Tell us a bit about yourself and a little bit about some of the cycling you've done in the past.
I started as a youngster on the Velodrome back in Australia. Racing both road and track throughout my junior years before committing to full time on the road, when I made the step to Europe as a professional at age 22. Up until the final years of my professional racing career I was obsessed with road cycling and in the final years of my career I ventured off road as a source of enjoyment and motivation, a new spark.
How did you make the move into long distance riding and bikepacking?
In 2015 I got a cross bike and like I said, I ventured off road, mainly unpaved roads and fire trails, nothing crazy. For a full blooded roady it felt epic! As the years rolled on I kept pushing the boundaries of my cross bike through meeting and riding more with the likes of alternate road pros like Svein Tuft and Lachlan Morton. Svein took me on some amazing adventures over the pyrenees, where I was introduced to not only bike packing, but plenty of hike-a-bike too! My bikes slowly adapted to the terrain I was crossing and so has my equipment.
What’s your favourite ride, and what makes it so special?
My first real bike packing adventure with Svein Tuft and some other x-teammates, Luke Durbdrige, Sam Bewley and Michael Hepbern. We went out from Andorra and up over into Spain, looped around through France and popped back into Andorra, it was a 2 night 3 days, fully packed trip. It was so tough, in October the weather was cold and wet, my bikes and equipment were well under par, but the group and the terrain was unbelievable. I had lived in that area for 10 years and I felt like I was 1000 miles away in my own backyard. The feeling of exploring and adventuring with friends was the pinnacle. It started the itch.
Tell us about your most epic ride yet…
I think it’s all about perspective. Coming up the Port de Rat from Auzat in France, the last day of a three day trip. Being so mentally and equipment-wise, underprepared, is what made it so tough. This final climb started with 1h of paved road, then 1h of large loose pebble rock fire trail. Then to really finish you off was 1h of hike-a-bike to the peak. It was the nail in the coffin. The body was broken, it was just 50km to home that day. 25km up this climb and then 25km down. But it goes down as one of the toughest days I have had on, or with, a bike. Oh and the kick in the teeth was at the top of Port de Rat you could see the road right there, the glory glide down hill to home, but still a cheeky little 45 min hike-a-bike down anyway.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned while bikepacking/racing?
Riding a bike that wasn’t equipped for off-road. I decided to convert my Super 6 evo into a makeshift cross bike thing. But the biggest tyre I could put in was a 33mm. I was riding my standard road chainrings, 54-39 and through the largest cassette that dura-ace could handle (11-32) on to help out. Yet at the furthest point really from anywhere, around back of the Pyrenees and for some unknown reason, habit really, I crest a small hill and flick it into the 54 chainring, all while the chain is sitting in the 32 cog in the rear, ripping the derailleur clean off. Done. Not much you can do there unless you have a spare derailleur. Lesson learnt, go the extra mile to set yourself up properly.
What makes cycling and bikepacking truly great for you?
I think after being focused on speed, watts, heart rate and performance for so long, bikepacking and adventuring for me has been so refreshing. To know that all I have to do is just keep pedaling along. No wheel to follow, no time limit to make and no training plan to follow. I can really connect to what I am doing out there. Take a break when needed, meet someone and tag along with them for a bit. The freedom it gives my mind, soul and body.
If you have any top tip for a newbie bikepacker, what would it be?
Get bags that you think are a bit too small for your trip. That way you will force yourself to pack less and ultimately you will pack only what you need.
What’s your go-to riding food and why?
Not to sing my own song, but my savior is my home-made flapjacks. There once was a recipe, but now it’s morphed into some kind of energy bomb that somewhat resembles a flapjack. They have got me out of trouble, I have eaten hundreds of them and they still go down well.
What are your plans for this year ahead?
I plan to reconnect to cycling the way I started. Fall in love with riding my bike. I may sound strange, but cycling is a different beast when it’s your profession. You enjoy it, but very differently. I enjoyed the speed, the tactics and how specifically I trained my body, the 1% ers. Now it’s sort of the opposite, I'm more concerned with where I am going today on the bike, spending time repairing and building trails that I like to ride on and searching for places I can travel on my bike. Adventure, exploration and the best part is sharing and meeting a whole new crowd, who love this world of cycling.
Keep in the loop with what Mitch gets up to here.
Photos by Maja Johansson