Text by Reese Wells // Photos by Brady Lawrence
Since riding north out of Fort Nelson, BC the days had grown more chill. We were beginning to wear jackets while packing our bikes in the mornings. Now that we’d reached Whitehorse our evenings seemed to be cooling quicker. We had at last found the North.
Reese settled down atop the giant dome made of bike wheels outside of our host's home, wrapped himself in a jacket, and plucked at Tyler’s strumstick (a simpler and much smaller version of a guitar).
Tyler was holding court inside the house. Our host, Catherine, was laughing at his attempts to speak French. Cars and trucks passed by as Reese contemplated deeper meanings of the Universe and our existence within it. The air hummed with the vibrations of this modern life. Humans being humans, making man made noises.
Rachel and Brady were enjoying the rare occasion to take a dinner-and-a-movie date night for themselves. Life on the road with two other smelly boys doesn't lend itself well to quality time off of the bike.
This is an important fact to know about the Yukon: there are 35,000 inhabitants within its boundaries. While it is the second smallest of Canada’s provinces, the Yukon is larger than California in land area. Of the 35,000 people in the Yukon, around 30,000 live in Whitehorse.
Whitehorse is a funky town. Folks here have a definite pride in the city. While there is plenty to love in the natural beauty that abounds here, their love seems to partly stem from their ability to survive such a remote and harsh place. Love born from duress.
Folks were generally unimpressed with Keys to Freeze. And why would they be? Whitehorse is the stop in the Yukon. Get groceries or starve, essentially. So when you have a hundred cyclists a year navigating their way to or from Tierra Del Fuego – the southernmost tip of the South American mainland – what’s so gnarly about a few fresh-faced Statesiders on a 8,000 mile tour? This realization, the reminder that we are little fish in a great ocean of folk doing bigger and badder things, is a good thing. With Keys to Freeze we are digging our noses into just the outer fog, catching hints of the complex aromas of adventure.
For example – Catherine, our host spent the last ten days before hosting us in the deep bush of the Yukon camping and picking morels. That’s wild. No services, hours from anything. Just her and the mushrooms.
Or this – Jackie Chen, a cyclist from Taiwan, allotting 3-5 years for his around the world cycling tour. He struggled up steep Yukon gravel hills with 150 lbs strapped to the back wheel of his bicycle.
Or this – Jennie, a casual adventurer, island hopping the Aleutians by kayak, having to make bonfires every night to scare off the massive, fish-hungry bears that grow up to 10 feet tall when standing on their hind legs.
Little fish in a great ocean, quite the reminder.
It's a realization that causes consideration of one’s place within our world. Keys to Freeze allows our team to find new communities that are doing things differently than what each of us was raised to know.
By nature of living and growing up in our respective suburban communities, we came to understand a very small section of culture. We all love each of these places in which we grew up or where we attended university. They are familiar to us and, consequently, comfortable. These places allow each of us to feel connected to communities that appreciate us, and allowed us to build and reinforce our so-called 'bubbles'.
Through Keys to Freeze, our bubbles have frayed, popped, and have been built again around our group of four and our road-bound lifestyle. We are exposed to the communities and cultures and experiences we had only read about. The creole lifestyle of Louisiana, the cattle farms of Texas, the desert lifestyle of Nevada, the West Coast, the rough and rugged ways of northern British Columbia, and now the Yukon. The vast and unpopulated Yukon and the people who have chosen to call it home.
What a big continent we live in. What a big world. Our last night in Whitehorse, we sat and watched the sunset fade to a dusky dim. The black night never fully came, and we considered ourselves some of the lucky few to have sat atop the dome. We went to bed shortly after the sunset, our minds now wandering toward Alaska.
Text By Reese Wells // Photos by Tyler Deming, Reese Wells, Brady Lawrence
After considering all of our options, Rachel decided, with the support of Tyler, our team nurse, it would be best if she had more time to rest her tendonitis. This decision resulted in 250 more miles of ’Boys Week’. Reese, Brady and Tyler, the three amigos, would make their way northeast into this bug-infested land whilst Rachel rested her knees in Prince George with her newly befriended Greyhound bus driver, John. He graciously opened his home to Rachel after hearing of her plight. Nothing surprising with that interaction – Rachel has and will continue to charm the likes of just about everyone we meet on the road. She wasn’t happy about having to take the time off from the trip, but she realized this was a necessary maintenance move to ensure that she would be able to finish the trip. For the next four days, she would be waiting with plenty of ice, ibuprofen, and Netflix. We were riding hard to meet her.
We’d said ‘So long for now’ in Clinton. Our Couchsurfing host Wayne, an Air Canada flight attendant turned cowboy, had let us crash for the night in his mountain retreat. He took Rachel to some nearby parade of forty participants and then dropped her off at the station.
The boys of boys week had left long ago. We had 108 miles to Williams Lake and an arsenal full of raunchy jokes we were ready to unleash.
Today was different than most other days because we were officially in ‘nowhere'. Staggering, unpopulated beauty. Towns forty miles apart or more. The names of these towns were mile markers. 70 Mile House. 100 Mile House. 150 Mile House. The very idea of these houses in an relatively unpopulated brought on a long and nuanced conversation where we collectively attempted to tackle the topics of overpopulation, politics, and religion. Originally Reese wanted to call this post ‘Nihilism From the Road’ but figured Tyler’s general optimism regarding the trajectory of civilization and Brady’s strong hold on gentlemanly values veritably negated any claims on a truly nihilistic discussion. We talked, set forth devil’s advocate debates, and continued existing, content in our spaces on this moving patch of ground.
Weather that day was tough. Lots of rain and wind. We descended into 100 Mile House to freezing rain. Refuge was taken at a Tim Hortons. Reese attempted to rouse cavalry to eat 50 donut holes and was summarily told ‘No’. Next time, perhaps.
We arrived that night at 10 pm after finishing the day with a thigh-punishing hill. Our host, Mike, had pizza and beer waiting for us. Reese fell asleep soon after, face down and drooling onto a shag carpet. And so these days go. Wake, pack, ride, eat, sleep, snore.
Fortunately, we had a day off to rest our weary bones.
Waking sore was hard, waking hungry was definitely the easier fix. Spending the day with Mike, we learned a bit more about the cultural difficulties between the First Nation people and all others populating Williams Lake, an unfortunate phenomenon not singular to the United States. We boated on the lake and made quesadillas and listened to Sugar Ray sing about summer. We threw tactical tomahawks into large stumps of wood and watched Point Break. Life was good. Boy’s week, every now and then, is good.
It was a shorter ride to Quesnel – pronounced ‘Queh-nel’ – just 85 miles. Time on the bike passes quickly here. One highway, no road markers, no need to keep an eye on the bike computer. You pedal and push and move at your own pace towards your destination. We made our way to and through the logging towns, trucks pulling loads of lumber passing and honking at us, just another part of life up here.
In Quensel we camped with Chris, his wife Heather and their son’s family. Chris was a carpenter and had built his home on the fork of the Frasier River before giving it to his son Dustin, who had a wife and a young son. Chris and Heather moved into a Yukon tent and were in the process of building a tiny home at the edge of their property so that they might return in the summers from their winter travels to visit. Brady, Tyler, and Reese camped in their screened-in gazeebo. A good thing, too. Mosquitoes and black flies that are out for blood are in this country in great masses. They are the hydras … strike one down and three pop up in its stead. Resistance is futile. Take refuge where refuge is given!
We ate chicken and talked about cycling trips. They have been all up and down the west coast, yet return home to their slice of paradise for three months a year to brave the bears and moose that populate their acreage. They live humbly, sustainably, happy to be alive, well and retired at the age of 60. We hope we can say the same in forty years.
Our final day of boy’s week came with a surprise into Prince George. Camden and Sarah, two of our best college friends, met us on the road. We knew they were coming, we just didn’t know when. Rumor had it that we’d see them in Prince George, but never that Camden would ride up on us with forty miles to go, hooting, hollering and bouncing up and down on his sleek road bike. A familiar face amidst the sweeping green landscape of pine forest. A sweet reminder of home in the land of the unknown.
Including Camden we were four, then five. A guy known as Shredder, Shred Master, Shred, etc. came up quick on us when Reese's back rack decided to fall off the end of his rear wheel and scrape along the road. Shredder was rightfully worried about the state of Reese's bike. So were we.
Reese was appalled, and confused, and ready to stick his thumb out and hitch the last few miles in. But reason and luck prevailed and the fix proved to be an easy one. Shredder entertained Brady and Camden with stories about his travels. At 54 he’d pedaled over 250,000 miles, claiming to have ridden every major highway in western Canada. That’s a ton of biking. Way to go Shred Master…tailwinds forever!
Boys week ended with our reuniting with Rachel. Her knees were once again able to propel her down the road. We were all grateful for that. Camden and Sarah treated us to two nights out on the town, the second ending with libations and participating in an open mic night, including a full and melodious set by our very own Brady. Nancy O’s may never be the same.
So there you have it. Boys will be boys. And so the road continues north, increasingly inhospitable, the spaces between towns growing larger. Keys to Freeze is rolling forth into the thick of it.
Text By Reese Wells // Photos by Tyler Deming, Reese Wells
Our second day in Canada, we let spontaneity guide us. It was a quick decision that combined two days into one and resulted in our arrival in Whistler at 11 pm. Forsaking a couch to sleep on in Squamish Brady, Tyler, and Reese decided at 5:30 PM that evening to press on another 35 miles and 4,000 feet of gross elevation gain to the mountain biking mecca of Whistler in anticipation of seeing Reese's parents on the sunny slopes of southern British Columbia. Rachel, our fourth companion on this long, unreasonable adventure was in Vancouver for the next two days, resting some tendonitis in her knees.
We didn't think that we’ll be able to make that sort of reactionary decision again on Keys to Freeze. Our mileage just doesn’t allow for it. But that choice resulted in one of our favorite rides of the trip.
We left Nanaimo, the northern city on Victoria Island, at 9 am that morning for what would prove to be a high mileage slug-fest. Reese took the utmost care in ensuring that he was well rested for the day.
Waking so late was a real treat. Usually the alarm goes off at 6 and we bustle around in preparation for a 7:30 sendoff. Not today. We had only 40 miles of biking to Squamish, a 30 mile ferry filling in the space between Vancouver Island and the mainland. All in all a breezy 70 miles. Reese ate a disconcerting amount of cereal and drank coffee from the bust of a stormtrooper mug. Turns out our hosts Jim and Corey are big Star Wars fans.
The ride to the ferry was uneventful. The weather has been sunny and warm for two weeks now. We fear for the rain and thick hordes of mosquitoes that are on the horizon, but for now, we are reveling in the balmy summer climate of the northwest.
Ferries are funny things. Big, slow, floating buses. We were packed in pretty tight. We gazed upon the growing line for the cafeteria and quickly realized after a menu check that it was far out of our price range. We resorted to eating poptarts and refried beans in the corner, eyeing with a twinge of envy the turkey club that was being gobbled up by someone who wasn’t even aware of our dirty, smelly presence. Gollums to a Samwise, make no mistake.
Disembarking we rode straight uphill. It was somewhat of a bummer. The view was spectacular, though, and quickly made up for it. For twenty miles we rode northwards along Horseshoe Bay, taking in its emerald blue waters with a snow-capped mountain range sitting stony in silence behind it. Nice wide shoulders, rolling hills, reasonable traffic …was this Canada? This was magic. We hooted and hollered and shouted “Boys Week! Boys Week!” and pedaled on for Squamish.
There was certainly not a lack of hills on the way there. We worked hard up them. From our very limited experience, it seems that Canadians enjoy taking the shortest way up a hill. They believe not in switchbacks.
Brady suggested a rest stop at a lake at the top of the hill and we gladly obliged. We swam and laid about in our wet chamois. From the lake we could see Squamish below. An easy day, come and went.
Then some things happened. First, we missed our turn to the host and ended up 5 miles farther after bombing down a welcomed downhill. We finally stopped at a grocery and promptly learned about our directional mishap. Tyler and Reese drank a half gallon of chocolate milk and ate three candy bars each. We were wired hot. Then, a tailwind picked up in the direction of Whistler and made biking back uphill into a headwind even less appealing.
The tailwind, more than anything, sent us north. How rare it is to not be getting your face blasted by prevailing winds. We took advantage and sped towards Whistler.
We were five miles out of town and in the thick of a climb when Reese realized he was out of water. So was Tyler. Brady, our resident camel, had only a liter of water available. There were still 25 miles to Whistler and no services between us and town.
Our ride grew into a series of near bonks. A bonk is where, after riding for miles on end, you have either an electrolyte imbalance, glucose deficiency, or dehydration (or in this case, all three). Put simply, you feel as though you’ve hit a wall and your pace drops about 5 mph without you even noticing until its too late. They are about as fun as doing homework as a kid when all of your friends are outside playing and having a great time. Tyler was in a dehydrated stupor until he finally stopped at a river, sat next to it and, Giardia be damned, drank unpurified water until he felt the life return to his body. Reese was shaking at the top of a big climb and swallowed two bananas. Brady slipped into a deep silence punctuated by grunts.
And so our night progressed. How sobering it is to ride deeper into the night and have the sun still in a dusky glow. Darkness comes late here in the north. We rode until ten, stopping at a gas station for dinner. Reese ate an expensive sandwich and two ice cream cones. Best meal of the trip.
Weighing our options we decided to roll into downtown Whistler and get an extension on our hotel room that Reese's folks – thank you again Mom & Pops! – had reserved for the next night. That way we could wake up in the morning and not have anywhere to go except the lobby for breakfast. All were willing to shell out a few dollars for a night of comfort. A shower! A bed! Air conditioning! Impossible delights and a wonderful rarity on our trip.
So we went. Luxury at its finest. Checking in there was discussion of beers. Off we went into the heart of the famous ski town, showerless, wearing three day dirty clothes, in search of the hottest bar on the strip.
It all happened at El Furniture Warehouse. The quote of the night was from Seer, who said in reference to my hair that “If it’s a dude that looks like a chick, it’s probably a dude. If it’s a chick that looks like a dude, it’s probably a chick.” When we saw him the next day he didn’t remember us, even after our gem of a conversation.
The bar was, well... fun would be a good way to describe it. The guys all wore name brand hats and shirts and Billabong shorts. There were a few folks who looked about as haggard as we did, but not many. We made enough friends to feel welcome for the night, drank enough beers to be buzzed, and walked just far enough home to realize that we were pretty lucky to be where we were. Fifteen hours out from seeing Reese's parents in the world-class ski and mountain biking town of Whistler on a clear night, where the stars shone at last with a rising moon at midnight, our tan lines glowing a luminescent white as we ambled along the cobbled paths towards our hotel.
Text By Reese Wells // Photos by Reese Wells, Brady Lawrence
Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks may have had a restless stint in Seattle, but we slept like babies. We were pedaling toward what would be an unprecedented 8 days of rest and excitement was high. We rode into the city on Day 100, mile 5,000. Milestones before our ride into the Great White North, which is what Canadians call their home.
It was quite a trip up the coast. We continued to roll the wrong way up. Headwinds, gloomy weather, spitting rain. Dunes hidden behind the trees, Tyler posing best he knows how. Look at those clouds.
The rugged coast crashed and bashed by a frothy sea. Melanges weathering the fury to the last, stony statues slowly swallowed and exhumed by the tides. Seals raising their pups on inlet sandbars and communicating to each other in comical barks.
There was beauty every day, but we’re a somewhat relieved to be off the coast. Hwy 101 was a scary road to ride for as long as we did, wheeling six mph up the windy, shoulder-less roads into the fog. These roads are dangerous and to be respected. We felt some relief from the perpetual headwinds by turning east from Newport to cut inland for Portland. We rode the coast, saw the sights, and headed towards the city lights.
Portland! What a funky city. What does Fred Armisen say on Portlandia? “It’s where young people go to retire!” A very accurate description for the million souls living the laid back life out west. It’s a city that runs on coffee, microbreweries, and strip clubs.
We stayed with a Bike & Build friend who had moved west after last summer. She was making it work on the east side of town, working for an affordable housing affiliate during the week, camping on the weekends. She showed us a great time around the city, which included numerous doughnut shops, a biker bar (of the non-motor sort), and some wonderful local friends. All in all, it was a great but all too short respite for our crew. We could have spent weeks, maybe years there, but alas, the road was calling again.
Onward to Seattle.
Three days and 200 miles through heavy rain, country roads, and verdant landscapes. Brady rode a duct-taped tire 150 miles into Seattle, refusing to buy a new tire until we made it to the city. We limped into Seattle – gear wet and rotting, tires busting out at the sides, cables stretching, and brakes rubbing. 5,000 miles in and 4,000 left – a slightly upsetting realization, but one laden with opportunity. This coming break from the road was much needed and wholly appreciated. We unpacked and settled in at Auntie M and Peter’s house (our friend Maddie’s Aunt and Uncle), ready for the next eight days of R&R.
Seattle, we’re here.
Text by Reese Wells // Photos By Tyler Deming, Reese Wells
It was the shark spouting flame from its dorsal fin that really put things into perspective for us. It weaved down the plaza strip, its hinge jaw snapping, papier-mâché frame painted rust and steel. The crowd was going absolutely bananas.
The shark looked and acted animatronic. But it was man-powered, just like every other vehicle populating the Arcata plaza last Saturday. Keys to Freeze had, once again, rolled into town for a watershed day.
Arcata is seven miles north of Eureka, California. We were staying with our hosts Wendy and Mike. They were Warmshowers folk who accommodated our desire to take a day off from the road. They had let us crash on the futons and windowsills of their mountain loft and suggested we take the day to head into town for this Kinetic Sculpture thing we’d seen signs for while biking into town. The event sounded cool – all vehicles move from their operators acting upon gears and levers to drive over road, sand, water, and mud … all the while competing for glamour and glitz in the ultimate beauty pageant of the northern Californian coast.
We were tired though. The road had been tough. We realized over our four days into town that cyclists go north to south because of the horrific prevailing winds. Riding south to north is like sticking your face in front of a hair dryer for ten hours a day. The panniers on your bike act as perfect sails to inhibit your progress north which creates a less than ideal situation for making any sort of forward momentum.
Wendy and Mike insisted we go, so we went. That’s when we saw the shark. It was, in our opinion, the sculpture made with the most craftsmanship. Elegant, bold, desirous. The envy of the lot.Inside there were benches, pedals, and cranks. You sat down and started pedaling. That got the shark going. Then through a series of ropes and pulleys you swung the shark’s head side to side, the motion unhinging its jaw so that it might snap at the gushing crowd. Ropes by the shark’s tail swung its back fin. A gas pipe ran straight up that, when pulled, spouted fire twenty feet high. It was a beautiful creation.
Our award for best name went to the Flaming Farmer, a tractor bike that also involved a fiery spectacle. This sculpture rocketed flames from its faux exhaust pipe.
There were over 40 or so sculpture bikes, all parading around the plaza for thirty minutes as a brass band played all the Blues Brothers hits. People were laughing, ogling, climbing trees and lounging on the grass. It was quite the family affair and we were happy to be a part of it. An homage to bikes. A pageantry…a seemingly absurd event that brings the people together.
Sometimes it’s good to not take yourself so seriously. It sometimes makes more sense to instead commit 400 hours to taking a bike carriage and welding pedals and cranks together and buying motorcycle tires and attaching the system to a tandem bike and then gluing Styrofoam blocks to the sides and then sewing together a big fat black rat with buck yellow teeth and putting that sucker on top of the vehicle and calling it Rocket Rodent. Yeah. Sometimes it’s good to remember these things. To experience local traditions because they put life back in perspective. Events like this one have a way of putting you back in the moment. They remind us that the moment is good, and real, and right.
So as these brave folks pedal on their marvelous machines, we, too, continue to crank on our journey up to the Last Frontier. Here’s to people doing what they love and pursuing their passions. Here’s to living life one smile or, in our case, mile, at a time.
Text By Reese Wells // Photos by Brady Lawrence and Tyler Deming
In the days since we’ve crossed over and into Yosemite Valley we’ve been thinking. Wondering. Considering the Sierras with a new perspective…a discovered reverence. There is little worth explaining the majesty of the valley. To consider that the entirety of the Sierra mountain range is but one large exposed rock jutting high out of its once subterranean environment is boggling. To see and experience the high alpine slopes west of Lee Vining before rolling and descending into a verdant valley congested with the thousands of park visitors is another telling, one that left me less convinced that the Appalachians of our younger reckonings are, in fact, the superior mountains. Put simply, our ride from Lee Vining into Yosemite Valley was one of our favorite rides ever.
The morning began at 5:30. The ground was crunchy. We had 75 miles to our campsite with our road angel Dakota (the man with the van) and his road angel wife, Chelsea. They’d offered the back half of their campsite for our scraggly crew of six to camp because every campsite – all 1,000 within the park – was reserved during the duration of our stay. Once again Dakota came through in the clutch for our team. We’d had such a hard time getting to Yosemite, what with the five days of ascending out of Death Valley, plus the snow in Bishop, plus the freezing weather, plus Tioga pass – our only road into the valley from the east – being closed, that to now have the opportunity to make it into this park but to have nowhere to stay was crushing. But boom! Bang! A text from the Digital Nomad himself offering up their campsite. We felt loved, and excited, and ready to finally see what this park was all about.
To ride into Yosemite, from any direction, one must ascend. It was a twelve mile climb from Lee Vining to Tioga Pass, elevation 9,945 feet above sea level. That is, in metric, dumpingly high. And cold. Snow returned as a force once we climbed over 8,000 feet and snot froze and crusted to Reese’s mustache, which by the end looked like and had the texture of a frozen Snickers bar.
Our day after the peak was defined by rolling passes. We would descend for five miles, climb for four, maintaining an elevation of 8,000 feet through the late afternoon. As we rode deeper into the Sierras the land took on a subtle change. Large pines sprouted from the deepening slopes, and when we descended steep granite walls would rise from the road. We were descending into the land of dinosaurs.
What we learned later was that Yosemite Valley was carved by a glacier system some 18,000 years ago. It cut out a large swath of land at 3,700 feet, leaving only the hard granite walls definitive of Yosemite unscathed. With the snowmelt of the alpine meadows above a number of waterfalls churned thick with their heavy flow over the cliffs, and Tyler and Reese rode into the thick of visitor congestion as the top of the sun fell headlong behind the western edge of the range. Cars parked along meadows, cars stopped in the road, videotaping the deer munching leaves off the shoulder.
Dakota and Chelsea were waiting for us in the Upper Pines campground. We set up camp, locked all of our food, toiletries, chapsticks, and scented sunscreens into the big bear box set at the campsite’s edge. The exercise seemed perfunctory. We’d been told about bears in Yosemite but there were a thousand people in this campground. It’d have to be a pretty plucky bear to come marching into our site to go rooting about our leavings. Still, better safe than bear-y sorry.
And so the night passed without incidence. In the morning we woke and made coffee and talked about the hikes we wanted to do that day. We settled on a walk past Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls and then down a piece of the John Muir trail. A beautiful experience. Walking up to Vernal Falls a rainbow followed us. It felt like magic.
Our hike was spectacular. We spent a long time on a rock looking at the whole of Nevada Falls, watching the fractal nature of its droplets explode and form millions of times over as they fell onto the rock slope below.
Back in camp we rode our bikes, generally a sin on days off, over to the Visitor’s Center to check out their museum and read up on the place. We did a lot of reading on the man John Muir and think that he’s a piece of environmental history that is oft underrepresented in standard curriculum. John Muir is the man! That guy changed the game. Look him up!
Our second night in Yosemite was the night we had a bear come looking for some easy food.
It was midnight, and camp was quiet. I heard Brady get up to use the bathroom and Reese had awoken to some heavy breathing and snorting. Typical Tyler noises.
Wrong. Because about that time Reese heard Brady, who is legally blind without his glasses, whisper to Rachel from the other side of their tent. “Rachel! Let me in! Please!” Reese wondered why Brady had chosen to go around the other side of the tent.
Then Tyler said from his tent. “Wait, Brady? Is that a bear?”
Why yes, yes it was. Brady had returned from the bathroom and heard the heavy breathing. His initial thought was that it was me or Tyler looking for food. Then he heard the grunting and realized it was a hungry bear.
Instead of making a lot of noise to scare the bear away he snuck around the back of camp to whisper to Rachel to let him back within the safety of our nylon ripcord sheeting. When Tyler woke to Brady zipping closed his tent we all engaged in a brief conversation.
“That’s a bear, right?”
“I … I think so?”
“No man, that’s definitely a bear.”
Then we heard the bear lifting up the tent tarp covering our bikes. Thus engaged a loud bout of name calling and hand clapping, tactics we’d read work well to dissuade bears from slashing through your sole belongings.
The bear ignored us for a few minutes. This was a bear operating life on its own terms. It eventually snorted and walked away, its shadow silhouetted against our tent flies. It was definitely not a cub.
Tyler and Reese climbed outside, looked about from their tents and saw two rangers walk past. One was carrying a beeping machine, the other what looked like a rifle with a gravy bowl stuck on top.
There were a few quick pop pop pops and then the rangers came back to our site. They were two women who had woken up to all the shouting. One held a tracking device, the other a paintball gun, the gravy bowl the vessel holding the paint balls. They shoot Blue 54 in the rump to encourage his departure from camp.
“But he’ll probably be back. He likes to come through a few times in the night.”
And Blue 54 did come back, but not specifically to our camp. He was around. We woke up twice more to shouts from nearby campsites. The funny thing is, Blue 54 did no harm to our bikes or our gear. He managed to unzip Tyler’s front handlebar bag just enough for him to get a paw into. From there he scooped out belongings, puncturing only a cardboard box containing a fresh bike tube. His prize, a forgotten Pop tart wrapper, was left on the ground by our tents. A hungry creature with a very specific agenda.
The socialization of bears is a terrifying thing.
So that was Yosemite. The next morning, dragging out of camp we passed under the Dawn Wall of El Capitan and left the valley, the beauty that has inspired the millions who frequent this granite land every year. To Yosemite we request wait for us. We will be back, for more than two nights, and we promise to spend more time in your pristine back country.
And to Blue 54, wherever you are, you are a delicate beast indeed.
Text by Reese Wells // Photos by Reese Wells
We met few people who have made Death Valley their homes. Three, exactly, though I know there are more. First there was Phil, camp host of Furnace Creek campground. He drove Tyler to Panamint Springs when our fearless Freezer was in the throes of a serious bout of food poisoning whilst 200 feet below sea level. Then there was Josie of Stovepipe Wells. She sold me an overpriced Gatorade minutes before a hellish 5,000 mile ascent out of the valley. Finally we met Victoria of Panamint Springs, a waitress in the lone restaurant set deep in the eastern slope of the park’s western edge. They loved Death Valley. They were making it their life, their home.
I was slightly less enthusiastic about the place. Our two nights within the lower 48’s largest park were rife with a dry, endemic heat. Obviously. Winds and packs of yowling coyotes, tour buses with geriatrics stumbling about the overlooks in their white linen pants, dunes and dust and steep cliffs turning into mountains across the flat, salty expanse of the valley floor. It was a landscape designed with the sole purpose of murdering species ill-equipped to walk its barren slopes.
That all said, let me tell you something – Death Valley is neat. Factoids: largest park in the continental US, two inches of rain a year (often accumulated in a few ferocious thunderstorms) yet one of the largest aquifers in the states, the nation’s hottest, driest, and lowest climate. On top of that, the series of valleys we biked into and out of were once filled with 700 feet of lake water and will be again in a couple hundred thousand years.
Also, scenes from Star Wars were shot here. Five, to be exact. All representing the arid desert planet of Tatooine. We cycled right past the sand dunes where C3P0, that sassy bronze bot, said “Peace!” to R2D2 shortly before being captured by Jawas, wandering rodent-sized scrap metal sellers.
In all, even with feeling like there were an abnormally high number of ways to end my short life within the park’s three million acres, I enjoyed my time cycling through Death Valley. It all began with quite the descent. A twenty mile bomb from the top of some pass near the Nevada state line, down, down from 3,000 to -200 feet. There was no sense in braking … our disc brakes would have squeaked and sparked and caught fire and cast us burning into a charcoal hellscape that the National Parks Service deemed suitable for protection, though obvious land here protects itself. We basically fell into the yawning maw of Earth and were such swallowed within its furnace. What a weird feeling it is feeling the air grow warmer around you at 30 mph.
Our campground for the night was Furnace Creek. This is where we met Phil, our host. He looks like some athletic trainer from the 80s. A sharp white and yellow windbreaker, tan legs and bushy mustache. This was before Tyler started puking up the contents of his stomach. That happened after dinner, and continued through the next morning. What I didn’t know until I’d woke from a shaky sleep – coyotes make dreadful noise and there was some odd piano music playing at 3 am … who knows – was that Tyler had 911 called on him at midnight by a hasty couple gals who saw him sleeping outside the camp bathroom. The first, and hopefully last time we have to have a discussion with the paramedics. Tyler was pale when we woke, slinked down in his hammock. He was going to hitch, and Phil determined he was the man for the job. Thanks Phil! So we took off after dawn, the day climbing into the high 80s by eight. My last contact with the team before that night was at Stovepipe Wells, an odd name for a community. It was right before there that we passed the Devil’s Corn Field.
In Stovepipe I met Josie, chugged a Gatorade, and started climbing out of the valley. A long affair indeed. It was a four hour event for me, eight for Brady and Rachel, nine for Megan and George. Thirty minutes for Tyler and Phil. What I learned was that I need to lose weight on my bike, lose weight around my gut, and connect a funnel to my mouth to shove blended foods and fruity electrolytes into as the long uphill road continues.And then, of course, discover some way to not give back all that hard work at the summit. For of those 5,000 feet we descended just over 3,000 … a dizzying 9% grade that was if we had spilt forward into some shaken Tatooine or Moria accented with the finer flavors and shades of Dante’s first three circles of hell. Perhaps the hardest part of the descent the knowing that in four short days we would be passing (fingers crossed) over Tioga at 9,600 feet in Yosemite.
From the trough of the next valley over we had to pedal into headwinds over to Panamint Springs and there attempt to set up camp in 35 mph winds. Storms were passing overhead and disappearing into the dry, whipping wind. I retreated inside the restaurant near the campsite. There I was happy to discover a tasteful selection of draft beer. Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout. Holy cow. I talked with Victoria the waitress. Her brothers own the place, having built it up over the past nine years to as pleasant a park experience as Death Valley allows.
That night, after everyone had arrived and we were eating pasta shells and cheese (camp favorite), we met two touring German teenagers named Aaron and David. They were taking a year off between high school and college and just decided, on a whim, to take a bike tour from San Fran to Vegas whilst tooling around the US. So there they were with their 200 pound bike trailer full of soda and nutter butters, getting ready to ascend the 9% grade the next morning.
It was cool seeing a couple kids – I say kids, I’m only five years older than them – just do a pretty serious 1,000 mile ride with about as zero planning as possible. And look at us, with our fancy bikes and bags. Maybe we’ve been doing it wrong. Maybe not. I slept much better that night. As for Tyler, who was now feeling much better, I regret to say that one of the trees he was using for his hammock broke in the middle of the night with much ado. It was quite the cracking. So it was a tarp on the gravel for our poor Tyler. Sometimes the road smiles at you, sometimes it just laughs. Tyler took his lumps in Death Valley … we like to think he’s just paid his dues.
The morning we woke to leave Death Valley was a good morning indeed. I was ready to ascend out of this place. Another big climb, another three hours at five mph, and then we were over and out. An experience to remember. Death Valley, it was real.
So to those who want to venture into the molten hills and taste the heat on your tongue we say only this. May the force be with you.
Text by Brady Lawrence // Photos by George Eklund, Brady Lawrence, Megan Healy
We came a day early
To find a way out of the wind
With gusts at fifty
Miles per hour
We chose to hitch our way in
Susie and Beth!
Our hosts were the best
They even threw us a party
We still got up early
And hopped on our Surly's
Sad that we were departing
But oh what a day
Into Santa Fe
The ride could not have been better
The hills were alive
Racers from the hive
All out enjoying the weather
With Dan as our guide
In the land of Outside
We fell in love with Adobe
The very next day
Down Camel Rock way
Back on our bikes we went roaming
To Durango we rode
Prepared for the snow
Where we first ran into Dakota
The man with the van
Gave a helping hand
And sheltered us from all the snow-uh
Through snow and through sleet
Through ice and through rain
Moab appeared as a haven
New friends met old
And stories were told
The community our hearts had been cravin'
To the parks! To the parks!
Through rock and through arch
At long last we had ventured
To the Canyonlands
Deep in the sands
Our waning bodies had endured
And now we will rest
For one day at best
And continue our tour of the nation
With our eyes looking north
We will pedal forth
To honor these places we've stayed in
Photos by George Eklund
Gulls in Gulfport, Mississippi
Bridge into the fog of the mighty Mississippi
Oakland Plantation in the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Louisiana
Tyler changing a flat
Texas state line
Golden fields of Texas
Church on the prairie near Fort Sumner, New Mexico
by Reese Wells // Photos by George Eklund and Rachel Burns // Video by Reese Wells
Everything is bigger in Texas. Winds, skies, miles, the generosity of our hosts … it felt good to arrive in Amarillo and be staring down at a day off from the road. We’d ridden 350+ miles in four days, an unseemly amount considering the headwinds this time of year. Still, Amarillo. Feeling pretty darn good about that day off.
Rachel and Brady cutting into the head wind in west Texas
To me, our days off are the most important of our trip. It’s where we’re allowed to be productive. It’s amazing how much time there is during the day when you’re not sitting down and pumping your legs for ten hours. The funny thing about these days, however, is that they are busy and stressful. Happens so that there’s a lot to do from the road… planning out the next leg of the trip, catching up on the writing, giving Q*bert (my bike) some much needed – oft pleaded – love, writing letters and calling friends and family. Time slips gone like water through fingers to be sucked up by the dry and thirsty countryside.
But, ah, Amarillo. I took some time for myself that day, starting off my Easter morning with The Big Texan 72 oz Steak Dinner Challenge.
Reese and his steak
It was an unsizable sirloin cut. Thick and medium rare, it was a big fat juicy slab of cow that sacrificed itself for my ultimate discomfort. Noble cow. Included with the dinner was a biscuit, a baked potato, a salad, and a small cup of deep fried shrimp. My strategy was as follows: cut the steak into quarters. Eat 1/4 steak, eat the salad. Eat 1/4 steak, eat 1/2 baked potato. Eat 1/4 steak, eat 1/2 baked potato and biscuit. Eat 1/4 steak, mixing bites with the shrimp. So, that’s what I did. And it paid off.
I would say on the whole it was a disgusting yet amusing experience. Physically, mentally, visually. I certainly hope that’s the last time I eat so much meat in one sitting, yet I dare not predict my food challenge future.
by Reese Wells // Photos by Brady Lawrence and Rachel Burns
“Radical hospitality is not a new concept, it is old as time.”
This was Todd Whatley speaking at a bar in Alexandria, Louisiana. We were at Finnegan’s Wake, an Irish Pub set in the heart of a series of vacant shops in downtown. Our first round of drinks was bought by a local resident. He had just opened up a store outside of town that specialized in refurbishing guns. Our second round was bought by the Finnegan’s Wake co-owner, who also brought over two pizzas and a box of army rations, including 100 laxative gums. The other co-owner is a part-time mechanic at the local bike shop.
Finnegan's Wake, Alexandria, LA
Our third round of drinks was bought by Todd and his partner Cayla. It was around this third drink that Todd, community organizer and gardener of 60+ plots around Louisiana, headman for Todd Whately and the Frontmen, and active advocate of radical hospitality, opened up about his philosophy on treating folks he hosts.
“Do you need a plane ticket? Can I get you somewhere? Can I give you the keys to my house while you’re here? What do you need? Tell me. Tell me so I can be there for you. Let me be the best host I can be, and therefore be the best person I can be. Tell me so I can help you and help myself in the process.”
A pretty amazing concept of hosting. Todd and Cayla gave us the keys. They showed us around town. We got to meet Eddie, who recently appeared on NPR concerning his Main Street Buddha Garden. We drank beer around a table and told stories. It was a relaxing, go with the flow kind of night, one of those evenings that happen in an organic, fresh green bud kind of way. A night that manifests, blooms, and then dissolves into sleep.
The Main Street Buddha Garden
Todd and Cayla didn’t really clean up their house for us, something that other hosts might consider unacceptable hosting behavior. There were dishes in the sink and crumbs in the comforter. We really liked that. They were completely themselves for us—there was no show to put on. It was just another night, and we were a part of their existence. It was as if Keys to Freeze was no inconvenience … we were another thread in the fabric of their town.
Louisiana has been one revolving door of folks practicing radical hospitality. We’ve felt loved, welcomed, and have taken comfort in the genial, genuine faces of strangers interested in our journey. This is a state that cares. While we may not agree with every sentiment that comes out of Louisiana, Todd, Cayla and Eddie wonderful examples of the excitable and fun loving people that inhabit this place. Whatever happens when we head west to Texas on the 27th is still unknown, but we will always remember this concept of radical hospitality and will strive to pay it forward down the line.
by Tyler Deming
Video by Moses Brown Elementary School Third Grade
During the planning process of our trip, we received an email from a third grade teacher in Providence, RI. Her students were in the midst of a research project on America's National Parks, which in turn led her to contacting us about our expedition and partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association. While pedaling through Florida, we had the great pleasure of talking with the entire class via Skype and answering questions about our journey. It was so wonderful seeing the enthusiasm and excitement each one of the students emanated as they approached the webcam to ask their questions. It was an incredibly humbling experience for our team and one that has stuck with us throughout the trip. A few weeks later, the class posted this video about their project which touched our hearts and was a powerful reminder of why this trip is so important to us. We look forward to keeping in touch with them and are so grateful to have the opportunity to inspire in others the same love that has been instilled in each of us for protecting America's wild places.
by Reese Wells // Photos: Brady Lawrence
There was really no way around the buffalo.
We were walking back in the deepening dark in Paynes Prairie Preserve. Brady, Tyler, and I were with Gabriella and Megan, two of Tyler’s friends from college. Tyler had gotten Brady and me on our bikes during our day off by promising “beautiful sights and delightful delights.” Supposedly we were to see gators, birds, armadillos, wild horses, and hogs.
Nobody had said anything about bison.
But there was big ol’ Bessie, chewing the tall grass on our land bridge. She was wholly in our way, chomping on grass and chewing her cud, eying our small approaching party with her left eye. Her other eye, which was all the way over and across her large forehead, I suppose saw just the rest of the park.
Whatever light we had was fading fast. It was getting colder, and the mosquitoes were out for blood. I was hungry, and we were woefully late for dinner.
Tyler and I approached Bessie. I picked up some grass and held it out as if I was at the state fair petting zoo, about to win over the local jackass. Tyler held his hand out to test the waters with Bessie.
Bessie lifted her gaze, turned to us, and sniffed. She took one step towards us. Then another. She took a look at my grass and peered over at Tyler’s hand. We relaxed. Bessie was as tame a wild buffalo as we could hope for.
Wrong! Bessie bucked her head, snorted loudly, and menacingly stomped toward us! Tyler and I ran back, screaming. My grass flew everywhere, fluttering in the wind. Brady’s footage, which was about to capture a beautiful moment of man bonding with this beast of the wild, ended in a montage of blurs and jerks.
We collected our composure a few yards away from Bessie. I was relieved to have not soiled myself.
We learned no lesson from our first encounter with the bison. Tyler and I approached again after seeing her return her head to the grass. Bessie turned to face us, then started walking towards us, snorting, pawing the ground. She looked mad. We ran backwards, stood for a while watching Bessie graze, and watched as the prairie turned to black.
I’ve heard that gators love to come out at night. We’d seen about 50 lounging off the side of the trail. There was squawking and splashing as an alligator surprised and then devoured some poor bird in the swamp off to our left.
It’s amazing, really, that humans are even allowed to visit this preserve. It seemed to me like a big feeding ground.
Bessie moved a foot off the trail. We seized the opportunity and quietly slid past. Then it was nighttime. We had bested the buffalo but still had to handle alligator alley.
I don’t know where they all were—if they were simply watching from the reeds or stalking us from some meters behind—but thankfully we didn’t stumble upon any human-hungry alligators.
We survived Paynes Prairie and had an incredible dinner compliments of chefs Megan and George.
And now we’re in Marianna, FL. We’ve just crossed over into Central time, headed due West towards Pensacola. Five days to New Orleans, 15 to Texas.
by Brady Lawrence
We were camping out in the Everglades and had our first century lined up for the next day. In order to cover as much ground, as early as possible, we had planned to get up at 5 AM. I knew we would be waking up in darkness, but I didn't expect to be treated to a breathtaking view of the Milky Way. Only 100 miles away from Miami, the light pollution had faded away and the stars had come out in force.
I immediately set up my camera and captured a timelapse of the team breaking down camp in the early morning blackness. It was dark enough that I had to set the camera for 15 second exposures and the team had to don their headlamps.
by Reese Wells
I was thinking about it today – our route journal will offer an easy opportunity to slip into our lives on the road. Perhaps such awareness will keep my fingers from popping off thick and florid prose. Perhaps not. Know that we’ll do our best to keep the tune of the road fresh.
It’s Tuesday, and we’ve been in Key West for 50 hours. In that space I’ve eaten two peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, eight eggs, two burritos, taco lasagna, and a chocolate bar. Thus begins what may prove to be my least healthy stint of consumption to date. I should keep a food blog for the group or something. It will look like this:
Reese & Tyler: meat, meat, coffee, meat, cheese, coffee, coffee, vitamins, PB&J.
George & Brady: bratwurst, spätzle, bratwurst, spätzle, coffee.
Megan: all things vegan, no things gluten. Cold hotdogs if necessary.
Rachel: all things vegetarian. Dipped cone Dairy Queen.
We’ve got a diverse group. No surprises there. But we fit. It works. It’s an organic creation born of mutual interests and overlapping spheres of influence. We all like to ride bikes. We all enjoy sleeping on floors. We’re still teasing out the rest … and it’s coming, slowly.
Last night was the first time we’ve met together as a group. We’d enjoyed one video call months back when Tyler was off breaking hearts in Europe, Megan & George were living large in Kentucky, and Brady, Rachel, and I were sharing one bathroom in a purple house in Chapel Hill. Having us all together in Key West was a great feeling, one of those sensations that starts warm in the gut and spreads out to the tips of your toes and bridge of your nose. We fit. Like Voltron. Or the Power Rangers. Us six, the Freezer Fellowship.
The first few days included a mini-orientation. We talked about the trip and our expectations and set some ground rules for the group. For example – we will always leave the host cleaner than when we found it and treat one another with respect. We also will keep a running tally of every PB & J I eat and have a dance party on the road every 500 miles we cycle.
We talked about our pet peeves. Everyone now knows to not chew with their mouth open around Brady or God save us all.
We took a walk with our host Lance, who led us over to the southern pier to take a look at the island at night. As we gazed out on the water, we saw orange glow extended two stories high and then dissipated into the blackness above. The stars were out, the moon a crescent bending up into the night –another moment that instilled in us the aforementioned fuzzy feeling.
What an interesting place: eighty degrees in the winter, the sea an emerald green, streets that are laden with bars, restaurants and opportunities for pure, unadulterated hedonism.
Key West is a plot in the middle of the Gulf that will glue you down if you’re of a mind for sticky feet. It’s the kind of place you can be whoever you want. No one cares, as long as your good time doesn’t infringe upon the good time of others’. This is the nature of the island, and we really dig it. Too bad we’re on our way out. I suppose Keys to Keys isn’t quite as an inspiring a trip.
So our Monday came and passed. Our Tuesday too – our final day we embraced the mellow vibes of Key West life.
Tomorrow we hit the road. 55 miles to Marathon. Wish us luck.