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).

In the Korean Snow

It is hard to overstate the relationship we have with our friends at ES Korea, who approached us at Interbike nearly two decades ago and have become key collaborators over the years, delivering hundreds of bikes and pushing us daily to be better at what we do.

Here is a project we worked on with them recently, a Treeline SL for Y.K.R., who wanted his bike to look great, but also to be set up for serious, year-round riding. Check out the way the chain matches the paint. Y.K.R. is our kinda guy.

First Snow

Our good friends, just up the road at the Ride Studio Cafe, have developed a tradition. When the first snow flies, they flock together and ride. In the cold weeks at the beginning of winter, their social media feed comes alive with messages parsing the forecast, weighing the likelihood of snow. The first flakes seldom fall in measurable inches. The season usually eases us in with a charming threadbare blanket.

Your forget what this is like, the downy, white floating down, your tires crunching over the white crust, everyone peering around at each other, smiling. The snow gets caught in your hair and sometimes in your eyelashes and on the tip of your nose. Traction, you find, is not too challenging. You go slowly, but not so slowly that a broad grin doesn’t affix itself and linger.

There is a real value in this tradition, we think. Winter can be chastening for cyclists. Many will hang their bike in the rafters and pull it down again in the spring. This seems a shame, though we understand that colder temperatures aren’t for everyone.

The bike is an ideal way to see the beauty that is all around us. The bike will take us places our feet might be more reluctant to go. We can cover more ground on two wheels.

And all the places we’ve ridden during the year are changed. The leaves are down and the winter birds flit from naked branch to naked branch. Browns hue into the picture, the tall grasses gone rusty as their roots burrow for warmth.

The best way to ride through a New England winter is to begin at the beginning, and then go on from there. The first snow, like a season starting over, just outside our doors.

Bikepacking Kyrgyzstan with Joe Cruz

Kyrgyzstan is a country that sits on the Central Asian plain. It is dominated by the Tian Shan mountains which shadow the valley that traces the Silk Route from the China to the Mediterranean. For millenia, this land-locked, craggy republic has been a mixing place for cultures, religions, ethnicities and ideas.

This August, Seven Expedition Rider Joe Cruz went there with  Joel Caldwell, Logan Watts, and Lucas Winzenburg for a three and a half week trip into the mountains on his Seven Treeline SL.

What follows are photos from the trip and excerpts from Joe’s excellent journal:

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They’re tiny encouragements, those dust whorls in the heat and the bits of dung and trash, brake lights on the sprinter van we hired to transport us from Bishkek, a moment ago the firm handshake of the driver with whom we share no language. This dirt patch off the edge of broken asphalt contouring along deep blue Lake Issyk-Köl, our bicycles gear full plastic grocery bags in excitable heaps. Now we’re stashing a week’s worth of food into frame and saddle packs, the fruit of hours trying to puzzle the ingredients from pictures on the outside packaging. Finally the perpendicular road wavy with children who say hello by putting their hands up and laughing, some chase us but most just continue playing as they were, the adults smile and shake an arm with genuine seeming joy, early on we pass a few cars horns honking and occupants pressed against the windshield in grinning greeting. It will transform into a two track and then a path and then just our pedalstrokes rising towards a Tien Shan ridge line that points at the sky like tips of neatly lined up spears. The glint capped peaks are inevitably further away than they seem.  We see our first yurt even if it’s just another farm building, a woman leaning forward a wheelbarrow between fencing, a flat green pitch for ball kicking and used now for it by a hollering half dozen, an old Subaru.

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We’ve come here because of the legend of Kyrgyzstan’s beauty, mountains and steppe, high meadow yurt camps, Silk Roads and the history of Soviet presence, Islam and horsemen and crashing cold rivers. None of the confirmed superlatives will match our wide eyed skipping heart wonder in the place.

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The route we’re on goes fainter yet. To the left a cleft vectors away with just a cowpath on one side, that’s where we’re headed. No jeeps come through here, vertical walls clack echo funnel embrace.”It’s like we’re sequentially visiting all the US national parks but impossibly next to each other,” we laugh but Joel’s right and this is an entrance into a serene wildness that we’re grateful for. We’ll be asked a few times over the next weeks why here? and I can’t help but think our stammering incomprehension at the question is a snapshot of this very moment.

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Yesterday was a hard day so we slept a punished sleep. From the giant’s toy block strewn campsite, we’d ascended and climbed with forty minutes of pushing the bikes to a keyhole opening through the peaks to a plateau. Wending through lakes over marshland, a horsetrack here or there but mostly just pointing the bikes and going. Above us, seems like right on the stitching of our pulled close hoods, rolling billowing grey boiling hissing wind.

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That evening we camp early because the setting won’t let us not. Tents in a line pitched into the gusts, but down low cross legged around the stoves it’s quiet enough for us to mark the long pauses between when we say anything. After sunset we’ll smell dungfire from distant yurts, tomorrow there will be unfettered horses concentratedly ignoring us as we pedal away.

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Invited into a yurt, bread and jam, my first fermented mares milk. Tastes like a thick creamy demented kombucha with the heavy smell of horse, we’ll drink a fair bit more of it over these next weeks and often chased by Russian vodka to make sure we wobble and squint on our way. As we leave we’re given a coke bottle that we think is more kumys but we find out later that it’s butter. We laugh, seems like it’s crazy but we’ll enjoy it in our soup.

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Two horses with their riders on a long slow traverse to meet us at our camp. Maybe a grandfather, father, son. They nod and smile, not effusively but companionably, we bid our happiness at being here, they continue on.

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Lowland sticky dust is behind us now, yesterday we visited Tash Rabat and found it shrugging unremarkable. At least the tourist yurt camp nearby had excellent food and beer that we chilled in the stream. The highlight was meeting and mingling with Kyrgyz visitors who beamed with pride at our truthful confessions of the unrivaled beauty of their home.Turned the bikes around to head back into the sparsity, a northern course traversing valley folds, back to altitude to a splendid nothing.

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We’re fitter now, we’re faster, we see better now, we’re slower. In a day we reach lake Song-Köl, subject of postcards and also popular with Kyrgyz tourists. The serenity of the place wrestles with trash and blowing toilet paper, our chests squeezed tight. Wind comes through indignant and a drop then another, we rush to put up our tents close to the shore and dive in. I eat raw ramen while listening to the lash and beating against the fly. Tomorrow we watch a game of Kok-boru, a kind of polo. The primal raw striving, sweat and close contact shoulders that’s always present in sports but here is closer to the surface, the horses dancing for footing, surging, the jockeys bent low off the side of the saddle to grab the desiccated goat carcass then lifting it hip high to gallop fury and dust toward the goal.

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The last 40k run is on a dirt path alongside an aqueduct all the way to Bishkek’s edge. Rolling west and the sun setting onto the backs of our hands, heads down riding flat out. During a break all of our fingers are trembling, share the last cookies and I produce a Snickers bar out of a secret cache. Now there are people everywhere, dogs and tidy developments or a shanty or just an urban shepherd. Now traffic fumes cacophony, we turn on our headlamps to be seen on the city streets but the bright comes mostly from behind us, from where we’ve been.

First photo above by Joel Caldwell, all others by Joe Cruz.

There is so much more on this trip at Joe’s website. Read it. We are extremely proud to work with cyclists like Joe, who see, in this world, whether close to home or very far afield, the opportunity for real adventure.

On the Road: Joe Cruz Treelines Alaska, Pt. 2

If you read yesterday’s post you got a sense for what Joe’s travels and travel writing are like. For us, as bike builders, it’s fun and exciting to work with a rider (and writer) like Joe, because he’s out doing big rides, trying to have real adventures, and we like the idea that our bike can take him there.

Here, in Pt. 2 of his Alaska trip, he and his friends leave Anchorage for the wilderness.

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Sometimes the skies, sometimes the particular and ephemeral snow crystals on your sleeve, sometimes the way the trees that would be imposing and majestic if stood under close up seem like fragile grass stalks against the expanse of ice. Or sometimes Alaska is wholly inside, a sequence of articulate thoughts—libertas, the Michener novel, extraction economy, Seward’s seven million US dollar Folly—alongside textural emotion: fear, towering vertigo, all the promise and potential in being lost.

We catch a ride north to find firmer conditions, end up in Talkeetna where my sister-in-law lives, certified badass Denali mountain guide and search and rescue. We hang out with her and Judy and Joey, ride the race course loop in town at high speeds and in short sleeves. Lael entertains herself lofting snowballs into the river while the rest of us drink some beer as a refuge from good sense. It’s a day spent pedaling in that style where you’ve gone to the trailhead just to do a circuit with good friends because cycling is joyful, where you go as hard as you can up the climbs to see if you might stay ahead emphatically and especially because you’re not racing. Alex with his stupid hat that I’m envious of dominates all the photos I take, I want to throw it in the water behind L’s frosty chunks.

img_3922This heat spell sets some of our plans back, but they were just wispy talk anyway, replaceable by any number of alternative excellent foolish ideas. Nick’s next one for the last couple of days before they leave to the White Mountains 100 is that we should go up to Resurrection Pass, sleep in a cabin and come back down. The parsimony of it is immediately appealing. Carp picks us up in his transcendent old bus as if it makes even the slightest bit of sense, as if we’re being picked up before sunrise for school like when we were kids. I nap through the drive.

Sometimes Alaska is New Zealand or Chile, sometimes Norway and the Swiss Alps with higher more muscular peaks. It’s always the USA though, the implication of commerce in front of culture—once gold, now oil—maybe commerce asculture, gas stations, bail bonds, fast casual restaurants, blocks with familiar B- brands, Payless Shoes and Dick’s Sporting Goods. People dressed unusually slacker slovenly hunting fishing overalls Carhartt double bar tacked two sizes too large, obligatory ball cap as if they’re fedoras and it’s the 1940’s. The irony of t-shirts with angry bald eagles and camo printed on them, made in China.

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This is just an excerpt from Joe’s journal. Read more here. We’ll be sharing more of his adventures here in coming weeks, including his latest expedition, to Kyrgyzstan.