A major part of completing any long bike ride is gear. Even if that gear is simply limited to the bike itself. But even then, small items like cleats or hydration packs or specific parts of the bike—shifting, wheels, suspension—can derail what is otherwise a perfectly executed ride. All the route knowledge in the world won’t help fix a broken frame or a blown-out seat bag.
Entering the Dixie Lite there were several variables and unknowns for me with my gear. In fact, I broke several cardinal rules of bike racing: I was riding a new (to me) bike, using a new (to me) seat bag, and carrying a pack I had not used in over 4 years. So when after 3 hours of riding on Saturday I was forced to stop and repack and rearrange some of my things, I was not surprised. Irked. But not surprised. However, my gear held up, and aided me in having one of the best rides of my life.
Below are details about what I carried.
2009 Gary Fisher Superfly 29er.
A mix of Sram X.9 and Bontrager RXL components.
Reba Race Fork.
Bontrager RXL rims with DT Swiss hubs.
I had a fit of hysteria overwhelm me the week leading up to the event. The result was a flurry of phone calls to Chris Holley to first find out if he had a Superfly available for sale—he did—and how quickly it could be built up. Chris did not fail me. Within 36 hours I had the bike in hand, tuned, and ready to race. I managed to get one ride* on the bike before I left for Cedar City. Not exactly a textbook lead-in to a major event, but nonetheless, I trusted Chris and I trusted the Superfly frame. Throughout the entire 2 days of riding the bike did not so much as miss a shift. It rolled smooth and fast and clean. I loved every minute on it. And I think the bike itself was happy. Like a high spirited horse, it urged me onward, not wanting to stop or slow down. It has been a couple of seasons since I rode a hardtail, but I remembered early on how enjoyable it can be—even in an endurance ride. In short, the bike performed spectacularly, and I am looking forward to racing it throughout the rest of the season.
*That ride happened to be Brad’s Farewell Ride. Stay tuned for more on that.
The obvious and and ongoing questions leading up to an overnight ride—especially being my first one—were “what to carry?” and “how to carry it?” I researched threads and posts at Bikepacking.net, I sent off emails and I examined what I already had lying about in the garage. I studied the route, determining how many miles existed between civilized resupply—stores and campgrounds—and tried to deduce whether or not I could pedal from stop to stop without having to filter or treat water along the way. In the end, I packed perhaps too heavily. Indeed, on that particular route, I now know I could go much lighter while still enjoying the comforts of a good sleep system. If one wanted to in fact, a sleep system could be as simple and thin as a credit card. Just rent a room at the Highway 89/Highway 12 Junction…
Handlebar bag: I used a size extra small Granite Gear compression sack. Small, cheap, and durable, this bag held my bivy and sleeping bag. I used small bungie cords to attach it to my bars. It fit nicely above the crown of the fork (I routed the bungies around the crown to hold it in place). It stayed put, never budging or shifting or falling, even while riding some fast and rocky and bumpy terrain. It was easy to access, to reattach, and yet roomy enough to easily stuff the gear back in when I was ready to ride in the morning. There are custom handlebar bags available, but they will cost you time and money. A simple compression sack works extremely well, is very inexpensive, and best of all—you probably already have one.
Frame bag: Frame bags are as varied as frames themselves. There are custom bags made for specific frames and designed to carry specific things. For something as involved as the Tour Divide, or even the Colorado Trail Race, one of those might be the best option. But again, they cost time and money. For the Dixie Lite I used my trusty Jandd frame pack. It’s small, fits a large variety of frames (I should say hardtail frames) and like the compression sack, is quite affordable. I’ve ridden with this little bag on several rides, and it has yet to let me down. On this day it carried food. Lots of food.
Seat bag: Like my Superfly, I came into my seatbag on short notice. It was handmade by Jeremy C. in Colorado. (Thanks!) My hesitation about the ride meant that I had hesitated on placing any sort of order with Jeremy, who is in the process of experimenting with, and learning the fine art of bike bag making. What I was able to use was more or less a beta version of his design. And once I figured out how best to pack it, it performed flawlessly. I stuffed it with extra clothing and my ThermaRest 3/4 Prolite pad. I forgot it was there. It stayed in place, did not slip or sway, and kept my gear clean, despite the ultra-dusty nature of the route. The one problem I had with it was early on, when I had over-packed it and had it droop onto my back wheel. After some rearrangement, it was all systems go for over 160 miles.
Mountain Feed Bag: The Mountain Feed bag is a nifty handlebar mounted bag that is basically a fabric water bottle cage. I had it stuffed full of food. I was constantly fishing around in it for candy and jerky and power bars. It’s a fine innovation, and one of my favorite bags. In fact, I am considering buying one for the left hand side of my bars and using them to replace any need for the Jandd frame bag–at least on rides where resupply is frequently encountered.
Backpack: For this ride I used my Wingut Enduro pack. This is a pack that I had actually helped Scott at Wingnut develop, offering beta feedback and suggestions during the design process, and then putting to the test during the Kokopelli Trail Race in 2006. So I knew what I was getting when I loaded it up for the Dixie Lite. And it performed admirably. And while I had considered going with a smaller pack, with so many unknowns about the route, I went with more volume. And I’m glad I did. I filled some of the extra space I had with food, and some extra liquid—Mountain Dew—along the way. It sat comfortably on my hips, stayed put, and like the seatbag, was largely forgotten about. Which is a nice feature considering it was the only weight on my body. In addition to extra food, I had in the pack a rain jacket, first aid kit, and all my bike repiar items: tools, spare tubes, lube, etc.
Sleeping bag: I used my Lafuma 600 down bag. A bag I picked up new at a wharehouse sale a few years ago. In fact, I went to the sale hoping to get my hands on that particular bag. And when I got there they were gone. But there next to the empty display was a mother holding two of them in her hands, her teenage sons next to her. I asked her if there were any more of them around. She said no, but asked if I was interested in one of hers. She was not totally sold on them for her boys, who would be using them as at scout camp. I explained that for an all-round bag, it was probably too lightweight. The boys would get cold on any trip not during the middle of summer. I also explained that down bags required more maintenance, and that perhaps a synthetic bag would be more suitable for teenage scouts. She handed me one of her bags (score!) and the other, to a girl nearby who was clearly hoping my pitch would also net her one of the lightweight bags being sold for 70% off of retail.
I’ve since used this bag on several backpacking trips, campouts, and now, a bikepacking trip. And I love it. Every time I use it I think about how I obtained it. And how I did everyone involved a great service. Those scouts have warmer, more durable bags. And I have my lightweight pack bag. Win-win.
Bivy: When it came to which bivy sack to bring, I had a choice between a super cheap emergency bag—little more than a glorified space blanket—or my Outdoor Research Aurora. It weighs a little more, but is waterproof, has a nifty bug net, and if needed, can be zipped up mummy-style. I’ve not spent many nights in it before, but it got the nod. I wanted comfort over weight savings. But still, it’s not exactly heavy, weighing in at about 1 pound. I don’t mind sleeping in a tomb like environment, and yet, it’s still wide enough that I can flip over on my side, or bring my knees up to my chest. I slept sporadically out on the trail, but that is to be expected while camping.
Pad: Like everything in this game, I had a choice between comfort and weight. I compromised. I used the ThermaRest 3/4 Prolite pad. I love this little pad. It’s inflatable, so it packs down very small,, but can be filled with enough air to provide both additional insulation and cushion. It’s one of my favorite camping and packing accessories.
What I’d Do Differently:
Now that I have ridden the Dixie Lite, I know what to expect. I know the route. I know where the riding is fast, and where it is tedious and slow and laborious. I know how long each section ought to take, and where I can eat and sleep and find water. If I were to do this route again, I’d pack much lighter. I hardly ate the food I brought along, but instead simply gobbled up the gas station fare that I was craving. The traditional “race food” like bars and gels were simply unappetizing. They became dead weight. Next time I’d leave them behind altogether.
I’d still carry a sleep system, probably exactly what I had this time around. Although the idea of going super light, and just crashing at a rented mini-cabin, or just wrapping up for a couple of hours trailside in a space blanket does have a certain appeal, if speed and racing are the primary motivation for the ride. If I were to seriously race the route, I think I could get beyond the 100 mile point before dark. Perhaps even ride through some of the night, all the way into Panguitch Lake where I could crash on the porch of the General Store until dawn—next to Dizzy the Goat.
But this time around, scorching the route was not on my to-do list. I simply wanted to ride it all, quickly, but not so much so that I would find myself unwilling to enjoy spontaneous moments or unplanned dinner stops for massive sandwiches.
In the end, I had a fantastic ride. And if today, you were to ask me if I’d do it again, my answer would be an eager “absolutely.”