Prep and Packing for Idaho

After a two-year hiatus, we’ve finally managed to scheme up a new, extended bicycle tour. In 2012, we had a fantastic time cycling along a portion of Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) from Banff, Canada, to Whitefish, Montana. Touring off-road was a completely different experience. Instead of hugging a white line along a highway with the sound and smell of motor vehicles whizzing by, we were hogging forest service roads with the sound and smell of the wind through pine trees. Needless to say we wanted more.

So when Adventure Cycling produced a new off-road route in Idaho, it didn’t take much thought to know where we’d be touring next. All I had to do was mention Carrie’s favorite phrase, hot springs, and the decision was made. It took an all out effort from my wrinkled body to pull Carrie out of the Blue Lagoon during our 2008 Iceland adventure. With over 50 hot springs along this new route, we may end up spending more hours soaking than cycling.

With three weeks allotted to make the 500-mile counter-clockwise loop, we feel that we should have plenty of time to avoid putting in big miles every day. Unlike many folks in the bikepacking world, we’re not out to make this an epic adventure of stamina and grit. You won’t be catching us passed out in bivy bags by the side of the trail with uneaten pizza and gummy bears oozing from our mouths. You may however catch us eating pizza and gummy bears just before plunging into our third natural hot spring of the day. While those who race this route (it’s bound to happen soon) may complete the loop in about four days, we’ll be content with a 17-day pace.

That’s not to say that the Idaho Hot Springs route will be a walk in the park. Off-road touring, as we found out on the GDMBR, requires more preparation and planning. We’ll need to review how to properly hang food to keep it away from bears. We’ll need to plan out our potential resupply locations so we don’t run out of food. We’ll also need to plan what clothes and equipment to bring and how best to carry it on our bikes and bodies.

By nature, I’m not a planner. I like to go with the flow and see what happens as each day progresses. When it comes to bicycle tours however, I love to analyze every aspect of the trip. More specifically, I love to analyze and optimize my gear selection. Yes, I admit, I’m one of those guys. The gear nerd. The guy who knows the weights of every article of his clothing. The guy who you may think enjoys thinking about gear more than absorbing the experience of the trip. But in defense of myself, and in defense of all the gear nerds out there, I feel that the better my gear is optimized for the trip the more likely I will enjoy said trip, as my little bundle of stuff is perfectly suited to the task at hand.

So without further ado, I’m going to break down what I’ll be packing for this trip. Warning. Please stop reading this post now if you could care less about pack lists. We’re about to reach peak geek here.

Clothing Worn

Based on weather reports, the parts of Idaho we’ll be visiting seem to have a high desert climate: hot during the day and cool to cold at night, with a potential for random thunderstorms. This is great cycling weather, as minimal clothes are required to be comfortable on and off the bike.

Clothing Packed

The rest of the clothing I’ll be schlepping is basically used to stay dry and keep warm. Because summer showers in Idaho are brief, I won’t be bringing waterproof booties and rain pants. This may prove to be a mistake. However I still believe a rain jacket is necessary. It will keep me dryish while riding in the rain, but more importantly, it will act as an air barrier during cold evenings and mornings.

Absent from this list are a lot of spare clothes that many bicycle tourists like to bring. I’m not bringing an extra pair of padded bike underwear, multiple t-shirts or jerseys, extra clothes specific to looking good in town, or any dedicated pajamas. Each article of clothing that I pack can serve multiple functions, can dry quickly, and can be easily laundered. This means I can remain clean and comfortable without the bulk and weight of excess clothes. While the wardrobe won’t win any fashion awards, it gets the job done. Function > Form.

Camping Equipment

While packed clothes may be the bulkiest items one carries on a tour, camping equipment is usually the heaviest. The potential to save weight in this category is high, but the potential to spend a lot to save that weight can also be high. This is the category that I’m usually dissatisfied with at the end of a trip, especially when it comes to the tent we choose to bring. In New Zealand our tent ended up growing mold from being packed damp so often while we were finishing up our trip along the west coast of the south island. In Iceland our 4-season tent withstood the wind really well, but the fly seams leaked so much water that we had to tack on plastic garbage bags to the peak every night. On the GDMBR, we brought a tent that was too short for my tastes. On a few other, smaller trips, we’ve tried a couple of different tents that all left me displeased in some way. While we’ve chosen a new tent for our Idaho trip, I already have my reservations about it’s abilities.

Bike Maintenance

In an ideal world our tubes would never need patching, our chains would never need greasing, and our wheels would never need truing. Alas, we live in an imperfect world. The thorns and grime and unseen potholes that litter the trails mean that it’s inevitable that at some point our bikes might need some TLC. Since we try to pack lightly, we don’t tend to bring a huge repair kit with us. Even so, this stuff can get heavy fast. To reduce weight and to increase the efficacy of each tool, I carry separate tools instead of a multi-tool.

Instead of listing the tools, I figured a photograph would suffice. All of the tools fit inside a Trader Joe’s plastic peanut butter jar, which slips into a bottle cage on the underside of the downtube. A couple of spare spokes, a pump, and a spare inner tube are packed in different locations.

These tools and spares should keep the bikes rolling smoothly.
These tools and spares should keep the bikes rolling smoothly.

Personal Items

The concept of clean has a different meaning when bicycle touring. The combination of dust and sunblock and insect repellant is a wicked recipe for grime. To fight grime and to stay happy and healthy on the road, we bring a small assortment of items that packs small and weighs little. Another photograph of these items should get the point across.

All of this but the sunblock fits in a ziploc baggie that I stash in my frame bag. Missing from the photo is toilet paper.
All of this but the sunblock fits in a ziploc baggie that I stash in my frame bag. Missing from the photo is toilet paper.

Gadgets

Some bicycle tourists prefer to bring no electronic gadgets on their trips as a method to escape their evil and addicting clutches. While I admire these tourists for their minimalist and simple traveling lifestyle, I’m too attached to life in the electronic age. On our trip to New Zealand, I hauled a 12-inch laptop and a DSLR with two lenses. In Iceland I left the laptop at home, but kept the bulky camera. Six years later, the digital world has changed for the better.

While a smartphone may be the ultimate traveling companion, I’m too wary of paying ridiculously high monthly fees for that pleasure. Instead I’ll be bringing a slew of gadgets that get the job done without the recurring expenses.

From left to right: cell phone, Sinewave Cycles Revolution USB dynamo adapter, Garmin Edge Touring GPS unit, Limefuel battery, iPad Mini, USB cables. All of this is stashed in the Revelate Pocket on my handlebars.
From left to right: cell phone, Sinewave Cycles Revolution USB dynamo adapter, Garmin Edge Touring GPS unit, Limefuel battery, iPad Mini, USB cables. All of this is stashed in the Revelate Pocket on my handlebars.

The bike and bags

There are as many ways to carry gear when bicycle touring as there are internet cat celebrities. Visit any forum where bicycle tourists discuss their preferred methods and watch the sparks fly. Some tourists prefer the traditional four-pannier setup. Some only ride with rear panniers. Others ride with only front panniers. The crazy ones just use a backpack. Handlebar bags, trailers, cargo loaders, frame bags, saddle bags, there’s a method for everyone’s madness.

In the bikepacking world, the latest craze is using soft bags strapped all over the bike frame. I admit that the retrogrouch in me thinks this method looks really sloppy. When touring on paved roads, I prefer to use two rear panniers and a handlebar bag. It’s a simple, clean setup with plenty of flexibility. When touring off-road, I think that despite it’s beauty flaws, the bikepacking bag strategy works really well. You just have to learn to pack efficiently.

My custom Clockwork frame with 26x2.4 Maxxis Holy Rollers is dubbed Deathstar. Deathstar clocks in at 50lb. 10oz. with 2L of water and no food.
My custom Clockwork frame with 26×2.4 Maxxis Holy Rollers is dubbed Deathstar. Deathstar clocks in at 50lb. 10oz. with 2L of water and no food.
Carrie rides a 26" hardtail with a pair of Ortlieb back roller classics and a Revelate Tangle frame bag that will house her 2L water bladder.
Carrie rides a 26″ hardtail with a pair of Ortlieb back roller classics and a Revelate Tangle frame bag that will house her 2L water bladder.

When we rode the GDMBR in 2012, I used a frame bag, a handlebar bag, a traditional saddle bag, and a small backpack to carry my stuff. This method worked to some degree, but I hated wearing the backpack, and the saddle bag bounced a bit, even with a support rack. My goal with this trip was to pack efficiently enough to avoid using a backpack and to overcome the bouncy saddle bag. The items I’ll be bringing, listed above, will fit into a Revelate Viscacha seat bag, a Revelate stock frame bag, a JPaks top tube bag, a Revelate handlebar harness, and, if needed to carry extra rations, a Sea-to-Summit Ultra Sil day pack.

It wasn’t easy paring down my kit so I could cram everything into these rather small bikepacking bags while not needing to use a backpack. But I think the effort will be worth it. No sweaty backs on this trip!

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