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A First-Timer’s Guide to Bikepacking

Caroline Gleich Shares the Story of Her First Bikepacking Adventure

Caroline Gleich is a Backcountry ambassador and seasoned ski mountaineer hailing from our very own Park City. While her and her husband Rob Lea have been dedicated roadies for several years, they were recently bit by the gravel bug and made their first foray into gravel riding and bikepacking. 

I want to start this blog post by acknowledging that I am not an expert on bikepacking. Far from it. I got into cycling in 2016 as a way to rehab a broken foot that was slow to heal. My heart longed to be climbing rocks and trail running ridges but my body was saying no. So I picked up a bike, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

In 2018, I longed to take my road bike where the pavement ended, so I added another bike to the quiver: a gravel bike. The bike industry is good at creating desire. A gravel bike is basically a road bike that is designed to go off road. Gravel bikes are more upright, have beefier tires and allow you to be more relaxed and comfortable on and off road. They can handle bumpy, washboard roads and smooth single track. Also called adventure bikes, they are lightweight, durable and loads of fun. Compared to a cyclocross bike, which is more geared towards racing, gravel bikes have more relaxed geometry and touches for all day comfort. I was attracted to the appeal of being able to explore the country roads by my house and as a way to be further away from traffic, while still being able to go fast and cover long distances.

This summer, I was craving a new spin on the adventure, so I talked my partner, Rob Lea, into accompanying me for an overnight bikepacking trip. We had ambitious plans, but with his work schedule ramping up and the heat wave, we settled for a weeknight adventure. We decided to pick a spot close to home, pack up the bare essentials and head out for a night under the stars.

Planning & Packing

To plan a bikepacking adventure or to find new roads, I utilize a variety of websites and planning tools. Bikepacking.com is helpful for find routes long and short and gravel map helps you find high quality cycling roads out your back door. I also utilize Strava, Gaia GPS, and Google Earth. For complicated routes, I program them into my Garmin Edge Plus 1030 so I have turn by turn directions on my bicycle computer. I like to geek out on route planning and utilize technology to help me plan better routes, but you can have just as much fun by heading out your door and exploring.

I want to say the same caveat for bikepacking in general. Of course it’s nice to have the latest and greatest gear, but there are so many ways you can rig your bikepacking set up. You don’t have to have the newest, nicest bike or the latest gear to have a good time.

For Rob and I, we decided to forego a stove and pack leftover pizza for dinner and Clif bars for breakfast. I had some dried kale chips and Oreos for dessert. He brought ingredients for a gin and tonic. We were glad we recently reorganized our gear room because we loaded up our lightweight sleeping bags and small tent, started packing at 3:30 and left the house by 5.

Making Camp

We got to our campsite before dark, set up our tent and I immediately changed into a baggy pair of shorts and a clean tank top because I don’t like sitting around in my sweaty bike shorts. I washed my hands, used a shower wipe and we sat down and enjoyed the delicious, left over pizza, drinks and kale chips. It was one of the last nights of the Perseid meteor shower and once it got dark, we set up our sleeping pads under the stars and watched the night sky come alive. Sleeping on the earth is so grounding and it was exciting to pack light and see how little we could get away with (which also gives me anxiety). We brushed our teeth and fell asleep under the stars. I don’t always sleep well when I’m camping. I don’t always love camping. But I do love how camping makes me appreciate my bed at home, and the ice dispenser on my refrigerator. I like how camping connects me to feeling human and reminds me that I’m not superior to nature, but a part of it.

The next morning, we woke up and made it home in time for Rob to start working from his home office at a reasonable hour. It was a micro adventure because you don’t have to go to climb Everest to have a fun adventure.

The Takeaway

Here are a few things I learned:

  • Consider doing a smaller bikepacking adventure before a bigger one to get your systems dialed.
  • When your bike is fully loaded, adjust your expectations and plans for time-management. I could definitely feel the extra weight on the bike and my hourly mile per average was slower.
  • Make sure you have all the straps secured because a loose strap could mean a horrific crash on the bike.
  • Measure your bike frame for bikepacking bags before you order and if you’re in between sizes, size up.

Caroline Gleich is a professional ski mountaineer and adventurer based in Park City, UT. When she’s not on snow or dreaming about her next big mountain adventure, you can find her trail running, alpine climbing, ridge scrambling, or biking. However, Caroline is perhaps best known as an activist-athlete who uses her voice to advocate for social and environmental causes, working on issues such as climate change, clean air, gender equality and more. Caroline’s goal is to inspire people to get outside, live a healthy, active lifestyle and protect the places we love to play.