Joe Cruz in Cuba

Joe’s been on the road again. Who dreams bigger? Who seeks adventure like Joe? Here he is #evergreening Cuba over his holiday break. Text and photos, his.

Clack clatter sliding shush as they get mixed up before the round, or later the slap flourish when you put down a domino especially well played. Sounds from when I was young and sitting across of my father, he’s gone so I’m savoring this moment that we’re laughing and carrying on. Sweat coming off my elbows, bottle of Havana Club passed ‘round again. Dust midday haze heat when we rolled into town, asked after maybe something for lunch, this open sided cafeteria had run out of eggs for the pan con tortilla so we’re guzzling lime sodas instead as a break and regroup. The three guys in their 20’s saw my too long look at the white tiles, big hearts and grins like so many Cubans we’ve met, asked if I wanted to sit and play. When I got shellacked in the first round they didn’t say a thing but when it came back and I won, just raised eyebrows and cheerful teeth whistles. Linger long enough to be grateful and polite, we’ll get back on and pedal through sunshine and suspicions that the ocean is just 10k away.

Cuba of images and glimpse is chipped plaster glorious Spanish moorish buildings as if from a movie set, mazes of music, oceanside fortresses, mid 20th century Detroit curved cars, 2am salsa dancing, mojitos palm trees hand rolled cigars Fidel Castro murals. We find all of that, but riding from end to end east west we also and most of all find Cubans’ eyes glinting with reflection and pride to talk about their home and to open it a little to us.

Our route, a broken meander on the smallest back lanes, cow paths, stony hike-a-bikes, with a dose of wading and lifting sweat skin biting fly swatting. Our light fast drop bar knobby tire bikepacking rigs, January riding in t-shirts and sandals, big mileage days or cross-eyeing steep pitches. Hundreds of kilometers of rattling dirt farm roads, we’ve wild camped and set up our tents on people’s porches and in their yards and on ball fields, had water offered to us from ice filled gas cans strapped to sugar cane harvest machines. That one night 4am wide awake in our sleep sacks in a town gazebo hardly could be happier listening to the karaoke that’d been going on for hours on a Saturday night. We’ve jungle bushwhacked and sand surfed to sleep on the beach and swim in jade water cenotes.

In a month we find no singular place that is Cuba, instead fractal shards where every deeper shape contradicts the emergent ones. We know something of the history of the revolution, Hemingway’s idealized Caribbean paradise displaced, Cold War stasis or crisis communism, and we can see it on the landscape and in the impossibly flattened economy where surgeons make fifty US dollars a month and farmers make twenty five. But then there’s simultaneously something else, a lucidity and humanity in the idea—made explicit in the words of people whose daily rhythms are rural and local but for all that are also globally conscious—the idea that was told to us, we Cubans may be poor but that makes us all in this together, we help each other, no one is better than anyone else. A rancher who shares his homegrown coffee with us says that he wishes Cuba was a little more like the USA, but not too much like it.

It astonishes us every day, we’re breathless in its self aware narrative.

Back home when we were packing our gear and zooming in on maps to link together towns we assertively couldn’t find out anything about, we reveled in the sense of horizon. Our times in Camagüey and Santiago and Viñales and Havana are splendid, but in between is where we found the thick experience of just movement and days. The generosity we meet is visceral, joyful, it’s here you are in a sliver of our lives and we’ll embrace you. And after evenings in people’s homes or in roadside shacks knocking back dubiously cold Cristal beers in the company of so many, the bright smart smile and handshakes and cheek kisses has transformed us into and through friendship. Nuria, after she took us in, insisted and fed us the most elemental delicious dinner, and in the morning as we were leaving she rubbed the skin on her arms, black as coal, and she said my skin is this color and yours is different but we’re family and we can’t forget that. We won’t.

Joe Cruz is a professor of philosophy, an expedition cyclist, and an ambassador for Seven Cycles. Find his other stories and images at joecruz.wordpress.com and follow him on Instagram @joecruzpedaling.

Joe Cruz’s Tian Shan Traverse in Peak Design Journal

Seven-sponsored rider Joe Cruz‘s adventures in Kyrgyzstan got a fresh treatment from the visually stunning team at Peak Design.

From the post:

Ever wonder what it’s like to bike through Kyrgyzstan? Well, Joe Cruz (@joecruzpedaling), Logan Watts (@bikepackingcom), Joel Caldwell (@joelwcaldwell), and Lucas Winzenburg (@bunyanvelo) did and decided to find out. Over the course of 20 days they biked 613 miles of mostly unpaved terrain, ascending a total of 49,000 feet and reaching elevations over 12,000 feet. We’ll let Joe take it from here, but encourage you to check out the additional links down below to see more images and hear more stories from their epic journey. From Joe.

Kyrgyzstan is in the cloud scraping peaks of the Tian Shan-in Chinese it’s the range of the “heavenly mountain” that meets up with the Pamirs and Altai. The country is glaciers and crystal blue sunshine and mirror lakes, long lonely valleys with low grass like a golf fairway. It’s nomads who have moved their herds to high pasture in summer, living with their families in yurts. It’s breathless four thousand meter passes, scree slopes and lumpy marshland plateaus requiring river crossings. It’s roaming curious horses and the smell of sage at every star domed wild campsite. And it’s blocky central asian urban areas with Soviet era monuments and facades.

All images by Joe Cruz (@joecruzpedaling), Logan Watts (@bikepackingcom), Joel Caldwell (@joelwcaldwell), and Lucas Winzenburg (@bunyanvelo).

Daniel Sharp – Riding Oregon’s Barlow Trail

Originally, the Barlow Road was a wagon way that skirted the slopes of Mount Hood, a way for travelers from the East to get to the Willamette Valley without having to undertake a dangerous river trip. Today it’s a rough route of 167 miles with more than 16,000 feet of elevation gain.

Photographer and adventurer Daniel Sharp took it on in the late fall, and posted some great commentary and photos for us to enjoy via his Bendicto.co site.

For example:

It’s ridiculously scenic – the barns seem perfectly weathered, every tree seems weather-beaten and sturdy. We stop for photos, snacks and skids. Not me – I’m too old for skidz I’d tear a sidewall. I’m all about the long game. Finally we reach a paved road and jog left. I’ve done a lot of rides in this area, but never these exact roads, which is cool. After the quick jog left we’re faced with Endersby Cutoff road. I know it’s a necessary evil to get to Dufur. It’s by no means endless, but it kicks up pretty good and by now it feels hot and we’re missing the altitude and the cool in the trees. We huff up the road, and gleefully bomb the backside.

Read more here and here.

Lovely Bicycle Laps the Lough

Lap the Lough is an annual cycle event around Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Ireland and Britain. Our friend and erstwhile correspondent Lovely Bicycle recently took on this ride on her Seven 622 SLX, and the report is worth reading.

ll21She writes:

While most of the Lap the Lough route really was comparatively “flat,” by local standards, the final 5 miles featured a sustained, at times quite steep, climb into Dungannon, culminating in a cobblestone(!) section straight up the Hill of the O’Neill. While for those of us “lucky” enough to live in the northwest of Ireland, the climb was really nothing unusual (and really a rather fine way to end a 100 mile ride, if you ask me!) others were quite taken aback by this twist to the plot at the end. A few people got off their bikes and walked. Unprintable words were uttered.

For the rest of the story, click over to Lovely Bicycle.

 

 

 

On the Road – Daniel Sharp Goes Stampede Solo

One of the nice things about Daniel Sharp’s photographs and prose is that they don’t over-glorify his exploits. He acknowledges his miscalculations, his struggles and his suffering. Because that’s what adventure is, right? The intersection of suffering and fun?

This time Dan is riding solo near his Oregon home. His photos and excerpts from his trip journal below:

At some point you realize that a good weather window is a gift and that if you’re going to go, you might just have to go solo. I see the solo as a step in my progression with bikepacking. I did a couple hard solo rides in Arizona recently. One of them just about broke me, but that’s a post for the near future. Doing it solo allows you to ride your own pace, to leave when you have an opening in your schedule.

From the Velodirt site:

“The route itself is not to be taken lightly.  Expect lots of dirt and gravel with over 9,000 ft of climbing and some real rough riding in sections.  There are well spaced services, but inconsistent cell service.  As with all rides out this way, watch the weather for high winds and extreme temperatures.”

The other great thing about this route is its proximity to Portland. The start of the route is just 95 miles down 84 to the Deschutes River Recreation Area, where you can leave your car.

I love this part of the state. I think my first exposure to the area was photographing the Rapha Continental Dufur ride back in 2009. I fell in love with the undulating wheat fields and picture-perfect farms. I love how open and dry it is compared to the dense forest of the Cascades. But starting that climb up Company Hollow you’re reminded that it’s going to be a long day through some of the most beautiful and lonely roads in Oregon. The road to Dufur is not easy on a loaded mountain bike. There is about 1300 feet climbing in 40 miles. I kept imagining how much easier it would be on a road or cross bike.

That might be the best part of a solo trip. I stop when I feel like it. I don’t feel rushed when I want to take a photo. I stop and snap photos and eat some salami and cheese and I enjoy being the only person out there. OK, one farmer did just drive by in a cloud of dust, but just one. I kept feeling like WOW it’s really pretty desolate out here, but at that moment I’d come across another farm or abandoned building.

I’m glad to have a GPX track to follow here, since there are many roads that diverge and look just as well traveled. At one point I take what looks like the obvious turn only to check my Garmin and see I chose wrong. That only happens once, but I can see how you could get lost in here. For the first time on this trip I’m happy to have a mountain bike. Water runs down the trail and I’m having to chose lines or get stuck in ruts and the occasional field of rock scrabble. What a treat, though! It’s gorgeous and it really makes the route feel like an adventure. I’m happy it’s not all dirt roads. By the third stream crossing I’m in the zone. I stop several times for photos.

This is definitely an area that I’d like to come back to explore more. I’m still feeling like I need to push on a bit to Tygh Valley. I’d camp here, but I want to make a few more miles today and Donnie mentioned it could get cold in here this time of year and my sleep system is on the cold side, so I’ll push on. Just outside of the Wilderness area I stop to filter water for dinner and breakfast. At this point it’s all downhill and paved to Tygh Valley. A group of deer cross the road in front of me and bound effortlessly over barbed wire fence and into an empty field. Late afternoon light filters in through trees and I feel the euphoria of arriving in a new place under my own power. This is one of those moments where I feel golden. I know this is special. I savor it. I stop in an old pioneer cemetery and take photos.

I love arriving at my destination at this hour. The road is gorgeous and curves back around towards town. Tonight I’ll be the only camper at the Fairgrounds – only human for that matter. No one comes out to ask what the heck I’m doing, so I set up next to a picnic table and start boiling water for dinner and setting up my tent. I just pumped water and I’ll be able to charge my phone in the outlets, so I’m all set. I’m surprised how few cars drive by. I’m not wasted tired, but lack sufficient curiosity to venture into town, so I just set up camp, eat buffalo chili and look at maps. It was a good day.

The solo overnighter is a nice quick-fix outing. I’m pleased with my effort. Nothing crazy went down. I didn’t encounter another cyclist on route. I saw a few deer, some farmers in pickups, but I’m struck how easily it is to get away from the city and visit some very quiet parts of Oregon. Now that I’ve got a few rides under my belt, it feels natural to grab camping gear and food and get away for a couple days. This would be a great shakedown for Oregon Outback. In fact, the last 33 miles of the Outback are the same as the Stampede route. The Outback just climbs another 5000 feet over an additional 230 miles. The reason to do these ‘easy’ routes is that you build up your confidence and remind yourself of what works and what doesn’t.

 

Read the unabridged adventure here and see more of Daniel’s exquisite photos while you’re at it. Daniel rides a Seven Sola 29 SL.