It’s easy to let the 24-hour news cycle negatively color your perspective on the goings-on in the United States’ capital. But, as a Washington, D.C. resident, Andy Karr has gotten a bit tired of the doom-and-gloom rhetoric, and Hollywood’s skewed portrayals of the city he calls home. As a way to open his own aperture, Andy spent the last two summers intentionally documenting the district’s thriving cycling community. As we roll into what will surely be a chaotic election year, take a moment to pause and consider the other side of D.C. in Andy’s wonderful gallery…
The Huracan 300 ain’t no trip to Disney World. Born from over 15 years of local land protection advocacy and route development, this 370+ mile bikepacking event showcases the finest, and sometimes forgotten, backcountry of central Florida. After making the voyage to the start line four times, Andy Karr writes about the routes’ rugged appeal and how it came to be.
Andy Karr takes us to Hush Money Bikes‘ Fall Fuckaround ride in Lancaster, PA. Amish Buggies, underbiking, and an open-heart surgery all coalesce to form the story of this event. Make sure to listen to the adjoining episode of Big Dumb Ride for more from the event’s organizer Nathan Baker.
When I first started gathering the necessary gear to give bike touring (or “bikepacking” in the parlance of our times) a go, the concept struck me as an opportunity to escape from the predictable, mundane, “rinse-and-repeat” order of everyday life. An opportunity to embrace a new kind of freedom of aimless wandering through paths and tracks out in the near-endless natural landscape. After a couple of trips, though, I found the reality of touring isn’t the carefree meander I had envisioned. It can involve weeks or months of planning, trail markers, GPS tracks, resupply points… Which is not to say that escaping on a multi-day trip isn’t freeing, it is – very much so – but maybe not in the conventional sense of the word. I think author Robert Moor says it best in his written exploration of travel, On Trails:
“But complete freedom, it turned out, is not what the trail offers. Quite the opposite – a trail is a tactful reduction of options. The freedom of the trail is riverine, not oceanic. To put it as simply as possible, a path is a way of making sense of the world. There are infinite ways to cross a landscape; but the options are overwhelming, and pitfalls abound. The function of the path is to reduce this teeming chaos into an intelligible line.”
“It’s the best” must be one of the most common, purely subjective statements made so regularly with enthusiastic conviction. We do it all the time, but it’s ludicrous. You have to define a word like “best” in your own terms. It’s a value statement. Saying something is the best only tells you a little bit about the thing in question, but a lot about the person saying it and what they value. What’s the best gear ratio for a single-speed 29er? What’s the best tire choice for a course that’s littered with mud pits, rooty singletrack, and rock gardens, but is also interspersed with long, hot, 15 miles stretches of pavement? Do you like to mash or spin? Are you a confident bike handler and want to make the long road stretches easier? Are you strong-legged and get annoyed at spinning out on the flats?
So what am I really saying when I write that the MountainCat 100 is the best bike race in America?
I have written, deleted, and rewritten this article several times now. There was the version that leaned in hard to trying to be funny, the version that tried too hard to be philosophical and deep, the version that was a cut-and-dry, day-by-day account of the trip, and finally this one: some words written less about the trip itself and more about why I am so thankful we approached it the way that we did.
Read on for Andy Karr‘s full re-telling of a recent bike tour from Santa Fe to Las Cruces, New Mexico…
The Mid-Atlantic has a great ‘cross scene. Most races tend to have crowds of spectators, full fields, interesting and varied courses, and—thanks to the highly variable mid-Atlantic climate, weather that spans from the hot and dusty to absurdly muddy in any given season. There is a lot to love in the Mid-Atlantic if you like cyclocross and Andy Karr is here to tell you why.
I like to shoot the first frame on a roll of film no matter how carefully I load the roll I always end up getting something kinda strange and wonderful out of that first exposure – an effect yielded by the film’s interaction with light coming from two separate moments in time and space – the exposure of the film through the camera’s shutter, but also the light leaked onto the frame during the loading of the roll. One of my favorite photos ever is of my 17-year-old beagle/spaniel mix, Bucky, where he looks like he’s peeking out from behind a cascading sheet of liquid sun. The first exposure on this roll is of my friend, podcast co-host, and riding partner, Sarah rifling through overstuffed bikepacking bags outside of a country store in Damascus, Virginia about 15 miles into our 550-mile bikepacking trip through the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. The image of her trying to squeeze a snack bar into a nonexistent empty space in the top tube bag is itself neatly constrained into the 2/3rds of the frame not devoured by light exposure obtained while the roll was being loaded.