Bikepacking Through a Pandemic
Jessica Alexander is a racer and rider with Ruckus Racing based in Austin, TX. She has a diverse cycling background and has raced criteriums, road, cyclocross, gravel, and triathlon. As a full time photojournalist, Jessica enjoys opportunities to both write and capture visual media while she travels and races throughout the US and is passionate about bikepacking as both a storytelling medium and a visceral experience. Jessica was awarded an Eliel kit and a spot at a Bike Sports gravel camp in 2020 as part of their program to promote diversity in cycling and provide opportunities for riders from diverse backgrounds. Today she introduces us to the world of bikepacking and shares her experience riding from Little Rock to Austin in the peak of summer heat.
By: Jessica Alexander
Sometimes you just have to make lemonade out of lemons. Sometimes you just have to stay positive when the world seems to be in relentless turmoil. Sometimes you just have to GET AWAY - and for me, it’s simply BIKEPACKING. There is something so special about loading your off-road bike setup with a bunch of waterproof bags and setting off for an adventure into the sunset. You are completely in control of your travel destiny to a certain degree: when you feel tired, you stop. When you want to go, you go. Bikepacking is more than just a form of transportation, it is a lifestyle.
Although I have been bikepacking for a few years now, more often than not my travels were often one- to four-days in length; I would do a #S24O (bikepacking speak for sub-24 hour) trip at least once a month for the past year. Being able to simply load up a bike quickly and ride the 10 miles to my closest state park here in Texas meant absolute freedom and pure enjoyment at a very low and affordable barrier of entry. Also, when you bikepack that close to your house, an Uber home (if need be) or a delivery pizza is literally a phone call and 20-minute wait away.
Before the pandemic, I had a wild idea of riding my gravel bike back from Wisconsin to Austin, TX (roughly 1000 miles) after an August race I had qualified for last year. However, once the pandemic became full spread, it was obvious to me that it might be a better idea to do a shorter trip closer to home. I opted to take an Amtrak to Little Rock, AR and ride back to Austin in roughly 14 days, which meant I would have to average 45 miles a day on my loaded-down bike. That for me, as someone who has been a long time endurance cyclist and bike racer, was doable. But did I mention this trip would take place in July and August -- the hottest months in both Arkansas and Texas?
I guess you can say I like to suffer.
The trip itself was an adventure bordering on EPIC; nothing in my life is quite as satisfying as spending every day on my bike for two weeks just simply riding and taking in so many new experiences, places, and people. Although the pandemic definitely gave the trip its own challenges, I am thankful that I was able to travel safely and efficiently through beautiful Arkansas into and across my incredibly expansive home state of Texas. The confidence, patience, and resilience I learned while traveling will live with me the rest of my life, both on and off the bike. And of course, I am planning more travels! In fact, I am doing a short Labor Day Weekend Hill Country trip (now that it is not in the 100s, temperature-wise) and the Northwest Loop of the Adventure Cycling Association’s High Country route in mid-October.