2017 Bikepacking Awards: People and Routes
Part three of our 2017 Bikepacking Awards honors the people who have been instrumental in the bikepacking community with inspiring trips and acts of good will as it relates to bikepacking. In addition, we’ve awarded the incredible routes and rides that people have created and shared for others to enjoy…
For our final awards installment, it seems only fitting to celebrate the people who have contributed most to our community, whether through their physical achievements, the richness of their storytelling, or their commitment to bikepacking advocacy. Additionally, we both acknowledge and thank BIKEPACKING.com’s route makers for finely crafting and meticulously researching our favorite new bikepacking rides of 2017; from small but perfectly formed weekend escapes that help us keep us sane, to overseas odysseys that stoke our desires to explore and understand the world on two wheels. We’re thrilled to be able to share such a growing resource and we couldn’t do so without this vibrant, inquisitive, and talented community.
Bikepacker of The Year
Our top award goes to an individual who has made a permanent, positive impact on the bikepacking community as a whole, moved us with incredible performances throughout his racing career… and will be missed by many.
This year’s award goes posthumously to the late, great Mike Hall. 35 year old Mike was a pillar of the bikepacking community and died in a tragic accident on March 31st during the morning hours of day 13 in the inaugural running of the 5500km Indian Pacific Wheel Race, having completed more than 5000 km of the event. Mike was arguably the best ultra-distance cyclist in the world, known for breaking the world circumnavigation record during the 2012 World Cycle Race with an incredible 91 day finish, and setting the current record for the Tour Divide in 2016 with a time of 13 days, 22 hours, and 51 minutes. Mike also founded the Transcontinental Race and has organized it year over year since 2013. Find more writings from his friends and acquaintances here. (Photos by Anthony Pease)
Explorers of The Year
This award is dedicated to the intrepid few who’ve set out to experience the furthest corners of the backcountry, both across the globe and close to home, and thoughtfully shared their stories with the rest of us.
Steve Fassbinder and Andrew Burr
An emotional journey to the heart of the Pakistani Karakoram.
In August 2016 Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson never returned from their attempt to summit the notorious unclimbed north face of Baintha Brakk, AKA Ogre II. The loss of these two bright stars of modern alpinism was a massive blow to the world wide climbing community. In the wake of this tragedy friends Andrew Burr, Steve Fassbinder and partners of Scott and Kyle, Angela Vanwiemeersch, and Jewel Lund, formulated a plan to circumnavigate the mountain that their loved ones were now entombed on. Along the way they spent a week at basecamp (15,000’) in the shadow of the Ogres building a fitting memorial, crying, and looking for closure. From there the crew splintered due to health related issues and Steve and Andy continued and completed the loop around Briantha Brakk. This final push took 5 days of absolute suffering. In addition to riding in some of the most amazing fat bike conditions possible, the pair overcame 10 pitches of hauling gear over 18,000 ft Sim La pass on a 100 foot crevasse rescue rope and a meager two ice screws. Crampons, snowshoes, and ice axes were also essential equipment that represented the bare minimum survival gear necessary to traverse the world’s largest glacier system outside the polar regions… for the first time by bike. Stay tuned for the full feature story in the next Adventure Journal print edition, and perhaps a gallery here at a later date.
Bjørn Olson and Kim McNett
Bjørn and Kim have been inspiring us with their tales and photos of Alaskan adventure for years. This year is no different with several short trips and two major trips… one in the dead of winter from Nome to Kivalina. Their other big trip picked up where they’d previously left off in the northwest Arctic of Alaska. The trip began in the village of Point Hope and ended in the northernmost community in the US – Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow). This expedition allows the two to now draw a line from just south of our home in Homer all the way to the most northern point in Alaska. See their story with Bjørn’s photography and Kim’s illustration in the feature story, Invocation of the Arctic. In addition, they released several films this year including PMA on The Adventure Trail and another award winner, Instruments of Adventure.
We first bumped into Belgium rider, Trien Pauwels, in Georgia’s Caucasus, tackling the high mountains aboard a Pinion-powered traditional tourer. Since then, she’s streamlined her setup, swapping her bike out for a dirt-friendly Surly Karate Monkey, striking out along every unpaved road she can find. Trien’s been posting an enviable collection of beautiful photos – captured amongst the landscapes she encounters on her solo journey – and portraits of those people she meets and connects with along the way – to her website and Instagram feed. Now tallying some 25,000km in distance, her travels have taken through Eastern Europe, Iran, Oman, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan amongst others, as she meanders her way on the road less traveled towards Japan, raising cash and awareness for UNICEF Belgium and the WWF, along with a hostel for 16-17 year old girls seeking to study in the Spiti region of the Indian Himalaya. As for her solo female travels, Trien says “I’m always asked if cycling alone as a women in such remote places is dangerous. The world is made for both men and women. Being a woman won’t stop me exploring it.” Visit her site and follow her on Instagram for more details and inspiration.
Ambassadors of The Year
The award for individuals who have helped propel bikepacking to the forefront of the outdoor community and made a positive impact through two-wheeled travel.
Lee Craigie, co-founder of the Adventure Syndicate, has quite the CV in 2017. In addition to giving an inspiring TedX talk, helping make an award-winning film with Systrans, and working on an upcoming film during a 2,745 mile Tour Divide ride – one that will be shown at schools and festivals to promote adventure cycling to young women — she also rode her bike quite a bit. Back in April Lee rode coast to coast from Inverness to Kintail, then from Campbeltown to Inverness on the Caledonia Way where she led an overnighter with 8 teenage girls. In May she did a chunk of the HT550. And in July she spent a month exploring the Cordillera Blanca and Huayuash. And that was just the first half of the year. All the while Lee was holding speaking engagements in schools to further the Adventure Syndicate’s schools project which aims to use adventurous travel to engage teenage girls in outdoor physical activity. Keep up the great work Lee!
Nam Arya started the year off with 100 other riders for the Baja Divide. Since then she completed her Bike For Tibet, a year-long bike and speaking tour to raise awareness about Climate Change in her home country of Tibet. As a Blackburn Ranger, she biked the famed Alpine Bike in Switzerland and chased sunshine down into Italy ending her Ranger-dom at L’Eroica at Gaiole in Chianti. She was featured in the Jan/Feb issue of Bicycling Magazine for her advocacy work both as a new cyclo tourer and amplifying the call to action for the Climate. Currently she’s working with 5 other women in organizing the first ever Women, Trans Femme (WTF) Bikexplorers Summit, a gathering and ride series supporting, celebrating, and connecting Women/Trans/Femme cyclists who use their bicycles to explore. More information for the Summit can be found on their website. Also, follow Nam on her blog or Instagram at @goodolenam. (image by Benedict Wheeler)
29 year old Iohan, born in Bulgaria, has been entertaining us with his ‘From The Road’ self-made films through his four year, 70,000ish kilometre ride… We’ve always felt Iohan shows a wonderful ability to connect with those around him. We can’t help but admire his enthusiasm that bubbles through on all his adventures, despite how hard they’ve been at times. As such, we think he serves as a great Ambassador of the Year for 2017. Most recently, we loved his reportage from the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route, which he reached by way of Colombia. The adventures show no signs of abating – he’s now 4 years in, including time taken to work en route, and we look forward to him sharing his great attitude in his next filmic account, especially now he’s piloting a fat bike as he continues south. He can be found at bikewanderer.com.
Ultra-achievers of The Year
The award for individuals who aim to compete and progress ultra-endurance bikepacking as a competitive sport and a personal challenge.
Justin Simoni (The Long Ranger)
It’s hard to even fathom what Justin accomplished in his solo undertaking that he called the “Highest Hundred”. First, picture a bikepacking trip covering 1,720 miles with 136,374 feet of of ascending. Then tack on an additional 247,810 feet and 624 miles hiking and climbing… all linking together Colorado’s highest 105 peaks ranging from 13,809 to 14,433 feet. This was all done as a self-supported, non-stop trip in just over 60 days. That’s 72 miles of elevation gain. Read the full story here.
Dylan Taylor (American Trail Race)
After 35 days, 13 hours, and 35 minutes, Montanian Dylan Taylor rolled into Port Orford, Oregon winning/finishing the first annual, 5,000+ mile American Trail Race. In addition to being the longest race of its kind, it was also the first running of this particular race and event. Dylan and fellow ATR racers were in a sense pioneering the race route. Congrats Dylan. See Dylan’s rig and insight here.
Craig Fowler (Triple Crown, both hiking and bikepacking)
On October 22, 2017, Craig Fowler, became the first person to complete both the thru-hiking and bikepacking triple crowns, that’s over 11,600 miles of human powered adventure. One of only about 300 thru-hiking triple crowners and one of only 20 bikepacking triple crown holders, Craig did the math and claims he is now one of seven billion to have completed both. Congrats Craig. Read the full story here.
Best New Routes (Odyssey)
Our three favourite, worldwide bikepacking odysseys – experiences we’re sure you’ll never forget.
Oregon Timber Trail
Divided into four unique tiers, The Oregon Timber Trail was designed to be a world-class bikepacking destination. Additionally, it was planned around educating the trail’s users about the history, sensitive or threatened areas, communities, and Oregon’s diverse landscapes from California to the Columbia River Gorge. That said, the OTT is nothing to take lightly, the 670-mile backcountry mountain bike route is over 50 per cent singletrack, much of it quite challenging. Either way, the route’s agenda, presentation, and intent makes it deserving of a best route award. Find the route on our site here, and the official website here.
Southern Highlands Traverse
Finally, a long-distance bikepacking route on the East Coast! The Southern Highlands Traverse joins three existing routes via the new Trans WNC (Western North Carolina) to create the first 1,000+ mile route east of the Mississippi. The Southern Highlands Traverse will serve as a challenging, singletrack-heavy alternate to the forthcoming Eastern Divide Trail. There are also talks of a group start for the SHT too. Stay tuned. In the meantime, learn more about the Southern Highlands Traverse here.
Bikepacking Trans Germany
Inspired by the GDMBR, the 1,000 mile Bikepacking Trans Germany (BTG) was designed to take in the most beautiful and unknown parts of the German backcountry. It follows fast rolling gravel roads, punctuated by technical trails in between, in an effort to uncover wild and remote parts of Germany. First developed as a race in July 2016, the route can also be toured, laced as it is with history along the way for those who want to linger. A large percentage passes through forests on cycle tracks, along with forest roads and singletrack, with an elevation gain of some 20,000m/66,000f… making it an awesome cross country addition to the bikepacking community. See the BTG route guide here. (Photo by Sven Garbe)
Best New Routes (Week-long)
4-10 day bikepacking routes that can be slotted into your work schedule and daily life commitments. After all, it’s amazing how many rich and rewarding experiences a short riding holiday can garner.
New Mexico Off-Road Runner
Running parallel to the Rio Grande, the New Mexico Off-Road Runner connects the beautiful, adobe studded capital of Santa Fe to Las Cruces on the Texan border, via 500 miles of dirt, gravel, desert and paved roads – with great public transportation options at either end. Concocted by a group of New Mexican residents, it strikes a satisfying blend of historical intrigue and raw, natural beauty, both of which abound in the Land of Enchantment. As an alternative to the Divide, the route can be ridden through much of the winter – along as as you’re undeterred by short days and long nights. Expect ponderosa forests and high desert, alligator junipers and ocotillo, sun-bleached trucks and forlorn ghost towns…. set beneath the state’s drama-filled skies and perfect starry nights. See the route here.
The Hunt 1000
The Hunt 1000 is Daniel Hunt’s ‘beautiful challenge’ through the Australian Alps. All in, the route takes in 1,000 kilometers along ‘the rooftop of Australia’ via backcountry trails, across exposed high plains, through snow gum woodlands, and among tall native forests. The trail links two of major cities with limited resupply points and some of Australia’s best high country campsites. While certainly challenging, the route and associated event has proven to be a popular destination for the Australian bikepacking scene. See the route here.
The Adriatic Crest
Another well-conceived adventure by veteran route creator Joe Cruz, the Adriatic Crest visits the rugged side of coastal and island Croatia. According to Joe, ‘The sea is a constant companion glinting temptingly in the distance while the ride traverses challenging contrasts of dry rocky backcountry double and single track, intimate tunnels of trees, long spans of steeply up and down gravel roads, and traffic-free forgotten radiant hot tarmac.” Considering routes that Joe’s designed in the past, there is no doubt this is a good one. This one is especially interesting as it’s easily connected to his ‘Slovenia West Loop’. See the route here.
Best New Routes (Weekend)
Weekend bikepacking routes (2-4 day rides) are extremely rewarding in their own small but perfectly packaged way. This year’s offerings all have a theme in common; they each are rated 4 out of 10 or below. That doesn’t mean they should be underestimated, but we feel each is great options for both intermediate and experienced bikepackers alike.
Grand Staircase Loop
The Grand Staircase Loop was initially created by Jamie Mefford for our ROUT3 competition. Jamie designed and scouted the route after learning of the current administration’s plans to reassess the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and potentially rescind its status as a monument. Unfortunately, plans were ‘passed’ in the beginning of December to nearly halve the 1.9-million-acre Monument. While this will likely face a long legal battle before any action is taken, it is a threat and a reminder that represents the fate of many public lands that allows bikepacking routes such as this one to exist. See the route here.
Attack of The Buns
And of course, we have to mention the winner of our ROUT3 contest, Adam Lee’s Attack of The Buns, a 3-day bikepacking route exploring Australia’s Southern Tablelands and Highlands. The route links up three significant sections of car-free, wild, forest trails with quiet gravel backroads and short paved sections through four towns. Adam dubs it as the perfect route for a long weekend that will spoil nature lovers with a buffet of lush landscapes, wildlife, majestic cliffs, and rock formations. See the route here.
Craters and Cinder Cones Loop
Developed as a northern extension to the popular Coconino Loop, Craters and Cinder Cones is a 185-mile circuit that follows quiet dirt roads and two-tracks through woodlands and grasslands among the land of extinct volcanoes in and around the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona. As with the other two routes honored in this category, Craters and Cinder Cones was assigned a rating of 4/10 by route creator Kurt Refsnider, making it accessible to intermediate bikepackers looking for a scenic adventure. See the route here.
Best New Event
Our last category honors three new events organised across the world. Each is completely different, but serves to grow and foster the bikepacking community at large.
New Belgium Ramble Ride
The Ramble Ride started as a small group ride called the Steamboat Ralleye. Two years later New Belgium partnered with Blackburn, Niner, and Giro to announce the Ramble Ride Series with three group rides in Oregon, North Carolina, and the original home base, Steamboat Springs, CO. Each event was quite successful and brought riders together on a partially supported bikepacking trip over gravel, dirt tracks, and quiet backroads. Expect more events like this to pop up next year. Learn more about the series on their website and make sure to watch the films they put together.
The American Trail Race
Founded by Billy Rice, The American Trail Race is the first of it’s kind bikepacking race across the entirety of the United States. The course follows a mostly off-pavement 5000+ mile route based on the Trans-America Trail (TAT), originally established by dual-sport motorcyclists, then first ridden on bicycle in its entirety in 2015 by Sarah Swallow and Tom Swallow. The grand depart took place on the morning of June 1, 2017 with 13 bikepackers attempting the journey from Cape Lookout, North Carolina to Port Orford, Oregon. As mentioned above, the record was set by Dylan Taylor in 35 days, 13 hours, and 35 minutes. We hope this massive event will continue. Learn more here.
Adventure Cycle Festival
‘The Adventure Cycle Festival was created with the primary aim of inspiring more people to use their bike as an adventure vehicle and to act as a forum for like-minded people to get together,’ say the organisers. This June, there were workshops sharing tips and tricks, advice on setting up your bikepacking rig, ideas for tasty and nutritious food, speakers to listen to, and guided and self supported rides. Pencil in the weekend of Sept 1-2 to attend in the UK next year; the event is not-for-profit and raises awareness for the Brathay Trust. Learn more at our event detail page.