Planning fall bike treks requires springtime organization
Welcome as seed catalogs to a gardener are the emails and brochures arriving in my mailboxes lately from friends and from trip outfitters who organize mountain bike adventures. As the days grow longer and I begin daydreaming about summer mountain bike rides here in Alaska, the brochures remind me that spring is prime time to plan for a fall trip to the Lower 48.
I’ve been mountain biking with my husband several times in the Southwest. Each time we read up on an area and gather trail information at local bike shops to decide where to ride on a given day, but biking with guides on my first multiday trip nearly spoiled me.
That trip, which included five days of riding and four nights camping on the White Rim Trail near Moab, Utah, in a group of about a dozen, is still my favorite. Although the trip threw several challenges at us, including a windstorm followed by torrential rain and hail, freezing night-time temperatures, and a hike-a-bike climb around a steep section of road that had been washed out earlier in the season, it also gave us miles of riding, dramatic views, and time to relax around camp in the evening without any chores except for setting up our tents.
The guides who led my friends and me drove the support van that held all of our food and gear. They provided gourmet meals and showed us sights that we would not have found on our own, including a hiking trail to the bottom of the canyon and an ancient granary tucked under a cliff. Their local knowledge added to the value of having pros show us the way.
Details to consider when planning your trip include: custom or scheduled trips, time of year to go, whether to rent or bring your bike, and what other activities are included.
Custom trips are best if you have a large enough group of people who can travel at the same time. If not, the scheduled trips would be best.
Late September through October is often rainy here, so I prefer that timeframe for Utah trips. But it’s best to check the weather statistics for the area where you would like to bike. A guided trip I did with friends in Arizona left us melting in the 90-plus degree heat.
I always take my own bike, but most mountain bike guides have bikes for rent. To decide what’s best for you, consider whether they will have a bike to fit you and whether the cost of the rental is better than the cost of paying to fly your bike and rent a car large enough to transport it to the starting point. If you are riding in places other than the guided trip, it could be better to take your own bike. Check into the airline bike fees, which range from $75 and up.
For shipping, bike shops can box your bike for you, usually for under $60, or you can box it yourself in either a cardboard box you get from a shop or in a hard travel case you can purchase or rent. Most bike boxes include detailed instructions for doing it yourself.
Cardboard bike boxes, for me, are the best, for a few reasons: There is not as much disassembly needed; The box can be broken down and retaped for use on your return flight; and it is less expensive. Some people prefer the hard cases because they have wheels, making them easier to haul through the airport and they feel their bike is less likely to be damaged. I pack other gear in my box, careful to keep the weight under 50 pounds and so far have had no damage to a bike, even when traveling overseas.
If you choose the DIY method, be sure to pack all of the tools you need for reassembly and take some photos so you remember how the bike looked before you packed it and when you removed it from its box.
There are a growing number of guiding services, so ask friends which companies they like. I like Holiday River Expeditions, www.bikeraft.com, because they offer a range of trips on land and water. Their site is a good place to find out what kinds of trips and activities are available for your fall getaway.