What If The End Wasn’t The End?
Deep Roots, the savior who scored me a ride to the city from Hart’s, told me amid this five-hour trip that he and his girlfriend would soon head south to the Arizona Trail to take on yet another northbound hike from the Mexican border, this one apt to end to eighteen-hundred miles short of the PCT’s length at the Utah line. This would ward off the post-trail depression, he said.
This string of continuation proposals led me to ask myself, “What if the end wasn’t the end?”
It was. My wallet had said so. But what if it hadn’t? There was warmth left, and time at that.
When Portland native Tasman Alexander took his final steps on the Pacific Crest Trail last September, his journey, which began over five months prior, had not ended. He went home for a short time, and on September 23rd, he recommenced his nomadic travels.
“The PCT was a ton of fun. My motivation on the trail was to meet cool people, and I met plenty,” said Alexander.
I met Tasman, or as he was better known on trail, “Taz,” at a pivotal time. I had just separated from a group of people I was close with so I could hike to my preference. We met in passing in late April, and a day later, he ran into me as I was breaking down camp.
I had much ambivalence about my situation, but Taz made me feel better by hiking the remaining four and half miles to the Acton KOA with me, a common pit stop for PCT hikers. He was a good conversationalist, I noticed, and he was young. We exchanged numbers, and although I didn’t see him again, I was pleased to hear he finished a few weeks after me.
Cycling was no new hobby for Alexander when he and his high-school friend, Tyler Brown, dipped their bikes in the Pacific Ocean last September. The two met when Alexander launched a cycling club in high school. The rest was history.
The friends planned the trip before Alexander began hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. They had done only one bikepacking trip prior, one from Portland to Mt. Hood and back a few years before. Alexander bought his bike on craigslist three days before leaving while Brown had his for some time beforehand.
On their first day, Alexander and Brown started in San Francisco and rode down California Route 1, scrambling for somewhere beyond the coastline bluffs to access the water for a ceremonial dip. Motivated to get to a friend’s house in Santa Cruz, the two pushed out seventy-seven miles.
“There was a huge tailwind that day, so that helped. All in all though, it took us about two weeks to get used to riding.”
Hugging the Pacific coastline, the duo biked another two-hundred miles south to the city of San Luis Obispo before branching off eastbound. They climbed the Pacific Crest, nostalgically surmounting at Walker Pass, a popular town-access spot for PCT hikers.
Then they welcomed the unrelenting heat and scorching sun of Death Valley National Park, the lowest place on land in North America, as they struggled to find water and shade. Making it through these barren lands was great cause to celebrate in Vegas as they passed through before traversing the canyons of Zion National Park in Utah and then that of Grand Canyon National Park and the basins of Petrified National Forest in Arizona.
They remained on a steady track for the rest of the trip as they contended with the cold, snow, and conflicting heat spells through northern New Mexico, the tip of Texas and Oklahoma, the flatlands of Arkansas, across the Mississippi and through its title state, and then across the Deep South through the brims of Alabama, Georgia, and finally to South Carolina, where their bikes were acquainted with the country’s eastern shore on November 14th. On the eastern half, they rode through Oklahoma City, Little Rock, and Birmingham.
Altogether, Alexander and Brown rode 3,538 miles, traversing 137,000 feet of elevation and twelve states over fifty-three days. Alexander spent nearly eight months traveling only from the power of his legs, and in this he went over six-thousand miles. He will soon begin school for electrical engineering.
Having Some Fun Along the Way
Alexander maintained a YouTube series, Faster Than Walking, on the first leg of the trip. The videos show detailed vlogs of the travels, displaying the tranquil scenery, the routine of bikepacking, and the ways the young adults handled the obstacles brought on by cross-country bicycle travel.
The duo additionally made two hilarious shorts, the Heat Exhaustion Diaries, where they show their comical sides as they battle the brutal heat of the desert. Alexander plans to compile the rest of the videos they captured on the trip to finish the series.
In their first video, the friends can be seen riding a narrow shoulder on a sinuous and densely trafficked road, California Route 1.
“We weren’t too worked up about the danger,” said Alexander. “I can’t deny what we were doing was dangerous, though. I rock climb often, and I think the biking we did was more dangerous. In rock climbing, you put your trust in a belayer. In biking, you put your trust in strangers, strangers that could be operating a vehicle while distracted or under the influence.”
Also in the first video, Alexander and Brown revel in the gift of raspberries, a luxury of the trip gifted to them by homeless citizens. I asked Alexander if this changed his perspective on vagrancy.
“I never thought homeless people couldn’t be generous. There were times when we rode through what some would consider ‘the projects.’ We looked like we didn’t belong, yet everyone was super nice. A gentleman talked to us about privilege, stating we must have been quite privileged to be able to do a thing as such. Despite this, he offered to give us money.”
Scouring buildings for water spigots became commonplace for the cyclists.
“We were able to get water from some building or infrastructure the whole time. We had to plan carefully for Death Valley because there were only a few places. I brought a Sawyer but never used it. We tended to get dehydrated when we were least worried about water.”
When I watched Alexander’s videos, I guessed he had a system for mounting his camera on his handlebars. I was impressed to find this not the case.
“We’re very good at balancing the bikes. I just held the phone in my hand.”
Though most of the cycling was done on roads, they sometimes veered to rail trails.
“We used the Chief Ladega Trail in Alabama and the Silver Comet Trail in Georgia. California had some as well. We finished on the West Ashley Bikeway in Charleston.”
Unlike long-distance hiking trails, bikepacking routes, otherwise known as roads with teases of rail trails, don’t include preset camping sites.
“It was super spontaneous. We would pull off the highway a few-hundred feet and pick a spot. We always camped on non-private property.”
Also unlike distance backpacking, the two were able to reach some form of civilization everyday.
“Sometimes it was abandoned places with ruins and old gas stations, but it worked.”
And they didn’t always have the grace of pavement.
“Usually if we did gravel it would just be part of the day. Like fifteen miles. There was some rough stuff in Nevada with sand where we had to work four times as hard to go half as fast.”
I had to ask Alexander the looming question of which adventure he liked more, the hike or the cross-country trip.
“Biking is way easier on your body. If something is gonna break when you’re biking, it’s your bike. When hiking, it’s your body. It’s a lot easier to change out your tire than to heal tendonitis, but hiking was more beautiful and spectacular. Biking was a better way to see the country. Hiking is more of a nature thing.”
Because his vlogs don’t include the cold weather, I closed our conversation by asking about this.
“My hands and feet were getting very cold. At times I had my feet in trash bags. Socks over my shoes. Vents sealed with tape. Oklahoma is where everything changed. Summer turned to fall quickly, and when it was forty with humidity, it felt extra cold. The only place we had snow was Jacob Lake in Arizona. We were lucky it didn’t accumulate on the road.”
As you can expect, Alexander and Brown drew attention as they came through towns and cities. Check out these news clips on them:
And don’t forget to follow and watch Alexander’s videos to live vicariously through them on the first leg of their journey:
Below is Alexander’s Strava account that details the journey’s route and statistics:
Ladies, the man’s got an Insta:
Thank you, Taz, for dedicating your time and energy to making this article possible, and congratulations on your uncanny accomplishment.
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