Bikepacking The Blue Ridge Wrangler as a Final Exam
Connor Hamilton and seven other students from the Outdoor Adventure Program at Algonquin College got to select their final exam. They chose to ride the Blue Ridge Wrangler, a weekend bikepacking route in Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains. Watch the video they produced to document their last test…
Algonquin College is a small institution in a quaint town located just north of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Although not much happens in the town, there’s a flurry of activity on campus, as it facilitates one of the best outdoor guide training programs in the country. Algonquin’s Outdoor Adventure Program not only offers students the unique opportunity to gain expertise in all areas of guiding, it also provides the opportunity to learn about the business of international tourism.
The Outdoor Adventure Program is a two-year program and it culminates with something that challenges what a final exam can look like. Instead of sitting down and writing about guiding, we must use all of the skills we’ve acquired to plan and execute a trip somewhere in the world, doing just about whatever outdoor activity we want. It could be whitewater rafting, backpacking, sea kayaking, and yes, even bikepacking. We’re expected to execute the trip with a high standard of professionalism or risk putting our college diploma on the line. Fun fact, BIKEPACKING.com contributor Miles Arbour graduated from this program just a few years ago.
All eight of us understood the importance of our Blue Ridge Wrangler trip, so we wanted to be as prepared as possible. About 10 weeks before setting out, we booked a private weekly spin class with a personal trainer to help whip us into riding shape for the route. Not only was this a massive help for our physical fitness, but it helped us form a bond as a group before we arrived at the trailhead. We put in countless hours of research and preparation, resulting in a 100-page planning document for our trip. We left that with our course supervisor and headed to Virginia under our own supervision.
At the end of our first day on the route, we were all fully aware of just what we’d gotten ourselves into. Most of us hadn’t been on a cycling trip this difficult before, so we made the common mistakes of pushing the pace too hard and not eating nearly enough. We made the group decision to do some impromptu revisions to our route and made sure we were eating as much as we physically could each day. That put us on the right track.
As with any adventure, the problems didn’t end there. We encountered a number of mechanical issues every day, had to true a wheel out on the trail, lost two quick release bolts on a 4×4 track (we found both), ran into sub-zero temperatures on a mountain pass, and broke a pannier rack. The funny thing was that every time we encountered a problem, it was somehow exciting. I genuinely looked forward to seeing how our team of eight guides could work together to solve each problem. More often than not, it was solved in under 15 minutes and we were on our way, all without conflicts. Most adults I know would be hard pressed to do the same.
In the end, we completed a 175 km route with around 14,000 feet of elevation gain in five days. We could’ve chosen any sport we wanted, but we chose to use bikes. That decision made our trip harder than it might have been had we chosen another sport, but that’s what made it so rewarding. The physical challenge combined with mental hurdles and logistical difficulties made for an unforgettable trip that taught us many lessons. And, ultimately, I think it made us better guides.
About the Route
The 158 mile Blue Ridge Wrangler, developed by Paul Kane for our ROUT3 initiative, is the perfect long weekend on a bike in rural Virginia. Terrain ranges from dirt and gravel roads to techy singletrack and overgrown plus-bike-friendly forest service roads. With abundant water sources, straightforward camping options, and itineraries to suit your schedule, there’s no reason to miss this physically strenuous, but logistically simple loop through a rugged and scenic corner of George Washington National Forest.
About Connor Hamilton
Connor Hamilton discovered his passion for mountain biking in early 2016. Since then, he’s based his life, career, and spare time on it. His first bikepacking trip was a three-day ride home from college, and from there he was hooked. Find Connor on Instagram @connorj_hamilton.