Rider and Rig: The Bigger Picture with Ryan Carruth
In this edition of Rider and Rig, we spend a few days bikepacking with Ryan Carruth after bumping into him in Bend, Oregon. Ryan has been pedaling throughout California and Oregon for the last three months, and he shares some of the routes he’s ridden, thoughts on traveling with purpose, and surprisingly little about his trusty Surly Pugsley…
I was in the middle of giving my bike a sorely needed tune-up at a park in Bend, Oregon, when out of nowhere I heard, “Hey! Are you guys bikepackers!?” from someone on the footpath beside my van. I turned to see an obviously well travelled bikepacker perched upon a heavily laden Surly Pugsley, complete with a small guitar swung over his back.
Ryan introduced himself, ate some lunch with my girlfriend Emily and I, and as we had plans to stay in Bend for the next week, a bikepacking-infused friendship was born. In getting to know Ryan a little better, I learned that he has an interesting story and just happens to be a great storyteller himself. I threw some questions his way to hear more about his recent bikepacking adventures and his newfound interest in discomfort.
What led to you getting into bikepacking in the first place?
My sister Ashley has been a major inspiration in me getting into bikepacking. She’s so rad and I basically try to copy what she does. She’s the real deal. You guys should be writing a feature about her instead! Ask her to tell you about her last bikerafting trip and your head will spin. Growing up in Colorado we spent lots of time in the outdoors and I’ve taken that into my adult life in every way I can. I got really into backpacking and long-distance hiking but that all changed when my sister persuaded me to buy a mountain bike three years ago and eventually I started building my bikepacking kit and going on trips. I don’t think I’ll ever backpack again!
When did this particular trip begin? Have you been following some kind of route?
I started riding in June and I have done a combination of established routes and just making my own route. Thanks to this website I followed the Baldy Bruiser, Peninsula Traverse, Tahoe Twirl, Three Rivers Three Sisters, and part of the Oregon Timber Trail. Whoever is making these routes must have iron legs! I’ll be honest and confess that I have no shame in abandoning a route for some highway miles or for re-routing completely. The path of least resistance is easier to follow when you are riding solo. I like to have a plan and be ready to throw that plan out the window at any moment. Lately I’ve been having more fun finding my own routes.
What’s your reason for taking this trip?
I have spent the majority of my life playing and coaching soccer. After a successful college soccer career I fell into coaching, where I spent the last 17 years working in college and youth soccer full time. I love soccer and I loved being a coach. But I reached a point a few years ago where I realized that my job was taking over my life and that I was not becoming my best self in that competitive setting. I was depressed and burned out and I needed a change. Fortunately, bike life found me at the right time.
We all go through hard times. Rough patches. As men in society we are told to marshall through things. Be a man. Suck it up. We are getting and giving the wrong messages. In this way I think we men don’t always learn to communicate when we are struggling. When we need help, support, affection. We need to learn to communicate openly, to be vulnerable, kind, compassionate, gentle. Anger becomes the default emotion when we lock our emotions in a vault until the vault blows. I don’t want to be that kind of man. This trip has given me an amazing set of challenges and experiences to practice the way of the humble warrior. Being a good man, a good friend, and a good partner all require daily intention. This is the same kind of daily intention that bikepacking requires, and in this way it has been an amazing platform for personal growth and self discovery.
The other element within the purpose of this journey has to do with helping others. I have always felt that was my true purpose and the sport of soccer gave me an opportunity to do that. Now the bike is my vehicle. One of my trip mantras has been, “be ready to help.” I say it to myself when I’m sipping my morning coffee. I’ve tried to do little things for people wherever I can. I’m no hero. Clean a chain, share a meal, fix a flat. Little things. And riding a bike is the right speed for being ready to help. Not too fast, not too slow.
I think there is a piece of the broader outdoor adventure culture that paints a rosy picture that says everything is rad and awesome and blissful in the world. This is not the case. There is suffering, pain, and uncertainty. We are living in an age of great economic disparity and people are feeling the pinch everywhere. I met forestry workers in Oakridge who can’t find work but have bills to pay and mouths to feed, farmers in the Willamette Valley trapped by the mechanism of debt, young people in Portland, Eugene, and Salem who can’t afford rising rent. There is suffering and there is pain. We’ve got to be careful not to speed past it on our $7,000 squishy bikes. What can we do to help?
Do you ever get lonely bikepacking solo?
Yes, of course. But there’s a difference between being lonely and being alone. I’m very comfortable with being alone in the wilderness. It’s something that I really enjoy. I have met some amazing new friends on this trip and have had so many wonderful experiences camping and riding with rad folks that it has balanced out the alone/lonely times. I’ve been single for four years and obviously it would be rad to find a partner in crime, but there’s no rush!
Explain this idea of finding comfort within complete discomfort and why you have taken on walking shirtless and shoeless on cold mornings. Where did this come from?
Ha! I recently read about this Polish guy named Wim Hof who runs a small training facility in the cold and rugged Karkonosze Mountains where he teaches athletes to use snow, ice, and extreme cold to tap into their deepest physiology. He believes, “Nature gives us the ability to heal ourselves. Conscious breathing and environmental conditioning are two tools that everyone can use to control their immune system, better their moods, and increase their energy…sure we can build skyscrapers, fly airplanes, and simply turn up the thermostat to combat the cold, but it turns out that the technologies that we believe are our greatest strength are also our most tenacious crutches. The things we have made to keep us comfortable are making us weak.” So I’m just walking around camp half naked in the cold mornings because I thought that would make Win Hoff proud! But I’m also noticing that I feel a little less cold each day.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’m starting a new job in a new industry in November, so it’s back to Southern California. I’ll be living in North County San Diego. My new job will give me much more free time and autonomy, so I look forward to surfing, riding bikes, and exploring more of the bikepacking potential in the southwest. I love the desert in the winter!
Lastly, do you have any bikepacking-related goals that you want to tackle in the near future?
As a coach I built teams. Now I would like to build a team of bikepackers to travel around the world and do some good work in the communities we visit. This is intentional, purpose-driven adventure. I’ve got something exciting in the works. I’ll keep you posted, but I invite anyone to send me a message for more details!
As it turns out, Ryan was never that interested in talking about his bike or why he has it setup up the way it is. I tried to coax it out of him on multiple occasions to no avail, and eventually accepted the fact that he just doesn’t care to talk about his bike that much. He did mention that he often gives different reasons for why he chose a fat bike to tour, depending on the person. One evening, I remember Ryan telling me he chose the bike just because it was orange.
Whatever Ryan’s reasons, his Surly Pugsley has proven a fantastic option for the terrain he has been riding, and he obviously has no regrets. The bike was originally purchased stock from Surly, and although there are a few customizations, including his heavily wrapped grips and a new Brooks saddle that he picked up in Bend, Ryan has no plans to swap any parts out at this point. Since starting his epic adventure, Ryan has replaced his chain twice, his cassette and chainring once, and is pretty sure his derailleur is in need of a bit of love as well.
Ryan will be competing – as his first bike competition ever – in the Single Speed World Championships at the end of October in Bend, Oregon. Go cheer him on if you’re in the area! You can follow Ryan along on Instagram @avocado_bikepacker. Last time I spoke with him was riding the Oregon Outback route, then following the Cascade Skyline towards the Three Rivers Three Sisters route back towards Bend, Oregon.
Why do you bikepack? Let us know in the comments below!