Bikepacking is cool or so Instagram would have you believe. It involves travelling to beautiful locations in pristine clothes with specialised camping gear and having a good time with your friends. The reality of bikepacking couldn’t be further from the truth and I consider bikepacking to be a Type 2 fun.
Type 1 fun is enjoyable while it’s happening. Also known as, simply, fun. Good food, 5.8 hand cracks. Sport climbing, powder skiing, margaritas. Type 2 fun is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect. It usually begins with the best intentions, and then things get carried away. Like riding your bicycle across the country.
While you may have seen the beautiful pictures on Instagram, every bikepacking trip comes with a multitude of tales never shared. Here’s one.
This is Day 1 of my 5-day bikepacking trip. I’ve just cycled a 100+ kilometres and I am completely pooped. There were roadworks for the past 30 kilometres which I had not planned for. Roadworks mean flying loose mud, fine dust clouds, and scarred roads. Couple that with manic hill drivers and a lone cyclist gets no respect. I had to call on my reserves of defensive cycling to safely navigate this stretch. But now the roadworks have ended and I’ve just reached my landmark for day 1.
Landmark 1 is a small town I’d marked on my Garmin GPS as one of the prospective overnights stops. I prefer small towns to camp overnight as people are usually friendlier and you can always find a quiet place for the night.
Tonight’s pit stop is a small temple at the fag end of town, right along the banks of the mighty Chenab river. It is evening and it’s time to find food and bivy up for the night.
I check with the pujari, who is high on Shiv’s prasad. He is disinterested and has no objection to a lone cyclist bivy under the temple roof. Watch out for a crazy guy he says - he usually comes to the temple at night and creates a ruckus at night. I don’t pay much heed to his words, because for now, my brain is focused on the parathas I saw one of the dhabas cooking for dinner.
After a lip-smacking dinner of paranthas heaped with butter, I decide to head back to the temple to unpack my sleep system. Since this is a temple - propriety is in order. I take off my shoes and lock my bike outside. My rear saddlebag contains everything I need for the night - my bivy sack, sleeping mat and sleeping bag with liner. I unhook the saddle bag and my handlebar bag and bring them inside under the temple roof. Thankfully there’s a charging point right outside the inner sanctum and I can charge my mobile for tomorrow. The sleeping bag is warm and I’ve had a long day battling the roadworks and soon Im snoring off to la-la land. I get up twice at night. Once there’s a huge thunder roll but thankfully it doesn’t rain. Usual high mountain weather, I think and fall back asleep. The second time I am woken by the sounds of maniacal laughter. Ah, this must be the crazy guy, the pandit warned me about. I see him moving around the temple premises, muttering to himself, and staring at me in my sleeping bag. I’m hoping my stern face and evil eye will keep him at bay. It works. He seems interested in this sleeping bag-covered traveller but is hesitant to come close. From where I sleep I can also watch my bike and it is safely locked to a water pipe, so I’m satisfied he’s not mucking around with that either.
My alarm goes off at 0500. It’s time for me to pack up and head off before the rest of the town wakes up. I goto the public toilet, pack up my gear, double-check my wallet and phone and latch my twin bags onto the bike. Despite the wandering crazy guy, my bike is safe and sound. I’m plain happy about that and the fact that I can make an early start. Everything is packed, gotta get those shoes and head out. But hey, where are my shoes?
Ok, this must be a mistake, I definitely remember putting them on the stairs outside the temple next to the bike because I didn’t want to offend the locals by bringing them to the temple premises. My brain must be foggy because there are no shoes to be found. Must have brought them in, and forgotten all about it. Nope, no shoes where I slept either. Now, I start to panic. You see, I bikepack in flat pedals because it means I can use just one pair of shoes for my entire trip and now I don’t have them. This is a disaster!
Here I am sitting on the steps of the temple at 5:30 in the morning, wondering how I’m going to manage without my shoes. I have 200 km to complete today and I was counting on an early start. This is just day 1 of my trip and already things are unravelling. By 6 am I’m seething with anger and the temple springs to life with locals trudging in. My situation is a matter of concern for the entire early temple visitors. 3 people join me in my search for the elusive shoes. The town chowkidar is summoned, and he tells me he has seen the crazy guy near the gushing river. We follow him to the crazy guy who is laughing maniacally while pointing to me and then to the river. I’ve decked people for less and this is as close as it gets. Overwhelmed by rage I grab him by the neck but better sense prevails and I realise what I’m doing hery - trying to deck a crazy guy who has no idea of what he did.
Apparently one of my shoes is sleeping with the fishes in Chenab like Luca Brasi. The other shoe is on the river bank. But that’s hardly a consolation.
Im not pedalling anywhere in one shoe.
Thankfully the townspeople are commiserating. I’m told that there is a local shop that sells shoes, but it will only open at 10am when the owner comes in from a nearby village. Menawhile nothing much to do but wait in the temple. The news of my missing shoes spreading like wildfire through the town. One of the townspeople has the showp owner’s number. He explains my situation to the old gentleman over the phone. The poor guy decides to rush in at 9 am to open his shop to help out a visiting cyclist with just one shoe.
At exactly 0915 I walk out of the shop in a pair of spanking new Lakhani sports shoes, only to be welcomed by half the town who are anxious to see how the shoe story ends. Meanwhile, I’m just happy my trip can continue albeit a bit late.
So what’s the moral here? Bikepacking trips don’t always go according to plan irrespective of the amount of research you’ve pored in. There’s always a crazy guy/weather/unknown variable waiting to throw a spanner in the works. Sometimes, you just have to stop fighting the current and let the flow drag you in its wake, just like my shoe in the mighty Chenab river. This is what bikepacking in the Himalayas has taught me.