Know Before You Go
SECTION No1 Introduction
In 2015 & 2016, we traveled to New Zealand, Bolivia, California, British Columbia, Australia, Colombia, California, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Republic of Georgia, Idaho and Oregon. We took bikes, cameras, and curiosity. The themes: in 2015, mountain passes (find the cleanest, most interesting, most stylish line from one side of a mountain to the other—like skateboarding or surfing, only with loaded bikes); in 2016, exploring the range of trips possible via bicycle (on one hand an isolated slog over a mountain, on the other a relaxed swimming tour with ten mile days and take-out pizza). We called this project Dead Reckoning.
We rode on fat bikes, road bikes, 29er gravel bikes, and mountain bikes. We were self-supported or at the very least self-reliant, except when we weren’t, wondering the whole time if the route would be possible, and if it was possible, how bad it would hurt, and if it did hurt, how much fun it would be to hurt that bad.
The point is that bikes are an amazing form of sport and transportation. But they’re also an ideal tool for exploration and casual anthropology. As it turns out, 15 mph is exactly the right speed at which to observe the world.
And for what it’s worth, in addition to riding them, you can put bikes in a bush plane, strap them to a helicopter, lash them to your back, and tie them to a raft. Basically they go where you go. And if worse comes to worse, you can always just ride them on the downhills. Probably.
What follows is a collection of metaphors, anecdotes, and tips from our bikepacking adventures, which when taken as a whole, might, with some luck, amount to something approximating 101 insights into getting way the hell off the grid with your bike, a backpack, maybe some strangers, and plenty of good friends.
SECTION No2 6 Possibly Obvious But Probably Essential Bikepacking Tips
1 – TRY BEFORE YOU RIDE
If you embark with a bike you haven’t ridden in final adventure mode (i.e.: fully loaded), the bikepacking adventure will be over before it even starts.
2 – PACK EXTRA GLOVES
You can’t have too many. The weather will always be worse than you expect. The ounces you saved by ditching an extra pair of cycling gloves will come back to haunt you.
3 – EMBRACE TUBELESS TIRES
Remember 56K dial-up internet? It was great. You’d punch in a URL, go make coffee, and by the time you returned there’d be a cute polar bear on your screen. But you’d never choose it today. Let tubes go the way of 56K and say farewell to pinch flats forever.
4 – BRING A BOOK
Books aren’t light and they get wet. But without electricity it’s amazing how quickly it gets dark, and in the middle of the wilderness when no one else is around, you will feel less alone.
5 – DEPLOY THE CINNAMON ROLL
Wrap wet clothes in newspaper, and roll (the paper is the dough; the clothes, the cinnamon). Useful in high-mountain hamlets where rain never stops and there are no trees to burn.
6 – PRACTICE OPTIMISTIC SKEPTICISM (OS)
A cousin of Irrational Exuberance, OS encourages the wild and ambitious. Unlike its headstrong relation, it demands a wary eye. How it works: Your plan was to attain a vista camping spot. But there’s a blizzard, so you camp below snowline instead. Next day, your party does not need to resort to eating each other.
SECTION No3 7 Similarities Between a Soviet Ejection Seat and Lashing a Bike to Your Back
1. When deployed correctly, each will get you home safely.
2. The only time you’ll be comfortable wearing one is while you’re blissfully floating in the air.
3. Walking with either of them on your back is debilitating.
4. If you have to use either, you’ve made some really poor decisions.
5. For a while, if you can forget how you got there and what you have to do next, the view can be fantastic.
6. The sensation of imminent and simultaneous physical and psychological danger.
7. The pride in knowing that a representation of the proletariat is hanging from your shoulders.
SECTION No4 4 Examples of Casual Anthropology
SECTION No5 11 "Foods" You Will Find in the Bolivian Andes at 16,700(+/-) Feet Above Sea Level
- 1. Looks like chicken, must be chicken. Found in every pueblo square in a plastic bucket under a tarp marinating in something orange.
- 1. Poke a hole in the bag to let the air out, then smash ’em, crunch ’em, and compress ’em for a lightweight and savory snack.
- 1. Bolivian wizards, shamans, and adventurers have all used the leaf of the coca plant for eons (it is said to aid in altitude sickness, digestion, circulation, headaches, and “regularity”). It's true that when this leaf is put through a chemical process it becomes cocaine, but that’s not how most Bolivians use it. Like them, we stuffed the raw leaf in our cheeks and chewed on it all day.
- 2. Important: Don’t “eat” eat it.
- 1. This is kinda mayonnaise, in the same way that apple Jolly Ranchers are kinda apples.
- 1. Move over Michael Jackson! Everyone knows Coca-Cola is the King of Pop.
- 1. Congealed salt and oil; the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” of Bolivia.
- 1. Tongue-melting powder that’s great on almost anything.
- 1. Fake, knockoff, wannabe Coca-Cola; bought in haste; whatever you do, do not make this mistake.
- 1. Labeled as tuna; pungent and gross; a Trojan horse of dietary vengeance: DO NOT EAT!!!
- 1. They can’t even help but be organic and cage free.
- 1. Noodles and powdered beef. ¡Qué sabor!
SECTION No6 8 Steps to Working a Grizzly Bear in the Chilcotin Mountains
- Meet a man and a woman leading a horse-pack train over Windy Pass. Share some conversation, then pay attention when they say…
- “Watch out for the grizzly11Grizzly photo above thanks to Gregory Smith. up the trail. Make some noise. And work it. You’ll be fine.”
- Pretend, collectively, that you know what it means to “work” a bear.
- Tie your shoelaces, have a snack, stay together, and continue up the trail because what else are you going to do?
- Just when you thought the horse packers were—like you’d said all along—ghosts from the 1800s haunting the Chilcotins, see the bear, spook the bear, watch it run off the trail about 30 feet before it stands up and turns around.
- Hold your ground, make eye contact, unholster your bear spray, whistle, shout at it, and most important, back away slowly and deliberately. Make eye contact. Be chill.
- Think about stopping to take a photograph, agonize over it, decide against it, and continue walking deliberately backward.
- You’ll know if it’s gonna succeed in less than a minute. Good luck!
SECTION No7 8 Places in Australia You WON’T Find a Koala Bear
SECTION No8 15 Uncommon Types of Rain That Are Common to Bikepacking
1. Weeping 2. Peripatetic 3. Eager
4. Confident 5. Wrathful 6. Dreamy
7. Belligerent 8. Deceptive 9. Jarring
10. Perspiring 11. Creepy 12. Jocular
13. Masochistic 14. Titillating
SECTION No9 4 Events During Which it Would Snow on us Even if it’s Scientifically and Meteorologically Impossible
In 2015 Yonder Journal traveled to New Zealand in the summer, California in the summer, Bolivia in the summer, and British Columbia in the summer. In each location, without fail, it snowed. It is upon this wellspring of experience that we base our predictions.
- While enjoying a “snorkeling with the dolphins” experience in Waikiki.
- During a dinner party with Victoria and David Beckham at their waterfront villa on Palm Island in Dubai.
- Aboard packrafts, in passage through the Panama Canal.
- While cooking-up a few afternoon plantains on a Cuban Beach in July.
SECTION No10 8 Similes That Describe How Your Body Feels at High Altitude
SECTION No11 3 Ways Through a Bolivian Vigilante Tollbooth + 1 Last Resort
When traveling through the High Andes of Bolivia, you’ll probably encounter at least one vigilante tollbooth: a guy or gal demanding tribute for using a road that travels by his or her land. After rigorous testing, we recommend the following strategies.
#1: THE COLORFUL-PAPER TECHNIQUE
Bolivian vigilante tollbooth operators are attracted to colorful paper with numbers and portraits of famous dead people on them. If you have some of this paper to spare, spare some, but stick to the low, single numbers.
#2: THE “LOOK, A CONDOR!” TECHNIQUE
Bolivian vigilante tollbooth operators have a fascination with these titanic Andean carrion birds. Point with gusto to a space in the sky and shout, “CONDOR!” Once the operator has turned to look, make your break.
#3: THE BLISSFULLY IGNORANT TECHNIQUE
Bolivian vigilante tollbooth operators crave attention, then feed on your reaction. Ignoring them can be effective. But be warned, these are tollbooth vigilantes. You will want to ogle. And once you interact… well, just don’t.
#4: THE LAST RESORT
If you’re traveling to Bolivian vigilante tollbooth territory, bring someone you can sacrifice: your party’s weak link, the one who sleeps in, never makes food, and always flats. This person might be great at Sudoku, they might even be your husband or wife, but when you’re facing a vigilante tollbooth situation, you do what you gotta do.
SECTION No12 12 Fix-It Items (That Aren't Tire Levers) You Should Have On Hand
- Tubes – because sometimes even tubeless fails.
- Patch kit – because sometimes backup tubes fail.
- Tire boots – never trifle with slashes and cuts.
- Bailing wire – before there was duct tape there was bailing wire.
- Zip ties – these plastic cinches are surprisingly resolute and dependable.
- Gorilla tape – duct tape on steroids; wrap a yard or so around your seatpost for easy access.
- Dependable multi-tool – with a functional chain breaker and all other niceties.
- Solid Leatherman-type tool – should include knife and pliers.
- Assorted nuts and bolts – the kinds you use on bicycles.
- Derailleur hanger – if Achilles’s mother were to dip your bike in the River Styx she would hold it by the derailleur hanger.
- Pump – make sure it works with your tire’s valves.
- Lighter – because you never know.
SECTION No13 5 Foreign Words & Cultural Idioms that May Come in Handy
- “Too easy” – adj. no problem, done, of course, got it (in Australian).
- “Tipo” – prep. like, same as, similar; especially when paired with pantomime and wild gesticulation (in Spanish).
- “Eh” – universal punctuation; works as a period, question mark, and exclamation point (in Canadian).
- “Sweet as” – adj. right on, OK; an inherently positive confirmation (in New Zealandese).
- “Bruce Lee” – noun a grizzly; critical in countries where the alpha predator is the size of a VW bug and bristling with teeth and claw. If you hear “Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee, BRUCE LEE!” you might want to go for your ghost-pepper-infused bear spray instead of prepping your duckface for a selfie (in English, spoken through a Swedish filter).
SECTION No14 9 Bikepushing Dos and Don'ts
SECTION No15 6 Things You Can Absolutely NOT Start a Fire With
- Eskimo Pies.
- Wood recently fished out of a river.
- A bucket of snow.
- Angry words.
- Bicycle components; namely, but not limited to, handlebars, stems, seatposts, chains, pedals, cranks, spokes, brake pads, cables, bottom brackets, headsets, hubs, and quick releases.
SECTION No16 6 Quotes Regarding Pushing a Bike Up the Huxley River in New Zealand During a Monsoon
First of all, you realize he can’t hear us, right? Second of all, he’s pinned to a rock. And C) This is why people carry rope. I mean, right?”- DWPI think we, like, NEED to make a few really good decisions immediately. So let’s not panic but also let’s not get hypothermia and whatever comes after hypothermia.”- Erik NohlinI can’t hear anything in this hood.”- KVH