How to Mountain Bike Tour on Singletrack|
Monday, July 18, 2005
|Nathan on the Rainbow Trail
Darkness was dropping like fateís hammer as my friend Brad and I pedaled furiously toward a distant trailhead. Just before dark we finally realized that we were waiting at the wrong trail and to catch up with our food and sleeping bags we needed to cover 6 miles of technical singletrack in record time. Despite already spending seven hours in the saddle, we pushed pedals as fast as our weary legs would turn.
We made it only half-way before it was officially dark. We stumbled and pushed another two miles until the air was black as coal. I waved my hand inches in front of my nose and couldnít see it at all. Trying to feel out the trail with our feet, we found ourselves constantly off-route, running into trees and stepping off little ledges. Convinced we would eventually reach our gear, we continued, risking becoming lost or walking off something big.
The final blow fell when we came upon a good size creek that we could plainly hear, but couldnít see at all. I inched forward, searching for the shoreline and found it only when I slid off the bank into the water. Since my feet were already wet, I waded across to look for the trail on the other side. It was so dark I had no idea which way to turn and kept running into tall rock walls. When I started to shiver from exposure there was really no going on.
The only smart thing we did that night was build a fire with a lighter and toilet paper. We spent the night half a mile from our gear while we shivered in the cold, kept awake by the loud grumbling of our empty bellies.
Earlier that morning weíd set out to attempt a three day long ride that covered 100 miles of singletrack in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Friends offered to drop our gear off at a trailhead the first night so we could spend a full day of riding unencumbered by extra weight. The joke was on us, since we bit off way more than we could chew and paid for it--our first attempt at touring singletrack didnít go well.
For most people, the simple act of riding on singletrack for a few hours fulfills their need for skinny tough trails. However, for the more intrepid, the possibilities of traveling on singletrack for days at a time--no longer tied to roads, shuttles and racing home before dark, opens up a world of opportunity, anywhere on the planet.
Singletrack touring is not for everyone and it resembles road touring about as much as difficult mountaineering compares to a walk in the park. Some people will say itís not fun at all and requires a Zen-like acceptance of depravity. If youíre out for creature comforts, hot cups of coffee in your warm tent and lots of soft pillows, singletrack touring is not for you. If you want to know how much challenging terrain you can cover over time, want to challenge yourself and explore the worldís more remote regions, read on.
The following is a list of suggestions that Iíve come up with over a few singletrack touring adventures. You can adapt them however you like.
1. Use the lightest gear possible.
In this era of superlight gear created for adventure racing, it is very easy to purchase feathery gear that would have had to be custom-created in the past. Lightweight gear translates directly into easier riding and more fun. However, if itís a toss-up between spending more hours in the office to buy the lightweight gear, just use what you have. Itís more important to be out on the trail than it is to spend all your time saving up for light gear.
2. Carry your gear in a hydration pack and on a rear rack.
The two most important items, besides your body and bike, is a large hydration pack and a rear rack. The pack should be really comfortable, big enough to hold a bunch of junk and a three liter (100 oz.) water reservoir. I use the HyperLITE pack made by Wingnut (www.wingnutgear.com) because itís lightweight and rides low on my back, so it exerts less pressure on my upper body over the long haul.
Rear racks can be attached to both hardtails and full suspension bikes. The setup for a hardtail resembles a typical road touring arrangement and attaches with clamps or bolts into eyelets. The rack for a duallie clamps onto the seat tube, and though itís not as good as the hardtail rig, it works. Plus, a full-suspension ride treats your body so much nicer over tough trails.
3. Put your important gear in a dry bag.
To keep your gear dry and somewhat protected, use a small dry bag that fits a sleeping bag (tightly compressed with a compression stuff sack), extra warm clothes and a few food items. A plastic bag can be used instead of a dry bag, though itís lighter, it could easily rip and spill your goods everywhere. Strap the dry bag to your rack with a couple of bungee cords.
The downside to using only a pack and dry bag is that it puts extra strain on your upper body and makes your bike top heavy. A top heavy bike behaves oddly at first and is more difficult to control, but after you get the hang of it, itís no big deal.
4. The amount of food depends on your re-supply stops.
For just a couple days of riding, you can bring all your food with you. For more than a couple of days, the food planning logistics become very important. The most ideal situations are to either have food drops along the trail, or to choose a route with access to towns where you can restock and drink cold beers.
Overall, singletrack touring lends itself to simple food that doesnít require much preparation--gorp mix, beef jerky, pretzel pieces, hard candies, energy gel and sandwiches. Picky eaters will find the situation more challenging. If youíre trying simply to pull the ride off successfully, a person can survive on almost anything for a few days. If you must have variety in your diet, take lessons from long-haul backpackers and bring light dehydrated meals. When I do these rides, it seems that I expend so much energy that I will consume anything within reach.
5. Use tennis shoes and flat pedals.
Flat pedals with street shoes have several advantages. The first is that the shoes are easier to walk in when pushing up steep grades--an activity which inevitably becomes more common than normal when carrying several extra pounds of gear. Plus, the same shoes double up as your camp shoes. The only downside to riding tennies on flats is the lack of efficiency, especially when climbing hills, that a cycling shoe and clipless pedal system delivers.
6. Bring two lighters rather than a stove.
A stove is never just a stove, it also means bringing a pan and gas--all of which add weight to your kit. Skip the hot meals and morning coffee for a few days. If you need a caffeine fix, bring along a Starbucks Double Shot and chocolate. Eating cold meals and drinks also makes the hot food and coffee just that much more sweet when you drop down into town to re-supply.
Why two lighters? In case one doesnít work or gets lost. A campfire on a rainy night could be a life saver. However, if you do build a campfire, make sure itís an environmentally secure campfire--use a fire pit at an established campground and put every ember out with water before you leave. For emergencies, carry firestarter at all times--cotton balls packed full of petroleum jelly and stuffed inside a film canister--they burn and get the fire going even if itís wet.
7. Use iodine tablets to purify water.
Iodine tablets weigh less and take up less room than a water filter. They also cost less and are very easy to use. Some people complain that iodine tastes bad, but baby, itís about doing the ride, not about how the water tastes.
8. Donít bring a sleeping pad.
If you ride singletrack all day with extra gear on your bike, you will sleep well even on broken rocks. A sleeping pad is nice, but one can be made by piling up pine needles or digging a hip hole in soft sandy soil. I also pad the ground under me with my goretex jacket, dry bag and extra clothes (put the clothes between your sleeping bag and bivy sack or they will get wet).
9. Use a bivy sack instead of a tent.
A bivy sack does everything a tent does except for giving you a place to change. In a bivy bag, the view of the stars is unsurpassed. If itís raining, you may need to put your head under a thick tree and be sure to hang your food in case bears come sniffing for a snack.
10. Clothing depends on the situation.
Itís impossible to give a hard and fast rule for clothing because cold and rainy climates obviously call for more gear. Just make sure that every piece of clothing you bring serves a double purpose. Take less than you think you need.
Tools are the one item hard to scrimp on, simply because singletrack touring is hard on your bike. If the machine breaks down, you could be left miles from help. I bring tools to work on nearly every part of my bike. An old-school Alien tool or new multi-tool works wonders, along with a wrench to tighten the cranks, extra spokes stuffed inside the handlebars, a few zip ties, a pipe clamp and several inches of duct tape wrapped around the seat tube. Before you head out into the wild, go through your bike and make sure you have all the tools you need to fix everything big on your bike (major damage excepted). Leave the tools you donít need and make an emergency plan before you leave home.
This brief list obviously does not cover everything you are going to come across when youíre out on the trail for days at a time. In the end, the most important ingredient falls within the space of your skull--if you are willing to go out and try it, it will work. Make sure you cover the basics of staying dry, warm and having a bit to eat. At the moment, singletrack touring is an untapped area of adventure in the world just waiting for two-wheeled pioneers. It could be you--if you can stand the suffering.
11. Gear for Singletrack Touring--Based on Nighttime Temperatures Down to 40 Degrees Farenheit.
3L hydration pack--Wingnut HyperLITE
3L water bladder
2 Bungee cords
Point and shoot camera
8 rolls of film
Mini tripod (4 inches high)
Extra camera battery
2 pieces of writing paper in Ziploc bag
Map of Area
3 AAA extra batteries
1 oz. sunscreen
Chapstick, SPF 30
2 feet duct tape
Swiss Army knife--small
First Aid kit--minimal (band aids, guaze, tape, ibuprofen, tweezers)
Cell phone--for emergency only
Firestarter--4 cotton balls with petroleum jelly in film canister
2 lighters in Ziploc bag
Iodine tablets and instructions
Toilet paper in Ziploc bag
2 Tubes and lots of extra patches with glue
Bike tools Ė enough to do the job
Extra derailer hanger
Chamois Butter--4 small containers (0.33 oz.)
Food--depends on you
2 flasks of Hammer Gel
15 Jolly Ranchers
6 energy bars
Clothing--depends on your body type
1 pair of bike shorts
1 pair of warm tights
2 lightweight fleeces
1 Goretex jacket and pants
2 warm hats
1 pair full-finger gloves
1 pair warm gloves
1 pair tennis shoes
1 pair riding socks
1 pair warm socks--only for night time