Bikepacking The U.S.: A Solo 5,000 Mile Journey

Blaire, a close friend of Ibex (she’s married to one of our employees, actually!), left Vermont this July to start her crosscountry bikepacking journey by way of the south. Her first official stop? North Carolina to start the Trans-Am Trail (TAT); a 5,000 +/- mile, mostly dirt, route across rural America. Her initial 1,000-mile ride to the official ‘start’ was a shakedown tour of its own. As far as the “why”, that’s something she’s realizing between Vermont and Port Orford, Oregon. We caught up with Blaire to see how the trip’s going so far.

Where are you right now?

I am currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico and am taking a little bit of time off for bike repairs, resupply and (very badly needed) new tires! I’m also stuffing myself full of really wonderful local food. I am next headed to Durango, Colorado.

Leaving Taos, NM and headed to Santa Fe, along the Rio Grande.

What inspired your trip?

Curiosity! A huge desire to see more of the United States and getting to travel through it slowly enough to really experience it. Plus, I really just like riding my bike.

Had many, many roads like these from Oklahoma through west Texas into New Mexico. Not a soul in sight!

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen on the road?

Ha! I’ve seen a lot of really neat things, surprisingly not very many weird! A memory that does stick out was when I was biking from Conway, Arkansas to Alma, Arkansas on a Wednesday (124 mile ride). I had already passed through some bigger towns for the day and ran out of water in a very small and rural town. I was in the middle of nowhere and stopped at a gas station to rehydrate. I was squatting in the parking lot and refilling my bottles with a gallon jug and felt like someone was watching me. Sure enough, there was a long haired guy wearing a ‘wife beater’ tank top in a ratty old pickup, parked directly in front of me, just staring. He hopped out, and started walking towards me. He walked up right next to me and said “Well that’s weird!!” I laughed, and said “I get that a lot!” That made him laugh, and he said it was just so odd to see someone biking through those parts; especially a girl, by herself. He couldn’t wrap his head around why someone would do that. He warned me about some hills coming up, and warned me about tweekers and said that I was “where the crazies lived”. We shook hands and he told me to be safe.
It wasn’t really anything weird I saw; it was just the kind of interaction that is common when bike touring. I find myself wrapped up in conversations with folks I probably otherwise would never talk to! Perhaps the moral of this story is that most people think I’m the weirdest thing they’ve seen in awhile!

Blaire goes camping in Tennessee at Chickasaw state park.

Favorite snack/meal on the road? 

I’ve had a voracious appetite and my cravings differ everyday. I had one day that I wanted brownies so badly I cried a little bit. A few favorite meals (that have remained favorites for just under 3300 miles so far!) are instant oats with dried fruit; precooked and dehydrated refried beans stuffed into tortillas (homemade, now that I’m in New Mexico!) and jazzed up with salsa, ranch, or whatever packets I’ve taken from gas stations and have on hand. Sometimes I’m lucky and have some tomatoes, avocado or cheese that I picked up in town. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches have been really good too- I’ve done them on bagels, cinnamon raisin bread and on tortillas. They last forever in my bag and pack really well! Favorite snack would definitely be ProBars. I’m eating around 6,000 or more calories a day currently.

What are the essentials to get started with bike packing? 

A bike that you love and are comfortable riding on a wide variety of terrain! A really good attitude helps too… I’ve found no matter how many plans I make there are just a number of things that are out of my control! Weather, flat tires, headwinds come to mind… I’ve met a number of folks traveling by bike, or who have traveled by bike previously, and everyone’s set up is different, which is so fun!

How do you keep your setup light?

I carried a lot of ultralight backpacking gear over to my bikepacking set up. I cut weight where I could: sleep system, clothing, cook system. I slept in a hammock for the east coast and have now moved to a bivy for the remaining portion of my adventure. I’ve really pared down on clothing too- it’s pretty stripped to necessities. The heaviest part of my set up is definitely food and water. I carry calorie dense foods (100 calories or more per ounce) and have chosen not to take a stove. I carry 4 liters of water all the time, and more through remote areas. I like carrying lots of water because it means I can stop to refill less.
*I could really go into detail with everything I have packed if wanted! I would like to include what clothing I have with me (currently!) for fun, since most of it is Ibex.
  • 1 pair men’s Ibex bibs
  • 2 Ibex bras
  • 3 Ibex t-shirts (2 to sweat in, 1 to sleep in)
  • 1 woolies 1 top (sleep shirt)
  • 3 pair Ibex socks (2 to sweat in, 1 to sleep in)
  • 1 Patagonia Houdini pullover
  • 1 North Face rain jacket
  • 1 Patagonia nano air jacket
  • 1 pair silkweight capilene pants (sleep)
  • 1 pair Ibex pulse runner shorts (town shorts)

What type of bike are you riding?

Is it a gravel bike? I am riding a 2016 Novara Safari. It is an “all-road” touring bike. It’s a heavy steel frame bike that rides really great loaded. I’ve changed the tires, saddle, stem and derailleur; everything else is stock.

Necessary coffee pit stop in Guthrie, Oklahoma. The owners of this shop biked from Oregon to Oklahoma and opened Hoboken!

What advice would you give to a first-time bike-packer? 

Get out there! Make it fun, start with a local overnighter. Invite friends, family, strangers! Keep it simple, and take/ride what you have. Pick a route that interests you and pack accordingly! Take tons of pictures and document your thoughts and experiences- it’ll help when you pack for next adventure and it’s really fun to look back and remember the little details you may otherwise forget.

Any tips for traveling solo by bike? 

Expect an incredible amount of kindness from absolute strangers. I’ve had folks approach me almost every time I’ve pulled off somewhere! People are drawn to adventure. Trust strangers (but of course also trust your gut as well). I’ve been offered home cooked meals, a safe place to sleep, meals out, and both company and conversation. I’m not sure if I would have experienced this much generosity had I been traveling with others.

Additionally, don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it. Listen to people when they give advice for good food (locals always know where to get the best breakfast, or pie, or a pint and often will join you!). I’ve had a number of strangers recommend towns or even states, and I’ve adjusted my route accordingly. In fact, that’s why I’m in New Mexico!

A stranger who became a friend! Wendy rode me out of Perkins, Oklahoma to Guthrie.

Anything else you want to add?

Utilize warm showers if you’re able! You will meet some of the most incredible people, and they are most often folks who have bike toured/bikepacked themselves which is a huge inspiration and encouragement at the end of a long day.