Awake to Cochiti

WP001 115

1:46 PM, Railrunner train in Albuquerque.  2:45, Kewa/Santo Domingo station.  3:15, Peña Blanca; 3:45 Cochiti Pueblo and grocery.  4:15, FR 289 or St. Peter’s Dome Road, gated dirt.  Rain.  5:30, dark.  Climb.  6:15, camp.  Wind and rain and wet clothes.  7:30 AM, awake.  Cochiti Canyon.

WP001 129

WP001 125

WP001 117

WP001 118

WP001 126

Overnight.

WP001 68

A few days away, finally.  Three, now only two days out of town.  Overnight– on a very familiar bike.  Since last time, the Pugsley has a new chain and cassette, tubeless tires, and a full luggage system from Revelate Designs.  I use a large Carradice Camper saddlebag for longer tours as it offers twice the capacity of the Revelate Viscacha seat bag, and also fits my MacBook Air.  But this seat bag rides nicely, and is lighter.  Up front, I typically us a compression dry bag for my sleeping gear, but I opted to try this large handlebar stuff sack called the Sweet Roll, paired with my Revelate Pocket accessory bag.  The Pocket makes a great mini-messenger bag when not attached to the bike.  The included shoulder strap is always attached, and provides daily use over the shoulder.  I bought all of these bags last May directly from Eric in Anchorage expecting that Lael would use them over the summer, but she didn’t have enough gear to necessitate so much space.  Mostly, she used the seat bag and Gas Tank top tube bag on her Hooligan.  Without a computer, I could easily pack for long distance excursions with these bags alone– another nail in the coffin of racks and panniers.

WP001 69

WP001 70

WP001 71

WP001 72

WP001 73

WP001 74

Charlie at Two Wheel Drive is an invaluable resource for local route planning.  Over that past decades he has ridden everything in this part of New Mexico, and beyond.  Over the past few weeks, TWD has become the fatbike shop in NM.  Coming soon, monthly fatbike rides– arroyos, snow, forested trails, and the moon!

WP001 67

Dreams of Cortez: San Ignacio to Loreto

Punta arena  bahía concepción 3

“the phosphorescence exploded in response to our every movement like great flashes of diffused lightning. entranced and electrified by the alluring phenomena, our witching hour began – running in circles, kicking, splashing and howling like great coyotes of the sea. small fish darting all about, leaving trails of glowing light, fading into the dark waters. our companions, our mates back on the shore had no idea what they were missing as they receded into the dying embers of consciousness. we too heard the call of sleep.”

Punta arena  bahía concepción 5

amidst the sounds of palm fronds brushing and pelicans diving for fish along the banks of the small river, the dream of san ignacio comes to an end. the sun rises, again. the two burros on the property have been eating the bark of the date palm and its fallen fruit that lay just beside our tent. awake– startled by their grunts and grinding teeth.  it is a strange and menacing sound when heard so nearby, hidden in the darkness. my first movement– an attempt to peer out at my devourers– spooked them instantly and the sound of their frightened hooves trailed off into the distant grove. and so i smiled, and climbed out of the tent to wait for the coming light. salutation.

the sky turned a blaze orange– the color of a burning flame.  i rekindled the previous night’s coals and made coffee. mario arrived moments later, for he wanted to say goodbye before we continued to ease our way eastwards, back out to the sea of cortez. cheerfully, he hung around as we ate our breakfast and packed up our camp. con abrazos fuertes, we experienced yet another happy, grateful farewell – a recurring event on this voyage through the ephemeral.

the highway steadily climbed eastward for a slow twenty five miles. no wind. from there, around the southern base of volcán las tres virgeneswe were afforded a pleasant, calm descent out and and away from the proud volcano. the next twenty miles were flat and easy, before an abrupt drop straight to the edge of the sea. we then skirted the dirty beach north of santa rosalíapast a massive copper mine and the town’s disregarded trash site. fortunately these were both hidden out of view, in the shadow of the high plateau, when we approached from the west. the early evening sun painted the sullied outskirts of town in a warmth of golden light– inviting light– helping to make things a little more presentable. of interest though, is the fact that the old mining facilities (built by the french when they founded the city in the late 1800s) were never dismantled and one can see old locomotives, great furnaces and other giant steel structures all about the town itself. the french influence is apparent, though it dresses itself in a dignified mexican garb. and rumor has it that the ordinary, unimpressive church near the center is argued to have been built by gustave eiffeli don’t really see the argument, but such a claim to fame must be good for the shop keepers, restauranteurs, and hotel staff. so be it.

we checked into a cheap, dingy hotel and went about the town, wandering through tight streets and bustle. we found a nice restaurant offering whole baked chickens at a reasonable price, and by chance shared a meal with a group of english cyclists (one canadian) whose paths we briefly crossed the night before in san ignacio. we ate wholeheartedly then bid them adieusure to see them along the road. after many scoops of ice cream, a deserving fat-filled retort to such a protein-rich dinner (our bodies crave such things most, for our calories have been reduced to mere bicycle fuel). a deep slumber immediately fell upon us.

Leaving san ignacio

Descending into santa rosalia

Santa rosalia

as always i arose at dawn, and went out into the streets to look for potential breakfast. everything was boarded up and closed, the town still sleeping. i returned and cooked our porridge and coffee on the alcohol stove in the hotel foyer. erin awoke as breakfast was readied and we ate quickly, eager to ride south.

luckily for us there was a large windstorm that day, and it was blowing fiercely towards our destination – south to mulegé! another beautiful day at ease, traveling fast, pedaling little. we sailed along the coast through piercing light: through large open seas of suguaro cacti, silhouetted from behind in green shades of black and by mountains pressed against the burning blue sky. the morning passed – even time was consumed by the incendiary nature of the sun and wind.

without much effort, we arrived in the fishing town of mulegéweary and burnt dry by the incessant rays. but we felt good. we felt accomplished. we rolled unworriedly through town, another desert oasis divided by a meandering river, set slightly inland from the sea. another oasis, another mission, another expat hideout. we rolled through narrow corridors of shops filled with curios, blankets and hammocks to the eastern edge of the town center and parked our bikes in a small park across from a taqueria. at that very moment our cycling comrades from santa rosalía came wheeling to a halt alongside us. we escaped out of the sun and shared pork tacos, really just baskets of delicious pig with tortillas and different salsas. it was the only option on the menu that day, but it was certainly satisfying when coupled with ice cold cerveza. it’s amazing to me, the rarity of vegetables at any restaurant or taco joint in this country. just meat, beans, rice, tortillas, salsa. but some how, they still maintain a magical sense of variance.

after lunch our new friends were headed further to the mouth of bahía concepción, but i was tired and needed to write and to purchase a plane ticket to ecuador. i was beginning to feel my proximity to the tip of this great peninsula, and i needed to figure out what to do when i got there. we wished them well with hopes to reunite, and then went off to find an inexpensive hotel. i consummated my further plans for post-baja vagabonding and we went out for dinner – an unfinishable amount of pizza, pared with free spaghetti. quite an odd pairing, but sometimes it’s best not to ask and just eat. after flan and full bellies, another day was at its end. mulegé.

Mulegé

Mulegé 2

Punta arena  bahía concepción

Inside punta arena

Inside punta arena 2

in the morning we awoke, packed our bikes, and leisurely departed for bahía concepción. we planned to ride only some fifteen miles and search for camp along the white sandy beaches. after ten miles of inland riding we turned off onto a dirt road a pedaled out to punta arena, where the road met the bay and traced the water’s edge. the bay was an enchanting teal, a glowing neon green, or some color unnameable. the road turned to large stones, kindly sprinkled with goatheads, or devil’s thorns, named by the laughing, conniving gods of cortez. their prickly spines would give me grief for the week to come as i periodically fixed flats and found remnants of thorns previously unseen. what a damned evil way to spread one’s seed.

luckily, as long as i didn’t pull the spines out, my tires held air. we meandered on around the point, turning into a smaller bay named playa santiscpac, butted up against the highway. the picturesque beach was perfectly lined with rv’s, efficiently packed side by side from one end of the cove to the other. this same scene can be experienced at each and every one of the beautiful beaches along the western side of the legendary bahia. on every patch of soft sand along the water accessible by four wheels, there will be found a multitude of expats living out their dreams of final escape, yet nestled within the confines of the western world they can’t do withoutgiant satellite antennae maintain a constant connection (wouldn’t want to miss a game! ), skiffs, quads, dirt bikes, everything motorized; and a right minded person certainly wouldn’t want to leave home without a lazy-boy. nevertheless, many set up their tents alongside heaps of excess, in attempt to still feel like they are camping– roughing it. these little ‘campgrounds’ become little americas in the end, creating an unsavory paradox, a strange almost disturbing juxtaposition of industrialization stamped upon a seemingly pristine setting.

it is my fortitude to accept these surroundings as a fleeting experience, still beautiful in its own way. the power of letting go. we would also find that the far end of the cove harbored a secluded mangrove where we could camp, far enough away from the motorized masses. in doing so, we were once again, almost serendipitously reacquainted with our fellow cyclists of the past few days. they too, had discovered our mangrove hideaway the night before, and decided to take a rest day on the beach. they invited us to share their camp and to join them for dinner at a little shack by the road exiting the highway. we set up the tent, walked off into the warm coming night, and sat down to an exquisite dinner of fresh fish fried in garlic butter, battered scallops, and margaritas so strong they were really just large bowls of tequila.

following our gluttonous, yet justifiable feast, we returned to camp, built a fire, and moved on to a bottle of rum (by demand of the english of course). sitting around the flames, half of our camp grew tired while the rest of us enjoyed music and composed revelry. out of habit, as i have always been one for a good midnight swim, our new friend mark, erin and i shed our clothes in the black and ran out into the shallows of the bay. the tide was low, so we were able to wade quarter mile from shore, the phosphorescence exploding in response to our every movement like great flashes of diffused lightning. entranced and electrified by the alluring phenomena, our witching hour began – running in circles, kicking, splashing and howling like great coyotes of the sea. small fish dart about, leaving trails of glowing light fading into the dark waters. our companions, our mates back on the shore had no idea what they were missing as they receded into the dying embers of consciousness. we too heard the call of sleep.

at dawn, we awoke to say goodbye to our new allies of the road – they were off for loreto. shame they could not slow down and experience the southern reaches of the bay con despacio. erin and i would remain at this sequestered camp, swimming, napping, reading, playing old folk tunes on the guitar, plainly walking around barefoot in the sand with no real objective. at night we waltzed back to the restaurant for dinner, and while eating, a surprising thundershower came pounding upon the tin roof – a powerful monsoon. we waited it out for a while, but fearing it would last all night we ran through the rain, immediately soaking ourselves silly. it was only seven o’clock, but we had nothing to do but strip off our wet clothes and hop into our sleeping bags. about ten minutes into my book, by the exact nature of a monsoon, the rain stopped. dead quiet. night. it never returned.

we awoke from a long night’s rest in a different dark. sunrise. fire. breakfast. a happy routine. we then gathered our things and pedaled on in search of a more remote location to camp further south along the bay. the road was a serpentine dream, gently winding about in and around modest points, never really climbing, never really falling, never really lying flat or straight. we stopped at isla requesón for lunch, and the tide was out so we could walk across the thin spine of sand, out to the island itself. we waded in the waters to cool ourselves from the baking sun, and happened upon a few scallops, so tenacious and determined in their attempt to remain rooted. after a valiant effort we pulled them free, immediately searching for more. soon, we had quite an excellent addition to the night’s dinner. we cracked them open, cut out the meat and saved them in a bag for later.

back on the road, lost in such a dream the minutes and the miles slipped away. soon we found ourselves at the bottom of the giant bay. we had heard that there was an abandoned rv site close by, deserted in the early 90’s once the proprietors decided the wind too strong and the beach too ugly for their taste. not enough diamond white sand i suppose, and the road was frequently getting washed out, too difficult for large motoring behemoths to traverse. perfect for us, and sure enough we found it. km 76, a good day’s ride from loreto. we opened the gate, closed it behind, and rode about a mile out to the forsaken grounds. it was only a skeleton of an rv site, the best there is, naked bones of an ambitious plan thwarted by the mighty forces of nature. there was no one around. we found ourselves the best shelter from the wind, set up the tent and collected stones from used fire pits. watching a vibrant setting sun, we cooked dinner as the stars crept sheepishly out of the fading hues. this would be erin’s last night camping. in just two days she would be on a plane back to portland, oregon. and I– residing, contented, far off within a distant desert dream.

Bahía

Isla requesón

Bahía concepción 3

Callo  scallops

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76  2

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76  4

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76  8

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76  5

one last pot of cowboy coffee in the baja light of dawn. one last breakfast burrito and empanadas cajeta. one last time to load the panniers. erin’s last ride would be one of the more memorable rides of the trip, both symbolically and visually. after the stout climb in the beginning, the majority of the highway led us through vast swathes of suguaro forests set against the mountainous backdrop of the sierra la giganta. there were few other vehicles throughout the day, and a gentle cool wind at our backs fought the ceaseless infernal sun. the final descent was slow and perfect, and loreto could be seen from miles away, projected far off onto a distant screen, slowly coming closer and into focus.

we arrived with a couple hours of light remaining, and we rode satisfied and serene through town and out to the malecón. the wind at the shore was violently blustery and we could see that much of the beach had been destroyed by a hurricane two months before. the malecón itself was being rebuilt, slowly. another stroke of good fortune and we found a nice cabana at the south end of the road for dirt cheap because of the construction. this didn’t bother us because we had a swanky little home now with many sconces, modern art, a full kitchen, dining table, living room quarters and a master bedroom. this was a wonderful place for erin to spend the last of her time. we made new friends with an alaskan couple and their two year old daughter, and had maybe the most unrivaled mexican food thus far for dinner. the next day we rode several miles out to the airport in search of a bike box only to find the airport empty – no flights scheduled that day. no matter, for a stove box from the appliance store worked just fine. for her last meal we barbecued fresh shrimp with pineapples and mushrooms and prepared a decadent guacamole. we even shared absinthe with the ever amiable man who manages the cabanas. we grew tired. in the morning, she flew away.

-a

End of the bay

Bahía concepción

Nuge s last ride  a loreto 3

Nuge s last ride  a loreto

Nuge s last ride  a loreto 5

All packed up

“there was no one around. we found ourselves the best shelter from the wind, set up the tent and collected stones from used fire pits. watching a vibrant setting sun, we cooked dinner as the stars crept sheepishly out of the fading hues. this would be erin’s last night camping. in just two days she would be on a plane back to portland, oregon. and I– residing, contented, far off within a distant desert dream.”

Volcán

All words and images: Alex Dunn.  See his other posts in this archive.

Second Impressions of the Campeur

VO 10

I have ridden the Velo Orange Campeur in ways that it was designed and ways it wasn’t, forcing it out of its comfort zone since November 2012. Along the way, I have learned a lot about the bike and about my needs as a rider. I have (re)learned to appreciate a fast, natural ride on pavement. Although I’ve been on the road much of the last five years, this is the most road oriented bike I’ve ridden since 2009.

VO 26

First glancing the Campeur at Interbike, comparing geometry charts, and assembling the frame with new parts served to create a feeling about the new Velo Orange frame. Those were first impressions– pure speculation.  They were important because they framed my expectations of experiences to come. Disregard them. These are second impressions. These are based upon experience.

The Campeur has all the standard features of a proper touring bike to mount water and racks and fenders; long chainstays and stout tubing ensure stability; and a sensible headtube extension allows the handlebars near saddle height. Beneath the French aesthetic, the bike is actually a classic American touring bike. No, the Campeur does not compete directly with the venerable Trek 720 or Miyata 1000, which could or would cost much more to duplicate. Rather, the Campeur is much more like the Trek 620 or the Miyata 610, affordable versions of their top-of-the-line brethren. These models were known for similar features to their celebrated siblings, but they boasted a more rugged construction and were suited to carry more. Most of all, they were more affordable. The Campeur continues the tradition.

Ride quality

The Campeur is not a lightweight event bike, but it rides nicely unloaded with the right wheels, tires and tire pressure (see Mike Ross’ “1500 Mile Review”). Unlike many touring bikes, it features lively steering that is inspiring to ride unloaded. Its stout tubing does not provide the supple ride of an Italian lightweight and it may not plane when sprinting uphill unloaded, but it will handle daily life, transitioning from city to country and back. It could be ridden on a 200km brevet, to work all week, and onto dirt roads in the hills the following weekend. As with many touring bikes, the ride is enlivened with a load, feeling more grounded and assured and compliant. I have not ridden the Campeur in the traditional “fully-loaded” format with racks and panniers, but given the ride quality with moderate loads on fast descents I have no doubt that the load limit is still far off.  It is certainly capable of the kinds of trips where tires are dipped into the ocean.

Steering

I don’t think much about steering while riding the Campeur, which is a great compliment to a bike. I used to spend hours obsessing over low-trail geometry before realizing that trail is a necessary feature of bike design, best understood when the extremes (too high and too low) have been experienced. From some test rides, I know that extremely low-trail steering is not to my liking, especially unloaded (VO Polyvalent, 37mm trail). I’ve toured and commuted on a bike with notably high mechanical trail and gigantic tires with massive rotational weight at low pressures, and I know that high trail and heavy steering can force the bike wide around a corner, or off the trail altogether (Surly Pugsley, 88mm trail). I’ve toured on a very normal bike with many positive attributes, which became cumbersome with a heavy handlebar bag and too-narrow handlebars (1985 Schwinn High Sierra, est. 65+mm trail). First, I developed my touring chops for almost two years on a Made in the USA bread-and-butter touring bike with aluminum racks and panniers (1995 Trek 520, est. 65+mm trail). These are my reference points.

The Campeur provides the most natural steering I have experienced. I always ride with some kind of load. While never excessive, my load varies from a day’s supply of electronics, clothing, snacks and tools to a camping load for a couple of days or a load of groceries.  The steering geometry of the Campeur is best quantified as medium-trail, measuring 57mm of mechanical trail. For reference, the Surly LHT and Atlantis are both in the high 60’s (all on 38mm tires). Conventional wisdom suggests that high-trail geometry benefits the touring style, providing stability when riding straight all day, every day. But as front loads increase in mass and in height above the wheel– as with a basket or handlebar bag– high-trail bikes become cumbersome, especially when steering at low speed. The phenomena of heavy, slow speed steering is called wheel flop. It can be tiring and unnerving.

Daily, my experience riding the Campeur is casual and the steering is intuitive– it is neither twitchy nor heavy. I only notice the steering because of the smooth arcs that I carve on pavement. Broad curves at speed are managed with body english and almost no perceptible handlebar input. In the city, I lay the bike through tight corners with some input at the bars, and I always come out of the turn exactly when I want– never too soon– without losing much speed. The bike is unencumbered by a moderate front load, such as a full day’s supply in my Ostrich handlebar bag. The steering does not become heavy until I load a gallon of milk, avocados, apples, and a camera up front. At some point, a loaded bike is expected to feel heavy. This is when a balanced load becomes important.

For an in-depth discussion of my packing style, revisit my post “Packing the Campeur: Bikepacking Style” on the VO Blog.

Just as an overloaded handlebar bag can be cumbersome, a full saddlebag without a front load feels a little strange. When both bags are used in conjunction, even when full, the bike feels right– it is once again grounded and natural. For bulky items and camping loads I look to my Carradice Camper saddlebag and its 25L capacity. It swallows laundry for two, or camping gear and food for a few days. Even at high speeds with a full load, the Campeur is unwavering. The bike does not shimmy (speed wobble) when loaded, even when attempting to instigate or propogate a wave. Riding with one hand on the bars, or with no hands, is possible.

Low BB

Another notable feature of the Campeur design is a low bottom bracket, which is a common on the touring bike checklist. However, a low BB is not a feature for the kind of riding I like to do. Dirt roads may include erosional features and embedded rocks, and the Campeur is challenged by limited pedal clearance in some situations (45mm, tires; 175mm cranks; VO Sabot pedals). As such, I have switched from the large platform of the Grand Cru Sabot pedals to narrower VO Urban pedals for increased clearance. I have gained the confidence to corner without fear of pedal strike in the city.  Regarding vertical pedal clearance, I have learned to time my pedal stroke to avoid contact in the rough. Such riding is not the exact intention of this bike, although it is my passion and the tire clearance allows it. This is a personal caveat. For normal gravel road riding and unpaved rail trails there is little concern of pedal strike and a low bottom bracket does benefit stability, minimally.

Quill stem

The Campeur also uses a standard 1” threaded headset and quill stem. For my build, I have chosen a VO quill adaptor with a threadless-type stem. Both are finished nicely in polished silver. This system provides the best of both worlds– simple vertical adjustments and easily replaceable stems with removable faceplates if I choose to adjust the reach or swap handlebars. The claimed benefit of a 1 1/8” threadless system is a stiffer interface, which one can easily believe. However, I count a benefit of 1” quill systems to be the damping of road vibrations. Surely, the system also allows some lateral motion and torsion without ill effect, but the dampening is notable when riding fast on rough dirt roads or on broken pavement. For proper trail riding or sprinting, stiffness may be a feature. For riding along on real roads, compliance and comfort have a place.

Finish

I’ve seen all of the VO production frame models first hand, mostly in the brief time that I worked in the VO warehouse. The Campeur is the most refined of all previous models, both in design and finish. Tire clearances are exactly the same all around the bike. Rack, fender, and water bottle mounting points are all well-placed. The fork has a pleasing curve. The dropouts are utilitarian, yet proportional and elegant.  Cable routing is modern and sensible. The paint and decals are very nice. And, it has a headbadge.  I like the new Campeur decal and typeface.  It has a bold, modern feel and the illustration by Dan Price is playful and appropriate.

The Campeur is a touring, commuting, camping, utility bike– executed with subtle flair and an attention to detail. Mostly, it does not do anything that your beloved road touring bike cannot do. But in such a narrow category with close competitors, (in)significant details can make all the difference. The Campeur is fun to ride. The Campeur is a capable road bike for a path that is not always smooth or straight.

VO 3

These photos are from a three-day camping trip in the Jemez Mountains northwest of Santa Fe, NM.  We started and ended on pavement and connected about 70 miles of dirt roads at the heart of the route, including a section of the Great Divide Route (section Abiqui to Cuba).  Jeremy was riding his Rivendell Hunqapillar with a basket and a saddlebag.  He was rolling on 29×2.35″ Schwalbe Super Moto tires, which are a lightweight version of the Big Apple.  I had a Schwalbe Mondial up front (actual, 43mm) and a Dureme in the rear (45mm).  This kind of riding is a little out of range for the Campeur, but is possible with a medium-light load and larger tires.  

Keeping the things that I really enjoy about the Campeur, I would increase tire clearance and increase bottom bracket height (decreased BB drop) for an optimized dirt road tourer and a more versatile exploration machine.  These thoughts are parts of a longstanding mental thread regarding my ideal dirt touring bike.  In all, the Campeur is a very nice riding bike. 

A full geometry chart can be seen here.

VO 001 3

VO 2

VO 6

VO 5

VO 12

VO 13

VO 14

VO 15

VO 17

VO 20

VO 16

VO 21

VO 23

VO 24

VO 25

VO 28

VO 29

VO 30

VO 31

VO 34

VO 35

VO 001

VO 37

Out the Door at Two Wheel Drive

WP001 48

Two Wheel Drive has been central to Albuquerque’s cycling community since opening in 1982.  Longtime owner Charlie Ervin is responsible not only for developing the culture of cycling in town, but for many of the area’s mountain bike trails including those near Cedro Peak and Otero Canyon.  He has also had his hand in urban advocacy efforts, by which Albuquerque now claims the honor of being a bike-able livable city.  There are over twenty bike shops in town.  This is one of the best.

I work at Two Wheel Drive one day a week, building, tinkering, and if lucky, talking to customers about riding bikes.  Last week, a Surly Ogre left the shop with a comfortable upright bar and medium-volume commuting tires.  A 700c Surly Disc Trucker came and went in a hurry– a special order for a customer planning a mixed surface tour around New Mexico this spring.  And a young customer approached about a bike capable of a spring tour in Europe– most likely a Cross-Check or a Long Haul Trucker, according to his research.  When riders enter with such requests and inquiries, I can barely conceal my elation at the possibility that they may actually ride a bicycle somewhere.

Civia Halsted

This bike is a special order for a friend and customer that is moving to San Diego in the coming months.  His new house will be less than mile from the beach, and a bike is the perfect way to get to and from.  But what about the dog?  Especially in the busy urban environment?  The Civia Halsted features a broad front platform for large or unusually shaped loads.  The 20″ front wheel ensures that the load is low, minimizing its impact on the steering.  The bike comes stock with a 1×9 drivetrain, comfortable handlebars, powerful brakes and big tires– there’s nothing not to like about this build.

WP001 46

Notably, the load is secured to the frame, not to the fork.  Thus, the steering remains light, even if the bike carries some additional inertia due to the weight of the load.  This kind of attachment is useful on bikes designed for large loads and urban use, such as postal bikes.  It reduces the heavy handlebar flop experienced when making steering corrections at slow speeds.  The platform is made of recycled plastic in Minnesota.  To safely carry a dog, a custom carrier will be constructed of wood.

WP001 41

Bars turn, but the load remains in position in front of the frame.

WP001 42

Solid, simple attachment.  4130 steel.

WP001 38

Wide-range 1×9 drivetrain, ideal for simple urban riding.

WP001 39

Room for a rear rack, fenders and an internal gear hub (IGH) or single-speed wheel.

WP001 47

And bigger tires.  This Kenda tread is 26×1.75″.

WP001 44

This one is 20×2.2″.  V-brake rear, disc-brake front.

WP001 45

WP001 43

Surly Neck Romancer Pugsley

Jeremy’s Neck Romancer Pugsley has finally arrived.  Of the Surly line of fatbikes– the standard Pugsley, Neck Romancer build, and the Moonlander– this is my favorite build.  It features 82mm Rolling Darryls, with weight-saving cutouts, a symmetrical 135mm from fork with clearance for Moonlander sized rims and rubber.  The fork is also drilled for extra water bottle cages or the Salsa Anything cage.  The Nate rear tire is also a winner for the immense traction it provides in the kind of situations that are inevitable on a fatbike: sand, snow, or steep.

Considering the other options: For ultra-soft conditions, the Moonlander takes the cake.  For all-season riding including winter commuting and summer exploration, I love the current Pugsley build (stock with top-mount thumb shifters and Marge Lite rims!).  The Pugsley is the best value in the fatbike market.  For the best of both worlds, this Neck Romancer is the ticket.  Technically, it is a Pugsley frame with a different fork and an upgraded build kit including wider rims.  And, it’s all black.

WP001 36

The symmetrical 135mm fork leaves a lot of room for bigger tires and rims, as well as some mud.  One benefit of a symmetrical fork is that wheel builds are much less complicated.  Building fatbike wheels with offset is easy, as many rims are drilled with options for offset lacing.  All modern Surly rims are drilled with 64 holes for symmetrical or asymmetrical wheels builds with 32 spokes.  However, building 29″ wheels to the front of a normal (asymmetrical) Pugsley fork is a bit of a challenge due to the 17.5 mm frame offset.  It’s possible, but not ideal.  More on this in the next few days, as I am planning a 29″ wheel build for Joe’s Pugsley.

WP001 31

Surly Mr. Whirly crank with the Offset Double spider and 36-22 chainrings, 11-36 cassette, 82mm rims, and Nate.

WP001 35

Darryl (82mm) and Larry up front.  Jeff set these up tubeless without any foam or duct tape.  He simply cut a wide tube (20″ or 24″) into a rimstrip, mounted the tire and inflated it.  The tire mounted by hand and the tire seated without hassle.  Now, we have converted every bike in Surly’s line of “husky” bikes to tubeless systems– the normal Pugsley, Neck Romancer, and the Moonlander.  In nearby Santa Fe, Cass has even given the homemade tubeless treatment to his Krampus.  Two Wheel Drive has quickly become the fatbike shop in town.  Charlie was there the first time fat tires were en vogue, and he’s leading the town again.  This time, the rubber is twice as big.  It’s 1984 all over again.

WP001 34

Direct mount dérailleurs save a bit of weight and complication over the e-type derailleurs of yesterday.

WP001 32

This Surly Mr. Whirly crank is fully customizable from a single ring set-up to a full triple.  In this configuration, the rings sit further outboard than normal to accommodate a wide rim and tire in conjunction with a full range of gears.  This crank is a nice investment

WP001 33

A lot of black, and barely there graphics.

WP001 30

Another big gulp, out the door at Two Wheel Drive.

WP001 29

For now, I’m at TWD on Tuesdays only.  Stop in for a visit from 10-5.

Friends and Desert Oases, Baja California

Arriving san ignacio 2

“…listening to the stars pass by, and reminiscing of our past week together. we would miss our new friends. we would miss them greatly. but the road keeps on going.”

Ancient bicycle hieroglyph

waking just before dawn, but too cold to move, we lay in wait for the heat of the sun. once warmed up and well fed, we headed on again down the rest of the dirt road, some fifteen miles to chapala. we reached highway one around noon, had lunch at the junction, then continued on. it was nice to be back on pavement. nice to finally cover some ground. we pedaled into twilight and stopped at the turnoff for bahia de los angeles to look for dinner. i arrived first and a twenty four hour truck stop was the only apparent option. parking my bike outside i was welcomed by two six year old boys, cousins, intrigued by my nordic girth. i kidded with them for i was about a foot taller than the doorway, before entering to meet the mother and daughter who ran the place. they had a small cafe with one table and offered to cook us food, but first they insisted on us setting up our tents behind their house. the woman had the little boys show us where we could camp and we set up and changed into warm, dry clothes.

dinner has never been better. simple quesatacos, or quesadillas really, with beans, cheese and carne asada with salsa. we filled our bellies and drank iced cola after iced cola, followed by many cups of hot chocolate and coffee. after a good night rest we returned for breakfast – what we all agreed was the absolute best juevos rancheros any of us has ever had. we thanked our hosts ever so greatly for their hospitality and back on the road we went. from there we rode to guerrero negro (it was decided not to follow the dirt road to bahia de los angles due to conflicting feelings about dirt roads, as well as their ill affect on limited schedules – oh well, i’ll get more chances in the weeks to come). the paved road was pure desolation. nothing to see, not even a cactus or a bump on the earth, just low lying shrubs and barren isolation. guerrero negro is nothing to write home about either – an unattended town of 14,000 that happens to be the worlds largest salt producer, and one of the largest grey whale sanctuaries. despite these accolades, it is a dirty, windblown place sadly worn by exploitation. the ninety miles or so from there to san ignacio is more of the previous highway. more nothing and more wind. so much aggravating wind. so much that we only made it half way and had to camp in viscaino. the next day was just the same. the only redeeming aspect of this ride was the common courtesy of the few cars that passed. much like all the roads south of northern baja (ensenada), the cars are few and the drivers, even the semi trailers, slow down, give a wide berth, and honk while holding up the peace sign.

Close to champala

Junction bahia LA

Junction bahia LA 5

Lil pisser

Arriving san ignacio

upon reaching the hill above san ignacio around four in the afternoon, we stopped to rest and discuss whether or not to stay the night or camp past town. unable to make up our minds we decided to first ride through and visit the old mission while we still had an hour or so of day light. descending into san ignacio we realized we had entered a true oasis far more beautiful than we had imagined – large groves of date palms lining a beautiful river filled with various species of ducks and pelicans. nestled tightly in a rich, fertile valley, it’s hard to remember the barren desert that surounds it on all sides. time seemed to stand still as we rolled along the river towards the town center and the famed church, misión san ignacio, built by jesuit missionaries in 1728. Constructed of lava bricks, the church is quite impressive. Walking slowly around the church courtyard and basking in the last rays of the setting sun we were approached by a man who couldn’t help but admire our bikes. He also appreciated the fact that we seemed truly interested in the church, that we were not just passing through quickly to take pictures and move on like the motoring types. his name was also mario and he worked at the mission. he offered to take us to the top of the church, something few people get to experience, in exchange for a donation. we agreed and he led us up an narrow, winding staircase, through the bell tower and out onto the rooftop where we had resplendent views of the beautiful land around us. we soon told him of our need to find camp and he told us not to worry – he had a property along the river that he takes care of for some ex pats. we promptly followed him back down the road alongside the river. after crossing the river we turned onto a dirt road, eventually coming to a stop one kilometer further. mario opened the gate to the property and led us to the sandy river bank where we could set up our tents and build a fire. he helped us gather wood, started our fire and made sure we were all content before leaving. we joked that from here on out, every town we arrive in we must ask for mario, for he is the kind man who will show us to our own magnificent beachfront paradise.

this would be our last night with our german companions for erin and i wanted to take a days rest and enjoy the splendor of this wondrous place. we cooked a feast of fresh guacamole, rice and beans, chorizo and chiles, fresh tortillas. more of the same mexican deliciousness. we then stayed up drinking beer and tequila, listening to the stars pass by, and reminiscing of our past week together. we would miss our new friends. we would miss them greatly. but the road keeps on going.

-a

San ignacio 3

San ignacio 5 1

San ignacio 2

San ignacio 8 1

San ignacio 9 1

San ignacio 7 1

“…more nothing and more wind. so much aggravating wind. so much that we only made it half way and had to camp in viscaino. the next day was just the same. the only redeeming aspect of this ride was the common courtesy of the few cars that passed. much like all the roads south of northern baja (ensenada), the cars are few and the drivers, even the semi trailers, slow down, give a wide berth, and honk while holding up the peace sign.”

San ignacio 4 1

All words and images: Alex Dunn.  All of his other posts can be found here.

Activity in the city– to the hills

WP001 23

New Year’s Day.  Ride to the hills, 15 miles uphill.  Hike, run, bike.  Back to Old Town by 4PM for work.  Another 15 or so, downhill.  New Years’s Day in Albuquerque.

WP001

WP001 3

WP001 4

WP001 5

WP001 6

WP001 7

WP001 9

WP001 10

Lael needs to run, only twenty minutes to spare.  No running shoes, no running clothes.

WP001 11

Drop bars, touring tires, trails.

WP001 12

WP001 13

WP001 15

WP001 17

WP001 18

WP001 20

Running shoes?  Running clothes?  Any bike, anywhere.  Any shoe, anywhere.

WP001 21

Down hill.  Hometown.  Albuquerque.

WP001 24

Coco’s Corner, Baja California

Coco s 4

the next day, after sleeping six hours, we rekindled the fire and cooked our porridge, then headed off for coco’s corner. the dirt road past bahia gonzaga traversed along a dry valley and turned to a river of sand and stone. the sand was so thick and slow that at times we were forced to walk our bikes, some of us falling flat over before getting up to push. all i could do was smile and laugh like a crazed school boy – for some strange reason i was having the time of my life. the sun was hot and the light bright white – perfectly illuminating the soft scattered clouds. after a full days ride, we finally reached coco’s corner at sundown – merely twenty miles or so from where we started. though coco himself was not there (his diabetes that has left him legless had recently affected his vision, forcing him to travel to the hospital in mexicali) his legendary pitstop at the junction in the middle of nothingness was truly a site to behold. straight out of mad max or road warrior, this small tract of land was a true, post apocalyptic oasis. junked, stripped down vans turned into sleeping quarters. fences constructed of beer cans, christmas lights and random bulbs strung from lines for about a square kilometer around the perimeter of the property. strange trash art, like a crescent of old toilets around a tv, and a large scorpion made of motorcycle parts– we had reached the end of the world.

there seemed to be no one around, as the high desert wind whistled cold and eery, but soon people were alerted by our presence and slowly emerged from the vans to great us. a family was acting as caretakers while coco was in the hospital – they welcomed us to camp on the property and turned on the generator to power the great light display. we had beers and they cooked us food (the usual tortillas with beans rice and meat) in exchange for a few pesos and some english lessons. we stayed up for a while, but exhausted and cold, and unable to really hear one another from the loud hum of the generator, we set up our tent inside the bar/carport to hide from the wind and fell fast asleep.  

-a

Coco s 2

Coco s 3

Above words and images: Alex Dunn

Lael and I met Coco just after the new year, 2010.  He is a boisterous and generous man, proud of his home in the desert.  He beckons his cat, Cokie, in a viral comedic mood.  He jokes with Lael– “penguino”– for she is from Alaska.  The place is neatly decorated with other people’s refuse, a sign or a lesson that there is value in sun-bleached beer cans and old porcelain thrones, amongst other things.  Cold sodas– some pesos that equal a dollar.  Cold Pacifico– about two dollars.   Coco insists we sleep in an old camping trailer, now grounded in the desert.  In the morning, we share cookies and jam and coffee, and sign his guest book– the most extensive of its kind on the peninsula, I suspect.  Everyone signs the book and draws a picture: touring cyclists, motorcyclists, Baja 1000 aficionados, globe-trotting motorists, vacationing Mexicans, expat Americans and Canadians, even nearly neighbors from fifty miles away.  In a desert world that has forgone the the ills of the city, Coco has encultured a virtual city of his own, where visitors count as neighbors in a place with only one resident.  In either direction along dirt roads and desert, there is nothing for tens of miles.  This is Coco’s Corner.

South from San Felipe, Baja California Nord

Close to champala 4

“we gathered wood for the fire. ocotillo. mesquite. elephant tree. once ablaze we cooked fixings for hearty burritos of rice, beans, tuna, queso fresco, chiles and salsa. i decided it was time to cut some weight and crack open the nice bottle of tequila i had purchased for christmas. carsten and reiner were delighted by my surprise and we stayed up for hours drinking, smoking tobacco, and sharing stories.”

Punta willard 2 1

This is the third post in an ongoing series from writer, rider, musician and photographer Alex Dunn.  The most recent excerpt from travel in Baja can be found here, entitled “Oye Amigo!– Ensenada to San Felipe”. His first post, “Big Dummy”, details his Surly Big Dummy longtail bike and the first leg of his ride from San Francisco to San Diego.  Dig in!

christmas day. i swapped my tires from front to back since the rear had been wearing twice as fast, and did an oil change on the rohloff speedhub for good measure – now it shifts quite smooth. It’s good to be a little fastidious out on the road i suppose. good for a clean conscience at least.

erin and i decided we would head out of san felipe for puertecitos, despite the warnings to avoid drunken christmas drivers. we wagered that most people would actually be drunk and stuffing themselves on holiday feast at home with family, not driving around inebriated on a road to nowhere. we were also starting to get a little restless in the city sand, though very grateful for the chance of repose. so off we went in the late morning, quietly pedaling through the silent, vacant streets. past closed storefronts, the empty beach off the malecon, and out of town. it seems our drunken compatriots of the road were merely figments of a proud boast of communal deprecation. we encountered maybe four or five vehicles the entire 50 miles or so – all seemingly sober and unhurried.

the road was practically ours – mile after mile of smooth pavement like low rolling waves. the hot wind blew so fierce at our backs that pedaling was more of a charade, our bicycles more like giant sails pulling us forward down the highway. we really hadn’t to crank much at all and arrived in puertecitos in about 3 hours, quite impressive for such a heavy vehicle as mine. the sun soon began to touch the top of the dusty hills as we set up the tent beside some palapas in the bay, and after camp was made we rode up over the point to the hot springs. the springs themselves are actually tidal pools that change temperature as the tide comes in and goes out, requiring you to move pools as the water becomes too cold or too hot. we soaked that evening in a long, narrow slit at high tide with a young couple currently touring around baja and some mexican soldiers who had just been monitoring the springs from a house up the hill. tony has been riding his motorcycle around the united states and canada for the past year and now is venturing through mexico and beyond – his girlfriend follows him in her truck, with the comforts of a bed, a kitchen and true companionship. quite a nice set up really. his photos can be seen at http://www.intotheblueagain.com.

rising in the morning to yet another beautiful sunrise, we decided it best to spend the day in puertecitos soaking our tired bones in the thermal pools and relaxing (as if the life we lead is anything but). after a long breakfast of our usual porridge (oats, flaxseed, almonds, cranberries), fresh papaya (cuban), and several cups of coffee, we went back to the pools where we remained until sundown. while soaking i shared beer and conversation with an oceanographer from ensenada named juan. juan was there on a week vacation with his three beautiful children, camping on the beach two kilometers south. he was impressed with my endeavor and with my spanish and offered to get me more beer with his truck. realizing he had finished his last bottle, he drove off to the market and returned with several different mexican beers he wanted me to try. as we lay in the pools with his children, sharing an intercambio of spanish and english he asked what my dinner plans were. i replied that erin and i had no real plans as always, so he invited us to come to his family’s camp where he would cook us hamburguesas, papas fritas, chorizo verde (quite rare actually, compared to red chorizo), chili rellenos, and of course mas cerveza y tequila! certainly we inclined to do so, and once the night fell upon us we rode off to find their camp. the dinner and company were perfect and magical, as we shared food, drinks, laughter and traded more english and spanish.

this experience was just another prime example of the many acts of kindness and hospitality we have experienced in baja thus far. i have been thinking much lately about all the horror stories i’ve heard of kidnappings, thievery, rape, and whatever else a person of high anxiety can imagine. and i’ve realized that they all have been from people who know little to no spanish at all. it is quite practical, almost critical really, to have some sort of grasp of the language that is spoken in the land that you travel. or at least display a desire to learn. if you cannot connect, how do you know whether or not someone is offering you their generosity, or if they have an ulterior motive? it is no wonder that such a barrier only leads to misinterpretation and apprehension. you also may come across as self important and superior, alienating yourself and possibly being taken advantage of. people are people and the beautiful ones exist everywhere – baja is full of them. the world is full of them. common sense and compassion go far.

as our fogata turned to embers and our bellies tiredly full, we said our goodbyes, gave thanks and abrazos and rode back to our camp – no need for lights, for a full moon hanging from the clear black sky is the best lamp of all. before bedding down we stared up at the stars and relished in our great fortune. experiences like these are what sparks a lust for life.

On the way to puertecitos 2

Nuge

Puertecitos

Puertecitos springs 2

WP00001 83

Puertecitos to gonzaga

First day dirt from gonzaga 3

Porridge and papaya

First day dirt from gonzaga

First day dirt from gonzaga 2

morning. another perfect sunrise. porridge, fruit, coffee. bliss. will this ever end? just as i was finishing my breakfast a tall german man came strolling down the beach and approached me in such confident gaiety. he introduced himself as carsten and said that he and his best friend reiner had arrived themselves by bicycle the night before. they had started in san diego ten days prior and were headed south for the next two weeks. we talked of our mutual plans while looking at the map and he inquired if we should like to camp with them later that night. of course we welcomed the offer, though they were already prepared to leave and we still needed to wash up, pack, relax a little more.

shortly after, we said goodbye to puertecitos and peddled south again, up ample climbs immediately followed by wonderful descents with immaculate vistas. the wind was calm and the pace was steady over forty five miles of new, open pavement. we passed the german cyclists early on and played leap frog with them throughout the day, as each of us stopped frequently to take in the wide open expanses of the desert foothills falling gently into the sea of cortez. the pavement dropped off five miles before bahia gonzaga, and the sun hung heavy in the west. as we reached the crest of the last hill at punta willard a man in a truck came barreling along the dirt road, sliding to a sudden stop in front of us. he hopped out of the small pickup with his little chihuahua named daisy, yelling buenas tardes bicicleros!  he introduced himself as mario and asked where we were headed, from where we were coming, and related stories of his own adventures as a long distance runner and avid hiker (he claimed to have run the 50 mi from san felipe to bahia gonzaga many times, and to have hiked across the peninsula as well). he spoke little english, but was of course enthused by my grasp of spanish and he was he wildly excited by our bicycle exploits. he was headed to ensenada for four or five days but offered first to lead us a few miles out to his beachfront property where we could stay as long as we wanted and even enjoy his guest house (an airy trailer with no running water and a few broken windows). we abandoned ourselves to his offer and followed him out to the property just as the sun slipped away, trading its attention with the fast rising moon. he was quick to show us around, give hugs and wish us well before he and daisy jumped back into his truck and sped off in haste. mystified and elated by our unexpected gift, we set up camp wearing giant smiles, reiner whistling all the while.

after camp was made we gathered wood for the fire. ocotillo. mesquite. elephant tree. once ablaze we cooked fixings for hearty burritos of rice, beans, tuna, queso fresco, chiles and salsa. i decided it was time to cut some weight and crack open the nice bottle of tequila i had purchased for christmas. carsten and reiner were delighted by my surprise and we stayed up for hours drinking, smoking tobacco, and sharing stories. the two of them had met in boy scouts in germany and have remained best friends ever since. both of them are forty eight years old, but started cycletouring together at the age of twenty eight – for the past twenty years they have cycled in a new part of the world (pakistan, ethiopia, uganda, papua new guinea, iceland…) for their four weeks of winter vacation. i like to think that they have always ridden side by side, just as i would come to find them without fail over the following week.

as we continued to add wood to the fire, we returned to the topic of language as i discussed before. and as we delved deeper, we came to the language of the bicycle. our great benefactor mario was obviously connected to me via our ability to converse in spanish, but he was also linked to all of us through our means of conveyance. he was impressed with our desire to navigate a foreign land by method of such self sufficiency. we are not isolated within fast moving cars, nor reliant on the help of others as backpackers most often are. and though we move about on our own accord, our speed is such that we truly experience the roads, the land, the people that surround us. this is something that carsten and reiner said they have always experienced in every country they have toured. even if they can’t speak the language, people are always kind and generous and widely affected by the nature of the bicycle itself. so i say this – get out of your fast moving cars, strap your backpack to your bicycle, and engage in the land that you travel!

-a

Close to champala 3

Close to champala 2

20 year old trangia  german s

Coco s

Champala

“…as we delved deeper, we came to the language of the bicycle. even if they can’t speak the language, people are always kind and generous and widely affected by the nature of the bicycle itself. so i say this – get out of your fast moving cars, strap your backpack to your bicycle, and engage in the land that you travel!”

Long distance

All words and images: Alex Dunn

Coming soon: A good look at Coco’s Corner. Back to pavement and at long last, a desert oasis.