Please note that we do not do run fatbikepacking courses into this particular part of the Bears Ears.
I have to be honest with you, to be able to sit down and write about all the fatbikepacking adventures and amazing things I get to do for fun and for work has been nothing short of an enormous challenge right now. The state of the world, the human condition, life, death, cancer and puppies. Life is incredibly hard, and I personally have it really good compared to many. When I start to feel like this, it’s usually time for some desert crusin’.
Go to the woods, go to the desert, go outside. I literally laughed out loud the other day at a short radio piece on how doctors are now prescribing, “nature,” to help their patients’ with mental health issues. “Duh!” I thought. But that is some good advice. On the other hand, I live in rural southwest Colorado with almost instantaneous access to the natural world while others do not have access to that experience or even clean water and food.
Still, the point is to get outside. Doctor’s orders.
Fatbikepacking The Bears Ears
This past winter I did an overnight in the Bears Ears region with two friends, Lars and Joey. My fly fishing season was slowly winding down, and I missed the desert terribly. I just wanted to ride out there to spend some time scrambling around looking for ruins and playing cribbage by the fire.
I chose my fatbike because they are immensely fun to ride and remind me of the big-wheel tricycles I had as a kid. They’re slow, but you’re also more likely to see some amazing things. And they do really well in the sand. I’ve got a rear rack on my bike with a variety of different bikepacking bags from Revelate Designs to Oveja Negra. Just like my socks, nothing matches. I like running a mix of panniers and bike bags on some trips especially for trips like this when I’m taking a lot of bulkier warm clothes due to the colder forecast and shorter days.
We planned to mainly ride a giant desert wash to our first camp. The wash narrowed as we slowly got closer to the mouth of the canyon. Wash riding is pretty fun and very conducive to the conversations that the desert tends to invoke with my particular crew. We laughed a ton and spotted towers and routes that we hoped to climb again and for the first time. The main point of this trip was to get out of town with some good buddies, but I also wanted to experiment with a couple of new toys.
I mean gear.
The Sleep Kit
Trips like this are perfect for experimenting with new equipment or new approaches because the consequences are low. I brought a lightweight down quilt that I got earlier in the summer versus some iteration of a down sleeping bag. An overnight or a couple of nights out is, of course, a better choice to test out some new gear versus a week-long trip and the same goes for anything new in your kit. One potential night of shivering is not that bad.
So this was my nest:
- A piece of Tyvek (a roof and housing underlayment)
- Therm-a-Rest Neo Air pad
- 10-degree Enlightened Equipment quilt
Now bear in mind I sleep colder than most and have always run a warmer bag even in the summer. With that said (don’t laugh), I brought my down pants and a pair of down booties. The forecast was clear and no precipitation, but cold (low teens) and I decided not to take a tent. You can’t see the stars through a rain fly, but a clear and cold night and the pants and booties were a bit of insurance.
In hindsight I would have brought a bigger piece of Tyvek to wrap over me or a lightweight bivy sac because the next morning I woke up covered in ice, the price of an open bivy. No big deal at all on this trip, but had I been on multi-day trip needing to cover ground the next day, I would be stuffing an icy bag into a stuff sack only to be unpacking a wet mess later that evening. Less than ideal. I hung my wet bag on a sagebrush in the sun, tying it off with a piece of cord lest I lose it to the whims of the wind. It would be bone dry by the time we got done exploring a few side canyons later that day.
Clothing & Shoes
Overall I was down right snug the night before and wore too much to bed, learning that I can now pair down my gear if/when space and or weight are critical on a trip. Again a trip like this low consequence because I don’t mind carrying all the weight on such mellow terrain. I did bring a cribbage board after all.
I mentioned down booties earlier, but that’s not what I rode into our camp wearing. So without chasing the white rabbit too far… some ideas on footwear. If I’m biking into camp why wouldn’t I run clipless pedals and stiff, efficient bike shoes? When clipless pedals first came out, and yes I’m old enough to have started mountain biking with toe clips, I couldn’t wait to have my own. I could finally do a decent bunny hop! On the other hand, since then I’ve learned. I have tried to climb and scramble in bike shoes and survived to tell you it’s not such a great idea.
Things have come full circle in my cycling life. I find myself more and more running a good pair of flat pedals with some version of a sticky-rubber soled approach shoes. This setup works great. I can hike-a-bike, hike and scramble and pedal, all in one shoe. I like the approach shoes because they are a little stiffer and provide a little more efficient pedaling platform than say a trail running shoe. Everyone is different, especially when it comes to their feet. I rocked Power Grips and Vans for a while and now my feet just wince in pain. So take those new kicks you think might work for a cruise and experiment.
It’s a fatbikepacking Wrap
After re-finding some incredibly obscure ruins we made awesome time back to the truck and even got to check out a couple of side canyons. We rolled back with time to spare. I immediately wished I had brought a rope and rack to squeeze in a pitch or two… or that Indian Creek had trout. But I looked out and all around me and felt content with our choice of fatbikepacking cruise lines.