How Cycling Gave Me Hope During the AIDS Crisis

By Evan Bachner

My husband, Ed, and I have always been cyclists. I’m not a racer (Ed rides much faster than I do), and I’m not a top rider in any category – I’m just a civilian rider who’s always loved biking long distances. My love for cycling took on much greater significance in the mid-1990s when I realized it could be a tool to generate positive change during a very dark time. This was in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, and it started when I first came across an ad for what is now Cycle for the Cause. (Which Starts this Friday Sept 21st! -Ed.)

From Cycle For The Cause Facebook page.

From Cycle For The Cause Facebook page.

Since the early 1980’s, HIV/AIDS overshadowed everything I was involved in, everything I did. The LGBTQ community, particularly where I lived in New York, had long been fighting against the government’s indifference and the public’s aversion to even talking about the disease. As we moved into the ‘90s, thanks to intense activism, social stigma around AIDS finally began to wane – but the disease itself was still considered a death sentence. There was no cure (there is no cure), and the medications that make living with HIV a manageable condition were a couple of years in the future. When I learned about Cycle for the Cause, however, I had hope that the years that had filled up with protests, volunteer work, and watching my friends becoming sick and die could make room for something positive.

Cycle for the Cause is a 275-mile, three-day bike ride from Boston to New York City that raises money for the fight to end AIDS. It’s a project of NYC’s LGBT Community Center, and the funds raised during the Ride are what enables them to deliver HIV testing, prevention services, and access to treatment for so many people infected and affected by HIV.

Back when I saw that ad for the very first Ride in 1995, I was not only encouraged by its mission; I was also intrigued by the ambitious idea of a multi-day, hundreds-of-miles long biking event. As it turned out, Ed’s and my experience with long-distance riding was useful; there was no training program to prepare participants for such a long ride. So, we put one together from scratch. We started slow, because many participants, while galvanized by the cause, were not experienced cyclists. We began by guiding scores of riders on a 20-mile ride, then pushed them to do a little more, then a little more, and 10 weeks later we were riding 100 miles on a Saturday followed by 80 miles the next day. By our second year, we were leading over 100 people on the century training ride. We were ready.

Fast forward 23 years, and here I am preparing for another Cycle for the Cause this month. Now, I’m riding alongside most of my closest friends. These are people I’d never met prior to their first training rides, but a shared love for biking and a determination to end AIDS once and for all quickly drew us together. The most amazing thing to me is how deeply connected the whole ride community has always been. We don’t just ride to raise large amounts of money; we are all HIV/AIDS activists. Every one of us knows exactly what life-saving services we are helping to provide, with each mile we push through.

Team Dave

Team Dave

We’ve reached a time when HIV/AIDS testing and treatment is more accessible than ever before, but nobody’s job here is done. These days, people have a tendency to think the epidemic is over – it’s not. People are still getting infected, undergoing lifelong treatment with the potential for severe, long-term side effects and there is still no cure. While it’s easy to dwell on these realities, I’m grateful for the work that we’re able to do.

I’ve never lost that sense of freedom that you get from your first bike ride. Cycle for the Cause allows me to enjoy that sensation to its fullest, because it’s not just about how I feel when I’m on the bike – it’s about the thousands of people the ride benefits, those waiting for us around the next turn who cheer us on, and our loved ones who greet us at the end of the ride, all of whom have gotten a piece of their own freedom back, thanks to the Ride.

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Into the Wind- Cycling across South America

By: Mark Greiz

You ask me why I pedal to far away places;
I smile and close my eyes,
Words can’t describe the reason why;
The blue water glistens, the birds fly high.

January 29th, 2018. Although it was the height of summer, it was a cold and windy day in Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost city in the region of Magallanes and Antartica. My plan, cycle north over ten thousand kilometers (6,300 miles) to Guayaquil, Ecuador within the five months I allotted myself. Several miles out of the city and as I headed inland from the coast I was blasted with powerful direct headwinds of up to 80 kilometers an hour. My legs cramped up and my progress came to a standstill. I barely rode 60 kilometers that day and slept in an abandoned wood shack on the side of the road.
I did not know that those headwinds would be with me for most of the journey, taunting me, punishing me and testing the limits of my patience.

For me the allure of extreme cycling touring is more than a mere physical pursuit, it’s a form of spiritual cleansing and renewal. As a marketing consultant and adjunct lecturer in New York City, I know what it is like to lose touch with nature, to live within our own secure bubbles, daily routines and mundane pursuits. Although New York City is a megapolis, it is easy to feel claustrophobic and to feel disconnected from life. Cycling alone through remote regions, sleeping rough in the wild and challenging my body both physically and emotionally, not only humbles me but also lets me peer deep within my soul. It grounds me, it brings me an inner peace, often times fleeting, but easy to conjure back up in my time of need.

Cycling the Andes Route 3S in Peru

Cycling the Andes Route 3S in Peru

On this most recent trek across South America, I cycled 10,400 kilometers (6,500 miles) and encountered some of the strongest and most consistent headwinds I have ever experienced lasting for days and weeks on end. I cycled through hailstorms, through deserts and towering mountains in the Andes. I camped rough on the side of the road, in deserted shacks, in my tent tucked away in the woods or the desert sands, in abandoned trailers and forsaken structures. I was sideswiped by a motorcycle in the Argentinean Pampa, having to pick my bruised and bloodied body off the road to continue riding in the scorching heat. I cycled on long stretches of deserted road with nary a car in sight, as well as through dreadful traffic with tractor-trailers speeding by inches from me. I experienced the mystical allure of the high Andes as well as the raw beauty of the Patagonias.

3.Mesmerizing landscape and rugged conditions from Chile Chico to Puerto Guadal in Chilean Patagonia.

Mesmerizing landscape and rugged conditions from Chile Chico to Puerto Guadal in Chilean Patagonia.

Starting the trip in Punta Arenas in the Southernmost region of South America, I cycled north through the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, passing remote regions were I encountered punishing headwinds daily, as well as some of the most scenic spots on this trip. While I feel that cycling the Carretera Austral in Chile is overrated and filled with cyclists heading south on short excursions, for the more intrepid cyclist there are still some very technically challenging and unfrequented routes to take, one of them being the off-road stretch from Chile Chico on the shores of the majestic Lake General Carrera to Puerto Guadal. After cycling north on the Carettera Austral I turned back to Argentina and crossed the border near Futaleufú, a beautiful area surrounded by pristine nature and fast flowing rivers.

Camping in a remote spot in Argentina’s Patagonia region.

Camping in a remote spot in Argentina’s Patagonia region.

Crossing the border back into Argentina, I cycled to the quaint European style city of San Carlos de Barloche on the shores of Lake Nahual Huapi and then onward to the charming Spanish colonial city of Salta, Argentina. What stood in the middle between Barloche and Salta was 2500 kilometers of mostly remote, flat and arid scrubland. Averaging 100 kilometers a day, I cycled this whole stretch within 24 days taking only one rest day. The riding was dull and monotonous and I encountered daily headwinds making for long, hot and arduous days. Villages were few and far between in this part of Argentina where numerous estancias occupy the barren land and fences run the length of the terrain. Most nights are spent sleeping meters from the side of the road hidden behind some thorn bushes, fighting off insects and watching rodents scatters about here and there, the sound of nocturnal animals adding to the midnight chorus.

One of many tarantulas camping out in the Argentinian Pampa between Barloche and Salta.

One of many tarantulas camping out in the Argentinian Pampa between Barloche and Salta.

Argentina is rife with visible wildlife from guanacos, lizards, wild boar, different types of rodents, tarantulas, fox and large birds related to the ostrich. There is no shelter from the sun during the day and there is no choice but to cycle into the wind for hours on end enduring the heat and rationing droplets of water to quench an unending thirst. Cycle, sip, sweat, sleep, cycle, sip, sweat, sleep, cycle, sip, sweat, sleep on the side of the road, day after day, week after week.

Curious dog approaches me as I am taking a selfie on the road into Salta.

Curious dog approaches me as I am taking a selfie on the road into Salta.

After having cycled over 2500 kilometers in flat arid plains and ready to depart Salta, it was time to climb into the mountains as I headed back to Chile. The route I chose was through Argentina’s Puna region to the desolate border at Paso Sico. The Puna region or Atacama Plateau stretches from North West Argentina into southern Chile. It is an arid and remote area consisting of high plateaus with elevations between 4000 to 5000 meters. The road from Salta to San Antonio de Los Cobres was several days of climbs on windy, paved and often winding roads, then there were 150 kilometers off-road were I cycled on gravel, rocks, and sand as I made my way to the Chile border at Paso Sico. The region is stunning in a rugged, harsh, yet calming way; alpacas roam freely and nary a passing vehicle is encountered on the whole road to Paso Sico. As I camped out nightly in the windswept and freezing high plateau, the night skies lite up with a myriad of stars, I was mesmerized by the sight and humbled by the majesty of this otherworldly landscape.

As I sat outside one night starring at the sky, pen in hand I began to write…

Sleeping under a glowing moon,
There is no other soul for miles to see;
What does it take to still your mind,
to set your body free?
Sleeping under a glowing moon,
From the daily grind I chose to flee.
The only companions present now…
are the stars, the sand, the gods and me.

Alpacas grazing on a less traveled road heading from the mountains back to the coast of Peru.

Alpacas grazing on a less traveled road heading from the mountains back to the coast of Peru.

Having crossed back into Chile at Paso Sico, the region was equally barren and stark, the roads winded up and the headwinds were fierce. It is a rough region to cycle in and an equally brutal region to sleep out in. As I slept out at high altitude in frigid temperatures amid violent winds I found comfort knowing that in a few days time I would begin my descent in the Atacama desert and arrive in the land of espresso, cold beers and pizza- the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama.

Days later, drained and ragged from a period of poor eating, long arduous climbs and sleeping out in harsh conditions, I cycled into town a zombie on my steel horse. As I cycled through the maze of dusty, narrow streets of San Pedro De Atacama I was overwhelmed, there was a cornucopia of activity, tourists on rented mountain bikes, artisans hawking their wares, backpackers sipping lattes chatting away about their most recent adventures and poseurs, the kind of which of might see in Pai, Thailand flaunting away on the corners.

I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong.

Camping in a wind swept valley in northern Chile as I approach the Peru border town of Arica.

Camping in a wind swept valley in northern Chile as I approach the Peru border town of Arica.

After just a couple of days in town and having eaten my fill of quinoa, pasta, salad, and pizza, I felt the long lonely stretches of road beckoning me once again. San Pedro De Atacama is like a trap and it was time to leave its grips before it was too late. From San Pedro I would continue my descent through the desert to the coast, sleeping in abandoned shacks on the side of the road or camped in the desert sands. For days, I followed the scenic northern Chile coast north passing seaside shantytowns where the locals eek out a living from fishing and seaweed harvesting until I reached the coastal city of Iquique. From there it was a few more days to the Peru border.

Raw beauty of Chile’s northern coast.

The raw beauty of Chile’s northern coast.

After crossing into Peru at the Arica border, I followed the coast north then turned inland. Leaving the coast I would now need to contend again with high peaks as I made my way to Arequipa and then Cusco. The road from the coast to Cusco is mostly climbing with elevations between 4500-4800 meters with a mixture of different conditions; there were stretches of dreadful traffic and utter mayhem as hundreds of lorries would pass in waves of caravans inches from me and other areas off the beaten path where Alpaca graze freely in the high Andean plateaus while Quechua shepherds tended to their flocks.

Quechua shepherd tending her flock on the high plateau on the way to Cusco.

Quechua shepherd tending her flock on the high plateau on the way to Cusco.

Cusco is a beguiling city; once the capital of the Inca Empire, the city center is filled with Spanish colonial architecture, trendy eateries, and hordes of tourists. It is easy to get seduced by her charms and I knew I had to leave after only three days or else I may have never left. After departing Cusco I cycled north on the Andes route passing small Quechua villages and larger cities including the charming city of Ayacucho with its historic city center. This city retains much of its old world charm but lacks the foreign tourists that crowd into Cusco. Cycling north on route 3 is a continuous cycle of slow climbs with elevation gains of 2000 meters in one shot and fast descents with numerous passes between 4500 and 4900 meters.

Quechua lady knitting a sweater while watching her flock on route 3.

Quechua lady knitting a sweater while watching her flock on route 3.

While most cyclists on the Andes route continue on to Huaraz, I decided to take a lesser-known, far-flung road and make my way back to the coast. At the small village of Shelby on route 3N, I decided to head east to the compact coastal city of Chancay, some 200 grueling kilometers away. The majority of this road is rocks and dirt with an arduous and long multi-level climb with the highest pass topping out at approximately 5030 meters (16,500 feet). It is a wild, rugged and awe-inspiring landscape where Alpaca graze casually next to crystal clear mountain lakes and not a soul for miles around.

The views were from over 16,000 ft. as I prepare for a hard two-day descent to the coast.

The views were from over 16,000 ft. as I prepare for a hard two-day descent to the coast.

As I stood at the high pass at 16,500 feet, I noted the dirt road snaking its way down the mountain. I took solace in the fact that this was my last climb of the trip as well as my last portion of off-road riding. I stood silent, gazed into the distance, mesmerized by my surroundings, relishing the solitude.

Descending to the coast was technically challenging as the roads were steep, winding and mostly rocks. As I descended from over 16,000 feet to sea level the topography slowly changed from cold wind swept arid plateaus, to lush mountain vistas with fast running rivers and then to the heat, stench, and pollution of the Peruvian coast. From Chancay it would be about another 1600 kilometers to Guayaquil, my final destination. Although this part of the Pan American Highway is filled with trucks racing up and down, for the first time on my trip I had no headwind and even some days with a slight tailwind. My progress was quick, almost too quick beckoning the end of the trip. I cycled hundreds of kilometers mostly through desert and then up the coast to the Ecuadorian border, sleeping along the way in dreary, dirty towns and alone in the desert wilderness.

Crossing into Ecuador I cycled for days through mile after mile of banana plantations in the heat and humidity. As I approached Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city I knew my trip was coming to an end. My emotions were mixed; I was glad that the trip was coming to an end, yet feeling incomplete, that there is still more riding to be done and more places to see. I turned 50 years old on the day I crossed the border into Ecuador-“maybe I am getting to old for this,” I thought to myself. Sleeping rough off the side of the road for days on end does not excite me as much as it used to, but the cycling life is constantly enticing me back. There is a little voice in the deep recesses of my brain often urging me to pack up my bike and head off to some distant land. My thoughts were running rampant as I cycled through the traffic-clogged roads. As I made my way over the bridge that crosses the Guayas River into downtown, my rear pannier swiped a truck tire on the side of the road and I went flying. My arms and legs bleeding and swollen; I was in pain and disbelief that an accident would welcome my entry into town.

I picked my bicycle up, reflected for a moment, “maybe I am getting too old for this.” I got back on my bicycle and rode through heavy traffic into downtown Guayaquil; the trip was over.

End of the trip, cycling through the Santa Ana Hill, Guayaquil on the way to downtown.

End of the trip, cycling through the Santa Ana Hill, Guayaquil on the way to downtown.

To see more pictures and videos from this trip follow Mark on Instagram @theadriftcyclist
To read other articles from Mark click here, here, and here.

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Tern GSD compact longtail review part Two: Stewart’s ride

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By Stewart Port

I’m a 64-year-old guy with heart disease. I ride for everyday transportation and errands when I can, and occasional 10-20 mi. jaunts for exercise and recreation. I’m otherwise in good shape, but I have a hard limit for sustained exertion– the arteries to my heart are narrowed and propped open with hi-tech Chinese finger-cuffs. So when my (mostly younger and healthier) pals urged me to join them on their annual weeklong bike camping trip. I really wanted to go, but was torn. I didn’t really have any rolling or camping gear that was up to the trip, and 30 miles of all-out effort while potentially rolling along by myself with the pack far ahead didn’t sound like much fun.

And then there was the Tern, conveniently on loan for evaluation to the publisher of this fine outlet, who happens to be my neighbor, and one of the instigators of the tour.

At first, I hated the idea of being the old guy on the e-bike, but Moe patiently explained that it wasn’t a regular e-bike, but rather an e-assisted bike– Pedal, and the motor amplifies your efforts, with a choice of four levels. No pedal, no go. Hell, you could even turn off the electricity and kick the entire 60 lbs down the road purely on burrito power. And the cargo deck solved the problem of having no proper compact, lightweight camping gear– I just stuffed my quilt and pillow in a soft bag and gathered up my usual car camping kit and backpack and mini-cooler, and bungeed the whole impossible pile down on the rear cargo deck.

First, a short ride to the train station. Starting out in the lowest gear, my first pressure on the pedals produced powerful acceleration. (Note: Hold on tight when starting out! There’s a bit of a learning curve, but the various power levels make it possible to really dial in the effort, spin rate and speed for varying conditions) With a hand from an obliging conductor I loaded the thing up into an Amtrak San Joaquin, and we were off to Antioch, our starting point at the edge California’s Sacramento River Delta.

The trip from Antioch to Locke, a picturesque old Chinese town up the Delta, was about 30 miles, and apart from the half mile of 7% grade climbing up the Antioch bridge, the route is the very definition of flat, though the winds can be stiff. For the most part, I found myself switching between equal periods of pedaling unassisted and using the first level (“Econo”) to keep up with my crew’s 10-12 mph pace (Yes, the speedometer is very cool!). I found myself wishing that there was an even lower level of assist available. When I used the assist, I consoled my wounded pride by figuring I was using just enough battery power to make up for the thing’s fat tires, 60 lb curb weight, and the ridiculous pile of gear strapped behind me. I was surprised at how easily and smoothly it rolled un-assisted.
The fit adjustments were convenient, especially the handlebar quick-release adjustments which made stopping and making minor changes to avoid fatigue a reasonable solution to the straight bars’ lack of different places to grip– If I were using it mainly for touring, I would want to add climbing pegs or some sort of bar extension. When we got to our bivouac for the night, an orchard and adjoining wood, the fat tires did nicely on the rougher surfaces.

On the trip back, I put it to a harder test. I was traveling alone for the last 15 miles, and I had a train to catch, so I allowed myself the second and third levels (“Touring” and “Sport”) and cruised along at 15-16 mph, switching to the highest level (“Turbo”) for the bridge. At about a mile from the station, I noticed the ride getting a little squooshy, and sure enough, the rear tire was looking low. With no patch kit or pump, and not much time to spare before my train, I gave it the juice– I put it on the highest setting and the lowest gear, and pedaling hard, fishtailed into the depot on a completely flat tire, with scant minutes to spare. Amtrak came through for me again in Oakland– The agent was kind enough to let me leave the rig in the secure baggage area while I walked to my house to get my car. Getting it into the trunk of the old Jetta for the ride home proved easy enough, and without taking off the wheels it only projected a foot or so beyond the back of the car.

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone abuse defenseless rubber and aluminum so, but the wheel and tire appeared none the worse for wear when I broke them down to patch the tube (A small sliver of glass that had worked its way through, and eventually cut the tube..)

All in all, the GSD, and its fine-grained pedal assist control system is a great addition to my life. For a lot of folks and situations it can tip the balance towards making a trip on two wheels as opposed to four, or not at all.

Read Part One here: Tern GSD review Part 1

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Biking around the world and getting married along the way.

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Listen on Soundcloud to all 14 minutes!

Driving along “The Loneliest Highway In America” as determined by LIFE magazine back in the 80’s, Nancy and I came across a couple of characters riding their bicycles down the road. Out of curiosity, and my need to fill this space on the interwebs, we stopped and asked if we could ask a question. I know. That’s already a question, haha. Fortunately, they were not flip, but all-around nice. I caught a rough yet stereo, recording with my phone, which you can listen to in its entire 10 minutes here…

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BT: What are your guy’s names?

Mike: I’m Mike and this is Helen. We started 13 months ago today. 23,000 kilometers on the clock so far. We started in Scotland, Glasgow, went to the Netherlands, then Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Eastern Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Georgia. So. Central Asia.

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Helen: But then I got altitude sick, even though it wasn’t very high, but we didn’t have time for me to acclimatize. So it’s sort of going through central Asia. We flew to Beijing, cheapest flight we could get, to Siham Chung. So we kind of doubled back on ourselves a bit. And then, down to Vietnam, Saigon into Cambodia to Bangkok all the way down the coast of Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore. We just turned around again and went back to Kuala Lumpar to get our flight to Australia. Then flew to the west coast of America and we’ve cycled from San Diego.

BT: So you got married?

Mike: Yes, two weeks ago in Yosemite Valley in Cooks meadow.

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BT: How did you… did you find a justice of the peace?

Mike: My friends a minister, she actually lives in Kentucky, so she flew out to meet us there. And then we had a couple of friends come over. Parents each. Yeah.

BT: You had it all planned out?

Mike: Yeah, we actually started planning it before we left. There was a bit of a gamble, but we figured if we could make it a year on the road and not kill each other, we could go ahead.

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BT: Oh, that’s so awesome. Congratulations! Have you guys had many mechanical issues?

Mike: Yeah, but it’s mostly been ok. I mean a couple of things. We’ve been replaced like new drive train, new cassettes. Obviously lots of new chains, but Helen is still on her first set of brake pads.

BT: Brakes. They only slow you down.

Mike: Yeah, just tough. I think I’m on my fourth set of tires

Helen: I think I’m on my second set of tires. But nothing major. Everything’s built to last.

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BT: Meeting any nice people?

Overwhelmingly! We were quite concerned that we weren’t going to have enough water as we headed across the 50 here. And just didn’t quite make it as far as we wanted to yesterday. So this guy stopped this morning and was like, hey, guys, need some water? I’ve just been rafting in Utah, and have gallons of water in my van. So amazing timing. Um, but yeah, we have a story per day. China was amazing for that because they just want to give you food and take you home and take care of you.

BT: You guys blogging or anything like that?

Helen: A bit of writing and videoing as much as we can. I haven’t updated since the wedding, so I need to do that soon. Because we’re going east, it’s evereast.co.uk. We’re doing it for a charity, called MIND, they do mental health advocacy and awareness. They do a lot of lobbying the government for approved mental health services and they do awareness campaigns to just try and reduce the stigma within companies. They kind of go into offices and HR departments and stuff. So very, very nice. Very nice.

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BT: Well great. Great. Thank you so much for stopping. Bye!

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Interview: Tegan Phillips of Unclipped Adventure

Tegan Phillips is a comic artist who first started drawing for a contest to win a touring bike and gear. Guess what – she won that bike and set off riding it around the world. Today, she is an avid cyclist, artist, motivational speaker and all-around interesting and adventurous person. We caught up with Tegan to hear the background behind how she got to where she is today, and where she plans on going from here.

Teg in Namibia desert

So what’s the story behind why you started drawing comics? To win a touring bike and gear? This sounds like an interesting story! Also, did you draw much at all before that?

My first ever comic was a few scribbles on a very old iPad that I drew as an attempt to win an old touring bike and gear. Entrants had to describe what amazing things they would do with the bike if they won and I didn’t have anything too exciting to describe, so I thought perhaps if I made my entry a bit different then nobody would notice that I only had a very mediocre plan. By a stroke of luck my tactic paid off and I got the bike, which I took on a trip through Spain. I recorded the trip in a comic blog and that started off the next few years of full time cartooning. I definitely hadn’t drawn much before that and still consider myself a total amateur as far as actual artistic ability is concerned. My characters don’t even have fingers.

Tegan’s contest entry that changed her life forever:

Where was your first bike tour?

That trip mentioned above was my first ever tour, riding from Bristol down to southern Spain (with a sneaky ferry trip in the middle). The adventure can probably be summed up just in the contents of the first day: rain, an accidental u-turn taking me 50km back to where I started, more rain, angry drivers shouting, losing phone to contact the place I was staying for the night, dropping my bike on my leg, sitting bleeding in the rain for two more hours, and finally ending up in the emergency room. Every day was some variation of that kind of thing, with some additional excitement halfway as I met a Spanish boy who joined the adventure, adding an extra dimension to the already chaotic journey.

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What was your favorite/least favorite part about that trip? What surprised you the most?

My favorite part: eating ice cream every day! And also just the experience of total freedom–with a bike and a tent and no major deadlines, I could go in any direction for as long as I wanted.

Least favorite: saddle sores, an infected leg, excruciating sunburn. All that character-building stuff.

Most surprising part: how easy bicycle touring actually is! I went in thinking it was going to be this complicated science that somebody with no geography skills or coordination like me would probably never be able to get right. It was such fun learning that it actually is as simple as it sounds: ride bike, eat, put up tent, sleep, repeat. Anybody could do it, even me.

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What is your favorite part about riding bikes or touring by bike?

It’s difficult to say my favorite part about riding bikes, I almost want to say riding bikes is my favorite part about life. I love it all – the hills, the descents, the flats, the groups, the sprints, even the terrible tan lines. And touring is a way of combining that love of cycling with a love of traveling.

It’s not just normal traveling, where you’re zipping from city to city, mostly shopping and sightseeing; it’s the kind of traveling when you hardly spend any time in cities at all. Most days of most weeks you’re between cities, in the countryside, with local people. You get to really know a place through its landscape, it’s traditions, the hospitality of its people. And then, of course, the touring lifestyle–spending all day outdoors, fresh air and exercise, great meals, lots of much-needed sleep. It makes you feel so healthy. I never really want to go back to the world of screens and malls after a bicycle tour.

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What is your goal with Unclipped Adventure? What inspired you to do it and what do you hope to inspire others to do?

Giving talks kind of came about by accident after my family took a year to cycle through Africa (the year after my Spain trip). When we came back I was the family member who hated public speaking the least and so was assigned the role of giving presentations to our friends and family. Using a combination of my comics and photographs, I would run through some of the things we saw and did and noticed or “unlearnt” about the world, and it felt really good to be able to share some of those insights and experiences with other people. Adventuring is such a privilege, it gets you to see the world differently, to realize the possibilities for creating your own freedom and happiness – it’s natural to want to be part of getting others to feel that for themselves too.

Endurance adventuring in general also teaches you a lot of harder lessons. In 2016 I did a self-designed 1400 mile triathlon in New Zealand and it taught me a lot about developing mental strength to push through difficulties. That mental strength has helped me so much in everyday life; that practice of feeling fear, exhaustion, resistance and keeping on pushing forward anyway. I’ve had a lot of fun illustrating that concept for talks, with fear being this purple little potato-like character. Perhaps a bit silly but it’s something fun anyway.

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Do you have a favorite comic or series that you’ve done?

I did two comics about “The Ministry of Adventure”, which I was hoping to one day make into a book but until this moment had completely forgotten about. It’s based on the idea that there’s this mythical place called The Ministry of Adventure, and it’s run by things called Adventure Potatoes, and every time you go on an adventure the potato assigned to you has to decide what to throw your way. They can use bad weather, broken gear, natural disasters, injuries – and you can trade with them. For example, you can ask for a full day of tailwinds in exchange for a full night of mosquitoes in your tent. The idea came about after I jokingly told my family I’d trade a possible elephant attack for a definite Malaria infection, and promptly got Malaria. Those Adventure Potatoes are such cheeky bastards.

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What do you do when you’re not riding your bike, drawing or doing something else related to Unclipped Adventure?

At 25 I’ve just hit my quarter-life crisis, so I spend a lot of time wondering what on earth I’m doing with my life. I’m told that’s normal. When not riding or drawing (which is most of the time), I also work a few part-time jobs and take philosophy classes and I hang out with my gran a few days a week. In short: nothing too exciting.

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Do you have any big adventures planned for the near future? Or not so near future? What is a dream trip/adventure/thing you’d like to do?

Every time I answer this question I say something different! I’m also hoping to get into bikepacking this year, which in my mind is a faster, lighter version of touring. Despite my love of the great unexplored wild, I’ll take tar and slicks and speed over dirt any day. I’m also keen on the Americas and Asia as cycling destinations, I’ve started merchandising and selling some cartoons with the aim of becoming location independent in a year or so – itchy feet doesn’t even begin where I’m at right now! And lastly, big dream of mine has always been to do Cairo to Cape Town as some kind of female cycling record-setting expedition… one day.

Check out Unclipped Adventure online here and follow Tegan on Instagram at @unclippedadventure. It’ll brighten your day.

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Riding on island paradise Haida Gwaii

By Molly Brewer Hoeg

The final miles of our “Yellowhead Tour” proved we had saved the best for last. And to think we almost missed it.

Yellowhead Highway, Mile 0. Photo: Rich Hoeg

Yellowhead Highway, Mile 0. Photo: Rich Hoeg

My husband, Rich, dreamed up this itinerary for our latest husband/wife cycling adventure. Chosen for exploring the beauty of British Columbia and the coastal mountain range, the natural route was to follow the Yellowhead Highway – one of the only roads that reaches the coast. To get there, we took the ferry from Vancouver Island through the inland passage to Prince Rupert. There we dropped our car and boarded Via Rail with our bikes to arrive at our starting point in Prince George. Already, we had an eyeful of gorgeous scenery. But cycling brought more yet. We started out crossing the Nechako Plateau with a surprising amount of agricultural land and peaks gracing the horizon. In Smithers, we met the mountains up close, and soon connected with the Skeena River to snake through the mountain passes to the sea.

We originally assumed our tour would end after 470 miles when we returned to Prince Rupert. But in the process of planning the route, I noticed a dotted line on the map that showed the highway continuing out into the water. Really? That led me to Haida Gwaii. It only took a little research to convince me. We had to go there.

Haida Gwaii is about 80 miles off the coast of mainland British Columbia and is made up of two large islands and over 150 additional islands. Graham Island to the north hosts six communities and the final stretch of the Yellowhead Highway. Moresby Island to its south has one community on its north edge. The remainder of the archipelago is wilderness. 4,500 people live on Haida Gwaii, and about half of those are native Haida people. Theirs is a long and difficult history during which their culture and language were nearly wiped out.

Morning view across the bay to Moresby Island. Photo by Molly Hoeg.

Morning view across the bay to Moresby Island. Photo by Molly Hoeg.

Fortunately, they have succeeded in reclaiming their heritage, which now thrives on these islands. Long known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, in an official Giving Back the Name Ceremony in 2010, the Haida Nation literally returned that name to the Crown to become Haida Gwaii. It means Islands of the People.

My first views of the islands were from the ferry then cycling the short distance to the village of Queen Charlotte. The small quiet road meandered away from the ferry landing along the calm inlet between the two large islands. Impressions flooded my mind – lush, green, peaceful and natural. I already sensed the slower pace of life. The focus on the outdoors. And the lack of commercialism. I couldn’t wait to explore this intriguing land.

Queen Charlotte marina at sunset. Photo: Molly Hoeg .

Queen Charlotte marina at sunset. Photo: Molly Hoeg .

Allocating four days to cover the 70 miles from Queen Charlotte to Masset at the north end of Graham Island and back seemed excessive, but was in fact hardly enough at all. The cycling was easy on the quiet well-paved road. Paralleling endless miles of beach, followed by forested wilderness and the Masset Inlet with a mountainous backdrop provided a mere sampling of Haida Gwaii’s wilderness and natural beauty. It was only by getting off our bicycles that we could truly indulge in the depths of its offerings.

Naturally drawn to water, walking the beaches was imperative for me. The east coast offers a beach that extends the length of the island. Easily accessible from the highway, it offered calm waters that belied the power of the ocean. I was informed that the rock-strewn stretches that contrasted with the soft sandy shores were evidence of nature’s fury, which resculpted the shoreline at will. An extreme example is Balance Rock. Precariously perched on a logistically minute corner, it hovers over a flat rock bed. The last glacial retreat is credited with leaving this van-sized boulder there.

Balance Rock

Balance Rock

I was eager to reach North Beach beyond Masset to camp near the beach and climb Tow Hill for its iconic views. But the final eight-mile stretch involved rough gravel and construction that were beyond the endurance of my touring bike. Not to be deterred, I found a community park with a path that reached the beach. Waves pounded the shore and although I had sunny skies overhead, thick fog lay in a blanket over the water and obliterated the famed Tow Hill from view. Taking refuge in the dunes to watch the fury of the ocean, my disappointment receded knowing that the hike to the top would have been pointless that day.

North Beach in the fog. Photo by Molly Hoeg.

North Beach in the fog. Photo by Molly Hoeg.

Haida Gwaii offers a number of parks, with endless possibilities for wilderness pursuits. Limited to our stretch of highway, we still had access to more opportunities than we could indulge. Naikoon Provincial Park is the largest, offering camping, hiking, beachcombing, wildlife viewing and backcountry wilderness exploration. At the other extreme, tiny Pure Lake Provincial Park offers a small secluded lake just minutes down a trail from the road. My afternoon swim in its clear and refreshing waters was a spontaneous delight.

Of all the wildlife on the island, the most ubiquitous was the bald eagle. At first amazed at seeing 29 eagles in a two-mile stretch, we became accustomed to their constant presence overhead and I quickly learned to identify their noisy scream. Our most dramatic encounter was in the Haida village of Skidegate. A nest high in a tree hosted several eaglets eager to be fed. When a villager came out with a bucket of fish parts, a high-flying battle ensued as swarms of eagles fought over the tasty morsels. We were mesmerized watching hard-earned tidbits successfully delivered into the hungry mouths in the nest.

Bald Eagles feeding their young. Photo: Rich Hoeg

Bald Eagles feeding their young. Photo: Rich Hoeg

While Haida Gwaii’s natural environment is a draw, to visit the islands is to be steeped in the heritage of the Haida Nation. This is what sets it apart from any other group of beautiful islands. Throughout their history, the Haida have been known for their art. Blessed with a temperate climate and bountiful resources, they had the benefit of time to invest in developing their crafts.

Today the Haida populations are concentrated in Skidegate in the south, and Masset and Old Massett to the north. Cycling through those communities was a lesson in their culture, as represented by the outdoor art that adorned their buildings. Haida totem poles appeared just about anywhere in town – front yards, community buildings, signs, and cemeteries. Many were memorials. One was a Chieftanship pole. Another a medicine pole.

Haida totem pole in Old Massett. Photo by Molly Hoeg.

Haida totem pole in Old Massett. Photo by Molly Hoeg.

The best source of information and displays of Haida culture is the Haida Heritage Center. It is an ideal first stop after arriving on the ferry to get a good grounding in the Haida Nation. This recently built museum and resource center houses collections of Haida artifacts and detailed displays to preserve and share their history. Its buildings include a carving shed, where I was able to watch a craftsman carving a new totem pole. Seeing its design etched on the log and coming to three-dimensional life under his tools was the highlight of my visit to this center.

The Haida Cultural Center. Photo by Molly Hoeg.

The Haida Cultural Center. Photo by Molly Hoeg.

Artists’ workshops and galleries abound but are often tucked away. Like much of the islands’ offerings, it was only by following side roads and exploring away from the main route that I found some of the exquisite displays and tidy shops nestled in abundant gardens and humble buildings. Half the fun was seeking them out.

We came prepared for the islands’ wet climate. Bearing the brunt of the ocean’s winds which frequently drop rainfall and create a near-rainforest climate, its wet reputation is honestly earned. But we never unpacked our rain gear, blessed with sunshine and warm weather throughout our stay. We took it as additional confirmation that we were meant to explore Haida Gwaii.

We left behind far more to explore than we covered. But we retained a sense of awe for the beauty and culture that pervaded our visit. It was a finale which was truly grand.

Photo by Rich Hoeg

Photo by Rich Hoeg


Molly Brewer Hoeg is a freelance writer living in Duluth, Minnesota. She is currently writing a book titled America at 12 Miles an Hour about her experiences bike touring with her husband. You can also read more of her work on her website, Superior Footprints. Her husband Rich is a photographer and birder. His work can be found here.

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Celebrate the Year of Sustainable Tourism with a no-car California coast weekend bike trip

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By Suzanne Pletcher

Why travel halfway around the world for a bike adventure featuring great scenery when there are gems in your own backyard? I’ve lived in 12 states over the past four decades and along the way discovered that, almost anywhere you live, bucolic countryside awaits and offers a low-cost and invigorating getaway. String together a few weekends of the best spots in your area and you’ll discover—or rediscover—some good reasons why you live where you do.

That’s the premise I was working under when I put together a solo weekend bike trip to the Mendocino coast north of San Francisco. 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism and, in honor of low-carbon travel, I decided to visit California’s new Stornetta National Monument in Point Arena by bus and bike, leaving my car at home.

My trip encompassed the section of the northern California coast that stretches from Bodega Bay’s commercial fishing hub north to historic Point Arena, a masterpiece of serenity. North of the Russian River at Jenner, the tourists thin out, fog rolls in, and seagazing can be uninterrupted by anything but the sights and sounds of nature. This coastal paradise inspired Alexander Rotchev, a Russian colonist who managed the early 1800’s fur trading outpost of Fort Ross—now an historic national landmark—to declare that his years in this “enchanting land were the best years of my life.”

I chose late April, a tourist shoulder season, and it was a good choice because traffic on narrow Coast Highway 1 was sparse and the hills were brilliant green and bursting with wildflowers. The mornings were cool and foggy but by midday the sun was sparkling off the ocean and the balmy air was perfect for riding. It turned out to be a magical adventure that felt much longer than it really was.

You can make this trip as comfortable or adventurous as you like. I chose comfort at off-season hotel rates in Gualala, one mile north of bike camping under the canopy of old growth redwoods ($5 per person) at Gualala Point Regional Park.

The Mendocino Transit Authority (MTA) public bus company has a route and timetable perfectly suited to this weekend trip. The 20-person Route 95 jitney bus picked me up at 4:15 p.m. on Friday at the downtown transit center in Santa Rosa. The driver, Rick Davies, helped me lift my bike and panniers onto the front rack, ushered me aboard, and we were off. Davies drove first to Bodega Bay and from there up the coastal highway until he dropped me off at my hotel in Gualala two and one-half hours later.

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Coast Highway 1 is a serpentine thread that connects the beaches, bluffs and hamlets strung along the edge of the sea. Driving it can be a white-knuckle affair, so it was nice to be free to look out the window and watch the scenery roll by while someone experienced manned the wheel. This is the Hippie Highway that sparked songs filled with superlatives such as “California Dreamin’ and “Mendocino,” and several of the buildings in towns like Jenner, Anchor Bay, and Point Arena retain a laidback vibe of the 60’s and 70’s.

In Jenner, the bus stopped for a bathroom break long enough for me to cross the street and grab a coffee at Café Aquatica, a fragrant bakery and beanerie. From here on north, the scenery is world-class. We rolled past the coast’s man-made attractions: restored Fort Ross; the commanding 93-foot tall “Madonna of Peace” obelisk at blufftop Timber Cove resort; and the Sea Ranch Chapel, a free-flowing architectural masterpiece designed by James Hubbell and built in 1985 of locally sourced materials. But the Pacific Ocean, its vastness, and the green hills abutting it stole the show.

If I had been camping, Rick would have dropped me off at Gualala Point Regional Park. Instead, I stayed aboard to cross the bridge over the Gualala River into Mendocino County. Rick dropped me off at the Gualala Country Inn, my destination, at 6:45 pm.

There was just enough time to check in for a two-night stay, drop my bags in my room and hop on my bike to ride two blocks to Trinks Cafe, a low-key locals’ eatery tucked into a small shopping mall.

Like most restaurants in town, Trinks closes at 8 pm. Choose from a half-dozen four-star entrees including burgers, fresh seafood and salads with a fine selection of wines and superb service to top it off. Trink’s fridge is stocked with yummy food and desserts to go, which you might consider for lunch tomorrow.

Gualala is a bustling town of 2,000 where coast residents stock up on groceries and catch up with one another. An historic lumber and railroad town, it is now known more for its broad sand beach, the Gualala Point Regional park with its starburst of coastal trails, and fine art displayed in galleries and the Gualala Art Center. “Downtown” is three-blocks long, and everything is within an easy ride from the hotel or campground.

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Saturday morning, I grabbed an early breakfast at Trinks, then began peddling in tights, light fleece and wind jacket up the Old State Highway, signposted Gualala Street. It’s a steady climb to the local airport at 940 feet elevation, and by then I had shed layers down to a T-shirt. The main road heads north and parallels the coast on rolling terrain for more than 20 miles of woods and occasional forever views of the ocean below, though the road changes names frequently from Gualala Street to Stage Road, then Iverson Road, and Ten Mile Road. I finally turned left onto Eureka Hill Road and enjoyed a well-deserved downhill coaster ride to Riverside Drive and down to the coastal town of Point Arena where sustenance awaited.

Point Arena is an underappreciated gem of a “city” with a population of 450 and, as bus driver Rick put it fondly, “a long and tarnished history.” From its earliest settlement by whites, Point Arena was a boom and bust party town where booze flowed and brothels glowed. A major shipping port for lumber and mining supplies, it voted itself a home-rule city during Prohibition in order to sell liquor in a dry state. Its quiet cove and wharf now host a small commercial fishery and good surfing.

I immediately headed for Franny’s, a bakery that I had heard about and found simply by following the enticing aroma of freshly baked muffins and croissants.

Fortified by a generous slice of frittata and hot cup of coffee, I biked down to the historic harbor a mile west of downtown. Two youths donned five milimeter wetsuits, tucked surfboards under their arms and ran across the sand to ride nice waves on the right side of the pier. On the left side, a rock cod fisherman loaded his kayak with rod and net and paddled off to the nearby estuary. I walked out to the end of the pier and met the harbormaster, who pointed out the spray from gray whales out at sea. He gave me a quick tutorial on how to identify a whale by the shape of its spout when it exhales (a gray’s spout is heart-shaped, while a humpback’s is like an ice cream cone).

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I rode back to town and north for five miles on the coast highway, then turned left onto Lighthouse Way, which leads directly west for a mile or so to Point Arena Lighthouse and Stornetta public lands.

Stornetta is named for the pioneering Italian dairy ranchers who still farm here, and its 1,665 acres is the most recent addition to the California Coastal National Monument. In her on-site dedication of the land in 2013, U. S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called it a “world-class destination for outdoor recreation.”

Here, I experienced the immensity and timelessness of sky, ocean and ancient trees. I locked my bike at the trailhead and spent the next three hours wandering the colorful bluffs, exploring tidepools and napping in the tall grass. I saw a pair of humpback whales pass so close to the cliffs that even without binoculars I could see their mottled backs rise above the water. Finally, I hopped back on the bike and rode the coast highway back to Point Arena and 14 miles down to Gualala.

On the way, I stopped for dinner in the bar at St. Orr’s, just a few miles north of Gualala. St. Orr’s is a local landmark with a story, and serves the best food around. I scarfed fish taco and seared scallops with watermelon small plates that were as a delicious to the palate as they were to the eye. Then in waning daylight I biked the last miles back to my room and a good night’s sleep after a long day.

On Sunday, I packed my bags, enjoyed the Country Inn’s hearty continental breakfast, then hopped on my bike and rode south across the bridge at Gualala River and explored the bike trails at Gualala Point Regional Park in a last two-hour commune with sky, sand and sea before returning to the hotel to check out and catch the 10:30 am MTA Route 95 bus back to Santa Rosa. I was back home by 1 pm, savoring the weekend nature retreat ride that felt days longer than it actually was.

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If you go: 

Stay: 

Gualala Country Inn, 47955 Center St., Gualala, 707 884-4343. Sprawling yellow country inn featuring rooms with views of river and ocean.  Some rooms have gas fireplaces.  Robust continental breakfast served in the sitting room.

The Breakers Inn, 39300 Highway 1, Gualala, 707 884-3200. Condo-like hotel featuring 28 themed rooms with balconies that overlook the Pacific.  Most have fireplaces and spas.

The Surf Motel, 39170 Highway 1, Gualala, 707 884-3571.  Comfortable but basic lodge-style rooms on the ocean side of the highway.  An overnight stay comes with full breakfast.

Gualala Point Regional Park campground, 42401 Highway 1, Gualala. 707 785-2377. Ask your bus driver to drop you at the campground.  For those camping without a car, it’s $5/pp/night, and several sites are left open for first-come-first-served.  Campsites 1-5 are next to the river. All sites are shaded by massive old-growth redwoods. There are also several walk-in sites with more privacy.

Eat: 

Trinks,Café, 39140 Highway 1, Gualala 707 884-1713. Family owned fixture of local diners and visitors alike, offering fresh, tasty breakfast, lunch and gourmet dinners, and featuring mouthwatering desserts. Reservations advised during summer.

St. Orres, 36601 Highway 1, Gualala, CA (707) 884-3303. Russian-style lodge and restaurant offering top-line dinners and small plates in the bar where you can sit at high tables near a cavernous (and in winter, very cozy) fireplace.

Upper Crust Pizzeria, 39331 Highway 1, Gualala, 707 884-1324. Local pizza lovers’ favorite spot. Small and comfortable with a friendly atmosphere and reputation for great pizza and calzones.  Build your own or order one of the specialty pizzas. Beer, wine and soft drinks.

Franny’s Cup and Saucer, 213 Main St., Point Arena 707 882-2500. Nothing but slavering reviews for this iconic bakery that anchors downtown Point Arena and offers a variety of baked goods, frittattas and quiches. However, Franny’s doesn’t offer any tables for eating, so buy your goodies and go down a half block to…

Arena Market and Café, 185 Main St., Point Arena 707 882-3663.  The coffee here is better than at Franny’s, and the market offers sandwiches, organic fruit, nuts and groceries. Best is their free internet service and tables at the front where you can eat and watch the locals go by.

Travel:

MTA Bus Schedules and Routes

This trip used one bus route: The MTA 95. Total roundtrip cost for Route 95 Santa Rosa to Gualala and back: $16.50/pp; $8.20/pp for ages 62+. Bikes ride free and the bus can hold up to 4.

If you prefer a shorter bike ride and more time exploring Stornetta National Monument, then on Saturday hop aboard the MTA Route 75 bus at 7:45 am that will deliver you and your bike to Point Arena in 25 minutes, and start your bike trip from there.  One-way Route 75 fare is $2.20; $1.10/pp for ages 62+. Both the Route 75 and 95 buses conveniently drop off and pick you up at the Sundstrom Mall just across Center Street from the Gualala Country Inn.

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Great Divide MTB Route to expand by 400 miles

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), which currently runs 2,493 miles from Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, is the longest mountain bike route in the world and it’s about to get longer.

Four hundred new miles of mapped route will connect Jasper National Park to the north as well as the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) headquarters in Missoula, Montana (via a spur of the GDMBR). The ACA is also working on a new set of guidebooks and maps for the entire route that are more user-friendly and comprehensive.

While the GDMBR is well-known for the Tour Divide endurance race, it’s a route for all levels of cyclists, from pros to families on summer vacation.

Photo via the Adventure Cycling Association

Photo via the Adventure Cycling Association

You can help make the expanded route a reality by making a donation here.

Donations will not only help make the 400 new miles of GDMBR a reality, but they’ll also go towards a new 1,400-mile off-pavement cycling route in Arkansas.


Have you ridden the GDMBR? What are some other off-pavement cycling routes that you’ve ridden? Let us know in the comments! 

 

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Review: Ortlieb bags

By Adam Newman

Handlebar Pack -$130

In the name of simplicity and secure attachment, Ortlieb chose to design its handlebar bag to hang below the handlebars, where it stays put and doesn’t slip or bounce, rather than trying to cantilever it out in front. The laminated, ripstop nylon waterproof body has a roll-up closure at each end and Ortlieb lists its volume at 15 liters. I found it plenty large enough for a lightweight solo tent and sleeping bag. There are a myriad of ways to attach things on the outside too, beyond just the accessories pouch. The compression straps can hold extras like your tent poles or a second stuff sack, and there are some bungee cords on the exterior for a jacket. The attachment system is very secure, with a few foam spacers to make room for your brakes, shifters and cables. A super heavy-duty strap secures it in place and a secondary buckle strap cinches it up tight. The build quality is worth a shout-out, as I never once feared tearing a seam with repeated stretching, pulling, crashing, stuffing and smashing.

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Accessories Pack -$75

If you go with the Ortlieb handlebar pack, you should really pick up the Accessories pack too. It attaches with the compression straps from the Handlebar pack and is big enough for several days worth of food. Having my snacks right on the handlebars made them easy to access, and when I needed to hang a bear bag at night I simply detached it and strung it up tire combo in here. It can also be attached to the handlebars on its own as a daypack, or worn around your waist or shoulder with the included waist strap.

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Seat Pack -$160

Here Ortlieb chose to refine a common design rather than reinvent the wheel. The volume is adjustable from 8 liters to 16 liters, and it attaches to the seat rails with two quick release buckles and to the seatpost with heavy-duty Velcro straps. At the base of the bag, extending about a third of the way from the seatpost, is an internal cowling that gives it shape and keeps it from bulging. A really cool feature is the addition of a purge valve, which lets you squeeze all the air out of it after it’s been rolled. Getting the seatpack to work well comes down to proper packing. I found that one big item like a sleeping bag worked better than a collection of small items like clothing. Also you need to make sure the contents are stuffed firmly into the bottom of the pack, because otherwise you’re guaranteed to suffer from Droopy Butt Syndrome. After a few days of struggling with it sagging I took better care with packing and the results improved. I also started putting my tent poles in there for more support. One curious design quirk is that even with the bag nearly full I was maxing out the adjustment straps that secure the roll- top, seen here just above the Ortlieb logo. They’re also impossible to tighten while buckled, which makes adjusting them a chore.

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Conclusion

Ortlieb has always built some insanely bomber gear, and after working these bags hard I have no doubt they’ll last a while. I would definitely recommend the handlebar pack and accessories pack for their simplicity and carrying capacity. The seat pack, on the other hand, faces much stiffer competition (intentional pun) from designs with rigid frames. It requires careful packing and its massive size is a blessing and a curse. It’s a solid choice but not a home run.

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This review was originally published in Bicycle Times 43. Subscribe to our email newsletter to get fresh web content and reposted print content like this delivered to your inbox every Tuesday! 

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The Chilean adventures of El Huevito

Words and photos by Cass Gilbert 

“Que huevito!” they cried out as he passed. As I had suspected, Sage was proving a big hit in South America. His locks of curly blond hair, those big blue eyes and – at the tender age of 18 months – his endearingly wobbly gait, had all the women and schoolgirls swooning. They scooped him up in their arms and peppered him with kisses, the fortunate among them rewarded with a smile. And thus was born Sage’s travel persona: El Huevito, or ‘The Little Egg.’

To those in search of Latin American adventure, Chile makes a fine introduction. Few countries have it beat for sheer beauty and diversity. Long and skinny in proportion, Chile crams it in: a slender land of volcanoes, beaches, lakes, desert, vineyards, high plateaux and Patagonian steppe, corseted between Andean mountains to the east, and Pacific surf to the west. What’s more, its infrastructure is amongst the most developed in the region, making it particularly appealing for families cycling with a trailer in tow.

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To the lake!

Given such a menu of natural beauty from which to gorge, my Nancy and I decided it best to hone in on three of its dominant themes for our visit: lakes, volcanoes and beaches. Thankfully, the country has a system of excellent, affordable long distance buses, and we were soon shuttled south of Santiago, all the way down to Villarica in the Lake District. A region renowned for the perfection of its bodies of water and the majesty of the volcanoes that preside over them, it made the ideal base from which to find our bearings and settle in to Chilean life.

As a seasoned solo bike tourer, I knew I was in for a radical change of pace, compared to any of my previous travels alone. Over the last few years, I’ve taken it upon myself to link the dirt roads that course through the Americas, riding from Alaska to Cuzco. I’ve pedaled my way through the crumpled ranges of Mexico’s Sierra Madre, the remote singletrack of Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast, the coffee plantations of backcountry Colombia, and the mining roads of Andean Peru.

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Exploring South America has become a passion, and naturally I was excited to share my enthusiasm with my son and partner. But this would be something completely new. It would also be Sage’s first ever bike tour, let alone his first Latin American experience. Prior to the trip, we’d experimented with overnighters in New Mexico, introducing him to camping. Traveling around Santa Fe in the trailer was second nature to him too, generally having the pleasing effect of lulling him into a peaceful sleep. But Nancy and I both knew this trip promised a whole new universe of challenges—and hopefully rewards.

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So instead of my usual quest to seek out the remotest of dirt roads, or clamber over mountains, or camp in abandoned houses, we kept our sights within reason, appreciating the importance of being off the bike as much as on it. Indeed, many would have ridden in a single stint what took us several days to cover. But Sage prefers to appreciate life at a more leisurely pace, stopping to smell the roses along the way. “What’s the rush, papa?” he might have been saying, as he ambled off to pet another feral dog, or inspect a rock of particular interest. And who were we to disagree? Rediscovering the world through Sage’s eyes proved to be a highlight of traveling together, as we marveled at his unconditional interest in everything that surrounded him.

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Our first night camping was in a farmer’s field, pitched under the cosseting arms of a giant oak tree in full autumnal bloom. Sage observed us set up our brand new tent, as if appraising our efforts. He was eager to be part of the team, so I sent him off to deliver tent stakes to his mother, in what was to become our daily ceremony. “Shoes off in the tent, Sage,” we said, when the tent was up, laying down the camp craft ground rules. He’d duly oblige, before slipping into our portable cocoon and helping-in his eyes at least-to inflate his diminutive Therm-a-Rest.

As a family, we prepared dinner together that first night on the table of an uneven slab of wood, cooking up fresh produce we’d sourced in an outdoor market in Villarica. Then Sage indulged in a favorite pastime— expressive dancing, hands arcing through the air to the falling leaves that swirled in the wind. But his highlight that day was surely the enormous pig that snuffled over, inspecting him as it might a small piece of juicy cauliflower. Sage was positively delighted.

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Over the next few days, we worked our way up and down the steep rolling, gravel roads of the region. And ridiculously steep they were. Sometimes, they spiraled so abruptly skyward that it required the two of us pushing my bike together, with all our might, feet scrabbling, to the brows of hills. As I quickly found out, a bike, trailer, growing baby, food, and all the paraphernalia of toys we carried amongst our entourage certainly makes for good strength training. By comparison, my fat-tired Surly Pugsley felt positively buoyant when unladen. In any case, our toils made for good excuses to pause regularly, when we saw horses and cows to show Sage, or a patch of grass to picnic on. Passing through small settlements, our preferred food stops involved piping hot empanadas, the Chilean speciality, which we’d all blow on then eat in harmonious, contended family silence. Sage would then retire to his chariot for an afternoon nap, and a couple of hours later we’d seek out a suitable spot to pitch the tent, whether it be an organized campsite, or an impromptu opportunity we chanced upon.

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Journey to the Monkey Puzzle trees

Our first destination was Coliseum, a small hamlet nestled at the foot of the Conguillío National Park. But just as we arrived, heavy weather rolled in after days of warming sunshine, forcing us to forgo our portable home for the cheapest room we could find in a local hospedaje. It was bare bones: the door refused to close, creaking petulantly, and the lopsided bed threatened to swallow Sage whole. So began El Huevito’s initiation to dirt-bag touring. Soon, our combined belongings were strewn around our shoebox of a space, clothes of all shapes and sizes hanging from windows and door handles.

Porridge was cooked up on the floor of the bathroom and the bed quickly filled with bread crumbs. Of course, the matriarchal owners of the hospedaje were quickly won over by Sage’s blue- eyed charms, calling out his name and luring him into the kitchen, the social centre of the premises. To Nancy’s chagrin, he’d return from such forays laden with a soft drink and biscuits, when prior to the trip, his impeccable diet revolved around the finest home cooked, organic goodness the Santa Fean farmer’s market could offer.

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There was nothing to do but wait out the storm for a couple of days, as Sage bounced around the walls in his sugary fix. When a break in the weather finally came, our patience was rewarded with cinematic views of the conical Llaima Volcano, towering overhead at 10,252 feet. Come morning, we made a dash for the park itself. Following soft and loamy dirt roads, we climbed ever upwards into this wild, beautiful and other-worldly place, striking out across its volcanic lunar landscape, where islands of fertile land lay stranded between lava flows frozen in time—or at least until the next eruption.

With a 1,500 foot climb to tackle that day, we made it, just, to the enchanting Araucaria araucana, standing nobly in tranquil groves around the park. Their nickname was as appealing as their appearance: Monkey Puzzle trees are so called as it’s considered that climbing them would flummox even a monkey. I could see why. These bizarre, bandy, Seussian-like creations reach up to 130 feet high, and their tentacle-like branches are clad in stiff, sharp edged leaves, surely protecting them from any primate intrusion.

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To the beach!

Mission accomplished, it was time to gather our belongings, scour the room for toys, and move on once more. Appreciating the way rain douses family holiday-making with a perfunctory fizzle, we headed north, in search of beaches and sunshine. Our destination, Valparaíso, is well known in Chile as an artistic city rich in muralism, and perfectly located to spend our last few nights camping along the Pacific. So away from the damp and humid Lake District we fled, via a 12-hour bus ride that required both stubborn haggling to secure safe passage of our booty of bikes and trailer, and the challenge of coaxing Sage through the night without one of his famous meltdowns.

Thankfully, animals and objects all survived, largely unscathed, to be unceremoniously ejected into Valparaíso’s bus station in the early hours. It was our first experience of urban riding, South American-style. Where we’d meandered through a quiet, traffic-free Lake District, here we tussled with cars, dodged kami- kaze buses, and hopped jagged curbs, the trailer dancing graciously but unintentionally on one wheel at times.

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The hostel we found in this ramshackle port’s bohemian district was perfect. Adorned with pictures of bicycles in every room, La Bicyclette was run by the ever-smiling Giles, a relocated Frenchman who bobbed around us enthusiastically and mollycoddled Sage. “No problem, no problem,” he soothed again and again, showing us to a bright and airy room, its windows opening out onto a colorful street scene below, as he advised on the best places to walk.

Giles was quite right. Family cycling isn’t much of an option in Valparaíso, given the crazy traffic that plies its streets, and the even crazier inclines etched into the hills of this lopsided city. So steep are the roads draped across the hillside that each year the city hosts an urban Red Bull challenge, in which downhill riders tear down its stairways and barrio backstreets, the angle of which puts San Francisco to shame.

Instead we took to the city by foot, investigating its fish market, exploring the preserved house of national poet and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Pablo Neruda, and appreciating the wonderful array of murals for which Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is known. Quite literally, the city is painted in color. Like a giant outdoor gallery, one piece of street art after another graces all but every wall, with barely a blank slab of dreary concrete to be seen.

Munching on our Chilean empanada staple, we ambled down its maze of precipitous passageways, and admired its mishmash of architectural styles, houses stacked up like Jenga. Sage seemed to enjoy himself too, running, wobbly-legged, down the steepest of its inclines. Emitting peels of baby laughter, he gathered a drunken-like momentum with each step, tottering ever so close to the tall curbs that match him for height, as we chased after him with nervous exhaustion.

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When it was time to escape the city, there was no avoiding a herculean climb: a 1,300 feet elevation gain over just a few lung-busting, vein-popping, sweat-inducing miles. With just a few nights left in Chile, we made for a remote headland we’d been told promised peace and solitude. The ride there, rollercoasting up and down a network of dusty red dirt tracks, was bereft of traffic but exhausting. Again, the challenges proved worthwhile. The dilapidated campsite perched at the end of the headland may have been a babysitter’s nightmare, complete as it was with spools of discarded barbed wire and rickety walkways, but it boasted its own private cove of unimaginable beauty.

There, we dined at sunset, gazing out into the vastness of the Pacific and watching pelicans swoop overhead, which incited excited squeaks and finger jabbing from Sage. Come morning, we beachcombed to our hearts content, clambering over rocks, sifting through flotsam and creating collections of shells. Sage, Befriender of Feral Animals, even found himself a kitten as a playmate, before it was time to load up once more, return to Valparaíso and begin the process of retracing our steps home.

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All in all, our first family cycling trip had been a definite success. Looking at the world through Sage’s eyes had proved to be, in itself, a journey of true wonder, equal to the best riding we’d enjoyed over our three weeks in Chile. Sometimes, it was as simple as noticing the way in which he watched birds fly by, or looked out to sea, or stared up at trees. There were so many moments to cherish: playing chase around the campsite table, reading bedtime stories together in the tent or introducing him to portly pigs. The family bond is strong in South America, and the manner in which everyone we met interacted with us, warming immediately to Sage, introduced a new richness to traveling.

I can’t claim it was the smoothest of rides, or that we slipped into family travel effortlessly and gracefully. It was hard, harder than I’d envisaged, despite all my studious planning and fretting. At times Sage struggled, and at times we all struggled. But even with hindsight, I’m not sure it could have been any other way. This was living, each and every moment of the day. It had brought us closer as a family. Together, we’d learnt and grown.

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How To: Tour Cuba by Bike

Words and photos by Colt Fetters

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Am I allowed to travel to Cuba as a “tourist”?

Yes, as long as you self-qualify under one of the 12 specific categories for a general license. We traveled under the basis of education—we visited museums, monuments, historic sites and researched on spectacular roads for a bikepacking route. Another option is booking a trip with a structured tour, such as the People-to-People Tours.

What documents are needed?

Usually airlines will help tremendously with the documents needed for travel. Airlines handle travel to Cuba differently; however, so do your research. In general, every traveler will need the following:

• A tourist card
• A general license
• Travel insurance

Bring enough cash

You may read that U.S. cards are now accepted in Cuba; however, at the time of writing, U.S. financial institutions had not yet developed a meaningful presence in the country. The cash we brought was the only currency we had available.

Where do I stay?

The typical accommodation used by travelers is casas particulares. These are private Cuban homes that rent their extra rooms for about $20 to $30 per night. Although hotels are available throughout the country, casas particulares are arguably more accommodating and comfortable—and are ripe with potential for experiencing culture more intimately, as they give travelers a peek into Cubans’ private lives.

What bicycles are ideal?

This depends whether you are looking to tour dirt roads or paved roads. A typical touring bike outfitted with panniers and 40c tires would work well for paved roads. Dirt roads can be fairly chunky—we traveled on a rigid 29er mountain bike and an even bigger 29plus rigid bike complete with bikepacking bags.

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What about food?

Typically on bikepacking trips I cook many of my own meals. However, it was difficult to find camp-stove fuel in Cuba. We mostly ate street food and purchased extras to eat while on the road. Grocery selections were pretty basic and not very exciting. Our favorite personal-size pizzas were available for less than $1(!) at small stands in most towns.

Learn some Spanish

The majority of Cubans do not speak English. It is essential that you know at least a few conversational phrases that will help you get around, buy food and find directions. Free apps such as Duolingo are very helpful for learning some Spanish.


 

Keep Reading: Check out Colt’s story about traveling through Cuba with his significant other here. 

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Cuba con mi Amor: Introducing a loved one to bicycle touring

Words and photos by Colt Fetters

Staring into the dark, dense jungle ahead I struggled to make out the trail. I studied my GPS, then looked back up—yes, this indeed was the “trail.” Completely overgrown with tangled green branches, it didn’t appear that the trail had been used in the past year. This was new to me. Sure, I’ve hike-a-biked outrageous terrain in foreign countries plenty before, but never with Hannah.

I looked back at her. “I trust you,” she said. Honestly, that was the last thing I wanted to hear. What I was hoping to hear her say was: “Are you crazy? We’re lost in the middle of the jungle, in Cuba for God’s sake! Let’s get the hell out of here!” And instead of turning back, we continued pushing our bikes deeper into the unknown.

I’m ashamed to admit that this was a typical charade of mine: planning an international bike-touring trip with a half-baked route, limited knowledge of the local language and less plans than a college graduate with a fine arts degree. However this time I was responsible for someone besides myself. So there we were, in the middle of Cuba, hiking our bikes down a long-abandoned path, sure of the destination but not quite sure of the route to get there.

By now you can probably tell that this isn’t your typical feel-good travel story, complete with descriptions of luxurious landscapes, delectable cuisine and friendly locals. All of that was still present, but the story I’d like to tell is of sharing my passion for bikepacking with a loved one— and of wanting so damn much for her to be just as psyched to ride her bike as I was. I wasn’t off to a great start…

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On the Road

Our plan was a 16-day bikepacking trip in northern Cuba, covering 450 miles from the tobacco farming valley of Viñales to the bustling colonial town of Trinidad, via dirt roads, horse paths and walking trails. Hannah’s resume of bicycle travel was short, consisting of just one prior overnight bike tour in the foothills of northern Georgia. Looking back, this trip was a bold endeavor for someone with her limited experience. I should have known better. However, my mind was clouded with one desire: To share my love of bicycle touring with the one I love.

Captivated by the images we had seen of colorful streets and colonial architecture, we thought to ourselves, what better place than Cuba for Hannah to experience her first bikepacking trip? A country romanticized for its vibrant salsa music, with locals dancing and puffing on smoky cigars in city squares while vintage American cars chug through narrow streets with their tops down.

Most of our route took the form of long, gravel farm roads, oddly resemblant of the American Midwest. But instead of corn, the roads were lined with towering stalks of green sugar cane. Farmers with brimmed cowboy hats and hearty mustaches would stop and stare in surprise as we bounced along the road before them. It wasn’t long before the Cuban countryside grew on us. Its long, flat roads lulled us into the bike-touring lifestyle.

In between the long stretches of gravel and sugar cane, we encountered small agricultural towns— simple and picturesque, with vibrantly colored homes and streets filled with horse carriages, street vendors and rusty single-speed bicycles. There were no hotels to be found in these quaint towns, so we bunked with the locals—who provided spectacular meals. Breakfasts were usually comprised of elaborate spreads of fruit, fresh squeezed juice, eggs and Cuban espresso. We would leave the casas with full bellies, ready to explore the roads ahead.

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Though we brought more than enough cash to exchange for Cuban pesos, we unfortunately lost several hundred dollars due to a sticky-fingered currency-exchange attendant. After our loss, we had only the money in our wallets for the remainder of the trip. This forced us to impose a strict budget and thus, our standard of living sharply decreased. The food other tourists ranted and raved about was no longer an option. Instead we “enjoyed” a more authentic experience, relying on street vendors for our meals.

Typical meals included bologna and cheese on stale buns, makeshift pizzas and fried-fish sandwiches. The abrupt lack of funds would have had most newbie travelers down and discontent, yet Hannah embraced the challenge. Rising to the occasion, she didn’t complain. She even pretended to enjoy the bologna and fried fish (even though she just converted from her 13-year vegetarianism only a month prior to the trip). What better attitude could I have asked for in a travel partner?

There’s a funny thing about sharing the things you love with the people that you care most about: They don’t always feel the same way you do. I knew this was a possibility, yet I still wanted her to experience the solace of an open dirt road, the thrill of being left broke and stranded and the freedom of carrying everything you need on your bicycle.

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Rolling with the Locals

I’m happy to say, Hannah did fall in love with bikepacking. But it was for entirely different reasons than my own. It’s not that she didn’t value the aspects of bicycle travel that I did, but the appeal for her was different. It was about the people. Connecting with the locals was a cinch for her, not that either of us are fluent in Spanish. Still, the language barrier didn’t stop her like it seemed to inhibit me. Everywhere we went, Cubans absolutely adored her. Maybe it was the blonde hair, the deep- blue eyes, or her big ole smile … Or maybe they just plain liked her better than they did me. Never have I been treated better in a foreign country, and I can assure you, the treatment was based on association, purely.

Apart from the cat calls and unwanted kissy faces that were thrown about unashamedly, the locals would go out of their way to ensure our comfort, whether that meant discounting our room for the night or walking us all the way across town just to find a place to eat. On one such occasion, we were walked to the local state cafeteria where, once we arrived, we were told we were not allowed in the establishment, per government policy. So instead, the manager ushered us into his home next door and set out a feast fit for Fidel Castro himself.

After our chicken bones were scoured and the rice was no more, the host’s father came out to introduce himself. He urged us to follow him, as he plodded outside to a small shed. After working the rusty lock free from its hinge, the door swung open to reveal a simple room with a small desk in the corner. As he sat, we gathered around and watched him pull a clump of aged tobacco leaves from a glass jar. His hands came to life, masterfully rolling the leaves back and forth like he had done thousands of times. Eighty cigars a day, he grumbled in Spanish. He rolled, pressed, then wrapped the bundle with a carefully selected leaf—the entire process took 10 minutes. As the tobacco transformed into a stubby cigar, he held his work to the light, as if to inspect it. And then, before the cigar had been in existence for even 10 seconds, he lopped off the end, held it to a flame and offered it to us with a smile.

It is such genuine experiences, no matter how small, that make a trip extraordinary. This being just one story of many that made a significant impact on us. Interactions as simple as the farmer who gave us a personal tour of his tobacco farm, the young boy that “helped” us plug a hole in our tire, the woman that wouldn’t stop washing our bicycles, or the process of exchanging a Polaroid photograph for a smile—all these events bestow a sense of fulfillment that is hard to describe. However, it’s not always the positive experiences that make for the best stories and longest-lasting memories.

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Our New Friend

Our last night on the road was spent in what had originally been anticipated to be a marvelous campsite, located along a ridge in the Escambray Mountains. The view extended over the valley below, all the way to the coast where Trinidad sat off in the distance. Slowly, the light drained from the sky and we settled down for the night under the minimal protection of our tarp strung above our heads.

As night set in, the jungle started to stir. At first, the noises were present only in our imagination. Then they started to materialize into reality. Something scurried over the foot of our sleeping bags. I scrambled for a light. There sat a large rat in the bush above us. I turned off my light—rats, although not ideal, we could handle. Then came the footsteps. Surely I was imagining the sounds. A bright light landed upon our faces. I scrambled from my bed of dirt and grasped for my headlamp. When my eyes finally adjusted to the light, I stared into a grizzled face. His Spanish reached my frazzled ears, but I wasn’t able to make sense of it. Looking down I saw a machete on his waist and a blanket in his arms. Suddenly, it all made sense. We had stolen his campsite.

Frustrated, he stomped away, and just before I let out a sigh of relief, he threw down his blanket and laid down for bed—a mere 20 feet from our campsite! Surely, repacking our bikes and setting off at this hour was not an option. I racked my brain for the best course of action, but finding no obvious answer, I joined Hannah back under the “protection” of our tarp, attempting to reassure her that all was well. Through the night I laid wide-eyed, unable to sleep. My mind ran rampant with the wild imaginations that are typical when sleeping next to a machete-wielding neighbor.

When morning finally arrived, we rolled out of bed, red-eyed and tired from our sleepless night. It turned out the man had left in the night, and we were left dazed, wondering if it had all just been a dream—which it most certainly was not. It was going to take some heavy persuading to convince Hannah to camp out again anytime soon.

The last couple days of a tour are typically filled with exuberance and anticipation. This day was no different. I hate to admit that we were ready for the trip to end—but in all honesty, we were. Sure, we were coming away with incredible memories and a sense of empowerment at handling such unusual challenges together, but after a night like we’d just had, we were ready for our own bed.

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The End in Sight

Cruising down the long, winding descents from the Escambray Mountains into the coastal town of Trinidad, we knew our first order of business: booking bus tickets back to the airport in Havana. We were no rookies. We le ourselves three days’ cushion to be back for our flight to the States. The bus station was bustling when we arrived. As I stood in line, waiting to purchase tickets, I studied my Spanish translation book, preparing to communicate our urgent need for tickets.

Once at the front of the line, I spoke clearly, absolutely nailing the Spanish phrase I had rehearsed, which was a rarity for me. My victory was short-lived when my request for tickets was met with a resounding, “No, todo reservado.”

“Wait, you’re booked?” I asked.

“Si, para ocho dias.” “For eight days?” I queried incredulously, holding up the alleged number in fingers, just to make entirely sure that I understood.

Bewildered, Hannah and I sat on the bench outside of the station, heads in our hands. Our flight was leaving in just three days and the bus was our only way of transportation. Hannah turned toward me, grabbed my hand and said: “Hey, we’ve dealt with this kind of shit before, we will figure it out. We have to.” She was right. We had to figure it out. Our wallets were dwindling and we didn’t have the budget to extend our stay.

As usual, she was right, we did figure it out. After many failed attempts of finding a taxi that could fit our bicycles, Hannah came across a local bus traveling to Havana. Somehow she was able to convince the driver to accommodate our bikes and our budget. We were off, headed to Havana, thanks to Hannah’s charm. Had the negotiating been left to me, we’d still be stranded on a street corner in Trinidad.

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My hope for this trip was that Hannah would fall in love with touring—amazingly, I got much more than I bargained for. I got a travel partner—someone sharing in the experiences and challenges, and contributing enormously to a trip’s success. Never again will I leave for weeks at a time without her, only to spend my time on my bicycle halfway across the world, thinking about her. From now on, I prefer her right next to me. Experiencing everything with me—the ups and the downs.

I’m concluding this story with itchy palms. Not because of the exhilarating memories nor because of the anticipation of our next trip, but because of the deep-red rash covering my entire body, from head to toe. That’s right, Cuba gave me the Zika virus. But don’t worry, I’m choosing to count this as an experience I won’t soon forget.

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The Tour de Banks

Words and photos by Tom O’Brien 

“I hate this hill,” Jake whined as he dismounted his bike and began pushing it toward the summit of the climb like Sisyphus with a boulder. “I can’t believe you thought I was serious about riding all the way to North Carolina. I MEANT IT AS A JOKE!”

It was no joke now. The two of us were all alone on day one of the first self-supported bike tour either of us had ever attempted, and nothing was going well. Not yet noon, the temperature on this late July day was well into the nineties, with 100% humidity, and we’d already repaired our first flat tire (only 13 miles from home). To make matters worse, I hadn’t yet figured out how to remove the panniers, nor had I bothered to make sure my brand new mini-pump was set up for Presta valves. Neither one of us had even ridden a featherweight road bike over the Taconic Mountains, much less a fully-loaded touring rig. It was going to be a long day.

What was looking more and more like a really bad idea got started back in February when, from out of the blue, my 14-year-old son said,“Hey Dad, why don’t we ride our bikes to the beach this year?” The “beach” he was referring to wasn’t one town over; it was in Corolla, North Carolina—600 miles away from our home in Connecticut—where his grandparents rent a vacation house every summer.

It was a ridiculous suggestion that should have gone in one ear and right out the other. Although I was a lifelong bike fanatic, I’d never done a multi-day tour. And Jake was a fair-weather cyclist who’d never ridden more than 30 miles in one day. But suddenly this surly teenager, who considers his middle-aged father a constant source of embarrassment, was talking about spending weeks on the road with me. I promised that if he was serious about taking this journey, I’d find a way to make it happen. Apparently, he didn’t have the guts to fold when his bluff was called.

So that’s how we found ourselves drenched in sweat, inching our way up a mountain in eastern New York, and rapidly running out of water. Just as we crossed the summit and began our descent toward Poughkeepsie, I took a sip from my Camelback and was rewarded with nothing but a blast of warm air. A moment later, Jake, red-faced and sweating, turned to me and said, “I’m dry.” Lucky for us, at the foot of the mountain we found a convenience store selling spring water in gallon jugs for 99 cents. We bought two.

Things got better from there. Our first night on the road was spent with friends on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie who treated us to a cookout and a refreshing dip in their swimming pool. Maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

We awoke the next morning in much better spirits and decided to give this mad adventure one more try. Both of us were looking forward to the opportunity to cross the big river using the famous Walkway Over the Hudson, a restored mile-long railroad trestle that soars two hundred feet above the surface of the water.

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On the second day of their ride to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Jake and Tom O’Brien take time to savor the view from the 212 foot high Walkway Over the Hudson.

Like a first visit to the Grand Canyon, the word “breathtaking” does not begin to describe the panoramic view from the center point of that magnificent structure.

We could have lingered on the Walkway for hours—besides the view, there were ice cream vendors set up on both ends of the bridge–but we were hoping to cover another 50 miles before stopping for the night, so off we rode onto the rail trail that led to the college town of New Paltz, and our choice of 5 different pizzerias for lunch.

At this point, I should mention that my son considers himself a pizza connoisseur (even though the only kind he’ll eat is pepperoni). Before we left home he had started a travel blog and promised to post a review of all the pizza places we visited. Here’s his expert opinion on New Paltz’s My Hero Pizzeria and Submarine Shop: “Pizza was great, perfect amount of grease, plenty of pepperoni, and just great overall.” After a long morning in the saddle, that pizza tasted “great” to me too, but after two weeks, and 8 or 9 large pepperonis, I’d had enough.

Thunderstorms out to get us

Part of the reason that Day 1 was such an ordeal was that we had to figure out our own way to get to Poughkeepsie (hence the insanely steep mountain crossing), but from that point on we intended to follow Adventure Cycling’s well-traveled Atlantic Coast Route for the remainder of the journey. Assuming that the roads would be flatter and the traffic calmer from this point on gave us a bit more confidence that we might actually complete the journey. Too bad the weatherman didn’t get the memo.

Day 2 was even more oppressive than Day 1–extreme humidity, temperatures flirting with triple digits, and pop-up thunderstorms lining the horizon. On Day 3, an approaching cold front promised relief from the steam bath, but not until after a line of strong storms pushed through. The night before, we’d made plans to get an early start and make it to Port Jervis, NY well ahead of the front. But getting a teenager moving in the morning is like kick-starting an ancient Harley Davidson. We didn’t get on the road until 10 am, and within a few hours, the towering clouds and rumbles of thunder were bearing down on us.

If I was riding alone I would have pressed on. We’ve got good life insurance, and I’m sure that no reputable carrier would try to invoke a suicide clause just because some poor sap wasn’t smart enough to come in out of the storm. But when I’m traveling with my son, my maternal instincts take over.

We kept pedaling, but I made note of every covered porch, open barn, or unlocked garage that we passed, in case we needed to make a mad dash for shelter.

When a huge bolt of lightning struck way too close just as we were passing a wastewater treatment plant, it was time to cut and run. Lucky for us, the gates were unlocked and just inside the fence was an enormous pavilion with nothing but a plastic-lined dumpster underneath, plenty of room for two bike travelers to take shelter from the storm. I had a pretty good idea about what was inside the dumpster but decided to keep my suspicions to myself.

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The boys were grateful to find shelter from the thunderstorm at a wastewater treatment plant near Port Jervis, New York, but they tried not to think about the contents of the dumpster.

Eventually, the storm let up enough for us to pedal into Port Jervis, tired and soaking wet. Although we’d planned to camp, I was glad to find an inexpensive room in The Erie Hotel, a restored landmark from the golden age of the railroad, with a restaurant downstairs that served no pizza. The only downside was that the bike parking was two flights up.

We awoke to much cooler temperatures and a steady rain that was not expected to let up all day. We hadn’t thought to include fenders or serious rain gear in our trip preparations, but neither of us wanted to lose a day’s worth of travel so we decided to press on.

I was certain that Jake would be miserable, and that I’d have to spend the rest of the day listening to a whining teenager complaining about the rain, and the cold, and how he was going to get himself legally emancipated as soon as we got home. But he was loving it. About 20 miles down the road, when we were both thoroughly soaked, he turned to me and said, “This is the best day yet!” It was indeed a refreshing change to be drenched in rainwater rather than sweat. Later in the day when we took a break at an ice cream parlor, I felt so guilty about the enormous puddle we left under our table that I borrowed a mop to clean it up.

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After riding 3 sweltering days soaked in sweat, a cool rain was blessed relief.

We were planning to camp out, but the rain never let up, so I was glad to find a room in a motel with a covered balcony that allowed us to dry off our bikes, remove the seat posts, and turn the bikes upside down to let the water drain out.

Looking back on it, every day of our journey was unique, but most days started and ended the same way: struggling to wake up a comatose teenager and finding another excuse to forgo camping.

A sunny weekend on the river

We spent the next few days following the Delaware River from the Water Gap to the outskirts of Philadelphia. It was the weekend, the weather, at last, was perfect (sunny, high seventies, low humidity), and the river was teaming with activity. Early on Saturday morning, we were joined briefly by a peloton of club riders out for their weekly 50-miler. They were excited to find out about our adventure and we rode together for a couple of flat miles, but when we hit the first climb, our heavily-loaded bikes were no match for their carbon fiber racing machines, so we waved our goodbyes.

Early that afternoon we started seeing school buses, dozens and dozens of them, passing us from both directions. At first I wondered what school could possibly be in session in late July? Then I noticed the hundreds of bright pink inner tubes floating down the river and realized what they were up to. Going tubing down the Delaware on a warm summer day looked like it might be almost as much fun as biking.

When it came time to stop for the night my luck ran out. There was no chance of rain, air conditioning was totally unnecessary, a private campground was a mile away and it was not filled up. We were going to camp.

Jake was delighted. By the time I emerged from the shower, he’d pitched the tent, inflated our sleeping pads, started a fire, and had marshmallows ready for roasting. We had a great time until it was time to try to get some sleep. Despite having sprung for the most expensive inflatable sleeping pad, I awoke the next morning with a stiff neck that would haunt me for the remainder of the journey.

Smells like teen spirit

Aside from my little aches and pains, Sunday was another delightful ride along the Delaware. Until about 4 pm when, just north of Lambertville, New Jersey, Jake began to complain that his front shock had gone squishy on him. It wasn’t the shock: He had a flat tire, his first of the trip, and he insisted on fixing it himself. Until he had trouble; then he wanted my help immediately. Until he didn’t need my help anymore; then he wanted me as far away from him as possible. Until he had trouble; then he wanted me back NOW!

HELP ME!
I GOT THIS, NOW GO AWAY!
HELP ME!
DAD I GOT IT!

Our little dance went on for about 45 minutes. But all was forgotten once he pumped up the tire and it held.

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Jake wasn’t happy when he got a flat tire, but he insisted on making the fix by himself (mostly).

Every parent of a teenager has to figure out how to relate to a human being who ping-pongs between childhood and adulthood at random. Given the stress of taking on a journey that neither of us had properly prepared for, I was expecting much worse. Aside from his first few days on the road and the flat tire incident, Jake handled his frustrations well.

It was the other characteristic of being a teenager that I couldn’t stand: his strength. If I were to draw a graph that compared our pedaling power as the trip wore on, it would show me significantly stronger at the outset, holding my own for awhile, then gradually getting weaker. Jake, on the other hand, would struggle for the first few days, then get stronger every day afterward. While I had to help him get over the Taconics on the first day of the trip, by the time we reached the steep hills on the banks of the Susquehanna River a week and a half later he was pulling me along like a domestique in the Tour de France. Life is so unfair.

Car transfer to North Carolina border

Another critical detail I failed to plan for was how much further we’d have to travel in order to ride back roads to the Outer Banks of North Carolina rather than drive the interstate. I had been assuming that after two weeks of riding, we’d be deep into Virginia. But we were still in Pennsylvania, a day’s ride north of the Maryland Border. Fortunately, we had a backup plan.

One of the reasons that I went along with Jake’s nutty idea of bicycling all the way to the beach was that my wife Cece was planning to drive there two weeks later, so if we fell behind, we could always get a lift. I didn’t want Jake to miss out on precious time with his cousins at the beach, so we met up with Cece just across the border in Maryland and loaded our bikes and gear into her car.

Jake and I had no idea how much we’d grown accustomed to a slower pace of life over the past two weeks until my lead-footed wife drove onto I-95 and hit the gas. I was plastered to the back of my seat as if the Ford Escape was being launched into outer space. And all I heard from my traveling partner in the backseat was “WHOA!”

After spending the night in a motel in Richmond, Cece dropped us off on the North Carolina border, so we could bicycle the remaining 63 miles to the beach house in Corolla. Unfortunately for us (at first), it was a Saturday morning in August, and the four-lane road we had to follow for the first 20 miles of the day was packed with speeding vacationers anxious to get to the beach. Many were hauling boats and motor homes, and seemingly oblivious to the safety of two fragile bike-riders on the shoulder.

Both of us were delighted when the Atlantic Coast Route took us onto back roads for the next 10 miles of the trip, but we weren’t looking forward to rejoining the “highway” and then taking our chances on the 3-mile-long bridge (with narrow shoulders) that links the mainland with the islands.

I suppose you have to be a bicyclist to rejoice when you encounter a massive traffic jam. But during the brief time that we were away from it, US 158, the main road to the Outer Banks, had been transformed from a speedway to a parking lot. All of that beach traffic was at a standstill, but the shoulder was wide open. For the next half hour (at least), two bicycles traveling at 14 miles per hour were the speed demons on the Wright Memorial Bridge. Just as we neared the east end of the bridge, I heard this plaintive whine from a child in one of the trapped cars: “They’re going to make it to the beach before we will.”

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With beach traffic at a standstill, the bike lane became the fast lane.

Twenty years ago when I first visited the Outer Banks, it was not bike-friendly. SR 12, the main north-south road, had no shoulders and steep edges that dropped off into deep sand. Nowadays, there’s a generous shoulder along the full length of the road as well as numerous bike paths. We took our time negotiating the final 25-mile ride to the beach house—partly to savor the remainder of the journey, and partly because Cece called to tell us that some of our relatives were stuck in the bridge traffic and wanted to be there to greet our arrival. We were happy to slow down to allow the motorists to catch up.

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All of their relatives come out to welcome Jake and Tom as they complete their journey to the beach house.


Tom O’Brien is a carpenter, freelance writer, and bike advocate based in New Milford, Connecticut. 

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Hostelling in Scotland

Words by Molly Brewer Hoeg, photos by Molly Brewer Hoeg and Rich Hoeg 

It had been forty years since either of us stayed in a youth hostel. Back in our college days, we each independently did the backpacking through Europe thing. Staying at youth hostels was standard practice and the best way to stay within a tight budget. I remember too well the strict curfews, requirement to leave the hostel during the day and the restrictions against alcohol.

As my husband, Rich, and I began planning our first cycling tour abroad, we got our first inklings that much has changed in the hostelling scene. And it worked to great advantage for us.

Rich Hoeg at the Cullen Harbour Hostel

Rich Hoeg at the Cullen Harbour Hostel

This three-week trip through northern Scotland would follow our usual routine. We’d travel on our own with a general itinerary, making more specific route choices as we went. In the interest of simplicity, we decided against bringing our camping gear. It meant we would be paying significantly more for lodging each night, especially considering that cheap roadside motels – our staple in the U.S. – do not exist in Scotland. It appeared that B&Bs, guesthouses and inns would be our options – until we rediscovered hostels.

For starters, forget the “youth” part. Hostels are for everyone. Although they frequently cater to people inclined to outdoor adventures, they are not limited to such. And we soon learned that the range of accommodations, facilities and services ranges widely between hostels. Sampling four hostels, we found each one to be unique.

Lodging at the Cullen Harbour Hostel

Lodging at the Cullen Harbour Hostel

Our first hostel stay came about as a backup plan. We had been following the National Cycle Network Route #1 across northern Scotland, impressed with the dramatic coastal scenery. Reaching Cullen, we headed to the B&B we had selected. Rather surprised to find us on his doorstep, the owner informed us he was no longer in business and quickly directed us to the Cullen Harbour Hostel. We arrived at the eclectic collection of buildings right on the water to find the yard draped with surfing gear. A university group was there for the weekend seeking big waves. Unsure about sharing rooms with the young students, it was a pleasant surprise to find that they had a four-bed family room we could have to ourselves. Not only were blankets and linens provided but we had our own bathroom as well. Although we were uncertain whether we would have heat, which seemed important in that spring season, we returned from dinner to find the room plenty warm. The $67 we paid for the night was a far cry from our student days, but was still a big savings over a B&B.

View of Cullen and viaduct

View of Cullen and viaduct

That was our first introduction to independent hostels. Each is owner-operated and usually a member of either Scottish Independent Hostels or Scottish Hostels. Together they offer over 180 hostels. Most have dorm rooms as well as private rooms, are flexible in the length of stay and usually have a self-catering kitchen.

We might never have found the Gearrannan Hostel if it hadn’t been for a local cyclist’s recommendation. By this time we were on the rugged Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. She told us it was in a “blackhouse” but until we arrived we didn’t realize it was actually part of a museum. The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village featured restored and reconstructed stone buildings from the late 1800s, unique for their double stone wall construction and thatched roofs secured by stone weights. They originally served as living space for both people and farm animals, as well as barn storage. Historic on the outside but modern on the inside, the hostel accommodations were very comfortable. We found that sharing a bunk room and kitchen facilities with several other hostellers provided good company. Having arrived without food and too far to cycle to any shops, the museum staff arranged to bring us dinner and serve us breakfast in their small café. We felt well cared for.

Demonstration of weaving Harris Tween in Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Demonstration of weaving Harris Tween in Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Staying in the hostel gave us free access to the village where we could tour the buildings with historical displays and demonstrations of making the famous Harris Tweed fabric. But the real treat came after closing time. We had the freedom to roam the grounds which included hilly terrain and a rough coastline. It was hauntingly beautiful under the late setting sunlight. We easily voted this our most memorable lodgings of the whole trip.

The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Moving on through the Highlands, we made our way down to the Isle of Mull. Tobermory was reputed to be a picturesque town with colorful buildings lining the harbor. That lineup included the Tobermory Youth Hostel. As its name implies, this hostel is part of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA Hostelling Scotland), which harks back to the International Youth Hostel organization we remember from our college days. However, today they welcome travelers of all ages in more than 70 hostels. We found the hostel to be simple but neat and clean, and again opted for a private room, this time with a shared bathroom down the hall. The trip up several flights of stairs to our room included a dash outside, but it seemed a small inconvenience. The kitchen was large and included cubby holes for individuals to store their food. We certainly couldn’t beat the location, and it had the added advantage of allowing a single night’s stay when most of the B&Bs had a two night minimum. It was an easy walk to restaurants as well as the sights of the town and harbor, which was especially welcome after a long day of cycling.

The town of Tobermory

The town of Tobermory

Traveling up the Great Glen, cycling along Loch Lochy and Loch Ness, we continued on to Inverness. Knowing that accommodations in the city were more pricey we sought out a hostel once again. From several options, we chose the SYHA Inverness Youth Hostel for its central location. The very large facility not only provided the usual hostel amenities but also included wifi, a guest lounge, coffee bar, café and served alcohol – quite a departure from yesteryear. Also, as in their other city hostels, the front desk was open 24 hours a day.

Overlooking Loch Ness

Overlooking Loch Ness

Most hostels now have websites and the hostel organizations provide locator maps. They all offer the convenience of advance reservations. Even though we were traveling early in the season in May, we took advantage of that in the two SYHA hostels, mainly to secure a private room. In the busier seasons it would be wise to book ahead. Where we stayed, dorm beds started around $20, private rooms ranged from $40 to $67 for starting prices. And vital for cyclists, each of the hostels provided secure storage overnight for our bikes. We had no need for the sleeping bags that we brought; linens and blankets were provided.

Yes, times have changed – for the better. Hostels were a big step up from camping and far more interesting than blasé motel rooms. We may no longer be youth, but next time we cycle abroad we will definitely be staying in hostels.

On the Isle of Skye

On the Isle of Skye


Molly Brewer Hoeg is a freelance writer living in Duluth, Minnesota. She is currently writing a book titled America at 12 Miles an Hour about her experiences bike touring with her husband. You can also read more of her work on her website, Superior Footprints. Her husband Rich is a photographer and birder. His work can be found here.

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Lake Superior Half-Circle Route: Ferries, anyone?

Words by Molly Brewer Hoeg, photos by Molly Brewer Hoeg and Rich Hoeg 

Planning a cycling tour often involves a touch of ingenuity. Having recently relocated back to Duluth Minnesota, my husband, Rich, and I resumed our love affair with Lake Superior and dreamed of doing the famed Circle Tour by bicycle. But the Trans-Canada Highway along the northeastern side of the lake was notorious for its hilly, two-lane, no-shoulder, logging-truck-laden stretch. It wasn’t the stuff for my first cycling tour. After all, Rich was hoping to get me hooked on touring, not scare me away from it.

Enter Rich’s unique solution – cycle the western half of the lake and use the Isle Royale backpacker ferries to shuttle across the middle of Lake Superior. The result was a 9-day, 500-mile tour, hugging the scenic shores of the Big Lake.

Rich and Molly at the start of their tour.

Rich and Molly at the start of their tour.

Circling counter-clockwise, we started on the southern shore of the lake through Wisconsin, arching up into the Bayfield Peninsula. Tiny harbor towns dot the western side of that spit of land, including eclectic Cornucopia. Small shops line the waterway which is home to fishing vessels in the slip behind. Our first overnight was in Bayfield, a popular tourist town rich in restaurants, sailboats and artsy shopping opportunities.

Moving into Upper Michigan, we passed through the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. We had miles of tree-lined roads to ourselves, emerging at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula. In Ontonagon, on we ate at a small diner which served the best beef pasties we’d ever tasted and relaxed on the quiet sand beach behind our motel.

View of Lake Superior from the Keweenaw Peninsula

View of Lake Superior from the Keweenaw Peninsula

Using the ferry meant traveling to the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula. It could easily be skipped if circling the entire lake, but it would be a travesty to miss. Part way up, Houghton is situated on a waterway that cuts through the peninsula. Leaving town, we followed a quiet byway next to that passage. Reaching Lake Superior once again, we turned up the western side where we followed local roads immediately adjacent to the water. The sunshine and lack of wind made it easy to love the route. Following a short but steep climb inland, we returned to the shore in time to find the Jam Pot. Run by Ukrainian Catholic monks, the tiny bakery features decadent breads and muffins as well as jams made from local berries. It was a necessary rest and refuel stop. Just beyond, we ogled their ornate onion-topped monastery on the lakeshore.

Eating a muffin at the Jam Pot

Eating a muffin at the Jam Pot

Sleeping adjacent to the water in Copper Harbor, I could hear the wind whipping the lines against the sailboat masts throughout the night. I should have registered its meaning. Big waves were building up out on Lake Superior. I had trained well for the 70-mile days of cycling on this trip, but nothing prepared me for the voyage across the lake.

Boarding the Isle Royale Queen IV, we were in the company of hearty outdoor folk. The 81-foot-long passenger-only ferry held 100 passengers, all bound for Isle Royale – a National Park off the Minnesota/Ontario border of Lake Superior dedicated entirely to hiking and backpacking. The only exception is the National Park lodge on the northeast end of the island, a pricey but comfortable alternative to camping or rustic cabins. With no roads, and use of bikes prohibited on the island, we had to secure special permission in advance to transport our bikes on the ferries. The crew hoisted them gear and all to the top deck, where we watched to make sure they were well secured for the passage.

The Isle Royal Queen IV arrives in Copper Harbor the night before the crossing

The Isle Royal Queen IV arrives in Copper Harbor the night before the crossing

The 4-hour trip across 55 miles of open water was a bouncy affair. Rich was in his element, riding in the open bow dodging the crashing waves. As we tacked through the rough waters, we alternately rocked from side to side then front to back. I had a less glorious trip, clinging to the back railing watching the horizon in an attempt to control my nausea. It was a challenge given my propensity to sea sickness. Next time I will consider a more stable alternative, the Ranger III, a much larger National Park Service ferry from Houghton. But not without first cycling the northern section of the peninsula, which can be done via a circle route.

Once on Isle Royale, I was grateful for the comfortable bed in the lodge, and slept off my queasiness before setting out to do a little hiking and canoeing. Isle Royale is 45 miles long by nine miles at its widest. It boasts 165 miles of hiking trails, including a 40-mile trail running from end to end. In one afternoon, we could only get a taste of the island’s unspoiled environment. Now, with more experience behind us and having added camping gear to our tours, I would opt for a more authentic island experience and camp in a wilderness site.

Sunrise at Split Rock Lighthouse

Sunrise at Split Rock Lighthouse

The only blight on my island stay was the reality that I faced another ferry ride in the morning. But that trip was smooth sailing. The Voyager II serves as the mail boat as well as hiker transport. So the first portion of the journey was spent hopping between points the length of the island to pick up or deliver both. The actual lake crossing to Grand Portage, Minnesota was only two hours out of the total six hour voyage. We landed mid-afternoon, with just enough time to cycle to Grand Marais before a raging thunderstorm struck. Timing is everything.

The Voyager II

The Voyager II

Gooseberry Falls on the North Shore

Gooseberry Falls on the North Shore

Our final two days took us down the North Shore of Lake Superior on Scenic 61. We were on familiar territory, and took advantage of the Gitchi Gami State Trail for bicycles on the completed portions. There was plenty of time to stop at our favorite state parks dotting the shore, savoring the fact that cyclists get in for free.

On the Gitchi Gami State Trail

On the Gitchi Gami State Trail

Choosing Canal Park and the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge for our finishing line in Duluth, we were greeted by family and friends to celebrate completing our tour, just as an ore boat passed under the bridge. Quizzed immediately about the trip, I answered without hesitation – I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to do more. 10,000 miles of cycle touring later, I still look back fondly on our modest beginnings. And I’m still eager to do it again.

Trans Superior Tour Final Map


Molly Brewer Hoeg is a freelance writer living in Duluth, Minnesota. She is currently writing a book titled America at 12 Miles an Hour about her experiences bike touring with her husband. You can also read more of her work on her website, Superior Footprints. Her husband Rich is a photographer and birder. His work can be found here.

 

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Best Life Week: Making time for what matters

Words by Chris Klibowitz, photos by Brandon Priesont

Staring out the train window as the central California landscape slides by, Brandon Priesont contemplates his next move. He was supposed to be painting his new condo this week. Instead, at the last minute, he hitched a ride with a friend to San Francisco, and is riding his bicycle home to Los Angeles. This train ride was semi-unexpected—with Highway 1 closed in Big Sur, this detour made the most sense. When he disembarks in San Luis Obispo, he’ll still be roughly 200 miles from home, but he’s in no rush. Time and money are two things he’s got plenty of this week.

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In 2016, Priesont, an account manager in Southern California, and his co-workers at the British Columbia-based nutrition company Vega exceeded their annual sales goals and earned their incentive. The lump-sum bonus might seem a bit standard, but it came with this additional week of vacation in May, during which the company is encouraging its 201 employees to live—and share—their “Best Life Week,” whatever that might mean to them. Some stayed home, some pursued dreams, many traveled. Priesont decided to have an adventure by the seat of his pants, relying on minimal planning, his legs, and spotty cell service.

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When asked why the change of plans from painting, Priesont replies, “I remembered that we as a company are all about pushing ourselves past our comfort zone. Plus, when you work for a company full of incredibly fit and talented people, you sort of feel obligated to one-up a bit,” Adding, “No one wants to see pictures of my freshly painted walls.”

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Weekender Special: Touring by Train

Words by Jeffrey Stern

As our population grows, it becomes increasingly clear that alternative modes of transportation are the way of the future – what better way to travel than by combining two of the best ways to get out of your car, slow down and see the relatively close world around you in one trip?

Whether you are going for a long weekend or just an out and back in one day, multimodal travel is becoming a huge hit amongst a wide demographic of cyclists. Touring is fun, but can require huge time commitments for longer trips. With nearly 150,000 miles of train tracks covering the lower 48, the options are endless no matter where you live or how far you want to go. The best part is that if you plan properly and keep yourself within a couple hours distance from the nearest train or metro line, home is never more than a peaceful ride aboard a railcar away.

Another perk of this type of travel is you can switch up the order; instead of riding away from home, you could take the train to a specified stop and distance, then point your compass in the direction of home and pedal away.

Photo: Jeffrey Stern

Photo: Jeffrey Stern

If cycling first and taking the train home, I’d recommend bringing a couple items that can make your trip back more pleasurable.

A frame, handlebar, small backpack or larger seat bag are normally plenty for a day or even two. There are a few essentials you should bring along for your journey to increase your comfort when out of the saddle. Beyond the essentials to get you through any type of mechanical issue, a light pair of shorts (or even athletic pants), sandals and a comfortable shirt should make your journey on the train home exponentially more enjoyable.

Some my best thinking occurs when pedaling away into the distance, so I’ve often found a small book or pad for jotting down notes, anecdotes or thoughts is a great compliment to slower paced journeys like these.

Photo: Jeffrey Stern

Photo: Jeffrey Stern

Another element that can make these trips even more dynamic is inviting a friend or two! It’s amazing the connection you can build with others when exploring new areas and traveling in different ways. The ability to share experiences with friends, family and other bike lovers can only enhance the overall success of the trip. If you first trip is a success that you and your friends can’t stop talking about, the likelihood of planning round two is increased.

Most small hotels carry the essential toiletries and you can wash your kit overnight in the sink, so before you know it, you’ll be planning a two-day multimodal adventure – the freedom you’ll feel away from all your ‘things’ at home will be worth it’s weight in gold and have you gleaming from ear to ear. The best part, is there is little to no planning required and any type of bike setup can work. There is no need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on touring gear and the likes.

The only thing holding you back is your imagination with the trips. Well, I suppose your fitness too. But that will build as your venture to further and further stops along the railways. Imagine all the adventures you’ll have and stories you’ll have to tell!

Photo: Jake Rosenbloum

Photo: Jake Rosenbloum

What about you? Have you ever been on a bike trip that involved the train? What was your experience? Do you have helpful tips for anyone who would like to try it? Tell us in the comments!


Editor’s Note: Different trains and locations have different rules for taking your bike onboard. Research your particular area and train line before making bike trip plans. You can find information on bringing your bike onboard on the Amtrak website

 

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Bicycle Times #46 is Here!

We all know bicycles are a great way to explore. From the other side of town to the other side of the world, they can take you places you never dreamed of. But not every journey needs to include sleeping on the ground and eating dehydrated food. Each bicycle ride is a chance for exploration through the wider world and within yourself. In this issue we celebrate some of the world’s best destinations for cycling, both very near and very far.

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Since the United States began to relax the hurdles a traveler was required to clear before visiting Cuba, cyclists have been flocking to the Caribbean island in search of new frontiers. For contributor Colt Fetters it was a chance to explore the bond between himself and his partner as well as the hills and valleys of a new place.

Colt Fetters

If you’re interested in visiting Cuba yourself you’re going to want to read the piece by Ashley Lance and Daniel Carter that walks you through the process of visiting this summer’s hottest destination.

Ashely Lance

Cuba isn’t the only spot south of the border that is attracting waves of bicycle travelers. Nearly 100 of them gathered for the first group start along the new Baja Divide route along the Baja California peninsula. Meandering 1,700 miles southward along dirt roads and taco stops, it is captured beautifully by the photographs of Gabriel Amadeus Tiller.

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Bicycle tourism isn’t just for the folks on the road, it can have a significant impact on the communities they visit. Unlike a driver who zips through town, a cyclist is far more likely to stop and spend money, especially on food! See some examples of towns that are thriving by welcoming bike travelers.

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In our product reviews section we rounded up some of the best gear for hauling yourself and your gear on journeys short and long. Find some cool bikes designed for travel as well as some of the latest racks and bags.

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I hope this issue inspires you to explore a little more yourself. It doesn’t have to be an exotic destination halfway around the globe, just a different part of town or maybe aboard a different kind of bike. Cruise through the docks down by the waterfront. See how high you can ride on that nearby mountain. Bring your bike with you on vacation. You might discover something totally new or you might discover something in yourself that’s been there all along.

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Finally, I must announce the end of one adventure and the beginning of another. As you read this, I have moved on to a new job and must deliver the sad news that this will be the final print issue of Bicycle Times for a while. But the spirit of the community that has coalesced around it is going strong, and Bicycle Times will continue both online and in our hearts.

I hope you keep reading and keep enjoying your Bicycle Times.

-Adam Newman, Editor-in-Chief 


 

You can buy this issue and more in our online store.

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First Impression: Ritchey Break-Away Ascent

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Looking for the perfect bike that provides the freedom to roam aimlessly regardless of the terrain ahead? Look no further, the Ritchey Break-Away Ascent may be your answer. It’s exactly what a bike should be, a do-all, go anywhere means for adventure. This steel-framed beauty relegates both one trick ponies and niche categories.

The heart and soul to the Break-Away Ascent is the custom, lightweight Ritchey Logic TIG-welded tubing paired with a relaxed geometry and ability to run up 700×40 mm or 27.5×2.1 inch tires.

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Add the travel-friendly break-away compression system and you have yourself a versatile bike that’s capable of traveling the world with you as your checked luggage.

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The Ritchey Break-Away Ascent is available to the masses only as a frameset, with an included soft-sided travel bag for $1,650. For testing purposes, ours arrived loaded with Ritchey WCS bits including the new VentureMax adventure drop bar, 27.5×2.1 Shield tires mounted on Vantage II wheels, a SRAM Force 2×11 drivetrain, and BB7 mechanical disc brakes.

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The frame utilizes simple technology such as the highly-praised, threaded 68 mm bottom bracket, 27.2 mm seatpost and a post-mount disc brake mount. All of these should be easily sourced in any bike shop, letting you to get back on your journey quickly and with ease should any mechanicals derail you.

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Sounds too good to be true, right? Check out our full review of this steel framed travel companion in the upcoming issue of Bicycle Times #46. Subscribe now so that you don’t miss out on an issue!

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