The waiting is over. Signed up for Stagecoach 400 this week and now the planning can kick into high gear. I have never bike-packed before, and have been looking forward to it for a couple years now. Popularity in this sport has increased a lot since I first became aware of it. Had planned to go to Korea in April, but the opportunity to ride with the Gypsy Boys was too good to pass by, so Palm Springs here I come. Race starts March 11, 2016 if you want to come and drink a beer at the start line!

I am a virgin bike-packer, but the good news is that there is a lot of excellent, sport specific equipment available now, which wasn’t around a couple years ago. Races like the Tour Divide have really raised the bar in terms of community, equipment and development of this sport. No need to pull out the old tarp and heavy sleeping bag any more.

Having said that there is still a lengthy list of equipment that I need to buy for this race. It’s a 3 day race (at most, I hope!) and we need to be prepared for long stretches of self-reliance through mountains and deserts. But that’s the fun part as well, I’ve been researching for a few weeks now, and feel like I am close to choosing the essentials.

I need to buy a new GPS, saddle bag, frame bag, front bag and sleeping roll, sleeping bag and bivvy. What else? Stove maybe, cooking utensils. Got a great knife for Xmas, which will help with the chopping of possum, opening of beer and cutting of peyote if I get stranded in the mountain.

Is it an intimidating thought to be self-sufficient for 400 miles? Yes and no. Having never done this kind of biking I have no way of saying. I read a lot, and heard a bunch of first-hand accounts, but that’s not much substitute for experience. The distance is not intimidating after Trans-Portugal last year. Being with some extremely experienced long distance racers will help a lot, and I am grateful for that.

Starting into the Anza Borega desert will be a highlight to say the least – lots of sandy, thorny, rocky sections are expected, with rollers all the way I think. Ducking under scrub through Middle Willows will be a tasty snack along the way too. Goat Canyon Trestle? Is that even on the route? It’s a good feeling to be heading towards the coast, broadly aiming towards the turn around point of San Diego in Southern California. Beyond that is a different emotional zone called riding through exhaustion – better to focus on the body than the return route right now.

The focus now is to explore the route and prepare my bike and gear, but not so much that we don’t experience the unexpected. I tip my helmet to Juan Bautista de Anza who explored the area en-route to San Francisco from Mexico way back in 1775, and who I like to imagine would have enjoyed exploring the trails on a mountain bike instead of a horse. Maybe I’ll be wishing I had a horse instead by the time this is all over!

Credits: for photo of 2013 start for the map.