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).

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.

On the Road: Joe Cruz Treelines Alaska, Pt. 1

Maybe you remember in the spring when we built a Treeline SL for our buddy Joe Cruz. We said then that bringing Joe together with that bike would guarantee adventure, and we’re happy to say we were right. Joe is a restless soul. He spends his days teaching philosophy at one of New Englands bucolic colleges, but any break in the schedule, any opportunity at all, Joe will travel, and when he travels, it’s by bike.

The first adventure on his new Treeline was to Alaska, first a quick tour of the area surrounding Anchorage and then off to the glacial north. Joe is a vivid writer. Here are some words and pictures from the trip:

Out of the airplane window, snow ripples bound for the horizon and enough time passes for an epiphany, no signs of human life for unusually long. It’s March so home is seeping away from winter but I’m headed back toward it now, mostly into sparsity and space, woods that aren’t just parcels and rivers that pick up speed to that geologic inertia less compromised by our interventions.

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Anchorage is a place that is not about itself, its arrow of reference points to the mountains on clear days or towards the chop and surf of river and ocean. Wide linear strip mall avenues with cheap block era architecture, low downtown buildings huddled together as awkwardly as a group of strangers not wanting to be left out of a conversation at a party. When I’m driving it in my brother-in-law’s borrowed inevitable ’86 Toyota pickup, it takes longer to get anywhere because the one way streets take you ’round expansive city blocks, but it also takes less time because there is speeds and space, like going twice as fast at a 1/2 time frame rate. It’s a built up environment that isn’t an aspiration but an accommodation of the varied wants or realities that bring people here. Gold, adventure, work, birth, misanthropy, dreams, freedom, land, fear, courage.

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We pitch a pyramid tent by the sinking sun and firming snow, anchoring the lines to our bikes, I draw a straw short enough to put me at one of the edges and I keep waking in the night to a suffocating dream with damp nylon on my face. Nick, who’s at the other edge, points out that one of the advantages is that he and I can just lift the edge to take a piss and that’s a plausible enough consolation. Inside it’s cozy, there’s no end to the eating. Nick and Lael each have used up an entire loaf of bread in making their sandwiches and they seem content with living on those, I seesaw between jealousy and quizzical skepticism for days.

Our hours are upriver and downriver churning on the Yentna, sometimes we spread out and I meditate the blinding white, the pulse of patches of soft snow, the ruts of the snowmachines. Sometimes we’re three and four wide talking, wave at the occasional mechanical speeder, the boys find unopened cans of beer in the snow from where they fell off supply sleds, we’re dehydrated enough to be left loopy after a few deep gulps.

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