Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo: Telling the True Story Through Photography

Do event photos tell the true story? Do they just remind us of a cool day on the bike that we can show off on social media? Or can they tell a different story, one we might not even know was taking place? Within the context of the Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo gravel cycling event, photographer Abe Landes wonders what role event photos play in telling the true story of the ride. Cyclist Brian Biggs has some thoughts…

It’s a black-and-white photograph, shot in wide-angle, of a mostly empty room, an event hall of some kind. Some tables are out, others are folded against the wall. Boxes of napkins and water bottles sit on a food-service cart. There are a few people in the picture, some in riding gear, some not. Other than the bike and the rider laid out on the linoleum floor, it’s not much to look at, really. Not much is going on.

Look closer. That bike. That rider. That guy sort of laughing, looking at the camera. There’s a story there. Something happened, and someone was there to take a picture of it.

That someone is Abe Landes.
The rider on the floor is me.
The something that happened is Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo, 2019.
And yes, there’s a story there.

There’s another photo of the same rider, at the same ride, taken eleven hours earlier, by the same photographer. This one is in color, the rider is still on the bike, and you can sense some anxiety, a little apprehension of what’s ahead. This photo looks more like the standard bike event photo we all know. We register for the event, we do the event. Then we search through hundreds of photos online to find the pictures of ourselves doing the event, to download and to post and to show off and remind ourselves of that thing we did, that fun we had, the cool day on the bike. We want proof that it happened, and we want it to tell a story.

So, what’s the story?

Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo is a bike ride through the hills and valleys and woods, but mostly hills, north of Pittston, PA. The name comes from the three counties the ride traverses: Luzerne, Lackawanna, and Wyoming. Hundo, of course, is one hundred, as in miles. The route more or less follows the path of the Susquehanna River, up to the town of Tunkhannock and back to Pittston. The river is always a presence, if not in sight then in mind, and always represents the possibility of a bail-out. For every right turn that goes straight up some hill, leading to more hills, there is likely a left turn that goes downhill, to the river, and an easy ride back to Pittston.

Lu Lacka, as it’s usually called, has been around since 2013. The event belongs to Pat Engleman, and the roads and paths it follows are the same ones he rode as a kid growing up in Pittston. In fact, it begins at the firehall where his uncle worked as a firefighter, it goes through single track where he learned to ride a mountain bike, and it even takes riders past the house he grew up in, where his mom still lives. It’s one of the grandaddies of gravel rides. There are newer, shinier events, with chonkier roads, bigger parties, more “stoke,” whatever that is. If bike events were riders, Lu Lacka is not the cool kid that shows up in the flashy kit and fancy bike, talking loudly, and showing off. Lu Lacka is the grizzled veteran in a faded black t-shirt with a steel-framed bike, smoking a cigarette and staring back at you.

In 2013, the year of the first Lu Lacka, I was a weekend mountain biker and had just discovered singlespeeds. Bikes were therapy, and raising two young teenagers, I was needing a lot of therapy. I was looking for something more, but I didn’t know what that was until I heard about a singlespeed cyclocross world championships race nearby, at Belmont Plateau here in Philly. Up on a hill in a snowstorm, I spent that day at SSCXWC13PHL, where I watched full-grown adults in costumes, on drop-bar bikes with beers in their hands, race through mud and snow. Immediately, I knew, and without a doubt, that I had found what I was looking for.

Over the next year, I went down a rabbit hole. I built up a seafoam green Surly Cross Check as a singlespeed cross/gravel bike and rode that bike everywhere. I entered a cyclocross race and finished last. And then I entered another one. More importantly, I started googling. I found photos of rides and riders up in the mountains and off in the woods, and I imagined myself doing whatever those people were doing, feeling what they were feeling. I had a folder of these inspiring pictures, dragged off the internet, and I started noticing that my favorites, the ones I kept going back to, had a watermark at the bottom right that read AE Landes Photography.

Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo

Abe Landes has been photographing bikes and bike riders since 2008 when he was shooting the Penn State Cycling Club. He had some photos published in Dirt Rag Magazine, which led to shooting the Transylvania Epic, which led him to that snowy day on Belmont Plateau at SSCXWC13PHL.

Abe’s pictures from that December day in 2013 became the memories that I carried around in my own head of that race, as I dreamed about cyclocross and gravel riding. His photos represented what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to be, on my bike. The best event photos don’t just show a rider smiling at the camera. They capture something essential about whatever that rider is experiencing at that moment: the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the mud, the blood, and the gritted-teeth grin. Sure, in the end, the purpose is to sell a photo, to give the rider a thing to download and post on social media to show that they were there, to hang on the wall to remind themselves of the day. But the best versions can define the day, and can actually change the way the rider remembers whatever was happening. The best event photos tell a story.

Abe spent 2014 photographing more races and rides, and I spent that year downloading the pictures he took. In August, I rode my first century, and I was feeling ambitious. I’d heard about this thing called Lu Lacka, and I signed up. Pat Engleman had also seen Abe’s photos from SSCXWC13PHL, as well as other races and rides, and asked him to shoot Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo. So in 2015, that’s where our paths finally crossed.

Sort of.

There are only two photos with me in them from that Lu Lacka. In both, I’m behind the actual subject of the photo, and in both, I’m out of focus. But I didn’t care. Here was an event photo with Abe’s watermark on it, that he took, with me in it. Here was proof that I had suffered and smiled and had done the thing.

Four years later, by the start of the 2019 version of Lu Lacka, I’d ridden several more centuries, more gravel events, more races, more rides. I had a folder of photos of myself taken by Abe – from Iron Cross, from Sly Fox CX, from other Lu Lackas. I’m smiling and waving at times, or maybe I’m having a rough day. Many of the pictures are straightforward event photos, where I saw Abe ahead on the side of the road, shooting rider after rider, and I theatrically gritted my teeth, or made a goofy face. In others, Abe found an angle, a way to shoot the photo that tells a story, that tells me something about that moment that I might not even have noticed at the time; the way the light was hitting the road on that hill I’d just climbed.

As we rolled out at the start in 2019, Abe took that photo of my excitement and apprehension. No one really knew what the story would be that day. At 9:00am it was 35º and raining. The rain froze and turned to sleet. It snowed at times, it rained again, and by the halfway point, 272 of the 300 riders had called it quits, waited for rides, or took those bail-out turns, down to the river, back to Pittston. Abe was out there in that epic weather, shooting epic photos of other riders having their own epic rides. But I was making my way on my singlespeed, alone, and I was in a dark place. By the time I arrived wherever Abe had been, he was long gone. I rode that Lu Lacka solo, and of the 28 of us who completed the ride that day, I was DFL. Which is fine with me. I’m certain that had I seen Abe that day I would have smiled and waved, or grimaced theatrically, and while that would have made a nice event photo, that would not have told the real story of what happened out there.

The black and white wide-angle photo of a bike and a rider, lying on the floor of a mostly-empty firehall – that’s the one that tells the true story.


A lot has changed since 2019. Abe has changed. His watermark now says Firespire Photography. He’s shot hundreds of these events and spent a lot of time giving riders what they want and expect from an event photo. Last October, a cyclist that Abe and many others knew from her activism, Andrea Gonzalez, was killed by a car while riding her bike in New Jersey. Andrea’s death led Abe to think a lot about riding, and life, and taking pictures, and wondering about what he wants out of these photos. As an event photographer, what role does he play? Is he there merely to remind riders of their cool day? Or can his pictures actually tell a story, and affect the way a ride is perceived?

Abe’s photos that accompany this piece were taken last month, at the 2024 Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo, with this in mind. He brought along a second photographer to get the expected event photos. This gave Abe the freedom to move around, literally and creatively. He wanted to capture something different, something the riders might not be expecting, might not exactly remember, but that still tells their story.

Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo Final Thoughts

I’ve changed too. My teenagers are now adults, out in the world, and I find that I don’t need whatever it was I needed five and ten years ago. That ride in 2019 changed me. As I was lying on the floor in the Firehall, as Abe was taking that picture, I promised Pat I would never ride his dumb ride again. He laughed and called bullshit, but so far I’ve held onto my promise. The 2020 ride was canceled because of Covid, but in 2021 and since, I volunteer the day of the ride, either working at an aid station or driving the course. I get a lot out of using my experience on the route and ride, and helping others get their Lu Lacka, to get through whatever it is they’re trying to get through.

But I also go out the day before the ride, and I ride. In 2022 I did the entire route solo on my road bike. In 2023, I dragged my buddy Kris with me and we had a 75-mile adventure. This year, we brought Abe with us. I was amazed when Abe told me that while he’d photographed Lu Lacka seven times, he’d never ridden a single mile of the route. Our ambition was to ride the full hundo and we felt ready. But when the wind and rain began after mile 40, and we were looking up at the next hill, we all agreed to turn left, ride down to the river, and get back to Pittston.

We’ve changed, but Lu Lacka is still standing there, faded black t-shirt and cigarette, staring back at us. Our story that day ended differently than we expected. At least we got some good photos.