Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean south of California, west of Mexico, the Baja Peninsula encompasses four deserts, roughly 3,000 kilometers of coastline, and the right mix of challenge and remoteness to attract intrepid travelers of all kinds. For those of the bikepacking variety, a relatively new route has quickly become a must-ride: the 2,692-kilometer Baja Divide. Those with schedules to keep may take on the Divide in sections, riding for a week or two before hopping on a bus back to where they started. And then there’s Sònia Colomo.
The 1st of July marks the start date for the most awaited cycling event of the year. Tens of cyclists from different origins gather to dedicate the next weeks of their lives to riding a different route every day, with a rest day every week. Those who manage to finish the route will have over 4000 kilometers under their legs. We’re not talking about the Tour de France here, this is La Ruta Chichimeca!
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.”
I first met Janessa (15), Jodessa (13) and Jaron Segay (20) November 2020 in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Wanting to support Dzil Ta’ah Adventures owners, Jon Yazzie and Nadine Johnson, and their Navajo Youth Bikepacking Program, we invited these first three participants on a Four Corners Guides bikerafting course to cap off their season of learning to bikepack.
The kids didn’t talk much, and Jaron busied himself setting up camp for all of them or otherwise prepping their bikes and gear. The girls rode on borrowed bikes until dark night one, and fished for catfish with beef jerky night two. And when we first set out on Lake Powell, the three of them giggled and spun their rafts in circles for the first few miles before settling into a paddling rhythm. Since that trip, I’ve watched the kids blossom into full-fledged competitive mountain bikers. Based on their hard work, ability to take care of their own gear and confidence riding bikes, they’ve been chosen to participate in various bike- or adventure-related programs. I recently chatted with Janessa, Jaron and their mom, Jessica, to talk about how the Youth Bikepacking Program has changed their lives.
I was just starting to get into the flow of life in Colombia. Waking up in the morning in a small village to seek out whichever local bakery had the most people flowing in and out to grab breakfast. Hitting the road while the air was still cool.
The evening before, I had rolled into the tiny old town of Toche to a chorus of agitated dogs looking to announce my arrival. Back 10+ years ago this town used to be a particularly dangerous place due to its remote location making it attractive to folks trying to avoid the law, but these days it’s mostly just home to a small number of Llaneros (cowboys) and their animals.
Early the next morning, I rode through the town’s totally empty streets. I stopped to take a photo as a friendly pup that I’d seen the evening before came running up toward me with a lot of excitement in its step, though she never came too close. Just watching what I was doing from a safe distance.
After a stop in the shop, I pedaled my way up the start of the day’s long and steep climb to “Alto de La Línea”. This was a stretch of road I’d been looking forward to for a very long time.
My Garmin reads 113 degrees. With smoke blowing into Idaho from the seemingly continuous California fires, the air quality index is almost double the temperature. A brown haze obscures the landscape. Soot mixes with dust and sweat forming a dry crust on my face. In the dirt, on either side of me, lay my two companions—my younger brother and my hardtail mountain bike, fully loaded with camping gear. Forty miles into a four hundred-mile unsupported mountain biking trip through the Idaho backcountry, we take reprieve in a sliver of shade.
“Classic Mike Dillon trip,” my brother mutters, his voice thick with melted trail mix. Mike Dillon is our dad. Mike Dillon died eight months ago.
For almost an entire calendar year, I watched as the business I worked for tracked record profits, month after month, while I toiled away at the kitchen table of my studio apartment amidst the onset of a global pandemic.
Outlook pings governed my daily life; recurring meetings and phone calls structured my weekdays ‘to-the-hour.’ Most interactions were conducted in real-time Brady Bunch video cubes. With a cell phone and 13-inch computer screen acting as bridges to all of humanity, I was overwhelmingly connected, yet incredibly distant at the same time.
I questioned my own existence and sense of purpose. I felt both disposable and in-demand; exhausted, but left with a permeating fear of upsetting an operational chain. My manager had quit without replacement and I floated along an aimless trajectory, making up additional job responsibilities as I went. With so much unpredictability, I struggled to do real, meaningful “work.” Feeling a constant pressure to compose emails and tap away at computer keys, home life seamlessly meshed into work life. I grew tired and weary and craving fulfillment. So I quit.
After almost 6 years on the road, maybe I let my guard down just a little bit too much. Maybe I’d grown too comfortable mapping out routes in any direction my heart desired and hitting the road without much concern for my safety beyond steering clear of roads with lots of traffic. I’d take notes from locals on places to avoid, wouldn’t ride at night, and I always considered myself careful, but 6 years is a long time, so there’s no doubt that I slipped just a little.
Fail 11 is the latest installment in Ryan Le Garrec’s multimedia “Fail” series. Check out the related articles below for more of Ryan’s work.
Heading Southwest is a new bikepacking race in Portugal. It crosses the country with a set route of 1000 km and 15,000 meters of elevation gain. The route was designed to show the diversity of the country far from the clichés of coastal tourism and bigger towns. It showcases the country in a way only a local long-distance cyclist could provide. I have toured this beautiful place I call home for a while now, never have I had so much fun (and pain yeah) on the roads of this country. Massive thanks to David Cruz at finisterra.cc
When I first met Erick Cedeño (aka Bicycle Nomad) I had no inkling that a day we spent together shooting lifestyle photos as part of his new role as an ambassador for the outdoor apparel company swrve would blossom into a deep friendship. Nor did I realize at the time that our friendship would take me halfway across the country to help document his ride to honor the 125th anniversary of the monumental expedition of the volunteer Bicycle Corps of the Buffalo Soldiers who rode from Missoula, MT to St. Louis, MO.
It was in the back of my mind for about a year. Take a bicycle, load it up with camping gear and a surfboard, and tour every coastline around the world looking for waves. I figured it would be a trip of a lifetime. Get in shape, surf incredible waves, take photographs and pursue a dream I thought about every night before I went to sleep.
However, I had a problem. I knew nothing about bicycles. So I needed a warm-up trip. A trip to test my knowledge and see if I really wanted to pursue this idea.
Nils and Jochen of Dirty Dropbars have designed what is likely the first documented multi-day off-road cycling route in Flanders, Belgium: The Flanders Divide. Continue reading below for an overview of the route!
Robin Todd, 57, wants you to know that you can do big things, and that a grilled cinnamon bun will help significantly at the end of a long rainy day.
Last fall, Robin bikepacked alone for 6,800 kilometers (4,225 miles) from Vancouver, British Columbia to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She’s always been an adventurer, but this journey across Canada was done in part to prove that age isn’t a factor when it comes to adventure, especially for women.
For eight years running, around the time of the Summer Solstice, Swift Industries has put out a rallying cry for cyclo-touring enthusiasts the world-over to strap some bags to their bikes, head out for a couple days of pedaling and sleep on the ground. It’s a call to go out and have a memorable experience. The collective Swift Campout was this past weekend, but with some free time surrounding the actual Solstice, my partner Tony and I decided to ring in the best season for bikecamping a little early.
“We’re cultivating this weekend, a few weeks earlier than we normally do. It’s getting drier every year, and harder to grow grapes in a dry farm system”. This passing statement tickled somewhere on my brain stem as Steve’s words seeped in and we all gazed up at the Sierra Madres. I wondered if the mountains too might be getting drier every year just like down below at Condors Hope, the 20-acre ranch situated at the opening of Bates Canyon, the gateway into our four-day bikepacking mission.
Two years ago, nearly to the day, my friends Erin, Campbell, Ian, and I all came down to Condors Hope to embark on a similar long weekend trip to explore and experience the landscapes, otherwise referred to as the high steep broken mountains, that had, at the time, just been reopened to oil and gas leasing by the Trump administration. We returned from that trip two weeks before the world shut down from COVID, and well, you pretty much know the rest of that story.
As much as I think I’ve changed through the years, my objectives are barely different from when I was 18. I nearly dropped out of my senior year of high school to play hardcore punk across North America, shoplifting and dirtbagging mostly through the West, sleeping wherever, and existing willfully at the boundaries of society (or in defiance of them). Reflecting, I sought an antidote to modernity. An alternative to working in the shipyard until my back gave out like the young men in my town were expected to do. I wanted to forfeit that life for something uncomplicated. Set up, play, tear down, eat, sleep, drive, repeat.
I could hear the rain slow to a trickle on the metal roof as I peered toward the mountains from the window of the hospedaje I’d found refuge in the night before. I leaned way over to not smack my head on the door frame that couldn’t have stood higher than five feet.
In spring 2021, I decided to embark on a couple hundred mile bike-to-ski journey from my home in Telluride, CO to the La Sal mountain range near Moab, Utah.
During the winter season, I’m a professional skier. Usually, I’m traveling around the globe, doing photo shoots and film projects. I will acknowledge it’s quite the privileged life, and I’m very grateful to so many who make it possible for me. The winter window is short, and when I make my career happen. So when things don’t work out during those few months, it feels like a failure and loss of a season. With a film project that wasn’t quite materializing, 2021 was starting to feel just like that I found myself just wanting to get away – from my own winter’s demise and seemingly everything else. So, I decided to pack up my skis and hop on a bike, headed towards the desert of all places, far from any normal ski hill, to hopefully disconnect from it all.