Bikepacking is on the rise! This fall is the perfect time to get out and give it a shot. Need some inspiration? Our Marketing Manager Ian McWilliams shares a recent bikepacking experience in the deserts of western Utah to get your wheels turning. Be sure to check out his Sea to Summit gear list below.
There were rumors of rain and generally finicky spring weather moving in over canyon country. But rumors are rumors and you don’t dare stop trip momentum once it has reached velocity. Saddling the bikes with 24 hours’ worth of sundries we couldn’t help but notice the grey wall of precip starting to obscure downtown Moab’s red rock sentinels as it drifted our way.
The cell unleashed just as we had lashed the last dry bag in place. Nothing to do but retreat to the back of the truck and watch our bikes and gear get washed clean by the sky. An auspicious beginning but nothing more than a fleeting desert squall. We hoped. As the rain pelted the truck roof noisily I reflected on the reaction of the visitor center staffer to our intended route: ” You don’t want to go up there. It’s going to be a mess with all this mud. I’d head out toward Chicken Corners.” Nope. No Chicken Corners for us.
As the patter on the roof slowed we pulled on rain gear, locked the truck and pedaled our laden and water logged rigs out on to the main drag of highway 191 toward the mouth of the canyon. All the while visions of drivetrain clogging mud danced in our heads. At this point the tail end of the cell was passing over and pelting us with intense bands of rain and wind followed by tantalizing interludes of blue and the desert sun we had ventured out here to find.
By the time we reached dirt the sun had won out and things were drying quickly. As we pedaled off of the main dirt road and onto the double track of the canyon proper it became apparent that the bulk of our route would be on sand nicely compacted by the rain, and the mud monster would be more cosmetic than halting. By now all of our gear was completely covered in earthy red desert soil. The trip had officially begun!
Pedaling south we watched as the storm moved up canyon darkening the horizon and filling the creek next to us with a brown silty ribbon the color of chocolate milk. This was the tenuous flow that would enable our overnight presence in this arid land (and clog our water filter).
As we moved deeper into the canyon it became increasingly apparent that our biggest challenge in locating a nice place to camp for the evening would be finding somewhere the cows had not been. Dried cow pies were distributed in a seemingly systematic manner across the desert floor as far as we could see. With daylight beginning to run low and energy even lower we decided to gamble and follow some lone bovine tracks up out of the sandy lowlands adjacent the creek and on to a rock shelf just above.
Our gamble on this lone cow paid off and we pushed our bikes into a perfect campsite overlooking the wash just as the light began to soften into the hombre hue of desert evening. A few marks of the herd remained but this spot had been visited by far fewer cows than the flood plain below.
As the stove hissed to life warming dinner we were treated to the light show that is dusk in this part of the world. Long before the stars appeared over the darkened canyon walls we retreated into our bags tired from the day.
Morning dawned clear and blue. To the sounds of the canyon waking up we broke camp and filled our water bags with a silty slurry of water and desert for the downhill run back to town. As we cruised out of the canyon playing on the sandy berms and rollers we marveled at the beauty of the canyon mouth, a zone we had only driven through in the past. The slow, open air perspective afforded by bike travel revealed the expanse of the sun lit spires above the road. One final stare out into the back of beyond just before our tires hit pavement blasting the red dirt collected from a night in the canyon up into the warming morning air.
Carrying the right sleep system is crucial for an enjoyable bikepacking trip. Above are the setups we carried for this route thorough the Utah desert in late spring. Overnight temps were in the mid-40s. System 1 (top): For the colder sleeper: Comfort Light Sleeping Mat, Aeros Premium Pillow and Spark Sp II sleeping bag. System 2 (bottom): For the warmer sleeper: Ultralight Sleeping Mat, Aeros Premium Pillow, Spark SpI Sleeping bag.
To dive deeper into the world of bikepacking visit our friends over at bikpacking.com for gear reviews, route advice and trip reports.