Loop Magazine vol. 23

Takuya Sakamoto from Loop Magazine and I shared a phone conversation about two months ago that has now transpired into my words and photographs being published in Volume 23 of the mag. It's so cool to see my photos surrounded by Japanese characters and by many pages filled with stories about the bike culture in Tokyo! 

Because my story was only published in Japanese, I'm sharing it in English here along with photos and captions.


Initially I signed up for the Baja Divide as a personal challenge; I had my heart set on completing the entire route. The adventure quickly turned from being about myself to being about the people I was with. I wasn’t expecting to create strong, lasting relationships on the Baja Divide, but I’ve walked away with a couple handfuls of really great adventure pals. I can’t wait to see what the road has in store for us next.

Initially I signed up for the Baja Divide as a personal challenge; I had my heart set on completing the entire route. The adventure quickly turned from being about myself to being about the people I was with. I wasn’t expecting to create strong, lasting relationships on the Baja Divide, but I’ve walked away with a couple handfuls of really great adventure pals. I can’t wait to see what the road has in store for us next.


Wild camping is prime along the Baja Divide. Every evening just before dark, we would start hunting for flat ground concealed from the road by boulders or large cacti. Usually the only danger we worried about was scorpions. Every night we would work together to build a big campfire and enjoy dinner and tequila under the stars.

Wild camping is prime along the Baja Divide. Every evening just before dark, we would start hunting for flat ground concealed from the road by boulders or large cacti. Usually the only danger we worried about was scorpions. Every night we would work together to build a big campfire and enjoy dinner and tequila under the stars.

If you have a passion for bicycles and want to slow yourself down to experience both culture and landscape, there is no better means than bikepacking. Bikes are universally recognized as transportation, recreation, creativity, and fun—even in remote towns that rarely see visitors, being on a bike makes you approachable and interesting. They allow you to travel at any pace you wish, over nearly any type of terrain, all while being fully immersed in the surroundings. A car doesn’t let you gasp with every meter of mountain climbed or feel the rush of joy as you crest the top, the wind knocking tears from your eyes as you speed down the other side.

It is for these reasons that I was drawn to bikepacking. On January 2, 2017, I rode my new fully loaded touring mountain bike to the San Diego waterfront to meet the hundred other bike nerds who’d signed up to start the Baja Divide together. The route had been finalized a couple months prior and the creators, Lael Wilcox and Nicholas Carman, wanted the first season of the Baja Divide to be successful and generate momentum for more riders in the future. When I reached the waterfront, I looked around at all the new and familiar faces in awe of the bikepacking history we were making. I was surrounded by some of the most influential adventure cyclists of our time. 

There had never been an international bikepacking event quite like this. Not only were we delighting ourselves with rugged adventure, we were also supporting local economies and attempting to break down a barrier strengthened by the recent election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States. Tensions between the US and Mexico were as high as the wall he threatened to build, and our goal was to #buildroutesnotwalls. 

The terrain of the Baja Divide is very diverse, as you might imagine for a 2735-km route. We rode on rocky and sandy beaches, gnarly loose mountain descents, and endless washed out dirt roads.

The terrain of the Baja Divide is very diverse, as you might imagine for a 2735-km route. We rode on rocky and sandy beaches, gnarly loose mountain descents, and endless washed out dirt roads.

At first, riding a fully loaded mountain bike felt a lot like pedaling an overstuffed armchair. It took a little while to get used to the weight, but eventually I felt more agile riding this bike than any other I'd ever had. This bike became my home! At times I’d have to carry 14 liters of water into the desert. With an aluminum bike, I had a downtube mount fashioned out of rack hardware to carry a 2 liter canteen, along with canteens on each side of my suspension fork and water bladders stuffed in the bags on my bike. Food was stored in my frame bag and occasionally in my backpack when necessary. Clothes, sleeping gear, and everything else was divided between my handlebars and seat post pack.

After a few days of riding southward, the mass start naturally dissolved into smaller groups with varied paces and it didn’t take very long for me to foster strong friendships. After all, mostly everyone there had similar priorities and aspirations: to shred dirt and soak up Mexico. And everyone was so rad! A special bond is formed between people who share the highest highs and the lowest lows in the backcountry. At times, we relied on each other to survive—other times, we relied on each other to sing backup karaoke and buy the next beer.

Among the typical bikepacking rigs (like mine) were much more unconventional bikes and gear solutions. My pal Adam rode barefoot most days on a vintage mountain bike carrying most of his gear in a milk crate secured to a Clydesdale cargo fork from Crust Bikes.

Among the typical bikepacking rigs (like mine) were much more unconventional bikes and gear solutions. My pal Adam rode barefoot most days on a vintage mountain bike carrying most of his gear in a milk crate secured to a Clydesdale cargo fork from Crust Bikes.

When we would emerge from the backcountry and roll into a small town, locals would smile and wave with a curious look in their eyes. Most times they’d exclaim about how large our tires were or how “loco” we were to be riding bikes through the desert. They would ask where we were headed and we would respond, “Cabo,” watching their eyes widen. In many cases, locals would offer us food or a yard to sleep for the night. One of my favorite parts of bikepacking is the constant generosity shown by strangers along the way.  

Once, we needed to cross a large bay to reach a remote peninsula called Los Hornitos to continue riding on route. We paid a fisherman a small amount of money to load our bikes and ourselves into his small panga and we held on for life as we jerked up and down ripping across the waves. My friend Tang named the many seabirds we sped by and I couldn’t wipe the open-mouthed grin from my face. I never expected to be sitting on a beach with six unique individuals and six bikes, all teaching each other what we know about the world as we looked across the water at the few specks of light on the other shoreline. I told myself I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

Between mechanical issues, sickness, and poor road conditions, hitchhiking is nearly inescapable on this route—like many other long bikepacking adventures. Luckily, in Mexico many people drive pickup trucks and are eager to help stranded cyclists.

Between mechanical issues, sickness, and poor road conditions, hitchhiking is nearly inescapable on this route—like many other long bikepacking adventures. Luckily, in Mexico many people drive pickup trucks and are eager to help stranded cyclists.

Bikepacking connects me with the natural world and with myself more than any other activity. Removing myself from the bustle and grind of the city and reducing my needs to minimal necessities creates a peaceful mindset. Because you never know exactly what will happen in a day, you must take it all as it comes—not worrying about much other than what oceanside cliff on which you’ll sleep that night. Sometimes you’re forced to navigate bad weather or sew a torn tire, but it never seems unconquerable surrounded by helpful, skilled friends. 

The Baja Divide taught me that I have a growing hunger for bicycle adventure and it doesn’t have to stop now that I’m back home in Austin, Texas. Powered by an interest in sharing my passion with others, I have been leading a weekly bike camping clinic to teach people in my community how to fit small overnighters into their busy schedules. Bikepacking and bike camping can be both big, ambitious undertakings as well as a quick way to skip off into nature for the night to relax. The best part is that anyone can do it—all you really need is a bike and a sleeping bag.

I fell in love with minimal bicycle adventure in 2015 and took on my first bike tour with Scott Machen and Johnny Alcantara on the Oregon Outback the following year.


photo: kodakbrown.com

photo: kodakbrown.com

ALLY MABRY

Initially a road cyclist and city commuter in Austin, Texas, I dove head first into the world of adventure cycling with the Baja Divide in January 2017. I’m hooked! I am a graphic designer and amateur film photographer; soon I will be living on my bicycle and working remotely full time. After riding through Alaska this summer, I plan to spend the next year in Australia and then ride the length of South America from Colombia to Patagonia, continuing to take photos and write along the way (but let's be honest, I'm going where the wind blows me).


Baja Divide: The Northern Sierras

Katherine and I pose with all our gear knolled on the floor of the bike parking room next to RIDE Cyclery in San Diego. We spent like 6 hours at the shop that day getting our bikes built, organizing gear, and hanging with our new friend and bike mechanic Owen. 

Katherine and I pose with all our gear knolled on the floor of the bike parking room next to RIDE Cyclery in San Diego. We spent like 6 hours at the shop that day getting our bikes built, organizing gear, and hanging with our new friend and bike mechanic Owen. 

New buds Brendan and Shelley crushing the first couple days of the Divide. 

New buds Brendan and Shelley crushing the first couple days of the Divide. 

Y'all, I have to start this first blog post by saying that Baja California, Mexico is perhaps one of the most incredible and diverse (and affordable) geographical regions to tour on a bicycle ever. I am, of course, 100% biased in saying this because I'm currently sitting in a warm hotel in Vicente Guerrero enjoying my first "zero day" in a week and a half, beaming as I reflect on the past 300 miles of mountain biking. 

I had half-planned to make an iPhone video of my Baja experience like I did for the Oregon Outback, but it didn't take me long to learn the route is WAY too technical to take a hand off the bars and shoot footage.

I had half-planned to make an iPhone video of my Baja experience like I did for the Oregon Outback, but it didn't take me long to learn the route is WAY too technical to take a hand off the bars and shoot footage.

It's funny, I finally had the opportunity to call my family yesterday; as I was touching base with my sister, I realized I haven't had any time to digest the experience and form poignant thoughts yet. That may come later on in this blog's life while I'm on the road, but for now here are some anecdotes and a bunch of photos from my iPhone.

This is a pretty typical view for the first 300 miles of the Baja Divide: dusty, washed out roads lined with scraggly desert plants framed by mountains as far as your eye can see. 

This is a pretty typical view for the first 300 miles of the Baja Divide: dusty, washed out roads lined with scraggly desert plants framed by mountains as far as your eye can see. 

On our first day in Mexico, a group of six of us were riding from Tecate to our campsite about 7 miles south. Off the highway, we stopped at the top of a hill to check navigation. We learned that we'd passed the campsite a mile back and decided we'd all share a single tallboy of Tecate to console ourselves. Just as we finished the beer, blaring sirens accompanied red and blue lights. I speak 0 Spanish and as the policeman approached us, I assumed he just wanted to say hi and check out our bikes (we had just come from the center of Tecate where the Baja Tourism Council welcomed and thanked us for our patronage). I soon got the feeling he had other motives. After a few minutes of back-and-forth, Shelley (who is proficient in Spanish) started throwing her hands up and sassily crying out at him, "Ayayay! No!"

Liza dropping in, racing the rest of the pack to get to the ocean. 

Liza dropping in, racing the rest of the pack to get to the ocean. 

She translates the situation to us: public consumption of alcohol is illegal in Mexico and he'd seen all five of us (one abstained because she is gluten intolerant) partake in the beverage. He was threatening to make us pay 1000 pesos each ($50 USD) and keep us in jail for 30 hours. Yeah, that's right—Mexican jail. He then threatened to search our bags for marijuana to which Shelley responded, "You're crazy, we don't have marijuana! We're mountain bikers! We're athletes! We don't smoke. Ayayay!"

The officer took a phone call and held an index finder up to us, telling us to "hold on" (in Spanish) and moments later let us go on down the hill to our campsite with no further argument. 

We got to ride and camp a few days with some of my bikepacking heroes, Tom and Sarah Swallow. They're both super rad—that's Sarah on the far left. 

We got to ride and camp a few days with some of my bikepacking heroes, Tom and Sarah Swallow. They're both super rad—that's Sarah on the far left. 

It was a super bizarre experience dealing with the officer—we figured he probably wanted some sort of bribe, but Shelley was not backing down. The shock took a bit to wear off; we had only been in Mexico for about 5 hours and we'd already had a run in with the local law enforcement? My major takeaway was that the more confidence you can have when interacting with people in a foreign country, the better. I can say it has definitely improved my experience thus far!

Our first night of wild camping was after day 2 of riding—chilly but so lovely to hang around a campfire with our new friend Chris from London. 

Our first night of wild camping was after day 2 of riding—chilly but so lovely to hang around a campfire with our new friend Chris from London. 

Day 3 had us riding through low farmland as a bit of misty precipitation kept the sun away all day. That evening we crammed as many people as we could into a hotel room in Ojos Negros to dry our sleeping bags and clothes. We paid $3 USD each for the night.

Day 3 had us riding through low farmland as a bit of misty precipitation kept the sun away all day. That evening we crammed as many people as we could into a hotel room in Ojos Negros to dry our sleeping bags and clothes. We paid $3 USD each for the night.

Last night (after our tenth consecutive day of riding) , we arrived at FASS Bikes in Vicente Guerrero and were welcomed by Nick Carman, Lael Wilcox, tacos, and beer; the perfect way to celebrate the end of the Northern Sierra section. Through a conversation with a fellow Divide rider, it occurred to me that we're doing actual mountain biking out here—using mountain bikes to ride over mountains, not just ride around in circles on trails like I do back home in Austin. I really love that.

Every backcountry campsite is perfect and each is accompanied by a complimentary incredible sunset.

Every backcountry campsite is perfect and each is accompanied by a complimentary incredible sunset.

Tomorrow, we leave town and begin the second section of the Baja Divide: Valle de Los Cirios, named for the towering Dr. Seuss-esque green plants topped with yellow blooms that resemble candlesticks.

Every day on the Divide brings new surprises... Day 9 had us riding through a series of knee-deep creek crossings. (RIP bottom bracket) 

Every day on the Divide brings new surprises... Day 9 had us riding through a series of knee-deep creek crossings. (RIP bottom bracket) 

Baja Divide: The Prelude

FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg

Gee wiz, today is December 27 and we're already a week out from the first ever group start of the Baja Divide. Somewhere around 100 ultra cyclists from all over the world (about 1/3 are women) are gathering at the San Diego waterfront early on January 2 to begin a 50 mile trek to camp just north of the California/Mexico border at Barrett Junction. I'm pretty sure those 50 miles include 5,000 ft of elevation gain, but I'm trying not to think about it.

I'm going to try my best to keep everyone who's interested updated as I attempt to survive for 6+ weeks in Mexico while I live on my bike. I won't be alone! My dear friend, bike warrior Katherine Pierce, has agreed to be my tent buddy through the good, the silly, and the soul-crushingly difficult times. We're planning to make everyone else on the trail our BFFs, so you have those stories to look forward to as well (there's already deafening talk about desert dance parties).

Communication:
I will have unlimited talk and text for the duration of my trip (or my phone battery—whichever ends first.) Please abuse this knowledge as I'm sure the connection to familiar civilization will be super comforting at times. My phone number is (205) 317-0136. Also understand that I mostly plan to leave my phone on airplane mode, checking periodically each day to conserve battery. I'm also going to try to update this page every week or so with photos and anecdotes. I'll alert the Facebooks and Instagrams when that happens. The real fun is going to be getting 10 rolls of 36 exposure color film developed upon my return! Look forward to a formal write-up to accompany the film photos.

¡Órale! (I don't really speak Spanish yet, but I'm learning.)

Some additional things:
No, the first photo above is not Baja—it's Big Bend National Park. My friend Max gifted me the patch because he's really excited for me to self-propel myself 1700 miles from San Diego to La Paz. Second, I have never attempted anything like the Baja Divide before and it's equally terrifying and exciting to me. I look forward to compiling thoughts, emotions, and expectations before, during, and after this expedition in hopes of giving you (and myself) a nice idea of why the hell I seek this stuff out. The second picture is my awesome Cannondale Beast of the East 2, for which I am forever grateful to both Cycleast and Cannondale, who helped to provide me with a bicycle totally capable of taking on the Baja Divide.

Embracing the Outback

Published on Pretty Damned Fast and Everything Will Be Noble as part of the Route Feminent project.


It’s 10pm and I am lying in my bed on top of the sheet, sweating under the steady oscillation of my ceiling fan. On any other night I would tell you I was sweating because I live in Austin, Texas and it is always hot here. Tonight I am sweating because I am nearly paralyzed with anxiety under the weight of my quickly approaching 7am flight to Portland. Once I land in Oregon, I will collect my bike from Virgin America’s oversized luggage bin, assemble my transportation all by my lonesome, and nervously make my way to the train station where I will board a train for Klamath Falls, Oregon—the start of the Oregon Outback.

The Unknown can be paralyzing in a big way—if you allow it. One of my favorite quotes was spoken by the “patron saint” of dirt bag rock climbing, Yvon Chouinard: “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong—that’s when adventure starts.” In other words, things never go as planned and that’s the beauty of traveling. To be open to The Unknown is to allow yourself to be influenced by your experience in the moment. Taking this to heart, I have gotten into the habit of planning most of the big factors and leaving the rest to chance; hoping the stars align and things work out.

You always tell yourself you’re going to do X, Y, and Z to prepare for something big until you’re sweating in your bed the night before your adventure begins meditating on the fact that you chose to ignore Z and hope for the best. Although I identify as a cyclist and I have plenty experience backpacking on foot, before May 2016 I had never been bike camping. This small fact seemed half as daunting in May 2015 when I began planning my first trip with my friend Scott. Around that time there was a big stink about this incredible (and at times soul-crushing) 360-mile route through the high desert of Oregon mostly comprised of unpaved roads. OregonBikepacking.com released a recap of the 2015 Oregon Outback “event” organized by Donnie Kolb with the big, stark headline: The Death of the Oregon Outback. After thoughtful consideration Scott and I concluded with “Fuck it,” and decided we would do it anyway—completely unsupported, just the two of us—and believe that the Universe would bestow upon us magical camping availabilities that Kolb warned may not exist anymore. “It’ll be okay,” I mused, “last year there were 300 people on the trail during Memorial Day weekend. We’re only two people. And we’re nice.”

For the next year, I traveled to many new places with Oregon in the furthest corner of my mind. In addition to cycling on the reg, I am also an avid rock climber. I split my time between these two passions and the many jobs that make up my full-time self-employment by riding 20–30 miles before work, climbing in the evenings, and either riding centuries on weekends or pretending I’m a mountain biker on my Surly Straggler.

I returned home from a week of riding road bikes in Tucson one month before our departure. I realized I hadn’t bought my plane ticket to Portland yet. The final month of preparation consisted of almost daily trips to REI and my new mantra “all of your experiences combined have prepared you and toughened you for this trip. Everything will shake out. The stars will align.” Oh, and the miserable solo bike camping trip I attempted locally two weeks before I left for Portland (I rode to a metropolitan park 42 miles from my house, gaining 2800 ft in elevation on the way directly into a thunderstorm—once I reached my campsite, set my hammock and rain fly up, and made myself dinner over a pocket rocket, I crawled into my hammock and called a friend to pick me up.)

I never actually got on the train. Two days before my flight Scott and I were discussing the lack of buzz surrounding the Oregon Outback this year. It was possible that we’d be going at it alone, so I turned to Instagram. Under the #oregonoutback hashtag I found a guy from NYC with the username @Ultrastokedjohnny who was also preparing for the Outback. I direct messaged him and soon our party of two became three. He even offered to pick me up from the airport and together we would drive to Klamath Falls where we would meet Scott.

I stepped off the plane and hurried to baggage claim, palms sweating because I had never traveled with a bicycle before. I awaited the arrival of my battered cardboard box and breathed a heavy sigh of relief when it popped through the plastic flaps on the conveyor belt. My phone rings—it’s Johnny. I can’t understand a word he’s saying but I tell him to meet me outside of baggage claim. Again, remaining calm and telling myself that everything will work out. The two strangers, Johnny and his friend Ivan, greet me with big hugs and I am instantly relieved. This is the kind of generosity I would experience from strangers over the next six days.

Two days into our trip I remember thinking I knew this would be the best thing I have ever done. Rolling into Silver Lake after a rough 54 miles, we rejoiced at the sight of the mile-long town’s open convenient store. The owner, Les, greeted us and immediately offered to let us set our tents up in the shared yard between his house and the store. Overjoyed that the rumors we’d heard of Silver Lake’s negative opinions of bike packers were false, we accepted his generosity. The next day, 30 miles from the town and by a stroke of luck, Les and his family pulled up to us in an SUV as we rode through the most challenging gravel we’d faced and gifted us beef jerky and kind words

As the miles ticked away, my body got used to the long days. My biggest worry leading up to the trip was that I wouldn’t be able to handle back-to-back days of high intensity miles. My savior: chamois butter and trail mix with chocolate bits. I honestly didn’t focus on the physical pain much because every 20 miles or so the scenery changed. It’s pretty incredible what happens when you propel yourself and everything essential to life on your bike with nothing but your own [wo]manpower. I cried a few times when I was overwhelmed with joy.  I also cried a few times because biking fully loaded through deep, lightweight gravel uphill in the beating sun can be incredibly difficult.

Now that I’m home and out of my adventure bubble, what seemed like an amazing feat at the time seems so small. I have to keep reminding myself that it was the first of many bikepacking endeavors I will take on in the coming seasons. Two weeks after I returned from the Oregon Outback I convinced my friends to load up and ride 84 miles to a state park situated around a lake to camp for the night. I’m currently planning a two-week-long, 830-mile tour of Iceland’s Ring Road with two of my best girlfriends, which will be 100% paved. I’ll return to gravel sooner or later, but after 360 miles, I’ve had my fill for a while.

Iceland, Norway

Photo by Nathan Baker

Photo by Nathan Baker

A year ago had you asked me if I'd ever thought about going to Iceland, the answer would have been something like "Excuse me? What the hell is in Iceland?" Then my friend Nathan Baker (photographer of the above image, which is actually in Norway) showed me photos of Icelandic ponies and I was sold.

Majestic, right? One of the most exciting parts of playing competitive ultimate frisbee is traveling to tournaments all over the world. Windmill Tournament (formerly Windmill Windup) is Europe's largest—and best, if you ask the locals—grass ultimate frisbee tournament and last month my rag tag travel team played ultimate on European grass. A story in itself, Windmill is held annually in Amsterdam.

To make the most of our overseas travel, my team split into a few groups—one group went to Paris and Belgium, the other to Iceland and Norway. I've spent a decent amount of time in Europe, so I was incredibly intrigued by the Nordic option. I went into this trip with basically no expectations and holy smokes—Iceland is a hidden treasure. We drove for hours without seeing more than 20 people at some times. (Fun fact: there are more sheep than people in Iceland.) The land is so expansive, so incredibly strange and gorgeous. Touring Iceland means renting a car and driving around to see massive waterfalls, black beaches, glaciers, and hot springs. The only thing I could think about driving around the moon-like landscape was riding my bike on the weathered roads and camping atop on of the volcanic rock hills. The plan is to absolutely return to Iceland and explore on two wheels (stay tuned for Summer 2016—maybe).


We only had one full day in Norway, but we definitely made it count. Plans were to hike the Besseggen Ridge Trail, which is notoriously one of the world's most epic hikes, but unfortunately we were about a week too early and snow was still melting, making conditions a little too dangerous. We were pretty bummed, but after an hour or two of searching for a backup plan, we found a 5 mile hike just outside a small town called Bø, which was a two hour drive through rolling farmland from where we were staying near Oslo. Honestly, hiking Besseggen is a dream and would have been incredible, but I am so thankful we found this other hike. We saw about five other people the entire day we were out (where Besseggen would have been quite crowded), which really made for a special hike with some rad people. The trail itself was bananas—we climbed 1150 feet in about two miles. This was the very beginning of the elevation gain:

When we reached the top of the mountain, we stumbled upon the most gorgeous lake I have ever seen. Naturally, my adventurous pal, Reid (pictured above) and I jumped in after about 15 minutes of hesitation—I have never swam in water this cold in my life and I really wish I had an idea of what the temperature was. We will probably have eternal youth for submerging ourselves in this magical mountain lake.

Photo by Nathan Baker

Photo by Nathan Baker

Even though I do prefer to spend more than just a few days in each place I visit, I do have the warmest feelings about this trip. A lot of Nordic countries (Iceland and Norway included) have a law called the Right to Roam—allemansretten in Norwegian—which grants citizens and visitors permission to explore and camp most private and public land. This idea is wonderful and fascinating to me and I think it makes these two and surrounding countries optimal for trekking and bikepacking. Every day since I've been back in the U.S. I have wished I was in Iceland or Norway again. I know I will go back someday.