Highlights of the 2019 Bikepacking Summit
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The third annual Bikepacking Summit took place last weekend at Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway, just outside of Ellijay, Georgia. Like at last year’s event, we were overwhelmed with positivity after three days of storytelling and community building with fellow bikepackers. Here’s a massive collection of photos and a summary of what went down during the weekend…
Logan and I both attended last year’s Bikepacking Summit, held in Gunnison, Colorado. Alongside over 50 other attendees, the weekend was packed full of discussions, presentations, group rides, and activities that left us inspired. One of the major points of discussion was the need to nurture our community through approachable short routes; this recently led to the launch of our Local Overnighters Project, days before the 2019 Summit.
This year’s summit, hosted at Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway outside of Ellijay, Georgia, was equally as inspiring. Besides a beautifully fitting venue with immediate access to scenic gravel roads and flowy singletrack, the third annual Bikepacking Summit brought in over 70 attendees from all across North America. Plus, with a group of fantastic presenters that included Lael Wilcox, Rugile Kaladyte, and Joe Cruz, discussions were dynamic and powerful. This year also saw increased media presence, which included Patrick Farnsworth of the Bikes or Death Podcast and Instagram superstar Benedict “Poppi” Wheeler (Ultra Romance).
Something that stood out for us was how quickly the group formed together into a cohesive community. A shared kindness and appreciation for bikepacking meant every conversation at the event was both inclusive and stimulating. They key word here is community. That was the driving force behind the Bikepacking Summit, and what has steered this site toward what it is today. We’ve put together a large selection of photos from the weekend, accompanied by some short reflections of what happened, but we encourage you to reach out to an attendee you may know (or want to know) to learn more. Don’t just take it from us.
The weekend took off with an optional overnighter that left from Mulberry Gap on Thursday afternoon. Several routes were planned to cater to different skill levels and riding preferences, ranging around 15-25 miles round trip, with a mix of gravel roads and singletrack. The ride was strictly no drop, meaning no matter your pace or experience level, no one was left behind. The group reformed at a wild creekside campground, formed what looked to be a circus-like ensemble of tents and hammocks, and enjoyed cold beverages, a fire, and each other’s company before heading off to sleep. The ride back to Mulberry Gap in the morning was just as casual, with several smaller groups leaving in short succession from one another. In total, there were around 30 participants at the overnighter, a good chunk of the total summit attendees, and it was clear it was going to be a great weekend.
The next day, those who couldn’t make the overnighter began to trickle in for check-in and accommodation assignments. Kate and Andrew Gates, the owners of Mulberry Gap, had things incredibly well organized, and their years of running the resort showed. With help from their staff, they worked alongside Neil and Lindsay Beltchenko to provide a seamless weekend. Between the home-cooked meals, rustic cabins, and live music, it’s my opinion that the venue is just as important as the presenters and activities at the event. And Mulberry Gap was perfect.
After a kick-off discussion from the presenters, which included Pepper Cook, Joe Cruz, Greg Hardy, Lael Wilcox, Rugile Kaladyte, and Charly Aurelia, we were introduced to the Ride to Extraordinary Video Series and enjoyed an after party outside by the fire. Some stayed up late into the night, some went to bed early, and everyone was stoked.
Joe Cruz kicked off Saturday morning with a talk on overcoming fear, diving deep into what fear means to him and how that exists while traveling by bike. Tying into different bikepacking trips he’s been on, including a powerful recount of a recent trip to Ethiopia, Joe encouraged us to look at fear from a different perspective. For those of you who’ve joined the Bikepacking Collective, you may recognize some of this from the second edition of The Bikepacking Journal, and Joe’s article “Ethiopia Retrospectum.”
Next up was a group ride out to a field course on wilderness first aid, led by Charly Aurelia. With extensive backcountry experience, Charly has traveled much of the continent by foot, bike, and motorcycle, and is quite involved with the trails within the Pisgah National Forest. It was clear that Charly could have spent the entire weekend educating the group on wilderness first aid best practices, so attendees steadily picked his brain for more information over the next couple days.
After lunch, there was a presentation by Lael Wilcox and Jen Colestock on route planning and navigation, with a focus on the Komoot app and Wahoo bike computers. That was followed by an extremely entertaining packing presentation by Lael that was littered with ultralight tactics that had everyone laughing. The day culminated with a photo recap of the Silk Road Mountain Race by Rue Kaladyte, offering a behind the scenes look at not only the route the race follows, but the implications of media presence during remote self-supported events. The photographs Rue captured in Kyrgyzstan were jaw dropping to the say the least, and had the entire group itching to get outside. The evening was wrapped up with live music from the local Possum & The Bear Band, cold beverages, and a bonfire.
Outside of the Bikepacking Summit’s regular programming, there was no shortage of distractions. Interesting bikes, bikepacking bags, sponsor booths by Maxxis, Bags by Bird, and Wahoo. Plus, Patrick was often set up interviewing various presenters for his podcast. The daily itinerary was pretty much maxed out, taking any pressure off the attendees to fill any gaps. If there wasn’t a discussion or presentation there was likely an activity or group ride, and if not, there was probably food. We were kept well hydrated and full, which is pretty much all any bikepacker can ask for.
As bittersweet as it may have been, the final day of the event included some of the most valuable presentations of the weekend. First up was a talk on solo bikepacking and industry inclusivity by Pepper Cook, which was framed around positive examples of inclusivity she has experienced while traveling by bike. The Eastern Divide Trail team, led by Brett Davidson, ran us through the tentative route for the 4,700+ mile bikepacking route from Newfoundland to Key West, Florida. Stay tuned for updates on this exciting project. Karlos Bernart, a key player in the Florida bikepacking scene and several Florida-based events, followed with a discussion on building a local bikepacking community and answered several questions relating to event planning and execution.
After lunch, Greg Hardy of Rockgeist, who gave a fantastic presentation at last year’s Bikepacking Summit in Gunnison, mixed things up a bit with a hands-on alcohol stove building class. It was possibly one of the most memorable moments for me, seeing a bunch of fully grown adults transform into wide-eyed, curious creatures…not that much different than an elementary school art class.
Joe Cruz wrapped up the 2019 Bikepacking Summit with a brilliantly executed speech, truly putting things into perspective on what it means to travel by bike, his takeaways from the weekend, and a lingering feeling that left us craving bikepacking even more.
It’s difficult to effectively capture the atmosphere of an event of this calibre. Although many of us had a chance to reflect together after the event, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the bikepacking community is packed full of some of the nicest, most generous people I’ve ever met, it’s still hard to put into words. Personally, I left reminded that the cycling industry isn’t perfect and that our community has the power to influence future change. Fostering inclusivity for those already on bikes and breaking down the barriers for those interested in what we do is crucial. So, be nice on the trail. In fact, be the nicest one out there.
A big shoutout to Lindsay and Neil Beltchenko for putting on another successful Bikepacking Summit, as well as the 2019 Bikepacking Summit partners: Big Agnes, Ergon, Maxxis Tires, Industry Nine, Adidas, Five Ten, Komoot, Wahoo, Clif Bar, McHone Performance Training, Bags by Bird, K-Lite, Kind Lather, Tailwind Nutrition, DRAGONtail Tenkara, Campfire Cycling, and ICE.