• Follow my "Spot Dot" on the Arizona Trail

    On Saturday, September 22 I’ll embark on a bikepacking tour of the Arizona Trail. That morning, the map below ought to begin to track my progress every five minutes. It’s always energizing (and a comfort) to know that I’ll have some friends along for the ride – albeit via satellite. For more detail about the terrain I’ll be traveling, and my likely stops along the way, download a map of my route and the corresponding elevation relief.

  • Packing for the Arizona Trail

    Writing out the details of my bikepacking gear is just as much an exercise in thoroughness as it is an opportunity to share knowledge. Plus, I’ve always wanted to take one of those pre-bikepacking, OCD-esque gear layout photos. Readers, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email if you see that I’m missing something!

  • Gazing at the Moon from the Arizona Trail

    I’m currently wrapping up a read of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, a poetic chronicle of the Mercury Seven astronauts. If you haven’t read the book you’ve probably seen the 1983 movie of the same name. Who can forget Ed Harris’s portrayal of John Glenn, the “Boy Scout” astronaut and first American to orbit the planet? How about Sam Shepard’s swaggering Chuck Yeager, the first man to scream through the upper atmosphere and break the sound barrier (while recovering from a couple of broken ribs and nursing a hangover from the night before no less)? The right stuff, writes Tom Wolfe, is something “a man either had or didn’t! There was no such thing as having most of it.”

  • Tour Divide Journal

    I had originally intended to transcribe my Tour Divide journal entries onto the web, editing along the way, but I thought it might be a little more authentic to put them up “as is.” My handwriting is mostly legible – to me, at least. It has been fun to read through the experience and remember just how challenging, inspring, and transformative it was. Keep on truckin’!

  • Rolling on the River

    The last time I saw Matt Beedle was a dozen years ago at his wedding. I was a newlywed myself and Kate was pregnant with Luke at the time. My third year of seminary was about to start and, as such, Matt and Amy figured I had been trained up enough to preach the homily. If I recall, the Gospel that day was the story of the transfiguration on the mountaintop – a fitting theme for our relationship.

  • Susitna 100 Live Track

    Join my buddy Matthew Beedle and me for our ride in the Susitna 100! A live track of our ride will be displayed below beginning at 9:00 a.m. Alaska Standard Time on February 17, 2018 (that’s 12 p.m. for my Arkansas friends). Matt and I passed the mandatory gear check last night. We had to have our survival essentials inspected by the race crew: -20 sleeping bag, bivy sack, foam sleeping pad, headlamp, flashing light, 64oz water carry capacity, and 3000-6000 calories of food. Our bikes are assembled and ready to go! Read more about our gear here.

  • Chocolate and Ashes

    [by Kate Alexander] It’s a little strange that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day share the same day, which doesn’t happen very often. It’s not quite as strange as Easter and April Fool’s Day coming on the same day this year. But that’s a problem for a later sermon. Today we stick with what Hallmark and the church give us - a mash up of chocolate and ashes, love and mortality. Picture pastel candy hearts that normally say things like “Be mine” sporting a more Lenten message, like “Ashes to ashes.”

  • Susitna 100 Gear Roundup

    I can’t say that riding my fatbike 100 miles through Alaska’s frozen wilderness is something I had always dreamed of doing. I mean, until a couple of years ago I didn’t even know that was something you could. do. The larger question, I suppose, is why the idea of doing it crept into my psyche and took up permanent residence. It’s cold in Alaska – the temperatures in February can get down into the double-digit negatives. The riding conditions can vary wildly, from solid ice to slushy snow melt to fluffy powder. The gear is expensive and cumbersome – one studded tire for a fat bike costs over $200! So, what’s the deal? Is extreme winter fat biking fun or is it folly?

  • The Epic Connector

    Ever since I heard about the Womble Trail I wanted to ride it. Those familiar with the world of mountain biking know that the Womble is a legendary IMBA Epic route, considered to be “immersive, technically and physically challenging, beautiful to behold and worthy of celebration.” It’s a 33-mile stretch of almost uninterrupted singletrack that traverses the southern part of the Ouachita National Forest. A friend of mine once suggested that the creator of the Womble must have been a genius. Despite the nearly 6000 feet of climbing, a rider is able to stay on the bike and keep pace for virtually the entire length of the trail. It’s an expertly graded, smooth, “flowy” ride.

  • Modding a 4Runner - Tech Nerd Style

    I splurged the other day and bought a Toyota 4Runner. And, yes, I had to perform some challenging mental gymnastics to go through with the purchase (#familyadventurevehicle #robustbikehauler #goanywheredoanything #tiredoftheminivan #midlifecrisis), but once I did the deed, I’m really enjoying the ride.

  • Big Loop. Bigger Loop.

    Big Loop hits on some of the most scenic roads in the Lake Sylvia/Lake Winona area. Unique to Big Loop in this route collection is a southern patchwork of trails and roads that, taken counter-clockwise, follow a long ridge descending to the south shore of Lake Winona. There are a number of excellent established campsites on this ridge allowing the a bikepacker to wake up to beautiful views of the southern Ouachitas.

  • The Skinny

    The Skinny gets its name from the shape of the route if viewed from above. It’s long east to west and narrow north to south. It’s also the quickest way to get out to The Perfect Campsite. And if you’re looking to camp somewhere a a little less exposed you can try out the campsite on The Perfect Road. I dont know why it took me so long to discover this gem. The “PR” takes a more northerly path, cutting out the Reform Road rock garden featured in the other Sylvia routes. Instead, you get a flowy cruise down some double track. Best to ride this one counter-clockwise.

  • Viles Branch Trail

    The “B” in “B Road” stands for Bikepacking! Fellow adventurer, Phil Scalfano, and I confirmed that while exploring the Viles Branch Trail. The VBT is a 26-mile hiking/biking/equestrian loop in a remote section of the southern Ouachita National Forest. If you are familiar with the storied Eagle Rock Loop hiking trail, the VBT follows and crosses it on several occasions. The route offers varied terrain, ranging from smooth dirt roads to near bushwhacking. You’re guaranteed to get your feet wet too. The picturesque Little Missouri river must be forded no fewer than four times!

  • Food

    ”Food is mood.” When you’re out in the woods burning more calories in a day than you typically do in a week at your day job, it’s vital that you have a reliable way to fuel back up. The dreaded “bonk” (total glycogen depletion) isn’t something only distance runners and cyclists have to contend with, it can be a reality for hikers too. And the best way to deal with a bonk is not to have one in the first place. Not only do your legs turn to rubber but your attitude can take a nose dive. It’s right around the bonk zone that people make the rash decision to throw in the towel when all they really need is some good sleep, a few encouraging words from a fellow hiker, and (most important) a couple boxes of Velveeta Shells and Cheese.

  • Water Purification

    I learned a hard lesson my first day on the Appalachian Trail. The plan was to summit Katahadin and then hike back down to Daicey Pond Campgound. It was about a 13-mile proposition in all, though, it turns out that an ascent of Katahadin is no walk in the park, especially if you severely under estimate how much water you should take! I’m embarrassed to say that I only took one measly liter. Total noob mistake.

  • Things You Might Bring Camping

    I’ve decided to try my hand at drawing. In anticipation of using these drawings in a larger project I’m working on, I’m building a “things you might bring camping” series. Here are a few essentials.

  • Thunder on the Mountain

    [by Harrison Maddox] The weather forecast heading into the weekend wasn’t promising: rain was a sure thing and thunderstorms were a near certainty. But when you plan a bikepacking trip a month in advance, schedules are shuffled, accommodations are made, excitement builds. Though there was some uneasiness about our impending trip, it was pretty clear that none of us were bailing on this one.

  • Bikepacking Japan

    [by Harrison Maddox] It’s 5:45 p.m. on a Friday in downtown Tokyo and I’m lurching down the bustling sidewalk with 50-pound box packed with my bicycle and everything I’ll need for a ten-day ride around Japan. I know I’m looking for Sophiearth Hostel, but I have only the faintest idea how to get there (think cardinal directions). Cell service is nil, as expected — the nearest T-mobile cell tower is an ocean away. I stop every few hundred feet to get my bearings by cross-referencing the screenshot I took of a map pinpointing the hostel and the tourist map I have, and to give my shoulders and arms a break from the heavy load.

  • Adventure, Courtesy of the Forest Service

    There’s something about a topographical map that gets me in the mood for an adventure. More than a typical highway map, a topo goes off road, detailing the hidden valleys and mountain passes accessible only to those willing to brave the briars on foot — or fatbike. Half the fun of an adventure is the anticipation of it anyway, and a poring over a topo map starts you dreaming about what’s possible.

  • Idling with Phil

    Each year Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock holds a parish retreat. We pack up the boardgames, books, and kids and head up to Petit Jean Mountain for a little R & R with good folks and food. There is always a teaching component built in to the weekend schedule usually with a topic of current personal interest to a member of the clergy. And this year, fresh off his sabbatical in the UK, the rector introduced us to a little-known gem he discovered: The Idler Academy.

  • Camp Harrison

    Gotta love the Ouachita National Forest! Here’s another route that leaves from the Lake Sylvia Campground parking lot — just 45 minutes from Little Rock off Highway 9/10. It’s kind of a “greatest hits” route with varied terrain and a campsite that rivals “the perfect campsite.”

  • Look who's laughing now, clown!

    After successfully running tubeless tires on my Salsa Fargo for many miles, I have fully embraced the tubeless movement. I had only ONE flat on the entire 2700-mile Tour Divide last year, and that happened just 300 miles from Antelope Wells (the sealant held the puncture until 40 miles from the finish, when I finally threw in a tube). These days it’s actually hard to ignore the merits of “going tubeless.” Not only do you virtually eliminate flats, but you also get better traction and are generally able to run your tires at a lower pressure, allowing for a smoother ride over bumpy terrain.

  • A Birthday in the Clouds

    “Now that’s a water source right there,” said Sam as we sped over Bread Creek. That was the fourth or fifth creek that Sam had designated a “water source” after only twenty miles or so of twisting, turning, and climbing through the backroads around Lake Sylvia. It’s not that he was running out of water. We had only been out for a couple hours. No, like any good gear connoisseur, he was just itching to break in his brand new Grail water filter. So far it had only filtered water out of the tap at the bike shop, which is kind of an insult to the capabilities of such a fine piece of engineering. The Grail was practically begging to work its magic on the latest nano strain of water-borne bacteria. It was a “gear shakedown” ride after all, and each of us was sporting some untried bikepacking contraption.

  • Disappearing Trails and Riders

    I woke up this morning shaking. Yesterday’s raw introduction to the Tour Divide was having its consequences. But if I lingered in my sleeping bag too long, continuing to circularly debate the sanity of this trip, I’d miss my jump on the day. It always helps the mental game when you can knock off some significant mileage before lunch. So, I psyched myself up, put on wet socks and bike shorts, then spent way too long packing up my bike. There’s got to be an easier way to do this!

  • Why are you afraid?

    I think a number of Tour Divide riders experience fear at some point along their journey. And I mean genuine fear, not just your basic worry about strange noises coming from your bike, nagging saddle sores, or the possibility of having consumed contaminated water. I mean fear for your life. It could be a chance encounter with the local fauna. I met one rider who got close enough to a grizzly to have to use bear spray. The bear was charging her, and at the last minute she was able to spray and deter the bear, just feet away, and seconds from being mauled. She also got a dose of bear spray in her face. Or, just as deadly, an attack by the flora. I talked to a north-bounder who was knocked out cold by a falling limb. When he came to it took him a panicked few minutes to remember where he was. We spoke three days after the incident. He still seemed dazed. For me, real fear struck in southern Colorado, about four miles from the top of Indiana Pass. The weather gods took the opportunity to remind me of their presence, and of their power.

  • N34° 49.273' W93° 01.518', aka The Perfect Campsite

    So, I was reading the latest copy of Adventure Cyclist, and I came across an article by Brendan Leonard titled “Island Hopping in Arctic Norway: How far are you willing to go for the perfect campsite?” Apparently there’s this cultural tradition in Norway called allemannstretten. I have no idea how to pronounce it, but you could translate it as “right to access.” Basically, as long as you stay away from cultivated land and are at least 150 meters away from buildings, you can set up a tent and camp. Cool! This tradition inspired Leonard and a cycling companion to set out on a quest. They would bike-tour the Lofoton Islands in Norway in search of the perfect campsite.

  • Wheel Builders and Plumbers

    A bike shop owner once told me that when he first got into the business he had dreams of building wheels all the time. Sam had learned the art from a master wheel builder and had grown to appreciate the care and skill that went into the practice. A quarter turn here, an eighth of a turn there — tension, dish, true — tension, dish, true. “It’s almost meditative,” he said. “Kind of one of those flow things.” He learned pretty quickly, however, that the fast-paced reality of bike shop ownership didn’t allow for the necessary time and quiet that quality wheel building deserves. “Plus, it’s quite a bit cheaper these days to order a machine-built wheel. And they may be cheaper,” he added, “but not nearly as well built!”

  • JayP's Good Advice

    I feel better now. Today was baptism by fire. Brutal uphills, endless hike-a-bikes, treacherous downhills, sleet, rain, mud, you name it. Bear scat everywhere too. What is this? The Tour Divide or something?! I made it to the campsite at Weary Creek (aptly named, I think). Not my goal destination but not too shabby for the first day either. I was absolutely TOAST when I got here. Knee issues and nausea (the tuna at lunch did me wrong). Just plain worn out.

  • Tupac in Banff

    I woke up early this morning and had to wait for Starbucks to open. And tomorrow, the day of the race, I’ll probably do the same. I’ve got to get my fill of good coffee before I’m stuck with “Starbucks Vias!” At least I’ll have those, I guess. I didn’t make much of an effort to taper before the trip and a little early morning caffeine on the trail is worth the weight of my MSR Pocket Rocket and fuel canister (Who cares what the “weight weenies” say out there!).

  • Discovering My People

    After a long flight and some fretting about my bike making the connections, I am finally here in Banff, Alberta at the YWCA, the official lodging for Tour Divide riders. It’s a little surreal to actually be breathing the crisp, clean, Canadian air. It smells like the coniferous forests of Southeast Alaska I remember from my childhood—a little wild.

  • Sylvia 70

    [by Matt Murphy] Going in a clockwise direction, this route starts with a climb of over two miles which will get your legs warmed up! There is a brief bit of downhill before you turn and tackle the most technical climb of the entire ride. This one mile climb is deeply rutted and chunky in spots. On the backside of this climb is a technical downhill with rock gardens and some deep ruts. At approximately mile 7 you will be dumped out on the autotour route. You then have approximately 20 miles of rollers with a gradual increase in overall elevation (more up than down).

  • Sylvia 50

    Sylvia 50 is a mostly mellow dirt road cruiser. No crazy hike-a-bikes on this one, but there are a couple of steep and loose downhills to watch out for. The real draw on this ride is the quick access to fantastic views. Look for the awesome camp site with a fire ring when you get to 1650 feet. It’s about 26.5 miles in if you’re going counter-clockwise.

  • Sylvia 57

    Much of the road system at Lake Sylva is a Forest Service “auto tour” route that winds through some of the Ouachita’s most scenic sections. This network of dirt roads includes opportunities for just about any kind of bikepacking you’re up for.

  • Tour Divide

    The Tour Divide is a 2700 mile off-road race from Banff in Alberta, Canada to the US/Mexico border crossing at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The race is self-supported and loosely organized, which adds to its allure. Participants are invited to show up in Banff on the second Friday in June to begin the race.

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