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Holly
May 5, 2017

Road to Mulege – Guest Post by Lavanya Pant

Posted by Holly

I wake up holding my cramping stomach, I could just lie here but after four days in the backcountry we all want to get to Mulege for food and comfort. As we start riding I feel sorry for myself then I feel better and a great idea knocks me over, that I won’t stop again. If I don’t stop I’ll be in Mulege in a few hours drinking Coca-Colas, Tecates and other civilized medicines and sleeping for as long as I want.

Three days ago we rode for a few hours with Lael during her Baja Divide FKT attempt. I watched her skillfully eat an assortment of intricately packaged snacks on her bike. Maybe I could try that, start with the easy ones that I can tear with my teeth like Snickers and gradually move up to taped up, tri-colour Mexican flag coconut fudge. I give it a go, it works well.

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With no stops I get ahead of Al and Derryn, Al catches up to me. This happens on several climbs before he says we should wait for Derryn who is having minor bike issues. I tell him no because I must get to Mulege quick. Why? I want to and they will no doubt catch up to me.

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So I keep pedaling till I hit a fork in the road. I am not the navigator on this team. I turn my phone on to look at the map and the route sends me to the left. A ranchero approaches in his truck with a bull tied to the back.

“Estas sola?” he looks momentarily puzzled
“No my friends are coming”
“Que le vaya bien” we smile and he speeds off leaving me in a small cloud of dust.

I hook into a goat’s milk caramel lollipop. This is apparently dangerous in the unlikely event of a crash but the only people that can and would stop me are not here. I keep rolling.

There must be at least 20 river crossings – wet and dry. After each, the route travels along the river on sandy tree-lined roads. Shade is precious and even the smallest trees are generous in contrast with the Cardon cactus and Ocotillos of the last few weeks. Then I’m riding into the mouth of a big canyon, which I now know is the Sierra de La Gigantica. In the early morning, sunshine is bouncing off the water and the rich desert greenery, which is abundant from recent drought breaking rains. This is so great!
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I pass several quiet family ranches and their goats, cows and donkeys. The donkeys, usually tied to a tree, jump in and out of my path testing the safety of both options in relation to my approaching bike. I think of those Year 7 math problems that go like – If you are travelling at x speed and a donkey is erratically jumping towards and away from you in how many seconds will you collide with donkey? I’m not sure, but I manage to avoid a collision so I guess I can confirm math isn’t so important.

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Some rancheros wave, I see a sign for goat’s cheese. Two days earlier a woman in El Datil told us we could go to any ranch along the way and ask to buy queso fresco. I think about it. Oh wait! Al has all the money and I haven’t seen them for a few hours. The first holes begin to appear in my cool plan to descend into Mulege and sip on miscellaneous beverages while waiting for my amigos to roll into town.

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Further along, my path is blocked by a big herd of goats and unlike the other goats on the route they don’t budge. I look around and it becomes clear they belong to the family of seven who all have eyes on me. A little black ferocious Chihuahua runs out and is about to grab my ankle so I roll forward. All seven people yell at the Chihuahua while I cut circles to keep my ankles canine free. An eighth appears to join in the yelling and the dog relents.

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They tell me to come inside into the shade.

“Mucho calor”

The grandmother points to a seat, the mother brings me a glass of water and goes back to hand washing a family load of laundry.
I wasn’t going to stop but I am unable to resist their friendliness.
We exchange names and situations. The grandparents have a ranch up the road but they spend most days here.
The mother asks if I am hungry, before I can answer she disappears into the house. A few minutes later she brings out three warm burritos filled with frijoles and queso fresco. Yum! I ask if they make the cheese themselves. “De chivas” she nods and points to the goats.

The four children and husbands are also very busy saddling, feeding dry alfalfa to the horses and herding the goats. I chat to the women about everything; they tell me about the government choppers that do food drops when they get flooded in during wet season.

Some time later Al, then Derryn, arrive. The mother is again in and out with fresh burritos. While eating, we watch the rancheros don chaps, boots, jackets and transform into storybook charros. Three of them head out into the heat of the day.

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This is our cue to leave but I have become so comfortable here I had forgotten about my fantastic idea. We say our goodbyes; they tell us to stay cool. We push on and it is mucho calor. Immediately we are on an absurdly steep climb, I get off to push my bike. Al rides past on his heavily loaded bike with ease. This is mildly irritating. What’s the big rush anyway?
I lose sight of Al and Derryn on the descent, then an identical climb. There are no more trees. The heat is stifling. I work myself up into a frenzy thinking I won’t catch the others on this terrain, which means I can’t stop and wait it out.

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I get up and over the next climb at the bottom of which my friends are soaking in a sweet water (agua dulce) oasis. I frantically demand we take a break.
“Sure” they agree to what they are already doing.
I join them in the pool. Red, blue and purple dragonflies spin around us. Tiny fish try to nibble at our feet. We are not going anywhere, I become calm.

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When we resume with brighter moods the terrain is still rough and now with even sharper grades as we sink deeper into the canyon. The roads are storm damaged. The loose cobble descents scary.
On one long slippery descent, I pump mindlessly at my brakes and come to a dead sideways halt. How did this happen? I shrug and awkwardly realign myself with the road to keep going.

As we inch closer to town the road is flatter and graded. We wind past several ranches then big agricultural properties. Three teenage cowboys ride next to us, but they are fresh and fast like the wind. When I spot the first date palms I become excited again and start rushing to where all the cars are coming from. We hit the pavement and roll into Mulege as a team and head for the first mini market. The fridge is chock-full of Coca-colas and Tecates.

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Lavanya Pant is the recipient of the 2017 Lael Wilcox’s Globe of Adventure Women’s Scholarship. Through an application process focused on she was selected as an outstanding individual to receive an Advocate Cycles bicycle, Revelate Designs bikepacking gear and a community supported travel stipend. To see more photos from her adventures find her on Instagram @lavlavish.

Holly
February 8, 2017

Cuba Dispatch – Guest Post by Joe Cruz

Posted by Holly
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Turn left onto the dirt track, drifting slowly to double check the GPS and that gives her enough time to come rushing out of the schoolhouse to call after us. I stop, her classroom is in a suspended stasis of looking at us through slatted no glass windows, giggling gesticulation little kid squeals. Their teacher, she interrupted their lesson for this, is saying no, no, not that way! The way to Vinales is to stay straight. I smile and take a deep breath, there’s no way that she could know that we have this conversation fifteen times a day,  kind generous Cubans who see some bike riders going in what they regard as an impossibly moronic direction. And they want to help.
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We’ve had to negotiate a fine line. Naturally we want intel about the path ahead and if there’s some real obstacle—an unfordable river, say, or a true dead end—we’d want to know about it. On the other hand, the locals have no practice seeing the unexpectedly expanded limits of our knobby tire multi-geared rigs. They see bicycles and bicyclists want the smoothest most direct route, no? Especially as there are no cars, so why not take the road? Nor is it helpful that generations of cycle tourists in Cuba have clipped their four bulging panniers on to rigid racks with an absurd pig sized duffle across the back to asphalt wobble along on Schwalbe 1.4’s.
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Our route has been a broken meander on the smallest back lanes, cow paths, stony clusterfucked hike-a-bikes, with a dose of wading and lifting sweat skin biting fly swatting. Naturally, we’re having a splendid, demented time. But it takes some negotiation effectively to convey that we’re aiming to do it this way, that, yes, we want to ride on the sendero de caballos and that malo es mejor, a phrase that when I say it, elicits laughs and then, after a few minutes, conceptual comprehension. I venture to the schoolteacher that, according to our map, there’s a trail that goes into the valley and then over a pass to descend to a river, and we want that trail. Again, she says no, it absolutely won’t work.
– – – – –
It won’t work because there’s no trail, or because it’s not good for bicycles?
There’s no trail and it’s not good for bicycles.
But there is a trail?
You can’t go that way.
Because it’s closed?
There’s no trail and it’s not good for bicycles.
– – – – –
We’re laughing together, that’s also a truth about our so-far almost three weeks here. The pre trip images, mojitos, palm trees, 1950’s Detroit classics, Fidel murals and movie set architecture, those images have a kind of veridical presence, too. Owing to the impulse to gifts and joyfulness of Cubans, thanks to how they’ve opened this place to us, we’ve ridden hundreds of kilometers of rattling dirt farm roads, we’ve wild camped and set up our tents on people’s porches and in their yards and on ball fields, we’ve played dominos in the shade on a 90 degree January day, drunk rum with campesinos, had water offered to us from ice filled gas cans strapped to sugar cane harvest equipment. We’ve jungle bushwhacked and Caribbean sand surfed to sleep on the beach and swim in jade water cenotes. We’ve rolled into dusty towns to ask around after the uncertain possibility of food to be offered salchicha sandwiches or Moros y Cristianos con yucca.
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Everywhere we’ve encountered a lucidity and humanity, the idea—made explicit in the reflections of people whose daily rhythms are rural and local but for all that are also globally conscious—the idea that was told to us, we Cubans may be poor but that makes us all in this together, we help each other, we are all family, no one is better than anyone else. And after time spent in people’s homes or in roadside shacks knocking back dubiously cold Cristal beers in the company of so many, the bright smart smile and handshakes and cheek kisses has transformed us into and through friendship. That time when Nuria, after she took us in and fed us the most elemental delicious dishes, and in the morning as we were leaving she rubbed the skin on her arms, black as coal, and she said my skin is this color and yours is different but we’re family and we can’t forget that. We won’t.
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The schoolteacher finally admits that she’s not sure whether our trail exists. We continue on and we’ll have the same back-and-forth three minutes later with a group of neighbors on their porch, finally the oldest old timer will say yes, there is a trail, taking a bike there is the stupidest thing in the world, but there is a trail. We carry on and a half hour later meet a trio of Cuban women on the track with awkward bundles on their backs, they confirm that we’re where we think we are, but no way can you take bicycles there, they add that we should be very careful the track is rocky and definitely don’t try to ride it. Logan instinctively gets on his bike to go down the hill and they literally howl and invoke divine help. And then there’s the horseman an hour later who says of course there is a trail I take it all the time but it’s impossible on bikes. We laugh argue with him for a good ten minutes—it’s his considered view that we should go back to the turn with the school—before he relents and gives us a detailed list of the landmarks that we will see. Then you will start going downhill and you must listen for the river; when you hear it, bushwhack to your left. He predicts we’ll reach the river at 5:30pm, just before dark, if we make it at all.
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Words and photos by Joe Cruz. You can read more about his adventures on two wheels on his blog Pedaling in Place.
Holly
January 17, 2017

A Winter Rider’s Guide to Warm Hands

Posted by Holly

Whether you’ve been winter riding for a decade, or are braving your first cold snap in the saddle- there is one thing we all have to deal with, it’s keeping our digits from freezing. If you’ve come back from a ride with cold hands and first thought, “I need to buy new ____” You’re only thinking of one part in a much bigger picture of ergonomics and circulation to your hands. So before you try to buy your way to warmth let’s go through some simple things you can do to keep those fingers from going numb, or worse.

 

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1. Comfortable bike geometry

Simply put – your hands should be comfortable on the bars and not go numb through regular riding, if they are, your bike positioning is causing bad circulation and possibly putting undue pressure on your wrist and hand nerves which will lead to numbness and poor blood flow. Bikes setup with aggressive XC or racing geometry should be suspect! The solution is easy – relax everything – raise up your cockpit, use bars with a minimum of 17 degrees of sweep and get comfortable ergo-grips. With less pressure on your hands to start with, you’ll have better blood flow and that equals warmth.

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Blue foam also comes in pink as shown in this “two-holer” outhouse. Riding bikes is more fun with friends and so is….

2. Insulate your cockpit
If you’ve ever used an outhouse in the winter with a blue board cutout, you’ll know where I’m going with this… Aluminum bars, levers and hard rubber grips are your enemy. Cold is easily conducted through your bars and controls to your body. The solution just takes a bit of effort to pay huge dividends in warmth. The best thing you can do is wrap your grips with foam or cork (road bike) bar tape. Carbon bars also help as they conduct minimal heat. If you don’t have carbon brake levers, lizard skins sells tiny neoprene lever sleeves, or wrap your levers with Hockey tape. Adding a little bit of insulation here to combat the conductive heat loss is more effective than insulation added by pogies.

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High Sweep bars, Ergo grips wrapped in cheap bar tape. Note covered brake lever too.

3. Start with a warm bike

This one is obvious, but easy to get careless with. It’s a lot easier to keep something warm, than to warm it up. Keep your bike in your garage or in a warm place until you’re ready to jump on the saddle. Don’t let it sit outside for 10 minutes while you finish getting geared up. Obviously if you’re driving to a trail head you can’t avoid this, but any measures you take will help.

 

4. Have a simple hand ware strategy

Ideally, you’ll be able to ride bare handed inside your pogies, if you need to, add a pair of simple fleece liner gloves. Inside pogies, gloves do not need any kind of outer shell, the extra material reduces breathability and increases drying time. When you’re out on a long ride (especially in subzero temps) there will be a point where your hands will get cold no matter what you’ve done. For this, you should pack a “bailout” pair of lightweight mitts to make it through that big down hill, or after you fix your frozen derailleur. These mitts should again be fleece, but have also had good luck with the liners from big mountaineering mits with the super light taffeta shells. The liners from BD Mercury Mitt’s work very well as they have an optional trigger finger for your brake levers.  What you don’t need is a bunch of leather and big gauntlets. When you swap out to the bail out mitts, put your thin gloves close to your body so the moisture in them does not freeze and possibly dries out a bit. Swap out for the lighter pair as soon as you warm up again to keep the bailout mitts dry and sweat free for the next time.

5. Vent

Your wrists and forearms are a major zone for thermoregulation. Wear clothing than you can easily pull up to your elbows to dump heat when you need to on climbs. With exposed arms, you should easily keep your hands from overheating inside pogies. Forearms and wrists are prone to sweating, while we’re not going to cover layering here it’s a good idea to avoid thin long sleeve wool or synthetic layers here as our experience has been that the forearms get damp wet with sweat easily and can freeze while you’re wearing them then boom – cold hands. You’re better off using thin stretchy fleece that does not absorb moisture in the first place. If the weather calls for a shell of some sort, make sure you still are able to vent your arms.

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6. Recognize who you are and prepare accordingly

A big guy who is warm “no matter what” is going to have a lot easier time keeping their hands warm compared to a petite woman with Raynaud’s syndrome. In the case of the latter, you’ll have to pull out all the stops to stay happy. There’s no shame in using Little Hotties.

7. Stay hydrated and fed

Photo credit: Andrew Burr

Photo credit: Andrew Burr

Getting dehydrated is the main cause of frostbite. Have a winter hydration system (like ours!) that you can easily rely on to stay hydrated. Bonking on long winter rides also has far worse consequences than in summer time. Don’t leave the house without some snacks in the bag.

 

8. Get good pogies

Pogies have two main jobs – they block the wind and insulate. For temps above zero you can get by with pretty minimal insulation ( if you follow everything else on this list). When you start getting well into the negatives, you’ll need some puff to combat the thermal gradient.

 

What did we miss? Got something to add? Make a comment!