The Blackburn Rangers
My first serious road bike was a Specialized Expedition. It was a take-n0-prisoners touring bike meant for people disinclined to leave a forwarding address. It was a bike for people with ambition. On that bike I crossed the Continental Divide seven times in a single trip.
Like I said, it was meant for people with ambition. I didn’t say anything about brains.
In addition to the one big tour I did through the Rockies, I also did several shorter trips through New England. I commuted on that bike, raced ‘cross on it and bombed more than a few gravel roads. That bike helped me learn how fun touring can be. My disposition is such, though, that the bike may not have been necessary. I seem to be partial to touring, whether I have the touring bike or not.
Bike touring, though, isn’t the hip end of cycling. The touring bike is the pocket protector of the bike world. It’s not fast, and as a result lacks the sexy je ne c’est quoi that we automatically attribute to racing bikes. I get the attraction of the racing bike, but I must confess that I also get the attraction of the fully-loaded touring bike. It’s a bike with possibilities, a bike that’s prepared and maybe it’s just the Eagle Scout in me, but I resonate any time someone suggests that I should be prepared.
All this is to say, I have a very soft spot for bike touring.
It is with that in mind that I point your attention to the ad at the top of the home page, the one for Blackburn. Recently, they came to me and told me about a promotion they were doing. They were sponsoring a bunch of riders to go out and tackle ambitious tours. These weren’t two-day trips from Boston to the end of the Cape, no these were doozies. Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Coast Highway, and the Great Divide Route.
Can we just go over that again? Blackburn is SPONSORING riders to go on long tours. How amazing is that?
They call them the Blackburn Rangers. Little sheriff’s stars seem in order. The idea is a simple one: If you make touring gear, what better way to test your products than with people who will really put them through their paces. Lots of companies have a select roster of riders who comprise their torture chamber. What’s different about Blackburn Rangers is that they are riding completed products, so their role is less to test the product and make sure it works than to demonstrate proof of concept.
All that sounds nice, but then I got an email from Blackburn asking me if I wanted to intercept one of their riders coming down the Pacific Coast Highway and ride a bit.
Is Amanda Bynes cray-cray? Hellz yeah!
I met up with Jennifer at the Manhattan Beach Pier. She was actually on a rest day, which meant that she was likely to ride less than 30 miles that day and with less than her full load on the bike. She’d started her journey back in mid-June and as you read this she’s probably boarding a plane to head home to Seattle. She’d had the good sense to allow herself plenty of rest days, something on the order of every fourth or fifth day she took as a rest day.
Jennifer has been riding that Voodoo for more than 10 years, mostly as a bike commuter, but she’s also done some supported rides like STP, the Seattle to Portland ride. The rig, while serviceable, was nothing fancy: steel frame and fork, nine-speed drivetrain, double chainrings (not compact, no triple) and only a rear rack. No computer. I’m not sure I’ve met a more capable cyclist less concerned about equipment. What a trip.
Of course, that wasn’t where our conversation began. My first question was how she managed to find six weeks to ride her bike. Did she have a really understanding boss? Was she a freelancer? Trust fund?
Nope. She quit her job and her husband was chill about it.
She also left behind a chihuahua and when we stopped for chai in Venice, she was easily distracted by one just a few tables over.
When I asked her what the biggest surprise of the trip was she told me it was the people that she met. From other cyclists she encountered on the road to the folks she met off the bike, she was continually amazed by the kindness, warmth and generosity of the people she encountered. What she’d expected to get out of the trip was beautiful scenery, but it was in meeting people that she’d had her must pleasant and surprising encounters.
When I asked her about her favorite stretch she had ridden, she mentioned when she first rode into a Redwood forest, which would have been Del Norte State Forest, on the Pacific Coast a bit south of Crescent City, in far northern California. She talked about how she marveled not just at their massive presence, but how, from the saddle of a bike, she was able to take in the full effect of their size, that she didn’t have car windows letter boxing her view, how the scent of the forest washed over her as she rode and how she could feel the damp air of the forest on her skin.
Given the chance to be plucked out of Southern California and returned to any spot on her tour via helicopter, she said that was the spot.
Most of us don’t carpe that diem often enough. I’ll admit that I did more than just covet Jennifer’s adventure, I envied it. And while envy may be one of the seven deadly sins, in this instance I think it may have served a useful purpose in reminding me that it’s a big world. I need to get out and see more.