Lessons Learned

We each want to progress, to learn and improve.  Each generation is not only lucky enough to build upon the efforts of those before us, but we too act, practice and refine our thoughts, our crafts, and our lives to be more in line with an evolving world view.  As climbers and adventurers we strike off, in an effort to learn more about life by experiencing it in extremes.  As we scratch the surface, the experiences call us back again and again, and soon we become more proficient and comfortable with the logistics, trouble, and physical hardship that often go along with these trips.  We learn from friends and relatives, books and movies, and of course our own personal adventures.  Certain disciplines call us, whether it be bouldering or alpine climbing, creek-boating or surfing, as the specialists we are we devour this lifestyle completely, striving to understand every angle and aspect of it’s execution.  Along the way we come to understand more about ourselves and the world, and subsequently the relationship between each.

This concept of bicycle-powered adventure is not new, and there are seemingly more and more resources appearing every day on it’s subject.  While I do not claim much experience from my limited adventures, from the meager amount I’ve learned along the way, I do wish to add my voice to the chorus of encouragement.  Truth is this is all still so new to me, and although we’ve been living the bicycle-life for about two and a half years, I constantly find myself exploring new aspects that keep it fresh, challenging, and exciting.  This was the first trip I’ve ever done that involved skis, only the second that involved snow, and the first that involved multiple stages of shipping gear.  In an effort to clear away some of the confusion, and help with the logistics of your own ride, I wanted to share as much of this knowledge as I can, in hopes that you’ll be able to take it one step farther, while doing it easier.  While in no way comprehensive, chronological, or even ordered, what’s below is one part trip report, one part advice, and three parts rambling rhetoric, enjoy.

First off, lets make one thing clear, this is not advice on a bicycle tour.  I’d like to think I have some sort of experience in that field but I don’t really think what we’re doing is bicycle touring, and in reality I could probably learn a lot by simply riding my bicycle somewhere with nothing but the bare essentials.  No, this is some sort of bike-to-climb or bike-to-ski expedition where we cover far fewer miles than many bicycle tourists, while carrying with us a ridiculous amount of gear.  While the purpose of our riding is not necessarily intrinsic in an of itself, and sometimes the pedaling might not be any more than just a means to an end, we’re always enjoying the ride, even if our greater purpose is to climb or ski, ours is a bicycle life and we’re learning to embrace it.  Riding your bike is a liberating, child-like experience, and if I didn’t climb or ski I’d still be out there rolling around, but there is no way around the simple fact that hauling all of this gear around is hard work.  It can be slow, painful, and at times grueling and miserable, but in the end, the bike rolls, and when you find your stride, you find that the bike wants to ride, it wants to be free, and if you help cut through any of the B.S. that’s holding it back, you’ll feel it too.

At its core, the concept for this style of climbing, this style of bicycle-touring, this lifestyle, evolved from the fundamental ethos of alpine climbing, which, generally accepted is a style of mountaineering which is self-sufficient, minimalist and low-impact.  It usually involves carrying all of the food, shelter, and equipment you need as you climb.  In a phrase, light and fast.  My love for longer traditionally protected routes and alpine rock climbing eventually lead me to the realization that alpine style doesn’t have to be limited to the alps, or to a style of climbing only found in the greater ranges of the world.  Alpinism doesn’t suddenly begin when you’re deposited on a glacier at the foot of a mountain, it doesn’t start when you get out of your car, at the trailhead, or even when you finally get above tree-line.  For me, this concept of every-day alpinism evolved into a reality two summers ago here in Leavenworth when Liz and I started using our bikes to access the plethora of cragging and alpine rock climbing that lay just outside of town.  I soon realized that this concept could be pushed further than I had previously imagined, and that it can be adapted to fit any scope you choose.  Got an afternoon to do a lap on your project?  Seems like a quick mission when you drive to the crag and fire it off, but start from your doorstep with a bike and you’ve just made it alpine style.  Missing that one ingredient for the dinner party?  Sure, you could run down to the store in the car or even on your bike, but by purposefully dehydrating yourself and making the 3 mile, 25 degree trip in flip flops and a tank top, you’re making that shit alpine style!

This is the core of every-day alpinism, or bicycle alpinism, or whatever the hell I’m calling this idea.

Climbing is a contrivance, and I mean that in the way that it is the use of a skill to create something, something that has an aspect of artificiality.  I’m saying this because we create our climbs, we chose the style we climb and live in.  We chose to put ourselves into situations of fear and danger for the rewards of satisfaction, vitality, and the unparalleled experience in the mountains.  The style we chose dictates our experience, and whether we chose to climb with direct aid, totally free, or somewhere in between, we’re signing ourselves up for the adventure.  By employing the use of fossil fueled transportation into our climbing, we immediately downgrade it’s severity and level of commitment.  Sure, from this standpoint it’s easy to scoff at most any major climbing achievement in history, but it really is quite sobering to consider all of these climbs, their parties, where they started, and how much industrialized transportation went into the summit.  For the most part, it’s well over 90% before you get to the nitty gritty, down in the dirt, snow, ice and cold, hands and feet, climbing.  But that’s why we’re here, each generation is able to build on that which has come before.  So while we may not be able to climb any higher, and many of the most plum lines on the most impressive rock formations the world over have all seen ascents, we may be able to figure out how to do it in better style, a style that conveys our deep respect and connection with our climbs, the mountains, and the Earth.

I know I’m getting a little deep here with all of this heady eco-revolution shit, so I’ll try and wrap it all up.  The evolution of “clean climbing” is such that we have become able to do incredibly technical rock , snow and ice climbing with an amazingly little amount of gear.  The reason this is significant is it enables us to go much further and faster then ever.  As a climber I’ve internalized this concept of clean climbing as an evolution, and amidst today’s significant threats to our environment and atmosphere, I have to come to think it laughable for climbers to be still debating over the style and ethics of their ascents.  No mountain has ever seemed to really be bothered by having a ¼ inch bolt drilled into it.  Mountains as a whole however, appear to melting due to our over consumption of fossil fuels, which is in part due to our driving and traveling to climb mountains.  Style and ethics anyone?

This understanding has lead me to attempt and adapt my lifestyle to have the least impact, in a way, to make it like I am always in an “alpine” state of mind.  Thus the bike, and my first lesson: light is right.

 

Leaving SLC

When we left Salt Lake City, Liz, JB and I each had over 70 lbs of gear.  We had much more weight than that, with food, cloths, sleeping bags, and at times up to 8 litres of water apiece.  While we never weighed any of our gear previous to the trip, we know it was at least this much because that’s how much weight we each individually shipped off over the course of the trip.  When we began, we had enough climbing gear for a party of three which included all our personal gear (shoes, harness, chalk-bags, P.A.S.) as well as a slimmed down double rack, draws, and two ropes (single and half).  Additionally we were carrying ski gear which included gear for hard snow (crampons and axes), this is all on top of our camping “necessities” which included 3 tents, 2 stoves, and solar panels for charging cameras and such.  Needless to say we quickly realized we were in a little over our heads.  Personally, for me, this hit home somewhere in the extreme desolation north of the Great Salt Lake, where there is little to no potable water, and the combination of dirt roads, high winds, and outstanding loads conspired to limit our days travel to a mere 25 miles.  Coupled with the fact that my achilles was rebelling against the rest of my body after being locked up in a ski boot for the last 6 months, and I was seriously reconsidering our plan.

 

Leaving Ogden

One way to carry your skis…

… and another

1st night’s camp, in a cow-pasture, about to get shit on.

Stopping with the trailer can be tedious and frustrating, the ski-pole-stand came in handy.

Tent city, somewhere north of the Salt Lake.

After we made it to the City of Rocks we relaxed, spread out, and made excellent use of our climbing gear, cragging for four days among the boulders, pinnacles, and towers of that alien landscape.  Life was made even easier by the fact that we had recruited Liz’s family to bring along a small re-stock of supplies when they came up for the weekend, our 4-day epic being only a few hour drive from Salt Lake. 

 

Energy.

Resting, another night in a pasture, this one for horses and had some nice grass, minus the poo.

JB starting things off in COR

Glad to have the chamois off and lettin’ it all hang out.

Liz getting some.

We made plans to ditch all of our technical climbing gear when we got to Twin Falls, which, it turned out, was physically a great deal farther then the 70 or so miles indicated on the map.  A strong storm hit our camp overnight after leaving the City, ensuring we ride the remaining 30-40 miles in a mixture of cold rain and snow, on dirt roads.  After suffering through the brunt of it, the constant wind and my soaking cloths reduced my body to a shriveled and shivering relic of its former self.  Thankfully Calvin, the mechanical bull-ride guru, recognized our plight and hooked us up with a ride the rest of the way into town.  Spirits were high as I shivered myself into a coma lying on his plush cowhides. 

Twin Falls was the sight of our first Great Purge.  After exploding our soaking gear in a cheap motel, we evaluated and prioritized, it was time for some shit to go. 

In order to leave SL with all of this stuff, we had to employ the use of both a full set of panniers, as well as single-wheeled trailers to hold additional gear.  To me, it was clear that the trailer had to go, it was simply dead weight being pulled around.  In reality, you could do the either-or thing, just not both.  I simply like the balance and feel of a loaded bicycle, and believe the trailer is a bit of a hassle and quite cumbersome when it comes to touring and camping.  Luckily, my teammates agreed and we managed to ditch about 40lbs each including each of our trailers, all of the technical climbing gear, an extensive repair kit, some of our medical supplies, non-essential cook wear and ski gear etc.  This left us with a slimmed down kit that included the bare-minimum for the road ahead:  skis, boots, poles, skins, ski crampons, and helmets.  While the helmets came with us everywhere for obvious reasons, we also managed to slim down our clothing kit appreciably, although this made a big difference I was sure to purchase a few extra layers (winter-style cycling pants and shoe covers) to ensure an added level of protection should we be stranded in the rain/snow again.  Bottom line: be prepared, it gets real out there.

 

42.10 lbs, that one was mine.  Ouch.

 

While it does sacrifice some stand-over clearance, this is the best way to carry your skis.  Sandwich the top-tube, keep the tips far enough back so they don’t mess with the cables or stem, and use voile straps wisely, a little bit of padding on the back rack kept the rattling at bay.

Light as feathers, we darted off from TF to the mountains, with the savings in weight allowing us to extend our daily miles to well over 50 on some occasions.  This kit served us well throughout the rest of the trip, and enabled us to ski some radical descents and summit one mountain.  None of us had ever been to the mountains of Central Idaho, and while our gear was sufficient for ski touring objectives and scrambling through third class terrain, the Sawtooths are an incredible impressive and gnarly range, and in some ways we would have been well served to have a little bit of additional rack to employ in summiting or accessing more advanced terrain, which brings me to my next point, the ideal kit.

 

The only people with less than us were jumping off this bridge.

Space Monkey Mahem

Gear today is literally space age.  If NASA were to find a volcano on Mars covered with snow that astronauts had to explore, I’m pretty sure they’d be up there on some rando-race style skis with tech bindings and lightweight boots.  This gear really enables you to go farther, faster, deeper, and come back with more energy.  While each of us had relatively lightweight gear, with skis in the 6lb range, bindings in the 2lb range, and boots in the 3lb range, it would be possible to go significantly lighter in order to add items like a small rack of passive protection and a short length of skinny rope.  Sure, you’d be sacrificing ski-ability for climb-ability, but it’s all about what you want to do.  Depending on your destination, the season, and your objectives, a pure climbing kit, like the one we brought to Zion, might be in order.  

As a side note, at it’s heart, I still believe this is a blog about simplicity, and while I’m not advocating for you to go out and buy 10 grand worth of ski-mo race gear, titanium cam’s, or goose down everything, I can and do appreciate where the technical improvements in our recreational gear has gotten us. 

That said, the options are endless, looking to climb some peaks or perhaps a technical route in spring conditions?  Maybe leather boots and silvrettas are the way to go.  Just wanting to do some mellow corn skiing off of the pass a few days before it’s opened up to vehicle travel?  Why not take your heavy-duty boards so you can rip the line like you know you want.  Heading off for a long weekend at Maple?  Your in luck, you can take the train half-way from SLC, and you’ll be flying light with a rack of draws, rope, shoes, and harness.  When it comes time and you’re trying to personally tailor a trip to your home range, perhaps the kit falls somewhere in between.  Like I said, it’s all about style.

 

Camp at Prairie Creek

While in the mountains, the gear we brought enabled us to summit and ski the 3rd highest peak in the Smoky Mountains, Norton Peak.  Norton sits on the divide of Mill and Prairie Creek at the head of these two drainage’s that offer excellent skiing in all directions.  This area appeared relatively mellow as to technical difficulty in the surrounding peaks, and while we put our skis on our backs for a few sections of ridge-walking, the difficulty never really got above low-3rd class, and even that was our own contrivance to stay on the ridge. 

Ridge-walking in the Smoky’s

Further north, however, the Sawtooth range offers ascents of a much higher level of difficulty.  The Sawtooths are an incredibly craggy, convoluted, and impressive mountain range that rival most others in relief and exposure.  Summiting here is no walk in the park and the one mountain we did get on, Heyburn, had a summit that was protected by a short, easy, 5th class section.  Easy or not, having sacrificed the rope for skis meant that our technical climbing was limited, and we passed on the summit for another day. 

 

The bike and Redfish Lake, Grand Mogul in the back.

Camp at Little Redfish Lake.  The most beautiful thing about bicycle touring is the ability to sneak off the side of the road unnoticed, and camp out in complete solitude.

Ours were the only tracks in the area.

Camp at Upper Bench Lake, our only night on snow.

Warm = Happy.  Pack accordingly for the time of year, spring and fall trips can be cold and you’ll be glad if you bring a big puffy and a warm bag.

Steep and awesome.  Heyburn’s North Couloir.

After skiing Heyburn we rode into Stanley as hero’s.   With a warm welcome from the town we were able to regroup and make preparations for an attempt on McGown.  The next day however, a change in the weather (rapid warming and rain) lead to increased instabilities in the snowpack and our immediate departure. 

 

Another way to do it…

Stanley.

There are only a few souls lucky enough to call this place home, we were happy to share in their good fortune for a night.

On the ride down to Boise we were lucky enough to sample some of Idaho’s famous hot springs and scenic rivers.  Hot water, raging rivers, and some cruiser down hills were the ingredients that made for some of the best days of riding on the trip.  It’s for times like these that those additional items like a pair of flip flops, shorts, journal and a book allow you to unwind and relax while you’re traveling. 

 

Gnarly slides on route 21

Wild

Soak

Just before leaving the mountains we bumped into a couple of backcountry skiers atop banner summit.  Stoked on their day and our adventure, one of them enthusiastically offered us a place to stay in Boise, as such we were incredibly fortunate to have a base from which to polish up and plan for the road ahead.  Andy, thanks so much and I hope we can sometime return the favor. 

Once we reached Boise the trip was over, only none of us really knew it.  Still buzzing from the adventure we followed the prompts to move forward as if in a daze.  Liz and I mailed another 30 lbs of gear each ahead to Leavenworth, with the intention of riding together through Oregon and Washington to our summer home.  JB hooked up with some sketch-ball on Craigslist and managed to score a ride to Mt. Shasta, where he shredded and is now somewhere along the California coast pedaling with a surfboard. 

After leaving Boise, Liz and I quickly realized that our stoke for riding through Eastern Oregon was not as high as we thought.  With JB gone the wind was momentarily out of our sails.  Although we’d managed to ditch everything but some lightweight camping gear, the scorching sun and incessant winds, not to mention the general desolation lead our minds ahead to the clean granite and cold water of Leavenworth, and subsequently the quickest way there, which was a ride with Shandel through Craigslist. 

Woman. Power.

 

Riding through the orchards and into the mountains.

 

Home… for now.

 

Liz is ready to add another couple wheels.

 

 

Thinking clearly is a skill.  Our lives today are overrun with distractions and the constant underlying theme of speed.  As such it can be hard in times of stress or excitement to maintain a clear mind and make intelligent decisions.  Thinking of it this way, perhaps this is what got me into this mess in the first place, perhaps I wasn’t thinking so clearly and decided that riding my bike around with all of my climbing stuff was a good idea.  Huh.  Anyway, it can be easy to get excited and make impromptu decisions that you’ll come to regret, and the trick isn’t learning how to overcome that, but learning how to adapt to the situation at hand, the one you’ve put yourself in.  Chances are, when you find yourself halfway up a 50 foot pitch of 5.2 with ski boots on your feet, skis on your back, crumbling rock everywhere, and the sudden realization that you’ve already placed all your gear, you’re first thought probably won’t be, “Damn, I wish I’d driven and just brought the whole rack!”, because times like these don’t really coincide with the subjunctive, and shoulda-woulda-coulda has a habit of falling short.  

There were plenty of folks, including myself, who were saying we should ship some of our gear ahead, or perhaps just choose one activity instead of the combination of rock climbing and skiing that require two very different combinations of gear, each extensive in their own right.  But decisions like this were ultimately skewed by our over-ambition and excitement of the “possibilities”.  So while this lifestyle is romantic, adventurous, and unique, try and remain practical and focused, if you do, perhaps you’ll find yourself with even more drive and ability then you thought.  Plan a trip, and execute.  The idea that you don’t have what it takes, whether it be time, gear, or the like, is simply another contrivance.  Believe what you will, do what you want.  Conform your trip to the time and gear you’ve got, then build from there.  Get out and get on you bike.  Live Free or Die. 

 

Our route, with train from SLC-Ogden in purple/bold, and car ride from Ontario-Ellensburg in red.

There is one more thing I’d like to say before you go.  If you are considering ditching your car or even just heading out for an overnight, you should be aware that you ride as an ambassador for cultural change.  There is the general conception that in our secular and modern society, hypocrisy is one of the greatest sins.  While I don’t believe this is necessarily a human trait, it’s most definitely one shared by myself, and our social culture.  We are quick to attack an argument or personality if it is not absolute or bulletproof.  But in reality, every idea, every moral and value, has elements of another.  Unfortunately the “sustainable” movement has suffered greatly because of this.  In the same way that many environmental standpoints are countered with extremist rhetoric, so too do personal attacks often take on a shallow argument of hypocrisy.  I’m sure that there are many people out there who view our decision to find a ride through eastern Oregon as hypocritical and a point of weakness, and they can believe what they will.  As we make strides towards a more low-energy future, people will be scared, and quick to point out all the ways you’re not doing enough, and therefore, are not doing anything worthwhile at all.  This argument is insidious, as it strikes at the heart of our fears, making us think that we’re missing out or not making a difference, or worst of all that we have no purpose.  But be patient with these attacks and remember that you are creating a new future.  People with this negative viewpoint are unlikely to change their behavior, or ever even recognize that it could or should be changed, it’s not our responsibility to change them, only to be kind and offer an example of a better way.  I only mention this because in your efforts to pursue an ideal of ecological awareness and a lifestyle of limited environmental impact, you’re likely to run into many of these types of people, nay-sayers who’s sad viewpoint is easily recognized through their threatened reactions.  People are afraid of change, afraid of the unknown, and it is our place as revolutionaries, to bring it to them with kindness, do your best, and good luck.  

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