2020 Bikepacking Awards: People and Routes
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Part three of our 2020 Bikepacking Awards pays tribute to the people who’ve been influential and inspiring in the bikepacking community, the year’s most incredible bikepacking routes, and the most interesting and well-regarded events. Find our picks for the people, routes, and events of 2020 here…
In parts one and two of our 2020 Bikepacking Awards, we featured our top picks for Gear of The Year and Best Bikepacking Videos, Photography, Writing, and Art. Our final awards installment celebrates the people who have contributed to our community through the richness of their storytelling, their commitment to the bikepacking community, or their use of adventure by bicycle to further important causes. And, we both acknowledge and thank route makers by honoring everything from small overnighter escapes to long, overseas odysseys. We’re thankful that this resource continues to grow, even during these trying times, and we couldn’t do so without our vibrant and talented community.
Note: For the decision on routes, we opened the process with a call for nominations that identified nearly 25 routes. From there, seven of us cast blind votes; the results were from a direct tally of our votes, which were based on several criteria, including the originality/intent, quality of documentation, and which we’d like to ride most. In addition, we reached out to the Bikepacking Collective, our community of members, to get their input. Without further ado, let’s get on to the awards.
Inspiring Bikepackers of The Year
We usually have several awards categories to honor people at the end of each year, including activity-based “ultra-achievers” and “adventurers” of the year. However, COVID-19 led us to pivot to a single category for 2020 to honor the people who made the greatest contributions to the community, not necessarily related to their on-bike achievements. Inspiring Bikepackers of the Year highlights five individuals who wowed us in 2020 with their outstanding accomplishments, inspiring leadership, and commitment to the community. Here they are, ordered by last name:
We first heard about Gaëlle Bojko in September 2019 as she was pedaling through Europe at the age of 22. She’s since completed that trip, finishing a 25,000-kilometer loop while taking in 27 countries and tackling off-road routes like the Second City Divide. During and after that trip, Gaëlle has made several impressive films (one of which is yet to come), traversed Lake Baikal in the dead of winter, and captured an wealth of stunning photographs. An incredible array of accomplishments at such a young age, indeed. We can’t wait to see what comes next. Make sure to follow Gaëlle on Instagram @biketotheblocks, and stay tuned for more in early 2021.
Erick Cedeño, aka Bicycle Nomad, has been around the bikepacking community for a long while. He began touring over a decade ago and started his Bicycle Nomad brand while retracing Adventure Cycling Association’s Underground Railroad route from New Orleans to Niagara Falls in 2014. This year, Erick partnered with Blackburn Design to promote inclusivity and representation in the cycling industry, worked with State Bicycle to create a Bicycle Nomad edition of their sub-$1,000, bikepacking-specific all-road bike, and, to top it all off, Erick just finished re-riding a chunk of the Underground Railroad route.
Lian van Leeuwen
Netherlands-based photographer, writer, and organizer Lian van Leeuwen’s extraordinary drive and creative talent have earned her a well-deserved place on this year’s list of inspiring bikepackers. In 2020 alone, she documented the Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco, joined for the initial scouting of the Migration Gravel Race in Kenya, put together a great photo essay from Amsterdam during lockdown, and continued her important work of getting the cycling industry to address climate change through her organization, Shift Cycling Culture. And she’s one to watch in 2021, with some great community-building plans projects yet to come.
We chose not to have the typical “Ultra-Achievers” award category this year, for good reason. But it’s hard to ignore what happened pre-pandemic. Particularly, Jill Martindale’s Iditarod 1000 finish. Not only is Jill only the 10th woman finisher of the full race, she’s the first woman to win the ITI 1000. Earlier this year, she crossed the finish line with Peter Ineman and Casey Fagerquist in a total time of 22 days, 7 hours, and 30 minutes. That’s a lot of days and nights in the bitter cold on an incredibly challenging route. Beyond that accomplishment, Jill is a legend in the winter ultra scene. Make sure to check out our post-ride video interview with Jill here.
Rachel Olzer is a cross-country mountain bike racer, a Specialized ambassador, and co-founder of Pedal 2 the People, a collective cyclists who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color with the core mission of increasing representation in cycling. Throughout the year, Rachel has done an astounding amount of work toward that mission through thoughtful video and podcast interviews, writing insightful pieces for various publications, and taking part in discussions within the bike world this year. She also co-edited the third issue of Cyclista Zine. Find her in Chosen Family in The Bikepacking Journal 05, which we recognized for best writing in part two of our annual awards.
Best New Routes (9+ days)
This category honors worldwide bikepacking odysseys – experiences we’re sure you’ll never forget. Find our three picks below, ordered based on our votes.
Peru Great Divide
The now-classic Peru Great Divide was originally devised by Neil and Harriet Pike in 2013 and the full guide was added to our website this year. Since its origin, the Peru Great Divide evolved to become a deserved favorite among those traveling the length of the Americas, and one of South America’s premium dirt road touring routes. And as Cass Gilbert’s route new guide perfectly depicts, it’s nothing short of a visual extravaganza that showcases the very best in Andean riding. The route takes several weeks to complete and travels through the country’s rugged Central Cordillera as it hurdles a succession of 4,800-meter passes via remote, low-traffic dirt roads, all while providing epic views of snow-capped peaks, glaciated lakes, and time-lost settlements. View full route guide here.
Next Top Picks
Top of the South (TOTS)
By Eszter Horanyi. Touching the coast on the east, north, and west sides of New Zealand’s South Island, Top of the South (TOTS) is an amazing looking 1,100km counter-clockwise loop that stitches together two Great Ride Tracks, local mountain bike trails, empty gravel roads, and rough 4×4 tracks to create a diverse three-week bikepacking route. We’ve been dreaming about this one ever since it was published. View full route guide here.
Great North Trail
Developed by Cycling UK, with the route guide put together by Max Darkins, the Great North Trail uses existing and newly negotiated off-road trails to create a roughly 750-mile route that runs from the southern Peak District to the tip of Scotland as part of the first official Land’s End to John O’Groats off-road route. It’s not designed to be the easiest, most direct, or fastest route, but one that inspires and invigorates, while providing stunning scenery, good riding, and plenty of opportunities for adventure. View the full route guide here.
Best New Routes (Weeklong)
The Best New Routes (Weeklong) awards are dedicated to 5-8 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 packed into a short riding holiday.
Designed by Logan Watts, Joe Cruz, and cyclists from Bogotá, the 261-mile Ruta Chingaza is a weeklong bikepacking loop that starts and ends in the city and travels through some of the area’s most spectacular landscapes. The conservation-focused route, created in conjunction with Conservation International, spotlights the high-altitude cloud forests and endangered páramos that provide 70 percent of Bogotá’s freshwater supply. The highlight of the route is the breathtakingly beautiful Chingaza National Park, which was previously inaccessible to cyclists. View the full route guide here.
Next Top Picks
Designed by Joe Cruz with additional photos by Donalrey Nieva, the 302-mile VTXL was recently published—just in time for these awards—and was a clear favorite among our jury. The VTXL is a gravel-focused bikepacking route connecting the Green Mountain State’s Northeast Kingdom with its southeastern most corner via an endless ribbon of gravel, dirt roads, and Vermonts infamous Class 4 tracks. The route takes in Vermont’s quaint countryside while stringing together a host of charming towns and Vermont’s laid back rural landscape. View full route guide here.
San Jose Del Pacifico
Not surprisingly, we had a tie for the third place spot in this category and decided to include them both. First up, carefully planned by Cass Gilbert, the 244-mile San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour is a fantastic way to explore Oaxaca’s wealth of amazing dirt roads. From rural terracerías to forested two-track, and from tlayuda pit stops to mushroom foraging, this route takes in an amazing swath of Mexico. And because it begins and ends in the beautiful mountain city of Oaxaca de Juaréz, there’s plenty of excellent food, arts, and cultural sights and sounds to make this route part of an amazing vacation. View full route guide here.
Stone House Lands
Long in the works by a group of passionate bikepackers, Seth Kruckenberg took the lead on this route and produced an excellent guide to a route traversing a remarkable area. The Stone House Lands Loop is a challenging multi-day route that takes you deep into the San Rafael Swell uplift of central Utah to experience some of the Colorado Plateau’s most remote high-desert riding. The 200-mile loop wends its way through colorful badlands, dry washes, and towering, uplifted sedimentary strata. It serves up dramatic, ever-changing landscapes complete with epic descents and climbs, stunning vistas, and the markings of past Swell inhabitants that speak to its rich history. View full route guide here.
Best New Routes (Weekend)
This category highlights weekend bikepacking routes (2-4 day rides) that are are extremely rewarding in their own small but perfectly packaged way.
The latest route from our friends Francesco and Giorgio (aka, Montanus) was a wild success among out voting jury. The 98-mile (158km) Bikepacking Sibillini route takes in the mountains of Marche region and Monti Sibillini National Park, offering a 3-4 day bikepacking loop around one of the most impressive and spectacular massifs on the Italian peninsula. The route follows gravel roads and singletrack trails through enchanting and timeless landscapes where many myths and medieval legends began. Another intriguing route and amazing photoset for Montanus. View full route guide here.
Next Top Picks
Swiss Jura Explorer
Created by Sara and Andreas and submitted as part of our Future-Past routes competition, the Swiss Jura Explorer route is a challenging weekend bikepacking loop through a remote part of Switzerland—a sparsely populated, pristine region near the French border. The route includes beautiful views over wooded Jura hills on one side and fantastic views of the Swiss midlands and high Alps on the other. It looks to be quite the route with lots of great feedback from riders since its publication. View full route guide here.
Lac du Bois Tranquility
Put together by our own Miles Arbour, with help from locals Lennard Pretorius and Carl Diederichs, the Lac du Bois Tranquility takes in some of the most scenic and biologically interesting terrain near Kamloops, British Columbia. Lac du Bois Grasslands Protected Area, Tranquille Plateau, and the Deadman River provide the perfect backdrop for a captivating series of stories and folklore that is perhaps best experienced by bike. From Sasquatch sightings in Red Lake, to gold panning in the Tranquille River, as well as the First Nations heritage—the route is a 200km gravel time machine that passes through some of the most unique landscapes in the area. View the full 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. We added over 50 fantastic overnighter routes to our map since we launched the Local Overnighter Project just over a year ago. So, this category was particularly difficult to narrow down. While none of the three finalists are particularly difficult routes, they are each long by overnighter standards and could all make great three-day loops as well.
Lost in Brandenburg
By Joshua Meissner. The Lost-in-Brandenburg Loop is exactly the type of route we had in mind when we started the Local Overnighter Project. It’s an easily accessible, and relatively beginner-friendly route that starts and finishes directly from a city center. Josh did an excellent job documenting this mixed surface overnight bikepacking route that exits Berlin the loop heads into the rural and forested surrounding state of Brandenburg, where plenty of gravel and cobbled roads await. View full route guide here.
Next Top Picks
MICRO VUELTA DE LA SIERRA NORTE
by Cass Gilbert and Emma Bucke. Another amazing route that leaves directly from the downtown of a bustling city, Micro Vuelta De La Sierra Norte is a smaller route designed to complement the larger San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour and explore the rugged mountains that provide a lush backdrop to the beautiful city of Oaxaca, famed for its fine cuisine and vibrant arts scene. View full route guide here.
Camels, Dunes, and Wadis Loop
by Mike Morris. Another vision with the Local Overnighter Project was to encourage people to build routes in places we might not expect. The Camels, Dunes, and Wadis Loop offers little bit of dirt, a little bit of sand, lots of camels, and pure adventure in the United Arab Emirates, a country and region where we previously didn’t have any documented routes on the map. And this one looks fantastic! View full route guide here.
Collective Choice Route of the Year
While many of our favorite routes come in the form of a weekend or overnight trip, there’s something special about a route designed for a longer itinerary. Even if you may not have the opportunity to ride such a route, we believe it’s important (especially now) to dream and be inspired. With that, we curated a list of eight of our favorite routes that are specified as weeklong, or longer, from 2020 and asked members of the Bikepacking Collective to vote on their favorite. Here’s the one that was a clear winner.
Great North Trail
Developed by Cycling UK, with the route guide put together by Max Darkins, the Great North Trail uses existing and newly negotiated off-road trails to create a roughly 750-mile route that runs from the southern Peak District to the tip of Scotland as part of the first official Land’s End to John O’Groats off-road route. It’s not designed to be the easiest, most direct, or fastest route, but one that inspires and invigorates, while providing stunning scenery, good riding, and plenty of opportunities for adventure. View full route guide here.
Next Top Picks
Peru Great Divide
The now-classic Peru Great Divide was originally devised by Neil and Harriet Pike in 2013 and the full guide was added to the site this year. Since its origin, the Peru Great Divide evolved to become a deserved favorite among those traveling the length of the Americas, and one of South America’s premium dirt road touring routes. And as Cass Gilbert’s route new guide perfectly depicts, it’s nothing short of a visual extravaganza that showcases the very best in Andean riding. The route takes several weeks to complete and travels through the country’s rugged Central Cordillera as it hurdles a succession of 4,800-meter passes via remote, low-traffic dirt roads, all while providing epic views of snow-capped peaks, glaciated lakes, and time-lost settlements. View full route guide here.
Jordan Bike Trail
While it’s not completely new this year, the Jordan Bike trail is new to this site and has a beautifully executed route contribution by Amy Juries. The Jordan Bike Trail runs the length of Jordan, connecting over 450 miles of dirt trails, singletrack, and backroads. It starts at the Decapolis ruins of Umm Qais near the northern border with Syria, rolls up and down the deep ridges that dissect the high plateau rising above the Jordan Valley, and finally drops down to the southern desert and shores of the Red Sea in the port city of Aqaba. View full route guide here.
Best New Event
Our last category honors three new events, all of which had their inaugural running in 2020. Further, each serves to grow and foster the bikepacking community at large.
Sisters In The Wild
Sisters in the Wild is a new event that wasn’t meant to be about riding or talking about gear. Rather, it’s about building a women’s cycling community in Europe. The inaugural event took place in Bled, Slovenia, a small town at the entrance of Triglav National Park, and brought in cyclists from Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and the UK. The event was warmly received and has fired up many ideas of how to develop this project further. Follow along on Instagram @SITWbikepacking and read the recap here.
Next Top Picks
Navajo Youth Bikepacking Program
Dzil Ta’ah Adventures and Four Corners Guides teamed up to offer the Navajo Youth Bikepack Series this past fall, with a focus on providing outdoor adventure opportunities for disadvantaged youth in the Navajo Nation. Unfortunately, the Navajo Nation was hit hard by COVID-19, and restrictions truncated the program this year. We expect them to be back next year with another great schedule of events to continue their important mission. Learn more about the program here.
Created by Transiberica Ultracycling, the Badlands self-supported bikepacking event boasts 15,000 meters of elevation gain along 700 kilometers of mostly gravel/dirt roads in a remote area in southern Spain. Riders have six days to complete the route and can ride either solo or in pairs. Although COVID-19 restrictions thinned out the competition, just over 70 riders lined up for the grand depart in Granada, Spain. The route received excellent feedback from participants, and there was no lack of excitement this year, including Lachlan Morton’s impressive first place finish, our Rigs of the Badlands article, and the recently released Badlands film.
If you missed them, make sure to check out parts one and two of our 2020 Bikepacking Awards, 2020 Gear of The Year and Best Bikepacking Videos, Photography, Writing, and Art.