Exploring Bikepacking: Rocks, Roads, and Reggae
“How many people actually do this?” That was a real comment on a recent post in regards to bikepacking. And it’s a legitimate question. Apart from the insta-famous bikepackers circumnavigating the globe making #coffeeoutside, how likely is the average Joe to load up their bike for a long weekend of pedaling and camping?
My ride for the event was the Lauf True Grit, set up with a set of Salsa bags carrying the essentials. Look, no straps! The dry bag that comes with the Salsa EXP Anything Cradle kit was too small for my sleeping bag, so I used a compression sack instead. Ready to rock out in my flip flops at camp. $2.99 at Old Navy. Light. Can’t beat ’em.
It turns out very likely – if there are more events like Rocks, Roads, and Reggae in the near future. Bikepacking is a fantastic way to get out on your bike and feel like you’re having a real adventure, but it can also be pretty intimidating for the novice. Especially when you start considering the gear.
The Gear Dilemma
The bike specific bags are one thing, but it’s what goes in the bags that complicates things. Ideally, you want your set up to be light and compact meaning your old sleeping bag that occupies the space of two basketballs just isn’t going to cut it. By the time you add in your old camping gear that is too big or too heavy, you end up with a bike that is more or less unmanageable to ride.
That makes it hard for most riders to give bike packing a try before investing a fortune in new gear. That is – unless you’re at an event like the one Atomik Adventures put together. Call it bikepacking, slack packing (as the Gravel Cyclist called it), or just an adventure ride, Rocks, Roads, and Reggae had an option for just about everyone regardless of their bikepacking experience.
The Bikepacking Lite Experience
Given that we have easy access to both bikes and gear, Michael and I showed up to Gainesville, FL fully ready to ride. But even with plenty of bikepacking gear between us, we still didn’t need everything but the kitchen sink. Instead, since food and drink would be provided for us at camp, there was no need to bring our stove, cookware, utensils, or the food itself. That left us with just our tent, sleeping gear, and clothes and personal items to carry with us for the two day event.
Maybe bikepacking lite should be the term, but in that regard the event was similar to what Blackburn is doing with the Ramble rides. However, even if you had zero ability to carry your own gear or it was simply too big and too heavy to fit on a bike, Atomik still had you covered. Riders that wanted to ride to O’Leno State park and camp over night for the ride back the next day were able to simply load their gear into the Atomik trailer so that it would be waiting for them at the campground on arrival. This gave far more riders the “bikepacking” experience without having to own ultra light camping gear.
The Adventure Unfolds
The squad from Fairhope, Alabama and Pro Cycle and Tri knew how to have a good time. But just because this option was available, it didn’t mean everyone took it. Many riders opted to haul their own gear for the whole duration – and on just about every type of bike imaginable. This was one of the really cool parts of the event, with riders from all walks of life coming together for what turned out to be one of the most fun weekends I’ve had on a bike in a long time.
After rolling out en masse, riders eventually self sorted into different groups dictated by overall speed. Riding through the relatively flat Florida country side, the ride that Jayson O’Mahoney of the Gravel Cyclist laid out was deceptively challenging with nearly 60 miles per day of energy sucking sand sectors and sneaky little rollers that added up to a surprising 1,400 feet of climbing for the day. Obviously, that’s not much climbing, but for Florida it was more than we expected. It was also surprisingly beautiful, with massive Oaks covered in Spanish Moss, long stretches of loose sandy road lined with conifers, and the odd wildlife park with Ostriches and Zebras.
The Reggae Finale
At the end of a solid day of pedaling, we arrived at O’Leno State Park – one of Florida’s oldest. The park itself was incredibly picturesque, set alongside the Santa Fe river. It was here that the ride earned the Reggae part of its name. The brainchild of Atomik Carbon co-founders Wayne Lee and Kevin Lineberger, the Reggae connection actually makes sense when you realize that Wayne was born in Jamaica. After growing up on the island, Wayne eventually settled near Tampa Bay, but the island vibe is definitely still in his blood. Naturally, for their first Atomik Adventure ride, they wanted to bring a bit of Jamaica to Northern Florida and they certainly succeeded.
As a reward for the day’s pedaling, we were treated to a gourmet dinner by Jamaican Chef Layton Smith of the Nallay Chef. Jerk chicken, BBQ goat, red beans and rice, veggies, and a pumpkin soup to die for, we were certainly well fed. Add in beer from Black Adder Brewery and of course a few bottles of rum, and it was a night to remember. Oh, and there was dancing. Lots of dancing thanks to the live Reggae of Garner Parchment. I’ve never seen so many cyclists still in lycra get down to Reggae beats. It was such a fun night that we were completely sore the next morning – but from dancing not from riding. Eventually we had to get some sleep, so we retired to our tents so we could wake up and do it all again the next morning.
When we rolled up to the start, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. But what we found was an ideal mix of challenging riding, great food, entertainment, and camaraderie atypical of the usual organized cycling event. With options for nearly everyone regardless of skill level, events like Rocks, Roads, and Reggae are the perfect way to experience bikepacking without requiring a full commitment to the gear. But most importantly, it was just a hell of a good time riding bikes with great people.
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Right off the bat, Atomik Adventure’s Rocks, Roads, & Reggae seemed like a great way to become more familiar with bikepacking. The event was created to develop interest in gravel riding and bikepacking in Florida, and it appears to have worked. On the first…