A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Bikepacking Roots “Go Bikepacking!” event put on in conjunction with Mountain Bike the Tetons in Idaho’s Teton Valley. I was asked by my friends and mentors, as well as the co-founders of Bikepacking Roots, Kurt Refsnider, and Kait Boyle to come and ride bikes and take photos of the event. Reconnecting with rad folks, riding and camping in a new place, and busting out the camera after a hiatus of doing most of those things sounded like a great way to spend a weekend.
This event was planned and facilitated with the express purpose of breaking down barriers to bikepacking as a sport and recreational activity and creating a friendly, non-judgemental community-building atmosphere. We are all aware of the costs that can be associated with bikes in general, and bikepacking gear (and outdoor gear) is not cheap. Barring the cost of entry to the sport, there are also plenty of mental, experiential, social, and physical barriers to such endeavors. Riding your bike with camping gear can be an intimidating prospect to anyone. Riding solo can also be quite intimidating, as can meeting up to ride with a group of total strangers. Luckily, the “ride your own ride” nature of the event allowed those who prefer the social comfort of solo travel, but who would also benefit from the security of a group and a pre-planned route to get the best of both worlds.
Kait, Kurt, and the whole team of volunteers did an amazing job of breaking these barriers down by planning routes and supplying gear and community support for this ride. Bags were supplied by Revelate Designs for those who needed them, and two different routes were planned depending on participants’ gear and comfort levels. The gravel route circumnavigated the Teton Valley over a roughly 80 mile, 2 day course of dirt roads and doubletrack. The singletrack route was a shorter, more rugged 40 mile route that used 4×4 roads and singletrack trail traversing the Big Hole Range. Both routes were available on the Ride With GPS app for navigation, along with paper maps with turn by turn cues for participants. The gravel route also had an optional support vehicle that could take extra gear (or puppies and beer) to camp. By making the logistical and technical aspects of a bike overnight accessible and approachable, this event truly allowed participants to focus on the best parts of bikepacking. There was an additional benefit of bringing together a bunch of folks who simply wanted to go bikepacking, and facilitating community creation and the security that comes with that.
So, where did the inspiration for a free, intro to bikepacking group ride come from? Here’s what Kait has to say:
“The first-ever Bikepacking Roots board retreat was in the Spring of 2018, the same academic year as the last Geology through Bikepacking class Kurt and I taught at Prescott College. We had designed and taught three renditions of that class and every time I found myself just in awe of how powerful it was to share bikepacking with a group of students in a way that gave them the skills to become self-sufficient bikepackers. I knew I wanted to cultivate a space within Bikepacking Roots to facilitate similar experiences for a more broad group of the public as a way to achieve our goal as an organization to lower the barriers to bikepacking and grow the community. While it took a few years to get the organization to a point where we could run our first event (and navigate a pandemic), I’m thrilled with the outcomes from round one and am looking forward to growing our impact with Go Bikepacking! events in 2022.”
Now that you know what the event is all about, here’s how it went. Following an optional day-long Bikepacking 101 workshop, the full group met at the NOLS Teton Valley campus near Driggs. After introductions, a briefing, gear talk, route discussions, and a delicious dinner and beverages, everyone went off to camp and get ready for their ride the next morning. Beer was provided by Melvin Brewing and some packable mini whisky cans were contributed by Two Stacks. There was also plenty of bubbly water, for those who don’t imbibe.
The next morning started off with a basic safety briefing and some emphasis on how to ride most safely in grizzly bear country. I rode ahead of the group to capture some photos of folks riding in the nice morning light and joined up with the singletrack group shortly after. We began our day with a decent climb (with some gratuitous hike-a-bike) up into the Big Hole Mountains. Though this wasn’t easy, it was not overly difficult. I fell into a rhythm of chatting with my new riding partners between chuckle grunts.
Now, when Kait first told me about this ride, I was actually apprehensive. This was an odd feeling. The past year hasn’t been kind to any of us, and for me, my motivation and self-esteem took a big hit. Teaching middle school through the pandemic is a great way to lose energy, and feel unmotivated to do really anything besides just stay afloat. I had barely been riding, and with the fire and smoke season in Montana, the summer didn’t bring much respite from the mental and physical slump I found myself in. I know I’m not alone in this. But, when Kait Boyle asks you to be a photographer because she “knows you’ll be just fine”, that gives you a boost.
As much as encouragement from some of the most accomplished cyclists alive can motivate me, I’d forgotten how much motivation and happiness I get from seeing other people smile because of riding bikes and being outside. This can’t be overstated. Excitement and enthusiasm are contagious, and even though this event was geared towards beginner bikepackers and demystifying the sport, it worked fantastically as a way to remind me why I enjoy this sort of thing. Events like this aren’t just for beginners or the bike-curious: they can also be awesome for just getting to know other folks and having some of the logistical hurdles be taken away. For those of us that deal with mental health issues, we know that oftentimes the hardest part of doing anything is starting and planning. In addition to that, for so many of us who spent the last year or so in isolation, it feels really good to ride with other people. As someone whose friends all work in different fields and are scattered across the West, it can be tough to coordinate trips consistently, and this event was also a great way to just have the fun of riding bikes and camping with other people.
Participants were all so friendly and helpful to each other that it seemed less like a bunch of strangers meeting up to go bikepacking and more like a gathering of friends. Seeing people from many walks of life, and seeing bikes and bodies of all shapes, ages, and sizes getting outside for the sake of being outside was inspiring and heartwarming. It was also great to see a bunch of folks get to experience the beauty of the West, while also engaging with a small community. Though the singletrack route didn’t get close to town, the gravel route brought everyone through Driggs, where folks could stop and enjoy some fantastic coffee and treats from Rise Coffee House or burgers at the Royal Wolf.
The singletrack route was by no means an “easy” ride, but it was also pretty manageable as long as you’re comfortable with some mildly technical trails and a decent amount of elevation gain. After some 4×4 road miles, we approached Relay Ridge, named after the large radio relay towers perched atop it. This ridge provided huge vistas of the Teton Valley, and on a clear day, the entire Teton Range. Unfortunately, the smoke was a bit too dense for us to see quite that far. We cruised along the ridgeline trail and then dropped down into some chunky moto trail, eventually snaking to a beautiful ridgeline campsite. We ate near our water source, set up a bear hang, and sipped canned whisky while watching the sunset. Just as the last light was fading, we could see the tip of the Grand Teton hovering over the smoke like a levitating pyramid.
We awoke to an orange sunrise and smoke dense enough that the valley floor was hard to make out from our vantage point. This meant that the air quality was pushing into the “hazardous” zone. My original plan was to head back down to the parking lot and grab my car to meet the gravel riders for photos, but now I would be sharing the descent with my new friends. Though the weight of seeing that much smoke put climate change on all of our minds, the somber situation was made much more enjoyable by getting to share a fun and rowdy singletrack descent with folks. The reality that being adaptable and resilient in the face of climate change is much easier with community doesn’t just apply to bikes, and the allegory wasn’t lost on any of us.
We finished the day with everyone meeting back at the trailhead and eating an absurd amount of watermelon and other summer snacks, swapping stories, and generally enjoying one another’s company. The gravel riders trickled in throughout the early afternoon, wrapping up a day that had begun at a scenic campsite atop the foothills on the opposite side of the valley.
Now, I can wax poetic about bikepacking, but here are some quotes from participants:
“GoBikepacking! was a wonderful welcome to the bikepacking community, whether you were brand new or had been at it for years. The weekend left me feeling connected with the other riders and the landscape, empowered and excited about more human-powered adventures.”
“Go Bikepacking event answered all my questions and gave me the confidence I needed to start planning my own Bikepacking trips.”
All in all, this event achieved exactly what it was meant to do: get people stoked on bikepacking, public lands, and building community. But, there’s always room for improvement. There were fewer participants than expected (a likely consequence of folks being more non-committal when registering for a free event), and the demographic was slightly skewed towards an older, more financially stable group. Now, this isn’t a bad thing, but we would love to make events like this even more accessible to more people from a wider range of backgrounds. We do realize that Driggs isn’t really close to any large population centers, and just getting there requires time and resources that aren’t readily accessible to everyone.
In the future, new events in the Go Bikepacking! series will be offered in more accessible locations, hopefully with the addition of scholarship opportunities to assist travelers. The benefits of planning the pilot event in a familiar place (Kait is a Teton Valley resident) where resources were abundant for support outweighed pure accessibility for the first go-around. But, ideas are welcome! What are your thoughts? How could Bikepacking Roots do an even better job of breaking down barriers to bikepacking for more people? How might you be able to help? You can reach out with ideas here by emailing, and let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you on the next ride!