Natalie Randall and her husband Dustin created Roam Utah to share their passion for the outdoors through guided bike packing trips. Bike packing is a cross between bike touring, mountain biking and sometimes climbing. You head off the paved roads onto the dirt trails, and let your bike carry the load (most of the time).
Not only have Natalie and Dustin inspired me to explore bike packing, but they have inspired a community of impoverished youth through the Çello Project, an outdoor education program partnered with local schools and organizations.
Check out the interview below to learn more, then head over to RoamUtah.com to join their next adventure!
Tell us about yourself!
I’m Natalie, Northern VA native, now Utah transplant. I grew up in the city and spent my youth escaping to the mountains, so I decided why not move to closer and bigger ones! My husband Dustin and I split time between Salt Lake City, where I work at the University Hospital, and Monticello, where Dustin fights wildland fires and we’re starting up our bike packing business.
What is bike packing?
Take traditional bike touring from paved roads, put it on a mountain bike, and voilá: bike packing! It’s about human powered adventure, and it’s the perfect way to explore mountain and canyon country, utilizing dirt roads and both single and two-track trails.
What inspired you to start Roam Utah?
Growing up in Monticello with a cowboy for a father, Dustin spent long hours and days roaming the country both for cattle and to satisfy his curiosity. His love for the country was quickly spread to me as we’ve explored the area together. Between the two of us, we’ve traveled to various corners of the world. Nothing compares to returning back to our corner and what it has to offer.
Our love for the area and desire to help bring economic growth, appreciation, and sustainability to the community are the driving forces behind Roam. We want to connect the dots, creating the ultimate human powered adventure: bike to climb, bike to rappel, bike to explore a ruin, bike to explore beautiful country, or bike to bike.
What strengths do you each offer as a husband and wife team?
Having been a wildland firefighter in this area for a few years, Dustin is tough and knows the area pretty well. I pack enthusiasm and the athletic tape for bruised up ankles, fingers and egos!
What has been your most epic bike packing experience so far?
Most people think South East Utah is warmer and dryer, but that’s not always the case with the area we play in. It was an early spring bike trip for a biking itch that needed to be scratched, so we plotted a course we hadn’t had time to do the last summer. We knew the area but not the conditions. The itch was bad so we headed out as light as possible. We ditched the overnight gear for two skinny sixty-meter ropes to make a rappel that would connect us to another trail.
Fully stoked with the light, fast approach, we hit the road. All the north aspects of the road were covered in knee-deep snow so the repeating cycle was biking two hundred yards then hiking-a-bike for eighty yards, over and over. After the rappel (with the bikes), the trail cleared up a bit. We made decent time, but we did not make it back to the truck until 3 am, cold, tired, and hungry, but totally satisfied.
Favorite local adventure?
Vega Creek! Start on an old road that flows through rolling hills, shallow canyons and wide-open clearings with views of the Abajos and Shay Mountains. The fast flowing road turns into an intense downhill rock garden that switchbacks to the bottom of red canyon walls. Here you link up with a single track that follows Vega Creek through pinion, juniper and sagebrush, then climbs back into firs, aspens and pondos (ponderosa pines). The single track is all uphill with only a few hike-a-bike sections. Fair warning: there may be downed trees and large groups of elk to navigate! You see a little of everything on this ride.
Do you have any advice for bike packing newbies?
Make sure your bike is in working order, double check that you have the patch kit and pump. Nothing is worse than having to carry your bike over perfect biking terrain.
What are three pieces of gear you never go bike packing without (besides the bike)?
Revelate Sweetroll, a dry bag that straps onto my handlebar keeping all my gear off my back. The Patagonia Houdini featherweight windbreaker, which in a wreck has even protected me from a nasty road rash. A head lamp.
How does Roam Utah support the community?
San Juan County, where Monticello is located, is one of the richest counties in natural beauty and outdoor activity, but the poorest economic performing country in the state. We want to create a community to continue the way of life of generations past by making a living off the land, following in a responsible and exciting way that serves all those who partake and the land itself.
The Çello project is our attempt to work towards goals of community unification, stewardship, and education. With the Çello Project we hope to spread our passion to the youth and community through clinics and excursions. By teaming up with the local schools, community and county, we want to create a hub for human powered adventure, outdoor education and a continuing appreciation for our natural surroundings.
How can we support Roam Utah?
The best thing though would be to come exploring with us!
Photos © 2015 Roam Utah