BUNYAN VELO TRAVELS ON TWO WHEELS // ISSUE No. 03
BUNYAN VELO ISSUE No. 03 – OCTOBER 2013 Travels on Two Wheels
EDITOR and DESIGNER Lucas Winzenburg
CONTACT firstname.lastname@example.org www.bunyanvelo.com
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Liz and Donny in Fearg, John and Fiona in West Kilbride, Sébastien and Maria in Bristol, Ted and Eli in Cambridge, Beni and Kerstin in Köln, Lucian and Diana in Brussels, James Lucas of Boneshaker Magazine, Paul Smith of Inspiring Riding, Devin O’Brien of Search and State, Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket, Lael Wilcox, Marcello Alghisi, Joseph Williams, Steven Tromberg, David Beachley, Kevin Tweed, Cass Gilbert, Patrick Stephenson, and Clark Filip.
CONTRIBUTORS David Berg Isaiah Berg Nathan Berg Jason Boucher Jason Britton Nicholas Carman
Jonathan Cromwell Gabriel Amadeus Tiller Hurl Everstone Kevin Tweed Ben Hovland Tom Walwyn Craig Lindner Logan Watts Zachary Stephen Miller Lucas Winzenburg Aaron Ortiz
PHOTO CREDITS Cover: Jason Boucher Opening: Ben Hovland Opposite: Lucas Winzenburg Contents: Logan Watts 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 After just nine months, this humble project has grown from a clutter of images and documents on my laptop into an incredible global community of readers, writers, and riders. I’d like to use this space to give my sincere thanks to everyone who has helped us realize this publication. Thank you. I also want to acknowledge those who reached out with a coffee, a beer, or a place to stay during my ride across Europe this summer. Making those connections is a significant part of what makes bicycle travel so meaningful and unique for me. It’s also what inspires me to keep Bunyan Velo going. I couldn’t be more excited to publish another compilation of bicycle essays, stories, and photographs. The authors in this issue present terrific reflections on two-wheeled travel. Some begin their journey in a remote destination on the other side of the world; others start in their own backyard. All ultimately forge a lasting connection with the people and places passed by their handlebars. If you can, please consider supporting this independent publication by purchasing a copy or donating at bunyanvelo.com Happy trails, Lucas Winzenburg Editor
Contents Contributor Biographies............................................................8 Chasing Red and White............................................................10 by Nicholas Carman A Line in the Sand....................................................................24 by Tom Walwyn The Bicycle Cure......................................................................38 by Kevin Tweed An Impromptu Journey............................................................50 by Logan Watts Bikepacking the Kenai Coast...................................................62 by Jason Boucher Lost in the Wind......................................................................76 by Aaron Ortiz Almanzo 100 and the Rise of Gravel Racing..........................90 by Hurl Everstone A Three Day Adventure in the Old West.................................106 by Jason Britton Small World of the High One.................................................116 by Isaiah Berg The Desert Tour.....................................................................128 by Jonathan Cromwell Claiming Space......................................................................138 by Ben Hovland
Contributors THE BERG BROTHERS
The Berg Brothers were born and raised on a family farm in Starkweather, North Dakota. In 2012, the three of them completed a Pan-American bicycle expedition. David is now studying at Dartmouth College. Isaiah is a Marine. Nathan is farming and teaching music. See their stories online at www.boundsouth.org
Jonathan Cromwell is an ultramarathon runner, bicycle rider, backcountry skier, and soon-to-be river bum. He finds passion in human powered travel of all kinds, and in playing foosball. He splits his time between living in the woods of Glacier Point, Alaska, and seeking out radical adventures around the world. Maybe one day he’ll have a blog.
Jason Boucher is a lifelong, traveling bike geek with a passion for photography. He changed his path in life after a bike tour from Alaska to Utah in the mid 90s. His job working with bike brands at Quality Bicycle Products allows him to blend his love of bikes and photography. He believes that bikes are the best way to experience the world and has discovered, through bicycle travel, that the world is big and we are small.
Hurl Everstone is a lifelong bicycle junkie/rider/raconteur, originally from the plains of North Dakota. He now calls Minneapolis home and can usually be found riding the dirt and gravel roads surrounding Hennepin County and beyond, or dreaming about the next mountain bike excursion to Copper Harbor, Michigan, or the Maah Daah Hey Trail in North Dakota. Fond of Manhattan’s (rye), Budweiser, and Punk Rock. Online at www.carsrcoffins.com
Jason Britton was born in the vast metropolis of Los Angeles, but found his home in Oregon a number of years back. A part time bike racer, tourer, and full time bullshitter, he enjoys getting lost on desolate roads, shredding dirt, and drinking Rainier. Always a schemer, there’s an adventure around every corner waiting to be had. You can see the fruits at flickr.com/velograph
Ben Hovland is a freelance media-maker and multimedia supervisor at Freewheel Bike in Minneapolis, MN. His most recent cycling adventures include touring down the West Coast, along Lake Superior’s North Shore, and around the Twin Cities Metro. When he’s not glued to a screen or riding his bike, Ben dreams of exploring less-trodden paths and getting lost in the mountains. A selection of his photos can be viewed at flickr.com/railandstone
Nicholas Carman left on a bike trip in 2008 and never stopped riding. He reports, “...chasing painted blazes on trees all summer in Europe, discovering dirt tracks and incredible camping along a vast network of walking trails through ten countries.” He is currently riding in Ukraine. You can find his stories, photographs, and ideas online at gypsybytrade.wordpress.com
Craig Lindner works for a larger retailer in Minneapolis, rides in his free time, and is the unofficial photographer of the Almanzo 100. What started as a day of photographing friends has turned into a yearly pilgrimage to help document one of the defining events of the gravel race scene. In a small way he hopes he’s helped Chris Skogen open up the experience of Almanzo to more riders.
ZACHARY STEPHEN MILLER
Zachary Stephen Miller has developed a passion for the mountains, and spends his time floating between ranges in Washington, Colorado, and Utah. His lifelong wanderlust for the outdoors only escalated after acquiring his beloved Surly Pugsley, “Cousteau,” and experiencing the joys of bicycle-borne adventure. His stories are always told through his photos, as his camera always comes along for the ride. Brief stories and plentiful pictures of his wanderings can be found on his blog at zacharystephenmiller.wordpress.com
Tom Walywn’s nomadic medical career and his many outdoor adventures have nurtured an ongoing restlessness and need to be out there in remote places. Tom and his wife completed a 20 month, 28,000 km off-road bicycle journey from Banff (Canada) to Punta Arenas (Chilean Patagonia) in April 2012. Although he’s now a paediatric oncologist based in Western Australia, they are always looking to the next journey. See his photography and writing online at www.bicyclenomad.com
Aaron Ortiz is a pedicab driver, physician recruiter, runner, cyclist, and amateur photographer who happens to write every now and then. Based in Portland, ME, his all-time favorite type of cycling is bicycle touring, followed closely by beer rides. When not taking part in an overnight tour near Portland, he can usually be found hiking with his girlfriend and dog in the White Mountains. You can see more of his adventures at instagram.com/velomuni
In 2012, Logan Watts sold his marketing company, changed direction, and set out on a bike expedition through Mexico and Central America. When he’s not traveling or mountain biking, Logan can be found somewhere in North Carolina growing a beard and wondering where the next adventure will take him and his lovely wife Virginia. They’ll be heading to Africa this December. Find their stories, gear nerdery, and post-ride beers at pedalingnowhere.com
GABRIEL AMADEUS TILLER
Gabriel Amadeus Tiller is exploring the world one misadventure at a time. Born in a canoe in Northern Michigan, learned what good beer was in Duluth, Minnesota, and got stuck in the grandeur of Oregon ten years ago. If each trip doesn’t end with squelching sneakers or fixing a flat bike tire, he probably wasn’t trying hard enough. Picked up a camera recently and hasn’t broken it yet. A contributor for The Missouri Review, Portland Mercury, BikePortland.org, A Gentleman’s Word, and the Chicago Reader.
Lucas Winzenburg’s love of rambling through nature has led him to spend years living in spectacular environments from the snowcapped fjords of Iceland to the tropical forests of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. If he’s not making maps or editing this publication, he’s likely out running or riding dirt trails through quiet places. He resides in beautiful Minneapolis, MN.
KEVIN TWEED Kevin Tweed works as a photographer’s assistant in Banff National Park with his lovely wife and two quirky pups. He spends as much time as possible meandering around the Canadian Rockies by bicycle, be it on roads, dirt, or snow. You can see his photographs and a read a few of his words at tweedtelegraph.com
Chasing Red and White Written and photographed by Nicholas Carman
ost in the woods, in the rain, only a few kilometers from Belgium, we knock on the door of a wooded estate of mossy tiled roof and small windows. For a moment, we have lost the scent of red and white paint on trees. An old man appears. The house smells of cigarettes, the kitchen neatly cluttered with a quarter loaf of brown bread, tidy stacks of mail, and an unknown bottle of spirits – a very orderly and distinctly Dutch mess. In some of three languages, we explain that we seek the route with the red and white signs, le GR Cinq. It seems that this man has lived here forever, and we are quite sure that the trail passes along one of many forest tracks within sight, but he is unaware. We don’t speak Dutch. He doesn’t speak English. We settle on French. Knowing we are lost, and that we wish to go somewhere, he asks, “Belgique?” Oui, definitely. A pencil is procured, and lines appear on an old envelope. A map is drawn – ride beyond the great white house, left at the stone wall, beyond the cemetery, across the ditch or stream which he is calling a river, then continue along the row of trees toward Essen, marked by an X on the map. You arrive in Belgique. He repeats the series again, exactly. Then, you arrive in Belgique. Merci. Merci beaucoup.
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Belgium is an unlikely place to go bikepacking. Surely, the country has a strong cycling heritage, including the infamous Eddy Merckx and a tenacious breed of Flemish cyclocross riders, but mountains aren’t the plat du jour when visiting Belgium. From coastal lowlands in the west to the ancient Ardennes Massif in the east, Belgium is best known for its refined consumables reflecting its rich maritime climate, including beer, chocolate, and waffles. While cows and countryside prevail, along with a relative density of people and historic villages, Belgium is a fantastic place to go cycletouring, in the traditional sense. Efficient Dutch-style cycling routes are signed across the country for simple navigation along pleasant routes. An intricate network of walking routes is also signed – through villages, farmland, and forests – with a more relaxed aim and bucolic air. These walking trails, with few exceptions, are legal to ride. Now, imagine connecting miles and days of such walking trails by bike. At second glance, Belgium and other countries in Europe present a perfect place to go bikepacking. Walking Trails in Europe Walking trails are common across Europe, and most routes are signed and mapped for simple navigation. Unlike backcountry hiking trails in the US, these routes may include a variety of surfaces, from cobbled town centers and paved backroads to rough alpine singletrack. Walking routes pass near places where real people live and work, and through countryside that locals enjoy on the weekend, not only through remote terrain. In most places, except some protected zones such as national parks, the trails are legal to ride by bicycle. However, beware that the terrain may say otherwise. High mountains may provide rewarding routes, although some pushing is likely. For a more rideable experience, consider lesser mountains, hills, and lowlands, each of which provides an increasingly cultural experience, surrounded by more villages and people. In recent decades, the European Ramblers’ Association has established a series of international long-distance routes across the continent. These routes are composed of previously existing national and regional routes. For example, the GR5 stretches
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from the North Sea in Holland to the Mediterranean Sea in France (passing through Belgium and Luxembourg), and is administered separately in each country. The GR5, which has existed for over 50 years, has recently been included into the greater E2 trail, which continues north across the English Channel. Trail signage may change across borders, although some uniformity exists. When speaking about walking trails, GR stands for Grand RandonĂŠe (France), Gran Recorrido (Spain), Grote Routepaden (Belgium), and Grande Rota (Portugal). Locally, networks of hiking and mountain biking trails are interwoven with long-distance routes, offering limitless permutations for adventuring around the continent. Every year in Europe, more dedicated long-distance off-pavement routes are also in progress, modeled after popular routes such as the Great Divide. Currently, mapped and signed longdistance dirt routes exist in France, Spain, Switzerland, England, and Germany. Traditional on-pavement cycling routes are also common across the continent. Signage is plentiful along most European walking routes, most often as painted blazes on trees, fences, or buildings. At the intersection of several trails, signposts are cluttered with placards describing distances or hiking times to the next minor destination, such as a town, peak, or mountain hut. At major junctions or in villages, public maps may offer a complete and detailed view of the area. Routes may be signed according to difficulty or intended use, so inquire locally about such trail language. For example, steep approach routes marked by a certain color may seek the shortest distance to a peak, while a long-distance route of another color may follow a major geographic feature, such as a ridge or valley. Pocketable, detailed maps are frequently available at local touristic offices. Of course, a GPS can help to navigate in any situation. Route files are often available from other intrepid bikepackers and backpackers, best discovered though forums and blogs.
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Bikepacking Belgium Navigating the Belgian countryside along the GR5 – rising from coastal lowlands across undulating farmland to the neatly folded Ardennes Massif in the east – our route becomes increasingly forested and challenging. It begins in the west as a daily treasure hunt for red and white blazes, leading us along ramparts and pastures, interspersed with intricately managed forests and town centers – all of it flat. The riding surfaces change with every turn of direction, from crushed gravel bicycle trail, to cobblestone, pavement, grass, sand, and even some genuine dirt singletrack. Moving east, larger forested plots mean more dirt forest service roads, and more singletrack walking trails. Farm roads and shepherds’ footpaths make for nice riding, and as the hills become too steep to plow, cows become more common. Turnstile gates designed too narrow for cows are also too small for bikes, requiring that we lift our loaded bikes to shoulder height. Pack light, for as on a true wilderness adventure, uncertainty and discovery are around every corner. Passing near Maastricht and the southern border of the Netherlands, we encounter short, steep hills at last. We ride hard upwards, balancing our bodies between traction and steering, although some pitches have us pushing. We ride brakes steeply downhill, hoping not to ride over the bars, our eyes wide for red and white blazes on trees. Careful – do not overlook the stone staircase at the bottom of the descent. Walking up and down stairs is a natural part of bikepacking in Europe. Good walking shoes are essential. In Belgium, small towns are closely spaced, containing all the resources for a day including fresh water, bread, cheese, beer, and produce. A church stands at the center of every town, along with a public spring. Houses are in the constant process of restoration, some originating several hundred years ago. Roads are narrow, and motorists are courteous. Camping in forests every night is easy. The beer in Belgium – no offense to the other great beers of the world, such as in Germany or the United States – is the best. Entering the Ardennes – the closest thing to mountains in Belgium – we meet familiar topography. Although appearing much like Pennsylvania, we experience a landscape shaped by centuries unfamiliar to American history. Old stone walls crumble in forests, whose perimeter describes the wealth of one nobleman, perhaps. A basic topographic map may suggest physical similarities between the Ardennes and the Appalachians, or the High Rockies and the Pyrenees, but the actual differences are impossible to read on a map. Maps do not lie, nor can they tell a complete story. While some mountain-bike adventures simply trace lines in the backcountry, and some on-pavement tours exclusively connect the markings of civilization, walking trails in Belgium offer the opportunity to do both at once. BV
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A LINE IN THE SAND Written and photographed by Tom Walwyn
o you want to ride the Canning Stock Route with me?” I asked Scott. “Sure,” he said, “what’s that?”
The very beginning of all this is hard to track, though the route itself is simply a line, already on the map. Instead of an uncertain possibility invented by us to connect two places, it is someone else’s line – mapped out and originally equipped with 51 wells over 100 years ago by the surveyor Alfred Canning, who had a dual purpose like so many others. Foremost, he envisioned a pest-free cattle droving route from the Kimberley to Perth, but also had an eye out for gold. Despite the pioneering achievement, there is the murkier tale of shackled Aboriginal guides used to find water – water we would come to rely on during our unsupported bicycle journey along the 1,650 km Canning Stock Route (CSR) through the West Australian desert. A word on the route and landmarks: The 51 wells sunk by Canning at the inception of the route are numbered south to north. Durba Springs is a haven of soft grass and shade about 500 km from the start, just after well 17. Kunawarritji is an aboriginal community near well 33 (1,000 km in) and the Canning Stock Route finishes officially at another small community, Billiluna, 180 km south of Hall’s Creek on the Tanami Highway that connects the Kimberley region of northwest Western Australia with Alice Springs in the centre of the country. The catalyst for action was the need for ‘something next,’ noticed when we were booking flights back to Australia several months before the end of a dirt road oriented pan-American cycle journey. Years earlier, I’d read of Jakub Postrzygacz’s epic first unsupported CSR ride in 2005 and added it to ‘the list.’ It seemed destined to languish there indefinitely, until my wife and I spent a month riding in Perú with Joe Cruz and his Surly Pugsley. While the fat tyres never rendered the impossible possible, seeing it up-close brought the CSR up from its resting spot. That was
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October 2011. Now, Scott Felter and I have just taken 26 days to complete the first south to north unsupported bicycle traverse of this intimidating ‘line on the map.’ These words and images hope to convey something of our experience. Getting ourselves, our bicycles, and sufficient supplies for an estimated 35 days along the 1,650 km from Wiluna to Billiluna across the Tropic of Capricorn, four deserts, nearly 1,000 dunes, and more corrugations than can be reasonably imagined was a significant challenge. Scott’s answer to the 4WDers who questioned our motivation and sanity became, “because it’s there and because it’s hard.” One evening, with the flickering cook-fire and our movements the only interruption to the horizon-bounded stillness, we pondered the nature of our undertaking. It was surprisingly difficult to pin down; only that it wasn’t a conventional bicycle tour, more an expedition. It was the toughest physical and mental challenge I’ve ever taken on, even if part of me is instinctively moved to diminish it in light of my passage. It was also an amazing way to know a landscape and the life in it. Despite being a relatively untested team, our rhythms and habits quickly bedded in. Scott a bit faster, but our endurance well matched over the length of the day. Woken by the birds with the stars near-faded, packed-up in a few minutes, a shared pan of pre-soaked oatmeal and we’d be ready to ride. We rode in 5 km segments to keep us close enough together for contact and to divide the day up with the prospect of a pause every 30 minutes or so. In the southern reaches, before we cleared Lake Disappointment, we weren’t joined by the flies, all competing for the sweat from our faces, until a while before lunch. It was amazing how our agreed lunchtime, an hour from 12:001:00 pm, often saw us crammed into a patch of shade so small that hats definitely stayed on. The afternoon distance was always shorter and harder won. With the rougher days when hands and wrists were bruised by the corrugationinduced pounding, all was reduced to pedal stroke by pedal stroke by mid-afternoon, with little left for anticipation of obstacles. Our obstinate onward movement was made easier by even small hints of cool as the sun started to sink.
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A more-or-less urgent count down would begin – of distance, dunes, or energy. Camp, our favorite time of day, brought an expansion of our horizons toward that allowed by the earth’s curve, out from the fragile limits of our riding focus only moments earlier. Food only took a little boiling water between us, but the fire was usually kept going to allow reflection and talk before sweet, dark-determined, horizontal rest and swift sleep. Making an early repeat of a route like the CSR demands a certain sort of research. Both Scott and I were multiply in touch with various earlier riders, but tried to make our own judgment calls rather than simply copy/adapt what had been done before. I followed what convention there was in CSR bicycles, and used a fat bike-trailer combination – a custom Twenty2 Cycles titanium beauty and a generously loaned prototype Extrawheel fat-wheel trailer. Scott, working on the principle that two wheels give less resistance than three, rode a custom extended wheelbase expedition bike created by Rick Hunter. Even now, I find it hard to believe nothing significant failed and we actually kept up more than a healthy pace. Early on, we thought that our good distances would fizzle to a far greater degree than they did when the going got softer. When heator infection-induced slowing occurred, it only lasted a couple of days before ‘normal’ order was restored. Attempting the route south-north unsupported for the first time was mostly a reaction to lots of rain a few weeks before the start that turned the northern end into a muddy paste in places. Other than Kate Leeming’s ‘pre-fat’ accompanied ride in 2004, Jakub and the two other successful selfsufficient cyclists had started in the north. Our approach allowed maximum drying time for the clag, the option of an escape (of sorts), and at least 1,000 km of riding before we risked getting turned back. Admittedly, the lure of at least a degree of ‘discovery’ and freedom from precedent was also there. Many of my evening journal entries talk about trying to ‘put distance in the bank,’ and, pessimistically, whether or not we would have a hope of getting to the other end. It was only once we were over two-thirds of the way through did we begin to take stock and trust our pace and judgment. A lesson in that, perhaps?
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Logistics, water, and food aside, the main challenge of this route is almost certainly the continued and intense concentration required to hold a line nearly every minute of the day. That’s what tired us most. Some days were good, with flowing lines that allowed us to smile and fly (as much as is possible with our very heavily-laden bicycles). In the less ideal majority – softer, corrugated, and closely bush-lined – good humour was much more tenuous. The tricks to following the least uncomfortable line demanded a calm, balance, and patience, all aided by instincts honed on singletrack. Sand dunes were the subject of much anticipation amongst the 4WDers who quizzed us each time they passed. Most frequently we were told we would have been wiser riding in the other direction, as the ascents are steeper and better compacted. A pair of motorcyclists we met just short of Billiluna at the end of their own CSR traverse made the same observation as us – advice given by those using one mode of transport can’t always be applied to another. It takes conviction to ignore, however. A journal entry: “Dune coming. Mine is the right hand line, Scott’s the left. Determined mostly by our preferred ‘pushing side’ so that we
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feet-dig holes in the centre of the two, rather up the steeper sides. As the angle steepens or the surface softens (often together) I drop down through the gears – maintain focus/line/tension as the runnel narrows. Success is multi-determined, with the previous vehicle passage and my energy and belief all contributing. Finally into the chosen ratio – grip tight, arms pulling down and back, head looking 2-3 feet in front of the bike (not further or the commitment wavers – either through awe or a missed transition). Engage power and hold to it as long as possible or required. Make the top, twist up into the planned descent gear, and control the plunge downwards; or don’t. If not, a few moments to get past screaming legs and some breaths before taking grip and the push. Repeat hundreds of times.” Leaving that ‘other-world’ behind for the more ordinary and complex continues to take adjustment. The colour and wonder of a desert in bloom after the earlier rains was all the more special for the effort we invested-expended to move through it. Would we do it again? No, but a better question might be directed at our regrets. We have none, and are so much the richer in memory and friendship. BV
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The Bicycle Cure
Written and photographed by Kevin Tweed
live within the townsite of Banff, Alberta, Canada. My town is located within Canada’s first National Park, and the world’s third – beautiful and incredible Banff National Park. Banff is surrounded by Yoho, Jasper, and Kootenay National Parks, as well as many provincial parklands. There are over 6,000 square kilometers of stunning mountainous landscapes to explore in Banff National Park alone. Banff lies at 1,383 metres in elevation, making it the highest town in Canada. It also boasts in excess of a thousand glaciers and its main river eventually flows north into the Hudson Bay. There are so many different forms of exploration that happen in the parks, but I have chosen to explore my backyard using what is arguably the best form of transportation, the bicycle. However, I did not first come to Banff to cycle. The adventure that first brought me to cycling was brought about by a traumatic and life-threatening situation. This is the story of how a bicycle came to save my life, but it is also a story of the great adventure of coming to know and love a bicycle, and of the wonderful adventures that follow from exploring and living by bicycle. Early in the winter of 2007 I suffered from very serious carbon monoxide poisoning while operating a faulty gas-fired pottery kiln at work. It threatened my very life, who I was, and how my brain was able to perform basic and normal motor functions that most of us would take for granted. I could not walk or speak properly, and could not solve simple puzzles and quizzes that were designed for five year olds. I went through numerous medical procedures and the unlikely cure for my condition was not through the medical society at all. In fact, it came in the form of two wheels – a new bicycle, something I had not owned since childhood, purchased for me by my lovely wife. I would get on that bicycle and the act of pedaling would slowly begin to bring back some basic motor skills, not to mention the biggest smile you could imagine. This is where the real adventure began, in that first smile, and in that first feeling that I had not had since childhood: the feeling of absolute freedom of exploration. Exploration can be a ride around the block or a long and arduous climb within the surrounding mountains. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as the pedals are spinning. I have chosen to reveal myself through bicycling, and the adventure has continued to evolve since my accident in 2007.
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Banff is not considered a fair weather place by any means. I have seen it snow in every month of the year, including during the height of summer. For some, this would not make for the best of cycling conditions, but I have come to find that the weather and the landscape only propel adventure that much more. Other than the townsite and obvious tourist spots, Banff is a wild and rugged mountain landscape with beautiful and pristine backcountry locations. I ride and explore year round â€“ sometimes to run a practical errand, though most other times it is to push out into the backcountry to find that sense of quiet that so beautifully and brilliantly exists just outside the reaches of town. The weather and landscape here are in constant flux. In the short and fleeting summer I sometimes find myself listening to the sound of the migratory birds while smelling the warm scent of the spruce and lodgepole pine as I ride down a road with more wildlife than cars on a late northern summer evening. More often than not there is a light-to-heavy frost forming on my beard, and sometimes I am being blasted by a cold wind as I listen to the studded tires gripping the packed snow and ice on the frozen Bow River. Sometimes backcountry skiers are descending as I am climbing a snowpacked portion of a trail or fire road. Other times I am being thrown to a surprising halt as I come across a grizzly or black bear that turns me back in the direction from which I came. I ride year round because I have to, because my mind needs it. My two trusty Salsa bikes can cover any territory I wish to explore, from the most beautiful roads in the world to rocky and technical sections of my favourite trail. I have no expectations when I ride, because every ride, no matter how short or how long, is always a great adventure for me. Riding brings a sense of peace to my mind and soul in a way nothing else can. I love riding in sun, snow, rain, mud, and wind, whether it be at my back or against me. The poison is clearly gone from my body and has been replaced with a true sense of being, a sense of living in the moment, pedaling and only pedaling â€“ a repetitious act that clears the mind, ultimately clearing the soul.
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The things you can see from the saddle of a bicycle are truly magnificent. No matter where you live, the ways in which traveling by bike transforms your view of the landscape is both invigorating and educational. Cars speed by in such an insidious manner, failing to connect with the surroundings or learn about the area. I see this first hand as I ride along the old section of highway known as the Bow Valley Parkway. The Trans Canada Highway has long replaced this road as a main transportation route and has left a very important ecological corridor to do what it does best with minimal human conflict. Cars do still speed through the area, hoping to catch a glimpse of the wildlife that abounds in our mountains, but the cars cannot see everything directly around them in their climate-controlled cockpits. However, I see, smell, and hear so much from the cockpit of my bicycle. I can see how subtly the light can show off a certain crevasse or jagged peak, highlighting each and every section of a mountainâ€™s beauty and ruggedness. I can move slowly by an animal that may only be twenty feet from the road and not cause a tourist jam in my wake. I do drive a car when necessary, but knowing just how much a bicycle can affect transportation and how it has brought back my life, I owe it to the bicycle and to the National Park to pedal instead of pushing a gas pedal as often as I possibly can. It has become increasingly hard for me to wrap my mind around going one hundred and ten kilometers an hour down the pavement in a car. The unceasing adventure of coming to a bicycle is nothing short of a miracle for me. I know that this is not a new story. Many have been cured by the bicycle and live their lives accordingly. There are indeed the obvious physical health reasons for riding a bike, along with the practical and economical side of it. Above all, the mental health benefits really resonate with me. A bicycle has the power to transform even the most cynical of minds; it is an easy destroyer of anxiety. Mental ailments have no match for the power of happiness and adventure that the bicycle affords. My mind and physical health have come full circle since 2007, improving even beyond where I was before the accident, and I ultimately have my wife and my bicycle to thank for that. The gift of a bicycle has truly given me the best scenario possible â€“ not just the gift of life, but also the gift of seeing the quiet that exists in this world, bringing me to the brilliant wild that surrounds me within these magnificent mountains. BV
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An Impromptu Journey Written and photographed by Logan Watts
xpedition. Quest. Adventure. Journey...words that conjure up a broad range of meanings, feelings, and images as different for each individual as are one’s fingerprints. For me, these terms paint epic and colorful pictures of big, life-altering travels to remote and far-away places, and, until recently, were reserved for only the kind of monumental experiences that are born of painstaking planning and the mother of all assets— time. I spent the last year preparing for just such a journey. All of my time was divided between settling business affairs, finding renters for our house, getting rid of a ridiculous amount of the unnecessary things we had accumulated over the years, researching and purchasing gear, and building the “perfect” bikes. Every ounce of energy I had was poured into this trip. The launch date quickly arrived, and we started pedaling from Mexico onward. I had travelled before, quite a bit in fact, but this was different. It was more than I thought it could be. The freedom of the road, the self-supportive nature of bicycle travel, route planning, the sights, sounds, pace… everything was new and, albeit challenging at times, awesome. Then, five months, several thousand miles, and hundreds of amazing experiences later, I reached my planned destination and was on a flight back to my home in North Carolina. After the buzz wore off from seeing friends and family, having that long anticipated IPA (or several), and basking in fresh clothes for a week or so, the hangover set in. I was used to constant exploration and the daily expansion of my world, and it seemed that my life had skidded to an abrupt stop. Of course, my immediate reaction was to start planning our next big bike tour abroad. In the meantime, though, I knew that I needed to set out on my bike. No matter how close to home or how familiar the territory, I just had to go. I was on the search for my next “fix,” something that could give me at least an inkling of the same gratification I had become used to during that epic journey. So, now here we are, smack in the middle of nowhere sitting on worn hardwood planks with our legs dangling from the edge of the old timber shelter. The three-walled structure is perched in a glade near the top of Rich Mountain in the heart of the Appalachians. It’s not raining, but the mist is thick and the dusk is sculpting a stand of poplars into ominous shapes and figures. We sit for a while, marinating in the last smudges of light and sipping whisky from a plastic Pepsi bottle that Dustin smuggled in a borrowed dry bag he had strapped to his seatpost. I have that indescribable feeling of escape, the familiar contentment that comes with an adventure. About 14 hours earlier, I had left my temporary home in eastern North Carolina and headed west to meet Dustin for a weekend of mountain biking in my favorite trail system. In recent
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years, Pisgah National Forest, the Ranger District near Brevard, has become somewhat of a Mecca for mountain bikers seeking out remote, rugged and rocky trails. Pisgah has steep ups, boulderstrewn descents, the occasional rattlesnake, and unpredictable weather that can test any wandering adventurer. This prime outpost of Appalachian hardwood forest is also alive with waterfalls, black bears, all kinds of tiny amphibians, and one of the most diverse collections of plant species in the US. And, rounding out the set of characteristics that makes Pisgah so special, is the magnificent remoteness it offers. You could spend several days riding on trails in thick woods, far from any sign of civilization. Dustin and I had planned on meeting at our usual campground (Davidson River), just adjacent to the PNF, and then taking in a few “day” rides as we’ve done time and time again. Although that’s always fun, it wasn’t exactly what I needed in order to get my adventure fix. As I was packing up all of the usual camping gear that morning, I had a whim, or maybe even a small epiphany. On several occasions, Dustin and I had discussed bikepacking in the forest, but neither of us ever had the proper gear. So, while I was collecting all of the “necessities,” I decided to throw in a few random straps, a couple of dry bags, my Trangia camp stove, as well as a few additional lightweight items from my touring kit. I called Dustin halfway into the long drive to Brevard and told him my idea for a nice two-day ride and an overnight micro venture in the PNF. He excitedly inquired, “How can we do that… I don’t have a rack or anything?” I assured him that we could pull it off with just a couple of dry-bags, tie-down straps, a sleeping bag, and a few other sundries. Who knew that my feigned confidence could be so convincing! A couple of hours later we met at a nearby Piggly Wiggly and grabbed a few food items. We studied the ranger district map for a bit and cobbled together a route that encompassed several of the gnarliest downhills that Pisgah has to offer (how could we not?), strapped our amateur-looking kits to our steeds, and took off into the woods. After getting a later start than we’d planned, we proceeded to tackle a fairly big ride that proved more difficult than anticipated. Most of the trails we rode were familiar tracks that I had ridden several times, but this time it was different. It was July, and western North Carolina was having its wettest year on Bunyan Velo 54
record, so the forest was teeming with life. At some point along the way it started to rain substantially, which always makes riding in Pisgah a little more interesting (and challenging). With the slippery trails and the added gear, I was forced to slow down a bit. I kept finding myself admiring the small world on the forest floor—Jurassic ferns, timid frogs, snails, oddly deformed mushrooms, flowers, and the way rain collects on the plants’ leaves. Maybe it’s the pace, as much as it is the place, in which you move that provides those intimate magical moments? It was starting to get dim as we reached our nighttime destination—an old three-walled backpacker shelter on Rich Mountain at Buckhorn Gap. The lean-to appeared to be empty, just as we had hoped. The rain had subsided, and the misty dusk seemed to last an eternity. We proceeded to wash our bikes in the nearby spring, hang our soaked gear, and change into fresh clothes. That day-to-day tedium of shifting around gear, unpacking, repacking, and cooking with limited utensils was something I had actually missed. The monotony feels therapeutic, Zen-like. In fact, just a couple of weeks prior to this trip, I had ridden my bike early one morning to a nearby farm simply to prepare coffee with my camping stove and enjoy that familiar routine. I am not sure what it was that spurred on my insatiable wanderlust. Maybe it was my childhood summers when each morning I would run out the door, meet a friend, venture deep into the woods, or set out on my own to forage through a creek and find its source. Or maybe, just maybe, this unquenchable thirst started with the first time I rode my yellow and black Huffy bicycle into a neighborhood other than my own and felt the rush of being a daring explorer. As I lie here in the shelter, on the edge of sleep, hoping that one of the resident mice (alas, the shelter was not completely vacant) doesn’t try to make a nest in my beard, I am content. This spontaneous expedition has scratched an itch. It has reconnected me with the magical moments that come from a self-powered traverse through a place and time. I know, as is the case with other addictions, the itch will return shortly, so I’m already well on my way to plotting the next great odyssey. BV
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FATBIKING THE KENAI COAST Written and photographed by Jason Boucher
ithout a doubt, Alaska is on just about every adventurers bucket list. The great land has it all – hunting, fishing, climbing, hiking, biking, rafting, and kayaking. The list of possible activities goes on, and changes by the season. Alaska offers endless opportunities and is the source of countless daydreams. Anyone who has visited Alaska has likely left with an incomplete feeling, a feeling of not having had enough time to do or see it all. There is an anticipation of next time, dreams of the next route. I’ve been to Alaska on three bike adventures and I often find myself dreaming about the next one. Alaska offers so much to do, to see, and to learn. This past summer, I was fortunate enough to organize, guide, and photograph a trip to Alaska on behalf of Salsa Cycles and their Reveal the Path movie contest. For me, it was a golden opportunity to relive and share in the experience of riding fatbikes along the Kenai coastline. And so, plans for our rolling fatbike beach party in the land of the midnight sun were put in motion. I’d imagine that a fatbike beach party isn’t what most adventurous bike folks have in mind when they think of riding the rugged and remote beaches of Alaska, but experiencing the wonders of Alaska by bicycle is about more than just survival of the fittest type activities. Our group was diverse in age and experience; some folks rode the entire length, while others just joined us for a day or an evening. Each of us had a meaningful and lasting experience. As I see it, the more people who experience fatbike beach riding the Kenai coast, the more others will understand the power and freedom bicycles have to offer.
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Know that traveling Alaska’s coast isn’t all fun and games. It’s important to understand the route and how to plan for high and low tides. Knowing how and when to cross rivers is crucial. You’ll also need some basic camping and survival skills, because you can easily make mistakes that put you in danger. However, with some effort, you can learn all of these things. If you do, you will be rewarded. And, like me, you will leave dreaming of your return trip to the great land of Alaska. BV Bunyan Velo 73
l o s t i n t h e
w i n d
Written by Aaron Ortiz, photographed by Aaron Ortiz and Lucas Winzenburg
hink about the last time you yelled, really yelled. Try to recall a time when you yelled so loud it hurt your vocal chords. It feels odd to let go like that. It also breaks one of those rules we’ve all held on to since childhood: use your inside voices. Yelling in that way shakes us both physically and emotionally. As I stand up on my pedals, putting most of my weight onto the crank arms, I gain almost no ground, even in the low gearing I’m using to cut through this never-ending windstorm. The 25 mph headwind with 35 mph gusts mutes the scream I let out in frustration. We are alone. There are no towns, no people, no gas stations, not even a farm – only us, the wind, and the sheep. In this windswept place, we don’t feel like we’re breaking any rules when we fall apart and curse at the wind. Lucas, who’s 25 feet in front of me, doesn’t give any sign that he hears my frustrated yell – it’s simply lost into the vast, windy nothingness that surrounds this awful place. The two of us are all alone, together. We’ve only covered about sixty miles today, despite having already cycled for seven hours. Knowing we still have another thirty miles to ride into this wind before we can stop, there’s nothing to do but sink deep, deep into our own personal pits of despair. I attempt to tune out my surroundings. I think a lot about Jamie and our dog, Duke back home in Maine. What time is it there? It’s 11:00 am on a Saturday in the States. Duke’s probably napping on the couch or moving from window to window, watching the squirrels in our back yard. A wind gust shakes me out of the comforts of home, almost blowing me into the ditch. I adjust and continue to spin the crank, getting almost nowhere with each pedal stroke. I run through the things we could have done differently – had we just woken up earlier, gone on for 10 more miles yesterday, biked longer on day seven, we wouldn’t be here right now. We should have stayed on route A39. It would have gotten better, the traffic would have slowed down. As loud as humanly possible, I yell again, “FUUUUUUUCK!” Lucas, now only 15 feet away, gives no indication of hearing. The rhythmic movement of his upper body
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continues as he pedals slowly into the wind. What the fuck is this place and why did they cut down every single tree that could have protected us? I look around and notice that the cracks between the football-fieldsized concrete slabs are overgrown with weeds. This road, route B2943, is just an insignificant white line on our map. It looks like it will connect us to route A382, and once there we’ll turn south and take it all the way to Land’s End. The only other road that could have led us there was the A39, but it was just too busy and there was no shoulder. We tried that for a while this morning, but after being buzzed repeatedly by lorries, motorcycles, and tourists going down to Cornwall for the weekend, we decided to turn off on to the relative calm of this secondary route. To the north, the options aren’t any better. In fact, even if we wanted to be on a different road, perhaps with more turns, trees, or shrubs to protect us from the wind, there aren’t any good options that wouldn’t involve a major reroute, adding at least 20 miles to our day. So it’s just this lonely B-route that continues on forever ahead of us. I swing out to the right so I can see around Lucas. I look for a curve in the road, but it just seems to stretch out into infinity, the two sides of the road coming together into a point somewhere, miles ahead of where we are. I’m looking around again, trying to understand where we’re at. It’s just concrete football field after concrete football field on a flat, windy place in the middle of nowhere. Then I finally put it together and realize that this B-route was an old service road between airport runways. At some point it must have been a busy airport. We’d later learn that it was the Davidstow Airfield, an airport the British built for the Americans to use during World War II. Allegedly the crosswinds were so horrific here that it prevented flying six out of seven days per week – cheers lads! Now that the war has been over for 68 years, we are free to ride our bikes across these runways with impunity, but there isn’t much left to see. Only vast, windy emptiness and abandoned concrete slabs and outbuildings, overrun with sheep. I slip back into my own thoughts of selfpity – that’s why we’re getting battered relentlessly by the wind, that’s why there aren’t any fucking trees, that’s why the sheep are running all over the fucking place, that’s why we’re stuck here. I close my eyes, listen to the chain moving around the cogs, adjust my hands on the bars, sit upright, and take deep breaths in an effort to calm myself.
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On a day like this, it’s so easy to forget about the hundreds of beautiful places we’ve seen, the moments during which the light was hanging low in the sky and hitting mountains, lakes, and rivers just right – making the bike tour feel less like reality and more like a dream. It’s easy to forget that in Great Britain for the past 12 days, we’ve been more worried about sunburns than rain. It’s easy to forget that on the ninth day we woke up on alpine tundra, surrounded by 360-degree views of the West Highland Way, where we slept beneath towering mountains under the stars in complete isolation. It’s easy to forget that on the day we pulled into Fort William to climb Ben Nevis, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The wind slowly erodes my memories of riding singletrack on the Great Glen way above Loch Ness, setting up camp on a ridge and watching the sun set over Scotland while eating smoked salmon sandwiches, pine needles shifting and rustling in the forest behind us – a result of the calm wind that was moving through our campsite, blowing scattered overnight showers away into the hills. I think about the time we stayed up until 2:00 am light painting in Bettyhill, Scotland, the waves consistently crashing against the beach, providing soothing white noise as we tried to get the word JOGLE (John o’Groats to Land’s End, our route across Great Britain) to appear in perfect light streaks behind our tents. It must have taken at least 20 or 30 tries on that beach to get every letter correct, the first few shots ending with a backwards J or a half-finished E, switching roles between photographer and light painter, ultimately engaging in an endeavor that served to do nothing but satisfy our own drunken desire to see the letters magnificently lit up on the camera’s small LCD screen. We were overjoyed to finally be wild camping on the banks of the North Sea, after months of obsessively thinking about bike touring and making countless jokes about how it would rain on us for 18 straight days.
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Another memory displaces the light painting and all of the sudden we’re at the Bristol Bike Project, looking at the immaculate display of Sebastien’s toolset. Seb’s tools are used to restore old bikes for individuals living in Bristol who can’t afford other means of transportation. The mechanics teach their customers basic bike maintenance so they can keep their bikes going well after they get flats, cables loosen, and chains start skipping. The guys at the project are all interested in Lucas’ bikepacking method of touring, and some of them take a few photos of his setup with frame bags. They take turns lifting the bike and are impressed by how light it is. Nice guy that he is, Lucas then encourages them to try to lift my bike, an immovable monster whose ass end far outweighs the front, a result of only bringing two rear panniers and a handlebar bag. They can barely get the thing off the ground. I’d be embarrassed with my overpacking if we didn’t have so much fun sitting around campsites and coffee shops, waxing poetic about the advantages and disadvantages of our rigs. Another gust brings me back from my trip down memory lane. The wind continues to blow the straps of my panniers against their own rubber. There’s a loud ping sound each time a gust catches the canvas strap just right and blows the plastic buckle forcefully into the metal rear rack. I stop thinking about the moments behind us; I come back fully into the present – back to the wind, to the turning of my pedals, to the never-ending road. I’m surprised when I feel the first tear hit my exposed leg. The next tears don’t seem as foreign, and I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. BV
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Almanzo 100 and the Rise of Gravel Racing Written by Hurl Everstone, photographed by Craig Lindner
n May of 2007 I arrived at the starting line of the inaugural Almanzo 100 Gravel Race in Rochester, Minnesota, just as director Chris Skogen was sending off the riders. I unloaded my Eddy Merckx Super Corsa, set up 45 x 17 fixed-wheel, and, after receiving my cue sheets and brief instructions from Skogen, took off after the peloton. Catching a few riders at first, I finally latched on with two guys on 29er mountain bikes. Both had just come off an attempt at the previous weekend’s Trans Iowa Race, so I figured I wouldn’t be seeing these two for long. But, descending a dicey gravel secteur, putting my 32/28c tire combo into a two-wheeled drift, I slowly pulled away and never saw another rider, all the way to the finish line. I had “won” the first edition of this now classic race. “Won” is in quotation marks because there weren’t a lot of riders at the start. Of 13 starters, I think only two or three officially made it to the finish in Mankato – year one of Almanzo was a point-to-point race starting in Rochester and finishing in Mankato – and I don’t think anyone was really treating it like a serious racing endeavor. It was more of an all-day rambling ride through the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota. Hell, I certainly didn’t consider myself a “racer,” just a lifelong rider who had only recently discovered the joy of riding fast down the (gravel) road with no particular agenda. Nevertheless, I was hooked. But let’s back up a bit. The Almanzo 100 was created by Chris Skogen as an unsanctioned, unsupported, and, most importantly, fee-free gravel endurance cycling event to welcome any and all riders to challenge themselves, their equipment, and possibly their riding partners in a sort of frontier version of the local club ride. Word spread in the local cycling communities, and when Skogen announced Almanzo 2.0 would take place the following spring, my postcard for registration was sent in immediately. Year two would see the start line swell to nearly 75 riders, and not your average Sunday-go-to-meetin’ daytrippers, either. Some real leg-breakers were toeing the line. There certainly would be no “repeat victory” in my future. And that was fine by me, because completing the Almanzo is a victory in and of itself.
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Since then, Skogen has added the Royal 162, and most recently, the Alexander, a 380+ mile blitzkrieg of long-distance bicycle adventure travel. Throughout it all, the one constant of the Almanzo events has been Skogen’s massive attention to detail, from collectable-art-level race packets, cue sheets with hand-written thank you notes to the riders, an outstanding crüe of volunteers, to Skogen himself, standing at the finish line, shaking every rider’s hand. Remember, this is a free event, and the professionalism Skogen exudes deserves respect and warrants a look from every race organizer out there. By the 7th edition of the Almanzo in 2013, over 1,300 registered riders, across all three events, descended upon the small southeastern hamlet of Spring Valley, Minnesota. Lining up on Main Street, and after the customary singing of “Happy Birthday” to Skogen’s young son, Jack, we were off, with police escort, to the first gravel secteur. Anyone who rides the Almanzo knows that it’s so much more than a race. It’s a chance to embrace the human spirit, and the warm golden hues of spring, and, if you’re so inclined, to push yourself to the limit. As you roll past fallow farm fields and over freshly laid gravel, you come to an understanding that traveling by bicycle really is the best way to see the contours of the land, just as Hemingway said. You will also have a chance to outrun farm dogs, or pull up a slice of shade under a country tree, wondering where you’ll find the resolve to continue. The first chance to refuel is around mile 40, the town of Preston. It is here where you’ll see the friends and families of riders lining the road, shouting encouragement, taking the extra layers of clothing no longer needed after the cool morning start, and offering cold drinks, food, and refreshments. For many, it is this brief respite that gives the strength to soldier on, knowing they’re less than half way through the ride. Shortly after Preston, you get the distinct pleasure of a soft right-hand turn up Jay Road, and you’re cursing on the inside, because while this is not a particularly long climb, it’s a dirge of an approximately 17-degree pitch that makes you wish for just one more tooth on your rear cog, and the creature comforts found back in Preston. But there’s no turning back now. Before long, around mile 68, you’ll approach Forestville State Park, and the only true aid station on the course. A quick stop Bunyan Velo 98
for a Coke and cookies leads to a paved climb up and out of the park and on to Maple Road, another leg-sucking, cramp-inducing, steep climb that has you hoping for the finish line. Well, it’s not quite over, so the mashing of pedals continues. Cherry Grove arrives around mile 80 – less of a town, more of a crossroads. This year, it was a fullblown oasis as some of Minneapolis’ finest cycling soothsayers – Twin Six, Space2Burn, and Banjo Brothers – had set up an aid station par excellence: cold beer, bourbon shots, and cookies. This could have been the undoing of several riders, as the temptation to stay put and throw back some of these “energy drinks” was quite high. But it was back in the saddle, expecting one last water crossing before the slog out of the valley to the finish. Up ahead was Skogen, informing us of a reroute due to extremely high and fast running water from exorbitant spring runoff, making it unsafe. Not exactly upset by this turn of events, our group pushed on, knowing that Oriole Road waited between us and the finish line. Oriole Road, for the uninitiated, is a monster of a climb, hard enough in its own right. Throwing it in at mile 98 is just cruel. Climbing Oriole is all about telling yourself little lies, and I shifted into the 27 cog and muscled up it, only to be met by an overwhelming headwind and a rerouted finish into Spring Valley which had me clawing to the finish, my tank on empty. As a reward to the riders, the local Spring Valley A&W stays open for the weekend, and this year we made short work of those cheeseburgers in paradise while regaling each other with stories from the day, true and otherwise. I didn’t finish anywhere near the front this year, but that’s not the point. Each year, more and more riders have signed on to experience the potential crushing headwinds, sidewinds, rain/sleet, or oppressive heat, and pure suffering satisfaction of riding 100 miles of golden gravel roads. It’s all possible at the Almanzo. BV
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A THREE DAY ADVENTURE
Written by Jason Britton, photgraphed by Gabriel Amadeus Tiller
IN THE OLD WEST
ometime last winter, Gabe and I started scheming on a trip to Eastern Oregon for late spring. The recently designated Old West Scenic Bikeway seemed like a great way to escape the rainy climate of Portland, if only for a couple of days. As I take on more responsibility in life, I find that short adventures work best, and I make a solid effort to undertake a handful every year. DAY 1 The birds had been up for quite some time when I finally managed to get out of my tent. We were at the official start of the bikeway, and I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to be sleeping there. I didn’t want to wake up Ed and Gabe, so I explored the park for a bit. We had arrived in John Day around 1:00 am to find that the only camping available was in the RV park on the edge of town. At $27 a night and nothing but gravel to rest on, we opted for Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, which is essentially a city park and historical landmark. We didn’t see any signs to the contrary, so we set up camp and swapped stories until we were all tired enough to pass out. We had three days of adventure ahead of us, and we were excited to get underway. As we rolled out of town, we met our first friend of the trip: a steady and constant headwind. We wouldn’t be discouraged though; this was our trip and we were having a killer time. We laughed in its face and entertained ourselves with multiple stops along the way. Our first day was supposed to be slightly downhill and fairly easy, and yet we had been working hard all day. We were tired. We were really, really sunburned. As we rolled into Kimberly, we were cooked. And then we met Jerry. An entire day’s worth of work was made worthwhile by a chance encounter. When he saw us hanging out at the intersection, he pulled over and offered us each a beer. The four of us bullshitted for a few minutes and enjoyed a cold beer. He was excited to see us on the road, asked us about our fishing gear, and clued us into some great fishing spots along the way. After a few minutes, he wished us luck and drove up the valley. Full of happiness and cold Coors, we pedaled the last two miles to camp and made a home for the night. It was far too windy to fish, but I threw the line in for a bit anyway; Jerry would have been proud. Gabe cooked us up a huge taco feast and Ed made a nice fire. Having battled with the wind all day, we were curious about how the next two days would pan out. Bunyan Velo 108
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DAY 2 Gabe pointed to a bald eagle soaring over our campsite just as I emerged from my tent. With a good omen in my pocket, I knew the day would be amazing. It was our second day, and we were already on tour time. We took our time packing up camp, in no real rush to be anywhere other than in the moment. The sun was out and we had a day of leisure ahead of us. As we climbed onto the road, we noted that the wind was still just as strong as the day before, but today it was at our backs! The next eleven miles were effortless. The valley opened up ahead of us, we took our helmets off, and we cruised with the confidence that we had hit the jackpot. We arrived in the next small town around 10:00 am and headed directly to the only store in town. We hadn’t planned on taking a break, but when he saw my fishing pole, the owner of the market pointed us towards the local fishing spot in town. He told us there was a small boat tied up to the dock that was free to use, and, with that, we purchased some tall cans and headed for the pond. Upon arrival we found no oars for the boat, but a nice dock to fish off of. Nothing was really biting, and we took the hint to drink our beers while a Golden Eagle soared above us. Back on the road, we found the first big climb of the day. With a generous tailwind, we climbed swiftly to the summit, leaving the steep and colorful mountains behind us, riding toward the vast plains ahead. Ranches with cattle, sheep, and llamas were a common sight as we pedaled lightly. In our next town, Long Creek, we had a decision to make. If we stayed on route, we’d be heading north for the next 8-10 miles with a stiff crosswind. If we headed east out of town, we’d be cutting the course, but opening the possibility for even more remote riding and adventure. County Road 18 was a red line on the map and it looked promising. We rolled the dice and went for it. About eight miles east of town, the road turned to smooth gravel and we entered the Malheur National Forest. We wouldn’t see another person until the following afternoon. We climbed past alpine meadows and springs until we found a small sheltered spot next to a creek suitable for camping. At 5,500 feet, we were cold, tired, and completely alone in the woods. I had been wondering if I had packed too many warm clothes, but as the sun set, I was thankful for every last bit of wool in my bags. We placed our beers into the creek, made a small fire, and got started on another hearty dinner. As a precaution, we hung our food about 100 yards from camp to keep bears away. The night was pitch black, and we eventually ran out of beer. The three of us each dipped a bit too heavily into our whiskey reserves, after which I fell asleep quickly. It was very cold that night, and my feet froze in my 30 degree bag. Bunyan Velo 111
DAY 3 I woke up earlier than I was hoping with frozen feet. Snow was falling, and I laughed at the situation I was in. The ladies at the restaurant in Long Creek had warned us of the cold temps in the mountains. They thought we were crazy to be riding bikes up there, and to be fair, we probably were. We ran out of fuel after a couple cups of coffee, but like the day before, we were in no rush to break camp. We took our sweet time packing up, feeding the fire, sipping whiskey, and ignoring the world that awaited our return. Around 11:00 am, we saddled up and started riding. I wore almost everything I had to stay warm. We were close to the summit, but still had a couple miles of steady gravel climbing before we found a fast and winding descent. The road was much rougher on the backside, but we shredded along until we came to the intersection for Magone Lake, spirits high. A ripping two-mile descent followed by a steep one-mile climb popped us out right at the sapphire blue lake. It was still snowing and the campground was deserted. We found the lake trail and rode until we found a small pier to have lunch on. During lunch we pored over our maps and decided to climb back up to County Road 18 before heading back to John Day. The road leaving the lake was freshly graded, and the few car tracks we saw had barely compacted the loose gravel. We slogged away for a good five to six miles before reaching the top of this deserted road. And with that, we were faced with a 10-mile descent back to reality. Ten miles passed quickly as we descended on this quiet road, complete with breathtaking views of the Strawberry Mountains around every corner. The fastest descent of the trip was over before it even began, and we found ourselves standing at Highway 26 with only nine miles to go. We pedaled slowly back to John Day, partly because of the headwind, and partly because we weren’t quite ready for the trip to be over. The sun was out, we were full of fresh air, and none of us really wanted to get back to the real world. Upon arriving back at the car, we each drank a warm Rainier and exchanged high-fives. Our trip to the Old West was a success on many levels. I felt relaxed, stress free, and ready to plan the next trip with these great friends. As we pulled onto the highway, Gabe dug through the tapes in the car and found one with the words “Freaky Tape” in sharpie on it. We popped it in the tape deck and jammed out to a choice selection of classic funk and disco for the remainder of the drive home. It was a fitting end to a great journey. Small adventures like this motivate me unlike anything else. It’s amazing the kind of impact three days of riding bikes and camping with friends has on me. Balancing work and adventure takes a lot of effort, but thankfully there is an endless supply of roads that need exploring. As soon as I got home, I opened up the gazetteer and started working out the next adventure. BV Bunyan Velo 114
SMALL WORLD OF THE HIGH ONE Written by Isaiah Berg, photographed by David and Nathan Berg
f you ride hard north out of Anchorage, you will start to see Denali rising up out of the Earth within two days. The ominous, endless tree line flanks Highway No. 3 all the way until Trapper Creek, where a wildly successful RV park will sell you a place for your tent, an Internet connection, a warm seating area, and a juicy burger for around $20. They are the last game in town for a hundred miles and they know it. We knew it too. Very well, twist my arm. Burgers it was. It was our second day, ending in Trapper Creek, on a ride that started at our aunt’s house in Eagle River and was to end in Ushuaia, Argentina. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. We were three brothers, farm kids from northern North Dakota. We had a few thousand dollars in savings, some tough bicycles, and a big dream. It was an awkward stage for us. The infrequent passerby would ask us where we were going and where we started. Argentina, huh? Anchorage, hmm. They would glance down at the backpacks that were haphazardly strapped with bungee cords to the top of our over-burdened bicycles. We had a lot of stuff that we didn’t need and we really didn’t know what we were doing. We were hungry that second night because our second consecutive dinner was composed of our new, impoverished specialty: rotini noodles, canned white chicken, and Mrs. Dash seasoning. We had ridden all day and stared grimly at our portions of pathetically bland proteincarbohydrate substrate. We needed something more to stay sane. Screw the budget. $10 was not going very far on Day Two. It was to be made up in South America, somewhere down the long road before us. I recall those early days of our bicycle travels with surprising difficulty. Daydreaming about the journey, I usually envision myself as I was during those last months in South America. We seemed to float effortlessly through the mountains of Colombia and Ecuador. We were professionals. We had shed weight from our bodies and bicycles, tossing the nonessentials into post office boxes as we rolled into Latin America with half the stuff and twice the legs we started with. We rode fast and enjoyed living slow, taking long lunch breaks out of the sun with a 3L of Coca-Cola and as much peanut butter and tortillas and vegetables as we could eat. Most evenings we’d find a home restaurant that would silently and mystically produce a bowl of beef stew and a gigantic arroz con pollo with unlimited fruit juice for $2. If we swapped stories and bought a big bottle of CocaCola, the mother of the house would often give us a place for our tent out back. We would sit in the dim
light of the cocina until after closing time, playing with the children and learning a little bit more about a home not our own. The next morning we would hammer the Andean climbs, allowing our brotherly rivalry to propel us. We knew how to live well together as brothers. Nathan had his music. I had my noble yet pitiful struggle with Tolstoy. David had his camera. We had achieved a sense of peace with all the wild uncertainty around us. We understood the human frailty of our endeavor and relished the simple pleasures of bicycle travel. We were as one, together with the wonder and danger of it all. We had peace and gratitude, and that was enough. In Alaska, on our second night, we weren’t there yet. As darkness fell near midnight in Trapper Creek we crawled into a tent that still smelled like a sporting goods shop, a sterile oasis apart from the wild unknowns of the world. I was alive, which was by any measure a good metric for success. Yet we were untested. Our knees all had the dull ache of tendonitis, a concern that would only grow as we pressed on into the heart of Alaska. We were tired and already a little behind; we had figured that a restful night with some amenities would be better than bear-proofing a wild campsite closer to Denali. The next day would take us to Cantwell, 104 miles into the mountains, each one marked with a grim green mile marker. We overslept the next morning and a late departure added to our sense of collective foreboding. I could tell that my brothers were tired, and the forecast called for intermittent rain and 45 degree temps. The day would be cold and wet and hard. Welcome to Day Three, the rookies’ crucible. I counted every single cursed green mile marker between Trapper Creek and Cantwell. By the end of the ride we had gone internal. We passed by many wonders of the Alaskan wilderness almost oblivious to the magic, shrouded as it was by so many rain clouds. Yet even on the worst days on a bicycle, there are moments that elevate the suffering and make the moment holy. We greeted a retired Spanish couple that gave us a hearteningly warm tour of their RV and some much needed water. Occasionally the clouds would part to give us a vision of Mount McKinley or of some awe-inspiring gorge, and these views would shake the weariness from our bones. After what felt like a death march, we found ourselves near some hilarious architecture on top of the last pass before reaching Cantwell, the road flanked by a gigantic mock igloo building. Locals reported that it was built to be an epic and gregarious liquor store, but the builder’s exuberance perhaps got the best of him. Bunyan Velo 119
It apparently ran afoul of every building code and zoning regulation in the book, and after a failed attempt at renovation and reinvention as a quirky lodge for travelers, it was to lay barren and in disrepair. The locals considered it an eyesore. We thought it was pretty awesome. Not all things turn out as they are originally envisioned, and perhaps they donâ€™t come to fruition at all. Yet still we build. Darkness fell just before midnight to greet our arrival. My brothers were at their physical limits. This small town of 200 had long gone to sleep, save for the townâ€™s lone bar on its western outskirts. We rolled up, soaked and chilled to the bone, and walked inside to find ourselves in an Alaskan honky-tonk, replete with big game on the walls and lots of plaid lumberjack and Carhartt couture. We were desperate for food and warmth, and I think the bartender could tell. He and his wife owned the place, and he yelled back to her in the kitchen to fire up the grill. We ordered triple-decker cheeseburgers that werenâ€™t even on the menu, as many fries and chicken fingers as we could eat, and washed it all down with some Dr. Pepper. Warm showers brought color and laughter back to our bodies and soon we were falling asleep in our chairs, fending off the hospitality and free drinks from the locals, and stumbling to a room with a heater and a floor and a cot to sleep on. The next morning was a Sunday and we went to the only church in town. After the service we introduced ourselves to the pastor, an Army man who retired into ministry. He moved with his family to Cantwell from the Pacific Northwest to follow the call. We were limping around and looking for a family that would take us in for a day of rest. He told us that we had to meet Iron Bob and his wife Janie. Iron Bob is a Nebraska cowboy and an Army-man-turned-electrical-engineer working on the North Slope. Janie is a veterinarian. Bob and Janie have a marriage
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unlike anything I have ever seen. Their courtship was comprised of backcountry hunting expeditions. Sitting in their lodge, a large bighorn sheep stands against the wall, a constant reminder for Iron Bob that when Janie shot it he “knew that she was a keeper.” In his spare time, Bob climbs mountains. He has climbed the Seven Summits, and newspaper clippings show him performing cowboy tricks on the summit of Everest, jumping through lasso loops on the roof of the world where many mortals would be content to lie in repose or exhaustion. Janie is a healer, caring especially for the legendary sled dogs of the Iditarod in her work as a vet. Their family is made of fourteen Siberian Huskies, brimming with spirit, who carry them across the mountain valleys during long Alaskan winters. Iron Bob once had a friend of his, a bush pilot, drop him in the middle of Denali National Park to give him the opportunity to walk home in the middle of winter. Wearing a giant parka and snowshoeing with a sled pulled behind him, this was Iron Bob’s idea of a vacation and a good time. It was 40 below, not including the wind chill. Bob was delayed by a fall into a hidden river that forced him to erect his tent to warm up and dry out to avoid hypothermia. After a day or so, Janie grew concerned at the delay, and so she mushed her sled dogs from their lodge across the Denali wilderness to find Bob. Upon finding his tent, she found him warming up and drying out after his dangerous mishap. Seeing that he had the situation firmly under control, she tossed him some snacks and hopped back on the sled to head home. “See you soon, honey!” You couldn’t make this stuff up. Moose stew, moose chili, salmon, and biscuits and gravy were annihilated in epic proportions. The leave-takings were the hardest; we could have stayed there for days, reveling in the warmth and fellowship of their family. Yet we knew what lay ahead of us and what it demanded of us. Rested and restocked, we turned onto the lonely dirt of the Denali Highway with the assurances that there was a lodge a day’s ride away that knew Bob and Janie by name and would take care of us when we got there. I knew we were going to make it. Something had changed between all of us. We had passed that line of departure where the idea of a bicycle journey became manifest in the miles behind us, fading as new ones replaced them. Perhaps we weren’t so different then as we were in South America, or even now, brothers riding unknown roads with happy hearts. BV
THE DESERT TOUR Written by Jonathan Cromwell, photographed by Zachary Stephen Miller
great expanse of sagebrush and sand lies out to the west, rolling away into the dusty skyline on a great tide of pastel yellows and browns. I stop to listen: nothing but the expeditious crack of dragonfly wings, whirling and surfing the great rolling gusts of wind that come crashing down from the faraway mountains. Here, the wind comes and goes in powerful swooping crescendos, gaining momentum through the gentle hills and valleys in the distance before sweeping out onto the plains and off into infinity. The undulating roar pushes hard on our bicycles, but we lower our heads and persevere, crawling forward at a snail’s pace. On the horizon, a pack of pronghorn antelope blaze through the scrubby brush, dancing across the distant, pale blue sky. The land out here hides nothing. I know what’s around every bend, over every rise, all stretched out before me for miles, bleak and expansive. The earth is naked and unashamed. It’s a strangely reflective place, one where you can get lost gazing off into the distance, and caught in the breadth of the land, awed by the expansiveness and indifference of the broad landscape. Our bicycles fly over roads of dirt and sand and rock, a whir of well-oiled cogs and spokes bouncing toward the edge of the earth. There’s no destination out here, only more open space: more sun, more sagebrush, more sand. Despite the impression of motion, we seem to exist in an interminable landscape, caught chasing the ghost of progress, moving headlong into the horizon, not really getting anywhere. Ahead, more of the same. Travelling by bicycle is a dramatic shift in perspective. It is a brief and blurred, though
authentic window into the minutiae of life that we so often quickly glaze over. It forces me to slow down a little, and to notice the details. My thoughts are set adrift by the rhythmic revolution of my feet; I become more outwardly attentive, more focused on the intricacies of the landscape and the details that are flying by in my periphery. A sense of childlike wonder begins to creep back into me. I keep my bicycle churning toward the horizon. Forward, forward, forever forward. I notice the ripples and waves etched into the wind-scoured earth, cresting and rolling across seas of sand. Undulating dunes sprawl out in the distance. Off to the side, a mile or two away, a cluster of small cottonwood trees clings to life around a sinewy, trickling creek, desperately absorbing what little water is available from the parched land. Overhead, great white billowing clouds fold, crash, and scud across the sky, caught amid the turbulent tumble of the atmosphere rolling out over the Earth. I see the decrepit buildings that dot the horizon and the patterns of the hills. More than anything, I sense a great emptiness that permeates this immense, sandy basin. The roads are rutted and weathered, they fade indistinctly back into the sandy desert, slowly becoming one with the landscape again. Almost nobody lives out here, so it seems momentous when a car appears on the horizon and slowly bounces its way across the valley toward us, eventually whooshing by, off toward the big city. The brief rush of wind and noise in an otherwise silent world leaves me a little breathless, but I quickly settle back into the rhythm and let the silence and isolation settle back over me.
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These details may seem fleeting or insignificant at first, but there is substance to them. Mind is a reflection of landscape, and to miss these minutiae is to miss the point. Quality resides in appreciating the details, and there is no shortage of strange and unfamiliar details on a bicycle tour. I find myself in a wide open and captivating world, wondering how on earth I’ve managed to navigate my way here, like a child wandering innocently into the neighbour’s yard: lost, a little apprehensive, yet infinitely curious to catch a glimpse of life on the other side of the fence. Where am I? What makes this place? What patterns imbue the landscape? Where do I fit in? What is constant? How does the rhythm of life unfurl here? As pressing as these questions are, there is little time to stop and explore them fully. To travel is to be fleeting, just passing through, glimpsing a brief moment in the interminable roll of Earth around the sun. Like the brief yet glorious burn of a shooting star, so too does life flicker by in moments of beauty, bliss, desire, and tragedy; you can’t cling too firmly to anything in this world. Rather, keep on moving forward, ceaselessly toward the horizon. Soak it all in, stop to investigate and ponder curiosities, ask questions, foster relationships, and move with respect. Forward, forward, forever forward. There is something in bicycle touring that speaks to my soul. To slow down and travel with minimal baggage in a beautiful and unfamiliar world is an experience that is both humbling and empowering. You’re vulnerable out there on a bicycle; you’re not just watching the world fly by through a window, you’re in it, a full-on part of it. You’re forced to deal with whatever comes your way, using whatever meager resources you have at hand. And that’s a beautiful thing, to have to face life and its challenges, to enjoy the good moments, and work through the trying ones. Riding a bicycle is not always easy or glamorous, nor should it be. It’s a grand metaphor for a life well-lived: a life of quality, beauty, curiosity, and wonder. It’s a life that appeals to me. Back in the desert, the wind has calmed and the temperature is dropping. The sun is falling quickly toward to horizon, bringing a surge of divine colour to the pale blue sky. The horizon is red with the blood of sunset streaked across the sky, fading to yellow, green, purple, and a deep, marvelous blue. We stand in awed silence, specks in the desert, pipsqueaks on the grand stage, and watch the sun fall once again into the Earth, another day on the road gone by. BV
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CLAIMING SPACE Written and photographed by Ben Hovland
ong before I entered the cycling industry or embarked on my first cyclotour, I’ve framed the act of riding my bicycle through the lens of resistance and subversion. My bike transports me to work, hauls my crap, and (when I find the time) takes me on incredible adventures. It’s a tool that grants me agency over movement, not just an object of desire or consumption. One of the foremost ways in which riding my bike is both subversive and an act of resistance, is how I use it to reclaim space. Space can be thought of in two ways. In a physical sense, spaces we reclaim by bike are abandoned railroad grades, remote coastal trails, or secluded urban parks. When we ride through these spaces we redefine them to meet the needs of twowheeled travel. Riding transforms a stretch of road that takes three hours to drive into a multi-day adventure, and the passing landscape becomes immediate, visceral, and immersive. Cycling also negotiates a conceptual space, one in which I undermine unsustainable modes of transportation and resist oppressive cycles of consumption/waste. The mainstream perpetually pressures me to move faster, consume the new, and discard the used, yet riding provides a path to help navigate its coercive nature. Every pedal stroke affirms my volition to fight for a more just and sustainable trajectory. The best part is that I’m not alone on my journey. The adventures I share with others constitute the nexus where conceptual and physical spaces overlap, and each encounter rewards me with new knowledge and collective memories. With this in mind, I’ll continue pointing my wheels toward new paths and savoring each mile that ticks away below my tires. BV
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Bunyan Velo is a collection of photographs, essays, and stories celebrating the simple pleasures of traveling by bicycle. The authors in th...
Published on Oct 2, 2013
Bunyan Velo is a collection of photographs, essays, and stories celebrating the simple pleasures of traveling by bicycle. The authors in th...