Blow up a balloon, it’s full. Shiny even. More than anything, the balloon reveals your reflection in her taught, shiny facade. You look past the balloon; the balloon reveals your likeness.
The pandemic has us in the throes of deep wanderlust. While travel has been momentarily halted, stories such as this get our minds whirling into a spiral of possibilities. Paulo LaBerge and Heather Plewes toured throughout Tanzania and Eastern Africa, penning a journal of sorts for Esker Cycles, filled with short stories. Today, we’re sharing those tales…
On November 1st, 2018 I rolled out to cover 1200 miles of the old Butterfield Overland Mail Route from San Francisco to Tucson, AZ. For almost a year prior the headlines had been dominated by news of things happening along America’s southern border. Child Separations. Immigration Caravans. National Guard deployments. On social media channels the rhetoric from all sides, which had already been getting increasingly strident, ramped up to a fever pitch. Normal conversations spiraled completely out of control. I found myself caught up in it all, furious at family members, friends, and strangers alike.
This Reportage took place a year prior to the pandemic… please be considerate and avoid traveling to small towns during the pandemic.
Some trips stay with you more than others, and this trip is one of those. Nebraska isn’t often touted (read: never) as a cycling destination, but the truly unique and varied geography we encountered offered some of the most quality riding I’ve had the opportunity to experience. The state’s remoteness—a combination of the incredibly low population density and vast, often exposed, landscapes—was initially a concern but in actuality lent a heightened sense of adventure to our days. This is also still the longest tour I’ve taken and being able to fully settle into the rhythm of passing the days—sun up to sun down—on the bike for a week straight was a pretty intoxicating experience.
You know how a hashtag can fuck you? Well maybe not, but a few years ago my good friend Nic and I had this idea … we’d always been intrigued by the pans – or mud flats – of the Northern Cape here in South Africa. At the time we were really getting into riding fixed gear bikes and one day it hit us – let’s take our fixed gear bikes onto the pan! Why not? Surreal landscapes, super smooth surfaces good enough for world speed records! Sounds like a good adventure right? We did some research and found out that that year there was a South African Speedweek planned in September 2014 on the Hakskeenpan, coinciding with the launch of a planned rocket-propelled car land speed record attempt – the Bloodhound SSC. We decided to travel up in Nic’s old 1963 Porsche 356 – it seemed appropriate. Bikes on the roof, gear in the back.
It was the speed at which it happened that shocked me the most. One minute Tomas and I were laughing hysterically as I tumbled into the snow for the umpteenth time, the next I was genuinely scared my buddy was about to collapse into some awful hypothermic coma. It was terrifying.
You ever cross someone’s path and roll away feeling like they changed something in you forever, simply by existing as they are? I am Katie Sox, a freelance visual media maker, a professional massage therapist, and proponent of platonic love. I ride bikes, see people beyond their costumes, own my awkwardness and giggle a whole bunch, too. I grew up racing BMX and doing ballet then got into mountain biking in my early 20’s. For me, the privilege to ride is of the utmost value.
Reasons to go on a bike trip have different origins; this one, in particular, originated when I saw a photo of several rock pillars lined together and I wanted to see them in person. Located in the heart of the Guarijío/Makurawe Native’s land in the southeast of my home state Sonora, “Los Pilares de San Bernardo” have witnessed the centuries that the Guarijío have made of this place their home, and in the last decade, the construction of a controversial megaproject by the federal government. Promoted with the idea of building a dam to prevent floodings further down the Mayo Valley and provide the local communities with water all year long, this project was given a fast forward before being fully evaluated and is also splattered with shady agreements between the government, big agricultural and mining companies and “local authorities” that some of the Guarijío don’t recognize as such.
The profound scale of geologic formations is a driving force in what brings people to the Western United States. It’s why Utah’s landscapes played a crucial role in the visual catalog of mountain biking in the 90s. Moab, Sedona, and other desert cities have become destinations for two-wheeled adrenaline junkies due to their proximity of technical riding and vast landscapes. Iconic Navajo Sandstone ripples through these towns and within it lie a myriad of mountain bike trails.
Typically, I’ll spend my winter riding in these landscapes but due to the pandemic, we’ve put our desert ramblings on hold until it’s safe to travel. Periodically, I pause and wonder had Covid-19 not gripped the world as it did, I might not have spent so much time looking local in 2020 and from the way things are projected, well into 2021.
I think I speak for my riding buddies – who are die-hard Canyon Country visitors – that we’ve got it pretty good in New Mexico. While the backdrops aren’t filled with arches and endless sandstone formations, there’s plenty to keep your senses sated. If you know where to look.
One such zone that I’ve come to love is the White Ridge Mountain Bike Trails, just southwest of San Ysidro and 70 miles from Santa Fe…
Note: This story took place before the pandemic
The wheels hadn’t even touched the runway on our flight from Kyrgyzstan to Nepal and I already knew we were in for something completely different than the summer and fall we spent in the quiet and remote regions of Central Asia. As we began our descent, I could see the rolling hills that separate the lowlands from the high Himalayan mountains. This area, known as the “mid-hills”, was where we’d spend the bulk of our first couple of weeks in Nepal.
From the air, I watched an endless sea of zig-zagging roads, villages, and terraced hillsides that stretched as far as the eye could see. This tangled web of life came to a dramatic crescendo of tightly-packed buildings and chaos as Kathmandu finally came into view. These were certainly not going to be the untouched and sparsely populated valleys you might find while roaming the countryside in Kyrgyzstan, but change is a good thing. Being thrust into new and sometimes even uncomfortable situations is what makes bike touring so rewarding.
The last time I lived somewhere that got consistent snow was New York City in the early 2000s and that ain’t exactly the kind of snow you want to go playing around in on your bike. It should come as no surprise that moving to Santa Fe has taken some adjustment over the past year – pandemic aside – having four real seasons once again meant I had to evaluate my cold-weather gear and look into getting a fatbike under me for the proper powder days.
January is the hardest month of the year. The annual hangover from the holidays is in full swing, most New Year’s resolutions already have been broken, and winter has yet to abate. It is because of this that it’s important to embrace moments of opportunity and spontaneity and burn off some pent up energy. So when your riding buddy drops you a text asking if you want to do an overnighter, despite an impending winter storm, you obviously say ‘Yes’.
We would like to add an introductory note to this project. Covid 19 has impacted small towns and indigenous communities at disproportionate rates, so please don’t travel to do this ride – or any rides outside of your locales – until the pandemic subsides. This will give you plenty of time to plan for an epic and safe ride along the Camino del Diablo…
Fire up Google Earth, and look for a route across the Sonoran desert. Although it’s one of the most immigrated routes along the United States Mexico border, there isn’t anything there that would suggest it’s passable. It’s a massive empty, unknown expanse on the otherwise populated map. It is Shared Territory…
First things first, close your eyes and take 5 seconds to visualize what comes to mind when you think of Catalina Island… What do you see?
Álamos is a town in the southeast of the Mexican state of Sonora popular for its colonial architecture and for hosting an annual art and music festival and is also part of the network of “Pueblos Mágicos” in the country. After taking the long way from the nearest city which took me and my friend Javo five days instead of the 65 km on the main road, we arrived looking for the commodities of a town with full services. As we ride on the cobbled streets and alleys that give this town part of its essence, the fresh memories from the days that brought us here are slowly replaced by the blurry, drunken memories from my college days coming to the biggest music festival in the state. I recognize porches where I slept or found my friends sleeping, and the house where an old man invited me for a morning sip of lechuguilla, a distilled liquor made from a local species of agave, which he was drinking from a repurposed coca-cola bottle.
We liked this project so much we didn’t think it belonged in 2020. Seriously though, sometimes things are just out of your control and sometimes the things that are in your control take a back seat to other things in your control and those things take a back seat to the out of control things. And well, sometimes you just forget to hit send. That being said I am so happy to be sharing this project here on the Radavist because it’s where it all started. I wrote a little piece about how cool the Enduro Trophy of Nations would be–it was–and how excited I would be to be able to go race it–I did–so this is the story of that adventure.
(Note: This story took place before the pandemic)
Following our ride along the Tajik/Afghan border, Chrissa and I paused for a few days in Tajikistan’s capital city of Dushanbe to soak up the local culture and stock up at the grand bazaar. Even in the biggest city in the country, the outgoing personality of the Tajik people comes through. Where in a typical city of this size the locals would mostly keep to themselves, here it was very common for people to stop and chat with us on the street, asking what brought us to their country and giving us tips about places to visit in the city.
When I organize a ride you should know what to expect: 8-10 mile an hour pace, lots of breaks to session cool features, take pictures, and definitely eat a lot of snacks. I aspire for all my rides to basically be glorified picnics.