but this whole week I've been almost constantly dreaming about bikepacking trips I want to do in the near future. At the very least I'm going to find a time in the spring to do this 500+ mile loop in Southern Utah that I've had in my mind for nearly 7 years now. This would include all three districts of Canyonlands N.P., The Henry Mountains, Glen Canyon N.R.A., The San Rafael Swell, Capitol Reef N.P., A large portion of The Kokopelli Trail, Canyon Rims R.A., as well as countless other miles of BLM and National Forest land. The route would be 99% on dirt and take me through some of the most remote, scenic, and inspiring land anywhere in the world. By packing light I'd be able to move quickly on my bike and could ride the whole route in 7-10 days fairly comfortably. With the exception of a motor bike there just isn't any other mode of travel that would be as efficient and as ideal as doing this on a properly equipped bicycle. I like that aspect of the whole thing. I really like to travel through places where my mode of travel is the most efficient and most logical, otherwise it just feels somewhat contrived. I thought a lot about this on my ride this past week. I was consistently aware that most of the places I was riding there was no other way to travel that would be as efficient and logical as the bike I was riding.  Here are some photos from my recent journey:

                                                            Typical Utah evening light

                                                         A very smooth stretch of trail

                                                          A not so smooth stretch of trail

                                                    Simple little campsite the first night

                                                                     Endless desert

                                                               The ride fully loaded

                                                                 Campsite night two

                              The sun going down at the end of an incredible few days


cycleofaddiction said...

Glad you have found your riding mojo again, it's a shame not to make the most of the true wilderness you have on your side of the pond, looking forward to reading about your new adventures. .

die Krabbe said...

great! when riding together into the GDR I felt you loved that part of outdoors really. Come on and be a lot more time on your bike again. You will enjoy that.
see you, Kingcrab

Andrew Skurka said...

If/when you get serious about this route give me a shout if you need some help with the "packing" aspect of your trip. I can probably help lighten and improve your selections.

simplifique said...

great news !!!
it´s good to hear good things about you, your life and your health.
Tks for sharing.

Olga said...

At least you got biking, and your life allows you extended breaks. I am going through the same shit right now, and I am scared of bikes, hate water, and my job (in TX to boot!) doesn't have much vacation time for the only other thing I am good and and enjoy - backpacking and mountain hiking.;) NOT complaining! Happy for you!

LK said...

Olga, we'll get in some mountain time next month. Whether it's nordic in Eldora (they need snow badly!) while we're up there or down in NM on our way back. Maximize outdoor time is a priority!

mindful mule said...

So great! Allez!

Gaiaearth said...

Hi! Welcome to bikepacking, I am just getting on this myself! I came upon your blog looking for routes to do this November in Utah. Would you share your 140mi route, and did you do the 500 miler last spring? Any route ideas are appreciated. Thanks.

Geoff said...

gaiaearth, it'd be impossible to describe my entire route (so many little twists and turns). i was in the general area of Fry Canyon (off hwy 95 west of Blanding). Basically everywhere in southern utah is great for bikepacking. San Rafael Swell would be a great first choice to explore. just pick up one of the ATV maps and you will have a million routes to check out. cool thing is that the routes are all graded by diffuculty for the ATV's so you can pretty much know how rugged a trail/road will be based on that. you can get those maps for free from the price blm office (as well as at many trail heads in the swell). blm office number is: 435-636-3600

gwe said...

Hi Geoff,

My name is Gretchen Ellis. I first learned of you and your amazing story from the movie Unbreakable. I have watched it at least 4 times.

I recently read the Online Outside article "Running on Empty" and was so sad to hear about your illness. Even though I was never anywhere near your level, my identity used to be "athlete". I became ill in January of 2006, and it has been a very long and arduous return to mental and physical health. While I hate to hear of other people who have experienced what I did, I am learning that it is much more common that I thought. I felt so terribly alone when I became sick with no rational diagnosis; I felt like I died and had to rebuild my entire life. Nobody talked about chronic fatigue in athletes at the time, it seemed.

I am 44 now. I wanted to share my story with you, just so that you know you are not alone! This complete body breakdown is very real and the pain and indescribable fatigue that come with it are unfathomable. I have been running and biking again for some time, and have even done a few races. But I never recovered to my former self. There are many things I am grateful for, most especially just being able to run and bike again. I will never forget what it felt like to feel powerful and eat up the trail - I am thrilled I have those memories, and they can never be taken away.
Anyway, I wish you the very best. :-) To health and happiness in ANY form!
Here is a link to my story:

Kindest regards,