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    Otso Journal

    Sonoran Desert Scouting


    Spring 2021 rolled around and I found myself itching to get back on my bike for a little tour. The ongoing pandemic had all but smashed my plans (like everyone else’s) for long tours outside of my home state. The lockdown and stay at home orders prompted Spencer, my partner, to see what he could link up around Tucson. We scouted the first edition of this route together in March 2020 and I found out that scouting can be extremely frustrating. Let’s just say it involved some very steep climbs out of dead ends in the hot desert sun. No thanks. Eventually, the route’s kinks were worked out and the Babad Do’ag Backroads was born.



    My friends and I volunteered to be the guinea pigs of this route. It was late March and the temperatures were already climbing to the mid/high 80s during the day. We all packed at least 6 to 8 liters of water per person and most of us decided to cowboy camp (no tent, just a pad and sleeping bag). The route was originally running counterclockwise which would mean a big climb up Reddington pass. None of us wanted to do this climb. It’s steep, there are lots of 4x4s and jeeps that dust you out, and it just wasn’t the way we wanted to start this route. My friend Brittne and I both had to work on the Friday we wanted to start the route, so we decided to meet Monique, Dani and Abbie at the first camp spot along a powerline road. Long story short, darkness descended on us a lot faster than we anticipated and we camped about 2 miles away from our friends. The night was filled with coyote howls, owls hooting their hearts out and a big full moon that gave the saguaros an eerie glow.



    In the morning, we watched and waited underneath the sparse and prickly palo verde trees for our friends. Brittne and I wandered a bit and stumbled upon a cattle trough filled with clean water. This is like finding a treasure chest in the desert! We filled our bottles and returned to our posts. We then heard a rumbling in the distance followed by a parade of side by sides cruising down the road. Their Trump and “Biden Sucks” flags whipped in the wind as they sped by us. My eyes rolled out of my head and across the desert. Brittne and I exchanged laughs over the ridiculousness and crossed our fingers our friends would be able to navigate around the caravan of idiots safely.



    At around 10am, tiny dots descending the chunky gravel road told me it was time to start hooting and hollering. Our friends had made it! We greeted each other with hugs and high fives. Monique, Dani and Abbie were all in consensus that the control road they had ridden that morning needed to be taken out of the route, because why do unnecessary hard shit if there’s an easier-ish way that’s only adding a couple miles? We all hopped back on our bikes and prepared for the long climb up the backside of Mt. Lemmon to Peppersauce Campground and then Oracle. The climb was grueling as we pedaled past scorched cactus from the fires the previous summer. Green plants were sprinkled in here and there, reminding me that the desert is truly resilient despite the harsh conditions. Some of the valleys were completely untouched by the fire and boasted tall yuccas reaching towards the sky with extended shoots. We stopped every now and then to sit in the shade, sip water and recharge.



    We finally reached Peppersauce Campground and raced towards the water spouts on a well earned descent. Peppersauce Campground looks like something out of a fairytale. Trees as tall as houses produce shade for grass and flowers to bloom underneath them. It looks very much out of place in the Sonoran desert, but it is gladly welcomed. The water spigot was not producing water the weekend we decided to go (an investigation by Spencer found that they had not paid their water bill so they had been cut off), so we had to ask some folks for water. After we filled up, we basically flew down the mountain. The sun was setting and turned the mountains surrounding us deep shades of pink and purple just as we reached the AZT. We camped along a sandy wash that night, drinking tea and finding animal bones.



    The next morning, we rolled into Oracle and stopped at the Oracle Patio Cafe for food and coffee. I highly recommend any pastries and goodies from this heaven on earth. After eating my weight in pastry and questioning if I would be able to ride the remaining 55 miles, we set off down the highway to get to the Honeybee Loop and then the bike trail leading into town. I don’t think I pedaled a single time on that road. It was 15 miles of the wind in my hair as I sped past wildflowers blooming from the pavement. Honeybee Loop is some of the best singletrack in Tucson that is fully loaded bike friendly. We all had a blast ripping down the little hills and passing some surprised mountain bikers. Once we entered the city limits, we all started breaking off in our own ways to head home. In-n-Out was the only thing keeping my legs moving in circles as I pedaled into my driveway.



    If you find yourself down South and anywhere near Tucson with a bicycle, this route is a great way to see the landscape without having to travel too far away from an airport. It has Saguaros, desert critters, chunky gravel and long descents into the sunset. Definitely check out Spencer’s write up on the Radavist for more details and recommendations. Safe riding!


    Bikepacking Roots releases the 600-mile Northwoods Route

    A new bikepacking route in our backyard was just shared by the good folks at Bikepacking Roots. Otso is a presenting sponsor of this new Northwoods Route alongside Shimano because this part of the world is special to us, as we spend a lot of time riding the dirt near Lake Superior. The press release from Bikepacking Roots is below.

    September 12, 2021: Bikepacking Roots has released the long-awaited Northwoods Route, a 600-mile-long circumnavigation of the western half of Lake Superior through northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Following primarily gravel roads, relatively smooth two-tracks, rail trails, and short sections of pavement through thick forests and along countless lakes of all sizes, this loop has been created to be inviting to riders on both mountain or gravel bikes. And for riders looking for more technical riding opportunities - loaded or unloaded - along the way, the route includes singletrack alternates and trail networks in route communities along the way. The loop is closed by utilizing the passenger ferries that travel to Isle Royale National Park to cross Lake Superior (note that bikes are not allowed on any of the trails on Isle Royale!).

    Each of the three states along the route offers unique landscapes and riding experiences, from the cobbly beaches and cliff lines of Minnesota, to the heavily eroded ancient mountain belts of Michigan, to the glaciated and remote countryside of northern Wisconsin. Small towns along all these segments offer regular resupply and lodging opportunities.

    Singletrack alternates along the route include the 43-mile-long Duluth Traverse, the relatively new Jackpot Trail near Tofte, Minnesota (with more trail construction coming soon), and some of the most popular trails in the CAMBA trail system near Cable, Wisconsin. A dozen additional mountain bike trail networks along the route provide many more opportunities for singletrack riding.

    “This was an especially rewarding route to create,” says Kurt Refsnider, Bikepacking Roots’ Executive Director and lead route developer. “I grew up in Minnesota and rode and hiked extensively in the Northwoods, and I had ambitions to do some bike tours in the region before I moved away. That never happened, but now we’ve been able to create an amazing route for others to experience and learn about the region by bike.”

    In the summer and fall of 2020, several dozen members of Bikepacking Roots’ volunteer Route Test Team test rode sections of the route and alternative alignments to provide feedback and help refine the loop to provide the best possible riding experience. These riders also helped identify cyclist-friendly businesses along the route to include in the route guidebook.

    In order to make trip planning as easy as possible and to help riders more deeply connect to the landscapes through which they ride, Bikepacking Roots has also developed a 70-page guidebook for the Northwoods Route. In addition to providing all pertinent logistical details, educational chapters explore the region’s geology, forest ecology, the recovery of the gray wolf, and the story of the world-class CAMBA trail system in northern Wisconsin. The introductory chapter by Alexandera Houchin, bikepacker and member of the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, shares her perspective on her homeland and the treaties through which that land was ceded to the U.S. Government.  

    More information about the Northwoods Route, the digital navigation and waypoint data, and the full 70-page route guidebook (in both e-book and print formats) are available on Bikepacking Roots’ website. Development of the Northwoods Route was made possible with support from Bikepacking Roots’ members and from Otso Cycles and Shimano, companies that both believe in the transformative power of bike adventures. 

    Bikepacking Roots is the only 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, advocating for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride, and creating professional routes. The organization values human-powered adventure and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership that makes a positive impact as we explore by bike.


    Bikepacking the Idaho Cold Springs

    Perspectives on climate change and the rides we love

    Photos and text by Kira Minehart


    Perhaps you’ve heard of the Idaho Hot Springs bikepacking loop. It’s a multi-day bikepacking trip that weaves along gold-medal trout streams, flower-dotted meadows, self-made towns, and of course, hot springs. Unfortunately, the season for enjoying this route is getting much shorter and riskier due to climate change.

    In June 2021, the Pacific Northwest experienced a record breaking heat wave — just in time for my bikepacking trip along the Idaho Hot Springs route. Before departing, the owner of the one-stop-shop in Lowman, Idaho warned that temperatures would soar above 100 degrees for the next week. My riding partner and I decided to forge ahead anyway, confident that a dip in the multitude of streams would keep us cool.


    After one hour of riding, my partner and I realized this was not the trip we had planned for. Typically, average June temperatures in Lowman, Idaho hover around 75 degrees Fahrenheit - not 105, as it were. In these conditions, the heat was visible and the air still as songbirds stayed perched in the shade of Pinus Ponderosa. This historic heat wave catalyzed many surprises along our route; all of which were consequences of the beast called climate change.

    The least concerning among them was our ill-prepared gear. The thin plastic bag of Winco chocolate-covered cranberries in my partner's frame bag immediately turned into a goopy hazard that threatened to destroy whatever clean and organized equipment we had. Secondly, I never needed my down puffy jacket affixed to my fork mounts; instead, it served as an insulating pad to keep my rear from roasting whenever I took a roadside snack break. Finally, a lightweight swimsuit seemed like a good idea for the “family-oriented” hot springs, but it was hardly used as we only stopped at two of twenty hot springs along our route. The warm baths were hardly appealing; instead, they felt like a menace in dialogue with the scorching sky.


    Perhaps a bit more unnerving was that no amount of water could keep me satiated — I yearned for more than a liter of water per hour and it seemed there weren’t enough electrolytes in all of Idaho to keep me thinking straight. We were not prepared for many of the higher-elevation streams (above 6,000 feet) to be dry or nearly there, likely due to the unprecedented heat and lack of precipitation. Unfortunately, yet another heat wave graced this area only a few weeks after our trip; certainly sapping whatever water was left in these fragile streams.

    The most alarming surprise was the proximity to and threat of wildfire. At the time, there were no active fires on our route; they would start a few days after we’d finished (and continue throughout the summer.) However, the omnipresent nature of wildland fire was all around us. A nearly 100-mile stretch of gravel roads in Boise National Forest was entirely burnt and no longer resembled the “green” forested land cover suggested by Google Maps. These vast expanses of blistered timber provided no shade and made for contemplative, if dangerous, bikepacking.


    Ultimately, we made it through the route with many laughs and musings. We affectionately referred to the experience as the Idaho Cold Springs adventure as our days were characterized by fully-kitted river baths — not serene hot spring soaks. Although I’ll hold onto many happy memories from this week in Idaho, more salient are the lessons I learned about being a bikepacker; or hiker, boater, birdwatcher, and camper in the era of climate change.


    Heat waves like this one will not seem novel in decades to come. Not only will global average temperatures continue to rise as carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, but extreme events such as this will become more common according to expert scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Extreme weather events, in addition to gradual warming and ecological shifts will yield more fire closures and evacuations, damaged roads and trails, and increasingly dangerous conditions for all pursuers of outdoor recreation.


    This is the hot world we inherited. It is also the world we choose to create. Until we have global, progressive, and thoughtful action on carbon emissions, land-use change, food systems, environmental justice, and more — this is the world that will remain.

    “Take precautions if you spend time outside,” stated the National Weather Service during June’s historic heat wave. Perhaps the best precaution we can take right now is to vote, trust science, and enjoy summer bike rides while we still can.


    Tour Divide 2021: Ken's Waheela C Setup

    Ken Zylstra is hitting the Tour Divide for the first time this year on his Waheela C. In our interview with him, he is referring to this attempt as his "Lemonade Ride" in response to some recent life changes. See his loaded rig and learn more about Ken's preparation ahead of the big event.

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