Photo // Sven Martin

Anka Martin – The hidden thrill of bike packing

It seems like lately when you scroll down your Instagram or Facebook feed, everyone and their mothers are heading away on a bike packing adventure of some sorts. It has been around for many years, with diehards doing it way back when, riding to the most remote corners of the world, but they didn’t tell the world about it via social media, they just went on adventures because that’s what they did. Nowadays, it’s becoming more and more popular and THE thing to be doing, whether it’s on your full suspension mountain bike, a rigid hard tail or a touring specific bike with Jones bars and all the touring bells and whistles, and I think this is just fantastic.

We were introduced to overnighters with our mountain bikes when we first moved to New Zealand, and I will never forget the absolute thrill of that first backcountry trip. The planning, the packing, the searching for just that right sized mini bottle of red wine to pack in, it was all so new and so very exciting trying to strap and fit everything onto your mountain bike and then actually trying to ride the bike with such a load. We were hooked. Already plotting and planning our next escape, getting the packing down to a science, shopping at all the mini sections whether buying food, toiletries or alcohol. Counting grams and constantly comparing what will give you more bang for your buck. It is always a competition, to see who could pack the lightest, but not freeze or starve to death. Whenever we go in a group, we all have to take a mystery treat – you’ve never seen so many people sharing their food, trying to unload their mystery treats first and fastest. Savouring becomes a thing again, no scarfing of food or drink, you take mini bites out of that one cracker with one sliver of cheese and sip sloooowly on that mini plastic bottle of red wine that needs to last the whole evening (which can sometimes be very loooong when you get to a hut a bit early at say 3 in the afternoon).

New Zealand is an absolute gem of a country to pursue this passion of ours. There are too many huts to count and can keep you busy for the rest of your life if you try to tick them all off. That excitement of getting to a new hut (or a familiar one) and wondering if you’ll have company, if there will be a mattress left for you, reading the visitor book to spot familiar names, seeing if someone left anything fun behind, the odd can of baked beans, a new mountain bike magazine, maybe a new pot. Such simple pleasures in life, can be so exciting and brings us back to that child like state when nothing was very complicated, only fun & exciting. I really do believe that this is part of the lure of the bike packing craze. We as adults need to and want to escape as often as possible even if it is just for a day or two in your backyard. It reminds us of that carefree time in our lives. Total freedom for a while. Escapism. How wonderful that we as cyclists have this tool available to us whenever we need to get away. I also love how this was something “new” again, it made cycling fresh for me again. New gear, new websites, new people, just another whole disciple of something that I love to do so much.

“We as adults need to and want to escape as often as possible even if it is just for a day or two in your backyard. It reminds us of that carefree time in our lives. Total freedom for a while. Escapism. How wonderful that we as cyclists have this tool available to us whenever we need to get away.”

Up until this year, Sven & myself have escaped on many overnighters, trying to see and explore as much of the country as we can when we are at home and with every trip we seem to figure out something that may work better or that tastes better on these adventures. Whenever we have a visiting friend, our first mission is to take them on an overnighter and they usually tend to be one of the most memorable events of their visit. Usually we end up heading out between 1, 2 or 3 nights depending on the location, but any longer than that and the riding becomes a bit unpleasant due to all the food you need to carry with you. I love these short trips, but I was starting to get antsy, I wanted more…Needless to say when the Tour Aotearoa started popping up in my feed, it was a no brainer, I wanted to do it. What the hell, holy shit? I had no idea what I was doing, or what I was signing myself up for, but that excitement of the complete unknown fascinated me. Once I told the first person that I was going to do it, there was no return. This literally happened before my racing season in Europe kicked off and everything TA related was put in the back of my head. It wasn’t until late January that I got my bike (a hard tail – first one ever) and bags sorted, so not much time to test anything, well no time at all as I conveniently broke my hand 8 days before the start of this monster. My first pedal was in the parking lot by Cape Reinga lighthouse before setting off on this absolutely epic 3000km journey down to the Bluff.

What an eye opener this was. I’ve had loads of time to reflect and obviously forget about the (many) hard times, but the one thing that I loved every single day and that stuck with me for 3000km, was the absolute freedom that you had when you head off bike packing. I loved being totally self sufficient. I loved that all my worldly possessions fitted into my size small frame bag (the only time I’ve ever wished I rode a XL sized bike) to have a bigger frame bag! I loved that you ate wherever you could. Whatever was open, well that would be your dinner stop. Triangle sandwiches and iced coffee milkshakes – breakie of champions. On The Spot’s became my gourmet cafe’s. We’ve become such food & coffee snobs (I still am) but, it just reminds you that it is not the end of the world if you can’t get your deliciously decadent soy flat white whenever you please accompanied by that mouth meltingly delicious freshly baked gluten free paleo something or other. It did however bring tears to my eyes when I stepped my extremely smelly body into a packed Vudu cafe in Queenstown. Oh the choices I had.

I digress, back to bike packing. People use it and love it to escape the routines of the daily life. It brings people together from all walks of life. There is no category when you’re out doing something like this, you don’t have to define yourself as either a cross country, downhiller, enduro or cx racer or rider, everyone is just off riding their bikes, because they want to experience a journey. It is an absolute mishmash of ages, gender and “classes” of society and so incredibly refreshing. I met such wonderful people, people I would probably never have had the opportunity to spend time with if it wasn’t for this common interest of bike packing.

Of course if you still want the thrill of an overnight bike adventure where you can still shred your big, long travel trail bike properly with minimal excess weight, you can always do a sneaky cheeky early evening heli drop to a remote overnight hut in the middle of nowhere. You can catch the sunset, eat non dehydrated food, have a beer or two, hell, even a bottle of wine and have a lazy evening in front of the fire, count the shooting stars, make those wishes and descend back down in the morning with a very empty, light pack. Who doesn’t love to have a proper shed down a mountain? As you can see, bike packing comes in many shapes and sizes, bikes, gear and options.

Whether you’re riding the length of a country on a road or touring bike or following the off road tracks on a mountain bike, heading out for a one nighter or for however long it’s going to take you, whether in a far away land or in your backyard, just give it a try. Get a few friends together, book a hut, have fun with the whole packing procedure and trust me, you’ll be hooked after your first trip. You’ll soon find yourself upgrading that old clunky sleeping bag, maybe a new Titanium cooker, or a new pot – the gear choices are endless and so much fun to explore.