Life can get hectic. Working, traveling, racing, all while trying to be part of this human race thing—sometimes feels like your life is one big episode of Star Wars and you’re traveling around at the speed of light. My job entails a lot of time away from home, which is fantastic but can also leave you feeling a little frazzled from time to time. Luckily, I have developed the ability and tools to stop time for a moment. Not really, but it sure feels like I have stumbled upon the holy grail of resetting my life by adding in this one activity. So what is this Star Wars force I have found? It’s called the Monarch Crest, and it’s located right in my backyard.
The Monarch Crest and all trails surrounding it is a vast high-country trail system located in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. As soon as I get home from a long work trip or even a stressful day, I head up the pass to indulge in one of the radical, loamy, rocky, and high-speed trails that orchestrate the Monarch Crest. High above treeline and away from most people you instantly feel better as you pedal across the ridgeline of the majestic Rocky Mountains. You may think, ‘What is this lady talking about stopping time by riding her favorite bike trails?’ It’s true. Riding up away from people, streets, and buildings give you time to reconnect with nature and truly makes you feel like yourself again. It doesn’t matter how busy my life is, I always have time to go for a high country Colorado ride. In return, I feel like I give myself a break from the hectic life to-do’s and return to civilization with a smile on my face and purpose back into my life.
Life is always going to feel like we are time traveling around at a million miles an hour, so our job is to take time to slow it down. Maybe it’s the thin air and lack of oxygen at 12,000 ft getting to my head. But for me, the best way to put a pause and get back to reality is to take a spin on my Process 153 high above any of life’s nuances and to get back to nature and remember what makes me happy.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “the best bike for bikepacking, is the bike you already have.” Typically said by an experienced bikepacker (or blogger) who just also happens to have the absolute latest and greatest the industry has to offer. Dynamo hubs, custom bikepacking bags, and titanium frames. To be fair, I’ve said the same thing. I’ve found myself writing it in blog posts for prominent websites, preaching it at workshops and conferences, then I realized that it’d been an awful long time since I myself had bikepacked with the basics.
Mountain biking for me started with rigid single speeds. We’d tear through the humid forests of Alabama, all the while claiming there was no need for silly contraptions like suspension and derailleurs. But eventually bicycle technology got the best of me and I started riding more complex bikes.
I miss the simplicity. So my plan was to get back to the basics. I borrowed a steel frame 29er, the Kona Unit. Complete with flat pedals, mediocre brakes, a sorry saddle, and one lonely cog. I grabbed a couple specific bikepacking bags, a luxury no doubt, but not necessarily extravagant for most. In the spirit of minimalism, I forwent a stove and a tent, instead opting for cold food and a homemade Tyvek bivy sack.
I set out with an ambitious plan to cover a loop of techy singletrack around the La Plata mountains not far from my home. Just about as soon as I left the car, dark clouds rolled overhead. The monsoon season was in full swing in SW Colorado and it surely wasn’t going to take pity on me. Just as soon as the showers started so did the lightning. Up and over 12,000’ foot passes I’d alternate between pushing and riding. Careful to time the passes between bouts of lighting. Descending from the final pass, the cold set in. Drenched to the bone I hopped into my DIY bivy. There I lay shivering for the next hour.
‘How silly of me,’ I thought. In an effort to get back to the basics, I minimalized to a point where my margin for safety was too slim. After fighting with my pride, I realized there was nothing to prove. So I packed up. And in the sliver of daylight left, I pedaled 20 miles to the nearest town. I paid for a hostel, took a hot shower, and found the nearest brewery. To be honest, I felt like a failure. I’d set out to prove that bikepacking could be simple. However, due to my minimalist kit, I couldn’t stick out the storm.
There I sat, drinking my beer when a local approached. “Is that your bike out there? Are you on a bike tour?” he asked? And so we struck up a conversation. He shared stories of his cross country travel via bike and expressed how he missed those times. Through this I realized, although my tour didn’t go as planned, it was far from a failure. Perhaps this was the simplest style after all. Riding through the mountains, staying in towns, and carrying even less than I set out with.
The next morning I pedaled back the way I had come. Typically I opt for loops during bikepacking trips but again I reveled in the simplicity. No longer were dark clouds hanging overhead. Thunder and lightning were replaced with blue skies and singing birds. Slowly, the rhythm of grinding uphill single-speed came back to me. No worries of a dirty drivetrain or of rogue rocks that could easily rip off a derailleur. After an hour of moving through the mountainous landscape, my mind grew restless. Usually it’d be about this time that I’d slip in an earbud and listen to music or a podcast but instead, I refrained. I was set on embracing the ethos of the trip. And again, I surprised myself. Soon the boredom passed and my thoughts wandered, my brain unencumbered by its regular artificial stimulation.
Maybe my original plan didn’t quite work out however, I found what I was looking for. A solo cycling experience carrying only the bare minimum.
Every year the
holidays are a topic of discussion to know where to go but this time we decided
to go by bike. The goal was to leave about a week where the weather is
favourable and ride a reasonable number of kilometres.
Although Kona has a beautiful range of bicycles for travelling, two Jake the Snakes have been chosen, one of which is mounted with a luggage rack so that camping equipment can be easily transported with rear panniers. In the end, we were surprised to see that with our seven bike bags we still had plenty of room, which will prove practical for shopping food and cook good meals.
The D-day is coming and the weather is less beautiful than expected in northern Switzerland and Germany and the heat in the south motivates us, so it’s in Switzerland that we will ride and camp.
The first day we leave for the Jura, which with the Alps is the other mountain range in Switzerland. The goal is to see the “Creux du Van“, a natural rocky circus of about 1,400 meters wide. The bikes are fine. Us? Not so much with a heat that exceeds 30°C (86°F) and we reach the end of 56km ride a little dry. The sky starts being dark and a big storm forms as we arrive at the campsite in the Val de Travers. It’s then a real deluge that falls 20 minutes later and lasts many hours and part of the night, but the tent resists the rain. We will have to come back too see the Creux du Van as it is hidden in the clouds. The next day the sun shines timidly but the conditions are pleasant to ride towards Sainte-Croix and its pass.
A long descent allows us to return to the plain and the Lake of Neuchatel. A large part of the route now passes through the natural reserve of the “Grande Cariçaie,” which is home to nearly a quarter of the fauna and flora species found in Switzerland. Like the day before, the timing is perfect and we arrive at the starting point just before an impressive storm.
This passage to the zero point of the trip allowed us to avoid a very rainy Sunday and also to adjust the contents of the bags by removing unnecessary things off from the two bikes. It isn’t the lightest setup but for a first bike travelling trip, we’re really happy with the results.
On Monday we head towards the Alps and while riding the at least 50km distance for the day, the hills become more and more prominent, especially when crossing the Gantrisch Natural Park. Finally, we rode down again towards Thun where we saw the lakes that we’d follow the next day.
In the morning we leave with a beautiful view of the peaks of the Eiger, Mönsch and Jungfrau and reach the shores of Lake Thun where the bicycle route offers an incredible view. At noon we do like the hordes of tourists and stop in Interlaken to eat a pizza before starting the second part of the route where the beauty and the shades of blue of the lake will surprise us as well as the climbs with slopes of over 20%…
At the end of this day, we arrive by the small lake of Lungern. The camping site is perfect and from the tent, there is a beautiful view to eat our Thai soup, which changes from the “one-pot pasta” that we have cooked until now.
In the morning the weather is quite wet and cool as we start the descent towards the Lake of Sarnen which will then lead us to the edge of the Lake of the four cantons and then to the pretty city of Lucerne and its famous wooden bridge.
We should have stopped there but we decided to continue riding towards the heart of Switzerland where a campsite is once again located on the side of a lake. It should be noted that in Switzerland wild camping is not really tolerated except in the mountains above the forest limit but the good point that we were able to enjoy the comfort of the campsites.
For the last day, we decide to go back to the shores of the lake of the four cantons and take the roads that follow the shores and luckily we arrived at a place where the ferry is about to dock, which allows us to enjoy the view without having to pedal. After that, we go back to Lucerne and head towards the Swiss plateau as the heat gets hotter and hotter. After 70 km of riding and 1000m of altitude difference, we finally arrive in the pretty town of Sursee where a train brings us back to the starting point.
These 6 days of cycling were a really good experience and allowed us to discover places where we would never have gone by car and there is still a certain satisfaction to see the landscape pass by at a human pace. It’s also a good feeling to arrive at a place in the evening after a nice§ day of pedaling, it was just missing some camping chairs to drink the beers.
Anyway, one thing is certain, we’re going to do it again!
Kona Ambassador Tudor Gillham has had a busy summer racing the TransAtlantic Way ride—a 2500km one stage race/ride through Ireland. When he finished the ride he wanted to reflect on what the Longest Days mean to him. Just like many of us, he enjoys the golden hour aboard his Sutra LTD.
The advantage that comes with the days around the summer solstice is the extra long daylight. Together with the S_Trails Crew, I spent a long evening session at our dirt jumps @s_trails2.0.
It’s a hot day and there are no clouds in the sky. Before the actual session, we watered the jumps to make them mint to ride.
After padding up the session was in full swing
pretty quickly. Everyone was stoked about the prime riding conditions. Nik
Bechtle started to take pictures. It was hella fun whipping the Kona Shonky
through the evening heat.
At 22:12 we were still cruising the jumps as the sun sets down. Sweaty and hungry the grill got heated up as the barbeque is a must after the session. Cheers for the session.
An hour later we arrived at the local lake. During the day the lake must have been a busy place. But now just a handful of people was around and enjoyed the chilled atmosphere.
It was a well-needed refreshment after jumping into the fresh water.
Let’s see what the next days bring cause the weather forecast is looking pretty good.
So lets go out and make a good use of the exta
The long days of Memorial Day weekend typically involve packing as much adventure as possible into a three-day window. After scouting a handful of logging roads during a previous climbing trip in the region, I had my eyes set on the Chilliwack zone of British Columbia for this year’s three-day adventure. In preparation, I pieced together a dreamy 240-mile loop, with day one being a 94-mile section of a 700-mile route I found on bikepacking.com. Glancing at the elevation profile of the larger route, it appeared our first day would ride along the shore of Lake Harrison, followed by a pass that required 4,000 feet of climbing, plus some change. Having been bike touring for well over a decade, this wasn’t my first rodeo. Although I still knew that a near-century on logging roads with a mountain pass smacked in the middle wasn’t going to be an easy feat. I like to push myself…so why not?
With plenty of provisions and ample water sources, we set out in a complete downpour, riding north along the eastern shore of the lake. Within a few minutes, we were already riding a roller coaster of short and steep hills, which introduced a surprisingly undulating start to our long day. Soon pavement turned to gravel, softening in the rain and transitioning into tire-sucking mud. The climbs weren’t letting up, growing longer and steeper, each followed by a roaring downhill back to the shore of the lake. It kept us engaged but also slowed our progress and gave our legs a premature burn.
Through my years of bike touring, I’m all too familiar with working hard for miles, but those difficult miles are usually balanced out by massive expanses of road that fly by before you’re done eating the PB&J stuffed into your handlebar bag. At this point in our trip, we haven’t received any of those free handouts. By the time we veered from the lake and headed inland to start the big climb, we were soaked to the bone and our warm-up felt overly rigorous. Regardless, the scenery was phenomenal and our ambitions were set high. As we began climbing, the road began to deteriorate rapidly, as washouts turned into soft sand for hundreds of yards on end. The entire surface of the road became a giant rumble strip. The climbing grades were skyrocketing to unfathomable grades and we began to weave through fields of baseball and brick-size rocks. My bike touring approach was getting crushed with every pedal push and I was realizing with great humility that bikepacking is clearly a discipline of its own. I know discomfort and generally thrive on it. However, I had never been so bombarded by a seemingly endless onslaught of required bursts of energy as I heaved my overpacked Sutra up the 28% grades of rock and sand. I kept surprising myself while I remain clipped in, pushing through these unforeseen challenges with no end or relief in sight. I pushed on, past a state of my total physical depletion.
Bikepacking requires you keep going and you do it…because you know you have to. Bonking happens. Frustration and pain exist. But these are all elements that add up to the brilliant equation of building character. I pedaled onwards until the road was steep enough, and the rocks large enough, that I tipped over while pedaling out of the saddle. My ego was screaming as I pushed my bike for the next few hundred yards, feeling a false sense of overwhelming defeat. In that moment, I discovered a new truth: Pushing Happens. Bikepacking routes vary, but the reality is they often result in planned or unplanned pushing.
When we reached the top of the pass, we were welcomed not only by the setting sun but also by a few feet of snow and the return of rain. We heaved our bikes through the snow, not knowing when it would end as twilight crept in. We pushed through as we piloted our bikes with icy feet and frigid hands, and began to descend, eagerly seeking out trees to sling our hammocks. We had spent all day cycling through a utopia of aesthetically and functionally perfect hammock trees, however, this side of the pass had recently been logged and only dense brush remained. It was 10pm and I was nearing an ultimate state of desperation. One of those moments where you feel you need to simply stop riding and lay in the mud. Maybe even take a nap in said bed of mud. But we pushed on because that’s what you do.
Finally…through a spray of headlamp-illuminated raindrops, we spotted a grove of trees large enough for us to sling our cocoons with the sound of a trickling creek nearby. As we sat huddled under our wet tarps, picking spilled tortellini pasta off the mossy forest floor, we cracked up with complete joy and fatigue as we reveled in the highs and lows of the longest day of my cycling career.
When we recapped the stats, day one of our three-day journey had turned out to be over 10,000 feet of elevation gain in 65 miles with me riding a 74-pound bike. A humble welcome to the fine art of bikepacking. I am an experienced bike tourer and mountain biker, but on this trip, I learned through humbling struggle that bikepacking is truly a discipline of its own. It requires a completely different level of planning, fitness and a more minimalist approach to packing.
Venturing into the bikepacking unknown, never expect to receive easy miles. Accomplishments are measured through perseverance rather than distance. Push. Process. Sweat. Breathe. Smile. Laugh through the shit. Find purpose in the experience of suffering, because it’s then you’ll create visceral memories. Appreciate the value of grit.
Leah Maunsell has repeated her title as Irish National Enduro Champion. We are beyond proud of the talent and hard work she continues to show! Congrats, Leah!
“This weekend was the Irish National Enduro Champs in Ravensdale. There is always so much at stake at this race with only 5 stages to determine who would come out on top. It was certainly not going to be an easy battle for that top step.
The classic Irish wet weather threatened to come all weekend so it was not only a race against the clock but also a race against the forecast. Luckily the rain held off and we got to race in relatively dry conditions.
Although it didn’t rain over the weekend, conditions were still quite slippy due to the wet week we had leading up to the race. The stages were quite fast so any mistakes were going to be costly. With that in mind my aim was to have a smooth race with no major mistakes. I had a fairly consistent day so I was excited to see how I got on but I knew the times were going to be tight and it was going to be all to play for.
They withheld our results until the podium so the nerves and suspense were building. It was such a relief when they called out my name for P1. I am so proud to run the Irish sleeve for another season and I can’t wait to wear it abroad for the remaining EWS season.
I would like to thank Kona Bikes greatly for all their continued support and the amazing Process 153 CR/DL 29 which I am absolutely loving this season!” -Leah Maunsell
For our third ambassador challenge we requested our team think about what they can do with the longest days of the year.
First up is Canadian Ambassador Cole Pellerin, who in one day rode Whistler, Golden, and made it to the top of Mount Seven in time for sunset. Whistler doesn’t even start spinning their chairs till 10am, so Cole had to do some serious driving in between bike park laps.
He documented it all aboard his Operator DL and Remote CTRL in his version of The Longest Day.
Winter is not a particularly difficult time for bike riding
here in California. With our mild temps and hero dirt it’s hard to really call
it a winter at all. But, there is one thing that even a Mediterranean climate
cannot provide: enough daylight hours to do a silly big ride. Not just a long
ride, but one of those rides that you sketch out on paper and wonder, will this
actually work? Between a full work schedule and an ever-growing list of races,
early summer offers a short window of time where conditions lend themselves
especially well to epics. This year, longer days, no races, a huge stretch of
beautiful California coast, and good friends all came together in the form of a
176-mile adventure from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo. Taking the iconic
California 1 through Big Sur over the course of 12 hours was just the thing to
kick off the summer.
There is just something special about starting and ending a
ride in the dark with a vast distance checked off in-between. However, it can
be daunting locking yourself into a ride that just might be too big for your
britches. One way to ease yourself into a big ol’ ride like this is to plan an
escape route. For this particular day out we set ourselves up with a sag van
filled with all the snacks, beers, and parts needed for a well-supported cruise
down the coast. This not only allowed for frequent fuel stops, but also allowed
easy bailout points so everyone in our diverse crew could dial in their
preferred level of mileage. As for me, I had a hankerin for suffering that only
a full-pull of coastline could satisfy.
While most of my favorite rides require a bit more travel,
my trusty Major Jake fitted with some nice wide slicks was the perfect vantage
point for 12 hours’ worth of views like this.
The Route, although mega, is fairly straightforward. Start yourself in Santa Cruz, make it to the legendary Hwy 1, and head south. There may be a few hills and all-time vistas in between and like any good day-long ride, this one ends with donuts and exhausted smiles. With the solstice right around the corner, it’s the best time of year to get out there and go big!
Late winter and spring were a journey through darkness for me, but I feel like I have finally come out into the light.
The past few years I have had a policy of “just say yes” to
everything—every bike ride, race, trip to Sedona/Moab/Canada, or bikepacking
adventure. I thrive off of a packed weekend and post-work schedule of outdoor
activities. Getting outside to exercise solo or with friends helps calm my mind
and gets me through hours of sitting at a computer for my day job.
This year, I had to just say “no” to everything so I could
focus on my career, and I lost my physical, emotional, and social outlet. I had
to take my professional engineering exam in late April, which meant spending my
weekends indoors studying in addition to a full workload. It nearly killed my
soul, but it’s the biggest and most important milestone in my career, and
necessary for me to advance in the environmental consulting field. I put so
much pressure on myself to pass the first time (only about 64% of people pass
on their first try) and to be the first female PE at my company, that my anxiety
about the exam grew to be almost unmanageable. I started having physical
manifestations of anxiety like body tingling, shortness of breath, and chest
pain, which was a terrifying experience and made it hard to focus on studying*.
I would allow myself to go on one bike ride per week, but even then, I would
get mad at myself for being out of shape and having rusty skills, and guilty
for taking time off from studying. I tried to stay off social media because it
made me sad and angry that everyone else was seemingly out having fun all the
time, and I had nothing happy or positive to post about.
As my exam approached, I had to get through my least
favorite day of the year—April 9th. This marks the anniversary of my
brother’s death in 2016 after a 12-year battle with drug addiction. Every year
in the weeks surrounding that date, I relive the intense feelings of grief,
anger, and loss at his passing. My anxiety and insomnia grows even worse than
normal, and I feel fatigued and exhausted by social interactions. Usually
riding my bike is one of my biggest comforts during this time, but I was now
studying two days per weekend to prepare for my impending exam. My life was
devoid of joy, and I struggled to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Exam day came, and I was tired and extremely nervous. I felt
like I bombed the first half, and almost drove away at lunch and didn’t come
back. I took a deep breath, reminded myself of my inner strength and tried to
focus on positive self-talk, and went back in and did better on the second
half, but was still afraid that wouldn’t be enough to pass. I went home and spent
the weekend in a black depression, thinking I had failed and would have to
re-take the exam, which would mean more weekends of studying, and admitting to everyone
at my company that I was a failure. I went on a group ride to “celebrate” being
done with the test and my friends were shocked at how down I was, compared to
my normal cheery self.
Six days later I got my exam result. I HAD PASSED. I was so
relieved I started shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t stop crying—my own
personal hell was over, I was done forever, my hard work had paid off. The
burden of my intense anxiety about the exam mostly melted away and the darkness
lifted. For the first time in months, the future looked bright and hopeful. I
am still working on fully digging myself out of my mental and physical hole,
but I’ve made a lot of progress. I can finally brush the cobwebs off my bikes
and start planning out as many summer adventures as I can possibly fit into my
*I would like to thank my therapist and my fiancé for their
support while I navigated this dark time. There’s no shame in asking for help!
It’s 5 pm and I’ve just finished with whatever was on my plate for the day. I debate with myself if I have time to quickly get changed and head for the trail. Of course, I am cutting it close. The sun is setting soon, but I scurry out the door inspired to chase the sunlight I have left. Evening rides just like this are some of my favorite. There is something really special about riding bikes while the sun is going down and chasing that last ray before the sun sets behind the mighty Rocky Mountains. Maybe I head out solo or maybe some friends join. Either way, the lighting and temperature on these spring days are prime during the last few hours of daylight.
Here in Salida, we have an extraordinary trail system at the base of the town called the S Mountain Trails. These trails are designed for all riders from beginners to advanced and have some of my favorite downhill trails in the valley. The best part of the S Mountain Trails is that all the trails easily link together so depending on how much you want to ride or how much time you have you can put together a perfect ride. The trail system is heavily maintained by a group of volunteers, local support, and passionate trail builders. The trail builders are always on the lookout to build more singletrack and have an open mind to building difficult and technical terrain which is a rare treat amongst public trails.
My all-time favorite trail on S Mountain is a rocky, loose, technical trail called Sand Dunes. I am notorious in the valley for riding this trail at an obsessive rate. On a solo day, I can lap it in 45 minutes making it a prime selection for a quick evening ride. I never get sick of this trail and it always brings a smile to my face as I drop down through multiple rock gardens and deep loose dunes of sand with the Collegiate Peaks and the Arkansas River as my backdrop.
The trail ends at the heart of town where you are dazzled by the small town vibes of Salida, Colorado. From here I can grab a beer from one of the many local breweries and restaurants or hit the grocery store and head home.
Chasing down the sun will always be one of my great joys of mountain biking and there is nothing quite like coming home from weeks on the road to enjoy some of my favorite local dirt.
Kona Ambassador Leah Maunsell is well into her racing season and hitting her stride, taking a win in the most recent round of the Irish National Enduro Series aboard her Process 153 CR DL 29.
“After less than a week at home after the EWS, I decided to race round two of the Irish National Enduro Series. It was a great weekend with unusually sunny weather and dusty trails. I had the best two days at home on a bike in a long time and I’m delighted to take the win in Pro Women to consolidate my series lead. I’m feeling more and more comfortable on the new bike. I have a few weeks at home now before heading off to the next two rounds of the EWS.” -Leah Maunsell