A Tale of Two Towers, Granite Edition

Back in Black.

As I am fond of saying, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is my favorite place on earth. There is no canyon steeper, deeper or darker. If I were to climb only one area for the rest of my life, this would be it. And when I die, I want half of my ashes to be scattered off the peg traverse pitch of Scenic Cruise.

The day before Thanksgiving, Mickey and I headed to the Black to link two classic moderates: Dragon’s Tooth and Maiden Voyage. It would be about 1200′ of 5.8 and lots of bushwhacking. Temps were a frigid 40 degrees in the shade and I climbed everything in belay gloves — we were both glad to be on easy terrain all day.

Dragon’s Tooth is an underappreciated moderate, by far the best beginner route in the Black except for perhaps Maiden. It’s short and mostly low-angle 5.7 on good, well-protected stone. After summitting the tower, you can rap off and walk back up SOB or bushwhack up a drainage (with a mandatory V0 anklebreaker boulder problem that’s worth roping up for). Or you can climb the exit pitches of Casual, which is kind of a chosspile but preferable to walking.

The tower from above, camoflauged against the canyon backdrop. Bring webbing for the rap anchor.

We opted for the walk-up to save time for Maiden. It’s not bad, as far as buschwhacking goes, and not as bad as the exit for Casual.

The nice thing about doing two short routes was using the car as an aid station. We slammed some fried chicken, salt and vinegar kettle chips, pickles and brownies, then drove from the campground to the ranger station. I dropped Mickey halfway at the Cruise Gully entrance, parked, and then trail ran down Cruise and caught up with him at the second fixed rap.

This was my sixth lap on Maiden. We had a 90m Beal Opera 8.6 and ran the whole route, ground to summit, in two pitches and two hours total. I took the first three hundred feet and placed a dozen pieces or so.

Kor called this 5.9- but that was back when the route was dirty and loose. Relentless gangbanging has transformed the Red Dihedral into an ultra-safe, cruiser 5.8 whose crux features good fingerlocks in a corner over a bulge with great feet.

The first three-hundred foot pitch brought us to the top of the third official pitch above the railroad tracks dual handcracks. I slapped in an alpine anchor on an offset nut and a #3 and Mickey blazed by. He’s an incredibly efficient aid climber who has done all of the Fishers except one (5.10X slopers) and knows his hardskills inside and out. It’s nice to climb with someone who knows how to improvise.

Maiden Voyage gives you a primo view of Scenic Cruise. I preferred the original offwidth variation and highly recommend it to anyone who likes getting sandbagged …. get ready for the hardest .10d finger crack of your life!

Mickey ran his pitch all the way up to the summit, taking a direct route I hadn’t tried. We shot some video for Sender’s Game Podcast and then rapped off and burned rubber up the approach trail. Headlamps were only needed for five minutes.

Back at the car, we signed out and celebrated with mango LeCroix, which tastes just like PBR. (I’m on probation and can’t drink). We polished off the rest of our sweet potato jalapeno breakfast burritos, then hightailed it to Hotchkiss to grab doughnuts and blueberry milkshakes.

This was my 30th and 31st climbs in the Black, counting repeats. I’m looking forward to Spring Black with uberstoker Andy Ofhubble and my most experienced blackguard Tim Noble … we’re gunning for Southern Arete and Astrodog Direct, respectively.

Home, Home Again

I like to be here when I can.

Lots of life has happened as of late. I got divorced and moved to Grand Junction, CO. I’ve always wanted to live there but my ex doesn’t do well in extreme temperatures.

Within a ninety-minute drive, GJ has the following crags:

– Local bouldering (5min)
– Monument towers and wingate cragging (10min)
– Unaweep multipitch granite and miles of FA potential (20min)
– Escalante singlepitch (60min, mediocre wingate but ok for when you don’t feel like driving to the Creek)
– Grand Mesa basalt (60min)
– Black Canyon granite (60min)
– Rifle limestone (90min)
– Ouray sandstone, limestone, quartzite, ice, dry (90min)
– Moab sandstone (75min)
– Creek wingate (90min speeding)
– Gunnison granite (90 min speeding)

Plus some new mixed routes being developed on the sly by certain unnamed gotez of liberty.

For biking, GJ is stacked even more than for rock:

– Chunk Loops (5min)
– Tabeguache Trail 140 miles from GJ to Montrose (5min)
– Mary’s Loop (15min)
– Kokopelli Trail 140 miles from Fruita to Moab (15min)
– 18 Road (15min)
– Powderhorn lift-accessed downhill (45min)
– Delta adobes (45min)
– Montrose adobes (60min)
– Uncompaghre Plateau (75min)
– Grand Mesa downhill and XC (60min)
–  Moab (75min)

So yeah, I’ll be busy. I love Grand Junction. It’s one of the cheapest places to live in Colorado, has a good metal scene, lots of jobs, nice downtown, good college where I’m applying for nursing school. Super hot in the summer but you’ve got the Mesa (10k’) nearby for an alpine break.  I have six good friends here from Redcloud and Journey Quest, a flexible job as a CNA and a solid church. Sender’s Game Podcast is exploding. Life is looking up.

Here’s the goods:

Kokopelli Trails in Loma

Former fifth-grader Fauxny Hawk clipping up Simple Physics 5.10b in Montrose. I lost one of the kiddos in the divorce but FH and his family have been really supportive.

Shep on the 5.8- P1 of Sweet Sunday Serenade

Meg and I on Otto’s crux pitch, 50 feet of unprotected 5.4 to a 5.8+ roof pull on drilled pockets.

Rob Pizem on Questions and Answers 5.10+ in Unaweep

Rob giving me the go-ahead for the crux pitch on Q&A. I took a fifteen-footer onto a nut!

Sammy and G-Unit on a mediocre 5.11b at Cascade

Sidewinder in Delta. I burped a rear tire and forgot my multitool , so hiked four miles then ran nine to get back to the car to make it to a job interview.

Jones H Bars

Normally when I make a cockpit adjustment, it takes a few rides for me to get used to the new position. That was not the case after I installed my carbon Jones H Bars (710mm).

It was immediately obvious that these bars offered the most comfortable positions for my hands. The way I counted, there are at least seven different ways to grip a Jones bar as you’re seated.

Widest grip, no brakes: good for flat gravel grinding.

Mid grip, one finger braking: downhill

Choked up, two/middle finger braking: steep singletrack climbs (longer lever principle, keeps front wheel weighted)

Hoods: road cruising

Middle of the bars: road, easy climbs

Aero (elbows on grips): pedalling while tucked

Aero (elbows on middle of the bar, gripping Gnarwhal): coasting while tucked

I quickly found the Gnarwhal was not worth the weight, price and real estate. By running my forearms along the grips,I could approximate the same position. In this configuration, my elbows are at comfortable angle that keeps my body position forward but also broadens my chest to allow for easier breathing. The Narwhal is surprisingly heavy aluminum and really functions best as a hikeabike lever and accessory mounting rail. I found myself hardly ever needing it for balance.

One of the joys of running H bars is the sheer volume of real estate you have for handlebar-mounted accessories. The forward rail is a great place to mount I like without it being obstructed. There’s plenty of room for all of the necessities: bell, phone, GPS, t-rex squeaky horn.

Jones makes a nice, simple ultralight pouch that fits inside of the handlebar space. It makes for easy access two small items, but is a little bit on the pricey side. Boutique frame bag cottage shops like Cleaveland Mountaineering could probably custom make them better.

The specialty Jones EVA foam grips, however, are worth the price; they are long enough to maximize the three hand positions that can be used with them. Wrapping the remainder of the bar with handlebar tape was an easy enough task.

Altogether, I couldn’t be happier with the Jones H bars. I haven’t ridden anything longer than 110 miles on them but I trust that they will be an invaluable piece of kit on neverending gravel rides like the Sancho 200 and Michigan Coast to Coast.

NCT: TC to Petoskey

“Why a fatbike?” they ask.

That’s why.

Starvation Lake

Two weeks ago I rode this route southbound. This time headed north, I hit the trails that I missed then, and linked up some additional dirt roads.

The kit L to R: snacks (granola, nutterbutters, dry-roasted peanuts), a 15-liter pack, power brick, Gorillapod, Asstroglide, bluetooth headphones, phone loaded with Gravity’s Rainbow and Spotify, alarm clock set to 4:20, Revolt headlamp, Crank Bros m19 tool, tire lever spoon, medkit, clothes (gloves, Craft windbreaker, OR Voodoo pants, poly LS, Pearl windvest, leg warmers, armwarmers, Thermarest Neotherm full length, brain bucket, reflective vest, Patagonads puffy, Miguel’s Pizza tank top, booty shorts, non-slip waitress shoes. (No sleeping bag because the low was 60, and I ditched the pack by tying my clothing stuff sack along the toptube with a 27.5 tube).

I also took the Grand Traverse Bay shoreline from Petoskey to Wequetonsing, which proved to be the most fun riding of the trip (video above). Between rocks, sand and hub-deep water, I channeled my inner Curiak and really gave Ophelia a chance to flex her fat.

Are those siped knobs on your tires or are you just happy to see me?

Day One started at noon from my house in Traverse City. Three miles of pavement led to the Vasa Pathway doubletrack, which eventually turned into alternating sandy dirt road and singletrack (Iceman Cometh course). Thirty miles later, in Kow-kaska (home of the Blazers, tee hee) I snagged some calories for the road.

The locals were amused by the sight of me sitting in the dirt outside an Arby’s an eating a pizza. I ate two slices and brought the rest for dinner and breakfast.

From there, I turned on some Mendelssohn and floated through some dreamy single track.

The trail riding in Northern Michigan has proved to be fairly homogenous so far and maddeningly flat (1000 vert in fifty miles), but still fun regardless.

After Starvation Lake, I hit up a local bar for the obligatory sending fuel (PBR). I walked in expecting to get vibed by the locals, but they were quite tolerant. In the biggest non sequitur of the month, the background music of this redneck bar in the middle of Bumfugg, MI included Souljah Boy.

Yoooooo, crank that Souljah Boy.

I grabbed a PBR for the road and spun some more single track as the sun set. Unfortunately, the can fell out when I went over the handlebars. NB for bottlecage usage: metal on metal, plastic on plastic.

This Milwaukee classic became trail magic for someone. My beer booty count is now back to even after losing this one — I found an unopened Coors Light at the bottom of a river on the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona last year.

I heartily approve.

Wild and domestic life was abundant: plenty of dawgz, three porcupines, wild turkeys, deer, a couple snakes and some funky cattle who will most certainly be reincarnated as gotez.


Just call me Steven Wilson

At 23:30, I finally hit Pinney Bridge State Park and slept on top of a picnic table. It was a bit chilly for not having a sleeping bag (same as two weeks ago, go figure).

The next morning I got up at 04:30, ate my last slice of pizza, and launched into some formidable hikeabike. The trail was more rooted than a comp-sic major’s phone.

After a while, just as I was starting to lag from calorie deficit, I ran across some trail magic — road apples (not from horses).

Away with ye, medical professional!

Eventually I hit pavement and rode to Boyne Falls, where I stopped at McZargalds and pounded an obscene breakfast (four McGriddles, hash browns, Vernor’s and coffee). Then I caught the bike path to Petoskey and slogged through a heavy thunderstorm while listening to Megadeth. I was starting to get cold, so I fortified my innards with the nectar of the immortals.

Half a pint down in five mellow miles of beach cruising.

At this point, I happened to notice a staircase leading down to the rocky beach. I took it, intending just to grab a few photos, but then ended up riding the entire shoreline from Petoskey to Wequetonsing. It was classic fatbiking. The holiday crowds were out in force, so I made several stops to explain fatbiking, bikepacking and to take shots of Fireball with deserving individuals.

At last, I hit the family cottage in Weque and jumped in the lake to celebrate. 62 miles yesterday, 75 today. Then the eating began in earnest. As of right now, I’m at 8500 calories and 2.5 gallons of liquid for the day.

It’s nice leaving tracks wider than your shoe.

The next morning, I spun forty-five miles on pavement and lakeshore to Mackinaw City. With her tires at max PSI, Ophelia floats.

In town I had a top-notch cheeseburger and waffle fries. I got a double order of bacon ala carte for the frambag and busted down the NCT back towards Petoskey.

At the risk of uttering blasphemy, I will venture that these are the best w-fries I’ve ever had.

Somewhere I took a wrong turn and ended up doing a few extra miles of dirt and gravel to Cheboygan. It was a serendipitous mistake, however, because I got to see …

Somewhere along the way to Indian River I rode across a fifty foot bridge. After checking the water level below, I jumped off three times. My camera died midvideo.

The way back was mostly cruiser crushed limestone. I found a novel invention:

In Alanson, I stopped at the Cross in the Woods shrine and spent some time meditating on the redemptive suffering of Christ, which is the only thing I’ve found that makes sense of the existence of pain in a world full of strife. I also threw down the gauntlet and told God that if he wanted to make me a pastor by age forty as per the original plan, he’d have to seriously get his divine shit together and help me reach metanoia or stasis.

Bearclaw Balthazar Carbon Fatbike

Meet Ophelia. She enjoys discussing postmodern literature and taking long, romantic rides on the beach while listening to 80’s hair metal.

Ophelia prefers the term “big-tubed.”

This fatty was the personal steed of master builder Jason Lowetz of Bearclaw Bicycle Company and Einstein Cycles in Traverse City, MI. Prior to meeting Ophelia, I bikepacked and commuted on a very special Surly Karate Monkey named Beatrice. She and I sojourned on many a chunky trail together including the Colorado, Kokopelli and Tabeguache.

When I moved to Michigan, however, it was immediately apparent that if I was going to stay afloat on the sand and snow, I’d need some big rubber. I considered several options, including a Pugsley and a titanium fatty from a certain unnamed mail-order bike company. However, when I saw Ophelia’s frameset gracing the shop wall at Einstein Cycles, I knew that she was the one.

Jason put together a killer ultralight fatty at a killer ultralight price point by utilizing some preowned components. This bike retails for more than my last two automobiles put together. And she’s worth every red cent.

In the month and a half that I’ve been with Ophelia, I’ve ridden her for about eight hundred miles on flowtrail, sandy bikepacking doubletrack, loose beach sugar, gravel and pavement.  She excels at all conditions.

What struck me first was how delightfully playful this bike is. I never expected a fatbike to rail so hard in corners. The Van Helga 4.0 hooks up nicely on sandy turns at 15 PSI. Lofting the front end over downed trees is effortless thanks to the carbon fork. I’m a fairly conservative rider, but this bike is so confidence-inspiring that I soon found myself cornering harder, descending faster and taking bigger drops than I ever would have with Beatrice.

I made several cockpit modifications to the stock Balthazar, the most important of which was installing carbon 710mm Jones H-bars. Normally it takes me a while to warm up to any adjustment in riding position, but within five minutes, I knew that these bars were clutch. They offer at least six different hand positions, plus a pretty acceptable aero tuck when grasping the ultra-phallic Gnarwhal (pelotons beware!).

The 17.5″ frame offers ample storage space for a custom bag. Although fork mounts were conspicuously absent (tut tut!), Cleaveland Mountaineering’s Everything Cages mounted with hoseclamps without issue. One of my biggest surprises was that with the extra Q-factor inherent to fatbiking, there was enough clearance for my knees to strap a couple thin stuff sacks on either side of the headtube, thus providing even more bikepacking storage space. For someone like me who doesn’t enjoy using a seatpost bag, this is very helpful.


My only complaint with the frame are that there are only two sets of cage mounts. With bolt-on framebags and gastanks becoming more popular, a third on the underside of the toptube would be handy, as well as two on the downtube, four on the fork, and two atop the toptube. Last year when I commissioned Kokopelli Bike Company for a custom titanium plus frame, they hooked me up with more mounts than a GoPro dork at Six Flags, as well as rack and fender mounts. For a lifetime frame, having these options would be nice.

There’s honestly not much I can do to Ophelia to put her on a diet — there’s already so little metal, she’d have no problems making it through airport security. Future plans include running a Schwalbe Jumbo Jim 4.8 up front and maybe running a Selle Anatomica saddle. I have also toyed with the idea of making her singlespeed, although that would have little use for winter riding. A carbon 29+ wheelset would make this an ideal bike for Tour Divide in two years.

Speaking of winter, this review will be updated with winter test data as soon as the white stuff flies. Until then, I’m taking her on another bikepacking segment of the NCT and on a thrasherboy trip to Copper Harbor.

In conclusion, I can honestly say that I have never had so much fun on a bicycle at sea level as I have with Ophelia. This Balthazar is fast, fun, flickable and a freaking smokeshow.

The real test will be to see whether I bring her on Colorado Trail Race next year, or pony up for a  carbon Salsa full-squish 27.5+. Remembering the pain I endured on a 100mm fork on chunky moto-choss hell known as Sargent’s Mesa, I am reluctant to ride that section rigid. Then again, it’s the CT — who said anything about riding?

Setup as of August 2018:

Frame: Bearclaw Balthazar Carbon, medium
Fork: Bearclaw Blitzen, carbon
Wheelset: DT Swiss 2250 75mm carbon laced with Big Ride hubs
Tires: Van Helga 26×4.0 front, Bontrager Rougarou 26×3.8 rear
Drivetrain: SRAM XX1 1×11, 34×11-42Cranks: Next SL, carbon
Saddle: WTB Volt, carbon rails
Seatpost: Profile Design carbon
Bars: Jones H, carbon, plus a Gnarwhal mono
Stem: Syntace 40mm
Brakes: SRAM Guide Hydraulic, 160/140
Pedals: Kona Wah Wah 2
Bags: Cleaveland Mountaineering custom frame bag, seat bag, handlebar harness and Everything fork cage. Jones pouch, Bykit gas tank, Metolius chalkbag.
Weight: Roughly the same as my carbon road bike.

Black Diamond ATC Pilot

When I first became addicted to crack, I was anti-Gri to the core.

Part was due to my climbing mentors being crusty oldtimers who honestly believed that tape and chalk were aid. They instilled in me a tacit belief that technological advances like assisted braking devices would inevitably be taken for granted and result in slothful belaying. Another part was due to my inherently conservative bent.  If sticht plates were good enough for Layton and Ed, they were good enough for me!

Somewhere along the journey, I started catching big whippers and belaying people hangdogging projects, and was converted to the Gri-Gri. Soon thereafter, I was bringing it on alpine routes and multipitches, despite the weight penalty compared to a guide device.

Recently, I found myself invited on short notice on a trip to the Red River Gorge, but all my gear was still in Durango.

… where we promptly warmed up on Pure Imagination 5.14c (photo by Christopher Curiak Jensen)

Not wanting to borrow from strangers, I ponied up some retail coin and bought a harness, shoes and device, making sure to loudly proclaim to everyone in Backcountry North that I was not a n00b and owned all of this stuff already (did I mention Durango, where I can ride my bike to 400+ routes?).

I really didn’t want to end up owning two Gri’s, so I decided to give Black Diamond’s ATC Pilot a try.


The Pilot is an assisted-braking belay device that bridges the gap between the classic tube-style device and a full-on Gri-Gri or Revo. Like the latter, it gives the belayer a bit of a break (ha) with holding a hangdogger or catching a big whip. And like a tube, it’s light, bombproof and simple. Similar products out there are the Edelrid MegaJul and Mammut Smart.

Tipping the scales at 83 grams, the Pilot is one of the lightest assisted-braking device on the market at present. The MegaJul beats it by twenty grams, but also functionally requires a steel locker — the recommended HMS Bruce clocks in at 134g compared to a Metolius Element at 73g, which quickly negates the Mega’s weight savings.

The build quality of the Pilot is good. Instead of a steel retaining cable like most tube devices have, BD went with a plastic pistol-grip. It’s a bit unnerving until you realize that it’s not weight-bearing. The device fits in my #1-sized hands like a glove.

I was very impressed with the function of the Pilot. It locks quickly under load. Classic belay technique (pull-brake-grab-slide) works well for toprope belaying. Lowering is smooth and worry-free — no need for a panic mode as in the Gri+ or 2.

Feeding slack on lead was a bit more difficult to figure out. I ended up shortroping my partner a few times. BD recommends sliding your brake-hand thumb up to the catch, as described at 2:10 in their video below.

I demo’d the Pilot with the i-beam locker pictured above and friction was average. Switching to a rounded Metolius Element made a noticeable difference in smoothness while throwing rope to a leader.

When rapping singlestrand, the Pilot provides an acceptable experience. It’s nowhere near as fluid an experience as the Gri, and doesn’t offer any sort of built-in backup.

Unlike the Gri, however, the Pilot requires a small amount of finger tension to secure a resting climber, unless they’ve been caught in a fall. Regardless, you want to keep a hand on the brake.

The Pilot retails at half the price of a Gri-Gri, which is another big plus. The obvious drawbacks are that you need to carry a separate device to rap doublestrand and belay with an autoblock from the anchor. (I always carry a Camp Ovo belay plate in my oh-shit-kit, so that’s not a concern for me. ). Unlike a Gri or an autoblock, you can’t use it as an ascender.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the ATC Pilot. While it’s not a Gri-killer (nor was it meant to be), at half the weight and half the price, it’s a great piece of kit, one that even the crusty oldtimers might begrudgingly admire.


NCT Overnighter: Petoskey to Traverse City

Welcome to Michigan. I never thought that I’d move back to the Midwest, but a series of extenuating circumstances sent me back to sea level for the foreseeable future. After living in Colorado for eight years, I moved back East with a bit of an entitlement complex and low expectations for the local goods. Sure, there are trails, and Devil’s Lake, Canada and the Red. But after the Western Slope, won’t flatland life be a bit … boring?

I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.

For an adventure route, there was a substantial amount of fast and flowy single track.

The North Country Trail runs 4600 miles from New York to North Dakota. The Great Lakes State accounts for 1000 of those, and the accessible Lower Peninsula has 547. I set out to ride from Petoskey to Traverse City, a 111-mile segment known for singletrack and sand traps.

Halfway betwixt the North Pole and the Equator.

Einstein Cycles in Traverse City hooked me up with their house fatty, the Bearclaw Balthazar. I dubbed her Ophelia, not after the Dane’s lover, but rather my parents’ chubby basset hound of yesteryear. She has pretty much every bike component that’s able to be made from carbon fiber … I’d imagine she’d get through airport security without a hitch. A full review on this site is forthcoming, but for now suffice to say that this is the funnest bike I’ve ever swung a leg over. (Sorry, Beatrice. Steel is real and ti is fly, but plaster is faster).

Preflight checklist and McGriddle-mashing in Petoskey.

Proper bikepacking bags were still in production over at Cleaveland Mountaineering, so I improved some ghetto-fabulous substitutes. All of my stuff is back in dgo, so I bought a Thermarest Neo Xtherm from Backcountry North in TC because I needed one anyway, and decided that no sleeping bag would be necessary with a low of 60F.

Left to right, Winifred is sporting the following:
– 16oz peanut butter in a plastic bike cage zipped to the fork
– Jones bag with leg warmers, tools, headlamp, etc.
– Thermarest stuff sack tied on with a thrift-store windbreaker.
– Cheapo phone-case gas tank for $13 on Amazon. Pretty stoked on it.
– Tube in a ziplock duct taped to the seatpost.
– A can of Hormel spicy chili and 24oz water in cages, plus a frame pump.
– Free-range organic fair-trade potato crisps.


Rolling p******* at the start.

I started from Harbor Springs at 06:00 and spun fourteen miles of asphalt through rolling farmland to get to the trailhead. It was a perfect, contemplative warmup. I’ve had a lot on my mind as of late, and was looking forward to processing it all with some two-wheeled therapy.

Not exactly columbines, but still nice.

For those who have never been, Mittagan is one big sand dune. Most people roll plus or fat tires, and I was grateful to have the formidable 26×4.0 Van Helgas mounted on 75mm carbon rims. Altogether, Ophelia weighs the same as my carbon Ultegra 3×9 road bike Winifred.

Even the hardback is kind of loose and squirrely. Big Rubber for the win.

All was well until I stopped to shoot some video. I set down my food bag containing Pringles, Cheetos and tortillas (curse you, sugar-free August! This was my first outdoor activity ever without gummy worms, serious withdrawal going on). After instawhoring, I completely forgot to strap the food bag back on, and went on my merry way through the forest. It was an hour before I realized it. Sorry about the mess / you’re welcome for the trail magic.


Everything is so green here.

Calorie deficit is par for the course, but I was staring down the barrel of two full days of biking on one can of chili and a jar of peanut butter. More importantly, my betadine dropper for water filtration was now gracing some black squirrel’s nest. I wasn’t keen on getting giardia a third time.

Fortunately, I was able to take a few detours to local bars and gas stations, but this changed the timbre of the ride by adding about twenty-five extra miles of pavement. On the upside, I got lots of PBR. At each stop, I’d pound a Gatorade and half a tallboy, then pour the remainder in my bike bottle. I’m a huge fan of the craft beer scene here, especially Short’s, but there’s nothing like a good PBR when you’re cranking hard in the heat and humidity.

… but if you get permission, it’s no longer trespassing. It’s an ontological quandary!

One of the highlights of the trip was bikewhacking through handlebar-high ferns. It was reminiscent of the CT at Molas Pass in late July, plowing through mountain cabbage.

Jones H-Bars are almost like a train’s cow-catcher. They do a great job of busting through brush.

Another huge difference between the NCT and every other trail I’ve bike packed back west … water! And lots of it! And it doesn’t induce hypothermia! I was pretty stoked to go skinny-dipping in a couple of crystal-clear streams at midday.

That’s some high-quality H20.

Water, cont’d.

As always, I brought my ultralight bikepacking spoon / tire lever combo. These guys actually clip together to form masterlink pliers, too! That is, when they’re not gummed up with peanut butter.


Aside from a sparse handful of vehicles on dirt roads, the only sign of human life I saw on the trip was the tepee below. As for wildlife, I flushed a couple dozen wild turkeys, some deer, two raccoons and …

Somewhere halfway between Petoskey and Traverse.

A wannabe gote.

This llama / alpaca must’ve taken acting lessons from the rabbit in Donnie Darko.                

At 20:30, I called it a day — eighty miles down, thanks to paved PBR detours. I started a fire to smoke out the mosquitos, and then came to an awful realization. While packing for the trip in my jimmy-rigged bags, I had forgotten an insulating layer to cover for the sleeping bag I didn’t bring. Hmm. My sleep system included an inflatable pad and my clothes, which included a long-sleeve button down shirt, windbreaker, leg warmers and a bandana for my head.

There wasn’t enough wood to blaze all night, so I got coals started and then spooned with the warm metal fire ring for a fitful night’s sleep. It was pretty much a shiverbivy. I wasn’t feeling strong enough to ride through the night to stay warm like on the Grand Staircase misadventure. Prolly because I couldn’t eat any mini-Snickers. Everyone knows that Snickers makes you strawng.

Spokin’ and tokin’.

The next morning I started a little fire, ate my can of chili for breakfast while listening to an audiobook (Gospel of John) and busted off down the next segment. My phone battery died while recording a GPS track, so I don’t have the exact stats, but I was riding at a pretty decent clip for 11.5 hours.

When I hit Kalkaska, I fired off another tallboy and ingested 1500 calories of McZargalds (over 6bn Earthlingburgers served!) in order to even out the health benefits of the past few days’ riding. From there, it was a cruiser seventeen miles of pretty dirt roads to get back to the house.

Altogether it was a great overnighter on an incredibly fun new bike. I look forward to exploring the NCT further this fall.

Touched by an Angel

(When I wrote this post, my nervous system was pretty activated by some trauma trigger flashblacks, hence the discordant bent of the writing. I pulled it from the site during a period of depression, per usual, but now am reposting because it was a kick-ass tower featuring a stout R-rated offwidth lead by Andy).

I have a problem with routefinding.



Sometimes the only way back down is up. At the end of the day, it is what it is. That’s why I’m proud to climb with serene partners who dress the knot for success.

Andy is one of the chillest guys I know. He and I have a lot in common – teaching is our vocation. Science is his passion; words are my trade.

In exchange for losing my puffy on P1 and shivering my belays to the top, I got to come to a place of blunt emotional honesty and give credits where credit’s due

processing … I’d like to blaze the grade of A+ onto the climbing C.V. of the man who tied in tight and onsighted the spiciest pitch on that Sedona spire.

So how spicy is too spicy? Ask McDonalds. They were supposed to open at 06:00 but a handwritten note postponed my McGriddlefix far past rock-oclock. At quarter to send:thirty, we busted hard left to the grocery and snagged a sixer of sausages.

In addition to being a suave educator, A-mac is a veteran thru-hiker and knows how to work a grocery store counterclockwise.

Alien Ant Farm serenaded our dawn patrol.
Like a double-zero micro cam’talot,
O revolting headlamp, lock and shot.
Flickers of inspiration, smoothcriminalz roll!

Fast forward to the crux pitch. One of us onsighted the trendy-.10d finger crack in a flare. The other popped past a shallow dihedral that dilated down to a vortex.

Pitch three was straight chronic Zion-esque splitter. It was too good to mention anything but the naked jams, tapeless as a trash-compacted diskette … super floppy.

Thumbs up, lock it. Big toe? Sprrrrawkittt!

To the next responder: Sorry about the mess … but I have to admit that it feels good to leave some DNA when you’re finally on-route.

Input pitch 4$
Let 4$ = 5.8X wide

Congratulations, my young partner. In this moment, you are weightless, whippered but not snapped. I would applaud your headgame except that the only thing keeping you from F2’ing and turning a sender’s game into a catcher’s wry folly is one piece of aircraft-grade aluminum. Should that fail, I shall have found myself in a “duty to act” scenario in which the first rule of (timelapsed subwoofer club) is you do not focus on anything but the present club  [exwoofer CAPTURE]. I am holding on to what matters most. I am skydzwfrydzw’s raging conscience. Don’t let go of that crystalvision of our best friends climbing the dawg and sleeping at last under the stars. And that’s when you realize, whoever you are, that in the blink of an eye, you are caught. By an angel or a demon or whatever.

^ <3 * §

input pitch 4.5
let lead$ = swapped
if jug haul = positive
then print “sweetactionbrosendthagnar”


It’s a relief to top out on a spire. No way down but out. Pre-thread the chains, commemorate the capture, lean back into the blessed assurance that my favorite part of rockcraft is aiding and abetting fellow fugitives.

Pataphorically speaking,
it’s super meta to be a
forerunner. semantic
brawls aside, I have
nothing left
to say

Good photos by @mcquilat


Kokopelli Trail

It felt good to dial it back a notch. The past couple trips have been strenuous, and I was looking forward to a chill couple of days on the Kokopelli Trail.

The rules: no alarm clocks, ample food and water, lots of photo breaks and no heroics. For once, everything went as planned and I had a relaxing weekend on some beautiful dirt roads.

Rule Five: No Bike Selfies.

On Friday morning, I boarded the Greyhound from Durango to Grand Junction. I slept a bit and read some Infinite Jest, but mostly just stared out the window and let my thoughts meander around the “nothing box.”

I met Jeremy for lunch, then rode the bike path twelve miles to Fruita and filled up three liters of water and Tailwind. Temperatures were balmy, though there was a bit of a headwind. Seven more miles of pavement brought me to the singletrack start of the trail.

Rule Five: Broken.

The KT starts with Mary’s Loop, a mostly flat trail that contours atop sandstone cliffs above the Colorado River.

Mary’s Loop

Occasional boulder problems punctuate the flow of this scenic section.

A rock or two keeps things interesting.

It turns out that the riverside cottonwoods were at peak foliage, an unexpected bonus. It was nice to get an extension on fall colors, which are all-too-brief in Colorado.

Westward ho!

Eventually, you start horsing around on Troy Built, then hit some legit hikeabike down to Salt Creek. It’s a good source and I definitely could’ve started with less water — one liter would’ve sufficed in the cool October temps.

The sun set when I hit Rabbit Valley, but the headwind continued, and some rain fell intermittently. I wanted to make some time and allow for a leisurely finish in Moab on Sunday, so I rode by headlamp for another four hours. It seemed like that was the least scenic part of the whole trip, so it worked out. My wife had made me a stellar playlist of blues and funk to keep my spirits and RPMs up, and it helped pass the time.

I was hoping to make it to the Westwater Ranger Station that night for water, but I ended up dry-camping sooner. This trip was stoveless because I hadn’t felt like running to the store to refill denatured alcohol, so dinner consisted of a burrito filled with instant mashed potatoes, salami, cheese and pretzels. Dessert was a gold mine … an ice cream sandwich with instant cookies-n-cream pudding as the filling.

Instant pudding in the middle. Winner!

I woke up with the sun the next morning and ate a half-dozen oatmeal raisin cookies for breakfast. I normally do instant oatmeal like everyone else, but seriously? Look at the ingredients. Oats + wheat flour + raisins + brown sugar. You may as well just bring oatmeal raisin cookies at 130 calories an ounce and eat them from the comfort of your mummy bag.


It was a chilly morning, and the slow, chunky jeep road made it difficult to warm up. When the sun finally crested, though, it was glorious.

“Blue Rajah’s my name, but I will fork-give you if you fork-get.”

Eventually I hit pavement and spun out in top gear (30:11) on the way down to the ranger station. Turns out their water still required filtering, but it was better than the cow puddles I’d passed on the way, so the 1.5 mile detour was worth it.

Yes, this helmet is rated for impact, not just rockfall.

Evidently everyone and their mother uses this particular boat launch on the weekend. There were at least forty river rats queued up go do downhill … they looked like boulderers with their tiny little legs. Tee hee.

Westwater Ranger Station and boat launch

I filtered three liters and pounded some yogurt-covered raisins, then left the menagerie of hydrophiles in the hands of a rather frazzled ranger. Dude had a Rock Shox sticker on his Nalgene. What do you say to boaters for good luck, “Vinyl side down?”

I soon hit the longest, flattest dirt road in the universe. I was in the mood for it, though, no singletrack entitlement here.

“The road goes ever, ever on…”

The next segment was barren and dry, a tabula rasa, as though God decided to try his hand at minimalism. In spite of this — or perhaps because of it? — I find the desert to be an incredibly peaceful place. The sky is endless and my mind wanders through it.

“The Jundland Wastes are not to be traveled lightly.”

When the trail rejoined the Colorado River, cottonwood trees erupted from the earth. The audacity of foliage in the desert. I love it.

Water brings life…

… one last hurrah before dormancy.

A little bit of singletrack, then more dirt roads. I passed a couple eastbound bikepackers, but they were blazing on a downhill, so we didn’t stop to chat.

Evidently sand grows really well in this climate.

Several almond Snickers bars later, the terrain started to look a lot like Moab. I passed through some slickrock playgrounds, wide expanses of concrete-like slabs that were like natural skate parks. Entrada sandstone buttresses loomed in the distance. It was about the halfway point on the trail, and I started getting excited.

The stoke barometer is rising …

Fisher Towers in the distance, then the La Sal range.

I knew we were getting close to civilization when I ran into some ATV and dune buggy groups, and a guided MTB ride. A couple of moto riders helped me break the bike-selfie monotony of this trip report.

Sensory overload.

My tires were a bit undergunned for the sand in this section (2.4 front, 2.25 rear), but it wasn’t that bad. Dual 3.0’s would be a good float to weight ratio, no need to get all Moonlander on this stuff.

“Touch nothing but the lamp …”

Dewey Bridge

Then out of nowhere, the river magically reappeared. I busted down to the Dewey Bridge and grabbed some slightly muddy water, then took a lunch break under a bush. Over halfway done by mileage, but not halfway yet by vertical gain.

Peanut butter, honey and yogurt-covered raisins, followed by salami+cheese+Tabasco.

Time to go uphill. I turned on Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and thanked the gourd that I had a granny gear (30:42). I leapfrogged a bit with a couple of day-riders, then parted ways down into a rad canyon.

just call me Spinny!

Lots more climbing ensued and my legs started complaining. I fed them some Doritos, colby jack and gummy worms, and turned on my “NFG” playlist, which is pretty much an aural crime against humanity designed to make lactic acid dive for cover. It’s mostly early 2000’s pop punk and screamo. There’s only so much angst that lactate can handle.

“We’re on top of the world here tonight…”

Dusk fell and I started thinking of how nice it’d be to not ride by headlamp for a change. It just so happened that a gorgeous dry campsite was a couple hundred feet below in a horseshoe-shaped cirque.

Overlooking the campsite.

First I had to pick my way down the infamous “Rose Garden Hill,” which supposedly has been ridden by a human being on a bicycle more than once. (Not me!) It’s basically an avalanche slope of encephalitic babyheads. You’d better be in the mood for Mexican food, because your rims are going to be aluminum tacos.

This is the mildest segment of the hill.

Supposedly there was a spring at the bottom, but if there was, it wasn’t running in October. No worries, I was stocked for a dry camp. I nestled into some luxurious, soft dirt, rolled a couple Tabasco potato burritos, and read a letter addressed to Theophilus.

Instant garlic mashed potatos, salami, colby jack, pretzels and Tabasco.

The next morning I woke up at 05:00 and finished the other half-dozen oatmeal raisin cookies. I rode a couple hours by headlamp — cold! I wore every layer I brought and took several handwarming breaks.

playing in the sandbox again.

Lots of gradual uphill ensued. Sometime that morning, I hit the high point (~8600′) and passed some Ponderosa pines.

Good stuff.


Good stuff, cont’d.

I finally hit the top of whatever I was on top of, and promptly layered up for steep, paved descent. Unfortunately, the very last segment of the KT, La Sal Loop Road, was under construction (on a Sunday?!). This meant I had to detour around on Castleton Road to Highway 128 and follow the river on pavement back to town. Mileage was the same, but I had to miss out on finishing on Porcupine Rim.

Castleton and the Rectory

I was hoping to finish on Porcupine, but also kind of dreading the inevitable beating that I would suffer on my little 100mm travel hardtail. (PR regularly gets shuttled by downhill riders on burly full-suspension rigs).

… although I am wearing approach shoes ….

Eighteen miles of pavement brought me back to Moab, where a beautiful woman, a ninety-five-pound puppy and a bacon-bleu-cheeseburger and onion rings were waiting for me. Oh, and a couple corn dogs and chocolate milk, too, plus a few doughnuts and an orange, but who’s counting?

Altogether a wonderful weekend of rejuvenation in the desert.

By the numbers: 159 miles and 13k vert from downtown GJ to downtown Moab. 1 day, 20 hours and 30 minutes total, probably sixteen hours of which was sleeping.

The kit:

(Car sunshade instead of blanket, powerade bottle instead of Nalgene)

Notes for next time:

– The course is surprisingly well-watered, even in autumn. I had capacity for 3.75L and carried 3.5, but never really drank more than 2. Westbounders can fill up at Salt Creek (mile 20, from Fruita), Westwater (50), the river (70), Dewey Bridge (85), and Castle Creek (126).

– Dual 2.4 tires or slightly bigger would be an improvement for traction. Sand is probably more of an issue eastbound.

– Didn’t miss the stove at all, even though it was cold out.

– More hot sauce.

– Oatmeal raisin cookies for the breakfast win! Instant pudding for the desert win! Find powdered whole milk to add to the pudding for extra protein.

– Instant potatoes, instant pudding and Tailwind look pretty similar in ziplock bags in the dark … beware a catastrophic mixup.