The Cardinal Challenge: Origins

Editor's Note: this is the first of a five-post series created by Salsa sponsored rider, Brett Davis. The second post will run this Monday.


A typical summer means substantial time out of the office, which equals time to pursue adventures in far-off places across the planet. Routes will have been planned. Logistics thought out. Gear and food purchased and organized. Bikes boxed. Duffle bags packed and plane tickets issued. After weeks of preparation, the trip departure date arrives and all of the planning turns into action. The plane lifts off from the tarmac for a place unknown.

With a virus pandemic, social unrest, and economic uncertainty, the allure of traveling afar this year was tempered. Was it responsible to carry on as I do every summer? The struggle to answer this question was real, with internal conflicts arising from my values, beliefs, and perceptions of the global reality all colliding with one another. The world as I viewed it was transforming into something I did not recognize.

…Now I invite you to do what I just illustrated: Find out about and celebrate the history of the people and the place where you live. From an astrological perspective, it’s a favorable time to get in touch with roots and foundations. —My Horoscope on June 4, 2020

Whenever my life is in turmoil due to circumstances beyond my control, the primal force within me emerges and I seek control through simplicity. I let go of the steering wheel of illusion that I can somehow affect what is happening on a grand scale around me. COVID was going to run its course and the world was going to respond to its presence. My thoughts on the responses to the virus from international and local governments to my workplace and friends were irrelevant. What was going to happen was going to happen, all I could control was my own response.

As I wrestled with internal angst of what to do to satiate my summer desire for travel and exploration, I came across my horoscope buried deep in one of our local papers. The universe had given me a sign. This was the summer to stay close to home and explore more of my backyard. As I reread my summer’s fate in the newsprint, my mind began formulating a plan…  

Don’t believe you have to travel far and wide to discover opportunities. The best opportunities will always be found in your own backyard, and not halfway around the world in someone else’s backyard. You have to look for them, however. Ernie J. Zelinski

For me, all adventures start with a map. I am lucky to call Durango, CO my home. Located in the southwest corner of the state, my hometown sits on the edge of both the stunning, rugged San Juan Mountains and the arid, colorful deserts of New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. The “Four Corners” region, is a place of abundant environmental and cultural diversity—from abandoned mining camps in the high alpine to ancient Puebloan ruins in the deep recesses of canyon country. I have lived here for 12 years. I thought I had explored much of the area in all of its seasons. But upon peering at a map stretched across my living room floor, I realized that there were many nooks and crannies that I had passed by or put off for ‘save for later’ visits. Glancing at the “North” orientation symbol of the map, the idea of the Cardinal Challenge materialized:

  • Complete four human-powered explorations corresponding with the four cardinal directions (N, E, S, W)
  • Each exploration must begin and end at my doorstep and be a minimum of 72 hours long
  • Each exploration must have an objective (i.e. summit a peak, visit a friend, etc.)
  • The entirety of the challenge must be completed by the autumnal equinox (the official end of summer)

What follows are the stories of my four summer explorations, each an adventure of its own. As you will see, I and those who joined me on each Cardinal Challenge outing expanded our knowledge of the amazing environments, communities, and cultural richness that exist at our doorsteps. Along the way, we each learned as George A. Moore once eloquently and simply stated, A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

Enjoy! -Brett Davis

As always, I would like to thank those who support the ideas that emerge from my adventure brain. With their encouragement, mere wanderings of the mind transform into action. Thank you!

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Brett Davis Explore Mountain Biking Sponsored Riders

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Brett Davis

Brett Davis

I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.


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