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Posted: May 22, 2019

Family tradition continues with passion for bike-packing

College of the Rockies People: Their Courage, Curiosity, and Contributions

For College of the Rockies’ Director of Facilities Allan Knibbs, mountain biking provides a sense of freedom. It’s an opportunity to clear his head, whether he has just climbed out of bed in the morning or wrapped up a long day at work.

“It’s just easy,” he said. “I can clear my mind and explore places you can’t get to in a vehicle.”

Allan Knibbs

Whenever his schedule and the weather permits, Knibbs commutes by bike from his home in Kimberley to the college’s Cranbrook campus.

“I try to ride in about three days a week. If I can do more, I do, but it depends on what is going on at home,” he said.

Though this commitment may seem impressive to many, it is nothing to Knibbs, an avid bike packer who embarks on extended self-supported bike tours.

“I bring all the food that I need for the trip, all of my clothes, camping gear, tools to fix my bike. I’m completely self-reliant for the duration of the excursion.”

Growing up, bike-packing tours were something his family regularly took part in. At 16, he began touring with friends and hasn’t stopped since.

Drawn to the challenge of endurance sports, Knibbs eventually began to take part in bike packing races. In 2016, he participated in the Epic 1000, a 1,043-km off-road, unofficial, self-supported bike race. Over four days, 10 hours and 30 minutes, he pushed his body, stopping only briefly to re-fuel in the towns he passed through or to get a few fitful hours of sleep on the ground alongside the trail.

In 2017, he competed in the Cross-Washington Mountain Bike Race, a 1,099-km route from the Pacific Ocean to the Washington/Idaho border. In five days, 12 hours and 46 minutes, Knibbs climbed a total of 50,000 feet to finish third overall.

The Cross-Washington course called to him again the following year. This time, he completed the slightly altered route 23 hours faster than the previous year, taking first place and setting a course record.

He has no plans to slow down for 2019, with both the Alberta Rockies 700 and the BC Epic races in his sights this summer.

Though winning a race is a thrill, Knibbs’ desire to participate has more to do with challenging himself and seeing what he’s capable of in tough circumstances.

“I enjoy seeing how far I can go and how fast I can go. I like the feeling of being exhausted but still being able to push forward,” he said.

It’s a metaphor for life that he now tries to instil in his children, ages 10 and eight. Knibbs and his wife Athena have always included their kids in bike packing adventures, first in child seats on a cargo bike and, eventually, on their own bikes.

“When my youngest was four, we did our first tour along the Slocan Valley Rail Trail where they rode their bikes themselves. We modified for their age, of course.”

They have continued to do at least one trip a year since. Over spring break, the family travelled to the San Rafael Swell, just outside of Moab, Utah (lead image).

“Anyone who has been to that part of Utah knows, it’s pretty spectacular with the red sand and the cool rock formations,” Knibbs said.

With some significant elevation gains during the five-day trip, it was definitely a challenge for the kids, but a challenge Knibbs feels is important.

“They learn what they are capable of,” he said. “They see that when they face adversity or a challenge they are able to overcome it.”

That’s not to say it’s always easy. There are sometimes tears, but it helps that at the top of the hill there’s usually a reward to look forward to, whether that is gummy bears or the thrill of soaring down the other side of the hill they just climbed.

Taking part in these family bike-packing tours provides tremendous bonding opportunities for the family as they take part in amazing experiences and see things they may otherwise miss out on.

“The skies in the backcountry in Utah are so clear,” Knibbs said. “We set our alarms to go off in the middle of the night and when I opened up the tent I couldn’t believe it. It was like the lights were turned on, it was so clear. The kids still talk about that.”

The next planned Knibbs’ adventure will see them biking along the backcountry on Vancouver Island before taking the ferry to Salt Spring Island, another trip that is sure to provide stunning views and experiences.

Though bike-packing and endurance racing might not be for everyone, Knibbs still encourages people to get out on a bike.

“It’s peaceful and it’s a freedom you can’t have in a vehicle,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of bike you have or how far you go, just get out and enjoy yourself.”

Photos submitted

College of the Rockies

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