Of Orogenies and Spokes

Editor's note: Last week we heard from sponsored rider Kurt Refsnider, a professor at Prescott College in Arizona, who takes students on bikepacking trips into the nearby mountains as a part of class. What follows is an excerpt from one of his students; read more about his experience here and musings from another student here.


Of Orogenies and SpokesBy Guest Blogger Kellen Shaver

Orogeny. Isostatic rebound. Stream piracy. Karst. The terminology of geology is never particularly far from polysyllabic babble, and after hours climbing and walking a loaded mountain bike up to a mountain pass, the words resemble nothing so much as baby speak. Anticline. Thrust fault. Deposition. Bike terms start spilling in, difference and meaning blurring in a crucible of sweat and heavy breath. Derailleur. Chain stays. Subduction. Sealant. 

But this is too tired and too far; let us go back to a more coherent beginning. Weeks ago, we piled food and gear and bikes into an enormous trailer, hooked it to a van, stuffed ourselves into said van (ourselves being nine enthusiastic college students and two wonderful professors who both happen to be Salsa sponsored riders), and headed north from Prescott, Arizona—away from classrooms and into the beating singletrack heart of the American Southwest.

First we rode Flagstaff, describing a wide circle around Arizona’s tallest peaks and learning the standard material of every introductory geology class: how to keep control of a 60 pound bike when you’re flying down a gravel road off the side of a mountain at 30 miles an hour; exactly how well your tires grip chunks of eroded andesite as you bob and weave through dense groves of aspen and around high, steep switchbacks; and how complex and beautiful the rocks that underlie this little corner of the world are, the result of sheets and cones and domes of liquid rock pouring out over “just” a few million years.

Next, the Grand Canyon. We watched a brilliant sunset spill into the cup of the canyon from the lookout of the North Rim and rode soft lines on sharp limestone from seas 250 million years dry, learning to read cycles of oceanic advance and retreat from our own cycles. I watched my fellow students (fast becoming friends) ride hard in the mornings, teach me geology in the afternoons, share bowls of food and life stories in the evening, and pile into shared tarp shelters for warmth at night.

Also, Canyonlands National Park. To avoid the intense heat of this otherworldly place, we started each ride before sunrise. Each morning, the whites, reds, and oranges of a subtle desert landscape came into focus out of the grainy darkness, and each afternoon we hid ourselves from blinding light in the shadows of trees and slowly decalcifying sedimentary rocks we were beginning, slowly, to love.

And then to the Rocky Mountains, where we last spoke—spoke, hub, mountain. Brain still churning, body steaming, pushing upwards through steep glacial valleys carved into rocks so old their age is measured in billions of years—and onwards, to the next lesson and the next downhill.



Kellen Shaver

I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts, and have been a lifelong bike commuter; it was only after heading west that I discovered the thick-tired version. Both individual and team sports have been an important part of my life since youth, and I've always found serenity and focus in isolation and wild places. Mountain biking—bikepacking in particular—is a wonderful mix of these two passions, and the perfect speed to capture the elegance of surficial geology and observe its gradual change across a landscape.

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Guest Blogger Kaitlyn Boyle Kurt Refsnider Mountain Biking Sponsored Riders

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