Women's Bikepacking Clinic Campout - Front Range Colorado Edition

So, I did another women's bikepacking clinic series. Last time, I was doing this in Philly. This time, I partnered with a woman named Jillian Betterly (check out her out here) because we had a similar vision. Between the two of us, we had a weekly clinic in Fort Collins and Boulder, Colorado during the month of June. Then, just this past weekend, we led a self-suppored bikepacking weekend.

Each week, we covered a different topic: bikepacking bags, clothing, nutrition, hydration, etc. I've been around long enough to know that everyone needs someone to show them the ropes a little bit. Sure, the internet is a great resource, but it's so FULL of information that it can be hard to sift through it all. 

So the promise was this: come as you are, we'll teach you what we know, we'll help MacGyver your bike, loan you some gear, do whatever it takes to get you out there for at least one night. After many hours of consulting about which bags to use, how to get that back rack on your commuter bike with no rack mounts, or what to bring for breakfast, we were ready. 

The Short Recap

People ended up riding all kinds of bikes for this trip. Here's what we rode:

  • Trek Silque (carbon) with Oveja Negra and Blackburn bikepacking bags
  • Trek 2000 from the 80's with a rear rack and panniers
  • Surly Straggler with front rack and Ortleib panniers
  • Salsa Colossal with a Blackburn seatbag and a DIY front roll
  • Marin aluminum bike with a backrack and Ortleib panniers
  • SIR 9 Niner with Blackburn bikepacking bags
  • Salsa Highball with Blackburn bags
  • Lynskey CX bike with rack and Banjo brothers panniers
  • Rocky Mountain with Surly fork, Green Guru softbags

The Marin, Silque, and Trek 2000 didn't have rack mounts, and we made it work.  So if you think you have the wrong bike for bikepacking, think again. 

  • Of the nine women that camped out, five had never bikepacked before. 
  • The Fort Collins squad covered about 110 miles in two days, about 10% of that was dirt, but could've been more if we returned the same way we came. The Boulder squad did about 80 miles round trip, and about 65% of that was dirt.
  • FOCO squad met up at 7:30am on Saturday, rolled out at 8:45am, and returned by 3:15pm on Sunday. We paid zero dollars for a campsite. We carried at least a 6 pack and finished it before we fell asleep. We packed everything out, and left no trace. 
  • We made new friends, got some sunburn, and discovered Crapfest... although we still don't know what it is. 

Dual Start Points

We had one group of 6 women roll out from Fort Collins, and a group of 3 women roll out from Boulder. The Fort Collins route would prove to be more of a challenge than people were expecting... 56 miles and ~3,000' doesn't sound like much until you're on a loaded bicycle in 90 degree heat all day. The Boulder group had a fun 30 mile jaunt, which included a Tour de Lyons while they waiting for the FOCO squad to show up. 

Fort Collins Squad

I can only speak to the Fort Collins squad experiences as I led that ride, but I'll just say that it was a blast. We wasted no time, and started by climbing up to the Horsetooth Reservoir for the sights but also to get onto the quieter roads. 

They were only quiet for so long. We encountered the MLS 150 charity ride, which was a fun surprise. We rode in the opposite direction of many riders, and cheered them on. Some of them cheered back, but most were too surprised to react in time. We must've been an oddity... loaded down, riding the wrong way. 

We made our way past Masonville and then Loveland, where we opted to skirt east of Carter lake in favor of spending our energy on dirt roads and hill climbs later on. We finally got off the pavement at County Road 27. 

We swiftly rode through a residential area and made a beeline for the Rabbit Mountain Open Space. While we were all pretty thirsty at that point and on the verge of being out of water, we still appreciated the awesomeness of that space. You're on a mesa of sorts, and it's an oasis of sky and grass in the front range. Luckily we had a few beers to quench the thirst, and were able to filter water as we exited the open space. 

Meeting up in Lyons

While the Fort Collins squad had been putting in serious WORK to get to Lyons, the Boulder squad had a relatively quick morning ride, and arrived in Lyons early.  They galavanted around, lived the bikepacker life, enjoyed some beers, and so on. When the FOCO crew finally showed up, their eagerness to get back on the bike probably was probably a trip saver. Had they not been itching to ride, I think the FOCO squad would've chilled in Lyons for too long. One hour and some real food later, we were all climbing in the opposite direction of the St. Vrain's creek. 

We still don't know what Crapfest was all about; it was 4 miles too far away to find out. #crapfest 

Up, up, up

Only 7 miles stood between us and our national forest dispersed campsite, but it was all uphill. Some women were fresh for it, some women were tired but powered by cookies and Enduro Bites, and some women were ready to call it quits. 

Little know secret about bikepacking: it's hard! You might think you can put away 55 miles at any time, but when you're loaded down and riding all day, you are actually using more calories and water than you expect. 

Therefore, when it comes to the end of the day, you might find yourself oddly struggling for those last few miles. It's taken me many trips to appropriately gauge how many miles to expect to put away while bikepacking, especially in a group. It's important to have snacks on hand that are easy to digest and water that has electrolyte for when you've gone too long without food or water.

Camping OUT

Many cookies, motivational talks, and a 1/2 mile lift from a friendly visitor later, we were all at camp. As if they'd been doing this for years, all the women quickly changed out of their riding clothes, used the fresh, cold creek to wash up, and hung things out to dry. Bikes and clothes and gear nestled in among the trees and rocks. We'd officially made this place home for the night. 

Everyone worked together really well to do what I'll call campsite chores. We'd never done this together before, but with a little leadership, everyone found their job. The more experienced women showed the less experienced how to setup a tent, someone made a little channel in the creek bed so that the beers and cheese could chill, another person got busy cutting cheese for the appetizers, another person made herself busy filtering water so we could have a constant supply for the pasta and rice. 

By the time the sun set, we had eaten appetizers, were making pasta or rice with pesto sauce, freshly shaved parmesan, rehydrated veggies, and cold beers. What else could you want? Oh, right, we had cookies for desert. 

We laughed about the day's events, refueled with dinner, and relaxed as the stars came out. We hung a bear bag, and fell asleep to the sound of a creek throttling downhill... in the same way that we would the next day. 

Victory descent

I woke up earlier than most, and just sat up in my bivvy taking in the rushing creek and cliffs above me. We had made it. The morning was nice and slow, with camp coffee for everyone who woke up early enough. Those who didn't had to wait until town. We packed up, said goodbye to our site, and started downhill. 

There's nothing better than descending for 30 minutes straight, especially when you worked so hard for it the day before. The canyon, the creek, everything... felt like a victory lap. 

Headed home

We got some obligatory breakfast burritos in Lyons before splitting up to go home. The Fort Collins crew decided to take the fast way home in favor of having a Sunday afternoon at our disposal. 

We formed a paceline to make any time trial team jealous. We schemed about how all subsequent bikepacking trips would start with a team trial event, where we would attach bananas to our handle bars like aero bars, and complete our race with a synchronized bicycle dance. We watched a hawk outsmart some red-winged blackbirds trying to steal it's snake. We made great time through the flat lands of the front range. Before 3:30pm, we were home. 

Some of us unloaded, picked up beers, and headed to the Poudre River to cool off. Others went home to their families or work. It's all possible with just a weekend overnighter. 

This is what is great about the overnighter... it's just one night. You don't even have to pack a stove... but hot coffee in the woods tastes a lot better than no hot coffee in the woods. 

Coming out of this, we hope to gather the interest of women in the front range outdoor community, and channel it into the occasional casual and not-so-casual bikepacking excursion. Because... I don't know, something about self-reliance and empowerment and bicycle-powered travel, but mostly, good times.