2019 Bikepacking Awards: People and Routes
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Part three of our 2019 Bikepacking Awards pays tribute to the people who’ve been influential with inspiring trips and acts of goodwill in the bikepacking community. In addition, we’ve awarded the year’s most incredible routes and rides. Find all of our nominated people and routes here…
In parts one and two of our 2019 Bikepacking Awards, we showcased our choices for Gear of The Year and Best Bikepacking Videos, Photography, Writing, and Art.
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 route makers by honoring everything from small but perfectly formed overnighter escapes to overseas odysseys. We’re thrilled to be able to share this growing resource and we couldn’t do so without our vibrant, inquisitive, and talented community.
Note that we looked at over 30 routes and six of us (Logan, Virginia, Lucas, Cass, Joe, and Miles) cast blind votes; the results are a direct tally of our votes, which were based on three criteria: 1. Which we’d like to ride most, 2. Originality/intent, and 3. Quality of documentation. Without further ado, let’s get on to the awards…
Bikepacker of The Year
Our top award for 2019 goes to an individual who keeps inspiring us, time and again.
Many of you may have followed Alexandera in 2019 with her incredible wins in two of the biggest ultra-endurance races of the year: the Tour Divide and the Colorado Trail Race. But we don’t admire her simply for her achievements on the bike, though she’s undoubtedly a hero to countless people in that respect. She’s continually inspired us with her storytelling ability (including her piece “Ditibised” in the third issue of The Bikepacking Journal, strong personal character, and resounding humility. For these reasons, we can’t imagine a better person to recognize as our 2019 Bikepacker of the Year.
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 projects.
Ben Weaver and Keenan DesPlanques
In the summer of 2018, musician and poet Ben Weaver and filmmaker Keenan DesPlanques took on the Tour Divide route from Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, for their Music For Free tour. They rode with instruments and camera gear, stopping along the route for 16 scheduled performances and adding in shows as opportunity allowed. This year, Ben and Keenan released their film, Music For Free, which documents their journey, explores wilderness, what it means to be wild, and examines the common denominators we all hold dear as humans sharing this planet. This film is a shining example of what it means to be out experiencing the world by bike. Had it not been for its limited public release (and an oversight on our part), it would likely have been on the top of the Film/Photo awards. Congrats, Ben and Keenan… well deserved on all fronts.
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.
Jesse Carlsson and Sarah Hammond
Earlier this year, Australians Jesse Carlsson and Sarah Hammond of Curve Cycling left their ordinary lives behind when they gave away nearly everything they owned, moved out of their house, and started living off their bikes for their Tent is the New Rent project. They’ve been experimenting with flipping the traditional work week, working two days and riding five each week. Jesse and Sarah have also been busy scouting out the route for the Rhino Run, a 2,750km gravel race across Namibia and South Africa that will take place in November 2020. All the while, Jesse managed to sneak in another Race to the Rock win, and the pair have led bikepackers on guided trips around southern Australia, South Africa, and across Lesotho. Look for more from Jesse and Sarah in the year ahead.
Huw Oliver and Annie Le
It’s been yet another action-packed year for Huw Oliver and Annie Le, who’ve continued to inspire us us with their travels through Scotland’s Cairngorm Mountains, but have also been spotted as far from home as Colorado and Alaska. And as always, there’s a thoughtfulness that permeates the films, photos, and writing they share. We look forward to following their bikerafting and riding exploits in the year to come, and hope to be able to publish more of their work.
We’ve had a nearly impossible time keeping up with Sarah Swallow this year. The WTF Bikexplorers co-founder has been busy riding her bike in a range of far-off locales, including Bolivia, Slovenia, Peru, and Croatia. Closer to home, Sarah has also worked to map out several exciting routes and raise awareness of the environmental and humanitarian injustices that are occurring in the southern Arizona borderlands, specifically through organizing the Ruta del Jefe gravel race and ride.
Ultra-achievers of The Year
This award is for individuals who compete in and advance 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.
Judging by the sheer numbers, it’s easy to see why Jonas Deichmann’s accomplishment made our top spot in this category. The German-born athlete and speaker recently set the new record for fastest time between North Cape, Norway, and Cape Town, South Africa, riding an extraordinary 18,000 kilometers in just over 72 days. Read more about his journey here.
Fiona Kolbinger, a 24-year-old German cancer researcher, won the seventh edition of the Transcontinental Race this August. She rode over 4,000 km from Burgas, Bulgaria, to the finish line at Brest in Brittany, in northwest France, in just 10 days, 2 hours, and 48 minutes (10:02:48). What a feat!
Chris Seistrup, a 38-year-old from Prescott, Arizona, not only won the 2019 Tour Divide (15:11:24) as a rookie—a very impressive race time considering the conditions this year—but accomplished his goal of becoming the first person with hemophilia to ride the entire Tour Divide route.
Best New Routes (9+ days)
Our three favorite worldwide bikepacking odysseys – experiences we’re sure you’ll never forget.
Camino Del Puma
Sparsely populated, diverse in landscapes, and rich in culture and history, the southwestern corner of Peru is a remarkable region to tour by bike. The Camino Del Puma follows a high-elevation route from Arequipa to Lago Titicaca and back. Forming a 1,255 km loop, the route weaves through the colorful landscapes of Peru’s dramatic Central Volcanic Zone, rolls easily along the sunny plains surrounding sparkling Lago Titicaca, skirts the arid northern margin of the Atacama Desert, and dives into one of the country’s deepest canyons, connecting an interesting string of remote towns and pueblitos. View our route guide here.
Similar in trajectory, length, and scope to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the Wild West Bikepacking Route is a long-distance epic from Canada to Mexico that links together dirt roads and rough 4×4 tracks through Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona, showcasing the vast expanses of wild and public lands in the Intermountain West. View the route guide here.
The GB Divide route runs the length of Britain, linking its wild places with its rich industrial past. Riders will experience a diverse range of geographies and micro cultures to give them a unique perspective of the rich history that has shaped the British Isles. Bursting with climbs and technical descents, expect road, gravel, singletrack, and everything in between. View the route guide here.
Best New Routes (Week-long)
These 5-8 day bikepacking routes 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.
Prairie Breaks is a weeklong bikepacking route that takes in the rugged badlands of Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks and the rich grasslands of the American Prairie Reserve, an ambitious effort to rewild the northern prairie and assemble the largest track of public land in the United States. And 70% of this 360-mile route is on protected public land, showcasing the rich wildlife, intricate ecosystem, spectacular scenery, and absolute solitude of the American Great Plains. View our route guide here.
No Place Like Oz
Developed by a Northwest Arkansas native, No Place Like Oz stitches together the area’s finest singletrack, National Forest doubletrack, and gravel roads, forming the perfect loop to explore the Ozarks in under a week-long ride. View the route guide here.
The Jura Traverse is a classic French long-distance mountain bike route through a region known for its mountain scenery, quaint villages, and excellent cheese. It runs some 421 kilometers from Mandeure to Culoz, following the Doubs River and the Swiss border. View the route guide here.
Best New Routes (Weekend)
Weekend bikepacking routes (2-4 day rides) are extremely rewarding in their own small but perfectly packaged way.
River Road Ramble
Jordan Vonderhaar tackled an excellent project that’s long been on our minds: a weekend loop taking in the splendor and scenery of Big Bend National Park. This four-day bikepacking route follows the park’s most rugged and scenic 4×4 roads, beginning and ending along the infamous River Road. View the route guide here.
The Swedish Safari 300 route links up some of the best scenery, points of interest, and nature reserves that South Stockholm and North Södermanland have to offer. The five-day loop takes you from thick forests to coastal archipelago islands on endless, perfect gravel roads and technical singletrack, giving you a glimpse of Swedish life, both past and present. View the route guide here.
Whitefish Tamarack Loop
Departing from Whitefish, Montana, this overnight or weekend route quickly dives into the Rocky Mountains and the glow of a tamarack forest. The Whitefish Tamarack Forest Loop offers sweeping views of glacial peaks, the warm hospitality of the Whitefish Bike Retreat, and a stop at the Polebridge Mercantile for a taste of the best of the Great Divide. View the route guide here.
Best New Routes (Overnighter)
Overnight routes offer an easy and accessible way to get out, disconnect, and get a quick sense of an area’s landscapes and culture from the saddle.
Cathedral Valley Loop
Ann Driggers put together this beginner-friendly route that’s a geologist’s and stargazer’s delight. This two-day route follows a scenic loop through the aptly named Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, using mostly dirt and sandy doubletrack roads through a unique and dramatic desert landscape. View the route guide here.
The Anza-Hapaha Loop is a 2-3 day bikepacking route that connects several of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s magnificent dirt and sand roads, explores its wildflower, ocotillo, and cactus-rich desert, and snakes its way through the badlands of two geologically mesmerizing washes. View the route guide here.
False Cape Border Dash
The False Cape Border Dash is a fatbike overnighter sent in by North Carolina coast native Jesse Davis. The route goes through the remote maritime forest and beaches that divide North Carolina from Virginia. Surprising solitude awaits just a few miles from cities and suburbs. View the route guide here.
Best “Compact” Route
Our favorite routes often come in the form of attainable trips that can be undertaken by anyone with a work schedule and accomplished within a week or two (or a weekend!). We curated a list of ten of our favorites from 2019 and asked members of the Bikepacking Collective to vote on their favorite. Here’s the one that rose to the top.
Picture high elevation plateaux, remote refugios, abundant wildlife, and kilometre upon kilometre of quiet forest roads… Welcome to Spanish Lapland, as it’s been dubbed, an area in SE Spain with a population density similar to its Finnish namesake. The 700km Montañas Vacías route offers a wonderful introduction to this little travelled area, linking the Montes Universales, Sierra de Javalambre, and Sierra de Gúdar via a dense network of doubletracks and quiet paved roads.View the route guide here.
Best New Event
Our last category honors three new events, all of which had their inaugural running in 2019. Further, each serves to grow and foster the bikepacking community at large.
The BT 700 is eastern Canada’s first official bikepacking event. This 713-kilometer loop group ride in southwestern Ontario uses a route designed around a combination of gravel roads, rail trail, two-track, forest singletrack, rugged roads, and just a whisper of pavement when necessary. All told, the route features 85% unpaved surfaces. In the spirit of the original North American bikepacking events, the BT700 was free event to all participants. It saw 65 riders, with 60% finishing the ride. Details for the 2020 BT 700 can be found here.
Tassie Gift is a new bikepacking event on the edge of the world: Tasmania. It’s not a gravel ride, nor a touring route. It’s a tough, gritty, and at times ugly jigsaw puzzle pieced together by Emma Flukes as a labour of love that started from scratch, targeting the very best secrets this little island has locked away and finding the roads, trails, goat tracks, and not-tracks that could be be wrangled into a loop. A 2020 event its already set and we wish Emma good luck in her ongoing endeavor!
Arkansas High Country Race
To commemorate Adventure Cycling Association’s new Arkansas High Country Route, one of the local route creators put on the inaugural Arkansas High Country Race. The event was a great success, with 19 riders taking part, and it will be back in 2020 with the city of Fayetteville as the official sponsor, and a cap at 50 riders. Details for the 2020 Arkansas High Country Race are already being released, so be sure to check out the event listing to learn more.
If you missed them, make sure to check out parts one and two of our 2019 Bikepacking Awards, 2019 Gear of The Year and Best Bikepacking Videos, Photography, Writing, and Art.