Rocks slid from above, along a loose slope, showering the dirt road in front of me with a fresh layer. While treacherous in the rain, the locals warned that even an early afternoon breeze was enough to turn this road into a nightmare of falling debris. “Keep your ears and eyes open at all times,” a man in the nearby town of Huambo said as he made a motion imitating someone frantically pedaling a bike as fast as they could spin their legs.
Borgarfjörður eystri is unrecognizable from the Iceland I know. I have this mental image of Iceland: a black canvas of volcanic rock with broad strokes of green Icelandic moss. Yet, as we pedal into Borgarfjörður eystri, these expansive black and green landscapes yield to something entirely different. The color gold reigns king.
For the young men of post-war Britain, the train from London King’s Cross to Aberdeen was not unfamiliar. Hundreds of conscripts were required to board the carriages as part of their National Service. The train would pull away from the platform on a Friday night and arrive at the Scottish coastal city by Saturday mid-morning. Iconic red Routemaster buses exchanged for grey-stone buildings and seagulls. There was the novelty of a Highlands map, marked with unknown Gaelic quantities: Glens, Munros, and Gorms, and excitement for rural air, combined with blissful ignorance of the military enforced misery that lay ahead. Or so the old man told us.
My friend Sinuhe Xavier and I have always been “out of context” friends. By that, I mean that we’ve only hung out at coffee shops or lunch spots until a few weeks ago. The contextual slip is that we’re both known for our photographic work in the backcountry. He’s well known in the moto and auto world as always doing shoots deep in remote areas of the American West, and I, too, love those “big country” vistas but with cycling.
When my plans for Sea Otter were shaping up, I dropped him a note, asking if he would be anywhere on the Colorado Plateau in the coming weeks. We hashed out a plan and sent each other options for a campsite meet-up. Precious GPS coordinates were shared, and we settled on a date. The road to Sea Otter had begun…
International bikepacking duo Tristen Bogaard and Belén Castelló have a special talent for looking at destinations through the lens of bikepackers. On their exploration of the Balearic Islands they sniffed out hidden gems and immersed themselves in the local culture, history, and landscape of the islands to ‘bikepackify’ them for future explorers.
The ocean felt like bathwater. A welcome reprieve from the usual cringe-producing ice bath of the West Coast of BC. I eased my way in step by step, the water picking away at the grime and sweat of a full day, mid-summer ride. Alycia strode into the water with confidence, and purpose, more at ease around water than I am. I’m always worried about hurting my feet. We climbed onto the trunk of a huge old-growth tree just out of the water, a relic of the island’s history. I could see a white motorboat in the distance, drifting lazily. I tilted my head to see if I could hear the inevitable music, cheering and the yells that I imagine would be happening on a party boat. I hear nothing, only silence and the lapping of the water on the beach.
I love being alone all day, deep in remote and wild areas, reliant only on myself to move through the landscape, over difficult terrain, and in bad weather. I enjoy utilizing the various ultralight backcountry travel skills I’ve gleaned since my early twenties. And I feel immense joy when I can be efficient and accomplish goals. I’m also really afraid of the dark. Not so much of wild animals, but rather of wild weirdos who wander the woods and kill innocent middle-aged women. I know. Super unlikely. But I never sleep much at night while on solo adventures.
Mostly I have backpacked alone or solo aid climbed big walls. But I stopped climbing after a gnarly accident where a friend fell 100 feet and nearly died. I also quit backpacking because the annoying arthritic autoimmune disease I suffer from incapacitates me if I hike more than a few miles with weight on my back. Luckily a few years ago I discovered the horizontal world of multi-sport adventure travel.
With ancient podocarp forest blanketing the trail beneath me, I stand, perched on the escarpment about halfway through the Paparoa Trail. The mountain wind forces tears from my eyes and between the momentary breaks in the cloud, I catch a glimpse into the deep channels of Pike River valley, which once held the Pike River Mine.
When you think of volcanic landscapes, is your mind is drawn to the barren, rocky, and dark moonscapes of Iceland, Hawaii or Lanzarote? Well, in the volcanic regions of Central France, a different kind of geology awaits.
Ahead of me, the Arizona Trail snaked into the forest, disappearing behind the shadow of ponderosa pines, and re-emerging in a stretch of marsh lit by a sliver of moon. I dismounted my bike and plunged off a muddy bank onto a log submerged in stagnant water. After seven scorching days racing through southern Arizona, this riparian zone on the rugged southeast flank of the Colorado Plateau offered a reprieve from the harsh Sonoran desert, but without the constant pricks and jolts from agave, cholla, and cat’s claw to center on, my mind wandered where I didn’t want it to go.
It was November 2nd, or maybe 3rd, depending on whether or not the clock had struck midnight yet. I didn’t care. This time last year, I was deep in the relentless clutches of psychosis, and moving my body outside, no matter the time of day, made wrangling with grief and humiliation easier.
Across the road from a sprawling old corral with a dozen or more cattle pens constructed from creosote-laden boards and discarded railroad ties stood a small stone monument. It commemorated an earthen dam, behind which was a very small but empty reservoir at the foot of a butte called Coyote Peak.
“If it were not for strongmen like Bob Crowder,” the metal plaque read, “with the fortitude and ambition to develop water in these vast desert areas, there would be no game and no livestock today.”
Is bikepacking in Iceland fun on a gravel bike? That’s the one question on my mind as the plane touches down for my 5th visit to the country. With “make do with what you have” as our mantra, my two friends, Daylen, Quinton and I wanted to see if the gravel bikes we already own would be up for the challenge. I found several fat bike trip reports but very few gravel bike trip reports online, so I pour over maps, make some educated guesses, and trust I’ll figure it out as the rubber hits the road.
In October of 2021, I pulled my truck into Patagonia, Arizona for the very first time. I had no real agenda (other than ride bikes, take photos, and sample the local draft list), and no inkling how important this place would soon become in my story. Spotting the liveliest-looking spot in the 1-horse town center, I walked over and was promptly greeted by Heidi Rentz Ault – “Are you here for the Grand Opening?” She was talking about Patagonia Lumber Company, the new bar, music venue, and coffee house cooked up by her and her husband Zander Ault. The doors were due to open for the first time in 1 minute, and by pure luck I became customer number 1. The kind folks at the bar then pulled me an IPA from nearby Tombstone, Arizona.
Enduro World Series racer turned YouTuber Scotty Laughland has traveled the world mountain biking, from British Columbia to Jamaica, but world events in recent years kept him closer to home than anticipated.
Born out of a fresh perspective on his local trails after the birth of his first child, Scotty set about sharing the gems he’s enjoyed over the years – as well as some thoughts on sustainable mountain biking development, the role of trail associations and how we can support these valuable networks.
Jorge’s high-pitched voice turned serious, still a few octaves higher than you’d expect: “You must have a plan. In life, in travel, in everything! Always, have a plan and always stick to the plan.” My brother, Quinn, and I looked at each other… “Wellll ya, we kind of have a plan.” We continued to bump along the dark streets toward the center of Guatemala City, looking at the empty streets go by through the window. I think we were both starting to wonder if maybe our “plan” was a bad one. Each city zone we passed through Jorge told us to be careful, explaining the dangers of Guatemala City, and warning us to be home before dark. “Two gringos locos, people know,” said Jorge, not so subtly alluding to the fact we stuck out like sore thumbs.
When we arrived at our Airbnb Jorge jumped out of the car and rang the bell of the security door. The guard buzzed him in, and we followed. The guard was young. On his desk, there was a revolver that looked as big as his hand. I wondered if he’d ever even shot it. In some ways, I hoped that he hadn’t. It was around 11:00 pm and, after a day of travel, we could feel the day catching up to us. We thanked Jorge for the ride and turned into the elevator. A few beers on the small terraces sounded good to both of us, but listening to Jorge’s persistent advice against going out past dark we decided to skip the nightcaps and go to bed. The next day we woke up to the streets below our rooms busier than the night before and the memory of Jorge’s warnings faded a bit. With no food in the house, we planned to walk to the market for some groceries and then decided we’d start to track down the key to our trip – bikes.
I didn’t spend a lot of time planning this trip. I had tickets to Wyoming, a borrowed rental car, a new Soma Grand Randonneur (checks spelling of randonneur) with clearance for knobs, and a friend with a break during architecture school. “What route are you thinking?” Asked Will.
“Still working on that.”
This isn’t my first hastily planned tour. I pulled up RideWithGPS and found the Around The Rock Route close to where we were planning to stay for a few days. The route was developed by the friendly folks at Fitzgerald’s Bicycles, and it circumnavigates the Teton Mountain Range. The route is roughly 150 miles and is equal parts gravel road and pavement. The Fitzgerald team hosts a group ride along the route during the summer solstice, but Will and I opted to break the route into three days (to keep it gravel casual).
Southern Arizona has become a destination for many cyclists over the years but it’s long been a refuge for snowbirds with the nation’s largest rock and mineral show, the Gem Show, hitting Tucson in February and bringing in over 50,000 registered buyers annually. While Tucson is bursting at the seams with RVs, campers, and retirees in February, Sarah Swallow resides about sixty miles south of the city at the Appleton Whittell Research Ranch – an Audubon property nestled just outside the quiet little town of Elgin – planning each year’s Ruta del Jefe event…
After a few easy days back in Arequipa, I was excited to hit the road again. Maybe not so excited for the long and familiar climb out of the traffic of the city, but it was between me and the Valle del Colca, so I tried to keep my eyes on the prize…