As many of us discover the real meaning of what it means to be your own best friend, solo bikepacking trips are definitely on the rise. It’s hard to imagine an activity better suited to the times we’re living in, and athletic retailers around the world have reported a notable uptick in customers searching for the gear necessary to enjoy self-supported adventures.
For many, though, the notion of heading out into the wilderness for a few days alone is accompanied by a combination of excitement and fear. Having nothing to rely on but yourself and your bike is no joke and, depending on how ambitious of a route you’re planning to take on, it might require a lot of planning and preparation. Nevertheless, many keen cyclists are discovering the freedom of bikepacking for the first time and are eager to share their newfound love.
Emilie Hauss is one of these newly initiated bikepack warriors. Despite being an accomplished racer, a designer of bike caps, and a bike shop employee, this Montrealer has just recently had her first bikepacking experience. With limited travel options and a desire to escape the city, she opted to expand the horizons of what she could do on her bike. Needless to say, she’s already got several trips under her belt and is eager to plan more. We talked to her about the skills you need to venture out solo, how to pick the right bike for the job, the value of dry socks, and the beauty of really getting away from it all.
Before we get into your passion for bikepacking, how did you get into cycling and how has your love for the sport evolved?
I started commuting to school about 13 years ago. I took to it instantly and soon joined my bike courier friends at small races. Fast forward a bit, and I was participating in sanctioned races organized by the FQSC (Fédérarion Québécoise des Sports Cyclistes). I was encouraged to join a team, Bikurious Racing Collective, and give real road races a shot. I got 10th position in my first race ever – not too bad for a noob like me.
Last year was my best racing year ever. I pushed myself to make bold moves and was lucky to have a team that backed me up 100%. I’m happy to say that I ended up doing some very fun podiums throughout the season.
That’s awesome! Clearly, cycling has been a big part of your life for a while now, what made you finally decide you wanted to do a bikepacking trip?
I usually work weekends at the bike shop, so I would see all my friends going on bikepacking trips but could never join them. Earlier this fall though, my boss reminded me that I had a week of vacation I needed to use up ASAP. I immediately thought of bikepacking. The same day, fate intervened, a friend passed the bike shop just as I was getting off work. I told him about my idea, he offered to lend me some of his gear, and the plan was in action.
He recommended a loop on bikepacking.ca that got me excited. I changed it up a bit so I could camp at two different sites and started getting my material together. Luckily, I was able to borrow almost everything I needed (bags, bivy, mat, sleeping bag, boiler and battery packs) from friends. Pretty soon, I was set and ready for some solo adventures. It all happened really fast, but I just told myself – I have the stuff I need and now it’s time to go!
Sometimes, that’s the best way to do things. Looking back, though, how was planning for a self-supported trip different from other challenges you’ve faced on a bike?
I’m used to planning 150-km rides, so I knew what to bring for food, when to eat, and everything I needed to do not to bonk. That being said, leaving for three days alone was something entirely new. I did have the support from my friends, who were able to tell me the basics about what to /not bring but was also limited in what would fit in these “light packing” bags. One pro tip: bring a shoelace! The strap of one of my bags broke on the first day and that extra shoelace totally saved my trip.
Overall, I just took the bare minimum and didn’t care about wearing the same clothes for a few days – except for socks! I will never limit myself on dry socks. (laughter) The main thing was simply to book the camping spots and to get there in time before it got dark out. That was the most important goal.
Other than getting caught roadside in the dark, what were you most nervous about before your trip?
I was definitely very nervous to leave alone. At first, I was really trying to find a travel buddy, but since I was planning my trip according to the sunshine, it got delayed for a few days and I realized I was going alone or not at all.
I was also unsure about which bike to take. It was either my cyclocross (that I had just modified with thicker gravel tires but that had a very CX racing ratio) or my hardtail that had really fat tires and more of a mountain bike ratio. After looking at the percentage of ascension on the route, I decided to take my hardtail so it would be easier to climb. My plan for the second day was to take a 20-km stretch of ATV roads that were basically sandpits with rocks everywhere and were pretty hard to ride in. All in all, I was VERY glad I took the hardtail.
Glad you made the right call! Once you were out there, what ended up surprising you the most about the trip?
Honestly, I was just so happy and proud of myself for doing it alone. It was so good to be in my little bubble, to ride hard when I wanted to gun it and to take it easy when I felt tired. I didn’t have to wait for others and just totally got to enjoy my own vibe. I listened to music, thought about future projects, I sang… it was just great!
Sounds ideal. Would you have any advice for those looking to venture out for their first bikepacking excursion?
An important point if you want to do it solo – you must know how to change your own flat and do quick repairs on your bike. You can’t depend on anyone else’s hands but your own, so you must know the basics. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to get dirty and smelly. You are alone anyways, so who cares. Best advice though – bring baby wipes, they’re going to be your shower in the morning and trust me, it feels great!
Personally, I just decided I wanted to do something and ended up having an incredible experience. You definitely need to be comfortable with alone time if you’re going to do it solo but you can also try going with a friend or just for one night until you feel more confident.
So, I’m guessing you’re already getting excited about next season?
Yes! In terms of racing, there are still a lot of unknowns due to the pandemic. But for now, I am focused on my new gravel bike and dreaming about all the discoveries and exploration yet to come. I have some gear for bikepacking now and am excited to get better, get more confident, and go even farther. I can imagine that a couple of weeks alone on the bike would be amazing, so that’s something to work towards!
A big thank you to Emilie for sharing her experience. You can follow all her bike-related adventures here.