ORLANDO, Fla. – Most people are familiar with backpacking, but did you know there's a sport very similar to backpacking that involves a bicycle?
It's called bikepacking and it's taking the Sunshine State by storm. Cyclists from all over use specifics routes and tour some of Florida's forests and wilderness.
"Some people consider me the father of Florida bikepacking," Karlos Rodríguez Bernart, founder of Singletrack Samurai, said.
He's traveled thousands of miles on his mountain bike. After working many years as a corporate trainer, he discovered bikepacking is his true passion.
"It was all an unexpected side effect and it's been, for me at least, truly a wonderful experience," Rodríguez Bernart said.
The newfound passion began when he wanted to challenge himself to do something different.
"I wanted to prepare to ride the Great Divide mountain bike route," Rodríguez Bernart said.
The route is one of the most recognized and significant off-pavement cycling routes in the U.S. It starts in Canada and ends at the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico.
"When all you have to do is eat, sleep and ride, you reach a very natural -- a nomadic state, sort of -- what I imagine cowboys on the plains felt like when they were just riding their horse from town to town," Rodríguez Bernart said.
It's a fruitful experience for him.
"Conquering challenges and overcoming your fears and challenging your comfort zones, all of those things, philosophically speaking, do a lot for your psyche," Rodríguez Bernart said.
Eventually, he created Singletrack Samurai.
"I developed a coast to coast route, and then I developed the most popular out of all, which is the Huracan 300 route, and then I wanted to go all the way north, so I developed what I call the Florida divide route," Rodríguez Bernart said.
Riders can travel all the way to Alabama or Georgia from anywhere in Florida, going mostly off-road.
"Most people, when they think of Florida, they think beaches and Disney World, but what they don't realize is that ecologically, it's the only state that you can see coyotes and panthers and bears and snakes and lizards. You don't have that anywhere else in the United States," Rodríguez Bernart said.
It's not just about the scenery.
"One of the best parts about this is the people, the people you meet," Rodríguez Bernart said.
At times, he's had groups of more than 100 people join in.
Although it's a competition, Rodríguez Bernart said it's not about who makes it to the finish line first.
"The prize is the journey. I kind of reward people more for stopping to smell the roses than I reward them for riding the fastest. It just gives you a different outlook on life. It increases your appreciation, without sounding too romantic about it all, it gives you an opportunity to see the world in a very different way," Rodríguez Bernart said.
The next event Rodríguez Bernart is getting ready for is the Spring to Spring tour, which will take place at the Ocala National Forest. The three-day tour starts on May 10 and ends on May 12.
For information on the routes, visit SingletrackSamurai.com.