As part of Algonquin College’s (Ontario, Canada) Outdoor Adventure Program, students are introduced to all things adventure related – the kinds of activities everyone wants to try but often never get around to. I often describe the program as a shotgun experience with variety of different activities, giving us the skills to decide what we want to specialize in the future. The 2-year program ends with a culminating project or advanced expedition, a chance for the students to venture out on their own expedition style trip to truly test what was learned both in and outside of class.
I came into the program with a university degree from Trent University, a keen interest in road cycling, and no idea that bikepacking even existed. Many of the program’s instructors are dedicated mountain bikers and gravel grinders, and I remember hearing about frame bags and harnesses that were designed for mountain bikes and keep things ultra lightweight. It didn’t take long before I was constantly creeping these products and the extensive DIY scene that is blowing up the Internet. It was new, it was cool, and I knew I wanted to incorporate it into my final college project.
Not long after, I stumbled across the Kokopelli Trail Bikepacking Route page on Bikepacking.com. I knew I had found my trail.
I also quickly learned that zip-ties (although incredibly useful) do not replace the frame bags, saddlebags, and handlebar harnesses I use today. See my first bikepacking attempt below.
Fast-forward a few months, and after a lot of planning and a bit of recruitment, we got the thumbs up to ride the Kokopelli Trail from April 18th to the 21st. A few other student groups had attempted the trail in the past, but failed to ride the entirety of it due to less than ideal gear choices and an unwillingness to push past some suffering – we were ready to suffer.
The first major hurdle was how we were going to pack our bikes, as it was unrealistic to expect the entire group to purchase brand new frame bags for the trip. We picked up some nylon webbing and some fishing line as thread and got sewing! The photo below is pretty much how we did it – nylon straps and some buckles, a few on the handlebars and a few on the saddle.
We were lucky to already have most of the gear we needed for the trip. Piecing together what we needed and what we didn’t was a lengthy process. We wanted to keep things stripped down to the essentials when we could.
We opted to rent bikes from Over The Edge Sports in Fruita, CO as we could easily ride directly to the Loma trailhead from here, giving us a chance to troubleshoot any issues before we were too far down the road. There is a large park just West of the shop (by the round-a-bout) where we packed up and entered self-supported mode.
The terrain was definitely the biggest shock to the group. Coming from Ontario riding, we were used to roots, small rocks and narrow forested singletrack. It took a while to adjust to boulders, cliffs and chunky technical riding. To complicate things further, there were plenty of sections that required us to haul our bikes up super rough slopes. Sometimes it felt as if our bikepacking trip had turned into a grueling hiking trip.
The trail was surprisingly well marked the entire way, but we still made sure to test out our navigation skills and consult the maps we brought. I pre-programmed my Garmin eTrex with the full route, which kept us on track most of the time, but there is something to said about pointing out your location on a big dirty map.
The opportunity we were given to lead our own self-instructed expedition is unique for programs like this throughout the country. Courses that offer this much freedom are being ruled out, risk is being abolished, and students aren’t given the chance to push their own limits. This experience provided me with real learning opportunities that traditional education simply cannot provide.
Bikepacking was the perfect “vehicle” to explore an area we had never been to before and to test what we had learned the 2 years prior. The nature of exploratory mountain biking was incredibly liberating for the group, which was made up of a road cyclist, skateboarder, fixed gear biker, photographer, and canoeist. There was no better way to bring so many different backgrounds together into one action-packed trip.
Contributed by Miles Arbour @milesarbour
Miles graduated from the Trent University Business Program in 2014 and went on to complete Algonquin College’s Outdoor Adventure Program. He has been pushing his limits by bikepacking around North America. Check out more from Miles at http://milesarbour.com/
For an extended Kokopelli experience from Miles' trip, take a look at the trip video below.
Click on the map below for more information about this trip: