Bikepacking Trip

This past weekend was my first true backcounrty bike packing trip. Mike and I headed for the Sheltowee Trace Trail near Cave Run Lake. The Sheltowee runs for a nearly three hundred miles through Kentucky and Tennessee and is one of the few long distance trails in the area that allows mountain bikes. Mike and I had a plan to leave work early Friday, ride hard until dark, then wake up and ride all day Saturday. We weren't able to stick to that plan... but we still had a blast.
Shortly after we arrived, Mike's rear derailleur started stick a bit. We fiddled with it and got it feeling a little better. But you could tell something wasn't quite right.
We found this old iron furnace near the creek. It was huge... like the size-of-my-house- huge.
We had to do a ton of climbing. I've never done that much climbing off road with a loaded bike. I was never miserable. But there were points that I thought, "Why did we do this, again?"
The lake you see in the distance is the lake behind Mike in the beginning of this post. It's a good size lake that we rode an awesome trail all the way around before heading up for this climb. We were nearly at the top here. We could tell good riding was ahead.

But to our demise, Mike's derailleur had another plan. As soon as we hit the top of this hour and a half climb, his derailleur caught a stick or something and curled itself up into the frame. Unrepairable. We tried but one of the jockey wheels actually broke in half. No chain tension and no chain tool turned his bike into a giant kick scooter.
There was nothing left to do but set up camp. No more riding for the day meant that we were going to camp sooner than we thought. Not a big deal at all, really. We were tired, and with the cold weather coming at us, we could get an earlier start on the fire. The wind was coming pretty hard from one side. We had to drop down the side of the mountain to find some warmth. If you enlarge the photo above, you'll see Mike setting up camp down the side of the mountain.
Mike bought a little folding saw that was our saving grace. It was great for gathering firewood in a haste.

Snow in the forecast.
Hail on my hammock. Mike said it looked like Dippin Dots.

Mike made a huge fire for backcountry camping. When I'm out in the middle of nowhere, I usually just have enough fire to give me light. Not Mike. He went all out. It kept us warm into the wee hours of night.
This is a terrible shot. But I was trying to document the fact that I slept in the hammock again. It certainly makes things colder, but with a 15 degree bag, everything seemed to even out nicely.
The next morning we woke up, ate breakfast and laid around for a while before we headed back to the truck. Mike lucked out with our location. The previous day's climb meant that the entire ride back was downhill. We just moved his chain out of the way and coasted home.

Although we wanted to ride quite a bit more, it was still an awesome trip. We found a great area that allows us to camp, hike, bike and fish in as little as 24 hours. I will certainly be back.

I'll adjust my set-up next time, though. There are several sections that can't be biked. The climb is so steep and technical that you're forced to hop off and push. With that in mind, I might put a bit more weight on my back instead of in the panniers. The bike was hard to hold onto with all the weight back there. Ideally, I'd like to eventually get a full bag set-up from Porcelain Rocket. I think it would totally be worth it. Now that I've got a close spot to hit up, I could see myself doing this more. We were gone less that 24 hours.

Hopefully, we'll see more of this soon.

Get out there.


  1. What agreat area. Most of the time it's just good to get out even when things don't go as planned.

  2. Kentucky needs more long off-road MTB accessible trails. Yeah. Yeah. More.

    I know of lots of defunct logging roads and oil roads that would make for some decent bikepacking. I can't think of a lot of singletrack. Wonder if there is anything of consequence down along the KY/VA state line? Wonder if you can bike the Mischa Mokwa east from Cumberland Gap?

  3. I really enjoy overnighters, but need to find a way to reduce the prep and cleanup time on either end. I can be gone less than 24 hours, but it really takes me longer than that to make it all happen.

  4. I strongly recommend the full kit from Scott @ the Porcelain Rocket. I have a saddle bad and handlebar bag in route to me right now. Haven't seen them in person, only pictures, but they are hot! Scott is incredible to work with, straight forward, and completely talented. Go for it!


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