If You Think Bikepacking Sucks, Try A Guided Trip

Words and Photos by Leslie Kehmeier [Original article appeared on Dirtrag.com, August 8, 2018]

“Time doesn’t really matter now – we just talk about lunch time, dinner time…” says Beth Roberts. Her tone is soothing.

Beth is a guide for Rim Tours, a mountain bike outfitter based in Moab, Utah. She’s leading us on a section of the Arizona Trail on the north side of the Grand Canyon. Our ultimate goal is the famed Rainbow Rim Trail, on the North Rim proper. But really, there’s no hurry. I am on day one of a five-day guided trip where someone else takes care of everything for me. I just have to eat, sleep, socialize and ride. It is quite a change from my recent adventure routine of bikepacking. I really like the idea of not having to lift a finger on this trip. So far, the guides have carried my bags, driven me to the trailhead, and prepared a couple of delicious meals. All of this makes me wonder, why have I been bikepacking so much? It’s kinda lame compared to a guided trip.

Rim Tours camp during Grand Canyon North Rim guided tour

Over the next four days, I would be brainwashed into thinking just that. Between eating mounds of scrumptious food and not having to check maps and directions constantly, I also realized that it’s very nice to bring a few extra clothes and always find the best camp spots and inspiring views. Read on to find out why bikepacking sucks and why guided trips are awesome.

The Guides

As a capable adult, how often does someone actually take care of you for no reason other than for you to have a good time? Coming off of a recent string of bikepacking trips, it felt unnatural for me to let someone else do all the work. I was used to not wasting time and using every second of every day to be ready to do it all over again the next day. On this trip, I could waste all the time I wanted as long as I showed up for meals. Beyond feeding me and schlepping gear, Beth and her cohort Dave Bagley were rays of sunshine that brightened every day. No matter what they were doing, they were positive, helpful, and had a good story to tell at just the right time.

Evening views during Grand Canyon North Rim guided tour

The Food

Every morning the smell of freshly brewed coffee found its way into our tents and lured us out into the crisp mornings. While breakfast was cooking, usually batter-based things and greasy meats on the griddle, we savored gulps of the dreamy brown hot liquid from the Rim Tours proprietary “American Press”. Basically, a handmade steel tubed version of the more typical French press, the “American” was 2.5 feet tall, containing more than enough “go juice” for an excellent day of riding. But enough about the coffee, let’s talk more about the food. Beth and Dave cooked meals that some characterized as “better than a restaurant meal”. I totally agree. It sure beats the bikepacking routine, where you are limited to stuffing sustenance into small spaces, that may or may not look or taste good by the time you arrive to camp. With Rim Tours, we were guaranteed three squares a day, always with a catered lunch AND some sort of homemade, baked dessert after dinner.

World's biggest french press coffee maker

Stress-Free Navigation

There’s nothing more heartbreaking on a bikepacking trip than to realize you have gone hours in the wrong direction, only to have to retrace your steps back to the last known point on the correct route. Even with the best folded maps and phone-based navigation apps, there is a constant need to be checking yourself with the route. On a guided trip you can just get on your bike and ride. Dave or Beth would give us the plan for the day, usually reviewing a map, and then we were off blissfully pedaling the trail. Having spent a lot of time staring at my phone, multiple times a day while bikepacking, following a guide was a dream. And while we did not always have to follow Beth and Dave, they were conscientious about giving good directions with appropriate landmarks. Thankfully, they were never too far behind in case we found ourselves cruising along with no one else in sight.

Fence Point rest stop during Grand Canyon North Rim guided tour

Guilt-Free Packing

When packing for the guided trip it was hard to remember that I could take anything I wanted, compared to bikepacking, which requires careful thought since everything is on your back or on your bike. For the guided trip, I was happy to pack extra clothes, both for riding and camp, a full sleeping bag and the book I had been trying to finish for months. Obviously, there is a limit to what I might actually use or wear during a five-day trip, but I still took advantage of someone else is schlepping my gear.

The cargo trailer carries all the gear on the North Rim tour

Secret Stashes

Perhaps the most exciting part of a guided trip is knowing that you’ll have the best camp spots and the inside track the most beautiful viewpoints. While bikepacking, this often times happens serendipitously, if at all. On the guided trip, it is almost guaranteed and an important part of the experience. On my excursion, even the groover location was carefully selected to make our (post-coffee) morning routine unforgettable.

While there is an undeniable sense of pride that comes with bikepacking, it’s also nice to have someone else take care of the hard parts on a two-wheel outdoor adventure. It creates space for us to enjoy the pure joy of pedaling.