Having been a part of the Ranger Program in 2015, I was returning to Ranger Camp with none of the anticipation and all of the excitement for an enhanced three-day bikepacking trip through the prettier parts of California. I say enhanced because this isn’t your typical gas-station-fueled, pass-out-early, purify-all-your-water bikepacking trip. This is a trip where hatchets are commonly lashed to front rolls for fun, fireside cocktail bars exist, and the group stops at places like Pie Ranch for a full meal. As someone who has had her fair share of eating Snicker’s bars… alone… in the dirt… on the side of a road, Ranger Camp is nice way to make new friends, share stories, talk gear, and enjoy the fun parts of bikepacking.
Ranger Brian packing up at the airport parking lot
Ranger Brian packing up at the airport parking lot
This year, the Ranger Camp itinerary had us going from the San Jose airport parking lot to Santa Cruz via Big Basin. The scene at the airport parking lot was great. Everyone was moving around like ants in the early morning; slowly figuring out what goes where, what to take and what to leave behind, and passing tidbits of information upon bumping into each other. But it all revolved around the box truck, which was full of the goodies like bikepacking bags, camping gear, and snacks. Some people know each other, but most are meeting for the first time; placing faces with names we’ve only seen in email or on Instagram. It was wonderfully exciting and ambiguous at the same time.
Last year's rig rolling on with some brand new components
Last year’s rig rolling on with some brand new components
True to form, this year’s Ranger bikes were supplied by Niner Bicycles. Rangers got to choose their rigs. Kate and Laura, who are riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route together, chose the ROS 9 Plus. The rest of the rangers are riding the RLT 9 Steel, and will either be riding the Pacific Coast or the TransAm. The media were on Santa Cruz mountain bikes, which made for a fun second day of un-loaded ripping.
Camo themed Ranger edition bags
Camo themed Ranger edition bags
The full set of this years bags
The full set of this years bags
This year’s special-edition Ranger bikepacking bags came in subdued camo. Some design changes were featured in the updated models, like larger-gauge zippers for the frame bag and top tube bag. The front roll features a new twist-locking mechanism with a redesigned handlebar mount. However, the mechanism is backwards compatible with older versions of the front roll, which made it really easy for me to make a last-minute swap. In the time it took everyone to finish lunch (and John to jab me for being the last one ready), I literally detached my loaded front roll, switched out the mount, and reattached the front roll. Needless to say, I was pleased with the easy transition.
Getting to where the wild things grow
Getting to where the wild things grow
Finally getting to some singletrack; would've been fun to go down instead
Finally getting to some singletrack; would’ve been fun to go down instead
The first day was a gradient of landscapes. It started with an airport and bike paths winding through the underbelly of San Jose, faded into quieter, residential neighborhoods, and -as the miles tick by- transitioned to a place where the wild things grow. Bike paths turned into hill climbs, hill climbs turned into singletrack hill climbs, and pretty soon you’re surrounded by Redwoods and Pacific Madrones. At one point, there was a phenomenal lookout, and you could see clear across the Bay Area.
Christian retrieving his bike I stashed in the woods the night before
Christian retrieving his bike I stashed in the woods the night before
If I’m telling the whole story, I’ll say that one of the Rangers got unexpectedly dehydrated. While the rest of the group descended into camp, I ended up spending the night in Scott’s Valley after a few hours in the emergency clinic. Bikepacking revelation #145: if dry bags can keep water OUT on bike tours, they can keep vomit IN during car rides. By day two we were all reunited in what I call the Moonrise Kingdom campground. It was a valley in the Big Basin forest. It was always shrouded in mist, and was both stunning and bone-chillingly cold. We were lucky to have some hearty campfires and meals at the site.
Media getting the download
Media getting the download
Robin giving the new Rangers a talking to about their new bikes and bags
Robin giving the new Rangers a talking to about their new bikes and bags
On the second day, the new Rangers got the “Ranger 101” download, complete with Q&A sessions with Big Agnes, Kitsbow, and the Blackburn Design folks. The media got to play bikes all day on the other side of the “hill”. Those of us who stayed in camp were jealous at the time, but turns out most of them got delayed-onset poison oak, so I guess we’re even.
Pop-up campside cocktail bar
Pop-up campsite cocktail bar
One of the cooler parts about Ranger Camp is riding side-by-side with sponsor reps, Blackburn engineers and product developers. The rides and laid-back campfire sessions give everyone a chance to connect both over the finer points of bag construction, or the rougher side of truth or dare.
That's my old chainring
That’s my old chainring
In true Ranger Camp form, there was a hatchet-throwing contest. I broke out my old chainring that I had replaced just two days earlier. It functioned pretty well as a ninja star. The good times rolled into the night, and when we packed the next morning – we were better pals than the day before.
Ranger Camp--14
Intermittent shadows and puddles on Gazos Creek descent
The last day was another gradient day, transitioning from the forest of Big Basin to the coastal vibes of Santa Cruz. We stopped for snacks and a re-group near the treehouse and Southern Pacific railcar that suddenly appeared in the woods. Descending closer to sea-level using the Gazos Creek trail was satisfyingly sketchy and beautiful.
California coast
California coast
Popping out of the woods to overlook the Pacific Ocean was a real treat. Also, eating a mostly local and organic lunch at Pie Ranch was also a huge treat. I think I was remediating a sidewall tear over lunch, so I didn’t get many photos, but —trust me — it’s well worth the stop if you’re ever passing by on Route 1.
All good trips have a hike-a-bike
All good trips have a hike-a-bike
The sunlight faded over the bluffs leading into Santa Cruz, which made for some stunning views and shutter-happy photographers. As in any good bikepacking trip, we tried to take the trail less traveled, which got us in some awkward hike-a-bikes sections.
Finishing up at Verve coffee
Finishing up at Verve coffee
2016 Rangers - Brian, Katie, Laura, Ivan, Christian, Courtney
2016 Rangers – Brian, Katie, Laura, Ivan, Christian, Courtney
We finished at Verve coffee, where we wrapped up the trip over beers, pizza, coffee, a quick photo-recap, and a showing of Comes with Baggage. The full list of sponsors for this year’s Ranger Program is the following: Blackburn Design, Bell Helmets, Giro, Kitsbow, Brooks Saddles, Big Agnes, SRAM, WTB, and of course, Niner Bicycles. You can read more about the Rangers and follow their respective journeys at Blackburn’s blog page

2 Comments

  1. sean soto

    i just bought the blackburn cargo cages and love them best cage out there that i have seen good products over all

  2. Robin Sansom

    Love that last pic . . .

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *