Backpacking on bikes, dirt-based bike touring, human-powered two-wheeled backcountry exploration, camping on your bike. Whatever you call it, bikepacking has become a favored way for veteran and new cyclists alike to explore public lands. A safe and rewarding way to cover more miles than walking while moving slow enough to truly savor the landscapes.
The act of pedaling away from your starting destination with an approximate camp spot for the night in mind, with only the most basic of daily requirements (pedal, drink eat, sleep, repeat) allows for a sense of freedom and clarity of thought rarely encountered in our daily lives.
As 2020 election got closer, coinciding with my anxiety and endless doomscrolling, it became clear that I needed to do something to reaffirm what I believed in. I’m a public lands advocate, an avid bikepacker, and all-around run-of-the-mill “outdoor-lifestyle” Colorado dude. Most importantly, I’m also a husband and soon to be dad to a child that will be growing up in a country (and world) that I, along with generations before me, helped shape.
It was with this existential dread in my heart that I cashed in all my husband “points” with my pregnant wife, made some plans, and set out for a media-blackout bikepacking trip through our public lands in Utah. The goal was simple; disconnect from media for a few days, connect with the landscapes I fight to protect, and meditate on my role in all of it.
The landscape we chose to travel in was Southeastern Utah; mostly because I’m drawn to that desert landscape, like so many other fellow desert rats, in a way that is best experienced through a shared desert sunset, sitting on still-warm red rock as the night chills around you.
Our route was also important because it allowed us to travel through places that were home to communities that were both politically and socially as far apart from my personal beliefs as possible. Yet, all of us are drawn to these places and fiercely protective of our own view for how to best manage them.
We called our excursion the “South Eastern Utah Desert Sampler Platter.” It was a mix of everything we love about this part of the world. Over the course of five days and 195 miles, we traversed through a world-class rock climbing area, rode a majestic and secluded desert jeep track, dipped down to the mighty Colorado River, passed through the bustling adventure metropolis of Moab, climbed up and through desert towers and canyons to the “hidden” side of the famous La Sals and dropped back to the red-rock desert.
Technically, the route never got too “gnarly”, and aside from some soul-crushing climbs and minor route finding snafu’s, it made for generally pleasant dirt roads touring; the kind of route that bikepacking dreams are made of.
We rode through Bears Ears National Monument and various other Bureau of Land Management land, passing through small communities that rely on public land grazing to support their ranching lifestyle. Lands that also, and most importantly, are ancestral to the Ute and Pueblo People, that were taken and repurposed to suit our current needs.
Looking back on this bikepacking trip, I’m once again reminded of the unique juxtaposition inherent in our public lands. On one hand, they’re powerful landscapes that have served as homes to countless generations of Indigenous People and, more recently, generations of non-Indigenous communities; shaping how people live, believe and connect with each other.
On the other hand, they’re incredibly fragile, often merely one pen stroke or vote away from being sold to the highest bidder for destructive extractive purposes.
This trip was a reminder for me that these places need us, just as much as we need them, and that the only way we can ensure their protection is through proper management.
I encourage everyone, when you can (and as safely as possible), pull up a map on your computer, find the nearest public land unit, and head out for a walk, bike ride, run–whatever works for you! Connect to your place and find your “why” these places need protection for yourself and countless generations to come.
Photo Credit- David Taft