The duo covered 640 miles and over 72,000′ of climbing in 7 days all off-road and gravel except for a few paved connectors.
30-year-old Corbin Hudacek initially got into cycling as a bike-commuting student at Western Washington University (WWU). He quickly progressed to competition with Bellingham’s Shuksan Velo Club. As he got more cycling experience, his interest broadened from road to triathlon, and now to any adventure involving two wheels.
48-year-old Jamie is one of North America’s top gravel racers. Under pandemic conditions her energies have shifted from racing to “going deeper into the dark areas of Strava’s heat map.” The concept began as a note in Jamie’s journal, and her connection with coach Brian Ecker and Roger Brown who did it together in September 2013.
As far as I know, Jamie and Corbin are only the second team to finish this route.
Corbin connected with Jamie and her husband Doug through the Shuksan Velo Club.
“I am forever grateful to have met the Van Beeks. Their energy, social camaraderie, and hospitality have certainly been a major contributor to my continued pursuit and passion for combining sport and adventure. What started as a box-checking race pursuit, evolved through companionship, storytelling, accountability, lots of trial and error, and eventually blossomed into the balanced and appreciative adventurist lens that I gaze through today. Jamie and Doug are two biggest-hearted and passionate cyclists who generously opened up the doors with a friendship (and eventually their motorhome) to journey alongside this young headstrong cyclist. Together we’ve chased road stage races, sought out new gravel routes, all the while dreaming about future adventures climbing mountain passes among the most remote ineffable terrain we could imagine.”
Before the light bulb went off about the possibilities of bikepacking, Corbin was following a very structured triathlon-oriented training plan. Until he got hit with overtraining symptoms.
“During the 2019 season, some stints of overtraining encouraged me to develop a new outlook focused on recovery and healing. I decided I would take some time off from racing and as the 2020 pandemic approached, decided to put aside the strict training plan, and bring in a little more adventure to my cycling endeavors. Over the past few years, Jamie and I had accomplished quite a few big gravel rides in the numerous forest access roads here in Washington, but I now wanted to connect these epic rides with my desire for remote and self-sufficient adventure in mother nature.”
Although Jamie came up with the initial idea, she credits Corbin with being the master route planner of this big adventure.
“I’m a bit of an over-prepared perfectionist. I invested a lot of time putting together my maintenance/repair kit and scrubbing every inch of the course GPX file to evaluate potential water opportunities, terrain details, campsites, and detours.”
“There are so many good online publically accessible resources out there from Caltopo, endless downloadable ArcGIS layers, and Google Earth, just to name a few. I encourage others to learn these mapping tools and use them to go explore all the amazing terrain that exists in everyone’s backyard.”
“On any remote gravel route, I want to be sure that I have all the tools necessary to fix even the most unlikely mechanical issues such as repairing chains, shift cables, freehub issues, or even the unexpected brake pad screw backing itself out.”
“Preparing for the worst by building a robust mechanical kit was really an element to bring peace of mind while out there. Bringing the right tools and backup components is always a priority on my preparation list.”
Many of us might not have the latitude to take off seven days to do the full route, so I asked for their prioritized recommendations for folks who might want to do the route in smaller chunks. They both thought all of the sections are great rides in their own ways, but doing the route in smaller pieces does involve figuring out transportation to and from the start/finish points. When Ecker and Brown did it, they took the train from Bellingham to Vancouver, WA, then cycled paved roads to the start of the off-road route.
Despite Jamie and Corbin’s plan for a fully self-supported adventure, wildfires and smoke hit their route on day 3. They escaped out of the mountains to reassess the situation. Jamie’s husband Doug fired up their motorhome to meet them and provide support.
“We were able to go with a new plan of riding 100 miles/day in the mountains and then come down into a town to refuel our bodies, and use the internet to plan the next days’ re-routes. We made sure to always stay in safe areas that were open and away from any fires. We were incredibly lucky on this adventure that we did not experience any smoke and were able to accomplish our goal.”
Corbin explained how they adapted to the quickly-changing situation.
“The first fire to appear was the Evans Canyon Fire just northwest of Yakima. Sure enough, our plan for day 3 took us right through the heart of this disaster. A huge amount of rerouting went into this project and as additional fires began emerging, I found myself modifying nearly every route we initially planned. The fires forced us to question the feasibility of completing the project. No backcountry handheld device would give us the connectivity we needed to do the re-routes. As the fires grew, we quickly decided to prioritize our safety. If it wasn’t for Jamie’s husband Doug, this trip would not have been possible. “
“As the devastation unfolded, our mindset quickly shifted away from expectations about finishing, to a day-by-day analysis of the situation. As we faced the reality at our RV base camps, we realized severity of what was going on around us and put aside our end goals to share our thoughts and condolences to the front line workers and families affected by these fires. The whole experience made me that much more appreciative of the first couple days of climbing and views. We experienced and realized how precious Washington’s backcountry riding terrain is.”
Corbin highlighted the skills needed to do a ride of this magnitude.
“With adventure riding, bike packing, or any off-the-grid-gravel cycling, navigation is one of the most important skills. Because of the numerous variations we made to the routes, we were probably the first to ride some of these roads. Planning the route required using multi-layering tools on geospatial data sources. This kind of analysis is important to not only understand the quality and existence of a potential route, but the aspect grade, accuracy, obstacles, land-ownership legalities, and safety of these alternatives.”
“On the physiological side, bike handling is very important. On this route we encountered just about every type of imaginable terrain. From deep sand straight out of a challenging cyclocross course, to a sharp and chunky lunar landing ride that looked like something from the mars rover, we had to use different techniques and styles to navigate the obstacles. We also encountered some of the smoothest, buttery gravel descents I’ve ever seen.”
“A lot of the riding required vigilance, confidence, agility, trust, and a bit of good luck! You need to have a lot of focus while descending. During some of the larger technical descents, I experienced a sensation of synchronization with the terrain. I would describe it as a mental entrainment when you enter a flow state and you’re no longer just avoiding and responding to obstacles but rather becoming one with that optimal line as if being guided down single-track on a mountain bike.”
Although it’s easy to get caught up in the technical minutiae of this kind of project, both riders emphasized the central role of camaraderie in an adventure like this.
Jamie emphasized how “life at the speed of bike,” with friends can grow a sense of kinship unlike any other sport.
“Most of my bike packing adventures are solo but I was lucky to find a willing partner to join me. Thank you Corbin Hudacek for being one hell of a riding partner! We made a great team of anticipating obstacles that might arise and coming up with a way to deal with them. It’s absolutely mind blowing the views we got to see at the top of all the climbs!”
“This truly was a once in lifetime experience that I will never forget. To be immersed in the beauty of the forest for 10+hours a day pedaling my bike was a gift that I shall treasure always. My hope is that others will go on this incredible bike packing journey using the amazing route that my riding partner Corbin Hudacek and I created.”
Corbin says accountability to another person was the biggest factor in making the adventure a success.
“From my experience, I would say find a community, friend, or partner with a similar interest and make a plan. There’s so much that goes into the preparation and even more that comes out of the mutual decision-making that happens in those unpredictable moments you’re out in the backcountry and need to make tough decisions about navigation, water, maintenance, fueling, motivation, encouragement and just having that extra set of eyes and ears on the trail is so important.”
“I certainly enjoy my serene independent rides but on these larger adventures with the added elements of weather, gear, and safety in such remote wilderness, it becomes really important to ride with a partner. It also becomes such a different experience when you get to share and appreciate those views with a riding buddy.”
“I knew that this would be an adventure that I would need the accountability of having a riding buddy for. A big challenge I could foresee with accomplishing something like a 7-day bike-pack was the mental toughness. This is such a psychologically heavy endeavor and with that being said, I place the brainpower right up there with fitness and truly believe that we’re all capable of achieving big goals if only we can begin to devote much of our training and energy into strengthening our psychological capacity to endure. I realize there’s a great deal of individualism here in how we prepare the mind, but for me, that was a partner-based training approach where I used accountability to show up on rides, build routes, develop confidence in my riding capabilities, obtain that extra push when you need it and lean on these social experiences as a way to build motivation.”
“My inspiration has always been fueled by a desire to live these adventures and then share these memorable experiences to encourage others to pursue their own journey. There’s so much public land out there, and I hope to lower the barrier to entry for all who want to experience the terrain, whether that be through providing a GPX file, a conversation, photos or other beta information. It’s just a big yellow gate, climb over it.”