Bikepacking through the Dolomites with Joey Schusler
While Smith athlete Joey Schusler started out as a professional downhill and enduro racer, he fell in love with bikepacking in 2014 during a trip in the Peruvian Andes and has been going on bikepacking adventures around the world ever since. We caught up with Joey after his most recent European bikepacking trip to get some insider tips from an expert.
How did you devise your route on this trip?
This past trip, 13 days from Munich to Milan, I was almost completely alone. While I love touring with friends (in fact some of my closest friendships have been forged on really difficult and extraordinary bikepacking trips) it was something truly special to go alone this time. I was able to tune into my own intuition, decision-making, and pace in a way I have never before felt. It was deeply satisfying.
Any trouble getting your gear to your destination?
Denver to Munich direct was the easiest part. Before I knew it I was building my bike up out of a cardboard box in a back alley of the airport, and then immediately on my way. That feeling of knowing how much distance and adventure lay before me was one of the coolest feelings I have ever felt.
Let’s talk gear for a minute – what did you take with you?
For my bike, I took Yeti Cycles SB120. First bike with SRAM Transmission, and was a game changer for this sort of trip. So reliable. Bikepacking bags were tight (no bag wag) – just a small one on the seat containing my electronics, spare bits, and tools, then a front roll with a sleeping bag and pad, side caddies for some snacks, a camera, and other small items. Then a high-volume, low-weight backpack with my tent, rain gear, and extra clothes inside. Enough volume to easily balance my bike on my back for the big hike-a-bikes up high!
For clothes, I brought Rapha shorts and a jersey. Raincoat. Thin down coat. Rain pants. One pair of riding socks, one pair of sleeping socks. All around really simple!
I also brought my Forefront 2 in black. Tried and true. It’s coming up on 10 years since the first ever Forefront launched and it’s crazy to think I’ve probably worn it more days than not since then.
For sunglasses, I spent most of the trip in the new Vert Pivlock sunglasses and loved ’em. The XC’s were really nice for when things got real sweaty. Also, a good vibe flipping them up to snag a quick espresso on the go.
What’s one piece of gear that you had to have with you at the ready every day? Or alternately what’s a piece of gear you didn’t know would be so useful?
To be honest, with a route like this, my phone was the most valuable piece of gear that the trip was hinging on. The route I took is not an established bikepacking route, but rather something I cobbled together at home using a mix of blog posts, Strava heat maps, Komoot routes, Google Earth, Gaia map layers, and some good guesswork and intuition. My phone was the key thing that would help me navigate this route I put together. Following the exact route was very important at times, since in the Dolomites some trails can easily lead to unbikeable climbing routes, cliffed-out faces, and full on via-ferrata type paths. Only once did this happen to me, and I was forced to turn around and climb back out the way I came, several thousand vertical feet. My phone would keep me on track and navigating well.
Also, KT Tape, which I never use, ended up coming in real handy. After many days climbing and hike-a-biking around 3,000 or more vertical meters, I started to develop some pain in my achilles. KT Tape remedied this better than I could have ever imagined. Keeping the body happy is such a big part of the battle on these long rides.
What was your favorite moment of the trip?
A true highlight though was spending the night on top of a high mountain pass in the Dolomites and just having the best morning of my entire summer the morning after. Finding the rhythm of the trip, finding myself in an incredibly beautiful spot, and feeling the morning sun on my face with another big day ahead. Anything feels possible in moments like that, and it will carry you through any and all hard times to come.
What are a couple pieces of advice you would offer to people who are thinking about doing their own international bikepacking trips?
Just go! You can always adapt your route and plan as you go, but just GO! Getting out the door and locking off the time are always the hardest parts, and life on the bike is almost always great. Just pick a spot and send it!
What’s next? Where would you like to visit via bike on your next adventure?
I would love to go back to the Huayhuash range in Peru, where I did my first ever bikepacking trip, and go a bit deeper there. I also would love to do a trip in Albania and or Turkey one of these years. Tajikistan has also been on my radar for a long time.