A Reflection on Collaboration
Bikepacking route designer Karlos Bernart ventured north from his home in Florida to do some forest bathing with friends, old and new, and celebrate the launch of the Eastern Divide Trail, a massive collaboration he was involved with. Read Karlos’ reflection on a beautiful overnighter group ride through Pisgah National Forest and the event that followed here…
For years, Pisgah National Forest has been a place I’ve visited to experience rugged and mountainous backcountry. Unlike the other North Carolina trails I had ridden while racing the 12-hour mountain bike circuit, its allure was unparalleled. This was the place where taking seven hours to go 18 miles was standard. My friends and I would spend several weeks in Pisgah, following maps, climbing, hike-a-biking, and relishing in the exhilarating challenge.
Come spring, we would return for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race (PMBAR), where we would turn ourselves inside out chasing checkpoints. But besides the bike racing and peak climbing, the people were ultimately the highlight. So many good friends; so many kind and generous folks.
It was quite a treat that when I ventured north to bikepack a segment of the Eastern Divide Trail for the EDT launch event at Burial Beer Co. Our ride would start on the very same roads on which we’d begin our traditional Pisgah rides, Avery Creek and Clawhammer Road. It had been at least six years since I had the chance to pedal up to the top, and it was just as I remembered it.
But this time was also different; I had my bike loaded up with all the gear I would need for an exquisite overnight. It was a wonderful surprise to see many folks who’d previously come down to Florida to ride my routes join the trip. These are people who I’ve seen many times and had the opportunity to chat with at the start of other events. Having the chance to traverse the forest with them elevated the experience for me. The rest of the riders who joined the overnighter were folks local to Asheville and Brevard who’d heard about the trip and decided to join. I am fortunate to make many new friends through bikepacking events, rides, and group tours, and today was no different.
I dont know about you, but I do a lot of meditation on my bike. It’s absolutely common for me to be pedaling and mentally working out some deep thoughts or maybe a challenge I’m still trying to resolve. There is something very cathartic about the rhythm of the bikepack and what it does to channel those profound reflections that are locked in my mind. So, as I settled into the pace of the climb, I started to contemplate how I’d met most of these individuals and how they had inadvertently grown my circle of friends. I pondered the butterfly effect of these connections and how they rippled and helped bring all these new people into my field of view. The word-of-mouth power was evident, leading me to think more in-depth about the worth of collaboration. I meditated on those relationships as we made our way up and over Clawhammer, down Buckhorn, and onward on great gravel roads deeper into our journey.
Most of the 16 riders who came on this trip were on standard mountain bikes with fat tires and suspension forks, but a couple chose to underbike that day, and there was even a rider who’d never bikepacked before. With his dry bags and Wal-Mart rear rack that swayed when he would corner or stand and pedal, he was out there making his way like the rest of us.
Back home, I have the opportunity to lead several groups on rides, and I have noticed an interesting phenomenon when traveling with a group. Part of the allure of bikepacking is the individual experience, but once you and some friends decide to take a voyage together, no matter how short or how far, you go from being an individual to becoming a squad focused on one goal: making it to camp. Once again, the importance of collaboration smacked me in the face. I could feel the instant pull we magically get when a group comes together. The squad would wait, and we would assemble. When one rider got a flat, and the tire was of an odd size, one who matched closest offered up their tube. Then not even an hour later, the person who gave up their tube got a flat. And we helped each other, and we stayed together.
Camp that evening would be east of Trace Ridge in a spot chosen by Logan on the North Mills River. While the group was coming together, I ran into Eric, the organizer and mastermind behind various incredible challenges in Pisgah. It was nice to see him again and catch up. He inspired me to organize rides, which fed into my thoughts for the day. He volunteered to shuttle a cooler closer to camp for us. Once there, everyone filled their bags with beer to help carry the supplies to our destination. The partnership continued at camp. Everyone helped gather wood, an enormous pile was put together, and a great evening ensued with an abundance of laughter and conversation. I marveled at the power of the fire. It’s where we gather on these trips, and, as for many years of our human history, a place for a lot of collaborations. The storytelling, deep discussions, and free exchange of ideas and thoughts are fueled by the squad’s new goal for the day: enjoying this camp.
That morning was full of laughter and reminiscing on the night before. I watched as the group broke out their pots and stoves, heated water, ate breakfast, and drank tea and coffee. And, as if by magic, the group finished their packing at nearly the same time and realigned their squad goal for the day: making it to Burial Beer Co. The rest of the ride was equally incredible. Unfortunately, our first-time bikepackers rack was cracked and failing, but alas, he is well versed in navigating the forest, and he broke off on easier roads.
The team craftily made their way up the rocky roads and traveled on singletrack that sometimes required a little pushing. We used a small part of the Blue Ghost Segment to get to our destination, and it was a terrific treat. Once at Burial, everyone got food and cold beverages. Not long after, Logan, Brett, Joe, and I climbed up on stage and took time to talk about the birth of the Eastern Divide Trail.
It was during that discussion that things came full circle for me. That’s when it truly hit me how important collaboration is for bikepacking. In bikepacking, we reach out to our compatriots. We reach out to sources on the internet. We intentionally want to explore others’ experiences and share knowledge. Not just for route advice but to help refine our gear choices and to help us learn all the various ins and outs of human-powered travel. That same partnership led to the completion of the Eastern Divide Trail. Sure, you see just a few faces on the stage, but each of those folks is backed by countless others who contributed, volunteered, and put in the time to help achieve a common task and goal. Each is like the roots that feed the tree trunk that spans into hundreds of branches. Collaboration, shared experiences, and shared knowledge are the lifeblood of bikepacking and of humanity too.
For our celebratory ride, we started at the Hub bike shop near Brevard and rode a section of the Eastern Divide Trial in to Asheville to the Burial Beer South Slope location. Find the route map below with a lovely campsite near the Trace Ridge parking area.
Karlos Bernart helped develop Segments 7 and 8 of the Eastern Divide Trail and manages an extensive Florida network of routes. Chris McClure is a professional photographer and the director of brand at Burial Beer Co. And Ben Carpenter is a photographer and marketing manager at Camera West.
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