Category: Bike touring notes

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A Bikepacking primer

Bikepacking isn’t the slightest bit a novel idea. Late nineteenth century black and white photographs of cyclists with bedrolls and framebags heading out into the countryside or on months long trips over international borders show that the bicycle has always been for freedom and exploration. If anything is new in the current enthusiasm for bikepacking, it’s firstly that specific and optimized gear is now widely available for it, and secondly and more importantly, there is a critical mass of the aesthetic sensibility to make it within the imaginative grasp of all of us.

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Cycling to Machu Picchu

In a splendid fiction one could easily pedal to the edge of the ruins at Machu Picchu and circle and photograph its majesty by bike, just as one might at Angkor Wat or Palmyra. In reality the tourist town that supports MP — Aguas Calientes — is so remote and small, and the concentration of visitors to it is so great that access is highly controlled. Indeed, there are no roads to AC. Many cycletourists simply ride to Cusco and leave their bicycles there, getting to MP the usual way by bus then train. I did not want to go to Cusco and backtrack, nor did I find the usual way aesthetically appealing at all. I contemplated skipping it altogether.

But there is an alternative that includes high mountain pass bikepacking, weather, minor drama, and a bit of cycletouring nostalgic history in that a fair bit of it is on train tracks. Thus, it echoes in a tiny way the style that the likes of Sachtleben & Allen or Frank Lenz traveled in when a railway link was the only path between cities.

The plan assumes travel from the west, i.e., headed south through South America. It is possible to do what is described here backwards, but it appears to me that starting from Cusco likely offers different options. The route is substantially based on a trek that has been adapted into a multisport multimodal trip involving hiking, biking, luxury eco lodges, donkey porters, vans and trains. Obviously, Pfft! on all that. This is how to do it all by big pedaling. A very capable off-road bike and minimal weight are essential.

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Notes on bike touring the Dalton Highway

Among the many standouts of bicycle touring in Alaska, the Dalton Highway was a special treat.  It’s rugged with majestic varied terrain, there’s abundant expansive aloneness, and the road and pipeline always themselves seem uncomfortable unnatural exceptions to the wildness of the place.

Superficially, the first few hours on the road can imply a wobbly blend of Into the Wild meets Mad Max.  It’s true that the exquisite sense of vastness, solitude, and remoteness is every day periodically cracked by the rumble of truck traffic. The Dalton is first and foremost a haul road, and it owes its existence to the need to move material to and from the immense industrial arctic oilworks at Prudhoe.  My overwhelming impression of the truck drivers was that they were polite, respectful, professional.  I never once had a conflict or felt in danger as a cyclist.  I was there well into hunting season, and I found the hunters, too, helpful, friendly, great to chat with.

In addition to the positive interactions with the community of the road, what stays with me is losing myself in hours of late-August orange, red, and gold paint dabs against a green canvas unfurling into skyline.

Vietnam cycling notes

Vietnam is an easy and wonderful place to pedal.  It’s energetic, beautiful, and has a powerful history.  Citywise, I liked both Hanoi and Saigon, though they are very different.  Hanoi is laid back and cosmopolitan, while Saigon is more of the chaotic whirlpool that Asian cities can be.  More broadly, the attraction of the north is that it’s rugged and hilly.  The attraction of the south is that the riverways and ferry travel around the Mekong delta are culturally interesting.

A substantial part of any cycling tour is the serendipity that originates in not having a plan and simply getting lost.  But here are some notes on tidbits that are worth doing.

Moab itinerary

Somehow, and in spite of the many extraordinary things he’s done on bicycles and HPV’s, Rob had never been to Moab.  This October we remedied that.  I’ve ridden in Southern Utah more times than I can remember, but I knew that seeing the old classics through new eyes would be a treat.

Rob used this vacation as a chance to test out his new folding 29er design in rigid singlespeed configuration; naturally, I brought my rigid singlespeed race rig (with the small concession of gearing down to 34×19). What else would you use in Moab?

I felt pressure to arrange the proven standards into a compact trip: