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Los Angeles and The Mojave

Last month I traveled to the Sea Otter Classic on a work trip for Teravail. After Sea Otter we went to Los Angeles to ride, shoot photos and hang out with some cool people we hadn't seen in a long time. It had been several years since I had been to LA, and more than 17 years since I had lived there. Most of my time had historically been spent in Santa Monica and Venice. This time we hung out mostly in Silver Lake, making Golden Saddle Cyclery our home base. 

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The objective was to capture photography assets for Teravail, so we connected up with Eric Brunt and Frances Tran to show us around Mount Lowe. It never occurred to me just how close the mountains are to downtown LA. Just a short drive away, and we were in the perfect spot right at the golden hour to capture what we came for. The views were stunning. 

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Since our time was limited, and we needed to make the most of the light and terrain, we were only able to ride a few miles of this amazing trail. Next time I head to LA I will be reserving plenty of time to explore more of Mt. Lowe on two wheels with the friends we made while there. 

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The morning after the photoshoot at Mt. Lowe, we were set to meet up with Errin Vasquez for LA River Camp Coffee. Over the years I became familiar with Errin through my time with Salsa Cycles, and I was eager to finally meet him in person. We met at his house at 6:30am and set off on the route to the coffee spot on the LA River. 

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Errin's Ocean Air Cycles rando bike is a one-of-a-kind set up that he has truly made into his own. I could not resist shooting photos of all the details. 

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We rode through Pasadena and meandered through overpasses and cycle lanes through busy morning traffic. It was cool to see a side of LA that I had never explored, and that had become much more bicycle friendly since I lived there. 

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I really appreciated all the great design and small business activity happening in LA. There is truly a USA-made trend happening here, with coffee shops and bicycle shops designing and producing their own goods for sale. As we made our way towards the LA river we stopped in at À Bloc Coffee for some caffeine, and their amazing ride bar. 

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Eventually we made it to the bike path right on the river, and were nearly to the spot where LA River Camp Coffee happens. It was such a cool way to see this side of the city. 

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People were waiting as we arrived at LA River Camp Coffee. Errin has a following there. It was cool to see everyone and the eclectic mix of bikes everyone was riding. There were some true throwbacks to the 90's present. 

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Among the 90's throwback equipment were Bullseye Hubs, Gorilla brake stabilizers, and Kooka cranks. So good. 

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Classic mesh gloves too. Even better!

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After some coffee and nerdy discussion about bicycle history, Errin made his way to work and we headed to Team Dream's retail location, aptly named the Cub House. Our time in LA was coming to an end, and it was time to make our way towards the Mojave, where we had some more shooting to do before making the long drive to Denver. 

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When we arrived at the edge of the Mojave we just found an exit and started driving straight into the desert. Several miles in we found a cool spot to shoot some dirt and gravel photos. The heat was sweltering, but the golden hour of light was about to hit. Despite the crazy heat, Chelsea was a great sport and kitted up for some photos. 

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These ended up being some of the best light and landscape conditions I have ever experienced for cycling photography. The light just started popping, and I quickly filled up a 64GB memory card. Conditions were SO good. 

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The sun started setting, and the trip was drawing to a close. It was the perfect way to end a long trip out west. In the few hours I spent in the Mojave, it lured me in for more. I want to go back and explore this amazing landscape someday. 

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Chiang Mai

My main objective while visiting Chiang Mai was food of all sorts, from fine dining to street food prepared for the masses. I have spent a lot of time in Bangkok, traveled in the south of Thailand and stayed on Koh Lanta. Everyone was saying how amazing the food is in the north, so I decided to check it out. 

Finding an affordable place to stay was easy. If you ever travel to Chiang Mai, be sure to stay in the old city square. The Wealth Boutique Hotel was an excellent place to stay: great location, affordable, and very kind service staff. 

I arrived on a Sunday, which was perfect timing for the Sunday night market that takes over all of Rachadamnoen Street. The first thing that struck me on the walk to the market was this amazing car parked around the corner from the hotel. 

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The Sunday market is full of locals selling food, drinks, and handmade goods. It is the epicenter of northern Thai culture, all in one concentrated spot, and it is awesome. I immediately dove right into some small street food dishes. 

 Seasoned rice with coconut shavings.

Seasoned rice with coconut shavings.

 Quail Eggs

Quail Eggs

 Tubs of soup

Tubs of soup

 Thai Sausage with Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass

Thai Sausage with Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass

This was a solid start to the food portion of the evening. Those Thai sausages were so good that I walked back for seconds. At a mere 10 Baht (30 cents) it was a very easy decision. Next up was some of the street performances happening around the food stalls. 

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The sun was starting to set and I could see a photograph opportunity happening with some temples in the area. A staircase in a local building was wide open, so I climbed up it to see if it would take me to a window above all the street activity. It lead me to a restaurant, and I snuck through the back of the kitchen to an open window to capture some photos of Doi Suthep as the sun was setting. Right place at the right time!

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Next up was a walk over to the Cowboy Hat Lady made famous by Anthony Bourdain's Part's Unknown. Khao Kha Moo (pork leg on rice) is a local specialty, and her recipe is one of the best. There was no going to Chiang Mai and not stopping by for a visit.  

 Khao Kah Moo from the Cowboy Hat Lady

Khao Kah Moo from the Cowboy Hat Lady

 The Cowboy Hat Lady Herself

The Cowboy Hat Lady Herself

The Khao Kah Moo was in fact very tasty, and worth the extra walk. After a full evening of walking through the street market and stuffing my face with food it was time for some sleep. The next day it was time to check out some restaurant food. Ginger and Kafe was on the top of my list, and it did not disappoint. 

 Fresh Spring Rolls with Mango, Fresh Herbs and Vegetables

Fresh Spring Rolls with Mango, Fresh Herbs and Vegetables

 Slow-braised Beef in Lime-Coconut Cream Reduction with Lemongrass, Mint and Coriander

Slow-braised Beef in Lime-Coconut Cream Reduction with Lemongrass, Mint and Coriander

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Ginger and Kafe lived up to the reputation of Thai food, with a northern twist. Multiple flavors hitting at different moments, with a level of vivacity and freshness that is impossible to replicate outside of Thailand. Dining here was such a pleasure. 

It was time to switch things up a bit, so I decided to hike up Doi Suthep. Doi Suthep is the mountain right to the West of the city. There is a hiking trail through the jungle that ascends 2500 feet to Wat Phrathat, a temple overlooking Chiang Mai. While I was excited to do the hike, I was also remembering the experience I had with a pit viper snake on Koh Samui the year prior while cycling on singletrack through the jungle. That terrifying encounter was making it difficult to take the plunge and hike solo through a jungle, but the allure of the experience was greater than the fear, so I went for it, and I was glad I did. 

 Right away the trail was pretty challenging, but awesome. 

Right away the trail was pretty challenging, but awesome. 

 Monks marked the trail with orange bands wrapped around trees

Monks marked the trail with orange bands wrapped around trees

 Buddha statues lined the path leading to the first temple along the route.

Buddha statues lined the path leading to the first temple along the route.

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 This was much steeper than it looks!

This was much steeper than it looks!

After 90 minutes of hiking I made it to the top, where it was 10-15 degrees cooler. The hike was more challenging than I had imagined, and I was exhausted from the heat. There was a man taking a nap in the back of a songathaew and I thought about asking him how much it would cost to take the other bench for 30 minutes! 

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Instead of taking a nap, I found some pad thai because I was starving after the hike. This kind woman made an unusual version of pad thai unlike any I have seen before. It hit the spot. 

 She put her face mask on to cook my pad thai.

She put her face mask on to cook my pad thai.

 Her pad thai seemed to have a bit of Chinese influence, and it was tasty!

Her pad thai seemed to have a bit of Chinese influence, and it was tasty!

After some replenishment it was time to check out the amazing temple I had hiked all that way to see. There were two girls dressed in costumes at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the temple. In exchange for me taking their photograph they said, "money, money". Busted. I had to pay my dues!

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Before entering the temple you take off your shoes, and enter into a space filled with the most gold you will likely ever see in a single place. The glow of the space was euphoric. 

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As the sun drew closer to the horizon, a group of monks arranged themselves in the common space in front of the temple and chanted. The sound of their chanting in this golden space among silence was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in Thailand. There was literally more peace and quiet than would be possible if one were alone in the wilderness. The energy was spiritually moving as the sun set, the air cooled down, and gold glittered everywhere. 

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On the way out of the temple there was a dog sleeping in a wooden chair. No matter how much noise I was making with the shutter of my camera, or how close I got to it with my wide angle lens, it cared only about one thing: sleeping. 

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Before my short trip to Chiang Mai came to an end, I had to check out a few more places. One of them was the food at Cherng Doi. They are well known for their fried chicken, but also their flavorful lunch dishes. The place was packed with local college students, families, and Chinese tourists. 

 One of my favorite aspects of Thai food is the dipping sauces. Cherng Doi represents!

One of my favorite aspects of Thai food is the dipping sauces. Cherng Doi represents!

 Som Tam salad (Thai style)

Som Tam salad (Thai style)

 Nam Tok Moo (grilled pork with mint, shallots, and local spices)

Nam Tok Moo (grilled pork with mint, shallots, and local spices)

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Previous to the trip I had been taking a break from coffee, but I heard that the winner of the World Latte Art Championship had a great shop in town. There was no leaving Chiang Mai without having a coffee (or two) from Ristr8to

 Ristr8to's Coffee was Legit

Ristr8to's Coffee was Legit

There were a few other places I ate in Chiang Mai, but this sums up the most memorable places during my short time there. Some day I would like to go back, but bring my bicycle so I can ride in the surrounding mountains and directly experience Northern Thai village life. For now, here is a complete gallery from the visit. 

Mezcal Hot Chocolate

Riding fat bikes in the winter almost always involves some type of mid-ride beverage to sooth the soul. Up north in the colder climates, beer stays nice and cold when stowed away in a frame bag or backpack. This is an easy go to. A flask of whisky fits perfectly in a pocket, and the warm bite of a Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year  is alluring when the cold is nipping at you. This winter I have discovered a new favorite winter fat biking drink: Mezcal Hot Chocolate. 

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This particular concoction is packed with a rich medley of flavors that is perfect for cold fat bike rides in the north country. It is spicy, sweet, slightly smoky, and velvety. Words can only do so much to describe how amazing this drink is, so I'm going to share a few photos, and a recipe for how to make your own. 

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The list of ingredients is as follows (makes three espresso size servings): 

3 ounces of quality semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup of whole milk 

1 tablespoon of ground ceylon cinnamon

1 tablespoon of pure cane sugar

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon of ground chile de arbol

2 ounces of Fidencio Clásico Mezcal Tequila

Instructions: 

Pour the whole milk and cinnamon in a small sauce pan over very low heat. You might need to put your burner on the lowest setting possible. Slowly warm up the milk and cinnamon until it becomes aromatic (8-10 minutes). Once there is a cinnamon smell emanating from the milk, drop in the chocolate chips and stir continuously. Once the chips are near to being fully melted, mix in the sugar, almond extract, cumin and chile de arbol. At this point pay close attention to the thickness and texture. If you want it lighter, keep adding around 1 tablespoon of milk until you arrive at the consistency you like. It is important to keep the heat super low. You do not want the mixture to boil. Once you start seeing any bubbles, turn the heat down or lift the sauce pan off the burner. Once you have the consistency you like, remove from the heat and pour in the mezcal. Immediately transfer to an insulated thermos and get on your way to the trail. Don't forget to to pack two small espresso cups for the ride. The 4 ounce GSI enamelware cups are perfect. 

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Find an ideal spot in your ride to stop for a warm beverage, get out your espresso cups, pour yourself and a riding partner a shot of velvety goodness, and enjoy. 

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Europe 2017

It was a fun trip to Europe for the Eurobike tradeshow last week. On this trip I passed through London, Zurich and Konstanz, Germany. Along the way I shot some photos with my Fuji X-T2 and various lenses. Some of the Zurich stuff was shot on a borrowed Russian Helios lens with radioactive glass. Pretty cool stuff. Gallery is below, check it out. 

David Gabrys
Ramhammer Bikepacking Overnighter

My friend Brian has been wanting to try a short bikepacking trip for a long time, so earlier this summer we set a date of August 4-6 to make it happen. As the dates drew nearer, I learned that this was going to butt straight up against my Saddledrive return travel itinerary. The timing would work out perfectly. 

The plan was to ride the Heck of the North short course backwards so we could end in Two Harbors. Prior to leaving for the trip, I didn't look closely at the course details and learned the night before that the course had us on the CJ Ramstad trail. When I tried riding this trail in June it was a swamp. This was going to be an extra special route for Brian's first bikepacking experience, 

As soon as the route turned from gravel to the snowmobile trail there were obstacles. A major culvert construction project meant pushing bikes straight up an embankment and then navigating a narrow ridge 15 feet off the ground. Good times. 

Next up: a swamp with knee-deep water and grass taller than us. We pushed the bikes several hundred meters through the first portion, then another section, and another. The swamp did not end when we hit high ground. The horse flies were drawing blood from our arms and necks as the sharp grass and nettles shredded our shins. It was such a ridiculous situation. We laughed it off and kept pushing on. 

Oh hey! A rideable section. Nope. As soon as Frank got to the bottom of this hill his front wheel sunk up past his hub and we were pushing through a knee-deep swamp again. A quick check on the map revealed a road ahead, so we knew there was relief in sight. 

After the swamp section our bikes were adorned with weeds and other local flora. Brian rocked this sweet piece of grass for more than 20 miles until we reached camp in Two Harbors. Amazingly, none of us had wood ticks. 

After all that pushing through swamps and sweating from the heat of the day, a jump in Lake Superior was in store. The municipal campground in Two Harbors had no vacancy, so we found a sweet renegade camp spot on top of a cliff overlooking the water. It didn't make sense to set up camp before grabbing some beers, so we headed straight to Castle Danger Brewery after jumping in the lake. 

The India Pale Lager was the star of their seasonal line-up, so we made a solid dent in their supply before grabbing a few growlers and heading down to the lighthouse pier for the sunset. 

After the pier we headed back to the campsite to get set up and set at the edge of the cliff to tell jokes and watch the moon casting light over Lake Superior. If you ever visit the lake try to synchronize it with a full moon. There's really nothing like it. 

I didn't get any photos of the moon over the water, but the morning sunrise was really amazing. The above photo was the view out of my tent. After making camp coffee and grabbing breakfast, we were on our bikes headed back to Duluth. 

In the end, the ride became quite the hammerfest with all the pushing through swamps and riding as fast as we could on the gravel sections. So we dubbed the ride "Ramhammer" for its use of the Ramstad trail and all the challenges it threw at us.  On the way back to Duluth we stopped for water at a gas station and saw this sign offering a dozen eggs for 49 cents. It made us all wonder how safe it actually would be to eat eggs that only cost 49 cents per dozen. Really? Were they real eggs? Who knows...it was a great weekend pushing bikes, riding bikes, drinking bikes and laughing with great friends. Brian's first bikepacking trip was legit, and he left stoked to do another. 

Freshwater Ride

This past winter I plotted out a 2 night bikepacking trip that would involve a significant portion of the Duluth Traverse trail, and put us on the North Shore of Lake Superior for both nights. Last weekend my friend Frank and I set off from West Duluth on our plan to ride singletrack, gravel, snowmobile trails, and one short section of railroad. I prepared my Salsa Cycles Woodsmoke with 29" x 45mm carbon rims and Teravail Kennebec tires. It was the maiden voyage with it all decked out in the bikepacking set up. 

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This would also be the first test of the Outershell Handlebar Bag, which is made in San Francisco and almost perfect for my Fuji XT-2 camera. I was also using a Revelate Sweetroll Handlebar bag and easily mounted the Outershell bag on the front of the harness to carry my camera. 

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On a previous test ride with my X-Pro1 camera in the bag, I was concerned about the camera rattling so I retrofitted some thick open cell foam to place on the inside. There is a cutout in the center so my 35mm and 14mm lenses will nest perfectly inside while still attached to the camera body. This configuration worked extremely well for the trip. 

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My frame bag was tailor made for my Woodsmoke by Bedrock Bags. Conveniently, I was able to have them make the bag with the same exact black camo multicam fabric as my camera bag. The vislon (plastic) zippers on the frame bag make it very easy to unzip, and love how the large overlay at the front of the bag is large enough to completely store the zipper pull. More than anything, I think it looks pretty awesome. 

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Now back to the riding. The Duluth Traverse trail connects West Duluth to East Duluth via a mix of singletrack and roads. It isn't just any singletrack either. It's world class singletrack with a healthy mix of flow, technical, and rocky sections. We had a blast riding them with our loaded down bikes, knowing we would eventually get to the coast of Lake Superior that evening to camp right next to the crashing waves. 

Huge rock formations are characteristic of the Duluth hillside, and remind me of coastal regions of Sweden. 

Being the world's largest freshwater lake, and located north of the 45th parallel, Lake Superior remains very cold until the middle of July. When the wind comes off the lake in June, the temperature can drop from 80 degrees to low 50's in an instant. This is exactly what happened on the first day of our ride - a fog hovered over Duluth. We could feel sudden cold blasts of air slicing through the 80 degree air that sat towards the top of the Duluth skyline. It was like having natural air conditioning while you were riding. Pretty awesome. 

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As we approached the end of the Duluth Traverse, the trail winded us through pine forests of Hartley Nature Center. 

As soon as we arrived at the edge of the water, we could feel the cold pressing on us. The air temp was 53 degrees, while it was closer to 80 on top of the hill. Wool jerseys were put on, and we pushed forward heading towards Two Harbors. 

40 miles into our day we arrived at our remote camping spot, right on the water, stoked to be there taking in all the fresh air and crashing freshwater waves. The flat slate rocks were perfect for chilling on and drinking a few beers as dusk set in. 

Camp was super basic, and primitive. Just how we wanted it. 

After the sun went down, the strawberry moon rose on the east side of the lake. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect evening. I couldn't stop having fun with the camera, trying to catch waves as the broke in front of the moon. 

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Day two was a much mellower day in terms of mileage, but the plan was to take a snowmobile trail that led to railroad tracks that would eventually bring us right into Two Harbors and Castle Danger Brewery. We made it to the gate where the snowmobile trail started. 

A quarter mile past this sign the trail was covered with water. I thought it was rideable, but I immediately sunk up to my hub in mud. Thinking that the water might subside a little ways up, I hiked on higher ground through the woods to see how long the water went down the trail. As far as the eye could see, there was water. Instead of bushwhacking for 7-8 miles through a swamp, we decided to make a dash to Two Harbors so we could have a few beers and chill on the water. 

The wind had shifted overnight and was blowing hot air in from the south. We capped off a perfect weekend with a growler of beer out on the lighthouse right over the water in Two Harbors. This is one of the places I look forward to every summer, because it is so serene and calming. With only a 2.5 hour drive from Minneapolis, it immediately feels like you are in a different climate and geology, as if you had arrived in Scandinavia. So awesome. I'm already looking forward to the next trip to this giant freshwater sea. 

Dirty Kanza

The 200 mile Dirty Kanza gravel event has been intriguing me for years, with stories that make it sound like a one-of-a-kind event for riders, supporters and spectators. This year I headed down to Emporia, Kansas to hang with friends and capture the event for Teravail

Not only is the main event 200 miles long, but the aggressive flintstone riding surfaces make it a bumpy ride with a high risk of multiple flat tires and mechanical challenges. 

Water crossings at the bottom of long descents force riders to decide how much to scrub their speed versus taking the risk of punctures. One small crossing in particular at mile 30 was eating tires, and challenging the technical skills of everyone. Adequate tire pressure and weight distribution on the bike was key. 

Word on the street was there are more than 100 cattle grates along the course. These sketchy grates keep free-range cattle somewhat controlled so they don't wander to neighboring properties. This means that the spacing between each round, slippery grate is wide enough for cow hooves to fit through. 

Climbs were also a factor. Kansas has long rolling hills mixed with steep, punchy grades in spots. Narrow "B roads" traverse the landscape providing ranchers access to their animals and homesteads. The vistas south of Emporia were beautiful, like the one at mile 68, where Heidi Rentz from The Cyclists Menu danced over the top effortlessly.

Checkpoint three at mile 163 was the point of reckoning for many riders. At this point most had been riding for 10 or more hours, and faced another 3-5 hours in the last 40-plus mile leg to the finish in downtown Emporia. 

The scene in downtown Emporia was incredible considering this is a small, hard-to-get-to town, and a grassroots gravel event. It felt like a major international event with hundreds of spectators cheering, music pumping, and a party on the street as people were finishing in the dark. The vibe was awesome, to say the least. 

The Dirty Kanza put a serious bug in me. I left Emporia totally stoked, dead-set on riding the event in 2018. Congratulations to everyone from the Teravail crew for an amazing day on the bike, and the Dirty Kanza race organizers for putting on such a world-class event in the rural heartland of America. Kudos.

A complete gallery of images is below (click an image to see full screen). 

Almanzo 100

The 2017 edition of the Almanzo was exceptional due to the 40 degree temperatures, driving rain, and abusive wind. In 2011 the conditions were very similar, and on both of these occasions there was a lot of visual drama begging to be captured in photographs. I braved the conditions with my Fuji camera gear, and hit the road for Spring Valley, MN to be part of the spectacle. 20 miles into the event I rescued a man who had so much sand and grit in his eyes he couldn't see. After I dumped an ounce of eye drops in his eyes, he ended up going to the hospital. 40 miles in, I rescued a different guy who was holed up in a laundromat, rain dumping out of the gutters while his bike leaned against the building. 

For every rider, there was a different story of their long day on the bike. Kudos to everyone who braved the elements yesterday. The gallery below is what I managed to capture while out on the course, dodging rain bullets and helping people get from point A to point B. Enjoy.