2016 Bikepacking Awards: People and Routes
Part three of our 2016 Bikepacking Awards honors the people who have been instrumental in the bikepacking community and the incredible routes and rides that they have created….
For our final Awards installment, it seems only fitting that we 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 contributors for crafting our favorite new bikepacking routes of 2016; from small but perfectly formed weekend escapes that help us keep us sane, to overseas odysseys that stoke our desires to explore the world on two wheels.
Bikepacker of The Year
Our top award goes to an individual who has not only impressed us with the range and variety of his or her two-wheel explorations and achievements throughout 2016, but who has also made a significant positive impact on the bikepacking community as a whole.
In addition to several exploratory rides – including scouting and designing the Baja Divide from December 2015-March 2016 – Lael left Alaska on May 1 to ride down to Astoria, OR, for the start of the Trans Am Bike Race. Ultimately Lael completed this mammoth journey in a mere 18 days and 10 minutes, becoming the first American to win the 4,400 mile self supported ultra-endurance road race. In 2016, Lael and partner-in-crime Nicholas Carman cycled up the East Coast, completed a short Montana tour to Missoula – where Lael spoke at ACA’s Montana Bicycle Celebration – rode a chunk of the Colorado Trail and assorted routes between Denver and Grand Junction, held several bikepacking workshops at Interbike, and became the first thru-riders on the new Reno-Vegas route. Hopping back to Alaska, the pair then held an event donating 35 bicycles to 3rd graders at Russian Jack Elementary school, a Title I school. There’s also the plethora of workshops and talks Lael has given throughout the year on the Baja Divide, as well as the insightful thoughts she shared in the inspiring Fast Forward short film. Last but not least, Lael created and awarded “Lael’s Globe of Adventure Women’s Scholarship for the Baja Divide”, a first of its kind bikepacking scholarship, available to one female rider tackling the Baja Divide route in the 2016-2017 season. Follow Lael on Instagram @laelwilcox.
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.
Montanus, The Wild Side
Giorgio Frattale and Francesco D’Alessio are two old friends and wilderness and bicycle enthusiasts. In 2013 they conceived Montanus (from Montane in classical Latin), an all-seasons bikepacking project, based in Abruzzo, the Italian region where the mountain chain Gran Sasso d’Italia shows its majesty. In 2016, their route creation skills shone bright as the tackled and documented rides from the unique Swamp Thing Trail in Estonia, to the quad crushing Tour Du Mont Blanc. And in between they developed the Wolf’s Lair and rode several classic routes like the Kokopelli trail and the White Rim. Follow Montanus on Instagram @montanus_thewildside
Przemek and Saska
Saška Aleksandra Bellian and Przemek Duszynski have a solid history of bikepacking adventures. This year saw them took off on a multi-leg journey, capturing photos along the way that both inspired and filled us with envy. Back in May, they left their home in Poland to cycled several routes in Scotland, before completing a loop in Iceland. Their adventures continued when they caught a flight to North America and cycled most of the Great Divide, the Colorado Trail, Kokopelli, and the Baja Divide. Follow their travels at inbetweenspokes.wordpress.com. Photo by Tales on Tyres.
22-year-old Ben Page has been documenting his solo, self-financed Round the World bike ride through a series of beautifully crafted and deeply personal short films. What began a traditional bike tour has morphed into a fat bike adventure, marked by Ben’s epic winter ride across Canada’s frozen north to the Arctic sea, where he pitted himself against unexpected storms and frigid, -22f temperatures. Since then, Ben’s knocked out China to Turkey on his Fatback, and is now readying himself for the rigors of Africa. There, he hopes to put fat tires to good use with a challenging traverse of the Saharan desert.
Ambassadors of the Year
The award for individuals who have helped propel bikepacking to the forefront of the outdoor community and beyond.
Scott Morris has been strongly influential in the bikepacking community for well over a decade and is long overdue for recognition – so we figured 2016 should be the year. Back in the mid-2000’s, Scott started bikepacking.net, bringing the concept of bikepacking to a wider audience during the very youngest days of the sport. Along with Lee Blackwell, he pioneered the first AZT-by-bike passage in 2005, that included hiking through the Grand Canyon with bikes on their backs. Scott has also been on the frontlines of route mapping with the development of Topofusion, a route planning software, and Trackleaders; the latter has propelled bikepacking ultra racing culture as much as any other utility or publication. In addition, Scott is the godfather of the Arizona Trail Race and has managed it since its inception. He volunteers time to trail building and the AZT Association, and has designed and advocated for countless other routes including the Gila River Ramble, one of our personal favorites. In 2014, he and his partner Eszter Horyani undertook the colossal challenge of through-riding the CDT and more recently, Scott created the Hot Sisters Hot Springs route in Oregon – a route we look forward to learning more about, once the two of them are finished bike-tramping through New Zealand… Follow Scott on Instagram @topofusionscott
Emily Chappell & Lee Craigie
Throughout 2016, Emily and Lee have devoted much of their time to encouraging other women and girls to follow in their tire treads – while still finding the energy to undertake several self-supported, beefy bikepacking trips (The Transcontinental Bike Race, The Highland Trail 550, the Transpyrenees and the Bearbones 200). This year’s main achievement revolves around The Adventure Syndicate, a collective drawn from a team of skilled communicators and experienced bike riders, primed with a mission to deliver female-specific bikepacking courses, talks, workshops, conference appearances, and Women and Bike events across the UK. In January 2017, The Adventure Syndicate will produce its first printed publication, with the aim of inspiring, encouraging and enabling more people – especially women, girls and those in isolated communities – to realise the challenges they are capable of. Follow the Adventure Syndicate on Instagram @leecraigie_ and @emilyofchappell
Bjørn Olsen & Kim McNett
Bjørn Olson, an Alaskan Adventurer, and Kim McNett, a lifelong naturalist, are bonded by their wilderness pursuits. Bjorn and Kim have covered a lot of ground on foot and in boats, and challenged more remote Alaskan backcountry on bikes than almost anyone. They’ve developed a lot of specific skills to this kind of travel that only a few other people share. Their travels form a network of highlighted lines across the map of Alaska. Both are active contributors to Ground Truth Trekking, an Alaskan nonprofit which educates and engages on Alaska’s natural resource issues through wilderness adventure and scientific analysis. This year Bjorn and Kim released Ring of Fire, a Salsa Storysite that is compelling in every right and is a shining example of how they live and their ideals.
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.
Neil had many top finishes in 2016, the most notable being that he took down Kurt Refsnider’s 2010 AZT750 record — one of the oldest records in ultra-bikepacking — by finishing the race in 6 days, 12 hours and 28 minutes. Before that, Neil finished first in JP’s Fat Pursuit, a rugged winter ultra. Neil also set a new course record on an ITT of the Colorado Trail (3d 19h 50m), after we assumed Jesse Jakomait’s remarkable showing last year would stand for while. Last but not least, Neil also recorded the fastest time on the Comstock Epic route, not a highly contested route but a stellar time nonetheless. 2016 was indeed Neil Beltchenko’s year, and perhaps the first of many. Follow Neil on Instagram at @neil_beltchenko.
Just when we thought Josh Kato’s 2015 record would stick for a minute, Mike Hall, of Yorkshire, England, came along and shattered it by over a half a day. Mike led the 2016 race from the beginning, finished on June 24th and now holds the new Tour Divide Record with an unofficial time of 13 days 22 hours and 51 minutes. The former time held by Josh Kato was 14 days, 11 hours and 37 minutes. @couldntgetmike
From September 2015 to August 2016, Markus Stitz completed an around the world bike journey covering 34,097 kilometers through 26 countries… all on a singlespeed bike. While not the first to complete this feat on a one gear bike, Markus is the first to do it on a singlespeed mountain bike with a bikepacking setup… and went over the Guinness benchmark by more than 5,000 kilometers. @reizkultur
At 1000 miles, the Iditarod Trail Invitational – in which fat bikers are pitted against runners and skiers – is the longest race on the winter ultra calender. 2016 saw Jill Homer complete the event in 17 days, three hours and 46 minutes, settling a new women’s fastest human-powered time to Nome. Jill has always impressed us with her commitment and achievements within the realm biking ultras, trail running and other endurance adventures, shared expressively through both her blog and the many books she’s published.
Best New Routes (Odyssey)
Our three favourite, worldwide bikepacking odysseys – experiences we’re sure you’ll never forget.
The Baja Divide
Originally planned and scouted between December 2016-March 2016 by Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox, the Baja Divide has been almost a year in development. The 1700 mile (2734km) route connects northern Mexico Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, linking historic Spanish mission sites, remote ranchos and fishing villages, bustling highway towns, and every major mountain range in Baja California – via mile upon mile of beautiful, backcountry desert tracks. What’s more, Baja Divide comes complete with an in-depth supporting website packed with route notes, bike setup details and cultural insights, making it especially appealing to US riders looking to experience the challenges and rewards of a first-time bikepack abroad. See an abbreviated version of the route here or visit the official site.
The Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route runs the length of the country’s volcanic corridor, following singletrack, jeep tracks, unpaved roads, and tertiary, low traffic sealed roads where possible. It’s available in two flavours – an intense Singletrack and Hike-a-Bike version that was published in November, along with a more mellow Dirt Road alternative that we’ll be posting in January. Either way, it’s a beautiful, 25 day, 760 mile (1223km) traverse across rugged Andean countryside, connecting vibrant, colorful market towns with the small mountain settlements that dot the crumpled highlands and ethereal páramo. TEMBR Singletrack was concocted by the Dammer Brothers, Ecuadorian climbing and bikepacking legends, while devising TEMBR Dirt has been a collaborative effort between Cass Gilbert and the Dammers, with valuable additional support by Nicholas Gault.
Scouted and documented by Logan Watts and Virginia Krabill in the winter of 2015/2016. This 834 mile (1,342km) route was created in a relatively free-form fashion by studying historic tracks, talking with plenty of local mountain bikers, and connecting some of the best dirt tracks in southern Spain. With the epic GR7 as its backbone, the Altravesur crosses southern Spain from Cadiz in the west to Valencia on the Mediterranean coast. This challenging bikepacking route flows through countless mountain ranges and parks, incorporating portions of the TransAndalus and TransNevada cycling circuits, the GR249, GR243, GR247, and GR66 footpaths, the Via Verde de la Sierra Alcaraz, and the Ruta de Don Quixote. View the route details here.
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.
Tour Du Mont Blanc
Another great route project taken on by Montanus — Francesco and Giorgio — Tour du Mont Blanc is bikepacking route stitched together from several known hiking trails and dirt roads circling the massif of Mont Blanc — the roof of the Old Continent. Once considered a horrific place, inhabited by demons and dragons, turns out to be an incredible display of alpine beauty where sheer granite walls rise between impending glaciers, long gravelly moraines, meadows and enchanted valleys. See the full route guide here.
Green Mountain Gravel Growler
The seed for the Green Mountain Gravel Growler was planted back in 2013, after a visit to Vermont revealed a burgeoning craft brewery scene that churned out 10 of the top 50 beers in the United States. Three years later Joe Cruz and Logan Watts set out to make the idea reality. The end result is a 250 mile loop weaving a selection of storybook-farm dirt roads, flowy New England singletrack, and rugged historic woodland paths to create a circuit of some of the world’s best and most coveted craft beers. View the route details here.
Oregon’s Big Country
Designed by Gabriel Amadeus Tiller, Oregon’s Big Country is a one of a kind overland bikepacking route through Southeastern Oregon. This 357 mile loop links up the best of the Oregon backcountry of with forgotten wagon roads and rugged overland travel. Cross three mountain ranges, a desert playa, visit five hot springs, and enjoy the solitude of vast empty landscapes. View the route details here.
Best New Routes (Weekend)
Strapped for time? 2-3 day bikepacking routes are extremely rewarding in their own small but perfectly packaged way. This year’s offerings all have a theme in common; they use established trails as their backbone, ensuring a great singletrack to dirt quotient.
Butte Batholith Route
Contributed by Ryan Krueger, the Butte Batholith Route is a 95-mile trail connecting a vast system of singletrack on and around the Continental Divide Trail—passing by the beautiful Highland Mountains and weaving throughout a unique batholith of granite boulders. This easily accessible route takes riders through some of the best singletrack found in Southwestern Montana. Out of all the weekenders posted this year, this one is at the top of our list for our most desired ride. View the route details here.
Bull and Jake
Designed by Colt Fetters, the Bull & Jake Bikepacking Trail is a 65 mile loop based upon the Bull and Jake Mountain IMBA EPIC. The loop combines red-clay singletrack, long gravel road climbs, and thrilling descents through the Chattahoochee National Forest of North Georgia. This route won our friendly Weekend Route Competition this past summer. View the route here.
The Chama Charmer
Contributed by Cass Gilbert and his bikepacking companion Tim Nelson, the 119 mile Chama Charmer showcases some of the finest backcountry bikepacking in northern New Mexico, using the Continental Divide Trail to lace in miles together high elevation trail and primitive two track. It’s connected by public transport and ends with a luxurious pamper in the desert resort of Ojo Caliente.
This category ecompasses classic, pre-existing routes, explored and documented in a way that breathes new life into them.
The Cairngorms Loop
The Cairngorms Loop trail circumnavigates one of the most beautiful areas in the Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms National Park. There, dirt roads and singletracks climb valleys and twist their way back down through ancient Caledonian Forest. Over the summer, Pzremek and Saska completed a novel double loop of the park based around a modified ITT version, creating a wonderful, largely rideable route and a stunning collection of photos to go with it. See the route guide here.
The Congo Nile Trail
Perhaps the best known bikepacking route in East Africa, Rwanda’s Congo Nile Trail traverses a scenic stitchwork of dirt roads, lakeside singletrack, and jungle jeep track. This past March Logan and Virginia rerouted the latter half through the forested Nyungwe National Park to create a 75% off road route. See the full route guide here.
The Tasmanian Trail is a scenic, peaceful yet sometimes challenging ride across the island state of Tasmania, imbued with unique fauna and flora, amazing food and incredible hospitality. Marine and Maxime did a great job documenting the route, submitting a soulful photo set and a detailed writeup. See the route here.
Best New Events
Our last category for People and Routes 2016 honors three new long distance, self-supported rides organised across the world. Each underlines its non-competitive ethos, replacing the element of racing with an emphasis on personal challenge and shared experiences amongst friends, old and new.
In Feb 2016, the Tour Aotearoa, a self-supported ‘brevet’, kicked off with 230 riders on a 3,000 KM bikepacking route from Cape Reinga at the tip of New Zealand’s North Island, to Bluff at the toe of the South Island, otherwise known as Te Waipounamu. To add to the group ride’s non-race feel, the Tour had a mandatory 6 hour daily stand—down, helping to keep it more low key. The next Tour Aotearoa is scheduled for late February 2018.
Torino Nice Rally
Viewed from the Instagram sidelines, the Torino-Nice Rally is one of the rides we’d most like to have attended. Described as a bikepacking, touring or randonneur event, it’s a non-timed, 700km journey across the high cols and stradas of southern Europe. The scenery looks absolutely spectacular and with a variety of gpx alternatives to choose from – depending on your setup, your interests and the energy in your legs – it promises a refreshing format too, by allowing riders of different paces to overlap throughout the route.
Hunt Snowy Mountains 1000
The inaugural Hunt Snowy Mountains 1000 has recently come to an end. Running from Canberra to Melbourne this 1000km, self-supported, mostly off road route courses its way through the rugged terrain of Australian Alps. As the organisers point out, “This is not intended to be a three hours of sleep per night, kill yourself, race to the finish line. It is however intended to be an enjoyable challenge against yourself.” There’s even an option to leave a few days earlier, if you plan on riding at a more comfortable pace, so everyone can meet at the end for a celebratory dinner and beers.
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