Today we are pleased to introduce Pepper Cook, the newest member of our Sponsored Riders team. Pepper is an experienced bikepacker and true believer in the power of the bicycle. She also has a few special skills up her sleeve (spoon carving, birding, and puns, to name a few). We can’t wait to hear and share stories from her travels! Get to know Pepper in our interview below.
SALSA: You are about to head out to tour the Baja Divide route. What do you find yourself most looking forward to?
PEPPER: I am looking forward to SO many different aspects of the Baja Divide! I'd say the first thing I'm excited for is escaping the misty darkness of Seattle winter, which is very cozy and romantic but also gets slightly disheartening after a few months. I am also very much looking forward to sampling some local food and cooking techniques. In my research I've found a lot of very cool remote fishing areas that serve up Yellowtail, Snapper, and Wahoo, among many others! I am also so stoked to meet up with some of the researchers I have been emailing to discuss their work in conservation on the Baja and snap a few photos.
SALSA: As you approach the start of these bigger journeys, are there any consistent themes you find yourself thinking about?
PEPPER: Throughout many of my bigger bike adventures I started working on this crazy idea that I've been having a lot of fun with. The basic idea is that every bike trip in my life—whether that's an overnighter or a 45-day trip—is really just a section of one long, interconnected bigger bike tour that I'm slowly traveling along on the trail of my life. So now, as I'm thinking about the Baja, I'm sort of having fun viewing it as an extension of my Iceland tour, which was also part of my Peru Divide trip. In this way I am able to think of all my bike adventure and travel as my "real" life, with small, less-exciting breaks in between where I work in breweries and bike shops to save up again. This lets me see all the plants, animals, and cultures I encounter as connected to each other, and gives me perspective when I'm having near misses with cars and breathing their exhaust while commuting to work in the city, or missing faraway friends.
The other theme I'm always thinking about these days is, "how can I make this trip more meaningful?" When I was younger, bike tours were all about riding from a brewery to the next surf or fishing spot, and having as much fun as possible before going back to work. Now as I approach my 30th birthday, I find myself searching more and more for a way to give back to the trail and the communities I pass through. I've been exploring a lot of conservation research, as well as educating myself about the traditional land owners wherever I ride.
SALSA: Imagine it is T-minus 1 day till departure: What is Pepper Cook running about doing? Or is the ship already operating smoothly?
PEPPER: I have spent the last few years really honing my packlist, and these days I've got it down to a system where I pretty much bring the same gear on an overnight trip that I take on a two month adventure. I have all my gear organized into three different large plastic tubs in my closet: BAGS (including stuff sacks, backpacks, and bikepacking bags), CAMPING (which includes things like stoves, water filtering equipment, my tent, sleeping mats etc.), and BIKE (which is full of all tools, spares, a million Voile straps, bar tape, nuts and bolts, and tubeless stuff etc.). I like to have everything ready to go and organized in case something wild happened, like a friend messages me at 4 pm saying "hey, I just won a flight for two people to Mongolia, how fast can you pack your bike?!" I'd be able to ride home and pack up everything I'd need in under an hour!
SALSA: Tell us about this film camera you’re bringing with you on this trip. Why film? What are you shooting and do you have a plan in mind for what will be worthy of a shot? Or are you just spontaneous in that regard?
PEPPER: I actually can't believe this just happened but I took my camera on a rocky beach ride the other night and I didn't realize my handlebar bag was open—the camera went flying out and bounced all the way down the beach on the rocks! I thought it was okay at first but the shutter is busted and something is loose internally! It's a Canon AE-1 that I've had for over ten years. I'm hoping it's just the lens but just to be on the safe side I'm planning on taking two disposable cameras instead (which are also much lighter but take up about the same amount of space!), in addition to my digital Fuji X100T. I also love the Fuji because it doesn't weigh that much and has Wi-Fi so you can instantly transfer the photos to your phone! I love shooting on film on my Canon though (and also those silly disposables) because I find it picks up color a lot more vibrantly than my digital, and you don't have that much control over it so it's a lot of fun to wait for the photos to develop and then see what you got!
I'm pretty spontaneous when I shoot and I'm still learning a lot, but I love taking portraits of people, and macro shots of native plants. When I look at photography I find that I'm less and less interested in the "bike on a wall" style shots, or even the wide, sweeping, beautiful landscape shots, than I am in photos of quirky locals, dogs, and native plants. I like the latter because you can really tell a story and get a flavor for the trip and the new friends along the way.
SALSA: On your trips, do you typically keep a journal or diary or sketchbook? Or do you just record moments in your mind for posterity?
PEPPER: On my trips I usually keep track of daily mileage, food I ate, and any fun little stories in a small Field Notes book I like to take. Recently I also got very into "en plein air" watercoloring, and I take a small travel watercolor set and another small, blank-page notebook to paint the scenes I see while riding, and any special plants or animals I encounter.
SALSA: What are your plans post-Baja?
PEPPER: My plans post-Baja are still pretty up in the air. I know I'll have to get another job somewhere immediately upon my return, and I've been speaking with some rad breweries and bike shops in Seattle to put the word out. Luckily I found a sweet little tiny house situation to rent above someone's garage that is affordable enough that I will be able to keep it while I'm gone! After finding employment I'm going to start saving up again to take an EMT course...that decision goes back to the touring theme where the older I get, the less fulfillment I find in jobs where I'm not making any real difference in the lives of the folks in my community (although everyone loves the person passing them a pint of beer over the counter or a freshly serviced bike off the stand!). I recently moved back to the U.S. after eight years overseas, and I'd love a job where I can do meaningful work, but also travel and start to ride some of the incredible routes all across the U.S.
SALSA: Your bio mentions visiting some remote birding stations by bike last year. Can you tell us a bit more about that experience and how it impacted you and your thinking?
PEPPER: I didn't actually intend to start doing that, it just happened to me on a particularly special route, the Sky Islands Odyssey in Arizona by Sarah Swallow. The route goes through Southern Arizona, and way up high on a very windy, remote ridge there is an Audubon station called the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch. The scientists there have been doing incredible work with repopulation of native grasses and erosion control which in turn helps protect the native bird wildlife, especially during fire season. They have been operating since 1968 and were incredibly friendly, hilarious, and welcoming. It was especially inspiring to me to meet the scientists who were women. It made me imagine what my life could have been like if I'd studied STEM instead of literature at university. Unfortunately, I had to keep riding to get back in time for work and could only stay one day, but I found myself wishing I could have stayed for a few weeks as a volunteer to learn more and help out around the ranch!
That's where I got the idea for a series of rides where I focus on finding routes that pass through scientific research stations to learn more about conservation and try to lend a helping hand. Every incredible route I have ever loved in my life could so easily be changed forever in the blink of an eye by wildfires, flooding, or some other catastrophe and we're only seeing this escalate due to the devastating effects of climate change. If we want to keep the trails and places where we love to adventure wild, we must continue to keep learning and growing and conserving! I believe that one way to inspire folks to action is by documenting and sharing the special reasons we should care—a mass migration of an endangered butterfly. An eagle landing ten feet ahead of you on a trail to snatch up a writhing snake right before your eyes. In between mountains, a group of wise, sun-wrinkled old women bundled in layers of the most colorful clothing you have ever seen. They're smiling at you and laughing at your silly bicycle as they swap your money for a bucket of wild trout they caught fifteen minutes ago in an icy Andean lake. Just like my idea of the never-ending bike tour of life, everything is connected. When I do these rides and pass through these places where folks are spending their lives studying how to conserve their wilderness, I understand why they want to. And I want to help. You can too!
HOPING TO BECOME A SALSA SPONSORED RIDER?
We are now taking applications for the 2021 season, beginning January 2021. The application period for 2021 sponsorship closes on March 15th, 2020. Please note that we will reach out to you if we are interested in further discussing potential sponsorship. Due to the large number of inquiries, we will not be responding to every application.
Share this post: Tweet
I love being outside. I prefer to ride on dirt. Or snow. If I was born a hundred years earlier I might have been a polar explorer. There's a great natural world out there to see, smell, taste, listen to, and experience. Life slows down out there and the distractions we've created will disappear if you let them. Give me a backpack and let me go.