BUNYAN VELO TRAVELS ON TWO WHEELS // ISSUE No. 02
BUNYAN VELO ISSUE No. 02 â€“ MAY 2013 Travels on Two Wheels
EDITOR and DESIGNER Lucas Winzenburg
CONTACT email@example.com www.bunyanvelo.com
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS My sincere thanks to Nicholas Backlund, Nicholas Carman, Steve Donohue, Lane Giardina, Josh Klauck, Steve Makin, Patrick Murphy, Eric Parsons, Kurt Stafki, Karl Stoerzinger, Mark Wright, and the fantastic contributors who graciously submitted their stories and photographs.
CONTRIBUTORS Nicholas Carman Glenn Charles Joe Cruz Alex Dunn Steve Fabes Cass Gilbert
Casey Greene Carrie Harvilla Nick Hormuth Erik Jensen Derek McIntire Daniel Molloy
Donnie Kolb Clark Patrick Lindy Patterson Beth Willard Amaya Williams Katrina Wollet
PHOTO CREDITS Cover: Cass Gilbert Opposite: Joe Cruz Contents: Alex Dunn 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 WITH PRIDE IN MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA
EDITOR’S NOTE Welcome to the second installment of Bunyan Velo, a quarterly collection of photographs, essays, and stories celebrating the simple pleasures of traveling by bicycle. I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to read and share the premier issue – the outpouring of encouragement from readers across the world has been overwhelming. I’m thrilled and honored at having the privilege to share another 14 thoughtful, inspiring pieces. This issue’s talented writers and photographers explore geographies and cultures from the glaciers of Alaska, to the forests of Rwanda, to the high deserts of Argentina and back again, all by bicycle. Please consider supporting this independent publication by purchasing a copy or donating at bunyanvelo.com Thanks for reading, enjoy! Lucas Winzenburg Editor
Contents Contributor Biographies............................................................6 The Simple Pleasures..................................................................8 by Cass Gilbert Lookouts of the Northern Rockies...........................................18 by Casey Greene Three Views of New Zealand.....................................................30 by Amaya Williams Winter Wonderland.................................................................38 by Glenn Charles My Tribe..................................................................................52 by Steve Fabes Solitude and Misery..................................................................58 by Joe Cruz Nyungwe..................................................................................68 by Derek McIntire Searching for Sasquatch...........................................................80 by Donnie Kolb Argentina: Pampas and Perceptions.........................................90 by Beth Willard Letters from Alex, pt. 2............................................................96 by Alex Dunn Little Gems............................................................................112 by Katrina Wollet benightment..........................................................................116 by Carrie Harvilla Touring on Top of the World..................................................128 by Daniel Molloy Plan & Pedal..........................................................................140 by Nick Hormuth and Lindy Patterson
Contributors GLENN CHARLES
Glenn Charles is a professional photographer, adventure traveler, writer, and speaker. In his 50s, Glenn can often be found traveling the road by bike or the water by kayak. Recipient of The Ted Simon Foundation’s Jupiter’s Traveller Award, Glenn strives to inspire others to grow in their own journey of spiritual discovery and life simplification. Glenn has traveled more than 18,000 miles by kayak and bike over the last four years. His website is thetravelingvagabond.com
Cass Gilbert has been wandering the world on his bicycle for the last 15 years. During that time, he’s ridden from Alaska to Peru, traversed Asia and the Middle East, run a guiding business in the Indian Himalaya, and written for various UK and US bicycle publications. He’ll be heading back to South America this August. Catch up with his dirt road travels at whileoutriding.com
Joe Cruz is a professor, writer, and expedition cyclist. He teaches Philosophy and is Chair of the Cognitive Science program at Williams College, where he specializes in philosophy of mind and knowledge. He has toured and raced bikes the world over, most recently in the Andes of South America. These days his main bikepacking wheels are a Surly Pugsley and a Rob English folding 29er. Joe lives in his native New York City; his blog is Pedaling in Place, joecruz.wordpress.com
Casey lives in Western Montana, surrounded by the mountains he loves to play in. When he’s not playing, you can find him working in downtown Missoula at Adventure Cycling Association, where he’s currently mapping a new mountain bike touring route which will feature over 50 hot springs located amongst the jaw-dropping landscape of Central Idaho. He occasionally posts musings, rants, photos, videos, and maps to his blog at greenecasey.blogspot.com
Alex Dunn is a seasonal salmon fisherman in Alaska, an artist, a musician, and a vagabond. He has recently returned from cycling down the west coast to the tip of Baja California, around Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands, and is now living in Seattle, preparing to ship off back to Alaska for the summer. Come September he will be back in the saddle, exploring the unknown...
Carrie Harvilla is a community developer in Oakland, California. She is lucky to blend her work and play at Safe Routes to Schools, where she helps to make it fun and easy for families to walk and bicycle in the East Bay. In her spare time, Carrie is also a bike activist and finds that throwing a mean party can jumpstart some of the best advocacy. Whenever she can, Carrie hits the road to explore near and far.
NICK HORMUTH & LINDY PATTERSON
Steve Fabes is a British medical doctor, a freelance travel writer, and photographer. Like most decisions of great consequence, his plan to ride the length of six of the earth’s continents was made in a pub, beer in one hand, mini-atlas in the other. He has covered more than 30,000 miles throughout the world. He is still only about half way through his epic journey, Cycling The Six, which is being filmed for a TV series “Exploration Challenge.” He also writes about his life on wheels at cyclingthe6.blogspot.com
Nick Hormuth and Lindy Patterson live in San Francisco, California, and are the creators of the Pedal Inn, a bicycle camping and cooking resource for lovers of adventure and good eating. They are the authors of the Pedal Inn Weekender, a cookbook for bike camping overnighters and are in the process of completing a cookbook for longer distance bicycle touring. Visit pedalinn.com for more of their recipes, stories, photos, art, and other inspirations.
Erik Jensen is an environmental designer living in Oakland, CA. He practices in a landscape architecture studio and speculates while pursuing a masters in the field from UC Berkeley. He experiences and draws the landscape by seeking lines with his bicycle, camera in hand. His photography is published online at Cosmic Country: bikenoir.blogspot.com
Clark Patrick is a writer, gardener, photographer, artist, and healthy living advocate based in Northeast Minneapolis. His work and lifestyle is designed to create a varied and balanced platform from which he can help promote and participate in positive social change movements and personal growth. Some of Clark’s work can be viewed at: clarkpatrick.com
Derek McIntire works as a mechanic at a non-profit bike shop called Bikes Not Bombs in Boston, Massachusetts. Most of his time is committed to traveling, riding dirt roads, filmmaking, and playing music. Find Derek online at horizonsoblivious.wordpress.com and bikesnotbombs.org
Beth Willard was born and raised near Milwaukee, WI. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, she made Minneapolis her home, departing only to earn her master’s degree in Belgium and to cycle tour in North and South America. She is currently on tour in Chile and Argentina until September with her dreamy partner Dan Stets, returning in the fall of 2013. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel Molloy is a freelance photographer, tour leader, and bicycle mechanic who occasionally writes. Based in California, he’s been nuts about bike camping since his first overnight trip in 2004. You can reach him at pushingthepedals.com
Amaya Williams and her husband Eric Schambion are on a quest to cycle every country on the planet. Since 2006, their tour has taken them through 93 countries on 6 continents. Amaya is a native of Montana. You can follow her twowheeled adventures at worldbiking.info
Donnie Kolb has Midwestern roots but didn’t start riding in earnest until he discovered Portland, Oregon a decade ago. When not working for the man as a lawyer, Donnie is on his bike exploring all the dirt the Pacific Northwest has to offer. He also puts on a handful of small gravel events, including the Oregon Stampede. You can find out more about Donnie and Oregon gravel on velodirt.com
Katrina Wollet is a Minneapolis-based writer, bikehead, and coffee snob. She also co-curates Espresso Yrself, a local monthly reading series. Find her under big trees or on swings trying to reach space, or follow her blog as she learns to wear high heels, work a desk job, and live as a true Minneapolitan. Visit her website at katrinawollet.com
The Simple Pleasures
Written and photographed by Cass Gilbert
y streamlining possessions to those that will fit inside our panniers – namely, the contents of two grocery bags – life becomes lighter, both metaphorically and physically. Shedding our materialistic vices can even be a rather profound experience. The less we own, the less there is to worry about. And, in turn, the more we can get on with what we enjoy most: pedalling our bikes, taking to the hills, and pitching our tents. The simple pleasures. But over the last few years, bicycle touring has become more complicated than ever. In part, this has been driven by the creation of Google Maps, and its encyclopedic knowledge of earthly folds and creases and undiscovered roads. Then there’s the popularity of blogs, the electronic marvels of smart phones and GPS, the immediacy of digital cameras and the miniaturisation of computers. I say this as one who’s embraced such technologies to the full. Tethered as I am by an umbilical cord to my laptop and camera, I’m forever photographing, forever foraging for a wifi signal or place to recharge – both personally and electronically – as soon as I hit town. Inevitably, there are times when I question this path, and lament the loss of my travels of old. Navigating by scraps of paper, or by instinct. And when instinct fails, by adventure. The joys of getting lost. My computer, for all its wizardry and potential, is no match for the tactile enjoyment of filling a notebook with scribbles and sketches. Or the secret delight of keeping my ponderings to myself. Just like the warmth and imperfection of analogue cameras, or the hiss and crackle of a favourite record, a paper map has a quasi-human, romantic connotation; it begs to be touched and held. Occasionally, I make the conscious
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decision to leave my camera at home. To leave only imprints in my mind’s eye, and not on any blog post. It’s increasingly rare, I’ll admit. Perhaps I should do it more. Yet, used in a constructive fashion, this newfound technology can be positively satisfying in its own way. It can open up the opportunity of carving a trade on the road; creating a modern, nomadic existence that’s both sustaining and enriching. At its best, the internet is an incredible medium. My most recent dirt road travels in California were galvanised by the resources of the web. I carpooled from New Mexico with a driver I’d contacted through Craigslist, and booked my Amtrak train home from a rocky bluff in the Marin Headlands. Everyone I rode with I’d met online, sparked by an Instagram feed or inspired by a blog I read. We camped out, talked bikes, took photos, and consulted well-thumbed paper maps too. These were people with whom I connected immediately, through our shared passion for bicycle touring and storytelling and documenting. Face to face time; not FaceTime. And in turn, my thoughts were shared on the blog I keep, perhaps encouraging others to pedal their bikes, take to the hills, and pitch their tents. Yes, there’s a downside to being shackled to technology. But it’s also a powerful means to learn, share, and give back. Just don’t forget: there’s always the off switch. BV
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LOOKOUTS OF TH
HE NORTHERN ROCKIES Written and photographed by Casey Greene
t all started in the unusually dry summer of 1910. Rain hadn’t fallen since April, and in August, lightning did. A raging cold front from the west whipped up hurricane-force winds as perfect storm conditions descended upon Northern Idaho and Western Montana. On the evening of August 20th, it all went up in flames. Towns burned. People died. In a period of 48 hours, the monsoon of fire consumed over 300,000 acres along the Bitterroot Divide. The fledgling Forest Service could not stop it. No one could have. By the end of the summer, roughly 3 million acres sat scarred across the Northern Rockies. In the aftermath, the young Forest Service adopted a new zero-tolerance fire policy for the woods they were entrusted to protect. If a fire was spotted, it was to be extinguished promptly. The keystone of this plan was to locate a fire in its infancy. To do that, they camped people atop high vantage points to record lightning strikes and check back later to see if those strikes materialized into ‘smokes.’ Soon those high camps became permanent structures. Over 900 lookout towers were perched on high peaks and craggy ridges across Idaho. Montana had over 600. At one point, there were so many being erected that a district ranger could order a lookout tower as a kit, and pack the whole thing up a mountain to be assembled via paper instructions. Need a D-6 Cupola or an L-4 Cab? No problem. It was the equivalent of placing an order with Amazon today. The decline of the lookout tower started in the early 1960s. New technology had crept in, making some towers obsolete. By the 1970s, most lookout towers around the country had been phased out of service and sat decaying. The United States Forest Service was dealing with lawsuits from citizens who would venture up the towers and hurt themselves. The Forest Service responded by issuing an order: if a tower is not in use, get rid of it. Burn it. The order was a harsh blow to the individual National Forests. Staff watched as towers they had manned for 30+ summers ironically went up in flames. Some forests would do all they could to save the structures. When the order reached Kootenai National Forest in far Northwest Montana, they responded with a standard government tactic. They dragged their feet. For 10 years. When the winds changed, Kootenai was
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left with the most unused lookout towers in the Northern Rockies. Towers they promptly started restoring for a different kind of use. In 1984, four towers in Kootenai National Forest became the first public lookout rentals in the country. A wave of outdoor recreation had been sweeping the US since the mid1970s, and Kootenai used this momentum to preserve their historic structures while at the same time providing unique overnight accommodations for the adventurous public. Today, there are over 30 lookout rentals in the Northern Rockies, with a few more slated to join them in the coming years. Of these towers, I’ve been to a fair share. They are all different. So are the experiences: 50 mph winds blasting McGuire on a cool summer night, or lightning hammering so close to McCart that my hairs tingle. July snow on the ride up to Wam, and the majestic view of Glacier National Park from Hornet. Once, while heading to West Fork Butte, I became truly disoriented for the first time in my life. And once, I read my daughter to sleep at Boulder Point to the words of Norman Maclean’s USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky. It is these experiences that keep driving me back up. To take in the climb. To reach the summit. A summit I will not have to flee from immediately, where I can observe the sun’s fall and rise in the backcountry of Northern Idaho and Western Montana. The same backcountry that was here before the great fires of 1910, and the same that will hopefully be here for a long time to come. BV
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KENAI PENINSULA, ALASKA
Beach rockinâ€™ like Dokken...Mathew Lee enjoys a low-tide boulder field during the filming of Reveal The Path. Phot
to by GNAT
Three Views of
NEW ZEALAND Written and photographed by Amaya Williams
THE TIMBER TRAIL
summon up my courage and peer over the edge. Hundreds of feet below, the raging Maramataha River slices through the Pureora forest. I nudge my heavily-laden bicycle across the narrow suspension bridge. With each tentative step, the unsteady structure rocks and shakes. I think about lingering. Swaying in the breeze. Snapping a few photos. Part of me wants to set up camp on that very spot, suspended mid-air, basking in nature’s beauty and perfection. I cast a furtive glance downwards. It’s a long, long way to the bottom. I inch forward, forgetting about taking photos. All that interests me is reaching solid land. The Timber Trail is one of the most recent routes to be added to New Zealand’s growing network of cycle tracks. It’s remote. Your cell phone will be useless. If you need to be rescued, it’ll have to be by quad bike, horseback, or helicopter. Much of the trail traverses native bush. It climbs steadily along the western side of the Hauhungaroa Range, following an old tramway line once used for logging. There’s a forbidding tunnel to navigate and the fascinating Ongarue spiral to climb. But the best part, by a long shot, is the half dozen suspension bridges along the route. They’re some of the longest and highest in New Zealand. It’s those bridges that feed the adrenalin junkie in me. Being suspended high above the forest canopy on a narrow link to land, knowing you’re miles from anywhere, is guaranteed to get your heart racing. But sometimes there’s war. The adrenalin junkie in me comes to blows with my sensible self – a cautious and concerned side that’s uneasy with adventure and pleads with the other to take care. To watch my step. To keep my eyes fixed forward and whistle a cheery tune. A part of me in desperate need of distraction from the possibility of a cable snapping, sending me plunging to my demise in the depths of the Maramataha River. My vigilant side signs up for life insurance, stashes money away for retirement, and Bunyan Velo 32
formulates intricate back-up plans. There’s always a battle, but most days the intrepid cycle tourist in me wins out. The Timber Trail began nice and easy. My sensible self was at ease as I sped along a wellgroomed track suitable for granny and gramps. The mud and the muck didn’t materialize until we’d invested too much time and energy to turn back. But isn’t that always how it is? It’s like sticking it out in a doomed relationship – you push forward, hoping the situation will improve. It rarely does. I didn’t come to New Zealand in search of adventure. At least, that’s what I thought. But after a few weeks of smooth roads and first world infrastructure, I discovered something was missing. The side of me that gets a kick out of conquering high Andean Passes, buzzes with excitement from cycling across the empty Sahara, and takes pleasure in flying across the roller coaster landscapes of small tropical islands wasn’t being challenged. In Africa, South America, and Asia, adventure found us. Puddled and pot-holed earthen tracks and dusty red clay highways were often the norm. Each kilometer was a struggle. A silky smooth ribbon of road for prissy cyclists simply didn’t exist. In New Zealand, I realized, adventure had to be hunted down. Fortunately, I found it on the Timber Trail. The massive amounts of effort channeled into grinding the pedals up the steep and muddy incline gave me the same thrill I’d experienced pedaling through the windswept plain of Bolivia’s Altiplano. Schlepping 40 kilos of gear over slippery surfaces, rocky ravines, and the odd felled tree got me the same highoctane buzz I’d experienced in the jungles of Central Africa. Was the Timber Trail worth the effort? You bet. There’s nothing cooler than cruising across a series of suspension bridges, setting up camp deep in the Pureora forest, waking to the singular strains of the rare kiwi bird, and bouncing down a singletrack back to civilization.
EAST CAPE ESCAPE
crest another climb and gaze out over the rugged coast. The low sun casts a soft golden glow over the turquoise sea. The only sounds are distant waves crashing onto the beach and the steady chirping of cicadas. At moments like this, it’s easy to understand why New Zealand’s East Cape has been ranked one of the world’s top coastal cycling routes.
On the East Cape, things are different. Cycle tourists are still something of an oddity.
The 330km stretch of State Highway 35 connecting Gisborne and Opotiki traces the wild Kiwi coastline as it dips and climbs against the backdrop of Mount Hikurangi and the Raukumara Range. The East Cape is a world away from the hectic South Island tourist hubs with their helicopter tours, bungee jumping, jet ski adventures, and subtle strategies for separating you from your hard-earned cash.
“Uh, yeah,” I sputter, “It’s getting kind of late and we’re looking for a spot to camp.”
This far-flung farmland region feels a little like a 1950s America. It’s a place of general stores and old fashioned cafes, where farmers wave as they putter past on their tractors and families find the time to go fishing on a fine summer’s day. The East Cape is the Maori heartland. It’s home to some of the oldest indigenous settlements in New Zealand. Unlike the rest of the country, it’s Maori, not English, you’ll most often hear spoken on the streets of the small coastal settlements. I freewheel it down the hill, hammering hard on the pedals as I reach the bottom, propelling myself half way up the next steep climb. After almost two months biking New Zealand, I’ve concluded that the Kiwi’s take great pleasure in taunting foreign cyclists. When asked about road conditions, locals invariably assure me that the stretch ahead “isn’t too hilly.” They’re lying. Well, maybe it’s not so much a question of deceit as their not wanting to be the bearer of bad news. The East Cape is up and down 90% of the way. Think the Pacific Coast’s Highway 1 with better weather and lighter traffic. Here’s East Cape cycling in a nutshell: You get into granny gear as the highway winds its way through the thick native bush of the headlands. You gradually grind to the top and then abruptly you’re plunging down into a pretty little cove below. The ratio of suffering to pleasure is around 10 minutes of calf-destroying, lung-bursting climbing for a 10 second, high-speed thrill. A poor return on investment, I’m sure you’ll agree. This process repeats for almost the entire ride around the East Cape. Kiwi’s are hospitable folks. Even on the South Island, where tourists outnumber locals by about 4 to 1 in peak season, visitors are always welcomed warmly. But frankly, if hundreds of cycle tourists are passing through a place each year, another couple on overloaded machines is hardly cause for excitement. You’ll get a smile and a friendly g’day, but that’s about it.
A farmer pulls over his ute (that’s pick-up in Kiwi speak) and calls out from the cab, “You look like you’re searching for something.”
“My place is just down the hill. Go on down. Tell my wife, Jill, that Eddie sent you. I’ll see you later for a cold beer. I’ve still got some work to do.” And with that our road angel speeds off. Later, while nursing that cold beer Eddie promised, we learn that his family has farmed in the area for more than 700 years. He can trace his lineage all the way back to the first Maori settlers who paddled to New Zealand from Polynesia. In his twenties, Eddie departed the rugged East Cape for Auckland. It was there that he met and eventually married Jill. She’s Pakeha, the Maori term for New Zealanders of European descent. City life didn’t sit well with Eddie and in time he returned to the land of his ancestors. We sit in silence under the bright stars and I feel the power and pull of this magnificent land. The following days are a series of climbs and coves and pit stops by the sea. It’s hot. Blazing hot. The summer of 2013 will go on record as one of New Zealand’s hottest and driest. Farmers face a full on drought, firefighters are on red alert, and the highways are busy with holidaymakers rushing to the beaches. Unexpected acts of kindness ease the pain of the hills and the heat. A sympathetic farmer’s wife thrusts a bag of freshlypicked peaches at us as she doles out her condolences, “I feel so sorry for you cyclists. I don’t know how you manage to make it up all those hills without pushing.” A concerned grandmother insists we spend the night in the caravan parked out behind her farmhouse. “It’s late,” she says, “and you look exhausted—this way you won’t have to put up the tent.” She motions us toward her tidy little camper and we collapse onto the soft double bed. We roll into Gisborne four days after setting off around the East Cape. I spot another fully-loaded cyclist in the distance. He sidles up to us. “How’s the road ahead?” he asks. Fairly flat most of the way! That’s what I tell him. Bunyan Velo 35
A FORGOTTEN WORLD
s we bump along a gravel road surrounded by a herd of bleating sheep I wonder where we’ll spend the night. Daylight is fading and my legs are heavy with fatigue. If we’re lucky, perhaps a kind farmer will offer us a bed and a hot meal. If not, we’ll have to pitch up in the paddock and fire up the stove for a hearty plate of pasta. A curious cow wanders across the road. We pedal on into the cool evening air. A cloud of dust appears on the horizon. We’re passed by a farmer in his pick-up, one of perhaps a dozen vehicles we’ve crossed. A weathered face inside the cab throws us a slow smile and a nod of recognition. The man putters off and we pedal on. People keep to themselves in these parts. They’re not unfriendly, but take pleasure in their solitude. We’re on the accurately named Forgotten World Highway. If you’re looking for a place to truly unplug from it all, I can’t think of a better spot. This New Zealand North Island ride is 180 kilometers of remote countryside, miles from anywhere. There are no supermarkets or souvenir shops, no tour buses or touts and hardly any traffic. In this isolated hill country, you can get a taste of what it was like for the early settlers who tried to eke out a living from the unforgiving land. The Forgotten World Highway twists its way over four mountain saddles, through a peculiar one-way tunnel, and along a meandering river gorge. By the time you crest the last big hill before Taumarunui, and the end of the Forgotten World Highway, you’ll be ready for the comforts and conveniences of modern life. Go ahead, dash into a café for a cappuccino and some fresh scones with strawberries and cream, or revive your weary limbs with a bottle of Speight’s Gold Medal Ale if that’s more your style. Then, mount your trusty steed and pedal furiously out of town. For you’ll find, I’m almost certain, that after experiencing the Forgotten World, catapulting yourself directly back into present day life will throw your system into a shock. Internal alarms will sound. The hustle and bustle, low key though it is, will trigger a red alert. Here’s my advice: Search out a secluded spot by a stream. Set up camp and watch the southern hemisphere constellations light up the sky. And for one more night, savor the lovely simplicity of life. BV
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WINTER WONDERLAND Written and photographed by Glenn Charles
he forecast said it was going to be cold. Colder than I was prepared for, and certainly colder than I had ever experienced. As I awoke that morning, I tossed aside the two blankets that lay atop my zero-degree sleeping bag. A nice couple on vacation from Hawaii had decided that winter camping was not their thing, and, feeling a bit sorry for me, they left their blankets as they headed out for the relative warmth of resort life to the north. After tossing the blankets aside and unzipping my sleeping bag, I became aware that something was different from previous mornings. I had become quite acclimated to the night temperatures, hovering between 0 and -15, so this did not bode well. My skin began to tingle as I rolled out of the bag. The warmth of the bag was instantly sucked away, along with any sign of moisture from every inch of my skin. The temperatures had forced me to sleep with all of my clothes on and my parka draped across my body inside the bag for added warmth. As I began moving that morning, I quickly put on my parka and covered my face with a wool buff, donning my big mitts in an attempt to revitalize my fingers. The total time out of the bag could not have been more than five minutes and my digits were beginning to pain me. It was all happening very quickly, and yet I seemed to be experiencing it as if watching a film in slow motion. My brain was on autopilot due to the frigid conditions: put on big gloves, get stove, pull out water, painfully light stove, try to re-warm fingers, make coffee, try to get warm. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing, and even though I was in a cold-induced state of pain, and a bit of panic, I was able to perform all of the morning tasks that needed to be accomplished. The stove gave warmth to my fingers. It also brought moisture back to my skin, but only temporarily. Once removed from the warmth of the fire, the moisture was instantly and painfully sucked away again. I knew it was paramount to get to the visitor center; it was simply too cold to be sitting idly outside. I packed up a bag and arduously attempted to load the bike. Everything hurt, but most of all my fingers could not get warm. Trying to load the bike, which required Bunyan Velo 40
removing my outer mitts, did nothing to rectify the situation. I hopped on the bike, attempted to pedal, and fell over instantly. Because my brain had moved to ‘flight’ mode, I did the same thing three more times before I realized what was going on. My rear hub had frozen and was freewheeling, which meant two very important things. First, it reaffirmed loud and clear, as evidenced by my foggy brain, that it was dangerously cold. Second, it meant I would have to walk, or even better, jog to the warmth of the visitor center, which is exactly what I proceeded to do. Barely a mile away, it was one of the longest run/walks of my life. Rolling up to the shelter, the excitement of a warm fireplace was overshadowed by the anticipation of finding out the temperature. Outside of the center, on one of the wooden poles, was a large outdoor thermometer. I rolled the bike up to the building, leaned it against the bench, and turned to look at the thermometer. An expansive smile spread across my frozen face. It was 9:30 in the morning, so the sun had been up for a while, and the temperature read -34 degrees! All I could do was smile, shake my head, and say, “Happy Birthday Glenn, you asked for it, and well, you got it!” It was going to
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be an epic birthday celebration with clear skies, extreme cold temperatures, and Denali National Park all to myself. For the last four years I have managed to be in some pretty amazing places for my birthday. With my 50th birthday in sight, having toured the Quebec region of Canada last year on my Mukluk, I felt that another winter fat bike tour was in order and that Southcentral Alaska would be the perfect destination. Within a 300-mile radius of Anchorage, I would have access to groomed trails, frozen rivers, glaciers, famous mountains, national parks, coastal villages, and beaches, all accessible by bike. Most people don’t choose to tour by bike in winter, let alone in the remote and challenging regions of Alaska. For me, winter touring offers up a unique set of physical and mental challenges, combined with the opportunity to go places by bike that are inaccessible during other times of the year. This is especially true of Alaska, where so much of the area is water or bogs or overrun with summer tourists. During the winter, the frozen, snow-covered ground offers access to some of the most beautiful locations in America.
For two months I managed to ride more than a thousand miles of Alaskan roads, trails, beaches, frozen rivers, and glaciers. In the process I braved the Alaska Highway system, traveling to locations such as the village of Talkeetna, where I experienced my first winter snow bike race, the Talkeetna Trio. Working my way further north to Denali National Park, I encountered blizzard conditions, temperatures that stayed below zero more than above, unbroken trail in the form of frozen roads covered in snow, and trucks that created complete whiteout conditions as they raced by on the roads of glare ice.
tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Homer is an eclectic community with a very strong fat biking culture. I timed things perfectly to attend their second annual Fat Bike Festival. With more than 50 riders descending on the small town, fat bikes were everywhere. The three-day event was filled with an amazing sense of community wrapped nicely in the beauty of the surrounding water and mountain vistas. A bonfire and beachbuilt obstacle course started off the event, followed by a ride up the beach of Kachemak Bay, bound on the east by glacierlined mountains. The ride was breathtaking!
The reward for braving the road north was a park dressed in white, steeped in beauty and an eerie peacefulness that I can only imagine is completely lacking during the crush of summer time. The park staff was welcoming and friendly, offering up a fireplace for daily warmth and miles of trail groomed by the working sled dog teams. The opportunities for riding and exploring Denali in the winter are bound only by time and your ability to endure the extreme temperatures that come from being on the border of Alaskaâ€™s interior.
With little more than 3 weeks remaining in the trip, I left Homer to head toward a few more areas that needed exploring. Opting away from the highway, I rode the beach from Homer to the town of Kenai, a three-day respite from traffic and towns. The firm sand beaches were lined with frozen overflow and large chunks of breakup ice that made for a daily obstacle course. At night I would find high ground above the tide line and make camp between the high cliffs and the frozen chunks of ice. The experience of riding and camping in these types of conditions with the ebb and flow of the tides and the clear night skies is permanently etched in my mind.
I made my way to the city of Homer, located on the southwest
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You start a trip with all of this time in front of you and then slowly but steadily time begins to roll forward, faster and faster, until your trip is near its end. The two months that I had set aside seemed like a long time, but as I worked my way back to Anchorage via Seward and Girdwood, I knew that this trip was rapidly approaching an end. I had a little more than two weeks left to explore the epic singletrack surrounding Anchorage and up into the Chugach State Park. With panoramic vistas of the city, Kenai to the south, and yes, even Denali to the north, one could spend weeks taking in these trails. My trip was capped with a one-day ride out to the Knik glacier. A year ago when I began planning this trip I had seen images of fat bikes riding on snowcovered ice, rolling in and out and around blue glacier bergs that were temporarily locked in place by frozen water. I knew that I needed to visit this place; it was a must-do portion of my trip. My friend Dan gladly accepted my request for help and he and I, along with his wife, made the trek out to the access point, where we worked our way along trails of dirt, snow, ice, and rocks to reach the frozen lake that surrounds the glacier. Words canâ€™t describe the beauty of this location, making it one of the highlights of my four years of adventure travel. I have been traveling by bike and kayak for four years now, logging more than 18,000 miles by land and sea. During this time, I have learned and seen a great deal, recording as much as possible through the lens of my camera. This new world of fat biking has opened up an entirely new way to explore by bike, enabling me to travel to places and through conditions not previously achievable. Alaska, in all of its largeness, remains one of my most cherished destinations. The trip that began my life as a traveler was a paddle up the Inside Passage, a six-month journey that challenged me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That trip ingrained in me that life is short, we are all connected, and traveling is part of my soul. BV
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MY TRIBE Written and photographed by Steve Fabes
slow to a halt and squint, searching for a clue. The silhouette is tapered bottom and top, but it might just be a loaded mule or a sluggish motorbike, teetering out there on the crown of the hill. I pedal on and slowly the form sharpens and swells as our distance ebbs. It’s a cyclist, I’m certain now, one of my tribe. I wonder whether they have noticed me too. As the loaded bike and its jockey loom I flash them a wave and soon we are vying for a safe spot to cross whilst traffic rumbles on and drivers remain oblivious to our unfurling chance encounter. The ripple of surprise that comes every time I cross paths with another cycle tourer is itself a surprise sometimes. I should be used to these meetings – bumpy lanes, back roads, and highways the world over are denser now with meandering two-wheeled nomads than ever before. It’s always a welcome moment when my tribe slowly rolls into view. Locals often watch this odd convergence with keen eyes. Enraptured children surround us; village life can pause to watch the playing out of serendipity. The air is abuzz with questions and answers, “Where did you start? How long? What’s Bunyan Velo 54
that?” Meanwhile onlookers gather and gawk and wonder what we mean when we say, “Prudhoe Bay, Six months, A bongo.” We swap details, cards, ideas, tips. We prod each other’s tires, marvel at unusual kit, and discover that we have each named our bicycles. We laugh at alpaca skulls tethered to the bike frame and signs emblazoned with the words “I don’t get out of the way for ANYONE.” My tribe is a hodgepodge of quirky drifters. We are the shiny holiday-bikers, fresh from a local bike shop. We are the muddied veterans and tribal elders, fresh, apparently, from some sort of near-apocalyptic event. Some meander across continents on thirty-year-old rusted contraptions bearing, like their owners, the marks and scrapes of those tens of thousands of miles in their wake. Their smiles and frowns are veiled by dirt tans and billowing tufts of facial hair – tribal marks. There are couples and threesomes and even trains of riders who collect soloists as they journey on. There are the Spandex-clad speedsters who talk only in numbers, “How many miles have
you done this week?” they earnestly inquire. I indulge them with a guess and then wait for the furrowed brow and the sly smile as they work out exactly how many more miles they ride than I do. And there’s the mechanically-minded who nod towards my front hub, “bit loose?” they report with a frown. Their judging eyes make me nervous. The ride can leave a signature. The lonely rant unhindered for half an hour and I wonder how to shake them off. The taciturn, on long solo journeys, are unpracticed and unaccustomed to company. They don’t linger long. There are bikers who revel in the solitude and others who are downbeat and defeated, their spirits strangled and the open road no longer holding the romance it once promised. They have highlighted roads in their map that lead to the nearest airport and their faces say what they scribbled into diaries the night before, “Never Again.” Some are hopelessly overloaded, on their first ever bicycle tour, steeped in sweat, panting with gusto and cursing the decision to pack the foot spa. The paper-light and speedy gloat but own
a body odor that suggests they’re sporting their one and only t-shirt. There are scrimpers too, who have improvised panniers from plastic containers. They make me smile. And sometimes whole families on wheels, a three year old waving from the trailer attached to Dad’s bike. They make me smile the most. Many are ships in the night that fade from memory almost as fast as they fade from view. Others I will never forget. The Swiss tribal elder, for example, on a remote African desert track, on his forth traverse of the continent. “I’ll die on my bike,” he told me, and I believed him. His face spelt resolve and his fierce, stormy eyes held no hint of regret. Or the Chilean biker whose father’s ashes were scattered at the top of the Andean mountain pass where we crossed tracks. On that day every year, and for the past six, he had cycled that road. And that year, like every other, he talked to his dead father as he pedaled. We have much in common, of course. We know the numbness of arrow-straight roads and an unchanging vista, and how to ease the tedium by sifting through old memories like we’re plucking out good tunes at a jukebox. We feel the exhilaration Bunyan Velo 55
of reaching that mountain pass, or that border, or just that town when self-doubt nagged and wheedled all the while. We remember blissful freewheels propelled by a raging tailwind and we know too well the vexation of being bullied into roadside dust by the hasty drivers of city and suburbia. Like members of any tribe we have our common enemies – biting headwinds, rampaging and snarling farm dogs, potholeladen roads, careless drivers, and prodigious thorns. And like any tribe we have rituals – the methodical sunset hunt for a place to camp, the meal ingested in less time than it takes to boil water, and the dictum “new day, same pants.” When we wave each other off we say “Happy trails!” and “Keep the rubber side down!” and we offer a disingenuous wish for tailwinds, knowing if they get them it will be headwinds for us. And, when they are just an amorphous blot on the horizon, I am a fraction more content than before because I know a little of their future and they of mine. We are off, deviating yes, but for now on the same thread of the spider’s web. I’m Bunyan Velo 56
still alone but I feel a touch less lonely when I muse that they too will ride the metaphysical peaks and ditches that mark this life on wheels. They will have serene moments of appreciation under wide skies. They will know the brutal satisfaction of a climb and the searing thrill of a descent. They will be chased, probably, by the same dogs. And at the day’s end they may retreat from the road or punch the air in jubilation, only to set up camp and do it all again tomorrow. Right now, some of my tribe are scouting desert scrub for a secluded spot to pitch a tent, dreaming only of pasta. Others are loitering in the liquid gold of a sunrise as they scrutinize maps and imagine what all those dots and lines hold in store. They are star-gazing, they are bartering for bananas, they are missing people, they are cursing another hill, and they are coasting and plummeting and swerving and careening over some chunk of this planet. And right now, somewhere, another one of my tribe is a spindly silhouette mounting the crest of a distant hill, and someone is watching, waiting, pedaling on, and smiling too. BV
Solitude and Misery Written and photographed by Joe Cruz
he pedaling had been conviction, then repetition, then meditation. Bottom bracket tick tick tick, through here and there and fear, tick tick, through a tiredness so thorough that my self would disappear, tick, so that my will will evaporate into a flux of happening, merely a body doing, not thinking or insistently explicitly shouting in an internal voice. Chile. Mist exhaled breath, twitching legs wobble lean steady against the top tube, piss steam into the chill. Trembling hands, swimming vision adrift toward a whirlpool, somehow lagging a bit behind itself. Look up at a bright moon then back into shadow grey gauze or soundlessness, later will howl gibber plead with the shine. Sip from a bottle continuing a path that began in a stream somewhere back ago, eating stopped meaning anything and the desperation worry of it, the cloying certainty of those demanding small comforts gives way to tympani in the temples serenity. Legs turning again. The irony will come much later when the narration of objects and separation and resolved edges returns. I had lost track of the days that I hadn’t talked to anyone, moved among others with body language or pantomime, whatever figures I saw were far off and abstract, just tilting natural movement on a kind of conceptual horizon. And in the reconstruction I had been riding right then for over fourteen hours, would ride for five more with no longing or drive, a break here and there five or fifteen minutes at a time and neither happy nor sad nor anything, just forwarding presence until there was a trend without comment that it might be a good idea to stop. Tent sets up, zippers close to darkness and sleep. I used to pretend these journeys as straightforward exploration. But bicycles are typically for where there have been other human beings. There are exceptions—untreaded beaches, marshy overland, snow packed vectors, all three attainable on a Fat Bike—but usually no matter how wild remote abandoned broken a track is, it’s still an etched trace of someone having gone before, their graffiti to be read for meaning. An explorer on wheels can’t often expect to be pioneering a place outwardly chartless. Maybe then, and certainly some of the clichés say so, it’s a turning inward, and that made sense to me for a span. Leave, seeking separation to understand and make focal this self in a manner that is hard to achieve in busy barren sleepwalking life. I never found it natural or easy to be alone, but that’s not the same as saying that I get lonely. Solitude is hardly a ready condition for us, beings of groups and sociality and community that we are. Sure, there is a celebrated narrative of self-reliance that has a currency and runs deep in the mythology of some cultures, certainly mine, but the legends and the longing seem a protestation, as if it is a stretch, as if we hope we might become gods if we could achieve escape velocity, though we only half want to. And the triumphant bragging return from being alone Bunyan Velo 60
carries with it a small suggestion of relief and an unnatural trial. Of course there’s significant variation, too, so one need not overgeneralize. I don’t doubt that being alone is a perfect comfort for some. For me, though, it is effort, discipline, concentration. The maps show expanse and gap, press the ruler against the creased paper to show the kilometers and divide by the pace to achieve the days between, the number of dinners needed, the volume of trail sugar that will be consumed first with abandon then with miserly rue. Those are the days for the spares and the tools for repairs at the lowest corner of the frame bag. I contrive conditions where there won’t be anyone else to help to fill up the daylight, forcing me to push outward. The trip was to be alone and that was going to be adventure enough, so what that it’s on someone else’s footprints? “You might find yourself and be surprised.” But can there be something better than burrowing inward? Than yet another unsatisfying pendulum moment between connected and apart? I gain no insight from introspection for surveillance’s sake and have come to prefer the chance to lose the boundaries that one thinks circumscribe oneself, nothing to make one think that perceptions and emotions have a location and are proprietary, no one insisting that there is a chasm between what is felt and how the universe is. Bolivia. Into the Salar losing landmarks and the line between surface and sky the way that sailors do full flight perpendicular to the shore, frothing clouds wind, point in some direction to meet it and to be it. Or in the desert between oases. Egypt. Haphazardly arrayed palm sized black stones each a point of gravitation in its turn, no less dense than thoughts thought while setting with the sun. Another time dark in the Southern Hemisphere. New Zealand. Might have been affright to be so far and removed from companionship, but the landscape shows no concern, pooling worries get absorbed by the gravely sand. The place becomes more you. More importantly the other way around. However space and time and change is, that’s the way inside too, in absolute simultaneity. Solitude dissolves and refutes itself by taking the figure that the trip was meant to understand and turning it into ground. Though I steadily crave people and crowds and density, I prefer to bike tour this way. Just as in the vortex of urban traffic or a joyful gathering of old friends or the movement in a crowd, it is another way to dissolve into. But put that way it’s still not complete, it’s only a suggestive gesture in the right direction. In the calm one may lose the grinding exhausting sense of individuality, but there is still the danger of an essential
solipsism in it, where it can be only the kind, simple ease that fills everything. I need a second existential axis for my reconfiguration, a way to saturate the experience with the stuff for transformation. I can lose myself, but without an intrinsic volatility it’s a planar false void. Ecuador. There was no flat ground, just those tussocks on hills, bulging uneven tent floor and I keep waking up from the nylon wall leaning against my breath like I might suffocate, sliding on the slick thin air mattress that deflates over a few hours from a undetectable puncture, every dry piece of clothing on me and even the rain overwhelmed Gore-Tex jacket draping the footbox of the bag because the seam above it leaks. The next days spent chin pressed to chest, shivering the medium in which I scratch mark count footfalls into muck and slide, lift, step, heave, step, repeat. Peru. Whining drill bit between shoulder blades, boiling irrational fury of the rippled scenery, switchbacks back and forth erase any trace of a wrack of positive valence, dizzy from the day’s reliably emetic sun crush. “Don’t want to be here,” “why not go home?,” “this is stupid.” Tibet. A few years before. 4,700 meters, whispering black above and hissing frost, can’t or at least shouldn’t stay at the top of the pass. The last hours a fixed twilight where I could have walked faster than the tacking I plotted from one edge to the other, the alleged forgiveness of little ring and big cog ends up just as a railroad spike in my eyeball, lucid dream of shot legs and delirious hunger fatigue. Then mercifully distracted by the stars, ringing pinpricks silver in my ears, the nervous danger foolishness of it is no more distinct than the silhouetted range. Someone, not me because I was no longer there, someone refused to go digging in the trailer for gloves, the alien limb fingers are lock clawed on the grips, coasting down switchbacks now in a headlamp cone that doesn’t seem to originate from anywhere. I wake the next morning fully clothed in my sleeping bag some way off the dirt road, Sidi shoes and all. There is an empty Oreo wrapper next to me, the wretchedness I think complete, in my complete ignorance of the number of days ahead of me that will be spent unwashed and red rimmed eyes uphill headwinds. Miseries hardly count when I’ve gone looking with the expectation that I would overcome them myself. There’s a purpose in seeking that kind, of course, a version of self-validation and assurance. Finding the hardest col and hurling oneself against it again and again, intervals in freezing rain, trying to stay in contact with the pack on the Tuesday Night World Bunyan Velo 63
Championship, these can pay dividends in future bike races or life’s chastens. But there is another kind, the kind of misery that one hails with surprise and reflexive resistance, the kind that blankets and smothers, where there is no promise that the you that you are is ready to meet it. That kind of misery when had alone, without the steadying scaffold of collaboration, takes the lucky unity and roughens it, gives it texture and therefore definition. I pedal far away so that nothing will ever seem far anymore, not in the sense of making this world familiar to me, as if that could happen, but instead in cracking, shearing, and scattering the boundaries of my conscious self so that objects and people and times would seem continuous with it. The conscious self revels in its own durability. It is carefully conditioned to insist on its own integrity, yet another fixed object among the myriad middle-sized things on this Earth. In ordinary life—at least in the serene reflective monotonous rationality of it—our awareness is of determinate things comprising and carving out environments and of ourselves as distinct from them. We paint lines on asphalt. We grid words over continuous quantities. We mistake laws of explanation for directives of the universe. But when the emptying and suffering presses itself, when coherence fragments from hunger and shivering and dehydration and altitude, then things aren’t things and self isn’t self nor is it anything else. I ride into shivering miseries so that my own invisibility to myself will be resolved. I respect the neurophysiology of it, the way that hypoxia and hypothermia and skimming close to starving and the cognizance of my own filth and sweat creates a disequilibrium then a harmony in response. Still, it’s the scatted across the cosmos poetry of it that calls. Expand until boundaries are all of them the same and the same size as the universe, stop noticing in the same way that we never notice the edge of being awake. Not marking the moment of it nor trying, toward unfused sensation. It means a great deal to me to pedal with people I care about, in cultures and political arrangements that are alien to me. Bicycle travel cleaves to a human pace and scale, where the motion is not so far out of the temporal resolution of our attention that it intrinsically separates us as it might in an automobile or train. Those trips, trips with and among people, crucially answer to my sense of humanity. But there’s another kind, not better, but importantly different. Solo. Thanksgiving on the other side of the equator, swirling a plastic spoon in a soup of Llama cartilage and thawed potatoes. Solo. Stinging hands so slow and stupid and unheeding that repairing the puncture in the snow is impossible. Solo. Jolt rattle shake along the train tracks because rainstorms have left the high desert a quicksand and a stasis. Solo. Discovering that all day the ride was in the wrong direction wrong canyon, all those k coasted now to be pushed. At first it was misery to you and then you’re gone. What is is peaked and valleyed and luminous and null. That is the answered paradox of it. We do not leave this world. BV
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NYUNGWE Written and photographed by Derek McIntire
was off to a late start. My hosts had insisted I stay for lunch, sharing a meal of rice, potatoes, pasta, and vegetables while watching football (soccer) on the television. I had met Clement the day before, shortly after he contacted me via Couchsurfing, offering to host me in his home town of Huye, formerly known as Butare, Rwanda. He was nice enough to show me around, taking me to the Rwandan National Museum and giving me a tour of the National University of Rwanda, where he was studying pharmaceuticals.
Remnants of the genocide were everywhere – from physical scars and missing limbs, to huge memorials in almost every town, to the manner in which people interacted with one another. Rwanda was different from the other African countries I had traveled to. There was less physical engagement. There was no yelling or grabbing in the streets and no pushing fights over whose matatu I would ride in. The people of Rwanda were reserved, but inquisitive, and it was clear that the genocide had deeply affected their way of life.
Clement lived with his brother, mother, grandmother, two sisters, and two cousins in a small brick house situated down a steep, eroding slope off the main road, just south of town. The backyard boasted large banana trees, along with papaya, cassava, and corn. There was a small water pump just outside the house where they collected water for cooking, but not for drinking. A car battery powered the lights and television in their living room. After the violent genocide of 1994, which decimated Rwanda’s population and left thousands of people displaced and orphaned, intergenerational family living became necessarily common.
As I pushed my bicycle up the steep, rocky path towards the road, Clement and his brother carried my panniers while their five year old cousin watched and giggled. Moving on after getting to know new friends is always the hardest part, but I thanked them and went back to say goodbye to the rest of the family before I finally loaded up my bike and began pedaling back through town. It was my third day into a solo bike tour through Rwanda and Uganda and I didn’t know what to expect. The ride from Kigali to Huye had certainly lived up to Rwanda’s reputation as the “land of a thousand hills,” and I was headed toward Nyungwe Forest, which rises to over 8,000 feet above sea level.
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Leaving town, the landscape opened up to large fields sitting at the foot of rolling green hills that sprawled as far as the eye could see. I noticed that many of the workers in the fields were wearing orange jumpsuits. Soon after, I began to see pink jumpsuits as well. In Kigali, I spent an afternoon at the genocide museum and learned that those convicted of crimes of genocide were not given the standard-issue orange jumpsuit in prison. Rather, they were clad in pink, to set them apart. I made my way down a narrow stretch of road in between two fields now crowded with perpetrators of genocide. A surreal feeling came over me as it sunk in – these were mass murderers. Several of the men stopped to stare at me. I pedaled by, not ten feet from them, as one man raised a hand and offered a smile. This wasn’t a movie or a photo on the news. These were living, breathing human beings who had been convicted of murder on a horrific scale and were forced to bear their scarlet letter in the form of a pink jumpsuit. Uneasy, I dug in and pushed toward the rising hills. I had come to Rwanda to see the jungle, climb some hills, and explore the 250 km stretch of dirt road along the coast of
Lake Kivu known as the Congo-Nile trail, but thus far I had not found a moment to myself. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, and I was bombarded with attention wherever I went. Stopping to get water, some fruit, or to use the “rest room” was impossible without attracting a large crowd. The children in particular were constantly curious, and often screamed “Mzungu, mzungu!” as I passed. Getting used to the staring, and in some cases, grabbing or touching, was a cultural barrier that might be hard for a lot of people to overcome. At times it was certainly a struggle for me, but I mostly found engaging with locals to be easy. It was amazing to interact with people so united and peaceful just nineteen years after the genocide turned neighbor against neighbor, and tore their country in half. As the sun began to flirt with the horizon, I pulled off the road into what seemed to be a quiet patch of grass overlooking a valley. I sat down, pulled out my food container, and began to make myself a snack. Sure enough, a crowd soon gathered to watch me eat. I licked avocado from between my fingers while one man made an attempt at conversation. Since he spoke a little English, I asked him if he knew a place I could camp. Bunyan Velo 71
He said the only place was inside Nyungwe Forest and he offered to give me a ride. I looked over at his rusty, white pickup, overstuffed with cargo, and with four men leaning against it waiting for my response. “Why not?” I figured, as it was getting dark. The landscape closed in as we entered the forest. Wide fields and terraced hills disappeared behind untouched jungle. Soon after, we arrived at a parking lot and I pulled my bike down from the truck. A man approached excitedly, asking if I was going to camp. I told him I was and he said that he would put me next to some campers from Switzerland. “Sure,” I said, somewhat uninterested, and followed him to the park headquarters. As we walked, he informed me that it would be fifty dollars to camp for the night. This was a common misunderstanding, I thought. Many people here mix up the words “eighty” and “eighteen,” “fifty” and “fifteen” etc., so I asked him if he meant “fifteen dollars” and he quickly replied, “Yes, yes, fifteen.” I dropped my things off on a small, square patch of grass, perhaps the only suitable camping spot I had seen in almost all of Rwanda, and turned to see two guys staring at me. Even before they spoke, their two bicycles leaning against a tree in the background had caught my attention. By chance, these two Swiss cyclists were the only other people camping in Nyungwe that night. They had also started in Kigali and planned to ride to Uganda via the shores of Lake Kivu. They set off about a week ahead of me and had already spent a couple nights in Nyungwe, trekking through the rainforest and resting up a bit. I chatted briefly with Jan and Dominick before I was prompted to pay my dues for the night. I made the short hike down to the front desk, but when I pulled my Rwandan Francs out of my wallet, I was told they were not enough. Turns out they did want fifty dollars for one night of camping. I was a little dumbfounded and tried to negotiate, but got absolutely nowhere. I contemplated loading up my bike, throwing on my lights, and making an attempt at wild camping, but my chances of finding a spot seemed bleak at best. The road snaked up and down several mountains with sheer drop offs on one side and jungle sprawling straight up the other. There were no flat places here. The only vehicles coming through were large trucks carrying cargo, several of which I had seen flipped, crashed, and abandoned along the way. Riding at night didn’t seem like a smart choice. I eventually caved and forked over my fifty bucks, which was far more than I had spent in the last four days combined. A bit soured, I hiked back up to camp, vowing to get out of Nyungwe first thing Bunyan Velo 72
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in the morning. When I awoke, the Swiss cyclists were packing and we exchanged pleasantries as we stuffed our panniers and carried our bikes down to the road. We had eaten dinner together and shared a few stories the night before, but hadn’t talked about riding together. Yet, here we were, packing our bicycles at the same time, getting ready to roll off in the same direction. We didn’t know each other’s capabilities, riding paces, or personalities, but there were several weeks and hundreds of miles toward a common goal laid out in front of us. They straddled their bikes just before I did, rolled to the edge of the road, and waited, turning towards me as I clipped into my pedals. I guess that was it. We were riding together. The second we started moving, I had no regrets about skipping out on my hike through the rainforest. After all, I came to Rwanda to ride my bike. When we crested the final climb, the cracked and pitted pavement gave way to new, smooth tarmac and we quickly accelerated as we began to descend. I knew I had made the right decision. The sun was out and the cool climate of the rainforest made for perfect weather. I began rolling faster and faster, leaning into each turn a little harder than the last. The weight of my gear kept my momentum up and my Long Haul Trucker stayed stable and smooth each time my weight shifted. As I turned one corner, a monkey screeched and made a mad scramble up the steep slope to my right. I howled past, glancing up briefly in excitement before locking my concentration back on the road. As we rolled into a straight away, we pulled off to the side of the road for a quick picture. At that moment I had a sudden realization: I had found the feeling I’d come to Africa to find – the feeling of complete freedom and anticipation. The feeling of not knowing what the future holds, of endless possibility. I didn’t know if I’d continue riding with Jan and Dominick, or if we’d go our separate ways, but I had a whole country to explore in front of me, and I felt ready. Before we clipped back into our pedals, I imagined the sound of rocks crushing beneath my tires as I pedaled down a dirt road hugging the shores of Lake Kivu. I imagined rolling into the bustling border town of Gisenyi and taking in the view of the Congo. I imagined myself staring up at the towering volcanoes of the Virungas as I huffed and puffed my way up Rwanda’s final climbs before crossing into Uganda. But I didn’t have to imagine anymore. As I climbed back on to my bicycle, all I had to do was start pedaling. BV
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SASQUATCH Written and photographed by Donnie Kolb
f I ever needed to dispose of a dead body, I know exactly where I’d dump it: somewhere in the bowels of Oregon’s Coast Range. While it lies within spitting distance of large metropolitan areas like Portland, Salem, and Eugene, the Coast Range is a wild place, crisscrossed by unmapped dirt logging roads, full of wild beasts, where a Sasquatch sighting is not out of the question. Riding in the Coast Range is a love/hate experience. Although the range is not particularly high, its elevations peaking just above 3,000 feet, the climbing is relentless. It’s hard to find routes without consistent grades above 10%, usually with a spot or two above 20%. Walking is commonplace, especially when loaded down with a full bikepacking rig. Even though you will suffer here more than anyplace you’ve likely ever ridden, it’s hard to leave without being impressed with the rugged beauty. That’s what draws a small handful of us back year after year to explore new areas, get lost, and find hidden dirt routes to the Oregon coast. Besides the relentless grades, the thing most people notice while riding in the range is logging. Logging rules, and every road that still exists, exists because it was cut to access timber. As an outsider and city person, it’s easy to dismiss logging as unsustainable and environmentally degrading. However, it has long been a way of life in Oregon, to the extent you have the opportunity to ride in the Coast Range; it is logging that gives you that privilege. Even today, much of the land is still private, with several of the larger logging companies graciously allowing access on foot and bike. Oregon is rich with history and the Coast Range is no exception. Its remoteness and valuable timber creates a mostly one-sided history of logging camps, massive fires, and record boardfeet, but there is more to the region than just the ubiquitous clear cuts. In addition to riding through extinct logging camps like Timbuktu, one can also trace its history by bike on the Trask Toll Road, the first stagecoach crossing the Coast Range in the late 1800s. Back then, rough roads and steep grades made for a hellish trip through true wilderness, where passengers were required to get out and help the horses by pushing the stagecoach up the steepest hills. Bunyan Velo 82
The history is chronicled in a small book, From Yamhill to Tillamook by Stagecoach: The Most Awful Ride in the World, and you can still ride portions of the original toll road if you know where to find it. I joke about dead bodies disappearing easily in the Coast Range, but it really is wild. To give you an example, it is the only place I’ve ever ridden where I carry a fire-starting kit on a day ride. If you’re riding solo and break a leg in the middle of the range, you’ll either crawl the 10+ miles to a real road, start a fire and wait, or succumb to the elements. Just forget about calling for help – cell service is non-existent, even on the populated fringes of the range. Contributing to the remote feel is the lack of accurate maps. Even the best maps are out of date, and road signs are few, far between, and primitive. One tip I always give those unfamiliar with the range is that mile markers, usually the only signs you’ll consistently find, always count down as you leave the range. If you get seriously lost it might be the only thing keeping you from wandering aimlessly through a maze of indistinguishable roads. GPS units are also mostly worthless. With downloadable maps even less accurate than traditional paper maps, your GPS might tell you where you are and how you got there, but it won’t tell you how to get where you’re headed. All of this can easily lead to the Aron Ralston Effect – where no one knows where you are, so no one knows where to look for you – and you end up hacking off your arm with a dull pocketknife to survive. While there are real (albeit slightly exaggerated) dangers to riding in the Coast Range, it continues to draw a few of us back each year – those of us who don’t mind the backcountry camping, punishing climbs, and the occasional bushwhack. If you are searching for a ride that is more wilderness experience than bike path, I can’t recommend it enough. Go, test yourself, test your gear, and maybe even catch sight of the elusive Sasquatch. BV
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ARGENTINA: PAMPAS and PERCEPTIONS Written and photographed by Beth Willard
e woke up in Las Lajas, Argentina, after pushing a 100-mile day in the Argentine desert the day before. Our morning started off on the wrong foot. We had planned a short day to meet up with our friends near the Pino Hachado frontier, and though the distance for the day would be short, our memories recall a long, hilly, strange day. Late that morning, I loaded up my bike with nearly 10 liters of water. We had been accustomed to doing so, thanks to the soaring heat and lack of shade in the Argentine desert. We left our beautiful municipal campground in Las Lajas and made it about three feet past the gate before I realized that I hadn’t secured the water very well. One of the bottles broke loose and wedged itself between my frame and my wheel. While I didn’t break any spokes, it was clear that my wheel was out of true and in need of repair. Luckily, there was a shop in town and we were able to have the wheel fixed up by early afternoon. It was a disappointing start to the day, especially after factoring in the terrible and expensive cup of coffee that we bought in town while waiting for my wheel to be trued. At last, we set out to catch up with our new Argentine cycle touring friends we had meet a week earlier. It’s fun to have friends on the road, and since they were native to the land and we speak only basic Spanish, they were also rather helpful in securing amazing spots to camp. One night, they helped us sweet talk our way into staying in a town’s gymnasium, complete with mattresses, a kitchen, and showers, for free! We had hoped they would talk our way into camping at a fire station or the like, as that is a rather popular place to stay for the Argentine tourist. Though we are capable of taking care of ourselves in camping situations, it’s nice to have someone else do all the dirty work once in a while, especially since it’s not really our style to seek out such places for camping. The day started with a climb. The climbing continued. And then we climbed some more. As we gained elevation, we started to enter a whole new Argentina, different than the desert we had become accustomed to in the previous weeks. We first noticed some trees lining the tops of the hills to our south. Surrounded by the fascinating Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree, we were energized. We no longer cared that our legs were tired, or that we were moving at a very slow pace while we climbed. The monkey puzzle trees renewed our touring spirit, which was in dire need of renewal after spending too many weeks in a hot, dry desert, not to mention starting out the day with mechanical troubles. The disappointment of the morning faded as we spent the height of the hot afternoon napping under our favorite tree. We continued to ascend, weaving about in a gorgeous canyon, up to the Pino Hachado pass. We were happily surprised to find a few services upon reaching the summit. No camping, but a few cabins and a couple of bars. We inquired about the costs of the cabins, all of which were out of range for our meager budget. We stopped at a bar, ordered a soda, and asked if we might camp on the land for a small fee instead of paying for a room. An odd patron seated to our left, speaking hushed and rapidly, told us to go and camp wherever we wanted, and not pay the owner to camp on her land. Our friends show up a few moments later. We were certain that they were long gone since we were so delayed in our start. They had already made arrangements to camp on nearby land, and they agreed to find out if we could join them as well. They went off, promising to return in just a few moments with a response. What seemed like an hour came and went without any word. Not knowing what to do, we made our way towards their camp, only to learn that we were not invited to spend the night there. It was getting close to sundown and we were running out of time to come up with a plan. We made one last-ditch effort in asking another bar owner if we might camp on the Bunyan Velo 92
land, once again for naught. The man from the first bar was now settled into this establishment, and he once again pointed us across the street, vehemently insisting that we could set up camp there for free. The area to which he pointed was in view of the road and several houses, and possibly a construction site. As he pointed, it was impossible not to notice his long, black-painted fingernails. His mouth was full of gold teeth, and he had tattoos crawling up his neck and down his wrists. Being the closest thing to a serial killer we had ever seen, we were not keen on him knowing where we were camped. We aren’t quick to judge appearances, and while his look could almost (but still a stretch) be construed as hipster in the US, we hadn’t yet observed such culture in small town Argentina. His appearance was over the top for Argentine standards, and he simply gave us the creeps. That’s not to say we were prizes ourselves; he was helping us out despite the fact that we were smelly, hairy, dirty foreigners who couldn’t speak the language very well and were likely giving off an equally odd vibe. In the end, we didn’t feel comfortable with him knowing where we were camped. When we stealth camp, we make it a point to be invisible from the road, and generally don’t want anyone to know where we are sleeping if we can help it. Perhaps we were unfairly judging this man for his appearance and vehemence,
but both of our instincts were telling us to be on our way. We opted not to camp on the roadside that night. We nervously headed out of town and set up camp in the woods a few kilometers outside of town, just as the sun dipped behind the mountains. We felt hidden enough and comfortable in the fact that the serial killer would not find us in the dead of night. Yes, that’s rather dramatic, but you had to be there to see it for yourself. In fairness, the man was nice, and even convinced the bar owner to sell us a liter of beer without charging us the deposit for the bottle since we promised to return the bottle to him the next day. We couldn’t help but wonder if he was helping us out because he knew he would pick up the bottle himself after he slayed us in our sleep. No, we joke – Argentines are a welcoming, generous people, and he was doing us a favor. Settled into our tent, we reflected on what was supposed to be a short day. We put in a mere 40 miles, starting a bit after noon and ending at 10:00 pm. When we set off from camp in the morning, we fully expected to be done with our day in the early afternoon. The morning was unpredictable and disappointing, the afternoon was exhilarating and rewarding, and the night was a bit frightening, but finally comfortable. It’s easy to experience all of these emotions in a day on a bike tour, and we find days like these to be the most memorable. BV
Ha n d ma d es t e e l f r a me s , f o r k s , a n dr a c k s c a p r i c o r n b i c y c l e s . c o m Or e g o n , USA
b r a d @c a p r i c o r n b i c y c l e s . c o m
Part two of
LETTERS FROM ALEX Written and photographed by Alex Dunn; edited by Nicholas Carman
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harged with a Surly Big Dummy and a paperback copy of Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, my friend Alex spent the winter in search of remote dirt roads and beaches in Baja California. He pedaled the northern half of the peninsula with a longtime friend, who eventually returned home as planned. Leaving Loreto, Alex rides into the Sierra de la Giganta alone. These are excerpts from his letters to me. They are intensely personal notes, exclamations, and exhalations from life on the road. –Nicholas Carman
San Ignacio to Loreto amidst the sounds of palm fronds brushing and pelicans diving for fish along the banks of the small river, the dream of san ignacio comes to an end. the sun rises, again. the two burros on the property have been eating the bark of the date palm and its fallen fruit that lay just beside my tent. awake, startled by their grunts and grinding teeth. it is a strange and menacing sound when heard so nearby, hidden in the darkness. my first movement – an attempt to peer out at my devourers – spooked them instantly and the sound of their frightened hooves trailed off into the distant grove. and so i smiled and climbed out of the tent to wait for the coming light. salutation. the sky turned a blaze orange – the color of a burning flame. i rekindled the previous night’s coals and made coffee. mario arrived moments later, for he wanted to say goodbye before we continued to ease our way eastwards, back out to the sea of cortez. cheerfully, he hung around as we ate our breakfast and packed up our camp. con abrazos fuertes, we experienced yet another happy, grateful farewell – a recurring event on this voyage through the ephemeral. the highway steadily climbed eastward for a slow twenty five miles. no wind. from there, around the southern base of volcán las tres virgenes, we were afforded a pleasant, calm descent out and away from the proud volcano. the next twenty miles were flat and easy, before an abrupt drop straight to the edge of the sea. we skirted the dirty beach north of santa rosalía, past a massive copper mine and the town’s disregarded trash site. fortunately, these were both hidden out of view in the shadow of the high plateau when we approached from the west. the early evening sun painted the sullied outskirts of town in a warmth of golden light –inviting light – helping to make things a little more presentable. of interest though, is the fact that the old mining facilities (built by the french when they founded the city in the late 1800s) were never dismantled and one can see old locomotives, great furnaces and other giant steel structures all about the town itself. the french influence is apparent, though it dresses itself in a dignified mexican garb. and rumor has it that the ordinary, unimpressive church near the center was built, or designed by gustave eiffel. i don’t
really see it, but such a claim to fame must be good for the shop keepers, restaurateurs, and hotel staff. so be it. we checked into a cheap, dingy hotel and looked about town, wandering through tight streets and bustle. we found a nice restaurant offering whole baked chickens at a reasonable price, and by chance shared a meal with a group of english cyclists (one canadian) whose paths we briefly crossed the night before in san ignacio. we ate wholeheartedly then bid them adieu, sure to see them along the road again. after many scoops of ice cream, a deserving and fat-filled retort to such a protein-rich dinner (our bodies crave such things most, for our calories have been reduced to mere bicycle fuel), a deep slumber immediately fell upon us. as always, i arose at dawn, and went out into the streets to look for potential breakfast. everything was boarded up and closed, the town still sleeping. i returned and cooked our porridge and coffee on the alcohol stove in the hotel foyer. erin awoke as breakfast was readied and we ate quickly, eager to ride south. luckily for us there was a large windstorm that day, and it was blowing fiercely towards our destination – south to mulegé! another beautiful day at ease, traveling fast, pedaling little. we sailed along the coast through piercing light: through large open seas of saguaro cacti, silhouetted from behind in green shades of black and by mountains pressed against the burning blue sky. the morning passed – even time was consumed by the incendiary nature of the sun and wind. without much effort, we arrived in the fishing town of mulegé, weary and burnt dry by the incessant rays. we felt good. we felt accomplished. we rolled unhurriedly through town, another desert oasis divided by a meandering river, set slightly inland from the sea. another oasis, another mission, another ex-pat hideout. we rolled through narrow corridors of shops filled with curios, blankets and hammocks to the eastern edge of the town center and parked our bikes in a small park across from a taqueria. at that very moment our cycling comrades from santa rosalía came wheeling to a halt alongside us. we escaped out of the sun and shared pork tacos – baskets of delicious pig with tortillas and different salsas. it was the only option on the menu that day, but it was satisfying when coupled with ice cold cerveza. it’s amazing to me, the rarity of vegetables at any restaurant or taco joint in this part of the country. just meat, beans, rice, tortillas, salsa. but somehow, in spite of simplicity, the baja menu still maintains a magical sense of variance. after lunch, our new friends were headed further to the mouth of bahía concepción, but i was tired and wanted to write and purchase a plane ticket to ecuador. i was beginning to feel my proximity to the tip of this great peninsula, and i needed to figure out what to do when i got there. we wished them well with hopes to reunite, and then went off to find an Bunyan Velo 99
inexpensive hotel. i consummated my plans for post-baja vagabonding and we went out for dinner of an unfinishable amount of pizza, oddly paired with free spaghetti. after flan and full bellies, another day was at its end. mulegé. in the morning we awoke, packed our bikes, and leisurely departed for bahía concepción. we planned to ride only some fifteen miles and search for camp along the white sandy beaches. after ten miles of inland riding we turned off onto a dirt road and pedaled out to punta arena, where the road met the bay and traced the water’s edge. the bay was an enchanting teal, a glowing neon green, or some unnamable color. the road turned and gave way to a mess of misplaced cobbles, kindly sprinkled with goatheads, or devil’s thorns, named by the laughing, conniving gods of cortez. their prickly spines would give me grief for the week to come as i periodically fixed flats and found remnants of thorns previously unseen. what a damned evil way to spread one’s seed. luckily, as long as i didn’t pull the spines out, my tires held air. we meandered on around the point, turning into a smaller bay named playa santiscpac, butted up against the highway. the picturesque beach was perfectly lined with RVs, efficiently packed side by side from one end of the cove to the other. this same scene can be experienced at each and every one of the beautiful beaches along the western side of the legendary bahia. on every patch of soft sand along the water accessible by four wheels, one can find a multitude of expats living out their dreams of final escape, nestled within the confines of the western world they can’t do without. giant satellite antennae maintain a constant connection (wouldn’t want to miss a game!). skiffs, quads, dirt bikes, everything motorized, and a right-minded person certainly wouldn’t want to leave home without a la-z-boy. nevertheless, many set up their tents alongside, in an attempt to feel like they are camping – roughing it. these little ‘campgrounds’ become ‘little americas’ in the end, creating an unsavory paradox, a strange, almost disturbing juxtaposition stamped upon a seemingly pristine setting.
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it is my fortitude to accept these surroundings, still beautiful in their own way. we would also find that the far end of the cove harbored a secluded mangrove where we could camp, far enough away from the motorized masses. in doing so, we were once again serendipitously reacquainted with our fellow cyclists of the past few days. they too had discovered the mangrove hideaway the night before, and decided to take a rest day on the beach. they invited us to share their camp and to join them for dinner at a little shack by the highway exit. we set up the tent, walked off into the warm night, and sat down to an exquisite dinner of fresh fish fried in garlic butter, battered scallops, and margaritas so strong they were really just large bowls of tequila. following our feast we returned to camp, built a fire, and moved on to a bottle of rum, by demand of the english of course. sitting around the flames, half of our camp grew tired while the rest of us enjoyed music and composed revelry. out of habit, as i have always been one for a good midnight swim, erin and i shed our clothes in the pitch black darkness and ran out into the shallows of the bay. the tide was low, so we were able to wade a quarter mile from shore, the phosphorescence exploding in response to our every movement like great flashes of diffused lightning. entranced and electrified by the alluring phenomena, our witching hour began – running in circles, kicking, splashing, and howling like great coyotes of the sea. small fish darting about, leaving trails of glowing light fading into the dark waters. our companions, our mates back on the shore had no idea what they were missing as they receded into the dying embers of consciousness. we too heard the call of sleep. at dawn, we awoke to say goodbye to our new allies of the road – they were off for loreto. shame they could not slow down and experience the southern reaches of the bay con despacio. erin and i would remain at this sequestered camp, swimming, napping, reading, playing old folk tunes on the guitar, plainly walking around barefoot in the sand with no real objective. at night we waltzed back to the restaurant for dinner, and while
eating, a surprising thundershower came pounding upon the tin roof – a powerful monsoon. we waited for a while, but fearing it would last all night we ran through the rain, immediately soaking ourselves silly. it was only seven o’clock, but we had nothing to do but strip off our wet clothes and hop into our sleeping bags. about ten minutes into my book, by the exact nature of a monsoon, the rain stopped. dead quiet. night. it never returned. we awoke from a long night’s rest in a different dark. sunrise. fire. breakfast. a happy routine. we then gathered our things and pedaled on in search of a more remote location to camp further south along the bay. the road was a serpentine dream, gently winding about over and around modest points, never really climbing, never really falling, never really lying flat or straight. we stopped at isla requesón for lunch, and the tide was out so we could walk across the thin spine of sand, out to the island itself. we waded in the waters to cool ourselves from the baking sun, and happened upon a few scallops, so tenacious and determined in their attempt to remain rooted. after a valiant effort we pulled them free, immediately searching for more. soon, we had quite an excellent addition to the night’s dinner. we cracked them open, cut out the meat and saved them in a bag for later. Bunyan Velo 106
back on the road, we were lost in such a dream the minutes and the miles slipped away. we were riding through a postcard of Baja, the exact image of land and sea that lured us to this peninsula in the first place. soon we found ourselves at the bottom of the giant bay. we had heard that there was an abandoned RV site close by, deserted in the early 90s once the proprietors declared the wind too strong and the beach too ugly for their taste. not enough diamond white sand, i suppose, and the road was frequently getting washed out, too difficult for large motoring behemoths to traverse. perfect for us, and sure enough we found it. kilometer 76, a good day’s ride to loreto. we opened the gate, closed it behind, and rode about a mile out to the forsaken grounds. it was only a skeleton of an RV site, the naked bones of an ambitious plan thwarted by the forces of nature. there was no one around. we found ourselves the best shelter from the wind, set up the tent and collected stones from used fire pits. watching a vibrant setting sun, we cooked dinner as the stars crept sheepishly out of the fading hues of dusk. this would be erin’s last night camping. in just two days she would be on a plane back to portland, oregon. and I – residing, contented, far off within a distant desert dream.
one last pot of cowboy coffee in the baja light of dawn. one last breakfast burrito and empanadas cajeta. one last time to load the panniers. erin’s last ride would be one of the more memorable rides of the trip, both symbolically and visually. after the stout climb in the beginning, the majority of the highway led us through vast swathes of suguaro forests set against the mountainous backdrop of the sierra la giganta. there were few other vehicles throughout the day, and a gentle cool wind at our backs fought the ceaseless, infernal sun. the final descent was slow and perfect, and loreto could be seen from miles away, projected far off onto a distant screen, slowly coming into focus.
made new friends with an alaskan couple and their two-yearold daughter, and had maybe the most unrivaled mexican food thus far for dinner. the next day we rode several miles out to the airport in search of a bike box only to find the airport empty - no flights scheduled that day. no matter, for a stove box from the appliance store worked just fine. for her last meal we barbecued fresh shrimp with pineapples and mushrooms and prepared a decadent guacamole. we even shared absinthe with the ever-amiable man who manages the cabanas. we grew tired. in the morning, she flew away.
we arrived with a couple hours of light remaining, and we rode satisfied and serene through town and out to the malecón. the wind at the shore was violent and we could see that much of the beach had been destroyed by a hurricane two months before. the malecón itself was being rebuilt, slowly. In another stroke of good fortune we found a nice cabana at the south end of the road for dirt cheap because of the reconstruction. this didn’t bother us because we had a swanky little home now with many sconces, modern art, a full kitchen, dining table, living room quarters, and a master bedroom. this was a wonderful place for erin to spend the last of her time. we
my good friend erin left three days ago. i am alone now. i have been so long attached to my riding partner, for a month to be exact, always trailing each other, riding side by side, sharing every meal, sleeping head-to-toe in the close comfort of my tent for roughly twenty nights – the other nights spent in cheap hotels, bed-next-to-bed. our every action was duplicated, mirrored by the other. our thoughts did not become the same, but our nature certainly did. whatever nuisances we harbored in the beginning seemed to have little effect in the end, for holding on to such trivialities would only tarnish such a beautifully unique and vivid experience. we became patient,
Leaving Loreto, to La Paz
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easily pleased, almost impossible to dissatisfy. we were present. now i am here, on a lonely road, pedaling up into the hills away from the city of loreto – a place i came to love, for there i became reacquainted with the ‘self.’ myself. in loreto i rented a small cabaña on the malecón, let myself decompress, reevaluated my objective, my journey. i let it all hang out, so to speak. i had my own space for the first time in almost seven or eight months: first i took off my pants, i stretched, i slept ‘til my heart’s content, i played guitar and sang falsetto, i journaled and started steinbeck’s log from the sea of cortez. i cooked for therapy’s sake, to rid the loneliness, a great pot of honduran style soup (a recipe learned from my cousin from tegucigalpa) with chicken, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, five varieties of hot peppers, chayote squash, chunks of corn on the cob, plantain bananas, ancho chili powder, cayenne and heaps of cumin, and of course salt and pepper. the pot lasted me for three days, eating bowl after bowl. i also indulged in grilling some bacon wrapped steak, for what better a meal to re-instill a sense of confidence and pride in a man. i cooked beer batter pancakes every morning to keep things light. i reawakened within the walls of familiar comforts and a sense of home. these days were a necessary tangent on the path toward my approximate objective. i left loreto in the early afternoon and now i am simply man and bicycle. just south of town i turned west and i am now climbing up into the hills some twenty or so miles. there is a sense of calm in the air. something foretelling. the golden hour, that hour just before sunset (or just after sunrise if you are on the other side) where the quality of light is most rich and even, seems to have come early. it’s only 2:00 p.m., yet the earth around me is bathed in a light so complete, it gives the feeling as though the sun is preparing to sneak away at any moment. the clouds are perfectly three dimensional, almost sculptures of themselves hanging motionless in the air, their shadows printed exactly and defined on the land beneath. the wind is warm, but so calm, nearly a notion. this warmth soon fades to a ghostly chill as i climb higher and higher, more than two thousand feet into the sierra la giganta. the pavement is ideal, affording me comfort in my arduous efforts, though sometimes it simply crumbles away into the valley, washed away by floods and destroyed by rockfall. out in the distance behind me i see the great blue sea, and loreto faintly teetering on its edge. i reach a high plateau and this image immediately disappears as i turn around a small peak. loreto is but a thing of the past. the sun is undoubtedly sinking now, quite close to the horizon, but i know i am only a few miles from misión san javier (est.1699). soon enough, i drop down into the tiny pueblito of the same name. i need water and i am tired. i pedal calmly down the cobblestone street that leads to the mission Bunyan Velo 108
and am entranced by its commanding, beckoning presence. i get off my bike and practically stumble, gracefully, mercifully, to the gate of this great church. the village is completely quiet and i am alone, humbled by the history and location of this majestic piece of architecture in the mountains. the oranges hanging from the trees in the courtyard glow like orbs of fire, small avatars of the falling sun that keeps them lit – within them is a sense of the immaculate. i park my bike and walk to the small fonda close by, the open sign still hanging on the wall outside. i am greeted kindly by its proprietor and i purchase water and cold beer before inquiring about a place to camp. he smiles and asks for me to wait as he shuffles off into a back room where, from the muffled voices, i assume he is speaking with his wife. he returns promptly and tells me to set up my tent under the mesquite tree directly next to the church. this is unexpected, but i am obliged and excited for this rare, undeniably spiritual opportunity. i thank him and say “esta noche acampo con dios,” to which he replies without hesitation “despues de esta noche, siempre acamparás con dios.” well, i don’t quite know who this dios actually is, but i certainly cannot refuse such a blessing. i push my bike over to the mesquite tree and begin setting up the tent as a mountainous veil is pulled over the sun at once. in this instant, a biting cold comes blowing through the canyon, a cold that chews straight to the marrow. i put on more layers, a hat and gloves and return to my duties with urgency. as i am preparing the rain fly a small black street dog, a dog that reminds me so much of one from my past, comes running up to my side. it wags its tail nervously, a strange combination of timidity and elation, in a way it seems to be begging me not for food, but merely for love. i crouch beside her and stroke her mangy black coat and she is nearly overwhelmed. i tell her to go lie down so i can finish making camp and she listens, scampers over to my bicycle and digs a small crater in the dirt for her bed. she waits patiently, watching me as i set up my stove and begin preparing dinner. she doesn’t beg for any of my food, but i still share some chorizo and tortillas with her, to which she becomes forever indebted. i eat quickly for all i can really think of is my sleeping bag. the cold is getting colder. as i lie down, the little dog pops up under my vestibule and digs herself another bed in the earth just beside me. i allow her this moment of companionship, something she seems to ultimately long for. in the night i awake several times, once to a small hail storm dropping granizo upon my tent, and two more times to my little friend warding off other dogs from our camp. she is my protector. the rooster’s crow wakes me in the still darkness, but it is too cold to move. i lay in my bag for an hour waiting for the sun to hit the tent but it never does. we are in the shadows of the
peaks above, my little dog and i, and the tent is covered in frost. escarcha. the sun is out there somewhere, i know, but we seem to be forgotten in this hidden bend of the canyon. i finally muster up the courage to climb out of my tent and my bones creak and crack as i hobble into the icy dim light. my little dog does not stir. my first concern is to fire up the stove, after which i drink cup after cup of coffee while waiting for the sun – this takes hours. around 10:00 a.m. i am finally ready to leave and i head off from the mission down the dirt road that connects west to carretera 53. my little companion follows me to the edge of the village, then sits down and watches, longingly, as i disappear into the high mountain desert. from the pueblito, the road meanders out of the canyon and through a shallow valley for about twenty five miles, back and forth across the slow flowing rio san javier. the dirt is hard packed for the most part and there is only a little washboard from time to time. i am riding at a pretty good pace for traveling on dirt, with the wind at my back the entire way, and i encounter no signs of human life all day save for the distant sounds of cowbells, muted by the breeze. i am thus alerted to several ranches just off the road, but still i see no one. i am solitary in this experience, yet the wind begs to differ as it sends dust devils swirling, dancing alongside me; the mesquite trees tremble and shake, cheering me along as i pass. i take lunch and swim in the river, despite its murky, bug infested waters, for i am too hot to care. as i climb back on my bike i realize the rear tire is running a little low. damn devil’s thorn strikes again! these schwalbe fat frank tires have been perfect along the way in every other regard, except when it comes to goat heads – the sharp little pricks have found the achilles indeed. i change the tube, burning a little more daylight, then ease back down the road. as i am riding i am amazed with how seemingly effortless things have been today, for the dirt roads i’ve traveled prior have required more struggle. as i hold this thought i come around a bend in the river valley, rolling out onto the western steps of the sierra la giganta, and i instantly remember that the dirt roads of this peninsula turn to sand when they pass through low lying valleys and back out to sea. my bicycle comes sliding to a halt, and i am unable to pedal. all i can do is laugh as i walk my bike for about one hundred yards before i am able to get it going again. it is like this for the next twelve to fifteen miles, on and on – gaining momentum, then fishtailing side to side, almost dumping the bike, and sliding to a stop. i look back at my tracks and they appear to be Bunyan Velo 110
those of a drunken, serpentine beast, not a bicycle. i become disheartened as i realize the sun will be setting soon and i have no idea how long it will take to go on like this. once i reach the highway, i may be riding in the dark for an hour or two before i reach ciudad insurgentes. my spirits remain aloft, however, for the colors of the changing sky are enchanting and the wind brings me solace. in the sunset i have visions of colorado, and i hear the song of wyoming in the tall grasses swaying in the light air – the same birds singing as those from the marshes behind my family’s house in saratoga springs, where i spent much of my youth. the gurgling warble and rattling trill of the melodious marsh wren, cistothorus palustris. i am overcome with nostalgia, and the empathetic wind takes me home. sooner than i think i arrive at the highway, and turn south onto the sweet, consolatory pavement. as i begin to pick up speed a lone horse crosses the road in front of me and makes like it is going to charge. i am slightly uneasy about this, but my sudden surprise and confusion keep me from anything but pedaling forward. the horse stands stoic as i ride by, then commences to gallop up alongside me for what seems to be a quarter mile. it soon appears to me that this horse is not chasing me, but gallivanting with me. it acts as though i am a horse myself, or at least it feels we share similar motives. even when i have felt most solitary, nature again has proven its ability to commune with me. i suppose that we must first be open to this communion before it can take place, we must bow before nature in humble fashion, and surrender ourselves to its power and mysticism. i pedal towards the coming darkness and soon see a loncheria on the east side of the road, tecate sign flickering in the pale blue twilight. i am thirsty and go inside to buy a cold soda (they are out of beer) and fixings for dinner. as i am paying i ask about safe places to camp nearby for i am losing ambition and no longer care to make it fifteen miles further to ciudad insurgentes. the kind old man invites me to camp in front of the store and says that there will be no traffic once it gets dark and he will turn out the lights. the night, he says, will be quiet and cold. in accordance with my motto, porque no, i graciously accept these accommodations and at once begin making camp. he is right, after a short time the cold falls heavy upon us, and the chill climbs back, deep into my bones. i cook, eat quickly, and turn in soon after to read sea of cortez. as i am reading the old man turns out the lights, and i am suddenly fast asleep. BV
Written by Katrina Wollet, photographed by Clark Patrick
osie and I met post-college. She’s older than I am with a few character dents and dings to show for it, but it was love at first sight. She is a deep green 1980s something Schwinn, a gift from my dad. When we were introduced her brakes were a little wobbly, seat stiff and cages broken, but I spruced her up by adding some red tires and matching handle bar tape, and so our love story began. Just under two years ago now, I packed the car with Rosie in the back, and together we moved to Minneapolis for the new glorious adventure I had laid out in my head. It didn’t go as planned. In fact, it went terribly wrong, and I was greeted with a city that’s hard to break into. Through the transition, the challenges and the changes though, I discovered a gateway to a new beginning—my trusty bike, Rosie. Before we knew anyone, and as we settled into a new neighborhood, Rosie and I pedaled the city finding coffee shops, grocery stores, outdoor movies and dog parks. First, it was Caffetto Café with the dark basement seating similar to places I partied in high school. Next, we found the co-op grocery store where the harmonica player sat every Saturday morning, and then Hidden Beach, appropriately titled and tucked away from all major roads and public access and only accessible on bike or foot. All of these new places in Minneapolis were beautiful, especially in spring—the trees all turning green (and my allergies turning on me), the trails exiting the city limits, the cool summer breeze off the lake, the city lights reflecting during a light rain. Even the suburbs surrounding Minneapolis took on a surprisingly beautiful hue. I continued to discover more and more places— little gems, really—by bike. While I had no trouble finding these inspiring new locations, I had all the trouble finding new friends. Finally, shortly after my move, I announced to a close friend that I was giving up on my new city and going back home. As a good friend would, he told me that he understood, except it was an “insert comma here” statement. He agreed to support my decision if I still disliked Minneapolis, but only after I gave a cycling group called 30 Days of Biking (30DOB) a chance. From my friend, I learned that this worldwide biking community of joyful cyclists (as they called themselves) was pedaling together towards the same goal—ride your bike every day in April and share your adventures online. I am proud to say that it is through this community that I have met my best friend, made Bunyan Velo 113
new friends, and reconnected with old friends, and ultimately, decided to stay in Minneapolis. April 2012 was the first year I participated. I went onto the 30DOB website and made the pledge that I would join other riders and commit to ride my bike every day in April. Using the hashtag #30daysofbiking and the 30DOB Facebook page, I began to connect with other people who shared this similar love of bikes. Just like smiles are universal, I found that bikes have the power to bridge, unite, motivate and bond people together, even when it feels like nothing else can. Suddenly, I had a platform to connect with cyclists from all different places, with many diverse backgrounds and various levels of riding. Through 30DOB I found more little gems in the biking community—and my now friends. Immediately, I became a part of their community. Immediately, this city began to feel less lonely. Reflecting on the past two years, I’ve realized that bikes, and 30 Days of Biking, have redirected my life in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I’ve realized that something is happening that’s bigger than health or convenience or lifestyle. There’s community. Everyone finds somewhere to belong in different places, maybe a book club or a sports team, maybe a music group. For me, it was biking. 30DOB has made me a healthier person and, more importantly, a happier one. I don’t have any blood family in Minneapolis, but I know, no matter where I go in the world, I have a pretty kick-ass bike family. BV
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Written by Carrie Harvilla, photographed by Erik Jensen
ou know how the daydreams bubble up while you’re pedaling for hours? How that which lies ahead takes on bombastic proportions? The town of Sisters became that postcard place in my mind. What a name! It seemed fitting as I was a couple days in on a summer cycling tour with my longtime cycling comrade, old friend, and former coworker, Kassie. I pictured delicious pizza, the best ice cream, and maybe even a public hot tub or some such as we rolled down to that fantasy place after a big climb out of the Willamette Valley. To me, this marked our official entrance into the Cascades, that favorite range of mine. We’d loosely charted a route through the mountains, met at the train station in Albany, Oregon, and set our sights on Crater Lake. Our arrival in Sisters presented no such postcard. Luckily, I’ve spent enough hours pedal-dreaming to know that’s rarely the case. It did, however, offer an unexpected delight. Our dear friend Erik, on his own, longer ramble from Washington to California, was passing through on the very same afternoon. Oh happenstance twists! Certainly, we must buy a bottle of whiskey, head off on another road, and see where that takes us, shouldn’t we? It is the unplanned that grants the adventure, no? And so, at the suggestion of Erik’s dog-eared copy of Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail by Bil Paul, we turned back up into Willamette National Forest, excited to leave the cars and the concrete behind. This out-of-print treat pointed us toward a shortcut over Broken Top. The accompanying black and white photo showed the author in full-on 80s cycling garb – t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers – next to some melting snow. But in the fine and balmy days of July, our bold spirits high, this was no concern to us. On the contrary, as we climbed and finally left the pavement for the soil, our hootin’ and hollerin’ rang through the trees. We rode joyously, elated to be in a place so desolate and lush and drenched in summer sunshine. And then we came across that little patch of snow. It was cute, that little patch, and we rolled right by it. We had to dismount at the next patch, but after a few minutes we were back riding, albeit in the mud. It was novel. The next patch... was not a patch. It was a snow-covered mountain. We only came to learn this over time, over footsteps that began with vigor and a sort of naive snow frolic. Footsteps that questioned as to when this more massive patch – but no doubt still a patch – would turn back into increasingly desirable mud. Walking our bikes Bunyan Velo 119
“As we climbed and finally left the pavement for the soil, our hootin’ and hollerin’ rang through the trees.”
turned into pushing our bikes. In slip-sliding Chaco sandals. I was suddenly very jealous of Kassie’s clipless shoes for their perceived off-the-bike capabilities. Again I was daydreaming, but now of the traction the cleats her on shoes provided (gigantic in my mind), and the pair of crampons I might magically find in my bag. Neither materialized. But it was easy to daydream because we’d now been at pushing our bikes through the snow for some time and the distance between us grew. I’m used to this when cycling – I’m almost always the slowest, and I’ve learned to enjoy the solitude that comes from being the caboose, at peace with my pace. I know I’ll always make it where I’m going. This was different. Pushing is not pedaling – this was hard. And it held an unknown: the “shortcut” was eight miles. When would the snow stop? On my own and pushing on, that singular combination of circumstances cooked up a real gem. Lurching through snow felt nearly impossible at some points, handling this bike become beast. Loaded, it was a third of my own weight, but it felt like much more on the slick uphills. Mix together something more physically demanding than I’d ever endured, throw in a bit of mental discomfort owing to the uncertainty of the snowy situation, add a dash of “you’re going to be here till you get yourself out,” and stir. It reached a boil as we approached a freezing cold stream. With no clear or easy crossing, we shimmied down banks, shouting to each other over the rushing swirl. After we’d finally gotten ourselves and our gear safely to the other side, we shared a moment of collective success and shivering relief. Then we turned back to the task at hand, and soon enough I was solo again, pushing. It was then that something emerged from down inside the core of me: it was the true essence of determination. I must, I can, I will continue – with coursing adventurousness. Up until that moment, I realized it had only ever been a word, now (and forever more) it had an aliveness and visceral meaning. I kept on pushing on for hours, but with a new sense of strength that came from freshly discovered determination. It carried me through till nightfall. We’d gone about four miles. Camping that evening was otherworldly. We warmed ourselves next to the biggest fire ever, with the whiskey playing supporting role. Our toes thawed. The full moon illuminated an endless field of snow. Stepping away from the fire into the vastness and quietude, the night offered a divine, silent note from the heavens: it spoke of expansiveness and possibility. To keep cozy, three of us happily crowded into my slim twoperson tent. Needless to say, we slept well. We awoke to a lovely, bright, sunny morning. And more snow. We set out, and the high of our previous day’s adventure, the superhero pride, lasted about 45 minutes – long enough for us to enjoy riding on the snow a bit. But then the thin film of early morning ice melted, the snow slushed out again, and the pushing re-commenced.
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Any glory or romance felt the first day had dissipated entirely. There was still plenty of wayfinding to be had, relying on the bright orange diamonds on trees marking cross country ski routes. Knowing we had just as long to go as we’d come the day before, there were no illusions about what we were in for. Again, that quiet, steely little rock of determination moved me forward. And in a certain way, I gave up. Or, gave in: my relationship to my bicycle changed. Now, it was allowed to have a bucking life of its own, come what may. The countless up and down hills became a ridiculous dance: push and pull, slip and slide, grunt my way to the top, and then comically scamper down the other side. On those descents, sometimes the bike stayed with me, and plenty of times the bike chose its own course. It was just easier to let it go. I watched it coast...fall and slither sideways... gently thud into snow drifts as I tried to keep myself upright. Occasionally I let it go first and took its lead in determining the best route down, shuffle-sledding along after it. Any tinge of preciousness was lost. I haven’t felt it since. Hours passed, mostly alone. When the marshy snowline came into view, seeing flats and mud and my friends in the distance, a simple, deep relief seeped in. Another half hour and we made it to the road, washing our bikes as best we could. No fanfare, no cheering from the group of cyclists who rode by, oblivious to our heroic badassery. It’s always a bit strange to enter relative normalcy after some fantastic yet personal feat, isn’t it? Only Erik, Kassie, and I could so thoroughly rejoice in the effortless rolling upon the pavement, Mount Bachelor now in full view. We’d emerged back into summer at its zenith, and when we arrived that Fourth of July at a lakeside resort for a ceremonial beer or three, it seemed a most fitting occasion to celebrate. Ours was truly a holiday of freedom, found in those uncharted places, and of the independence that comes from trusting oneself, the kind that only comes from trying and finding out in a way that’s all your own. BV
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RING ON TOP OF THE WORLD Written and photographed by Daniel Molloy
he ride hadn’t started yet and I’d already been hit with a bout of Giardia. If you’ve ever had the infamous “Delhi Belly,” you can commiserate. If not, I’ll spare you the gory details. Fortunately, anybody can walk into a pharmacy in India and buy a course of antibiotics for the equivalent of two dollars. Since I was a child, India had seemed like an exotic place, completely opposite from where I’d grown up, and I desperately wanted to see it. In my mind, there was nothing more exciting than a mountain bike touring trip to the Indian Himalayas with a couple of friends. After seeing amazing pictures of the journeys completed by other cyclists, we formed a plan to cycle the northern Indian Himalayas from Manali to Leh. My friends Aaron and Jorge agreed to come along. After months of planning, training, and practice trips, we were as ready as we could be. I’d toured the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route three years earlier and learned much from that experience. Gone were the six and a half pound twoman tent and the copious amounts of “doohickeys” and “springa-ma-jigs” (including a kitchen sink – a special German made one!). All of us were riding steel frames with 26” wheels, big tire clearance, rigid forks, and Rohloff 14-speed internally geared hubs. I rode a custom Inglis/Retrotec, Aaron rode a Surly Troll painted a great shade of military green, and Jorge found a used Thorn EXXP fillet-brazed beauty. Three strong and light Hilleberg Akto mountaineering tents would be our private cocoons for the next three weeks. Nobody wanted to share a tent, mainly due to my strong camping odors. I don’t blame them! Upon landing in Delhi, we were bombarded with tropically humid air, oppressive heat, and a density of humanity I’d never experienced before. It was thrilling! I saw a family of four, including a mother, holding her infant and a toddler sitting on dad’s lap, all comfortably perched atop a small motorcycle, sans helmets. This was not an uncommon scene. Amazingly, we didn’t see any accidents. After assembling our bikes at the Sham Nath Villa in New Delhi, we took in the sights for a couple days, including sampling some of the finest local curries, a bicycle rickshaw ride, and a visit to the local bicycle shop where one could procure a new “Hero” brand bike modeled after an old Raleigh gentleman’s cruiser for about $75. Getting to the Bunyan Velo 131
start of our ride required a 14-hour bus journey to Manali, a small mountain town where lush marijuana bushes grow wild. Once we started riding, our first climb was Rhotang Pass. It was deep mud all the way to the top, with road crews doing construction along the way. When I say road crew, what I mean is a group of women and old men on their knees, breaking big rocks into little rocks with hammers. By construction, I mean throwing the little rocks into the mud to make it more passable. We came to a bottleneck near the top of the pass, where we witnessed a futile attempt to control the perpetual rockslides that occur on this steep terrain. Men with bulldozers and backhoes were pushing aside rocks and periodically setting off dynamite. The pass would open for about 15 minutes before more rocks slid down and the process started over again. We waited at the roadblock for several hours, which was at 12,000 feet of elevation. After being told over and over again that the pass would be open soon, we decided to head back to a more reasonable elevation to camp out overnight. Our acclimation period had been limited, and Aaron was beginning to feel the effects of altitude sickness. I was a bit worried when he vomited shortly after setting up his tent, but he felt better right away. The next morning, we were faced with a tough decision: ride back up to the roadblock and try our luck waiting for the dynamite crews, or carry our bikes on a steep, unrideable, rock-strewn goat path over a thousand feet to the other side of the rockslide. We decided to take the hard, steep, and dirty option. Aaron and I carried our loaded bikes over boulders, while Jorge did the smart thing and hired a Sherpa for $10 to carry his bike. The Sherpa easily threw Jorge’s bike over his head and hiked the steep, rocky terrain in flip-flops like it was nothing at all. Stubbornness beat out Jealousy that time. Finally, on the clear side of Rhotang, we realized a huge benefit of the traffic jam: we had a completely clear “road” for the next 20 miles! Not that there are typically many vehicles on the Manali Leh highway, only the occasional hand-painted and uniquely decorated dump truck style cargo vehicle or military convoy. Riding on dirt in the middle of nowhere during that first section of our tour was quite special. It felt like riding on top of the world. The scenery in the Indian Himalayas is spectacular. You don’t need to be a gifted photographer to make amazing photographs along this stretch of road, just don’t point the camera straight at the ground and you’ll do fine. We felt reasonably safe along the entire route, with only the occasional curious passerby stumbling upon our campsite. They would stare at us with crossed arms, not out of malice, but rather wondering what the heck we were doing out there with our bicycles and tents, cooking on a shiny little alcohol stove. One man in a matching tracksuit even offered us some chocolate after staring at us for several minutes. We politely declined. The idea of personal space and privacy in India is practically non-existent. We expected this in a metropolis like Delhi, but were surprised to find out that it applied even in the middle of the Himalayas. Bunyan Velo 132
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Our initial purchase of supplies in Manali included several pounds of dried fruits, nuts, noodles, Nutella, bread, chocolate, and not enough booze. Dhabas were the only alternative option for food. These mud-brick walled huts with tarps for roofs serve as truck stops for the military convoys and cargo trucks that comprise the traffic on this route. There is no power, and hence no refrigeration, only a propane stove for cooking. The limited food options included omelets, rice, Chiapatti (a homemade flatbread), or Dal (lentils). There was also Chai, a highly sweetened black tea served with milk upon which we all became at least slightly dependent. One can also rent blanket space in a communal sleeping room at some Dhabas for approximately 50 cents per night. I insisted on sleeping in one, just so we could have the experience, and we paid a total of $5 in order to have the entire room to ourselves. We also experienced a miracle that night. We pantomimed to our host that we were interested in acquiring some adult refreshments, and he came back a few minutes later with three large bottles of COLD contraband beer tucked into his jacket. I have no idea where it came from, let alone how he kept it cold. After staying up playing cards and relishing the extra space in our room, we went to bed stinky and happy. The next day we would be riding one of the toughest climbs of the trip. My peripheral vision darkened as I saw the top of Taglang La pass approaching. I was spinning the pedals at only four miles per hour in my easiest gear on the slightest of grades and my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. The sun baked my skin, radiating through the clothing that covered almost every square inch. Things feel different when you’re riding at over 17,000 feet of elevation. I handed my camera over to Aaron for a picture next to the pass marker at the top. He took four shots, and I actually remembered to smile on the last one. It was hard not to panic a bit when I found myself short of breath while sitting down. It’s always fun to descend from such altitude, feeling the air become thicker. Your confidence increases, and at this point in the ride Aaron in particular was showing off some incredible bike handling skills. I watched him take a detour down a steep goat path with no clearly rideable line. I didn’t dare follow as I watched him skid both wheels around toaster-sized rocks on his rigid bike with front and rear pannier bags strapped on. I chose the safer, switch-backed section to the bottom of a drop of several thousand feet and met up with him there. He said that it was the fastest dirt downhill he’d ever ridden. I could almost see the adrenalin in his eyes. We slowly began to see signs of civilization as we passed through tiny villages that turned into slightly-less-tiny Bunyan Velo 138
villages the further we pedaled. We knew everything would be okay when we got to try our first sampling of Tibetan momos, a kind of steamed or fried wonton dumpling stuffed with veggies and meat. Aaron took the opportunity to spin a seven-foot-tall prayer wheel, but some kids immediately came running up to him, gestured that he had spun it the wrong way. At least this happened at the end of our trip, who knows what might have happened if we were cursed from the start! After two weeks of riding, we eventually reached the endpoint of our tour in Leh, a small, touristy backpacker town with such attractions as “world’s highest paintball arena” and “world’s highest gas station.” After getting our gear in order, we took the opportunity to ride up the “world’s highest motorable road,” Khardung La, which sits at 18,380 feet above sea level (though I have my doubts as to this claim’s accuracy). We weren’t the only ones to ride bikes all the way up, but the people who drove were impressed when they saw us crawl to the top! After spending a few days in Leh recuperating and relaxing (including getting an extremely close $1 straight razor shave from a very nice back alley barber), it was time to head back to Delhi for a couple of days before our flight back to San Francisco. This time in Delhi we took a side trip to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, and ate more amazing food before our flight. As I reflected back on our trip, I couldn’t help but think about what might be next for my life. Traveling by bicycle in India was an amazing experience, allowing us much more intimate access to small spots we would have missed had we been touring via bus or train. The reaction from locals was usually disbelief when they saw us roll in on bicycles, and I believe most people thought we were poor, because why the heck would anybody choose to ride a bicycle around with their luggage strapped on if they could afford another option? We were rarely harassed by street vendors, mainly because they didn’t know what to make of us. Coming back to California after being in such an amazing place as India, I feel afflicted by a sort of disease, and not the kind that wreaks havoc on my intestines. My waking hours are constantly consumed with thoughts of the next big adventure. When I’ve told people of this trip, their most common reaction is “Wow, that must have been the trip of a lifetime!” My immediate response when I hear this is, “I hope not!” I’ve since spent a year leading bicycle trips and shooting photos in Europe and am currently planning a dirt adventure in South America. One thing I know for sure: This type of travel will in one way or another be part of my life for as long as I am able to keep pushing the pedals. As a bike geek and photographer, how can I resist? BV
PLAN & PEDAL
Written and photographed by Nick Hormuth and Lindy Patterson
e’re passionate about cooking and eating well on a bike camping adventure—real, seasonal, flavorful food, homemade to be shared outdoors with friends. This takes some planning. Plan One of our recent plans sounded something like this: Brunch with four friends in Oakland, then set off together for a 15-mile ride up and along Skyline Drive to a new-to-us camping destination. We would arrive midday and make camp overlooking Lake Chabot. Do a little fishing. Send an envoy to the nearest market just a few miles away to pick up fresh food, fuel for our stoves, some beer to go with our planned dinner menu: a roasted sweet potato soup with spicy peppers and black beans. If fortune allowed, fish tacos. And to finish, some chili-cinnamon hot chocolate with a splash of whiskey. We packed our gear, including a pantry of spices and oils from home and set off. Pedal Here’s what think of as a perfect execution of this plan: The day began with a stop at the Chinese market just below our friends’ place in Oakland, where we joined a ruthless melee for ripe strawberries, competing with fasthanded old women with uncompromising intentions. Upstairs, we lingered, enjoying our spoils with eggs and toast, plenty of coffee, and good conversation. After, we took our time in the sunshine on the city sidewalk to study maps and chat. And then we were rolling, talking, climbing, catching up on each other’s love stories and life happenings. The sun shining on the spring growth above and around us, bringing out the dry, olivey smell of the California hillside. We were sky high, riding long waves of rollers, when an off-road trail caught someone’s eye. We took it. For an hour or more, we pedaled dusty ups and downs through a scrub-oak forest. The trees would open up now and then to unexpected vistas—the sparkling Bay and City to the west, greening hillsides and sleepy lakes to the east. We sidled past a four-foot-long snake sunning itself unperturbed on the trail, winking a lazy threat. We were alone together in the quiet noise of the countryside. Breezes licking past and sighing toward the Pacific as we
breathed up and down the trail. When we finally emerged again, we found ourselves several miles back from where we’d started. No one cared. The sun was still high enough in the sky and only a few miles lay between us and our destination. We split up, two of us taking a trail to camp, off to set up tents and get the fire going for dinner. The others on the longer road to the market. I’m not sure how far we’d gone when we discovered we were on a hiker-only trail. Felled trees crisscrossed our path between swampy switchbacks, giving way to rocky inclines and heady drop-offs on the edge of a foot-wide trail. It took us two hours to go three miles with our loaded bikes. Meanwhile, the others found the nearest market already closed for the day. They rode on and down and down and down and down to find an open market, seemingly at sea level. In a car, the distance and the elevation would have felt like nothing. Only a cyclist could know the bittersweet elation of that downhill flight. The sun had set by the time our camp-makers had the tents up and fire going. The conversation turned reflective—as conversations do by firelight—wondering at how impenetrable the wilderness could become just steps from the daily flow of life, and how when you encounter that wild place at the edge of things it reminds you of what it is to be human—fragile, strong, hungry, physical, clever, clueless, all of it at once. Earthbound but capable of taking flight, when the earth and two wheels allow. Eventually, our intrepid shoppers emerged panting from the darkness, panniers bulging. We tossed the slow food plan, munching on chips and salsa instead, and recounting our separate adventures while sausages and peppers sizzled over the fire. We did drop the sweet potatoes and peppers over the hot coals, and we more or less forgot them until the fire and the conversation dwindled toward sleep. Twelve miles became thirty, breakfast became dinner, dinner became breakfast, and everyone returned home rested, restored, and well-fed. Perfect. Bunyan Velo 141
forgotten fire soup for four 2 med sweet potatoes 2 tbsp. olive oil* 1 med. onion, chopped 2 bouillon cubes* 3 cups water 1 med red bell pepper, roasted & chopped 1 small jalapeño pepper, roasted & diced 1 16-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed juice of half a lemon pinch of cayenne* salt & pepper to taste* optional: milk or cream to finish cilantro to garnish *pantry items brought from home Roast two sweet potatoes naked on the grill over a fire or rubbed with olive oil and wrapped in foil and placed near hot coals (est. 30-40 mins). Turn regularly, though it’s ok if they go black, as you’ll peel the skins away. Meanwhile, in each of two pots, heat ½ tbsp of olive oil over low heat. Divide one chopped onion and a little salt evenly between pots and cook over low heat for about 15 mins. While onions caramelize, roast the peppers naked on the grill over the fire or wrapped in foil and placed near coals for about 10 mins, turning regularly. Once the onions have caramelized, crumble one bouillon cube into each pot, then stir in water, evenly divided, followed by chopped peppers and black beans. Simmer until potatoes are done. Peel and mash potatoes with a fork and divide between four bowls. Pour onion broth evenly over potatoes and stir until well blended and the potatoes are smooth. Stir in lemon juice, cayenne, and salt to taste and finish, if you like, with a little cream. BV
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