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Know Before You Go
December 19, 2016

Know Before You Go

As Seen on the Pages of Bicycling Magazine in Airports Worldwide

SECTION No1 Introduction

In 2015 & 2016, we traveled to New Zealand, Bolivia, California, British Columbia, Australia, Colombia, California, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Republic of Georgia, Idaho and Oregon. We took bikes, cameras, and curiosity. The themes: in 2015, mountain passes (find the cleanest, most interesting, most stylish line from one side of a mountain to the other—like skateboarding or surfing, only with loaded bikes); in 2016, exploring the range of trips possible via bicycle (on one hand an isolated slog over a mountain, on the other a relaxed swimming tour with ten mile days and take-out pizza). We called this project Dead Reckoning.

 

We rode on fat bikes, road bikes, 29er gravel bikes, and mountain bikes. We were self-supported or at the very least self-reliant, except when we weren’t, wondering the whole time if the route would be possible, and if it was possible, how bad it would hurt, and if it did hurt, how much fun it would be to hurt that bad.

 

The point is that bikes are an amazing form of sport and transportation. But they’re also an ideal tool for exploration and casual anthropology. As it turns out, 15 mph is exactly the right speed at which to observe the world.

 

And for what it’s worth, in addition to riding them, you can put bikes in a bush plane, strap them to a helicopter, lash them to your back, and tie them to a raft. Basically they go where you go. And if worse comes to worse, you can always just ride them on the downhills. Probably.

 

What follows is a collection of metaphors, anecdotes, and tips from our bikepacking adventures, which when taken as a whole, might, with some luck, amount to something approximating 101 insights into getting way the hell off the grid with your bike, a backpack, maybe some strangers, and plenty of good friends.

SECTION No2 6 Possibly Obvious But Probably Essential Bikepacking Tips

1 – TRY BEFORE YOU RIDE
If you embark with a bike you haven’t ridden in final adventure mode (i.e.: fully loaded), the bikepacking adventure will be over before it even starts.

 

2 – PACK EXTRA GLOVES
You can’t have too many. The weather will always be worse than you expect. The ounces you saved by ditching an extra pair of cycling gloves will come back to haunt you.

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3 – EMBRACE TUBELESS TIRES
Remember 56K dial-up internet? It was great. You’d punch in a URL, go make coffee, and by the time you returned there’d be a cute polar bear on your screen. But you’d never choose it today. Let tubes go the way of 56K and say farewell to pinch flats forever.

 

4 – BRING A BOOK
Books aren’t light and they get wet. But without electricity it’s amazing how quickly it gets dark, and in the middle of the wilderness when no one else is around, you will feel less alone.

 

5 – DEPLOY THE CINNAMON ROLL
Wrap wet clothes in newspaper, and roll (the paper is the dough; the clothes, the cinnamon). Useful in high-mountain hamlets where rain never stops and there are no trees to burn.

 

6 – PRACTICE OPTIMISTIC SKEPTICISM (OS)
A cousin of Irrational Exuberance, OS encourages the wild and ambitious. Unlike its headstrong relation, it demands a wary eye. How it works: Your plan was to attain a vista camping spot. But there’s a blizzard, so you camp below snowline instead. Next day, your party does not need to resort to eating each other.

SECTION No3 7 Similarities Between a Soviet Ejection Seat and Lashing a Bike to Your Back

Mile 89.5
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Don't do it! This is stupid.

1. When deployed correctly, each will get you home safely.

2. The only time you’ll be comfortable wearing one is while you’re blissfully floating in the air.

3. Walking with either of them on your back is debilitating.

4. If you have to use either, you’ve made some really poor decisions.

5. For a while, if you can forget how you got there and what you have to do next, the view can be fantastic.

6. The sensation of imminent and simultaneous physical and psychological danger.

7. The pride in knowing that a representation of the proletariat is hanging from your shoulders.

SECTION No4 4 Examples of Casual Anthropology

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If you disassemble a car into thousands of parts and carry it over the Sierras using pack mules, which are legal, is that the same as driving through a Wilderness Area?
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In Bolivia it’s okay to poop anywhere. In fact it’s encouraged. One might even describe it as necessary.
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Wikipedia’s explanation as to why Graveyard Valley in British Columbia’s Chilcotin Range is called Graveyard Valley differs considerably from how Elders of the local First Nations understand it.
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In Australia if your pal falls off his bike on a 14-percent climb because his legs seize with cramps, you might say he “kooked” it.

SECTION No5 11 "Foods" You Will Find in the Bolivian Andes at 16,700(+/-) Feet Above Sea Level

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Bucket Chicken (Not Pictured)
  • 1. Looks like chicken, must be chicken. Found in every pueblo square in a plastic bucket under a tarp marinating in something orange.
Kettle Chips
  • 1. Poke a hole in the bag to let the air out, then smash ’em, crunch ’em, and compress ’em for a lightweight and savory snack.
That Leaf
  • 1. Bolivian wizards, shamans, and adventurers have all used the leaf of the coca plant for eons (it is said to aid in altitude sickness, digestion, circulation, headaches, and “regularity”). It's true that when this leaf is put through a chemical process it becomes cocaine, but that’s not how most Bolivians use it. Like them, we stuffed the raw leaf in our cheeks and chewed on it all day.
  • 2. Important: Don’t “eat” eat it.
Mayonesa
  • 1. This is kinda mayonnaise, in the same way that apple Jolly Ranchers are kinda apples.
Coca-Cola
  • 1. Move over Michael Jackson! Everyone knows Coca-Cola is the King of Pop.
Regia
  • 1. Congealed salt and oil; the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” of Bolivia.
Locoto
  • 1. Tongue-melting powder that’s great on almost anything.
Pepsi
  • 1. Fake, knockoff, wannabe Coca-Cola; bought in haste; whatever you do, do not make this mistake.
"Tuna"
  • 1. Labeled as tuna; pungent and gross; a Trojan horse of dietary vengeance: DO NOT EAT!!!
Eggs
  • 1. They can’t even help but be organic and cage free.
Aji-No-Men Beef Flavor Ramen
  • 1. Noodles and powdered beef. ¡Qué sabor!

SECTION No6 8 Steps to Working a Grizzly Bear in the Chilcotin Mountains

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  1. Meet a man and a woman leading a horse-pack train over Windy Pass. Share some conversation, then pay attention when they say…
  2. “Watch out for the grizzly11Grizzly photo above thanks to Gregory Smith. up the trail. Make some noise. And work it. You’ll be fine.”
  3. Pretend, collectively, that you know what it means to “work” a bear.
  4. Tie your shoelaces, have a snack, stay together, and continue up the trail because what else are you going to do?
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  1. Just when you thought the horse packers were—like you’d said all along—ghosts from the 1800s haunting the Chilcotins, see the bear, spook the bear, watch it run off the trail about 30 feet before it stands up and turns around.
  2. Hold your ground, make eye contact, unholster your bear spray, whistle, shout at it, and most important, back away slowly and deliberately. Make eye contact. Be chill.
  3. Think about stopping to take a photograph, agonize over it, decide against it, and continue walking deliberately backward.
  4. You’ll know if it’s gonna ­succeed in less than a minute. Good luck!

SECTION No7 8 Places in Australia You WON’T Find a Koala Bear

Ten Days in Australia and We Didn't See a Single One
→ → → Scroll to the Right → → →
01 Bondi Beach: You can rent surfboards there. You can negotiate a Green Room discount which basically means that should you become barreled—keep in mind it’s a beach break and the closed-out swell is 2-3 feet max—the rental is free. You can have the Green Goodness Bowl at Speedo’s Cafe on the north end of the beach. But you can’t find a Koala Bear there no matter how many arvos you spend walking up and down the cement boardwalk.
02 Jamberoo Mountain Road: Even though it’s a rainforest on the Illawarra escarpment, and even though there are signs on the side of the road that are supposed to represent a Koala, and even though these signs mean that you should be on the lookout for Koalas, and even though they’re known to be around in the area, try as you might, you won’t find a Koala here.
03 Bong Bong Motel in Moss Vale: It kinda makes sense that you won’t find a Koala here. It’s a kinda dingy motel in a Souther Highlands town with a cute little world-famous diner known for it’s pastrami sandwiches. Why are you even looking for wildlife here? Weirdo.
04 Wee Jasper Nature Preserve: YOU WON’T FIND A KOALA HERE and it makes NO SENSE! It’s a *^#$*^@ Eucalyptus Park, which, isn't that Disneyland, a Caribbean Cruise, a Mexican Beach vacation in January and Las Vegas all wrapped up into one spot for Koalas? Isn’t that like an ALL YOU CAN EAT INDIAN BUFFET Nature Preserve for these fuzzy little numbers?
05 Snowy Mountain Highway: Between Talbingo and Yarrangobilly even though Lachlan Morton (a professional road cyclist and native Australian) claimed—trust us, we asked!, oh did we ask!—that more often not you will see them on the ground, wobbling their way from one tree to the next. And once again, that stretch of road runs through, you guessed it, a eucalyptus forest.
06 Wolgal Hut: Sure, it's a ski hut miles away from any civilization (yes they get snow in Australia), and there are no eucalyptus trees within five miles of the place, and yes it’s so haunted that three out of four in our party did not sleep through the night, haunted by ghastly visions of the tortured souls of the aboriginal and frontier people that formerly inhabited this place. But come on, not even a damn ghost Koala? You’d think these ghouls would insist on haunting with a Koala ghost. What’s more horrifying than a cute thing gone demonic? Nothing (see Chucky, Monkeyshines, and Children of the Corn).
07 Alongside Blowering Reservoir: Nope. It’s chockers with dead wombat, dead snake, dead platypus, dead kangaroo and dead wallabies, but not one goddamn Koala.
08 The Actually Melting Murray River Road Between Khankoban and the Hotel Granya: The chipseal road was melting, no joke. It was like riding on crème brûlée, or maybe that black crust that floats on top of molten lava. In any case it wasn’t right, it just wasn’t right. This one we get, no one wants to be here, I mean the road is melting. We didn’t even see birds flying around, they knew the consequences of touching down on that road, it wasn’t a risk they were willing to take.

SECTION No8 15 Uncommon Types of Rain That Are Common to Bikepacking

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1. Weeping 2. Peripatetic 3. Eager

4. Confident 5. Wrathful 6. Dreamy

7. Belligerent 8. Deceptive 9. Jarring

10. Perspiring 11. Creepy 12. Jocular

13. Masochistic 14. Titillating

15. Cajoling

SECTION No9 4 Events During Which it Would Snow on us Even if it’s Scientifically and Meteorologically Impossible

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In 2015 Yonder Journal traveled to New Zealand in the summer, California in the summer, Bolivia in the summer, and British Columbia in the summer. In each location, without fail, it snowed. It is upon this wellspring of experience that we base our predictions.

 

  1. While enjoying a “snorkeling with the dolphins” experience in Waikiki.
  2. During a dinner party with Victoria and David Beckham at their waterfront villa on Palm Island in Dubai.
  3. Aboard packrafts, in passage through the Panama Canal.
  4. While cooking-up a few afternoon plantains on a Cuban Beach in July.

SECTION No10 8 Similes That Describe How Your Body Feels at High Altitude

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SECTION No11 3 Ways Through a Bolivian Vigilante Tollbooth + 1 Last Resort

When traveling through the High Andes of Bolivia, you’ll probably encounter at least one vigilante tollbooth: a guy or gal demanding tribute for using a road that travels by his or her land. After rigorous testing, we recommend the following strategies.

 

#1: THE COLORFUL-PAPER TECHNIQUE

 

Bolivian vigilante tollbooth operators are attracted to colorful paper with numbers and portraits of famous dead people on them. If you have some of this paper to spare, spare some, but stick to the low, single numbers.

 

#2: THE “LOOK, A CONDOR!” TECHNIQUE

 

Bolivian vigilante tollbooth operators have a fascination with these titanic Andean carrion birds. Point with gusto to a space in the sky and shout, “CONDOR!” Once the operator has turned to look, make your break.

 

#3: THE BLISSFULLY IGNORANT TECHNIQUE

 

Bolivian vigilante tollbooth operators crave attention, then feed on your reaction. Ignoring them can be effective. But be warned, these are tollbooth vigilantes. You will want to ogle. And once you interact… well, just don’t.

 

#4: THE LAST RESORT

 

If you’re traveling to Bolivian vigilante tollbooth territory, bring someone you can sacrifice: your party’s weak link, the one who sleeps in, never makes food, and always flats. This person might be great at Sudoku, they might even be your husband or wife, but when you’re facing a vigilante tollbooth situation, you ­do what you gotta do.

SECTION No12 12 Fix-It Items (That Aren't Tire Levers) You Should Have On Hand

  1. Tubes – because sometimes even tubeless fails.
  2. Patch kit – because sometimes backup tubes fail.
  3. Tire boots – never trifle with slashes and cuts.
  4. Bailing wire – before there was duct tape there was bailing wire.
  5. Zip ties – these plastic ­cinches are surprisingly resolute and dependable.
  6. Gorilla tape – duct tape on steroids; wrap a yard or so around your seatpost for easy access.
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  1. Dependable multi-tool – with a functional chain breaker and all other niceties.
  2. Solid Leatherman-type tool – should include knife and pliers.
  3. Assorted nuts and bolts – the kinds you use on bicycles.
  4. Derailleur hanger – if Achilles’s mother were to dip your bike in the River Styx she would hold it by the derailleur hanger.
  5. Pump – make sure it works with your tire’s valves.
  6. Lighter – because you never know.

SECTION No13 5 Foreign Words & Cultural Idioms that May Come in Handy

  1. “Too easy” – adj. no problem, done, of course, got it (in Australian).
  2. “Tipo” – prep. like, same as, similar; especially when paired with pantomime and wild gesticulation (in Spanish).
  3. “Eh”universal punctuation; works as a period, question mark, and exclamation point (in Canadian).
  4. “Sweet as” – adj. right on, OK; an inherently positive confirmation (in New Zealandese).
  5. “Bruce Lee” – noun a grizzly; critical in countries where the alpha predator is the size of a VW bug and bristling with teeth and claw. If you hear “Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee, BRUCE LEE!” you might want to go for your ghost-pepper-infused bear spray instead of prepping your duckface for a selfie (in English, spoken through a Swedish filter).

SECTION No14 9 Bikepushing Dos and Don'ts

A Crash Course in Navigating Steep Hills and Bumpy Terrain
→ → → Scroll to the Right → → →
01 DO: Ride your bike. That’s what it’s for.
02 DO: Stay on the uphill side of the bike. Trust us. (Your bike will be loaded with excess weight in the form of tents, water, food, clothes, toothpaste.)
03 DO: Let it roll. Remember, this thing has wheels. (With all this weight, grades you’d normally be able to ride up will be unrideable.)
04 DO: Have a snack or maybe take a photo. Make a joke, something about Sisyphus or a Sherpa is always a crowd pleaser.
05 DO: If possible, lean on the bike, like an off-road walker. You’re doing this because it’s too hard (or you’re too tired) to ride. Either way you’ll want to save that energy. (Especially after five previous days of riding, sleeping on the ground, nearly freezing each night, and being harassed by real (or the idea of) wild animals.)
06 DON'T: Defend your bike if attacked by a wild animal. It can fend for itself.
07 DON'T: Drag. It’s called bike-pushing for a reason. Dragging is barbaric.
08 DON'T: Ghost ride your bike, it won’t balance itself. Unless for therapeutic reasons you need a little time alone, some quality “me” time, then sure, send ’er. But remember to never…
09 DON'T: Abandon your bike. You’ll need it later.

SECTION No15 6 Things You Can Absolutely NOT Start a Fire With

  1. Eskimo Pies.
  2. Wood recently fished out of a river.
  3. A bucket of snow.
  4. Angry words.
  5. Bicycle components; namely, but not limited to, handlebars, stems, seatposts, chains, pedals, cranks, spokes, brake pads, cables, bottom brackets, headsets, hubs, and quick releases.
  6. Hope.
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SECTION No16 6 Quotes Regarding Pushing a Bike Up the Huxley River in New Zealand During a Monsoon

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The only reason I considered this ‘route’ even remotely possible was because I figured we could just walk up this stretch of river since the water was low. This rain might change things.”- Paul Smith Let me get this straight, the fastest way across this bridge is backwards?”- DWP Wow, three hours later and it’s up to my nipples.”- Benedict Wheeler

First of all, you realize he can’t hear us, right? Second of all, he’s pinned to a rock. And C) This is why people carry rope. I mean, right?”- DWPI think we, like, NEED to make a few really good decisions immediately. So let’s not panic but also let’s not get hypothermia and whatever comes after hypothermia.”- Erik Nohlin

I can’t hear anything in this hood.”- KVH

SECTION No17 5 Bikepacking-Adjacent Vehicles

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Helicopter

Amazing views, unbelievable access, quick delivery; these hearty aeronautical vehicles can be a wonderful addition to any adventurous enterprise. Side effects include: loss of hearing, unimpressed wildlife, egregious fossil fuel consumption and a $1,500.00 bill. Side note; in New Zealand you DON’T need to call ahead for parties under six, provided you’re near the top of a Southern Alp and only carrying bikes. Be prepared to wait for up to two hours for Operation Brodrick Hut Extraction to commence, however.
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Bush Plane

More amazing views, river bed/lake/glacier/dirt road compatible and plenty of “banking”. Bush Planes (e.g Cessna 180s, Super Cubs, Otters, Beavers) are basically go-carts with wings. In fact, Bush Plane Technology peaked in 1956. Side effects include: delivery into Grizzly Bear habitats, becoming tangled in the old-timey headsets and jump seat belts, dizziness, and exposure to not enough/too much Food Chain- and Plane Crash-related local lore.
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Altiplano Autobús

They’re cheap, they’re colorful (traditional motifs include Avatar, Jean Claude van Damme, Aztec Sacrifice, et cetera et cetera), and they’re (broadstroke) reliable. Side effects include: peeing into a coffee can, a three-hour sermon in Spanish, snoring wizards and goat farts. And a top-heavy (straight down) view of the roads which are often terrifying, death-defying and free of superfluous hindrances such as guardrails and engineering math.
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Packraft

Let’s face it: swimming with a bicycle is nearly impossible. But in a planet covered in large part by water, you’ll need to deal with getting across a bit of the wet stuff from time. A packraft lets you do it. Rivers, lakes, small inland seas; you name it, a packraft will get you across it. Side effects include: added weight, tennis elbow and an increased risk of hypothermia and drowning (decreased if you would've waded instead).
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Mule

Before bikes there were horses, and before adventure bikes there were mules. For all intents and purposes, they are the prototype of the adventure bike. They can go nearly anywhere, carry nearly anything, and are upstanding but non-reproductive members of the animal family. They are dependable, sure-footed, and like VISA, they’re accepted almost everywhere. Side effects include: an ornery demeanor, saddle sores, rampant food consumption, a high spookability factor (in which they are liable to rear-up or worse make a break, potentially scattering your precious gear all over a glacier or desert or some other god-awful place), they’re a walking predator dessert, and they have no compunction whatsoever about doing their dirty business right there on the trail.
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