The day of the Expo was gorgeous... sunny, light-jacket weather that shamed me out of driving to the event. Of course, I live just a couple miles from the location. By the time I got there, the presenter had already proven his bona fides with a 60-something mile gravel/B-road ride that morning -- evidence of which was still on the bike he showcased during his talk.
There's Steve setting up for the event with the love of his life. And his wife Kathy's helping, too. (rimshot) I kid! I kid! It is a nice bike, though: a titanium Salsa Fargo, kitted to the hilt with Steve's favorite gear.
Which leads me -- paradoxically -- to my favorite takeaway from Steve's talk, namely that the real key to bikepacking isn't the stuff of bikepacking. Bikepacking is not (as some snarky blogger once said) just loaded touring with a new set of bags. It's backpacking by bike, touring off the beaten path: gravel, dirt, sand, snow, you name it. Did folks do loaded touring like that in the heyday of loaded touring without giving it a new name? Probably. But (in my opinion) we really needed to be in a post-mountain-bike world (and an ultralight backpacking/hiking world) for it to become a thing.
Steve (wisely) introduced the crowd to the idea of the Sub-24-hour Overnight, or S24O. This is just what it sounds like: An overnight trip that you do in less than 24 hours. Load up your bike after work, ride dirt or gravel out to a campsite within your mileage range (whatever that might be), sleep under the stars, and ride home the next day. This is the gateway drug of bikepacking: very low barrier to entry, very low risk to your health and well-being if you forget something, easy-peasy.
(I should pause to say -- and Steve would probably say the same -- that the S24O was not his original idea. I first learned about it from the writings of Grant Petersen from Rivendell Bicycle Works, and I'm guessing he didn't invent it either. Regardless, it's a great way into camping by bike. For S24Os with an entirely different feel -- hammocks and coffee! -- check out fellow blogger Pondero.)
Steve also wisely emphasized that there's no right or wrong way to bikepack. Ride what you have: MTB, 'cross bike, touring bike, fat bike, whatever will hold your gear and hold up to the terrain you're traversing. He happily answered equipment questions from the audience about wheel size and brake type (he rides 29er MTB wheels and disc brakes, for the record) but jokingly referred to them as "religious wars" to emphasize (again) that lots of things work and a lot of choices come down to the rider's preferences.
Being a gear nerd, though, I can't help but share a better photo of Steve's bike I snapped later at the Expo as it leaned jauntily against the Rasmussen's Bike Shop booth:
I like this thing a lot. Part road, part mountain, muck-encrusted, and ready for anything. Tri-bars with a dynamo-powered headlight clamped to the end? Sure! Bags crammed into every crevasse? Why not? I'm even going to give him a pass for the helmet hanging on the handlebars (one of my pet peeves) because I know he doesn't actually ride like that... right, Steve?
So, bikepacking: It's not made-up marketing hooey. And it kind of looks like fun. Consider your never-humble narrator officially schooled. Now where did I put my tent?
(Steve will really be putting his mileage where his mouth is this year by making an attempt on the 2015 Tour Divide, an adventure that I'll definitely be following and reporting on in these pages. Wish him luck!)