A few tips from a newbie bike packer during the Tour Aotearoa (one of the most gruelling multi-day MTB races on the face of the planet)
1) Bike set up: A bike touring bike set-up is the complete opposite to my Enduro bike set up. I had to lighten everything up, slick everything up (knobbly, soft compound tyres are not your friend), take away my rear suspension, (what??) and strap loads of bags and holders and pockets to every possible available place on your frame. Add loads of lights, front, rear, top of your head, anywhere to make yourself more visible to all the camper vans looking at the scenery instead of the road. Add aero bars – mmm, yep, you read correctly, and bar ends, yikes. I added those funny, antler looking structures to my bike, and after a wobbly start, I grew to absolutely LOVE both of them and probably wouldn’t have been able to make it without them (the ability to change up your position slightly, is such a relief over 3000km’s). Oh and finally stuff every single bag & pocket and little corner with food and snacks.
2) Shoes: Comfortable sneaker type shoes which are too soft and comfortable will ruin your achilles and in turn your knees and that will make your life pretty miserable (trust me, this was learnt through experience). Start off with some good quality, supported, stiff soled shoes and your journey will be a lot more pleasant. Orthopaedic inserts is another option. The only thing is that hiking in carbon soled shoes, especially in muddy, slippery conditions with loads of river crossings is not the ideal scenario – kind of like trying to go hiking in stiletto’s (I would imagine).
3) Clothing: Wool, wool & more wool. Everyone around you will thank you for that when it comes to being smelly – or not smelly in this case. It is pretty unreal how long you can wear woollen clothing without having to wash it. Perfect for those multi day adventures where washers and dryers are just not an option – or a shower for that matter. I also wore a long sleeved, button up shirt every single day. This protected me from the sun, and dried in a flash. It has completely faded – just shows you how intense the sun can be. Highly recommended.
4) Shorts: Rotate your chamois “tread” daily. Take two different chamois so you get to change up the pressure points every day. Don’t skimp on this one, things can seriously get nasty down there if you don’t look after these regions. I ended up just doubling up every single day – wearing both at the same time – cushioned my butt a bit more and saved some valuable space in my bike bag – more room for food!
5) Fashion vs function: Leave the baggy shorts at home. Yep, trust me, I started with them, they were feather light and not noticeable when pedalling, but by day two, they were a thing of the past. Yes, now we look like roadies (pretty dorky for those of us not used to this particular look), and we feel naked and exposed roaming towns gas stations and fast food outlets in search of food and shelter. You do get over that pretty quickly, and again, I’ve just freed up some more valuable space and weight in my bike bag for that extra pie or toastie that will most likely become my cold dinner on the side of the road in a few hours’ time.
6) Lubes: Chamois butter, chain lube & sunblock. By the bucket loads. Do not think that you don’t need these. I applied A LOT of sunblock and still got so sunburnt that I developed blisters on my leg and on my lips. The sun is brutal. As for the chamois cream, don’t feel embarrassed, we all do it, it’s a necessity. Don’t buy the uber expensive one’s from the bike shops though, the best one’s I’ve found have been either at the pharmacy or the supermarket in the baby care section. Half the price, available in every town and works even better than the $80 tub with a fancy sticker. Better yet, some cow milking udder cream is even better and cheaper and they sell by the litre 🙂
7) Toiletries: You don’t need them (well not all of them). You don’t need to shave, or use deodorant or have all your essentials for your daily face washing regime. Your wrinkles won’t multiply within a week without your essential night cream (not necessarily true). You will be ok to live without these luxuries for a few days or weeks. In fact, you get so used to life without these items, that you tend to just sort of carry on without them once you get back to real life. I did brush my teeth however 🙂 albeit with a tiny sawed off toothbrush and travel sized paste.
8) Accessories: Plastic bags rule! I spent a lot of money on super light dry bags, waterproof bags, pouches, pockets, very expensive jackets, gloves etc., and in the end, when the south Island decided to make this event even more challenging with its crazy weather, who or what saved the day, or days? Good old plastic bags. Rubber washing up gloves, plastic bags duct taped around your feet, dry bags wrapped in plastic bags, phones and electronics in zip lock bags, and a massive, el cheapo plastic poncho to keep my body from being completely drenched. All available from every supermarket, gas station and cafe along the way.
9) Food Panic. I had this constant fear of running out of food, so whenever I got to a place that was open (many times everything would be shut), I would stock up and squish in and eat. Trust me, it becomes a thing, you obsess over it for kilometres and hours at a time. The Four Square “convenience” stores became my gourmet coffee shop stops. Pie’s, triangle sandwiches and chocolate milk was my meal of choice and toasties, man, those were a treat, I’d triple up on those bad boys whenever I had the chance. Nothing better than a cold toastie with a can of tuna and smashed up avo for dinner, mmmmm. I even ate at McDonalds twice in one week – scandal – don’t think I’ve eaten there for ten or more years. The fish burger was pretty tasty, I have to admit 😉
10) Embrace it: Go for it, try something new, and don’t worry about what other people might think or if they make fun of you. I learnt so much, I saw so much and I experienced so many new things. I loved the “newness” of everything and I’m already looking forward to doing more of these. Maybe not another 3000km one (with a broken hand) just yet, give me a few more weeks to forget about all the hard, trying bits of the Tour Aotearoa…