The Deep Greens of August, Czech Republic

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Summer, I know where you are going. I’m coming with you.

I’ve arrived a month too late. The leaves are as deep green as they get before turning other colors and dying. The raspberries are few but those little succulent shriveled fruits hiding behind the furthest leaves. The purple thistle is tall and strong, the nettles aren’t stinging, the spruce tips are sharp and hard and ready for winter. The fireweed has turned to cotton. There are reasons to love August. Blueberries populate hillsides up high and there are some plums to be found, ripe as jam. Apples are in high season, but for a fruit that keeps so well year round, it is hard to be excited about apples. If I hadn’t been born in August I’d be more in love with late June and July, and March and April, and in some places, October is a brilliant moment on the path to winter.

But I was born in August and every year I remember looking forward to my birthday with anticipation, only for it to pass as quickly as any other day. I’d look forward to Christmas and snow, and the end of the school year and the beginning of the next school year. The passage of time is accelerated by anticipation, only to realize that I’m almost 32 and I’d better slow down. And I thought I was still eight years old.

These days— these last three days since arriving in Czech— have felt like forever. I’m not looking forward to tomorrow because today is alright and tomorrow is something of the same and there is no reason to run faster than the clock. In fact, if I could slow the summer to half-time I would. When traveling without a destination, today seems as important as the next and the days last as long as they are. The pace of these last three days are as close as I’ll get to putting the summer on hold. For that, I have another solution. Seasonal migration.

I regret some of my summer in Alaska. Even though the sun is out and the days last all night, I spent the last four months inside working. I spent almost every single day working. I only went swimming once, even though Anchorage isn’t known for hot summers or swimming, it doesn’t feel quite right to call it summer without swimming. To show for my time I worked hard and made money. I respect the opportunity to do this, and I respect the freedom that comes from it, but for four months I saw the inside of one building and thought about one thing only— bikes, bikes, bikes. However, the real reason for regret is that I came out of the summer with less than I started. Lael and I arrived this spring from Baja with the story of a successful winter on the Baja Divide with hundreds of riders, with the success of her FKT ride, and with a future. I hurriedly left Anchorage a week ago, alone. By some twisted miracle, Lael has gone her own direction without me and I’ll never understand it. She’s found someone else and I now realize something very personal about the perceived passage of time. Nearly eleven years of my life— most of which we lived at a vigorous pace where every hour is saturated in new experiences– seem to have vaporized.

I’ve been at this puzzle for over a month now and finally, I’m coming out of the dark. I did the only thing I knew how to do to protect myself, I made a plan to get on my bike and ride. Leaving Anchorage was the first step. Arriving in Eastern Europe is the second step. Beyond that, I’m hoping to ride and slow the summer to wring the most out of it. And then, I’ll go south, to the Balkans and Albania, to the Middle East and Northern Africa. I’ll migrate the same way I’ve done for years, the same way I’ve ridden through the Rockies and into the Southwest and into Mexico.

This blog has been scarce since spring of 2015, after our travels in Israel. Life got increasingly busy with Lael’s racing, work, travel, and the Baja Divide. But this story will continue. In the last few years personal blogs have gone from being commonplace to rare, as micro-media like Instagram and Facebook take over. But I still like to write and I hope to enter my second decade of bicycle travel with the goal to continue sharing information and experiences, honestly and for free. I’m hoping to breath life back into this crackly AM radio station. Thanks for listening. For someone with nowhere to call home, the community of people in this place is the nearest I have to a home sometimes.

Incidentally, I started this blog the second day after leaving Annapolis, Maryland in 2011. At that time, Lael sat me down and told me that she didn’t love me anymore. I pleaded and stewed for a few days. Then, I ordered a mapset of the Great Divide Route and a book about the Arizona Trail. Less than two weeks later I was riding out of town on my 1985 Schwinn High Sierra, the beginning of a 7000 mile journey across North America and the Great Divide Route. Six years later, I’m staring at the same open road.

Arriving in Prague three days ago, I built my bike outside of the airport in barely 30 minutes. I loaded local maps on Gaia and set off into the rain for the city center and the main train station. I wrung out my socks before entering the terminal. Inside, I purchased a ticket to Cheb and waited for the platform to be listed next to my train. Several other cyclists were on board and we all shared a seating cabin near the bikes. One was riding a carbon XC mountain bike, clearly leaving the city for a weekend race. Two riders were on road bikes. Later, while I was asleep, a young woman boarded the train and all of the other riders had departed. I learned that she was looking forward to two weeks in the mountains to teach Czech language classes to Germans students. There, she would enjoy some cycling in her free time. Upon learning of my plans— great thanks to her excellent English— she remarked that two of her friends had completed the 1000 Miles Adventure route a few years ago. The bicycle car on a Czech train is a great welcome to the country.

From Alaska to California to Stockholm to Prague, I’ve since transported myself to the far western edge of the Czech Republic, at the border of Germany, where I begin following a digital line on my GPS. The 1000 Miles Adventure is an annual bikepacking race which travels from the German border, across Czech and Slovakia, to the Ukrainian border. I’m not certain I will follow the entire route, as there are some outstanding hiking trails in southern Poland as well. In either case, I have an approximate roadmap for the coming months. My only real goal is to eventually spend some time in Ukraine before turning south for the season. Ukraine, like August, is my place.

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I love Eastern Europe. It is exciting and real. This time of year the countryside is dripping with ripe plums, blueberries are found on the mountaintop polonina, apples and pears are on the way, mushrooms are hiding in the forest, and food is being stored in pantries and root cellars in every home. The mountains are big and inviting, more like the old rounded mountains of the east coast where I grew up. Old roads and trails line the ridges, along former boundaries now forgotten by the open borders of the European Union. In Poland, the PKKT national hiking club maintains a system of huts atop the larger mountains which serve hot food, fermented dairy, and cold beer. Anything east of Germany is exciting to me, but crossing east of Poland and east of Slovakia into Ukraine is another layer. Ukraine is decrepit, but lively, and stands one step closer to the Russian sphere of influence and one step further from the German. There is sadness there, but once you enter into a home and the curtains are drawn and the table fills with food from edge to edge, smiling faces come out of hiding. Food, after religion and family, is the most important thing to Ukrainians.

The roads have been failing in Ukraine for 25 years, jobs and factories are since gone and the economy is weak while Russia continues to pound down doors in this part of the world. Yet some of the new generation of Ukrainians are willing to risk being hopeful. The old generation doesn’t really know what to do in these post-Soviet times, except to keep living. That’s mostly what they did before the Soviet Union collapsed anyway. I don’t know if I would care much about Ukraine, or for Ukraine, if this wasn’t also my home. But it is, and even though I wasn’t born here much of my childhood was spent learning about the country the way that my grandparents remembered it before the war. My grandmother, a recent widow, emigrated from Ukraine in 1941 with an 18 month old daughter. My grandfather wound his way through Europe as a soldier and somehow connected Italy and the United States. Nobody really wants to remember these things.

I’d like to revisit the Balkans. Albania in particular stands out in my memory, but I know that going new places is also worth it, always. However, revisiting Ukraine and Albania will be like turning the page to the second chapter of a novel I picked up a while back. I know the characters, I know the setting, I know the pace and the language, but I still don’t know where the story is going. Come winter, I’m hoping to migrate further towards the equator. North Africa and the Middle East come to mind. It has been my dream for the last 9 years to travel by bike. That is still true.

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Revisit my resource of European Bikepacking Routes, which I hope to update with new information this season. For further reading, check out my article from Bicycle Times Issue #30, titled “Bikepacking Europe: North Sea to the Black Sea”.

Bunyan Velo, Issue #4 also features two outstanding stories from Eastern Europe: Lael (page 72) writes a lovely piece about our time in Czech Republic called “Červenec in Czech”, and Przemek (page 148) writes “I’m Happy and I’m Riding and a 1,2,3, 4…” about our shared time in Ukraine. Bunyan Velo, Issue #3 also features my story “Chasing Red and White” about the newfound possibilities of bikepacking in Europe.

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More from the 1000 Miles Adventure coming soon!

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Tonight in Anchorage!- “The First Season on the Baja Divide: Media, Women’s Scholarship, and Lael’s FKT”

Lael and I are back in Anchorage and have begun working at The Bicycle Shop on Northern Lights Blvd, so you will be able to find us there for the next few months. We’d love to help you plan for a ride, race, or long tour and we have tons of bikepacking equipment in stock this season!

Tonight, we host an event to discuss the first season on the Baja Divide, and will share new videos from our friends Tales on Tyres and Holly Wade, as well as images from the group start and Lael’s FKT ride. Snacks and beverages provided, including ice cold Tecate, of course. Parking is available at The Bicycle Shop and at Sweet Basil Cafe next door. Or, ride your bike to the event!

This event is being held to raise money for Lael’s newest project, a middle-school girl’s bike mentorship program called Anchorage GRIT. Bring cash to support the project! See you at The Bicycle Shop.

Lael Wilcox Establishes Baja Divide FKT in 11:13:02

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Lael crosses the impromptu toilet paper finish line in Plaza Mijares in historic San Jose del Cabo, the end of a challenging self-supported ride through the Mexican backcountry. Collin, Sue and Sam brought the party and also celebrated the end of their ride down the Baja Divide. Another rider was also present that had just completed the route.

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Lael Wilcox has established a fastest known time (FKT) on the Baja Divide route, arriving in Plaza Mijares in San Jose del Cabo at 6:14PM local time on March 13, 2017. She finished the ride in 11 days, 13 hours, and 2 minutes after departing Tecate, BC, MX in the early morning hours of March 2. She travelled 1546 miles of the Baja Divide route from the US/MX border to the southern terminus of the route, an adapted version of the full touring route. The Baja Divide is comprised of mostly unpaved backcountry routes, and ranges from decent quality dirt roads to rough 4×4 tracks. Sand is a frequent challenge while riding in Baja, along with loose rocky roads, sun and heat, and limited resources.

The complete Baja Divide route leaves the airport in San Diego and navigates the rider to the small border crossing at Tecate. From San Jose del Cabo in the south, the complete route also includes a return leg to La Paz which forms a circuit called the “Cape Loop”. Both segments are excepted for the purposes of a timed ride down the peninsula.

The Baja Divide is a free route resource that can be ridden at any time, although the best season falls between November and March. Riders are encouraged to tour the route at any pace that pleases them and six weeks is recommended to complete the route at an average touring pace. Any rider may challenge the existing FKT on the Baja Divide. To do so, visit the Records page on the Baja Divide website and contact Nicholas at bajadivide@gmail.com.

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I arrived at the airport hours before Lael rolled into town. I went straight to old town San Jose del Cabo and found a cheap motel near the plaza to prepare for Lael’s arrival. I then rolled back north along MEX1 a few miles, stopped for a seafood coctele at my favorite mariscos restaurant and waited for Lael to arrive. She dropped out of the mountains and onto the pavement at dusk, switching on her lights for the busy 8 mile ride to  the plaza in old town. I chased her through traffic to get a few photos. There were a lot of cars on the road and the energy of the evening was high in anticipation of the carnival that had taken residence near the old town. Mexican drivers are extremely courteous so the final miles into town were enjoyable. Lael was loving the cool night air and the end of what she calls “the hardest ride of my life”. She rolled into the plaza to a small crowd of friends and curious onlookers. Our friends Collin, Sue, and Sam strung a piece of toilet paper across the road and showered Lael in a can of Tecate as she finished. These three riders departed San Diego during the the group start on January 2 and are the final riders on route from that event. They are part of a small movement of riders who celebrate their chosen touring pace with the name DFL, which stands for “dead f——— last”. On the Baja Divide, all touring styles exist in harmony. Thanks so much for the finish line celebration!

Lael was riding a prototype Sinewave Cycles dynamo light on this ride which I mentioned in a previous post. I realized while editing these photos that the beam pattern and brightness are displayed nicely here, although minor changes in optics and output may occur before the production models are finalized. This light features a very bright beam, USB charging, and a unique battery power mode where the light can be provided additional power from a standard cache battery which allows for substantial light output at low speeds and while stopped. Dynamo lighting typically flickers and dims at low speeds, but with a battery backup the light remains bright even when walking the bike up a steep grade or churning through the sand at 3mph. Lael began her ride in Tecate with a 10,000 mAh Anker battery which was fully charged. She used it every night in addition to the power coming from the dynamo hub, and charged the battery from the light during the day. In ten nights of riding, she never plugged into a wall.

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Lael Wilcox Baja Divide FKT: Los Barriles

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Lael is 91 miles from the finish at San Jose del Cabo. She will finish later today, 11 days and some hours after leaving Tecate.

Lael called yesterday as she was riding into La Paz, I hadn’t spoken to her since San Ignacio. She sounded good, her voice was hoarse but her breathing was fine. She complained that her knees hurt, but then she said that they really only hurt when she was sleeping and that they warmed up during the day. I’ve noticed that her riding speeds have actually increased in recent days. I have a feeling she is happy that the nights are warmer. Lael planned to sleep early last night for another early morning start before racing to the finish today. I bet she will find a little extra energy as she gets closer to San Jose del Cabo.

I am boarding a plane from Salt Lake City where I attended the North American Handbill Bicycle Show this weekend. I’ll make it just in time to catch Lael at the end.

Follow Lael’s Baja Divide FKT attempt on Trackleaders.com!

Lael’s Baja Divide FKT Bike: Specialized Fuse 29

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You know all those new 27.5+ bikes? They are all just 29ers in waiting. Lael customized her Specialized Fuse with new 29×2.6” Nobby Nic tires for her Baja Divide FKT attempt. Keep your eyes open for more 2.6-2.8” tires for 29” wheels in the next year.

Lael began riding a Specialized Fuse Pro last summer. She got it the day before setting off on the Colorado Trail. She had been riding a road bike all summer, the Specialized Ruby which she rode from Alaska to Oregon and raced in the Trans Am Bike Race, and subsequently used on a number of short tours. With the exception of a month of fatbiking in the spring, she had not been on a mountain bike since riding the Advocate Cycles Hayduke in Baja during the winter of 2015-16 when we researched and rode the Baja Divide.

However, the Fuse was a familiar bike as it is similar to the Hayduke, with some minor differences. Most notably the Fuse features a lighter aluminum frame. Frame geometry falls within the same range in most respects, including the 120mm Reba fork that was stock on both bikes. However, our initial iteration of the Fuse saw some customization, including a 130mm Pike fork and an aggressive Dirt Wizard tire up front. The bike worked well, and while the Pike fork was much appreciated, I think a 120mm fork would have served just as well if not better during much of the climbing that is found on the CT. Undoubtedly, when Lael sent the bike downhill her riding was more confident and inspired than before, best compared to how she rode on the Specialized Era, which is the only full-suspension bike she has ever spent time riding. Lael rode the Fuse in this format for the remainder of the year along the first half of the Colorado Trail and over a series of high passes to Grand Junction; from Las Vegas to Lake Tahoe along the new Reno-Vegas route; from the Tahoe Rim Trail to the Bay Area and south to San Diego; and  finally, in Baja for two weeks.

Returning to San Diego, we reconfigured the bike for touring the Baja Divide. There, we installed a Lauf Trail Racer Boost suspension fork— a short travel carbon fiber leaf spring fork. We swapped tires to Schwalbe 27.5×3.0″ Rocket Ron (R) and Schwalbe Nobby Nic (F) on new Roval Traverse Fattie SL carbon wheels which feature a nice 38mm internal width. These wheels strike a nice balance between width and weight for this category. Lael has ridden rim widths ranging from 30mm internal diameter to 45mm internal with 3.0” tires and has a strong opinions about rim width. Basically, she hated riding on narrow rims with big tires. Only a small center contact patch was engaged, sideknobs almost never touch the dirt, and the center of the tire wore rapidly. The i45 WTB Scraper that she rode on the Hayduke was very well suited to riding the Baja Divide. Tire volume is maximized, and tire sidewalls are well supported at low pressure. The 38mm internal width of the Roval wheels may have been her favorite all around rim— no doubt because it was made of carbon— but the width does well to provide a useful profile for both traction and flotation, while providing a slightly rounded profile that rolls nicely on narrow singletrack as well. In short, 38-45mm internal rim widths see to be best for 3.0” tires from our experience.

The 38mm rim width in particular would be perfect with the new range of  27.5×2.8” tires which are now available. For instance, Maxxis is making their famed DHF and DHR II tires in 27.5×2.8”, Specialized has a Butcher and a Slaughter in this size, Schwalbe does both Nobby Nic and Rocket Ron in 2.8”, and if you must have tan sidewalls Onza is making a nice looking 2.85” tire. On full suspension trail bikes, we will continue to see 2.8” and 2.8” tires in place of 3.0”. Most likely, 27.5×3.0” will remain most common on hardtails. But something is missing from this conversation— 29” wheels.

In the past year, riders and the industry have fallen in love with 27.5+ wheels. I enjoy riding that size and know how successful it has been in the bike shop setting, especially for new riders or anyone looking to get off the beaten path, so I consider this to be a positive and informative trend, but 29” wheels have been forgotten in the past year. The last time there was any great excitement about 29” wheels, the leading concepts were 2.0-2.2” XC tires, 2.2-2.5” trail tires, and the 3.0” plus tires. It is my opinion that true 29 plus wheels are too big for most riders, and most rides. I don’t expect 29×3.0″ to grow considerably. Bikes like the Trek Stache and Salsa Woodsmoke do well to make a 29+ bike feel a little less like a boat, and the new Salsa Deadwood SUS brings some extra attention to the wheels size in a full-suspension platform, but 2.6-2.8” tires are the future of 29+, or “large-volume 29” tires” as I like to call them. As such, I was extremely excited to see a 29×2.6” Schwalbe Nobby Nic at Interbike this past fall, and I just learned at NAHBS that Terrene is releasing a 29×2.8” tire this summer. I might have ridden that size in Baja this winter if the tires had been ready in time. They weren’t, and instead I finally put some miles on 27.5+ wheels on my Meriwether.

When Lael decided she wanted to do a fast timed ride on the Baja Divide, I presented a large-volume 29” tire as an option. Although 27.5+ felt more confident over sandy sections and large cobblestone chunk, I recall my 29” wheels feeling faster. The rollover argument that has always accompanied 29” wheels is still valid, I believe. I’ve notice Lael getting hung up on obstacles on 27.5+ wheels, where I think a slightly larger wheel would help. But was I remembering correctly? Are 29” wheels faster, and is rollover really that important? After much deliberation, we decided to rebuild the Fuse with wide 29” rims and 2.6” Nobby Nics.

Our parents visited us in southern Baja after touring the Baja Divide this winter, bringing most of the supplies needed to rebuild the bike. The challenge of organizing parts to be shipped to Alaska and New York was far greater than the actual build process, and in the end we dipped into San Diego for a day to pick up a new suspension fork from Cal Coast Bicycles, who were able to get final build parts for us in a day. They have been super supportive of the Baja Divide since our initial rides last season, and they built Lavanya’s Advocate Cycles Seldom Seen this winter. Working in our friend Cale’s workshop, we finalized Lael’s bike build. Almost everything here is exactly as we would have wanted it. I did have an SP dynamo hub for the build but couldn’t get a 28H carbon rim in time, so I bought a 32H SON hub from The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage and laced it to my well used 29” Light Bicycle rim, which features the same dimension as the Roval Traverse Fattie SL 29 carbon wheel used in the rear. Also, the bivy that Lael brought is a thin silnylon VBL, meant to be used inside a sleeping bag to increase warmth. We couldn’t find the other Mont-Bell bivy in Alaska– or at least the friend we had looking for it couldn’t find it— so we grabbed this one instead. Definitely not the best choice, as nights were cold for Lael in northern Baja.

Aside from the wheel and tire size, the other outstanding features of this bike are the light system with the new Sinewave Cycles dynamo light, the 100mm SID fork with the new Charger damper, and the Cirrus Cycles BodyFloat suspension seatpost. Lael also found her favorite cheap Cannondale saddle in a take-off bin at a bike shop in La Paz. This is the same saddle she toured on for many years and used to ride the Tour Divide twice in one summer, so we know it works.

Follow Lael’s Baja Divide FKT attempt on Trackleaders.com, she is 10 days into her ride and only 200 miles from the finish!

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Frame: Specialized Fuse, M4 Alloy

Fork: RockShox SID RLC 27.5+/29, 100mm, 51mm offset

Tires: Schwalbe 29×2.6” Snakeskin, Trailstar, TL Easy

Rear wheel: Roval Traverse SL Fattie 148 (30mm internal carbon rim, DT Swiss ratchet freehub, DT Swiss Revolution spokes, 3x)

Front hub: SON28 110mm 32H dynamo hub

Front rim: Light Bicycle carbon, 30mm internal

Front spokes: DT Competition, black alloy nipples, 3x

Stem: Specialized XC 40mm

Handlebar: Specialized carbon, 3/4” rise, cut to about 700mm

Grips: Ergon GP-2 with short bar ends

Seatpost: Cirrus Cycles BodyFloat, purple spring upper and black spring lower

Saddle: Cannondale take-off

Brakes: Guide RSC

Rotors: 160mm SRAM Centerline

Crank: SRAM S-2200 carbon, 30mm spindle

Chainring: Wolftooth 32T elliptical direct mount Drop Stop ring

Pedals: Shimano XTR Race

Bottom bracket: SRAM PF30

Shifter: SRAM GX1

Rear derailleur: SRAM XO1

Cassette: SRAM 1195

Chain: SRAM X1

Luggage: Revelate Designs custom Ranger framebag, oversize Jerry Can, Mag Tank, Viscacha seatpack, Feed Bag

Lights: Sinewave Cycles dynamo light with USB charging and battery input mode, 2x Black Diamond Icon Poler (helmet/handlebar), NiteRider battery taillight

Battery: Anker 10,000mAh battery for backup power to dynamo light at low speeds and while stopped, also for phone charging if needed

Accessories: King Cage top cap water bottle mount, 2x Specialized Rib Cage, 2x Specialized Purist water bottles, Specialized wireless computer, Garmin eTrex 20, ESI handlebar tape on bare section of bars, Stan’s Race Sealant, alloy tubeless valves

Clothing: Nike Pro 3” compression shorts (size XL for comfort), cotton tank top with custom Mexican embroidery patch, Patagonia merino long sleeve top, Patagonia merino bottoms, Patagonia Barely bra, Smartwool PhD lightweight socks, Patagonia midweight socks, REI down vest, Patagonia M10 shell, knit hat purchased in Tecate

Cycling equipment: Specialized Ambush helmet, S-Works XC shoes, Specialized Grail fingerless gloves

Sleeping: reflective windshield sunshade trimmed to size, Etowah silnylon bivy, purchased cheap sweatpants and plastic trash bag on route

Tools, etc.: Crank Brothers M17 multi-tool, Lezyne HP road pump, 2 oz. Stan’s sealant, Presta-Shrader valve adapter, Genuine Innovations tire plugs and tool, curved needle and thread, tube and patch kit, 11sp chain link, DumontTech Lite chain lube

Other: 6L MSR DromLite bladder, toothbrush and toothpaste, sunglasses, sunscreen, Revelate Designs Peso Pouch, 8000 pesos 

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Lael Wilcox Baja Divide FKT: San Ignacio and Mulegé

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Lael arrived in San Ignacio in the early afternoon. Although the elevation profile would indicate an easy flat ride from Vizcaino, the reality is that there is a lot of sand in this section. It is hardly ever unrideable, but it is work. When we toured the route over a month ago— following a particularly wet winter season for this part of the world— most of the sandy sections on route were riding really well. Now, dry weather and spring heat leave most sandy sections as they are expected to be— sandy and soft. Lael reports being able to ride almost everything, even on her 2.6” tires. From my experience researching the route last season on 2.4/2.5” tires on 30mm rims (ID), I know most of the route is rideable on these narrower tires, especially when lightly loaded, but it surely takes some finesse to keep the bike upright. In some cases it simply takes a flick of the throttle to get through a short sandy section; pause too long and the bike will sink. Sand isn’t the only challenge on the Baja Divide, and truly challenging sand is not actually that common.

Lavanya and Al, joined by their friend Derryn from Australia and another Baja Divide rider named Agus from Guadalajara, all rode out of San Ignacio to meet Lael as she entered town. The expansive sandy track from Vizcaino changes in the final miles near San Ignacio, entering a broad canyon with freshwater pools and date palms. There, the “road” is not much more than a faint suggestion, alternating between loose cobbles and sand, where fallen palm fronds provide improved floatation over the soft surface. The group rode about a mile backwards along the route to a lagoon where we could swim and wait. Lael arrived at a steady 3-5 mph, doing well to keep the bike upright over those loose cobbles. When fresh, this is a challenging surface to cycle. When tired, it must be maddening.

Lavanya walked to meet Lael on the track, and for a moment the two were laughing and crying and laughing. This fall, Lavanya Pant received the “Lael’s Globe of Adventure” Women’s Scholarship for the Baja Divide.

Walking as a group for a moment, Lael described the sweatpants she bought in Bahía de Los Ángeles and the trash bag she bought for 5 pesos which she is using for additional insulation at night. We continued into town and joined Lael as she resupplied at the grocery just beyond the mission church. San Ignacio is one of the most attractive towns in Baja, featuring a beautiful old stone church and a shady, Spanish-style plaza with a healthy but small touristic economy. The large freshwater lagoons and palm trees are enough to make you cry after many days in the desert. It is beautiful. 

Lael purchased and packed an impressive amount of food. She drank multiple yogurts and Electrolyte drinks, along with a Coke. She ate a slice of flan (custard) and some concha (lightly sweet rolls). Trying to pack her full bladder into the framebag along with all of the food she bought proved challenging, so she removed the bladder and gulped more than a liter from the bag. Once re-packed, fitting a bag of refried beans, sliced queso fresco, De La Rosa peanut marzipan, bricks of sweetened coconut, cookies, egg custard sweets, chips, Hot Nuts and more, she jammed the bladder back into the frambag and forced it closed. Overflow calories were packed into her seatbag, along with the trash bag and the sweatpants. Finally, she removed a little Lezyne pump and aired her tires for the 25 miles paved section ahead. The route out of San Ignacio follows a secondary paved road leading to Laguna San Ignacio, where it turns to dirt. Lavanya, Al, and Derryn were all packed to continue their ride and joined Lael on her way out of town.

The route continues on a series of dry lake beds along the Pacific to the fishing community of El Datil. Thereafter, it returns to the mountains on the second complete crossing of the peninsula. This section of the route from El Datil to Mulegé is described in our route guide as one of the most challenging sections of the route. Here, the Baja Divide follows a doubletrack up a canyon for about 40 miles, which like many other mountain drainages in the desert, includes alternating sand and loose cobbles. Thankfully, there are many water crossings along this section which provide opportuity for Lael to fill her bottles. By the time she gets to this part from San Ignacio, her food stores will be diminished and she will not have to carry more than a liter or two of water at a time, making the ride just a little easier. Cresting the Sierra de la Giganta at just under 2000ft, the route descends a roller coaster route to Mulege, another spectacular oasis and mission town on the Sea of Cortez.

Lael called from Mulege, just after dark on the day after she left San Ignacio. Watching her progress over hours and days is amazing, considering I know the effort that many of these sections require. But speaking to Lael reminds me that there is a person behind that blue dot on Trackleaders.com, and that person must summon the physical and mental power to make that dot move at more than 130 miles per day. She was planning to ride another hour out of town to sleep, before an early start the next morning. In keeping with her recent pattern, Lael begins sleeping between 8-9PM, and restarts her day between 1:45AM and 2:30. Then, her eyes and her body are fresh enough to tackle several hours of night riding. The feeling of riding through the morning sunrise is greatly energizing, she says.

The official Baja Divide route crosses Bahía Concepción from Mulege to ride a little used dirt track on the east side of the bay. For the purposes of an FKT attempt on the route, we have decided to allow an alternate along the paved highway. Thus, a rider is not stuck waiting for a boat for many days in the event of high wind or other weather. When touring the route, riders must visit the fisherman’s beach and negotiate a ride in a open fiberglass boat, called a panga. Since dozens and hundreds of riders have passed through Mulege this season, local fishermen are now well aware of the opportunity to make some money by ferrying riders across the bay. Whereas last season we had trouble convincing anyone to take us across the bay, riders are now solicited for rides as soon as they enter town. We’ve created a new industry! After days and weeks in the desert, being on the water is refreshing, For the touring cyclist, the ride on the east side of the bay is not to be missed.

South of Bahía Concepción, the route returns to the mountains in a section which features canyons, more freshwater, and several historic Spanish missions. Lael will be passing through Ciudad Consitucion sometime today. She is currently as route mile 1185 nearing the planned agricultural community of Ley Federal de Aguas Numero 1. Less than 375 miles remain to the finish in San Jose del Cabo.

Follow Lael’s Baja Divide FKT attempt ride on Trackleaders.com. If you are at NAHBS in Salt Lake City this weekend stop by the Knight Composites booth today at 2PM-4PM to talk about the Baja Divide. I will be giving a brief overview of the route project followed by an open Q&A session and my loaded Meriwether Cycles bike will be on display.

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Baja Divide at NAHBS in SLC, UT, USA /////// #bajadivideFKT Party in San Jose del Cabo, BCS, MX

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Come learn more about the Baja Divide at NAHBS in Salt Lake City this weekend. Photo by Gabriel Amadeus Tiller.

Get a taste of the Baja Divide at the Knight Composites booth this weekend at the North American Handbuilt Bike Show (NAHBS) in Salt Lake City, UT, USA. The show runs from Friday to Sunday (3/10-3/12) and is open to the public, featuring the most exciting and skilled custom bike builders of the day. On Saturday from 2-4PM, I will be giving a brief Baja Divide introduction followed by an open Q&A session, so be sure to think of some really good questions. Note, “How does Lael do it?” is really hard to answer, so think of something else.

The Knight Composites booth #234/236 will feature images and curios from the Baja Divide all weekend. Stop by to soak in the sunlight and prick your finger on a real piece of cactus. Knight Composites is a Bend, OR based company manufacturing some of the highest quality rims available. I rode the new 27.5+ Knight rims in Baja this winter, which feature a 45mm inner rim width yet weigh only 450 grams. I originally built the wheels with DT Swiss 240 hubs and Sapim CX-Ray straight-pull spokes, although the front hub has since been replaced with the new 110mm Shutter Precision PD-8X dynamo hub. One of my dusty wheels will be on display at the show. 

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Meriwether Cycles is also showing at NAHBS for the first time ever! Whit Johnson has been building bikes for many years, yet his reputation has recently grown to put him in an elite category of builders making the most purposeful and beautiful bikes anywhere in the world. He built my pink bike a year and a half ago, and has also recently built a series of groundbreaking short-chainstay ultra-fatbikes for Mike Curiak and Pete Basinger—two legends of the sport— with tire clearance for Vee 2XL tires which measure over 5.1” wide and require the use of custom-width rear hubs. On display at NAHBS will also be a brand new bikepacking frame for my friend Jill from Anchorage, AK. Jill’s bike is painted like Merle Haggard’s guitar, featuring a sunburst woodgrain pattern and a bright white pick guard. Take a peak at Whit’s Instagram page at @meriwethercycles to see what he has been up to.

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Join me in San Jose del Cabo on Monday or Tuesday, 3/13 or 3/14, to welcome Lael to the finish of her Baja Divide FKT ride. She is on track to finish her ride in about 12 days, and has averaged over 130 miles a day since Tecate. She is currently at route mile 965 and has less then 600 miles to go. Go Lael!

If you are in the vicinity of San Jose del Cabo just keep your eye on Trackleaders.com and meet at Plaza Mijares before she arrives. There should be a couple of other Baja Divide riders there as well. 

Follow Lael’s Baja Divide FKT attempt at Trackleaders.com.

Lael Wilcox Baja Divide FKT: Vizcaino

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The Desert del Vizcaino is a vast and sandy place. Lael will pass this junction this morning en route to San Ignacio.

Lael called this morning while riding the pavement out of Vizcaino. She sounds good, and since I’m always listening for that raspy voice that gasps for air, I listen closely. I don’t hear it, but I can tell she has suffered. Her voice is that of an aged woman, but her energy is high this morning. She is proud to report that her most recent strategy is to sleep at any time of night, even early in the evening, and set her alarm for 4 or 5 hours later. Since there are a requisite number of dark hours she will ride every night, it is more efficient and more rewarding to rest early and tackle the night riding after a few hours of sleep. She has done this several night consecutively and last night she bedded down at 8:15PM and awoke at 1:45AM, a total of about 5 hours of sleep. Last night was the first night that it wasn’t truly cold. Most other nights have left her shivering, forced to curl up into a ball despite tight joints and muscles. Lael says that it would be more restful to be able to stretch out at night. She wishes she had brought her sleeping bag after all. At some point in the last few days she bought a pair of sweatpants and a plastic garbage bag for more insulation. Days and nights will be warming as she continues south. However, she said yesterday was really hot.

Passing El Arco last night puts Lael into the southern state, Baja California Sur, and into the Mountain time zone. This morning, just beyond Vizcaino, she crossed the half-way point of her ride. Thus, the greatest hurdle has been met and the remainder of her ride will be framed as a countdown to the end. No less effort will be required, but mentally, Lael should soon be able to envision her finish at the plaza in San Jose del Cabo.

Trail conditions are surprising in some places. Compared to January and February when we toured the length of the route, most sandy sections are now very soft. Aside from some heavy rains in the north around the first of the month, the south has been dry for weeks. Once the sand becomes dry, it only takes several vehicles to loosen up the sediments and make them very challenging to ride. By lowering her tire pressure, even on somewhat narrower 2.6” tires, she is able to ride most of it, but not without great effort. From years of riding in the snow in Alaska and in deserts around the world, riding in soft conditions is a strength. Oddly, the sandiest section on route from El Arco to Vizcaino wasn’t bad, she said. This is a famous 7-10 mile track of deep sand along a perfectly straight line. Apparently it was mostly rideable.  

Lael also reports that her bike is awesome— especially with the 100mm RockShox SID fork and the BodyFloat seatpost. Both pieces of equipment were chosen to provide an efficient and capable platform. The SID fork is highly active, and does well will the high frequency-low amplitude obstacles found on much of the route such as washboard roads and dirt tracks strewn with cobbles. However, the newest SID also features a Charger damper, borrowed from the Pike fork, and provides extremely controlled suspension for those more technical sections. For instance, riding at night takes a certain amount of faith in your skills and equipment, and Lael trusts this fork for those times. She toured the route recently on the Lauf fork, a simple and extremely lightweight carbon fiber leaf-spring design. For fast riding on average quality dirt roads, she loved it. For the rough stuff, it would not have been the best choice for this particular type of ride, especially considering how much night riding she would be doing. Lael will likely to ride the Lauf on longer tours in the future, and would surely use it on something like the Great Divide Route or if racing the Tour Divide. The Baja Divide is substantially more rough and technical than the Great Divide.

The BodyFloat seatpost is a new take on the suspension seatpost concept. Rather than a vertical telescopic suspension post, it shares the parallelogram concept of a Thudbuster, but is unique is most other ways. Whereas the Thudbuster often has loose bushings right out of the box, the BodyFloat does not have any play, yet moves very freely as intended. Rather than using one of two elastomers to tune the ride, the Bodyfloat comes with four different spring options coded in different colors. The design actually uses two springs in concert, and of the four available spring rates, those can even be mixed and matched for further tuning. A tool free adjustment dial is also included to adjust the travel and feel of the post on the fly. Mostly, once it is set, you leave it. But for greatly different terrain, a rider can make minor adjustments while on a ride.

So what is a suspension seatpost for? Surely, comport is paramount in almost all kinds of riding, and keeping your butt and your body happy while pushing close to 150 miles a day on rough terrain is important, but there is an even greater reason. By isolating the rider’s weight from the rear wheel, suspension losses which result from each impact are reduced.  Lael can also focus more on pedaling the bike forward, rather than managing the impacts which are translated through her frame to her body. In theory, there are merits to having a full-suspension bike for this ride, as well as a standard hardtail. Our best estimate for this particular endeavor is this bike, where the simplicity and efficiency of a hardtail is preserved but rider comfort is maximized and suspension losses are minimized with the BodyFloat. Considering the amount of food and water that Lael is carrying on many sections, the framebag space on her hardtail Fuse is very important. She packs a up to 6L of water in a bladder in the framebag, along with as much food as can fit. Overflow food is packed into the Mag Tank, oversize Jerry Can, and the Viscacha seatbag.

I caught up with Lavanya yesterday, who is the recipient of the “Lael’s Globe of Adventure” Women’s Scholarship for the Baja Divide. Lavanya and her partner Al, along with their friend Derryn from Australia will greet Lael in San Ignacio today. Lael and Lavanya have never met. Another Baja Divide rider from Guadalajara named Agus is also in town waiting for a replacement fatbike tire from Ensenada. The second half of the ride from Vizcaino to San Ignacio is very sandy right now, and finishes with a two mile ride/hike through the date palm oasis that makes this town famous. Lael will be happy to get to San Ignacio, which is followed by the longest section of pavement on route, a pleasant 25 mile pedal on a quiet secondary road to Laguna San Ignacio, a shallow lagoon on the Pacific coast. Lael reports that her knees hurt at times— it comes and goes, she says— and often there is something that hurts enough to conceal other aches and pains. For no particular reason, Lael also says she is bleeding everywhere. Scratches from cactus and perhaps the occasional tumble, along with daily nosebleeds from the dry air, have left her looking a little uncivilized. She arrived in Misson San Borja a few days ago and while filling water in the plaza, a man began asking her questions. He finally pointed out that she was bleeding from both of her legs, unbeknownst to her.

Follow Lavanya’s ride on Instagram at @lavlavish and Al at @redeyesgreenthumbs.

At the time of writing, Lael has ridden 800 miles on route with less than 750 miles to go. Aside from a few miles of pavement beyond San Ignacio, she will also look forward to miles and miles of fast flat riding on the dry lake beds from Laguna San Ignacio though El Datil, assuming the winds are working in her favor.

Follow Lael’s Baja Divide FKT on Trackleaders.com.

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Lael Wilcox Baja Divide FKT: Santa Rosalillita

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Lael’s modified Specialized Fuse with 29×2.6” tires was completed just a day before she departed Tecate. Just over 4 days later, she is 560 miles into the Baja Divide.

Lael passed Santa Rosalillita this morning, which is 543 miles from Tecate, safely completing the longest section on route without resupply. The way she chose to navigate the available resources— avoiding the 11 mile round trip for services in Cataviña— she would have needed to carry enough food to cover about 140 miles from the roadhouse at San Augustin to Santa Rosalillta. Water is available at Rancho El Cardon, about 125 miles into that ride. For the touring cyclist, resupply in Cataviña is essential. To accomplish this, Lael planned on hauling a lot of food from San Quintin and augmenting it with whatever she could find at the roadhouses along MEX1. Incidentally, she arrived in Santa Rosalillita this morning at daybreak, likely before either of the two stores in town were open. Her tracker indicates that she stopped for a moment, probably to get some water and continue to the next resupply point about 20 miles away at Rosarito, where the route once again crosses MEX1.

Two days ago, Lael rested for three and a half hours just a few miles away from the Pacific Ocean near Nueva Odisea. Knowing that cool damp air is common along the Pacific, I assume that is was a chilly night to be laying on the ground with minimal gear. She rode until 1 AM that night to finish a section of beach riding and begin the inland route, in hopes of avoiding the worst of the overnight dew. However, her early departure signals that she might not have been all that comfortable. Despite a late night, Lael was back on the bike before sunrise and spent most of the morning climbing into the mountains, eventually gaining over 2000 ft on a rough jeep track which leads to valleys of towering, leaning cirios trees. Cirios— which is the Spanish word for candle— have such a whimsical character that in America they are called boojum trees, a name taken from a fictional character in the Lewis Carroll poem “The Hunting of the Snark”. The entire region is protected in the Valle de los Cirios conservation area. Cirios trees are part of the ocotillo family and are only found in Baja California and in small parts of Sonora.

The Baja Divide crosses MEX1 a few miles outside of Cataviña, thereafter descending to the coast along an undulating path while passing a changing cast of plants. Individual plant species are easy to identify in the desert, especially the cardon cactus and cirios trees that stand tall. Climbing and descending from one valley to another often leads to notable changes; cirios may be especially abundant in a place only to be replaced by towering cardon in the next valley. This ride to the coast also features some of the highest plant density on route. Lush doesn’t seem like the right word to describe a mostly thorny environment, but this section is a veritable forest of desert plants. At the coast, the land is surprisingly barren.

The route contacts the Pacific Ocean at a small fishing community called San Jose del Faro. There a small collection of homes adjacent to an estuary provide shelter from prevailing wind and weather and vantage for their trade. However, getting these fish to market is no easy task, requiring a challenging drive back to the highway and many miles of paved transport beyond that. Continuing south from San Jose del Faro, the road accesses a series of famous remote surf breaks called The Seven Sisters. There are few residences along this section of coastline and the first section after San Jose del Faro is quite rough. Occasionally, camper vans and trucks can be seen parked along the sandy beaches on the south side of each point. Arriving in Santa Rosalillita, the road becomes more defined and better used, but is increasingly washboarded.

Passing Santa Rosalillita, Lael will begin a crossing of the peninsula from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Cortez, a route mostly shared with the popular Cruzando La Baja MTB event held in April. This group ride is organized by our friend Salvador at FASS Bike in Vicente Guerrero, and is expected to host over 300 riders this year as they tackle the 110km ride across Baja. The event begins with a group camp on the first night at the beach, a ride on day two followed by a party and group camp in Bahia de Los Angeles. Registration is now open for the Cruzando La Baja which takes place on April 29-30, 2017. Registration is $50, sign up now at www.cruzandolabajamtb.com.

While Lael has enjoyed clear weather for her ride, cool to average temperatures have resulted in some chilly nights along the Pacific. Going forward, as she crosses to the Sea of Cortez and continues south down the peninsula, temperatures are destined to be warming in her favor. However, the forecast also calls for a spike in temperatures later this week, resulting in highs above 90°F. Despite growing up in Alaska, she loves the heat.

Follow Lael’s Baja Divide FKT attempt on Trackleaders.com. Also, follow the video link below to see the crowd of people that were waiting for Lael in Vicente Guerrero at the end of day 2.

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Salvador from FASS Bike has been a huge advocate of the Baja Divide and has succeeded in sharing the details of Lael’s ride to the local riding community. A diverse group of people from the area gathered to meet Lael as she arrived near town. This is the best reality TV you will see all day.

Lael Wilcox Baja Divide FKT: Vicente Guerrero

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As the sun settled in the west, long rays traveled up the Santo Domingo arroyo. There, a crowd of more than 20 people had assembled near the river. Children were throwing stones and adults were standing, watching in quiet conversation. When I first arrived by bike with Salvador, I wasn’t sure why everyone was there. This arroyo is normally dry, but now, it flows with up to two feet of water, which is a worthwhile attraction in the desert. I went swimming, and just as I did, a man with a video camera appeared to interview me. He was intimately familiar with backcountry Baja 1000 routes in the area and was excited to record this momentous occasion, even though the details of the event were not yet clear to him. Two women, upon learning that I was the partner of the girl who was riding her bike, shook my hand and introduced themselves. Young boys looked on shyly and returned to throwing rocks in the river. Of course, everyone thought I was crazy for going swimming. It was 70F degrees and sunny and the water felt like bathwater, although local people still feel the sting of winter as the season turns to spring.

A teenage boy no more than 13 years of age dropped into the arroyo down a steep embankment, riding a carbon Niner hardtail. Salvador’s friend brought his drone, which he unpacked and prepared for flight. As the moment approached, all phones were watching trackers and all recording devices were enabled.

A white helmet turned the corner, a short distance away across the water. It was moving at an unexciting 7.5 miles an hour, and nobody cheered. They watched with great curiosity as it approached the crossing. Salvador was first to break the silence, “Go Lael!”, and a couple adult joined the mostly quiet response. Lael reached the edge of the water, surveyed it as low speed, then pedaled into the crossing. Half-way, she unclipped and pushed her bike across the remaining distance. Once she reached the near bank, the crowd quickly approached her. The two men who were recording video immediately launched into professional-style interview questions, “How do you feel?” and “Where are you going?”. Children simply crowded close to the action and were ready to join a photo without notice.

As Lael prepared for departure, I saw the chance to assemble the group for a photo. The group lined up at the water’s edge, Lael poised in the center. After over a year of route research and planning and many months of publishing and organizing the group start and the women’s scholarship, this moment was surreal. Surely there was some of the energy and excitement of the Baja 1000 and some of Lael’s usual excitement for racing, but the the true flavor of the Baja Divide was present— the people. Everyone was truly excited about this moment.

The sun had set, and Lael clipped back into her pedals for the ride ahead. The young boy on the Niner followed close behind. Salvador managed to stream live video to Facebook while riding his Specialized Turbo Levo. A man on a motorbike also kept pace— about 7 miles and hour— for several miles. Three riders plus Lael continued in the foothills of this agricultural valley along the Pacific Ocean to San Quintin, about 20 miles away.

Lael chose to sit for a real meal in San Quintin. She ordered quesatacos at the taqueria, which she selected for its proximity to a local market and an OXXO convenience store, which she visited while waiting for her food. She returned and ate two tacos, packing the other two in the plastic bag used to cover the plates so they don’t have to do as much washing. She packed as much food onto her bike as possible for the long ride ahead. She would continue into the night, passing Nueva Odisea when all the shops were closed. Further, she planned to skip resupply in Cataviña which is about 6 miles off-route, each direction. The only possible resupply between San Quintin and Santa Rosalillita— a distance of 240 miles, would be three small roadhouses on the highway. They serve hot food and often have some sodas or cookies on a rack, but are not really a place to draw a full day of food. Lael packed water to get to El Descanso, the second of the roadhouses, which has purified water in their kitchen. There she would gather enough water to get to El Cardon and any additional food needed to reach Santa Rosalillita. If needed, the third roadhouse on this section at San Augustin has some food and water, but is about a mile off route. For Lael, consistent forward motion is as important as riding fast and hard.

Lael finished her second day of riding at mile 302, completing four miles of beach riding at midnight and riding just far enough beyond Nueva Odisea to gain some distance from the ocean and the moisture that accompanies it. However, this area commonly receives heavy dew at night. She resumed riding at 4:30 AM, which suggests she might have had a cool and damp three and a half hours of sleep. The forecast continues to be clear of precipitation, with temperatures warming this week. She will spend another night on the Pacific side before crossing toward the Sea of Cortez at Bahia de Los Angeles. The east side of Baja is consistently warmer and drier than the Pacific. As she continues south, the weather will also become considerably warmer, with highs in the 90’s later this week. 

Today, she passes one of the most exotic parts of the route as she enters the Valle de los Cirios conservation area, which features thousands of towering cirios trees.

Follow Lael’s Baja Divide FKT attempt on Trackleaders.com.

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Thanks to everyone in Vicente Guerrero that showed up to cheer Lael on her ride!

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