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When it Rains, It Pours

Bikepacking routes are really the lifeblood of this sport.


Quick aside: Do we call bikepacking a sport? A hobby? A lifestyle? A radical idea to completely change the structures and priorities of everyone’s lives once they become involved? What is the right word there? Bikepacking is a thing? What one word really encapsulates all that it can be? Bikepacking is ____ infinity? Or is that too cheesy?

Anyways, I must digress. Without routes, bikepacking would have a much higher barrier of entry. The routes page on bikepacking.com is the most trafficked part of the site, and it’s there that I first drooled and ooh-ed and ahhhh-ed at these crazy routes that go all over the world. If you haven’t been yet,  click here , and lose yourself. Uganda, Mongolia, South Africa, Ecuador, Mexico, The States, Australia. SO many routes, with beautiful photos and heaps of information. They tell you how to do it all. You can see a mindblowing photograph of someone riding a bicycle in these epic and remote canyons, and then in the next paragraph, be told all you need to know to go and ride that same canyon yourself. Use this, fly here, go there, stay here, this is what’s available in this small town market, this is what kind of stove fuel you can find… Let me break it all down for you. Now go do it.

Without the  Trans-Uganda  route on Bikepacking.com, I never would have gone to Uganda and spent the summer riding around it by myself. And on that trip, I learned so much about myself, what I can do, what I like and don’t like, about my privilege, about my place in the world, about communicating with people when we don’t speak the same language, about humanity in general. And I learned a ton more about a part of the world I otherwise would have been too scared to travel to alone. Riding the Trans-Uganda gave me perspective on poverty, on race, on development, on hardship. Riding the Trans-Uganda undoubtedly changed my life. It was an intense summer, riding around Uganda alone for six weeks, my first ever trip to Sub-Saharan Africa, and the longest stint I had ever been alone. I am so glad I did that ride. It made me a better, more rounded person. It gave depth to my existence. It made me more empathetic and opened my horizons. I will forever cherish that summer digging through the dirt and getting my ass kicked.


And I will forever be indebted to Bikepacking.com, and Logan Watts, for making that route and helping me get there.

Since then I’ve ridden dozens of routes from the site. I’ve even started working for them as a photographer and writer, covering events, doing interviews, writing pieces about people in this….sport(?) that I find so interesting. My fifth freelance piece was actually an  interview with Brian Szykowny , co-founder of Hudski. Small world, but here we are.


But I had never actually done a big international scouting mission to build a bikepacking route. I’ve built routes in my hometown of San Diego. And I’ve covered some routes, photographing races like the  Stagecoach 400 , and the infamous  Caldera 500 . But those efforts, although significant, and very tough in those moments, absolutely pail in comparison to a big international scouting trip. And so when Logan reached out, hearing I was in Morocco, and asked if I could build the Northern section of the  Route of Caravans , to finish the traverse from the coast, through the Sahara, over the Atlas, into the Moyenne Atlas, across the Rift, through ancient medinas and up to the Mediterranean…oh my god it is SUCH a big route. He asked.


And I was like…bet.

I called a friend for backup and he brought another friend for double backup. I spent days on my computer at a hostel in Essaouira, digging through GPX files, satellite imagery, trail notes, writing up a plan, taking down hundreds of pins, sending emails, talking and talking to people. The route had already been scouted by two other riders in previous years, and they wrote notes about what should and should not be included, where to go, how to do it. And I had already been in Morocco for two months, riding with a friend in the High Atlas, working on a photo project, and surfing a bit. So I knew a bit of the language, the culture, how Morocco works, how to get around and exist there. It was gonna be a slam dunk. Nothing would stop us. We were on our way to contribute to the culture. And to the world!

On the ground 


Everything went wrong.


And I mean everything.


First the friend who came brought a friend who had never bikepacked, and had barely ever ridden a bike. She brought an old touring bike that wouldn’t shift with small tubed tires and two massive panniers to go scout exposed backcountry singletrack in the High Atlas. She flatted and didn’t have the right tubes and broke the drivetrain and we couldn’t fix it. We started very slowly.


And then, when we were finally moving, her and I woke up in the middle of the night, camping in the middle of a super remote canyon, vomiting our guts out. We only had two days of food and were a ways from the next market. We laid in our tents for two days until we could barely crawl out of the canyon, and then finally got a hotel for another two days.


When we were finally rolling again, immediately we were hit by a snowstorm and stuck inside for another few days.


And the riding all the while was very exposed, rocky, dusty, tons of climbing, and dangerous descents. I crashed and tumbled thirty feet down a cliff. We never knew exactly where we were going. We followed footpaths and rode through flowing rivers for days. I took notes and tried other stuff and it was always confusing.


Finally she decided to leave early and took a bus at the earliest opportunity and a flight home. And then we could start riding again. Another friend flew down to join us for two weeks.


And then my butt cyst came back, the one I had operated on last year, and the one that was guaranteed to not come back. But it came back. And so I had to take another month off the bike waiting for it to go away.


And in the meantime, my friends went home, and I was alone in Morocco, and my personal life back home was taking severe hits. My grandmother was in the hospital. I was alone and drifting in Morocco waiting for my butt to get better. I started therapy.


Finally the cyst got better, and I returned to my bike with an intense purpose. I had to finish this route. I would not quit now. I had another 800km to ride, and only two weeks until I had to fly to Tanzania. I got on the saddle, and I rode my ass off. Everyday, 100km or more, of heavy and confusing riding. Morning until night. No more cultural enrichment, no more photos. Music in, food, water, lube the chain, head down, pedal the bike. Ride the route. Take the notes. See where we need to go. Try other stuff. Meet the mountain bikers. Ask their input. Adapt, change, move on. Pedal, pedal, pedal.


And then the storms began.

And so for the next two weeks it rained everyday. And I had no option but to push on. It was either quit, or ride. And so ride I did.

Death mud. Peanut butter mud. Chain suck and wheel stopping mud. It was endless. Mud mud mud. Rain rain rain. Find a place to sleep, smoke a fucking cigarette, wake up, wipe the mold from the tent, put on the wet rain jacket, push on. Go go go go go go go.


I am so fucking stubborn. Can’t you tell?


If I set out to do something I will either finish it or end up in the hospital.


Death mud death mud death mud. Sticks to clear it from the chain, my poop shovel to scoop it from the fork, my earbuds are broken. My body is tired.

I am stopping and waiting in drainages to shelter from lightning storms. Police are checking on me and asking if I want to stay in their houses. It is Ramadan, and I am staying with homes and practicing Iftar just to stay out of the rain for the night.


Go go go go go go go.


It is the final day and I am so fucking exhausted I just camp in a field off the road, too tired to find a better place to sleep. And I lay in the tent as the rain splatters mud against the plastic walls. And in the morning I am laying there waiting to find the energy to get out of bed. I am groaning. I am half asleep. I need to be done.


And then there’s a ticking.


Tick tick tick.


A ticking?


I unzip the tent. The rain splashes on my face as I look around. My bike was laying just next to my tent.


And now it is gone.


And now my heart is in my throat.


I am in my underwear and running down the road.


It is raining. I am almost naked. It is Ramadan.


I run and run and run and get around the corner.


There are two boys there. Maybe 18. Hazelnut skin. Brown, damp Djlaba’s. The Djlaba stretches while he angles his leg over the saddle. The other is pushing him.


I am screaming.


WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING


And the boy bends down and picks up a rock.


And so do I


And we both throw them.


And I begin to sprint.


I will take out my rage, my anger, my exhaustion on this boy.


It will be ugly.


But I am so tired.


And he drops the bike and runs


and they run very fast.


And I throw one more rock.


And I get my bike.


And it is wet, and muddy, and the chain is off. But it is here.


And I stand there in my underwear.


In the middle of a muddy field. On a Thursday morning. Two weeks into Ramadan.


And then the rain grows even heavier.


And then I return to my tent. I pack up in the wet. I ride into town. I must finish the route. I must finish this challenge. It has kicked my ass so hard. And yet I must finish it. I ride through traffic and am hit by a car. It’s not that bad. I continue on.


I make it to the sea. I light my cigarette. I pose for a photo. I shed a fucking tear.

I built the  Northern section of the Route of the Caravans .


And now you can go and do it. Go ride across Morocco. It is a stunning place. The route is incredible. The food, the people, the language, the riding, the pine forests and the Macabre monkeys and the tortoises and the shepherds in the hills. Go eat a tagine in Fez. Go sleep under the stars with an Amazigh family in the High Atlas. Go descend through a riverbed and stay with a family out in the weeds. Holy crap it’s fun. It’s enriching. It’ll broaden your horizon. It’ll teach you about the world, and your place in it, and how to connect with strangers. And it should be much easier than my ride. I’ve learned what you need to know. It’s all on that page. All you need is a bike and a tent and some other basic stuff, and all the information I wrote down. Go broaden your horizons. Go change your life. Go see someplace unique. Go live a little. Go ride your damn bike.

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