In Feb 2020 Stephen Fitzgerald took his Traildonkey to Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco. This is Chapter 1 of his adventure.Continue reading
The Tahoe Twirl is a deceptive beast- short in mileage but long with rocky technicality, it packs alpine summits and long, sweeping fire road descents into a literal breathtaking package and puts a big fat lake and a Cabela’s right in the middle of it all. The Tahoe Twirl is a beast. It’s no spring fling and no two-step shimmy. This one you plan for, pack for and train for. This one, you need to make an effort to come and see.
So naturally I threw all caution to the wind and showed up without looking at the route and with whatever was left in my truck. I’m off navigation duty this week, so I’ll bring an extra camera battery and settle in for some mindless pedalling. Ben and I chocked this up as a rest week and the finish line for getting my project car on the road and to Lake Tahoe in time. We spent two weeks burning quarts of midnight (and motor) oil to finally show up late, miss the rally location, and start hours behind the others we’re meeting up with. Hard on the gas out of the gate- What’s a vacation.
Day one is messy and makes Ben and I worry about the next four. We all make lame progress, and our fifth drops out not feeling well after looking at all the climbing left ahead. We run into two bears while looking for camp that night. We carry the search into the night and find a clearing and a cross to camp under. We all start praying for better fortune and go nervously bear hang our food- Tahoe supposedly has the highest concentration of bears in the US and our cans of chili smell delicious…
Day two reunites the split group and brings awaited time for introductions and shop talk. The most interesting part of this ride is the eclectic group trudging through it all. We have Ben and I, Arjun, and Logan. Ben just returned from two months bikepacking through Patagonia, and we’re just now getting time to compare notes and swap stories from our long trips the past year. His bike has deep scars and his beard is long and shaggy still from 2,000 miles in the dirt. We catch up too with Arjun, who is now diving deep into bikes after graduating. In college he bought an old Bianchi with down tube shifters and after a short 20 mile ride to the Marina, decided he wanted to ride from San Francisco to LA. Arjun went to San Francisco not knowing you had to put air in bicycle tires and planned on figuring it out along the way. Since then he’s bought a touring bike and he and Ben rode around Iceland last summer. Now, he’s planning on seriously mountain biking for the first time.
Arjun? I like him. I like his can-do mentality and off the cuff approach to bikes. He’s strong as an ox and smiles all day long. Ben asks him about his gearing the first day and Arjun laughs. “I can actually answer that now!” I smile like Palpatine and feel the electricity in my fingers. Welcome to the dark side…
And then we have Logan- an engineering student from UCLA whose previous cycling experience is a short ride to the beach on a cruiser and a couple short mountain bike rides in the neighborhood. Logan’s never worn Lycra, never been bikepacking and has 0 miles in the legs. He bear hangs with a plastic grocery bag and bungee straps his sleeping bag to his dad’s old mountain bike. He wears Converse low-cut sneakers and a heavy backpack and pushes through new terrain and distinct, novel challenges excitedly and ambitiously. Logan likes descending and catches on quick. Climbing? Does anyone truly love climbing? Is it still that necessary evil? Logan argues the necessity and we push high into the mountains. It’s only day two and we’re already scratching 8,000 feet.
This day brings markedly slow progress to start. I’m just having fun doing circles riding a loaded bike again and wondering why I’ve spent 20 years in California and 0 days in Tahoe. The beauty here- the magnitude of it all is so epic. It slows the pedals and boggles the mind as ski resort after ski resort come into view. Tahoe? Oh so amazing. A perfect companion to get out of town and decompress after getting humiliated by the truck.
We finish the day with a swim in a reservoir and I fly-fish a small stream we camp by. I find a couple bites on a midge but I’m too tired to react to anything. Oh wait this is a fishing story. I caught a dozen and they were all 15 pounds or more. You should’ve seen ‘em!
The riding starts to blend together. Long days of pedaling strung back to back are like throwing an entree in a blender. A lot of it tastes like spaghetti sauce, but every once in a while there’s a chunk stuck in your teeth of sweet, smooth singletrack with an epic vista off to the side or a fast fire road into town. I grab some photos when the occasion permits and a loud “YEWWW!” when it doesn’t. The rest of the spaghetti sauce is still so damn good too. And it pairs so well with that heavy bike that rides all noodly. This right here? This is my heaven. A noodly bike and mountains of epic spaghetti sauce with good company and nowhere but ten miles down the road to be. Signed stamped and sealed- Life is better this way.
Ben and I split off onto the route extension. We feel good and are both starting to remember what the wind in the hair feels like as it blows us towards more mountains and chunky, brutal descents. I’m two years past fit but always down to sit low and push hard pretending I still can. We find a flow and start covering serious miles. We’re only interrupted by a couple river crossings we take our shoes off for. It’s an interruption like in a crit when there’s a big crash and 10 riders go to the hospital and you sit up and reconsider life except it’s way better in literally every single way. I debate pulling the fly rod back out but axe it in favor of a long lunch stop on a big rock and we look out at the flats and listen to the wind. It’s a much different pace here than the back of a crit.
The next two days everything changes. We go from cool mountains and pretty views to truly epic climbing. We climb seemingly endlessly for the next two days and dance with 10,000 feet on exposed peaks and race down long, flowing single track. It cascades down mountain sides with beautiful jumps and berms and creeks and I start crying at one point it’s so fun and so beautiful and so right. The loaded bike takes it all so well and I want this final descent to keep descending until I die. Two groms on downhill bikes tow me in to a jump line at the bottom and I send 10 foot tabletops on my loaded gravelbike and the descent almost does last until I die. We regroup and race the fading light back to the cars pedaling hard and screaming at how much fun those past five days just were and it’s over just like that.
Logan, dirty, exhausted and blown-out smiles when I ask him if he’ll ever go bikepacking again. This has been an absolutely brutal introduction to the sport, and I’m unsure if he’s scared off or ready for more.
“Oh totally. But maybe an easier route next time.”
Last time we spoke I gave you look into the experiences that drive my life on two wheels. Goals and pushing physical boundaries is a big part. Laying out the training plans, watching fitness numbers climb, and the results that follow; all completions in their own right. But when the training wheels came off 3 decades ago what compelled me to the bike?Continue reading
By Logan Jones-Wilkins
Written June 1st, 2020, edited and published June 6th.
The following piece is a written reflection of the Rodeo Adventure Labs sponsored athlete and contributor Logan Jones-Wilkins. These sentiments and perspectives are that of the author and should not be viewed as the opinion of Rodeo Adventure Labs, although we support our athlete’s choice to use his position to voice his opinions.
Tonight, I am full.
Full of life from the purity of nature; full of friendship from time spent with an old friend; and full of fitness from the miles spent careening around the mountains of Arkansas. Yet, now as I sit in my living room at 1 AM Monday, June 1st struggling to find an elusive sleep, I am also filled with sadness. Sadness for my black and brown compatriots who still live in fear of those who are charged with protecting them; sadness for the men and women who have lost their lives too soon and their families who have not been given the justice they deserve; and sadness for all the loss racism has caused in this country that I have always called home.Continue reading
In my last post I went straight to trying to get you to come back to my place. I didn’t even buy you a drink, much less take you out to dinner. So let’s squeeze the levers, slow it down. Grab a coffee with me and let’s learn a little about each other.Continue reading
In the early 1900s miners and donkeys roamed the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in search of gold and fortune. In 2019 we took our Traildonkeys (and a Flaanimal) up those same hills in search of a fortune of a different kind: That consisting of great views and friendship.Continue reading
It is storm season in the Delta.
Every spring here in the fertile flatlands of northeast Arkansas, with the planting of the cotton comes the yearly dance with satellite storms. For any cycling enthusiast, these storms provide a dynamic setting for any adventure. One minute, blue skies line the horizon and the wind is at your back. The next moment, you make a right-hand turn and get slammed by a 20 mile per hour cross wind with a blueish grey shelf of clouds barring down on you like an airborne grim reaper.
Last Monday, I experienced this challenge myself out on a recovery ride with my little brother. As we wheeled out of the driveway in our 900-person town of Wilson, Arkansas, blue skies were overhead and the omnipresent wind which has ruined many days was nowhere to be found. Only after we left the town of Wilson and entered the endless expanse of pan flat cotton fields of the Delta, could we see the dark clouds on the horizon. Tully – my little brother who tends to actually think through things – questioned our choice to head towards the storm, but I refused; I wouldn’t be scared away by some angry clouds. The skies above us were bright and my good energy would not be stopped.
Tully and I bumbled along the rutted county road that lead north of Wilson to the town of Marie, cracking jokes and enjoying the fresh air. Yet, up ahead what had been a distant dark cloud had slowly morphed into a panoramic display of stormy fury. Lightning cut through the blackening background as thunder rolled off of the clouds that were beginning to bare down on us. As we turned away from the storm, a little trickle of fear started to wiggle its way up my spine. Over my left shoulder sat our house under the distant cluster of trees and water towers while over my right shoulder sat a cloud that only seemed to grow. As the sky began to turn green and our impending doom became clear, we made a quick left onto a rutted gravel road and pointed our wheels home. We were off to the races.
Whether it is the lack of competition in my life lately, or the lack of anything at all, the impetus of the fear of the storm was the only spark I needed to get the proverbial competitive juices flowing. For the last two-ish months I had been without competition for the first time I can remember. From rec soccer, to cross country skiing, to the last half decade on the bike, my life has been dictated by how far I was from my next start line. At first the void of races was a relief, a change of pace I wasn’t familiar with. Then, as the days became weeks and the weeks months, I began to feel stuck..Stuck in a house I have never lived in, stuck a thousand miles away from where I want to be, stuck with more schoolwork than I knew what to do with, and stuck without the tether that had anchored me for years. I even tried to write a post for this journal multiple times only to be foiled explaining the very “sticky” situation I just described.
Everything was just…off.
Yet, as I took off down that gravel road with my brother in tow, that stuck feeling evaporated into a euphoric smile on my face as forgotten adrenaline pumped through my legs. In the face of the roaring wind that gathered behind us and spits of water that hit my arms, I was giddy with excitement and joy, bouncing wildly down a dirt road covered with baseball sized stones. In the distance was a lonely tractor shed which served as the only possible shelter for miles. With the house still four miles away in an ever-darkening distance, the metal roof and its many ton John Deere cotton farming machinery would have to do as our race with the storm moved to its critical phase.
As I was sitting under that tin roof huddled behind a ten-foot-tall tire, I could help but thinking how fun that little race had been. I had to be present, focused, and powerful instead of living a life where time was at a standstill, yet also seemed to be slipping away constantly. In the week since that ride, I have felt much better on and off the bike. Although races still may be many months away, my little race with the storm gave me that feeling of carnal exhilaration that I’ve been missing. Going forward, I am going to be chasing that feeling. Maybe not the same fear of a possibly life-threatening storm barring down on me, but feelings, nonetheless.
This is a story from that time we went to a bike race but there was no racing to be found. Little did we know this would be our last chance to ride together for a while. Even though our racing plans were derailed we were still able to ride together. We’re super grateful to have these memories from this weekend. Looking back over them makes us even more excited for the day when we can ride together again. We love you Croatan Buck Fifty and we will see you in 2021.
Mid South was the first outing for the Rodeo Labs Pro Gravel team and what a race it was. The course lived up to its reputation and the competition was fierce. Jonathan Baker had amazing ride to 3rd overall on his TD3. Recap by Jake Aisenbrey.Continue reading
This Journal entry was sent to us by Jason Riddle. We’ve invited our community to send in submissions for the Journal in an effort to keep telling stories and showing our collective excitement for cycling even during this Covid epidemic. If you would like to send in a journal entry please do get in touch through our contact form.
This morning I approached the tenth tee feeling slightly guilty. Last night I had told my buddy I was staying close to home today. I wanted to give my wife a day to chill. She had been entertaining our daughter, walking our dogs, going to the grocery stores and farmer’s markets, while I spent most of the weirdest week ever working at the shop. But this morning she said “It’s going to rain the next two days, you need to get out.”
What an awesome partner.
So out I get. To play bikes, not golf. Living on an abandoned golf course makes for a nice way to start a multi surface ride. Cart paths, maintenance roads and deer trails are welcome amenities these days (and the overgrown sand traps provide some nice jump lines).
My Flaanimal and I cover most of the back nine, ducking off the course to exit the neighborhood. Up an overpass and into our small town, we are headed for the gravel roads surrounding Bull Run Mountain.
Things are unusually quiet, even for a Sunday morning. The churches are empty, the cafe is closed, but the town cop is out. We roll by the small bike shop I’ve wrenched at for the last few years. Not yet open, I wonder how busy the boys will be today. I wonder if I was right to stop going in during business hours. I wonder how long we will stay open.
I hit a section of singletrack that eventually leads to gravel and immediately head for my favorite road, ready to get lost in a long rolling descent. It’s perfect, I push, screaming through the washboard so fast my bouncing eyeballs lose focus of the surface. I want to go harder, risk a bit more, but I suddenly remember what’s going on in our world…
So we dial it back and begin to make our way back home to my family and my dogs. Town is still sleepy but there are already people waiting for the shop to open. Again I begin to wonder.