Latitude 45 Staff Bikepacking Part Two

(This is the second in a two-part series detailing a recent bikepacking trip taken by seven Latitude 45 employees.)

Seven Latitude 45 Bicycles and Fitness staff members enjoyed great weather and good times on an annual, two-night/three-day bikepacking trip that departed from the shop on Wednesday, Oct. 9, and returned Friday, Oct. 11.

This year’s adventure took staffers on a 150-mile clockwise loop that heavily utilized Northern Michigan’s stellar trails. Amid sunny skies and mild temperatures, the group headed north out of Petoskey along the Little Traverse Wheelway and the North Western State Trail. After a brief stop for supplies, they continued northeast toward Black Lake, where they spent their first night in the gorgeous Black Lake State Forest Campground.

MIKE HOULMONT, LATITUDE 45 SERVICE MANAGER

Mike has moderate experience bikepacking, having done solo and group trips in the past. “I know what I’m doing,” he said. “I feel comfortable doing solo trips. But, I don’t have the level of experience that allows me to pack ideal gear. I tend to over- or under-pack. I kind of wing it a lot, hoping everything turns out great.”

Mike Houlmont

This time around, he felt good about his packing for the three-day trip. “This year, the forecast was good, so I didn’t have to pack for multiple types of weather. For instance, all I had to worry about was on-bike clothing because it was about 70 degrees each day. But, I did have to have some warmer stuff for when the sun went down.”

Mike’s favorite part of the trip involved the many apples the seven-member group found on their route. He estimates that he consumed about a dozen apples – something he warned others against. (See Mike for details!) “They were all so good,” he said. “I didn’t have one bad apple the entire time.”

A Surly Troll was Mike’s bike choice for this trip. The Troll is a very utilitarian bicycle designed for a variety of cycling endeavors. “You can do everything with that bike,” he explained. “It has the ability to run disc or V-brakes. You can run it single-speed or geared. It has all the mounting hardware for racks, fenders – pretty much anything you need. That bike has been great at everything I’ve every used it for. For me, it’s the perfect bike. I’ve used it for mountain biking, commuting, bikepacking, running errands around town. It’s great for everything, and it just depends on how you have it set up.”

In terms of camping gear, the Latitude 45 service manager said he valued his new Blackburn Outpost Elite Universal Seat Pack – something not stocked in the shop, but available for order. “The biggest thing is that it’s universal. It can be run with a dropper post or a straight seat post. It also has a removable dry bag that you can take into your tent; it’s easily removable. Also, it’s the first seat pack that I’ve used that doesn’t ‘wag’ back and forth with each pedal stroke.”

GREG FULLER, LATITUDE 45 SALES MANAGER

Greg has moderate experience bikepacking, having gone on about 10 trips. His longest trip was two nights, three days; the shortest trip having been an over-nighter. “I was excited and nervous about the weather because there had been rain in the forecast” Greg explained. “I was pretty sure, though, that once we took off we’d have perfect weather. I was just really excited to be able to spend some time outside. I really like everyone on the ride and riding with everyone was fun.”

Greg Fuller

Riding with Latitude 45 co-worker Tommy Goode was a favorite part of the trip for Greg. “Tommy is a risk taker and down for anything,” Greg said. “I didn’t know how he’d do because he’s more of a mountain biker than a long-distance rider. It was his first bikepacking trip. He was on a fat bike and had all his gear tied on with old bike tubes! But, he had a great time and never complained once about being sore. He was just a champ and really fun to ride with.”

Greg rode his Salsa Timberjack, a plus bike with a front suspension fork and a hard tail. “That’s the perfect bike for that kind of riding. There’s a ton of sand in Michigan soils and the Timberjack’s three-inch tires were a big help with that. That bike is very comfortable – probably the most comfortable mountain bike I’ve ridden,” he said. “Even being on it for over 150 miles, I never had any pain issues because of how upright and wide the handlebars are.”

“My Giro Jacket flat pedal riding shoes were great on this ride,” he said. “They’re really comfortable being on the bike all day. When we stopped, it was great to be able to walk around with no discomfort. When I got back from the trip, everything hurt except my feet.”

JOE GRAHAM – LATITUDE 45 MARKETING, COMMUNITY OUTREACH, SALES & SERVICE

Joe considers himself an experienced bikepacker, having in years past led New Hampshire students on one- and two-week bikepacking trips. He also went on several longer New England area bikepacking trips. Joe got into bikepacking a decade ago after cobbling together a single-speed monster cross bike, adding to it a set of Jandd panniers and a homemade handlebar sling. With his new rig complete, he started venturing out for overnights around his then-home, Rochester, N.Y.

Joe Graham

The father of a young daughter, Joe’s time for such outdoor adventures has been limited. “I was thrilled,” he said, “because this was the first opportunity I had to go bikepacking since the birth of my daughter. I always look forward to trips with other people. I’ve only done a few solo trips and, while I like the time to reflect, I much prefer the camaraderie of a group trip. “

Joe said that he enjoyed getting to know his co-workers better through conversations they had on the bike. “In day to day life as a husband, father, homeowner, and farmer, it’s hard for me to make social time a high priority. So a trip like this is the best way for me to create that opportunity. “

He said he also enjoyed dominating at euchre with Latitude 45 owner Christian Janssens, as they faced other co-workers on the trip’s second night. “Christian played really aggressively, which is the way I like to play, and it paid off,” Joe said.

For this journey, Joe dealt himself another winning hand, riding a Honey Graham, which is a bicycle he made himself through his company, Graham Cycles. A 27.5-plus, belt-driven, Rohloff drive, made-to-measure steel bike with a truss fork and custom and integrated bags from Barking Bear Bagworks. “The bike is really the perfect bikepacking rig because the belt-driven Rohloff drive train combo is so reliable and low-maintenance. The bags fit the frame perfectly and provide great capacity while minimally affecting the bike’s handling,” Joe said.

The night before the trip, Joe fabricated a new fork-mounted carrier for his cook pot. “Over the course of the trip, it was dubbed the ‘PanJo‘ by Latitude 45 Service Writer Jake Keyser,” Graham said. “One of the challenges of carrying a cook pot is that it typically gets a build-up of black soot on it, making it undesirable to put inside a bag. The ‘PanJo’ is a stainless steel rack, meaning I didn’t have to worry about getting it dirty, and it was perfectly shaped to hold the pot.”

MARC COLLIER, LATITUDE 45 SALES ASSOCIATE

A frequent bikepacker with dozens of Northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula trips under his belt, Marc Collier is one of Latitude 45’s more experienced adventurers. Marc has mountain biked all over America in all types of conditions. His knowledge derives not only from his outdoor recreation degree, but also from the wide variety of outdoor pursuits he’s enjoyed over the years.

Marc Collier

Collier couldn’t pinpoint any one aspect of the trip as being his favorite. Rather, simply being outdoors in beautiful autumn conditions, pedaling a bike with friends stood out. “You’re out there biking in an unconstrained time frame. You’re just enjoying it. Stop when you want. Bike when you want. We didn’t have any particular schedule and that really provides a sense of freedom,” Marc said.

Marc chose his Surly Pugsley fat bike for the trip. It was outfitted with a size-specific Revelate Designs frame bag, a Revelate Designs Viscacha seat pack, a Giant Scout handlebar bag, Revelate Designs “Gas Tank” bag, and two Revelate Designs mountain feed bags. “The versatility of a fat bike is pretty unmatched. No doubt, I can go anywhere with it,” he explained. “While a little slower on pavement, it gets through sandy two-tracks and trails with relative ease.”

Marc’s frame bag was his favorite piece of equipment on this trip because of its large capacity storage spaces. However, he confessed that the dual feed bags set-up was great for carrying cold beverages and snacks within arm’s reach throughout the ride, whether pedaling or not.

“The most interesting places in the world are within a day’s bike ride from your own home,” Marc concluded. “Grab your gear. Get on your bike, and go explore.”

TOMMY GOODE, LATITUDE 45 SALES ASSOCIATE

Before this trip, 21-year-old Tommy was a bikepacking virgin. An experienced camper, backpacker and mountain biker, he had not, however, done any bikepacking prior to the Latitude 45 adventure. Tommy acknowledged that his prior outdoor endeavors offered great context for this trip.

Tommy Goode

Favorite parts of the trip for Tommy ranged from the simple to the extreme. He enjoyed pushing his bike across a beaver dam near Afton, while the other guys followed. Prior to that, he followed Marc Collier across a flooded logging road. As video evidence suggests, Tommy and his Salsa Mukluk sank deep into the mire as the group watched and laughed.

In spite of that hilarious mishap, he said the Mukluk’s 4.6-inch tires helped him float over long, deep sandy sections, and easily manage gravel and single track. “There was a lot of sand later in our route, and the Mukluk just chugged along over all of that,” Tommy said. “Plus, it has a lot of trail geometry, with a slack head tube angle and a steep seat tube angle, which helps position the rider over the bars on climbs.”

In terms of gear, Tommy said Salsa’s “Anything Cages” provided great cargo carrying capability and versatility. “I had my hammock strapped on there,” Tommy said. “My food bag was strapped to the Anything Cage. Whenever I’d strip off a layer of clothing, I’d strap it to my cage. So those Salsa products really made my life a lot easier on my first-ever bikepacking trip.”

Another favorite piece of bikepacking equipment for Tommy was the Revelate Designs mountain feed bag.

CHRISTIAN JANSSENS, LATITUDE 45 OWNER & FOUNDER

With six years of experience, Christian has a great love for bikepacking. He gets a thrill from self-propelling his bicycles, and he enjoys aiming his two-wheelers at places in Northern Michigan he hasn’t yet explored. A self-described adventurer with the hectic schedule of a husband and father, Christian nevertheless makes time to backpack with friends, family and, of course, co-workers.

Christian Janssens

Janssens said bikepacking with a group or, in this case, a team is great because everybody is responsible for their own gear and food. “It is super fun to watch the people using their very simple gear and making their food … and then throwing it all back on their bikes and moving on to the next location,” Janssens said. “It’s all about self-sufficiency and simplicity. These kinds of activities allow people to really connect and bond. Living simplistically out in the wild, dealing with the elements, is a bonding experience.”

The recent Latitude 45 staff bikepacking trip was the fourth such event, held annually since 2015. “The first trip was epic,” Christian laughed. “We rode a variety of routes, but we chose a very low-maintenance single track called the High Country Pathway. It took us a really long time and it was super amazing. Trying to maneuver our bikes, loaded with gear, over bridges, around trees, over rocks … It was fun and exhausting. Overall, it was a great team building experience.

“When we emerged from the woods and started to move on a more normal road, we were just excited to see some sign of civilization! Then we saw a tiny gas station. We were like, ‘FOOOOOOD!’ Sitting behind that little gas station, eating the very small amounts of food available there was like … the best!”

This time around, Christian said he was particularly amazed to have seen a number of beautiful spots that he hadn’t seen before. “Even utilizing similar areas of Northern Michigan – areas I’ve been to,” he said, “I still was able to see totally unique parts of Northern Michigan I hadn’t seen before. I was amazed I was able to go 150 miles and only be on a road with cars for about five of those miles. We were on everything BUT pavement … dirt roads, bike paths, single tracks – and we didn’t have to deal with cars. I loved that! Plus, discovering lakes I didn’t know about – super cool!”

On this sojourn, Christian road his Surly Krampus 29-plus. “I love that bike,” he said. “It’s steel. It’s just a comfortable bike, and it rides over anything. It’s easily loaded with weight. I felt like the nice thing about the 29-plus was that I was able to ride over any terrain, but still able to maintain speed over flat areas because of the wheel size. It’s the perfect bike, in my opinion.”

With regard to bikepacking equipment, his favorite piece was always right in front of him. “I love my Blackburn Outpost HB Roll and Dry Bag!” Christian said. “The reality is: you can carry so much weight in a non-impactful way on your handlebars. It doesn’t effect your steering. It doesn’t feel like you’re burdened. That bag allows you to attach a bunch of stuff. I carried my sleeping bag, tent stakes, a loaded dry sack, my bedroll … It’s great for large, awkward items, Heavy or not, the weight doesn’t effect you; it just rides smoothly over the front of the bike.”

“Another favorite thing is my Dimension compass bell,” Christian concluded. “I love to see which direction we’re going in a simplistic way. It’s also a bell, of course. But, the magnetic compass is really simple and a lot of fun!”

JAKE KEYSER, LATITUDE 45 SERVICE WRITER

Jake has done quite a few overnight and weekend bikepacking trips, though none included long distances like the staff outing. He got into bikepacking as a natural segue from the extensive camping and backpacking he’s done. “I already had a lot of the gear and the experience crossed over well,” he said. “I figured it was way more fun to not carry a backpack and let the bike carry the gear for you. Plus, I get to see more terrain. On a bike, not having to carry gear, you can put in so many more miles, but still feel connected to the landscape you’re moving through.”

Jake Keyser

Jake said, to him, the best parts of the staff bikepacking trip were visiting new places and exploring parts of county and state he’d never been in before. “Marc (Collier) planned our route and I briefly previewed it,” he said. “As soon as we got off Brutus Road north, I’d never ridden any of that stuff! Black Lake was sweet! The Black Mountain trails were really cool. I’d never ridden any of that. Also, we had a killer night for camping. We couldn’t have picked a couple better days to do that trip! It was a nice, warm night. Sleeping out on the ground, under a little tarp – no tent … It was cowboy camping, pretty much!”

Jake rode a custom-built, titanium Salsa Timberjack hardtail with a rigid fork. “It’s my three-season trail slayer and my go-to bike,” he explained. “It really lends itself well to riding trails without all the gear. But, it does super well all loaded up with a weekend’s worth of camping gear as well. It’s super versatile. Riding a rigid fork on a trail bike is totally doable for the kind of riding we have around here. It’s really fun! This bike is great for carrying extra gear. It has all the mounts for extra cages and whatnot.”

A new and valued piece of gear acquired by Jake for this trip was a Revelate Designs double-ended, roll-top bag, which fit in his handlebar harness. “My whole sleep system was in there: sleeping bag, pad, pillow, ground tarp and canopy tarp – all in there!” he said. “Another cool piece of gear is a homemade stove that I use. It’s an alcohol-burning beer can (PBR, of course!) stove. Yeah, I read the instructions online. It works impressively well for as janky as it looks! It’s really only good for boiling water, which of course is great for oatmeal, coffee and rehydrating meals. But, it’s not good to cook on. Yep, I made it in my kitchen, and it weighs practically nothing.” (Find those beer can stove instructions HERE!)

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