Passion Profile – Kurt Refsnider
Exploring wild places
8x Arizona Trail 300 finisher, 7x wins/records; current record holder
2x Arizona Trail 750 finisher, 2x records; current record holder
2x Colorado Trail Race finisher, 1x win
2x Coconino 250 finishes; current record holder
3x 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo wins (duo/solo)
Kokopelli Trail record holder
1x Tour Divide win
1x Trans North Georgia Adventure win
1x Stagecoach 400 win
Executive Director of Bikepacking Roots and cycling coach at Ultra MTB
What makes you 1 of 7 billion?
I don’t think anyone else out there has experienced life with such an intertwined desire to push physical limits, to slow down and explore and advocate for the wild places and public lands that are so important to many of us, to teach others about just how these special places came to be, and to learn more about the natural world through scientific research. Each of these passions of mine has fueled and contributed to one another. That’s a pretty dang powerful combination.
Where does your passion come from?
I think put most simply, my motivation comes from being outside and experiencing that world in a variety of ways, learning about it, and helping to promote its protection. I’ve got a serious competitive side that’s been a part of me since I started racing bikes and skinny skis back in high school. That desire to push my own limits and grow as an athlete has been there for 20+ years. But I also feel a deep compulsion to explore new places at a much slower and more relaxed speed – to move through and try to learn from where I am, usually in the form of bikepacking trips. Sometimes those are just a single night long and sometimes they’re a month – each can be just as rewarding and insightful. And I want to help facilitate others having similar experiences, whether that involves getting students into the field or developing bikepacking routes and guides for others. Seeing and hearing how individuals are impacted by such experiences is particularly powerful motivation.
What barriers have you identified in life that have kept you from following your passions, and how have you learned to overcome those barriers?
It may sound cliché, but perhaps the biggest barriers found are taking on too much and not being willing or able to fully commit to the most important things. I’ve learned an awful lot in my 30s (far more than in my 20s, it seems!), and the most important lesson has been to minimize the energy that I put into things that are not particularly rewarding (or that don’t help directly move me toward the things that are particularly rewarding). Saying “yes” to too many things just dilutes the energy we have available for where we really need to be devoting it. Making space for what’s truly inspiring and committing fully to pursue that often involves sacrifices in other areas, but it’s the best way to ensure that we’re able to really nurture our passions. I’ve opted to live quite frugally, keeping expenses to a minimum, which allowed me to save enough money to feel comfortable taking the leap from full-time work to a couple part-time gigs that couldn’t grow further on their own without more attention. Trusting in that leap was tough, but every big leap I’ve ever made has proven to be a step in a very positive direction. And the more I commit to any single pursuit, whether that’s in racing, in career changes, etc., the more passionate I am about the process and the more likely I am to experience a truly amazing outcome.
What made you want to start Bikepacking Roots and how was your passion involved?
Bikepacking Roots, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, was co-founded with Kaitlyn Boyle in 2017 as a result of a shared passion around bikepacking, the impact the bikepacking experience can have on individuals, a desire to facilitate those experiences through developing exceptional bikepacking routes, and the need to help grow the bikepacking community’s advocacy for our needs as a user group and as passionate users of public lands. No other organization has had such a focus on supporting and growing the bikepacking community and the places through which we ride, so we created our own. And it’s been so empowering to feel the emphatic support from the community – we already have more than 4,000 members, we had more than 25 people reach out about joining our board of directors when we expanded it last year, and the reception to our release of the 2,700 Wild West Route has been truly astounding. And seeing more bikepackers engaging in advocacy issues has been even more rewarding. That all confirms that following our passion in this project was a particularly wise decision. And that continued and reaffirmed passion helps motivate me when things get challenging in ways that aren’t particularly inspiring..
Can you share your favorite inspirational quote to help motivate others?
Nope, I’m not much of a fan of what other people say. I think it’s far more powerful to figure out your own mantras based on how you’ve overcome challenges in the past. Then use those mantras in the future, being sure to not forget them when the going gets particularly tough.
What Passion(s) are you following in 2019?
For me, 2019 has been all about making some big changes in my life to better set myself up for focusing on my passions in 2020 and beyond. I made the tough decision to step away from my full-time job as a geology professor. After a few years of balancing that, racing bikes, running Bikepacking Roots, and coaching quite a few athletes, something had to give. So I chose to chase the parts of my life that I’ve been most excited about.
Having a fast and fun ride in the Colorado Trail Race this summer was also a big goal after success in that race had eluded me on four prior occasions. With quite a bit of focus put on that, I managed to finish first with a whole lot of smiling along the way, becoming the first person to win each of the bikepacking Triple Crown events (Tour Divide in 2011, Arizona Trail Race in 2018, and the Colorado Trail Race in 2019)!
Next year, I’m really excited to dedicate more of my time to Bikepacking Roots – we’ve got an amazing and talented board of directors behind it, our momentum is steadily growing, and we have some really exciting projects in the works. All that has been particularly inspiring. I’m also very excited to continue racing with new and old challenges alike. I’m planning to head to Alaska to take part in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, something that’ll really force me into a realm in which I’m not particularly comfortable or experienced. I want to return to the Grand Loop, the first rugged mountain bike ultra in the United States and the first one that I ever did. The race itself may be gone, but the wild and demanding desert landscape and all the old trail and mining roads are still there, and I’m drawn to the concept of coming full-circle. And there’s an Arctic expedition in the works for later in the summer, one that combines a passion I developed for that place after 5 field research season up there, an incredible team, a story of another expedition that never returned, and the need to better spread a message of the rapid and unprecedented environmental change currently being experienced by the region. Needless to say, next year is looking pretty dang exciting in so many ways.
My Thoughts on Kurt
I knew Kurt from online for some time before I finally met him in person. Like any online relationship it was vail thin in the scope of things. We simply both shared some of the same passions. When I did met Kurt in person at the 25 Hours in Frog Hollow bike race, he recognized me right away and said hello before I did. Kurt’s character became clear right away.
In my opinion, one of the things that stands out about Kurt is his personality. If you watch him talk others you’ll see he truly listens and engages with them. It’s easy to see why he used to be a teacher. This must also be a big help with Bikepacking Roots advocacy work too. His personality is the same online as it is in everyday life, which is rare.
Just last month at the start of the Colorado Trail Race I watched as Kurt interacted with multiple people, as he fetched coffee and checked his tire pressure at 3:30 am. He did so in a relaxed and humble manner, while most were abuzz with nervous energy. You could see Kurt was in his element and looking forward to testing himself.
I’ve always been in awe of his ability to push himself on the bike as well. It’s been great following his racing achievements, but even more amazing has been to watch him mold multiple passions into one with Bikepacking Roots. The Bikepacking community is lucky to have Kurt in our corner.
It was great to see Kurt talking about focusing on what’s most important and sacrificing in his answer above, in regards to the question about barriers. This is something I learned from my thru-hiking and try to pass on to others whenever I can. Reading Kurt’s answer was as if I had written it myself.