To the Grand Canyon; to the AZT!

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In a summer full of planes, trains, and bikepacking routes of all kinds across Europe, our melange of southwest adventures thickens the summer’s stew.  Forced down from the mountains onto a circuitous paved route, we shoot straightaway to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  From here, we hope to connect to the Arizona Trail (AZT), and the bevy of bikepacking routes between the Canyon and the Mexican border.  From initial routefinding missions online, I am coming to realize that the state of Arizona may be the single greatest resource for documented bikepacking routes in the country.  Paired with spectacular scenery and four-season riding, this place is a veritable bikepacking mecca.  We’re excited, and the GPS is brimming with route options.

As we ride around the southern portion of the Manti-LaSal National Forest, storms are still brewing up high.

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From one hardworking town to another, Utah is a unique slice of America.  Sailing on a reservoir at 6000ft in Utah in late October is one of many local curiosities.  Also home to the Great Salt Lake, unusual canyons and rock formations, and a national park called Zion, Utah is more than just a mecca for hikers, bikers, and Jeep enthusiasts.  More than any other state, this is Mormon country.

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The town of Blanding was established by Mormons escaping a threatened existence in northern Mexico, around 1910.

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No bars in town, but a one-room theater and a bowling alley stay busy as a result.  As Mormons don;t drink caffeine or alcohol, Utah is famous for beer with a maximum limit of 3.2% ABV, which may be part of the reason that Hayduke can safely operate a motor vehicle while knocking back brews.

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The local bank makes you want to don a bandana and ask for a bag of cash, politely waving a pistol.  

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And ride into the night.

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Road touring in Utah is a pleasure.  As almost anywhere in America, there are scenic rural highways to discover, with little traffic.  Finding these routes isn’t hard: don’t choose the shortest route, be willing to climb a bit, and always choose the road that cuts through the green shaded region on the map.  Around here, BLM land is more common than US Forest Service property– the former characterized by arid spaces, the latter, by shady woodlands.  Forest Service property is officially called ‘the land of many uses”, including timber harvest and hunting; BLM property is unofficially referred to as ‘the land of every use”, from oil, gas and mineral exploration, to hunting, off-road vehicle recreation, and camping.

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Through Comb Ridge on paved Highway 95.

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Down to Comb Wash Road, below.

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For a convenient 18 mile detour from pavement, along a sandy road just below the comb-shaped ridge.  

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Fatbiking trick #1: When in doubt, let air out.  Washing through soft sandy sections, we let our pressures down to about 15psi to float over the sand.  Incidentally, we find that the corrugations are more comfortable as well, and we’re actually traveling faster, with greater ease, at lower pressures.  My 2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf is especially wide at low pressures, as the broad side knobs find a footing.  It might eb a good candidate for a 50mm Surly Rabbi Hole rim, or the new 45mm doublewall Velocity Dually.

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Back onto pavement, through a town called Mexican Hat, across the San Juan River, and onto the Navajo Reservation.  This is the landscape of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner; properly, the land of the Navajo; and seasonally, lots of tourists.

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Life has changed rapidly for the Navajo over the past 200 years.  Currently, employment rates are low, jobs are scarce, and people are getting by.  Some Navajo still practice traditional ways– sheep herding is a traditional lifestyle.  Not much else grows out here.

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Monument Valley, on the reservation, is best known as the film location for some early Hollywood westerns.  Visitors flock to the region.  The government shutdown that recently closed the area’s national parks was kind to this region, increasing tourism dramatically.

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Handmade goods, such as jewelry, are frequently offered on the roadside, in season.  We’ve missed the season by a few weeks.

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The stillness of such a wide open space can be frighteningly beautiful.

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But the potential for windstorms across such open land is great.  Headwinds are the bane of the road touring cyclist.  This is something we had almost forgotten entirely, as much of our time is spent off-pavement these days.  On dirt tracks: routes are infrequently drawn in a straight line, there is often cover from vegetation, and one travels much more slowly.  Headwinds are like a never-ending hill, without a descent on the other side.   

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Lael’s solution in such a moment, as tourists blast past in rented RV’s, is to stick out a thumb.  We know YOU are going to the Grand Canyon.  So are we!  Great, let’s carpool.  In a series of three rides– with a Navajo leader, a Bostonian cowboy and wet-plate photographer, and a Baptist preacher from a town called Tuba City– we arrive inside the gates of Grand Canyon National Park, avoiding several days of riding into intense winds. The experience would have been valuable, but tiring. We’d rather spend the last weeks of the season amidst ponderosa pine on the Arizona Trail, if possible.

En route to the Canyon, we stock up in a grocery store on the reservation.  Spam is offered at Navajo eateries, of which there are few.

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Corn flour, and more recently, wheat flour, are used in both tortillas and breads.  

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Rendered porkfat, or lard, is also common.  I suspect tortillas and lard mark an influence from Mexico.  Spam, of course, is all American.  

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The area was once home to numerous Uranium mines.  Kayenta is currently booming thanks to a coal mine.  I’ve seen a similar sign in Grants, NM, along the Great Divide Route.

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Riding some of the final miles toward the Kaibab National Forest, still on the reservation, we seek shelter form the wind for the night above the canyon of the Little Colorado River, upstream of the Grand Canyon.  An unused shepherd’s cabin will suffice as a primary windblock.

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With no signs of recent use– no trash, no lock on the door, no beer cans or bottles– we set up our tent inside.  Even still, it is a windy night.

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Inside the park, we spot our first signs of the Arizona Trail.  The trail runs over 700 miles from the Utah border south to the Mexican border, and is in the final stages of completion and refinement.  It traverses the Grand Canyon.  On foot, this would be a prized section.  To the dedicated thru–biker or racer, it is possible to carry the bike through the canyon.  The bike must be disassembled, and the wheels must not touch the ground.  Dedicated purists have done it, such as Arizona locals and bikepacking superheroes Scott Morris and Kurt Refsnider, but it is not in the cards for us.  While there looks to be some nice riding north of the Canyon, it makes more sense for us to start our Arizonan adventures from the south rim.  Yes, there is a road detour around the canyon if you’d like, along mostly paved roads.  It is well over a hundred and fifty miles, to account for about 25 miles of walking trail between the north and south rim.

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On our first night at the Canyon, we run into our friend Wyatt from Albuquerque, who is working on a trail crew.  Another guy chases us down on a Surly LHT, with wide eyes and lots of questions.  Is your name James, by chance?  How is it that I know people I’ve never met, in a place I’ve never been, by the bicycles they ride.  James and Cass have traveled some of the trails that we wish to ride in the next few weeks. 

On our first night at the canyon, we camp in the backcountry with the Americorps trail crew.  We awake to snow.  Thanks to Wyatt and Kerri for inviting us to camp with them.  The campfire and company was essential on a cold night. 

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A propane stove in the morning is a treat.  Lael’s spindly fingers get cold easily.

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Pack up, and roll out to meet with James for coffee and routeplanning in the morning.  Of course, we bisect a herd of elk on a dirt road, on our way to a car-free paved road…

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…along the rim of the Grand Canyon!  Good morning Arizona.

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Over the next few days we’ll be riding the AZT from the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff, where we plan to meet Jeremy for a few days of riding.  You may remember Jeremy as the rider on the vintage mountain bike with a Wald basket, flying through the air at White Mesa, NM last fall.  More recently, he’s been touring and shredding trail on a Surly Necromancer Pugsley, which he picked up from Two Wheel Drive in ABQ while I was working there last winter.

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From basin to range, Utah

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From the south end of the Lockhart Basin Road, I’d spotted a forest service route over the southern portion of the Manti-LasSal National Forest, connecting with Highway 95 down near the Arizona border.  Our expectations are for another day and half of cycling, up near 9,000ft, with a long descent to pavement down the other side.  With just enough food– and some good intel on water sources in the moutnains– it is a perfect plan.  But as we’ve learned over many years of cycling, especially in the wild places of the west, plans are meant to be broken.

Diving away from pavement of Highway 211, up the Bridger Jack/Beef Basin Road.  Continue onto FR 88/Elk Ridge Road, all the way over the mountains.  There are innumerable possible variations, but this is the simplest to navigate, with (most likely) the highest quality roads.

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Most signage around here is oriented to the hordes of climbers that stick to the canyon walls this time of year, like geckos soaking sunshine.  

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The west is still a bit wild.  Cattle still graze the highlands in summer, and someone has to call them home for the winter.  That’s what cowboys are for.

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We might have thought it was another decade up here, with the abundance of well-preserved cans along the road.  Clint Eastwood drinks Schlitz in the Dirty Harry movies.  As such, I’ve also had a soft spot for the stuff.  This one also has the patented SOFTOP lid– all of this is well before my time.

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In waning light, we climb towards 7,000ft.  Have I mentioned that this is my favorite time to ride?

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The dinner view– like the namesake formations of the nearby ‘Needles’ area of Canyonlands National Park.

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By morning, the light reverses itself, highlighting Cathedral Butte.  

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This will be one of the last nights in our Big Agnes Seehouse SL2 tent, which we’ve enjoyed through wind, snow, and rain over 5 years and about 700 nights.  Zippers are dying everywhere amongst our gear (not only on the tent), while the rainfly is torn from a midnight mishap.  While in the shop for repairs in Steamboat Springs, CO, Big Agnes has offered to send us a Fly Creek UL2, about a half-pound lighter than our current tent.  They’ve been great about repairing and replacing parts over the years, for a reasonable price.  In all this time, only the ground cloth remains from our original tent.  

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As we pack up and roll out, dark clouds are rolling in from the west.  Coming from across canyon country, they energize as they storm up the mountainside, rising 4000ft all at once.  These roads are no fun when wet.  Still, we hope for the best.  Our luck seems limitless.

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Looking out on Canyonlands National Park, the two air masses meet.  We are going the wrong direction.  Climbing, climbing, climbing…

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Until we can climb no more.  By now, we are all the way up the mountain, nearly half way to the pavement on the other side.  But it isn;t in the cards for today.  Unless we ware willing, or able, to carry our bikes for miles, the only choice is ride back the way we came. 

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Drink before thirsty, eat before hungry, says Velocio.  We’re already worked up an appetite.  A tortilla stuffed with cheese will hold us over until we ride out of the clouds, and out of the risk of tacky roads. 

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On the bright side, we look forward to a 3000+ft descent.  Lael picked up a new Revelate Feed Bag at Salvagetti’s in Denver, CO.  It mostly contains small portions of condiments stolen from gas stations, as apples.  Occasionally, it is filled with a liter of kefir, a habit she picked up in Ukraine.

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Out of the forest.

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Back amongst sage and ancient juniper, a herd of elk calling nearby, crossing the road a distance ahead.

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Down into the sun, where the memories of wet roads and rain are nearly forgotten.  From desert to forest, the weather also changes from 5000ft to 8500ft.  

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Finally, back near the road, we boil some water for coffee.  While filling up on clean water at reliable sources whenever possible, we either treat or boil a drink of surface water whenever we have the chance, to extend our range.  On an established route, it is common to know the distance to the next water source.  Without such information, it is a necessary habit to carry too much water.  Thankfully, water, like food, always gets lighter.

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The only choice now is a long paved route around the mountains.  There are worse places to be touring on the road.  Rural Utah is a treat, on or off pavement.

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Soon, a quick ride to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, then Flagstaff, Sedona, and beyond.  Anyone in AZ?  We are looking at riding some AZT, Cononino, Black Canyon, and whatever else we can find.  Route ideas?  Anyone want to ride?

Lockhart Basin Road, Utah

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Dirt touring routes south of Moab?  Surely, there are more than a few ways to figure it, but the Colorado River, Highway 191, and the LaSal Mountains make for some natural barriers.  Leaving town toward the south on the Lockhart Basin Road is an obvious choice.

The Lockhart Road is a Jeep track, or ORV route, one amongst a bevy of classic Moab routes.  Thankfully, all but the most technical of these rock-crawling Jeep routes are ideal for riding.  While the Lockhart Basin Route is signed as a “Most Difficult” route for motor vehicles, thanks to a few stair-step rock features scattered with boulders, the route is almost entirely rideable chunky doubletrack, with some fast dirt road riding in between.  From the center of Moab to Highway 211 at the south, the route requires one big day, or two leisurely days of riding.  Water is scarce– none is officially available on route– and even in cool October days, we were careful to watch our water consumption, choosing foods that do not require rehydration and sipping our bottles conservatively.  The total distance from Moab to Hwy 211 is about 60 miles, along some of the most scenic, accessible, legal riding we have found anywhere.  We left town with about 14L of water between the two of us.  If it sounds like the riding is getting better and better for us, that’s because it is.  Coming and going, via Moab, makes for some great riding.  

Thanks to Cass for the initial route recon, back in the fall of 2009.  That summer, he and I crossed paths for the first time at the Off the Chain Co-op in Anchorage, AK.  He visited our humble trailer along the banks of the Nenana River a few weeks later after riding south from Deadhorse.

Leaving Moab at dark, we shoot for some public land.  Camping in the west has spoiled us.

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We awake to the sounds of a small spring only several miles from Moab.  An early start is becoming more common, as food and water scarcity challenge us to keep moving at a healthy pace.

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Seemingly, it is 30 degrees in the shade, but 70 degrees in full sun.  Clear skies at 5000ft make October an excellent month to visit Utah.

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Our first climb reaches toward Hurrah Pass, less than 1000ft above.  Then, we drop down toward the Colorado River on the Lockhart Basin Road.

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Leaving the Kane Creek drainage, toward Chicken Corners.

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Up to Hurrah Pass.

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Since landing in Denver, I’ve done extensive work on our bicycles to get them back into top (well-used) condition.  Most notably, this includes new cables and housing, and some new drivetrain parts.  To replace worn chainrings on my crank, I ordered a new RaceFace Ride crank for about $100.  A new Shimano SLX derailleur was included to replace the uninspiring slop in the previous rear derailleur, which had been cobbled together from parts in New Mexico.  In haste, I ordered a newer 10sp SLX derailleur, which didn’t like my friction shifters and 8sp cassette and chain.  The system functioned, technically, although 10sp gear utilizes a different cable pull from the shifter (much like SRAM equipment), requiring a real big push of the thumb to access the climbing gears.  The eventual solution is a used $20 Shimano XT derailleur from Moab Classic Bike,  a hip little shop in a town obsessed with high-tech all-mountain machines.  The SLX unit is shipped home in a box with some other stuff.  The big ring — all 44 unnecessary teeth– is removed, in favor of: chainring to rock clearance, a shorter chain for crisper shifting, and a little less weight.  Works great, with less room for mud to hide when the trail gets thick.  For now, 32×22 rings up front, and an 11-32 8sp cassette in the rear.  That’s 16 gears!  

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The view from the top, near Hurrah Pass, looking down on Kane Creek.

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An unspectacular feat– the climb to Hurrah Pass is small change compared to the climbs on the Kokopelli Trail.

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The otherworldly vistas are unlike anywhere we’ve ever been, certainly a long way from Ukraine.  Note the broadly curving anticline, of the arch-like curvature of the sedimentary layers.

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This might be the best weather of the year.  Riding temperatures are perfect.  Nights are cool to cold, but we are well prepared for much colder weather. 

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Stick to the Lockhart Basin Road, as the route to Chicken Corkers cuts right, toward the Colorado River.

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This is where the trail gets tough.  Excepting these few pushes over chunky, rocky, boulder-filled slickrock canyons, the route is extremely rideable.  Just a few unrideable pushes in this section, before riding back onto something more like a ‘road’.

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A road in there somewhere…

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Rideable, once again.

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The route is easy to follow, especially as all two or three major junctions are signed– there aren’t too many places to get lost.  However, we were following a GPS track of the route, so navigation was a breeze.  A few rock cairns help locate the route along the way.

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The basin is a broad topographic low, adjacent to the Colorado River, characterized by canyons and valleys, and the resultant ridges and spires.  The route follows the edge of the canyon the entire way, hugging steep cliff walls for miles.

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While constantly undulating, the route hovers right around 4500ft.

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There is no shortage of chunky road to navigate, although most of it is fun to ride quite fast.  We’ve enjoyed these rides, like the Kokopelli Trail, that blend wide-open dirt roads and rough technical tracks.

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Shadows grow longer, for a memorable early-evening descent.

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Lael claims this might be her favorite ride ever!

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A six mile road leads down to the Colorado River, but to preserve our southward trajectory, we stick to the main road.  It looks like a worthwhile detour. 

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Ride until dark, camp, ride again.  Overland travel by bicycle in the west has a nice rhythm.

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Moments before dark, Lael laces up her shoes for a run.  Not a day passes that she doesn’t aim to go running, often for an hour or more.

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Sunset, and sunrise are worth a few moments of our time.  So are the stars, and the mornings, and afternoons, and evenings– never a bad time of day or night, this time of year.NicholasCarman0001 915

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In addition to rocky, chunky tracks, sandy washes are also best navigated on larger tires.  

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Back on Highway 211, we detour several miles to the west to pick up some water.  The Needles Outpost is a private facility near the entrance to Canyonlands National Park.  Water is available in gallon jugs for a price.  Free water is available inside the park, a few miles further, for a $5 entrance fee.  Riding east on Highway 211, you should encounter surface water in several places along Indian Creek, although cattle ranching in these parts mean a reliable purification or filtration system is necessary.  Not sure is these streams run dry mid-summer.  Water levels seem good this time of year, or perhaps just this year.  

At least the water is still cheaper than gas, which goes for $6.50 a gallon.  Edward Abbey, who was a park ranger in these parts, would be happy to see the price of fuel.  

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Continuing south, we have our eyes on Elk Ridge Road over the southern portion of the Manti-LaSal National Forest, which eventually connects to Highway 95.  From the end of the Lockhart Basin Road, the Needles Outpost is 4 miles west; the beginning of Beef Basin/Bridger Jack Mesa Roads (to Elk Ridge Road, FR 88) is about 8 miles east on Hwy 211, with a pit toilet and information board at the head of the road.  Monticello is about 45 miles from here.

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Lael devours the last few pages of her novel, Pretty Boy Floyd, by Larry McMurtry. to save weight in her pack.  She’s already carrying the replacement novel by Tom Robbins, purchased for 50 cents at the Moab Public Library.  She loves the Moab library.

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She leaves it on the message board at the head of Beef Basin/Bridger Jack Road, amongst notes from climbers and hunters.  The area is a very popular climbing destination.

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Into the mountains!

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Kokopelli’s Trail: Fruita, CO to Moab, UT

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When routeplanning from afar– via internet and memory from Ukraine– riding Kokopelli’s Trail across the state line from Colorado to Utah stood out as a good starting point.  In such wide open country with so many roads, routes and trails, a signed and mapped route such as this is a blessing.  It builds confidence in the kind of riding found in the area to be able to follow a popular route for a bit.  It reminds us how to carry four days of food and as much as 8 liters of water apiece.  We’re a long way from Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Czech, Germany, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands– it has been a good summer.  For me, autumn in the cool dry air of the mountainous west is the capstone to a third consecutive summer.  Sleeping under starry skies under a frosty tent amongst juniper and sage and aspen is starting to feel like home.    

Kokopelli’s Trail, officially arranged by the BLM as a bicycling route from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT measures about 142mi in length.  Several distinct sections exist: a dozen miles of singletrack trails leave Fruita, miles of high desert dirt roads with brief interruption of rougher jeep tracks fit in the middle, and a push up and over the LaSal mountains to Moab finishes the route in the E-W direction.  The final section contains most of the climbing of the entire route, with several-thousand foot ascents and descents, along the canyons and ridges of the LaSal range.  The middle portion, on the high desert plains, is subject to becoming quite sticky following precipitation, due to a high content of clay in the soil.  Otherwise, it is fast and fun Divide-style riding  The first miles out of Fruita are sublime, especially when consider as part of a longer-distance touring route.  

For experienced mountain bikers, the concept of carrying supplies over several days may be a challenge, with great reward.  For the experienced cycletourist accustomed to ‘roads’, the riding will likely be the challenge, a step up from the open roads of the Divide, for example.  The scenery, for all, is unbeatable.  For us, it is a happy welcome back to the country.

Our ride begins at nightfall.  Within several miles, rain showers and precipitous cliffs send us dashing into our tent, illegally camping along the local singletrack circuit.  At dawn, we quickly pack up to begin riding some of the most beautiful singletrack we’ve encountered.  These trails are, let us not forget, central to the sport of mountain biking in the US.  Nearby is Horsethief Bench, for instance.     

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Above the Colorado River.

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Lael makes use of the backpack purchased in Ukraine.  It has never been our intention to ride with a pack, but our hurried start left us with three full-sized bike magazines, part of a 12 oz. bottle of Stan’s sealant, about 16L of water, and four days of food.  At the time, it was easier to load the pack with lightweight flotsam than to bother with framebag or saddlebag wizardry.  We hate to admit, but a proper backpack could be a viable solution for someone looking to expand their capacity.  It is much easier to accept a monkey on the back on a cold rainy day, than on a sweaty afternoon.  There is something comforting about the extra layer on a cold morning.  I still don’t think I could do it mid-summer.

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With rain threatening, we keep an eye on our escape routes.  We are aware of the tacky potential of western roads and trails.

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However, the Fruita trail system is well designed and drained, mostly composed of rock and sand.

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Except when we stray off route onto a jeep track, and push through clay until our bikes no longer roll.  After a few minutes, we cover enough distance to make it apparent on my GPS that we have lost the route.  I know exactly where we strayed.  

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A thick layer of mud coats our shoes.

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Back on track, we enjoy a singletrack descent to clear our tires of clay.  

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Eventually, reaching a tributary of the Colorado River, we descend and cross a set of train tracks.  With an eye on nearby 1-70, we consider the option of routing around potentially tacky roads ahead.  

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We break for lunch to reassess.  Not much changes in this time– rain to the north, less menacing white clouds to the south.  We continue.

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Climbing away from the river, pushing as much as riding on some rocky trails, we reach open desert plains adjacent to I-70.

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The roads we encounter are composed of sand and gravel, mostly, and make for fast riding.  A tailwind reminds me that I also enjoy long days on open dirt roads– such as on the Divide.  Chunky sections of trail have me dreaming of a Surly Krampus, but these roads lead my thoughts to a drop-bar Velo Orange Camargue

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I’ve been looking for a good piece of steel wire to repair my pot stand for my stove.  Not much barbed wire in Ukraine, but plenty of extra in the US.  This scrap will do nicely to repair my cook system.

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All is well, until a change in elevation, through changing geology.

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Dead in our tracks, no sooner than ten feet into this stuff!  Unfortunately, once the bike doesn’t roll, it has become no easier to carry thanks to pounds and pounds of mud.

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Looking forward to a 300ft ascent on sticky slippery clay, we heft our bikes into a nearby meadow for the night.

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By morning, no rain has fallen.  Clearer skies and some sun allow us to roll our bikes up the grade.  At the top, we ride our bikes back and forth on dry, sandy dirt roads to release as much clay as possible.  We clean and lube everything as best as possible, and ride on.

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Lael has a new pair of tires.  The rear, a 2.25″ On-One Smorgasbord looks like a cross between my Schwalbe Hans Dampf and the Nobby Nic she used this summer.  The front, a 2.4″ Chunky Monkey is exactly as it sounds– chunky.  Only sixty dollars for the pair–less than the price of one EXO Maxxis Ardent tire or a tubeless ready Schwalbe– this is an unbeatable price in a tire this size. The tires are constructed of thick rubber, making them suitable for use in rough country without fear of flimsy sidewalls.  They set up tubeless without any troubles.  I hope and expect that at $30 apiece, they are composed of an inexpensive, durable rubber.  Funny how this works, but cheaper mountain bike tires often use longer-wearing rubber.

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While Kokopelli is well signed, rock-cairns are user-maintained to help along the way.  If nothing else, they add an element of discovery to the process.

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A brief portion of pavement leads back down to the Colorado River.  

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We detour towards the Westwater Ranger Station in hope of finding fresh water.  The river could be a water source, although it is a bit silty.  However, the ranger station serves filtered water through an outdoor spigot.  It is operational mid-October, even despite the government shutdown.  

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These facilities are mostly aimed at floaters and paddlers on the river.  Campsites, pit toilets and fresh water are available.

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Riding away across more open plains is a joy, even packed with as much water as we can carry.  Almost all official resources state that there is “no water along the route”.  This proved to be untrue more than a half-dozen times, although Westwater provided the only source that did not require treatment.  A short 1.5 mi detour is nearly on the route, I say.

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Loping near, but not next to the Colorado River, we encounter changing scenery and conditions.

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Until at last, we are next to the river itself.  One perfect campsite beckons, about it is an hour earlier than we have planned to camp.  

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A quick swim will suffice.

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We encounter several curious fatbike tracks.  Incidentally, some internet stalking had lead to these details an hour before starting our trip in Fruita.  From Twitter:

Back from WA and running shuttle for the Kokopelli Trail with Dave and Jonny!

 

I met Zachary by chance in Kremmling, CO last summer while riding the Divide Route, soon after he had bought his white Pugsley. I lent some Divide maps to him, and borrowed some local maps from him. Now I was following his tracks, as well as the tracks of two other fatbikers.

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Crossing the pavement.  I guarantee that our byway is more scenic than this paved byway.

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Just before camping for the night, we slither along slickrock until the trail become difficult to follow by natural light.

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This is my favorite place to be this time of year.

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Rounding the first corner in the morning puts our sights on a new goal– the LaSal Mountains.  Moab is over and around those snowy peaks.

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Sandy slickrock trails are made possible by Jeeps and other motorized users.  

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Here signage for bicycles and motorized vehicles coexist, not that you couldn’t piece together routes from all of these resources.  

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Back down to the Colorado, across highway 128 again.  We could be in Moab this afternoon on the pavement, but that wouldn’t be as much fun. 

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Another swim, and another clean and lube at lunch before heading into the mountains.  It is warm in the sun, and cool in the shade– just how I like it.  Lael still talks about going to Mexico daily.

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We expect a big climb to the top, and then a big descent into Moab.  As we are mostly following trail signage and a GPS track on my tiny eTrex, we lose some of the perspective gained by a large-scale paper map.  I overlook several thousand-foot descents and ascents while relaying upcoming trail info to Lael.  Anymore, she doesn’t believe anything I say.

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Another water source.  Clear, with only a bit of grit and grime.

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Up…

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…and back down.

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The erosional patterns in such a climate, though sedimentary rock, form deep canyons and ridges.  Thus, the route climbs up and down several times before ascending over the mountains to Moab.

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Recent rains leave more than just water in the streams.

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From pavement, to roads that aren’t roads, Kokopelli is diverse.  This looks more like a rockfall, included as part of the route, although Jeep tracks were founds all down the length.  Needless to say, we carried our bikes.  A proper mountain bike is a good choice.

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Another night in the tent, which we are mostly using to stay warm.  We love sleeping out under the stars in dry climates, although the tent retains 10-15 extra degrees.  Our bags also stay dry and lofted throughout the night inside the tent.

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Quickly, sun fades the memory of a cold night.  This time of year, we are prepared with fleece gloves, long wool socks, and sleeping bag liners

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Frozen fields at five or six thousand feet.

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We encounter yet another water source listed on our GPS track near a remote campground.  The water smells of sulfur, but looks clear.  We picked up a USB-rechargeable Steripen Freedom in Denver.  For now, we are putting faith into this little blue light.  For reliable water treatment in the desert, I might still consider a physical filter, especially with an effective pre-filter for sediment.

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Up toward the peaks, past six, seven, and eight thousand feet.

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From here, we look back on the first few miles of riding this morning.  A long circuitous route is often necessary in canyon country.

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Nearing the top of the route, we enter aspen ablaze for the season, and some remnant snow from an early-season storm.

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From the top of the route, we look forward to a big descent into Moab.

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Around the corner, dirt turns to pavement.  Surely, we didn’t climb all this way to descent into town on pavement?

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Two thousand feet below, the routes turns up again, still on pavement.  It climbs back to 8500ft, before turning onto dirt for the last time.  Never underestimate the features in canyon country.

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Turning onto a popular trail system outside of Moab is a treat.  Now, we ascend to town, where pizza and beer, or some such delicacy, saves us from dining on the last of our peanut butter and pepper jack cheese for the night.

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Moab is densely used by many.  “Share the trail” is nearly as strongly encouraged as “Stay on the trail”.  The desert is a fragile place.

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Down into town by sunset.

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Nearly, by sunset.  Descending past BLM campgrounds into town, we ask about the possibility of finding a place to camp for the night.  Wild camping is a challenge this close to town, and all the campsites are full due to the government shutdown and a popular Jeep Jamboree.  A friendly government employee from Montana offers a place for the night in his campsite.  It seems being let off from work for a few weeks has some perks.

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For further information about the Kokopelli Trail, including a GPS file of the route, the Bikepacking.net website is an invaluable resource for numerous bikepacking routes.  Thanks to Scott Morris, curator of the fine Bikepacking.net and Trackleaders.com websites as well as Topofusion mapping software, for helping with some last minute learning curves associated with Garmin software and my new eTrex 20 device.  The GPS has become an essential tool for me, despite some initial frustrations.  Check out Scott’s personal ride diary for a healthy dose of backcountry riding.  His ride reports date back to 2003!     

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Headed south, looking forward to places like Lockhart Basin, Bridger Jack, Cottonwood Canyon, Needles, Beef Basin, Elephant Hill, and Arizona!

Krym to Colorado, plus the threadbare addendum

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This is the missing link.  From exotic cyan coastline in Krym to clear air Rocky Mountain high, we’re coming from and going to many amazing places.  So that the (un)important details are not forgotten– the rigors of traveling– they are included in time-lapse format for careful digestion.  It has been a strenuous couple of weeks, even if it includes many group dinners, exciting new equipment, and route planning.  I’ll never call any of this hardship, so don’t confuse my words, but I can be quite hard.  I might rather be riding.  

Dive down to the bottom for an addendum to the “Threadbare” post I shared a few months ago.  More gear has found an end on this trip than on any other, due to rigorous conditions and timing.  Lots of gear has been with us for two, three, four, or even five years, including hundreds of days of riding and camping.  

Our last day in Krym is bittersweet.  Through lower and lower mountains and hills, the landscape blends into city.

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Simferapol, which becomes home for a few days.  The long list of tasks in the city includes finding two bike boxes, resting, writing e-mails, buying equipment online, and buying a plane ticket beyond NYC, most likely to Denver, we think.  Note: online retailers do not like purchases made from Ukraine, with a NY or AK billing address and a CO shipping address.  Three purchases were declined without further confirmation.  

Simferapol is ‘nothing special’, say the guidebooks, although it a unique retro-modern city that is the transportation hub of Krym.  We enjoyed the city greatly.  

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Bike rack and V.I. Lenin, the latter whitewashed in bird shit.  

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The market next to the train station is superb, and generally welcoming of nonnative tongues, unlike many markets in Ukraine.  Regional produce is much different than elsewhere in Ukraine.

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The train station is also a great place to view incoming and outgoing cyclists, on various paved and unpaved excursions.  Lots of backpacks and mountain bikes, or hardtail mountain bikes with rear racks. Lots of grit and determination.

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Buy these maps from the well-stocked outdoor store outside of the train station for $2 apiece.

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Lael and I picked up some ultralight sil-nylon backpacks to serve as traveling companions in the air, on the bikes and on foot.  We hope to make some short hikes away form the bike.  They may also serve as overflow when pulling away from a grocery, or when traveling by train, plane, or automobile.  Lael’s 15L bag weighs 110g, although it is short on features.  As such, it packs smaller than a t-shirt.  Price: about $25.

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We located to bike boxes several miles away, to be picked up on Saturday.  We brought them back to our hotel, but had to go out looking for a pedal wrench.  Eventually, we found a taxi driver with a 17mm box-end wrench, which mated well enough with the 15mm wrench flats on our pedals.  Through mud and rain, the hex-compatible socket on the back side of the pedal axle didn’t provide enough leverage.  The cabbie asks, “now how will you ride your bike?”.  

We velocipede all the way home.

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Bags are removed from the bikes for the first time all summer.  With only a few failings from hard use, these Revelate bags have served Lael well.  My Porcelain Rocket bags are a bit newer, and only show wear from sun exposure. 

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Preparing for our 5AM flight, we choose to sleep in the Simferapol airport.

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Aeroflot takes bikes as luggage for free, as long as they weigh less than 50lbs.  I had to unload a few items from my box to make weight.

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Norway– wow– we’ve got to go there!

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And Long Island.  Welcome home.  Still, a surpising amount of undeveloped land is visible form above, even in the eastern US.  After a summer chasing trails in Europe, I have new hope for such overlooked places.  How about Alabama?  New Hampshire?  South Carolina?  Kentucky?  South Dakota? Texas? Florida?  

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A night in the Jetblue terminal is as Lael describes, “like being trapped in a Gap store”.  Jason Mraz and Miley Cyrus play on repeat all night in the crisp white terminal.  Another early morning flight.  Little to no sleep for a few days is no good.  I find myself flirting with insanity, finding my way into the Ladies room in the middle of the night.  

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Bikes are $50 on Jetblue, same as on Alaska Airlines.  Frontier takes bikes for free, but flies from LaGuardia Airport, while we land at JFK.

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Denver, at last.  Clear skies and snow-capped peaks welcome us.  Pedals, handlebars, forks and front wheels are all removed from the bikes to squeeze into small boxes.  Less than an hour after we roll out the door, we are fully loaded and ready to ride.

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The first stop, after the $11 shuttle to downtown Denver, is the Cherry Creek Mall.  You know, there’s nothing like Orange Julius and Cinnabon for a welcome back to America.  Actually, I am insistent to visit the Apple store immediately to diagnose what I suspect is a busted internal hard drive on my MacBook Air.  My suspicions are correct, and the repair will take a few days.  The part is warrantied, while Lael gets a much-awaited haircut.  She asks for something special… 

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A light-rail train takes us to Littleton where Andy and his family host us for a few days.  Several packages await, and his bike barn serves as shelter from the snow to repair our worn bicycles and gear.

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I ride his 1984 Miyata Ridge Runner while my bike is in pieces.  This is as pristine an example as I’ve seen, and Andy has made some nice adjustments for improved functionality.  A very nice riding bike.

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We are enamored with American supermarkets.  Half-filled public buses take us to Fort Collins in comfort.  

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Desperately holding onto Ukrainian traditions, making dozens of varenyky with friends.  Sour cream helps the dough stick to itself when the dumpling is formed.  There’s no place like home…

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A quick visit to Pat Hegedus of Panda Bicycles in Fort Collins.

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Organizing electronics to reduce the redundancy of chargers.  A box of unneeded things goes home, or elsewhere.

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While a friend’s Jeep transports us to Boulder for a night to pick up a used lens from a Craigslist seller, and then back to Denver to look at a used Pugsley.  This time, the fatbike isn’t for me (not yet).  He’s trading his Big Dummy for a Pugsley, to be build with a Rohloff.  The frame had been modified to accept a belt drive.   

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Back in Denver, we avoid spending any more money.  Riding around town is better.

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After a few more Ukrainian feasts, we jump aboard another Jeep towards Grand Junction.  This time, a friend from this blog offers a lift over the mountains.  Changing seasons dictate a more rapid approach toward Utah.

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But wait, I remember that my friend Jane lives in Carbondale.  We met three years ago in Whitefish, MT, and have visited each other every year since.  An overnight in Carbondale to catch-up, then back on the road to Grand Junction the next afternoon.

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Carbondale is full of cool bikes.  These Pugsleys are on demo at a local cross race sponsored by Aloha Mountain Cyclery.  

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Mukluk with 29+.

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And a new colormatched Ti Mukluk, which pairs well with the VW van.  Has anyone noticed that Race Face Atlas handlebars and XX1 drivetrains are all the rage?  Where have we been?  And the government shutdown?  And that Miley Cyrus music video?!?  

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Download the track for the Kokopelli Trail, with help from Scott Morris at the last moment, and a couple snapshots of some paper maps just in case.  We expect to find some trail signage along the way.

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Willet whisks us to the trailhead beyond Grand Junction, outside of Fruita, just as thunderstorms pass and night falls.  Thanks for everything Willet!  Ride a few miles at night until showers and precipitous cliffside trails force us into a tent for the night.  From Krym, to Colorado. 

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Threadbare and repairs

More from the original “Threadbare…” article.  Below is an off-hand list of broken stuff from the last few weeks and months.

A broken bottle cage, after five months of use.

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A broken Salsa Anything cage, after hauling my 64 oz. Kleen Kanteen for two summers.  This things was broken in three or four places.  A reimagined Anything Cage is due out sometime. 

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Lael’s Revelate Viscacha has held up, except for the loops on the topside (not shown).  We put extra stress on them as we strap a sleeping pad to the top of the seat pack.  An old shoelace is used to make all four attachment points better than new.  A needle and thread goes a long way on a long trip.

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We had an extra bottle cage mount installed in Fort Collins last year at Panda Cycles, although we never bothered painting it.  It is probably time.

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Cutaway of the bottle cage mounting system on the fork, before stuffing the bike into a box.  Some rubber cushions the cage from the fork and protects the paint, not that the bike will see a showroom floor anytime soon.

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Stitched and fixed Carradice.  This thing is reparable, which makes it ultimately durable.  Needle and thread do most of the work, although stitching canvas and leather can be hard with a standard gauge needle.  A tire lever and diagonal cutters help a little.

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Back in Denver, Andy helps paint parts of Lael’s frame.  She dots her chainstay with pink nail polish.  She will not repaint or powdercoat the entire frame.  This frame tells stories.

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Some zippers misfire, as the sliders wear out.  A pair of plies and some light lube eek out some extra life.  The slider will eventually need to be replaced. 

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Lael gets some bottle cages on her fork, to prepare for the desert.  I have started to remove the back tabs to mount the cage nearer to the fork, to reduce the risk of broken cages.  A crude task with the tools at hand.

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More threadbare things:

Patagonia 5″ Shorts, worn threads at seam require constant repair, now past the point of repair (walking around Moab with a hole in my shorts)

Surly merino wool sweater is threadbare, has made me look more normal than technical gear and cut-off t-shirts

Maxxis Ardent and Schwalbe Nobby Nic are nearly worn on Lael’s bike

My drivetrain is well-worn, and will be almost entirely replaced to ensure a functional future (upgrading to 8sp!)

Need new rear brake pads

Need new cables and housing almost everywhere

New UV filters for camera lenses

New hard drive on MacBook Air (warrantied)

RockShox Reba forks need overhaul with new oil

Clean and lube everything that moves!

Patagonia Capilene 2 long underwear has holes, makes me look like a punk rock girl– not good.  Probably find another solution.

Tent has a tear in the rainfly, both zippers are functional but delicate

Sleeping bags desperately need to be laundered

Lael lost her sleeping pad in a monsoon on the ride into Simferapol, my pad has delaminated, exploding into a pool toy (both Thermarest Pro-Lite).

Sunglasses scratched, shoelaces broken, pot support needs repair…

 

Thanks to Andy and family, Alex, Jonah, Jake, Willet, Jane, Scott Morris, and Aaron at Aloha.   

Panasonic Lumix G X 12-35mm, F2.8

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We are not in Ukraine anymore.  I’m not telling exactly where we are, but you can probably figure it out.  By the way, the Kokopelli Trail is awesome!  I am hoping to catch up on a lot of writing and photos soon.  For now, the weather is much too good to waste on computing, so go outside and ride!

New lens, new GPS unit, new bike parts, and new route ideas.  More soon. 

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Balaklava to Bakchiseray, Krym, Ukraine

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Leaving Sevastapol, rolling past Balaklava on dirt roads, following a GPS track from Vital.  It begins as an honest search for the ‘right’ path– the way the Vital had gone before.  In time, we’re lost on a game trail or footpath, pushing uphill towards the ridge.  We should have turned around and found the way, but two of the three of us is the type that like to look around the next corner before turning back, and there is always another corner.  We are the type that end up coming home past dark or running low on food or water.  In actuality, most of the time we know better– from experience– but the tendency is still alive.

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The allure of wooded singletrack is too great to pass.

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Although, it leads to an uphill struggle on loose dirt tracks.  The hillside is a popular downhill route, not ideal for uphill travel.  This structure is a decade or two old.

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Gaining the ridge, new obstacles arise.  An old barbed wire fenceline raises our suspicions.

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A small concrete bunker satisfies them.

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But then, there’s more!

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Atop the ridge, there are assorted concrete structures looking out over the coast.  It becomes apparent that this entire mountain is a fortress.

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We discover a series of garages, linked by rail with a larger underground system.  This garage will provide adequate cover for the night, and saves us from having to pull out our tents.

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Leading from the garages, something goes in here.

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Through about 100m of tunnels.

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To an opening.

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This is the same opening we discovered from above.  We discuss ten different ways in which this could, and must have been, a missile launch site.  Certainly, we reason, these must have been nuclear missiles.  Whoa.

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Close the door behind you.

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Aside, this remote beach is only a few kilometers from Balaklava.

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Doubletrack trails blanket the area.  Presumably, these are old jeep trails and tank tracks.

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A few more steep pushes lead us above the sea, with unobstructed views in three directions.

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And moments of picture perfect singletrack.

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Winding along coastal cliffs, we encounter more remnants of past military activities.

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We stop at this fence to take photographs, posing as if using our cell phones and doing the Moonwalk, as is prohibited by the signs on the fence.  Two young guards appear from the forest.  They ask for passports in Russian.  They demand to see Przemek’s photos, unamused at our comedic nature.  We are asked to follow the younger man.  Rolling our bikes alongside, he leads us to his leader, where other young recruits are sweeping leaves from the roadway with branches.  Signage describes proper marching technique, and celebrates the Ukrainian military. After a few brief questions from the superior officer, we are dismissed out the front gate, away from our intended destination.  The Ukrainian military is not the same force that constructed the massive bunkers of the Soviet era.  Nonetheless, the experience completes our tour of the coastline, lending a sense of reality to the places we’ve explored.

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Having been turned away just a few kilometers from our intended campsite on a cliff above the sea, we find a roundabout means to reach our goal.  The campsite, Vital’s recommendation, is supreme.  High above the sea, we prepare a meal as clouds form on the horizon.

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Naturally, we sample another variety of Ukrainian horilka.  This one is flavored by bison grass, like the popular Polish zubrowka varieties.

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Returning inland the next day, we pass from zones of moisture to zones of aridity, and back.  Physical changes of climate and geology are rapid in Krym.

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Back on a signed hiking trail, in uniquely pleasant forests.  At times, there is a Californian calm to this place.

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Every morning, I awake to find Lael reading on her Nexus tablet inside her sleeping bag.

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Ukrainian magazines, or stores,  are stocked like an old-time general store, with a wide assortment of items.  These structures are often relics from Soviet times, and most goods are only available from behind the counter.  As such, it is always a good time to practice Ukrainian or Russian.  Most women are happy to work with our basic language skills, especially if they realize we are American.  Polish, Czech and other European tourists are not entirely uncommon.  Americans visit with less frequency, although most Ukrainians are excited to learn that we are from America.  In fact, most Ukrainians know more about the USA than the French.  Once, when asked where we are from, Lael replies, “Alaska”.

The man repeats, “Alaska?”– An-cho-rage!

Most French people think Alaska is part of Canada.  In Ukraine, the dollar is more common than the euro.  Many Ukrainian are familiar with the basic geography of American cities and states.

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I love these colorful matchboxes.

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And assorted preserves.

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Crossing from drainage to drainage across the foothills, we enjoy short climbs and fun descents on crumbly limestone roads.

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Each valley with its own surprises; each valley with stunning cliffs.

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This one with abandoned orchards.  Post-Soviet times have not always been easy.  This place could, or should be teeming with fruit.

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Turning off-pavement, back onto another footpath.

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A particularly tacky mud arises at certain intervals, as we cross certain geological zones.  Voluminous 2.35″ tires fit the frame, within reason, although the front derailleur runs close to the tire.  The result is a muddy drivetrain.

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A rock and an acorn are wedged in the front derailleur.

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Lael’s bike features similar clearances, although a narrower tire and a double chainring setup leaves a little more room for mud.  Note, a clean drivetrain.  Thinking about an offset double for better mud and tire clearance.

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Looking for a campsite, we encounter this established site.  What luck, as it features spacious sites with tables and fire rings, and we have all of it to ourselves.

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It stands as one of the best of the summer.

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Crocodile dragon pig in the sky?  What do you see?

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Leaving camp, we pass the spring on our way to Bakchiseray.

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Some more images from the bountiful, historic region near Bakchiseray in my previous post “Bountiful Krym“.

Above the Black Sea, Krym, Ukraine

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Attention Denver, tonight only (10/9)!  Yes, we have been in Denver for several days now, repairing bikes and electronics, preparing for another few months of riding in the SW before the end of the season.  The Surly Owner’s Society and friends (SOS+) is meeting tonight at the Denver Beer Co. on Platte St at 7:30PM.  I know for certain than Andy, aka Big Dummy Daddy, will be there, as well as a few other friends from past trips through the area.  Come join us.  Ride a bike.  Don’t worry if it isn’t a Surly.   

Edit: Thanks to everyone who showed up to talk last night, and thanks to Andy and Tracy for organizing the group.

Plans are made to meet Vital for a few days of riding.  Vital lives in Krym, studied in Poland, and somehow made Przemek’s acquaintance via Polish bike forums.  We look forward to joining him atop one of the tallest peaks in Krym, above 1500m.  Leaving Bakchiseray, we shoot towards the coast to camp atop a tall ridge.  We have GPS coordinates for reference, and find a camp site accordingly.  The plan is to meet in the morning to begin riding.  The whole process seems covert, although we’re really just planning to ride bikes for a few days.

After a quick twenty miles on pavement, we break for a meal before tackling the paved climb.  We encounter unique tastes at a Tartar restaurant, including lamb, spices, and flatbreads.  We take six flatbreads to go.

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Climbing, we each take advantage of cool, clean water to bathe ourselves before another few days of riding and sweating inside rain jackets.  None of us (except me!) were excited to jump into cold water, but the reward of being clean is always worth it.

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We misjudge the climb, and are caught in the dark for the final 1000ft to the top.  Little traffic makes for a nice ride, although thick fog is unsettling.  As the air cools, we agree that it would be best to find camp before it rains, if it rains, or when it rains.

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We make it to the top, and push up a grassy hill in the dark, guided by headlights.  Behind some small trees, we find shelter from the cold, damp wind.  Tents and bags prepared, we prepare a meal of recently purchased frozen varenyky, fresh vegetables, and sweets.  A small bottle of Russian vodka pairs well with these flavors, especially with the bold taste of garlic and onion.

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In the morning, we are joined by Sasha and Vital, on their immaculately prepared bikepacking machines, complete with locally made framebags.  The roadside at the pass is crowded with vehicles.  Dozens of people are quietly walking through the forests gathering mushrooms.  Back at the road, friends are charged with preparing shashlik over the grill, while playing music from the back of the car– Russian tailgate culture.

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From 1200m, we begin the undulating ridgetop climb on dirt towards 1500m.  A small cut in Vital’s tubeless tire is easily repaired with some extra sealant, which I have been carrying since the Czech Republic.

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Vital jokes, as is printed on the sign, that this is “Russian Google maps”.

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Continuing along the ridge, we travel east.

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To discover that we are high above the Black Sea, nearly 4000ft above Yalta.

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We find a windbreak to enjoy some lunch.

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Amongst other things, this jar of nuts and honey will help us up the final climbs.

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Storms darken ahead of us, although the sun enters from behind.  After a rainy night, the afternoon has promise.

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Looking at Kemal-Egerek, the third tallest peak in the Crimean Mountains at 1529m.  We follow the ridge to the top, then down the backside.

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The final push.

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Above the trees, exposed to the wind.

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Aside from the heights reached in the Karpaty, this is the highest we have been all summer.  None of it is as high as the Rockies, not even as high as the city of Denver, but none of it has been easy.  Daily climbs up steep grades have made us stronger than ever.

Familiarity with a bicycle is important when climbing and descending, and when riding all day.  The result is a kinship that cannot be matched with a shiny new machine.  Although we’re always dreaming of better bikes for ourselves, sometimes the bike you are riding is really best.  If I was to do it again, I might take the exact same bike.  However, bigger tire clearances are always welcome.

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Bikepacking is gaining popularity all over the globe.  Among us, there are seven Maxxis tires and three Schwalbes.  Cheap, creative solutions rule the day– ultralight need not be ultra expensive or complicated.

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This is as far as we are allowed to ride towards the east, due to the Crimean Game Preserve, which is closed to all visitors.  We choose a line along a ridge, downhill back towards Bakchiseray.

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Down, down, down– one of the best descents of the whole summer.  The descent is steep and crumbly, but with a highly rideable nature.  Times like these I am grateful for big rubber.

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DIY camera system, using an old credit card.  This is a much better use of plastic, than buying more stuff online.

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Looking back on the descent.

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And looking towards more storms, coming to close the afternoon.

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Unfortunately, Vital found his wheel deep in a rut, unable to free himself from the narrow dirt corridor.  The result: a tumble into the grass and a severely deformed wheel.  How will we ride home on this?  Lael gets into her sleeping bag as we deliberate.

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After unsuccessfully trying to bend the wheel back into shape by hand, including the full body weight of two men, I insist that I have a better solution.  I locate the greatest deformity.  Without asking for permission, I lift the wheel over my head, landing it on the ground with force.  Four mouths stand facing me, gaping.  I smile, and show them that the wheel is now less severely deformed.  I take another swing, from high over my head.  After a few more, and some snickering, I slide the wheel into the fork and spin it.  Now, we can ride home.  I credit Chris Wineck with the repair.  Chris has been a mechanic at The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage since 1978, when he was 14 years old.  The man knows how to tame a broken bicycle, and he is not afraid to use a hammer.

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This will get us home, if only by a narrow margin.

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Down the mountain and into the trees, we shoot for a flat spot to camp for the night.

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Two Tarptent Double Rainbow shelters and one Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent populate the forest for the evening.  We dine together in fading light and tuck ourselves in, looking forward to the remaining descent in the morning.

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In the morning, we pack up and descend gullied dirt roads without traffic.  Anywhere, forest service roads make some of the best riding.

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Back to civilization, we say our goodbyes and part ways.

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Thanks again to Vital for guiding the way.

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Bountiful Krym

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Krym presents an abundance and diversity of food, cultures, climates, and trails.  While some signed and mapped routes exist in the Karpaty, Krym has a well-connected system of routes.  Signage is good, and camping is recommended (perhaps required, technically) at designated sites called tyristoyankas, complete with tent sites, a tyalet, and often a spring.  The climate, ranging from subtropical to maritime continental, is as diverse as the foods and cultures.

Some footpaths, like the one above, are rugged and remote.  Others cut right through touristic centers, such as between an ancient cave city and an Orthodox monastery, complete with a variety of vendors on alongside the trail.  From the first signs of red and white back in Holland, there are more similarities than differences to all the footpaths we have seen in Europe.  Incidentally, we have been teased by rain, or the chance of rain during our time here.  In many ways, our summer begins and ends in much the same way.

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Vendors line the steep, rocky path near the cave city.  “Molodets!”, they shout, cheering us up the intermittently technical ascent.

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The climate ranges greatly from the azure coastline along the Black Sea, where a narrow subtropical zone exists,

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To a semi-arid continental climate further inland, much like parts of California, featuring chalky soils of fragmented limestone.  Sloping sedimentary strata gently rise to dramatic cliffs.  White oak and beech trees are abundant.

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The Tartars have left an historic impact on the culture and architecture in Krym, although the population was violently expunged and relocated to central Asia during Stalin’s time.  Many people have returned since the time of Ukrainian independence.

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The Soviets have also left an unmistakable impression, with an aesthetic that blends blunt purpose and grandeur– function and form– beyond compare.

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Ancient cave cities may be more than a millennium old.

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While this Christian Orthodox monastery is also built into the cliffs.

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We also discovered a Karaite cemetery, with many graves dating to the 1800’s.

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Food is everywhere.  Apples on the trail.

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Wine in bulk.  We fill the 64 oz. Klean Kanteen with wine for less than $10.  A semi-sweet red Muscat is our preferred taste after some exhaustive research.

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Sounding out Cyrillic characters: Sh-A-R-D-O-Ne.  Chardonnay, one of the dryer wines produced in the region.  Sweet and semi-sweet reds are the most common.

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Fresh almonds.

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And a local delicacy of walnuts, strung together and candied in a gelatinous coating.  Of questionable appearance.

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Both honey and nuts are common, often available from the same vendors, sometimes even in the same jar.

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Animals enjoy the richness of the land as well.

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While we enjoy the opportunity to live outdoors for a few more weeks in Ukraine.

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Our expectations of unending sun are quieted by a brooding sky.  Several intense showers come and go, although most often we enjoy great cycling weather.  Locals insist that the weather is unseasonably wet and cool for September, a time of year popular with tourists.  Summer months can be quite hot.

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Our riding pace has been studiously slow, and we’ve covered nearly all of the major walking routes within a small region between Sevastapol and Bakchiseray.  While the entire peninsula isn’t even that big, and the mountainous section much smaller, there is still so much to discover here.  We are already making plans to come back, with an idea to encircle the Black Sea.

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Bunyan Velo, Issue No. 3

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By now, half the world has already heard about the third edition of the celebrated bicycle adventure e-magazine, Bunyan Velo, which is now officially in digital print.  The pages are filled with contributions from Jason Boucher, Tom Walwyn, Logan Watts, Kevin Tweed, Aaron Ortiz, Zachary Stephen Miller, and more.  Look for my article entitled “Chasing Red and White”, about scouting walking trails in Europe all summer, including the surprise of discovering memorable bikepacking routes across Belgium.  
 
Editor Lucas Winzenburg has done it again, and can even be spotted amidst the pages of this issue.  Look for the article entitled “Lost in the Wind”, about his travels in the UK this past summer with friend Aaron Ortiz.  There is an interview with Lucas on the blog Pedaling Nowhere, for more insight into the young editor who stays up nights compiling these stories and images for the world, for free.  Purchase a digital copy of the magazine, or consider a contribution towards Issue No. 4!
 
BV Issue03 Release1
 
Bottom photo: Logan Watts