BUNYAN VELO Travels on Two Wheels Issue No. 06
BUNYAN VELO ISSUE No. 06 â€“ MAY 2016
Travels on Two Wheels
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Bunyan Velo PO Box 3621 Minneapolis, MN 55403 USA
Patrick Murphy, Theresa McDevitt, Scott Felter, Kevin, Kirstie, Mabel, and Leroy Tweed, Julie McDevitt, Rachel Dye, Jake Mann, Buffalo Dave Knox, Gabe Ehlert, Erik Nohlin, Joe Cruz, Cass Gilbert, Aaron Ortiz, James Lucas, and Mike White.
Vince Asta Nicholas Carman Skyler Des Roches Przemek Duszynski Carl Gauger Cass Gilbert
Donnie Kolb Matt McLoone Beth Puliti Mark Reimer Joachim Rosenlund Mark Sirek
Josh Spice Logan Watts Lael Wilcox Brett Ziegler
Cover: Cass Gilbert Opposite: Przemek Duszynski Following: Lucas Winzenburg
All content copyright 2016 Bunyan Velo. Contributions have been used with permission and are copyright original sources. No unauthorized reproduction without written consent.
MADE IN MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA
EDITOR’S NOTE The release of the sixth issue of Bunyan Velo marks a milestone. To date, I’ve been fortunate enough to publish over 1,000 pages of photos, essays, and stories from pedal-powered journeys the world over. It’s been a thrill to work with so many great people. This issue is meant to be part nudge to finally buy the ticket to that place you’ve been dreaming of riding and part reminder that you don’t need to travel across the world to have an amazing and meaningful experience on a bicycle. It may simply be a matter of changing your perspective on where you already are. As always, I want to welcome those opening Bunyan Velo for the first time. Thank you again to those who have been following along since I launched the first issue three years ago. You make this project possible. Please consider supporting this independent publication by sharing it with a friend, making a donation, or purchasing a copy at bunyanvelo.com. Ride on, Lucas Winzenburg Founder and Creative Director
CONTRIBUTORS BUNYAN VELO 06
VINCE ASTA Vince Asta is a human being who resides on Planet Earth. Specifically? Omaha, Nebraska, USA. There, he hands out stickers for an establishment known as Ponderosa Cyclery + Tour. When not sticker-handing-outing, he works on bikes, listens to stories by Nate Woodman, and tours Nebraska. He occasionally crosses state lines. Other endeavors include wearing Monkey Wrench shirts and renouncing statehood in order to bring back the Nebraska Territory. He currently has the resounding support of (1) people. Himself. Find Vince online at ponderosacyclery.com.
CARL GAUGER Carl Gauger lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he works as a bicycle mechanic at Monkey Wrench Cycles. He spends his free time exploring central and western Nebraska by bike and loves wide-open spaces. His latest endeavor is based around sharing his passion for the Great Plains with others by guiding self-supported tours through the best parts of Nebraska. He is happiest when he can look up and see the Milky Way before he falls asleep. Check him out at onionvelo.com.
NICHOLAS CARMAN Nicholas Carman has been traveling by bicycle with Lael Wilcox since 2008, dedicating as much time as possible to sleeping outside, riding over mountains, and drinking with locals. Increasingly interested in off-pavement riding, he and Lael toured for ten months in 18 countries in 2015, including Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Middle East, and the Holyland Challenge route in Israel. This winter they charted a new bikepacking route in Baja California, Mexico, called the Baja Divide. More at bajadivide.com and gypsybytrade.wordpress.com.
CASS GILBERT Cass Gilbert has been obsessed by bicycle touring for the last 18 years. During this time, he’s traversed Asia and the Middle East, run a guiding business in the Indian Himalaya, bikepacked his way around the American Southwest, and ridden dirt roads from Alaska to Patagonia. Catch up with his travels at whileoutriding.com.
SKYLER DES ROCHES Skyler Des Roches is a global connoisseur of instant mashed potato preparation and consumption. After sampling various concoctions in places as diverse as alpine bivouac ledges, vast icefields, desert canyons, forested islands, and gringo hostels, he has come to prefer his gruel mixed equal parts cheese and potato flake, and eaten after a long day of pushing his bike through thick, vertical bush. When not away on his bicycle or exploring his home province of British Columbia, he earns his potatoes with seasonal forestry work, bushwhacking in the forests of NW Canada.
PRZEMEK DUSZYNSKI Hiker by nature, cyclist by heart, Przemek Duszynski grew up in Central Poland getting repeatedly lost and found in local woodlands. Sometime in the 80s he attempted his first longer cycling trip to the other side of town and ended up under house arrest. He is looking to expand the definition of “the other side of town.” He thrives in places where cars fear to tread. He’s currently preparing for a long ride. You can read more at inbetweenspokes.wordpress.com.
Donnie Kolb is an old-school Midwesterner who bumbled his way into riding bikes in the Pacific Northwest. The founder of VeloDirt.com, OregonBikepacking.com, and rides like the Oregon Outback and Oregon Stampede, Donnie now spreads his time among a bigger variety of outdoor pursuits, including bikes, skis, packrafts, and backpacks, with the common theme of always trying to get as far away from other people as possible.
Matt McLoone is an elite road racer, professional bike fit specialist, avid bikepacker, and freelance photographer based in Washington, DC. With his background in photojournalism, Matt enjoys bikepacking as a creative and relaxing escape from the highly structured world of bike racing. After the rewarding experience of a self-supported tour of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, he foresees many adventures to come.
Beth Puliti has pedaled over some of the tallest mountain ranges in the world, including the Himalayas, Pamirs, Tien Shans, and Alps. In July 2014, she took her career as a writer and photographer on the road and has since dedicated her lifestyle to traveling internationally by bike. Beth’s creative focus centers around her love of bicycles and the outdoors. Her work can be found in Adventure Cyclist, Bicycle Times, The Clymb, Dirt Rag, Basic Illustrated Bike Touring and Bikepacking, and more. Follow her travels at bethpuliti.com and @bethpuliti.
In a perfect world, there’s nowhere Josh Spice would have to be and nothing he’d have to do. He lives by ‘stay sane, sleep outside,’ as nothing keeps him more balanced in the modern world than falling asleep outdoors after biking a long dirt road or trail. He doesn’t rush, takes plenty of photos, and cherishes every moment for what it is and who he is with. Josh lives (and pedals) with the natural rhythm of the world. Online at StaySaneSleepOutside.com.
MARK REIMER Mark Reimer is a photographer and cyclist from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He spends his time riding the many river trails, gravel roads, and forest routes that define the central Canadian prairies. He is currently planning his next big trip, riding from Banff, Alberta, to Missoula, Montana, for Adventure Cycling Association’s 40th anniversary. Follow along at www.instagram.com/markreimer.
LOGAN WATTS In 2012, Logan Watts and his wife Virginia liquidated a chunk of their earthly possessions, packed the rest into storage, and made their bicycles home on a trip through Central America. Since then they’ve continued to perpetuate this dirtbag odyssey via a series of bikepacking trips through the Africa, Europe, and the US. Logan is the founder of BIKEPACKING.com where he regularly publishes gear reviews, stories, and bikepacking routes.
LAEL WILCOX Lael Wilcox spent nine months bikepacking through Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Middle East, showing up at the starting line of the Holyland Challenge in Israel in spring 2015, her first bikepacking race. With no expectations, she rode her heart out and loved it. A month later she flew home from Tel Aviv to Anchorage, Alaska, and pedaled out of town on a new bike, heading for Banff and the start of the Tour Divide. She writes at laelwilcox.com.
At an early age Joachim Rosenlund spent hours exploring the forest trails of his native Oslo, Norway, with his red BMX bike. The thrill of riding unfamiliar paths never left him. Given his strong desire to see the world by bicycle, he loves the new approach and possibilities brought on by bikepacking. He prefers to travel light and fast with nothing but the necessities. Photography is his second passion and he never leaves home without his camera. See more of his work at instagram.com/odinavatar.
MARK SIREK Mark Sirek surrendered to the bicycle pert near 35 years ago. Despite a reluctance to stay put anywhere for too long, bicycles have remained a constant in some capacity, and riding has continually usurped more traditional responsibilities. After 21 years of wrestling two-wheelers as a mechanic, he now attempts to make words work as a copywriter for Salsa Cycles. He currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his fiancé Kate and their heavy metal collection.
BRETT ZIEGLER Brett Ziegler is a photographer and photo editor based in Washington, DC. His love of cycling, passion for nature, and taste for adventure led him into the realm of off-road touring. He tries to escape the hustle and bustle of city living to explore our world whenever possible, and prefers to do so on a bike with a camera in hand.
CONTENTS BUNYAN VELO 06
10 NEBRASKA Carl Gauger and Vince Asta
NO WINTER Logan Watts
LOCATION SENSORS Mark Sirek and Przemek Duszynski
GOLD TEETH & DIRT ROADS Beth Puliti
SAGEâ€™S CASITA CAMPOUT Cass Gilber
THROUGH THE VIEWFINDER Joachim Rosenlund
124 SNOWBOUND Mark Reimer
CAMELS ON WHEELS Lael Wilcox and Nicholas Carman
KNIK GLACIER Josh Spice
THE DESERT SPEAKS IN CLOUDS Skyler Des Roches
KIGER GAP Donnie Kolb
186 GDMBR Matt McLoone and Brett Ziegler
aska Written by Carl Gauger, photographed by Carl Gauger and Vince Asta
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or me, the best parts of bike touring are unexpected. It’s the unknown that really blows my mind. The road that I’m not sure exists but I hope goes through, the spectacular campsite that I stumble upon, or the face-to-face encounter with a wild animal who’s as startled as I am. In a lot of ways, I feel that my home state of Nebraska occupies a similar space. It’s nearly universally overlooked, but it’s inspiring and beautiful as soon as you happen to find yourself there. The nooks and crannies of this under traveled, under appreciated wonderland are brimming with beautiful roads and vistas rarely seen by outsiders. Even for those of us lucky enough to have explored parts of it, there’s always a new place or experience to be searched out. It’s a common trope on the Great Plains that you have to go elsewhere to experience beauty and wildness. Maybe to Colorado or Utah. Growing up, we’re taught to look past the plains. In recent years I’ve been learning to look closer to home. I’ve been rewarded with travels in places that make me feel lucky just to
have seen. Numerous weekend trips to the Sandhills region of central Nebraska, as well as the high plains and Pine Ridge country in the west, have given me an ever deepening appreciation for the state I call home. It was out of a mutual love and respect for this incredible place on the Great Plains that my good friend Vince and I hatched our plan to do a tour of the landmarks of Western Nebraska. The panhandle of our state, bordering Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota, holds a dense assortment of historical and geological points of interest. It’s a rugged landscape of prairie, exposed sandstone, and Ponderosa-lined canyons. Vince and I have done many short trips out there before, but figured that it would be a perfect place to spend a full week exploring. We had a skeleton of a plan that linked together all the most famous and remarkable sites and places, but wanted to leave the bulk of the navigation unplanned. When it was all said and done, some of the most memorable moments were in the spaces between the landmarks and vistas that we were seeking. Go figure.
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My lungs were burning and I struggled to distribute my weight over the handlebars to maintain traction as I focused on the rutted track in front of me. We had seen this serpentine road cutting up into the butte from Smiley Canyon Road just half an hour earlier. After a brief hesitation, we opted for the rugged option. It probably hooked back up later on, and hell, it went up, and that was where we were headed. I felt giddy as I crested the last and steepest incline of the rough jeep road, sneaking glimpses of the vast plain opening up to my left. Vince was waiting for me at the top with a look of astonishment on his face. This was Friday, our sixth day on our bikes. We’d been pretty fortunate with weather up until the previous afternoon. Late October in western Nebraska with sunny skies and high temperatures in the fifties and sixties is like winning the lottery, but our luck could only take us so far. Ominous clouds rolled in on Thursday morning. We hammered out 30 miles before the rain hit, then spent the next 18 hours hunkered down under our tarps. We awoke to a beautiful morning. We began to dry out and warm up as the rain rolled past. I didn’t have high expectations for the day as we had a lot of ground to cover and were anticipating 30+ mph headwinds. The day’s ride started out with a difficult climb. We’d bypassed the slow, steady grade of Smiley Canyon Road for this winding, insanely steep jeep road. There we were, seemingly at the top of the world. The table.
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“ How is this Nebraska?” We scrambled up and out to a point overlooking our past several days of travel. To our north, we looked down on the bare sandstone of the Red Cloud Buttes, overlooking Ft. Robinson and Crawford. To the east, Crow Butte and Little Crow Butte stood out from the rest, the ridge disappearing into the eastern horizon behind it. We took it all in for a good twenty minutes, barely able to stay upright against the power of the wind. We paused, drinking in the wild, open beauty of Nebraska’s Pine Ridge country. It’s one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been. I asked myself, “How is this Nebraska?” It’s a question I’m used to answering when I tell people how proud I am to call this place home and show them photos of our travels, but here I was asking myself the same damn thing. There are wild and wonderful places all over the earth, but you don’t need to travel to some exotic, faraway land to experience the planet’s grandeur. Chances are it’s in your backyard, and you’ve only missed it because you were hurrying off to find it in someone else’s. BV
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NO WINTER Written and photographed by Logan Watts
eferring to my vagabond lifestyle, my mom recently asked me, “What are you running from?”
My answer? “Winter.” My wife Virginia and I have been trying to avoid Frosty the Snowman over the last few years. We work on various projects and odd jobs in the summer and flee to warmer climes come December. It’s not that I hate winter. But, the older I get, the more I’d just rather wear shorts and a t-shirt all the time. Our annual pilgrimage was a little different than usual last winter. We typically choose bicycles as our escape vehicles, but this time we used a van to explore the dry and dusty Southwestern United States. Our van held four bikes and served as home base for carrying out short bikepacking trips and countless days of incredible trail riding. We rode some of the best trails and routes this country has to offer, and were fortunate enough to make friends along the way. We crossed off bucket list trails, including Slickrock, Porcupine Rim, Gooseberry Mesa, Horsethief, and Hi-Line. But what stands out are some of the three to five-day bikepacking routes we rode. Each seemed like a microcosm of bigger trips we’d taken in the past, filled with unfamiliar landscapes, interesting encounters with people and animals, and epic riding.
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The Other Side of Nowhere: Big Bend State Park, Texas It’s a long and remote drive down to this corner of Texas along the Mexican border. After miles of near nothingness, we rounded a corner and were greeted by the beautiful, jagged vista of the Chisos Mountains. The closest base camp to the action is a tiny desert hamlet called Terlingua Ghost Town. It’s nestled beside Big Bend National Park, one of only two national parks the giant state has to offer. The town is an oddity. It’s bustling with an idiosyncratic cast of characters who embody the enchanting, forgotten desert landscape. We decided to tackle a four-day bikepacking loop based on the fittingly titled “Other Side of Nowhere” route. It was an incredible introduction to desert riding and big night skies. Finding 80-degree temps in January was priceless, of course.
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The Gila River Ramble After strolling through Texas and finding great trail riding (and snow) in El Paso, we fled toward Tucson, which was guaranteed to be warm. I contacted Scott Morris, founder of bikepacking.net, to get his recommendations on good routes in the area. He insisted that we ride the Gila River Ramble, a route Scott concocted and has evolved over the last few years. The Gila River “Ramble” is anything but the wandering stroll its name implies. Instead, this beautiful cacophony of hairy ridge rides, steep, crumbly climbs, and roller coaster singletrack through forests of grabby cholla cactus is more of a “Three-Day Sonoran Desert Saga.” That said, I’m pretty sure it’s as close to perfection as a route can get. This beautiful slice of the Arizona Trail is not to be missed. And one of the great things about it is that it’s best ridden in the dead of winter.
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The Stagecoach 400 We lapped up Sedona’s trails for two fantastic weeks. A spring storm was predicted to bring snow, cold, and rain, so we high-tailed it toward southern California. We spent a few days in Joshua Tree and San Diego before turning our sights to the infamous Stagecoach 400. The 400-mile route is a loop through a mosaic of contrasting landscapes. It leads riders from remote mountains through the seemingly endless Anza-Borrego Desert, into San Diego, along the sea, and back into the mountains. The Stagecoach 400 is a masterpiece of dirt doubletrack, sandy desert roads, technical singletrack, urban bike paths, and rolling tarmac. It begins and ends at The Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild, California, where our new friends, owners Brendan and Mary Collier, gave us plenty of insight. The Stagecoach 400 is no joke; it’s a challenging route worthy of inclusion on every bikepacker’s to-do list. Mid-winter or early spring are the best the times to ride it. Bunyan Velo 38
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The Kokopelli Trail When the inland temperatures warmed back up, we made our way through Nevada, southwest Utah, and ultimately to mountain bike mecca. There, I had the good fortune to meet the ever-intrepid Joe Cruz, photographer Joel Caldwell, and Skyler Des Roches, who traveled down from British Columbia to get away from the snow. We had planned a meet-up to ride the Kokopelli Trail from Fruita to Moab. As Joe put it, “The Kokopelli Trail is a vintage route ridden and raced long before doing stuff like this was popular.” The route connects the two mountain biking nerve centers via a medley of singletrack, doubletrack, sand, and tarmac. Oh, and technical climbs, rugged descents, and graded terrain. Classics have a way of seeming passé, and one might thus be tempted to skip it. Don’t. This is an incredible three- to four-day ride that’s worth every push of the pedals. I did see a little winter on this route. The highest point en route is over 8,000 feet in the La Sal Mountains. Even in March, we found snow when we rolled through.
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The White Rim The White Rim, another classic, was the last bikepacking route of our winter in the desert. It traverses the spectacular Canyonlands National Park. It is popular among supported bicycle tour groups, jeeps, and motos, yet this beautiful loop is another essential route. The aptly named White Rim Road follows breathtaking plateaus along the Colorado and Green Rivers via slickrock, graded gravel, dirt roads, semi-technical rocky doubletrack, and thick sandy bottoms. Snow began to fall during the long, slow climb back to our van on our last day of cycling. I held my fist to the sky and said a couple of words. We had a few more instances of dodging the Old Man while puttering around Colorado and bagging several more trails. It was a constant dance to avoid stray spring snows. Carbondale to Durango, Cortez back to Flagstaff, and Flagstaff to Sedona, again. Unfortunately, we had to head back east when winter was officially over, right before the alpine riding thawed out. Iâ€™ll just have to keep reading about trips people take in the summer; weâ€™ll time it right one day. BV Learn more about these routes at bikepacking.com.
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Location Sensors Written by Mark Sirek, photographed by Przemek Duszynski
ll you cyclists need to get off the road. Every kind of road. At least for a little while, now and then. There is a lot to learn from a road, but you can, and should, take opportunities to veer off it. See, feel, smell, and listen to the land it goes through. Assuming you’re wanted there and legally can, of course. Stop, get off your bike, and stand there with your receptors set to 10. Wonder where you are. There aren’t any wrong ways to ride, but I think you’re doing yourself a disservice if you only focus on the physical and mechanical aspects of forward motion when you climb aboard your bike. Just like a great work of art utilizes positive and negative space, or a good narrative requires some reading between the lines, a great ride out on your bike should be done in tandem with awareness of the environment. Over the last 10 years I’ve made a point to add a non-bike-related garnish to my rides, wherever they are. Bicycles have occupied three of my four decades. It’d be silly to explain why they have played such a dominant role to you bike-riding readers. Even those of you with shorter histories of bicycle symbiosis know why. Bikes are the best. There are universal commonalities among us, like the feeling of freedom on our first ride and frustrating flat tire stories. From there, the reasons we ride vary greatly. I have sporadically raced road and mountain bikes in my time, barreling through courses as fast as I could, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you much about the locations where they took place. I’m not against racing, but I feel I missed out on something each time. There are notorious events everywhere, hammered and shredded upon, but it seems they’re usually described by the features contained within the edges of the course’s tarmac or trail – that one hill, descent, corner, or drop.
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Riding as fast as I can doesn’t rank too high on my to-do list anymore. Not nearly as high as wanting to know as much as I can about the place where I’m riding, camping, or having a beer. Whenever possible, I like to ask or read about a place or region I’m in or will be visiting. At the very least I keep a list of questions that I can find answers to when I return. I even carry a notepad now if I’m pretty sure my mind is going to be blown. Understanding where you are adds another dimension to your ride. When you’re in the middle of a three-quartermile-long tunnel on the Elroy Sparta Trail in Wisconsin, for example, it’s pretty hard not to think about the thousands of times trains also passed through, how they fit in there, what it must have sounded like. Knowing about that former rail corridor makes the placement of the little towns along the way make sense. I like to imagine what it was like when the prosperity of living among that new technology was peaking, and to think about what had already changed by the time the trains stopped running.
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I’ve found that there are three reliable ways to dissect your coordinates: asking someone who’s already planted where you are, asking another traveler what brought them there, or making the effort to investigate on your own when there’s no one around. Without inquiring, you can never know what a place is like from the short time you spend in it. You might have caught it during a bout of atypical weather. Maybe you rolled into a place when The Town Charmer or The Hilarious Ranger had the day off, keeping you from that unsolicited area knowledge that would have changed your view. Arriving by bike is a pretty disarming way to approach someone and start a conversation. It’s not unusual for one to get started before you can say a word. I’ve been asked hundreds of times, “So where are you coming from today?” But don’t wait for someone to make the first move. Pull up a stool at the bar and ask, “What’s the story here?” Chances are someone will be happy to share their version.
A spoken account or a point in the direction of information that starts with, “It was on this very road” or “This area used to be known for” sets up scenery both present and imagined, and gives you multiple realities to pedal through. Does it matter that Sayner, Wisconsin, is the birthplace of the snowmobile, or snow toboggan as it was called, when you roll through as a cyclist? I think it should if you can relate to the human desire to overcome the terrain. If you could go back to 1924 and ride alongside snowmobile pioneer Carl J. Eliason on his first winter run, I’m guessing you’d both be scanning the landscape with similar looks on your faces, despite the different vehicles. I know about Carl because I stopped, looked around, and asked the first time I was through there. I think of what he did every summer I’m back in the area, and I’ll likely never forget. My friend Craig is fortunate to have a cabin in Northern Wisconsin surrounded by hundreds of miles of rolling grav-
el roads. We’ve ridden them for the last 11 summers. Since acquiring fatbikes a couple of years ago, we’ve discovered an equal amount of gated snowmobile trails that guarantee total solitude. We’ve never seen another fatbike up there, and getting a trail map is a tricky thing if you’re not a local. Yet, on a ride in a new section of forest, we unexpectedly met the woman we now refer to as Ursula. We stopped by a creek for beers and lunch and heard the familiar sound of a straining truck engine. She got out with her Chesapeake Bay Retriever, as surprised to see us as we were her. As her dog pulled tree roots out of the ground, this 60-something former Indian reservation lawyer, currently living a few towns away, shared how much she loved the area, and how she was teaching herself Mongolian before heading there for the Peace Corps. She told us that the creek was usually full of ducks, and she was verifying that for her son who’d be coming up from Minneapolis to hunt the next day.
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“Arriving by bike is a pretty disarming way to approach someone and start a conversation. It’s not unusual for one to get started before you can say a word.”
She told us about where the creek went, which led to descriptions of what else we’d encounter depending which direction we headed. These trails, we learned, navigable only by the kinds of machines we both chose for the task, were once far busier and better maintained when more people lived in the area. Paved roads and conveniences likely led the hands of the old inhabitants into surrounding population centers. But, like Ursula, there are still folks around who know the history. The woods swallowed any evidence we might have stumbled upon by ourselves. Maybe that history will become less and less available over time as the people who know it move on. Or maybe the assumption that there’s nothing to see in those parts keeps people from wondering or exploring. We were lucky enough to learn the history because, like Ursula, we were pulled by our own curiosity to see for ourselves, listen when we were told, and ask when we weren’t. You can make the right time in the right place. The world is not only small, but also full of people with vastly different backgrounds who figure out how to exist within the well-defined parameters dictated by an environment. Sometimes you both happen to find yourselves in those environments. Your respective takes on “why” and “how” tell as much about a place as any version of prior documentation. They’re just different angles on the “sense” a place makes. Ask yourselves, why are we both there? Then there are the places, free of people, that you can safely bet have never been reached via bicycle. I experienced that recently on a fatbike trip with my friends Benton and Hansi near the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota. Away from trails and fire roads, on tree-choked soil too soft and debris-strewn for any other kind of tire, we were immersed in a landscape that we couldn’t talk about in well-known specifics with other bike riders later, let alone non-riders.
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As first-timers-far-as-we-can-tell types, we alone could explain the details of some of those locations. We made sure to take in as many as we could. We were presented with new sights, sounds, and smells because we arrived open to absorbing it all. The thing that hooked us was about far more than the bike. Moments like those are invaluable and increasingly rare unless you put yourself out there. When I found out later that what we were on was a mountain range two billion years ago, it made the brief time we were riding a bicycle over it even harder to wrap my brain around. The things the land has seen are impossible to fathom. Remember to replicate and build on the feeling of freedom we all felt the first time we rode somewhere far from home. Think about all the other rides you’ve been on, and some of the particulars you may have missed. Go back if you can. Keep your eyes and ears open. Taste the “world famous” dish a town is known for. If it’s weird, wonder why. Keep asking questions. There will always be times when a quick spin is all you can squeeze in, but for every other ride, take the opportunity to flood your senses and imagination with the space around you, finally knowing where you are. BV
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Gold Teeth & Dirt Roads
Written and photographed by Beth Puliti
“America.” The young Turkish bag handler looks in my eyes and smiles confidently as he pushes my frame bags through the scanner during a layover in Istanbul. I think apprehensively that he is scrutinizing my bright, form-fitting, western-style clothes. When my eyes fall on the passport positioned on top of my belongings, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. I’m traveling with my husband, Justin, to Kyrgyzstan. We’ll be spending just over a month pedaling the country’s remote dirt roads before crossing into Tajikistan via the Pamir Highway. On the final leg of our flight, we sit behind a man wearing a traditional four-paneled white felt headdress and a woman outfitted in a scarf that ties behind her head. Every so often, they exchange wide, gold-tooth smiles and steal glances in our direction. From the familiar comforts of my airplane seat, I think of the unpredictability that lies ahead— where I’ll spend each night, what I’ll eat from local markets, who I’ll meet along the way—and a pulse of adrenaline stamps out the mounting anxiety inside me. We land in Bishkek a day before Nooruz, a central Asian celebration that marks the beginning of the Persian year. As part of the festivities, Kyrgyz horsemen participate in Kok-Boru, a traditional game that’s similar to polo, but played with a headless goat carcass instead of a ball. When the match is over, we head over to Ala-Too Square to watch locals pay a couple som to weigh themselves on a scale, pummel a punching bag, lurch themselves up and over a pull-up bar, and throw darts at balloons. The ancient festival is associated with the vernal equinox, but it’s only spring in a theoretical sense here. Cold and snow keep us confined to four walls for a few days longer than we’d like, so when the sun finally breaks free from the clouds, it’s all the motivation we need to point our mountain bikes out of the city. We ride in search of dirt roads and mountain passes. We find so much more.
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Rolling into a small village that doesn’t exist on our map, we hear the local children before we see them. They’re yelling and sprinting toward us from houses with no electricity, tripping over shoes too big for their small feet. We stop pedaling and wait for them to reach us. Red-cheeked and out of breath, they share their names and high-fives. We part ways in awe of each other.
Muddy roads lead us deeper into the Tien-Shan Mountains. We alternate pedaling and pushing through the sludge for a couple days. Our progress is eventually derailed when we’re told the snow is still too deep to make it over the next pass.
Inside, small stools surround a brightly colored tablecloth, half-cured meat hangs from the ceiling, a hen tends to her chicks, and a kettle sits atop the wood stove boiling water for tea. When we take our seats, we’re offered generous portions of everything inside this kindhearted man’s cozy quarters, which, despite having no bathroom, kitchen, or bed, seems to burst at the seams. We’re toasty when we leave, and I suspect it’s not just because we were sitting close to the fire.
“Are you sure?” A man wearing a Russian ushanka hat holds his hand out by his waist to demonstrate just how deep. As we discuss venturing back toward an alternative route, he calls out.
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I look at his home, a dilapidated railcar partway up the mountain, and make up my mind. Then I look at his hopeful face and change it. “Sure.”
A bit of snow isn’t going to stop us from pedaling the road
that lured us to this part of the world. We just need to take a different route. Visions of yurts, yaks, and barren, high-altitude landscape dance in our heads as we plot a new course toward the Pamir Highway, the second highest international highway in the world. Our second attempt finds us pedaling on washboard gravel through rural villages, passing mud-and-thatch houses painted with Kyrgyz embellishments and camping in beautiful isolation that’s typically reserved for dreams. We race children on their singlespeed, brakeless bikes. We empty market shelves of stale cookies and apple brandy and fill up our water bottles in streams next to locals. When the weather turns bad, we spend two nights in an abandoned Soviet-era factory outbuilding and make friends with a fellow squatter. As we near our destination, we’re warned that the final two mountains connecting us to the city of Osh may still
be impassable due to snow. We consider our options, and after more than a week of pedaling, we decide to push on. Thirty-two switchbacks greet us on the first 8,000-foot pass, and it takes us two days to reach the final kilometer of our ascent. When the dirt turns into mud at the top, we slip on our Russian galoshes acquired at the bazaar in Bishkek, trudge past a dump truck stuck in the thick muck, and finally make friends with gravity again as we roll downhill. Once we reach the destitute and isolated settlement of Kazarman—inaccessible during winter months due to its location between two tall mountain passes—our efforts thus far prove futile. At the local police station we’re told that the final 10,000-foot mountain pass we need to cross to make it to the Pamir Highway is closed for another two weeks. With the window for our Tajikistan visa closing in, we don’t have time to wait. We also don’t have time to retrace our tire tracks.
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“Taxi.” The police chief audibly concludes our only option. We’re crushed. With a smirk, he offers to give us a ride for an exorbitant amount of money. The ten or so officers who have gathered around break into a fit of laughter. Corruption plagues Kyrgyzstan at every level of government. The country ranks at 136th of 175 in Transparency International’s corruption perception index. We decline, find what appears to be the only guesthouse in town, and with it find a bit of relief when the owner offers to negotiate a fair taxi price for us. Due to the country’s lack of roads, we need to backtrack 14 hours by car to Bishkek, then take another nine-hour taxi to Osh, the official start of the Pamir Highway. The following day we load our bikes into the back of a worn-out Sprinter emblazoned with the words, “British Airways.” When we slide open the side door, local commuters flash golden smiles and generously offer us the empty space next to the young driver. Front row seats! And what a show it is. Our first stop is to pick up another passenger. Our second is to gather documents from a person on the side of the road. Our third stop is to collect yet another passenger (one more than our vehicle comfortably allows). Our fourth is to load sacks of food in the back of the van. On our fifth stop, a note is hand-delivered to one of the passengers sitting in the row behind us. Our sixth stop is to fill the tires with air.
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Then we leave Kazarman. Dodging cows, sinkholes, stray dogs, donkeys, tractors, and small children, we twist and turn on a single set of tire tracks that snakes down the right and left side of the road. Speeding up the freshly graded canyon faster than we pedaled down it the day before, we nearly collide headon with a bulldozer around a blind corner. Luckily, both of us are driving on the wrong side of the road. Around another bend in the road, we come up quickly on a herd of cows and tumble forward as our driver slams the van’s tired brakes and blasts the horn. The animals part and we speed through while their shepherd wobbles on his horse, holding a plastic two-liter bottle of beer. We honk for cars, dump trucks, children, sheep, bicyclists, horses, and dogs. My seatbelt is perpetually taut. But at least I have one to wear. Other passengers aren’t so lucky. By the time we reach Bishkek, every warning icon on the dashboard is lit up. There is a sense of comfort in returning to a once-foreign place that now seems familiar. But familiar isn’t why we came here. So, we gather our meager belongings from the vehicle, tip our driver, search out our next taxi ride, and count down the hours until we’re pedaling some of the highest mountain passes in the world. BV
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Sageâ€™s Casita Campout
A Miniature Guide to Family Tykepacking
Written and photographed by Cass Gilbert
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hile its distances may be Lilliputian, organising a family tour – with its many nuts and bolts – is not a task to be taken lightly. At least in our household. First, a suitable route needs to be considered and approved by all those involved. Riding hours have to be tallied. Gear evaluated. Entertainment considered. Naps scheduled. Roadside treats acquired. But, like all of our family excursions, its rewards are undoubtedly bountiful. As proved to be the case with our overnight ride from Santa Fe to Madrid, New Mexico. For a start, it began with a train ride. As all parents will know, there are few obsessions as strong as those of a three year old; in Sage’s case, his worldly desires revolved around trains, guaranteeing excitement before we’d even boarded our bicycles. Besides, other than the undeniable pleasure of rolling out from your front door, the cathartic ke-klunk of a locomotive is perhaps the most satisfying way of easing into a bicycle tour. We’d decided to run a child seat in addition to a trailer to keep our inquisitive cargo entertained. The former encouraged Sage to exercise his growing command of the language, and promised, for the lucky pilot, the chance of a toddler back massage. The latter was his cocoon in which he’d travelled from just 12 weeks old; it came complete with soft toys, dried fruit, and music.
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Aspiring tykepackers would do well to consider their environment next, if the toddler spiral of discontent is to be avoided. Given the winter temperatures, we’d deemed it wise to forgo my usual unrelentingly frugal approach to bike touring. On this occasion, we’d booked ourselves into an off-grid casita, beautifully constructed from adobe and straw bales, in the Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center. It was tucked away down a meandering dirt road, baked dry by New Mexico’s bountiful sun, and nestled in a community of counter culturalists and their ramshackle collection of once motorized artefacts. Route finding is especially pertinent to the success of such a voyage: traffic-free riding rules when it comes to clannish touring. For this reason, I’d pored over Google Earth, squinting at pixels in an attempt to divine the position of gates and fences that threatened to thwart our progress. I’d deliberated over road surfaces and grades, given our ever-expanding payload. Seeking to imbue our route with historic intrigue, I devised a route that borrowed from a network of abandoned mining roads that coursed their way through Los Cerrillos Hills, an undulating ripple of land where Native Americans once dug for turquoise and prospectors later searched for gold. Of course, half the excitement of any bike tour is in the unknown; when we were confronted by an unexpected barrier across public land, my heart burst with pride as I watched my son do the toddler limbo under his first gate. When you’re as small as Sage, you don’t need to jump fences. As for our accommodation, it was not only sublime, but both eminently practical and inspiringly educational. After all, toddlers are walking, running, jumping, climbing human sponges. Removed from the modern privileges we’ve come to expect – light switches and running water, for instance – the casita was an opportunity to acquaint Sage with Mother Earth and all her sensitivities. Filtered rainwater quenched our thirst, which he measured out for himself from a glass bottle. Portable lights powered by solar panels illuminated the casita at night, which we taught him to leave basking in the sun during the day. A single chunk of firewood kept us toasty and warm when darkness fell. A compost toilet completed our tiny house’s eco-friendly credentials. Best of all, the view from the platform of our elevated bed looked out into the inky black expanse of the New Mexican sky, crammed with stars, providing a humbling backdrop as we all snuggled together for bedtime stories.
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“ My heart burst with pride as I watched my son do the toddler limbo under his first gate.” My final nugget of advice gleaned from this miniature journey? Family bike tours are not just about biking. Come morning, once breakfast had been expertly rustled up by Nancy – corn chips, crispy bacon, and scrambled eggs – we forgo bikes to explore by foot, scampering into the rocky expanse of the desert, climbing up to viewpoints, balancing on outcrops, spying features in the land before us. Due time was put aside for examining piles of stones and collecting sticks, Sage’s favourite pastime (after playing with trains, that is). For this reason, I’d even fitted a wire basket onto my bicycle, into which various discoveries could be stowed, especially those which “could not be left behind.” Energy partially depleted, it was time to load Sage into the trailer, our schedule designed to align with his all-important nap. Woe betide us should he miss it. Sage snoozed while we pedalled furiously, awakening for the train ride home, of course. Family bike rides don’t need to be epic. Even a night out is likely everything you and your child can ask for. Namely, undiluted family time, and life lessons around every turn. Even the humble overnighter will warm the heart and feed the soul, for everyone involved. BV
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THROUGH THE VIEWFINDER Written and photographed by Joachim Rosenlund
2,250 km (1,400 miles) of open road. 25,000 meters (82,000 feet) of climbing. Twenty-eight days total, 20 of which are spent riding. Two days of rain and 26 days of blasting sun. Temperatures ranging from 0째C/32째F at night to 56째C/132째F during the hot hours of the day. From Tbilisi, Georgia, to Tehran, Iran, through Armenia. No fixed route. Just a plane ticket to Tbilisi and a return ticket from Tehran 28 days later. 7.5 kg of cycling and camping gear plus another 2.5 kg of camera equipment. Always shot out of the saddle and spontaneously. Nothing was prepared, set up, or rehearsed. Everything was captured on the move, as it happened.
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Check in. The air conditioner is blasting and the room is cold. At first it feels good, a welcome relief from the sweat and staggering heat outside. Heat Iâ€™m unaccustomed to, I should add. But after a few moments the cool air makes me cringe, makes my soul cringe. It puts distance between me and the world, from whatâ€™s outdoors. I get up and go back outside. The heat meets me in the doorway. It slows me down and embraces me, melts me, opens my soul to what will come. I accept the heat and with it comes the prickling realisation: adventure is ahead!
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I love traveling. Being on the go. Seeing new things, being challenged, getting out of my comfort zone. The challenge that lies ahead on this particular journey is not only a physical and mental one, itâ€™s also artistic. Riding 100 km with more than 1,250 meters of climbing every day is hard on its own. It breaks your body down, but more than anything, it challenges you mentally. Every day youâ€™re in the saddle with little else but your own thoughts. Even though we ride as a pair, we mostly ride in silence. The riding becomes a part of you, the pedal stroke the rhythm of your life. And this is usually enough. The ride.
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This time, however, there is the photography. Not only do I haul extra equipment, but I have to scout the surroundings for possible shots. On the one hand it takes me out of that meditative space of just me and the bicycle, but it also makes me acutely aware of everything that’s going on around me. You might call it taking in the scenery, something we all hopefully do as we ride along. But it is more than that. It’s angles, light, forms, people, and nature, all of which have to fit into a little box in my camera. It’s pushing hard and riding ahead to get a shot. It’s letting yourself fall back, snap a few shots, and then play the catch-up game. It’s climbing a hill on the side of the road to get just the right angle. It’s concentrating on the rough road ahead, so as to not crash, while at the same time scanning for shots. I love it, but it’s draining. The reward is total immersion in the landscape and its people. Georgia, Armenia, and Iran all have beautifully winding roads, fantastic mountains, crystal clear lakes, rolling hills, unfamiliar forests, and mesmerising deserts. The diversity of the nature is a surprise, and although the heat is almost unbearable, the landscape is refreshing.
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Even more beautiful are the people. Never have I met such open and friendly people. It’s as if the harshness of nature has softened their souls. People pay for our food wherever we go, despite our best attempts to refuse. They invite us into their homes, bring tea, fresh fruit, and bread to our campsites. They want to talk to us, and even though we don’t have a common language, we do. Heart to heart. We laugh, we smile, we shake hands, we embrace. We communicate with sign language and laughter. When you’re traveling, strangers become brothers and sisters. The world becomes smaller. I travel to find this connection with people, and to let my compassion and empathy grow. Although taking photographs is an important part of this trip, there are countless occasions when taking my out camera would create a barrier between me and my new friends, so it stays in its bag. I would love to take more portraits, but I don’t want to disturb this beautiful human connection. BV
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Written and photographed by Mark Reimer
he temperature sunk below -32°C/-26°F. I was shivering in my damp clothes, wet with sweat after our ride along the frozen banks of the Red River. A few sections of the trail were blown over with deep snow, forcing our group to try smashing through before inevitably dismounting and pushing. I was on my first real winter sub-24-hour overnight (s24o) ride where I’d be sleeping outside without a shelter. What had I gotten myself into? Anyone who lives in a cold climate knows that moisture is your biggest enemy when the mercury drops. I needed to change into the dry clothes and down jacket I was carrying inside my Carradice saddlebag, but that meant I’d need to take off my huge winter mitts to undo the leather straps. The feeling in my fingers left instantly as I awkwardly fumbled with the straps using my bare hands. I was getting colder by the second. One strap open. Time to shove my hands down my pants for a minute and warm them up. Boy, I sure wish I remembered where I put my head lamp. Two straps open, here we go! Wait, where’s my down jacket? Shit. Front pannier. This is going very badly. Let’s back up a bit. I love riding my bike and going camping. Whether it’s just for one night, a week, or more, I can’t imagine a better way to spend time outside. But unlike some of you, I don’t have the good fortune of living in a place with a mild year-round riding season. The winters are long and very cold in my hometown of Winnipeg, Canada. Most cyclists I know seem to transition to cross-country skiing or riding trainers during the winter months. A small group of friends and I venture out for shorter trail rides at least once a week, but relative to summer, our bikes don’t see much action. Back in the fall I realized that I’d been on a s24o every month since an unseasonably warm February. Only a couple more months and I could say I’d been camping every month for a year straight. In Winnipeg, that is downright weird. Completing this streak would require sleeping in some very cold temperatures. I was no stranger to riding in the cold and had done a number of s24os that ended at a heated shack of some sort, but this would be different. Still, once the idea hit me, there was no shaking it. It was time to learn how to winter camp. Over the next few months I not only learned how to sleep outside in winter, but how to have a really good time doing it. It was a learning experience, and not always the most comfortable, but I think I’ve picked up enough to be able to share a few basic tips. It’s my hope that these will inspire others to get out and try winter bike camping themselves.
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WINTER CAMPING BASICS The first step will probably seem silly, but simply picking a date, location, and inviting some friends is huge. With a date in place and other riders invited, it suddenly becomes “real.” I became motivated to get my act together once I’d told someone I was doing this. Can’t wimp out now! From here, I found it was best to break things into steps: PICK A NEARBY DESTINATION If you regularly ride in cold winter conditions, you’ll know that you’ve got to readjust your distance expectations. It’s good fun to ride 100km to your favourite camping spot in summer, but everything is harder when it gets really cold. I typically stick to something around 25-40 kilometers from home if it’s very cold. Sometimes that can take well over two to three hours to ride. If you can, it’s nice to stick to trails and bike paths because riding highways in winter is no fun and is often dangerous. SUCKER IN A FRIEND This was critical for me. I had zero experience with winter camping before I decided to try this, but I knew some people who did. Having someone who will share their experiences can help you avoid rookie mistakes and have the best possible experience. It’s also good to have someone with you in extreme cold conditions in case something goes wrong. You don’t want to find yourself alone in the middle of nowhere when it’s -20°C/-4°F, your cell phone is dead, and you’re in some kind of emergency. Having a friend also likely means you’ll have twice the variety of snacks and bourbon. EASE INTO IT While the idea of sleeping in a deep freeze was appealing to me, I knew I didn’t have the first clue how to do it properly or safely. It made sense to ease into it over time. For me, that meant picking camping spots with warming shacks. Often, areas that are popular for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, or winter hiking will have small shacks with a wood stove inside. These make for great bail-out options if you get too cold. They also act as an insurance policy if things go south. Plus, if you’ve got a friend who’s not as nutty as you, they can sleep in relative warmth while you stick it out in the snow. I slept inside shacks for a few seasons before making the move outside. Once you feel ready, try spending the night outside at -10°C/14°F, then -15°C/5°F, and so on. Don’t be like me and try sleeping outside for the first time at below -32°C/26°F. It will suck.
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YOU DON’T NEED A BUNCH OF EXPENSIVE CRAP If you spend much time reading magazines and blogs, you may end up believing that you need this bike, that sleeping bag, those boots, etc. Don’t let a perceived lack of gear hold you back. If you’ve got a warming shack or something comparable nearby, there’s no reason why you can’t go out and try on a milder night. I’ve gone camping in -15°C/5°F with friends who only had summer sleeping bags and they still had fun. No fat bike? No problem. A Wald basket on the front of your beater will do just fine. Bring a down jacket, spare blanket, or whatever else you’ve got to add some extra warmth.
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HAVE FUN Every time I go on a winter s24o someone says I’m crazy, or hardcore, or that they could never do that. Truthfully though, I hate being cold. I’m not the type to actively seek out some insufferable situation for bragging rights. It’s been my experience that with a bit of research, experimentation, and trial and error you can have an amazing time sleeping outside in the snow. Just remember, don’t ride on the ski trails!
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Winter camping is rewarding and well worth the effort of figuring out what works for you. There is nothing like waking up on a frozen river bed, with the full moon lighting up the hoar frost in the trees, while the snow absorbs every sound but the occasional deep crack and groan of expanding ice below. SOME FINAL POINTERS: Don’t camp near snowmobile trails. You never know when someone might come by in the middle of the night at 100 miles an hour. Bring a heavy ziploc bag and put your camera inside it before returning inside from the cold. It causes condensation to form on the bag, rather than inside your camera, keeping the electronics safe and lens clear. Chemical hand/foot warmers can be a great way to add a bit of warmth in your sleeping bag overnight. If I have cold feet, I can’t sleep. I’ve realized sleeping with my winter boots on is the best way to stay comfortable. I shake all the snow off, then wrap plastic bags around them before getting into my bag. As an added benefit you don’t have to put cold boots on in the morning. A vapour barrier can add a few degrees of warmth to any sleeping bag. Bring a full change of dry clothes to put on before you sleep if you’re still damp. Even if you’re only a tiny bit moist, it will be next to impossible to get warm. Eat a bit of dark chocolate or something else with carbs before sleeping. It kickstarts your metabolism and helps your body produce more heat while you sleep. If you’re really sweaty while riding, dial things way back a few miles before you stop. It gives your clothes time to wick sweat away and evaporate so you aren’t quite so wet when you stop. Keep essential items like a down jacket and headlamp where you can easily access them without taking your gloves off. Don’t be like me when it was down to -30°C/-22°F and freeze your hands as you fumble in the dark. If you do start off sleeping in a warming shack, make sure it’s ventilated. Those old wood stoves tend to belch smoke inside rather than out. I started bringing a battery operated carbon monoxide detector with me after waking up with a massive headache. It’s no joke, bring one. I hope these tips will help you have a great time winter camping!
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Camels on Wheels Written by Lael Wilcox, photographed by Nicholas Carman
pop the lid on the can of green olives and drain the juice into the grass. I slice them into pizza toppings on the plastic hummus lid with a pocket knife. I score the avocado, pull the halves apart, remove the pit, and scoop out the meat. I slice the purple-green tiger tomatoes, then a cucumber into spears, then a yellow onion. I open five rolls and we assemble sandwiches – a thick layer of hummus on one side, avocado on the other, tomatoes, onions, and olives in the middle. Nick closes them with cucumber and packs them in plastic. I set the alarm for five and fall asleep once the jackals stop screaming. In the morning the sandwiches are heavy in my hands. I pack four and give one to Nick. Will it be enough? I pedal past the cows, uphill to the roundabout with the
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statue of the mustached Druze warrior on horseback for the start. At five to seven, Zohar calls Nick to tell us that we’re starting at the hotel instead. And so we do. Nick starts with us and I’m happy he’s there because I’m so excited I feel like I’m going to jump out of my seat and fly to the moon. We’re on pavement for a minute, steep climbs, descents, and I’m sprinting the hills in the lead. The others pass me quickly. Nick splits off to take pictures. I follow Niv up a wrong turn. Now we’ve really started. Wind turbines cut clouds. There are no views. We pedal past farmlands and picnic areas and abandoned bunkers disguised as ruins.
I talk a little to riders – Ophir didn’t sleep well for the last two nights, Niv traveled Alaska on a motorcycle 24 years ago, Ingo rode the HLC last year and likes the south the best – but mostly I crave quiet. I want to ride alone. I pull over to eat a sandwich or pee or fill up water when I need to. Otherwise, I don’t stop. By the afternoon, I’m past the Syrian border and overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Nick meets me there. He motions to the cafe and a stack of loaded bikes. Let’s get out of here! Nick rides with me for an hour. We stop for sandwiches. He fills me in on the race. Niv and Omri are leading, they’re hammering. Niv looks like he’s riding a motorcycle. He descends like Mad Max. Nick found them at the cafe, wolfing down sandwiches and running out the door. Ingo and Eitam are just ahead. Klaus and Yam and a pack are stopped for snacks.
It’s four in the afternoon. I’ve ridden 70 miles of dirt and trail. I want to ride another 70 before I call it a day. I know I’ve got it in me, it just might take some time. So I continue – past Ingo and Eitam on the Galilee Trail, past banana trees by the sea, up to the heights at Givat Yoav, past grapefruit orchards, through the Jordan River, and up and down again. I don’t see anyone until I cross the road in the dark. A man next to a car hollers after me. He knows me. Do I need food? Do I need water? I tell him I can’t accept anything. He says he knows. He rode last year and he’s back to feed everyone. He gives me a paper cup full of spaghetti. “Ketchup?” “No, thanks. Can I take it to go?”
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“Of course.” I throw the cup, noodles, and fork into a plastic bag and stuff it into my framebag. He tells me Niv and Omri pulled off at Ramat for dinner. I’m in the lead. “Do you need bread? There won’t be any food tomorrow. Where are you going tonight?” “Machanayim Junction.” “That’s impossible! You will never it make it there. It’ll take you at least seven hours.” I pull out my cue sheet and count out loud, “Thirty plus thirty plus ten or fifteen – that’s seventy kilometers. I’ll make it there.” He tells me my calculations are wrong. I thank him for the spaghetti and I’m off. I drop down to 650 feet below sea level and cross knee deep water twice in the dark. I pull the pasta bag out and eat it in the grass. A light shines down the dirt. It’s Niv. We ride together to the beach. Niv’s light is the size of a Coca-Cola can. He startles four wild boars out of the brush. We reach the fishes and loaves church past Amnon Beach, cross the main road, and turn up a steep hillside. We climb together past fields and the Monastery of the Beatitudes. It’s warm. I pull over to take a shirt off. Niv keeps on. Ahead, I see his light veer off to Almagor. I stay on the route and keep climbing. It’s 1:00 am, 18 hours into the race. The final 30km to the Junction on flat farm roads is easy river grade. I buy juice at the 24-hour shop and I’m in my sleeping bag at the base of Mount Meron by three. My heart and mind are still racing, but I know I need sleep. I need to close my eyes and wake up to climb tomorrow.
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Take No Prisoners Biria Forest, 6:00 am. I wake up in a rumpled plastic bag in the dirt. Daylight. I pedaled a gap last night. A real pirate takes no prisoners. I pack my bags, drink my juice, and get back on the bike. I climb steep hills through the forest to singletrack, up to a clearing, and down the pavement to Jish. The town is still asleep, but the bakery is open. I buy a stack of Druze flatbread, labane, and zata with sesame seeds. The track takes me by a salon and the dump and back to the forest. I stop to eat a can of sardines and mop up the chili oil with bread. I’m onto a section of the Israel National Trail. Orange, white, and blue blazes sign me over loose rocks and between branches. I ride when I can and hike to the pavement and familiar domed ruins. We camped here two weeks ago in a rainstorm. It’s overcast and cool. I keep to the pavement to finish the climb. It’s a workout: heart rate up, legs burning, and lots of standing. I like this. Back on dirt, I wind around Mount Meron, breezing past hikers. A man yells after me asking if I need help. I reach another highpoint in the clouds and start descending back to the Sea of Galilee – slow, chunky rock roads, fast pavement through two communities, and bumpy cow tracks. I cross over the highway and edge down a steep drainage. I grip the brakes for stability like an old man with a walker. A steep hike up a grassy hill and a smooth dirt descent lead me to the dreaded Gospel Trail. The trail traverses swamp and thorn. It feels like penance. I wouldn’t recommend it. But there’s Nick! He’s whooping and hollering with his arms in the air. He shouts, “You’re crazy! You made it to the top of Meron nine hours faster than anybody last year.” And I’m whooping and hollering and grinning. And I don’t care that we’re on the Gospel Trail. I’m crushing the little wadis. We hit the gas station. I order chicken schnitzel and omelet sandwiches to go. Nick rides with me to Golani Junction. A couple of kids on electric bikes pace us uphill past an Arab village. We push through thorns where we got lost in the dark our last time through. My brain starts getting really goofy, so I eat another sandwich.
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Nick splits. He might meet me in Jerusalem. The forecast calls for overnight rain. I’m aiming to make it as far as I can before that happens. I ride hours of flowing singletrack to the bike shop at Alon HaGalil. The shop is closed. A dad and two sons are camped under the covering. “Are you the American girl?” “Yeah.” “Someone is looking for you.” I go looking for water. An older man finds me. He’s excited and shakes my hand. “What you’re doing is amazing. My wife has a hot shower waiting for you,” he says, holding out a couple of candy bars. “I’m sorry, I can’t take them. It’s against the rules.” He’s confounded. “But I brought you fish and crackers.” I smile and thank him and he tries to understand. His name is Israel. I fill up my water bottle and push into the night. A light sprinkle turns steady, but it’s not cold. I keep pedaling along, slower, then slower, until I’m not. Mud. I push my bike a few steps and stop to scrape handfuls of mud from my front tire. After ten slow minutes, I lift my bike by the chainstays and rest my saddle on my shoulder, trudging forward. It’s slow, but moving keeps me warm. Two hours pass. It’s dark. I’m tired. It’s raining. I’m not going to make it to the next gas station any time soon. I think about leaving my bike on the route and hiking to a community to find cover to sleep. Then I see a tree with dense boughs, but it’s on a steep hillside. I push under it, lay my bike at my feet, pull the emergency bivy over my head, and I’m out. I wake up somersaulted against my bike. I push my feet into my frame to straighten out and fall back asleep.
Arwa In the Israeli town of Daliyat, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea atop Mt. Karmel, there is a 30-year-old bakery run by a 22-year-old girl named Arwa. We come in looking for cover and coffee on a rainy morning.
straddling their bikes over a ledge (when we reach the high point, we lift our arms and cry out!), children gulping twoliter bottles of water (you must drink!), children red in the face, smiling and exhausted.
“Arabic coffee? With Cardamom?”
A man comes in for kanafeh, a woman for a cappuccino. Arwa comes back.
“Yes, please.” She scoops two spoons of coffee and a pinch of cardamom into the cezve, fills it with water, and sets it on the stove. Tucked away, we watch a steady flow of customers enter from the rain and exit with boxes of baklava. Arwa arrives with the pot of coffee and two small cups. She pulls up a chair to tell her story. “I love bicycles. I have always ridden bicycles. I take my children riding in the forest. Let me show you.” She pulls out her phone and shows us pictures of children on cheap mountain bikes riding dirt roads. There are children covered in mud (it’s good for them!), children Bunyan Velo 150
“Who are these children?” “They are my family,” she tells us. “When they are riding their bikes in the woods, there is no more stress.” She hunches her shoulders up to her ears and then relaxes them down with a long sigh. She shows us chubby before and slim after pictures of her nephew. During his first rides he walked the hills, he got down on himself, he couldn’t do it. She made him get back on and pedal. She told him that he could do it. Now he rides with the group. It wasn’t always easy. Women in town gave her dirty looks. They told her she was too old to ride a bicycle, that she
needed to stop. She didn’t. She kept riding. Into the woods and up the hills.
muddy. I’m on and off the bike, soaked through, but warm because I’m moving.
More customers, more coffee, more kanafeh.
I turn onto a riverside path and bless the overgrown thorns because they cover the mud and allow me to ride. The path lets out to a paved road. A man and his daughter standing next to a parked car flag me down. They’re friends of Niv’s. They’ve brought me hot sweet mint tea. It’s perfect. The little girl giggles because I drink three glasses in a minute. Ndav tells me the climb over Karmel is rocky, not muddy. I should be able to push and ride. He sends me off with a chocolate matzah sandwich. It doesn’t feel right to say no, so I don’t.
We show her pictures of riding bikes in Alaska and South Africa and her eyes get big. “I want to do that!” she exclaims. We pack up to leave. I promise I’ll be back in two weeks when I race through as part of the Holy Land Challenge. “You have to come see me. Even if I’m not here, make them call me,” she says before giving me a hug and a kiss and we pedal away. Holy Land Challenge, day three, 5:00 am. I wake up under the tree in the rain. I’m going to see Arwa. I stuff my wet sleeping bag and bivy into my seatpack, lift my bike onto my shoulder, and trudge on. Time passes. I don’t care how slow I’m going as long as I’m going. I make it to a road; some bits are rocky enough to ride, others too
Minutes later, another man pulls up in a sedan. He’s a friend of Yam’s. I stop to talk. The rain comes down harder. My GPS freezes. I ask to borrow his phone to call Nick. I tell him my GPS is frozen, that I’ve been walking, that I want to get smaller tires for mud clearance. He tells me he’ll see me at the bakery in Daliyat-al-Karmel. I’m shaking with cold. The sedan man follows me to a gas station indicated on the route. It’s warm inside. The two Arabic attendants look at me like I’m crazy as sedan man explains the race Bunyan Velo 151
and I unintentionally track mud across the mopped floors. I drink hot coffee and instant soup. Two other SPOT stalkers pop in. They’re friends of Ilan Tevet’s. Sedan man warns me that a bridge is out down the way. I nod like I understand, but I don’t. I change the batteries on the GPS. It works. I’m back out on the road and I’m warm in the core. I’m going over the mountain to Daliyat to see Nick and Arwa and then I’ll get skinnier tires and then I’ll keep going. Down the road I approach a river crossing. Two weeks ago Nick and I took off our shoes, hoisted our bikes on shoulders, and easily walked across. The water is higher and faster today. I begin crossing in a relatively calm, broad entry. My feet sink into the mud and it grips over my ankles. I step back and push onto a rockier entry where the water courses faster. I lift my bike onto my shoulder and begin a cautious crossing as the current juts up against my thighs. Before the far bank, the current pulls me down. At once, I let go of my bike and fall under water. Up for air, I see my bike moving downstream and away from me. My foggy brain tells me that I’m going to lose my bike, that I need to focus, that this is getting serious. Sitting in the water, backed up to the edge of the bank, I grab onto my bike. It’s all I can do to hold on, but I need to get out. I can’t back out of the current and hold onto my bike at the same time. Instead, I lay flat on my back with my whole body submerged in the water and lift my bike over my head to the far bank. I don’t stop to think. It works. I cross the highway and begin the steep push up Mt. Karmel. Water rushes down the rocks like a vertical stream bed. I hike, pushing fast, and bless the climb because it warms me up. Halfway up, the grade lessens and I’m back on the bike, riding over rock to the top. It’s muddy, but passable. I wind around the mountain and make it to pavement. A little descent through town brings me to the bakery where Arwa stands in the doorway. She’s not surprised to see me. BV
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Knik Glacier 61° 15’ 0” N, 148° 37’ 0” W
Photographed by Josh Spice
THE DESERT SPEAKS IN CLOUDS Written and photographed by Skyler Des Roches
he happiest man in Arizona spends his days at the top of a tower, watching the horizon. A day’s ride south from the Utah border, not far from Jacob’s Lake, we found his tower on the crest of a hill – a minor promontory on top of the already high North Kaibab Plateau. A sign at the bottom told a two-line history of an 80-foot-tall fire lookout tower. We left our bikes and clanged our way up the old steel structure. Eighty feet isn’t far on an aimless quest for quoz such as the one that brought us pedaling into Arizona.
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A hatch opened from near the top. A voice called down, “Come on up!” “It’s a hundred feet tall, not eighty. The sign is wrong,” he said, as we pulled our way into the 6’x6’ cabin. On all sides were old leaded, single-pane windows. In the middle of this already cramped space sat an Osbourne Fire Finder – a large, circular map with rotating gunsights. The watchman has occupied the fire lookout tower for eight hours per day, seven months a year, for the last thirteen years. He drives in from the plateau each morning, only leaving his perch for bathroom breaks until evening. Every few minutes he scans the horizon for signs of smoke. His nirvanic joy comes from the perfect simplicity of his job. “I don’t get bored,” he assured us. He pointed to a thick paperback. “I have my book, and my tablet, and the sky, and the forest to watch. I love my job.” Below, cars crawled across the nearby road as if in diorama. Puffy clouds hung in the blue sky above mountains 60 miles in the distance. Otherwise, washed out blue. The fire watchman’s air conditioning consisted of corner windows opened wide, letting in a refreshing early October breeze. Later, he would depend on a small electric space heater to fend off winter’s approach.
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His deep knowledge of the region is not that of a cyclist or mountaineer, but rather more academic. He pointed out mountains on the horizon line as if looking at a map, listing their names and distances from the tower by memory. The forest too, he knows: its history and ecology, wildfires, failed logging enterprises, ranching, Grand Canyon National Park, North Kaibab National Forest. All studied with a meditative focus, as I imagine it, from a seat in a high tower. I envied his satisfaction in knowing from afar, but could not comprehend it.
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Weeks later, having pedaled hundreds of miles through an unforgiving austerity, I began to understand that any romance in this landscape was kept in the sky. Joy is offered to the condor, the hawk, the man in the tower. The restless, fated by some genetic imperative to toil in search of mystery, find only fleeting sanctuary from hard dirt and thorn. Enlightenment doesnâ€™t work its way down into canyon-walled oases. No, only merciful refuge is found in such cloistered spaces. The magic of the desert resides in towering thunderheads and incandescent sunsets, in those moments when incomprehensible immensity usurps all feeling. Its beauty is offered first to those perched above the canopy with an eye on the horizon. BV
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Kiger Gap Written and photographed by Donnie Kolb
feel a mild sense of panic set in from time to time. It’s anxiety over the thought that Oregon might be done. That while there are still plenty of unridden roads, the secret gems are no longer secret. What’s worth discovering has been discovered, plastered on Instagram. That panic comes from a place of discovery that feeds off the new, the unique, and the interesting. To me, bikepacking is exploration. There is nothing so deeply satisfying as casting off into obscure corners, looking for something new. Take that deep source of fulfillment out of riding and I lose interest. Fast. And I’m not ready to lose Oregon just yet. So, occasionally I fret, like a worried lover who knows the relationship will end, though not precisely when. The best I can do is enjoy it while it lasts. The temporary cure, if one can be cured of this vague psychological fear, is curling up on the couch with a map. Any map, it doesn’t matter. Give me a map of some slice of Oregon and no matter how many times I’ve looked at it before, revisiting it again days or months later brings a new perspective. Before long, I inevitably find myself scheming new trips, checking calendars, and hammering out invites to friends. This time around I grabbed the Steens Mountain map, a mountain range deep in remote southeast Oregon. I didn’t grab it for any particular reason, but simply because it was on top of my overflowing pile of maps. I’m lazy, sometimes excruciatingly so, and I didn’t even bother to find a map I was interested in. I’ve already been to Steens Mountain many times. I felt like I knew it so well that there was nothing new to do, at least nothing interesting enough to merit a seven-hour drive and days off from work. But, as happens time and again, no matter how intimately I feel like I know a place, I’m drawn in by murky spots that never stood out before. What does that look like? Does that go through? Look at those lines!
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A long look at the map and the route took shape in my mind. Stonehouse Canyon, historic military wagon roads, the Alvord Desert, Big Sand Gap, Willow Hot Springs, celebratory burgers in Fields. These were places I was generally familiar with, yet hardly knew at all. And so it went like so many trips before it: plans hatched, emails sent, dates set. This time there was one big, yet subtle exception. Spurred on by new 29+ tires, the route and the invites diverged from the usual. Route planning has opened up in new ways as more of us have adopted plus-sized bikepacking rigs. Roads, trails, and geographies that would ordinarily be out of bounds suddenly become sought after. Looking over Steens Mountain from this new perspective, places I’d never considered riding now stood out as projected highlights. It was a significant mental shift. I doubt I’ll look at any map in the same light again. It’s hard to do any great trip justice through words or photos. I can never truly convey the experience of something as simple as running into a herd of wild Kiger Mustangs, rare descendants of the original Spanish steeds that first explored the New World. It’s impossible to describe how we felt as we stood there watching each other, curiosity mixing with a little fear and uncertainty. In some ways it’s best that I can never share that with you. Perhaps it’s best kept a special secret shared among riding companions, laughing together at the ridiculousness of our good luck in even being on the trip, much less our good fortune of coming across something so unique.
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One of the highlights of the trip was initially an afterthought. To cut off miles, we rode straight across the playa of the Alvord Desert, aiming toward a gap in the opposing rim. We felt like some modern, strippeddown version of explorers. The stark outline of distant mountains and the caked, shimmering white surface of the playa were spectacular. My only regret was crossing at midday. No matter what the mind wants, itâ€™s hard to fully enjoy something while slowly roasting in a giant, scenic oven. Our trip and route were ultimately cut short. Injury, fatigue, and a blown sidewall took us out in turns until the three of us were left to limp away from the hot springs toward the only dot of civilization on the map. Even then, the mind-altering flow of the trip didnâ€™t end. It just turned its head to reveal a different side. We downed beers and shot guns with the locals before cozying up alongside Slickey Lake, another dried up, dusty playa. It shimmered under the setting sun like it was still wet and alive. As the full moon rose over the playa on that final night, we glowed in the fire light and the buzz from the trip. This was proof, once again, that around every corner of this great state lies more discovery and adventure. If you pay enough attention to the land and the maps and the pioneer spirit of exploration, there is no end in sight. BV
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GDMBR Written by Matt McLoone, photograph ed by Matt McLoone and Brett Ziegler
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can’t recall if it was our ambitious alarm or the wild pigs making noise around our tent that served as our wake-up call. What I’ll never forget, though, was the pink sky and dry desert air that greeted us as we crawled out of the tent that morning. It was hard to believe that this was our last morning on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Exhausted, we robotically prepared our gear for the day ahead, just as we’d done for the past 36 days. The Great Divide had been our life for over a month. We would wake, eat, pack, ride, eat, ride, eat, ride, find camp, eat, and sleep. Life was simple. Life was good. For the most part, our riding goals were not unreasonable, just slightly uncomfortable. It felt like the right balance, and we kept it up, at least most of the time. Some days we struggled to make our distance and had to readjust. The short, brutal rides up rugged mountain passes or the horrible conditions that forced us to seek shelter presented obvious frustrations. When seemingly insurmountable conditions forced us to cave in to the beauty of the landscape, we’d set up camp in daylight, which afforded time to enjoy our whiskey and laugh off the struggles of the day. Riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route was a massive and challenging undertaking. We’re both avid cyclists, but our longest camping trip together was all of two nights. Between the beauty of the landscape and thrill of adventure, we faced a daunting struggle to endure. The route’s length, elevation, remoteness, washboard roads, and winds challenged us to keep it together, push forward, and finish what we’d started.
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Every now and again the sheer scale of our undertaking hit us. As we were slowly turning our cranks over and over at 4.5mph up a seemingly endless climb, or worse, hiking our bikes up (or down) some rugged pass, there was no escaping that this would be our existence until the end. When you’re far enough away from everything, there’s not a second option. But it was always worth it, no matter how bad the day was. The joy of adventure far outweighed the struggles we faced along the way. It has been more than a year since we set off on the GDMBR. In truth, we had no idea what we’d signed up for. We were simply enticed by the thought of cycling through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. When we set off on a cold and rainy day in Banff, we rode into the unknown with only a map and a book for guidance. During the ride, we experienced some of our best and worst all-time days on our bikes. Even at its worst, we would remind ourselves that no matter how bad the pain was, we’d miss it when it was gone. We lost track of the times that we both vowed that we would never, ever attempt it again. By the time we’d finished the route, our memories of pain and agony were replaced by an unshakable longing for adventure. The GDMBR is a route that anyone with a bike and a sense of adventure should tackle if they can. The terrain and scenery will leave you speechless. From the cool, damp glacial rivers of Banff, to the aspen-lined mountain passes of Colorado, all the way to the remote and open Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, it’s an incredible journey down the spine of North America and all the massive beauty that it has offer. What are you waiting for? BV
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issue no. 06
Bunyan Velo is a collection of photographs, essays, and stories celebrating the simple pleasures of traveling by bicycle.
Published on May 2, 2016
Bunyan Velo is a collection of photographs, essays, and stories celebrating the simple pleasures of traveling by bicycle.