Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dirtbagonomics: The Costs of Bikepacking

There are no official entry fees for the Arizona Trail Race, The Tour Divide or the Colorado Trail Race. I don't have to pay money to put my front tire on the "start line" of the "race." There are no race plates, no plastic bag full of stickers, coupons, pencils and product samples to clutter up the house, no cheap water bottles or race t-shirts that I won't wear anywhere except to sleep in. There are no overly-caffeinated announcers yapping into a microphone, no bands, no race sponsors or course officials.

I took to this obsession because the somewhat underground, low-key style really appeals to me. The adventure aspect, the miles and miles of unmarked, stunning scenery to navigate and explore, as well as the self-survival piece, trump any marked course, schwag bag, t-shirt or post-race party out there. It is also really nice that I don't have to sit at my computer and "race" to enter. Huh? Yep, there are races that fill so fast, you better be on top of your game and have a lightning fast connection when its time to register, just to even get the chance to pay an arm and a leg to race.

Bikepacking races don't involve many of the normal costs that come to mind, but don't be fooled: it is NOT free (or cheap) by any means. In fact, if one calculated it out, it would probably be far more logical and cost-efficient to pay a formal entry fee and race an official race. Think about it:

Less miles (time) racing=less resources needed=less money out of my pocket

Closer start locations=less gas, time off work, hassle=less money out of my pocket

Fully stocked aid stations every few miles=no extra food I have to buy=less money out of my pocket

New T-shirt=new pajamas or dish rag=hahahahaha! never mind.

Yawning yet? Yeah, I was nearly asleep writing that.Thank GOD none of that enters my mind as I think about the reasons I race ultra long, multiday (AZT and CTR) and multiweek (Tour Divide) races. Seriously, if it did, I would not even consider taking on this dream. It is expensive, exhausting and completely illogical.

It is also exhilarating.

Exhilarating to think of a summer spent on my bike, being fully self-reliant, pushing my perceived mental and physical limits, sleeping in a different bivvy spot  every night, observing the world of nature I love with every fiber of my being and sharing real life with people who understand this obsession.

The hard part, as I mentioned way back in September when I jumped in head first and set this goal, is the journey to the journey. Precisely, the money factor. No one really talks too frankly about the cost of this dream. There is no one set cost, or entry fee, which is part of the beauty of this kind of racing. There is no "correct" way to get to the finish line. There are many unique and different ways, largely dependent on personalities, comfort needs, tolerance levels of discomfort, exhaustion and good ol' pain, speed goals and financial means....just to name a few, really.

The numerous different ways are as unique as the gear set ups I observe. I have seen some guys roll up with so much crap strapped to their bikes that I can not see the actual bike and I have seen some guys that look like they are racing a 30-mile XC race with next to nothing on their bikes and shoes that look like they never intend to step off the bike.

And I love it. I love everything about the fact that everyone has their own way. We spend hundreds of hours planning, researching, testing and refining our bikes into the ultimate machine that hopefully provides survival and forward movement. Want to know more about a person? Check out their bike and gear.

As for me, I am a dirtbag. Tried and true. And most definitely by choice.

I suppose, at this point, a working definition of the word "dirtbag" is needed. Let's roll with this for now:

Frugal and minimalistic, DIRTBAG is my way of unabashedly making fun of myself, while still advocating a lifestyle of simplicity, resourcefulness and minimalism I fully believe in and strive to live. Its hard sometimes, as I am a human, and all humans are selfish and lazy to a certain extent. But when I see the disgusting, excessive overconsumption, overspending and waste every single day and the frenzy among so many just to have the newest, coolest, shiniest thing at any sends me running as fast as I can in a direction of less is more. Because in my world, less TRULY IS more. My heart is not content (truth be told it is a jumbled mess) when material things, money and more, more, more things to tend to, to maintain, to fix, to upgrade, to build, to buy get more attention than people. And its too wild and free to be owned by things. Been there. Never ever, ever, ever, ever going back.

Ok, I am getting into another post topic. Back to dirtbags on bikes...

I added a donation button to my blog a few months ago after many, many months of contemplation. I came to the conclusion that reaching out for financial help was my only viable option to make this dream work. The amount of time off work is the killer. Thankfully, I already have the majority of what I need as far as gear from previous years. The huge cost is food, bike maintenance and travel costs to and from the start and finish line. There are a few items I need such as a GPS (just was able to purchase one) to replace the one that I lost somewhere in the desert two years ago, shoes (found a fantastic deal on some Northwaves!) and some new kits (mine have thousands upon thousands of miles on them, are threadbare and look like old, ratty bath towels).

The donations that have come in have been from a few absolutely amazing human beings. I am so full of gratitude for this support. Some have blown me away completely with their generosity and kindness and provided a lot of encouragement with positive and uplifting words that are needed in this. Other racers who have gone this same route of fundraising have contributed and reached out to me. Thank you. People who I have never met who have found inspiration to do things they never would have through following this blog have contributed. Thank you. I know (all to well) that money is tight and we are all trying to stay above water sometimes and to those who have contributed what they can out of the good that lives in their hearts--Thank you. Every one of you are helping me make my dream into a reality that I am about to embark upon in three weeks in Arizona.

I am close to making this all come together and you can bet this journey will be none of excess. I have a bare bones budget that allows me to eat and ride my bike. I have been working far too much at the expense of sleep (rather than sacrificing training time) to put money away to cover my monthly bills for much of April and all of June while I am out on the bike. The reality is, I make due with what I have been blessed to acquire in relation to this dream. My bike is not new. It is my trusty 2010 Superfly 100. It doesn't have the best components, lightest everything, etc. But its a damn nice bike that I love. My clothes and gear aren't the newest thing out there. They are functional and simple. I buy only what I need to make possible my one goal for each race in the Triple Crown:


Here is the part where finding the right words becomes difficult even after rambling on forever in this post:

Could you contribute a simple, small amount if it is in your heart to help me out? The fact is between 200-600 hits show up each time I post a new blog entry. Let's be conservative and say 300 are real, actual readers. What if those 300 people each gave just $5-10? You crunch the numbers. This would complete the fundraising I need to make it financially possible live my dream....

Can you help?


  1. Good Luck! If you still need any gear let me know. I may be able to help there.

    1. Thank you for the kind offer and for reading! May be in touch :)

  2. I don't have much spare money, but I do have spare kit. Would you like some? What size do you wear?

  3. Karen, yes please if you dont need it. Email me @ Thank you!

  4. Hey MC. First, thanks for the read. I checked out your profile and was just wondering why you chose to post as anonymous? If you care to carry on the conversation, I have an answer to your question. Pardon me for the removal of your comment, but I would prefer to address it via the email address posted above. Thanks.

  5. I didn't post as anonymous.

    You didn't include an email address.

    Why hide the question, and the answer, from those who most deserve to read it?

    1. The question: Why should others pay for my recreation?
      The answer: Your question implies an expectation of others on my part. There is none. Reread the words of this post and the others regarding the subject. If your interpretation is still such, it is false. I am asking only if it is in one's heart to help out. My true expectation, was to receive nothing and I have been completely overwhelmed by the kindness of those who read and interpret my words in the way they were written.

      Your profile is inaccessible and my email is which was included in the comment previous to yours.

    2. That's a semi-crafty dance (with words) around the answer, but only semi. You have to ignore your closing statement (...the fundraising I need to make it financially possible live my dream….) for it to ring true.

      More to the point: If you want to live this dream, why not find a way to make it lasting and sustainable instead of holding out your hand and begging?

  6. Jill -- while your adventures, passion and goals are all crack-filled and inspiring, part of what is hard to read/watch is that you clearly and blatantly judge others (relentlessly) for choosing to have careers and full time jobs, and yet you're asking those people to support your play time/adventures. You are judging those who choose to focus time and energy on making a living and building a career in order to live in a way that allows them to adventure, have the stuff that allows them to adventure/play, etc... and then you're hauling off and asking those same people to support you. Just difficult to read/watch.

    1. I am truly sorry if you think this is how I feel. I do not judge others for their choices. I can see how my words are sometimes bold, but let me assure you they have nothing to do with you and your career. They are passion-driven words that stem from my own life experiences, emotions and questions I am seeking to answer and reflect the growth I need to achieve a healthy balance in my life.That balance is clearly different from yours. Maybe, deep down, much of what this whole Triple Crown journey is about. Who knows? That I hope to discover along the way.

      If so difficult to read and watch....why do so?