Jake and Larissa Gafner had just returned from a sailing trip in Zanzibar. Now they were looking for an adventure closer than an island off the coast of Tanzania to camp.
After a weekend camping trip on the Wisconsin River with their dog, the Driftless 250 was born.
The trip in total is 250(ish) miles of biking, canoeing and beer drinking in the scenic Driftless Area. Over 7 days, teams bike roughly 150 miles and paddle roughly 100 miles. There’s no set route so exact mileage may vary.
“The level of fitness for the trip is a matter of personal preference,” Jake said. “The hills of the Driftless Area are no joke but we have had teams take them on with little more than blind ambition and curse words.”
When I first heard of the Driftless 250, it reminded me of RAGBRAI — an outdoor party where the effort and output match the beer.
“This trip has attracted all types: cross-fit coaches, veterans, runners, sailors, bikers (both types), kayakers, pilots, outdoor women, and all around athletes,” Jake said. “We have also had people that are none of those things. At a minimum you need to know how to swim, control a bike, and how to keep a canoe afloat. You should probably be able to bike at least 20 miles in a day, uphill both ways.”
I talked with Jake, an engineer, who founded Lost Travel Company as a side project with his wife, Larissa, a nurse.
How do you or participants typically train for the Driftless 250?
The best advice we can give is to consider each aspect of the trip (biking, canoeing, camping, and navigating) and focus on which makes you most uncomfortable.
The description for your event says you “get lost” and it’s “unscripted travel.” What does that mean in practice?
This means there is no set route, there is no guide, and a lot of the details need to be figured out on your own. There is a start point, two transition points, and a finish line. What happens in between those is truly up to the participants.
Teams will choose how far to go each day and where to camp. This typically results in a wide array of experiences, routes, and mileage. Some teams will stick together and some will go it alone (both are ok!).
Example: This gif shows the routes that teams took on the 2nd Edition of The Driftless 250.
Our work days and even vacations our days can be very tightly packed, planned and scheduled. What does it feel like to go on a trip that’s purposely unscripted? Does it take people awhile to unwind and adapt to your schedule?
The feeling is similar to the first time you rode a bike without training wheels. Liberating and terrifying at the same time. There are unknowns that people need to be comfortable with. As one former participant put it: “All of the ‘what-ifs’ really start to wear on you until you just go out and do it.”
Thinking on your feet and for yourself is often lost when travel is too highly scripted. When you wake up in the morning on the Driftless 250 you have a few basic questions you need to answer for yourself: How far are we going today? Where will we stay? Where/What will we eat? The simplicity in those questions is beautiful. It also reminds you what’s really important in life.
It takes a bit to get comfortable with this as the trip nears. However, once you’re out in a canoe a lot of your other concerns fade away.
What have been some of the highlights or favorite moments for you from past trips?
The best part about this trip is that everybody makes it their own. A few:
- The views from Wyalusing State Park (always).
- One team clocked a record 5 flat tires on the trip.
- One attendee did the trip with a broken foot, against doctor’s orders.
- Two people did the trip on a tandem bike, having never biked more than 20 miles in their life (combined) prior to signing up.
- One team milked a cow.
- Teams have camped at: sand bars, pastures, people’s backyards, State parks, and unofficial campgrounds.
- 10 bald eagle sightings in a single day
- 2 Teams paddled upstream on the Kickapoo river, found themselves at a bar and got doused in white vinegar as a local remedy for sunburn.
- And much more.
For a recap of the 2nd edition, check out this post.
Group-based exercise has become more popular in recent years, with the rise of Crossfit, Soul Cycle, Orange Theory and Peloton, among others. Do you see yourselves fitting into this kind of trend that builds camaraderie while exercising?
If it’s a trend we’ll stop doing it!
Some of our deepest connections are formed with people when we go through something together. Something removed from our every day. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. It doesn’t have to frighten us or injure us, or cost thousands of dollars. But to experience something novel alongside a friend, brings us together. The Driftless 250 has a lot of novel experiences for people. That sort of connection never gets old.
There are a lot of Wisconsin brewery or bar stops during your trip. Do you bike or canoe to breweries or both?
As far as breweries and brewpubs go, they’re most likely to visit them on the biking section. However, there’s a brewpub on the Mississippi River, on the Iowa-side, that’s just a short upstream paddle for the ambitious.
What’s your favorite beer stop on this trip?
The Wisconsin Riverside Resort is an excellent beer stop when on the river. As far as breweries go, we love Potosi and New Glarus so we challenge at least one team to hit them both.
Tell me about your idea for the Beer Runner Challenge for the Driftless 250 (even though there’s no running)!
Beer and adventure make an excellent pair… and Wisconsin is a land of excellent beer. We want to challenge teams to visit as many breweries or brew pubs over the course of the week as they can. The team that visits the most, with photographic proof, has a nice surprise in store for them. We counted nearly 20 breweries or brewpubs in the area, depending on how much biking people are up for.
You both start and end your trips with a party… and you keep it mostly a surprise. What can you tell us about these events?
There’s food, libations, bad jokes, and lots of camaraderie. At the kickoff party we also go over some critical logistical details that attendees we will need to understand before setting off on their adventure.
How can people sign up for this trip?
People can sign up directly on our website.
Anything else to add?
The Driftless 250 is in support of the River Alliance of Wisconsin. River Alliance’s work extends across the state where they’re removing dams, combating invasive species, and preventing pollution from spoiling everything.