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Why you should load up and ride far

"I think of bikepacking as a rite of passage – a transition from our hyper-connected lives to more meaningful things."

Ryan Correy

by Ryan Correy

The Tour Divide is a 4,418 km, selfsupported mountain bike race from touristy Banff, Alta., in the Canadian Rockies to the barren desert landscape of Antelope Wells, N.M. Since its inception in 2008, the underground event, which isn’t so underground anymore, has served as the poster child for bikepacking.

Bikepacking is the union of backpacking and fat-tire ambition. While a hiker going on an extended trek needs a burly 70 l pack full of stuff, the bikepacker covers similar terrain with not much more than a handful of energy bars, a bivouac “bear burrito,” spare layers and a multi-tool. This gear gets stuffed into custom-sewn bags affixed to the saddle, handlebar and top tube. It all makes for speedier travel.

As for why you’d do this, I think of bikepacking as a rite of passage – a transition from our hyper-connected lives to more meaningful things: appreciating outdoor survival (testing yourself in the sleet and unexpected snow), learning to quiet your mind along a brutally straight hydro corridor, setting up camp under a clear night sky and eating sticky gummy bears for breakfast.

Bikepacking extends touring beyond the limits of asphalt networks to the wondrous worlds of overgrown ATV trails and forgotten forest service roads. Where traditional bicycle racing is framed by necessary rules, bikepacking events rule by respect. There are no fees, no age classes, no gender inequalities and no official membership, just the code of “police thyself.” Medals and Strava segments are quite distant.

Of all the accolades that I have earned – becoming the youngest Canadian to complete the Race Across America, cycling the length of the Pan-American Highway, riding a stationary bike for six days and 20 hours and becoming a 24-hour mountain bike champion – I’m most fond of the things you can’t put into a resumé. I remember yodelling like a goof atop a quiet peak at sunrise, the helpful hand of a stranger in the backcountry (a.k.a. “trail magic”) and that moment when the final mileage ticks down.

Should you ever take on an adventure similar to the Tour Divide, I can tell you that there is nothing quite like standing at the border with Mexico, after roughly three weeks of 20-hour days, with no one other than yourself to celebrate the massive accomplishment. Weathered like a grape in the hot sun, utterly exhausted, you’ll wonder why such humility is usually served in small doses. And you’ll now understand that bikepacking isn’t just a casual “like.” It’s a need.