Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 33° Cloudy
Sports >  Outdoors

Off the Grid: The author tries a new sport

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

It is true that I like backpacking. It is also true that I like bike riding. By most processes of logic, we would assume that I would like, if not love, bikepacking.

I do not.

This lesson was brought to me, like many, from my dad. I believe it started with a conversation in October about where I might find some sun in January and ended with me flying a new bike to Baja so we could ride the Cape Loop together. Because none of my other 13 bikes would do, of course.

And then I needed things to hang on my bike so I could carry more things in them. And two books because it was a long trip. And spare pens, because I’m a writer.

Still, I was optimistic that I might have found a hybrid of all my favorite things and, besides, I could always sell off my children’s bikes to make space in the shop.

While I love most sports that involve me carting around enough calories to rescue a small country from famine, bikepacking has some limitations and demands I had not entirely considered.

For example, one is confined to the roads and paths available, even when there is a tarantula perched and ready to pounce or 5-foot black snake draped across it. Also, it’s discouraging when there is a steep hill that requires a bit of emotional and physical stamina to power up and you suddenly remember you have 80 extra pounds of gear and water hanging off your frame (and that doesn’t include my Pina Colada and tacos bikepacking nutrition poundage).

I expect my expert readers to respond with all sorts of tips on how to minimize my gear load, but I’ll have you know that I was in Mexico so I needed a lot of sunscreen and Chapstick. And Band-Aids. So many Band-Aids.

The desert is an entirely different world. Time there happens slower, and the rhythms of nature seem somehow more remarkable. If water is life, and they have so little of it, every determined blossom is a kind of miracle.

Pushing my bike up a hill, sweat dripping down my forehead, my hands numb, the state of my rear end nothing to be publicly written about, my mood as desolate as the landscape, I’d inevitably look down to find the tiniest bright yellow flower, five microscopic petals, growing out of the packed gravel and sand and stone.

Oh, but the pleasant winding roads of the ranchero lands! Where I could let out my gears and listen to the soft sound of my tires rolling along the sand. I’d look up at the curiosity of cactus growth, the rugged mountain ranges, my grinding grimace spreading into an unabashed grin.

This! This is why I came!

I had been on this trip for at least a few hours, floating along and feeling rather pleased with myself in general, when I looked up to discover a cluster of humans under a tree in the middle of the desert. They had brought their livestock, too, and several small pigs scattered across the sand in front of me.

I would have wondered if they were about to be lunch to this apparent barbecue caravan, in which case I would have also asked if they had pork tacos to spare. But instead, just as they registered the oddity of a blonde on a bike emerging from the desert, I lost control of my bike.

Losing control of one’s fully loaded pack bike is akin to recognizing there are some icebergs a half-mile off the port side of the Titanic. It starts with a dangerous wobble and this quickly becomes a comical gyration as the rider elicits a series of tactical countermaneuvers that remind us of a drunk rodeo clown.

Before long, the only part of the rider that is connected to the bike is those blasted cleats. Everything else has started flailing about as if the rider hopes to take flight altogether.

As this catastrophe was unfolding, the group of gypsy picnickers watched in wide-eyed silence. They were probably thinking, “Will she recover and take a bow?” or whatever that is in Spanish.

I did not.

My body hit the sand with such force that an audible thud was heard over the curse/groan/bleat that came out of me as I slammed against the earth. Bike, broad and bruised ego came to a slow stop, like a semi-truck in those gravel pits, leaving a deep trench in the sandy ground (and my arm).

I remained there for a minute, partly to assess damage and partly because my iron horse of a bike was on top of me and I was still attached to the pedals. Had the Ranchero Owners Association wanted to offer aid or clap, that would have been a fine time. Instead, the pigs just went back to their business of rooting around in the dry soil.

As I hoisted myself from underneath the shipwreck, I worked my way down the usual “Checklist of Stupidity” that follows adventure casualties. New bike, unknown road, unfamiliar load, distractions, high speed, blind joy, naïvete, a false sense of invincibility and too much caffeine. Basically, all the reasons my first aid kit needs to include narcotics.

I stood there and waited for my dad to roll up behind me as blood trickled down my arm and dripped onto the sand. Maybe desert flowers would spring up there now, too.

“You take a fall?” he asked as I pointed to the gouge in my arm.

As always, travel with my dad promises all kinds of opportunity for shared wisdom, which he was in no short supply of.

Just about the time my first Band-Aid was bled through, he rolled up next to me and asked, “So do you know what you did wrong?”

I did.

I wasn’t sure where to start. Maybe October. But there were still a lot of stories to be made so I waited to respond.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.