Episode 39 | Matt Mason: Bikepacking and Public Lands
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In today’s podcast, we are joined by Matt Mason. Matt is a multi-hyphenate adventurer and backpacker turned bikepacker. Our chat functions as kind of a Bikepacking 101 class, so if you’ve been thinking of taking up the sport but don’t know where to start, this is a great entry point. We also talk about Matt’s efforts at public land advocacy in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
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- the superiority of long beards
- from backpacking to bikepacking
- the similarities between the two sports
- bike riding is just fun!
- how to avoid feeling overwhelmed as you start bikepacking
- areas to put bags on your bike
- Voile straps are handy!
- Relevate Designs and Orltieb both make ready-to-go frame bags
- Rogue Panda makes custom frame bags
- try to avoid carrying a backpack
- don’t let your current bike stop you from bikepacking
- what types of bikes work for mountain biking
- gearing and drivetrains
- a general description of an ideal garage-sale bikepacking bike
- gears vs. single-speed
- bikepacking.com is a great resource
- Matt’s go-to bike brands for bikepacking – Surly and Salsa
- Where to buy a great used bike? Try Pinkbike!
- a little background on the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
- Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is a non-profit doing great work in the area
- Matt is hoping for a National Scenic Trail designation
- ranching on public lands
- timeline for future plans
- follow along with the Monumental Loop on Instagram and Facebook
- Matt’s advice to both backpackers and bikepackers
- footwear advice
Full Transcript Text
Andrew Marshall (34s): Welcome to the backpacking light podcast. I’m Andrew Marshall Ryan Jordan. Won’t be joining me today as he’s off putting the final touches on the brand new backpacking light website, as it happens, that website is launching today, May 27th, 2021. And if you haven’t had the chance to go check it out yet, you really should. It’s very, very cool features of brand new modern layout, and a lot of new features with that said, let’s dive right in. One thing I’m experimenting with this year is bike packing.
Bike packing is exactly what it sounds like overnight, or multi-day self-supported wilderness travel just like backpacking, except instead of walking with a pack on your back, you are riding a bike. I’m a long time mountain biker, but I’ve never biked packed. And I was curious about the similarities and differences to ultralight backpacking in terms of both gear and philosophy. So I called up Matt Mason for a chat. Matt is an experienced backpacker and through hiker who turned to bike packing as a way to travel further and get deeper into the wilderness while operating on a tighter time constraint.
He also spends a lot of time advocating for bicycle infrastructure in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he lives, and he’s the creator of the monumental loop, a long, brutal and beautiful bike packing route through the Oregon mountains, desert peaks, national monument outside of Las Cruses, our chat functions as a rambling bike packing one-on-one class. And towards the end, we get into a discussion about public lands use. I’m excited for you to hear it. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Matt Mason, Matt Mason, welcome, and the backpacking light podcast.
And can I just start off by saying that I think your beard is fantastic.
Matt Mason (2m 22s): Thanks a lot. Yeah. I don’t work on it at all. So that’s, that’s my strategy. Yeah.
Andrew Marshall (2m 27s): You know, this, this wing of backpacking light as a big fan of, of long beard.
Matt Mason (2m 32s): So. Good. Good. Yeah.
Andrew Marshall (2m 36s): Just start off by telling us a little bit about your journey from backpacking. I know you through hike to the Colorado trail at some point and how you kind of went from that into the world of bike packing.
Matt Mason (2m 53s): Yeah, I guess I’ve always been a cyclist and on some level, but I got into long distance hiking, sort of in the early two thousands hike the Appalachian trail in 2007 Colorado trail a couple times after that 2010 and 11, I think it was. But around that time in 2010, I moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico. And there’s a lot of good hiking here that a lot of, most of it’s off trail, there’s not very much water.
So stringing together a long hike from here is pretty tough. So I hopped on the bike, basically a mountain bike at that time and started riding a little more. My life. I’ve got a couple of life changes that don’t let me be out for, you know, six months or three months or whatever at a time. So switched into the bike. Let me get, let me get some bigger adventures in, in a shorter amount of time. That’s sort of the idea.
Andrew Marshall (3m 49s): So that was sort of the impetus. And then once you started seriously switching into the biking, I’m curious as to the similarities and the differences that you found between bike packing and backpacking, maybe philosophically, maybe gear wise, just sort of anything.
Matt Mason (4m 10s): Yeah, I think there are a lot, there are a lot of similarities. Obviously you’re using mostly the same gear except for the bike instead of a backpack. So a few things changed there, but all the basics are the same on gear and sort of the ethics behind what you’re doing. You know, it’s still centered on leave, no trace and low impact travel, human powered travel. There are some significant differences, you know, downhills obviously are dramatically different. And what you see along the way, and sort of the feelings you have, I think are a little bit different, how you connect with the land.
A lot of people talk about the difference between traveling at the speed of a car when you slow down to a bike that, oh, you see so much more, but I think there’s that same gap and sort of that same, you know, missed opportunity when you slow down off the bike on the foot, you’re just so much more connected to the landscape. I think on foot, even than a bike, you know, and on a bike, you’re still seeing a lot, but you’re missing quite a few things too. So they got the noise at the tires and the hubs. And so you’re not hearing as many sounds as you would be. Otherwise for me, it’s a more social thing too on the bike.
I don’t mind doing long hikes by myself. I’ve, you know, all the long hikes I’ve started, I’ve gone to the Trailhead the first day and there’s people on the way, but I’ve started by myself and I’m more hesitant for some reason. I haven’t identified exactly to do that with a bike. I don’t know what that’s about. Exactly, but maybe it’s just, I’ve gotten older and I don’t want to be by myself as much out there, but it’s more social on the bike, I think. Hmm.
Andrew Marshall (5m 49s): So yeah, you mentioned a few things that might discourage people who were really into the savoring, the connection with the land type stuff, but what do you find about bike packing that other than the social aspect that, that really connects with you as opposed to backpacking?
Matt Mason (6m 16s): I do. Like, I mean, I just like riding a bike. That’s one, that’s a big one.
Andrew Marshall (6m 21s): Joy and bike riding,
Matt Mason (6m 23s): Right? Yeah, for sure. For sure. There is. And I, and I, and the big one for me is that I can start what feels like a pretty big adventure, almost always from my house. So if I were to hike, even the nearest public land, there’s a little mountain, you know, it’s two miles away and on my bike, I can be there in a couple minutes, you know, 10 minutes or less. And then from there, I’ve got 500,000 acres, but if I’m walking, I can’t cover nearly as much ground. And I almost always have to drive to a trail head to start bikes.
You can just hop on and go and kind of have, see a lot of territory in a sort of amount of time. So that’s a big one for me.
Andrew Marshall (7m 5s): Yeah. And part of that is some of that’s where you live Las Cruces is it’s got kind of amazing access to the wilderness, pretty like right out the door. But like, like you said, I mean, even if you had five or six or seven miles from your house, that’s much more doable on a bike than it is walking
Matt Mason (7m 25s): For sure. Sure. But that’s more, yeah, that’s fine.
Andrew Marshall (7m 28s): Let’s get into some of the, like the details of, if I was a backpacker, a lightweight backpacker, and I was interested in bike packing, it can feel very overwhelming. So I’m actually in the middle of this process right now. I’m like exploring this whole world. And, you know, as part of my job, I’m pretty darn familiar with gear and backpacking gear and backpacking skills. But I started to look at bikes and got overwhelmed very quickly.
So what are, what are some ways to mitigate that, that feeling of being overwhelmed when you start going, I don’t even know where to start.
Matt Mason (8m 11s): Yeah. It’s hard to say exactly. I mean, there are a lot of resources out there that will help you. And the good part is you have a lot of the basics down. If you’re a backpacker making the transition, especially if you’re already a cyclist to then, then you’ve pretty much got it in the bag. But if, even if you’re not a cyclist, if you’re a backpacker and you’re ultralight already, then that’s a good, that’s a good start. But really, it just comes down to getting the bike and figuring out a way to put the gear that you’ve put in your backpack for however many years and miles onto the bike.
And that’s going to take trial and error is really the only way to figure it out for sure for yourself, because there isn’t one, one way to do it. You know, there’s, there’s various ways to put, put things on your bike. So
Andrew Marshall (9m 0s): Yeah. So there’s kind of like the DIY way, the make your own gear way, and then you can start dropping cash on frame bags and things like that. So did you kind of go through that journey?
Matt Mason (9m 12s): I did. Yeah. And there’s still, I mean, it’s sort of like the external backpack idea, you know, there’s that idea’s still around and bicycle touring where you put a rack with sort of oversized bags on it and you put that on just about any bike you have. So that’s the, that’s sort of the simplest way to start. But once you start getting into black packing specific bags, it’s, it is sort of a journey. It is, you know, you have to sort of take the gear, you have, see how much space it takes, see what bags spent your bike.
There, there are a lot of variables into to making it work. And even every trip I go on now I do pack something just a little differently. I’m like, oh, I can move this here or that there and try some different stuffs.
Andrew Marshall (9m 57s): So on a, on a bicycle, you’ve got a couple of different areas that you can strap things down. Right. So you’ve, you’ve mentioned the rack and I want to circle back around to that. Cause I imagine there’s pros and cons to putting a rack on your, on the back, the back of a mountain bike essentially, or whatever bike you have, but can you just kind of like list sort of the general places you can strap things down and what, what kind of goes where like, is there a better place for, for a shelter on a bike?
Matt Mason (10m 29s): Yeah. And I think the rack thing is probably not, I mean, especially for ultra light, backpackers is probably not the way they’re most of them are going to go. So if you’re going to soft bags is sort of what they call them, but no rack, the main three spots are the handlebar under the seats and the main triangle of the bag, sort of the main frame where the water bottles would normally go. And you sort of wanted the ideas to keep the weight as low and you know, the heavyweight low and in between the wheels, if possible.
So food water, if you have a heavier shelter and can get that in the frame, that’s a good way to go. Most people end up running like a bed roll and clothing on the handlebar and then, you know, various things in the seat bag, but water and food, definitely low and tools low in the frame and the frame bag.
Andrew Marshall (11m 24s): So if you don’t have a frame bag, what’s an, what’s a viable way to strap that heavy stuff, kind of into that central frame area,
Matt Mason (11m 33s): Without a frame bag, it can be hard. They have cargo cages that are sort of like an oversized water bottle cage. And those will take, you know, anywhere from like a five to 10 liter dry bag. And then you can strap that to the cage and most bikes will be able to hold that because they most bikes have water bottle water amounts. So that’s another way to go. And it’s quite a bit cheaper to do that too.
Andrew Marshall (11m 57s): Right. So if I had to make one purchase to help me carry cargo, a frame bag would probably be a good way to go. And then I can kind of DIY the rest of the stuff if I have to.
Matt Mason (12m 10s): Yeah, I think so, because I don’t think you can DIY frame bags that, well, unless you have a sewing machine and hours more patients than I have more patients than I have, but you can, you can get a, you know, a sea to summit, dry, dry bag or whatever, 10 liter dry bag and strap it to the seat fairly easily. If you have a couple of those valet straps or four mile straps or whatever, they are strap that to the seat and then do another one of those to the handlebars and that will get you through, you know, all, but the roughest trips, just a couple of dry bags strapped to your bike frame bag.
It’s, it’s pretty useful.
Andrew Marshall (12m 46s): Yeah. And there’s a whole world out there of cottage frame, bag makers and custom bags for, you know, the specific model and year of your bike and what kind of suspension it is and all that stuff. And all of that strikes me as kind of like either you’ve just decided to drop $2,000 on this sport right off the bat, or that’s something you kind of work your way up to is like a custom frame bag. So what are some frame bags that you can start with? They’re kind of like, just have a general shape that you need, that you will fit almost any bike you have.
Does that exist?
Matt Mason (13m 21s): It does exist. Yeah. Revelator designs out of Alaska as to sort of stock frame bags and various sizes. There’s a couple of other companies do rock Geist maybe, and North Carolina has one, there’s probably a frame bag maker in your area, which is what I always tell people, reach out to that person and see, but there are some stock ones available that are quite a bit cheaper that will fit, you know, most bikes. And that’s a good way to go. The cool part about a frame bag too, is once you have it, if you ride for day rides or even commuting to work, it’s a super handy bag to, has it makes any, I put them on almost all my bikes now, even if I don’t go bike packing on them that much, because it’s just a handy thing to have.
You can put a lock in there, but some snacks and whatever it is. So it’s kind of a handy bike item anyway,
Andrew Marshall (14m 13s): And it’s nice to not have to be carrying a backpack. That’s so that’s sort of another thing I found in my research is that carrying a backpack, even if it’s lightweight on a bicycle is kind of, I don’t know, it was the word frowned upon that I would use. Like, it seems like it’s not really trendy.
Matt Mason (14m 30s): Yeah. Most people try to avoid it. I avoid it completely. I’ll occasionally wear a small Fanny pack, but when you’re, if it’s your first trip and you already have an ultra light backpack set up, you can just throw that on your back and go, it’s not going to be super comfortable. And it makes it a little harder on your, on your, behind, on the saddle. You’re getting a little more weight that way, but it’s doable and people do it all the time, especially if you’re ultra light, you know, and you’re doing some trail like the Colorado trail or something that has a lot of hiking.
It’s not so bad, you know, to, to have a little backpack. So that, that is an option, but,
Andrew Marshall (15m 11s): Well, let’s talk about bikes. There’s an idea in the bike packing world, at least the resources I’ve looked at that I really like, which is, and you mentioned it earlier, if you already have a bike, just take it out there and get out there. Like, don’t let the bike that you have, keep you from getting into the sport. That being said, can you talk about maybe some of the different styles of bikes that people use for bike packing and like maybe what styles or what pieces of engineering are more suited for certain styles of bike packing?
Matt Mason (15m 52s): Yeah. I can’t say that. It’s true. Not to let the bike stop you. My first trip was on a three speed coaster brake, like commuter bike with, you know, 26 by 2.0 tires, slick meant to ride to campus and back, you know, and I did a trip on that and it was so much fun. No problem. You know, now, now if you have to choose a bike for bike packing, like the standard choice is sort of a mountain bikes, ideally with wider tires.
And that’s sort of been the big thing that’s I think, you know, played a big role in like tech boom is big wide tires. So you’re going to have a fairly simple frame, you know, with no suspension and still have a comfortable soft drive that goes over almost any terrain I was saying under snow or whatever it is. So the wide tires and low gearing has been the, you know, sort of reliable drive trains. So it’s a wide range single ring in the front. That’s been, those two have been big.
Andrew Marshall (16m 55s): It’s possible that you even just said some words that like went right over people’s heads. So yeah. So can we back up and talk about like, what’s the drive train, what’s the front ring, you know, things like that, just to kind of like make sure we all on the same page.
Matt Mason (17m 10s): Yeah. So most bikes come with like a multiple geared system. You know, you can get a single speed with one chain ring in the front where the cranks are and one cog in the back. That’s like the most simple drive fair, and you can get just a chain and then, you know, just sort of how you would draw it as a kid, you know, just the overall shape of the drive train. And then most people are going to bike back on multiple speeds. So it’s going to have the big cassette on the back wheel with all the little cogs going up in a shifter.
And then you can sort of sort of select which gear you want and that’ll move the derailer and move the chain. And now they very simplified drive trains compared to what they had. You know, 15 years ago, you used to have multiple chain rings on the front and a front derailer and then a smaller cassette in the back. So you had three gears on the front and eight to 10 on the back, and now they’ve all gone to one gear on the front. So you don’t have the front derailer. So it’s lighter, it’s simpler, it’s easier to maintain.
And then you have a much bigger cassette in the back. So you’ve got 11 or 12 years in the back to choose from. And then just one shifter on your bike to select the gear you need.
Andrew Marshall (18m 25s): So if I was hitting garage sales, looking through Craigslist for a bike packing bike, assuming I don’t already have a mountain bike, or maybe I have a mountain bike with that’s, that’s made for downhill and it’s, it’s gonna suck up a lot of energy as I try to bike pack with it. I’m looking for something with no suspension in the back maybe, or maybe not a suspension in the front thick wide tires and a modern one chain in the one, one chain ring in the front.
And then a lot of gears in the back. Is that a simple way of saying it?
Matt Mason (19m 6s): Yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s would be good. And why tires, we’re talking, you know, 2.6 all the way up to, to 4.8 so they can be very wide and to those tires should be tubeless. That’s one other thing. So we’re not running any tubes and tires anymore. You just put the tire on the rim, but some liquid latex sealant in there, and that has almost eliminated flats and changing tubes and patching tubes.
And so that’s, that’s another big one. I guess
Andrew Marshall (19m 42s): One of the things that I like about this type of bicycle is, is how simple they are. And there’s just less things to break on them, which I think anyone listening to this podcast is realizing is probably a good thing. You know, if you’re out in the middle of the woods three or four days from a trail head, I know that you sometimes ride even without gears in the back, do you suggest that for if you’re gonna really get out there?
Matt Mason (20m 13s): Yeah. I like it. It’s the simplest way to go. Then if you run into mud or any sort of adverse trail conditions, it almost has no impact on your ability to keep writing and that’s to me, because you can get so far out there so quickly, you know, you can be 50 miles away in a day, but then if your bike’s broken you’re you’re several days walked back or push on a bike, it’s kind of horrible. So yeah, I would recommend riding single speed, but the new one by 11 and one by 12 is what they’re drive.
Trains are pretty reliable. They are, but you have to have, that’s the other thing you have to have that you don’t carry when you’re backpacking is all the tools to repair the bike and you’ve got to know how to use them. So I’m not really that good with fixing a derailer, you know? So I say, well, am I do I want to learn how to do it and get better at it and take that risk or just avoid it altogether. And you can’t avoid it and still have a trip, but there’s training.
There’s, trade-offs all along the way.
Andrew Marshall (21m 21s): I imagine you’re doing a little bit more pushing your bike if you’ve only got one, one gear in the back.
Matt Mason (21m 27s): Yeah. I mean, almost every trip I go on a mock and part of it, I mean, most of the time the geared riders are too, you know, if you have the gears, sometimes it’s too steep or too Rocky, or it’s just not worth, you know, putting out that much effort to go, you know, a couple of miles an hour faster than I am walking, but yeah, walking, it’s definitely part of it on the Colorado trail. I think I walked 50 miles on the bike trip, you know, I’m riding 500, but I probably pushed at least 50.
Andrew Marshall (21m 56s): Yeah. Yeah. I hiked the Colorado trail in 2015. And for the first two days there was a group of bike Packers in front of me. And I actually would catch up to them every time there was an uphill, you know, and then they’d pass me on the downhill and we sort of flip flop back and forth for a few days, resources for learning how to use those tools and learning how to do repairs in the field. Do you have anything that you would recommend?
Matt Mason (22m 24s): Yeah, so like fracking.com does a pretty good job and they have some YouTube videos and a bunch of stuff on their website locally. I think I would just recommend going to your local bike shop and asking the people there. There’s probably somebody at the shop that’s interested in bike packing. You know, once you look at the online sources, that’s good, but doing it as a different thing, you know, that goes, you watch a YouTube video and they say, just unscrew this drive immediately doesn’t work. And then if that happens in the field, it can be, it can be game over really?
Andrew Marshall (22m 59s): So you are recommending that people go in and what, like, what do you say to someone at a bike shop? Hey, I want to learn some basic bike maintenance. Is that something they’d be amenable to or what?
Matt Mason (23m 12s): Yeah. I mean most bike shops have sort of, you know, regularly scheduled clinics on fixing a flat or repairing your chain or those sorts of things. Or there’s a bike club in town that does it. And they’d be happy to tell you, you know, if you said I’m going on this bike packing trip and you’ve done some research, you know, like.com or there’s another one that does a good job, but bike and.com has everything you need. And then if you have up questions to me, it’s worth going and having that relationship with the bike shop and asking them and saying, this is where I’m at.
This is what I’m doing and telling them what, telling them what’s going on.
Andrew Marshall (23m 47s): Do you have any bike brands that if you, again, if just our hypothetical backpacker looking to get into bike packing, he’s looking through Craigslist, he’s looking through eBay. Are there any brands that just like pop in your head as like, oh, these are generally pretty solid, affordable, good bikes that will hold up to, you know, a lot of abuse.
Matt Mason (24m 14s): Yeah. Surly and salsa. Both the QVP brand and available many bike shops are sort of the ones that are the easiest to obtain and they’re affordable and they’re durable. And they, they set them up for bike packing. Almost every surly has little mounts on the, on the fork, even so you can put extra water or extra gear on the fork and on the down tube and all these little extra places, they’ve set it up to make it easy for you. And there there’s know, still a couple thousand dollars, maybe you’re 1500 for a surly, but they’re on the more affordable and, and they’re ready to go, you know, normally right out of the box.
Andrew Marshall (24m 54s): Sure. I mean, $1,500 may seem like a lot until you, until you realize that you could easily drop $6,000 on a brand new bike easily, easily. Yeah. Do you, one of the things that I know about you, because I follow you on social media and we used to live in the same general area that we never bumped into each other is that I know you’re an advocate for bicycling and public lands and accessibility and stuff. And I’m just wondering if you see any way to make cycling more accessible to people because it, it does seem like there’s a pretty big barrier to entry to the sport.
Sometimes be it in the cost or like the knowledge barrier or things like that.
Matt Mason (25m 45s): Yeah. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great answer. I agree with you that that’s an issue and it is a barrier for many people. And there are lots of programs out there that are given kids bikes or, you know, scholar, Lael, Wilcox as a scholarship to help people get bikes and gear. And there are lots of those sorts of things, but more broadly, I’m not really sure. We host a series of rides here in town, like Thursday night, gravel rides, where we’ll sort of show people the routes from town to the monument.
And we use a rental bikes if we need to, or, you know, borrow a bike from a friend and just try to be as generous as we can with the gear. And no time we have to show people, Hey, you can get from downtown to the monument. And then once they see that they can, you know, do a few of those and then they want to come back and, oh, you’re camping out there on the same route. And then we take them camping, loan them a bunch of gear, but sort of that, I really don’t know if there’s like a one easy answer, how to kind of take those barriers down.
Andrew Marshall (26m 54s): I mean, there rarely is right. Pink bike is a resource that again says I’d never even heard of it and set for the fact that I knew they were the guys who made the trail fork app. But as a non cyclist, I was not aware of pink bike, but it’s essentially a Craigslist for bicycles. And I’d been hearing since the pandemic started, oh, there’s a shortage of bicycles. No one can get bicycles. No one can get bicycles. Well, there’s 10,000 bikes on pink bike. Like I was.
So maybe you can’t get the newest trendiest bicycle, but you can get something that’s going to get you from point a to point B pretty easily. Right?
Matt Mason (27m 33s): Yeah, you can. And I agree. I think there are a ton of bicycles. Most of the people I know right now is cyclists. If you said, Hey, I need the parts to build the following bike. They would have all the parts in their garage or they would have, oh, I even have a frame. So people are just like holding on to all this bike stuff. I don’t know that sort of bothers me. I, if I’m not riding a bike or using a certain component on a regular basis, I try to just give it away or pass it to somebody. So that’s another way you could break those barriers down is, you know, give away with some of what you have basically, which, I mean, it’s maybe sounds ridiculous to people, but I’ve been privileged enough to have it.
And I still have everything I need, I guess I don’t need boxes of spare tires and you know, all that stuff. If it would get somebody else on a bike, I’m happy to just give it away.
Andrew Marshall (28m 28s): Well, you mentioned the monument a little earlier and I want to shift gears a little bit here and talk about public lands a little bit. You live right in the right on the outskirts of the Oregon mountains, desert peaks, national monument. And you’ve been involved with advocacy for that land and in even in creating a, a route through that area. So can you just give us a little bit, just touch base a little bit on the background of the Oregon mountains, desert peaks, national monument, and then maybe talk about the monumental loop and what you and the people you’re working with are trying to achieve
Matt Mason (29m 3s): With that. Sure. Yeah. I think that the monuments started, the initial push was like in the early two thousands to designate some of it as wilderness area and that sort of stalled out. There was some opposition from ranchers and different different groups and that sort of stalled out. But then in 2014, president Obama signed basically declared it a mountain, the national monument. And then you have the Oregon mountains, desert peaks is made up of four different units.
So you have the Oregon mountains sort of on the east side. And then there’s two or three, you know, I think four mountain ranges scattered around those sort of the Western side of Las cruises that are also in the monument. So you’ve got four different units, basically surrounding Las Cruces and every direction, but those units are separated. So I had the idea at the time to connect them with a big hike. I’m like, I’ll just hike through and connect all these and see all the mountains on one trip that was more difficult than I cared for it to be.
And then once I got on the bike and it made it pretty easy and the route was already there using existing roads and trails. So since then people have been coming to ride it, somebody, a couple of people have done a long run on it. It’s been a lot of fun.
Andrew Marshall (30m 25s): And you’re working with friends of the organ mountains, desert peaks, national monument, or the New Mexico trail Alliance or, or both.
Matt Mason (30m 35s): Yeah. Sort of both. I mean, I’m just sort of doing it by myself for fun. Both of those groups are interested in like the idea. So they’ve been helping out, you know, they’re legit non-profits that they can do more than I can do by myself. So yeah, they’ve been great partners. Both of them.
Andrew Marshall (30m 52s): Is there a plan or a hope or a dream to get some sort of designation for this thing that you just kind of came up with some sort of national scenic trail something?
Matt Mason (31m 1s): Yeah, I sort of, I, I would like that to happen because once the monument happened in 2014, this is sort of a, you know, economically depressed area, a little bit, it’s struggling to find like a sustainable source of money for the future. But once the monument came, visitation went up and then wilderness was designated in 2019 for about half the monuments now wilderness. So I sort of see the monumental loop is like the third piece in that puzzle of, you know, come to Las Cruces and check out, check out where we have.
Andrew Marshall (31m 36s): Didn’t realize that there’d been a wilderness designation. That’s fantastic news because when I was out there, a lot of it was BLM land. So there was a lot of motorized transport and stuff like that.
Matt Mason (31m 46s): Yeah. Now about half of the monument close to 300,000 acres, I think some in each section of the monument as wilderness. Wow. That’s really great. Yeah. And it made, it had no impact on the biking that’s, you know, sometimes biking and wilderness can rub each other the wrong way, I think. But the route fit perfectly with the designated wilderness,
Andrew Marshall (32m 7s): Just to say that the route that you created just already went around where the wilderness areas were.
Matt Mason (32m 12s): Yeah. I’ve seen where the wilderness study areas were trying to not, not go into those and essentially all of those were adopted as wilderness. So, so now the monumental loop borders, I think seven wilderness areas, which is pretty cool.
Andrew Marshall (32m 28s): That is cool. I wrote a piece on the monument a few years ago and, and one of the things that stuck out to me was the cattle grazing out there. And, you know, just like a anywhere where you talk about public lands and cattle grazing, it’s, it’s contentious, but for some reason, Oregon mountains, desert peaks, national monument for as little well-known as it is, it ended up, I remember, I think Ryan Zinky actually come out there and like, wasn’t there some thing where he like, met with ranchers, but he didn’t meet with other interested parties or something like that.
Matt Mason (33m 6s): Yeah. I’m not sure exactly who he met with. He did come, I think I left the council person gave Bouska I think did meet with him and went on a hike with him or something. He was certainly pro re-answer when he came. But yeah.
Andrew Marshall (33m 24s): Yeah. I mean, I wonder, I know that you have thoughts about cattle grazing on public land. Cause I follow your Instagram page. So I, I guess I’ve just, you know, I feel like your take is usually nuanced and reflective. You don’t, you don’t just sort of spout off you don’t use talking points. So I think I’m interested in maybe hearing what you have to say about that.
Matt Mason (33m 58s): Yeah. It’s, it’s a tough subject. I mean, there are people here that have been ranching for a long time and they sort of think in their minds as they have access to the land and they’re contributing to the community. And I don’t know, I, I was, I went to school and studied wildlife biology and that shaped sort of some of what I’m, where I’m at on this, but I just don’t, I’m not seeing it being compatible in the longterm, you know, facing climate change and all the issues we’re facing.
I’m not seeing cattle ranching being compatible, especially in riparian areas or wilderness areas. I’m not seeing it being a compatible land use and it is, and it’s written into the wilderness act. The cows are allowed, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. And then when you start looking into the details about how they’re arriving at their stocking rates and how many cows are allowed and what it’s actually doing to the land, it makes even less sense, I think. But
Andrew Marshall (35m 2s): Do you have resources that we could put in the show notes for this episode where people could do some of that research and look into the, some of that stuff for themselves? Like places that are relevant?
Matt Mason (35m 15s): Yeah. I could probably find you something. I don’t have it off the top of my head, but yeah.
Andrew Marshall (35m 20s): Okay. Well we’ll put something in there just so people can, can do a little reading
Matt Mason (35m 25s): It’s worth reading about. Yeah.
Andrew Marshall (35m 29s): Well, so what is, first of all, I was very innocent and I should have said that this is all happening in Southern New Mexico, right around the El Paso area. Just to give people a kind of an idea if they’re not familiar with Los Crucis right off the top of their head, but are there, is there a timeline for any of this monumental loop? Like, are you, what’s the next steps for you I guess is my question.
Matt Mason (36m 0s): Yeah. I’m not sure. I mean, believe it or not, I’m kind of just making this up as I go. Yeah. I’m a stay at home dad with this is all just kind of started as a fun project. So I’m not sure I’m still just working with friends, made with more people than I care to meet with and, and talking about what a good idea this is talking to businesses about, you know, how it’s going to help them. So it’s just basically spreading the word right now.
And we have, you know, people, politicians at every level saying, yes, this is a good idea, but there’s really not a mechanism to make it happen. There’s a couple, you know, the long trails have the national scenic trail designation and there’s other, you know, national recreation trail. There’s other designations trying to make one of those, fit it and say, this is, you know, fairly difficult. So there’s, there’s not a clear path forward.
So it’s just kind of been this process of building support and momentum and seeing where it takes us.
Andrew Marshall (37m 11s): Well, if people wanted to follow along with the journey and be ready to offer support, if you ever need to ask for it is the Instagram account sort of the best way to, to know what’s going on.
Matt Mason (37m 23s): Yeah. I occasionally post stuff on Facebook too, you know, different events, we’re having Instagram sort of it right now, we’re working on maybe having a website or maybe having a website, you know, are part of the website with the bike shops sort of getting on with them. But yeah, Instagram is sort of the best source right now.
Andrew Marshall (37m 43s): All right. Well, we’ll, we’ll definitely put a link to it in the show notes. And if people are interested in helping out, they can reach out to you. You know, you never know. Maybe someone has some ideas.
Matt Mason (37m 53s): Yeah. I, I welcome any of those ideas.
Andrew Marshall (37m 58s): Well, we’ll wrap things up. I won’t take too much more of your time, but if you had to give one piece of advice to a, an established, experienced backpacker who wanted to explore bike packing, like just as a summation,
Matt Mason (38m 13s): What would you say? I mean, I guess I would say try it, you know, that that would be it. Just give it a try. If you have a bike, put it, all your stuff that you’re used to carrying in your backpack and just go out there and give it a try. It’s going to be different than, than back backpacking, but it’s, it’s worth for sure. And if I had to say something to bike Packers, I would say to them, get off your bike more and hike, you know, combining, combining the two that’s really, to me where the action is.
So we have these seven wilderness area is all in, right out to the wilderness border, throw my bike down and then hike the wilderness from there. So I don’t have to drive and I’m not really doing a big, you know, big bike packing thing and I’m getting the wilderness side. So combining the two to me is the thing that seems to be missing the most that I would say to everybody, I love
Andrew Marshall (39m 11s): That. That’s like, that’s, that’s next level thinking.
Matt Mason (39m 14s): That’s really cool. Yeah. It’s kind of like the pack rafting thing, you know, they’re combining, you know, different ways to, to move through the landscape in one trip. And I love doing that. I mean, so flat pedals versus clipless pedals. That’s one that I wear black cups. So I can jump off my bike and climb a peak or scrambled down the canyon or whatever part way along the way. So, and
Andrew Marshall (39m 38s): Clipless pedals, we should say, it’s kind of confusing, but they’re pedals that you clip into, but they’re called. Yeah.
Matt Mason (39m 45s): I hate it. I hate the name. I don’t like anything about it. I don’t like anything about it. Sort of locks you onto your bike. If you’re doing technical terrain, it can be easier to control the bike a little bit, but, but then you can’t really walk anywhere in those special shoes. They’re
Andrew Marshall (40m 1s): Special. Like they’re really hard shoes, right?
Matt Mason (40m 4s): Yeah. This is all is don’t bend at all. They don’t have any sort of traction. There’s a little metal cleat in the middle of right where you’d want to be stepping on things. So,
Andrew Marshall (40m 13s): Well now you’ve got me now you’ve got me spinning off into footwear. So we’ll talk for another few minutes. Cause, cause I do have this question. So do you, do you ride and just like shoes that you would hike in?
Matt Mason (40m 24s): Yeah. I normally ride and approach shoes or you know, like a light trail runner. Then you get a little more protection for your foot. They are a little stiffer on the bottom. Some of them anyway, the ones I have from five 10, they’re fairly, fairly safe on the bottom, but there’s great for hiking still, you know, around here we’re doing the hiking we’re doing is often involves some sort of scrambling or Rocky Rocky terrain. So that works pretty well in the summer. I’ll wear Chaco sandals. They work, they weren’t great.
They work great. So I guess, I mean bike packing, really. It can be anything. It can be. That’s sort of the cool part about it. And what makes it difficult is it can be whatever you want it to be. If you want to ride in sandals and ride five miles of gravel and camp and you know, right outside of town, it can be that or, you know, so starting, just starting is that is the thing. Awesome. Just getting going. Awesome.
Andrew Marshall (41m 21s): Well, this conversation has been a lot of fun, Matt, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it. We’ll make sure and put links to the Instagram accounts and the Facebook accounts in the show notes. And I would just say to everybody, if you’ve never been to Southern New Mexico, you got to get out there. It’s a wonderful, amazing, magical place.
Matt Mason (41m 42s): Yeah, I agree. Thanks for having me. Yep. No problem. All right, we’ll talk to you later.
Andrew Marshall (41m 51s): That’s going to do it for this episode. The backpack in my podcast, the backpacking light podcast is advertising free things to the membership fees paid for by backpacking light members, backpacking light.com. Membership gives you access to 20 years of archives forums and online courses. So please consider supporting this podcast and become a member right [email protected] slash subscribe. You can download the show notes for this [email protected] slash podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review.
It really, really does help other people find the show. Thanks for listening to the backpacking light podcast. I’m Andrew Marshall and on behalf of Ryan Jordan, if we can leave you with one parting message, it’s this pack less be more because lighter is better happy trails.