BUNYAN VELO TRAVELS ON TWO WHEELS // ISSUE No. 04
BUNYAN VELO ISSUE No. 04 â€“ FEBRUARY 2014 Travels on Two Wheels
EDITOR and DESIGNER Lucas Winzenburg
CONTACT firstname.lastname@example.org www.bunyanvelo.com
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Logan Watts, Patrick Stephenson, Paul Errington, Jared Lelievre, Carl Gauger, John Watson, Gabe Ehlert, Daniel Molloy, Carrie Harvilla, Erik Jensen, David Thierry Knox, Tyler Hardie, Kevin Tweed, Devin OBrien, Jesse Lindhorst, Errin Vasquez, David Beachley, Randi Jo Smith, Scott Felter, Ben Hovland, Mike Riemer, Marina Mertz, Rene Costales, Gareth Lennon, Mario Villeneuve, and Gregory Brown.
CONTRIBUTORS Gabriel Amadeus Nicholas Carman Glenn Charles Przemek Duszynski Anna Edmonds Gabe Ehlert
Daniel Enns Jeffrey G. Frane Cass Gilbert Paul Henry Moore Donnie Kolb Rob Perks
Dan Powell Mark Reimer Logan Watts Virginia Krabill Lael Wilcox
PHOTO CREDITS Cover: Cass Gilbert Opposite: Nicholas Carman Contents: Przemek Duszynski
All content copyright 2014 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 When I started this project one year ago, I never dreamt that it would thrive as it has. Now, looking back at the first four issues of Bunyan Velo, I’m tremendously grateful for the incredible group of writers and photographers with whom I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating. All told, I’ve been lucky enough to share the work of close to 60 talented individuals from around the world. And, of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of our ever-growing community of readers. I couldn’t be more excited to present another 14 stories of two-wheeled adventure. This issue’s contributors bring us along for the ride as they explore roads familiar and unknown, from one of my favorite places here in Minneapolis, to dirt trails and dunes across the Western United States, to long and winding routes spanning far-off places like Lesotho, Peru, Morocco, and beyond. Sometime in late spring 2014, I’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of crowdfunding a printed anthology of our first year’s content. I’d love to have a Bunyan Velo coffee table book for my own home, and hopefully enough of you feel the same way and we can turn it into a reality. If I’ve sparked your interest, follow along on our Facebook, Instagram, or website as I share occasional updates about our Kickstarter and other projects. If you can, please consider supporting this independent publication by making a donation or purchasing a digital copy at bunyanvelo.com Thanks for reading, Lucas Winzenburg Editor
Contents 08 THIS IS NOT THE GRINGO TRAIL Cass Gilbert
22 IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN THE DALLES Gabriel Amadeus
38 WANDERLAND Logan Watts and Virginia Krabill
56 FOREVERSCAPE Dan Powell and Donnie Kolb
72 ČERVENEC IN CZECH Lael Wilcox
90 SEEKING STATES Gabe Ehlert
102 PRAIRIE SOJOURN Daniel Enns and Mark Reimer
118 OUTSIDE LOOKING IN Paul Henry Moore
134 BIKEPACKING MOROCCO Glenn Charles
148 I’M HAPPY AND I’M RIDING AND A 1,2,3,4... Przemek Duszynski
160 THE BOTTOMS Jeffrey G. Frane
170 LAST CHANCE, ARIZONA Nicholas Carman
186 TO WOO A HIKER Anna Edmonds
194 #COFFEEOUTSIDE Rob Perks
Contributors GABRIEL AMADEUS
Gabriel Amadeus is exploring the world one ambitious misadventure at a time. Born in a canoe in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; learned what good beer was in Duluth, Minnesota; and got stuck in the grandeur of Oregon ten years ago. Specializes in fun. Fly rods and mountain bikes? Blowguns and packrafts? Fire lookouts and bourbon? You name it. A contributor for VeloDirt, The Seattle Times, The Bend Bulletin, The Missouri Review, The Chicago Reader, and more. Reach him at email@example.com
Anna Edmonds lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is working on a doctorate in philosophy. She’s enjoyed bikepacking excursions in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. In May, she’s setting off for northern Africa. She likes her tires fat, her paths made of dirt, and her locations unfamiliar. You can message her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicholas Carman left on a bike trip in 2008 and never stopped riding. This past year he has ridden footpaths across Europe, tramped through the American Southwest, and lived in both Alaska and New Mexico. He and Lael reside in Anchorage, Alaska, for the winter, riding fatbikes and working toward another season of travel. He shares words, images, and ideas at gypsybytrade.wordpress.com
Gabe Ehlert cut his teeth on cycling early while tearing around the gravel roads near his childhood home in Northern California. Picking it back up in college, Gabe has now ridden countless miles in various locales, co-founded a bike shop, and designed a frameset. He loves long, slow days in the saddle or quick rides out of San Francisco. Actually, he loves any kind of bike ride, short or long, road or path, cobbles or dirt, or a mix thereof. See more at seaofmarshmallowcream.tumblr.com
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. He has travelled more than 18,000 miles by kayak and bike over the last four years. Online at www.thetravelingvagabond.com
Daniel Enns works for a small architecture firm in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. While always a commuter, his experience with long distance solo touring solidified his love of bikes as a travel, transport, utility, and recreational vehicle. Recently, he has ventured into the world of recreational racing and has enjoyed success in the local cyclocross and road-racing scene, taking both provincial titles this year. He posts photos of travel and cycling adventures at danielenns.tumblr.com
JEFFREY G. FRANE
Hiker by nature, cyclist by heart. Przemek grew up in Central Poland, getting repeatedly lost and found in local woodlands. Sometime in the 80s he attempted his first longer cycling trip to the other side of town and ended up under house arrest. He’s currently looking to expand the definition of the other side of town. He thrives on places where cars fear to tread, and currently breathes air in Slovenia. He could never grow an actual beard, but you can read and see in between his spokes at woolbeard.blogspot.com
Jeffrey G. Frane is a proud son of Northern Wisconsin, currently living in exile, calling the great city of Minneapolis home. After a misspent youth racing mountain bikes and a misspent college education that terminated in degrees in Comparative Studies in Religion and Public Relations, he found himself unemployable in anything but a bike shop. After founding Bike Jerks and paying some dues, he’s now living the dream as the Brand Manager for All-City Cycles.
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’s currently touring Patagonia aboard a Surly Pugsley. Catch up with his dirt road travels at www.whileoutriding.com
Dan Powell will always call Michigan home. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon, but is in the process of moving to Taichung, Taiwan. At some point, racing his bicycles in circles completely lost its appeal and he’s been trying to follow any dirt path he can find ever since. The less traveled the better. As those paths become further flung, you can follow him at www.instagram.com/get_wildeor
PAUL HENRY MOORE
Paul is often found within arm’s reach of a camera, wandering back roads and trails around the Northwest in search of two-wheeled adventure. Born and raised in Seattle, he developed a taste for the city’s fresh air after a hard rain at a young age. The coffee and beer are pretty good, too. Follow along on Instagram, @paulhenrymoore. More of his bike photography can be seen at www.paulmo.com
Mark Reimer is an amateur photographer with a passion for all things two-wheeled. Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, he spends his time exploring the many river trails and gravel roads the province has to offer. After logging a few sub-24-hour-overnights, his interest in touring has grown rapidly and he’s currently planning his first multi-day, offroad tour. He has a passion for sharing his stories through photography, and you can see more at www.markreimer.ca
LOGAN WATTS AND VIRGINIA KRABILL
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 gravel rides, including the Oregon Outback and Oregon Stampede. Find out more about Donnie and Oregon gravel at www.velodirt.com
In 2012, Logan and his lovely wife Virginia leased their house, changed direction, and set out on a bike expedition through Mexico and Central America. When not traveling or mountain biking, the couple can be found somewhere in North Carolina, wondering where the next adventure will take them. They’ll be in Africa through the summer. Find stories and gear nerdery at www.pedalingnowhere.com
Rob Perks has been on a bike since his dad gave his saddle its last push when he was about five years old. After a short attempt to behave like a grown up, he’s been on a slippery slope from commuter to chasing the dream. Rob is an engineer, photographer, designer, and maker who stepped off of the standard American career path to start Ocean Air Cycles. He aims to bring fun and cyclotouring gear to the market so he can keep his beach-living family’s wheels rolling. Visit his shop online at store.oceanaircycles.com
Lael Wilcox used to walk everywhere she went. In 2006, she met Nicholas and he gave her a red bicycle. They’ve been riding together ever since. She commutes on fat tires this winter in Anchorage, Alaska, and next summer she will return to the Black Sea with her mountain bike. The more she pedals, the bigger her eyes and dreams become. She shares words and photos at laelsglobe.wordpress.com
THIS IS NOT THE GRINGO TRAIL Written and photographed by Cass Gilbert
oursing its way through the mineralrich mountains of the Peruvian Andes, lost amongst its innermost folds, a series of unpaved roads connects one mine to the next. Many are abandoned, darkened tunnels propped up only by old planks of wood, and the roads that lead to them are in a similar state of abject disrepair. Take the time and trouble to link this network up, and youâ€™ll earn yourself over a thousand kilometres of mud, sweat, and toil. These rugged tracks climb incessantly, sometimes a Herculean seven thousand feet at a time, cresting high passes where condors glide and swoop. And they funnel back down again, through sheer-sided canyons, where patchworks of fields cling tenaciously to what little land can be tilled. Given their lofty elevations â€“ in places, they reach almost 16,000 feet in altitude â€“ their pitches feel unnaturally, unapologetically steep. To be sure, this is challenging country. Bunyan Velo 10
Come the end of summer, and with crescendo-ing urgency, storms barrel in each afternoon, blackening the sky like ink blots. They bring heavy rain and pellets of hail. They unleash fingers of lightning. They transform hardpack into a quagmire. Sparse settlements, where alpaca and llamas are bred for meat and wool, offer a welcome chance to shelter and resupply. Just the basics, but itâ€™s rest and itâ€™s fuel. Our journey took us from the climbing mecca of Huaraz, set amongst the whitecapped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Yet despite the point of departure and our eventual destination, this was certainly no Gringo Trail. With an element of poetic simplicity, locals call such remote regions El Silencio. If silence, isolation, and real adventure are what you seek, then the mining roads of Peru are where you will find them. BV
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IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY
IN THE DALLES Written and photographed by Gabriel Amadeus
January, 2014. “It’s always sunny in The Dalles” is a phrase frequently muttered when we’re deep in the trenches of Portland’s dreary, dripping winter days. Weather fronts come barreling in off the Pacific Ocean, hit the cold coast range, condense, and come to a sputtering halt—directly on top of the Willamette Valley. Specifically, Portland. Then they just sort of sit here, trapped by the Cascade range to the east, daring us to venture out of our cozy coffee shops and bookstores. The common refrain is that if you drive through the Columbia River Gorge to the other side of the Cascades you’ll usually be rewarded with vitamin D, dry trails, and a chance to break out those dusty Ray Bans. Usually. 01/19/2014, 5:30am, Portland, Ore., 32°F. It’s early. We’ve got to ration our meager winter daylight, so (1) My favorite maps are the old USGS Quad maps because they contain all sorts of roads and trails that don’t exist anymore. They’re half history lesson, half guarantee you won’t be getting home in time for dinner.
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if we’re going to complete the 60-mile route I’ve teased out of some old topos1, an early start is necessary. I packed the night before and planned out my coffee stops: Water Avenue pour-over at home, to-go Barista drip for the car ride, a small Holsteins cup at our rendezvous, and with any luck, some high-octane trucker fuel mid-ride in Klickitat. 01/19/2014, 9:26am, The Dalles2, Ore., 30°F. We have to assume the sun has risen to the east of here by now, but I’ll be damned if there’s much to show for it. A dull, colorless Gaussian blur has enveloped an already bleak town. Dalles Mountain is somewhere across the Columbia River, but the edge of the earth rises up and dissolves into the sky before our eyes can get that far. And it’s bitterly cold. We are: Gabriel Amadeus, Nick Groesz, Jason Britton, Dan Powell, and Shawn Small. A powerful team, really. Combined, (2) The Dalles is the only U.S. city in which the word “The” is part of the official name.
these dudes have enough riding experience under their belts to crush me while nonchalantly chatting about bike geekery I didn’t even know existed. Yet here we stand, shivering: “Forgot my jacket, guess it’s a hoodie ride.” “Anybody bring chamois cream?” “Have you actually ridden this before?” The plan is to follow the path of VeloDirt’s Dalles Mountain 60 over the Columbia River into Washington, climb Dalles Mountain, veer north into unfamiliar territory, and eventually link up with the Klickitat Rail Trail, following the grade back downriver to The Dalles. We ascend into the clouds. Though more of a hill with a radio tower than a mountain, Dalles Mountain is still a ten-mile dirt
climb with 2,200’ of elevation gain. Most of the time it has some of the best views of Mount Hood and the gorge as a backdrop. Today however, it has some fresh, loose gravel and only about 200’ of visibility in every direction. The hard rime ice forms alien crystals on every blade of grass and barb of barbed wire. The fence lines meander off and lose themselves in the thick, dead soup. And our ragtag group of five is spread out in this mess, each laying his own wobbling, plodding tire track upwards through the otherwise untouched surface of the road. 01/19/2014, 11:12am, somewhere on Dalles Mountain, Wash., 31°F. “I think we’ve gotta be close to the top by now.” “My camera’s not working right.” “My face hurts.”
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Visibility has seriously gone to shit. There’s a frozen puddle that’s fun to throw rocks at. There’s enough time to cram trail mix3 in our faces as we fiddle with devices. “GPS says it’s 31°F and we’re about a quarter mile from the top.” The top of what, it’s impossible to tell at the moment. “Hey, this road disappearing in the fog to our left—O’Brien—with the sign that says ‘ROAD IMPASSABLE WHEN WET’ looks like a shortcut!” There is that familiar, awkward glancing around, each of us waiting for someone else to remark that this is most definitely a bad idea and we should probably stick to the original plan.4 Then I realize everyone’s hands are too frozen to dig for their maps to present a counter argument. Decision made: O’Brien it is. Deep ruts criss-cross our path: sometimes frozen solid; other times thick, crystally soup pits. Rivulets of melting ice increase in velocity as the jeep trail’s grade steepens down the mountain. We follow suit, skittering across the surface, careening in a perpetual, controlled fall. No more than a quarter mile in, and there’s already a near-mutiny. “What the hell are we doing?” “There’s no way I’m riding through that.” “My face hurts.” I’m accustomed with dissenters. The best thing to do is just keep silent and keep moving—they’ll follow eventually. After a few blue-knuckle miles down this harrowing 4x4 track, we plop out of the bottom of the sky (3) Start with a good nut, berry, and chocolate base mix. None of that ginger shit. Add salted toffee peanuts. Add sea salt chocolate covered almonds. Add semi-dried whole bananas. Add jerky. Add salt. Papaya sticks if you’re hungover. Eat it. (4) Technically I mean “idea.” I don’t do “plans.”
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into farm country. Here at the Klickitat trailhead, Swale Canyon is not much more than a wash with some stagnant, frozen marshes and an un-graded rail bed pointing our way. We share a Miller or two, feeling pretty good about ourselves, high-fiving that the worst is over. “It’s all downhill from here.” 01/19/2014, 12:46pm, Swale Canyon, Wash., 36°F. And it is. Our rail trail follows the floor of Swale Canyon, sinking slowly into the crust at an even 100’ per mile as the agricultural plateau stays put. Swale Creek cascades between tussocks, over bedrock, and through the moor from pool to pool. Scrubby, lichen-engulfed oaks line the hillsides at first and then the clime transitions to frost-coated conifers. Fire-tipped dogwoods huddle in messy bunches along the banks. Deer graze on the hillside and we ponder a series of trailside sculptures constructed out of forgotten railroad hardware. Sure, it’s “downhill,” but the going is rough. The trail varies constantly from muddy singletrack to loose, softball-sized gravel. Bridges are either completely washed out or consist of widely-spaced rail ties, threatening to eat a wheel or at least shake loose your dental fillings. Unsurprisingly, there are a few pinch flats, and then a really bad puncture in which a large nail surgically pierces my tire, tube, and heavy aluminum rim wall. We have fifteen miles of road-inaccessible canyon ahead of us and no beer left.
Stopping to investigate a rusty station wagon carcass wedged against a misshapen oak and riddled with bullet holes conjures up a grizzly Griswold scenario. Nick scavenges the car’s cigarette lighter. As we come upon a terrifying redneck bungalow littered with generations of permanent half-finished installations, a large black dog tears out of the debris toward us. To our relief she wags her tail and gives very sweet kisses. Eventually we limp back onto pavement and lick our wounds at the Klickitat Market as we wolf down corn dogs, chicken nuggets,5 burritos, and yes—even that high octane coffee we had been hoping for. 01/19/2014, 3:32pm, Klickitat, Wash., 31°F. It’s late. We continue along the trail for another few miles before reluctantly admitting our bikes were out-matched and the light was fading. Besides, we have the option of a smoothly paved road to bail on at this point. We’re tuckered. The five of us slowly pedal back to The Dalles along the Klickitat and Columbia Rivers. We arrive at our vehicles in a dark dusk and like after so many rides before, devour a hearty brewery meal. 01/20/2014, 8:20am, Portland, Ore., 34°F. The following morning I ride into work tardily, sore as hell. But I’ve got a big grin on my face. BV
(5) Ranch costs 25¢, but is well worth it.
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rland Written and photographed by Logan Watts and Virginia Krabill
ne of the priceless perks of traveling by bicycle is the unfiltered, free access to people and places that are virtually untouched by outsiders and the authentic experiences that come as a result of these encounters. This skeleton key does not come without its costs. In exchange for such access, one must be willing to delve headfirst into the abyss and surrender to the unknown. At times, it may just be a matter of taking off down a dirt track with no predetermined place to take rest for the night (or two) and no clear sense of when or from whence your next meal will come. The reward for accepting the inherent risks of being out of touch, sometimes far away from civilization, and embracing uncertainty is the amazing depth of experience that comes from simply letting situations unfold as they may. Things donâ€™t necessarily happen the way you would choose, but sometimes a series of events occurs that feels as though an invisible magic carpet is guiding you along. Not
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to sound existential, or to paint the surrealist picture that bike touring is the magic Kool-Aid, but it does seem that our current trip has, at times, been sprinkled with a touch of fairy dust. We had left the recently paved A3 that snakes across Lesotho through the middle portion of the Sky Kingdom. At some point we made the decision to traverse a very thin green line on the map that equated to dirt road on the legend. In hindsight, Iâ€™m surprised it is considered a road at all. No doubt, only well-versed 4x4 enthusiasts could forge many of the steep, narrow, and rough areas that include river crossings, water holes, and boulder fields, especially now, in the rainy season. Day one was not only an indulgence of breathtaking scenery and a window into a vastly different culture; it also proved
to be a test of our endurance and emotions as we rode some fantastically challenging dirt tracks and were temporary held hostage by two wonderful, remote Basotho villages. After stopping to filter water at the bottom of what looked like yet another several-hundred-meter climb, a distinguishedlooking gentleman approached us on horseback. As it turns out, we had made the acquaintance of near royalty. The chief of the area villages, a very nice man, offered me a ride on his horse and laughed somewhat maniacally when I said I’d prefer to stay on my bike. After a few minutes of broken conversation (in and out of English and Sesotho, with a healthy dose of sign language added in), he introduced us to two other gentlemen who seemed to have been summoned from doorways in the giant green hills that surrounded us. We weren’t exactly sure what was going on, but were rolling with it as best we could. As it turned out, he assigned one man to escort my wife Virginia up the massive hill on his
horse. He assigned the other to push her bike. I was left to pedal the nearly impossible, winding, rocky route, but the sheer and beautiful strangeness of the situation made it an enjoyable and humorous ride. After clearing the crest of the hill, we came upon a village where dozens poured out of grass-pointed huts and greeted us with frenzied whoops and whistles. I can’t be sure of it, but I think they may have mistaken Virginia for some long-lost village princess. The impromptu parade that formed included several daring villagers, each contestant attempting to quickly learn how to ride Virginia’s Surly Troll by mounting the saddle whilst two others held each side of the bike to keep it from falling over. After crossing the couple hundred meters that constituted the village’s length, we were dropped in the front pasture of a pair of stone huts. As we overlooked the high meadow bowl formed by
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the surrounding vivid, green mountains, an awkward series of meetings, handshakes, and nods commenced. These interactions ensured us that we were destined to camp there for the night. As it began to rain, we proceeded to set up the tent for an audience of about forty children. Aside from a small, dedicated fan base, most of the children dispersed. Within minutes, the rain abated and left in its wake a technicolor, double rainbow that was clearly visible from end to end – the envy of any leprechaun. After meeting the local village chief, sharing some cookies, and whipping up an odd pasta mixture made of random, packaged flavors, we finally had a chance to breathe. We took one last look at the most amazing, star-filled sky I’ve ever seen and gently laughed ourselves to sleep. The following day was almost as interesting. We spent the morning traversing a spectacular and difficult track that crested and flowed over countless ridges and rolled us through more villages full of athletic and determined children. Later that afternoon, in an effort to dodge a massive thunderstorm, we ducked under a tin roof lean-to, which happened to be a trash incinerator. Within moments, a small band of shy children quietly approached and gave odd but direct orders to report to the principal’s office in the cinder block ruin of a school next door. As we chatted with the lively principal of the local school – one that served 200 children from the surrounding villages – the rain became torrential and the road became a mudslide. We realized that we weren’t going to make it much further. The moment this thought crossed our minds, the principal was already showing us where to sleep in a small office building for the night. There was no en-suite bathroom, electricity, or running water for that matter, but it would do.
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We woke to a sunny morning as uniformed children started showing up two by two, peering around corners to catch a glimpse of the odd travelers staying in their school. After a frenzied photo shoot, the children gave us a tremendously heart-wrenching goodbye. It quickly turned into giggles and laughs as we rolled out in the thick mud, only to get stuck about 20 yards away. Our Lesotho dirt road odyssey concluded with two more days of wonderful dirt road riding, broken up by the usual small talk with villagers, which always started with an explanation of where we were from and where we were going. It’s pretty amazing to be in a place where it’s possible to run across a few people who have never heard of America or the USA. The final 40 kilometers were along the spectacular Sani Pass, a legendary narrow and rocky descent through untold switchbacks that provide a viewing
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platform for countless waterfalls, bizarre vegetation, and the breathtakingly beautiful Drakensberg Mountains. As we crossed the border and the Kingdom of the Sky faded into the quickly forming clouds at our backs, I had already begun to miss the tiny country. It all started with choosing that thin line of unknown terrain on the map. Ultimately, it not only turned out to be some of the best riding I have ever done, it also became a magical portal that led us through beautiful places, seemingly untouched by outsiders, where priceless experiences seemed to unfold time and time again. It’s possible that similar events could have occurred along the more customary tourist circuit, but we believe that by “choosing the road less traveled, that has (truly) made all the difference.” Then again, maybe someone just slipped us the blue pill on the plane ride over. BV
FOREVERSCAPE Written by Dan Powell, photographed by Donnie Kolb
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.” William Blake
’d been scheming and dreaming a way to get my hands on a fat bike for a while. Over the past five years, many of my midwestern pals back home had pieced them together and started riding in all kinds of conditions. Still, it seemed to me the prevailing sentiment was that fat bikes were “snow bikes.” And, living in the Pacific Northwest, the purchase of a snow bike wasn’t something I could ever justify. Truth is, if I wanted to drive an hour to the snow I was probably going to take skis or snowshoes with me, so the idea of having one more toy for the snow kept forcing me to forgo my fat bike dreams. But, with increasing frequency, I’d encountered worn in snowshoe trails and perfectly groomed snowmobile-tracked forest roads in the Cascades where a fat bike would work so well. The allure of quietly pedaling my way to hidden snowscapes began to percolate into my dreams. All of that said, I guess the first thing you should know about me is that I’m a dreamer. I gaze at lofty mountains and I stare out to sea. I follow animal tracks on hillsides from moving car windows and consult open spaces on gazetteers for fun. More and more often, I’d see places and think, “Oh yeah, I bet you could ride a fat bike there.” Then, last August, I bit the bullet and purchased one. Every chance I got, I rode it down river banks, up well worn bum trails along the highway, along single track I’d been riding for years, and right into the ongoing light rail project currently taking shape near my home. It didn’t take long for me to realize (like many others, I’m sure) that calling a bike with four-inch wide tires a snow bike is akin to calling a drop bar cross bike a “10 speed.” It was clear to me that huge tires and a frame bag changed the playing field in terms of where and what you could ride. I felt an excitement for riding I hadn’t experienced in years. Luckily for me, I’d gotten to know a couple of local fellows who were already hip to the versatility of the fat bike, and last November they invited me to spend a couple of days riding and exploring the Oregon Dunes. The gentlemen in question are Nick Sande, a former Surly slave who’s been riding fat bikes for years, and Donnie Kolb, the brains behind VeloDirt, who spends his spare time exploring blank spots on maps. They laid out a simple plan: spend a couple of nights in a rental yurt in Tugman State Park, a couple of days riding up and down the coast exploring the dunes, try our hands at razor Bunyan Velo 60
clamming, and sample some local seafood. The more I rode my fat bike, the better the idea sounded. Stretching some 40 miles down Oregon’s coast from the Coos River in North Bend to the Siuslaw River in Florence, the 30,000 acre Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. These dunes, rising hundreds of feet above the Pacific Ocean, are the result of millions of years of wind, sun, and rain erosion. They are an anomaly along a mostly rocky and forbidding, coniferous coast. Ever shifting, these dunes are as mystical as they are unique. As I drove south on Highway101, the first sight of the Dunes and their expansiveness literally took my breath away. Donnie and Nick headed down Friday night and were able to roll out into some of the dunes along the Umpqua Dunes Trail. They made it all the way out to the ocean and back before the evening darkness set in. When I arrived at camp early the next morning, they were already excited to get going again and we hastily got our bikes and kit together for the day. The sky was cloudless and fairly calm, unseasonable for the coast in the fall, and we were stoked about the conditions. It had been windy and rainy the week prior, packing the surface of the dunes into a perfect veneer for riding on fat tires. As we pedaled the two miles from our camp to the start of the dunes, they kept
mentioning that they wanted to be in front of me so they could see my face when we rolled out into what I came to call the Foreverscape. I think Nick did get a picture. Words can’t describe it. Imagine, if you will, a surface that is essentially a never-ending skate park where crashing can’t hurt you. That’s what the Oregon Dunes are when conditions are right. I called it the Foreverscape because it seemed to go on in every direction as far as you could comprehend. Up and down, wending through small green islands of trees, mile after mile with your buddies. That was our Saturday afternoon. Dropping down steep sandy shoots, zig zagging across huge blank sand canvasses over and over again, only to regroup on a distant dune we’d pointed to on the horizon. My cheeks hurt from smiling and my right hand hurt from slapping so many high fives. At some point Nick turned to me, smiled, and said, “Maybe we had it wrong all along. These are sand bikes, not snow bikes!” I’d been thinking the same thing for hours. I don’t know exactly how far we rode in the dunes because none of us had a bike computer, but we eventually arrived at the coast. There, we headed north toward the mouth of the Umpqua River and the harbor town of Winchester Bay. Being an autumn day, the miles of beach we covered were nearly deserted and we marked
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the miles with driftwood log rides, kelp pile bunny hops, and gulls on the wing chased. In Winchester Bay we ate our weight in fried seafood at a floating restaurant, picked up a few cans of beer at a small market, and after consulting our tidal chart, headed south and west back the way we’d come around 5:30 pm. Riding back along the increasing tidal flats toward a distant setting sun was one of those times you really appreciate as it’s happening, wishing it would never end. The beach seemed to go on forever. After a day of riding in shifting sand, the tidal sands felt like butter-smooth concrete. By the time we arrived back at the Umqua Dunes Trail several miles south of Winchester Bay, the sun had set and the wind had picked up. We added some layers of clothing and switched on our headlamps. As mind blowing as the endless expanses of the dunes were in the daylight, they were equally limitless and haunting in the dark. Our impotent lights seemed to peter out frequently into the darkness, and as we ground onward it became obvious that the previous several hours of sand riding had taken a toll on our bodies. I seemed to push my bike on foot over endless dunes as much as I rode during the last 45 minutes. Back at the yurt, with some pasta on the camp stove and bottles of stout in hand, we made ourselves comfortable. My last coherent thought was that indeed these fattired vehicles weren’t “snow bikes” at all. Maybe people had it all wrong, maybe they were in fact sand bikes, and folks just hadn’t figured out how to use them correctly.
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We woke up late on Sunday morning to the patter of rain on yurt’s canvas roof. It was cold, and none of us felt like moving. At some point Donnie remembered that it was Nick’s birthday and all three of us were excited for a few minutes. Then Nick admitted that it wasn’t his birthday, but it felt like it might be his “barf day.” After a large camp stove breakfast under the awning of our yurt and two French presses of coffee, the rain began to let up, the temperature warmed, and the clouds started to break. We packed our things and loaded the cars. Before hitting the road for the three-hour drive back to Portland, we decided explore the dunes south of where we’d been the two days prior and set off again. After a brief, aborted attempt at riding in an Off Hiqhway Vehicle (OHV) section of the dunes, we ended up exploring south of the Umpqua Dunes Trail, where we’d turned north the days before. Here, with no destination in mind, we fun hogged our way though the dunes for hours. Instead of “where are you trying to go?” we troubled ourselves with “can I ride up that?” and “can that be jumped?” We were limited only by our mindsets. Tried to ride something and your tires bogged down? Let a bit more air out and take another run at it! The longer we rode, the more we started to think we were hooking into an entirely new genre of fat biking. Eventually, we needed to head back to Portland, and with regret we loaded our sand bikes, cracked one last beer, and toasted to our newfound playground. On the drive back to town, it dawned on me that the wind and rain would erase our fat-tired tracks a day or two after our final turns were taken and it’d be like we were never even there. There was something really sweet about that thought. Two months later, I continue to ride my fat bike on damn near everything I can find. The more I ride and the further I go, the more I realize that these fat-tired contraptions deliver on the dream of overland mobility in a way that traditional mountain bikes always promised but were rarely ever able to deliver. Now, increasingly often as I travel, I see places and I’m able to note with conviction, “I could ride on that.” It’s a pretty good feeling. BV
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ÄŒervenec in Czech Written and photographed by Lael Wilcox
e cross the border from Germany to Czech on the afternoon of July 18, my birthday. Border crossings in the European Union are relaxed; this one a footpath with a wooden bridge over a creek. The Federal Eagle is perched beside several numbered bike routes, guarding Germany. Across the bridge, in Czech, there are purple and yellow cross-country ski signs and a wooden hut. We peek into the cabin. Inside are a narrow bed and a stove. Floral drapes cover the window and a well-worn, striped quilt lines the bed. The cabin, a haven for skiers, is abandoned for the season. For us, it's too early to look for camp and the weather is definitely too nice to sleep inside. I shut the door of the hut and we pedal into a Bohemian fairy tale. By crossing the bridge, we enter the first post-Soviet state of our trip, the Šumava National Park and the Southern Bohemian region. The border is open, but dramatic. The language changes. The currency changes. Even the air is different. Somehow, entering Czech feels quiet and calm and tolerant. We are on our way to Prague to meet some friends, riding our mountain bikes from the sticks to the city. We take dirt when we can and back roads when we can't. Červen and Červenec, red and redder in Czech, are the names for June and July, and they relate to the ripeness of summer fruit. Roadsides are often lined with fruit trees. Mid-July, cherries and plums weigh heavily on branches, bearing so much fruit it drops into piles around the trunks. We fill our saddlebags. It’s hot, sunny, and humid here in July. We pass our days pedaling between picnics, swimming holes, and beer gardens in the countryside. Every town has a small shop manned by an aproned matron. She keeps her register above a deli case. Just as in the last town, there is a sparse sampling of sausage and cheese inside. Tomatoes and cucumbers are in season and we live off veggie-mayo sandwiches on poppy seed rolls. The food isn't refined, but it's good, honest eating. Everyone goes out for beer in Czech. The beer in stores isn't refrigerated because bars are so common. At a dollar a pint, it's actually cheaper than bottled water. Friends and generations of family sit side by side at the bar, drinking beer and eating ice cream. People take their time. Even the bartenders pour slowly – filling halves of half liters and letting the glass settle for a minute before topping them off. Bunyan Velo 75
Servers leave paper tabs at tables with tally marks to count rounds. The beer is light and refreshing and at four percent alcohol, the Czech drink round after round and no one gets sloppy. Instead, their eyes sparkle and their cheeks get rosy. They lean in a little closer to each other and speak their dreams. I never heard a raised voice during the month we spent in Czech. Even the children are calm, and there are children everywhere. Most restaurant patios have giant trampolines and play areas. Public swimming pools are common; many are Soviet-era concrete rectangles.Â Half of the time they're free, the rest of the time they cost a dollar. The free ones resemble ponds, a little murky, but not forgotten. In humid July we swim in them all and we're not alone. The days are long and we make our way to Prague to see Joe and Margaret. We've met twice before. First, in Alaska, because Joe spent spring break riding 100 miles on a fatbike through the Alaskan backcountry, where we worked for the winter so we could travel for the summer. We met for pizza. The second time, because Joe took another break from school to ride with Cass in New Mexico and we weren't so far away in Colorado. We met for a five-day ride and pushed our bikes for half of it. This time we'll meet Joe and Margaret on their honeymoon. They bring folding bikes to Eastern Europe and invite us to join them. They're coming from Hungary and we're coming from Germany. We decide to meet in Prague on July 20. We awake in the woods on the morning of the 20th. Czech is full of numbered bicycle routes leading in all directions, but we rarely know where they go. Fifty kilometers out of
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Prague, we pick up a route leading to the city. As we pass through a village we see nine or ten loaded bikes propped outside of a bar. It's a diverse group of older hardtail mountain bikes and hybrids with racks and panniers. Bungee cords hold duffel bags to rear racks. We weren't planning on stopping, but the bikes draw us in. We spot the riders sitting on the only picnic table outside of the bar. It's just as well that they're in the shade. Itâ€™s 10:30 in the morning and they're sweaty and round and rosy, drinking tall glasses of pivo. We step into the bar to order our own. It's small and dim and tidy. Framed black and white photos line the wall at eye level and a trophy case rests above the taps. Waiting for the slow pour, we take a closer look at the photos, a series of portraits. At the far left is a portrait of a young Czech couple in black, the woman in a long dress, overcoat, and headscarf, the man in a three-piece suit and hat, enough space between the two that we can see the tree behind them. The middle photo is taken indoors with the woman, now middle-aged, in a long dress and headscarf, and a young man in a tan suit, no hat. At the far right we see the old, headscarved woman holding onto a different young man in gray. Their eyes have the same piercing gaze. They stare. We speculate history in whispers, but with no way to ask and no desire to break the stillness, we silently pay for our beers and step into the sun. The table outside is occupied, so we sit at a bench across the street. The male cyclists are eating lunch. They pull tin foil or plastic-wrapped parcels out of their bags, open their goods, and place them along the picnic table. A sunburnt blond presses his weight into the table to get on his feet. He
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hobbles into the bar and returns with a tray of beer, setting the whole thing down as each man reaches for his own. Food and beer and hands and bellies cover the table. Another man rises when the glasses empty, stiffly fetching more beer as more lunch emerges from the packs. They chomp into full cucumbers, cold chicken, dark bread, and potato pancakes. The air is filled with laughter and when one man ceremoniously farts to end the meal, we can't help but join in. The uproar settles and the men labor out of their seats to pack up their provisions. Leaving the bar, we ride out of town together. We encounter a riverside bike path some 29 miles outside of Prague. It's Saturday morning and the path is teeming with folks, young and old, roadies and rollerbladers. We stop at a bustling snack shack, order a beer, and settle into a picnic table. A skinny guy in a racing bib is slumped on a rock next to us. He stares intently at his cycling computer, clicking through splits before shrugging and reclining in the sun. A young mom rolls up with her two sons and we make space at our table. They drop their bikes and head for the stand. The boys come back with ice cream, the mom a mug of beer. The brothers take turns licking their own and tasting each otherâ€™s. Their mom smiles and rolls her eyes when the older one drops a bite in his lap. I can't help but laugh. He fiercely mimics my laugh back, causing my stomach to drop. I forgot what it feels to be laughed at when you're doing your best, even if it is funny. For the moment, my heart is grave and I apologize through my eyes. We all move on. Down the way, the path emerges onto a gravel beach along the river. Families stretch out on blankets and children wade in the rushing shallows. We ditch the bikes, pull off our shirts, and splash into the water, taking a break to dry off on the rocks. A little boy with an inner tube around his waist floats down the current and sprays Nick with his water pistol. Nick bounds back into the water and gives the kid a couple of splashes. They go at it for a minute, laughing and hollering. We spot his dad on the beach, tending to a stroller and smiling.
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The afternoon is quickly overtaking us. We get back on the bikes, motivated to make it to the city in the daylight. We ride singletrack through an open-air rock show. Blankets and people cover the grass amidst booming electronics. Further down the path, we ride through a series of art installations, four complete living rooms in a modern style, the first finished in pink, then blue, then orange, then yellow. We stop briefly at the blue set to try out a couch. It looks hard, but feels cushy. A young couple rests in the orange room. Bigger buildings and graffiti signal our approach to the city. Overhead, refuse hangs in the trees, the result of a massive spring flood. The cycle path splits several times and we start guessing. Some sections of the path are freshly paved, while others are still under construction. We pass a couple of women; one pushes a bigwheeled stroller over baseball-sized rocks. They maintain a conversation, unfazed. A few boulders are a small inconvenience for progress. We don't have a plan for where or when we'll meet Joe and Margaret, so we continue pedaling toward the center. We get caught at the end of a peninsula on the wrong side of the river, missing a water taxi by seconds. The sun is waning. Instead of waiting for another boat, we backtrack to ride a narrow dirt path along the riverside and haul our bikes up concrete stairs to a busy bridge. We follow a couple of northbound cyclists on mountain bikes, riding over jagged sidewalks and dodging glass through an industrial zone.
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Overhead, billboards advertise a Leonard Cohen performance, the new Marilyn exhibit, and discount vegetables at the grocery store. The four of us ride single file until we spot McDonald's, a reliable resource for free Wi-Fi. We pull off to check e-mail, hoping to hear from Joe.
It's just past five. Heartened, we fold up the laptop and dash for the city center. We don't have a working phone, but we're sure we'll recognize the Gothic arch and Charles Bridge when we see it. Each consecutive bridge is older and more gothic, each with a larger crowd. After two false stops, we find it.
It is 5:20 and the pedestrian bridge is packed with voices and cameras and bodies. And there's Margaret! Glowing, she spots us on the bikes and we hug and laugh and start talking too fast. But where's Joe? He's manning the opposite side of the bridge, as there are gothic arches at both ends. I stay with Margaret and Nick pushes his loaded bike through the crowd to find Joe. In a few moments, Joe returns, but where's Nick? Joe walks back across the bridge. He finds Nick taking a picture of a blind woman singing Czech ballads, accompanied by a boom box. Mid-shot, Joe taps Nick's shoulder as the camera shutter releases. Joe smiles. Nick captures an accidental portrait.
Lael, Nick, Hope you slept soundly in the woods nearby last night. We’ve been walking around Prague for a half day. It’s an inspired mix of history, charm, and tourist shitshowmania. We’ve held off exploring much by bike, figuring you might like to join us in that. Hard to tell, really, how bike friendly it is; much less so than Vienna, for sure. Anyway! How about a plan to rendezvous. The easiest, if it works, is to call my mobile if you can. Let’s have a backup plan. Let’s meet at the Gothic arch on the Charles Bridge at 5pm. We’ll go there and wait for at least a half hour. –Joe Bunyan Velo 88
We have found our new old friends in an 1,100 year-old city of two million people. Our eyes sparkle, our cheeks grow rosy, and we lean close to speak our dreams. BV
Seeking States Written and photographed
by Gabe Ehlert
his season’s crop has been pretty good – nobody has raided it.”
and enthusiasm might have led to my biting off more than I could chew.
I hear this as I coast toward two older men, sitting in the shade of a group of fir trees at the intersection of forest roads 20, 22, 40S16, 40S20, and 2040, referred to as Siskiyou Gap, in the Siskiyou National Forest. I nonchalantly turn aside, pretending not to have overheard their conversation. I ride by them, out into the clearing created by the road intersection. Having just descended over 1,000 vertical feet from Meridian Overlook and Mount Ashland to this five-way dirt intersection, I wanted to verify that my destination was actually passable. Four other roads fanned out before me. I saw my planned road, FS 20, veering off up and to the right, while the other roads cut either hard right or left and down. Experience has taught me that reality and maps don’t always match up how you want them to, especially in the case of forest service and logging roads. In an area as remote as this, and with so few access points and services, some validation in knowing that I wasn’t going to get stuck up here, or that I wouldn’t be forced to turn back, adding days and miles, was vital to my current state of mind and the on-time completion of my trip.
I had come across this particular route, which allows travel from Oregon to California without the use of highways or interstates, in Bil Paul’s Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail, a small book about back road bike touring, written in 1990. Paul wrote of two routes south out of Ashland. One climbs up the old Siskiyou Highway and parallels Interstate 5. The other climbs Mt. Ashland and then follows little-traveled dirt forest service roads along the Siskiyou and Klamath Crest, providing passage to California and eventually connecting to remote Highway 96. The dirt route described in Paul’s book sounded more entertaining, and I’ve always been a bit frustrated that there aren’t more interesting points to cross the state border, other than I-5 and a handful of smaller highways. I also knew of a way to get up to the top of Mt. Ashland on dirt roads, a big bonus to Paul’s second route in my opinion. Paul’s route, while dated and possibly obsolete, seemed like a solid and challenging addition to my trip. This unknown factor, plus the allure of riding remote mountain roads back into my home state, was what sealed the deal on the whole trip.
This was Saturday, the fifth day of my solo trip down the Southern Cascades. I was riding from Oakridge, Oregon, to Eureka, California. My general plan was to ride as many forest service and backcountry roads as possible, with a particular emphasis on riding dirt. I had a rigid timeframe of seven days to get from start to finish. When planning the trip, I hadn’t really confirmed daily distances, daily elevation gain, or overall trip length. I knew my starting and ending points and filled in the middle by finding interesting, rural roads that looked to be linked on my somewhat-outdated maps. Apparently I wasn’t concerned that I was going to ride over the crest of the Cascades on the first day, or that the second day was going to include climbing up and circumnavigating Crater Lake, or that I was potentially backing myself into a corner up here on this remote ridge. I wanted to ride the route I had planned and to discover what was out there. It never occurred to me that my overconfidence
Midday found me on the western flank of 7,533foot Mt. Ashland. I realized that I had a lot of unknown riding ahead of me and I looked down into California with the blue-black ranks of the Klamath Mountains marching south on toward the horizon and Mt. Shasta and its attendant Lemurians lurking in the haze off to the southeast. Descending down to Siskiyou Gap, I became aware that I was starting to fall into the physical and mental “basin and range,” the highs and lows commonly experienced by a tired cyclist. Being fairly familiar with this mental and emotional rollercoaster from my long distance randonneuring rides, I knew that hitting a low usually means I need to eat and look around more. However, on this day, I’d been spending too much time looking around at the mountains and wilderness. The day was wearing on and I was eating into what little time I had gained during the Mt. Ashland climb. I knew that I needed to get down out of the mountains and to the Klamath River by early evening at the latest if
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I was going to keep my schedule of making it to the coast by Monday afternoon. As I straddled my bike, staring down the uncertainty of FS 20 and eating some almond butter and honey, a style of green pickup that I’d become familiar with over the past few days popped out of the trees, approaching on my right. It was a forest service ranger, and I figured he’d be able to help. “Hey, can you help me with some road info?” I asked. “Yeah, sure. What are you doing up here? I’ve hardly ever seen anyone up here on a bike…is that camping gear?” “I’m trying to take FS 20 to FS 12 and down to Hwy 96, somewhere around Horse Creek in California.” “What?” he asked, confused. Hmm. That’s not a good sign. Maybe I mumbled something and he didn’t understand. It wouldn’t be the first time, so I repeated my planned route. “I’ve never heard of anyone going down to California from here. Well, wait, maybe a long time ago. Or maybe he said he was from California and was just passing by. No… wow… where are you going, again?” Hmm, crap. My confidence starts to drop as we look over his map together. None of the roads I mention are shown with any clarity or certainty on his map. It seems that our maps don’t match up. His map also shows FS 20 continuing on down the ridge, but it only shows FS 20 cutting to the northwest at Dutchman Peak/Jackson Gap, not splitting to the southwest like my map says it should. His map portrays the connector of FS 12 as an old, unmaintained path snaking up
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a drainage to the Pacific Crest Trail, and it seems to give out far from FS 20. He thinks that most of the roads I’m looking for might be too overgrown to be passable. It seems that the only sure way down into California is to climb back up Mt. Ashland and try to take a smaller road down, or to go back and ride along I-5. Neither option sounds fun, and the bitter taste of defeat starts to rise in the back of my mouth. At this point a dude on a mountain bike appears in the intersection. He rode down from FS 20, where I was headed. Rad! It turns out he came from a watchtower a few miles away, up at Dutchman Peak. He reports that FS 20 splits to the south at Jackson Gap, but says he’s never gone past there, and thinks the road deteriorates. The two of them compare notes and give me competing advice, but both confirm that I have a long, rocky climb up to Dutchman Peak. The biker says there’s a spring below the road that PCT thru-hikers use, but it could be tricky to find. I still have a decent amount of water, and I have my SteriPen, so I’m not sweating that. After a few more minutes of chatting, the mountain biker shakes my hand and wishes me luck. He says he’s jealous, but the look in his eyes betrays his concern. The ranger also wishes me luck and warns me not to get lost and to watch out for hunters, wild animals, and marijuana growers. Thanks bud, as if I didn’t already have enough on my mind! As I pedal on into the uncertainty of my route, the ground slowly rises through the fir trees and I have some good views of the mountain ranges to the north and west. Suddenly, I’m out of the woods and in an exposed alpine meadow. The road kicks up quite steeply here. It also gets pretty rocky and loose. I shift into the “spin it to win it” gear and settle in for a long, hot grind. Soon, as I pick my way between the bigger rocks, the heat and the steep grade make riding too annoying, so I get off and walk. After strolling up the mountain with my bike for
a while, I see the ascending road curve to the left and then make a sharp right up ahead. Maybe that cuts back to the top of the ridge I’m trying to get up? Nope. After what feels like hours, the grade lessens and the roadbed becomes firm enough to ride again. It’s pretty exposed up here, and the long push has taken it out of me. I realize I’ve consumed a fair amount of my water. Where was that spring, again? The road “levels” out to a series of small rollers along the ridge with another climb a mile or so down the road. The wind whistling in the pine trees keeps making me think there’s a car coming up behind me. It’s just the wind. I can see down into California on one side of the ridge and into Oregon on the other. Sometimes borders can seem so nebulous and arbitrary, but experiencing a place where geology delineates the boundary and creates geography is pretty cool. I reflect on this as I ride along the precipice between the two states. Maybe it’s just my fatigue, hunger, or thirst, but the solitude, the vastness of the views, the wind, and the crunch of the earth beneath my tires becomes a bit too intense and I start to feel sentimental. There isn’t anywhere I’d rather be at this point
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in time. Even if I have to turn back, it would be okay. Well, maybe not, I still want to get through and accomplish what I set out to do. I’m nearing Dutchman Peak and the watchtower is visible on a distant summit. I can also see what I hope is Jackson Gap, where FS 20 supposedly splits. Upon cresting the little climb, I breathe a sigh of relief as I see that FS 20 does actually split and is in better condition than I’d feared. A stop at the crossroads is in order. I need to consult the map and have another snack. All of a sudden I feel an acute stinging pain in my shoulder. Oww, what the? I swat back and smash something on my shoulder. I pull my hand away to see the body of a yellow jacket. Thanks, Oregon. The hour is growing increasingly late. I never did find that spring and I’m down to half a bottle of water. My appetite for another fifteen to twenty miles of peak and gap riding is waning and I decide that I need to get down to the river as soon as possible. Looking at my maps, it looks like I have three options: One, ride a few more miles on FS 20 and take 41S15, which should be a rough, multi-thousand-foot descent to a snarl of unnamed logging roads, and then onto FS 11 to Hwy
96. Two, I ride eight more miles to Wards Gap and try taking 47N01 to FS 11, which also looks dubious. Or three, I stick it out and continue on with my original plan, keep humping it along FS 20, and hope it meets up with FS 12 and Hwy 96. I can see some potentially serious climbs and descents as I look down the ridge, so I decide to roll the dice on the first option. At least it would take me to water and then I could figure out what to do from there. Making the decision to get down off of the ridgeline was a good one, at least mentally. I knew what I had to do, the goal looked achievable, and I was most likely going to make it through. I felt a little bad about deciding to bail on my planned route, but plans can always be changed, right? FS 20 was fantastic after Jackson Gap. I cruised along, wondering at the alpine scenery and admiring how far I’d come. The sun was low in the sky when I reached 41S15, but the road was signed and there were relatively fresh tire tracks on the ground, which I took to be a good sign. Hunters, maybe? To be on the safe side I pulled out my hi-viz rando windvest. Ha! RUSA and NRA approved gear. I dropped into 41S15 and
was ripping down the road when I passed a few small, yellow signs nailed to some trees. I’d just crossed into California! That was a morale booster, for sure. The road followed a spur arm of the ridge before it cut hard left and steeply down. Anticipating this upcoming descent, I was watching the road more than the surroundings when suddenly I saw two big black animals lurking on the side of the road. Shit, bears! I grabbed the brakes hard, forcing my bike sideways in a slide. As I was in a full-on drift the two black animals jumped up and started running away from me at full tilt, along with ten to fifteen others, bells ringing. It almost sounded like a cross race. Wait, bears don’t run in herds and wear bells. Oh, HA! It’s a herd of cows! By this time I had straightened out and was facing the right way, so I took off after the cows, hooting and hollering. I parted ways with the cows a few hundred yards down the road. To whoever was ranching those cattle up there on the ridge: my apologies for rustling them. The cow encounter and the steady descent served to boost my mood. Then came the rat’s nest of logging roads I had seen and dreaded on my map. Which one to take? There were way
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more roads than pictured on my map, all going every which way. I oriented myself using the unnamed creek that I figured led towards FS 11. I rolled the dice yet again and decided to take the rightmost road, vowing to keep heading down and to the right whenever possible. After ripping down more steep, rooty, debris-filled roads, as well as passing through the occasional old logging zone, I ran into a 3-way intersection at which neither direction pointed where I wanted. Again, I did some orienteering and decided to head right and up. The up luckily turned out to be just a bump, followed by another wicked steep descent to another 3-way intersection. Strangely, this time it seemed that I should go left, and I did. After another steep, fast descent I shot out onto a large gravel road next to a creek. Up ahead was a sign that had obviously been introduced to some buckshot. I could just make out the mangled letters of FS 11. Yes! I had made it to water and down into California! Even though I was still some distance up the valley, I felt elated. Another buckshot sign read 15 miles to Hwy 96 and the Klamath River. I was so stoked as I took off down the road, not minding the miles of epic washboard ruts. At one point I had to react quickly to avoid a local on an ATV as I came around a sharp bend. As I swung close to the creek gulley I noticed a board with a number on it nailed to a tree. Boards like this were nailed to a tree every mile or so along the creek. The far bank was a big cliff face. The rock looked to be a granitic jumble, with a fairly big quartz seam in it. There is gold in these hills! It turns out the placards were placed to mark mining claims along the creek. I was looking at one of the last vaguely legal forms of earning a living available in this region. It was a fast, dusty, bumpy, and informational descent down into the â€œmythicalâ€? State of Jefferson. I hung a right and crossed the highway to the Klamath River Store, pumping my fist in the air. I made it! Haha, take that! I rode the high and desolate roads. If anyone had been there to see me, I would have undoubtedly looked like some weirdo spaz, pumping my fist like Arseneo Hall as I coasted up to the country store. I had just shredded down nearly 6,000 vertical feet of dirt roads and chased some cows in the middle of nowhere, which more than makes up for unexpected route changes.
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I got a couple of Choco Tacos and a Dr. Pepper at a building that served as a general store, bar, and restaurant. Man, those were the best tasting ice cream tacos I’ve ever had. As I was sitting outside wanting to shake the hand of whoever created this frozen delicacy, a convertible Corvette drives up out of the sunset. A man and woman get out and take a look at my bike and I. My bike and body are caked in dirt, my hair is sticking up, I’m still wearing my hi-viz vest, and I have ice cream on my face. “Sweet rig,” says the woman without any hint of sarcasm. The man nods at me and they enter the store, greeting the cashier loudly. I hop back on my bike and pedal off downriver into the sunset. Bugs and bats flit across the road and over the river. A calm breeze is blowing up the valley. The grass in the fields and the leaves on the oaks are waving lazily. The mountaintops are pink and the river is black with hints of white in the rapids. A pickup truck with four dudes in the bed passes, each of them waving. Other than the couple in the Corvette, this is the only car I see that evening. Even the handful of “rural dog time trials” aren’t as arduous as they usually are. Most of the dogs
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I encountered that night just seemed to be stoked to be moving with me at speed. After a while they would drop off back to home and I would be able to continue coasting on down the road, marveling at the beauty of the river and the mountains in the gloaming. Some time passes and I arrive at the NFS campground at Hamburg, right at dark. As I get into my tent for the night, I can’t help but feel a bit sad that the day is over— that I’ve ridden from Oregon on a tangle of unmarked dirt roads and successfully made my way into California, if only though a combination of luck and planning. This day is over, not to be continued or repeated. I remind myself that there’s always tomorrow, and the excitement to meet the next day and all that it holds is enough to extinguish the light melancholy. As I break camp the next morning at daybreak, I see my only actual bear of the trip, a young cub, walking on the opposite side of the river. It was a good start to the day as I prepared to leave the eccentric but friendly State of Jefferson and enter the headwind infested, anarchic wilds of northeastern Humboldt County. BV
SOJOURN Written by Daniel Enns, photographed by Mark Reimer
s the last remnants of fall disappear under a thick blanket of snow and a blast of arctic air draws heat from all but the most insulated spaces, the inhabitants of Winnipeg are mostly driven to warmer spaces indoors. We escape to the isolation of our living rooms or basements, curling up on couches with piles of blankets. An endless supply of television programs and movies offer vicarious adventure and fantasy, while providing a refuge and a den for hibernation during the long winter on the Canadian prairie. I believe most would agree that winter in Winnipeg isn’t exactly what comes to mind when thinking about idyllic and beautiful cycling destinations. Located on the floor of the ancient Lake Aggasiz, our prairie outpost rests on fertile and completely flat land for 100 kilometers or more in every direction. The next major Canadian city is more than six hours away by car and the land between is typically cut neatly into an expansive one mile by one mile grid of roads – most gravel or dirt – which divide the land into a predictable monotony. The patchwork effect of these square-mile sections is lovely during the growing seasons, as crops of canola, wheat, soybeans, flax, or sunflowers grow side by side. In winter, however, every mile is covered in a uniform white. It’s hard to find anything interesting or eye catching in such a landscape. Indeed, the early pioneers would often get lost on the bald prairie as easily as one would get lost in a dense forest; every direction looks more or less the same. The weather can be brutal. Temperatures of -20°Celsius are common, often dipping to -30 or below, but the wind can easily multiply this cold as it travels swiftly and without restriction across the barren prairie. The absence of any substantial water bodies nearby often means the skies are clear, permitting any heat to escape rapidly upward, but also providing ample sunlight during the short winter days and the occasional display of northern lights during the night. It’s a cold Friday night in mid-November, but I’m not thinking about which movie to watch on Netflix, or which armchair travel book to pick up to satisfy my wanderlust. After winters stuck indoors and crippled with S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I need more direct stimulation. The movies can wait for another day. Instead, I’m running through an equipment list in my head as I finish the last-minute packing and preparation for tonight’s winter bikepacking adventure. I’m excited, and about to embark on a personal journey that will Bunyan Velo 105
be shared within in a small community of like-minded individuals. The evening ahead will be challenging but rewarding—a real adventure! Escape from the monotony of my day job, the pressures, commitments, and social realities of an urban society to the wilderness where I need to rely on myself and my small group of companions for survival. We’re heading outside of the services and support infrastructure of the built-up, populated environment. I’m last to arrive at the local bike shop, our arranged meeting point. Hal, Ian, Mark, Lyle, Graham, Brad, and Josh are already waiting and ready to go. After hearty greetings and excited small talk, we re-apply our outdoor gear and abandon the comfort of insulated buildings and automatic heating systems for crisp winter air. We are a motley crew, and our bicycles reflect this. Everyone has opted for a different setup, drawn from our respective collections of equipment. Hal and Lyle are on fat bikes. Ian, Josh, and Brad are on mountain bikes (Brad is towing a BOB trailer). I chose my touring rig, Graham his cyclocross bike, and Mark has a Surly track bike outfitted with wider tires and a front basket. It’s clear we’ll all be experiencing the ride in very different ways. We’re taking this trip together, but will all have different experiences and goals along the way, dictated by our equipment choices and our mental state. Some of us are winter cycling experts, others novices. This overnight trip is the perfect type of outing to try out new equipment, packing strategies, or even just experiment with the concept of winter bikepacking. Our convoy rolls out down ever-smaller streets and we quickly make our way to isolated walking paths. I can already feel my feet beginning to succumb to the forces of thermodynamics, but so far my upper body is doing fine. Strategic layering is a substantial challenge for any long distance winter cyclist. One must create an equal battlefield against the forces of nature. Body heat must be retained, but also allowed to escape so the body doesn’t overheat and sweat. Some parts of the body require more insulation and protection than others. Exposed skin can freeze. Feet and hands do not have much movement and need to be protected, but the upper body is warm and is easily overheated and sweaty. In the battle for warmth and comfort, sweat is the cold’s back door to victory. Too many layers of insulation permeated with sweat will freeze when stationary, chilling the body and creating a dangerous situation. There is danger, but there is also community. We stop periodically to regroup and confirm we are all okay. Riding in mid-November is risky, as the change of season typically happens around this time in Manitoba. This weekend is particularly cold, -19 and expecting to fall to -25 overnight, not including the wind chill. Extra Bunyan Velo 106
gloves are passed around to those with cold hands. Nonfrozen water bottles are circulated to rehydrate. Looking around, our appearances have changed by the addition of frost and ice to hats, facemasks, eyelashes, and beards. We notice Josh has some patches of white frost directly on his skin. His nose is frostbitten. He brushes it off, saying it happens frequently and is never too serious, but the snowwhite colour of his skin is unnerving to me as someone who has never had frostbite. I check my face and confirm that the skin is cold but not frozen. Still in good spirits, we adjust clothing, check equipment, and prepare to move on. We’ve pushed out to the city limits and have crossed the ring road that surrounds the city, our progress already slowed by drifting snow and unrideable sections of the trail. Before us lies the barren and dark prairie, snow-covered and windswept. The shelter of the urban trees is gone and the force of the unrestricted wind hits hard. We push on, headlights piercing the darkness and illuminating the trail, the lights and noise of the city slowly fading away behind us. The well-packed snow of the city’s walking and cycling trails gives way to undisturbed powder, occasionally blown into drifts that blow apart in clouds of snow dust as our bikes plow through them. My mind begins to anticipate the arrival at our destination, still over an hour away. It’s a cross-country ski hut in a nearby provincial park that’s equipped with a wood stove and plenty of firewood. With a blast of the north wind penetrating my frozen facemask and stinging my eyes, it feels like that hour could be an eternity. Why are we doing this, again? I look backwards and see a line of bicycle lights stretched to the rear. We’ve settled into our individual paces and thoughts. Out front, on the single-speed Surly, Mark is pushing the pace to keep his legs moving at a comfortable cadence. I’m inspired to pick up my own pace to match his, and my thoughts turn from concentrating on being cold to the task at hand. I find myself beginning to relax and release tensions that have been building up inside. I begin to embrace the solitude of the prairie and anticipate examining the lone tree on the path ahead, reaching the next mile road. I’m lost in my head, and the miles slip by. Stopping periodically, we continue to regroup in our community, confirming we are okay and entering into conversation as we wait for others to catch up. Eventually the path appears to dead end on the most spectacular of landscapes. A barren field with large clumps of dirt lies before us. The fresh, wind-blown snow has created small drifts behind thousands of stone-sized clumps of dirt, and the light from the rising red moon and our headlamps cast shadows that transform the frozen field into an eerie, alien landscape. I feel as if I’ve Bunyan Velo 108
suddenly been transported away from Earth and landed on an alien planet. As we push our bikes to rejoin the path on the other side, it feels as if we’re adventurers exploring uncharted territories. I imagine a cinematic moment in which the camera frames our convoy of lights from overhead, pulling back to reveal long shadows from the light and a vast, barren landscape with no relief or help or expected creature comforts. The potential danger of our excursion has fully set in. It’s late, the biting cold has killed my cell phone battery, and we’re traversing some barren terrain. A crash resulting in injury or mechanical failure several miles from the nearest populated place could be serious. I’d hardly give a second thought to heading out on this trail with a minimal complement of tools or food on a warm summer day, but today my bags are loaded with equipment to deal with the worst-case scenario. Although, in the grand scale of arctic adventures, our little excursion would be on the luxurious end, with danger at a minimum. My mind wanders to those who’ve attempted serious winter adventures like trekking to the North Pole or completing the Iditarod Trail Invitational. I can see the possibility of completing these challenges, but I can also truly appreciate the danger that accompanies those adventures. The last few kilometers of the trail are completely snowed in. Only the local deer, fox, rabbit, and bird populations have made their presence known. In the distance, Mark’s headlamp picks up a pair of eyes watching from a nearby bush. We stop to observe the animal observing us and speculate what it might be: a deer, fox, wolf, or worse. Amidst the barren prairie, the glowing eyes staring intently back are slightly unnerving, but confirm that we’re not the only hardy souls out on this cold night. Our convoy regroups for the final push across a field strewn with stubble from the fall harvest. The snow is ankle deep and I try to keep the bike upright while slogging through, leaving a meandering and peculiar impression in the undisturbed snow. The cabin is on the far side of the field, just inside the woods that follow the Assiniboine River. The cold temperature, wind, and snow have slowed our progress, but after three hours on the trail we have finally arrived! Rolling up to the cabin is a rewarding feeling, and everyone is excited for a relaxing evening.
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The warm cabin is going to be incredible, but first we have to get it warm. The wood stove is old and ornery from years of abuse. It protests by billowing smoke into the cabin from the down-drafting chimney. We choke and cough but stay in the cabin as much as possible as it still provides shelter from the wind. Headlamps cut thick shafts of light through the heavy smoke of the fire and the water vapour of eight tired men breathing exhaustedly in the heavy air. Eventually, we manage to coax the stove to cooperate and the smoke gradually begins to clear. The uninsulated cabin slowly warms and the sense of urgency to ensure survival subsides with the radiance of the now-functioning stove and an ample supply of dry wood nearby. With the cabin warming, we start to take stock of our current condition. Josh’s nose is quite white from frostbite and looks like it will hurt tomorrow. Brad’s mountain bike and BOB trailer combination was not the ideal setup for riding un-groomed trails and his mood reflects his exhaustion and frustration. Lyle’s clothing choices erred on the side of caution, but perhaps ended up being too warm. A cloud of steam surrounds him as the evaporating sweat radiates from the wet clothes he is removing. Hal and Ian are discussing whether or not they actually want to sleep outside at -25 as they had originally planned. Graham can’t feel his toes, and Mark somehow lost his keys in the snow. I am somewhat amazed to find myself feeling exhausted but good. My clothing is reasonably dry and I’m sufficiently warm. Half of the journey is complete, and we have time to enjoy the remainder of the evening in the fine company of fellow travellers. Wet clothes populate a makeshift clothesline and every available hook on the walls. We roll large logs inside and place them around the stove for makeshift seating. Flasks of various soul-warming beverages appear from pockets, and bags of high-calorie recovery food circulate, replenishing spirits and empty stomachs. We recount moments on the trip out and talk about equipment successes and failures. We share stories of adventures past and ideas of future journeys and forget about life in the big city for a little while. Time is no longer measured in hours, but by the volume of liquid remaining in the flask or glass, and animated conversation continues into the night. As the desire
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to sleep begins to take over, I feel a transition of thought to the day ahead, the journey back home, and the return to the commitments of a previous life. It is simultaneously exciting and saddening. I look forward to completing the journey, but regret that it will come so soon.
wider community waits inside. It’s good to see so many people sharing the same enthusiasm for this type of riding, and to share conversations about the experience of winter riding, talking through technical challenges like clothing, bicycle, and equipment choices.
The following morning, the brilliance of the early sun is in stark contrast to the blinding darkness the night before. The sun rises over the field we previously crossed to reach the cabin, revealing the colour of the world and brilliantly lighting the sky. It’s hard to experience sunrises like these in the city. Rays of sunlight dance off the crystalline edges of snowflakes as we make our way back across fields and roadways in the direction of home. Where the world seemed isolated and vacant the night before, signs of life are now visible. Vehicles populate the roads. The occasional jogger, unrecognizable behind a frostcovered facemask, waves as we pass. Landmarks appear, now familiar in the daylight.
On the last leg of our journey, our group slowly pares down as my travelling companions peel off to their own homes to recover and prepare for the coming week. I have enjoyed sharing this adventure with them, and look forward to future cycling trips in the coming winter months. In so many parts of the world, year round cycling is easy. Here, it presents a whole new challenge. Those who take up this challenge are looking for a little chaos in a safe world. It’s easy to take the immaculately clean road bike out for a perfect ride on a warm sunny day, but in many respects it’s a safe ride. Against the harsh winter elements and icy terrain, however, anything can happen. It’s easy to survive in the safe confines of normal urban life or in fair weather, but for me it doesn’t always feel like quite enough. It’s necessary to take an occasional leap beyond the edge to prove that I’m worthy of surviving, that I can introduce some chaos and uncertainty, and deal with whatever comes along. A winter overnight cycling adventure like the one I’ve just experienced is a wonderful way to feel alive, and to be recharged for facing the challenges of everyday life. BV
We make a detour for breakfast at a reputable greasy spoon on the Trans-Canada Highway. The warmth and satisfaction of consuming food coated in grease are comforting after a short night and a hangover. It will sustain us for the journey home. A collection of fat bikes is already leaning against the snowcovered picnic tables as we pull up. This is a regular destination for a group of winter cyclists, and good conversation with this Bunyan Velo 116
Outside Looking In Written and photographed by Paul Henry Moore
ust as pro surfers use jet skis to swiftly propel themselves into the biggest waves, I use my wood-paneled 1995 station wagon as a launch pad for quick overnight adventures. The odometer recently rolled past 150,000 miles and the sunroof ’s leaky seal ushers in rainwater when I park on a decline during Seattle’s soggy season, but a couple of bikes fit snugly in the back and the butt heaters in the front seats still work on cold days. Working full-time often forces me to get creative with my days off. I’ve found that the fastest way to get close to the best trails, fire roads, and camping spots around the Northwest is by driving and stashing my wagon somewhere, then venturing out via pedal. The station wagon introduced me to the outdoors, camping, and hard-to-reach single track trails at a young age. My family used to meander through small towns along the Washington and Oregon coast with a loaded bike rack strapped to the back, my siblings and I maxed out on an old futon stretched across the backseat, my parents in the front. The Moore family chalked up highway miles in style. I bought the car from my parents a few years back and have continued its legacy as an adventuremobile in wood-grain, soccer-mom disguise.
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Last October, a wagon adventure brought me to Mount Rainier National Park, about 60 miles south of my home in Seattle. The crisp fall sun was high in the sky as I dragged my candy-green, steel bike out of the back seat – the same back seat where I used to play hours of slug bug with my brothers and sister on a dusty futon. I tightened the front wheel in place, packed up my saddlebag, and started pedaling down Carbon River Road toward the park’s northwest entrance. There were no cars or people around, just the sound of smooth, rhythmic cranking from my freshly oiled chain and brittle autumn leaves cracking under my tires. Up ahead, a park ranger was working on the side of the road outside the entrance gate. He was clearing trees and branches from the shoulder, making room for cars to park. When the leaves start changing colors in September and October, tourists and visitors come in droves from nearby Seattle and beyond, he said. Their cars fill up the visitors’ parking lot inside the gate and creep out to the shoulder on the main road, where they battle with tree limbs for parking space. But the parking lot inside was empty today; there was no one around. The entrance gate was closed and locked shut.
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The ranger, a soft-spoken, ginger-bearded man with a warm intonation, explained that his job wasn’t just to trim autumn foliage from the shoulder to make space for visitors. He was also there to guard the closed entrance gate; to make sure no one could get in. You see, in October 2013, the US federal government shutdown forced many national parks to close their gates to the public. Mount Rainier was one of more than 400 national parks that were closed. The National Park Service lost about $7 million in park entry fees and more than 800,000 federal employees were forced to take unpaid time off from work during the 16-day shutdown. A motorist and another cyclist pulled up to the entrance and the ranger denied both in an apologetic fashion. After I chatted with them for a few minutes, the cyclist directed me to a different road that climbs seven miles along the national park’s northern boundary, National Forest Road 7810. The road was normally somewhat busy with car traffic driving up and back from the Clearwater Wilderness trailheads at the end of the road, but that day it was destined to be deserted because of the shutdown.
The pothole-laden gravel road crept steadily under my tires as I pedaled through the silent fall scenery, weaving uphill through orange-red leaves and evergreens. A tall can of beer and a bag of trail mix rattled in my saddlebag amidst the mute stillness of the empty national park, providing an audible reminder of the rewards to be consumed at the end of my journey. I looked down into the park from my perch high above the trees and saw Mount Rainier looming tall behind the tree line to the south. A lone propeller plane buzzed overhead, swooping through the clouds clinging to the ridge. Riding in the shadow of 14,000-foot Mount Rainier meant I was at the mercy of the mountain’s self-created weather patterns, which changed minute to minute. Clear skies and sunshine turned to dense gray mist, wind, and gloom, and then back again to sun within minutes. Fresh snow started dusting the ground near the top of the climb where the gravel road ends and the rocky, dirt single track to Summit Lake begins. I was forced to stash my bike and hoof it when I came upon more than a foot of early season snow along the trail. I climbed some 1,200 feet on my five-mile, roundtrip hike to Summit Lake and its surrounding trails. Subalpine meadows, once dotted with wildflowers in the summer, were now covered with frost. On a clear day Summit Lake’s glassy water reflects Mount Rainier’s ice-crusted peak, but the view had already been socked in for the day, blocked by heavy clouds hugging the skyline. Though the journey from Seattle took less than a day, I felt like I was in my own world up there. There were no other footprints in the fresh snow on the trail beyond my own, no sounds or signs of life except the leaves falling around me.
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As the sun dipped lower behind the clouds on the horizon, I made a quick push back to the trailhead and hopped on my bike. Snow flurries blurred my vision as I coasted back down the forested, gravel road to my warm sleeping bag waiting for me in the back of my station wagon. As I got back to the car, I lay down on my pad and looked up through the sunroof, which was dry for the moment thanks to my level parking job. I cracked open my lukewarm tallboy of beer and rummaged through my bag of trail mix in search of a handful of peanut butter M&Ms – a feast of the gods. Above, the moon shimmered in and out of sight as the fall wind swept thin clouds across the dark sky, whispering a quiet lullaby.
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Despite my rejection at the front gate due to the shutdown, I was still able to get a glimpse into the vast, serene openness of the empty park from my lookout on National Forest Road 7810. The surrounding evergreen valleys blanketed in loud, vibrant orange and red felt like they were shouting back at me. Though the park was completely empty of visitors, it was filled to the brim with beauty. No matter how short a trip I take with my bike, the journey is always worth it. Though I may not always be able to pack up my station wagon and hit the road for days or weeks on end, I can usually find the time to escape for 16 hours or so. And, as long as I return to the office with stiff legs and hands stained with specks of grease, I know I’m still living. BV
Bikepacking Morocco Written and photographed by Glenn Charles
ordered to the south by the Sahara Desert, to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the north by the Mediterranean, and to the east by the massive Atlas Mountains, Morocco is a dream cycling destination. It has everything that any cyclist could want, including a reputation for friendliness, hospitality, and a wonderful assortment of delectable foods. My friend Richard and I had developed a loose strategy that would see us starting in Marrakesh, where we would assemble our bikes, store our kit, and stock up for our trip through the countryside. My Mukluk had not arrived in the States, so I opted to ride my trusty Salsa Fargo, while Richard was able to get a loaner Mukluk from a friendly English dealer. The optimal plan would have been two fatbikes, but with the amount of road riding thrown into the equation, the two bikes would complement each other nicely. Our route would be a loosely mapped loop taking us out to Essaouira on the Atlantic coast. From there, we would turn north, riding along the beach where possible, up to the famed city of Casablanca. There, we would head back east over a small mountain range and then drop back down into Marrakesh. Once back, we would take several days to explore the ancient city and its surroundings. With our bikes having arrived safely, we were able to get everything put together, save one minor problem. Richard had neglected to pack his pedals, something that we should have immediately recognized as an omen of things to come. With a little bit of begging, we were able to acquire a loaner set of pedals and complete the build, keeping to our plan of heading out the following day. Both Richard and I were fully prepared to camp the entire route. I had my Porcelain Rocket bikepacking bags and we set Richard up with a creative bikepacking setup. Two dry bags â€“ one looped to his handlebars and the other attached to a seat post rack â€“ along with the little silnylon backpacks from Sea to Summit. Now, all we had to do was await the arrival of Richardâ€™s friend, a local, who was planning to join us for a day or two of our ride. The following morning, Mohammed arrived in classic Moroccan style. He had a bag overflowing with gear strapped to his handlebars and was riding a bike with a broken derailleur. He had no sleeping Bunyan Velo 136
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bag, tent, or stove. We looked at each other and then at the bike, quickly realizing that our trip was going to be completely different from anything we planned or expected. The good news was Mohammed spoke both Arabic and French, the two principal languages in the country. I spoke neither, and Richard had a workable knowledge of French. We now had the ability to communicate in a country where very little English is spoken. However, I was effectively cut out from all conversations, as Richard would speak to Mohammed in French and then Mohammed would speak to locals in Arabic. This insured that I never knew what was being said and that Richard would only know what Mohammed told him in French. This would prove to be a constant blessing and a curse as we traveled across the countryside together. Leaving our hotel, the first order of business, and also our very first introduction to life in this industrious country, was a search for someone in the old town who could put a rack on Mohammedâ€™s bike. We knew there was no way he could travel with us without the ability to carry gear. Carrying it all on his back and handlebars, with the huge sleeping bag that we had borrowed from the same folks who gave us the pedals, would be nearly impossible. Riding through town was an abrupt assault on the senses. We were surrounded by donkey-drawn carriages, pedestrians, cars, and a sea of mopeds, all spewing a toxic and acidic smoke that caused our eyes to water and our lungs to burn. It reminded me of a game of Frogger as we searched the mechanic shops for someone who had a bike rack and could make the appropriate modifications to the bike. Without having gone more than a mile, we were already hot, sweaty, and dirty. I was afraid this would not bode well for the rest of the trip. However, we did successfully find a rack and were able to convince two teenage boys working in one of the many repair shops to undertake the bike modification. I watched in amazement as these young boys banged and pried and eventually welded everything into a workable solution. Finally, after a quick stop at the market, and with very little daylight left, our adventure was underway. The twists and turns were only beginning to unfold.
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Having lost the better part of the day, we managed to make it out of the city and into the countryside with a little bit of light available to aid our search for a campsite. The roads we were riding were made of asphalt and had little-to-no shoulder, though the foot traffic from the goat herders provided a worn down dirt track just off the edge of the paved road that was perfect for the big tires of the Mukluk. The roads were filled with walkers, mopeds, donkey-drawn carts, and other odd forms of traffic, which made the lack of a shoulder a non-issue for bikers. Trucks would come up behind you, give you a little toot-toot on their horns, and smoothly swing around you. As the trip progressed, we never felt unsafe on the country roads. It wasn’t until we re-entered the old city and the crazy chaos of its traffic that our nerves were jolted. Thinking that nothing more could possibly go wrong on day one, we stopped for a water break and started discussing our camping options. It turned out we were terribly wrong. We came to find out that Mohammed did not like to camp, a detail he offhandedly conveyed to Richard in broken English and French. While we weren’t exactly in the middle of nowhere, it was remote enough that it wasn’t as though we could find a hotel nearby. This was goat country, and there was no form of organized lodging to be found. What we discovered was that Mohammed felt we should stop at homes or shops and ask for what he would term hospitality. I would come to learn this as the concept of asking for aid in the form of shelter and food, even when not in need. I have traveled a good deal and can count the number of times I have asked for help or hospitality on a single hand. While help has been offered to me on more than a few occasions, asking for it when not really in need was a totally foreign concept to both Richard and me. After Bunyan Velo 142
all, we had plenty of food, shelter, and the willingness to simply head off into a field and make camp for the night. With light rapidly fading, we had no choice but to follow Mohammed’s lead. This decision would set a precedent for the entirety of the trip and bring us more joy and pleasure than we could have ever imagined. Within a few miles we found a garage and Mohammed went to work. The owner of the shop had a home a few miles away and agreed to let us sleep there that night. With no light left, we waited for the garage to close and followed the owner and his son to their home. It was my first taste of true Moroccan life. The home was made of clay walls with carpets hanging in the doorways for privacy and to keep the desert chill at bay. We were led into a room with pillows along the wall and a small table in the center. Shortly after arriving and exchanging pleasantries, a tray was brought in with delicious mint tea, a ritual that was repeated at every place we stayed. After tea, a huge platter of food was delivered to the group, which had now grown to include the three of us, the owner, his son, and the other men of the house. We would never see any of the women in any of the locations in which we stayed, though we could always hear them talking in other rooms. This was the first of many nights on which we enjoyed incredible meals. We ate with our hands from clay pots (tagines) containing steaming stews, vegetables, meat, and bowls of olives and freshly made bread. The routine was always the same. Mohammed would ask for hospitality and we would inevitably be led to a home, fed dinner and breakfast, and provided a warm and comfortable place to sleep. After that first day, nothing about our trip would be as planned, save for the overall beauty and friendliness that we had anticipated. The route we had
planned would become a bit too arduous for our friend Mohammed, so instead of making a great loop, we opted for an easier out and back. Heading west, we left the barren soil of nothingness for the richness of the coastal region. The first sign of change was the expanse of olive farms on rolling hills and the sight of goats eating olives from high branches in the trees. The acts of hospitality continued. We found shelter in a goat farmerâ€™s house, where, after the evening meal was completed, our host pulled out a laptop computer and began sending us friend requests on Facebook. It was at this moment that I first recognized and truly appreciated the power of social media and the Internet to connect people of all walks of life, even from the poorest and most remote of regions. Running out of time, we finally spent a single night camping outside of the beautiful coastal town of Essaouira. We rode the beach along the Atlantic Ocean, toured the narrow streets lined with shops of all sorts, and dined on a meal of olives, breads, and squid. Having experienced the taste of the local seafood, we rode down to the market, bought fresh fish on the docks, and proceeded to ride back to a small campground that we had passed earlier in the day. Grilling fresh fish over an open fire would be our closest experience to roughing it on the entire trip. I think after traveling these lands and seeing first hand how other people live, the whole concept of roughing it had a newfound meaning to each of us. Our final two days were a big push back to the city of Marrakesh. Along the way we found shelter in a schoolhouse one night, had an impromptu pace line with a group of local boys, and then met up with our very first hosts for a lunch. The trip was ending in the same way it commenced, with unexpected twists accompanied by an amazing sense of joy, kindness, and open hospitality from all that we met along the way. We eventually returned to the city and bid Mohammed a fond farewell. I prepared for several days of easy touring in and around the area. I managed to explore the inner walls of the old city by bike and feast on the local meats and olives. During those final days I would also take the opportunity to make two trips out to the edge of the Atlas Mountains as a form of reconnaissance for future trips. The Atlas Mountains and their environs, more rugged and isolated than what we had toured, offer up endless opportunity for both on- and off-road touring. This land, coupled with its warm and friendly people, is a touring cyclistâ€™s dream. With plenty of roads to explore, exotic foods to eat, and the type of hospitality and warmth for strangers that helps make any tour a joy, I anxiously look forward to my return. BV Bunyan Velo 146
Iâ€™m Happy and Iâ€™m Riding and a 1,2,3,4... Written and photographed by Przemek Duszynski
e were kids once, standing high on our toes by the window, watching... eagerly waiting for the last bits of snow to melt. Winter be gone. The first sunrays would come to our relief, revealing lost paths, pavements, and streets. Then, we would go out and ride our bikes with no gears, no suspension, no goal. A pack, pointlessly riding the same loop around the block time and time again. Those bikes and whatever clothing we had were all we needed to cast happy grins on our faces. Sometimes, we would spice things up by playing policemen and smugglers, using rowan berries as contraband hidden in our handlebars, saddles, or pockets. Time passed and we grew up one year at a time. Going to school, working, some of us getting married and having kids. Gradually riding less and less, in some cases completely forgetting about days long gone. But sometimes, sometimes, we would look back and remember how much joy cycling brought into our lives back then. A call, deep inside. Yet, things were different. Those silly little bikes would not suffice. Numbers started to play a more substantial role in our lives. How many gears, millimeters of suspension, hours, miles... try not to ride the same route again... latest gadgets to achieve our goals, stay warm, dry, get ourselves oriented in an unknown environment. All of these things are thrown upon us by the smart and clever marketing machine. We wanted to ride more, faster, further... into distant routes. A path, one way or another, shared by many. Riding more, with more. But was the enjoyment the same as it was back then, smuggling rowan berries around the same roadblock over and over again? It's so easy to forget that sometimes less is more, and I was about to discover that myself. Not so long ago I suddenly found myself in a foreign country, alone, with a broken heart and lots of time to spare. I have always enjoyed staying outdoors, but I had long since lost my childhood love for cycling, opting for hiking instead. Going high, at times wondering what I was doing, but only until that moment when I reached my goal, a vast landscape lying beyond, beauty the name of the game. Yet my backyard at that time was flat and felt uninspiring, unlike the mountains and hills I had learned to love so much. Weekends dragged endlessly, one by one. It was then that I spotted my old mountain bike gathering dust in the corner of my flat. In this I saw an opportunity. More could be seen with this thing, I thought to myself, definitely.
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I rode, and rode some more, smiling and not caring about this or that. It didn't take long until I knew all the local paths within one day’s cycle of my home. Short rides stopped being the fix I needed. I wanted to go further, and back then further meant faster. I bought myself a new, shiny, fast bike, yearning to pack a tent on top of it and go all the way up to the North Sea coastline. But I never did that... instead, I was still riding my bike locally, daydreaming of the places I’d go. Acquiring necessary gear and caring about preparation seemed like a natural thing to do in the meantime. Gears, ratios, apparel, tools, ways to use them, and a 1,2,3,4... One year and a different country later, dreams grew bigger and bigger, waiting to get out, bursting inside. Day rides, overnighters, weekend trips followed but never seemed to satisfy my ever-growing appetite. I threw the idea of a longer unsupported trip at an old friend. He's delighted, he's in. It's summer, and Wales invites us with sunny weather – an opportunity not to be taken for granted. Soon we're packed, together, and ready to explore. My friend, not having cycled for a while, takes his time... as for myself, I'd rather ride longer and faster, taking fewer breaks. I understand this contrast and we synchronize our pace. I keep a log of daily distance traveled, speeds achieved, places seen, and try to plant seeds of faster and more into my friend’s brain. Although they never sprout, we nonetheless have a blast schlepping ourselves into North Wales. I spend the second half of the route riding alone due to my friend’s obligations. At first it seems I've regained a part of my freedom. I'm back to my own pace, and mileage increases. I'm riding more, going further, spinning faster, breathing harder... but do I experience more? Enjoy myself? These are the questions that bloom. What's important? Sure, some of my numbers are back, but numbers are just that... numbers. In the end it doesn't matter how far I'm counting, it's what I'm counting that truly matters. And, truth is, now I'm only counting to one. Lunch breaks drag endlessly. Landscapes, though stunning and beautiful, are worth only half as much when not shared. I go back home, somehow unfulfilled, longing for more. But what is more?
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Fast-forward two years and I find myself touring the Carpathians with a pair of people I've just met. It's Lael, Nick, me, and we're a 1,2,3... not more, not less. We start by sharing the trails and everything else follows naturally. It doesn't take long to notice that our touring styles have drifted in the same direction. We do our math in a similar way, choosing experience over distance whenever possible. And thatâ€™s quite often, as long one can let go of certain things. It's a great joy to share life on the road with like-minded folk. We have some plans of our own, and soon take separate paths. Eastern Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, and chance encounters with natives are my sole companions on the way to Romania and the rest of the Carpathian Arch. The riding, people, and food are all great, but I miss being able to share all those blessings with someone else. Standing at the UkrainianRomanian border, I can choose between crossing into Romania alone or taking the train to Lviv to reunite with Lael and Nick. I know what to do, but more importantly, I know that three is more than one. It's easy to get lost in numbers, great goals, and shiny new gear for that great tour. I still find myself trying out new stuff, new options, and being a gear geek to a greater extent than I probably should. Planning never stopped being second nature. Truth is, it all still matters to me, and it's all good... but roaming the trails with kindred spirits for as long as possible is rewarding on a different level. Bend the rules, change the schedule. The pursuit of happiness is the ultimate goal and it's not measured in crank revolutions. A friend once remarked that mountain biking is pointless, but awesome. You go up just to go down. Pointless... rings a long lost bell... Shit! Let's go ride bikes! Any bikes, anywhere! And while we're at it, let's smuggle some rowan berries! BV
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The Bottoms Written and photographed by Jeffrey G. Frane
he Minnesota River Bottoms lie near the confluence of the Mighty Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers in Bloomington, Minnesota, about a 25-minute ride from the city of Minneapolis, depending on the chosen route. They are often described as the last wild place in the Twin Cities. They are the cradle of fatbiking, a birders paradise, a rallying point for likeminded individuals, and an area of stunning, singular beauty. Their majesty remains relatively unspoiled, though societyâ€™s encroachment is almost always visible in the distance. The Bottoms are a spear of natural defiance in the face of modernity, spared thus far from our tendency to pave the world by virtue of the annual flood cycle, which shapes a renewed and unique landscape as the waters recede every spring.
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We hold an uneasy claim to these miles of trails, as official policy doesnâ€™t allow bikes, although friendly local management turns a blind eye. Itâ€™s a fragile truce, and a point of concern as plans to develop the area are constantly bandied about by those who wish for easy access to this little miracle. For curbside service to something that should be earned. For me, the love runs deep. Contained within those miles is my special place: a small peninsula of spindly trees that juts out into the tall swamp grass. In times of struggle, uncertainty, and confusion, I return time and again for solace, comfort, and wisdom. To bask in the summer sun, run free in the fall grass, crunch the snow under my tires, and return home with the smell of the woods in my clothes. BV
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Last Chance, Arizona Written and photographed by Nicholas Carman
ach year, the annual stroke of midnight arrives on the last days of summer. At the end of a long season of riding, tracing serpentine footpaths across Europe and into the heart of the American Southwest, the time comes to pack the root cellar with memories and restart the cycle. The pattern of working and not working; living with permanence and in transience; and resting and riding provides an essential balance in our lives. A never-ending bike tour is not what I seek, nor is an endless summer, but in the last days of September and October, I am not yet ready to give up t-shirts and dry dirt for the season. Eventually, freezing nights and snow force their hand, and the season is over. Several months prior, on the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine, on the shores of the Black Sea, rain drives sideways for several days. Three of us look out the fifth-floor window of a concrete Soviet apartment building, freshly laundered and guarded by mugs of hot chai. There are still a few more weeks of riding for us as leaves ripen to yellow and apples rest in rotting piles beneath branches. These final days in Ukraine are a daydream of ancient trails past cave cities, villages, and Cold War bunkers. Camping in the hills just outside Simferapol, two of us look forward to more riding, halfway around the world. Celebrating with a mug of semi-sweet red wine and an aperitif of dates, filberts in honey, and Russian cheese, we say goodbye to our Polish riding companion, Przemek, and to Ukraine. We arrive in Colorado from Ukraine with an approximate plan for several months of riding in the Southwest. For a third
consecutive year – always in September, October, and November – we migrate to this arid, expansive corner of the country. Running away to the Southwest at the end of the summer is a poorly kept secret amongst people who live outdoors. At this time of year, desert heat is less extreme, water needs are more easily met, and everywhere else has already succumbed to the season. We ride from the western slope of Colorado into Utah along Kokopelli’s Trail, tracing the Colorado River to the north side of the La Sal Mountains, glimpsing remnants of early season snow up high. At 5,000 feet, nights are cool; at 9,000 feet, nights are cold, although each afternoon melts the memory of the previous night’s frost. As long as we continue to move south we are running away from the season. That season is winter. Crossing from Utah into Arizona and to the Grand Canyon, we connect with the Arizona Trail (AZT), an 800-mile corridor of signed singletrack from the border of Utah to Mexico. The trail traces segments of an old wagon route from the Canyon to Flagstaff. Continuing, we bisect several local drainages – crossing mountains and valleys – as our tracks connect Flagstaff, Sedona, Cottonwood, Prescott Valley, and the Black Canyon Trail, a 78-mile singletrack trail north of Phoenix. Ending at 1,500 feet in elevation, in shorts and t-shirts once again, we stick out our thumbs on a road back toward Flagstaff, hoping to explore more of the AZT. Five thousand feet higher in Flagstaff, it is snowing. The forecast is dismal and the thumbs go out again.
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Mud, by definition, is messy. Mud, in the Southwest, is often impassible and impossible. Southwestern clay, called caliche, contains a calciferous component that is unimaginably tacky, and builds onto tires with such tenacity that it may prohibit the bike from rolling. The result is a memorable experience of poking clumps of mud from wheels, frame, and derailleurs every few feet, as several inches of clay build slippery platforms underfoot. Soon, the bike is weighted with so much sediment that it is difficult to lift. Exhaustion sets in. The whole thing is a mess. Anymore, I avoid it at any cost. We divert to Albuquerque. The weekend in Albuquerque allows us to pass several days of record-setting rain and snow under a roof with our friends Rusty and Melissa. The year before, in November, we had settled in Albuquerque for the winter to work and save money. As much as any other place we have lived in the last five years, including Alaska, Tacoma, France, Maryland, and Florida, this is home. We visit old friends and employers in rapid-fire succession, like holding job interviews for a highly competitive position. I swap parts from the steel Raleigh 29er I’d been riding all summer, to a newto-me Surly ECR frame, complete with 3.0” tires. The Raleigh is donated to Melissa, an aspiring mountain biker ready to make the leap from a rigid 80s model. We’d only met Rusty and Melissa a few days before leaving town in the spring, but now we are comfortable friends as I’ve slept on their living room floor for a week, and she is riding my old bike. Rain and snow fall everywhere between Oklahoma and California. On this weekend, I am glad to be under cover. The skies clear, and we solicit our new friends to help us back to Arizona. On Thanksgiving Day, we pull off the interstate in Grants, offload the bikes, and ride up Zuni Canyon, a small, scenic slice of the Great Divide Route. It has been two years since I first rode here. Then, on my first ride down the Divide on an old Schwinn mountain bike, I fell in love with New Mexico and her sunbleached tones. On this late season ride, much like before, snow and ice linger in the shadows. In the sun, meltwater muddies roads that are marked “Impassible When Wet!” Two hundred
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miles further west, Flagstaff is similarly covered in snow. Outside of town, dirt roads and trails on the Colorado Plateau are an impossible quagmire of mud and ATV ruts. This section of the AZT is effectively closed for the season. Disappointment is a good motivator to discover new opportunities. At least the pavement is dry. Two days further south and 3,000 feet lower, we trade mittens and down jackets for t-shirts, at least in the afternoon. By now, we’ve hatched a new plan. Lael has been hunting for a race to run all summer. Each day while on tour, she laces up her shoes to go running. She’ll often run away as I am packing in the morning, or when I fall into the grass in the afternoon with a baguette and Brie. She knows that if I have food and a body of water to swim in, or a good internet connection, she can leave me for an hour or two. The result of so much riding and running are legs that look like they belong on a racehorse. She figures, “I might as well run a marathon.” About once a year such aspirations lead her to a race, and each year she rides to the start and places first, or third, or fourth. We’d barely missed some races this summer in Poland and France, but the Tucson Marathon fits our approximate schedule. Now, more like tramps than tourists, we ride pavement and hitch some of the remaining 300 miles to Tucson. In a week, we cover nearly as much distance hitching and riding as we did in five months in Europe on our bikes. An alarm wakes us from our camp spot on a small patch of desert across from a Shell gas station just outside of Tucson. We stuff our sleeping bags and strap them to the bars. A quick visit to the gas station yields a hot cup of coffee and a can of V8, which will be Lael’s only pre-race fuel. In the dark, we ride up the street to the high school where the runners are loaded onto school buses to the actual race start thirty miles away. I begin to ride the route in reverse, so that I can spectate and follow the runners back towards the finish. Lael runs well, and is the fourth female finisher. Back at the parking lot, we sit and enjoy a can of beer on the sidewalk, watching runners hobble back to their cars. They lift tired bodies into their vehicles, relieved to be back in familiar Bunyan Velo 183
territory. Engines idle and with the simple extension of the leg, they’re off at 40 miles per hour. For someone who runs for fun, rides around town out of necessity, and rides around the world as a full-time hobby, Lael can’t understand the concept of driving to go running. In fact, she can’t even drive, and doesn’t have any interest to learn. With the exception of a couple of long distance hitches this past week, we each spend more time cleaning our bicycle chains in a year than we do in a car. And for her fourth place finish and a $100 registration fee, all she got was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a couple of energy gel packets, and a cheap painting of a dancing Kokopelli on particle board. In Tucson, we meet Scott and Eszter. Their unique lives and accomplishments make them personal heroes on a very short list of people I admire. Scott Morris is a driving force behind the growth of bikepacking through his development of the Bikepacking.net forum, Topofusion mapping software, and the Trackleaders GPS race-tracking website. He is also much of the initial inspiration behind the concept of bikepacking the AZT, first bringing attention to the trail nine years ago when he
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and Lee carried their bikes through the Grand Canyon and rode across the state of Arizona. Eszter Horanyi is the most decorated female ultra-endurance mountain bike racer ever, specializing in self-supported events. Her decorations are almost all figurative, with the exception of a few fading sponsor t-shirts, as most of the races she has won don’t award prizes. Rather, she cherishes stories of baked goods along the Divide, and the hot chocolate station at the Arrowhead. For two days, we share their sunny urban rental with them and their population of mountain bikes. We share our dreams with one another, many of them bikerelated. In the future, those of us who race might try not racing. “Did you know the oldest long-distance walking trail in Europe is in Hungary?” I ask. “I bet you could ride it.” I’ve never raced, and I decide that finally, I might be willing to try. Lael and I buy tickets to Alaska for the winter and check the local fatbike race schedule. The time to work is near. The end of the season is close. The clock will soon strike. The weather has finally settled, and after weeks of
unseasonably cool, moist air, the desert has returned. Scott lures me into his computer cave with the promise of a “route” to Phoenix. His personal computer may be one of the greatest resources for digitized bikepacking routes in the world, with a special emphasis on Arizona and the Southwest. He loads a few GPS tracks with embedded details such as “New AZT, Sweet” or “Possible water source”. We pedal away with a casual wave. I know we’ll see each other again. Two people on non-linear paths are likely to meet more than once. At least, it is possible. None of us will be traveling straight anytime soon. Over the next three days, reflections from the summer culminate in an emotional ride between Tucson and Phoenix. We ride out of town on a familiar stretch of pavement, pedaling into the freezing night and out of the glow of the city to reach a dirt road and a campsite on public land. Waking to clearing skies, the day brings us into wide-open Arizona. At each turn, distant mountains are less distant. By evening, we reconnect with the AZT and descend towards the Gila River. Somehow, I’ve thought that every day since May 8th has been better than the last. Way down south in mid-December, bathed in
the warm technicolor light of sunset along a section of the Arizona Trail, we experience moments of perfection. The trail carves hillsides along the river for twelve miles, mirrored across the valley only by train tracks, but no road. Finally, it turns up an impossibly steep mining track away from the river, settling on a more gradual singletrack gradient through a forest of saguaro and ocotillo. The three to four foot wide surface is an example of the kind of durable trail being built for the AZT. At a steady grade, it climbs over 1,000 feet from the river and crosses an arroyo. It climbs another 1,000 feet, cresting the ridge that has dominated the horizon for the last hour. For lack of imagination I had expected a forested plateau at the top, but instead there is a large rocky bowl encircled by trail, which disappears as a trace over another distant ridge. This will be the last climb of the summer, and the last ridge – the last descent, the last day on dirt, the last sunburn, and the last taste of food and water as a finite resource. This is the last chance to capture it, contain it, and pack it away for safekeeping. We’re going to Alaska for the winter. BV
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TO WOO A HIKER Written and photographed by Anna Edmonds
ndré is a German who likes to hike. I wanted him to like me and that probably wasn’t going to happen unless he also liked bike trips. In my mind, bikepacking is so clearly superior to backpacking that cultivating the former pursuit hardly seemed a challenge. I told him that we’d cover not a hundred miles, but thousands. That our bicycles would be encumbered but our bodies would be free, with air on our backs. That we’d traverse such varied terrain and climates and meet so many people that nothing would ever get old. That his revolting foot blisters would disappear. Unsurprisingly, André is also fond of plans, so I regaled him with the details. We’d fly into Quito, ride through the volcanic Ring of Fire to Cotopaxi, over Sangay to the Amazon, continue into Peru, and climb from the coast into the white Andes. We’d cross Punta Olímpica and ride to Machu Picchu and pass Lake Titicaca to lose ourselves in the flat expanses of white salt in Bolivia. We set off with two panniers each and treated our Michigan lungs to a 4,000-meter climb by the end of the second day. We rode past volcanoes and bumped along through high altitude plains until well past dark, pitched our tent gasping and awoke among wild horses. Our minds wandered, our eyes got lost in the unfamiliar horizons, but then we were forcibly returned to Earth with the sudden intrusion of a deep ditch (and André’s bike inside it). Dust brushed off, brake levers nudged back in place, wheel trued, but the derailleur and its hanger had met an untimely demise. We were very much alone with his disabled bike and so we coasted some miles downhill. But, as they often are, most of the miles were up. So we ambled along for some hours in the afternoon sun, André considering the wisdom of depending on a machine that will, after a few days and without warning, turn against you in the
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middle of nowhere, and me thinking how much better it is to avoid ditches altogether. Dust kicks up in the distance and Oscar and Sol ramble up in their pickup. They drive us well out of their way to the nearest bike shop, where they’ve asked the mechanic to source us a new derailleur and stay late to meet us. They’re warm and they love bikes and they think I look like their daughter. André is relieved and I am too, but I also explain to him with the assurance that comes from every near miss that turns out jelly side up that this is what always happens on bike trips in far away places and that it’s one of the best parts. I tell him that Oscar and Sol will be lasting friends, and they are. We fill ourselves with street meats from the twinkle light night market and pedal out the next morning, happier than if there hadn’t been that ditch. And so we’ve emerged from the mossy huts of the sheep-skinned cane liquor borrachos and we’re rolling through something that might be a village. I rouse the dogs just enough as I pass that they're in prime raring form when André rolls through half a minute later. He’s out of his saddle gnashing on the pedals, but it’s not soon enough and Lobito has sunk a few of his teeth into the flesh of his calf. We wonder whether Lobito is rabid and ask about vaccines at the next clinic. Yes, it’s possible that Lobito is rabid, but unlikely. There’s a vaccine, but it’s a series of shots that must be doctor-administered once every few days for a couple of weeks. Rabies is fatal, but the incubation period is typically not much more than six weeks, so we plan a party for when the window’s up and keep pedaling. I’m concerned that André will be preoccupied with the possible rabic onset, but by divine providence there’s soon a fitting alternative for the times of idle reflection:
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We’re now 500 miles south, on a steep and rainy descent near Loja and I’m picking my way down as André comes careening past me all cajones and skids out in dramatic fashion. He’s fifteen feet below his bike, rocking silently and cradling his face, bright bloody rivulets flooding through his fingers. I pry his hands away, not really wanting to see what’s beneath. He’s bitten through his lip and is missing half of his front tooth and all of his incisor. I trot back toward the peak to see if any potential rides are coming our way, stopping to pick up a long white thing in the road some distance above where he’s sitting. My mind’s not working great but I put it in my pocket and after a while we’re in the back of another pickup on our way to the clinic. Folks are sitting cross-legged on the floor but still somehow there’s an x-ray machine and a few minutes later a nice woman is stitching André’s lip up while I’m conversing with the doctor. I produce the tooth from my pocket and conjecture that it’s André’s. The doctor and I are studying the x-ray and he’s appealing to the mottled appearance of the tooth socket as evidence that the root remains. The mottled area under question seems to me
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typical of x-rays in general but it’s true that the tooth I have in my hand is clearly still very much attached to its root. “No, es el diente del perro,” the doctor concludes, ruling that the tooth is not André’s but rather a dog’s. I suggest that I might remember it from being in his mouth and we go over to André’s cot to settle the dispute. I show it to André and he seems confident it’s his tooth. By now he’s all stitched up and I ask the doctor if we’re okay to keep riding and he tells us we must see the orthodontist, who conveniently lives upstairs. I produce André’s tooth again – now it’s gathering some pocket lint – and Ernesto, the orthodontist, admonishes me for not having kept it wet in my mouth and brought it to him sooner. Losing no more time, he rinses it off and with a disconcerting creak the tooth is twisted back into its hole. Ernesto glues a wire to the tooth, anchors it onto the two teeth on either side and offers to drive us to get André a new helmet. We’re sad parting ways and I herald it as further evidence of the inevitable great fortunes that befall bicycle travelers and loudly express my pity for the
kind of foot travelers who fail to have the opportunity to avail themselves of such kind-hearted assistance. André was all smiles by the trip’s conclusion. He didn’t have rabies and he had a tooth that his German dentist claimed was fused to his jawbone and much stronger than a normal tooth and one, I pointed out, he probably couldn’t have gotten from hiking. But still I vowed I could do better. So I planned for the following summer a ride from Lhasa to Everest base camp: I knew independent travel in Tibet would be difficult, so I researched every conceivable contingency. Overland from Chengdu, a brief tour to get into Lhasa, an escape from said tour, nighttime bush-whacking to clear the more menacing of the military checkpoints. Of course there’s usually very little correspondence between the pixelated images of Google Earth or lines on the map and the ground that will eventually pass beneath the tires, and I had no idea if these plans were remotely grounded in details and events that might actually transpire. But it was important
to have a plan and it gave structure to the typical pre-trip mental maunderings. And so when we were thwarted early on by the Chinese military and made to fly to Nepal, we found ourselves in a much wetter clime, completely devoid of a plan. We set out from Kathmandu towards Jiri with a foottrekking map on an accidental monsoon season bike ride to Everest from the other direction. Sure, we attempted to source local information about the route, but never is the context-sensitivity of words like “far” and “steep” and “rideable” and “possible” more confounding than in situations like these. “But we could hike the route!” André suggested reasonably. But the problem with that plan, I explained, is that then we wouldn’t have our bikes. So we’re climbing, climbing, out of Kathmandu and we weather the torrential downpours in a small, dirt-floored school room before Jiri and everyone’s curious about the life that’d have to be so cushy that we’d want to entertain ourselves by conjuring these sorts of hardships in our spare
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time. And the skies are darker still as we ready ourselves to leave so they chase after us, asking us to stay the night. They slaughter a chicken for us, a rare treat from what we can tell, and getting naked-scrubbed by a gratuitously large number of women is the small price I pay for the hospitality. We’re making our way around the wrong mountain at Shivalaya, so the shepherds are drawing helpful maps in the mud with their sticks, and somehow the whole field has become a river and we no longer think about drying our gear at night. But it’s when we reach the village of Bandar that the greeting committee of village kids has stopped pointing and yelling, “CYCLE!” and started asking for an identification of the two-wheeled contraptions we’re pushing. This is informative but also alarming, and thus began the rest of the ride to Everest, during which our wheels never touched the ground and we stopped bothering to free our legs of leeches and we climbed and descended the height of Everest more than six times but never caught sight of the famed peak through the dense monsoon cloud cover. But by this point André has learned to strap his bicycle to his backpack fairly efficiently and has even gotten some of the foot blisters he so loves to get, so we agree to fly back to Kathmandu from Lukla and begin the Annapurna Circuit. It’s decidedly less monsoon-y and we’re even riding our bicycles for most of it and we agree that the avalanche climbs and rushing river fords are definitely part of the charm. “It’s the peaks and the troughs that punctuate the scaffolding of our memory structures,” I tell him. “The ensuing lulls just fade away. The peaks and troughs wouldn’t be so pronounced and thus so effective if we were just going for a simple hike.” Apparently he thinks this is a joke, but it might be that he’s just laughing at the clumpy diarrhea-like mud splatter that goes upwards from my butt to my hair, and we keep rolling onward towards Pokhara. Most recently we’ve returned from a ride from Manali to Leh over Khardung La to the Pakistan border and then to the Chinese border at Pangong Lake. I’d offered to go on a hiking expedition instead and was of course concerned that André would accept the offer. He didn’t, and he didn’t even seem disappointed that this trip allowed us to pedal the whole time and walk with our bikes not at all. BV Bunyan Velo 192
#COFFEEOUTSIDE Written and photographed by Rob Perks
offee Outside started as my way to recapture some of the time I was missing with all of life’s responsibilities piling up. I was already making coffee at home every day, why not pack up the night before and use that time outside? I had ditched the car on my morning commute years ago as way to get outside daily, and this seemed to be a logical next step and a way to fit more bike magic into the day. Lack of good morning coffee is a commonly stated fear among my aspiring bike tourist friends. But how hard is it, really? Boil some water and pour it over the grounds. Just like at home, right? My first couple of attempts went well. I was either gear heavy, or even gear missing at times, but there was always good coffee at the end. Once I realized that this routine was going to be part of my cycling habit, my inner gear nerd and coffee snob quickly kicked in. I partnered with a stove maker from the ultralight backpacking community and combed the coffee and camping worlds for better gear. Today, I’ve come close to my ideal kit, including all of the compact and lightweight tools needed to make a great cup of coffee from whole beans, self supported, outside. What’s the best coffee kit? It’s the same as the best bike for the trip: the one you have. Get out there, learn, and make it happen with what you have. The refinement of tools and techniques is part of the process. Learning the skills to make proper coffee in open air is one less barrier to bigger adventures. Most of the places in my photos are less than a quarter mile from wellestablished bike and car commuting routes. They’re patches of wilderness that are right in front of all of us, often overlooked in the rush to get the day going. While in pursuit of the means to facilitate macro adventures, micro adventures are just as important for keeping your fire stoked. Making the space in your day to get there, fire up the stove, boil some water, and brew up a cup of coffee. The time to simply be outdoors on a bike. So go, get outside, make pictures, build community, and share the fun of #coffeeoutside. BV
Bunyan Velo 199
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