From the shadow of mount Tam to the coastal plains of Santa Barbara exists a quilt of broken earth. An underlying structure of torn apart geology transported hundreds of miles from where it was originally emplaced. A Mediterranean climate of warm summers and cool wet winters that becomes progressively drier towards the equator. A diverse floral assemblage stemming from the eroded remains of rocks past and present harboring condors, salmon and mountain lions. From North America’s largest estuary reflecting pastel sunrise to the sandstone peaks of the east/west transverse ranges gleaming pink and orange as the sun sets over the pacific.
He thought there would be a limit and that would stop him. He depended on that.
“An Atlas of the Difficult World – VIII” – Adrienne Rich
Before I left:
A month before I left, a bus hit me on the sidewalk as I avoided² the dangers of an indifferent suburb riding to the job I did as pittance-paid worker on a bike industry profit trawler. The night before I left, I couldn’t get the tire off, sobbed, exhausted. Six days before I left, I stopped having fun at a race and decided to bail, tired, beer softened, slowed wrong, ate gravel, wrist sprained. Before I left I destroyed my shell in the wash. Before I left I shook nothing down. I wasn’t ready but it didn’t matter. I had to go. How would I keep on otherwise?
Some of us are hoping for limits. There are reasons for that.
The first time I found myself in Puerto Rico was quite a few years back, it was on a sandy city street that ended at the beach in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan. It was wintertime on the east coast where I flew in from, but I was now in a sunny island paradise.
The Salton Sea first appeared to me back in 2016, a couple of days into the Stagecoach 400 bike packing trip with the Borrachos. It appeared to me then as it appeared on this passage, an out of place body of water in the desert landscape, planar and mirage inducing. It could have been the heat exhaustion the first time I saw it, but the sea seemed to bend the horizon. We only saw it in the distance at that time, as our Stagecoach route took us up and away into Anza Borrego. This time around though, we’d pedal straight for it.
Credit: 906 Adventure Team. Cable, age 9, carving out his legacy.
(It’s a good day; it’s a bad day)
Shakespeare insisted that a name held nothing significant; in fact, a name is but an arbitrary designator. A rose, “by any other name would smell as sweet.” If the rose weren’t called a rose, we would still swoon over the sweet smell. Poor Juliet, the owner of a smitten young heart, failed to see everything that exists in a name. In my case, at thirty years old, I still carry my maiden name. Instead, I like to say it’s the name I’ve made for myself; I don’t see that changing any time soon. I grew up in the trailer park across the street from the General Motors Factory in Janesville, Wisconsin, and attended Jackson Elementary school. It was there I celebrated Andrew Jackson as a glorious president; Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. What’s in that name? A legacy of brutality*, I say.
*Yes, this is a reference to the 1985 album by the Misfits. Hybrid moments is one of my favorite songs of all time.
We had set aside that Autumn weekend months earlier, just after having briefly met at a bike race called Lost and Found in late Spring. Matt was planning an extended bike commute through my town and asked to camp in my backyard. I told him sure, I have a fire pit, so it can really be like camping, but I’m going to barnacle onto that trip because it sounds fun. This trip took on many different names, with the goal to write some mockingly weird shit about it, and this one stuck: Tour of the Barnacle: The Chronicles of Holding On. The Barnacle Tour fell through, and a story that will not be told passed between then and this, but hell, we decided to stick to doing some exotic bike trip that weekend.
The grass grows steadily, towering over us until we can no longer see the San Pedro Trail. My partner and I hadn’t seen anyone else that day and it was peacefully quiet. We can only hear the bees buzzing, ignoring our presence among the thicket of yellow flowers growing wildly across the trail. It was still early in the afternoon and we already had an eventful morning – dodging thorny bushes cutting both our arms and legs, navigating muddy streams covered with overgrown grass, surprising a few jackrabbits from their homes, and getting startled by two rattlesnakes lying across the gravel path.
It’s not long after we’ve packed all eight of our bikes and a weeks worth of gear to be loaded in the Western Slope Rides shuttle van in Moab, Utah, that Robert Warren, our driver, has us all rapt and pinned to our seats.
I put my bra back on and brush my teeth and walk from the dorm room past the pool table salon to the restaurant and out the door to my bike. It’s four in the morning and still dark outside. It’s a new day. I’m ready to ride. Rue is on her computer waiting at a table and follows me out.
The gravel pit turns to good, hard dirt and I begin the ascent. It’s my favorite kind of road, an even grade that feels like climbing the fortress walls to the castle as the road snakes up. It’s the morning of day 3 and I feel like I’m on a quick training ride, almost like the past two days haven’t happened or they’re a distant memory. I’m listening to music and my legs feel fresh and I’m having so much fun. The climb is an hour of effort and then a quick winding descent to the valley floor and dry Lake Kel Suu. Towering, freshly snow-covered mountains surround that makes me feel really small. I pass a couple of other yurt camps on my way to checkpoint 2 until I see the SRMR banner. A couple of little kids cheer me in. Jakub the Slovakian is packing his bike. I have to keep my focus. I take off my gloves and change the track on my GPS and take a couple of puffs from my inhaler and get my brevet card and my wallet and a couple of plastic bags and go inside the yurt. The floor is grass, so I don’t have to take off my shoes. Inside, a volunteer stamps my card and we get to talking. In some way, she’s related to Yura, the man with my favorite guesthouse in Bishkek. Yura doesn’t speak much English, but he makes jokes with his eyes and his hands.
I was always insecure about the fact that I was “uneducated” before I entered academia. Growing up in a trailer park and as the first person in my family to have ever attended a university, I was certain that I was something less than my entire life. The apple never falls far from the tree. And in attending University, I’ve learned that everything I was taught whilst growing up was lessons in obedience. I, an Anishinaabe woman, celebrated the Pilgrims at Thanksgiving time and Columbus on Columbus day. I always thought that I wasn’t Indian enough because I didn’t grow up on my reservation, I didn’t know my tribal language, and I didn’t look Indian. Tell me, what does an Indian look like? How could I trust a system that denied the lived history of my ancestors?
The redwoods hit me with that kind of awe those quixotic transcendentalists describe as, well, awe. It was like this – the trance state incurred by the tree-lined road was jostled by the excitement of entering an amalgam of friends, acquaintances, and randos held together by the common love for the physical-meets-mental journey of a bike race.
It feels like just a few months ago I was sitting at my keyboard, on the fence about opening up to a very vulnerable subject and sharing the hardest struggle of my adult life. Yet, here we are, two full years later and I’ve got updates to what was and still is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
As cyclists, we’re used to overcoming struggles. Be it training for a race, making it up a steep climb, or clearing a rock garden, and to be honest, I don’t know if I would have been able to quit drinking if it weren’t for cycling. Yet, the very thing that taught me perseverance is also heavily laden with alcohol. It’s a double-edged sword, but one I’m fairly comfortable opening up to you about.
The following trip report is also available on Amazon Kindle, for ease of bookmarking…
Day 1: Wienerwald or bust!
JEN: Good decisions can be made on a whim. That’s how I found myself on this spontaneous bike trip in Europe. It all started in Vienna, Austria. My friend Bun Daniel, also from Los Angeles, was there, visiting and working with BBUC (short for Brilli Brilliant Unicorn Club), and had offered for me to stay with him. I had plans to go to Spain 3 weeks later but the space in between was yet to be determined. That space in-between turned out to be a great adventure. My bike partner in crime and fellow California Girl, Erin Lamb, flew out from Santa Barbara to meet me. We had one mission – to satisfy our appetites for some asphalt spaghetti draped on the Alps.
Read Lael’s first Reportage at You Can’t Win a 1,700km Race in a Day: Lael Wilcox’s Silk Road Mountain Race 2019 – Part I
I open my eyes to daylight, take a couple of puffs of my inhaler, compress the air out of my sleeping pad and get out of my sleeping bag. A rider with bags cruises by waving, a reminder that we’re still in a race. I stuff my whole sleeping kit into a dry bag and strap it to my handlebar harness. I turn on my GPS and put the race track on and on goes my SPOT tracker, pressing the boot print to initiate tracking. I move a pastry from my framebag to my gas tank for breakfast. I chug a full water bottle and put on my socks and shoes. The whole process takes twenty minutes and I resent the time lost. This style of racing is all about economizing time. The valley is cold, even at low elevation. I’m still wearing my down suit and rain jacket and I’m back on my bike, pedaling washboard downriver. I pass a pulled over rider and he passes me back. We don’t talk.
It’s not every day you’re presented with an opportunity to step out of the routines of daily life and to reconnect with a couple of old friends in a beautiful, fairly isolated environment; and to get to fully experience that place from the saddle of your bicycle. When a couple of my oldest friends, Josh and Alex, invited me on a bikepacking adventure – and asked me to assist with a video they planned to produce about the trip – help with logistics, carry some gear, etc. – I gave an enthusiastic and immediate, “I’m all in.” Josh and Alex had secured a generous grant from Kitsbow to capture our time on camera, in hopes that our experience would inspire and motivate others to get outside, unplug from life a bit, reconnect with old friends, and explore an exciting and accessible environment within a reasonable window of time. What cyclist wouldn’t want to throw their bike in a travel bag, fly down to Los Angeles for a 3 day weekend, and spend the bulk of that time pedaling around on Santa Catalina Island with a duo of old friends?
[WARNING – please read with enunciations of the Queen’s English spoken with a harsh American accent leached with dry monotone and finished with a slight southern drawl.]
[NOTE – All persons are mixed and mashed conglomerations of friends masked by pseudonyms as to respect their identities.]
[FICTION –It actually may be close enough to nonfiction. Every tale is drenched with truth, maybe not all the truths belong to me, I might not even be the eyes telling this tale.]
With another eight to nine-hour drive ahead of me, this time solo because the polluting toots of my automobile fill me with joy—just kidding, hell, felt like an asshole—I had to figure out a way to fuck with my perception of time in order to maintain some level of sanity. Although being a fellow cyclist, y’all get that the bar is set real low when it comes to sanity. So, to risk sounding like a surface-wannabe-cultured-erudite, I tried hooking myself onto classical music with this grandiose nisus of increasing my attention span. Hear me out: not only would being able to melt into a forty-five-minute score enable me to complete long intervals with ease but enduring an entire classical score would help me get through the long drives to get to the long and arduous races those said and absolutely supposed intervals would prepare one for. Leave it all on the trail and go baroque.
The distribution of federal public lands across the United States.
The vast expanses of America’s public lands, set aside to serve the national interest, have a complex and unlikely history that spans more than two centuries.
In the United States, federally-owned public lands form the tapestry upon which so many recreationists depend, as do agricultural, extractive, tourism, and hunting industries that support local economies. Beyond that, these lands have unquantifiable cultural, scientific, ecological, and scenic values. As cyclists, public lands offer literally endless miles of trails, 4×4 tracks, and gravel roads that can carry us off the pavement, away from crowds, and into landscapes as quiet and remote as we may desire. The United States is globally unique with respect to the vast tracts of lands still remaining in the public domain, lands that are managed for a broad array of uses by various agencies and beneath a dizzying array of special designations and associated acronyms. However, political efforts to eliminate some or all of these public lands serve to highlight how we as recreationists cannot take these lands for granted.