How one man and his bike are impacting the bikepacking
world through their altruistic efforts
In 2010, Alan Jacoby was at Singlespeed USA in Boulder, Colorado, when he first heard about the Tour Divide, this “crazy ride down the spine of the continent.” Jacoby, intrigued, did some research and found the movie “Ride the Divide,” a documentary that opened his eyes to the Tour Divide race and bikepacking in general. “I was grabbed by the solitude bikepacking offers,” says Jacoby, “and the ability to cover a lot of ground while still feeling engulfed by your surroundings.” Suffice it to say, he was hooked.
Jacoby describes bikepacking as “basically backpacking on a bike or a combo platter of camping and cycling. You carry your own food, shelter, clothing, repair gear, first-aid kit, etc., in an effort to travel self-sufficiently and to take care of yourself in remote areas. It’s all about adventure and getting out into nature.”
There are grassroots bikepacking “races” that have a grand depart (a recommended day and time for individuals to begin the route at a designated location) as well as ITTs (individual time trials), which people can do anytime they wish. Finishing times are usually recorded for bragging rights, and these days, many of the faster folks go as sleep-deprived as possible and carry as light a load as they can. Some have aspirations of beating the FKT (fastest known time). Most people carry tracking devices, and you can watch races unfold at Trackleaders.com.
Each particular race has its own rules, but they all follow the honor system and the ethos of leave-no-trace. They advocate being a positive ambassador and self-reliant with no outside support other than commercial sources available to all. These are based on the rules of the big daddy of all bikepacking races, the Tour Divide—2,745 miles and 200,000 vertical feet of climbing that runs down the continental divide from Banff, Alberta, to the Antelope Wells border station in New Mexico. (Jacoby did the Grand Depart and successfully completed the Tour Divide in 2018.)
In 2015, Jacoby was living in Mammoth Lakes, California, and running The Maven Bike Shop when he created a 500-mile bikepacking route/race around the Eastern Sierra called the Caldera 500—480 miles and 65,000 feet of climbing, including lots of HAB (hike-a-bike), on mostly Forest Service double-track, gravel roads and single-track trails. “It’s one of the most grueling routes of its kind,” says Jacoby. “I wanted to create and share a route that encompasses the majesty of the Eastern Sierra that others could ride in its entirety or bite off a piece at a time, without worrying about invading private land or going into wilderness areas.”
Offered in three lengths ranging from 150 to 500 miles, the Caldera covers five different mountain ranges (Sierra Nevada, White Mountains, Inyo Mountains, Sweetwater Mountains, and Glass Mountains), and three distinct biomes (Sierra Nevada, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert).
“The course is a bit masochistic,” Jacoby explains. “It’s 480 miles and 65 kilometers of oftentimes brutal, sandy, steep, hike-a-bike climbing.” Out of 17 riders to attempt the Caldera, only four have finished.
Closer to home, the best-known bikepacking race in Idaho is the Smoke N Fire 400 (400 miles and 41,000 feet of climbing), which starts and ends in Hype Park in Boise and runs through Prairie, Pine and Featherville before going up and over Dollarhide Summit into Ketchum. You then climb over Galena Summit via the Harriman Trail and Titus Lake Trail to Fisher Creek, Redfish Lake and Stanley then onto Deadwood Reservoir, Garden Valley and Placerville before returning to Hype Park via single track at Bogus Basin.
Jacoby had been visiting the Wood River Valley for years to bike and ski but also for cinematography work. And it was after one of his shoots in 2007, when he filmed Sun Valley’s maven of ultra-endurance mountain bike torture fests, seven-time world champion Rebecca Rusch, that the 5B effect took hold of Jacoby. Years later, Alan and his wife were visiting Sun Valley on a much-appreciated break from the demands of The Maven Bike Shop, and they celebrated their wedding anniversary at Michel’s Christiania in Ketchum. Over dinner, they determined that it was time to leave California. They returned to Mammoth, sold their home and business, and in June 2019, they moved with their two daughters to the Wood River Valley.
Jacoby started a blog, dirtyteeth.wordpress.com, to share bikepacking tips and hacks, ride and race reports, and a prep series for those considering the Tour Divide. Today, the blog has more than 5,000 subscribers and its subtitle is Ride Bikes. Give back. Pay it forward. He writes, “I blog for fun, and that spawned a YouTube channel to alleviate boredom during COVID.”
The YouTube channel has turned into profitable fun for Jacoby, and he pays the profits forward through his Trail Magic Monday campaign of randomly bestowing gifts on unsuspecting people, many of whom are nominated by patrons of his channel.
“Mountain biking has changed my life, and I love spreading the stoke any way I can,” says Alan. “I love snowboarding, skiing and everything outdoors—but my number one passion will always be riding bikes.”