Shifting Focus

How two REI employees embraced the unknown to prioritize proximity to the outdoors.
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The barn where Amanda Seigle and Devon Beam live is tucked behind several fenced-in properties at the edge of a secluded neighborhood in Flagstaff, Arizona, near the base of Mount Humphreys. Ponderosa pines line the dirt driveway, and the high desert sun sneaks through the towering trees to warm the clearing. It’s a little over six miles to the REI store where the couple works and a mile and a half from just about every mountain bike trail in the area, but their home feels pleasantly remote. On this quiet, crisp day, the lawn is scattered with blue tarps, bins of gear and bikes. Amanda and Devon are loading up to go bikepacking—their first trip since moving to Arizona two weeks before. Six months ago, their lives looked nothing like this.

Amanda and Devon pack for a bikepacking trip outside their barn.

Go back a year and Amanda, a pro-racer, and her husband Devon, an avid mountain biker, were living in a four-bedroom house with a white picket fence in Sacramento, CA. They were one and a half miles from the freeway and an hour’s commute to work through California traffic. The couple, both REI employees, had a newfound love of bikepacking. From the moment they found the sport, they were all in.

To understand how the couple came to bikepacking, though, you have to go back even further, to 2003. Just before starting her junior year in an applied mathematics program at the University of California Davis, Amanda tried mountain biking for the first time. Frustrated by how much she kept falling, she decided to find a “safer” entry into the sport and joined her school’s cycling team that fall. “You can kind of shift my whole life around that moment, around ‘finding bikes,’” she says. 

In 2005, Amanda moved on to a graduate program in geology and paleontology at Davis. She figured she’d balance her cycling with her studies, but by 2006, she was training nearly every day for three separate national competitions (mountain, road and track racing) and finding it hard to fit in time for school work. Her passion for cycling grew as her interest in geology dwindled. 

Then, two years into graduate school, Amanda’s younger sister was killed in a car accident. The tragedy forced her to slow down, step back, and take a hard look at her life. 

“That was a big trigger for me,” says Amanda. “I thought, ‘I’m sitting in this room staring at a computer screen, but I’d much rather be riding my bike.’ What was I doing? That was the big kicker.” 

At the end of that semester, Amanda left graduate school, and by October, 2007, she’d gotten a job as a sales specialist at the REI in Sacramento.

Amanda stands outside the barn with her bike.

From a young age, Amanda wanted to be outside. Steve Bowling, Amanda’s stepfather, introduced her to hiking, camping and playing little league—activities Amanda came to love. So when she made the decision to leave school, Steve wasn’t surprised. “She’s never liked being stuck inside all day,” he says.

Working at REI allowed Amanda a more flexible schedule, and brought her closer to other cyclists. It freed up her time for longer outdoor adventures, and made it possible to train for big races. She branched back into mountain biking and then, in 2016, she met Devon while they were both working at the Sacramento store. 

Devon pauses on the trail.

Soon after, Devon invited Amanda on a part touring, part bikepacking trip near San Francisco. They went on this first trip just as friends and coworkers, but by January of 2018, Amanda and Devon had fallen hard—for bikepacking and each other. “Finding Devon was really like finding the ultimate adventure partner,” Amanda recalls. That month, they loaded up their bikes and prepared to tackle a 1,673-mile ride along Mexico’s Baja Divide trail—just 18 months after Amanda caught the bikepacking bug. 

The Baja Divide ranks high on difficulty, and gains more than 90,000 feet through coastal towns and sandy beaches. Amanda and Devon planned to be on the trail for two months. When a break in Amanda’s racing career appeared, they booked their tickets.

“As far as bikepacking goes, Baja is about as epic as it gets,” says Devon. They spent 50 days traveling in Mexico (46 of them on their bikes), and returned to REI in early March. Their time on the trail was the catalyst for their next big shift.

Amanda and Devon ride up the trail to find camp.

After Baja, Amanda decided that 2018 would be her last year of cycle racing, so she took a break to train for the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in October. During her free time, she scrolled around maps on house-listing sites in search of something close to mountain biking trails.

“I rolled over Arizona, saw that this barn was close to the Flagstaff REI and only one and a half miles from dozens of bike packing trails,” Amanda explains. 

Once Amanda found the barn, the next decision was easy: buy it.

“No one was surprised when they decided to leave all behind and start a new journey,” says Beth, a manager and friend at the REI in Sacramento. “They chose a place that checked all their boxes. Correct amount of land, location, weather, landscape, price—and an REI.”

Bikes hang in the back room of the barn.

The barn is an unconventional home. It has no electricity, no running water, and no heat (though they're adding a wood stove soon). The main room is littered with half-unpacked boxes, plastic bins, a few cat toys, and a variety of bikes hang from the rafters in the back. The outdoor restroom is made up of a Luggable Loo and some mulch to aid in composting, and it smells vaguely of pie due to the rusted cherry compote can hanging in the corner. The barn is comfortable, but chaotic, something that doesn’t seem to phase them.

In a few years, they plan to install a plumbing system, add solar panels and even build a tiny home on the property. Devon dreams of turning the barn into a hostel for wayward bikepackers someday. But there’s no rush and for now, they’re happy. 

“This morning, we woke up, sat outside, and listened to the birds,” Devon says. "We aren’t on our glow screens all the time. We have more meaningful interactions. We have gained so much.” 

Amanda and Devon hang out at their campsite.

Ready for your own bikepacking adventure? Here are some tips from Amanda and Devon:

  1. Sing songs to pass long miles. Singing is a great way to pedal off tens of miles. You can sing any songs you’d like, but Devon likes to invent his own for some added personality.
  2. Have fun personalizing—and protecting—your bike. Frame bag chafe is real. Stickers and clear tape can be strategically placed to prevent frame scratching. Whether it’s adding colorful handlebar tape or covering your bike in stickers, personalizing your bike is part of the fun of bikepacking. 
  3. Bring snacks! What will you be able to snack on, day in and day out? Pack munchies to keep you motivated. Amanda likes sweets and reaches for chocolate-coated candies and cookies. Careful what you choose; some could turn into a melting mess! Devon likes savory foods and goes for white-cheddar crackers and crumbled potato chips. For more ideas, check out our snack hacks.Snacks for the trip are laid out on Amanda and Devon’s bed.
  4. "Five more minutes, just around the corner." This is Amanda's favorite mantra.  There will be hard days where you want to stop early. Break your mileage into attainable chunks to keep you going. 
  5. Bike touring is not a race. Slow down, check things out and introduce yourself to new people. Early in their tour through Baja, Amanda and Devon noticed another cyclist messing with his tire and they stopped to say hello. That’s how they met Alan, a 60-year-old cyclist from the United Kingdom, who was also riding the Divide. The three became fast friends. You never know who you’ll meet along the trail!
  6. You can only plan so much. Sweating every detail can be counterproductive to planning a trip. Instead, give yourself a point of no return—buy the ticket, get the bike, take the time off work, whatever it takes to solidify the plan—and then relax. Problems will crop up: you'll be late, you might get lost, and your hunger might turn to hanger more than once, but you’ll work through it. These might just end up being the memories you cherish the most. Amanda points to a stopping spot in the distance. Want to learn more about bikepacking? Check out our Expert Advice here.
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