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Nourishing the thirst for adventure


An Intro to Bikepacking with Adventure Cyclist Sarah Swallow

April 15, 2019
Sarah Swallow is a well-known adventure cyclist, writer, route maker and explorer. Her bicycle route and travel guides have been published in multiple well known publications and her stories have been featured in Adventure Journal, Adventure Cyclist Magazine, Bunyon Velo, Bikepacking.com, and U.S. National Whitewater Center. We sat down with Sarah to learn the ins and outs of bikepacking.



What are your biggest three tips for making the most of your bikepacking experience?

Plan ahead (but not too much), don’t rush it, and take a lot of breaks.

What is your advice for those who are just beginning in the bikepacking world?

Get out there, no matter your gear. My friend carried a backpack full of her stuff and strapped a full size pillow to her bike on her first bikepacking trip and she had a blast. Also, head over to www.bikepacking.com for general information about bikepacking, bikepacking routes, inspirational stories, gear talk, and upcoming bikepacking events/rides.

What is your favorite place that you have bikepacked through and why?

I love Baja California Sur and Oaxaca Mexico because you can ride from desert mountainous terrain to amazing beaches in a relatively short distance. I love exploring the world under water by getting out for a swim with a good pair of goggles after a long hot ride. The people in Mexico are some of the most friendly and cheerful I have come across which makes bike touring that much more pleasant. Also, the food is delicious!


What is the biggest challenge that comes with backpacking?

For me, it can sometimes be the initial decision it takes for me to commit to try something new or outside my comfort zone. I also feel that we live such rigid goal oriented lives that it can be challenging to be flexible, adaptable, and embracing the unexpected change that happens during an adventure. Bikepacking can be a lot less stressful and a lot more fun if we can let loose a little.

What detail and planning go on behind the scenes when building a route for bikepacking?

I generally start with paper maps to familiarize myself with the areas roads, points of interest, and wild spaces. Then, I get on my laptop and RidewithGPS.com and start plotting route drafts in ‘satellite mode’ and ‘street view’ in order to see if the roads I am routing are dirt roads or paved roads (I prefer dirt). Once I have a route, I make a cue sheet for myself on my phone in Apple Notes where I note the mileage between resupply points (aka towns). Once I have all that done, I save the GPX route file I made on RidewithGPS.com to my computer and then transfer it to my Garmin GPS Device and to my Gaia GPS App on my phone. On Gaia GPS, I download the offline base maps of the area that the route I made is in so I don’t need to carry a paper map. If I need to make a change to the route mid ride, I can do that on the Gaia GPS App or I will find an internet café and use a computer there.

Are there certain things you look for in a route?

I’m always looking for a combination of dirt roads, historic or mystic places, bodies of water, interesting geology, flora/fona, and good potential for camping, away from cars.


Where does your love for cycling stem from? Is there a defining moment in your life that brought you to the bike path?

I grew up in Southwest Ohio and I played sports that always required a lot of running. When I graduated from high-school my parents gifted me my first road bike and I instantly fell in love with how low-impact cycling was on my body how far I could go. That bicycle opened up the world of all kinds of cycling for me and exposed me to people and places I never would have experienced otherwise. Riding bikes still does that for me!

What is a good starter trail route for beginner bikepackers to try out?

I suggest starting in the closest State or National Park/Forest to you. Maps that outline different trails and roads are very easily accessible for these places and it would be easy to plot out a short overnight or two.

As for established routes I recommend…

East Coast: The Great Alleghany Passage and the C&O Canal Trail.

West Coast: The Oregon Outback


What are gear necessities you bring with you on your routes?

Shelter (rain tarp, ground sheet, and bug net)

Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad

GPS Device

Water Filter

Tool/Repair Supplies

Boombotix Stereo


Wool Layers

Down Jacket

Rain Racket

Water Bottle


In three words, how does bikepacking make you feel?

Full of Life ☺

What’s your next adventure you have planned?

I have a lot of mini trips planned for the spring and summer. Right now, I’m packing up my bike for a 3-day jaunt through Paradox, Utah with a big group of friends. It should be a grand ‘ol time. In August, I’m looking forward to the WTF Bikexplorers Summit and Ride in Whitefish, Montana. My favorite time to do long trips is during the winter by going to places that aren’t so wintry. I just started planning my upcoming winter trip where I will be living on my bike for 4-months while visiting Japan, Down Under, Laos, and the Hawaii Islands.




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