What Bikepacking Washington Taught Me About My Body

Venturing 500 miles across a state with my partner on gravel bikes with camping gear and food is not a new thing for me. I willingly camp and travel through open roads, mountains and forests to see what I'm made of.

I push my physical, mental and emotional boundaries and although it's hard (and ridiculously fun), it makes me feel alive on every level. Besides, I'm not looking for it to be easy or predictable and this trip proved to be just that. I walked away (sore bum and all) knowing exactly who I am and what my extraordinary body is capable of.

Riding forest roads with dramatic views of Mt Adams

With a history of outdoor adventure trips, each one exposes lessons to be learned about how to take care of my body. When I'm tuned in and listening, I discover nuggets of wisdom.

Even if you don't ride a bike or go on wilderness trips you'll resonate with these highlights.

Here's what I learned about my body while bikepacking Washington.

Limit snacking for maximum energy

Contrary to recent recommendations about snacking to stabilize blood sugar and the "hangry" sensation, eating 3-4 whole meals (sometimes 5!) while biking was way more conducive to maintaining my energy all day. I was able to tap into my deep reserves by not giving my body food to digest all day. Every now and then I snacked when I felt myself "bonking" if we were getting into camp later than anticipated, but generally tried to avoid it.

When you feel strong, keep going!

I'll admit I felt physically and mentally strong on this trip. The first 3 days I wasn't sore or fatigued. Eventually, it caught up but it made me realize when motivation and strength was up, go for it! Rack up the miles and pedal hard. Lucas and I don't chat much while riding which allows for an active quiet time where my mind goes blank. Honestly, it's a form of mindfulness that allows the body to just be.

Jump in cold, fresh water for a mental reset

Biking in sweaty form fitting clothes, hot temperatures, on gravel roads and living outdoors equals a dirty body. Thankfully, Washington has flowing rivers and clear lakes that are wonderfully cold for jumping into once (or twice) a day to provide the best natural reset button. Getting into a rhythm on a trip can be tricky. You can get bored, frustrated, really sore and deep in your head. That's when a brisk plunge brings you right back to neutral. You never emerge the same person and feel completely refreshed.

Respect your cycle when temperatures heat up

The sun and heat were a huge challenge. It never rained. Never. At one point, temperatures reached a shocking 114 degrees and we rode 56 miles and I had just started my cycle. It was brutal. I pulled over multiple times to sit in the shade, cry, and drink another sugar-free Vitamin Water from the gas station. Taking a 4-hour break midday was the best decision and was thankful for a quiet camping spot later that night in a riverside forest. The other factor that helped a lot was wearing a light sun layer with a hood instead of sunscreen on my skin in direct sun.

Blend Eastern and Western medicine for best results

I was hiking my bike up a hill that was too steep to ride and my pedal (with long traction screws to grip my shoes) dragged across that back of my leg leaving a couple big scrapes. It hurt. As the days went by, I was suspicious it wasn't healing well. I was doing everything I knew to take care of it and it wasn't improving. I decided to visit an urgent care where I was reassured that it wasn't infected.

Combining more preventative medicine (eastern) with responsive medicine (western) is a winning combination. I used to think it had to be one or the other but the experience reminded me to stay open to all types of health care systems.

Fun fact. When the nurse took my vitals my pulse was 39! In disbelief she took it again and shared with the Doctor who asked me if I was feeling ok or dizzy. Once they learned how much I was biking they relaxed and wished me well on the rest of the trip.

My leg has continued to heal. I'm sure it will be another scar that tells a story.

Sometimes, you just need a nap

Remember how I said I wasn't tired the first couple days? Well, that changed. Once the trip was over, my body shifted and my eyes took any opportunity to close and take anywhere from a 15 minute to 1 hour long nap. My mind wasn't tired but I could tell I was taking a huge, whole body exhale and my entire system needed less food and more sleep. I don't nap normally so I had to remind myself that I had just climbed over 21,000 feet of elevation and endured super warm temps. I've been resting a lot and going on walks.

Feeling good and thankful for such an amazing trip. Already can't wait for the next one!