Our mothers would be ashamed at the mess we made of our outdoor room... if only the real side of bikepacking were pretty.
A lot of people like to start trip reports with a carefully laid out, folded, photo perfect arrangement of all gear taken on the trip. The background tends to look strikingly similar to a photo studio, things are so neat, tidy, and arranged. I swear the items they take with them are numbered, alphabetized, and cataloged away in an immaculate spreadsheet where all the columns contently follow commands of flawless formulas and nothing ever reads ***ERROR cell after cell. I imagine these people fully unpack their suitcases when traveling, even if staying in a hotel room for a mere matter of hours, shelving away crisply folded items of unyielding perfection.
I'm not one of those people.
Bikepacking for me follows a pretty foolproof formula:
1. Get frumpy. Leading up to any trip lasting greater than two days, I get this rising sense of inner panic in knowing that yes, I really am going out there, yes it's out there, and yes, something could go wrong out there. I frown over what I look so longingly forward to the entire rest of the year. It's weird. The longer the upcoming trip, the longer the pre-trip frumpy period.
2. I figure out some way to kinda, sorta, politely ask my wife what region of floor space I may occupy for an indefinite packing period. The pile grows higher. Small zip ties lurk beneath various rain shells, mounts for oversized GPS units, too many dry bags, camp gloves, this, no that, well whatever it's all in there. Food goes there too. It's a feverish state, nothing's where I left it last... which water purifier? A friend called me on it once, told me I was emotionally packing. Correct. I emotionally pack.
3. The pile gets too big. It angers me seeing the physical size of what I'll be lashing to my bike. The departure date tauntingly teeters forward. I continue looking in the same place I've already looked four times for the same thing I don't need.
4. I'm outta time. I cram, push, heave, zip, buckle, grab, fill, and hoist things into their bags and cubbies. Somehow, that mountain is packed away. P.S. it's heavy.
5. I'm out there.
Then it doesn't matter. I've probably done some heinous drive, not gotten sleep, and chances are, I'm at elevation. It's a great way to start.
Then the heat of the moment stress wears off. The bike is oppressively heavy. Each pedal stoke is like moving cinderblocks. What is going on with my steering? I swear I'll never be able to lean this thing.
But just when it feels like that unrelenting tyrant of weight and stress will never ease up, it does. I look up. I realize where I am.
And it's beautiful. I am where I wanted to be. All that stress, fidgeting, and irksome behavior is somehow worth it. I've waited months for this.
Photo credit: Spencer Rathkamp
So when Clayton from Mountain Bike Action told me he was soon to be testing the Rocky Mountain Sherpa, we both agreed that he had to test it proper[ly.] No overnight pretend to take it bikepacking staging, this thing needed time out there. It needed a real trip. So we discussed it.
We settled on the Coconino 250 connecting Flagstaff to Sedona in a big clockwise loop, throwing in some climb everybody seems to whine about called Mingus Mountain and a bunch of really good looking singletrack. I'd wanted to do it for years so I promptly committed to it wholeheartedly before having any idea how I'd make it happen. It didn't help that we discussed it late into the evening during the Throwdown at Weir's house.
The ploy was pretty straightforward.
He had to test this:
Which in case you didn't notice, comes equipped with this:
Allowing us to do this:
Even bikepacking doesn't slow down Spencer Rathkamp. He hips, airs, styles, sends and wheelies everything with too much speed. Particularly wheelies. He's a roadie too. Yep, a real one. Plus, he's 20. That means he's invincible. Not fair.
Clayton tested it properly. You'd be hard pressed to find somebody who has a deeper sense of purpose for exploration than Clayton. He lives to get out there, and you couldn't find a more upbeat, calculated, hilarious, and rad guy to go out there with, you really couldn't.
Though I'll never admit it, I think he just maybe could have tested those things without me. And somehow, in some sort of master negotiating moment for me, a terrible negotiator, I traded coverage or something... for going on this trip. Whatever I traded, I sure hope it pans out. The trip certainly did.
It involved a lot of this:
Photo Credit: Clayton Wangbichler. Location: Over the Edge Sedona. Amusement level: High
Wandering about and coming across people who would peer down with wonder and amazement and utter, Holy smokes! You sure you're going to ride that far carrying all of that? Wow. How much's that hub weigh?
Lots. And we didn't necessarily ride that far too. We cut a nice little bit out from Sedona to Cottonwood called Lime Kiln or something like that that trip reporters, after first posting their manicured gear list as photo one, lamented they would never ever make the mistake again. So we figured we wouldn't make the mistake the first time. Instead, we'd make sure we make the Mingus Mountain mistake, which there's even a gps file specifically routing people around. But first we had to meet up with Richard:
Richard rules. Old school real touring at it's absolute finest mixed with an insatiable thirst for singletrack meets modern day non-rack, sewn bike bag style newfound understanding. No chamois. No froo froo cycling clothes. No overpriced freeze dried food. No GPS. No smart phone. No texting. No worries. I watched him cook a pile of ham with a square shaped piece of yellow cheese over a fire log. No hipster allow myself to woods myself tomfoolery here either - it was, I have food, here is a means of cooking it. He brought a sleeve of bagels. That's like, heavy dude. Clayton even started doing some small whimpering about how nice it must be to have real food when Richard whipped out avocados from his backpack and sliced a large dollop onto his bagel, ham, and yellow cheese heaping concoction mid ride. Richard is real, a good dude who owns Moustache Cycles and I believe referred to himself as a vagabond journeyman during a stint of trail babble between all of us. Why babble? We had to go up Mingus:
Richard powering up Mingus Mountain. No gloves, forgot to mention that. Photo: Clayton Wangbichler
Richard had no problem with Mingus - how do I know? Easy, I didn't see him. I was in the back having many breaks and is it really worth it moments. The kind where you can't hear because your heart is pounding so loudly in your eardrums. The trail got a lot worse than what's pictured above - ridiculously sharp rocks with really high side narrow singletrack rocks perfectly aimed at ideal shin scraping height while ahhhem, pushing a loaded bike up overly tight switchbacks. The worst part was, it kept looking like there should be water - green vegetation, this curious feeling of water in the air, damp earth. No water. I really wanted some water. It didn't help that we saw a bunch of these:
Photo credit: Clayton Wangbichler
Those are bear tracks. I was convinced that bears weren't allowed in Arizona. Eventually, we were rewarded with singletrack:
Not necessarily order appropriate but this definitely describes the fun descent had as Spencer Rathkamp owns it. Photo credit: Clayton Wangbichler
Varied terrain - pines, red rock, desert brush, rock, brush, pines again. Photo: Spencer Rathkamp.
We passed ruins:
WTB Trailblazer, Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion seat bag, ruinous backdrop - all surefire ingredients of success.
Saw a lovely sunset:
And made a mess:
There's something about a long day that makes things spring out of bike bags in great haste. Then the bike bags sit there, deflated, and make the repack task seem all the more insurmountable in the morning. That day I don't think we ever stopped climbing but made it to Williams in time for their Western show, which makes me think it was actually Memorial Day:
We stashed our bike bags in the hotel lobby with plans to grab them that night - yep, we wussed out and grabbed a hotel in Williams thinking we'd nail some singletrack in a lighter fashion with bags left in the lobby during our last leg to Flagstaff. Part of it worked out anyway, a simple plan:
Then send it:
Anybody who says you can't get rad with plus sized tires just plain doesn't get it. Spencer definitely gets it. Sends it too.
Then it was on to hauling ourselves back to Flagstaff.
First fire road:
San Francisco and Humphreys Peak. No, not the riders, the mountains. Photo: Spencer Rathkamp
Then double track:
Photo credit: Clayton Wangbichler
Spencer Rathkamp, Photo credit: Clayton Wangbichler
Perfect gentle downhill Arizona Trail led us to Flagstaff in a haze of banks and turns by 11pm, exhausted. We threw our things about, step one of arriving anywhere, threw real clothes on ourselves, jumped into Clayton's van and pinned our way to the bike bag pickup back at the hotel in Williams. A very curious Western-esque standoff between the hotel owner, hiding behind his window, and the dirty bikepackers, hoping for their bags, resulted in cops and a suspicion arousing $30 bag retrieval fee. I was just happy to have our bags. We lumbered our way back on I-40 and thundered through the desert night, somehow energized through cops, singletrack, and surviving the whole affair. I arrived back in just about the same state of mind I left in, though forever thankful for the journey, friends, work, and family that all made it possible.
So buy some WTB 27.5+ tires and Porcelain Rocket bags or better yet, buy a Rocky Mountain Sherpa, it comes with WTB TCS 27.5+ tires and rims and I'm quite certain Porcelain Rocket bags will fit on there. See you out there.