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Three day gravel bike expeditions with Marc Gasch and his Guru UL

Three day gravel bike expeditions with
Marc Gasch and his Guru UL

We recently got the chance to catch up with our long-time friend and Staff Pro Marc Gasch. Marc has been working as professional photographer for more than 20 years, mainly focusing on mountain biking and snowboarding. Earlier this year he got involved in the XPDTN3 project which involves embarking on a three day gravel bike expedition to the coolest places around the world.

So, if lack of time was your excuse for not going on an adventure, it’s not an excuse anymore.

Marc was a proud owner of the f-stop Kenti up until his recent trip to Sicily. Now he’s decided to give the GURU UL a chance to replace his old camera pack. Read more about his thoughts on the new Guru UL, the XPDTN3 project, as well as his approach to photography, in the interview below:

What’s the main idea of the XPDTN3 project?

Our focus in XPDTN3 is on gravel cycling trips. In a certain way, it is a back to the roots idea, since cycling was in fact "gravel" in its beginning, when no roads were paved and Tour de France cyclist attacked high mountain passes on dirt. As we mention on the site, we all love five week bike expeditions to remote countries, but most of us don't have the time to do that. So we try to pack as much bike travel adventure as possible in three days, embracing the lightweight bikepacking style, and relying on hotels or huts to stay at to be able to travel on a fast and light bike. As we say "go nowhere fast". Our trips are not only for our followers to enjoy passively, but we strive to provide as much info as possible in our articles, with GPS files, hotels coordinates, etc, so people that like a trip we did, just have to download the info package, book a plane and not even think about logistics. Just ride and explore cycling.

Your latest trip was to Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy. How did that go?

Well, that was a wet trip! There were warnings on the BBC weather channel about floods in Sicily, but we decided to go anyway. I'm happy that I just got my new Rain Cover for the backpack, cause it was raining buckets 75% of the time. We even had some snow close to the Etna volcano top (and it was so cold we couldn’t even get to the actual crater). But, on lower elevations, the temperature was warmer, so we could survive even with wet feet and hands for 9 hours a day. Cameras were not happy to leave the dry backpack every time we had to shoot a photo or video, but a warm and dry stay at the hotel solved all the humidity problems!

How do you approach a project? Do you prepare extensively or shoot reactively when you arrive at a location?

Regarding logistics, it usually takes me about a month of preparation, since finding good gravel for a three day trip is tricky. But on the photographic side of things, I tend to improvise once at the spot. I usually have a couple of ideas I want to shoot (timelapse here, slow-mos there, long exposures at night, etc.) but I prefer to go with the flow... The key thing on these trips is that the photographer (me) is not in a support car, but pedaling with the rest of the group all days, all the route. We carry all our stuff on our Apidura bikepacking packs, so we are self-sufficient and have to be very careful choosing what we need to carry. You don’t want a 15 kg bike, but you also don’t want to get too cold cause you didn’t bring enough warm clothing. I carry all my clothing and bike stuff in the bike packs, and all the photographic gear in my f-stop backpack, dry and protected.

What are 5 things that you need to make your trip easier?

  • A good bike, like the 3T "Exploro" we are using on these trips
  • My main camera, a Sony A7IIR with a couple of lenses, I try to keep it very light.
  • The f-stop gear "Digi Buddy" is one of my favorite "small items" in the collection, I have a few of those and use them to carry my Sony RX100IV, my wireless microphone kit or even the spare batteries, protected from the cold with a hand-warmer if things get rough .
  • My iPhone, which works as a backup for everything. Backup for all the bookings and reservations, backup GPS in case the main unit fails (I preloaded the route and the maps in a App called TwoNav that can work without phone data), and even as a backup camera (decent) and video (4K) if ever my main cameras got lost or broken (hopefully not).
  • Attitude. Lots of things can go wrong in these kind of trips, but as they say "adventure does not start until something goes wrong" right? A positive attitude keeps everything rolling smooth in the group.

How important is the camera pack for you on these trips?

A good backpack is key on these kinds of trips. Some people choose to carry their cameras on handlebar bags on bikepacking trips, but I don’t trust those for gravel riding. Too much vibration can kill your digital cameras pretty fast, so your back is the best and safest place to carry them, even if that means more sore shoulders at night. I try to keep it extremely light and simple, carrying usually just something like this kit (it changes depending on the trip):
Sony A7IIR, Sony 16-35 f4, Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 , Sony RX100IV, Gopro 4 Black camera.
Plus batteries (2-3 per camera), lots of 64 and 128GB cards, and filters, adapters, etc

You recently switched your Kenti to the new Guru UL, how does the Guru UL work for you and what are the main advantages?

I love the Kenti, and I dig the side pockets for fast access while on the bike without having to dismount the bike. But with such a light camera kit, I found that my Kenti was half empty, and I was carrying extra weight and padding I didn’t need. With the new GURU UL, I can fit a smaller ICU, like the "Small Pro ICU" and cinch the external straps of the backpack to make it smaller and less boxy while on the bike. The remaining space not occupied by the small ICU can be used to carry super lightweight items that take space, for example my emergency Patagonia puffy Jacket that always comes with me in all assignments, be it snow, bike or urban. We usually book a hotel close to the airport as a "base camp" to store the bike carrying bags, our computers, etc. so when we are back from the 3 days on the bike, I can make the GURU UL "big" again by adding a few small ICUS and bring everything fragile with me as a carryon onto the airplane. Sicily was the first test for the GURU UL backpack on a XPDNT3 trip, and it worked as I expected! Definitely my new favorite backpack on the bike!

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