Croatia and the Adriatic Crest Route

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Abe rides a macadam road above the sea on the Adriatic Crest Route in Croatia, a route mapped and published by Joe Cruz on Bikepacking.com. 

The man uses both hands to carry the steel bucket out from his cramped home, which is half of the ground floor of some kind of outbuilding to the larger home on the property, which is shuttered for the season. We’ve asked him for water, but mostly we are just poking around a small community in the mountains in the rain to see what there is to see. The dirt road we were riding intersected a paved road from the coast, which appears to end here. My default topic of conversation when I don’t speak much of the language is to ask for water. The man obliges, but I hear him say malo which means little and I try to say that we don’t really need to take his water. He walks away toward the sink and lifts the bucket, walking it across the room and through the door to us. He leaves it on the table and offers a plastic mug to scoop the water to fill our bottles. I look into the bucket and laugh. He looks at me. I look at him, surely he is joking. There is a dead mouse in the bucket, floating peacefully in the water. I gesture to Abe, and look back at the man. It is clear that he hasn’t seen it yet, but when he does, he doesn’t laugh. He lifts the bucket and dumps it off the ledge into the grass. We walk over to a concrete cistern with a steel cover. We lower another bucket into the well and fill our bottles.

We have only been in this country for two days, and it feels like two weeks.

There comes a time when wearing a rain jacket is pointless. The rate of rainfall and the rate of perspiration are equal and you can choose to be hot and wet, or well-ventilated and wet. The conundrum, a topic of conversation more than a real problem, has us thinking on a long climb above the coast. We could see the Adriatic Sea, except we’re climbing in a thick cloud and can’t see anything. But I couldn’t be happier that our biggest challenge is trying to decide if we should wear rain jackets or not. Three days ago we were wrapped in our sleeping bags under a wooden pavilion outside Ustron, Poland wondering how we would ride through this kind of weather for the next two weeks. The now-obvious answer— in retrospect— is that we wouldn’t. I made mention to Przemek that I was looking at trains to the south. He and I think much the same way, and he quickly began searching train timetables and weather forecasts for us on his Polish smartphone. The next day we were in Zagreb, the next afternoon giving ourselves bellyaches from ripe plums found on the roadside, the next evening finishing a grueling accidental hike-a-bike through a limestone canyon. Poland was a distant memory in less than a day. I’ll be back to Poland, and I think Abe is even more curious than me about what lie across that border. I’ve spent a great deal of time talking about “The Red Trail”, as I call it.

We came to Croatia because it was a convenient connection by train from Czechia. We’re here to escape the rain. I rode in the Balkans first in 2014 and since that time, I have always wanted to return.

My friend Joe Cruz stitched together a route through Croatia this year called the Adriatic Crest Route, which he published to Bikepacking.com. Joe is a philosophy professor at Williams College in Massachusetts who seems to cash in every free moment in life to ride his bike. I’ve crossed paths with Joe in New Mexico, Alaska, and Czechia, most recently visiting him at his country home in Vermont. I enjoy following his digital lines through space almost as much as I have enjoyed riding and traveling with him. I know just enough about him to sense the process of route design when riding his routes.

The Adriatic Crest Route begins across the border in Slovenia, to the north, and passes south to ride two of the larger islands in the country before crawling back to the mainland for the remainder of its path. We connect with the route from Zagreb, and join Joe’s routing where it leaves the islands for mainland Croatia, continuing south along a spine of coastal mountains toward the end point in Split.

The route is a pleasant blend of forest roads, leading up to a high point of 5200ft; narrow paved farm roads and rural routes; and a few fragments of rough doubletrack and singletrack. As with any route you will follow from Joe, there are some short walks with the bike to make essential connections. 

Some of the prime features of the Adriatic Crest Route are a long summer season and pleasant late-summer days and nights, stunning scenery, and abundant fresh fruit. Yes, passing through populated areas and small towns results in an abundance of fresh fruits, especially plums, figs, apples, and pears. The riding is accessible, with some prolonged climbs. Several sections focus our attention to picking lines down the mountain, but mostly the riding is a consistent pace on roads of varying kinds.

While we missed the first part of the route which hopped across a number of islands up north, the southern part of the route reconnects with the coast and affords the opportunity to enjoy the rocky Croatian coastline and its mellow waters, an essential experience when visiting Croatia. After a week in the mountains, Abe and I were happy to finish the ride along the waterfront of Šibenik, Trogir, and Split. Deliberately slowing our pace afforded several lazy afternoons and an overnight beach camp before catching a boat into the busy touristic center of Split.

For more info on the Adriatic Crest visit Joe’s original post on Bikepacking.com.

Follow our ride on Instagram at @nicholascarman and @akschmidtshow.

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Boarding the train at 5:45 AM along the Czech-Polish border, we roll across the Slovenian border at sunset, pass border control into Croatia in the dark, and arrive in Zagreb at 11PM. The air is warm and dry, the city is calm. Our decision to come south is brought with great confidence the moment we step outside.

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In the morning, we awake to sun and clear skies.

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Within a few hours of being in Croatia, we enjoy burek and kefir and begin our ride out of the city.

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Burek is a pastry made of many thin layers of dough, filled with cheese or meat, and sometimes found with savory vegetable fillings or sweet fruit filings. A tart farmer’s cheese filling is the most common, and arguably the best. A greasy burek is best paired with a small jogurt or kefir.

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Abe an I plot a route out of the town for the afternoon. The plan is to get into the local mountains and learn the ways of Croatian roads and trails. In a couple days we will connect with the Adriatic Crest Route. For now, we soak up the sun and new surroundings.

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Learning the ways of Croatia. The mountains are steep. Not all trails are rideable, not all trails get regular use or maintenance. Abe and I descend an overgrown trail into a strenuous downhill hike-a-bike in a tidy little limestone drainage. Little do we know what is ahead. 

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Passing the point of no return. Of all the times we should have decided to turn around, we’d look at the GPS and declare, it is just another 0.41 miles. 

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Little do we know that it ends in a 100 ft waterfall. There is a trail around it, but it is so steep that we hike it all first without the bikes, then come back for our beasts of burden. There are steel cables along a portion of the descent, which help. The rest is a creative and physical endeavor. At least it finishes with a great place to swim.

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We exit the forest at sunset, to the minute exactly, and rip down a packed limestone road to the nearest town. We order a beer and laugh at the whole endeavour— barely a half day out of Zagreb and we’ve already given ourselves a week worth of adventure. We find an unoccupied building in the middle of town to bed down in, mostly to keep the dew off. It is always fun to interpret the former use of such buildings by analyzing the interior. Whenever I first enter an old building like this, i walk around and try to identify the different rooms. I imagine myself as the cook in the kitchen or the headmaster at a desk. Then I find a little piece of floor without any broken glass or tiles.

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Our first morning outdoors in Croatia, and the beginning of a long transport day to get closer to the coast to connect with Joe’s route. After yesterday’s experience, we agree to follow “mostly roads” today. Mostly we keep to cycling routes shown on the Open Cycle Map in Gaia. By the end of the day we’ve ridden 70 miles, which Abe informs me is the longest distance he has ridden on a bike in one day.

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It is good to see a variety of signed cycling routes and advertised touristic loops for bicycles.

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After a period of lowland riding, we pass back into the mountains and ride over a series of N-S trending ridges nearing the coast.

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Resupply.

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Finally, cresting a ridge at close to 3000 ft, we descend to connect with the Adriatic Crest Route. Our first few pedal strokes include a mellow descent above the sea.

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Some singletrack.

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Rocky abandoned doubletrack, or doublesingletrack as I’ve often called it.

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The command center has grown over the years, with a camera bag on the far left and a large insulated wine holster on the right (aka Revelate Feed Bag). The Sinewave Beacon headlamp simplifies things a little as the USB charging device is housed within the light’s head unit. I use both a Garmin eTrex 20 and an older iPhone 5 on the handlebars for navigation. The Garmin provides all weather function, best for existing routes and inclement weather. The iPhone is not in a waterproof case but helps when navigating cities and for some large-scale routing, as well as quick wifi missions in town. Abe and I are both running the Gaia program, and are beginning to dabble with Komoot for route planning as well.

Deer Tick plays on repeat for a couple of days.

A liter of graševina in the Feed Bag, with a bit of rosemary for dinner.

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We begin to see these fruits, which I recall are called thana in Albania. In English, they seem to be called Cornelian cherry, scientific name Cornus mas. They are bitter like a cranberry but eventually ripen to the point that you could eat them. In Albania they were being collected to be made into raki, a homemade liquor.

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With rain in the forecast, we enjoy a dry evening above the Adriatic Sea.

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Morning is warm and damp, but not uncomfortable in any way. Rain jackets come on and off throughout the day as we wind our way up to the high point on the route at 5200 ft.

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We are in a section of the route which is described as having no immediate resupply for over 100 miles. However, we encounter a vender on a mountain road selling smoked cheeses and honey. The cheese only comes in 1 kilogram rounds. A kilo of cheese is no match for two hungry riders and I pass over the cash in the rain. This powers us all the way to the end of the route.

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Nearing the top of the National Park Sjeverni Velebit, which would normally provide stunning views of the mountains and the islands below.

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At 5200 ft, we’re stuck in a cloud. The mountain hut provides respite from a damp day.

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The history inside the building is obvious the moment we enter with photos of the hut in winter and memories from mountain conquests in the Himalaya and other distant lands.

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We sign the guest log, purchase a beer from the caretaker, and enjoy a few moments in a wooden chair out of the rain.

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Descending from Zavižan, we look for a place to hide away for the night.

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This old forest cabin remains as a shelter. Incidentally, another 100 yards down the road is another cabin which is equipped with a wood stove and other amenities such as cots and jars of coffee and tea. Even so, this one is clean, and dry.

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The national park encompasses a broad mountain massif and protects several higher peaks and a large forest.

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Some of the shelters listed on our maps are closed for the season, although they would normally be staffed through the summer.

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Descending out of the clouds, we drop into a world of limestone crags.

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A popular climbing area, with routes shown on this map.

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Joe’s GPS track takes us from one valley to another via a “short hike-a-bike”. It was short, and totally pleasant. I laugh to myself, because I’ve been on some long hike-a-bike segments with Joe and know his great love for pushing his bike. I’ve been told I am the same way. It must be a matter of perspective.

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Most hiking trails in Croatia are signed with this bullseye pattern.

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Limestone and beech trees.

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The route drops us into the town of Gospić, where we quickly resupply at the supermarket with a stop at the bakery and are out of town just before dark to find camp in a farm field under the hum of high-voltage power lines. Rain returns overnight, and showers are forecast to come and go through the next few days. The plan is to ride when it is dry, and find cover when wet— if we can.

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A final climb should take us over a rocky pass to sea level for the first time.

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The jagged limestone mountains are different than what we’ve been seeing, and as soon as we cross the high point the climate changes. There are distinctly different climates between coastal Croatia and inland areas. The coast is mostly dry and rocky.

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Descending to sea level at Obravac, we encounter a group of boys in town. Rather, I immediately lean my bike against the bridge and slip off my shoes and shirt. I hoist myself onto the railing and dive into the river. The boys come running.

They speak some English, I toss a little of my Ukrainian at them for fun, which they mostly understand. I try my hardest to convince them to come swimming, but mostly they just want to get me to do a “backflip”. 

Unprompted antics for the camera.

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Serious faces.

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And our first fig tree, on the climb outside Obravac. Thus begins our obsession with figs.

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Thunderstorms brewing.

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Home for the night. This part of Croatia has tons of abandoned buildings, as well as old stone walls and other aging infrastructure. This area feels much older than the inland cities.

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Look at the size of that fig tree!

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While bathing in a local river, we discover an old limestone building with a well. There are actually a series of buildings which we interpret to be some kind of mill. Water is channeled into several different pathways.

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To drive these machines.

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The area between Obravac and Šibenik is interesting. Low hills, scrub oaks, lots of limestone walls and buildings. Lots of abandoned buildings, some old, some not that old.

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Soon enough, the river we expect to cross comes into view. The Krka River is locally famous for its travertine waterfalls, and the hydroelectric history that was pioneered in this area. We’re mostly just looking for figs and swimming holes.

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We also see the first of many signs celebrating the local HNK Hajduk Split football club. Split is our near destination, and the team’s patters show up all over the place. Abe photographs his Advocate Cycles Hayduke in front of the “Hajduk” graffiti. A hajduk was a peasant warrior, something between a robber and a hero, who famously opposed Ottoman forces in the Balkans.

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A series of pools and lakes are found along the path of the Krka River, making for some prime swimming opportunities, even on a humid and damp day. We manage to avoid most of the major deluges that day, until the evening.

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In the final miles, we pedal through a pounding rainstorm and rummage around an old factory until we find a building with a good roof. Setting up tents in the rain is no fun, rolling into a spacious two bedroom apartment with great ventilation and good views— priceless.

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Croatia provides palatable wines, although this is actually a Macedonian bottle. We don’t quite have the appropriate stemware, but these little 0.6L titanium pots suffice.

To my untrained palate, most Croatian wines taste like cooked sausage and onions, with notes of coffee and a touch of titanium. Or is that just my kitchenware telling me it hasn’t been washed properly in a month?

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The morning is hot and sunny, and everything except for our shoes are dry.  

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Šibenik.

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I love these old concrete block apartment buildings.

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The bike section at a supermarket. They sell dynamo lights at the Kaufland! Many urban bikes in Europe are equipped with rack, fenders, and a bottle dynamo.

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Grapes.

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Craft brew, from Zagreb.

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Figs. Everybody loves them!

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A large comercial vineyard leads us to a big rocky climb.

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Joe’s instructions: “overgrown, push through”. 

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And push up.

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If you think you’ve seen a lot of figs, imagine how many we have eaten. So, many, figs.

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Figs are rotting on the roadsides they are so plentiful. Many local people will harvest and dry them for the rest of the year. But nothing beats a ripe fig.It took Abe no more than one fig to became as rabid a fan of this fruit as I am.

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Trogir, our first real taste of high-density Croatian tourism. The city is beautiful and historic and worth a visit, but I’m glad our routing hasn’t been along the coast the entire time.

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We push out of Trogir in the afternoon and ride to the end of the road, until it turns into a trail. We hike our bike the final few minutes to a remote rocky camp.

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Croatia is everything the tourist office wants you to think. The craggy limestone mountains are just as you expect, the sea is as good as it looks, and the figs. Oh, the figs.

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The final few kilometers of the route include a ferry from the island into the center of Split. What a way to finish the route! I love when routes finish in a city or at the sea, or both, and I love putting my bike on a boat. 

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After a rest day in Split we’re off to Bosnia, Montenegro, and Albania!

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Into the Mountains on the 1000 Miles Adventure, Czechia

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Abe climbs a trail out of Špindlerův Mlýn, CZ crossing signed DH bike trails and chairlifts which won’t move for another couple months until the snow falls.

Following my first week on the 1000 Miles Adventure route where I traced the Czech-German border in alternating days of clouds and rain, I rested for several days in Liberec anticipating my friends Abe and Malcolm to arrive. Malcolm would only be in the country for a week, while Abe begins an open-ended journey. Together, we head east. East, always east!

Until it gets cold, and then we go south.

I meet Abe and Malcolm at the train station in Liberec. They are both coming from Alaska by plane via Frankfurt, and by train from Prague. My friend Spencer from the Baja Divide group start last winter arranged a host for the night in Prague. Abe and Malcolm built their bikes at the airport and rode into town, passing the busy old city of Prague just as the sun set and tourists were wandering dumbly at critical mass taking pictures of that one clock tower which does something every couple of hours but is currently concealed in scaffolding. Prague is a beautiful city, but the hordes of tourists make you want to run away to the countryside and go for a long hike or bike ride, which is what Czech people seem to do in the summer.

In Liberec, we efficiently resupply and begin riding out of town. Within a couple of hours we are atop our first pass, riding a forest road along the contours of a mountainside, and descending to our first village for celebratory beers. Riders in many European countries can do the same— traveling from major cities into the mountains via human power and public transport within a matter of hours is easy. The ride out of Liberec was along a signed cycling route, some of which was dedicated bike trail. In fact, there are so many routes and trails in this country that it helps to have the guidance of the 1000 Miles Adventure route. Rather than deliberating over maps all day and making hundreds of small decisions, we can pedal and spend more time thinking about what is for lunch and when we might find a place to splash around in a stream or a lake.

Our week on the 1000 Miles Adventure route would differ from my first week. We enjoyed warm sunny days all week, with cool late summer nights at elevation. We climbed and descended, and climbed, and descended, and climbed— the route right out of Liberec ascended into the Jizera Mountains and then Krkonoše National Park, along the Czech-Polish border. The route, as before, continues along a series of forest roads, minor paved lanes, and singletrack walking trails. While in the mountains of Krkonoše National Park, bikes are mostly only allowed on wide gravel roads and paved routes. As we pass east of the park boundary— still traveling in similar terrain with peaks over 4000ft— the route utilized more rustic corridors. The footpaths in Czech, as in many European counties, are used most often by local traffic, not long-distance users like us. The people we meet include families enjoying a weekend hike from a nearby city or locals collecting blueberries and mushrooms. Even so, the dense network of local walking, cycling, and ski trails in any one area connect in all directions. Since starting the 1000 Miles Adventure route in western Czechia about 600 miles ago, I have never left the signed recreation trails that make this route possible. I’ve pedaled plenty of pavement and passed through many towns, but at all times I can see colored paint blazes on trees and fenceposts and stone churches.

European walking and cycling routes do not fear the civilization through which they pass, in contrast to our obsession in North America with experiencing the wild, even if in a curated manner. Clearly the land use practices and population density differ greatly from Europe to North America, but for a place with such discontinuous wild spaces, European trail resources are extremely well connected. Why do American trails so often go nowhere? Why do we drive to mountain bike trails to ride in circles? I strongly appreciate the interconnectedness of the trails in Europe, and much of that is possible because there are fewer fences and fewer signs prohibiting access, some of which must technically be private land. Many walking routes pass very near to rural homes and farmhouses, some are even signed on the corner of a house or down a gravel driveway.

I first started saying this years ago when riding footpaths in Europe in 2013, but the result of such a network of trails is a massive opportunity to “choose your own adventure”. On the weekend, Czech families are out in great numbers riding bicycles, walking, collecting food, and eating outside. While there is plenty of vehicular traffic to access the national parks and the mountains, nobody drives a car around all day to “see” the nature. They get out and experience it under their own power. Eastern Europeans are a tough and self-reliant lot. We regularly see parent hauling kids in child seats and bike trailers up long gravel climbs, and once graduated to 12″ and 16” wheel bikes those same children are now descending those same routes.

Malcolm left us one morning to descend to the nearest town with a train station to return to Prague and Alaska, while Abe and I stayed on course. We departed the 1000 Miles Adventure route yesterday to link to the Main Beskid Trail in southern Poland, the longest walking trail in the country. Officially called the Kazimierz Sosnowski Main Beskid Trail (or Główny Szlak Beskidzki imienia Kazmierza Sosnowskiego, in Polish), the trail travels nearly 500km from the small city of Ustron in south-central Poland to the Ukrainian border in the east. By comparison, the Main Beskid Trail should be more constantly challenging than the 1000 Miles Adventure route, both physically and technically. Abe and I are looking forward to it, now that we’ve each got some miles under our legs.

Follow Abe’s stories from the trail on his blog AK Schmidtshow. For smaller morsels follow our ride on Instagram at @nicholascarman and @akschmidtshow.

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In other news, I ordered a new bike frame yesterday, although it won’t ship until late fall and I won’t likely see it in person until spring. My friend Cjell Monē has spent the past two years refining the designs of two bike models under the brand Monē Bikes. The La Roca is an adaptable short chainstay steel hardtail for 29″, 27.5+, or 29+ wheels with all modern bikepacking attachment points; the El Continente is a drop-bar 29+ steel touring bike.

Cjell and Corbin were two of the first riders down the Baja Divide this past fall, while Cjell is otherwise known for his exploits as a global bike adventurer, Tour Divide singlespeed veteran, ultralight thru-hiker, and all-around kook great human. Cjell has built bicycle frames under his own brand, sewn and tested his own bikepacking luggage and hiking packs, and established a legacy as a man who charts his own course and has fun doing it.  Pick up the La Roca and El Continente for special preorder pricing through this weekend, frames are $750 right now but will be sold for $1250 after the weekend. All frames will be handmade in Taiwan this fall. Check out how much brass is on show– these frames are gorgeous and I can’t wait to ride the La Roca!

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Rolling through Liberec in northern Czechia to meet Abe and Malcolm.

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Out of the city, over a small mountain, through a forest, and into another town. The pattern begins.

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Note, red circles indicate prohibited activities, such as possessing a phonograph or riding an elephant.

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Water runs from the mountain sides, moist forests harbor blueberries and mushrooms.

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Resupply is uncomplicated, until Abe and I forget to plan ahead for the weekend when most stores are closed. We decided to eat out all weekend at mountain huts and small beer gardens. It wasn’t terrible.

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Mountain bike trails! These were pleasant, although some of the walking trails are much more fun.

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Temperatures have been warm, but totally comfortable when off the bike. When climbing two thousand feet at a time up steep grades, it gets a little sweaty.

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Many mountains in Europe form natural boundaries between countries, and in the case of the 1000 Miles Adventure the route follows the German border until Poland appears to the north.

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These border trails, in virtue of being drawn through virtual space are all wonderfully wet, rocky, and rooty, unlike other trails which are selected for good drainage and mild grades.

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Dancing across the border, we end the day in Poland and make use of a small shelter for dinner.

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Blueberries are everywhere above about 2500 ft. Pine forests alternate with tall beech forests, all are new growth. Many old photos show logged landscapes, and even an ecosystem challenged by the early industrial era and a stifling atmosphere from local industries.

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Unable to procure alcohol for cooking in Liberec, our first coffee outside is made over a small fire of pine.

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To provide the best bikepacking hospitality I know how, my framebag is stuffed to the gills with treats. Over the course of our first three days of riding, I continue pulling out delicacies from Liberec.

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The Jizera Mountains northeast of Liberec are reforested with pine, mostly, with rounded peaks topping out around 3500ft.

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Once we go down, I tell Malcolm and Abe, we are going to climb that distant ridge. Day two included no less climbing than day one.

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An old mine is found along the CZ-PL border.

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Keeping to a strict diet of soup, beer, and sausages, we stop into a Polish eatery at one road crossing.

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One of my clever route innovations, resulting from taking a wrong turn and seeing another connection on the GPS. Note, it is better to go back and follow the route. My frame is still stained with blueberry.

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But as a reward, every time we hit the top of a mountain we find a mountain house serving hot food and cold beer.

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And every time we drop to town resources are plentiful and free wifi is common. This is what social media looks like. #optoutside

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Then begins the next big climb. Over the first couple of days the climbs seem to get bigger and bigger. The total elevation gain isn’t massive, but some roads and trails take relentlessly steep routes out of town.

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Climbing through a ski area, with signed DH mountain bike trails.

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This was one of our nicest evenings on the bike, climbing out of Špindlerův Mlýn to camp at 4200ft for the night.

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Once again we find a shelter to call home for the night.

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I don’t go anywhere without a bag of cabbage.

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While Abe and i are both carrying small pots, Malcolm selected not to bring a vessel for his short trip. The reasoning is sound, but we constantly had to find creative ways to serve three people with two dishes,without fighting over a pot of food like dogs.

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I made Malcolm an ultralight coffee mug.

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Our ride that morning was a little more of my creative routefinding. Once we topped out at 4400ft, I wanted to descend by some other means than a gravel road. We found a winter ski trail. It started off rideable, and turned into a wet hillside traverse before finally clearing toward the end.

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As Abe would say, it was a “spicy” descent.

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Yep, you guessed it. Another mountain house.

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Of course, another beer. This is the local Krkonoše beer from Trutnov.

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Our route continues to nudge the Polish border, passing through some of the highest mountains in Czechia. For this reason, the hills are alive with people walking, riding, and simply being outside. When not being active outdoors, people are eating and drinking beer en plein air. The mountain houses that we frequent are a mix of private guesthouses with beer gardens and restaurants, while a few on the mountaintops are operated or at least leased by the KČT, or the Czech Hiking Club. Many in Poland will be operated by the PTTK, or the equivalent hiking organization in that country.

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As we exit the national parks and the more popular touristic regions, we begin to see a less polished version of Czech and Polish life. It reminds me where we are going in rural Poland, and Ukraine.

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Finally, passing through small communities we find an abundance of plum trees. I’d been promising this to Abe and Malcolm and until now, I would have been lying. Then we happened upon more plums than we could eat. The best fruits are found on the ground, recently separated from the tree and ripened in the sun.

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These smaller varieties of yellow and red plums are some of the best. Many of the larger more typical plums are not quite as plump and sweet this year. I suspect a hot dry summer is to blame, despite recent moisture.

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Of all the signage we pass, this excites me greatly, The upper symbol is the radiant sun of the Way of St. James, or the Camino de Santiago in Spain. From all over Europe you can connect to routes leading to the same place. I was excited to see a sign indicating the terminus of the route over 3000km away.

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We pass the famed sandstone formations of Adršpach. So many of these towns and places are familiar to me, as our route in 2013 wound through some of the same country.

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The beauty of following a prescribed route is that you can release ourself of the responsibility of route design, and simply follow a concept through space. And then, just pedal and open your eyes. You’ll see what you see, you will meet people, you will eat things.

Then you might take a wrong turn and be too proud to turn around and the GPS says there is a way through and now three guys are carrying their bikes through a forest of sandstone towers.

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My fault. Glad you both enjoyed the scenery.

Some of the older trail signs appear to be hand painted. This one dates from 1993, the year that Czech Republic and Slovakia split.

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The lower yellow sign, which denote cycling routes, warns of a “dangerous downhill:. We never got the warning that it was a strenuous uphill.

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Border monuments are painted red and white, with survey markings or coordinates on two sides, and the first letter of each country listed on the other two faces. The other side has a large P, this side a prominent C, yet a faint ČS reminds us of the former Czechoslovakia.

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Polish cycling routes are signed with bicycles, and as you trend further east, cycling routes get more and more “rustic”.

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If you love maps, you’ll love traveling in this country as every major trail junction provides a map of some kind. Often, several maps are provided highlighting cycling routes, hiking routes, topography, national park boundaries and touristic features.

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If you are ever unsure of where you are, look for the point on the map without paint. Hundreds of fingers have worn away the color.

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Weekends can be very busy.

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A series of bunkers dating to around 1938 line the modern Czech-German and Czech-Polish borders. In either case, the enemy was the same— the Third Reich.

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While thousands of small bunkers form a line in the mountains, a series of larger bunkers served as logistical bases and as more substantial armaments against the enemy.

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A groundskeeper invites us in for a tour.

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This communication device is made in Czechoslovakia.

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This gun was made in Venezuela.

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This truck is Russian.

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I was intrigued to learn that there is a gauge to signal how much maslo, or butter is available. Does the word also mean oil, as in motor oil?

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More traffic on the trail.

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Bunkers, everywhere in these mountains.

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Eventually our route follows a small river and we find time to rinse our clothing after a sweaty week.

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Rolling into town on Saturday afternoon we are surprised to find the store closed at 3PM. We seem to have missed our chance to buy food for the weekend. Plan B is to eat at mountain guesthouses and small town eateries. On our first night we find an authentic Italian pizzeria in a small city.

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And roll out of town at dark.

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Plugging a battery into my new Sinewave Cycles Beacon dynamo light provides full light power even as slow speeds, or when stopped. This is perfect when searching for a campsite in the dark. On this warm, dry evening Abe and I lay out under the stars. Within a couple hours, heat lightning surrounds us. Enchanted with the feeling of a warm breeze and distant lightning, I go back to sleep. The next time I wake up it is pouring rain. We both scramble to erect our tents; I quickly insert my sleeping bag and other sensitive items into the tent body before installing the poles and stakes. I manage to keep things dry, mostly.

Buckets of rain fall for hours.

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By morning, the wet earth is steaming and calm. Since losing a few hours of sleep, we are both slow to get moving in the morning.

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The free laundry service is much appreciated. The scorpion underwear are courtesy of the Asian markets on the CZ-DE border.

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Abe packs up that morning, finding a place for all of his things. He is riding an Advocate Cycles Hayduke, which is only a few weeks old to him. After a couple days of riding he sent some equipment home with Malcolm, so he has established his kit for the season. Everything now has a place, packing becomes a ritual.

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Signs. So many signs.

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Another quick spin up to 4000 ft. Finally, after a week with a lot of climbing, our legs and lungs are catching up.

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Alas, there is food and beer at the top.

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Our recovery is due in great part to a healthy diet of potato knedliky, meat, cabbage, and beer. 

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Now out of the mountains, we pause for a moment in Opava before riding across the border to the Main Beskid Trail in Poland. I have about 600 miles of this route behind me, with around 300 miles of the Beskid trail to the edge of Ukraine. One way or another, the 1000 Miles Adventure continues. Ukraine is a whole other adventure.

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A Week on the 1000 Miles Adventure, Czechia

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In 2016, the Czech government released a more palatable English language name for their country, replacing the cumbersome [the] “Czech Republic” with Czechia. Modern sources such as Google Maps and The US Department of State now prefer the name Czechia.

I know I’m snoring when I wake up abruptly and don’t know what woke me. This was the case in a small hiking shelter on the Czech-German border. The day began with a battleship grey sky and even though it wasn’t raining, the previous night’s dew would not dry from either the inside or the outside of my tent as I prepared myself in the morning. I reluctantly packed up the wet parcel and stuffed it into my seatbag. I get an incomplete feeling when packing wet tents and soiled clothing and electronics with dead batteries. I knew the rain was coming that day. Crossing the Elbe River the day before dropped me into the largest city I’d seen since Prague— Dĕčín— where I was able to source a weather forecast for the coming days from the wifi network at the public library along the river. I check email, I check the weather, I buy pastries, I buy beer, and I’m riding north out of town along the Elbe River bike path. Some of my favorite bike touring days include these in-and-out of town resupply blitzes, bounded my dirt and mud on both sides. The cashier at the grocery store has no idea why I’m sweating and dirty, nor why I’m buying so much cheese and beer.

My tires track a damp, rooty trail along the border. In fact, the trail is the border and with exactness the signed trail follows a series of knee-high concrete structures painted red and white, with coordinates painted on two sides and the letters C and D on opposing sides, signaling Czechia and Deutschland. Unlike most of the forest access roads or forgotten doubletrack corridors of the 1000 Miles Adventure route, this is physical, technical riding. These roots would be tough in dry weather; in wet weather it is a game of Russian roulette. I say that because I know how quickly serious injuries happen. Lael fell off a narrow wooden bridge this summer while riding and cracked several ribs. My friend Sue, whom we solicited from the Baja Divide group start to work in Alaska with us at The Bicycle Shop this summer, stepped off a mountain bike trail to allow downhill traffic to pass, anchoring her foot in a mess of logs and toppling to one side. She broke her leg in three places. All I want to do is finish the day with all of my faculties, but all I want to do is to have fun.

I rest in a small wooden hiking shelter, enclosed on all sides save for an open window and doorway facing the trail. There, I prepare a meal of noodles and klobása, and finish with a poppyseed koláč and a cup of coffee before laying down on the wooden bench to rest.

Awake, I rub my eyes and peel away cobwebs. I slowly finish climbing the gentle grade to a high point, my heart beating not much more than resting rate, and point the bike downhill on these same wet, rooty trails. Now, with sugar and caffeine and twenty minutes of rest, my ride is one of complete concentration. Focus and passion are irreplaceable elements when riding. 

Following a busy summer of work, a busy week of travel to California for QBP’s Saddledrive event, and a couple days of riding and planning in Central California before two and a half days of plane travel via Oakland and Stockholm and Prague to the far western border of the Czech Republic by train, I am tired. I disembark the train in Cheb and ride straight out of town along a river, camping next to a dammed lake for the night. I set up my Tarptent Rainbow for the first time as men in olive green fishing tents line the far shores. Rainclouds make good on their promise and I slip into the lake to wash away the greasy feeling of two days of travel before putting on clean woolen clothes for the last time in a while.

That first night out of town is the first good night of sleep I remember since the end of March. But the next morning, I rise and pack and ride and eat and ride and don’t stop until sundown. For the next 7 days, I keep the same pattern along a small magenta line on my GPS. By the end of the week, I can sense the need to take some time. Reluctant, but operating on an informed autopilot, I descend to Liberec and peck around town until I find a technical college that rents dorm rooms for a good price. For less than $15 a night, I have a large room with windows, two beds, three desks, and a shared kitchen and bath (with the other unoccupied private room). For four days, this is my home. The freedom of walking around in my underwear while cooking knedlíky and klobása and kysané zelí; sitting down at the computer with a beer to write, and revise, and edit— these things remind me what it means to have my own space, they remind me what I have been missing for much of the last ten years while traveling. To most everyone else in America, having a kitchen and a desk and privacy is taken for granted.  

The first week of riding along the 1000 Miles Adventure route is much like I expected, and that’s why I traveled here. I’ve only ridden some of the route in the past, near the Nizké Tatry National Park in Slovakia, but after two summers of riding footpaths and old roads in Europe I had a strong sense of what to expect. Even so, the borderlands between Czechia and Germany are more consistently wooded than I realized. This land, most of it managed for public recreation as well as timber industries, is extremely well signed with walking routes, cycling routes, and ski routes in every direction. Large public maps and signposts, covered picnic tables, and winter shelters abound in these forests. Towns are often no more than several hours apart by bicycle. The result is a fun and civilized route through an historic land with abundant natural space and people who love being active outdoors. With just over a quarter of the route behind me, I look forward to seeing how the country and the culture changes toward the east. I’ve only just left the German border behind in trade for the Polish border. Eventually, the route enters Slovakia and finishes at the border of Ukraine. 

The way I most often describe European bikepacking holds true on the 1000 Miles Adventure. Ride out of town on a narrow lane past some homes with fruit trees overhanging the road, ride through a farm field, into a forest, over a small rounded mountain on doubletrack and singletrack, back down into a farm field, past some houses, and through the center of town past a church and a store and a public space. In the first 250 miles, that is the general pattern. A number of small ski resorts are found along the route, a region of peat bogs and ponds are found in the mountains feeding brown tannic streams, and an area of towering sandstone cliffs and rock spires define a part of the route bounded by the Bohemian Switzerland National Park (Národní Park České Švýcarsko). Amongst the familiar, there are daily surprises.

My friend Abe arrives from Anchorage tomorrow to join me. We hadn’t seen each other all summer until he contacted me looking for a bike to go on a trip. I managed to get my hands on an Advocate Cycles Hayduke for him, and offered my carbon 27.5+ Knight Composites dynamo wheelset since I wasn’t using it. He had loose plans to travel to Central Asia, but once I got talking about Eastern Europe, his ears perked up. It might just be my passion for sausage and sauerkraut and beer that did it, but a couple of weeks later he bought a ticket to Prague. Abe and his friend Malcolm land in Prague tonight and will take the train to Liberec in the morning. We’ll roll out of town on Tuesday afternoon and head straight for the hills, riding into the Jizera Mountains followed by Krkonoše National Park.

For smaller portions, follow our ride on Instagram at @nicholascarman

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 My first few pedal strokes on the 1000 Miles Adventure route are promising. 

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The first few towns and classic European communities: stately city center, old world city structure, a few small stores, an amateur metal rock festival in progress…

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Some small towns in these mountains have small ski areas to match, operating one or two very old lifts, most often no more than 100-200 vertical feet. Cycling is also popular in these parts in the summer. Ortlieb is pushing the new sport of “bikepacking”! 

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Singletrack along railroad tracks.

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Forest access roads and singletrack to a popular rocky outcropping atop a local mountain.

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A developed spring, signage, and a covered picnic shelter.

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The first few days are a little wet, but I never get as thoroughly soaked as I did in Prague on my short ride from the airport to the train station. Suited for adventure, I’m running a Garmin eTrex 20 and an iPhone 5 for navigation, with a Sinewave Cycles Beacon headlight on the bars, which serves up to about 750 lumens at night or USB charging during the day.

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Tailwinds and an old railroad grade on a sunny afternoon make you want to bunny hop every mud puddle at 20 miles per hour.

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But when the rain comes back these ski shelters prove extremely useful, not that I mind a night in a tent, but this provides better ventilation.

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Failing to pack a utensil, I spend the first few days cooking and eating with a stick, until I upgrade to a plastic fork from a market, and finally a stamped steel spoon from an Asian discount store on the Czech-German border.

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Alcohol for cooking is easy to find at many gas stations in Czechia.

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Further infrastructure exists in these mountains, and I know I will find more in some of the higher mountains which are most popular with hikers and cyclists. On this morning, I happen upon a small woodland dwelling which houses a cafe. For $5 USD I order traditional sausage with a slice of rye bread, a beer, and a piece of poppyseed cake. Mustard and horseradish are on hand.

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Blueberries are in season up high.

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Apples are everywhere, absolutely everywhere.

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Plums. Some are still not ripe, yet some of the smaller yellow and red varieties are nearly past prime and are sweet as jam.

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Blackberries and raspberries, this particular hedge forming the border between Poland and Czechia.

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Rose hips add color to the thicket alongside many tracks on the route. 

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These purple thistles are common, and a sign of the waning summer season.

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Fireweed tells the same story as it turns to cotton.

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Trail markers and maps and signs are everywhere. The first time I travelled across Europe by bike it was without GPS, relying only on signed routes, posted maps, and some free local maps available from tourist centers. It is easier with the GPS, but there is beauty in looking at the outside world in search of guidance, rather than staring down at a device.

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Mostly, I navigate using basemaps on the Garmin eTrex 20 downloaded from openmtbmap.org, and Open Cycle Maps on the Gaia app on the iPhone. It helps to have something I can use to quickly search for new routing, check weather, or find an address in a city, even though the iPhone is wifi only. I use a simple flip phone back in the States, which I’ve left behind.

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The roads and trails along the 1000 Miles Adventure are varied, greatly varied. One of the things I love most about bikepacking in Europe is how often the scenery and the trail surface and the signage changes. Sometimes it seems like more of a scavenger hunt than a prolonged bike ride, which is a nice distraction for anyone who thinks staring a 50 mile bike ride in the face is daunting. Just pepper the experience with a treasure hunt and regular beer and pastry stops— that should make bikepacking fun for anyone!

A classic forest road.

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Rocky footpath.

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Faint farm tracks.

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Psychedelic bike path along the Elbe River.

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So many dreamy forest roads.

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A ferry from Germany back to Czechia. I love a bike route with a boat ride.

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Climbing out of town under an old ski lift, still in use in winter.

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Dropping into town.

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Back to pavement.

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Into the city to look around and resupply.

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Free wifi at the library. There is so much free wifi in Czechia, it would make for a simple working vacation destination.

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Back out of town.

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Up and over another mountain.

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To see what might be hiding at the top. An old stone tower, a restaurant with a beer garden, communication towers, an old bunker. In fact, just around the corner is a mountain hut with wifi and food and beer.

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Finished with a little night riding by the light of my Beacon.

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To wake up wherever you wake up. The world looks much different in the morning after selecting camp in the dark.

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Dropping into town means it is time to resupply. With the frequency that you encounter towns along the route, you never need more than a day of food. You could easily ride from town to town on an unloaded bike if you wanted to eat and sleep at established services.

In the countryside it is still common for people to leave their children outside the store unattended, and their bikes unlocked.

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My everyday diet includes sausage, cheese, vegetables, and the ubiquitous crusty white bread rolls that can be found at any store. Fruit often comes ripe off the tree. Czech pilsener is an essential part of hydration. I can’t read the labels, but I’m pretty sure they recommend one every four hours.

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Coffee and poppyseed pastry offer a regular afternoon diversion, along with a nap.

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My only meal in a restaurant thus far has been at a rural train station. I don’t know what community was served by this station as there were no houses or people around, but the most wonderful smell of cooked onions and dough was coming from one end of the station. I decided at that moment that I would sit down for my first restaurant meal in the country.

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I could keep living like this for a while. Fingers crossed that the summer sticks around.

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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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Baja Divide: August update

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Nearly 200 people attended our Baja Divide presentation in Missoula, MT, hosted by FreeCycles. Thanks to Bob Giordano for hosting!

I spent the summer working at The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, AK, while Lael was busy riding and racing across the country in the Trans Am Bike Race.  I picked her up in Virginia, we limped north to NY, CT, MA, VT and back to NY, and flew west to Montana to celebrate Adventure Cycling Association’s 40th anniversary.  We flew back to NY for a wedding, and to complete the Baja Divide route.  And that’s where we are now, drinking coffee and writing all morning, swimming in the afternoon, writing some more in the afternoon, enjoying family dinners every night, watching the Olympics in the evening.  Since Lael tripped while running on the trails at Wellesley Island State Park the other day and sprained her big toe, we’ve also put in considerable effort to watch the entire West Wing series in a very short time— it’s the least I could do to get her to sit still long enough to heal.  I’m repeating some of the details of the past six months because otherwise, I’m not sure I’ll remember them.  Somehow, every year seems busier than the last.  I’d like to derail that trend in the near future.  Baja California is always a good way to reset the clock.

Baja Divide Update

We’ve completed the section narratives, which describe the route in 20 segments each beginning and ending with major resupply, detailing route features and riding conditions, resupply challenges, and rewards.  It features a distance and resupply quick reference.  The route guide is 75% complete and will be finished this week.  It is a resource which describes the route as a whole, and assists in planning and preparing for a ride on the Baja Divide.  This includes discussions about the route, bikes, luggage and packing, camping, food and water resupply, traveling in Mexico, getting to and from the route, and an ultimate pack list.  The GPX track is nearly complete and currently provides context of the entire route.  Our GIS associate in Alaska, Rob Clark, is currently on a boat in the Arctic and will return with the complete edited track in a few weeks.  I sent him north of north to the Bering Sea with a giant folder of edits which he will use to manipulate the track into its final state to adjust for errors, noise, and other extraneous data.  We met Rob at the after-party to the Talkeetna Trio fatbike race in Alaska this spring where he offered to help with the project.  In fact, Rob spied Alex’s signature helmbrero, they started a conversation which led to talk about Baja and Rob’s offer to help with the project.  He couldn’t have imagined the birdsnest of GPX files that I would dump in his lap.  We have also been working with a man named Roman de Salvo in San Diego, a volunteer field agent who we met at a presentation last February.  Roman is responsible for much of the route from the San Diego Airport to Tecate.  Just yesterday, Roman completed and signed off on that segment, which was the final hole in the route.  Additional thanks to Alex Dunn and Montana Miller for helping with route development south of the border.

Lael and I will have all of the Baja Divide content complete by next week when we fly to Denver to ride the Colorado Trail.  The new site will be published in the beginning of September when we have the final GPX track.  We will be at Interbike in Las Vegas with Revelate Designs again this year.  We are working on some displays and events relating to the Baja Divide.  Anyone planning to drive from Durango or elsewhere in Colorado to Las Vegas with room for two riders and two bikes?  We could probably find a way to get to I-70.

Also, Lael has been publishing an account of the Trans Am Bike Race on her blog, state by state.  Check it out!

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This update is also being posted to the Baja Divide website.

Bunyan Velo, Issue No. 6

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The sixth edition of Bunyan Velo is out now. Although this long-awaited issue comes from a period of hibernation for the popular magazine, it signals a commitment to continuing the high quality storytelling and imagery that define Bunyan Velo’s reputation.  Included are stories and photo essays by Skyler Des Roches, Cass Gilbert, Mark Sirek and Przemek Duszynski, Josh Spice, Logan Watts, Donnie Kolb, and many more.  Lael shares three stories in “Camels on Wheels” from her experience in the Holyland Challenge in Israel, her first bikepacking race, just months before the Tour Divide in 2015.  Read Bunyan Velo, Issue No. 6 for free online, purchase a PDF of the magazine for $5, or donate to support the future of the best bikepacking and bicycle travel publication on the planet.   

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Baja Divide Presentation: The Bicycle Shop Dimond at 7PM on Wednesday, April 20th in Anchorage, AK

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Update 4/24/16: Thanks to everyone that attended this event. We enjoyed an informative evening with nearly 100 guests, including descriptions of the Baja Divide and the planning and equipment required to make a successful tour of the route.  Thanks to The Bicycle Shop, Dimond for hosting the event, as well as Revelate Designs, Advocate Cycles, Bikepacking.com, Surly Bikes, and Meriwether Cycles for support. 

Join Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox at The Bicycle Shop on Dimond Blvd. to learn more about the new Baja Divide route, including details of the routebuilding process, maps and images of the route, and a discussion on how to prepare for a successful tour of the Baja Divide.  With help from a number of friends, we mapped a nearly 2000 mile off-pavement route from San Diego, CA, USA to the southern tip of Baja California at San Jose del Cabo, BCS, MX, scheduled to be published via a new website this summer.  This exciting new bikepacking route crosses an international border, travels both coastlines of the Baja peninsula, through every mountain range in Baja, and even includes a short boat ride across Bahia Concepion to a little used dirt road on the far side of the bay.  Encounter remote Spanish mission sites with cool water shaded by date palms, classic tracks from the Baja 1000 moto race, forgotten beaches, and rough mountain roads.  The complete route is a big adventure that requires some experience and planning, which we will discuss at this event.  What kind of bike to ride, how to pack, how much food and water to carry, are tubeless tires really necessary?  A short presentation with images will be followed by a Q&A.  Our loaded Baja bikes will be on display.  As always, ride a bike to the event for a chance to win some cool stuff from our sponsors.

Also, Lael will be leaving town at the end of the month to ride to the start of the Trans-Am Race, so come say hi and bye before she skips town.

Join us at The Bicycle Shop on Dimond Boulevard in Anchorage, Alaska on Wednesday April 20th at 7PM.  Doors open at 7, talk starts at 7:30.  There is a Facebook event page if you want to let us know you are coming.  This event is sponsored by Revelate Designs, Advocate Cycles, Bikepacking.com, and The Bicycle Shop of Anchorage.

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Baja Divide Update; Presentations in San Diego, CA on 2/4 and 2/5

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Attention San Diego area riders! Lael, Alex and I will be presenting about the Baja Divide on two consecutive nights, describing the routebuilding process, the rewards and challenges of touring in Baja, and more information to help plan a self-supported tour of the Baja Divide next season.  Sponsored by the San Diego Mountain Biking Association, we will be at Border X brewing in Barrio Logan, San Diego on Feb 4, and in Escondido on Feb 5.  Both events are at 5:30PM and more information can be found on the SDMBA Facebook Events page.  Small donations to the project will be accepted to help fund immediate expenses.

The Baja Divide route is taking shape.  Since December 8th, 2015, we have ridden well over 2000 miles from San Diego, CA to San Jose del Cabo, B.C.S., MX, including several loops in the southern cape.  Several friends have joined our routefinding efforts on a diverse range of bikes, arriving from from Missoula, MT; Anchorage, AK; and Fort Collins, CO.  These are the first riders to experience the Baja Divide, although at this phase that still includes a few dead-ends, a bit too much sand, and a lot of tacos and beer.  

However, there are several gaping holes in the route and many smaller details which require honing.  As such, Lael and I, accompanied by our friend Alex, have returned to San Diego.  We are planning a few days to reorganize ourselves and tune our bikes before crossing the border at Tecate for another month of riding in Baja.  All three of us will fly to Anchorage in early March to catch the last month of winter and the best month of fatbiking.   

I’ve had many considerate offers from supporters of the Baja Divide project offering professional expertise, encouragement, and money.  At this time, I have plans to build a proper website this spring, with help.  I’m still considering the details of a printed resource, although I consider it an essential part of the project as a way to enable broad scale planning and to communicate with locals along the route, especially to share such basic concepts as where you are going and where you have come from.  To follow the route, a GPS will be required.  Lastly, I am not accepting any individual donations to the project at this time.  Once the route file is complete and the new website is live, I aim to seek corporate sponsors for the project whose business and ethics reflect those of the Baja Divide.  As such, though our efforts and their expense, the route is meant to be a gift to the bikepacking community, and all digital information will be available for free.  Currently, Lael and I are funding the project, with limited in-kind assistance from Revelate Designs, SRAM, Advocate Cycles, Sinewave Cycles, The Bicycle Shop of Anchorage, Cal Coast Bicycles in San Diego, and SDMBA.

If anyone in the cycling, outdoor, or travel industry is interested in supporting the Baja Divide, please contact Nicholas at bajadivide@gmail.com.

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Alex arrived in Loreto with his expedition-grade Surly Pugsley, built with a Rolloff hub, Gates Carbon Belt Drive, and packing a small Martin Backpacker guitar.  He is a close friend from university in Tacoma, WA, now working summers as a fisherman in SE Alaska, originally from Fort Collins, CO.  He speaks excellent Spanish, having spent considerable time in Ecuador, Argentina, and Mexico.  He has touring by bike in the USA, Baja, and Ecuador.  Language skills aren’t essential to ride in Baja, although while developing the route it is incredibly helpful.  The Pugsley is well suited to soft-conditions, although the weight of this particular build is burdensome on the more technical sections and on prolonged climbs. 

While in San Diego, Alex is sending his portly Pugsley back home and replacing it with an XL Advocate Cycles Hayduke.  After two months in Baja, we’ve decided that 3.0” tires are the preferred tire size, while a suspension fork makes the riding more safe, comfortable, and fun.  The “sombrero casco” is a custom creation.   

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Erin also joined us in Loreto for three weeks, and flew out of San Jose del Cabo.  She is a close friend from university in Tacoma, WA, originally from Ketchikan, AK, now residing in Missoula, MT.  She has ridden the length of Baja by mostly paved roads in the past, and has also toured the Idaho Hot Springs Route.  Erin rode her secondhand Trek X-Cal 29er with 2.4” and 2.3” tires on relatively narrow Bontrager Mustang rims, which required a little engineering to ensure a secure tubeless system.  Her bike was well suited to all of the hardpacked riding, although she struggled in soft conditions more than the rest of the group as she was riding the narrowest tires.

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Christina joined us in San Jose del Cabo for a sun-soaked ten day ride, escaping the cold, dark winter in Anchorage, AK.  Christina and I first met while working at The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, although she now manages the Trek Store of Anchorage.  She is originally from San Fransisco, CA.  She is an experienced mountain biker and road rider and is signed up for several endurance fatbike races this winter including the Susitna 100 and the White Mountains 100.  She met us last year to ride in Israel for ten days, enjoying the worst weather in our three months in that country.  We promised sun in Baja, and Baja delivered.  Christina rode a Trek Farley 9.6 with 27.5×3.8” Bontrager Hodag tires on TLR Jackalope rims.  Her bike excelled in soft conditions, over rough terrain, and while climbing, thanks to a lightweight bike, big wheels, and a minimal load.

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Lael continues to enjoy her 27.5+ Advocate Cycles Hayduke.  The tires are wide enough that at lower pressures, she can ride through all but the deepest sand, which the Baja Divide route intends to avoid.  The modern geometry and the RockShox Reba suspension fork make technical descents a breeze.  The bike climbs well and the tires maintain traction well on steep climbs, perhaps better than a fatbike in some cases.  Ultra-wide tires have a tendency to sit atop rocks and gravel, loosing the connection to the ground.  Expect a complete review at Bikepacking.com later this month.

We plan to service both of our forks in San Diego, as well as replace her chain and rear tire.  Aside from those wear parts, her bike has performed flawlessly over Baja’s diverse roads and tracks.  

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My pink Meriwether Cycles custom has become a trusted friend.  For riding in Baja my wide 35mm rims and 2.4”/2.5” tires do well, although even I am often wishing for a proper plus bike.

I was planning to convert the bike to 27.5+ with a new wheelset and tires, but have decided that the design is best suited to 29” wheels.  Compared to the 29×2.4” and 2.5” tires I am using, a 27.5+ wheelset would lower the bike by about a centimeter.  In fact, I like how it sits and how it rides right now, so I’ll save myself the expense and simply mount a bigger tire to the rear, a 2.5” Maxxis Minion DHF.  These tires are more aggressive than I need, although the tire volume and durable casing are excellent.  

I’m also looking forward to trying a SRAM 11-speed group soon.  For the steep rolling terrain we often encounter, I find myself forcing shifts from the big ring to the little ring with haste, which occasionally gets ugly with a worn drivetrain (i.e. chain suck).  A single chainring system reduces the number of shifting permutations, and focuses my efforts in a simple upshift-downshift pattern.  I’ll be using a combination of parts, including a steel narrow-wide 28T chainring and a steel 1150 10-42t cassette.  Can a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain be a durable touring group?  Now that the technology has spread around the globe and to lower pricepoints, this will be a more frequent consideration.

We are all using tubeless wheel systems and between the five of us and two months time, we haven’t had any flat tires.  Correction, Lael was carrying a 2” thorn in her tires for weeks, until it finally poked through her rim strip and flatted her wheel.  The tire was fine, so we removed the tire and repaired the rimstrip with a small square of tape.  The tire reseated easily and we were on our way.

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Our time in Baja has been restful thanks to great weather and long nights under the stars, but since dedicating ourselves to the Baja Divide project, our commitments have grown and life is now quite busy again.  We plan about six days of work and preparation while in San Diego, crammed into about three and half days.  We cross the border back to Tecate this Saturday, February 6, and plan to arrive in La Paz by Mar 6 to catch a flight back to Alaska.  That distance, and the amount of work we have in between, will be challenging.

Even so, life is good in Baja.  We’ll be certain to enjoy our time here and we look forward to sharing it with others.

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The Baja Divide Route, Mexico

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Don’t ride MEX 1, ride the Baja Divide.  Lael descends toward Ejido Uruapan on her Advocate Cycles Hayduke.

It’s called the Baja Divide.  The route touches the Pacific Coast and the Sea of Cortez multiple times.  It crosses every mountain range in Baja California, a desert where freshwater streams and springs are not uncommon in winter, and where traditional ranching and fishing lifestyles persist.  The route climbs and descends on well traveled graded dirt roads, popular 4×4 and moto routes, and forgotten jeep tracks.  We’re planning a connection across Bahia Concepcion by panga, the durable fiberglass fishing boats used by local fishermen, to access a little used dirt road on the other side of the bay.  The Baja Divide is a personal project of Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox to give back to the bikepacking community.  We’ve enjoyed routes in Israel, Arizona, South Africa, Slovakia, Montenegro, and elsewhere.   

The Baja Divide is a dirt bikepacking route from Tecate to the southern cape.  When the route is complete, it is expected to be nearly 2000 miles long and over 90% unpaved, recommended for bicycles with 2.3” tires or larger.  Thus far, 3.0” tires as on Lael’s Advocate Hayduke have proven to be perfect for the route, and 4.0” tires would not be out of place.  As always, pack light, leave room for food and water, and leave most of your cold weather gear at home.  The route would be best enjoyed between November and February, when most dirt routes in the USA, Canada, and Europe are closed for the season.  

What began as a personal project to craft a pleasant ride down the peninsula– an experience and a route which we hoped to casually share— has developed into a commitment to publish a real route in Baja.  As such, a real route is thoroughly researched, tested, and recorded.  A GPX track, route narratives, and a resupply guide will be prepared.  Most of all, I hope to be able to publish a printed resource similar to the high quality maps we have come to appreciate from the Adventure Cycling Association.    

There is much work remaining to complete the route.  Thus far Lael and I have connected San Diego to La Paz by a series of dirt routes, and we plan a few more weeks of exploration in the southern cape with a rotating cast of friends who have joined us to escape winter and help with the route.  Thereafter, Lael and I plan to take a bus back north to Tijuana to ride down the peninsula a second time.  We will ride alternate routes, make detailed notes and waypoints regarding resupply, and record more GPX tracks from which the final route will be compiled.  It is a big project, seemingly growing in scope every day.  

The future of the Baja Divide requires your support.  We are looking for corporate and individual sponsors who wish to promote the project and the culture of self-supported bikepacking through financial or technical assistance.  In-kind equipment sponsors are also welcome to offset costs associated with building the route, including worn tires and drivetrain parts, camping equipment, etc.  For instance, Lael and I are both using threadbare sleeping bags, worn from nearly four years on the road.  Additionally, I am looking for a high-quality 27.5+ wheelset for my Meriwether, as I’ve been jealous of Lael’s 3.0” tires on the many sandy and rough jeep tracks in Baja.  My six year old Brooks B17 saddle has bent rails and has lost two rivets. We are also seeking assistance in building a high-quality custom website for the project.  For now, I have built a simple WordPress.com site for the project at www.bajadivide.com.

I expect to have a complete GPX track available later this spring.  An informal group ride is scheduled to start on January 2, 2017.  Lael and I will be there.  Ride self-supported at your own pace, form your own groups, ride as much of the route as you want. 

I will begin sharing stories on the blog from the process of route building in Baja in the coming weeks.  Look for more stories on Lael’s Globe of Adventure, the new Baja Divide website, and our new Instagram accounts @nicholascarman and @laelwilcox.  

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The Edge of Winter: AZ/NM/NY/DC/CA/MX

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We’re off to Baja for a few months!  Lael is riding her new Advocate Cycles Hayduke, a steel 27.5+ hardtail, and I am riding my pink Meriwether.  Thanks to the donation of a used iPhone from a friend, as a multi-purpose travel device, we now both have Instagram accounts.  Follow us there at @laelwilcox and @nicholascarman.

The first moment in long pants and a sweater, come fall.  The first afternoon in short sleeves and a shirt, when rotting piles of snow linger in the shadows and thin blades of grass emerge from the matted brown lawn.  It is the leading edge of any season which I especially relish.  For more than a month, we’ve ridden the breaking wave of winter across Arizona and New Mexico, through New York and the Mid Atlantic, and now through California and Baja California.  But it isn’t meant to be.  We’re headed south for the season.  

On Wellesley Island, NY, where my parents now live, I encountered an entire harvest of apples beneath a tree, forgotten by nearby residents in favor of store bought varieties.  And the next day, an inch and a half of snow covers them.  In Baja, we’ve encountered freezing nights just several hundred feet above sea level, yet warm dry nights at elevation, a phenomena which continues to elude me.  Above, at nearly 10,000ft,  a dusting of snow falls on the Sierra de San Pedro Martir.  Yet Washington D.C. is the coldest place I’ve been in the past month, where winter threatens with cloudy skies and 39 degree rain.  I say anything is better than 39 degree rain.  Give me Alaska, Minnesota, or New York in February, but never cold rain.  Any time we ride in 39 degree rain, Lael reminds me of the last time we rode to Baja from Tacoma, WA.  We left on November 16th, 2009 to ride south, and it rained every day until we crossed the border.  The final week in Southern California at the end of December amounted to record rainfall.    

Our time in Arizona concluded with Lael’s AZT750 ITT attempt, a pursuit which has been captured as part of a brief documentary feature, set to be released this spring.  More on that when it is released next year, but the process of filming was enlightening and a lot of fun.  Expect aerial drone shots of Lael.  What could be more fun than aerial drone shots of a girl riding her bike and eating, pissing in the bushes, hurriedly buying a dozen cookies from a small grocery?

For the filming, I was contracted to help scout film locations on the backcountry route and to transport Lael to the start.  Thus, a vehicle was rented in my name and for almost two weeks, I piloted a small Chevy Sonic around the state, bashing the undercarriage on all manner of unpaved roads.  That’s why you get the full insurance.  After the ITT attempt, we spent a weekend in Santa Fe to finish some filming, which gave us the chance to reconnect with some friends in New Mexico, crossing paths with Rusty and Melissa; Cass, Nancy, and Sage; John, Jeremy, and Owen.  Each of these people play a role in our lives.  Rusty arrived in Albuquerque the week we were leaving and took a job at Two Wheel Drive where I had worked; Melissa is riding my old Raleigh XXIX; we stayed with John’s high school friend in Athens and recently John went to ride the Bike Odyssey route in Greece; Owen sold Lael her first upright touring bars, some secondhand On-One Mary cruisers which we used to replace the drop bars on her LHT; Cass and I have crossed paths more than a few times, dating back to the summer of 2009 in Alaska; and, I believe, I was present to witness Nancy’s first day of her first bike tour, as two inches of snow fell while we climbed up Lynx Pass on the Great Divide Route in October.  It is a motley crew of bike people, and although we’ve never lived in Santa Fe, it the nearest thing we have to a bike family outside of Anchorage.  

Returning the car to the Tucson airport, I put my bike back together and head back to the AZT to reride some of the smoothest trail on the route, from I-10 back to Tucson.  Did I mention I’ve rented a car twice in my life, both times from the Tucson Airport, within a period of three months this summer?  I connected with my friend Dusty from Anchorage while in Tucson, and spent a few days riding local tech trails and buff singletrack circuits.  Dusty is the other half of the Revelate Designs team in Anchorage, although it seems most of his time is spent climbing Denali and grooming himself for shots in the Patagonia catalog.  Dusty is like the Tasmanian Devil on a bike, and likes to bump and jump everything on the trail.  I witnessed no less than three encounters with cactus in two days.  Several days prior he landed on his elbow while accidentally riding a trail in wilderness on Mt. Lemmon.  He required stitches, and was rock climbing within days.  

After a week with some of Lael’s extended family in the Phoenix area, we flew to Ottawa to visit my family in Northern New York for Thanksgiving.  There, we helped them move into a new house and enjoyed the company of my family for several weeks.  The constant passing of freighters on the St. Lawrence River is endlessly entertaining, especially as boats the size of small cities pass in the night.  From the right vantage it is hard to tell if the house is moving to the side, or if a ship is passing.  The low rumble of massive propellers warns of a passing vessel before it arrives.  I grew up in Central New York, my parents later moved to Northern New York, and they’ve moved once again further north, now about one mile from the Canadian border.

Lael received a new bicycle from Advocate Cycles while in New York.  It arrived the day before we planned to leave NY.  Her blue Raleigh was donated to our friend James in Flagstaff, who has since repaired a hole in the frame, repainted it white, and purchased a new suspension fork and luggage.  The Specialized Era was quickly sold before leaving Phoenix, the transaction taking place out front of a Trader Joe’s just two hours before leaving the state.  She was happily without a bike for two weeks,  a needed break after her year long riding binge.  The new bike, a marvelous mid-fat steel machine, will be perfect for our exploits in Baja.  

The Advocate Cycles Hayduke is a 27.5+ hardtail with a 120mm Rock Shox Reba fork, WTB Scraper rims, and an 11-speed GX1drivetrain.  Aside from a few simple modifications, the stock bike is prime to shred Baja’s mountainous backroads and sandy desert tracks.  The 27.5×3.0” tires— effectively the same outside diameter as 29×2.3” tires, thus interchangeable— grant unique abilities without the debilitating heft of a true fatbike wheel.  In short, it’s kind of a fatbike that rides like a mountain bike, or it’s a trail-oriented mountain bike which floats over loose rocks and soft sand.  Aside from the difference in wheel size— 27.5×3” vs 29×2.4”— Lael and I are riding remarkably similar bikes.  My pink Meriwether can fit 27.5+ wheels and Lael’s Hayduke can take 29×2.4” Ardents.  That versatility is one of the main features of the new crop of 27.5+ hardtails— they’re also 29ers!  

Leaving New York, we catch a ride down the coast to Baltimore, Washington D.C., and nearby Alexandria, VA where my sister now lives.  After a brief visit and a cold crosstown commute in the rain, we board our $100 flight west to San Diego.

We arrive in San Diego after a night in the Denver airport with our sleeping bags, greeted by warm sunny weather.  We reassemble our bikes and gear outside the airport and pedal across town to visit Lael’s godmother in Coronado.  There, we photocopy, cut, and paste maps; downloads digital basemaps to our Garmin; and generally prepare our bikes and equipment for several months of travel.  

We roll south out of Coronado on bike paths, through Chula Vista, and over Otay Mountain on a dirt road used most often by border patrol agents.  We descent to Tecate and cross into Mexico.  I have a series of potential routes down the peninsula, which we hope to weave into a pleasant journey and a route which we can share with others.  We traveled here five years ago, enjoying our first extended off-pavement rides on drop bars and medium wide 1.75” Schwalbe Marathon tires.  This time, we come prepared.  And even through the peninsula is crossed with fascinating routes well documented by the moto crowd, any search for bikepacking routes in Baja come up short.  We hope to change that. 

By now, now that the dust from this long summer season has settled, we’re pedaling along the Pacific Coast or the Sea of Cortez, or camping under millions of blistering stars enjoying long winter nights and a caguama of Tecate.  Considering that recovery is still a priority, especially for Lael, this is how we know to do it best.  Thirteen, fourteen hour nights will do that.

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Arizona

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Lael’s AZT750 rig, a Specialized Era Expert, fully loaded for freezing nights and the requisite food, water, and tools.  Despite her continued breathing issues, the bike and all systems were nearly perfect, including the 14L Osprey backpack for the Grand Canyon hike with the bike on her back.  I’m planning a brief feature of her Tour Divide and AZT bikes, for those that are interested in such details.  

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Flying the drone.

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Eric made this lovely framebag for the Era. This new fabric looks like it belongs in a menswear line.

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Afraid of the long, dark nights in late October, we devised what we consider to be the best and most reliable combination of lighting for this particular event, including a k-Lite 1000 lumen dynamo light and a 320 lumen Black Diamond Icon Polar  The Icon is an ultra-bright headlamp which takes 4 AA batteries and pushes out max light for 7-8 hours, enough for a full night of riding on spring or fall ultra events.  The Poler version includes an extension cord with a threaded attachment, allowing the battery pack to be stored in a pocket while in use (thus, not on the helmet), and it can be removed entirely during the day.  Only the lightweight head unit stays on the helmet.

The k-Lite puts out considerably more light than my Supernova E3 Triple.  Most importantly, it performs much better at slow speeds, pushing out more light while riding at walking speeds, with less flickering.  The standlight also puts out some usable light, whereas the Supernova fails to put out anything useful.  The quality and construction of Kerry’s lights are impressive.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t integrate this light into Lael’s new bike, as the Hayduke comes with Boost spacing.  An SP Boost dynamo hub is due out soon. 

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New Mexico

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Just enough time to shoot some interviews and some riding, and just enough time to ride and dine with friends for a few nights.  Thanks to John and Jeremy for a warm house for the weekend!  

We enjoyed a little of each of Santa Fe’s trail systems, including a jaunt into the local backcountry to ride the “Secret Trail” with Cass, Rusty, and Jeremy.

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Outside of the Whole Foods, we meet a young cyclist from CA named Chris.  He was beginning a brief tour down to El Paso.  He had managed to strap a full re-usable shopping bag under his seat as an impromptu seatpack.  We offered to let him borrow Lael’s cavernous Tour Divide seatbag for the trip.  Chris has some photos from his trip on his Flickr account

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Arizona

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Back in Tucson, ripping trails with Dusty for a few days, before riding back to Phoenix to try to sell Lael’s bike and prepare for our flight east.

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Back to Phoenix.

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New York

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Our brief time in New York— sadly, too late for the leaves (or the apples) to still be on the trees— is much overdue.  I hadn’t been home to visit in over two years.  We helped my parents move into a new house on Wellesley Island on the St. Lawrence River, which connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a massive river famed for the Thousand Islands region, notable for over 1800 islands amidst swirling currents and historic homes, dating from a time when the East Coast and nearby Watertown were booming.  Lots of large commercial vessels travel this river.

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We mostly spend time off the bike while in NY, although we did get out for a few brief rides.  Lael is on my dad’s old Specialized Hardrock.  It’s a good bike, but it makes you appreciate the features on even our less than space age touring bikes.

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On Thanksgiving Day we volunteered with a group of employees and families at the hospital where my dad works to prepare and deliver over 300 meals to local families.  The food was prepared by the time we all arrived in the morning, but it was our job to portion and package it for delivery.  

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Finally, the day before leaving NY, Lael’s bike arrives.

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About the first thing she says to me: “There’s a new sheriff in town!”  Those 27.5×3.0” tires certainly miniaturize the appearance of my once voluminous 2.4” Ardents.  We plan to replace the ultralight stock Panasonic Fat B Nimble tires with some Specialized Ground Control tires weighing about 200 grams more, per tire.  The extra weight will be well worth it on a two month trip the desert.

There is always a learning curve when riding a new bike.  At first, it did feel a bit strange.  Once we swapped handlebars, stem, and seatpost, things got better.

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Baltimore

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Washington D.C.

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California

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We spend a few days with Lael’s godmother Jacklyn in Coronado, including a few trips to the beach between planning and preparing for Baja.  Both bikes get bottle cages on the fork and a couple of packable bladders in the framebag.  We install luggage and new tires on Lael’s bike, and a Salsa Anything Cage to the underside of the donwtube.  Why doesn’t the Hayduke come with a mount for a bottle cage or a Salsa AC down there?  Why do many steel Surly and Salsa models also fail to include this simple feature?  The world may never know.  

Specialized 27×3.0” Ground Control tires set-up tubeless perfectly on WTB Scraper rims, with a floor pump.  I used Gorilla brand clear repair tape for the first time.  It seems well suited to the application, and is perfectly sized for the WTB Scraper rims.  I had to use a razor to score the roll of tape for my 35mm rim.

Hose clamps keep the Anything Cage in place.  It will be used to hold a 64 oz. Klean Kanteen, as I have been doing for many years now.  This is the first time Lael has the extra capacity.

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Riding to step aerobics with Jacklyn.

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Our route out of San Diego includes a segment over Otay Mountain on dirt roads.  It is a stunning 3000ft climb to the top of the mountain, and a fast descent back to paved road 94 on the other side.  The result is a short paved ride to Tecate from San Diego.

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Baja California, Mexico!

By now, we’ve crossed the border and pedaled a week into Baja, and touched both coastlines after our inland crossing at Tecate.  Thus far, I can highly recommending crossing at Tecate compared to Tijuana or Mexicali. Tecate is a small pleasant city.  As soon as we crossed we passed a shaded park full of men playing cards.  Last time we crossed into Tijuana we saw a guy stab himself in his calf with a needle soon after crossing.  We connected to dirt roads about 20 miles out of Tecate.

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