By Dea Mitton
Bikepacking the Pony Express
Long-distance cyclist, Jan Bennett, found yet another way for adventurers to enjoy public lands around the western United States including Carson City. She created a bikepacking route that closely follows the Pony Express Trail. Bikepacking combines mountain biking and multi-day backpacking into one activity. Jan has always been interested in the outdoors and wants others to experience adventures as she has. She started biking about 9 years ago and is always planning her next outdoor adventure. So far, Jan is the only person to bikepack the Pony Express route and she did the entire route from St. Joseph, MO to San Francisco, CA in 2018. The second time she rode the route, this year, she rode through Nevada to South Lake Tahoe, CA with the goal to secure water in rural Nevada for future Pony Express riders. Jan Bennett has spent about 3 years researching and planning the Pony Express route and has created maps and a GPX file for others to follow. Her research included everything from roads and ranches along the way to which types of backpacking meals she should take.
The Pony Express Route is mostly off-road, passes through 6 states, covers 2,200 miles, climbs 85,000+ feet, crosses 16 mountain ranges and passes through large portions of public lands. The scenery is always changing and is full of beauty and history. Her route has hike-a-bike or true bikepacking options, Jan said in one of her Instagram posts that, “The decision on which route to take, and the level of adventure that you’re looking for, is all yours!” Water for the ride can be collected at natural springs and hand pumps on public lands; however, there are portions where food is not plentiful. One stretch of the trail, about 400 miles from Salt Lake City, UT to Austin, NV requires you to pack all of your food because there are no resupply options. Jan usually rides with 20-30+ pounds of gear on her bike.
Although seeing people on the Pony Express is far and few between, Jan met ranchers, especially in Utah and Nevada that offered her their bunkhouses for the night and after chatting with people at restaurants, some of them would buy her meal. Jan stayed in Carson City on both trips. While here, she got to relax and enjoy a great meal at the Union.
Here are a few tips we got from Jan for others interested in bikepacking the Pony Express:
- Do your research
- Have a back-up plan and a back-up to the back-up
- Make sure you can be self-sufficient
- Start small
- Ride with all your gear on it before the trip
- Bring plus bikes (terrain west of Salt Lake City, UT includes deep sand and rocky descents)
- Ride the Pony Express in early spring or late fall to avoid summer heats and snow-covered winters
Like Jan, we can’t wait for someone else to ride the Pony Express! Feeling inspired? Maps of the ride can be found here. Jan Bennett also shared information about the Pony Express Route on Shoulder of Giants journal or connect on Social Media with the Pony Express Bikepacking Route on Facebook @biketheponyexpress and on Instagram @biketheponyexpress.