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The Freepacking Perspective

Tomás Parra-Gómez likes riding bikes. Fast, long, high... it doesn’t matter. His adopted handle @the.freepacker takes inspiration from “free”riding and bike“packing”. While it is half insider joke, it’s also half true as one of the human-powered adventures Tomás cooked up last year was riding his bike 285 miles (much of it on trails and with nearly an Everest’s worth of climbing) to the Green River Classic. The GRC is a rowdy bike event/campout hosted by In The Hills Gang, so it’s here that Tomás would swap bikes and start sessioning the massive jumps with some of the worlds best. All of which arrived by more conventional means like cars and trucks.

So what was the general idea of this bikepack and how did the idea come about?
Throughout the season I had been blending bikepacking and more downhill/freeride style riding, with a couple bikepacking races early season and then transitioning into some jump and trail builds through late summer. Given that this was at the tail end of the season I had been riding tons, granted mostly bikepark and hiking lines as opposed to pedaling long distance. I thought it'd be so cool to make the entire Green River Classic (GRC) trip human powered. One of the coolest parts about the desert, especially there, is you can ride lines off of spines and into wide, steep faces, you just see lines everywhere, as long as you're willing to hike. To ride from Heber to Green River seemed like a cool way of exploring unique zones that are not accessible to cars on two seemingly opposite style bikes. To me, the exploration of a new zone to ride in the desert, or a new extremely remote area to bikepack through give me a very similar thrill. I like feeling small.

How’d you plan the route? Did you know the condition of roads, etc.
Apart from following the weather for a couple weeks prior, I had pretty much zero current intel on what the roads and trails might look like. I based a solid portion of the route off a Utah Mixed Epic Loop from 2020, a yearly event put on by Tim Tait. The course changes every year, my buddy who had raced it that year had told me it was heinous with tons of hike a bike. Although he did not sell it very well, it was a route that many people had ridden a few years ago, so I figured why not. It gave me a great template to tweak. That route only lasted about 100 miles of my 200 plus mile trip, so the second half was done with some satellite research, Trailforks beta, and a whole bunch of huck-and-hope mapping technology.

You set out on your own, without a riding partner. On purpose or no takers?
My one buddy who had ridden a portion of the route already and gave me the idea to base it off the U.M.E. route, said he did not want to ride it again. I pitched it to a couple other homies but no takers. Kind of a niche discipline for now I guess, bikepacking to freeride events.

Packing for trip? What are some essentials?
I’m pretty simple - good layering, a pair underwear to sleep in when you take off your riding clothes (elite), and two pairs of wool socks so you can hang a pair to dry while you wear the other. Oh also, rain pants, even in the desert it can get super windy, and they are also great for that. I also try and stoke myself out by getting some fun candies from World Market or something, I won’t open them until I’m in a bit of a hole. They’re a great mood enhancer, haha.

First we had the arrival of “Downcountry” which started as a joke and has now spread all the way into bike marketing speak, now we’ve got you “Freepacking.” Is it serious? A joke? Both? And also… WHY?
I would say it is a joke because we need to see the versatility in bikes. Some of these “downcountry” bikes are the best jib rigs. Shorter, smaller nimbler bikes are sick for riding steeper jumps. It’s not an XC race bike and I think the term “downcountry” can be counterproductive to people seeing the potential in this new capable short travel trail bike thing that's happening. As far as “freepacking” it definitely started as a bit of a joke. I said it over the phone to my homie because I had just been thinking it sounded cool to try and blend two pretty opposing styles of riding. I was on a few bikepacking trips with him and we kept seeing all these lines in the desert that looked rideable if our bikes weren’t loaded down with 65lbs of gear and water. For me seeing the potential in a new zone whether it is to build trail or just hike up and rip a line real quick gets me fired up. Bikepacking is going to let us access zones that are untouched and not blown up yet or filmed on daily. I am still messing with it and just hoping to see where we can explore via bike to ride some new gnarly lines. I look up to people in the snowboarding/splitboarding space just feeding that hunger for exploration through progressing freeride and riding new zones.

There’s a lot of “rules” in bikepacking. Are you concerned with any of that kind of stuff?
As far as the racing end of things goes, I fully back the rules regarding full self-sufficiency, no stashing and using amenities available to the public. Meaning no homies helping and all those sorts of rules. You are out in the middle of nowhere racing for multiple days at a time so upholding that code of honor is up to everyone and is essential to the spirit of bikepacking if you will. We just want to push what's possible for each of us, last spring I rode 35 hours without sleep to podium at a race in Arizona, in that scenario I was crying and pedaling, felt like I was sleeping and pedaling at times, and it is essential that everyone is pushing the limits of their bodies with the same course and circumstances and merely different strategies.
When I plan out wild solo adventures, I think stashing is fine. Sometimes I will come up with a loop in the middle of the desert, you’re going to need water and there will be no race aid stations to provide it, so make your own adventure possible.

What’s the go-to in a convenience store when bikepacking? What snack did you consume the most of?
Beef jerky. Sweating all day and then taking some salt and protein in... it’s unreal actually. Other than jerky, there's usually candy, almonds, a soda or energy drink, and water, lots.

How’d you make the decision to call it and get picked up?
After riding remote zones for a couple days, I came down the last pass into the desert with some goatheads (thorns) I had been fighting all day in the high alpine. I had topped sealant and finished my spare bottle, was pumping it periodically and after I had dinner in Castledale I topped it off with air but it started leaking exponentially faster. I was just ripping pavement for 40 of the remaining 55 miles and had ticked off all the elevation on the route, honestly did not feel like bouncing my way down pavement all night and into the next day on 5psi and I knew a homie was on his way down from SLC. Although unfinished business, this leaves me unbelievably hungry to pedal all the way to the taco truck in town in GR. I ended up riding 20k vert and the way back was slated to be an Everest (over 29,029ft). For the way back, snow had been hitting Skyline Dr and Soldier Summit for a couple days which were two remote stretches where I would need to sleep at pretty high elevation, so I had to pull the plug on the roundtrip. But it leaves me with big goals for this fall.

Tell us about the Green River Classic and your experience there?
The sickest as always. It was so fun to get to the desert with all the homies who fly in from out of town that we always get to see this time of year for Rampage and the GRC. First day of digging was so rad with a tight crew, we just loaded up the truck around 10 and weren't back until sunset. Built a couple new features, tuned some from the years before and even found a sweet cave to get away from the sun for lunch. Super cool to see the event grow over the weekend as well, on Friday its just 10-15 of us cruising around and by the weekend it's like a dirtbag “Burning Man” for freeriders. GRC was way bigger than it ever has been this year, with homies from overseas riding around and an amazing atmosphere for In The Hills Gang’s premiere of HILL BOMB. ITHG are the best! Thanks for another epic year at the classic and keeping freeride core yet inclusive.

Plans for next year?
This year we’ve been working on some jumps in the SLC area, going to keep working on our trail projects once snow melts out in the mountains as well. I am going to participate in a bikepacking “race” or two, mainly riding across the state of Washington on the Cross Washington Mountain Bike Route where I blew up my knee last year. Somewhat more of the same, with new approaches and hopefully better results. We’ve also been filming some, got some ideas for unique features we want to build so keep exploring until we find spots to make them happen! Last summer I had an 84-day riding streak but hoping to hit 100 days straight this year, all that time in the woods should help make these features happen sooner.

Photography by: Jack Dawe

Written by: SAYER