Biking on rocks is a whole new trip
And I love it!
I started cycling 12 years ago in order to close the gaps in my public transit commute from Downey to North Hollywood. Before then, I had ridden a bike as a 6 year old, but only in circles around my front yard. I had a BMX bike from La Curacao while in high school and a Specialized RockHopper in college but only rode both a few times.
Since picking up riding again in 2010, I’ve managed to go on some pretty fun overnight adventures on a bike, but mostly sticking to paved roads. For the past couple of years though, I’ve been getting more and more curious about going off-road. Seeing mountain bikers speed downhill while out hiking and watching Youtube videos of gravel riding had me wanting to take the plunge onto this bumpier terrain.
Per recommendations from experienced mountain bikers, I started looking for a bike with front suspension and disc brakes. This past December I found an extra small Trek 3700 on Craigslist that fit the bill.
I had fun getting this “new” bike ready for me as I prepared for a gravel ride I signed up for called Ruta del Jefe I heard about this event from a friend of mine and I loved the event organizers’ work to provide a cool bike experience alongside educational content AND a fundraiser for groups doing work in the borderlands.
I installed ergonomic grips, found a taller seatpost, and got a more comfortable saddle. The Trek doesn’t have any eyelets for installing a rack, so I found a handlebar bag at the REI garage store in Manhattan Beach that would fit some essentials for my ride.
I put in some training miles on the Park to Playa Trail and felt pretty happy with my setup and ready for a ride through the Sonoran Desert.
Aside from the opportunity to ride through this unique and beautiful territory, Ruta del Jefe is a fundraiser for six organizations doing work to make the area a place where humans, animals and plants can thrive. After arriving at the Appleton-Whittel Research Ranch on the evening of Friday, March 4, we had a chance to learn more about these groups and their amazing work. The video below goes over these orgs and the different work they do in the borderlands.
On Saturday morning, cyclists left for their respective adventures in and around Elgin, Arizona. Folks did 28, 55, 70 and 135 miles around the grasslands and mountains of the Sky Islands region.
I had an absolute blast doing the 28 mile ride alongside folks from different places - including Aaron, who ran the 28 miles with us (in sandals!). While riding I thought a lot about how the area’s natural formations make it one of the most biodiverse areas in the world and what it must be like for land animals that have to cross through miles of grasslands to get to higher ground.
The 28 mile route had a few miles of unpaved roads and trails, giving me a chance to see what my little Trek can do. The end of the route consisted of 5 miles of gravel terrain, with 3 of those miles being a steady downhill. This was probably my favorite part of the ride - zeroing in on the obstacles and working on my rock dodge technique (I was definitely not as graceful as this guy). I honestly enjoyed taking a deep breath and accepting the fact that I might fall and being ok with that. I’m grateful I didn’t fall, but I really think surrendering to the dirt helped me relax and handle those rocks, especially going downhill. I kept telling myself, “Si me caigo, me caigo” (If I fall, I fall).
I appreciate the event organizers’ efforts to facilitate access to this event by offering scholarships, and I think that’s one great way to increase diversity at events that often lack representation. Even so, it was not lost on me that my $400 second-hand bike was among the lower end of bikes I saw at the ranch by thousands of dollars. When I think about how much fun this was and question why I haven’t done this sooner, I realize how much money it all costs and remember why.
It’s always interesting to attend events like this and be one of the few people of color in a majority White space. It’s a mixed bag of emotions - on the one hand I feel grateful and happy to have the resources to embark on something like this, while on the other I hold the complexity of what it means to be a person of color with the privilege of recreating in territory where many enter and never leave. Throughout the ride I thought about what it would be like for people to trek for miles without regular access to food or water, like so many migrants that are forced to cross through this hostile terrain.
One of the lessons that really impacted me from this weekend was the fact that it’s no accident that thousands die while trying to cross dangerous terrain along the US-Mexico border. In 1994, Border Patrol established “prevention through deterrence” policies, which resulted in funneling travelers into desolate areas with scarce water and food - all in an effort to deter more people from making that trek.
Reflecting on this now, it’s complicated to live in the realm of gratitude and empathy at the same time. I’m grateful that when my mom, dad and siblings made their journey north from Guatemala, they survived; their route, back in 1984, didn’t take them through the desert. I feel empathy for everyone who is pushed from their homelands by imperialist and exploitative forces, fueled by the policies and actions of the government that is meant to represent me.
I am really grateful I got to have this experience and that I had an overall great time (I was really dehydrated the next day and it took me a few days to recover). I’m especially thankful that this event focused on education alongside adventure - not ignoring the intersectional issues that exist in this bioregion.
In the past 12 years I’ve learned that cycling has the power to bring different people together on common ground. I’m inspired to continue working towards creating fun and engaging opportunities that will help make biking better in LA while keeping the intersectional issues that affect the most vulnerable close to my heart and integrated in my work.
Thank you so much to the community of people that donated to my fundraising page, and to the friends and family that helped me prepare for this ride (and all the other bike adventures I’ve had in the past decade). Biking is something fun to do on your own, but community support really makes it transformative.
-Brenda Y, LACBC Senior Community Engagement Manager