Quite the ride

Sara Dallman bike-packs through it all

By Marc Katz

Once, Sara Dallman broke her finger while in a bike-packing race.

She also once pulled a hamstring and could barely pedal, and once a downpour created mud so sticky, it clogged up her wheels and brakes and she had to carry her bike, “like a baby,” for about 22 miles.

No, Dallman says, she had never really encountered trouble on a trail.

Well, never have I, but I’ve got limited experience on bike trails, and none bike-packing.

This bike-packing thing is relatively new and involves taking a sturdy bike, a sturdy body, piling all your belongings for a several-hundred-mile trip and coming out the other side feeling great.

“It’s what I do for fun,” Dallman says; she’s a physical therapist at Miami Valley South’s Sports Medicine Clinic. “If I have free time, I may be exercising. I want to be fit enough to be competitive, and I want to do this for fun, too.”

In other words, she’s not addicted to winning. She’s a competitor, but she competes against the bike paths, not the other human cyclists.

Toward this end, she tries to bike ride from her home to work at least once a week. Since she lives in Wilmington, that’s a 30-mile trip each way. On those days, she’s up at 4 a.m., leaves the house at 5 and is ready for patients at 7.

“I could ride my bike in every day,” Dallman says, who grew up in nearby Lebanon. “But I don’t want to over train.

“I’ve been doing endurance stuff 10-15 years and bike-packing five years. I grew up in an active family. I’ve been running since I was 12, finding new challenges.”

Like last month. Dallman competed on the California Sierra Trail, a 430-mile challenge with elevations up to 70,000 feet.

Sure, she finished.

“It took six days,” Dallman says. “It wasn’t fast. It was pretty slow for me.”

Only a handful of riders competed as locals knew the trail was wiped out in plenty of places due to wild fires, rain, and snow. Like, 20 feet of snow.

“The first three days were good days,” Dallman says. Then, some of the trail was gone. She had to carry her bike part of the way.

As you might surmise, bike-packing, as of yet, does not have the following of marathons or triathlons or even wall-climbing.

Participants show up at starting lines and take off—sometimes for hundreds of miles through uninhabited terrain—with GPS tracking devices in case they get into trouble or somehow wander off course.

Getting lost could be a problem. Most other things aren’t. That broken finger didn’t stop her. Once, her knee locked up and she couldn’t make a continuous pedal revolution.

Then there was the time a heavy rain turned the trail to muck, which clung to her bicycle like cement, clogging the wheels and chain and forcing Dallman to carry her bike and gear, “like a baby” for about 22 miles.

I hate to mention that story twice, but the other day, I tried to carry my bicycle to the end of the driveway and couldn’t make it.

“It’s a unique type of sport and has become more popular in the last few years,” Dallman says. “It’s what I do for fun. If I have free time, I might be exercising.”

Aside from sometimes riding her mountain bike to work, she also rides 3-4 days a week, 5-12 miles at a time.

In the events she enters—typically two a year—she carries a small tent, sleeping bag, extra clothing, and some food. Riders are allowed to stop at motels along the way, if there are any.

“Some [riders] go light and don’t take a lot of stuff,” Dallman says. “There are just a handful of riders in some races. These are self-supported events. Everyone travels differently.

“I’ve been lucky. I have been caught in bad weather and had an occasional flat and I’ll fix a chain.

“I was in New Mexico when the rain stopped me in my tracks. I could not ride my bike. I couldn’t even push it. There was no grassy area to walk. I picked up the bike. Mud caked on my shoes.”

Eventually, Dallman found a campground and a hose hooked up to water. She cleaned her bike and shoes and finished the race. If she didn’t, there were ways to call a helicopter for a rescue, but she has never done that.

“The more intense, the more I want to do it,” Dallman says.

One trail race touts, “All we provide is a route, a suggested start time, and tabulation of results. Period. There is no race organization, no checkpoints, no support system, nothing. You are completely on your own.”

Excuse me while I turn over on the couch.

In a few weeks, Dallman will race again, in North Georgia. That one’s only about 350 miles.

Excuse me while I go out to pick up my mail at the end of the driveway. I’m going to have to rest a little when I get back.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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