Categories
Bikepacking Armenia 2019

#BikepackingArmenia: Mission Accomplished!

It took four days longer than planned, but I’m happy to say that the #BikepackingArmenia fundraising ride is complete – and what a ride!

Over 17 days of pedalling, we covered nearly 800km of dirt and gravel trails with over 16,000m of climbing as we traversed the portion of the Lesser Caucasus mountains that dominate the Republic of Armenia. This was, by a good stretch, the toughest ride I’ve ever tackled, for reasons I’ll doubtless explore in a forthcoming blog post. For now, however, I’m going to enjoy the post-expedition bliss of not having to go anywhere, not having to make any decisions, having a fridge, having a washing machine, having a coffee maker… you know the kind of thing!

I’d like to issue a huge thank-you to the 58 supporters who have, at the time of writing, donated a whopping $3,459 to the charity fundraising campaign attached to this ride. It’s still shy of the $10,000 we’re aiming to raise by the end of this year, but there’s plenty of time to make a donation to see the Transcaucasian Trail across Armenia fully waymarked by the end of next year. For the details of what we’re raising money for, and how your donation will make a difference, click here to visit the campaign page.

Several readers have asked if the route details will be made available. The short answer is yes – my plan has always been to publish an extensive write-up of this, the Armenian stage of a future Transcaucasian Trail bikepacking route to mirror the thru-hike. As with the hiking trail, I plan to expand it in the future to cover Georgia and Azerbaijan, as far as time and resources allow. These things take time! (If you’re too impatient to wait, check out the Bikepacking.com route across Armenia, which overlaps with ours in several places.)

Finally, an idea has been brewing among the team which – if it comes off – will be welcome news for anyone who wants to ride this challenging but spectacular route in 2020 and would like some company along the way. Stay tuned for more on that… but for now, over and out!

Categories
Bikepacking Armenia 2019

#BikepackingArmenia: The Big Fundraising Ride Begins Today!

Heads up, people! Stop what you’re doing and tune into the #BikepackingArmenia social media hashtag to follow the team’s live progress as we attempt to traverse Armenia, off-road and unsupported, over the next two weeks!

From now until September 22nd, I will be live-sharing the story of the first attempt to bikepack the Transcaucasian Trail long-distance offroad route across the country, through which we aim to raise $10,000 in charitable donations to fund the waymarking of the trail.

This – the first group ride I’ve ever organised – is the outcome of four years of route research in the little-visited but utterly spectacular Republic of Armenia. In many ways, it’s the fulfilment of a long-standing life ambition, and the cause could not be dearer to my heart. You can read in more depth about my motivations right here.

Rather than attempt to write a daily blog from my tent in a semi-comatose state, I will be using the far more practical media of Instagram and Facebook to share live video stories and daily photo posts.

In case you prefer to wait until the dust settles and follow stories like this in retrospect, there will of course be a series of blog posts (and perhaps a short film) about the inevitable misadventures to come, which you’ll find right here on TomsBikeTrip.com.

And last but not least… because requests for charitable donations can be tiresome, I will ask only once on this blog between the start and the end of the ride:

If you’ve been following my work out here and you believe in what I’m doing, making a donation right now through the secure fundraising page is the single best way to help.

Wish us luck, and feel free to send us words of encouragement in the comments below!

Categories
Bikepacking Armenia 2019 Personal Updates

#BikepackingArmenia: Why, After 12 Years Of Cycle Touring, I’m Finally Riding For Charity

In 72 hours’ time, I’ll be doing something I’ve never done before: embarking on a charity fundraising cycle challenge.

Yes, I’ll be riding for a cause, raising money by means of a bike trip – in spite of much previously published cynicism.

The challenge? To bikepack the length of Armenia, off-road, by a new and (mostly) untested route.

And the cause? The Transcaucasian Trail, of course – an ambitious and largely voluntary trail-building effort, of which I am one of the original founders. It’s largely because of the last four years of work on the Transcaucasian Trail in Armenia that the route we’re riding has been made possible.

As with so many things, this project began accidentally, starting with a yes/no Facebook poll and quickly snowballing into a full-blown expedition. Now, starting on Sunday, I’ll be leading a group of 8 riders who’ll be joining me from all over the world to ride more than 800km over the mountains of Armenia in just 14 days. As we do so, we’ll collectively aim to raise $10,000 USD for charity – specifically, for the Transcaucasian Trail Association.

This is a major step for me; something entirely new in almost every way.

For years I’d been wondering how to reconcile the TomsBikeTrip.com community with this new project that had always advertised itself as a trail for hikers.

I’m not sure why it took so long to simply invite a few people to come and ride the trail with me and tell the story of how it worked out!

This is the thing. Many readers have asked – and continue to ask – if the Transcaucasian Trail will be suitable for biking. I’ve always wished I could simply say ‘yes’. But the truth is that while I’ve talked about building a bike-friendly route many times with the Transcaucasian Trail team, the work being done on the trail continues to focus on the hikers. I’m aware that bikers and hikers sharing trail space doesn’t always make for a harmonious co-existence. But it seems to me that this is a problem that has been solved many times before.

So. Through this short and sweet expedition (which I have, for the convenience of Instagram and Facebook users, christened #BikepackingArmenia) what I’m really doing is declaring my intentions.

I intend to pro-actively broaden the Transcaucasian Trail vision to accommodate the growing popularity of bikepacking and mountain-biking through the brand we’ve built – while at the same time recognising the differing needs and perspectives of the two-wheeled trail user.

As a starting point, while we’ll be attempting to stick as closely as we can to the route of the proposed hiking trail, we’ll be diverting onto more bike-friendly routes where necessary (much credit to Logan at Bikepacking.com for scouting many of these re-routes and incorporating them into the site’s own trans-Armenia route).

If all goes well, what we’ll end up with is a bikepacking variant of the Transcaucasian Trail route across Armenia – a route we can then refine, develop, expand into Georgia and Azerbaijan, and publish as the ‘official’ mountain-biking counterpart to the long-distance Transcaucasian Trail hiking route.

And that, I believe, will be a big win for everyone, including the hikers – and not just because they won’t have riders careering towards them on narrow downhill trails.

Because the fundraising target attached to this ride – $10,000 USD – has been designed to meet a very specific goal.

The way I see it, the best way to get the Transcaucasian Trail up and running for bikers is, counterintuitively, to first get it up and running for hikers.

There are a couple of reasons for this. A greater number of visitors to any rural region will spark local interest in finding ways to serve them (which is already happening), and one of the means to this end will be (and already is) developing trails and supporting services. Focusing on hikers first is the easiest way to initiate this process, because hiking is – like it or not – far more popular than biking, and therefore easier to pitch in terms of economic benefits to potential supporters in a developing country like Armenia.

Once the international hiking community has established the Caucasus as the next big thing (again, this is already happening), other industries will line up to diversify the region’s offer. Mountain biking will naturally be one of the first. At that point, those with the clearest vision for what a mountain bike trail network should look like will be best placed to lead the effort to build it.

In other words, the route we’re testing over the next two weeks will likely form the backbone for a much broader biking trail network in the region.

I already have a detailed map of a potential future national trail network for Armenia, featuring dozens of long-distance hiking and biking routes, each with its own theme and focus, each delivering a unique experience while making a human-powered journey through a region of immense depth that needs to be appreciated slowly and gradually.

That’s why the goal for this fundraiser is to waymark Armenia’s first national hiking trail, and the first country-wide stage of the international Transcaucasian Trail. It’s the next logical step in a process that began with deep exploration, continued with the curation of a single flagship route, and in the future will grow into a world-class network of trails for hikers, bikers, horseback riders, trail runners – you get the idea.

Lest the cynical among you get the wrong idea, this is not about raising money to pay myself to do this work.

I have had to become very strategic about my role in all of this.

Someone with a bigger ego, for whom personal glory was the driving force and all else mosly rhetoric, might choose to sit indefinitely at the top of the hierarchy to ensure that their name was stamped all over everything that was done. That isn’t my style.

Yes – protecting the fact that I will have been responsible for creating a country’s first long-distance trail is important for my future professional credibility.

But my ultimate goal – as soon as I feel that Armenia is ready to take ownership of its stage of the Transcaucasian Trail – is to step aside and move on to other things.

The funds we’re raising, therefore, will be dedicated to supporting a local team of Armenians to carry out all of the waymarking and maintenance needed to complete this section of the TCT. The people I have in mind are already working here as trail-builders – indeed, many of them began their careers as local trainees through our volunteer trail-building camps. They already have a personal connection to the trail. And they are the ones who will shape its future.

Well! Most charity fundraising bike rides dedicate a paragraph or two at best to the ‘cause’ and why it’s important. I now realise that I’ve written a thousand-word essay about mine. Apologies that I couldn’t make it shorter – but I wanted to explain exactly why I’ve chosen to make fundraising a core part of this ride, and why I’m reaching out to you, my readers and followers, for donations to help us reach our goal.

This is not a crowdfunding campaign. There is no reward or perk, aside from the feeling that you’ve contributed to something good (and, in the very near future, having the ability to bikepack what’s turning into one of the most spectacular long-distance trails on Earth).

The Transcaucasian Trail is a labour of love, being created in good faith, for altruistic reasons, and in a part of the world almost certainly less fortunate than yours which stands to benefit broadly and for a very long time from what your donation will help achieve. Yes – this is a charity appeal. And yes – the cause could not be dearer to my heart.

So if you’re sufficiently inspired to make a donation, please do so now. If not, no problem. Either way, I hope you enjoy following the expedition via the #BikepackingArmenia hashtag. We leave on Sunday – wish us luck!