8 Things You Shouldn’t Do When Bikepacking in the Sierra
#1: Don’t put your bike on your back.
Bikes are made for riding. Putting your bike on your back upsets the natural order of things and not in a punk rock way or a Copernican way, more like an evolutionary regression kind of way, a not washing hands kind of way. These things, their whole deal, is to be ridden, to be in the carry-er not the carry-ee position. This is the equivalent of putting a horse on your back, or a motorcycle, or a jet ski, or an elephant. This is definitely a don’t.
But what if for some reason you have to, what if for some reason you have planned yourself into a situation where putting a bike on your back, where breaking evolution, would be necessary? A place where the laws of man, the structure of nature, and your own ambition would demand that a bike go on your back? Well we got there, to that situation, and we experienced firsthand why the idea of putting a bike on your back is such a monumental don’t. It’s not just that the idea is unsound, the don’t-ness of the idea is supported by a long list of separate-but-related, tangible, experiential don’ts.
#2: Don’t depend on lash-tech.
This is like asking the bouncers at a Guns N’ Roses concert to go on stage and put on the show; those guys are great at bashing skulls, slamming whiskey and cruising for groupies but can their hips swivel like a deranged gyroscope, can their fingers dance across a fretboard, can they hit those glass-breaking high notes? Nope. They do support, that’s what they do, and lash-tech can only ever be as good as what it’s lashed too.
#3: Don’t ask a backpack to be something it’s not.
We had these SUH-WEET Mission Workshop/ACRE Hausers. These things are wonderful riding backpacks. They carry water, gloves, food, maps, cameras, sunscreen, books, hats, hygiene materials (corporeal and dental), scarfs, batteries, headlamps, pens, harmonicas, fishing poles, helmets, chapstick, eyewear, and more. But what they don’t carry, or at least what they don’t carry well, are entire bicycles. They weren’t designed for it. I mean you’re not going to take a drag boat across the Pacific. Could it do it? Hypothetically yes,11Technically speaking it probably isn’t even hypothetically possible, but whatever. but you definitely don’t want to take a high speed sprint boat built with a roll cage across the world’s largest ocean. For one you would run out of gas. In the same way, you don’t use a backpack perfectly designed for riding to be the yoke for a bike you should be sitting on.
#4: Don’t take the fit process for granted.
You’re a size ten, you have always been a size ten, you have been a size ten since sophomore year when you saved all your birthday money and mowed lawns to buy Jordans. They didn’t sell them in your town because it was small and redneck so you ask your cousin in LA to buy you a pair. Your current shoes are nines and they fit fine so you send him a check; he buys the kicks and sends them your way. The Jordans don’t fit, your big toes are bunched and pressing against the front of the shoe. From above, the front of your feet look like a pair of pilot whales about to surface out of some disgusting black harbor. These won’t do, you can’t even walk in these shoes! You go to the redneck shoe store and ask to be sized. Turns out you’re a 10. This is before eBay and the internet. You have friends who can wear them, your little brother might even be able to wear them, but if you can’t have them no one will and you throw them in the trash, burying them in the garbage under a trash bag weeping sour milk and cat urine. The point is you should make sure everything works BEFORE you commit, and even if you are sure that it will, check.
#5: Don’t expect to be balanced.
There are things in the world you can expect to be balanced: the federal budget, your stepfather’s emotions, the coverage on Fox News. But one thing you shouldn’t expect to be balanced is a bicycle mounted on a backpack mounted on the back of a human being hiking up a rocky trail at around 11,000 feet. You shouldn’t expect that the entire contraption hanging down from your shoulders will just rest on your back like a hibernating teddy bear. Expect things to swing like Brian Setzer on a six day bender, side to side, up and down, things are going to be moving, shifting, sagging, jumping, rolling, etc. The unfortunate thing about all this movement is that it happens to be very uncomfortable, like your whole back is trying out for a blister.
#6: Don’t underestimate five miles.
Five miles, not even double digits. Five miles doesn’t seem that far, it seems like a distance that could be covered with relative ease. In most cases I think this is true; five miles walking around Disneyland? You wouldn’t notice it, not with all the mirth and merriment attacking your senses at every possible moment. How about five miles in a Costco? Consumer lust would leave you so preoccupied that you probably wouldn’t notice if you did ten. Five miles in a park in Paris? Love conquers all.
But five miles is not always a pittance, a throwaway distance. Especially if you’ve decided that those five miles would take you up the side of a mountain, while your lungs feel like deflated balloons in the thin air of high altitude, with a pedal-powered transportation vehicle lashed to your back. In this case you definitely notice five miles. You will notice that on each step your bag jostles and digs into your shoulders, and how over time this cutting-in of the shoulders will cause your hands to go numb. You will notice how often you will lay/drop your pack down in a futile effort to reorganize your gear in some format that will make this five mile trek bearable. If you’re Dylan you will notice how great your biking shoes are for biking and how not great they are for walking. You will notice the sun beating down on you until it’s not and snow beats down on you instead. You will notice that you are questioning your existence, your reason for being, all the steps and missteps that brought you to these missteps, one after one up to the top of Piute Pass.
#7: Don’t think it won’t snow in the summer.
If you are most people, like 99.9% of people, this one doesn’t apply to you. Go ahead and continue to think that it won’t snow in summer, it won’t, not snowing is one the best things that summer does. Summer does heat and sun, summer does chaise lounges, tans, and pools. Summer does tank tops. Summer does sunburns. Summer does hot.
“Summer does not do snow, unless of course you are on a trip with Yonder Journal. For us, summer does something special, summer does snow. We went to New Zealand in the summer and it snowed. We went to Bolivia in the summer and it snowed. We went to the Sierra in the summer and it snowed.”
Yes, when we went on our trip it was technically still late spring, but I want to go on record here, I grew up in Bishop, I spent 17 years there roasting from April to October. While the calendar might say otherwise, in Bishop, California it’s summer in late May. Go there, ask the locals. They’ll tell you. So if you are going on a trip with us, and it’s summer, bring your skis.
#8: Don’t go hiking in biking shoes.
Don’t. They’re for biking.