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BUNYAN VELO Travels on Two Wheels, Issue No. 05


Travels on Two Wheels



Lucas Winzenburg


Bunyan Velo PO Box 3621 Minneapolis, MN 55403 USA


Jake Mann, Leah Johnson, Glenn Charles, Theresa McDevitt, Gabe Ehlert, Rafat Ali, Donnie Kolb, Gabriel Amadeus Tiller, Scott Felter, Patrick Murphy, Jason Goods, Dave Knox, and Charles Youel


Johan Björklund Glenn Charles Joe Cruz Brett Davis Eszter Horanyi Leah Johnson

Paul Krahn Ryan Krueger Joey Parent Mark Reimer Russ Roca Kyle Thomas

Gabriel Amadeus Tiller Logan Watts Ben Weaver Lucas Winzenburg


Cover: Mark Reimer Opposite: Johan Björklund Following: Lucas Winzenburg


All content copyright 2015 Bunyan Velo. Contributions have been used with permission and are copyright original sources. No unauthorized reproduction without written consent.




EDITOR’S NOTE It’s been nearly a year since I last published an issue of Bunyan Velo, a not-quite-quarterly collection of photographs, essays, and stories celebrating the simple pleasures of traveling by bicycle. I’m delighted to finally share a dozen new and inspiring works. During my time away from the project, I had the opportunity to meet and ride alongside a number of collaborators and readers. I toured the California coast with friends I made in the Oregon Outback. I got my ass kicked on Arizona’s Coconino 250 loop. I traveled to New York and told the Bunyan Velo story on stage for the first time. Connecting with people and growing this community of passionate cyclists is one of the great joys of assembling this publication. To those opening Bunyan Velo for the first time, welcome! And to returning readers, thank you for your continued support. This thing wouldn’t exist without you. It feels good to be back, and I’m excited to see where we can take Bunyan Velo from here. If you’re able, please consider supporting this independent publication by making a donation or purchasing a copy at Ride on, Lucas Winzenburg Founder and Creative Director


10 SILENCE Logan Watts


LOST IN IDAHO Gabriel Amadeus Tiller






LOST COAST Ryan Krueger




A BETTER FAITH Paul Krahn and Kyle Thomas


OREGON OUTBACK Leah Johnson and Lucas Winzenburg




FORGING FRIENDSHIPS BY FIRE Eszter Horanyi and Glenn Charles






JOHAN BJÖRKLUND Johan Björklund lives in Vänersborg, Sweden, but considers all of Dalsland his home turf. You can usually find him out on a long ride somewhere in the area. When not on a bike, he’s a librarian and a player of instruments. He’s looking to push his cycling limits even further in 2015 and always hopes to have time to take it easy enough to enjoy the views and find some adventures along the way. Find more of his photography at

ESZTER HORANYI Eszter Horanyi discovered the joy of bikes in fifth grade when she realized that if she could pedal to school, she didn’t have to take the dreaded yellow school bus. Since then, her travels on bikes have taken her to school and beyond. When it comes to bikepacking, she avoids roads as much as possible and seeks out remote trails in the high mountains and low deserts. She currently resides in Tucson, AZ, in the winter and somewhere on Earth in the summer. Follow her travels at

GLENN CHARLES Glenn Charles is a professional photographer, adventure traveler, writer, and speaker. 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

LEAH JOHNSON Whether commuting to her graduate work at the University of Washington or exploring landscapes near and far, the bike is Leah Johnson’s preferred way to get there. Urban cycling evolved into high country, single-track, wild camping along the Pacific Crest and Continental divide – a clear trajectory toward wider tires, lower gears, and bigger skies. She loves to ride with her partner Jake, her twin sister Sarah, and the amazing community of cyclists throughout Washington and Northern California.

JOE CRUZ Joe Cruz is a professor, writer, and expedition cyclist. He teaches Philosophy and is Chair of the Cognitive Science program at Williams College, where he specializes in philosophy of mind and knowledge. He has toured and raced bikes the world over, most recently in the Andes of South America. These days his main bikepacking wheels are a Surly Pugsley and a Rob English folding 29er. Joe lives in his native New York City; his blog is Pedaling in Place,


BRETT DAVIS Brett Davis is the quintessential jack of all trades when it comes to outdoor activities. His interests vary from climbing and skiing off big mountains to kayaking and pack rafting remote rivers with cycling and canyoneering thrown in along the way. Brett believes in the simple life and thinks it’s best experienced on two wheels. He avidly pursues adventures by bike in far off locales and at home in Durango, Colorado. Follow him at


Rain, sun, snow, sleet, hail, Paul Krahn rides the windblown rural prairie gravel to and from his barn (he really does live in his barn) in Neubergthal, Manitoba, to his job teaching high school in Altona. He rides with his fellow bicycle enthusiasts, the ABES, on Thursdays. During summer it’s lycra and road and at least one multi-day gravel adventure, in fall it’s cross, and in winter it’s creek riding and a few longer excursions to prepare for Actif Epica. A day without a ride is an odd day. Occasionally he blogs his journey at

Ryan Krueger is a professional photographer from Bozeman, Montana, where the singletrack is terrible and the views are obstructed by tall, pointy rocks. When he’s not lost on a bike in the Gallatin National Forest, guessing his way back to the trailhead, he can be found pinballing down a river in the wilderness or wallowing in snow, searching for an untracked line. More at at



Joey Parent was born and raised in Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He started exploring trails on an old Huffy BMX bike that his father pulled out of a dumpster when he was eight years old. While his bikes have gotten nicer and the trails he rides have gotten longer and more remote, his yearning to explore has remained the same. Currently, he directs the Outdoor Adventure Program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, where he hopes to inspire others to live their own adventures, on two wheels or otherwise.

Gabriel Amadeus Tiller is exploring the world one serendipitous misadventure at a time. Born in a canoe in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; learned what good beer was in Duluth, Minnesota; and fell in love with the grandeur of Oregon ten years ago. Gabe brings good spirits, a crooked compass, and contagious optimism everywhere he goes. Co-founder of Limberlost. Contributor for Bicycle Quarterly, Outside Online, 1859, The Radavist, Northwest Sportsman, Portland Outsider, The Missouri Review, and Chicago Reader.

MARK REIMER Mark Reimer is a photographer and cyclist from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He spends his time riding around the many river trails, gravel roads, and forest routes Manitoba has to offer. With a growing interest in bikepacking, he is currently planning his next big trip, the Oregon Outback. If you see him out there, say hello! For more ride stories and photos, check out or follow along at

LOGAN WATTS In 2012, Logan and his wife Virginia liquidated most of their earthly possessions, packed the rest in storage, and made their bicycles home as they cycled from Mexico to Panama. The following year, the two refused to gather moss and pedaled from Cape Town to Tanzania via dirt roads and mountain passes. They are currently living in a van as they tackle bikepacking and mountain biking routes throughout the southeast. Visit for gear reviews, stories, and a comprehensive resource of Bikepacking Routes.


BEN WEAVER Ben Weaver is a songwriter and poet who tours by bicycle. This fall he rode from Minneapolis, MN, to New Orleans, LA, to support his current release, I Would Rather Be a Buffalo. Ben made stops along the 1,400-mile journey to perform at untraditional music venues such as farms, nature centers, bike shops, and schools. Many of Ben’s events included community stewardship. He spoke with students about music, bicycles, and the health of our rivers and our environment. Ben is now planning a musical tour of Europe by bicycle. Learn more about Ben at

Russ Roca and his partner Laura Crawford sold everything in 2009 and went on a meandering three-year bicycle trip. While traveling, they fell in love with small towns and discovered the potential economic impact cycling can have on a community. Now living in Portland, they are continuing their mission of making bicycle travel mainstream with their writing, photography, and film projects. Follow along at

KYLE THOMAS Kyle Thomas lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he works as a designer and photographer. From growing up riding BMX, to spending time working as a bike courier, to Sunday night moped rides, Kyle loves riding anything with two wheels. Check out more of Kyle’s work at

LUCAS WINZENBURG Lucas Winzenburg is happiest while he’s out pedaling along dirt roads through unfamiliar places. He rides mountain bikes as an excuse to sleep under the stars, take photos, and eat unlimited snacks. He lives in beautiful Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Written and photographed by Logan Watts


may have killed the only living thing within miles. It’s amazing how quickly an arm can move when startled, like the muscle instinct of a dog’s ear flicking away a gnat. I didn’t expect a fly in these parts. Maybe it was some sort of evolved and adapted super insect that thrived in the vast Martian landscape in which we were the aliens. Why would something choose to cope here, in such desolation? I let Virginia’s silhouette get ahead just enough to allow myself to be engulfed in the immense silence. It was an eerie, layered void of rock, sand, and thoughts. We had ridden for several days on primitive tracks that eventually descended into a passage through timeworn ridges where the escarpment of the Anti-Atlas meets the Sahara. The rocky terrain required constant focus to find lines that would minimize the jarring effects wrought by chunks of stone and corrugation. The sense of nothingness was only exaggerated by the loud crunch of tires radiating into the breathless desert. It was a place where I found the silence uncomfortable at first, like being lost as a child, or approaching the threshold of a new school on the first day of class. But it kept drawing me in, like

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an itch whose only means of relief was to crawl deeper. It was only a matter of time before solace replaced discomfort, and the beauty and depth of the wilderness pulled me under. I recently read about a study conducted by Harvard and the University of Virginia entitled, Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind. The study involved placing subjects into an empty (except for a single chair), windowless room for 15 minutes. Without any distractions, each subject was left alone with only his or her thoughts. During one phase of the study, each subject was given the choice of sitting and thinking for a mere 15 minutes, or self-administering an electrical shock after which they would be free to leave. Two-thirds of the subjects chose the latter. How can it be that most people would rather subject themselves to physical pain than spend time alone with their thoughts? Has our First World society actually developed a fear of emptiness, a fear of where our minds might take us when left alone? As I heard about this study it made me reflect back on the amplified solitude that I found in the Sahara.

The tourism industry in Morocco is founded on the romance of nomadic tradition, a constant flitting dance amongst the silent rocks and drifting sands of the Sahara. The desert culture is mesmerizing, albeit somewhat exaggerated in the more touristic areas. In several auberges (guesthouses), there were Berber tents set up in the courtyard, each made of woven wool on layers of intricately patterned carpets with decorative cushions for sitting and sipping mint tea. Each may be leased for the night, in case one was interested in experiencing the ‘authentic’ nomad life. We often asked locals if they knew a place we could camp, which generally required hand signals to illustrate an A, for tent, then the universal gesture for sleep (tilting the head sideways and resting it on the hands, palms together). That usually resulted in the person laughingly questioning, “Like nomad!?” We may have been moving from place to place with a tent, but, by measure of extremity, we were no comparison to the Berber and Toureg people who roam the spiny desert and follow the herding traditions of their forefathers, living and dying by their camel. They are engrained with knowledge to navigate a seemingly endless ocean of rock and sand, using only stars, the sight of insects,

and cryptic landmarks. They must be at peace with the risk that a well 100 kilometers away may be dry, in harmony with the presence of nothing, and comfortable within a constant silence that I initially found unnerving. After killing the only fly in the desert Southeast of Tata, we made our way to Foum Zguid. As if the remoteness of the route wasn’t enough, we decided to take an even more desolate track toward Mhamid, into an area in the Sahara that is generally deemed accessible only by a sturdy 4x4. We made the decision after asking countless locals and hedging our bets with a mountain bike guide, who said, “… well it’s probably doable, but extremely adventurous.” We embarked on the intrepid three-day route just before dawn. The complete stillness of the morning was streaked with pastel pinks and blues as the first light colored the horizon in purposeful bands. To the south, a mesa sawed the sky with its jagged peaks of orange and rust. An extraordinarily bumpy track led us through sandy washes and vast rock gardens, through slivers of single track and pits of deep sand.

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The track eventually disappeared as we entered the flats of Iriki, a great salt bed that was once a lake in its distant, watery past. The dust began to diffuse the sun and the light became thick and palpable. Several times we lost the track, of which there are multiple derivations. Then I saw it, maybe. A melding of swirling sand and heat created a mirage that morphed scrubby trees into animal and humanoid figures dancing on the horizon. The wind picked up and something stirred several kilometers ahead. We shifted our wheels northeast, where a stiff tailwind blew us across the flats, led only by the occasional cairn that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Luckily, we knew of a tiny, solitary village just below the escarpment where we would be able to restock our water supply and camp for the night. As we rolled into the rock-strewn ramshackle village, we saw two women waving furiously from a distance. We waved back but kept looking for some sort of well and sheltered area to camp. Several young children joined the women, and they continued to motion for us to make our way across the tiny desert hamlet, which consisted of only four or five buildings. We pedaled over and propped our bikes against a wall. They excitedly pulled us inside a building of rock and concrete, through an open courtyard strewn with a variety of colored plastic water vessels. We were ushered into an intimate room and sat next to a weathered elderly man wrapped in a brown wool blanket and a turban that glowed white in the dark quarters. The man’s wife joined us with three younger women, who I believe were his daughters. They immediately offered us the typical Moroccan nectar of sweetened black tea with mint. We gladly accepted, but didn’t really have an option; here it is culturally mandatory when the occasion presents itself. A refusal is equal to thumbing one’s nose. They didn’t speak English, or French, so we conceded to sit in silence and exchange smiles as I caught the bewildered gaze of each of their tan, rugged, and wind-worn faces. As awkward as the 15 minutes of tea time were for us, they seemed comfortable with the silent conversation. The emptiness of the desert has molded them in its image, I suppose.

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We thanked the family and forced ourselves back into the gathering storm. A whirlwind of dust infiltrated our clothing, hair, teeth, eyes, everything. We located something that resembled a campground and asked a young man where we could sleep for the night, preferably in some semblance of solid shelter, and not our permeable tent. He offered to lead us to an empty auberge four kilometers south, so we followed. The sweeping winds blew sand across the flats as if they were a floating carpet. Visibility deteriorated to a few meters as we pedaled after the puttering sound of his moped. It was a flat, scaly place and the blinding gusts of wind obscured the crackle of the crust beneath our tires. Within minutes Gin had another flat tire and we lost our host. With my eyes straining from a small slit of wrapped cloth I squinted into the sandblurred void to locate the orange beacon of his taillight. Nothing. I redirected my focus to the LED of my GPS which luckily still worked. Once I realized we had been moving in a bolt-straight trajectory, I quickly added some air to Gin’s tire and we started moving again. A few minutes later, the ghastly shape of a mud brick wall appeared within spitting distance. The building, like most in this region, was made up of a square courtyard surrounded by rooms that create a layout similar to a square doughnut. Our host showed us a dusty corner room where we could camp on the floor, a bucket of water for washing, and the ‘kitchen’ with a single propane burner. Then he left us in what seemed like an island at the mercy of an infinite sea of nothingness. We woke the following morning after a fitful night of inhaling silica as the dust storm pounded the building. The wind was still howling, although the sun was not completely veiled in dust as it had been the previous afternoon. We were coated with sand and were unsure of our next move. There was no one here to tell us if the storm would get better or worse. What if we left and it exploded into something that was truly treacherous? There wasn’t another village for 100 extremely difficult kilometers. We finally worked up the nerve to make a break after flagging a passing truck that I heard from a distance. The driver told us he thought there was another building with a well in 40 kilometers. We could make it there. The wind persisted and we followed a northerly track in a desperate attempt to escape the deep sand that was swallowing our tires on the route further south. And then the nonstop barrage of flat tires began. Gin had four more and I suddenly had two, back to back. We ran out of patches and Gin’s bike was finished; eight flats in 24 hours. Luckily, within minutes we spotted the first and only vehicle we saw on the northerly track.

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We flagged down the modified Landrover to find two Frenchmen, Jean Pierre and Michele, who generously offered to take us to safety. There wasn’t room for both of us in their truck, so we agreed that we’d strap Gin’s bike to the roof and get her to the oasis 20 kilometers down the ‘road.’ I would ride on and meet them. Maybe we’d camp there and the storm would diffuse. The calamity subsided as their truck rolled out of sight and I was left to fend for myself in the desolate silence once again. But I was a little more used to it at that point, and even embraced it. When I arrived at the meeting point, Gin, Jean Pierre, and Michele were just packing up lunch. It turned out that the oasis was no more. No auberge, no well, no food, no water. In the end, the combination of mechanical problems, a relentless sandstorm, and lack of drinking water would cut our route short. Jean Pierre and Michele generously offered to rearrange their truck and take us the last 40 kilometers to Mhamid. Although I felt slightly relieved to escape the storm, I was disappointed. I had envisioned the dust clearing out, one or two more nights sleeping under an endless blanket of stars, exploring the giant rolling dunes that were within reach, and navigating my thoughts in the ceaseless moment of the Sahara. Just as I had unraveled the allure of the second largest desert on Earth, her unforgiving nature forced us to seek escape. Deep wilderness gives and it takes. It has the ability to bend time, and when one is fully absorbed by it, perspective shifts, and emptiness becomes inviting. BV

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Lost in Idaho Written and photographed by Gabriel Amadeus Tiller


here wasn’t a glimmer of light in the sky — even if we hadn’t been nestled deep in a fir forest it still would have been pitch black. There was no moon and a thick, wet layer of sodden clouds hung over the uninhabited basin on the southern flank of the rugged Sawtooth Range. Even when the sun reluctantly came up a few hours later, the morning light was feeble, desaturated, and cold. But right then, at three in the morning, I wasn’t worried about the lack of light. I was worried about the constant drip, drip, drip through the needled canopy onto my down sleeping bag. I was lying awake second-guessing my decision not to bring a shelter for this three-week bikepacking trip. It doesn’t rain in Idaho, they told me. It also wasn’t supposed to be so steep. Nor so rocky. We were three days into Adventure Cycling’s new Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route and already our group had dwindled from six to three. Well, to be honest, we were off route, pioneering some infrequently traveled trails between Atlanta and Alturas Lake in an attempt to shorten our route a bit. The rest of the group was on a different time frame and opted for the two-day ride to Ketchum’s brewery and movie theater. Bastards. I had pored over topo maps studiously back in Portland and determined this trail to be feasible if the pass was clear of snow at 9,200’. Last night we found that it was. Mostly. What we hadn’t been expecting was giant swaths of the forest flattened across our path from the winter’s avalanches. After a much-tougher-than-expected hike-a-bike for most of the day we were tuckered out and sloppy by the time we flopped down onto the large, dirty snowdrift guarding our shoulder summit. We peered over the other side into the Ross Basin, considerably more foreboding than it had appeared back in Google Earth. As we descended into it over the steep, loose, chunky scree I admired Lyle and Dan’s blind faith in my navigation skills — and hoped to hell my judgment proved to be sound. Or at least my luck not so transparently tenuous.

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Begrudgingly, we erected camp next to the trail in the twilight after several bloody spills, despite knowing that some friends were expecting us at a campground a mere ten miles ahead with a cooler full of beer. We had to adjust our expectations after this day’s progress — those ten miles could easily take most of tomorrow. I contemplated all of this at 3:00 am while burrito-ing myself as tightly as I could in my sheet of Tyvek — drip, drip, drop, drip — and wondered how cozy Dan and Lyle were in their tents. I spooned a rotting log and tried to curl under a thicker part of my spruce tree. I was pretty comfortable, actually. The needle bed was thick and soft. Rivulets were starting to soak through my lightweight bag, but we had dropped a good amount of elevation and the nighttime temperatures were quite warm. Still, my mind was racing. I knew the next day we were supposed to ascend again, up into the high-altitude White Cloud Range for a few days where a city boy with no tent and a soggy bag of feathers was not welcome. It wasn’t the constant drizzle soaking the straw hat over my face or the lone mosquito buzzing around I was worried about — I couldn’t sleep because I was worried about surviving the next 72 hours with nothing to keep me dry. At dawn, we got up and shivered as we sullenly shoveled hot oatmeal into our faces. And yes, those next ten miles did take most of the wet, rainy, slippery day. But we landed in front of the bar at Smiley Creek Lodge and assessed our situation as the patrons assessed us with muddy suspicion. We bought burgers. The best burgers in Idaho. We also got WiFi, sort of. We definitely used the laundry room. We talked to locals, looked at maps, rejoiced when the rain stopped, and stayed there for a night, licking our wounds.

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And so it went for the next 13 days. We camped up in the White Clouds in an electrical storm and flew down one of the best trails I’ve ever ridden. We saw a mountain lion in a hot spring and carried our loaded bikes over more downed trees than I care to remember. We got caught up in a booze-fueled bachelorette party in Warm Lake and chatted with the lone caretaker of the rugged Deadwood Lodge. We soaked in the hot springs of Stanley and glacial streams of Ants Basin. We wound our way through Central Idaho, meandering on dirt roads and rugged singletrack, taking it all in, trying to comprehend this place as best we could. You’d think we’d learn. You’d think we’d shrink our expectations and become a little more realistic. But no, it was go, go, go. We snuck in some trout fishing and made time for the occasional hot spring, but there were no rest days. It was rather surprising how easy it was to adapt to this lifestyle of eating and riding. Deviating from the pattern was chaotic and difficult. We got up, drank coffee, looked at maps, rode, ate, rode, ate, rode, ate, drank, soaked, slept, and got up. It was simple. But it was really hard. It’s something you’d get used to, if only your body would let you. If your mind would let you. But—much to my body’s relief — my mind wanders. There was a lot to look at, a lot to think about. It was my first time in Idaho, after all.

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Operacion Muerto Written and photographed by Mark Reimer


n the early spring I was talking with my friend Hal about a project he’s been working on over the last few years called Operacion Muerto. As he describes it, Operacion Muerto is a series of off-road endurance challenges that require participants to identify their own routes. It is not a race, but it follows a number of pre-selected checkpoints and a typical route spans 400 to 500 km, all off pavement. Riders must commit to the dates they intend to attempt the challenge beforehand, and once committed, may not change due to poor weather. The challenge is only completed after sharing your story online with accompanying photos. I was looking for something new to try and decided I would give it a go. Having never attempted a ride this long, it would certainly test my limits, even if it wasn’t a race. Mostly, though, it sounded like a fun way to spend a weekend getting lost in the woods on a bike. Sign me up! This is my account of the 2014 Operacion Muerto challenge, a 420 km loop that runs across Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, Canada. I made my attempt together with my good friend Graham Madden. Our ride began in Neepawa, a small town in Eastern Manitoba. MUERTO ACCOUNT

We pulled into Neepawa at about 9:30 pm on Thursday, August 14. The sun had already set, making it clear that the dog days of summer were coming to a close. Our plan was to find somewhere to camp in town and hit the road by 9:00 am the following day. This was my first Operacion Muerto challenge, Graham’s second. Graham and I were on the same page here – we decided to do the ride in three days, riding easy but long days, getting a lot of sleep, and eating well. This wasn’t going to be a ride where we’d kill ourselves just to see if we could do it. Our ride was about stopping for a swim, kicking back in the shade while passing around a bit of bourbon, sleeping in, and taking the scenic route whenever possible. In the quiet hours of the evening, we toasted in hopes of a successful and fun ride over a few beers and called it a night by midnight. I was excited and nervous, but quickly fell into a deep sleep. FRIDAY, AUGUST 15: 180 KM

One of the great things about sleeping in a tent is how easy it is to wake up early. I’m not much of a morning person, but there’s something about waking up with the sun while camping that just feels right.

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Graham and I were packed up shortly after sunup. After talking about this ride for months, we were both eager to hit the road. Our plan was to ride the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) all the way to the first checkpoint in Rossburn, then head north another 13 km to Deep Lake campground where we’d stay the night. The TCT is a multi-use trail built on an old rail bed. It winds across the windswept prairies, through farmers’ fields and over old wooden bridges as it slowly climbs toward the edge of Riding Mountain. At the start of our ride we were treated to well maintained, hard packed, and fast-rolling double track. There were no biting insects, only millions of small blue dragonflies swarming around us. I was pretty happy for the company. I counted how many landed on me that day, and only got to two. Temperatures were steadily climbing all morning and were approaching mid30s Celsius. About 30 km in, we came to the first of several trestle bridge creek crossings. I asked Graham if it was too soon to stop for a swim and some bourbon. Without answering he jumped off his bike and climbed down the bridge and into the creek below. The creek provided a refreshing haven from the heat. Small fish swam around our feet and I was startled when I felt a couple nibbles on the tips of my toes. “This is perfect,” I thought, feeling no pressure to get back on the bike despite having another 150 km to crank out that day. We shared a few sips of bourbon and crouched down in the clear, slow moving water, dipping our heads under to cool off. That creek stop set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

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We continued on for several hours, passing through dozens of colourful crops, small groves of oak trees, and a few sections of wild, untamed prairie grass. I felt like a tourist in my own home, at times stopping to take pictures every few minutes. When you live in the prairies, it can be easy to forget how beautiful they really are. There is a certain appeal in their simplicity that matches the grandeur of the mountains. We made several stops in small towns along the way. In the town of Clanwilliam, population 400 or so, we rode up to a quaint red brick general store in search of blue freezies and Cokes. The main strip was lined with rundown buildings and rusty cars. Across the street, a beat up sedan was pounding hip-hop, straining the sound system, while the sole teenaged occupant reclined in the driver seat, left leg dangling out the open door. The TCT regularly runs directly through towns like this one. While I enjoy passing through towns like this, it’s all too easy to romanticize what it must be like to live in one. Boredom, isolation, and a lack of opportunity drive many of the younger residents to the city. Graham mentioned that one of guys at the bike shop where he works, Natural Cycle, has family connections to Clanwilliam. Small world. Later in the day we rolled into Sandy Lake for our first dinner. We spotted a bright red building with a small deck filled with people laughing. The Barking Moose was written across the wall, and it seemed like a good place to stop. I ate a croissant with scrambled eggs, cheese, and salsa, and a homemade energy bar, full of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and some coconut. The town

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was remarkably different than Clanwilliam, despite their being so close together. As we shot the breeze with a few locals who took an interest in our ride, we learned that the town was transforming into a kind of creative community, where older artists and filmmakers from the city were buying property to avoid the high costs of urban life. A polar opposite to our Clanwilliam experience. The clouds were rolling in so we hit the trail, which quickly became unrideable. Time to jump ship and hit the gravel roads. After a few navigational errors that required some field crossings to course-correct (riding through crops with panniers is no easy feat), we rolled into Rossburn at about 8:45 pm. I was tired and wanted to stay in town, but when we hit the campground we discovered the town’s annual country music festival, Duke Fest, was in full swing. Not in the mood to drown in Labatt Lite, pickup trucks, and Taylor Swift, we decided to make our plans for the night over some pizza and beer. The only place open was a Chinese restaurant, full of taxidermy, that happened to serve pizza. Sounds about right. The owner was an older, almost too friendly woman who shared the news that her adult daughter had recently started drinking beer. It sounded like this was a considerable disappointment for her. Graham looked at me uncomfortably from across the table. “So, could we, order a beer please?” Graham asked awkwardly. Her look turned sour. We were out of luck. We decided we had best skip town and make a push to Deep Lake campground for the night, some 20 km away. Graham found a beer vendor on the way out of town and I threw a six pack in my saddlebag as we rode out. It was pitch black outside by now, which made the undulating gravel hills impossible to see. We’d climb into what seemed like an endless darkness, trying desperately to avoid pushing. A moment later we’d be screaming down the loose gravel, unable to see past the beam of our headlights. On each descent we’d tuck into an aero position, seeing who could pull away in front of the other. Every few seconds, one

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of us would yell “Rock!” or “Frog!” or “Snake!” as we tried to our tent, with Deep Lake just a stone’s throw away. It was good avoid anything that could upset our balance while flying into to be in the trees for a change. The clean, crisp air made me the blackness at speeds reaching 70 km/h. eager to get back on my bike. I started to smell pine trees as we rode. Though I couldn’t see, the smell made it obvious that we were leaving the prairies and entering the forest. By midnight we had reached our camping spot, too tired to even finish the beer I dragged up over all those hills. Day one complete, two more to go. SATURDAY, AUGUST 16: 132 KM, RIDING MOUNTAIN

I guess Friday took its toll, since Graham and I didn’t wake up until 10:00 am. Like I said, we were take’n ‘er easy. It felt funny to wake up in the middle of a forest when I couldn’t see any trees in the previous night’s darkness. Tall pines surrounded

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With sore legs we hit the gravel roads heading southeast. I received a text from a friend, Ian, who was attempting the same ride. He had left Neepawa on Friday afternoon with two others and passed our camp early in the morning while we slept. I wanted to see if we could catch up, so we hit the gravel roads in pursuit. By midday we still hadn’t caught sight of Ian and his crew. The next checkpoint was in the centre of the park, which meant we’d spend the next few hours riding trails, slowing our pursuit. When we turned into the forest, I was immediately taken aback by what we saw.

“Did you know we had landscapes like this?” I asked Graham as we rode through rolling prairie meadows reminiscent of those in a high alpine scene, full of purple, yellow, and orange flowers. We forgot about catching up with Ian and instead soaked in the scenery as we rolled slowly through meadow after meadow.

We rode over the cattle grates and into the park. A few kilometers in, nothing. No herd, not one lone bison. No rustling in the bushes. Two hours later we rode over the exit grates, feeling disappointed. Then, over my shoulder, something moved in the tall grass, only a few meters from where we had just ridden. Two bison were hanging out along the fence by the exit, and were quickly joined by five more, who galloped down the road right where we had stopped not 30 seconds earlier. I had somehow managed to completely miss 12 tons of bison lounging in the trees and grass right next to me. How many more animals had we unknowingly ridden past?

Traveling across Riding Mountain requires you to circumnavigate a large wild bison population. They’re free to roam throughout a large, fenced-in area of the park. We were told to look for the singletrack that skirted the enclosure as bikes aren’t allowed to ride through – something about bison being faster than bicyclists – but we both knew that we absolutely had to take our chances riding through. How cool would it be to ride through a bison herd?! We just couldn’t We shifted our focus to finding food and a place to sleep as the resist trying. sun began to sink into the horizon. It was getting dark quickly

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now, and temperatures were dropping considerably as well. Riding into Wasagaming, the major tourist centre in the park, we kept an eye out for somewhere to satisfy our appetites. I spotted a tree with a few bikes leaning against it. What luck! After riding more than 300 km, we happened upon the restaurant where Ian and his partners Dallas and Pete had just sat down. We joined them for a royal feast of burgers, burritos, fries, pasta, chips, beer, and even chocolate milk. We felt like kings. It was getting cold outside, and fast. We learned that the campground was full, and the only option would be to stealth camp outside of town or find someone that would let five guys into their campsite. Ian proposed splitting a hotel for the night, which for a moment felt like admitting defeat. It felt like we were cheating, even if there were no rules there. But faced with the alternative of a cold, damp night spent camping in the bushes outside of a noisy town, it was an easy decision. We split a tiny room for the night – a 200 square foot proverbial pile of crap. Paint had peeled off of the wall and onto the floor. There was a dirty hairbrush by the bed. But it was warm and didn’t have bed bugs – I checked, three times. It was that kind of place. It’s amazing how small of a room you can fit five guys and five bikes into when you’re tired. SUNDAY, AUGUST 17: 110 KM

I woke up early and couldn’t help but feel sad. It was the last day of our ride and we had just 110 km left to Neepawa. While I was ready for a break physically, I wasn’t ready to be done mentally. Ian, Dallas, and Pete had already left early in the morning, but my dad had driven out to accompany Graham and I on our final day. We passed a youth triathlon as we left Wasagaming. People stared at our bikepacking setups and us like we were from the Moon. How anyone can think a touring bike is stranger than aero helmets and sleeveless jerseys is beyond me. Despite feeling sad that our adventure was coming to a close, there was one thing we had been looking forward to all weekend. In order to leave Riding Mountain, we first had to descend from the high ground via a stretch of technical single track. We were injected with a new sense of energy and excitement when we reached the top of the trailhead. I clipped into my pedals and pushed off, wondering what it would be like to ride trails on a touring bike with panniers. Oh man.

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One after another, we tore down the escarpment at full tilt, descending roughly 600 meters in no time at all. Every so often I’d stop to wait up and could hear Graham’s unrestrained laughter cutting through the trees as he cooked each banked corner. We spent the next hour flying through the forest and bombing along the edge of the escarpment. There were more than a few close calls, clipped panniers, and endos, but it was all good fun. Then, just like that, we were spat out at the East Gate exit. Only 50 km to Neepawa now. There was nothing to do except slip into our own paces and count off the mile markers. The last few miles were along deep, sandy dirt roads, making us really work to keep moving. A thunderstorm rumbled away in front of us all the while. It was as if the sky was encouraging us to stop, turn around, and not go home yet. Three days and 420 km later, we pulled back into the Neepawa campground. My mom was there to greet us with fresh cinnamon buns and towels for the camp showers. It was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend. The storm that had been lurking hit just 20 minutes after we arrived, and the rain fell hard as we pulled out of the parking lot. FINAL THOUGHTS

You could say riding Operacion Muerto was a success because of the numbers. I completed my longest ride. Our overall time was pretty good. We actually finished, for that matter. Many people who attempted did not. I can’t say I really think about any of that, though. What makes this ride stand out in my memory was stopping in that cool stream under the railway bridge, eating tomatoes in the shade, jeering herds of cattle into running alongside us, that gross, smelly hotel room, or that rundown hockey rink with ‘The Mother Puckers’ painted messily above the door. While the challenge was certainly what attracted me to attempt the ride in the first place, it was the experiences we shared along the way that made it worthwhile in the end. Regardless of what next year’s Operacion Muerto challenge is, I know I’ll be attempting it again, just for the fun of it. BV

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Four Seasons in Sweden Photographed by Johan Bjรถrklund

LOST COAST Written and photographed by Ryan Krueger


t’s sometime in the early morning and the orange skyline is slowly getting brighter behind the distant, silhouetted peaks of the Saint Elias Mountains. Although the day is just about to begin, for us it has yet to come to an end.

it meets the energetic surf of the ocean. They had previously greeted us in abundance at water crossings, but this time they are livelier as they swim laps in a small rapid and circle up through the eddy while jumping and slapping at the water.

Aaron and I are more than halfway through a fatbiking and packrafting trip along the remote coastline south of Yakutat, Alaska, through a wild and strangely unique environment. We’re here for the better part of a week exploring the area with the goal of riding into the wilderness as far as time will allow before heading back out.

Far away, on the other side of the river, a loud animal-like noise erupts into the night, echoing out across the stillness of the early morning atmosphere. “Sounds like some sort of mammal,” Aaron deduces in a not-so-comforting tone.

We’ve just arrived at the south side of the Dangerous River on our return trip after riding late into the night. Some of the best riding is in the evening when the tide is low and the light is enchanting along the skyline—accentuating the distant peaks and transitioning from a never-ending sunset into an equally drawn-out sunrise.

In addition to all of that, small, white Arctic Terns had been attacking us for days, swirling overhead in dozens, diving and screeching as we approached certain areas out on the vast desert-like expanse of the tidal flats. They nest in the sand along these areas and are especially protective. It is no different tonight as we attempt to gather firewood and wait out the tide and a bit more light for the crossing, making it a strange and amusingly risky job to build a fire.

The seals at the water’s edge are immediately invigorated by our presence as we approach the mouth of the river where

The murky, glowing water is glistening in the darkness as the fire crackles on and we slowly contemplate the crossing. Once

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on the other side, we can set up camp and sleep. For now, we are awake, and the neighbors are being loud. Yakutat is a small coastal fishing town northwest of Juneau that has recently gained recognition as Alaska’s premier surfing spot with its endless miles of sandy beach and beautiful breaks. These endless beaches also provide some of the best fatbiking to be found anywhere. South of town, the sandy coastline carries on, only occasionally disconnected by water, toward Glacier Bay National Park. With little human habitation past Yakutat, these perfect beaches quickly work their way into an incredibly remote setting. On the first night of the trip, arriving at the airport and staying only long enough to set up our gear, we pedal straight out to the beach, where we meet dusk in the form of a dreamlike, overcast environment. After days of traveling and preparation, the setting is new to us as we begin to settle in. Waves thunder in our ears upon reaching the water: a mesmerizing and repetitive sound that would boom in our heads

for the entirety of the trip—never far from earshot. We ride late into the evening, and with each pedal stroke it seems that we are wandering deeper into a wild and unfamiliar place. Plucked from modernity and into the wilderness—we are out of our element. We are surrounded by anything from thick, mossy forests and grassy meadows to wide expanses of beach that could be described only as desert. Somehow, life abounds right amongst the vast tidal flat—thick green areas of foliage and hillsides of grass with mammals of all kinds roaming about—a strange union with the inclusion of the nearby power of the Gulf of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean and the massive mountains and glaciers that lie just beyond. High above us, Mount Saint Elias to the north and Mount Fairweather to the south are never far from sight—serving both as comforting directional beacons and menacing reminders of the untamed country that we are in.

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In this remote stretch of coast, our most likely companions are the native population of bald eagles, energetic seals, leaping whales, and resident grizzly bears, all of which were living among us in large numbers. Our traveling schedule is at times nonexistent. We generally play it by ear, riding when all of the variables intersect. The sun is always overhead in some form and the constant light, wild atmosphere, and exposed surroundings are mentally taxing. During downtime, the anticipation of a pristine stretch of beach overtakes our thoughts. Like a stash of powder or a flowy stretch of singletrack, the tacky, solid beach allows us to cover distance that cannot be found in the deep sand. Relying on them for our timely return, we ride these solid stretches as long as we can when we find them. Many times throughout the trip, low tide and perfect riding aligned with night hours, allowing us to pedal late as the light transitioned from gold, to pink, to orange. Generally, we would sleep from the early morning until midday after long stretches of night riding, before getting up to do it all over again. Now, back at the south side of the Dangerous River where we’d been dodging Arctic Terns and waiting around the fire while the seals put on a show, we are finally prepared to climb into the rafts and head out across the water. The current is less powerful with the rising tide, although it is still not ideal. The sun is showing itself more and more and we’re feeling like our long day has long since expired and the time to cross is now. As we paddle away from the shore, we angle upstream and begin to ferry across, paddling as hard as we can to counteract

the force of the water flowing out of the glaciated mountains upstream. We’d walked upriver to account for some lost ground in the current, but about halfway across I’m wondering if we walked far enough. The rapid below is closing in and the murky, glacial water isn’t all that inviting, so I keep my mind on the objective and paddle on, hoping the other side greets us sooner than later. Seals bob up and down around us, surfacing in pairs, staring at the strange contraptions in which we are floating. We continue to paddle on and the rapid gets closer and closer as we approach the other side of the river. Just when I start to think that we might not make it, we catch the eddy and the force of the river subsides. With a sigh of relief, we pull our gear up on the sand, deflate the boats, and seek out the nearest acceptable campsite. We set up the tent as the sun is rising and finally fall asleep in the early morning light—resting until midday before heading out once again. The next afternoon, our weary legs are slowly turning over miles out on the sand. We are not even midway through the day’s distance and the tide is rising, causing us to ride high up the beach along the soft, sluggish sand. As we pull our bikes up the beach to have a quick break, we encounter an encroaching cloud with long, dark streaks reaching out of the high mountains toward the coast where we sit exposed, awaiting its arrival. The first gust hits us quickly and with force—a wind that would be useless to ride in as we would be unable to keep the bikes upright. We collect a few key belongings and hike back into the bush to seek temporary protection.

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We wait it out for a while, hoping that it will blow over quickly, only to discover that it won’t cooperate. With that in mind, we find solace on the leeward side of a densely vegetated hill where we crawl into the alder and build a fire. For hours we rest and relax in this area—a place abundant with fresh bear and moose tracks: animals likely hiding out in a very similar way. Eventually the wind dies down, and after a long break we leave the comfort of the thick flora. Exiting the alders, we climb up over a small knoll that will lead us out to the beach where we have left our bikes. As I peek over the top, I look down and see it ambling through the sand and driftwood before us. “There’s a bear,” I say quietly to Aaron, who is just behind me,

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reaching the top of the knoll. A beautiful gold color, this grizzly is strong, muscular, and toned. It’s not the largest bear, but it is full grown, built well, and looks fast and agile, the kind of mammal I would rather not contest. Not a moment after I spot it, the grizzly senses our presence and turns to look our way. Making eye contact, he stares at us for what seems like a long time, contemplating his options, before turning the other way and heading into another patch of thick vegetation. His speed is evident in this moment, and although our meeting was short, we are glad to see his backside bounding away from us. Days earlier, we’d spotted another grizzly on the beach in front of our camp, but this time it was much more intimate.

Energized by the encounter, Aaron and I are giddy as we walk back to the beach, constantly surveying the landscape for any sign that he is still around. To come in contact in this way, within close proximity, was a unique encounter. We met the bear on his level and in his environment and briefly looked into each other’s eyes to connect in an inspiring way. Back on the beach, we pedal on into the night once again as the remaining miles of beach melt away into another perfect evening ride with pink skies and wind at our backs—the last evening of our trip. The following afternoon, we would pedal into Yakutat, days after our departure, as if nothing had changed.

But something is happening out there. Out in the apparent desolation of the wilderness, where humans have yet to make an impact, strange and powerful things are occurring on the sand, in the water, and throughout the trees. Between the energetic coast and the lifeless peaks, we lived in a zone that houses abundant life and energy—a thriving environment that appears at times vacant. It is a sliver of life that rarely sees human inhabitants. Where many extremes convene, it creates a place that is strangely unique—where something is going on. And for a brief moment in time, between the forbidding ocean and the vacant glaciers, we saw exactly what it was. BV

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Of Fish and Gravel Written and photographed by Russ Roca


eople write and talk about the salmon fly hatch on the Deschutes River with near religious awe. It’s a time when strange, two-inch orange insects emerge and line the grasses on the banks of the river in biblical proportions, causing large and usually wary trout to throw caution to the wind and feed on the surface with the desperation of the last call at Old Country Buffet. Or that’s what they say, at least. While a hundred or so cyclists were voluntarily flogging themselves in earnest in the first Oregon Outback along gravel backroads not too far away, Laura, our friend Brendan, and I decided to go on a little gravel outing of our own, combining fishing and bikepacking. As we were gearing up at the parking lot at Deschutes State Park, Brendan even came up with a hashtag for our trip: #OregonTroutback. Our trip, in the current vernacular, was now legit. As a fly fisherman, I had been hoping to fish the salmon fly hatch for some time. It was one of those “famous” hatches (if bugs coming out of the ground can be counted as something internationally noteworthy). As a cyclist, I had done day trips on the Deschutes River Trail but had never camped overnight along the river. This trip was meant to scratch both itches simultaneously with vigor. Even if the fishing wasn’t non-stop, reel-scorching action, what is there not to enjoy about pedaling out along a gravel trail and setting up an idyllic camp by a river? The Deschutes River Trail is an old railroad bed that is rideable for about 20 miles. It has become the de facto proving grounds of many a bikepacking rig for Portland area cyclists since it is a relatively quick drive from downtown. Along the trail you pass a few relics of the past – some wooden railroad boxcars and an old homestead that remain in surprisingly good condition. It is dotted with a handful of campsites, mostly used by rafters and hikers. While the grade is never really difficult, there are a few things out there that will keep you on your toes, namely goatheads and rattlesnakes. Goatheads will make short work of your tire and the rattlesnakes will make short work of you.

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The goatheads on the Deschutes River Trail have been known to destroy many a tire. I had underestimated their severity on our first outing there a few months ago. When I stopped to fix a flat I had no less than 30 per tire. I ran out of patches and didn’t bring a spare tube. I only managed to ride out by pumping up the tires every quarter mile. It made for a long afternoon. Our plan was to ride out to one of the campsites near the old homestead. It had a large flat area for camping beneath some trees and easy river access for fishing. We weren’t exactly the perfect picture of ultralight bikepacking with our Wald baskets and panniers in the rear, but we were carrying a fair amount of fishing and camera gear. Brendan brought along a fly tying vise to make a few streamside flies and I was packing a video monopod. We also had four rods between us: a 5wt, 6wt, and two tenkara rods. We arrived at our targeted campsite in the early afternoon, only to find it had been claimed. There was a full-on camo tarp city set up by two beer-bellied guys who clearly had no intention of sharing the space. We pedaled back a few miles to another site that unfortunately didn’t have as much shade or flat space. The problem wasn’t so much finding free space as it was finding a clearing to setup camp. The grass had grown head high since the last time we were there and we were loath to tromp around for three days in high grass in rattlesnake country. Eventually, we found a little clearing that had space for Laura and I to set up our tent and suitable trees for Brendan’s hammock. After a hastily made lunch, we got down to the business of fishing. Instead of packing heavy wading boots and waders, we were planning to wet wade using neoprene socks and cleated water sandals. For the most part it worked beautifully. The neoprene socks kept your feet just warm enough so you could stand in the

water for hours and the cleated sandals gave you some purchase on the slimy rocks of the Deschutes. We strung up our rods and waded into the water. For me, the first hour or so of fishing is about calming down, settling into the river, and starting to read the water. The water was flowing at a good pace but was fairly shallow. You could walk out about forty feet and still be in waist-deep water. I spotted a few obvious places that could hold fish: boulders that were creating some softer water, a few spots on the bank with low, overhanging trees that made for good cover, and a few slow, dark, and mysterious runs. All the ingredients of good fishing were there, except for any obvious signs of rising fish and perhaps most importantly, the salmon flies. Thinking that we hadn’t quite clued in on the schedule that the fish and flies were on, I tied on a hopper-dropper setup, which involves fishing with a dry floating fly and a small subsurface fly below it. For me, it’s a good searching pattern when I’m trying to figure out a stretch of water. Brendan was fishing downstream, working the bank over with some golden stone fly patterns he had tied the week before. We worked our way up and down the river, occasionally glancing over to see how the other person was doing. It’s not that we didn’t get into any fish, it just wasn’t the white-hot fishing action we were expecting. I got into two medium sized white fish and a third mystery fish that broke off. Brandon got into a few small redsides that he eventually let go. We debriefed over dinner and bourbon and planned the next day’s tactics. That night a storm rolled in that would refuse to leave completely during our remaining three days on the river. Fishing became a Sisyphean task of casting against 20mph winds. It was not exactly the delicate dry fly fishing we had imagined. I resorted to what was the equivalent of carpet-bombing the water.

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I switched lines to a shooting head, tied on a sinking tip, and swung flies through wide swaths of water, methodically covering every inch looking for fish. I looked over and saw Brendan, ever the optimist, double hauling dry flies through the wind to the bank. By the end of the second day we were exhausted, having tried everything but chumming the water to get into fish. It was then, when I was leaving the water to go back to camp, that I saw my first rattlesnake slithering across a footpath that I had used over a dozen times during the day. It was a slow and sinewy reminder to not get lazy in the back country. On our final full fishing day we got on the bicycles and rode up and down the river looking for promising water. Everywhere we went felt like a fish ghost town. There were all the structures that make good fishing water, but no fish and no salmon flies. We chatted with some people hiking and fishing the trail who had no luck either. It was as if the hatch had already blown through like a mad tornado of two-inch orange insects a few weeks ago and all the fish were following it like kids and an ice-cream truck. We spotted hundreds of dried-up husks of salmon flies on trees at one campsite that confirmed our suspicions. We took it all with a grain of salt, and plenty of bourbon. That night at camp, Brendan produced an orange and some bitters and made some Old Fashioneds. It’s hard not to get philosophical when you go on a fishing trip and don’t catch very many fish. In fact, it’s probably the only thing you can do and keep your sanity. We all agreed that, at best, we came away catching a few fish. Not as many as we had hoped for (nor as large), but neither of us got skunked. At worst, we had just enjoyed three days biking and camping on one of Oregon’s iconic rivers with nothing else to do but ride, cook over our stoves, and go fishing. Incidentally, we did actually see a salmon fly. As we were packing up on the final morning, Laura said, “I think that’s it. That bug!” I looked over to where she was pointing and sure enough, sitting on my Keen sandal and looking a little worse for wear, was a solitary salmon fly. I pointed it out to Brendan who in a rare instance of losing his cool exclaimed, “Sonofabitch! Let’s throw it in the river!” BV

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A Better Faith

Written by Paul Krahn, photographed by Kyle Thomas


n the epic story of Job, after decimating him of his earthly possessions and riddling his body with festering boils, God speaks out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.” Not quite as dramatic as that, yet when I rode off into the north wind after the St. Pierre checkpoint I thought for the first time, but not the last, that I was in for it now. That some god or other was speaking from that wind saying, “You don’t know shit, do you buddy, thinking you were ready for this. You didn’t know what you were getting ready for then, and now I’m going to take your measure.” There was demand in that wind, demand for one answer. Lower your head. Humble yourself. Push on. The Actif Epica is a one-hundred-thirty-kilometer (eighty mile) endurance challenge that follows the Crow Wing Trail (for the most part) across the plains of southern Manitoba, Canada, from St. Malo to The Forks in Winnipeg. Racers set out on foot or on bicycle (though this year someone in the relay started out on skis) from the St. Malo Arena, cross a lake, and then follow the Crow Wing Trail across former tall-grass prairie, through farming country, along gravel roads, over dirt roads that cross fields (now rife with snowdrifts in various states of softness and/or hard-pack and depth), down a few kilometres of highway and city streets, and finally the winter-iced pleasure of the Red River to The Forks. It’s a variety of terrain that can bring both great pleasure and monumental struggle. Half way to Checkpoint Four, five us ride up to two trucks on the snow-covered dirt road. The snow shadows are whispering in that deep purple-blue that only February brings, and the sun is orange and bleeding heavy in the steel sky. They seem to be stuck there, with three boys standing outside them, shivering and texting in the wind. Since we are fellow travellers, and fellow travellers share the plenty and the privation of the road, we smile as we ride up and greet them. Since we aren’t sure we’re in the right spot, Graham asks about the whereabouts of Carriere Road. They’re helpful and nice. “It’s up there,” they say, pointing in the general direction we’re heading, confirming that we’re okay. We say thanks and have a good day, and we ride away. When we’re a good ways off, Graham says, “I wonder what they’re thinking? Seeing us, eh?” He rides madly through axle-high drifts about twenty-five feet long at the intersection and then stops to whoop about it, and to wait for me. When I get there he turns and says, “It’s weird what some people think is fun, eh?” then he looks back at the kids and their trucks. I think I might know what he means. On Friday, the day before the race, a friend and colleague wishes me well. He’s a rider too, so it’s not one of those sidelong I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-you-do-

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that-for-but-whatever-I’ll-go-alongwith-it-because-otherwise-you-don’tseem-insane sorts of well-wishes. He’s just not yet convinced that endurance races are his thing. Fair enough. Anyway, he says to me that someone else at work had asked him during lunch whether he thought Paul would have fun out there. He looks at me then and says, “I told her that I don’t think Paul knows how to have fun.” I laugh. “You may have a point,” I say, and smile. Then I tell myself, don’t get into it. You can’t communicate this kind of religion to everyone – these pearls of pain. But this is kind of religious for me. It’s a kind of church surrogate. A better faith. One that says that there is something necessary about the struggle itself, and the only real enemy is me, and my own will to back out of discomfort. To not even start when I know it’s going to be difficult. Not to put too high and mighty a point on it, but riding Actif Epica constitutes more than just a battle waged against the weakness of the self and the ice and snow and wind, it’s one battle in my own war against creeping complacency. It’s me reacquainting myself with my own primitif by re-engaging the fight-or-flight adrenaline to stave off our spectatorisms – our video-game-this and our interweb-that – the enticements of those good old sit-on-your-ass entertainments (O you Olympics, how you tempt us with your false bravado of vicarious victory). The Epica is, for the most part, a challenging but well-supported winter endurance race, since most of the less obvious intersections along this race

feature volunteers cheering you on and making sure you’re headed in the right direction (which is helpful because there are a few times when they direct you along a trail that, if they weren’t there to confirm it, you’d likely look for something a little more obvious, and a little less demanding). Whatever the help you receive along the way, you’re riding alone and you’re well-advised to listen closely at the pre-race briefing, study the maps and cue sheets, and keep your wits about you. Along the way racers check in at five checkpoints that are spaced roughly equally along the route. Friendly Manitoban volunteers will greet you there, offer a range of food and hydration options, and congratulate you as you head out the door. The third checkpoint, Niverville, offers a smorgasbord of hot soup and carbs and is the one spot where you can have supplies (within the rules) cached along the way. When we rode up at Checkpoint Three, in the Mennonite-settled town of Niverville, I thought I’d met my Waterloo. Race organizers Ian and Dave were there to greet us. As I walked in I told them that I figured I was finished. At Checkpoint Two, which the folks at Crystal Springs Hutterite Colony hosted, five of us had begun a kind of family-compact of riders. From there to the end we treated the northbound road sections like any good-old road ride, taking turns at the front, and echeloning into the wind. But between Crystal Springs and Niverville the course took its measure of us, of me. After enjoying the draft on those open road bits, the trail crossed fields of snow that stretched on to a low-horizon of scrub trees. It demanded a trek

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and so we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked through shin and knee and thighdeep snow and then, when we thought that we might, finally, ride again, the packed snow and dirt chattered the hell out of our arms and asses. We saw then the absurdity of it, that we were in one of those Huckleberry Hound chase scenes where Huckleberry is running from the Dinky Dalton Gang and they’re all there, in the middle of the frame, running like hell with the landscape scrolling endlessly by, and on repeat, always always always the same. So when we finally rode up to Niverville I’d been sweating, a lot. My base layers were wet, of course, but my outerwear had gotten wet too, and then had frozen: my jacket and tights, my balaclava, my gloves, all of it stiff and frosted. I knew that I had to go inside to get food and water. I knew too that my clothes would warm up inside, but they’d still be wet. I knew that then I’d step out again into the north wind, and it would all quickly freeze up solid again. So I figured I was done, at least owing to technical difficulties. Besides this I was cold and asking myself whether I was bonking. And you know what’s usually happening when you’re asking yourself whether you’re bonking, you’ve bonked already. Still, Ian, always the soft, steady voice of reason and encouragement said, get some food, get warm, and then decide. Give it some time. Which I did. After forty-eight minutes of warming up and becoming conscious enough to remember that I’d packed an extra change of everything, slurping soup, hammering down a plate of perogies, and drinking water water water, I was a changed-ish man. The bigger difference, though, was when the five of us – KK, Mark, Graham, Luke, and me – re-affirmed that we’d make a point of riding together. We were all up against it by this time, in one way or another (though Graham didn’t really seem much the worse for wear, eating plate after plate of perogies and then farting and pissing on the road like it was spring and we were out for a ride and on the hunt for beer and a meat barbeque) and knowing that you’re up against it together, well, that goes the longest way.

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Probably humans are pack animals. We pack our shit around with us and sometimes this gets us down, and we hang around with each other in packs for relief, and just to survive. In this way we are primitif, and we are actif. We celebrate convivialité. No, we depend on it. All along this trek we were reminded that doing this completely alone might be praiseworthy in its extremity, but really we were most ourselves – we were having the most fun – when we gave to one another and took a hand-up. If it wasn’t Donna hand-delivering a bowl of soup to your table in Niverville, it was Hal reminding you to drink “water water water – that’s how you keep warm.” If it wasn’t Tom and his helpers marking the way for us over and through the Red Sea floodway (and then dosing us with hot drinks at the other side), it was that same Tom reminding us not to underestimate the distance we had yet to cover. If it wasn’t the yummy Mr. Noodles chef at the UM, it was Dallas raving at us that “It’s just a commute now!” Those were fun times. We were having fun then. The question of fun or not fun is a useful one. Useful because you can answer it one way now, and another way a few minutes later. It’s a barometer for each of us in a different way, for assessing what state I’m in, at present, and perhaps even what the pressure trend might be. I may want to compare this race to a kind of Jobian, masters-of-the-universe struggle, but the question “Are we having fun yet?” distills the matter. Too many “nos” in a row and you’ve got an existential crisis; and there is no universal way to arrive at a “yes.” You might get to yes when you’re shitting it all out in the nerves just before the race, or when you’re shivering in wet, cold clothes and deciding whether or not to DNF. There’s no logic to “fun.” I went to church the Sunday before the race. It was a kind of penitence, an indulgence. I’d been absent from it for a good while, kind of wandering in my own wilderness – a self-imposed exile – but I wandered back to the fold to help prepare my soul for the Epica. The sermon highlight came from a meditative theologian who suggested that human transformation arises from two forces, great love and great suffering.

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The week before the race I thought a lot about whether or not self-inflicted suffering could be transformative – whether it could change your life. Some devout faithful will fast and deprive themselves of various comforts in order to find holiness, but my question was (and is): Can that actually change a person? So I asked the friend who wasn’t sure I knew how to have fun what he thought and he said, “Not much.” I think I agree. Seeing the Actif Epica experience as great suffering would miss the point. I don’t do these things because I think I’m Job living a great suffering inflicted on me by some master puppeteer. I don’t do these things because I’m looking for a reward. I do, in fact, do these things to have fun. Perhaps not the sort of fun that many people pursue, but for me, choosing to ride one hundred and thirty kilometers on a winter day with the wind up and the temperature down offers possibilities! In the end it was good, and fun, to find that it was possible to meet the demands of the god of wind and ice and snow with an answer – to put my face into it, to accept its measure, to give what I had to give. It was glorious to be alive in the cold, cold, blue and orange wonder of February on the plains of southern Manitoba. It was also good, and fun, to be out there and not be alone. It was good to help Svetlana with the signs, to ride off of the Winnipeg streets and down onto the river to glide along up to The Forks, turn west, grunt my bike up that last run-up and into the lights and cheers and hugs of family and friends. In the end it was fun, but it was more than that too. BV

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Oregon Outback

Written by Leah Johnson, photographed by Lucas Winzenburg


ecember 2, 2013, around the kitchen table in San Francisco: Our friends get in touch to say Oregon Outback registration is closing tonight. The number of people signing up is overwhelming. We’re six months away from the start of this newly organized event that will mix off-road touring with Divide-style racing, and already tire choices are under hot debate, plane tickets are being purchased, and new rigs are being dreamt up. The all-consuming fixation with Oregon Outback preparation is just beginning. The rewards of participating in the Oregon Outback began long before the start in Klamath Falls. Speculation and inspiration flew high on cycling forums and photo feeds for months leading up to the event. And while people across the country were sharing their preparation ventures over the airwaves, the folks at Swift Industries united a group of Washington riders for training rides and planning sessions. Through these sessions, people I had hardly known became familiar faces and good friends. Riding through Oregon’s vivid landscape with these awesome people would make the experience all the more meaningful. When news came in of the first finisher’s arrival at the Columbia River only 28 hours after starting from the Maverick Hotel, I was busy shucking peanuts at the watering hole in Fort Rock, knowing that the speedy cyclist had ridden a very different ride than the one I was still enjoying. Each rider set out to push his or her envelopes of physical and mental fitness on this event. For me, that was not without the perks of evening campfires, coffee in the morning, and gummy bear breaks on the side of the road.

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RITUALS The start of day two captured some of the things I love most about camping by bike. Out of my duo, I’m usually the one to wake and make coffee. My partner Jake thinks he’s got the better end of the deal, but I relish the solitary morning ritual. A ground fog had risen at 5:30 on this particular morning, removing depth and adding mystery to the little forest we’d camped in. Beyond the thick curtain of fog were the calls of unidentifiable creatures. I waited for the water to boil and thought about our party of six: Martina Brimmer, Jason Goods, Lucas Winzenburg, Amy Oberbroeckling, Jake Mann, and me – an unplanned, serendipitous “team” that had worked together perfectly thus far. I was stoked for the day ahead. Fueled by a delicious cup, we broke down camp, filled our bottles with water, and packed up our bikes. These are some of the most organized moments of my usually hectic life. On a bike, life’s necessities are abbreviated, and it is satisfying to put each piece in its place. I get a feeling of independence from packing up camp, leaving no trace, and riding off with a loaded, self-sustaining adventure bike. This morning was no exception as I pedaled onward with my posse, grinning all the while.

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RED SAUCE Not all gravel roads are created equal, and those along the Oregon Outback run the whole gamut. Riding off road takes us beyond the beaten path and away from traffic. The added tire resistance is generally accompanied by an increase in solitude and improved scenery, but it was difficult to appreciate any of that while riding through the Deschutes National Forest. The roads throughout the forest are composed of a thick, red layer of fine volcanic rock, and riding on them felt like pedaling in sand. I reluctantly took a friend’s advice and switched out my front tire to the widest I could fit just two days before the event. I had no regrets the moment my tire hit the Deschutes National Forest, and I did what I could to pedal along in a low gear through the fine gravel sludge. To complicate matters, the surface wasn’t a uniform thickness, which left me playing the “gravel is more packed on the other side of the road” game. The search for a harder surface can be fruitless as you venture for an easier path, but never find one. I could see that I wasn’t alone in this pursuit; the fine pumice had preserved the tire tracks of riders before me, swerving across the road in search of a better line. Sometimes those tire tracks were followed by footprints, evidence that someone had been deceived and defeated. All this was made more challenging by the extra water weight we carried through the 70-mile dry stretch from Fort Rock to the Crooked River. Earlier in the day, our group was feeling great and had entertained the idea of maximizing the late Pacific Northwest light. We aimed to ride far into the warm evening to get closer to the next water source, but by the time we got to the campground at Sand Spring the sun was setting, our legs and morale were exhausted, and we decided to call it a day, set up camp, and unwind by the fire.

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CYCLING SENSATIONS People say that riding a bike gets us close to the sensation of flying. That was all I could think about as we descended from Prineville Reservoir into the valley along the Crooked River. I was cruising with Amy and we were having blast swooping down the river road together. The landscape was rich with basalt cliffs towering above a sharp, blue river that lives up to its name. The road follows the river’s curves, making for amazing riding through a stunning landscape. Our group had stretched apart before the climb to the reservoir, but we reunited for a break along the river where Jason and Martina had pulled off on a wide, grassy bank. Though the sun was beating down and we were entering the toasty part of the early afternoon, it was hard to submerge in the ice-cold water that had been released from the bottom of the reservoir. Jake and Jason went for it, jumping in without second thought, but their swim didn’t last long. Nevertheless, the water on my skin was a great antidote to the dust and sweat that had built up from the ride. Cleaned off, cooled down, and half dressed, I sat with my company and enjoyed the reunion.

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ACCOMPLISHMENTS A quick glance at the profile of the entire 363-mile route deludes you from the ridiculous amount of climbing packed into the last quarter of the route, most of which is delivered in the form of mile after mile of gravel rollers accompanied by 10-20 mile per hour headwinds. At the top of each small roller I would gain momentum, get into my highest gear, and engage my concentration and effort to carry me as far as I could up the next hill. But the combination of gravel surfaces, a loaded bike, steep pitches, and headwinds sucked away most of my energy and morale, leaving me in my granny gear only half way up the next hill. We were in the never-ending final stretch of the route and our group had spread out across the wide-open landscape. I slogged ahead for quite some time with Jake, Amy, and Jessica, another Seattle rider who we’d met up with that afternoon. Eventually, Jessica ducked off route in search of water. I looked ahead at Amy, getting smaller in the distance, then at Jake, who seemed unaffected by the day’s events and kept muttering about how beautiful it was out here. I realized that I needed to change my attitude, so I looked up and took in the view. It was early evening and the sun was on its seemingly endless summer trajectory toward the horizon. The horizontal light accentuated the folds of the hills that rolled down toward the Deschutes River in the west. To the east, shadowy fields of corn and grass were swaying psychedelically as gusts of winds blew across them, and us. I felt fortunate to be there in that moment, and I tried to make peace with my surroundings. But peace gradually slipped into all-out war with each soul-sucking hill. I had no choice but to concede to the nonsensical cyclic phasing of my mood, and pedal along. And along. We rolled up to the radio towers atop Gordon Ridge Road—the muchanticipated final climb of the route—just as the sun dipped below the horizon. We descended into the canyon in the dark, flying toward the Columbia River and into the Deschutes River State Park, marking the completion of the Oregon Outback. Though the campground was full, we managed to locate a small settlement of Outback riders who’d been waiting for our arrival. Their welcoming faces were a cheerful sight and they promptly handed us the perfect Pacific Northwest victory beer. Time passed quickly until Lucas, Martina, Jason, and Jessica rolled in together to join us, finalizing our celebration. Our little community continued to grow throughout the night as fellow riders rolled in and shared stories of the journey around the campfire. Everyone who rode the Oregon Outback came to it with different backgrounds and varied goals. The Thursday before the start of the race, I received a text from my buddy Ian saying, “He who has the most fun wins the race.” Ian’s words made me smile as we sat by the fire with our celebratory beers and new friends, thinking about all that we had accomplished. BV

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South Africa Across Written and photographed by Joe Cruz


usic flooding out of billiard halls, crisp dressed university students walking to the fast food stands, buses honking, ties and briefcases swaying, concrete reaching for glass. The prison on Constitution Hill, home to Ghandi and Nelson Mandela; there’s the Victorian architecture panopticon of the womens’ block where Winnie was held. From high atop the ramparts, I listen to the rhythms of any city but melody of Africa in kinetic downtown Johannesburg. Nearby suburbs are empty sidewalks, barbed wire topped walls and security patrols. My impressions have ragged enough fractal edges so that the best I can do is just to collect them. Anton and Jack are family’s warmth and hospitality, sitting at dinner with wine and cheer, fingers tracing lines on maps and debating routes and obstacles. They’re veterans of the famous Freedom Challenge, a pedal substantially spanning their incredible country, and they’ll be doing the shorter variant this year, the Race to Rhodes. We reckon that even if I’m not racing, I can dip into the infrastructure of the bigger competition. As part of my wandering, then, I arrange to stay at some of the overnight stops that the competitors stay in. This strikes me as a fine plan, I’ll see parts of the country that I might not otherwise, and I’ll sometimes have local riding company but often not. Anton and Jack’s enduring love for the landscapes of their home is contagious, their astonishing kindness and advice send me off soaring.

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25k away Soweto, corrugated steel roof shacks and gestures to prosperity juxtaposed, Nobel laureates, artists, fruit sellers, confident dreamers, everyone waving and kind. Brand new sidewalks end like a shrug, coast now through open sewer trench. And then hundreds of k more over the next weeks, dirt and cracked asphalt roads to less famous black townships—locations, in the evocative repossession of linguistic history—with their own economies and joyous thrum defying the abstraction of high unemployment and uncertain futures. I’m a guest at struggling dignified estates of white farmers in the south. In between are expanses of high desert, canyons, sandstone, capering vervets, the puffed mildly comical menace of troops of baboons crossing the path glaring back at my aloneness. A veld with magisterial giraffes breaking into a balletic immense stride run jump run. Too, elephants, wildebeest, dung caught in the tread of my tires. In darkness a basso guttural earthquaking roar of lions just beyond the fence line. Lofting mountains, a town on a cape, everywhere a complicated history that remains visible and daring you to imagine that it’s not so. Navigation is a distinctive obstacle in the Freedom Challenge. I’m following a track across a plateau, thoroughly lost, I drag the heavy machine through sage to the edge to get a better look. The stream and river cut tells me something of where I am, though South Africa keeps hidden from me where I stand. The company of fear like having a debate with an opponent and dimly accepting that you might be wrong three or four more steps in the dialectic. The literal stakes are low, anyway, though, as I’m traveling with a full inventory of what I need and gaining the metaphorical ones with every day.

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Pedaling shoulder to elbow with racers on their light race bikes and wearing modest rucksacks, helmets bobbing for the effort into the sunrise or the beacon starry late. My style is to check landmarks and following along to memorize turns in order. Leon’s is to measure distances, but I’d have to turn on my computer to do that, which I won’t. We make an effective pair, confirming out loud to each other. More days alone, the fat bike tires hiss and crunch up to the three meter high fence. The sign warns of dangerous buffalo and rhinos ahead. Unlocked, just a chain with steel hook. Growing up with picture books or National Geographic with imagery of the large animals of this continent, the romantic stories of safaris, knowing the scale and sheer cultural power. Poaching is a reality here, and I resolve to leave that in my conscience a bit, too. I push it open, secure it again, accelerating slowly into the shimmery heat. I shortcut a portion of the race route and spend an evening in a small crossroads church and homes town giving rides to the local boys and chatting at the general store. A washboard dirt road until sleep. In the heart of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness. We corkscrew down into the canyon rockets in re-entry, scraping around ruts in the red dirt and trying not to snag our clothing on thumb long thorns. At the bottom the river crossing is uncertain, but eventually Gawie finds the spot and it’s fortunate that he knows the path through the grasses. We’re sometimes off the bikes but mostly on, canyon walls vice grip around us, sun setting and the eleventh ford has us soaking. The landscape is wild and secretive, whatever hints of a track have been largely reclaimed. Somehow Dani is getting by with his crappy sandals evidently brought just for this, I’ve given up putting my socks back on, others are in various states of cracked skin soft feet. The blister will remind me for weeks after I get home of this glorious day, its pain and sweat and helium swaying head hunger. I keep digging my fingers into the frame bag to see if maybe there’s an apple I missed the half dozen times I checked earlier.

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Wake and 4am wheels turning, starting with our many layers on against the garroting chill. For awhile I ride with Axel. An hour in and on a long ascent over a shadow against shadow, he leaves me. At the top I pause and shut off my headlamp to let my eyes adjust to the suede until I can see Andromeda and the Milky Way. My rasps are sharp and short while up high, and then a numb fingers winding fast descent to the bottom of the canyon where I’ll spend days and presence. When I tell the story over rusks and Nescafé a week later, they tell me that some South Africans go their entire lives visiting the bush and never seeing one and that I should count myself very fortunate. Two emerald pinpricks. I pan across and back and see two emerald discs, then they are emerald eyes and I can make out the spotted coat, bunched into a crouch. I’m hardly thirty feet away and she’s looking at me and I at her. The distance collapses into an instantaneous singularity of the questions, What are you? What brought you here? How have you made this world? Frozen in silence and mist, I don’t know whether I am the asker or being asked. Ninety seconds, then the leopard’s a streak across the trail. BV

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FORGING FRIENDSHIPS BY FIRE Written by Eszter Horanyi, photographed by Glenn Charles


lenn was the only original member of the trip. He and a friend had schemed of escaping the colder climates of their homes up north to come ride in Arizona, my wintertime home state. They’d thrown out some ideas for a route, but when I’d learned about the timing and length of their trip, I sent an e-mail that more or less said, “Hey, you don’t know me, and I don’t know either of you, but if you want to tour the Coconino 250 loop in Central Arizona, I’d love to come along.” Some backstory: The Coconino 250 loop was created by Scott Morris and Chad Brown to showcase some of the best singletrack between Flagstaff and Sedona. They hold a yearly stage race on it where participants race to different backcountry camping spots, reconvene, spend the night together, and then continue the unsupported race the next day. The race takes four days and includes a short day, two long days, and then a short finish back into Flagstaff, traveling through Sedona, Cottonwood, and Williams – some of the most beautiful country in Arizona. I got the invite for the tour, plans were made, people bailed on the trip, and new people were added. I just watched from the periphery. In the end, Glenn and Lucas would fly into Phoenix International Airport, I’d drive up from Tucson, we’d put the bikes into the back of the van and head toward Flagstaff for a five day, four night bikepacking trip. “Do these guys even mountain bike?” Scott had asked me upon learning of the trip. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “Glenn has done come cool trips and Lucas publishes Bunyan Velo. I think it’ll be fine. We’re just going to go ride bikes.” “The Coco is technical,” Scott warned. “I know. It’ll be fine. I can always bail if things get dumb.” I knew nothing of these people, but I had faith that the common language of riding bikes would make the trip go smoothly. DAY 0: WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

The pickup lane of a busy airport isn’t exactly the best place to meet new people. I called Glenn as I pulled into the arrival zone, our first time actually speaking. Nervous, palms sweaty. Who were these people I was scheduled to spend the next six days with? He was easy to spot with his cardboard bike box. We exchanged brief hellos before getting down to the task at hand. With cars whizzing by, we loaded the boxed bike into the back of the minivan and headed over to another terminal to pick up Lucas, equally as visible with his box.

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Bikes in the car, cardboard boxes ditched behind a trashcan, we fled the metropolitan area of Phoenix. The drive went by easily, making small talk, discussing past bike riding experiences, watching the landscape go by. We talked about gear to bring on this trip. They discussed the merits of bringing a shelter. I’d never taken one bikepacking in Arizona and I convinced them that lighter would be better and we’d stay dry during the week. We spent the night in a cheap hotel room in Flagstaff, making last minute preparations that included trips to the bike shop, outdoor store, and local brewery for dinner and locally brewed beverages. DAY 1: WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?

Our first stop in the morning was the local diner. We rolled across the street from our motel to The Place, a well-known eating establishment in Flagstaff. Meals were ordered, coffee cups were filled, drained, and filled again. Giant plates of food were put in front of us, and like any good bikepacker, I devoured everything in front of me. Eggs, hashbrowns, plate

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swabbed clean of crumbs and leftover egg yolk. We had a long day of riding in front of us and I’m a believer that the more you eat in town, the less food you have to carry on the trail. I sat there confused as both Glenn and Lucas ate half of their plates, leaned back, and said, “That was a good breakfast.” “You’re not finishing?” I sat dumbfounded. The first 30 miles of trail were closed due to a fire, so we pointed our bikes toward a paved bypass. Devoid of traffic, we were able to ride side by side, trading stories, learning more about our different views on life, bikes, and touring. We turned onto the Arizona Trail for a handful of miles. It was one of the smoother sections of the Arizona Trail and we all enjoyed the mellow cruising. I’d toured the entire AZT earlier in the spring and knew what a treat the forested, dark trail was compared to what the rest of Arizona had to offer, compared to what we were going to face for the rest of the trip. “So, the entire AZT is a railroad grade across the state?” Glenn asked.

“Ummm,” I paused, “No.” Glenn’s original plan was to ride the AZT throughout the trip and I wondered what sort of route research he’d done. It wasn’t long before I realized that I was going to be in charge of navigation on this trip as Lucas, who’d been invited last minute, had no clue where we were going and Glenn only had a partial GPS track. I’d gone so far as to get a basic overview of the route from Scott, had a complete GPS track of it, and had all of the water sources. It became apparent to me, as we bumped along the trail, that without me, everyone’s trip would be over. Trails led us to dirt roads, and finally to a rocky climb up to our campsite for the night. The road was ledgy, but nothing that most people used to riding in Arizona would really consider technical. When I looked back to admire the towering cliffs of Sedona and saw the boys walking their bikes, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Sedona riding would greet us in the morning, riding that challenges everyone, and my riding partners were walking up a road.

I sighed, taking in the expansive view. Our camp was situated at a giant overlook of the Sedona Valley, its red cliffs lit up by the setting sun, the sky ablaze from the smoke of a nearby fire. The wind howled out of the west as we set up camp for the night. We found a slightly sheltered spot in the trees and went to work blowing up sleeping pads and unpacking sleeping bags. A gust of wind picked up Glenn’s pad and sent it flying across a field. The same gust picked mine up, sending it straight into a tree. I heard the disheartening hiss of a pad with a hole in it. A survey of the damage showed an unpatchable, inch-long tear. It was going to be a long night sleeping on the ground. I once again wondered what I had gotten myself into. I wanted to go home. DAY 2: HOW CAN I GET OUT OF THIS?

We broke camp in the morning with our eyes on the descent into Sedona. The plan was to get a second breakfast and a new sleeping pad. I started down the trail in the lead. It was rough, narrow, exposed. My fear of heights kicked in as I traversed the narrow strip of dirt cut into the hillside, and I worried for

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my companions. Stopping in the sun, I waited until they caught up, walking their bikes down through the rocks.

straight into a day of Sedona singletrack, which is rocky, sandy, and very much not for beginners.

This is a bit of a rough start to the day, we decided, and continued down. I came up to an intersection where a switchback turned sharply to the right onto a short stretch of trail toward a parallel road. I stopped on the downhill side of the switchback to wait. I heard the sound of tires on dirt behind me, then a crash, and the sound of a body against dirt. I turned around quickly to see Glenn face down in the middle of the switchback, arms splayed out in front of him. He slowly stood up just as Lucas arrived. Blood dripped from his cheek and he held his left thumb in his other hand. Game over, I thought.

I watched them struggle. I watched them overheat in the Arizona sun. Small ledges proved to be difficult for the two, who’d never ridden anything like Sedona rocks before. At one point a pair of hikers came upon us while we were sitting on a large section of slickrock, resting.

“Something popped in my thumb,” he said, teeth clenched, obviously in pain. “I’ll be fine, I just need some ice.” He and Lucas decided the prudent thing to do would be to take the road the final miles to Sedona while insisting that I take the trail. No point in everyone having to miss it, they said. I rolled on alone. This was it, I decided. This was absurd, but now with a broken thumb, surely we could just take the highway back to Flagstaff, they could get a hotel room and decide what to do with the broken thumb, and I could get back to my normal life of riding in Tucson. We met up at the highway and found a coffee shop in Sedona. We sat, pondering the view, pondering what to do. I sat waiting for Glenn to say the word, to go back to Flagstaff and call it a trip. Instead I watched him wrap his swollen left thumb in some athletic tape, flex it a couple of times, and declare, “At least I’m running a 1x11!” We found a nearby outdoor consignment shop so I could buy a used sleeping pad and the trip was on, against my better judgment. We started down the road,

“It seems like this would be easier on foot than by bike,” one of them commented. “Not if you’ve got the right skills,” Glenn replied. “She’s making this look easy.” He pointed to me. As a girl, I’d always assumed that my male riding companions would be stronger and better riders than me. It never occurred to me that two people coming from places far from Arizona would struggle on terrain that I regarded as fun. The afternoon rolled on. Out to Chicken Point, down to Buddha Beach, more trail, more rocks. I watched both Glenn and Lucas get more comfortable on the red rocks. I watched their skills improve rapidly as the sun dropped lower and lower in the sky. Moves that would have been unfathomable just a few hours prior rolled out with only looks of terror. I daresay a little bit of fun was starting to be had. It inspired me. We’d stuck with it, and even if we had to bail off the route in the morning because of Glenn’s thumb, which seemed to causing him no issues, their eyes had been opened to what Arizona bikepacking was truly about. It was more than just dirt roads, it was actual trail. Skills were on the up. Spirits were on the up. We found ourselves a nice campsite a few miles shy of the town of Cottonwood and settled in to watch the rising full moon, full of hope that we’d finish this route in style.

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We set our sights on Cottonwood in the morning. The Lime Kiln Trail proved to be sandy and slow as we meandered along the final miles down into the valley, Mingus Mountain rising in the distance. “We’re going up there after we leave Cottonwood,” I mentioned. The gravity of the situation didn’t really seem to sink in as we rolled into town and stopped at the first cafe we could find. It was nearly noon, but they were still serving breakfast, so I opted for some French toast, eggs, and hash browns. Both Lucas and Glenn opted for giant burgers with French fries, devouring them as if they hadn’t had a real meal in 24 hours. “You boys are starting to learn how to clean your plates,” I joked. In Sedona, just a day prior, we’d all ordered the same sweet potato and mozzarella sandwiches and I was the only one to finish. They leaned back and patted their bellies, “We’re learning from the best.” It was well after 2:00 when we rolled out to tackle Mingus Mountain, a steep, 2,000-foot climb up from the valley floor. The heat was oppressive for me, even after spending the winter in warm Arizona climates. Lucas and I rolled next to each other until he pulled up short. “Oh, this is embarrassing.” He dropped his bike and walked over to the side of the road, disappearing into the bushes. When Glenn caught up, a few second later, he asked, “Where’d Lucas go?” “I don’t know, I think he had to go to the bathroom.” We waited. He emerged from the bushes a few minutes later, looking pale. “Well, I guess I shouldn’t have eaten all that food.” “Did you puke?” Glenn asked. “Yep.” Aye. The rest of the climb went slowly. I found myself stopping in the shade whenever it presented itself to wait for the boys, who were reduced to pushing their bikes up the steep dirt road. The Cottonwood Valley expanded beneath us as we gained elevation. Their 1,000-yard stares clearly showed their state of exhaustion, but we continued pushing toward the top. Bunyan Velo 174

I didn’t know how to comfort them. I couldn’t tell them that we were almost there, because we weren’t. I couldn’t tell them that the temperatures were going to drop, because they weren’t. I couldn’t tell them that the second part of the route would be easier, because it wouldn’t be. I could only wait and watch them fight their own demons. Finally, at the top, we set our bikes down in a clearing in the woods. It had been a long day and we didn’t make it nearly as far as we needed to in order to finish the trip in five days. We were at our farthest point from Flagstaff. There was no easy way to put an end to the suffering. All we could do was pedal on in the morning.

I didn’t know how to break the news to the boys, so I didn’t.

“Yes, please!” He said, smothering it in peanut butter before eating it.

“We climb from here,” I told them.

“What happened to eating healthy while on tour,” I teased. He’d turned down my offer of cookies earlier in the trip on account of them being junk food.

The heat bore down on us, drying out any items of clothing that we’d submerged in the river before leaving. The scrubby trees provided no shade and the road turned from well graded and smooth to a rocky jumble. Glenn and I stopped under the shade of a small tree to wait for Lucas. “He’s struggling,” I observed.


“I guess that’s what happens when you’re fresh off a four-month hiatus from riding because of a broken wrist,” said Glenn.

Spirits were high as the sun came up.


“We’re going to be trending downward all morning,” I declared, looking at the GPS. We had several thousand feet to drop down to the Verde River. Unfortunately, we first had to climb a rocky, rubbly trail. That’s when the heckling started.

Lucas rolled up, slowly.

“Trending downward, huh?” they teased, “That’s almost as good as you telling us there’s a road in two miles, but then getting to the road and finding out we’re not taking it. And we no longer care how far places are as the crow flies. We’re going to put together a list of Eszter-isms when this trip is over!” I figured I deserved all the heckling that they tossed my way because I had, in fact, tried to use “trending downward” as a form of encouragement several times. We did eventually trend downward on some beautiful trail before following a series of power line roads to our final drop down to the river. The descent went on forever and we took turns stopping to take pictures of the others riding past with the backdrop of wide open mesas and the San Francisco Peaks outside of Flagstaff in the distance. We were having fun. We were going to make it. We soaked in the river, ate lunch, and enjoyed the afternoon. Unsure of what came next, I scrolled forward on the GPS. Williams, our next checkpoint was 4,000 feet above us.

“I’m just not in shape for this trip,” he said, defeated, dropping down next to us on the side of the road. “Whatever. You’ve made it this far, you’ll make it to the finish,” I said, trying to be encouraging. “Yeah, but this isn’t fun. This is just suffering.” We sat in silence. “We’ll take it as slow as we need,” Glenn declared. “If it takes us six days instead of five, that’s fine. There’s no need to suffer excessively.” We sat a while longer, knowing that we weren’t going to make it to Williams that night, which meant we could stop wherever we wanted to. Wits were gathered, motivators reenergized, and we continued up the climb. A mile before the top, we called it good and found an open field to call home for the night. We took a look at our food resources. We’d planned on making it to Williams to resupply in the late afternoon and food stores were running thin, especially for Glenn. “Want an Oreo?” I asked.

“Oh, whatever.” My influence was starting to take hold. I was proud. DAY 5: I CAN’T BELIEVE WE’RE GOING TO SURVIVE THIS We rode easily into Williams the next morning, knocking out a small dirt road climb and a long paved descent. A local pointed us to the Grand Canyon Cafe, and we piled up our bikes outside. Everyone ordered giant plates of food and everyone finished everything down to the last strand of hash browns. Now this is touring, we decided. I listened to Glenn tell the story of our trip to a pair of older gentlemen sitting next to us. The spark in his eye told me that he’d long forgotten the pain, suffering, and mental breakdowns. The amazing views, fun trail, and new experiences were taking over his memory banks. Looking at maps, we opted to take some flat, forest roads out of town instead of riding the Sycamore Canyon trails, which, while beautiful, had the reputation for being sub-optimal. Our breakfasts digested easily and we rolled along among the trees, enjoying the shade. “Now this is more my style of bikepacking,” Lucas said. “That’s funny. This isn’t at all what I think of when I think bikepacking,” I replied. I was left to wonder exactly what they were expecting when coming on this trip. I’d ridden in Sedona, I’d ridden in Flagstaff, but what would someone coming from Minnesota or Maine imagine when planning an Arizona bikepacking trip? What would I imagine if I went to one of their home states to ride? The afternoon went by leisurely, with a stop for ice cream sandwiches and Bunyan Velo 177

plenty of breaks by the side of the road. Our extra night out was spent nestled among the trees at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, just a handful of miles west of Flagstaff. After an easy day of riding, we enjoyed an evening not spent exhausted, sharing whatever treats we’d procured from Williams. On our fifth night out, we were getting into the groove and finally enjoying it. DAY 6: THE END The day dawned gray, cloudy. The forecast called for rain in the afternoon. Still, we were on a leisure tour and in no hurry, so we ate breakfast slowly, packed up our bikes, and headed out for the final 20 miles of our ride. We climbed a dirt road at our own paces, reflecting on the past five days. I had wanted to bail off of the trip just four days prior, ready to use any excuse to head back to Flagstaff. I’d gotten irritated at our slow pace, at the need to carry extra food because we weren’t going to make our resupply points when expected. I knew how fast I could have covered the distance by myself, and struggled to accept the fact that we were going half the speed. But I got inspired. I was inspired by the fact that no one ever mentioned quitting, that Lucas pushed through four months of recovery to finish a challenging 200+ mile route, that Glenn was able to ignore a broken thumb for 150 miles in order to complete a goal that he’d set. I realized that we all had our struggles throughout the trip: physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. We’d all adapted in order to make the trip happen. We’d all learned from each other. We’d all put together an adventure that none of us would forget for a long time. After riding down the Arizona Trail, which I had promised to be trending downward and free of rocks, and it was neither, we headed straight to the brewery where we’d started the trip six days earlier. We raised our glasses: To bikepacking. To new friends. To an adventure well done. BV

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ICELAND Written and photographed by Brett Davis and Joey Parent

THE BEGINNING—BRETT DAVIS “Hey, you okay?” asked Joey. I grunted affirmatively as I picked myself up out of the mud. I felt a twinge of pain in my left hamstring as I threw my left leg back over the bike. Oh no. Please don’t be injured. We just started. It was nearing midnight on day one of a grand fat bike adventure in Iceland. We had been on the go for nearly eight hours and I could feel fatigue creeping in. Less than a day earlier I was welcoming Joey to the Reykjavik campground and getting him settled in for some sleep after a very late arrival. We came to Iceland with the idea of venturing into the country’s interior on fat bikes. The spectacular and varied terrain possibilities, from massive lava fields to sandy glacial plains, made Iceland seem like a fat biker’s paradise. It was time to see. We left the capital of Reykjavik at 4:15 pm. Given that the sun never really sets in the Icelandic summer, we had nearly 24 hours of daylight to work with, so such a late departure did little to dampen our enthusiasm for the journey ahead. After using a system of paved bike paths to exit the city, we were soon picking our way along an obscure, blocky trail through moss-covered lava, devoid of significant plant life. We attentively picked lines through the moonscape and climbed steadily toward the volcanic peaks before us. We were so absorbed in the task at hand that we hardly noticed that a light rain was beginning to fall. Little did we know, rain would be our constant companion for the next two and a half weeks. Hours later we had left the lava field behind. Cold and soaked from the constant drizzle, we pushed our bikes up a steep, grassy hillside to what we hoped would be a trail leading to our day’s final destination. It was 9:30 pm and my stomach was beginning to rumble. Our GPS was correct—there was a trail. “It’s just over that ridge,” Joey said. A couple of ridges and two and half hours later, I was picking myself up out of the mud after the track I was riding collapsed under my weight. Gingerly testing my left hamstring, I began to pedal to where Joey was patiently waiting to descend. Our camp for the evening was just down the hill. The twinge in my hamstring lessened with each pedal stroke. My spirits began to rise as we descended toward what Joey had described as a river of hot water where we could soak away the weariness of the day’s riding. What a perfect remedy for an aggravated hamstring and an incredible first day of our trip! Bunyan Velo 184

A HOBBIT HOLE AND BLEAKNESS—JOEY PARENT I rolled over and looked around. It was light out. It wasn’t bright, more like an early dawn. Was it late at night or was it just cloudy and raining? I couldn’t tell. I rolled back over. It had been raining for days. The sun came out for a few hours as we rode up Kaldidalsvegur, an old trade route that runs along the western side of Langjökull, Iceland’s longest glacier. The sun was out just long enough to dry our gear and riding shoes, and we followed its rays toward Álftavatn Lake at the end of a long day’s ride. We saw it as we crossed the last stream: a green, grassy hill with a door on the side of it. This can’t be real. Not out here in the middle of nowhere. The mountain road we had taken to get there was a muddy, entrenched four-wheel drive track. It felt like we were closer to the Moon than any civilization. We leaned our bikes against the lush green walls of the shelter and opened the little wooden door. I ducked my head as I walked through a long entry way into a tiny room. Solid wooden timbers held up the cedar walls. The only light came through two small windows near the ceiling. It was completely empty inside except for a bench along the far wall and a shelf holding a guest book. Brett and I looked at each other. We are sleeping in a hobbit hole tonight. I woke up, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. The musty smell of wet cedar and sod was pungent. We had just spent our second night in the hobbit hole, drifting in and out of consciousness as a steady rain continued to fall outside of our dry confines. I looked down from my perch on the bench to see Brett moving around in his sleeping bag on the floor. “Yo, brotha!” he said. “What time is it?” I asked. “5:30 in the morning.” “Still raining?” “Yeah.” “We gotta move,” I said. “I can’t stay here another day.” I hoped we wouldn’t regret leaving our refuge as we pushed our bikes away from the shelter. I had no idea what was in store for us that day. Several of our maps didn’t even show a trail where we were attempting to go. Hours later we were riding through a rock-strewn landscape in a driving rain. It was slow going, even though the path was fairly easy to follow and there weren’t any major climbs. The roadbed was littered with loose rocks, and it wore on us—one hit after another. Everything was gray. It was almost as if the low-hanging rain clouds were fused into the rocky, gray landscape. It was cold and wet and we had to keep moving. Even stopping quickly for a snack left us shivering. We bounced along, trying to see past the low cloud cover. Every now and then we could catch a glimpse of the glacier through the grayness before it disappeared back into the mist just as quickly as it came. As we rode by, the occasional sheep would look up from its mossy encampment. They stared at us and almost seemed to ask, “What the hell are you doing out here?” By midafternoon we had finally made it to the infamous Kjölur Route. Its smooth, manicured gravel looked almost like pavement compared to what we’d been riding. We topped another hill and caught sight of a bright orange emergency hut standing in stark contrast to the grey vista. What a welcome respite from the bleakness around us. Bunyan Velo 189

SINGLE TRACK THIEVES—BRETT DAVIS What is that bright orb in the sky? Could it possibly be? Let me feel its warm rays on my face. Let me bask in its brightness. For the first time on our trip we awoke to blue skies and the sun shining down in all its brilliance. It was going to be a great day! Yesterday, after finding our way around the north side of Langjökull, we intersected and rode down the Kjölur Route—a well-travelled dirt road that spans Iceland’s interior. One of the goals of our trip was to stay off of such trafficked roads, so we opted for another route to make our way south, the Old Kjölur Route. This hiking trail gained its present day notoriety as the “Valley of Thieves” when the famous Icelandic outlaw Fjalla-Eyvindur and his wife took up residence along a portion of the route in the 18th century. Joey and I were going to become present day outlaws, stealing something for ourselves—some sweet single track that usually only sees hikers. After an early morning soak in the hot springs at Hveravellir, we were loaded and on our way. Spectacular views of Langjökull dominated our views as we dropped into the valley. The valley floor was lush, with plentiful grass for our ovine companions to graze on. Our trail slowly morphed into a series of deep, rutted tracks, some of which were too narrow and deep to pedal through. The deep tracks disappeared as we rode south, giving way to a massive lava field that had no discernible track through it. We resorted to picking our own lines through the tire-slicing lava, making our way from one giant cairn to another. Given that this was our first good weather of the trip, we took our time capturing the sights with our cameras at every breathtaking turn. We had the valley to ourselves. We encountered just two hikers at a hut located halfway down the route. Toward the end of the trail, as we neared the Hvítárnes Hut, we opted to see what our fat bikes could really do. Forgoing the trail through the tall grass around the hut, we rode along the sandy glacial deposits of the Fúlakvísl River as it flowed into Hvítárvatn Lake. Our bikes floated across the moraine, and after a couple of kilometers we found a suitable camp for the night. What a memorable day of riding, and not a drop of rain in sight. Wahoo!

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AN ARCTIC DESERT—JOEY PARENT I stopped at the top of a particularly steep climb. It was raining again, and hard. We were soaked to the bone. After raiding a campground’s free bin for some much-needed food and a short day of riding to a hot spring, we were now attempting to ride around the northern edge of Kerlingarfjöll, the Witch’s Mountains. Our route was unplanned. Originally, we wanted to head further south to resupply in one of the small towns, but we started to consider different options as we pored over maps each evening. The direct route south was much easier, but it would mean riding a great deal of pavement in addition to following a less-than-desirable power line track. Neither of us was particularly excited about having power lines buzzing overhead, so we opted for a remote 4x4 track that would push us even farther into the highlands. There would be no services for at least 100 miles and it would likely take us a few days to make it back to more populated roads. The route we chose consisted of a rocky dirt road that quickly gave way to black, sandy lava fields. Even our fat tires had a difficult time finding purchase in the loose soil. The hills grew larger and steeper while the wind and rain became heavier and stronger. It was shaping up to be a long day and I was already growing irritated by 11:00 am. I wasn’t sure if I could handle two more days of this. The cold was okay, but the unrelenting headwind was hard to deal with. It was taking us twice as long as expected to cover what should have been an easy morning warmup. After devouring a few energy bars and some cheese for lunch, we saddled up and continued riding. The weather seemed to be clearing. The wind began to die down as I sat forward on my saddle during yet another steep climb. The sun was out by the time we reached the top of our second climb of the afternoon, and white, puffy clouds were all around us. I looked back at the snow-capped Kerlingarfjöll Mountains and at Hofsjökull, the Temple Glacier. We were entirely surrounded by black, volcanic sand, and it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. We rode through the arctic desert all afternoon. Þjórsá (Bull River) Canyon appeared as the views of Kerlingarfjöll and Hofsjökull faded into the background. The riding was sandy, but well packed from the handful of 4x4 trucks that ventured into the area. At times the sand gave way to rock and shale, keeping our minds from wandering. The terrain became rockier and the stream crossings became more frequent as we gradually moved closer to the river. By evening, as the sun made its slow glance toward the horizon, we were crossing large tributaries of the Þjórsá. Mossy boulders replaced black sand. It was late and the two of us were tired from the day’s ride. We crested another hill and looked down into a small valley at the edge of a huge canyon where a drab looking building with a red roof was stationed. We rode up to the front of the building and I walked over to pull on the front door. It was locked. There was an outhouse in the back and a small sink with running water. There was another door on the side of the building. I pulled its handle as well, and it opened to reveal an empty stable. The surroundings were a little musty, but clean as far as stables go. This would be fine lodging for the night. Before long our steel horses were in the stable, our riding gear was hanging from the rafters, and our sleeping bags were spread out on dirt floor. We were dry, at least for this one night. BV Bunyan Velo 197

BIKE SHACK Written by Ben Weaver

String the boot print moon up in the window scrape some sand and twigs together and sit down this be my bike shack fold up a few onion skins stuff them under the door to keep out the draft I will light a fire. Sweep the beans off the counter into the grinder swear to the swift birds the river current them cold-outback stars. You know truth be in the ditch ice stovepipe pines, wondering snowflakes and brilliant revolts. Uncle Whistle Bones and Hawk Eye nephew toted a canvas bag stuffed with wolverine and dingo dreams back up to the cave then lit snag wood and Jewelweed into a pinnacle fire danced shadows onto the limestone walls perpetuated freedom, carved songs, outlaws, shantymen, gandy dancers. Last time, a lightning bolt from sister Chestnuts chimney blew a heart through the speckled dawn, left Gramma out in a rainstorm clutching porcupine quills and horse bones swearing to the garden lomb listen here she say, we better chase the shrieking jays out and don’t avoid your heart any longer nor violate your purpose here on earth it be a dark road fly down it with light hold tight, hold tight now you hear.

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And to you sweet single track dark wood worm, mighty aspen bridge if we cook, love, and build our adventures from the limitations of whatever is at hand the result will always be a surprise made of its own proportion. This be so in the shaky morning light this be so in the stone skipping dusk with legs all a burn in circles this be the way, this be our lost trail dog hearts of thicket, wondering a plenty the land is everlasting. River Bottoms Braided Creek Manitou Chequamegon Sawtooth Crosby Black Dog Shoot those gullies full of half-moons and steelhead tell the kids I went chasing stumps hunting mushrooms among mossy rocks riding the hills to let the wind be known winding back down the long way home fog and tea leaves, rose and cabbage only a few lost rovers will find it tell them, this be my bike shack stay long as they want can’t say when I’ll be back. BV

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Bunyan Velo: Travels on Two Wheels, Issue No. 05