Author Archives: GROUCHO

About GROUCHO

Living a loosely painted life...

On Anti Racism

Arriving in Seattle to massive social uprising responding to police brutality allowed me to see just how poorly police treat peaceful protesters. Who are protesting police violence…


It is a strange time to travel in the American West.

Right now I’m bike touring. I started this journey in the first week of March; there was still snow on the ground (a lot of snow) in Leadville, Colorado where I live. I froze my ass off getting to Reno by April 4th for a bike race that never happened, which is about when COVID really started hitting. This engendered conversations about how to proceed, whether I could continue or if it was better to return home, and what was going on in the world; there was a lot of talk about consent, community care, and how we can keep each other safe. I decided to continue forward, practicing social distancing and always masked if interacting with workers.

I rode north through the Paiute lands around Pyramid Lake, ran out of water (but got snowed on) in the Black Rock Desert, cut through Alturas in the northwest corner of California and Roseburg in rural Oregon. I continued to Coos Bay for a night on the coast and up through Corvallis, Beaverton, on to Olympia, Washington and finally to Seattle, where I write this today.

The landscape of the American West is achingly beautiful. I have spent much of the last 7 years exploring it on foot and bicycle. Wandering the warm ridges of the Pacific Crest Trail, or the frigid passes and ice cold rivers of the Continental Divide, the scenery does not disappoint. 

What I also see is an imperialist system built on the stolen labor of Black and Brown people. I see the ongoing genocide of indigeionous populations; theft of their land, water, culture and identity. I see exploding houseless populations in every city denied access to mental and physical healthcare, even as we laud the arrival of the world’s first trillionaire. I see, as we ‘open the economy’ in the midst of a global pandemic, poor people are forced to work in unsafe conditions for poverty wages; meanwhile financially mobile Americans can’t even wear a mask as a basic acknowledgment of care or respect for their grocery checker.

I feel extremely fortunate to help Sign Savant lay out letters for BLACK LIVES MATTER on Pike street in CHAZ (then the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, now CHOP). This is an example of helping to amplify voices of color – we used our professional skills and access to funding to support artists of color as they filled in the letters with their designs.

This is a stark example of racial and economic injustice. Economic necessity dictates that poor folx need to work, regardless if they feel safe, while rich communities can effectively shield themselves from the COVID virus. I question if the ‘stay at home’ order really only applies to poor people, since I have seen so many affluent people out recreating with their trailers and campers, ATV’s and boats – they simply move the barricades from the closed state parks and set up. And police have been instructed not to intervene.

The people not wearing masks at the grocery store, out recreating in closed state parks, and protesting (loudly and fully armed) the stay at home orders and masks are overwhelmingly white. Yet the populations most adversely affected by COVID are Black and Brown.

The most disturbing, and perhaps most graphic example of systemic racism is in policing. As people started getting stir crazy during COVID lockdown, protesters took to the streets with AR-15s screaming at impassive police and clearly annoyed healthcare workers. These protesters were unwilling to participate in a social program to protect populations most at risk for infection by COVID. Despite the overt aggression and potential for real public harm, these predominantly white protesters were treated with respect and deference by the police. 

Compare this to protests against police brutality – protests against the literally THOUSANDS of murders committed by police in communities of color – and the tear gas comes out. In 98 American cities, police used lethal weapons disallowed in actual war against peaceful civilian protesters. Even as protests resulting from the murder of George Floyd were underway nationally and internationally, police in Atlanta murdered Rayshard Brooks, another Black man. This is what white supremacy and institutional racism looks like.

This isn’t easy to write. I’m so mad I’m grinding my teeth. This needs to stop.

I’m a cis white guy from a middle class family. My upbringing was stable, I have a college education and no debt. I travel for 4-5 months a year, sleeping outside, yet have a stable place and often a job when I return home. All of these things are a result of my white privilege.

Seattle is a beautiful place… it’ll be more beautiful when people of all colors feel safe here. When we house the houseless & feed the hungry, when communities are enabled to care for their own people, only then we will all be free.

Time and time again I have had conversations with friends about how this privilege is manifest; it’s the ability, support, knowledge and financial mobility to engage in an adventure like hiking the PCT; or access, language skills, and technology to engage with public art organizations in Seattle. 

Again and again, I hear white people around me denying they benefit from this privilege or deny that white supremacy and systemic racism exist in America. 

These white friends tell me they don’t see color, they aren’t racist, they grew up in the south, they aren’t responsible for the history of enslaved people in America, they have a black friend, that everyone is welcome, that everyone is free. This, friends, is bullshit.

We need to use our power and agency as white people in a racist society to actively combat racism. This includes doing things that make us uncomfortable as we confront racism in our everyday interactions. This also means finding ways to engage in positive conversations about race and privilege with white friends, while taking time to educate ourselves about these issues and their history in America. The hard part is it’s a long road ahead; the beautiful thing is that we’ve already begun the journey, and there is no going back.

The Wasteland

People are more confused than scared in the rural west. As COVID 19 spreads and the quarantine becomes more serious, many are trying to figure out what’s going on. Groceries and gas stations are still open, along with the liquor store. Restaurants are doing take out. Things are alive under the surface of this frozen world – people are finding ways to escape the paralysis.

Empty shelves in every grocery store. Strange how people express fear & panic. There are still full baskets of oranges & avocados, and anything gluten free is still available. There’s no meat or milk left, no toilet paper, no bottled water.

And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you
I will show you fear in a handful of dust

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

The streets are empty. An occasional single human walking in the dusk. The cattle trucks are running down the highway, the trains still roll the tracks. I look at social media; a whirlwind of opinion & self promotion even as the media falters juggling bits of incomplete information. I look at the world outside & it seems still – more quiet than normal, as if reflected in ice.

Still snow above 8000 feet, and it’s still winter in the west. The last icey finger has followed me from Colorado to Utah, chilling my bones and waking me up to another morning of snow. The cold and desolations mirror the empty streets in town.

Rather than fear, I feel a sense of wonder at the strangeness of the world. Both because and in spite of COVID 19, the world is reborn, reimagined; the light casts different shadows. I haven’t had to use my voice much – silence is engulfing me, the distance between people ever greater as language fails and words fall out of thin air, muffled by a thin blanket of snow. The world is whole, outside, caressed by rushing wind… I’ll follow that wind to the end, into the canyon and across the Basin, asking for its truth.

Nothing nothing nothing.

What am I doing here has become a prescient question – more essential than existential. It’s a time to question my motivations, looking for what this journey can uncover both internally and in the world I move through.

The barren west, the Plague

It seems strangely appropriate traveling the vast landscapes of the American West during the outbreak of the CORVID19 virus. We are forced thru quarantine into involuntary isolation – it’s not so different being alone in these bleak landscapes – water and wind sculpted rock, sage, pinyon and blackbrush scrub and the feeling of infinite empty space between everything. Social distancing at its finest.

Cemetery sunset on CO141, so far the most remote stretch of road I’ve travelled. Slept well with the dead, who were totes unconcerned with the plague.

Arriving to grocery stores with barren shelves, 6 foot distance laws, and government regulated personal space feels post apocalyptic. Yet within it service workers, post office staff, bike mechanics and grocery clerks seem unperturbed… thank the working class for their pragmatism and willingness to help in the face of a perceived crisis.

Hopefully the last snow as I leave Colorado for the canyon lands of Utah. A morning of frozen toes and the creeping anxiety that ‘this is the new normal’ before descending 2000 feet into the canyon, where it was dry 50 degrees & sunny.

Where will this adventure end? Is this the end already? I ask myself if it’s irresponsible to travel at this time – but there’s not going back at this point. Colorado is covered in snow, public transportation isn’t an option, and it’s unsure if return is worse than continuing. So the only way out is thru…

The sense of depth and scale leaves everything feeling far apart and unreal. I watched a motorbike cruise down this road and disappear long before they even approached this massive geological structure. When everything feels like forever, anytime is now.

Beginning Again

Every journey begins sometime and somewhere… leaving Leadville I was lucky to have Rafa from LeadVelo ride out with me. We drank some coffee, had some laffs and hiked thru some snow on the way to Salida.

The first pass of many. Finally on my own after a loud night with Harpo at the Salida hostel. Climbing up into the mountains, ass in the saddle, head in the clouds.
The space out west, when you remove the cars, is so distant and wonderful. Subtle lines lead longingly towards distant mountains, the smell of sage, the cold clean wind.
There is no forgetting it’s a hard real world we live in. But trips Ike these force me to see reality as it it, without filters – which also allows escape from the voices in my head. Unmediated reality, things as they are.
Clouds caught by trees, faraway mountains… Colorado.

Lost then found then lost again

Favorite Southwest resupply options. I love them vegan chili ramens – which I haven’t seen since Said Valley on the PCT in 15. Also, once you get far enough spin every bodega & grocery has instant dehydrated refried beans – perfect cold soak food with Fritos!

Made a fancy custom rain cover for my fancy Brooks saddle… dodging afternoon rainstorms our of Taos.

Branching with the best of them in Cuba, NM. It’s interesting coming back after hiking thru on the CDT last year and seeing how my perspective has changed.

Steel horses and dirtbag cowboys. Riding through the American West reminds one of many conflicting narratives – black cowboys, soldiers paid cash for scalps, a million miles of barbed wire, shooting bison from the train, the violence and genocide that surrounds how these spaces are occupied & my privilege in being here. It’s a lot to digest, but the long views lend themselves to meditative thoughts and potentially change… tho there are still uranium mining railings outside Grants (the largest federal SuperFund site) and endless ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs.

Good luck finding this or yourself – spiraling ever inward & outward simultaneously, away from and into an invisible center.

Into the world… again

After a mile of hikeabike we finished the climb to Marshall Pass – probably the high point for us, we would find out later, as we rerouted around massive remaining snow outside Del Norte. Cruises into Seargents for some super overpriced French fries and severely limited resupply, then onwards…

Town park between the tracks and the highway in Monte Vista, part of the reroute. At least there was a liquor store across the street…

Into Taos – we figured it would be easier to ride the Taos Plateau straight from Monte Vista rather than route back to the Divide. It was hot, empty and beautiful – and involved an itchy dip in the Rio Grande (probably too much pesticide?).

Long views leaving Colorado. After Seargents it was a long grind ringing the valley before descending into Del Norte. It was an exercise in getting the legs back – 2 days of climbing, 10,000ish feet. The flatish reroute our of Del Norte came as a welcome relief.

Sunset from the ‘M’ hill, Manassa, CO – home of Jack Dempsey and one million mosquitoes. We ended up traversing much of the southern San Luis valley which was pretty, but a buggy hell around sunset. We climbed an extremely steep slope to try and get a breeze but the bugs just followed us…

Finally in NM with the cacti blooming by the Rio Grande…

Winter in Leadville

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Fresh tracks on the trails at Colorado Mountain College. Built and maintained by the local bike club, the Cloud City Wheelers, these trails are groomed a couple times a week – especially after new snow. I beat the groomer this time, but because it was 8 degrees the ride was still pretty firm. I can almost feel my toes now…

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If u need to ask why live in Leadville…. view of the Sawatch Range from Long and Derry Hill.

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The local snowmobile club grooms county and forest roads on the East side of town. Here Jack the dog and ski our way up CR3A on some fresh cord. There’s often nobody out there…

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Cold, also dead. The Evergreen cemetery is a few blocks for the house… there are some ornate tombs and headstones from the late 1800’s. The cemetery informally peters out into some pine forest with snowmobile and snowshoe tracks … you’ll often find random headstones with the markings worn off next to a tree deep in the forest. 

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Harpo – mane skiing down the pipeline. Lots of terrain to explore on the east side of town…

Borders & Reflections

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Done & done – 2900 miles border to border, triple crown, and 11,000 trail miles down. What’s next?

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The southern terminus is a Crazy Cook, a nowhere place in on the NM/Mexico border, just a little bump on the panhandle 85 miles away from any roads.

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Life is harsh out in the desert. Everything is sharp, the sun intense, and the bones bleached dry.

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I was skeptical about the southern terminus, expecting another anticlimax. I’m happy we were there at sunset, where the light turned spectral over the western mountains. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but as the sun descended behind the hills there was intense pink and blue banding fading into a perfect butter yellow sky.

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We waited for hours at the road after walking the 85 miles back – no luck hitching, only a couple of cars. Finally we got a ride from border patrol – we didn’t bother telling him Huck was a Danish national on a dubious visa.

 

New Mexico

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Frosted flakes outside Chama, NM. And I thought it was going to be warm in the desert…

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After a morning of 100 or more river crossings, Huck and I decided to seek out higher ground. We spend the majority of the day wandering around the Gila Wilderness far from any trail, thru tall grass and wide open pine forest.

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Ghost bike for a cyclist killed by an automobile outside Silver City, NM.

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Those desert skies tho – I’ve never seen any sunsets so chromatic, and it got better the further south we headed.