Skyler’s 2015 in Review, 2016 Ahoy

Though it may seem I  did fewer “big” bikepacking trips in 2015 than in 2014, I actually got out riding a lot. It was great. I wrote about many of those trips on this blog, but there were also some that I never mentioned. This post is a look back on some great trips in 2015.

I wouldn’t call myself a music enthusiast, but sometimes a song really does something for me, and gets played on repeat for a few days or weeks. I’ve included a few such songs that I listened to obsessively in 2015, in the hopes that it will help others find new music, and that you’ll help me learn about new music in return. Similarly, a few of the best books I read in 2015 are listed.

Also, in response to BIKEPACKING.com’s twelve predictions for the bikepacking world in 2016, which includes one of my predictions, I’ve included several more of my more cynical predictions here, which didn’t make the final cut. I think a certain audience enjoys the political opinion I occasionally inject into my writing, but that same abrasive editorial is unpalatable for broader audiences. Off Route can remain my outlet…

I dedicated my 2015 winter to backcountry skiing, until April. This might have been a mistake, as the year broke records for low snowpack levels, and was overall underwhelming. Still, conditions were pretty spring-like in February, so I did some relatively high-output day trips. I climbed Castle Towers in a day from Rubble Creek, Mt Baker in a day via the Roman Headwall, and Dalton Dome in a day from the Diamond Head parking lot. Later, Nick Gobin and I circumskied The Table in a day from Brohm Ridge. I did some other ski trips too, but can’t really remember them – nothing terribly interesting. Still, during that period, my report of my September 2014 Coast Mountains Bikepacking Route went up on Pinkbike, which has a much better format for articles than this wordpress blog.

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On the summit of Mt Baker, in January.

 

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Circumski of The Table, with Nick Gobin

During Panthea’s reading week, in February, the weather was so clear and warm that we went bikepacking along the Olympic Discover Trail, in NW Washington.

Come April, I drove down to Utah to meet Logan from BIKEPACKING.com, Joe Cruz, and Joel Caldwell for a ride on Kokopelli’s Trail. After Joe and Joel headed home, Logan, Virginia and I rode the famous White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. Everyone else wrote such great things about that trip, that I didn’t bother.

Joe’s Trip Report: Part 1 and Part 2

Joel’s Photos on the Radavist and full report on Expedition Portal

Logan wrote route guides for the Kokopelli, and White Rim, with great photos.

Back in BC, Knut and I organized with Rocky Mountain Bikes to borrow some fat bikes to attempt a ski traverse by bike. The first week, we headed to the South Chilcotins, and headed west, out of the park onto the high, snow-covered plateau that forms the headwaters of Slim Creek, the Lord River, and the Taseko River. Our farthest point from the road was Griswold Pass. Having been slow to discover that we could only ride on a frozen crust between 2AM and 7AM, we lacked time to ride up the mellow glacier toward Lepton Peak. Read the story in my most recent post. We hope to use this learning experience for a bolder traverse in spring 2016.

The following weekend, Piotr and I took the borrowed bikes up Brohm Ridge with the hope of traversing the Garibaldi Neve – one of BC’s most popular ski traverses – by bike. The crust never formed that night, and the trip was dead in the water. We camped up on Brohm Ridge and headed down to Cat Lake, which was already warm enough for swimming in early June.

A few weeks after than, Jan and I linked trails, loosely following the BC Bike Race stages 2 and 3, to complete a singletrack-heavy route along the length of the Southern Sunshine Coast. I’d like to eventually extend that route all the way up to Powell River or beyond, on the Northern Sunshine Coast. I only reported this in a route guide on BIKEPACKING.com.

In July, Panthea and I attempted to ride up into the Camelsfoot Range from Clinton, in the southern Cariboo. That approach proved way further than was realistic in our 3 day window, so after failing to make it much past the Fraser, we teamed up with Adriana and Marius Muja to complete the Camelsfoot Route listed on BIKEPACKING.com. That story also went up on Pinkbike.

Shortly after, I joined Piotr, Artem, Annika, and Christophe for a rafting trip from Chilko Lake, down to Big Bar Ferry on the Fraser River. The 300km river route took us through many Grade III and IV rapids along the Chilko River, into the Chilcotin River, and finally into the Fraser. It’s incredible to see the landscape from a seat on the raft, but the sport of rafting continues to frustrate me, as the ratio of time spent rafting to time spent driving and preparing seems to be about 1:1, no matter what. Bikepacking beats almost anything, in this regard.

As soons as we could, after this trip, Panthea and I left on a long bikepacking trip, without any sort of concrete plans. We rode part way across BC, before bailing on the cold, wet weather, down to Arizona. In BC, I dropped my main camera lens off a trestle bridge. Since then, the right half of all the photos out of this 20mm (40mm equivalent) pancake have been slightly fuzzy. It’s quite upsetting that so many of my photos are soft, but there’s still hope that it can be repaired. You’ll find all the relevant blog posts on the front page.

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Camped near the Gila River, in stormy weather.

From Tucson, we flew to NYC, for Panthea’s brother’s wedding (in a loft in Brooklyn). It was a good time. The food was amazing.

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A candid kiss, amidst post-ceremony chaos.

Then, still waiting to hear about work back in BC, we headed up to Vermont to spend a few days in Joe’s place, in his beautiful home near Williams College, where he teaches philosophy. We missed the peak fall colours by two weeks, but we still found some gorgeous riding.

From there, we rode our bikes 300km along quiet back roads, mostly paved, to the Read family cabin (shared between many generations and branches descended from Panthea’s great-great-grandparents) in the Adirondacks, in upstate New York. There, we spend a week in the 110 year old lodge, relaxing, eating, and playing in row boats.

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Riding with Joe and Panthea near Joe’s home in Pownal, VT.

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Panthea on a day ride along the Massachusetts, New York border.

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Touring through Upstate NY, on route to the Adirondacks.

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The old Read family lodge, full of 100 years of furniture and decorations.

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A chilly day in a beautiful guide boat, on Little Simon Pond.

Now, I’m in Slave Lake, Alberta doing my seasonal job as a forestry pest surveyor, looking for trees that are infested by mountain pine beetle, so that they can be burned to help control the mountain pine beetle epidemic that swept across Western Canada.

Songs of 2015

Most of these songs aren’t actually from 2015, but they spent some amount of time being played by me, on repeat this year. They mostly fall into the various categories of Folk music. I like all sorts of music, but these particular songs do something for me. Please, feel free to share more music recommendations with me!

I’ll start with a 15 year old song…

And then on to something that’s actually new…

This whole album was put on repeat for scenic drives to the South Chilcotins…

Books

Three books that changed me in 2015:

Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folley, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson

Top quality history, captivating narrative non-fiction, that explains so much about current geopolitics, and how it all goes back exactly 100 years, to the Great War. 

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon

The most important American travel writing. Least Heat-Moon defines good travel writing, and is one of my biggest inspirations of 2015. This 1970s classic is absolute mandatory reading for travel bloggers.

The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

The only fiction to have a powerful effect on me. A story of Oaxacan migrants trying to cross into Arizona, that could be a true story, but reads as beautiful fiction. John Vaillant’s non-fiction books, The Golden Spruce, and The Tiger, are also highly recommmended.

Wait But Why by Tim Urban

This isn’t actually a book! It’s a website. A blog. And it’s one of the greatest things to ever bless the internet. His articles about Tesla Motors, Aritifical Intelligence, the Fermi Paradox, the Colonization of Mars, and many more are completely riveting and have changed the way I see the world. I’m totally obsessed. Tim Urban has become a huge inspiration.

Bikepacking 2016

My predictions for a few things that will happen in the sport of bikepacking in 2016:

Bikepacking helps to drive bike technology away from racing, toward the demands of recreational users. For the last two decades, racing, in its various forms, has been the driver of almost all high-end bicycle technological development. As a result, touring bikes scarcely changed in several decades, and other bikes have been suited more for speed than for reliability or comfort. That has a changed recently, and I think we can thank bikepacking for helping spur that along. 2016 will be the year of the high-end, recreation bicycle. Here’s hoping for a bit more oil in forks, wider tires everywhere, more comfortable geometry, and better bottom bracket standards.

 

Someone will design and market a women’s specific bikepacking bike. It will be exactly the same as the men’s version, except it will be pink, purple, baby blue, teal, black, and/or white, it will have slightly shorter stem/cranks, and it will cost more.

 

Instagram bikepackers will get over their slingshots. 2015 saw a niche slingshot resurgence. In 2016 Instagram Bikepackers will get over playing with $100 slingshots. The committed will adopt superior wrist-bracing slingshots ($10 from any hunting store). The fashionistas will turn their attention elsewhere. Crossbows? Nah. Hand-made guns? Maybe. Female riding partners? Maybe 2017. If we’re lucky, the mildly homophobic, homoerotic jokes, the Oregon Outback farmyard pooping, the material fetishism aimed at all things faux-vintage and expensive, and the incomprehensible writing style will all go out of fashion in 2016. I’d link to everything I’m talking about, but I dream of making a living in this industry, and calling out the Hipstagram Bros, or “Boyz Scout Bikepackers” as I like to call them, like this is already possible career suicide.

“Adventure Road” bikes will continue to look more and more like early ’90s mountain bikes. History repeats itself. Now road riders are using disc brakes, 1.5″ wide tubeless tires, and even low-travel front suspension. This is all starting to sound mighty familiar…Did you know, a 29er XC race bike was basically built for the exact same purpose as an “all-road” or gravel bike? But, flat bars aren’t coooool guys! Drop bars offer the highly desirable “multiple hand positions”. The fact that none of these multiple hand positions succeeds at being comfortable and powerful at the same time is a detail that the fashionistas don’t seem to care about.

 

“Front Loading” will go out of style. I think people will slowly start to realize that most bikes handle terribly with all the load on a front rack. It’s really cool to do this right now, and all the Hipstagram Bros are doing it, but most of them are doing it bikes that don’t even use a particularly low-trail fork. Bikes can be made to handle somewhat respectably with a front load, with relatively extreme geometry and low-trail, rigid forks, but is it really worth it? A light load, in small rear panniers is basically unnoticeable to the point where you can actually ride technical mountain bike trails like this. I’m convinced the endless assurances by its advocates are simpy a futile effort to justify a silly fashion statement.

 

Thanks for reading, in 2015! I’m excited for more riding, writing, and photographing in 2016. Also, thanks to Westcomb, Porcelain Rocket, Easton, BIKEPACKING.com, Pinkbike, Rocky Mountain Bikes, and others for supporting my dreams in 2015. Really, it’s the humans behind these various Canadian enterprises that have offered encouragement and friendship. Have a happy New Year.

 

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7 thoughts on “Skyler’s 2015 in Review, 2016 Ahoy

  1. love that bcbr-ish route to earl’s cove! i did it three times this year (once only to sechelt); so many trails in roberts creek, and west sechelt make it a kind of “choose your own adventure” each time. i’ve also been studying maps and satellite photos for a route to powell river. it looks promising, too; i hear nice things about the duck lake trails.

    i’ve enjoyed reading your stories this year, political injections and all. they’re inspiring and keep me hungry for my next adventure. that camelsfoot report really caught my imagination. hopefully next year i can take a stab at it. my friends run a ranch out that way, it’d be a great reason to pay them a visit, and eat some of their delicious produce and beef.

    happy 2016.

  2. Reading about your adventures on off route and following you and Panthea on Instagram topped my reading list in 2015! Looking forward to more beautiful photography and entertaining stories in 2016!

  3. “I’d link to everything I’m talking about, but I dream of making a living in this industry, and calling out the Hipstagram Bros, or “Boyz Scout Bikepackers” as I like to call them, like this is already possible career suicide.”

    Don’t worry bro. I can be that voice of cynical reason as I have no desire to make any money from bikepacking or cycling in general. 😉

    Happy New Year!

    — Vik

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