A year and a few months ago Kurt and I welcomed the New Year from a beach in Chile. The trip was a month long, and we spent our time there pedaling a self-designed-loop in Northern Patagonia in search of big mountains and epic singletrack. We learned the jungle is a harsh environment for desert-dwelling-bikepackers, and that the big views, aridity, glaciated mountains, and wide valleys of Argentina felt like home in the American West.
This fall we spent the better part of the two months approaching solstice again in the Southern hemisphere. We flew to Australia for Singlespeed Worlds, and rode east into the Australian Alps among the boundless eucalyptus, kookaburras, and kangaroos. After sampling some of southern Australia’s best tracks and experiencing the delight of traveling in a country with English-speaking residents, we flew over to New Zealand. On the South Island, we met up with Scott Morris and Eszter Horayni and pieced together an itinerary day-by-day, weather window-by-weather window. We were again in search of great riding, and were curious to see what all the hype over New Zealand is about, anyway. Here we also found big mountains, amazing riding, and again experienced a new culture of recreation.
I think traveling is highly romanticized. There is something about far away and foreign that is just enchanting to us. And international travel is exhilarating – it’s a huge, highly stimulating dose of new everything. The most mundane of a place – the generic cookies, the everyday phrase, the currency, the invasive plant and obnoxious bird - it’s all fascinating. But how do these experiences inform our lives at home, for those of us who choose to sink roots in a place?
I’m not a world traveler, globetrotter, gypsy, or vagabond. Prescott, Arizona, the Southwestern canyons, and the mountains of the American West; these places are my home. In the mere 10 years I’ve lived here, the experiences, education, and connections I’ve gained have informed my sense of place, or, my deep, deep love for this place – the West.
In the last few years I’ve been so lucky as to go bikepacking in eight different countries. I’ve experienced the mountains of the European Alps, Patagonia, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
Trips, experienced at the pace of a pedal stroke, sleeping on the ground, struggling to speak, being stripped of normality – they make us feel small. Home is suddenly completely inaccessible. This harsh reality you realize when you throw a tantrum over the rainy-as, lost-as, tired-as, hungry-as, unglamorous-as situation you’re in while trying to bikepack in a foreign landscape, and announce that you’re over it and going home, just to instantly greet the reality that:
1) it took you two days to get where you are, and will take two days to get out
2) the nearest way home is an additional bus/boat/train/plane (usually multiple of those) ride to the nearest international airport, which will in total take an additional 3 days of travel once in the nearest town, and cost you your grocery allowance
3) you don’t speak the language
4) you don’t have a phone or way of arranging deportation
5) its probably easier, cheaper, and more worthwhile to just carry on and wait for things to get better. Because, things always get better.
At some point, better will be feeling small because of the selfless compassion of the locals and the magnitude of the beauty, grandeur, and magnificence of the place your bike brought you. So, yes, the context of our size in the world is a good reason to go bikepacking internationally.
But more so, I hold immense gratitude for the opportunities to travel on my bike because they help me redefine the context of my little world. I see a glimpse of the rest of the world, and I return with an informed sense of how my world fits into the globe, and, it affirms my place on Earth.
While traveling, you’re a guest, visitor, tourist, transplant. For some, that becomes an identity in itself. But when that is an experience with a defined end – the return to home – the place that we chose to return to becomes further gratified by choice and appreciation.
Since returning to Arizona, a far less spectacular place than New Zealand in most peoples’ eyes, I have been nothing but in awe. I’ve relished the smell of the ponderosa pine forests, the color of the scrub-oaks leaves, the aroma of wet desert, the grip of damp, granitic trails, the colors of the Colorado Plateau, the taste of air at 6,000 feet, the brown water, the dramatic sunsets and the endless views of rugged little mountain ranges reaching in all directions around me. Traveling on my bike has invigorated my love for the place I call home.
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I have shaped my life around exploring remote and wild places by foot, rope, raft, ski and mountain bike. I would rather be sweating than sitting, surrounded by trees than walls, and lost in a canyon than navigating a freeway. As I spend more than half the year sleeping outside, I’ve come to believe that life's full potential can be realized through seeking, enduring and relishing adventure.