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Piute Pass: Day 03

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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.


Goal vs. Reality

Day 03


  1.  GOAL: To hike up and over Piute Pass and down into Humphreys Basin.
  2. REALITY: We hiked up to Piute Pass and at the summit we looked west through falling snow towards a bank of overinflated black clouds. Our gear was failing. Things were not working. Our group had split, spread out along the trail. We descended back down to a point just above Piute Lake were we found Erik and Dylan. A storm raged. We argued about whether or not we should carry on. Erik was undecided. The rest of us agreed to throw in the towel and we left Erik in deep contemplation. He didn’t rejoin us. We stayed the night near Piute Lake.


Leaving North Lake

That's not a portable Ant Lion trap, if that's what you're thinking.
You support me when I'm unconscious. You cradle me while I dream. It's on you that I rest my hopes, my fears, my everything. And in return I fill you with my breath for a few brief hours, before knocking the wind out of you. Life's a lot of hot air, air mattress, but don't let it leave you flat.
You know that look that dogs have when they are trying to figure out what it is that you are doing? The one where their ears perk up, they tilt their head to the side, and their eyes have that, "what kind of sly shit are you trying to pull on my now" vibe? ...yep.
Soviet era ejection seats, or S.E.E.S. where developed by the communists to be dependable in a variety of emergency conditions.
Building an emergency aeronautic survival system that could withstand the rigors of a high velocity impact at many times the speed of sound proved to be a difficult challenge. S.E.E.S. engineers were forced to utilize their readily available resources. Our research shows that the S.E.E.S. engineering facility was located in a former nylon strap warehouse.
It's like that scene in Ghostbusters when the 'busters first strap into their packs and they're not entirely sure about carrying a small nuclear device on their backs.
S.E.E.S. tend to inspire unbelievable confidence.


Hittin’ the Trail

You're doing it wrong.
S.E.E.S. = W.T.F.
Dear readers: this is what a "DO" looks like.


Loch Leven

Seen In his natural environment, Ty is calm and relaxed. His gaze is fixed in the middle distance, his senses are open, and he is content to watch as nature puts on a magnificent show to which he has a front row seat.


Piute Pass

This little golden mountain hedgehog was pretty curious about our back shell contraptions. S/he darted in and out of the rocks, like a kid who is both transfixed by a spectacle and embarrassed of being caught ogling.
Our backpacks weighed sooooo much. Heres the deal, when you add a completely rideable touring bike on top of all the gear needed to go backpacking the weight adds up. The lightest Titanium stove still weighs something, and so do tires, cranks, seat posts, handlebars, etc. Not only were these things hard to hike with, just getting them on and off was a challenge. Ideally you would look for a gear altar when to set your pack on for easy take off and set up. But in areas without one, we resorted to the jerk-and-swing technique for remounting our backpacks. Ty is pictured here post jerk and mid swing.
Fig. 1: Bike-packer or bike-breaker?
Fig. 2: Bike-packer or bike-breaker?
Success goes one way, failure goes the other. This alpine ninja was the only one who followed success.
Snow shorts.
I used my Causwell Tenkara fishing pole case as a rudimentary support handle to ease the weight of my pack on my shoulders. At this point my hands were numb, not from the cold, but from the cutting weight of my shoulder straps. If you get to this point in your own journey, a Causwell Tenkara fishing pole case will help ease some of your pack weight stress. But if you are a person who learns, then you should do everything you possibly can to avoid getting to this point.


Piute Lake

From across the lake this looks like an idyllic little mountain cabin. Well you can stuff your dreams, because this little baby is for research purposes only. Say you are just a recreational user in this area, and things have gone pear shaped, and you really needed shelter to survive. Too bad. Unless you have the Ocean's 11 crew with you, there is no way you are going to get inside this thing.
So this is what a whore house looks like.
A pile of nightmares.
If curiosity killed the cat, then does mirth murder the marmot?


Brief Histories:

Piute Pass


  1. Piute Pass: 11,400 foot pass that connects the eastern face of the Sierra to Humphreys Basin. Theoretically helps connect the two sides of Highway 168, but is only accessible by foot—old maps show a planned connection of the road, but construction was never attempted.
  2. Sierra Nevada: 400 mile-long, 70 mile-wide range that runs north to south. Features 9,000 feet of prominence in long stretches, with some peaks eclipsing 10,000 feet (including Mt. Whitney, the tallest point in the continental United States at 14,505 feet). Its snow pack is a vital source of water for California. The northwestern area of the range was home to the Gold Rush. Nicknamed the “Range of Light” by famous naturalist John Muir, who spent considerable time in the Sierra.


Compiled by Dillon Maxwell
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