Today's Guest Blogger is Kaitlyn Boyle. -Kid
Unlike most kids, I didn’t grow up riding bikes. I grew up riding horses. Riding was truly a way to explore places with a creature with which I developed a relationship. As I grew older, my pursuit of a career as an Outdoor Educator drew me away from horses. My continued need to explore was certainly satiated, but being carried out by my running shoes, skis, rope, or raft was never as meaningful as connecting with a horse.
But a few years ago, I began mountain biking. Somehow, in my limited years of pedaling, I have fostered as close a relationship with my bike as I can imagine having with an inanimate object. My bike is my steed, my little cowpony.
As a resident of Arizona, I have found myself donning pearl-snapped sun shirts and riding through tumbleweeds with my braids flying and a cloud of dust in my wake as the sun sets in purple, red, and orange over the Sierra Prieta. If I could have cowgirl boots with cleats and a ratcheting buckle, I’d rock them in a heartbeat. Coko, my little red El Mariachi stallion, has infused my need for exploration with my dream of being a cowgirl. Short rides (trots) are nice and all, but they just keep us tuned up for the real thing.
Bikepacking is the new cattle drive. In Lonesome Dove, Cal and Augustus and company drove thousands of cattle from the Mexican border to Montana. Now, every year cyclists, pilgrimage from one land-locked border to the next, equipped with fat tires, bivy sacks, areobars, feed bags, and chamois cream. North to south? Or south to north? Pick your poison.
Few things have changed. Saddle choice is still important. Although the western saddle is nothing like the mountain bike seat, its fit to the rider’s butt is critical. Hence the common, trip-plaguing problem of saddle sores. This is not an unfamiliar term to any cowboy or bikepacker. Feedbags are still used, but now the rider does the big eatin’. Bedrolls have evolved from wool saddle blankets to ultra-light fabricated inflatable mattresses, but in reality, we still sleep on the ground, often without shelter. Barbed-spiny-thorn equipped plants and razor sharp rocks will always pose the threat of delaying or even halting forward progress due to a lame hoof or flat tire. Even to this day, the lightest way to cook a meal is over a fire, and coffee is still the endurance rider’s best friend.
Riders’ wardrobe choice is probably the most substantial difference between cowboys and bikepackers. While I know some cyclists committed to jean shorts and button-down shirts, most don Lycra and use high-tech padded chamois for minimal chafing and maximum aerodynamics. Cowboys, on the other hand, have rarely been known to choose spandex over denim, and with their choice of chaps, their asses are even less padded.
Coko and I have already been to some amazing places together. We’ve explored the high reaches of the Colorado Rockies, the canyons and plateaus of Utah, and the smaller rugged mountains and volcanic fields of Arizona. Together we’ve guided a posse of Prescott College students across the Colorado Plateau and converted them into modern bikepacking cowpokes, each developing strong bonds with their own sometimes-stubborn bikes.
Each trip makes my heart sing. Coko and I are free; we’re free to ride for as long as we want, free to sleep under the stars, and free to stare into the Western landscape as miles pass beneath us. Landscapes change at a pace unattainable on foot, but one that is still digestible by the mind.
I try to take care of Coko, and in turn Coko takes care of me. My bike has saved me from many rider-errors worthy of remarkable crashes, but he often self-rights, slows down, absorbs hits, and carries on, unphased by what his rambunctious rider was doing on top. All good steeds take care of their riders at times. Coko is as nonjudgmental as a horse. He waits patiently below my bedroom window, sits willingly on the roof of my truck during transport, and happily hitches to a bike rack while I dart into a grocery store. He doesn’t run away at night, won’t spook at sudden movement or noise, and also responds well when being chased by dogs.
Together, we’ve ambitiously pushed deeper into unknown country. We’ve found ourselves in terrain that would be impossible or impractical to venture on foot, by boat, or even by motor. And we can saddle up from our casa, maps and several days of food stashed in Coko’s bags, and wander, our only real concern being where to find the next windmill or cattle tank for a long drink.
The more we ride together, the stronger our bond becomes.
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