Thereabouts – Gus and Lachlan Morton – recently interviewed Sarah Swallow, one of the founding members of the WTF Bikexplorers and organizer of the Ruta del Jefe in Arizona, about life and the pursuit of all things rad. Check it out here and head to Thereabouts for their excellent write up about Sarah!
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild
geese jaguar, harsh and exciting
Over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.
-(modified) Mary Oliver “Wild Geese”
The weather matched the event in challenging the assumptions of what a desert landscape or a gravel race should be for most of the riders of the Ruta Del Jefe this year which was hosted at the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch in Elgin, AZ. The imagination of a desert as a dry and sunny landscape dotted with saguaros, prickly pears, and cholla was expanded for those who held that thinking. Home to the Madrean Sky Islands ecoregion that includes the Santa Ritas, Whetstone, and many other mountain ranges, this area is a treasure trove for those who eat gravel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sky Islands refers to the unique interplay between the low lying desert grasslands and the dramatic wooded mountains that become islands in the sky for their residents. Natt Dodge introduced this concept as “mountain island in a desert sea” back in 1948 which was then cemented by Weldon Heald’s book Sky Island in 1967. In the lowlands, this area is home to many unique varieties of grasses who abundantly glow their sunshine and straw colors to her visitors.
Jacinta, aka J, was on the hunt for a new bicycle. She had some money set aside and began looking at the options out there. There was always the option for custom, but J eventually grew a liking for Bearclaw Bicycle Co’s offerings. The Thunderhawk checked all the boxes but she wanted to make it her own. Enter the wizards at Black Magic Paint…
For the latest webisode, Bikes with Cheech and Nam take it to southern Arizona for the Ruta Del Jefe! Check out our coverage from the event later this week!
My favorite event last year returns for 2020 with a plethora of new activities. The Ruta Del Jefe weekend will include a 55-mile gravel ride, bikepacking tour, 12-mile run/ride…
Ruta Del Jefe is a 125-mile self supported adventure race following dirt roads around the Santa Rita Mountains, the lair of one of the only North American Jaguars to live in the U.S., El Jefe. Rural Del Jefe takes place on Tohono O’odham and Hohokam lands, in the Sky Islands region of the Sonoran Desert and the US/Mexico borderlands in Southern Arizona. The race follows remote and rugged dirt roads through one of the most biodiverse and beautiful places in the world yet, the region is plagued with many environmental threats and a humanitarian crisis that need our attention and action.
Want to learn more? Well, head to the Ruta Del Jefe website and be sure to check out our Reportage from last year’s race! Remember, registration opens December 13th at 7:00 am mountain time and is limited to 100 racers, so jump on Bikereg to set a reminder.
Riding through a landscape gives you a deeper appreciation for that place. It’s sensory. You breathe the air and you feel the sun and the wind and the weather. You muscle over the hills and your tires surf through the sand and over the rocks. You learn why roads exist and where they lead and who lives among them and what grows there. Sometimes you meet the people and the animals. Sometimes you share the space with fellow travelers and sometimes you ride alone. The farther you pedal, the more your mind becomes part of that space– the space between your body and your bike and the earth. Your mind is in the sky and the tall golden grass. When your body and mind relinquish control over expectations and judgments and find connection to your surroundings, you enter the spirit world, a place of truth and acceptance.
Over the past few years, there’s been an awakening of sorts within my scope of reporting and documenting cycling: when I travel to cover an event, or set out to ride in even a familiar landscape, I like to know the geopolitical, geographical, and geological history of the land in which I’ll be pedaling across, over and through. As much as this awareness contributes to a better understanding of the land we all recreate on, it’s also a way to pay respects to the prior inhabitants of these fragile landscapes.
This interest in the background and history of a place was a large motivation for me to take part in the Ruta del Jefe: a race through the San Rafael Valley, and Santa Rita Mountains, coordinated by Sarah Swallow. Last weekend, the race went down, and up for that matter, all around the San Rafael Valley, but the weekend had much more on the agenda than just riding bikes: it was a lesson for us all in how to sustainably use the land and how we could offer up our recreation as a resource.
Tomorrow we’ve got our Reportage dropping from this 200km race through the San Rafael Valley but here’s a spoiler, as Sarah‘s huge smile implies, it was a huge success! Check out a few teasers on our Instagram.