2018 Bikepacking Awards: People and Routes
Part three of our 2018 Bikepacking Awards honors the people who have been instrumental in the bikepacking community with inspiring trips and acts of goodwill related to bikepacking. In addition, we’ve awarded the year’s most incredible routes and rides that people have created and shared for others to enjoy…
For our final awards installment, we celebrate the people who have contributed to our community, whether through their physical achievements, the richness of their storytelling, or their commitment to spreading the word about bikepacking and related causes. Additionally, we both acknowledge and thank BIKEPACKING.com’s route makers for meticulously researching and finely crafting our favorite new bikepacking rides of 2018; from small but perfectly formed weekend escapes that help 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 our vibrant, inquisitive, and talented community.
Bikepacker of The Year
Although somewhat unconventional, we decided to bestow our top award in 2018 to not just one individual, but several…
The WTF Bikexplorers Summit and Ride Series empowered and inspired hundreds of riders this year, and we’re thrilled that an important event like this was met with so much success. A big congrats goes out to the founders, organizers, and marketers behind the Summit and Ride Series: Sarah Swallow, Tenzin Namdol, Molly Sugar, Whitney Ford-Terry, Mary Lytle, and Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell. Learn more about the Ride Series here, find out some of the takeaways here, and make sure to check out the 2019 WTF Bikexplorers Summit here.
Explorers of The Year
This award is dedicated to the intrepid few who’ve set out to experience diverse corners of the world, both across the globe and close to home, and have thoughtfully shared their stories with the rest of us.
Mark Watson and Hana Black
Since 2016, Mark Watson and Hana Black have been on an enormous bikepacking trip, pedaling the length of the Americas, starting in Alaska and making their way down to the southern tip of Patagonia. What sets their trip apart from other pan-American journeys is that they’ve been hitting all of the most spectacular off-road and singletrack trails along their route, stretching their trip to span an estimated four years. They’ve been documenting their journey in detail, and creating some of our favorite images and stories of the year. They also put together a piece chronicling three particularly arduous sections of hike-a-bike in the Andes for our first issue of The Bikepacking Journal, contributed the 329-mile Ruta Maya de los Cuchumatanes in Guatemala, and they were profiled in an excellent short film. Stay tuned for more great content from Mark and Hana as they continue their journey south.
Taneli Roinen is a passionate mountain biker, angler, and outdoorsman who pedaled off for a five-year trip around the world on gravel roads in 2014. Taneli contributed three amazing routes this year, including the doubly epic and mind-bogglingly remote Ruta de Los Seis Miles Norte and Sur in the Argentinian and Chilean Puna. We’ve been intrigued by Taneli’s journey through South America – a slow, uncompromising ride north during which no stone has been left unturned. Along the way, he’s captured imagery of the “roads” he unearths and the people he meets in his own unique and highly evocative way. Not only that, but an issue with his heart means that Taneli has to regularly reconnect with doctors to ensure he’s doing okay. For this reason, he says it’s likely his last chance to see high mountains, so he aims to “ride routes as high in the thin air as possible.” Check out Taneli’s routes here.
Franzi Wernsing and Jona Riechmann
Departing from their home in Germany back in 2012, Franzi Wernsing and Jona Reichmann set off on what became a five-year bike trip around the world. Throughout their travels, they traded in their traditional touring set ups for bikepacking rigs (which they wrote about here), and explored a seemingly endless amount of dirt. That trip came to an end when they returned home in 2017, but the story didn’t end there. Despite planning to settle down, their restless spirits got the best of them, and earlier this year they set out again to see more of the world from the saddle, pointing their handlebars toward Europe, opting to continue exploring closer to their backyard. Find all of their routes and stories here, a peek at Franzi’s Bombtrack Beyond+ here, and look out for an upcoming Rider’s Lens feature showcasing some of her photography soon.
Ambassadors of The Year
This award recognizes individuals who have helped propel bikepacking to the forefront of the outdoor community, and have made a positive impact through their pedal-powered travels.
Ryan Correy was at the forefront of the Canadian bikepacking scene, not only as the founder of Bikepack Canada, but as an extremely accomplished adventure cyclist. This past April, Ryan passed away after a 9-month battle with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. Besides planning and executing North America’s first Bikepacking Summit back in 2016, he also inspired and assisted in Neil and Lindsay’s creation of the US Bikepacking Summit. He was dedicated to both the current and future state of bikepacking, and is missed by many. To learn more about Ryan’s fight and accomplishments, check out this post from this February.
While Joel may not be a prominent figure among the usual bikepacking circles, he has made an impact through his conservation photography and storytelling, and more recently, his inspiring comeback after a major setback. Just a year and a half ago, Joel lost his left leg as a result of a motorcycle accident. Since then, with an incredibly positive attitude and a lot of training, Joel is back on the pedals and just returned from a bikepacking trip in Ethiopia. Read about his conservation photography here and stay tuned for his upcoming Rider and Rig profile.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. To commemorate the occasion, Ben Weaver rode the entire route and played free concerts along the way to, “highlight, celebrate, and give back to all the all the individuals and communities who had supported it for the past 20 years.” The film they made focused on the often overlooked people in the places they rode through, and “gave voice to a component of nearly every adventure that is often forgotten, the story of the people who helped along the way.” Read more about Ben and his bike here.
Ultra-achievers of The Year
This award is for individuals who aim to compete and progress ultra-endurance bikepacking as a competitive sport and a personal challenge. This year, continuing a rather unconventional selection, we chose to highlight not only the fastest record-setters, but those doing things slightly differently.
Just because Alexandra Houchin isn’t a household name in the ultra-endurance bikepacking scene, doesn’t mean she’s not a complete badass. And just because she didn’t set a bunch of race records doesn’t mean she hasn’t earned this award. With nothing to prove, Alex’s remarkable 2018 season started with an ITT attempt on the AZT, even though she knew it wouldn’t count. Closures in the Coconino forced a reroute, yet she still knocked out 563.5 miles of the actual route. After that, she took on the Tour Divide, with a finish time of 23:03:51 (1st lady, 24th overall). Moving on, she raced the Colorado Trail Race with a finish time of 6:17:16 (2nd lady, 22nd overall). In Durango, she turned around and attempted a yo-yo of the Colorado Trail, taking a couple detours along the way. After that, she raced the Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400, finishing in 3:07:30 (1st lady, 11th overall). Congrats on a year well spent, Alex!
Jenny Graham is a 38-year-old endurance cyclist from the Scottish Highlands. On the June 16th, Jenny left from Berlin, riding east. And 125 days later, she pedaled back into Berlin from the west, having ridden some 29,657 kilometers across four continents to become the fastest woman to ride around the world unsupported. The old record of 144 days was nearly three weeks longer, set by Paola Gianotti in 2014. What makes this feat even more incredible is the fact that Jenny is a latecomer to bikepacking. According to the Adventure Syndicate, her first race was in 2015 on The Highland Trail 550. Read our coverage here.
Fifteen-year-old Joe Urbanowicz took on his first bikepacking race this year. And it wasn’t an easy race, either. Joe finished the 357-mile Trans North Georgia (TNGA) in 73 hours and 21 minutes—and in fifth place overall. But, more importantly, Joe finished with a big smile and said that he’ll be back, adding, “Next year my mom is going to let me ride through the night. I hope to be able to finish a lot faster. Maybe I’ll break the course record.” We’re excited to see what next year brings for Joe. Read the report from this year’s TNGA here.
Best New Routes (9+ days)
Our three favorite worldwide bikepacking odysseys – experiences we’re sure you’ll never forget.
SoCal Desert Ramble
For those seeking desert solitude tinged with a touch of the bizarre, the SoCal Desert Ramble is hard to resist. Created by our own Cass Gilbert (linking several sections of existing routes between San Diego and Los Angeles, including Brendan Collier’s Stagecoach 400), the SoCal Desert Ramble immerses riders amongst desert blooms and starry nights. Slither along sandy washes, linger in counter-culture hangouts, ponder salty, decayed holiday resorts, and marvel at the Dr. Seussian splendor of the gangly, anthropomorphic Joshua Tree. It’s all there. View the route guide here.
Iceland has captured the imagination of intrepid cyclists for years. This past summer, Francesco and Giorgio, aka Montanus, traversed the country by following the fault line that crosses the island from north to south. Dominated by huge glaciers, ashen deserts, and mighty lava structures, the Icelandic Highlands are the work of incessant fire and ice, and contain a world of immeasurable desolation and enthralling beauty. Check it out here.
Caucasus Crossing (Armenia)
Long in the works, the Armenian leg of the Caucasus Crossing completes the long-distance route through its namesake, an infinitely beautiful mountain range that creates a jagged and varied landscape through the Republic of Georgia and Armenia. The 454-mile (731 km) Armenia portion takes in the sights and culture of this wondrous country as it follows rugged doubletrack, gravel, and livestock trails across the endless ridges of the Caucasus Minor, from the Georgian border to Iran. View the route guide here.
Best New Routes (Week-long)
These 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 can be garnered during a short riding holiday.
Sky Islands Odyssey
Sarah Swallow’s Sky Island Odyssey is made up of a West Loop and an East Loop that range in distances from 125 to 170 miles. These route options were designed so that you could enjoy the Sky Islands Odyssey in two separate weekend trips, or a longer 230-mile loop, depending on how much time you have. Each route tells its own story of flora and fauna, land management, and the human and wildlife consequences of the US immigration policies. View the route here or check out the East Loop or West Loop independently.
Appalachian Gravel Growler
We couldn’t help but to put this one in here. The Appalachian Gravel Growler is a 4-6 day bikepacking route that explores North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains alongside one of America’s top craft beer destinations. The route is chock full of iconic roads and designed specifically for drop-bar gravel riding. Learn more here.
The Ardennes Arbalète looks quite enticing, and is another route that’s highly approachable. Made up of fast forest gravel, bits of beat up singletrack, cruisey bike paths through castle-dotted valleys, the route guarantees quaint encounters with cheery locals, humbling reminders of the area’s poignant history, and the promise of fantastic beer around nearly every corner. Learn more here.
Best New Routes (Weekend)
Weekend bikepacking routes (2-4 day rides) are extremely rewarding in their own small but perfectly packaged way.
A (San Rafael) Swell Night Out
One of our favorite routes from this year was created in a collaboration between Seth Kruckenberg and Patrick Hendry. The route in Utah’s San Rafael Swell is constructed from a pair of overnight loops. Both share the same start and end point, as well as a main central artery along the Behind the Reef Trail. Rich in both geological and human history, this pair of routes (126 miles total) traverses stunning landscapes forged by dramatic tectonic uplift, numerous remnants of the region’s bygone mining era, and a creek descent sure to entice even the most adventurous riders. View the full route guide here.
Hey Joe Safari
Moab, Utah, offers a wealth of weekend bikepacking opportunities. Colt Fetters envisioned a broad strokes tour following rugged jeep tracks, slickrock expanses, prehistoric dinosaur tracks, and the Green River’s Hey Joe Canyon via a 3rd class hike-a-bike. The route and culminates with 20 miles of the area’s most popular singletrack, the Magnificent 7 Trails. Check out the route here.
The Vapor Trail
While not a new route, the Vapor Trail is new to our routes map, and is quite a special one. Originally created by Absolute Bikes, this weekend bikepacking loop is based on the longstanding 125-mile race that starts and finishes in Salida, Colorado. It’s an incredibly scenic, high-altitude route that uses two historic rail grades and ties in some of Colorado’s finest singletrack via the Colorado Trail, Monarch Crest, and Starvation Creek as it tops high passes and traverses historic mining settlements. View the route here.
Best New Event
Our last category honors three new events. Each serves to grow and foster the bikepacking community at large.
WTF Bikexplorers Summit and Ride Series
The WTF Bikexplorers Summit and Ride Series is a first of its kind event designed to support, celebrate and connect women, transgender, femme, and non-binary people who are also gravel grinders, mountain bikers, bikepackers, day-rider explorers, long-distance road riders, bicycle tourers, backpackers converting to bikepacking, and individuals looking to incorporate camping with biking. Held in August, around 100 cyclists from all over the US gathered in Whitefish, Montana, for a successful first annual Summit. Leading up to it, they also organized the WTF Ride Series.
Dirty Kanza XL
Dirty Kanza, best known for its 200-mile gravel endurance event in the Flint Hills region of east-central Kansas, has now expanded to offer an even longer 350-mile option for those seeking the ultimate challenge. This year, Dirty Kanza saw nearly 2,700 registered riders from 49 different states and 16 foreign countries. Impressively, 2019 will be the 14th year running for Dirty Kanza, and we’re looking forward to seeing just how big this event can grow! Learn more here.
While the Bikepacking Summit is actually in its second year, it was our first year attending, and it was a great success. Held in Gunnison, Colorado, the Summit was three days of adventure, education, and inspiration that left everyone excited to get involved in the community. Read our recap highlighting some of the key topics that were brought up during discussions and presentations over the weekend.