In other words, from AK to ZA

Nicholas Carman1 2491

Dundee is a gorgeous town in the Battlefields region of the KwaZulu-Natal province.  The air is humid, the land green; trees are a growing resource for shade after weeks in the veld.  The city is an unusually un-segregated mix of black and white, bustling with small town commerce, equal parts derelict and shiny new.  A lack of abandoned storefronts is a feature in a rural town in South Africa, as in America.  The Dragon’s Spine route has ushered us through the open roads of the karoo and over the mountain highlands of Lesotho, and back into South Africa.  Leaving the country for two weeks and arriving in another province and another climate is startling and exciting.  The South Africa we left behind is different than the South Africa we discover in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, but not altogether different.  We rode about 30km of gravel railroad service roads yesterday from Elandslaagte to Dundee.  In Dundee we’ve just been interviewed by the local newspaper, the Northern KwaZulu-Natal Courier.  The woman at the local tourist office phoned a correspondent from the paper.  We stand in front of our bikes outside the office for a photo.

In spite of the recent drought on the blog, several outlets have published materials originating from our mad traveling contraption.  Soon, we return to your regularly scheduled program.  Enjoy!

The Salsa Cycles Blog has published “Riding to a Glacier” about an impromptu ride from our front door in Anchorage, AK to the Knik Glacier.  While the events have been documented on the blog, this is an original adaptation, featuring Lael, Christina, and the inimitable Carp, who can ride through waist-deep water.  Thanks to Mike Riemer for sharing our home-brew adventures with the Salsa community!

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The Revelate Designs Blog features “A Letter from South Africa”, in which I complain about white people who complain about being white in a country where being white is still a great privilege.  But we meet some of the loveliest people in the karoo, “these people have hearts the size of Africa.  It is money and politics which lack heart, I suppose.”  There are details about broken carbon, a failed $90 tire, more dead zippers, and a USB charging device that quit after a month–  a must read for curious gear heads.  There are details about the groundbreaking luggage designs in use on our bikes.  Thanks to Eric Parsons for epically creative luggage and the chance to speak candidly about life on the road.

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The new Routes page on Pedaling Nowhere is a growing resource of established routes and creative additions to our community.  It brings detailed and visual route information to one place, including inspiring images, essential stats, and route descriptions.  There are many ways to find and design routes, but this resource has a lot of potential to connect more people with more riding.  I’ve shared three routes from our European adventures alongside classic rides from Cass Gilbert, Joe Cruz, Logan Watts, Tom Walwyn, and more.  Thanks to Logan Watts for the visual and technical expertise to create such a powerful site.  Just don’t follow any of his bikepacking tips— as always, drink real beer!

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Another great place to discover routes is, one of the oldest resources of its kind.  There is a growing list of bikepacking routes, an active forum, and an user-supported database of gear reviews, trip reports, and tech.  I recently added the Bike Odyssey race route in Greece to the page.  Sign up to become a member of the forums or to add content to the page.  If you haven’t yet heard of Scott and the mammoth bikepacking scavenger hunt he and Eszter completed this past summer on the Continental Divide Trail (not the Great Divide Route!), you should also write to thank him for the concept of a bikeable Arizona Trail (AZT), and for the Coconino Loop, the Gila River Ramble, and other SW-area routes.  He’s also the guy behind and Topofusion mapping software, and has inspired riders to carry their bikes for over ten years.  A veteran bike adventurer and computer programer, I crown him “The Wizard” of bikepacking.  Thanks Scott!

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Bikepackers Magazine, in collaboration with, has compiled a resource called the 2014 Bikepacking Year in Review.  Lael and I are featured among a list of accomplished racers and riders, including Mike Hall, Kurt Refsnider and Jay Petervary; Scott Morris, Eszter Horanyi, Cass Gilbert, Kurt Sandiforth, Bjorn Olson and Kim McNett.  Bikepackers Magazine is a top resource for bikepacking news.

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Lastly, the Anchorage Dispatch News published an article about us just before we left town in July, entitled “Bike-work routine allows couple to take long cycling treks”.  Lael and I lived in Anchorage for the winter and organized an event called “The Art of Bikepacking”.  Held at The Bicycle Shop on Dimond, I shared a series of photographic prints from our travels in Europe; Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs spoke about the history of his company; and Dan Bailey shared professional tips for amateur adventure photographers like us.  Thanks to Erik Hill for the exposure in the ADN.

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15 thoughts on “In other words, from AK to ZA

  1. Great overview. I agree with your impression of race relations and culture in South Africa. It’s even more volatile there than it ever was here because whites are in such a large minority (I think only 7 or 8 percent of the population) and are increasingly losing their grip on their historic (and extremely unbalanced) hold on power and wealth. Politics are an uncomfortable topic out there, and I never brought it up with anyone although I had many questions. There’s still a lot I don’t understand.

    Also intrigued by this Ride the Spine route, especially through Lesotho. Good stuff!

    • Despite the differences between ZA and USA, I’ve learned so much about what the situation might have been like in our country. In particular, how do good people and racism coexist in society? I like almost everyone I meet here, but the system is fucked. No one is to blame in particular, but everyone can be part of the solution. I ask a lot of leading questions. Of certain people, I ask directly. Strangely, it is not uncomfortable as long as you give them space to answer and then, mostly agree. “And I thought I was just bikepacking across South Africa.”

      • I agree with you, and admire that you’re asking these questions directly. Racism is uncomfortably present everywhere in South Africa, and it is hard to reconcile all the kindness you see with the knowledge that the system is still wholly dependent on inequality. Anyway, I am immensely enjoying these accounts of your trip.

        • Thanks Jill, I’ve just published another mouthful on the topic. Honestly, I came here to ride bikes, but this is what I found. Lael and I spend our days trying to wrap our heads around it. I am amazed at the kinds of open discussions we are having in our country, even in forums like FB. While working at the computer today I found myself reading about race-related events in Oakland, and later, about how even poor white people can experience white privilege, and these were casual asides in my day, like commercials.

  2. We are all especially excited about a possible return to AK in March, just in time for you to get Josh riding a pedal bike!

  3. I’m getting ready for some globe trotting of my own this spring. What health insurance have you and Lael been using for your trips? I expect to be doing some road, rail, and trail travel in Europe and/or South America throughout 2015.

      • I’ve heard about schengen visa medical insurance, but I’m still working through the bs. I’ll keep at it. I’ll probably spend time doing WWOOF and postings. Maybe some kind of insurance is better than none if the host country won’t cover medical problems. But I’m not too worried about it.

  4. Hi! Im one of the journalists that interviewed you in Dundee for the Northern Natal. It was an absolute pleasure meeting you and interviewing you. I could send you the pictures if you would like.

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