BUNYAN VELO ADVENTURES ON BICYCLE // ISSUE No. 01
BUNYAN VELO ISSUE No. 01 â€“ FEBRUARY 2013 Adventures on Bicycle
EDITOR and DESIGNER Lucas Winzenburg CONTACT firstname.lastname@example.org www.bunyanvelo.com ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Many thanks to Alex Ehlen for his logo design work, Josh Klauck, Hurl Everstone, Randall Dietel, M. Taylor Long, and the many talented contributors who graciously submitted their stories and photographs. CONTRIBUTORS David Berg Isaiah Berg Nathan Berg Nicholas Carman Paul Doffing Alex Dunn
Cass Gilbert Chris Klibowitz Jacqueline Kutvirt Natalia Mendez John Moon Aaron Ortiz
Kurt Refsnider Chris Skogen Karl Stoerzinger Jim Thill Jen Tillman Bradley Wilson
PHOTO CREDITS Cover: David Berg Opposite: Cass Gilbert Contents: Jim Thill COPYRIGHT All content copyright 2013 Bunyan Velo. Contributions have been used with permission and are copyright original sources. No unauthorized reproduction without written consent.
MADE IN MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA
Welcome to Bunyan Velo, a quarterly collection of photographs, essays, and stories about the simple pleasures of traveling by bicycle. Issue No. 01 brings together a small group of bicycle tourists, commuters, mountain bikers, mechanics, and racers, each of whom offers a unique perspective and assortment of cycling experiences. Working with the contributors to help craft their stories and share their passion for bicycling has been an exciting process. It’s my sincere hope that you’ll find something in the following pages that inspires you to hop on a bicycle and go out for an adventure of your own – be it to the market and back or around the world. Please consider supporting an independent publication by donating or purchasing a copy on our website, www.bunyanvelo.com. Thanks for reading,
Lucas Winzenburg Editor
CONTENTS Contributor Biographies..................................................................6 No Stone Left Unturned...................................................................8 by Cass Gilbert The Beauty of Youth.......................................................................20 by Chris Skogen Bound South..................................................................................22 by Isaiah Berg On Bicycle Touring.........................................................................36 by Jim Thill Paying It Forward..........................................................................44 by John Moon The Sacrifices of Racing..................................................................46 by Kurt Refsnider How I Spent My Day Off...............................................................58 by Karl Stoerzinger Firemanâ€™s Breakfast.........................................................................64 by Jen Tillman Letters from Alex...........................................................................68 by Alex Dunn The Greatest Lakes.........................................................................86 by Jacqueline Kutvirt Tuesday, Jan. 29.............................................................................90 by Bradley Wilson Rio Grande and Route 66...............................................................94 by Nicholas Carman Of Rust and Rubber......................................................................104 by Natalia Mendez Le Farm.......................................................................................106 by Aaron Ortiz The Bicycle Shop Decal Project....................................................110 by Chris Klibowitz
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CONTRIBUTORS ISAIAH BERG
Isaiah Berg was born and raised on a family farm in rural North Dakota, near the town of Starkweather. Isaiah graduated from Dartmouth College in June of 2011 with a degree in Geography and Economics; following his graduation, Isaiah and his two brothers set off on a PanAmerican bicycle expedition called Bound South. Since Bound South, Isaiah has been commissioned as an officer of the United States Marine Corps. Read about the brothers’ expedition at www.boundsouth.org
Chris Klibowitz lives in Los Angeles, California where he’s a self-proclaimed Professional Bike Nerd. When he’s not riding his bike, he works at a bicycle shop, writes his blog, Just Riding Along, and curates www.tbsdp.com, a site dedicated to archiving every bicycle shop decal he sees.
Nicholas Carman left on a bike trip in 2008 and hasn’t stopped riding since. Each year his tires become bigger and bigger. In 2012, he spent the entire year riding a secondhand purple Surly Pugsley, commuting through a winter in Alaska and touring south through Canada and the lower states to New Mexico, all on big rubber. For the moment, he calls Albuquerque, NM home. He shares stories, photographs, and ideas at gypsybytrade.wordpress.com
Jacqueline Kutvirt is a Solidago Rider, a community activist, an adventurist, an education worker, a resident of Minneapolis, and a native of New Mexico. She is excited about community and inspired by the people around her who are willing to work toward changing and improving our lives. Check out www.solidagoriders.com for extensive stories and media about the Solidago Riders’ Great Lakes Tour.
Alex Dunn is a seasonal salmon fisherman, a musician, a painter, a steel sculptor, and a cyclist. His whereabouts are unknown, although his last letter from Ecuador reads, “i’m gonna sit tight for a while – renting out the top of a bar on the beach for $200 a month. food is ridiculously cheap, life is cheap. i may have to come back here in the years to come, maybe build a swiss family robinson house of bamboo like everyone else.”
Natalia Mendez grew up in northeastern Wisconsin and spent many of her childhood summers fishing with her dad on Lake Michigan and getting muddy in the creek at the park near her home. She currently resides in Minneapolis and enjoys getting muddy by riding her bike in the Mississippi river bottoms with friends. At rare, cleaner moments off of her bike, Natalia can be found at home playing with her cats or planning her next bike tour.
Cass Gilbert has been wandering the world on his bicycle for the last 15 years. During that time, he’s traversed Asia and the Middle East, run a guiding business in the Indian Himalaya, and written for various UK and US bicycle publications. Catch up on his dirt road travels across the Americas at www.whileoutriding.com
John Moon left the real world two years ago to bike across the U.S., Europe, and Southeast Asia. A year and 10,000 km later, he settled on Koh Tao, Thailand to begin a life of diving and island bumming. He hopes to reunite with his Raleigh Sojourn bicycle one day, which now resides in a small village in southern Germany. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com
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Aaron Ortiz was raised in Kittridge, Colorado, a mountain community tucked away from civilization and promptly forgotten. Growing up exploring the town’s surrounding nooks, crannies, and dirt roads ensured a future that would be spent outdoors. In his free time, Aaron pursues mountaineering, climbing, hiking, and bike touring. He currently lives in Portland, Maine and is working on climbing all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks in a calendar year.
Jim Thill returned to bicycles as an adult while commuting to graduate school at the University of Minnesota. Then 100 pounds overweight, bicycling paid an immediate dividend to his health and sparked his interest in how bicycles can improve every aspect of life. In 2005, Jim decided to open Hiawatha Cyclery, where he is well known for wheel-building and creative, sometimes-audacious bicycle builds. He enjoys traveling by bicycle and enabling others to do the same.
Kurt Refsnider lives in Prescott, Arizona where he is a geology professor at Prescott College. After a decade of racing cyclocross, on the road, and on skinny skis, he has become an avid bikepacker and ultra endurance mountain bike racer. He’s happiest when exploring the natural world in quiet simplicity on two wheels.
Jen Tillman is from Silver Spring, Maryland and studied biology at Lafayette College. After graduating, she held a few temporary jobs: organic agriculture research in Pennsylvania, trail crew in Washington, and farming in Texas. She currently lives in Minneapolis and will be attending Iowa State University starting this summer for a master’s degree in horticulture. Her 6 month bike tour in 2012 was her first.
Chris Skogen is a freelance writer, rider, and tester. In 2007 he created the Almanzo 100, a 100 mile, self-supported, free-to-enter gravel road bicycle race. He is slightly less than middle-aged and wears a full head of hair. Visit Almanzo online at www.almanzo.com
Born and raised in the northern Midwest, Bradley now lives amongst the mountains, forests, and gentle climate of Oregon. It wasn’t a strategic move, but one following of a sense of “rightness” – a resettlement that would fill his eyes and soul with a new landscape and roads to explore. He now makes a living taking odd jobs, turning wrenches, and making the occasional Capricorn bicycle frame in his backyard workshop. These, combined, are considered a career in Oregon.
KARL STOERZINGER Karl Stoerzinger is a midnight hobby machinist and mechanic at Freewheel Bike in picturesque Minneapolis, MN. In his free time, he builds unusual beekeeping contraptions, teaches himself about electronics, and creates useful bicycle utilities at www.kstoerz.com
Interested in contributing to Bunyan Velo No. 02? Let us know what you’re up to at firstname.lastname@example.org
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NO STONE LEFT UNTURNED Written and photographed by Cass Gilbert
ver these last few years, I’ve been engrossed in finding my path across North and South America. As with many long bicycle journeys, it’s one that’s unfurled in ways least expected. Unforeseen detours, new friendships, and prolonged pit stops have all played their role in upturning any schedule I’d once imagined. And as the miles have accrued, I’ve become increasingly averse to riding pavement. The notion of following dirt roads has even become an obsession: a visceral desire to banish highways and their endless current of automobiles from my life. When I left Alaska, my bicycle wobbled with belongings like a reluctant pack animal. Although the desire to unearth dirt roads was there, the blurred realisation hadn’t yet shifted fully into focus. As it did, I saw the potential of new paths before me. Riding ceased so much to be a way of reaching a destination, and more a form of living. In my attempts to trace my map’s faint dotted lines, my bicycle and the gear I carry have also evolved. Tyres that revel in dirt and mud are more to my choosing than those that scythe efficiently on road. Similarly, heavy loads can tether one to pavement. Light loads uplift the spirit. Excess gear has been jettisoned – the possessions I carry are capped by the ability to manhandle my bicycle over a mountain pass, when the dirt road I’ve been following peters to nothing. Shouldering my rig and scrambling over a fallen tree is now more important than the merits of an extra pair of clean underwear.
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“ Every footpath held potential. No stone could be left unturned.” At times, this obsession might have led me astray. In Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, a voice within whispered incessantly, driving me to explore every barranca in the valley. Every footpath held potential. No stone could be left unturned. These were short but challenging forays, ones that had me grappling with my bike deep in the Andean mountains, simply to enjoy the brief, sweet taste of singletrack that might lie on the other side. But why go to all this trouble when there are perfectly good roads, quiet ones at that, to be ridden? Why make life harder than it is? I have no absolute rationale that can be conveniently shaped into words. In my mind, backcountry exploration is a time when my senses are most engaged. It’s a time when my body meshes with the environment. Freed from the angst and subconscious concerns of a paved road, it has a transformative power. I can drop my guard. I can dawdle. Chat to friends as we cycle side by side. Lie my bicycle down in the middle of the trail. Fill my water bottles from a stream. Pitch my tarp in the woods. And completely unwind. BV
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THE BEAUTY OF YOUTH Written and photographed by Chris Skogen
am filled with a sense of gratitude. Gratitude for being alive and for being in a position to follow what truly inspires me. A few moments ago I was situated in the corner of an elementary school classroom, perched upon a very low-seated, ragged, blue fabric-covered chair. The chair was in the far corner of the room, just beneath the blackboard. On the well-worn rug beneath the chair sat about 15 first grade students, all of whom were anxiously waiting for me to tell the story of Otis, a small tractor who lived on a farm in some romantic story land. I mention this for a couple of reasons. First, I believe it is important to positively impact the lives of the children around us and second, because the beauty and potential of youth are priceless. I was a kid once, as we all were. As a kid I did kid things. I learned how to climb a tree and make a fort. I explored my neighborhood and exchanged trinkets (read: prized possessions) with my friends. I went to school, tried to follow most of the rules, and tried to have fun. I even learned to ride a bike on my own, which, come to find out, was the single most influential moment of my life. The bicycle, especially in recent years, has allowed me every opportunity to find my passion in life. It has allowed me to participate in a community of wellrounded, kind, and generous human beings. It has allowed me passage to and from amazing locations. It has allowed me an outlet in a world that can so often be filled with deadlines and structure that stifle any creative breath. The bicycle is a tool for freedom. I remember experiencing a feeling of absolute liberation when I first learned to ride a bike. It was something that stirred in the pit of my stomach and gurgled up through my body and to my hands, my shoulders, and my face. I remember smiling as the small amount of wind, generated by my then not-so-strong legs, blew my hair backwards as I rolled out of my driveway. What’s funny is that I still get that very same feeling every time I throw a leg over my bike and ride away. A trip down my driveway or away from my car on a bike these days is just the same as it was when I first learned. Some may ask, what do the beauty and potential of youth have to do with riding bikes? In my mind it’s simple. We all looked up to people when we were kids. We all had heroes and heroines. We all aspired to be something great. Frankly, a lot of us still do. Make no mistake, in no way do I intend to put forth the idea that I think I’m somebody’s hero. Rather, what I wish to relay is the idea that by simply following our hearts and living our passions, we have every opportunity to inspire the youth of tomorrow. For me, it’s bikes. I ride them and I love them. I have found a way to successfully build communities around them and will hopefully continue to do so. For me the bike is liberation, it is the tool I found as a child that has allowed me to follow my dreams. It has connected to me to so many wonderful people who have so much to offer the world. BV
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B O U N S D O U T H
Written by Isaiah Berg, photographed by David and Nathan Berg
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e rode our bicycles from Alaska to Argentina last year. We were three brothers from a family farm in North Dakota, making up for a lack of experience with a healthy amount of enthusiasm. We called it Bound South, and we managed to ride our bicycles right to the end of the world at Ushuaia. Every day on our bicycles was a small miracle, each filled with variations of uproarious laughter, bitter exhaustion, sheer terror, and the simple, primal joy of eating. Among the many realizations I have come to since Bound South was that our adventure by bicycle wasnâ€™t really about the technical details of our gear, or more surprisingly, the physical act of pedaling a bicycle over 15,000 miles of desert and timber and mountains and dirt. Gear is certainly important, and I will attest that Angus the Surly Troll and I are in a very committed and passionate relationship. The feat of pedaling a loaded bicycle across the Americas is also a profound and life-changing experience. But when I let my mind wander back to the places between Anchorage and Ushuaia, transporting my consciousness back to the amazing new lands we uncovered each day on our bicycles, the sounds and smells and sentiments that overwhelm me are not specific to a bicycle adventure. What we shared was something inclusively human, more remarkable for what connected us rather than what set our journey apart. We shared something profound, a capital-lettered Real Adventure. It just so happened to be on bicycle with three bags. The bicycle taps into that eternal part of the human spirit, the part that sheds risk like water on a rain fly and revels in the trials of a simple and rigorous life. We were always like little kids at a raucous slumber party in our small threeman tent, crammed in every night so we could smell the sweat and grime and chipotle pepper on our breath. We camped out in dodgy Latin American cities, fire stations, restaurants, pastures, barns, and in close proximity to way too many chickens. We made terribly inappropriate jokes and laughed at them till our stomachs ached. The bicycle unlocked a new life for us and forged a bond between us. This was a life we lived while we still could, a life of great risk and few possessions and zero planning. Life back in the United States wasnâ€™t even close, and I worried that this contrast would purge us of what made our journey so special. Would we just return home, become accustomed once more to running water, blue jeans, and good beer, and forget the simple joy of pulling on a warm down jacket as the cold evening winds start to pick up in Patagonia? Or the magical way that Mexico produced an Oxxo exactly when we thought we were going to perish for lack of peanut butter, tortillas, honey, carrots, cucumber, avocado, bread, and a 3L of Mexican Coca-Cola? Would we just file away the photos and stories for later reminiscence? Life could go on as normal, with the bicycle journey a trophy that could be pulled out for a barstool conversation or an impromptu Bunyan Velo 25
family gathering. I have left some things from Bound South behind me. I shower a lot more. I wear, consume, eat, purchase, and enjoy far more than I need to be happy. The bicycles are either in hibernation during the Dakota winter or have been transformed into a less-used, less-practical, wicked-fun mountain bike variant. I wish I found more time to ride. Now that I’m a Marine I spend most of my time hoofing it. I will admit that the bicycle expedition is a great conversation starter or saver to bring back from the past. It’s in the past, though. It is clear that the physical act of pedaling for eight hours every day and the accompanying lifestyle it necessitated is not me anymore. I’m normal now. I used to be superhuman. I don’t live out of three bags anymore. Most people think that those three bags represent the bicycle expedition, that carrying them was my greatest challenge, second only to fitting my life into them. That I live with so little – that I carry so much on my bicycle, over mountains and across the Americas – that was supposed to be the
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defining feature of our journey. Those three bags now sit on a shelf, mostly used for personal storage. I have placed into stasis what was once the most dynamic and visible symbol of what I did, every day, for 274 days. How am I content to do so? Hemingway once remarked to his friend A.E. Hotchner that, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” I have never been to Paris, but I rode the terrifying Periférico highway of Guadalajara into the night on Christmas Eve with my tires bleeding air. I ate guinea pig in Peru and fish tacos in the Baja of Mexico. My brothers and I ran out of supplies in southern Peru, deep in the mountains, and were sustained by the colectivos full of rural passengers who delivered unto us their half-consumed bottles of Inca Kola and coffee, full of pity and wonder. These passengers were our salvation in the wilderness on one occasion. They marveled at us with our three bicycles and three bags each – while, to paraphrase Saint Augustine – they passed by themselves without wondering. Each is like a pannier for the soul.
Bound South was a moveable feast. We met a beautiful girl in Colombia. Riding south out of the mountains around Bogotá, the hot, buggy lowlands near Neiva, and again into the mountains surrounding Garzón and Mocoa. Northeast of Pitalito, plunging down steep roads cut into the cliffs over the Río Magdalena, we rode our bicycles into the sunset and were desperate for a place to camp. A farmer, clearly the patriarch of his family’s farm, was leaning against the front of his home that abutted the small roadway as we passed by. We stopped and made our introductions, the same ones we had been making since crossing the border from San Diego into Tijuana months earlier. We were Americans, brothers, bicycling from Alaska to Argentina. He gave us the side of his house with a roof overhead to keep the tent dry through the night; Colombia left us no strangers to rain. We were hoping for a spot in the pasture with the animals. Instead we had a dry tent and a table, and, in time, the entire farm family came out to join us for our dinner preparations. At this point, our roles in dinner preparation were well-defined and endlessly rehearsed. David and Nathan would cut peppers and onions and vegetables with some terribly dull butter knives we had
been carrying since Mexico. I boiled the water and stirred in the rice and beans and other ingredients. Tonight we prepared in front of an audience, with the father-farmerpatriarch and his wife, Grandma and Grandpa, and children arrayed in front of our wooden table. They had an 18-yearold daughter, Mariana. She was the most beautiful girl we had ever seen. She made Sofia Vergara look pedestrian. She made eyes at me while Grandma began the interrogation over coffee and sweet bread, all while I struggled to prevent my pot of rice and beans from burning. Are you college educated? From the United States? Brothers? From a farm family? You’re Christian? Lutheran?!? As it turns out the farmer-patriarch of the family had graduated from a Lutheran seminary in Colombia and was a local pastor on top of his farming responsibilities. This amounted to major brownie points, I believe. At this point, Grandma was firmly on our side. Mariana locked eyes with me and went for the kill with a few Spanish sentences, “Are you just looking for adventure in South America, or a wife as well?” It was very clear who “a wife” would be. We swallowed our stomachs and after translating to Nathan and David, I explained that my
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two hapless brothers needed to learn Spanish before looking for a South American wife. Needless to say, Grandma was disappointed; what more could one of us want than a beautiful, smart, Lutheran, Colombian girl to marry? Why else would we be going to all the work of pedaling our heavy bicycles up and down the Colombian Andes?
“ Eloping with a Colombian goddess just wasn’t in the cards for any of us.” We all talked for hours. And in the morning, we made our oatmeal just like we did on every other morning. We returned coffee cups and platters of sweet bread. Mariana smiled and asked, “Why are you leaving so soon?” I explained that we had to make it to Argentina by May. She could probably tell this was a lame excuse, but that we were being polite. Eloping with a Colombian goddess just wasn’t in the cards for any of us. We mounted our bicycles and wobbled off toward Mocoa and the misty mountains that separated us from Pasto and, beyond that, Ecuador and the rest of South America. We talked about that night for days. We talked about the ways in which the family had never met Americans before, never hosted bicyclists like us before, had never traveled more than 50 miles from their home. The hot city of Neiva was possibly as far as they would ever go from their farm. Mariana just finished primary schooling. In Colombia, university is for the elites, not for farm girls. We pressed on, met more families, and at every evening gathering by our camp stove, left some part of ourselves behind to relish the warmth of family. As for my bicycle and its three bags, it never left my side. The bicycle would remain while my mind would always wander. Those memories are what still keep us awake, sitting in our basement in North Dakota talking through the night about the people whose lives we touched and who made the permanent impression on our hearts. They composed our moveable feast. Their unrequited generosity and kindness was luggage for our spirits, more light and durable and enduring than a bicycle and three bags ever could be. This was a bicycle expedition, a real adventure. The remarkable thing is how a bicycle and three bags held so little, allowing us to forever hold so much. BV Bunyan Velo 34
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ON BICYCLE TOURING Written and photographed by Jim Thill
icycling pop-culture is a world of unrealistic extremes that are portrayed as normal. If everything you ever learned about riding a bike was gleaned from the popular bicycling publications and websites, you might think that nobody just goes for a fun bike ride without turning it into some kind of epic experience. Road riding invariably turns into an emulation of professional road racing where “suffering” is of crucial importance. Likewise, off-road riding is modeled either as a series of gravity-defying aerobatic stunts or grueling self-supported backcountry endurance challenges. Nothing wrong with any of those things, except that normal bicycle pursuits are often relegated to the shadows cast by the highly-publicized, extreme versions of bike-riding. Bicycle touring occupies its own territory of epic-ness in many cyclists’ imaginations. The holy grail of American bike touring usually involves the tradition of dipping one’s tires into the oceans at the endpoints of the trip, which are separated by several months of long days in the saddle, cranking out the miles. The idea of a 3,000-mile, trans-continental tour is a seductive fantasy, but few of us have the time, money, and temperament to be on the road, and away from family and work, for several months at a time. Luckily, you don’t need a spare quarter-year to go on a bike trip. My experience is with shorter tours, typically 2-12 days. Retirees and college students might be able to get away for longer trips, but for most of us who have jobs and family obligations, longer absences from home are more difficult to manage, and probably not even desirable. If you can only get away for a few days over a long weekend, that’s enough! If you can go for a week or two, great! The following suggestions will focus on how I approach this type of moderate-length bicycle touring, but my methods likely apply to longer trips, too. What equipment do I need? In short, you need a bike, some “stuff”, and a way to carry your stuff. The ideal bike is a touring bike such as the Surly Long Haul Trucker or Rivendell Atlantis, but many people have done impressive bike tours on lightweight road bikes, gas-pipe 10-speeds, Wal-mart junkers, 1880s highwheelers, mountain bikes, unicycles, tricycles, English 3-speeds, single-speeds, fat bikes, hybrids, comfort bikes, beach cruisers, fixed-gears, tandems, and anything else you can imagine. If I could generalize about the bikes of the bike tourists I’ve met on the road, startlingly few are fancy or expensive or even “proper” touring bikes. If you have a touring bike or the means to acquire one, great! If not, ride what ya
brung. The stuff you carry depends on the nature of the trip and of your own personality. Speaking for myself, I generally carry an appropriate quantity of food and water, cooking gear, a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a few parts and tools for common bike repairs. Some people carry 100+ pounds of stuff and can’t identify a single gram to sacrifice, yet others choose to eliminate all but the most essential items to save weight, sleeping on bubble wrap and grazing on junk food from gas stations rather than carrying real food to eat. I can’t tell you that there is a right or a wrong way, but the more you do it, the more you’ll dial in a system that works for you. How you carry your stuff is a similarly personal decision. The most common way, if your bike can handle them, is panniers. If your touring bike is a re-purposed racing bike, panniers probably won’t work too well, and you will be better off with a BOB or Burley-style trailer. If you don’t want to buy panniers or a trailer, you can put everything in a duffel bag or big stuff sack and lash it to the top of your rear rack. So called “bike packing” has popularized the use of ingenious frame bags, bar bags, and seat bags. I usually use some combination of the above methods. Where should I go? The good news is that you can travel by bike just about anywhere. It’s easy to just go out your front door and ride in an interesting direction. Of course, you’re on vacation, so maybe you want to get on a plane or a train and go someplace new. Luckily, the world is a big place, and you’ve seen only a tiny fraction of it, so you might as well just pick an intriguing place, and then figure out how to get there. Even the areas you know pretty well might hold some pleasant surprises when you pedal through them on the back roads, so don’t discount possibilities that are close to home. I often select destinations based on cheap air fares or train fares. There are places that are easy to get to, and others that are more of a logistical headache. For an example of an easy destination with world-class scenery, if you live in the Twin Cities like I do, you and your bike can hop on Amtrak and arrive about 27 hours later at Glacier National Park, which is among the most picturesque places in the world. For an example of a somewhat more difficult-to-reach destination, my trip to Death Valley required getting my bike (UPS) and myself (airplane) to Las Vegas (easy enough), from which I had to pedal more than 100 miles each way while carrying several days of food and water on my bike to get to/from Death Valley. How many miles should I plan to ride? It’s easy to get greedy when you’re planning your tour. You want to take in as many attractions as possible, so you schedule long days of riding. Years ago, I frequently Bunyan Velo 37
planned for 80-100 mile days during my tours. If there was a headwind or big hills or a mechanical issue or any other unforeseen delay, I’d find myself riding into the night, setting up my tent in the dark, only to get up early in the morning and do it again. Often, I’d have to pass by interesting things without stopping even for a quick photograph because I was under a time crunch to get to a certain location by the end of the day. I started to realize that I was under a lot of selfimposed stress, and not particularly enjoying it! If I wanted to be on a deadline, I could be at work! Then, I had the opportunity to plan a trip for a larger group, which I did with my usual over-ambitious style. Some of the participants expressed concern about the daily mileage. Begrudgingly, I eliminated or shortened segments of the route I’d originally planned. Most of the shortened riding days covered fewer than 50 miles and one day was to be only 20 miles. YAWN. I figured I could grit my teeth through the boredom for the improved morale of the group... But once on the road, I noticed that the short days were my favorites! On the 20-mile day, we came upon a lovely little park with a picturesque trout stream and lush green grass. We stopped and stretched out
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in the grass next to the stream and just relaxed for a couple hours without concern about having to cover a challenging distance. From that day forward, I focused on setting easy daily mileage goals. Now, I bring my camera and tripod, a fishing rod, and maybe something contemplative to read. Perhaps counter intuitively, my bike tours have become less about riding the bike, and more about immersing myself in the place, and, more importantly, farting around. How do I structure a tour? Point-to-point, or a big loop? The idea of pedaling across the US or pedaling the length of the Mississippi River or pedaling the Pacific Coast seems like an obvious plan for a bike tour, but it’s a bit too goaloriented for my tastes. Every day, you get up in the morning with the intention of shaving some miles off the total and getting a little bit closer to some endpoint marked on your map. If you’re not careful, you may forget about taking in the scenery or the culture, and concern yourself only with getting from point A to point B. Too often, that means you’ll have to pedal a bunch of dull, uninspiring, perhaps even unpleasant
miles for the sake of getting “there” (and then what?). Besides that, point-to-point trips require a bit of logistical planning to transport yourself and your gear to and from the starting and ending points.
If I get delayed or lost, it’s no problem since I have no solid goal.
One obvious alternative to a point-to-point tour is a big loop. Pick a single start/end point and ride a loop from there. You can leave the car at the start/end, or catch the return leg of your round-trip flight. The biggest advantage of the loop concept is that you can usually modify your route if it turns out that your daily mileage schedule proves to be unrealistic, which is a luxury you don’t generally have in the point-topoint scenario.
One of the aspects of bicycle touring that appeals to me most strongly is the feeling of being completely self-sufficient on my bike. When I know that I have sufficient food, water, bike parts and tools, and my camping gear all attached to my bike, I feel a sense of freedom to go anywhere that my sense of adventure will take me. Camping isn’t for everybody, of course, but I consider it to be a liberating way to travel. In some places – the Oregon Coast comes to mind – state park campgrounds are closely spaced and hiker-biker campsites are cheap and wonderful. You don’t need much of a plan, just ride until you’re tired of riding and stop at any of the numerous campgrounds that have hiker-biker sites. In general, hikerbiker sites don’t require a reservation, and will not turn away a tired cyclist for lack of space. The going rate for these sites is $4-6 per person, and sometimes free.
I have done both of the above types of tour, but as my style has evolved over the years, I prefer a bit more of a freeform strategy. I find an interesting area that has abundant camping and/or lodging opportunities, and I just ride and explore, improvising my daily plan in the morning when I’m studying my maps over breakfast. This mostly eliminates any pressure to cover a certain number of miles to reach my daily destination.
Where will I sleep?
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Of course, few places in the country have such lush accommodations for cyclists. In my part of the world, campgrounds can be rather expensive, likely booked solid during the best times of the year, and are often spaced inconveniently for cyclists. And frankly, some of them simply aren’t terribly appealing places to spend time. Generally, I prefer to camp in the wild. State and National Forests generally allow free camping with a few common sense rules about being away from the road, no littering, no fires, etc. When I’m researching possible touring locations, having lots of public land available for free-camping is an important amenity. If you’re riding through a national forest or any other sufficiently-uncivilized place, you can pull off almost anywhere and set up camp without planning ahead. Without large areas of public land, you may find yourself riding long days between expensive campgrounds, through privately owned land plastered with No Trespassing signs. Sometimes small towns will allow a cyclist to pitch a tent in the city park. The trick is finding the correct authority figure to ask for permission. It helps if you’re somewhat charming and not too creepy. Keep in mind that, for the most part, a cyclist will go unnoticed and, with a little discretion, can catch a few winks just about anywhere. It’s highly unlikely that either law enforcement or sadistic rednecks are roaming the woods on the off chance that a cyclist might be camping there. You’ll be fine, probably. For non-campers, there are several options. Hotels are the obvious choice, but they are, of course, expensive and often located for the convenience of freeway-bound motorists, not backroad-riding cyclists. Hostels can be wonderful, but they are nonexistent in many parts of the US. Modern technology offers a great solution by way of websites like Warmshowers and Couchsurfing, which are basically matchmaker sites that exist to pair travelers with overnight hosts. What if...? A wiser fellow than me once said “shit happens,” and I think he was on to something with this assertion of the certainty of unspecified inconvenience. Any number of mishaps can befall
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a bicycle tourist, but mishaps befall everybody. On balance, bicycle touring is a fairly low-risk thing to do. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of wouldbe bike tourists talk themselves out of wonderful adventures based on the perceived uncertainties. It saddens me that this is so often the case. Crises can be averted, challenges can be overcome, and, very often, the adversity becomes an important part of the story you’ll tell afterward. One way to bolster confidence is to travel with a friend or two. It’s perhaps easier and more fun, even hilarious at times, to confront challenges with others, but it can be terrifying or demoralizing to be in the same tough spot all alone. On the other side of the same token, your traveling companions may cramp your style, even while they provide decent company. Whether with companions or solo, the important thing is to just go out and try it. A week may be too much for your first time. But a simple overnighter might give you a sufficient taste for the experience. Even if you screw up an overnighter by packing inappropriate gear or riding the wrong bike, etc., the cost is minimal. You go home the next day having learned something. By the time you’ve calibrated the overnighters, you can expand your horizons to longer adventures. Conclusion Bicycle touring is arguably the best way to see the countryside up close, and it’s both economical and low-risk. It’s also a great way to step away from our paranoia-driven, 24/7 information-overload, control-all-variables, media landscape. There’s a familiar series of feelings that I’ve experienced on my bike trips: I start out planning, studying maps, thinking about gear, and getting wrapped up in trivial details. As I take my first few turns of the cranks, I’m engulfed by a mix of apprehension, homesickness, and the excitement of riding off into the unknown. Within a day, apprehensions and homesickness melt away, and I’m immersed in the landscape and the people I encounter, eager to see what’s over the next hill. Within a week, I’m habituated to the freedom of life on the road, letting the scenery unfold before me, and wondering how I’m going to be able to face the humdrum of my daily life when I get home. Of course, I can always get an early start planning the next trip! BV
PAYING IT FORWARD Written and photographed by John Moon
In early summer 2011, while on a tour through western Europe with my friend Chris, I had a chance to reflect on the circumstances under which you meet people during bike tours.
he day before we arrived in Paris, we rode through Champagne. We saw fields and fields of grapes for wineries such as Moët & Chandon. It had been a pleasant, sunny day when we started the day in Sainte-Menehould, but the weather quickly turned sour. It rained nearly all day with a stiff headwind as well. We had planned on camping in Château-Thierry, but halfway through our day of freezing and getting drenched with no end in sight for the rain, we called an American-run bed and breakfast in Reuilly-Sauvigny that Chris had stayed at in years past. Bill, the owner, was very apologetic, but the place was full – there was a large group of British motorcycle tourists coming in. He told us he’d try calling around to nearby bed and breakfasts and hotels, but he wasn’t sure what would be available. We told him we’d call back in a bit. We cursed the ill European weather and biked on, not sure where we would sleep that night. We dreaded the prospect of having to camp after such a wet biking day, but it seemed it might be our only option. On a particularly laborious uphill, Chris got a call. He grumblingly answered, and it was Bill. He said we could come by and use his barn for shelter for the night, and we could also use his bathroom and shower. We arrived at the bed and breakfast and were greeted warmly by Meredith, Bill’s wife and coowner of the place. She allowed us to use the shower in their private apartment, did our laundry (the clothes we were wearing and also the laundry we had done the night before, which we had hung out to dry on our rear racks but which was soaked by now), and put us up in an adjacent building which was being renovated – certainly nicer than
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what I thought we’d get when I heard “barn.” They also invited us to join them and the motorcycle tourists for breakfast the next morning, which we gladly accepted. They apologized that they had no food for dinner, but offered to let us borrow their car so we could go a few kilometers away to the nearest restaurant – we declined their generosity here, opting to eat our emergency rations instead, as we were dead tired and in no shape to travel to town, even by car. As we left the next morning, Meredith and I talked a bit about her own trips. She was a hiker – she was soon to go on a 1000 km hike in northern Spain which she had done several times before. She told us how she was helped along the way on her long hikes by strangers, and that she likes to be helpful to other travelers in need. She asked that we help other travelers when we can. It didn’t take long before we got a chance to help another traveler out. A few days later in Amiens, on our first day out of Paris, we were eating a late dinner around 9pm at the campground and caravan/RV/chalet site when a Dutch bike tourist came in. He had been staying at hotels but there were no rooms left in Amiens (apparently there was a big judo tournament in town) – this was his last hope. The clerk – again, very apologetically – told him that there were no chalets left. The clerk and the Dutch tourist frantically tried to brainstorm any possibilities, but at that late hour, it seemed hopeless. Chris and I offered the Dutch tourist use of my bivouac sack and I agreed to stay with Chris in his two-man tent. The clerk had a sleeping bag which he gladly fetched, so we were able to help this bike tourist out. On the road, plans go awry and conditions change in unpredictable ways. A bike tourist is especially at the mercy of what happens around him. It’s nice to know that there are people who will help, and it made our day to help a fellow traveler out. BV
OF RACING Written and photographed by Kurt Refsnider
y third day on the trail, I awoke to yet another crystal clear morning. A gentle breeze blew cold air over my nose, the only part of my face protruding from the hood of my thin sleeping bag. I wriggled around and popped my head out just far enough to survey my surroundings. It was an hour or so after dark the prior evening when I decided to stop rather than continue on the loose, treacherous descent down the narrow ridge to Sergeants Mesa. The southernmost of the majestic Collegiate Peaks towered to the north, and the rolling, densely forested Cochetopa Hills stretched as far as I could see to the south and west. I lay back down and watched the branches above dance gently in the pastel twilight. I was a bit over half way through my journey from Denver to Durango on the rugged Colorado Trail, a route a few dozen bikepacking racers had tackled the previous week. For the fifth straight year since I began competing in multi-day mountain bike events, I had reluctantly skipped the Colorado Trail Race. But at that particular moment as I enjoyed the warmth of my sleeping bag before setting off for another relaxed day of riding through the mountains, there was no other way I could imagine wanting to experience the trail. In this year’s Colorado Trail Race, the top three finishers all broke Owen Hanley’s impressive course record of four days and change. Jefe Branham won in just under four days, doing so on a scant 4 hours of sleep while crushing 485 miles of mostly challenging singletrack. He told me a few days later that he had spent far too much time in the pain cave and didn’t enjoy much of the experience. He had ridden the course several times before, so it was familiar territory, but, given that it was a race, a high coefficient of suffering is to be expected. I’m sure as the memory of the pain has faded, Jefe probably feels a bit differently, but his comments shortly after the race were thought provoking. There is something unsettling about so many riders taking on spectacular routes like the Colorado Trail, the Arizona Trail, or the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route for the first time with a tightly-focused race mentality. They miss so much of the surrounding natural beauty by pushing through the night, spend consecutive days pedaling through the fog of exhaustion, and forgo the opportunity to exchange stories with other adventurers out on the trail. The more I ponder this, the more I’m reminded of the Mayan creation story in which the second race of humans was created from wood by Heart-of-Sky. They wandered through life, spiritless with empty minds and no respect for their creator. I’ve lost count of how many ultras I’ve raced, but in nearly every one, I’ve felt like one of these wooden people, a lifeless body passively churning the pedals. Fortunately, I have yet to be smote like Heart-of-Sky Bunyan Velo 48
eventually destroyed the wooden people. As I packed my bikepacking gear and planned my Colorado Trail ride this past August, the recent race weighed heavily on my mind. Should I race the route and chase Jefeâ€™s time? My form and willingness to suffer were lacking after racing the Tour Divide on a tandem in June and a tough solo 1.5day push on the 250-mile Coconino Loop. After those big rides, I knew full well that coming within even 8 hours of Jefeâ€™s new Colorado Trail record was highly unlikely, but there is something strangely addictive about the suffering generated while chasing records. Should I instead calmly tour my way across Colorado, I wondered? It sounded appealing given my mental and physical condition at the time, but with a 7-day window to work with for the ride prior to fall classes beginning, I had to move somewhat quickly. Then, I missed my flight to Denver, delaying the start of my ride and shortening my window to 6 days. Undecided, I opted to roll the dice and see how I felt after a day of riding. I began climbing up Waterton Canyon under the cover of a cloudy, moonless sky at 4 am. The ambient light of Denver faded behind me as a feeling of ensuing solitude filled me from within. The early climbs of the trail passed by easily, and the fire-scorched slopes west of the South Platte River were hidden beneath wisps of fog. This burned off as the sun rose higher, and I pushed on over Kenosha Pass toward Breckenridge. The trail was deserted. The only people I saw all afternoon were a family of hikers wrapping up an overnight trip, their first with two young children. We chatted for a bit, and the shy 4-year-old curiously inquired about how I got over all the rocks and why I did not have a tent. He hid behind his grandmother as soon as he finished asking his questions but peered around her leg as I rode away smiling, picking my way through and over the rocky tread. Night fell as I pushed my bike along the miles of steep hikea-bike over the Tenmile Range. The stars shone nearly as brightly as the lights of towns far below me, and I felt a combination of frightful isolation and absolute freedom. Two years before, I had literally been blown off the very same ridge by gusty winds at a similar hour. This time, though, the air was still and I negotiated the trail with relative ease. Near the bottom of the rough, steep descent into the next valley, I was overcome by exhaustion after twenty straight hours of pedaling. I curled up against the trunk of a mighty pine tree and napped for a couple of hours before beginning the climb over the next mountain range. The miles, however, did not come easily in the pre-dawn still after I awoke. My butt hurt. My knees ached. My legs felt empty. And the fog had returned, only this time Bunyan Velo 50
it found its way into my head. I struggled to find beauty in riding the stunning tundra and huge views between Searle and Kokomo Passes. The exciting descent to the quiet valley below did little to get my blood flowing, and the subsequent rolling singletrack through montane forests simply frustrated me. I had descended into the emotional rollercoaster that so often characterizes my multi-day race experiences. The lows broke through the bottom of what I once thought possible. The highs often reached seemingly insurmountable peaks, only to be abruptly truncated by a plunge off the precipitous heights. Day in and day out, I’ve battled through these in the past, and frankly, I had no desire to repeat the cycle any longer. At some point during that morning slog as I inched toward Leadville, I made the decision to back off and simply enjoy the ride. I pushed onward through the afternoon to reach the post office in the next town to pick up my box of tasty trail food before it closed. After a long night’s sleep, I awoke excited to ride and feeling relatively fresh. The mental fog had dissipated, my reflexes were no longer sluggish, and a curiosity to know what was around the next bend or over the next climb replaced a dread of what might lie beyond. That’s what riding should be like. It’s why I started riding and it’s what keeps me riding. And so I rode. I grinned. I stopped and talked with every through-hiker I encountered. One older fellow was hiking from Denver to his 50th high school reunion in Durango. Another older couple was hoping to cover 50 miles in 7 days after not having backpacked in years. A solo woman from Breckenridge was delighted to have someone to talk to for a bit after not having seen anyone else for several days. A frazzled couple from Fort Collins seemed to be relieved to have someone different with whom to chat for a bit. And the angriest hiker I ever met needed to shout about how there should be signs warning hikers prior to long waterless stretches. He also
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needed someone to pour water into his empty bottle. But the stories everyone had to share were generally delightful and inspiring. Each night, I rode just far enough after dusk before finding a comfortable place to sleep so that I’d awake to a new view and new surroundings. A small fire kept me warm as I enjoyed some food, and then I’d drift off to sleep. And each morning, I arose at dawn and was moving just as the first glow of morning spread across my little piece of the world. I was in mostly unknown territory for the last three days of my ride and it was absolutely spectacular. The brightly painted rocks of the San Juan Mountains did not disappoint. The extended stretches of trail across the alpine ridges were unlike anything I had ever ridden. I’m not sure I’d ever tire of riding across the sky as I did for the better part of an entire day. Even the abundant hiking was easily tolerable. My eyes were open all day, never once drifting closed due to the all-too-familiar, insurmountable urge to stop and sleep. And I’m surprised my face did not get tired from all the grinning. I hadn’t enjoyed a long ride that much in quite some time. I drifted into Durango just after dark after 5.5 days of riding. Much of my body was rather weary after another big effort, but rather than feeling mentally exhausted, I was refreshed after my mountain sojourn, something I have rarely experienced in recent years. Perhaps I’m getting old, or perhaps I’ve finally realized the full extent of what is sacrificed when my competitive spirit takes ahold of the reins and drives me to race for days on end. This journey demonstrated to me what I’ve been missing by not traveling at a more relaxed pace. Little is gained by fixating on the destination, but there is plenty to be lost if each moment is not relished for what it is. BV
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HOW I SPENT
MY DAY OFF Written and photographed by Karl Stoerzinger
t was about two hours before closing time on a busy Thursday evening at the bike shop when we received a frantic phone call from a woman at the airport. She was a local organizer who was assisting a number of foreign athletes who had arrived to compete in the Twin Cities marathon. Over the din of the crowded baggage claim, she explained that a woman from Spain (one of Medtronic’s Global Heroes) had a big problem: the airline crushed and broke her hand cycle. After calling bike shops and wheelchair-related businesses all over town looking for someone to work on it, Courage Center (a local non-profit I’ve helped out a few times) finally gave them our number and said to ask for me. She wasn’t sure exactly what was broken, but asked if I’d please look at it. How much time did I have to repair the bike? It needed to be at the starting line in exactly 36 hours. Oh boy... We made hasty arrangements, and half an hour later a limousine driver showed up to deliver the hand cycle. When he opened the trunk, I had to ask him if it was the whole bike, or if perhaps the rest of it was missing. I’d never seen such an alien, unicycle-like contraption before. It was the
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whole thing, he assured me. He said he’d done some unusual runs before, but this one probably topped the list. Once I got it down to the bike shop and examined it more closely, I deduced that it clamped onto the front of a wheelchair to turn it into a tricycle. I’d worked on several hand cycles, but never this type before. My heart sank a little when I examined the broken part; the non-drive-side crank arm was snapped in two. I had all sorts of replacement crank arms on hand, but this was no normal crank arm; it was made from the sawed-off center portion of a normal square-taper bicycle crank, but with a proprietary arm welded on. It broke at the weld, an inevitable weak point. If it was made of steel, I could have brought it over to local framebuilder Erik Noren at Peacock Groove, who would have it TIG welded back together in no time flat. But it was aluminum, and nobody I know is willing to do weld repairs on aluminum bike parts due to the tricky metallurgical complexities involved. The manufacturer, Stricker Handbikes, is straight out of Germany, and their website is only partially
translated to English. I doubted if they’d be able to help me out in the tight timeframe available. No spare parts or loaner bikes could be located anywhere nearby, so I began formulating a plan. This was no normal bike shop repair; I would be spending my day off at TC Makers’ Hack Factory, a shared shop space in South Minneapolis. They have the precision heavy machinery, and I have a personal collection of tooling and accessories. It was time to make a part from scratch... Leaving work Thursday night, I rooted through the scrap metal bucket and found a discarded left side Shimano crank arm. The arm portion and pedal threading were useless to me, but it had the square-tapered hole to mount to the hand cycle. I packed up the broken crank parts and the donor crank arm and headed home to take measurements and make a few quick sketches before turning in for the night. The next morning, on my way to the Hack Factory, I paid a visit to Amble’s Machinery & Hardware, my favorite local surplus/junk dealer, and picked up a block of solid aluminum
billet the size of a Kleenex box. It was the smallest piece Jim had that would do the job, but it was still much larger than I needed and would need to be sliced up later. This block was going to allow me to build a crude mechanical adapter to connect the broken-off round crank arm to the donor Shimano crank. At the Hack Factory, we have a wonderful Bridgeport milling machine that we affectionately call Bridget. We got Bridget from a machine shop at Medtronic, and now it was being used to make an emergency part for a woman who would never have come to Minnesota if not for Medtronic. This amusing connection was not lost on me. Bridget was going to get quite a workout making all these parts fit together the way I needed them to. I mounted the donor Shimano crank arm in the Bridgeport’s vice and machined the crank arm’s curvy shape into a perfect rectangular cross section. The chunk of aluminum got a similar treatment to make all six rough-sawn sides flat and square. I began milling a groove down the middle of the block, aiming to make it
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exactly the width of the squared-up section of donor crank arm. Some careful measurements and a few very light finishing passes later, the two pieces were able to socket together perfectly with less than a thousandth of an inch of play. I was interrupted from machining about a dozen times during the day by a representative of the airline, requesting info about the bike to try and find parts or a loaner, and treating my planning and efforts as a fallback plan for her. When I was about 2/3 finished with the part, the representative finally called for the last time to inform me her leads were all spent, and she was giving up. Now this strange adapter I was making from plans in my head was the only option. The day was passing quickly; it was crunch time. The arm portion of the broken crank was cylindrical, and I planned to make a hole in the block that it would socket into. I took careful measurements to decide exactly what angle to make the hole and where it should pass through the block so the crank arm would have the same geometry as the unbroken side. Once the angle was set up, I used Bridget to rough out the hole with a series of drill bits, and then finished with an adjustable boring head to sneak up on the exact final diameter without overshooting. When I was done, I had a perfectly round hole that fit the round crank arm perfectly. By late afternoon, the finish line was in sight. The block was slotted along the length of the hole to allow it to squeeze down on the round crank arm, and I had drilled holes for the bolts that would mount the three pieces together. I milled off excess aluminum in various places to lighten up the part and beveled the sharp edges. I could have made it lighter, smoother, and more refined, but I was out of time. At about 7:00 on Friday evening, after a whole day in the machine shop, I was finally done. I did the concept and design work in my head, made a few simple sketches, and pretty much went from one logical step to the next until I had a working part. If I had goofed up anywhere along the way, I certainly wouldnâ€™t have time to start over again. Fortunately, everything went perfectly, and just in the nick of time. I rushed to meet Anna about an hour later at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul. I hand-delivered the repaired Stricker Handbike and did the final assembly and adjustments in the lobby while chatting with Anna and her husband. She was thrilled to be back in action after fearing that she was out of luck. After a few quick shifting adjustments and a crude, on-the-spot derailleur hanger alignment with pliers, she was ready to roll. I wished her luck and gave her the small sawed-off broken part of the original crank arm as a memento. Early Saturday morning, Anna braved unseasonably-chilly weather to crank her way through the 10k hand cycle course, finishing in 49 minutes and 26 seconds. BV Bunyan Velo 62
FIREMAN’S BREAKFAST Written by Jen Tillman, photographed by Paul Doffing
ummer was decidedly over. Gone were the days of riding in shorts and a t-shirt, religiously slathering on sunscreen every two hours, and waking before dawn to take advantage of the cool, early-morning hours. We now frequently wore rain gear just to stay warm, and the days were noticeably shorter. The cold mornings made it a chore to get up and out, but we didn’t dare linger in the tent’s warmth for too long. We had miles to log. The sun was setting earlier now, and riding past dark was less than ideal. Leaving Milwaukee, WI was especially hard that late October morning. Paul and I had taken a two-day break to visit with a friend and urge our bodies to heal. Between Paul’s nagging IT band issue and my recent knee pain, we were limping home. Minneapolis was our beacon, and we were dead set on making it there in a week. The road was calling, but a weekend full of pancakes, warmth, and great company was not easy to leave behind. We forced ourselves out of the house before noon, shivering in the wind while hurrying through a last-minute flat tire repair. With a 47-mile ride to the small town of Hustisford, WI on our agenda for the day, we headed out, wearing most of the clothes we carried with us. Five months on the bike tour had taught me that no matter how many miles you put behind you, each day brings its own challenges. I knew not to scoff at a 47 mile day, especially when the forecasted high temperature was around 40. Luckily, the sun was strong enough to cast off our chills by lunch time, and the ride that day was more pleasant than I expected. Our bodies were holding up well enough as we reminisced about our incredible
journey thus far, hardly able to believe that it would be over in a few days. A friend and I had set off from Virginia in May on a cross-country bike tour, Coast to Coast, Pedal by Pedal. It was due to pure happenstance that we met Paul and his friend in Montana; they were on their own bike tour, the Freedom From Fuel Tour. The story of how Paul and I came to be riding together is one that I think of often, but still don’t quite believe. After a quick gas station pit stop eight miles outside of Hustisford, Paul realized that he was missing something. His right mitten had been getting in the way while navigating with the GPS on his handlebarmounted iPhone, so he had stuck it in his pocket while we were riding. Now it was gone. And this wasn’t just your typical mitten. In Pittsburgh, PA, after a few cold, wet days with very cold hands, we both splurged on a pair of water-proof, wind-proof, downhill skiing mittens. With liners. These were serious mittens, and they weren’t cheap. Even worse, it was going to be getting very cold, very soon, and only Paul’s left hand would feel any relief. The mitten had to be just a mile or two back, and we still had an hour of sunlight left. If we could just find the mitten, it would be worth riding the last few miles to Hustisford in the dark. After riding back a little way, we changed our plan. I would stay put just off the shoulder with Paul’s trailer so he could search faster and with less effort. It felt odd to watch Paul ride away; ever since we had begun riding together over two months prior, we rarely spent more than five minutes apart. To pass the time, I called a friend. I had always pictured bike
touring as leaving me with ample free time, but I soon realized how much of the day is consumed by the many tasks involved in keeping one’s body happy and healthy. We chatted for a while as I kept a watchful eye down the road for Paul’s return. I couldn’t help but notice that the sun was edging ever closer to the horizon. Standing still, I felt the growing chill in the air. As soon as the sun dipped behind the hills, I felt my stomach clench and my teeth start to chatter. By the time Paul rode up and gave me the news that the hunt for the mitten had been a lost cause, I was genuinely cold. Paul said he hadn’t intended to ride very far back, but each mile that passed without seeing the mitten meant he was that much closer to where it must have fallen out. In the end, he rode five miles before giving up on the mission and turning back. He did, however, manage to find an unfenced dog with a strong desire to chase bikes. Paul fruitlessly checked around the gas station again while I warmed up inside. After a few minutes, my teeth quieted down, but the deep-down cold lingered. I was disconcerted by how intensely the cold had affected me, and by the fact that we had to go another eight miles before setting up camp. The ever-diminishing sunlight was making me anxious, and all I wanted was to get my blood pumping so I could feel warm again. With our lights blinking, we raced off towards Hustisford. I don’t remember much about the following miles. Paul says I didn’t talk and I maintained a much swifter pace than usual. I think the only thing on my mind must have been, “The faster I ride, the warmer I’ll be.” Bunyan Velo 65
Passing through Hustisford on our way to a park, we saw a sign for a Fireman’s Breakfast on the morning of October 28. October 28… That was the following morning! We finally made it to a town on the right day! Our trip had been full of, “If only you’d been here last week for the Egg Festival!” or, “Oh, but can’t you stay until the parade on Saturday?” We praised the dutiful Hustisford firemen and rode on, imagining the pile of pancakes, eggs, and coffee that would await us in the morning. Pulling into the parking lot of the lakefront town park, Paul and I agreed to ignore the “No Camping” sign. It was well past dark and we did not have enough energy to scope out more legitimate camping. There was still one car there, taking a boat out of the water. We turned off our lights and rode silently across the parking lot and into a field, relying on the moon to light our way. We found a hidden path that was wide enough for our tent. I wasn’t thrilled that we didn’t have permission to camp, but I was more concerned that my teeth were chattering again and it would only be getting colder in the coming hours. I was feeling slow and lethargic, and in no mood to set up camp. With all the mental power I could summon, I convinced myself that I’d be warmer if I immediately changed into dry clothes. As I stripped off my damp layers I could feel all my muscles tighten against the frigid air. I went about making dinner while Paul set up the tent. After my first few attempts to use the lighter failed (my fingers were not very responsive), I started wondering
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if we really needed to eat. Eating was always our top priority after finishing a long day of biking, but my thoughts were so muddled with the cold that I almost gave up. Luckily, I was able to convince myself that a hot meal would be worth the effort. Taking my hands out of my mittens to cut the onion was excruciating, and I could hardly imagine how Paul’s right hand had felt during those last eight miles. We ate quickly, passing the hot pot of quinoa, beans, and vegetables back and forth, savoring the warmth it brought to our hands and stomachs. By 8:30, we were curled up in our tent. I had no mental energy left to write in my journal. I tried to stay positive. We were getting so close to Minneapolis. At worst, there would be six more nights like this. Which meant there might be six more nights like this. We finally emerged from our cocoon at 9am, having spent a full 12 hours hidden away from the cold. I had woken a few times when the sleeping bag had shifted to expose an inch of skin, and for half an hour in the early morning, Paul and I listened to what sounded like the cries of a dying rabbit, followed by a coyote yipping for friends to come join in his meal. Besides those disturbances, we had slept the whole time. Our typical morning routine was significantly shortened due to the frosty temperature, made evident by our frozen water bottles. We simply packed up and rode off into
town, still wearing our pajamas under our rain gear. We figured the breakfast must be at the fire station, where we had seen the sign the night before. It looked disappointingly empty, though, when we pulled up. Weaving through the few streets that comprised the town, we looked for clusters of cars or other telltale signs of a community breakfast. Nothing. This couldn’t be right. There had to be a breakfast. There had to be a warm place where we’d eat and change clothes and let our frozen hands thaw before riding another long day. We eventually saw a car driving on the residential streets, and took that as our opportunity to ask about the breakfast. I was overcome with relief when the driver told us that the community center was just a few blocks away, over a little bridge and up a hill. Pancakes. Scrambled eggs. Potato pancakes. Applesauce. Orange juice and coffee. Muffins, cookies, and all sorts of other home-made goodies. We sat at the end of a long table, surrounded by over 100 people. There were young girls and boys wiping down tables and filling coffee. There were adults serving food at the buffet line. There were older couples and tiny babies. Paul and I, the strangers wearing a surprising number of mismatched layers, sat and soaked it all in. We weren’t sure how we fit into this group, but it didn’t matter. We were warm and eating a delicious, hot breakfast. We got seconds. And thirds. BV
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LETTERS FROM ALEX Written and photographed by Alex Dunn; Edited by Nicholas Carman
In search of dirt roads and remote beaches along azure coastlines, my friend Alex has set out to ride south through southern California and Mexico’s Baja peninsula. Traveling the northern half of the peninsula with a friend, he finds much of what he is looking for, and more.These are excerpts of his letters to me. They are intensely personal notes, exclamations, realizations, and mental exhalations. These are his letters from the road. –Nicholas Carman Ensenada to San Felipe, first dirt in Baja the ride from coyote cal’s at san ysidro along highway 1 to the turnoff for cañón la calentura was made quite difficult and slow by an incredible side wind. we went two miles past the turnoff before asking a farmer for directions, turned around and went back to the military checkpoint where we had semi-nervously passed the unmarked farm road. the soldiers laughed but were impressed with our endeavor and happily directed us on our loco path. after making it about ten miles down the sandy road we dipped off and hid in the bushes of a little slot canyon. only a few cars passed in the night and we fell asleep under stars and silence. the next day proved to be one of the more beautiful, yet challenging riding days i’ve ever had - those thirty miles of dirt were even tougher than the ninety mile push from hollywood to laguna beach, california. such a beautiful way to travel, biking in solitude and dirt (reminded me of edward abbey’s proclamation to allow only feet, bikes, and hooves as a means of travel through national parks). we only encountered two trucks passing, and a few men on horseback, nothing more but swirling sand and gusts of wind in the high desert. the climbs were intense but the views were more than rewarding. made me feel i had finally found what the hell i was looking for down in this godforsaken land. we finally reached the top of the pass and descended into a high, dried up lake bed where we started to run low on water. close to the top of our last climb a truck came barreling down the road towards us and i stood with hand up, desperate to confirm our proximity to civilization. the truck stopped and in confusion and awe, the four skeptical old men told me ten to fifteen more kilometers. i waived them on and we immediately collapsed by the side of the road and stuffed our bellies with all the fats and sugars we had - even took big gulps of agave nectar, straight shots of glucose to the blood stream. reminded me of the way you would drink maple syrup back in tacoma. drinking the last of our water, high as kites, we crested the final hill and could see lázaro cárdenas off in the distance. the next eight or ten miles were beautiful, slowly rolling down the washboard dodging frequent patches of what seemed like quicksand. the dirt road would be solid and washboarded, or smooth and soft, but never smooth and solid at the same time. as we reached the ranchos outside of valle la trinidad, exhausted and parched, we evaded quite a few groups of angry guard dogs - which proved Bunyan Velo 70
rather difficult and frightening as we slid through the wash and repeatedly had to stop to throw rocks to ward them off. finally, we reached valle la trinidad as the sun set and by luck rolled right into a nice, cheap hotel in the center of the quiet little pueblito of sand. steaming hot showers, the best tacos of my life, a six pack of dos equis, and twelve churros were my ultimate resolve for such a tedious day of pedaling. the man and woman who ran the taquería asked if we were there just a year or two ago-- was that you, nick, and lael? I said no, but told them of our recent adventure, and the man said we were ambitious fools for having ridden and camped on that road, for only outlaws and bandits traveled through there, assaulting anyone else who tried to pass. in retrospect, maybe those men in the truck i stopped were crazy banditos who were too befuddled by my giant, dirty bike and bearded self to really think of assaulting me. or maybe they wouldn’t have deemed any cyclist as worthy prey. or maybe they were simply old cowboys headed to a dusty ranch and that taco man’s worries only reflected a universal fear that many have of remote places. i take the latter. rising early to thaw our milk for the morning’s coffee, we packed up and headed north of town where the sandy road meets the pristine pavement of highway 3. heading east, we stopped at the last outpost for water and tortillas and by chance crossed paths with an ex-military man from fort louis, washington passing through with his wife and father. they had been coming down here for fifteen years, sailed around the entire peninsula, and even done a three week cattle run in the area with a mexican cowboy friend of theirs. he assured us of the safety of the region and insisted that we camp only twenty five miles or so in the valle santa clara on the southeastern foot of the sierra san felipe. and that we did, after a relaxing, gradual drop down such a grade of road that would make any cyclist blush. hardly ever needing to pedal, banking through mellow canyon turns, and cruising along smooth highway in high gear, shooting off into great expanses of only more sand and cacti scattered in the bright light. this truly was the most beautiful ride so far. we climbed off our bikes around 2pm and pushed them a quarter mile off the road, through sand and mesquite, constantly evading the dreaded jumping cholla cactus - those little buggers gave us such annoyance they even haunted erin in her sleep that night. we set up camp out of sight of the highway, dug a big fire pit, and had infinite mesquite for fuel. when the sun fell the heat turned immediately to a dry, piercing cold, perfectly illuminated by the extreme clarity of the desert moon. waking with the coyotes and leaving erin cocooned in her bag, i went on a two-mile hike by myself through the changing darkness, black to blue, and gathered firewood for sunrise coffee
and porridge. i’m learning to steal away from my companion for these brief moments of much-needed solitude. when she rose we packed up and continued our glorious descent. after four days of riding alone on dirt roads and highway, we came to the military checkpoint where highway 3 meets highway 5. the soldados asked to go through our bags and quickly realized we had nothing but dirty clothes, food, and camp gear. impressed by the preparedness of my surly big dummy bicycle and a gringo’s ability to speak spanish, they happily wished us luck along the way... San Felipe to San Ignacio christmas day. i swapped my tires from front to back since the rear has been wearing twice as fast, and did an oil change on the rohloff hub for good measure-- now it shifts quite smooth. it’s good to be a little fastidious out on the road i suppose. good for a clean conscience, at least. erin and i decided we would head out of san felipe for puertecitos, despite the warnings to avoid drunken christmas drivers. we wagered that most people would actually be drunk and stuffing themselves with holiday feasts at home with family, not driving around inebriated, on a road to nowhere. we were also starting to get a little restless in the city, though grateful for the moment of repose. off we went in the late morning, quietly pedaling through the vacant streets, past closed storefronts, the empty beach off the malecon, and out of town. we encountered maybe four or five vehicles the entire 50 miles or so-- all seemingly sober and unhurried. the road was ours-- mile after mile of smooth pavement, like low, rolling waves. the hot wind blew so fiercely at our backs that pedaling was more of a charade, our bicycles more like giant sails pulling us forward down the highway. we really hadn’t to crank much at all and arrived in puertecitos within a few hours-- quite impressive for such a heavy vehicle as mine. the sun soon began to touch the top of the dusty hills as we set up the tent beside some palapas in the bay, and after camp was made we rode up over the point to the hot springs. the springs themselves are actually tidal pools that change temperature as the tide comes in and goes out, requiring you to change pools as the water becomes too cold or too hot. we soaked that evening in a long, narrow slit at high tide with a young couple currently touring around baja and some mexican soldiers who had been monitoring the springs from a house up the hill. rising in the morning to yet another beautiful sunrise, we thought it best to spend the day in puertecitos soaking our tired bones in the thermal pools and relaxing (as if the life we lead is anything but). after a long breakfast of our usual porridge (oats, flaxseed, almonds, cranberries), fresh papaya (cuban), and several cups of coffee, we went back to the pools where we remained until sundown. while soaking, i shared beer and Bunyan Velo 72
conversation with an oceanographer from ensenada named juan. juan was there on a week vacation with his three beautiful children, camping on the beach two kilometers south. he was impressed with my endeavor and with my spanish and offered to get me more beer from his truck. realizing he had finished his last bottle, he drove off to the market and returned with several different mexican beers he wanted me to try. as we lay in the pools with his children, sharing an intercambio of spanish and english, he asked what my dinner plans were. i replied that erin and i had no real plans, as always, so he invited us to come to his family’s camp where he would cook us hamburguesas, papas fritas, chorizo verde (quite rare actually, compared to red chorizo), chili rellenos, and of course mas cerveza y tequila! certainly, we inclined to do so, and once night fell upon us we rode off to find their camp. the dinner and company were perfect and magical as we shared food, drinks, laughter, and traded more english and spanish. as our fogata turned to embers, and with our bellies tiredly full, we said our goodbyes, gave thanks and abrazos, and rode back to our camp - no need for lights, for a full moon hanging from the clear black sky is the best lamp of all. before bedding down we stared up at the stars and relished in our great fortune. experiences like these are what sparks a lust for life. morning. another perfect sunrise. porridge, fruit, coffee. bliss. will this ever end? just as i was finishing my breakfast a tall german man came strolling down the beach and approached me with confident gaiety. he introduced himself as carsten and said that he and his best friend reiner had arrived themselves by bicycle the night before. they had started in san diego ten days prior and were headed south for the next two weeks. we talked of our mutual plans and while looking at the map he inquired if we would like to camp with them later that night. we welcomed the offer, though they were already prepared to leave and we still needed to wash up, pack, relax a little more. shortly after, we said goodbye to puertecitos and peddled south again, up ample climbs immediately followed by wonderful descents with immaculate vistas. the wind was calm and the pace was steady over forty five miles of new, open pavement. we passed the german cyclists early on and played leap frog with them throughout the day, as each of us stopped frequently to take in the wide open expanses of the desert foothills falling gently into the sea of cortez. the pavement dropped off five miles before bahia gonzaga, and the sun was heavy in the west. as we reached the crest of the last hill at punta willard, a man in a truck approached along the dirt road, sliding to a sudden stop in front of us. he hopped out of the small pickup with his little chihuahua named daisy, yelling, “buenas tardes bicicleros!” he introduced himself as mario and asked where we were headed, from where we were coming, and relayed stories of his own adventures as a long distance runner and avid hiker (he claimed to have run the 50 mi from san felipe to bahia gonzaga
many times, and to have hiked across the peninsula as well). he spoke little english, but was of course enthused by my grasp of spanish, as was he wildly excited by our bicycle exploits. he was headed to ensenada for four or five days, but offered first to lead us a few miles out to his beach property where we could stay as long as we wanted and even enjoy his guest house (an airy trailer with no running water and a few broken windows). we abandoned ourselves to his offer and followed him out to the property just as the sun slipped away, trading its attention with the fast rising moon. he was quick to show us around, give hugs, and wish us well before he and daisy jumped back into the truck and departed in haste. mystified and elated by our unexpected gift, we set up camp wearing giant smiles, reiner whistling all the while. after camp was made we gathered wood for the fire. ocotillo. mesquite. elephant tree. once ablaze, we cooked fixings for hearty burritos of rice, beans, tuna, queso fresco, chiles and salsa. i decided it was time to cut some weight and crack open the nice bottle of tequila i had purchased for christmas. carsten and reiner were delighted by my surprise and we stayed up for hours drinking, smoking tobacco, and sharing stories. the two Bunyan Velo 82
of them had met as boy scouts in germany and have remained best friends ever since. both are forty-eight years old, but started cycle touring together at the age of twenty eight - for the past twenty years they have cycled in a new part of the world (pakistan, ethiopia, uganda, papua new guinea, icelandâ€Ś) for their four weeks of winter vacation. i like to think that they have always ridden side by side, just as i would come to find them, without fail, over the following week. as we continued to add wood to the fire we returned to the topic of language, as i have discussed before. and as we delved deeper, we came to the language of the bicycle. our great benefactor mario was obviously connected to me via our ability to converse in spanish, but he was also linked to all of us through our means of conveyance. he was impressed with our desire to navigate a foreign land by method of such selfsufficiency. we are not isolated within fast moving cars, nor reliant upon the help of others as backpackers often are. and though we move about on our own accord, our speed is such that we truly experience the roads, the land, the people that surround us. this is something that carsten and reiner said they have always experienced in every country they have toured.
even if they can’t speak the language, people are always kind and generous and widely affected by the nature of the bicycle itself. so, i say this - get out of your fast moving cars, strap your backpack to your bicycle, and engage in the land through which you travel! the next day, after sleeping six hours, we rekindled the fire and cooked our porridge, then headed off for coco’s corner. the dirt road past bahia gonzaga follows a dry valley and eventually turns to a river of sand and stone. the sand was so thick and slow that at times we were forced to walk our bikes, some of us falling over before getting up to push. all i could do was smile and laugh like a crazed school boy - for some strange reason i was having the time of my life. the sun was hot and the light bright white, perfectly illuminating the soft, scattered clouds. after a full day’s ride, we finally reached coco’s corner at sundown - merely twenty miles or so from where we started. though coco himself was not there (his diabetes that has left him legless had recently affected his vision, forcing him to travel to the hospital in mexicali), his legendary pitstop at the junction in the middle of nothingness was truly a site to behold. straight out of mad max or road warrior, this small tract of land was
a real, post-apocalyptic oasis complete with junked, stripped down vans turned into sleeping quarters; fences constructed of beer cans, christmas lights and random bulbs strung from lines for about a square kilometer around the perimeter of the property; strange trash art, like a crescent of old toilets arranged around a tv; and a large scorpion made of motorcycle parts. we had reached the end of the world. waking just before dawn, but too cold to move, we lay in wait for the heat of the sun. once warmed and well fed, we headed on down the dirt road, some fifteen miles to chapala. we reached highway 1 around noon, had lunch at the junction, then continued on. it was nice to be back on pavement. nice to finally cover some ground. we pedaled into twilight and stopped at the turnoff for bahia de los angeles to look for dinner. i arrived first and a twenty-four hour truck stop was the only apparent option. parking my bike outside, i was welcomed by two six year old boys, cousins, intrigued by my nordic girth. i kidded with them as i was about a foot taller than the doorway, and entered to meet the mother and daughter who ran the place. they had a small cafe with one table and offered to cook us food, but first they insisted that we set up our tents behind Bunyan Velo 83
their house. the woman had the little boys show us where we could camp and we set up and changed into warm, dry clothes. dinner has never been better. simple quesatacos, or quesadillas really, with beans, cheese and carne asada with salsa. we filled our bellies and had iced cola after iced cola, followed by many cups of hot chocolate and coffee. after a good night’s rest we returned for breakfast - what we all agreed was the absolute best juevos rancheros any of us has ever had. we thanked our hosts ever so greatly for their hospitality and back on the road we went. from there we rode to guerrero negro (there was a change of plans due to conflicting feelings about dirt roads, as well as their ill effect on limited schedules - oh well, i’ll get more chances in the weeks to come). the road was pure desolation. nothing to see, not even a cactus or a bump on the earth, just lowlying shrubs and barren isolation. guerrero negro is nothing to write home about either – an unattended town of 13,000 that happens to be the world’s largest salt producer, and home to one of the largest grey whale sanctuaries. despite these accolades, it is a dirty, windblown place, sadly worn by exploitation. the ninety or so miles from there to san ignacio is more of the same. more nothing and more wind – so much aggravating wind. so much that we only made it half way and had to camp in viscaino. the next day was just the same. the only redeeming aspect of this ride was the common courtesy of the few cars that passed. much like all the roads south of northern baja, the cars are few and the drivers, even the semi trailers, slow down, give a wide berth, and honk while holding up the peace sign. upon reaching the hill above san ignacio around four in the afternoon, we stopped to rest and discuss whether or not to stay the night or camp past town. unable to make up our minds, we decided to first ride through and visit the old mission while we still had an hour of daylight. descending into san ignacio, we realized we had entered a true oasis, far more beautiful than we had imagined - large groves of date palms line a beautiful river filled with various species Bunyan Velo 84
of ducks and pelicans. nestled tightly in a rich, fertile valley, it’s hard to remember the barren desert that surounds it on all sides. time seemed to stand still as we rolled along the river towards the town center and the famed church, misión san ignacio, built by jesuit missionaries in 1728. constructed of lava bricks, the church is quite impressive. walking slowly around the church courtyard and basking in the last rays of the setting sun, we were approached by a man who couldn’t help but admire our bikes. he also appreciated the fact that we seemed truly interested in the church, that we were not just passing through quickly to take pictures and move on like the motoring types. his name was also mario and he worked at the mission. he offered to take us to the top of the church, something few people get to experience, in exchange for a donation. we agreed and he led us up a narrow, winding staircase through the bell tower and out onto the rooftop where we had resplendent views of the beautiful land around us. we soon told him of our need to find camp and he told us not to worry - he had a property along the river that he takes care of for some ex-pats. we followed him back down the road alongside the river. after crossing the river we turned onto a dirt track, eventually coming to a stop one kilometer further. mario opened the gate to the property and led us to the sandy river bank where we could set up our tents and build a fire. he helped us gather wood, started our fire, and made sure we were all content before leaving. we joked that from here on out, every town we arrive in we must ask for mario, for he is the kind man who will show us to our own magnificent beachfront paradise. this would be our last night with our german companions, for erin and i wanted to take a day’s rest and enjoy the splendor of this wondrous place. we cooked a feast of fresh guacamole, rice and beans, chorizo and chiles, fresh tortillas – more of the same mexican deliciousness. we then stayed up drinking beer and tequila, listening to the stars pass by, and reminiscing on our past week together. we would miss our new friends. we would miss them greatly, but the road keeps on going. BV
LAKES Written and photographed by Jacqueline Kutvirt
he sun was rising over our campground as we shoveled over-salted eggs into our mouths with fingers too numb to move any slower. That morning we loosened our helmets straps to fit them over our winter hats, buttoned up our down vests, tucked in our wool socks, and bade farewell to Lake Michigan. We were the Solidago Riders, a group of five friends who decided to embark on a pedal-powered adventure after graduating from college. Together we realized dreams of a bicycle tour that were sparked by our collective interests in social and ecological issues in our Great Lakes region and a growing excitement for the freedom granted by bicycle travel. It was a chilly October day in the Upper Peninsula, a landmass that makes up one third of the Michigan’s square mileage but is home to only two percent of its population, and no one was around. Pedaling north on Borgstrom Road, we hit our 3,000th mile, trudged up Whipporwhill Hill, spent two hours warming up in a convenience store, and were repeatedly whisked to the side of the road by loaded logging trucks before Rose finally spotted Lake Superior on the horizon. We careened down that slope, ringing our bicycle bells and yelling, “We made it!” Dropping our bikes on the sandy shore, we sprinted straight into the water. There is an infectious joy that radiates from Lake Superior. We had returned to Lake Superior in a town called Grand Marais, Michigan, on the eastern border of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. That was the 62nd day of a bike tour between the neighboring cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis via a 3,500 mile loop around the Greatest Lakes. Lake Superior’s water, frigid and pure, had been fueling us day to day as we pedaled alongside the shores of the greatest freshwater resources on the entire planet. Returning to the Superior shore after almost two months of pedaling through increasingly urban environments with degraded water quality felt equally exhilarating as the moment when we first saw her on the horizon over Duluth just three days into our journey. Since then we had dipped our bodies, tired but strong from pedaling, into all five of the Lakes. And since then we had each fallen in love with our bicycles, for each bike was an evervaluable tool for exploration. Our bicycles were tools that shaped every moment and every beautiful human interaction of our journey. They were the tools we used to travel to places near and far, from the Twin Cities to Lake Superior, to the easternmost point of Lake Ontario and back again, through two countries and spectacular landscapes in seven states. Our bikes were the tools we used to fuel adrenaline highs that led us to shouts of joy and, sometimes, to tears. Our bikes were the tools we used to ride along the exhilarating line between sanity and insanity and to redefine “normal” in our daily lives. When we embarked on this adventure, riding north from St. Paul, none of us really knew the natural beauty or the extent of human generosity we would encounter. Many of the people in the Great Lakes region hold such pride in their respective places and a love for the land that they so gracefully shared. Many show an appreciation for their fresh water – for beauty and for fuel – because the lakes have provided life. Pedaling along, mile by mile, it was increasingly apparent that in communities along the shores of the Great Lakes, people are inextricably connected to this natural resource. From the taconite shipping in Duluth, to the car industries of Detroit, to the miles shoreline protected by provincial, state, and national parks, the Great Lakes provide a livelihood for millions. BV Bunyan Velo 88
TUESDAY, JAN. 29 Written and photographed by Bradley Wilson
rom the highway, a small path marked by a forest service sign reading “Hot Springs” leads into the tall pines. By now, 50 miles into this excursion into the Cascades, my clothes are soaked through and my feet are numb. The clouds were low before I started the long climb up this road and a constant drizzle has been falling on it and on me, the lone cyclist out here. I’m ready for a break and some warmth, but willing to settle for a cup of hot coffee. The woods are silent except for the sounds of rain and a nearby waterfall. The trees here are huge and ancient. Life is all around, green and vibrant despite the cloud cover. I begin the trail on two wheels but quickly decide to walk as the ground is slushy and steep. After some time, maybe a quarter mile, railings distinguish the rugged trail from the rocky ground. There’s a notice board, empty in the winter season, but with an overhang just large enough to cover my bike. The smell of sulfur hits my nose as I stop and reach down to remove my bicycle’s panniers. Just up the trail, a rustic structure consisting of a roof of cedar shakes supported by a few wooden poles, sits above the first pool of the springs. Strewn about the shelter are the backpacks, parkas, shoes, and boots of those sitting in the water, soaking and communing. As I begin to strip off my layers of wet wool, a man wearing nothing but a ponytail and flip-flops and smoking a joint passes by. “I saw the bike back there. You rode here?” he says casually.
the slippery and treacherous rough-hewn stone staircase, in front of God and everyone, trying to act natural as I feel for firm footing with numb feet. The only unnatural feature of the pool is the stone wall piled around it to contain the water from the spring, but even that looks as though it’s been there for centuries. The water is clear with a slight mineral tint. Steam hangs heavy in the still air. I’m greeted by a series of hellos and welcomes as I step into the water. I offer an awkward little wave in reply as my eyes dart for a spot to sit down. The spot I choose is a little deep for sitting and the water comes up to just below my nose, but I stick with it, close my eyes, breathe in the sulfurous vapors, and release the tension in my shivering body. The warmth feels like a miracle. After some time a deep, resonant tone shakes me from my reverie. One of my fellow bathers has crawled into the grotto from which the spring emanates with a four-foot-long didgeridoo and is filling the forest with his performance. It startles me at first, but his improvisational rhythms, his choice of amphitheater, and the way he sustains this sound seemingly without breathing quickly impress me. I lean my head back against a rock to immerse my ears and listen to the music, refracted and blurred by the water.
“Solid, man!” he says grinning. “Get in the water, warm yourself up.”
Looking up through the tree tops and into the sky, it’s easy to believe that I’m completely by myself here. By now the didgeridoo has become ambiance, a component of this place. For a moment this world is still and comprehensible to me. When I finally look, up a pair of couples is laughing amongst one another.
He continues off to enjoy his smoke in solitude as I wring out my clothes. Anticipating the rain, I packed a dry base layer, a fresh pair of socks, and another pair of gloves. I’m glad there’s something dry to put on before I leave. I drop my riding shorts to the ground and carefully wend down
“It’s quarter to three,” one of them says after checking her cell phone. I do some quick math and realize that I will be riding in the dark. Letting out a sigh, I’m propelled out of the pool by a sense of urgency to cover as much ground as I can while there’s still light.
“From Eugene,” I reply, feeling pretty good about myself.
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The cold air is exhilarating. Arriving back at the shelter, I pull out my stash of dry clothes and consider, only for a moment, putting on my sodden, disgusting riding shorts, but quickly decide to roll them up with my socks and gloves from the ride in. With the new base layer on I barely notice how wet and cold everything else that goes on over it is. I drink some water and tear open a Clif Bar, hardened by the cold, and work on chewing it as I walk back to the road. It feels good to be rolling again. The road twists along the contours of the west side of Cougar Reservoir, the weight of which powers this part of Oregon – an imperceptible amount of its contents provided by the same springs that brought life and warmth to me. From the hydroelectric dam, the road descends into the valley below. The downhill is fast and just curvy enough that I keep the brake levers underhand. As the road levels off I adjust into a lower gear and cruise. Even in this rainy January weather, being the lone cyclist in the midst of the mountains, the trees, and this empty road is a singular experience. Camus wrote, “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” No season is complete without the others; no place is wilder than it is in the off-season. Twenty-five miles later, darkness begins to blanket the ride home. I stop at the first convenience store I come to for a bite to eat and that cup of hot coffee I’ve been hoping for. “How was the snow?” the cashier asks. “Uh,” I stop rifling through my wallet, not sure what he’s asking, “there was only a little bit on the road up by the reservoir.” “You weren’t skiing?” “No. I’m on a bike ride.” “You don’t say,” he says as he hands me some change, and leaves it at that. Outside, under the fluorescent lights of the storefront, I take in a slice of heat lamp-warmed cheese pizza and sip on a stale coffee. There’s still
another twenty five miles to go and this is no place to get comfortable. I swig the last of the coffee and fire up the lights on my bike – there won’t be street lights for another twenty miles. Along this highway, riding the white line, I’m aware of little outside of what falls into the cone of illumination cast by my headlight. Occasionally a cluster of dim rectangles to my right or left betrays a solitary cabin nestled away in the trees. I listen for traffic from behind, but the majority of the cars, their high beams shining into my face, are coming from where I’m going. It’s still raining. In some places the shoulders are wide enough to be useful, but are mostly covered in puddles and smut that grind in my chain and under my brakes. Every few miles I have to get off the bike and wipe off my headlight to see again as it’s mounted just out of reach next to the front wheel. I ride in the traffic lane whenever possible, in some cases even despite the honking cars that pass. When I finally reach the outskirts of town I’m able to follow bike lanes and river paths most of the way into my neighborhood. Everyone’s settled in for the night by now and the city is calm and quiet. My knee hurts, but the thought of a hot shower, hot food, and cold beer motivates my pace. Looking back, today’s ride was somewhat uneventful, and maybe that’s a good thing. I was seeking something when I left this morning – maybe it was a realization of risk or a taste of weather and wilderness. Although the conditions were less than ideal on my ride home tonight, I accept that there was nothing I could do about the traffic, or the darkness, and that the rain would have continued to fall no matter how I felt about it. All I could do was turn the cranks. Adventure begins when you hurtle past the threshold of what is comfortable or sensible, and accept that it’s part of finding the next destination or getting home. Adventure is about embracing vulnerability. Security in insecurity is confidence; it’s a solace that fulfills our invincible summers. BV
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AND ROUTE 66
Written and photographed by Nicholas Carman
To big tires and blue jeans, cheap sunglasses and the American West. I live at the intersection of the Rio Grande and old Route 66, the Mainstreet of America. Roll out the door, across the farm, through the gate, down the bike trail, cross the bridge back onto dirt and onto sand – three minutes, no more. The Bosque – a continuous ribbon of cottonwoods and sand and deadfall in the desert, along the floodplain of the diminutive Rio Grande. Stop to let some air out, soft tires smoothing sand into contrails of Larrys and Nates and Knards. Pedaling slowly, hiking by bike over new and old terrain, tires stuck to the contours and eyes to the sky of ghostly cottonwoods on a grey day. The bosque – a local spiderweb of singletrack for group rides and beginners, not a place for real mountain biking or fatbiking they say. I call it all-terrain biking anyway. Old pictures of Pearl Pass and group rides on bullmoose bars, sitting around sucking wind and water bottles and pipes. 1984. Before bettering and besting the next guy into bigger, faster, and further, mountain bikes were fun for everyone. Now, Stumpjumpers and High Sierras by a different name do the same service; this time, called Pugsleys and Moonlanders and Mukluks. The spirit is not in the tires – it never was – but in the rider. Imagining new places and new ways to ride, like a kid sees a broken sidewalk and curved curbs like jumps at driveway ends. Imagine new routes, new campsites, new seasons to ride. You can go new places! Night. Another near-freezing ride after working late – not the right time to ride, either. Turn, lean hard, front tire washes in the sand. Laying on the dirt, torn jacket, down feathers flying. Racing against the dark into a tunnel of light, onto serpentine trails where tight corners are concealed in shadowed periphery. Humping over hummocks of sand and stumps and grass, off-trail through the halloween-dark night near the sounds of the city and probably homeless, houseless people sleeping amidst the trees. Every city has a place like this. Collapse in exhaustion for a minute, then back on the bike and back home. Racing each other in false contest because racing isn’t fun if somebody is winning. Nosing big tires over sandy doubletrack in the dark where no one else ever rides, spinning the pedals like BMX kids on the sidewalk, lightsabre headlights up ahead. Racing ourselves, together. Racing home. Racing heart rates, now three in the morning, another day rising soon. Racing, riding big funny bikes in the dark because we’re not in Baja or Alaska or Argentina, but in real life just riding down by the river in a shit highway town in the desert along Route 66. BV
Bunyan Velo 102
Bunyan Velo 104
OF RUST AND RUBBER Written and photographed by Natalia Mendez
t’s twenty-six degrees and slushy after six inches of fresh snow, and I find myself smiling as I slowly ride the unusually-quiet streets of Minneapolis on my little orange mountain bike. A nightmare to the fair-weather rider, conditions like these make me very satisfied. There is a Zen to this that I don’t experience while commuting during any other time of year. There is a sort of camaraderie among those who experience this, a nod or a smile from fellow winter cyclists. These are my people, they know and understand. “You must be crazy!” someone yells from their car window. I smile and wave. I think they’re crazy for missing out on some glorious weather, on the slow roll through a gleaming park filled with tree branches hanging heavy with snow. Sometimes, as I gear up for ride on a day with a wind chill in the negative thirties, I wonder if they’re right. Upon arrival at my destination on those days, though, I have no regrets and feel a sense of personal accomplishment. The beauty of the bicycle is that all of us – randonneurs, triathletes, and lazy commuters turned bike tourists like me – are right. Not a single one of us is “doing it wrong.” Our two wheels afford us the opportunity to evolve not only as cyclists, but also as people. My bike journey began just six years ago on my old college campus, a place where heavy, rusted bikes locked haphazardly to sign poles are commonplace. Like many college freshman, it had been a long time since I had straddled a top tube. Only a few years earlier I had triumphantly ditched my too-small bike and bus pass for the milestone that is many sixteen year olds’ dream: the driver’s license. By the time my dorm move-in date arrived I had begrudgingly decided to leave my car at home with my brother because covering the combined expenses of gas, parking, and insurance on a college budget was an impossible feat. Lo and behold, it was a blessing in disguise. The first few weeks of the semester flew by and I grew tired of power walking between campus buildings in the ever-quickening chill of autumn in Wisconsin.
Sure, I loved the scenery, but walking was too slow and my classes weren’t so far apart that I needed to take a bus. This is when I decided I needed to start looking for alternative transportation. Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to find a bike with a handwritten, cardboard “for sale” sign around it locked to a stop sign on campus. Scrawled on the sign was a number which I promptly wrote down. Later, I held my breath as I called, hoping the bike was still available. Twenty dollars later the rusty, blue, 35-pound Schwinn Varsity was all mine. In retrospect it wasn’t much to look at, but I loved it regardless. I loved its broken generator light that slowed me down while barely mustering a flicker. I loved the huge mattress of a saddle that I sat upon. I didn’t mind that the brakes squealed when I tried to slow down. It was all worth it to me because I suddenly could go farther, faster. I was reborn on the bicycle. I remembered why I loved my old mountain bikes as a child and I relived the elation I felt the first time I took the training wheels off and narrowly managed to avoid running into cars, dogs, and curbs. It was freedom on two wheels. Six slushy winters like this one have passed since I rediscovered the bicycle as an adult. My old Schwinn is but a memory, sold long ago as I learned more about and upgraded my bikes. I have worked as a bike messenger, raced cyclocross, done twenty-four hour events, completed a gravel century, and biked across my home state. Because of my bicycle, I have made many lasting friendships, met the love of my life, and explored new cities and states. I am proud to say I haven’t owned a car since I left mine with my brother years ago. In the meantime I have learned to conquer the fickle Midwestern weather. To me, these are wonderful and unforgettable personal accomplishments, sprouted from $20 and 35 pounds of steel and rubber years ago. Every once in a while I fondly think back to that old blue bike and wonder what became of it. I only hope that it managed to live on to be someone else’s humble beginning – another person’s gateway to life, love, adventure, and accomplishment on two wheels. BV Bunyan Velo 105
Written and photographed by Aaron Ortiz
I often caught my mind wandering during my solo bike tour of France in 2011, especially because I didn’t speak any French at the time of the tour. The following story is my idea of what French farm animals might think about bike tourists spinning past their homes. It’s also the result of having entirely too much down time at a campsite in the middle of France.
he town of Fiems had just settled down from rush hour – consisting of all ten people who actually worked until 4:30 p.m. and were now walking home – when Chicken first started to stir from her nest. The leaves on the trees, which hung low over the ground from the day’s rains, gently released beads of water back to the earth. The drops of water slid down the firm blades of grass and settled into the dirt. Chicken, adjusting her eyes to the dim light of the cloudy afternoon, moved slowly from the shelter of the barn. She stumbled, half awake, to the center of the barn yard, enjoying the feeling of the soft earth under her feet. She watched curiously, her head moving from left to right, as a car sped by. The road, which was lined with chestnut trees, stretched south past the grey barn and yawned for over four hundred miles until it came to an abrupt end at the Mediterranean Sea. She spotted some feed on the ground in front of her and mindlessly pecked at it. Her long neck snaked down toward the wet ground and then slowly rose toward the sky as she carefully placed the feed in the center of her beak and swallowed. Feeling satisfied, she looked north down the slippery road. Chicken spotted what she believed to be a man on a bicycle near the bottom of the rainsoaked pavement, pedaling hard up the hill towards the farm. The grey light of an overcast sky at dusk can often play tricks on sleepy chickens, so she blinked her eyes three times and confirmed that it was indeed a man on a bicycle.
He was moving slowly and his blue bike was laden with four mismatched, heavy-looking bags. Chicken, who was overjoyed at the prospect of company, headed up the sleepy road. She spotted Rooster, who was busy pecking at some overgrown weeds near the splintered fence post. “Rooster!” Chicken exclaimed as she lowered her head and ran to his place near the split-rail fence. “Rooster, look there at the bottom of the hill, it’s a man!” Rooster looked left down the road to see a man struggling under the weight of his bicycle. The bulging white bags on the rear of the bicycle gave Rooster the impression that they would burst at the seams at any moment. “Rooster, what will you say to the man as he passes?” Chicken asked excitedly. Rooster took less than a second to respond, “I shall not dignify him with one crow. Man has no place in the wilds, unprotected as he is against the elements. Look at his green jacket that beads off the rain, he has no feathers to protect himself like I do.” Rooster walked into the leaky henhouse without so much as a goodbye to his friend. Chicken, stunned, but sure she was not alone in her excitement, then saw Cow grazing on the grass near the gate. She walked toward her, flapping her wings to relieve the mist from where it had settled. “Cow! Do you see the bike tourist? What shall we say to him?” Cow raised her head from the damp grass and slowly peered down the road. The cyclist, working up the steep hill, was now standing on the pedals to propel the bike forward. A worried look crossed Cow’s face when she noticed the bicycle’s Brooks leather saddle. Cow looked back to her friend Chicken, held her gaze there for some time, and was long in responding, as cows often are when they’re dealing with chickens.
“Go away, Chicken. I’m still sore from this morning’s milking. I shall look long at the man and see only his greed; he could not survive one minute if not for us.” Chicken, not eager to press her luck, turned and walked away. A strong north wind blew about the dirt in what was once a great field for grazing, now worn thin from years of Cow’s constant attention. Chicken, hell-bent on forming a welcoming committee, approached Horse cautiously, but still optimistic that she wouldn’t be the only one to greet the tourist. “Horse, do you see the bicyclist who is soon to be upon us? What will you say to him as he passes?” Horse shifted his head slightly from a gaze that had been fixed on the half-full water trough to see the man who was inching ever closer. “He comes here on a convenience; he has no use for chickens or horses. Do you not see the contraption he sits upon? He is always moving from one convenience to the next, forgetting that he and I used to share great adventures together. The steel he sits on has no heartbeat, and, I fear, neither does the man. I’m sorry Chicken, but I will say nothing to him.” Horse then resumed gazing at the water trough and waited silently. Chicken, convinced the weather had put all his friends in a foul mood, still remained in high spirits as he approached Dog. The grey whiskers under Dog’s chin betrayed his age. Dog, who at one time in his life could not sit still, now lay on a dusty rug just inside the barn, avoiding the water that was trickling down from the gutter and forming a small puddle in the door frame. Dogs will often stand on ceremony, and this conversation with Chicken was going to be no exception. He sat up on his front legs, keeping his backside firmly planted Bunyan Velo 107
on the rug. He stared into Chicken’s bright, youthful eyes, evaluating her before he spoke, “Chicken, I’ve seen you moving about, questioning what others will say to the man as he passes. What, Chicken, will you say?” Chicken, who had clearly been thinking about an answer to that question for some time, responded, “Dog, I shall cluck three mighty clucks for all to hear to announce the arrival of the man who is on a grand voyage.” Dog watched as Chicken shifted about nervously in front of him. Dog asked, shifting his own weight from his left leg to his right, “Are naïve enough to think the man is unaware of the voyage he is on?” Chicken exclaimed, “My clucks will enliven the man’s spirits, Dog. He has been riding long and needs our support. I must go – he’s nearly at the fence!” Chicken ran from the barn as the bike neared the far end of the property. The man tapped his right brake, which let out a shrill cry as the rubber made contact with the wet steel rim, still laced with gravel from the day’s ride. Chicken let out three mighty clucks that disturbed the otherwise sleepy farmyard, “CLUCK, CLUCK, CLUCK!” Were it not for the clucks, Man would have completely missed Chicken standing near the fence. He came to a complete stop in front of Chicken. He grunted as his tired muscles, strained from the day’s riding, worked to unclick his shoes from their stationary place on the pedals. He set his bike down on the west-facing, soggy bank and approached the split-rail fence where Chicken still stood, beaming with pride from being the only one brave enough to welcome the man. Man kneeled down as Chicken stretched out her long, youthful neck in anticipation of a “hello” and a pat on the head. The sound was soft enough to be swept away by a gust of wind. Man and Chicken were probably the only ones to hear it. The sound was sharp – CRACK! It was over before Chicken felt any pain. Man moved back to his bike and tucked Chicken away in his rear bag to be cleaned and cooked later. Man clicked his shoes back into the pedals. The locking of the steel cleat made a similar sound to the one that ended Chicken’s life. As the sky cleared and the golden light of dusk stretched over the barnyard, Man rode south as Horse stared at the tin trough, Cow continued to graze, and Rooster chatted with a group of hens. As Man crested the horizon and slipped out of sight and into obscurity, Dog let out a long howl from his spot inside the barn. BV Bunyan Velo 108
THE BICYCLE SHOP DECAL PROJECT Written and photographed by Chris Klibowitz
Photo: Ted Rogers
Bunyan Velo 110
he stories of some bicycles begin with the artisans who created them, but for most, their stories begin once a bicycle shop has built them, marked them with a small decal, and placed them on a sales floor to be given a life by way of a customer. That decal can be a little piece of artwork, it can say many things about the shop, but it always says, â€œThis bike came from here.â€? This gesture is small, yet meaningful in the context of a bicycleâ€™s long life, its potential for travel, and its importance to the well-being and livelihood of its owner. To see that decal, to study it, to find that shop (or find it has long since closed), can tell you a lot about where that bike has been, and maybe where that rider has been too. BV
Bunyan Velo 111