Adventures By Bike and Closer to Home

June 04, 2019

We all know how easy it is to get that feeling of FOMO when looking at social media, watching other riders embark on amazing trips to Iceland, Morocco, or British Columbia. Let’s face it, not all of us have that kind of time, freedom, or money. But instead of feeling jealous, we can create our own fun without the expensive plane flights or using up all our vacation time. With some imagination and research, you can plan adventures close to home that could be the highlight of your year.

Outstanding dispersed camping opportunities abound in the San Rafael Swell, Utah.

“Most people have stuff within a few hours of where they live,” says Rick Hackett, a mountain biker in Longmont, Colorado, who has mastered the local adventure. “If I look around at what I can get to in two hours, there’s a ton of stuff to do.”

For example, this past winter he organized a worknight fat-bike trip to coincide with the Geminid Meteor Shower, riding to a public hut on National Forest land in the nearby Brainard Lake Recreation Area, a 28-mile drive from his house. “I went up after work, watched shooting stars, then rode out at sunrise, and I was at work at 9am. I had never ridden there at sunrise, so waking up there and riding out was a very different experience from my normal rides in that area. It was sweet.”

He’s also begun combining bikepacking with packrafting to create unique weekend trips that only use up one or two days from work. These require a few more hours of driving, but they’re still far less time-consuming or carbon-intensive than a big vacation. He’ll round up some friends and leave early on Friday to drive a few hours into the Utah desert. From there, they’ll camp overnight, then ride the next day to a prime river spot. “We’ll camp there, with good food and beer, then get up on Sunday and float down the river a ways. Then I’ll pack the raft back onto the bike and ride back to the car. It’s a really fun mini-adventure with no time wasted on flying.”

Bikerafting the Green River outside of Canyonlands National Park, Utah,

Hackett points out that while international travel promises a peak experience, it usually comes with a high cost. With adventures close to home, “The less money you spend, the more trips you can do. You might have Iceland or New Zealand on your bucket list, but that might take your whole travel budget for the year. You could take that same money and do something almost every other weekend if you do stuff closer to home.”

With the rise in popularity of bikepacking, there’s been a corresponding groundswell in information about routes to ride. You can follow along a proven route, or create something for yourself. “I saw this trip on, ‘A Swell Night Out’ in the San Rafael Swell (in eastern Utah). We got the idea from that article, but we did it our way, in the opposite direction from how they did it. Our start and stop point was also a little different because we found a camping spot we really liked. And then we were kinda cooked at the end, so we were able to look at a map and skip a big climb at the end.” Hackett uses the Gaia app and its offline downloaded maps to navigate during trips.

Just looking at a map with a sense of adventure can lead to a fun day-ride in your backyard, piecing together things you’ve never tried. “I call that a “sandwich ride,’” says Hackett. “I look at some maps, figure out where I can ride, linking up routes with old mining roads, for example, and explore what’s out there. It’s a ride long enough to need a sandwich.”

This term has also become a cue to his friends that the ride has an open-ended timeline. “When I suggest a ride, someone usually wants to know when we’ll get home. I always say, I don’t know, man, we’ll be home sometime before midnight. To have that sense of adventure, you can’t put a deadline on it, per se. It changes the ride from being an adventure to avoiding options in order to get home on time. For me, I like to have the luxury of time. Plan ahead, tell your family that you’re out, you don’t know when you’ll get home. Otherwise, it limits how much you can explore.”

For Hackett, exploring and experiencing what’s out there is a big part of his love for the sport. “You see so many more things when you’re moving at bike speed as opposed to being in a car. When I’m out exploring, I see eagles’ nests and cool barns, and that’s my goal, to explore nature and wild areas. That’s what I really love about mountain biking. When I get to an awesome lookout up high, and my bike has taken me there, and there’s no one there, it’s just amazing. Taking all that in is just as cool as the great downhill we’re going to do in a couple of minutes.”

Biking down Hurrah Pass outside Moab, Utah, is way more fun that driving. Especially when it’s during a bikepacking trip to Canyonlands National Park.
Riding in the woods at night ups the adventure factor of any ride. South St. Vrain trail, Boulder County, Colorado.

You definitely don’t have to live in the wild west to create adventures near you, so long you have some open space with trails or roads. Jesse Livingston, a trailbuilder who lives in Springfield, Missouri, has to squeeze shorter adventures around his hectic building and maintenance schedule for many of the trails in northwest Arkansas. He’s not lacking for options.

“A good one would be to bikepack the Ouachita Trail. There are 108 miles open to bikes, and the trail has huts every ten miles. It’s a 50-year-old hand-cut trail, very backcountry, narrow and isolated. You have to be self-sufficient since you won’t even ride through a town.” He estimates most riders would take about four days to complete it since it has big ups and downs, combined with rocky, natural terrain. “It’s one of those slow-moving trails where you can’t have a fast average on it,” Livingston says. “You’ll definitely want a full-suspension bike for the downhills.”

A fun day trip he has on his mind for this summer includes a non-typical shuttle. “Echo Canyon Resort on Lake Ouachita has a pontoon boat, so you can ride the 36-mile Lake Ouachita Vista trail, then they’ll pick you up in the boat with lunch and beer, and float you back to your car.” Livingston says that so far, this option is by request, not a standard service offered by the resort. So if you’ve got a similar situation near you, it never hurts to reach out to see if you can make something similar happen.

He also suggests checking out new trail systems in your region. He plans to shuttle the new trails in Eureka Springs, AR, about two hours from his house. “There’s a brand new trail system and it’s all right in town, really close to downtown. Eureka Springs has a bunch of old buildings and a cool downtown we can check out.”

Don’t overlook the opportunity to combine interests, too. For example, Mountain View, AR, has been called the folk music capital of the world. “During the summertime, you can ride the Syllamo trails, then hang out in the square, where people are picking banjos and fiddles the whole summer long.” That system, with 50 miles of trail, was one of the original mountain bike purpose-built trails in the region. “They’ve had very little upkeep, and so they’ve kind of eroded into more of a natural style trail, in a good way, in my opinion,” says Livingston. “There’s very technical and rocky stuff that we have in the state, that’s not as predictable as modern trails are built. It surprises you a bunch. And it has the biggest bluff overlooks around, on trails anyway. They overlook water and canyons, it’s pretty cool.”

Gravel bikes have expanded the options for many people, no matter where they live. Day trips combining gravel, dirt and pavement abound, especially where there are many miles of rail trails, dirt roads, and paths. You can create your own rides, explore routes within resources listed on PeopleForBikes blog and of course sleuth around on Strava.

Finally, don’t forget there are simple ways to create mini-adventures on your home trails, by doing dawn rides, night rides, participating in local events or just piecing together a big day out of several local trail systems combined with favorite watering holes. “If you just get a map and poke around, you can design a ride, expand your horizons,” says Hackett. “Stop into a cool bike shop and ask for suggestions. Over time, you can cultivate a community of like-minded friends who can offer trail beta and generate new ideas.”

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