This is all the email said:
Riding bikes in the backcountry, camping, making food on the trail…June 17-19. Interested in details?
Like any sane person, I responded with an “um…okay!”
It was a proposal to join a bikepacking trip with Komorebi, the Portland-based women’s bikepacking team. The fact that I had never been bikepacking didn’t deter me, and after all, that was the whole point of Komorebi: to get more women adventuring on two wheels. Okay, actually it did freak me out a little bit, and as soon as I said yes the thoughts started swarming in my head:
Will I be able to keep up with women who bikepack all the time?
Will they judge me if I am not fast enough?
I don’t really ride mountain bikes, what if I fail?
As children, we’re thrown into new situations all the time. We don’t question whether or not we’re going to be good at something because everything is new, everything is a learning process. I think back to learning how to ride a bike. There was some trepidation, but I don’t remember thinking, “I am probably going to fail and people are going to make fun of me.” Instead, it was probably something along the lines of, “I want to be riding that bicycle. Now.” – a thought that I am sure most of us had. It took some falls and scrapes, and probably some laughs, but eventually we got there.
Whether it was riding a bicycle or learning how to read, our younger days had us learning new things all the time. Then adulthood came along, and after many years of learning – and perfecting – a variety of activities, we hit that place where it’s far too easy to be afraid of something new, fear so often winning out over the exhilaration of doing something we have never tried before. Instead of thinking of the opportunities a new activity might bring, we worry about how others will perceive us. Worst of all, we get hung up on “failure,” that we won’t live up to our own expectations.
I quelled my version of these fears by doing the only sensible thing I knew how to do: offer to make food. I figured that in a worst case scenario, if I rode miserably and everyone wished they hadn’t invited me along because I was the worst bikepacker ever to be born, at least I could ensure that they would love me for my food.
Of course, you don’t have to read to the end of this essay to know the moral of the story: only you make up your own expectations, and only you can define what “failure” means. You can even choose to strike “failure” from your vocabulary. Challenge yourself to do something new and chances are you’ll have a hell of a lot of fun, and as long as you’re having fun, usually so are the people around you. But also, be sure to bring snacks.
That was clear to me over three days on the trail in Northwestern Washington. We started on the Olympic Discovery Trail Adventure Route, about 25 miles of single track, full of uphills and downhills and plenty of switchbacks. My third ever single track experience, some of it took a lot of concentration, but for the most part, all of those fears and trepidations fell away, making ample space for the “this is fun!” part of my brain to fire off repeatedly. The second day, we explored the Elwha River, riding alongside it on the Olympic Hot Springs Road, much of which is currently closed to car traffic, but open to pedestrians and bicycles. Our final jaunt was mostly downhill, a time to ride fast and furious all the way back to where we had originally parked our cars.
It rained for most of those first two days; that grey, drizzly muck that the Pacific Northwest is known for. The kind of weather you’d rather not have on a summer bike trip. But despite wet feet and cold hands, the days were filled with laughter and jokes; a group of women excited to be outside, no matter what, and committed to enjoying the moment. And while many of us may have only met for the first time, it felt comfortable and freeing to pedal together. The kind of experience that is far from scary and intimidating; the kind of experience that not only reminds you of why you should always say yes to new things, but also makes you want to get back out and do it all over again.
While I was unsure of my mountain biking skills leading up to this trip, I was confident in my cooking skills. I hadn’t dreamt that I would use the few summers of experience as a trip leader back in my high school and college days, but when it came to group meal planning and packing they were exactly what was needed.
Here are a few tips for planning group meals.
You don’t have to eat out of a bag
A lot of bikepackers who want to travel light will opt for dehydrated meals. Those have their place, but in a group setting you can spread out the weight, and the grocery bill, which means that as long as you’re willing to do some food prep, you can manage a complete diet of real food. On this trip, with three breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and ample snacks, our individual food costs came out to about $20 per person. You’re hard pressed to buy a round of drinks with that kind of money these days.
Prepare as much as you can at home
If you’re headed out on a shorter trip, and the weather isn’t so hot that it’s going to destroy ingredients in your bag, you can make your camp cooking easier by preparing ingredients at home, like chopping onions, mincing garlic, etc. You can measure out and package these together separately for each meal, so that when it comes time to prepare the food you can easily just throw everything together.
Pack a little extra
When you are figuring out how many portions to plan for, be sure to include just a little extra. There might be a morning when you want a bit more oatmeal, and you might pull a long day and need a heartier meal. Better to be stuck with a few leftover ingredients at the end of the trip then running your personal fuel tank of energy on empty for the last day.
Keep it simple
Easy (and fairly quick meals) are a must, knowing that there’s nothing worse than making people wait for dinner when they’re starving after a day on the bike, and it all needs to be lightweight enough to fit in minimal bikepacking set-ups. And then the snacks: nothing is more essential than snacks, so make more than you think you will need.
Hungry yet? Here is what our three-day bikepacking trip meal plan looked like:
Breakfast: Breakfast burritos (prepared the day before)
Lunch: Homemade sourdough bread with a variety of homemade pesto, hummus and tapenade (prepared in the parking lot before heading out on the trail, so that everyone could carry their own sandwiches and eat their lunch whenever they felt like it)
Dinner: Pad Thai with Tofu (basically a spin off of rice noodles doused in a peanut sauce)
Breakfast: Oatmeal with dried apples and dried rhubarb (both homemade!)
Lunch: Same sourdough sandwich set up, just a little more mushier and crushed this time after living in a plastic bag for 24 hours
Dinner: Red lentil dal with kale (a recipe featured here before on Adventure Journal, and with some kale thrown in for a little greenery
Breakfast: Repeat oatmeal
Lunch: All the leftover sandwich bits to tide us over until a late afternoon burger and beer in Port Angeles
Peanut butter bars with chocolate
Almond butter energy balls
Camp Notes is a big high five to the fun of sleeping outdoors and all that comes along with it. You know, camping and stuff.