The main stipulation for my bike set-up was that it be extremely non-fussy. Everything should be quickly accessible and easy to pack away. If it's blowing 40 mph, I want to grab my parka in five seconds without risking the loss of other items to the wind. If it's 35 below, I want to just throw my whole bivy bundle back on the rack without futzing with stuff sacks and straps. If I'm thirsty, I don't want to remove my entire food supply to get to my stove. Although I'm a big fan of Relevate bikepacking bags, for a winter trip, for me, racks and panniers make more sense. There's more room for everything to spread out, so I don't have to fuss with compressing every little thing. And there's plenty of extra space for food, as well as gear if it's too warm to wear anything but a base layer.
There's a time and place for ultra-light, but for someone with my experience level, I think this is a reasonable set-up. I'll just admit that I am emphatically not racing the 2016 ITI. I'll be thrilled if my lungs hold up past Finger Lake, and over the moon if I arrive in McGrath feeling strong. I'm taking what I need to feel secure and able to rest at intervals, comfortably, when needed (unless it's blowing 40+ mph. Then I can't stop for anything.) I'm grateful to have the support of the race organization and volunteers to help me in my adventure, but I'm really heading out there to "bike my own bike" — within race perimeters and rules, of course.
Here's the breakdown:
Front bundle: PhD Designs Hispar -46C down sleeping bag, Outdoor Research Helium bivy, Thermarest Ridge Rest pad. Everything is rolled together so when I want to take a nap, I can just pop open the compression straps and crawl inside. When packing up, it can be quickly rolled up and bungeed to the rack if I truly need to get going in under two minutes. Later, after my body warms up, I can re-compress the bundle as needed. The quick pack-up and minimal fuss is the main reason I wanted to go with a front rack rather than strapping the bundle to the handlebars. I also dislike having so much bulk attached to the handlebars, pressed against the shifters and brake levers. Beat designed this rack and milled the platform himself. It attaches to the fork with straps, and has proved itself to be solid.
Frame bag: Can hold one to four days of food. It has a separate compartment to keep readily accessible tools, such as a knife, multi-tool, fire-starters, and bike pump. I'll also use the frame bag to store my foot and saddle sore repair kit, first aid, toiletries, a few spare parts, tubes, batteries, spare headlamp, and electronics (basically an AA battery charger for my satellite phone, and iPods.)
Rear stuff sack: PhD Designs Hispar down jacket, down pants, and down booties. All of the fluffy stuff in one place! If I need to take a trailside break to make water or repair the bike, I can pull all of this stuff on and pack it up again quickly. I am likely going to replace this green sack with a heavier duty 13-liter dry bag, because these bags tend to develop holes and I fully expect it to rain at least once during the trip. The sack doesn't need to be all that big, but again, I don't want to fuss with a tight-fitting compression sack.
Right pannier: MSR Whisperlite Stove, 11 oz fuel and fuel pump, quart-sized pot, collapsible cup, spoon, satellite phone. Easily accessible on top: Goggles, windproof balaclava (designed by Beat), fleece buff, vapor-barrier mittens, spare windproof mittens. If needed, I can stuff my Skinfit hybrid jacket on top. This is the lightweight mid-layer I plan to wear most of the time, unless it is very warm.
Left pannier: Wiggy's waders; baggie with spare fleece socks, Drymax liner socks, and underwear; Mountain Headwear Ghost Whisperer jacket (a lightweight rain shell), Skinfit shell pants, Skinfit primaloft shorts, wind-proof knee warmers (designed by Beat), Skinfit Caldo Skudo jacket (primaloft), Mountain Hardwear Airshield jacket (very bulky. Also my favorite piece for just about all conditions. But the primaloft jacket on top of this will likely be needed in cold temperatures, and during low-energy times. I hope to only use the down coat when I am not moving.)
Not pictured: Pogies, 20-ounce fuel bottle (to be filled in the event I go on to Nome), Mountain Hardwear Fluid Race hydration pack with three-liter bladder (front pockets will hold meds and camera.) Base layer: Skinfit top, Gore Windstopper tights, Drymax socks/vapor barrier socks/Toestees fleece socks, Vasque Arrowhead boots, primaloft outer-boots (designed by Beat), Mountain Hardwear windstopper hat, and Skinfit primaloft mittens (if temps are above zero and my core is warm, I usually go bare-handed in pogies.)
I'm probably missing some things, but this is the gist of it. Here we are beneath the eucalyptus trees on an 80-degree afternoon in California:
After my Alaska coast tour last year, I wrote about the liability of physical weakness and the need to shed weight from my bike. The truth is, I haven't discarded that much. I've given it a lot of thought, and there's really just not much I can shave from my gear and still feel safe heading into possible conditions that I have experienced: temperatures around minus 40, hard rain and 35 degrees, and 40 to 50 mph winds in temperatures near zero (people who say windchill doesn't count are so full of crap.) All of these conditions have different margins of comfort that I have found, and am not willing to breech given there are so many more unknowns (fatigue, distance, breathing troubles, etc.) So I remain satisfied with my gear decisions, and cautiously pessimistic about my strength, but I feel like I'm heading out there with correct expectations this time. Every mile I cover will be a gift. I'm very excited.