At this time of year Amanda "Panda" Nauman likes to shred places she wouldn’t dare ride in the heat of summer. The Summer desert temperatures make the valley’s around Mammoth Lakes and Bishop, California way too hot for Amanda’s liking. The moment fall hits though it becomes her favorite place and she describes it as an extraordinary place to explore, enjoy the nice weather and watch the turning of the leaves. The US National Forest Service has some incredible off-highway roads that you can link together for some amazing rides.
Riding here a lot during the past 5-6 years has made Amanda a resident expert. She scouts out her routes the old fashioned way with a paper map. She could just use google maps, but finds all the roads don’t make it into the digital world. And post-ride festivities that can be anywhere from the village at Mammoth Lakes, to the Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop.
When traveling with a bike Amanda suggests you don’t pack your helmet in your bike bag, but instead strap it to your backpack, like she does, to prevent it from getting crushed. A rotor tool is necessary especially with the vast majority of new bikes having disk brakes and because nothing is more annoying to her than a squeaking, bent rotor. She also recommends removing your rotors when traveling to avoid any extra headache. She admits she is spoiled, all of her bikes are Di2 from Shimano, so a Di2 charger is absolutely mandatory and she’s learned the lesson of not having one the hard way. A good old fashioned multi-tool is helpful for any other parts that need to be fixed or set up, but she advises getting one with a wider range of tools including a chain breaker. She says with these four necessities she could probably survive a whole lot of trips. Well, all these and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
As far as airlines go Amanda hasn’t switched airlines, but has just added American Airlines and Delta to her list of airlines to choose from. She used to only search for Southwest or Frontier flights because of their reasonable their $75 bike fee, compared to $150 or more from other airlines. She has been flying American this fall, since they changed their policy to treating bike bags as regular bags.
Earlier this year, on travel day, Amanda’s boyfriend’s drivers license expired, and they scrambled trying to locate his passport thinking he couldn’t travel with an expired driver's license as an ID. After searching and searching, they still couldn’t find it, so they went to the airport with their fingers crossed that TSA wouldn’t notice. To her surprise you can get through security with an expired license you just can't legally drive a car. So for her it was an unnecessary headache but now they can share the experience with everyone.
And as a final tip, she recommends when riding somewhere new or picking new trails you check out the “Heatmap “ feature on Strava. On their route builder you can see highlighted roads and trails that are frequently or scarcely traveled. This method has produced some of her most memorable rides in new areas. It is especially homely to think they are inspired by other cyclists that have traveled those roads.
Here's Amanda Panda's five favorite gravel grindin' events she suggests you definitely check out:
The grand-daddy of them all. Everyone needs to experience Dirty Kanza
at some point if they want to see what this gravel thing is all about.
The great thing about DK is they offer many different distances, so
you can start small and work your way up through the distances as a
challenge. I’m obviously partial to this event since I’ve completed it
five times and won it twice, but I promise it’s the best gravel event
offering in the country.
Michigan Coast to Coast 200
A point-to-point gravel event in the lower peninsula of Michigan. It’s
a smaller 200-mile event that has a much more grassroots feel. I love
the way the course starts with very flat, standard gravel roads and
evolves into technical, fun two-track trails in sprawling forests. The
views and trails make this event very special and make the time pass
by over 200 miles quickly. If you’re looking for a way to test
yourself at that distance for the first time or have a back-up plan to
the DK lottery, I highly recommend this event.
The Mid South
This event takes you around the rural roads surrounding Stillwater,
Oklahoma and is characterized by its clay-like, red dirt roads. Each
year since its inception, the event has seen unique conditions that
make it an equipment gamble. When rain falls, the roads become
virtually unrideable because of the dirt consistency and at the
opposite end when it’s dry, the gravel is hard-packed and screaming
fast. The past two years have lucked out on fast conditions but the
gamble of peanut butter mud still looms out on the roads and that’s
what makes it fun. Get on the wait list for 2020 if you can.
Putting this on the list because I’ve never even done it and would
like to make the trip in 2020 myself. I’ve heard great things about
this Midwest staple in the gravel community and think it’s another
great event to see what the heart and soul of the scene is all about.
I’m very biased towards this event as it was one for the first
“gravel” events I ever attempted. At the time we jokingly called it “a
really long ‘cross race” because that was the best label we could come
up with. I’d suggest putting Rock Cobbler on your calendar for a fun,
early season event that’s still very much filled with SoCal locals and
a grassroots feel. Any sort of small-town gravel event you can support
locally would be my fifth choice as your must-do of 2020.