When Things Go Wrong, Adventure Begins
Oct 14, 2017“The day I found out my brother passed away was the single hardest day of my life. It was also the day that I realized how fragile and sometimes fleeting life can be. That day I took a step back to examine my own life and found I wasn’t even close to living the life I wanted to. From that day forward I vowed to start pursuing the things I wanted in life.”
Ry Schulz, also known as Indy, set out on an expedition that would change his life forever. He put his body, his mind and his bike to the test for 36 days and 5,300 miles on The American Trail Race, a self-supported cross-country bikepacking expedition.
Though he was an ultra runner, Indiana had never before pedaled a straight 200 miles. And now he was doing back-to-back 200 mile days at times. He says it wasn’t until day 21 that he woke up without major pains.
AN INSANELY HARD AND REWARDING JOURNEY“At the time my brother Flynn passed away, I was smoking heavily, drinking heavily and I was a relatively depressed individual. I had to choose between two paths. I chose the path that would eventually help me become an ultra runner and a more stable person overall.
“Today, I believe running saved my life both physically and spiritually. When I find myself in periods of extended physical and mental struggles, I feel a connection with my brother. Through this experience, I have been driven to see how far my limits reach and what I am truly capable of achieving.
“I knew The American Trail Race would be an insanely hard and rewarding journey. If you were to ask me if I had a spiritual connection with Flynn while I was out there in the race, the answer would be a simple ‘Yes.’ In this regard, my brother has been a motivator in almost every challenge I’ve participated in over the last four years.”
For the gear geeks among you, let’s just get this part out of the way before we move on to Indy’s wild trail tales. Here are the specs, as reported by Bikepacking.com.
THE GEAR SET UP
- FRAME: 2012 Salsa Fargo Ti
- FORK: Ritchey Carbon
- WHEELS: Sugar Wheel Works build with Stan’s Arch Mk3/SP Hub in front/Sapim spokes
- TIRES: Continental Race King ProTection 2.2”
- HANDLEBARS: Salsa Woodchipper
- SADDLE: Brooks B17
- DRIVETRAIN: Shimano XT 2×10 (26/36 X 11-34t), bar-end shifters
- BRAKES: Avid BB7 Road
- BOTTLE CAGES: 5 (4 Lezyne Power Cages / 1 Lezyne Flow cage)
- SEAT PACK: Portland Design Works Bindle Rack and Dry Bag
- FRAME PACK: Salsa/Revelate Bike-specific Ranger
- HANDLEBAR: Revelate Egress Pocket
- TOP TUBE: Oveja Negra Snack Pack (L)
WHY HE SELECTED SUGAR WHEELSIndy says he originally planned to outfit his bike with a set of wheels from his local bike shop, but they were out of what he wanted. Though he called around to several other wheel builders, he says none of them seemed to be truly listing to his concerns and needs.
Then he reached Sugar.
“After about five minutes on the phone with Sugar, I felt a really strong connection with them, and I knew they were the shop I wanted to build my wheels.”
“The process of working with Sugar was incredible. I really felt like they listened. Sugar designed a beautiful set of wheels that I was able to afford and gave me complete confidence out there on the trail.”
Early on in his conversation with Sugar founder Jude Gerace, Indy mentioned he wanted a touch of pink somewhere on the final wheel build to remind him of his friend Amanda who had passed away from cancer. “When I mentioned this idea to Jude, she knowingly said ‘It’s nice to ride with a friend.’
“When I think of Amanda, I’m reminded of how to stay strong during tough times. I'm reminded of how to stay bright when life is seemingly dark and ugly. And most importantly I'm reminded of how to ‘sparkle on’ because damn that girl loved her some glitter. When I needed that lift-me-up (more than a few times during the race), I would simply look at the White Industries hub - once shiny bright pink but now dirty with mud, sand and dust - and it would mentally take me to where I needed to be.”
Indy’s setup was a fully rigid bike weighing about 55 lbs and he rode those wheels across 5,300 miles. That’s a lot to ask from a set of wheels that are traversing potholes, rock drops and rugged terrain, but Indy says they performed admirably.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG, ADVENTURE BEGINSGentle readers, it's important for you to understand the grueling magnitude of this expedition. Indy tells it best, so we'll let him take it from here.
“Oh my, where do I begin? The American Trail Race is grueling on so many different levels. During the race, I had to deal with extreme temperature ranges. The hottest temperature I experienced was around 108 degrees while the coldest temperature was around 35 degrees. I was caught in winds that tore my bike from my hands and freak rainstorms that forced me to scramble under barbwire fences looking for shelter.
“I experienced soreness and body aches that I never knew existed. I endured rashes and being uncomfortably dirty. I averaged one shower every 1,700 miles. I dealt with numbness in my hands for over four weeks; the nerves in my fingers have still not recovered. I dealt with solitude and desolation. The desolation alone is enough to drive some people crazy. Imagine going stretches of 100 miles without seeing a fellow human.
“There are areas where there is no shade or shelter as far as the eye can see. The terrain includes everything that you could want, and then some. I took my bike over rock slides. I took my bike through snow, ice, mud, sand, and gravel that was three inches thick. I pushed my bike up the sides of snow covered mountains. I forded creeks 18 feet wide that were knee high and rushing with freezing cold snow melt water. I descended down mountains into fog that was as thick as snow. The hills are endless. I had to navigate reroutes including flooding, private property and closed mountain passes.
“There are 21 sections of the trail that are over 100 plus miles between resupply points. I ran out of food. I ran out of water. I drank 5 gallons of unfiltered water. I had to service my bike in the middle of nowhere without any bike shops within hundreds of miles. I had to ride a low-end bike tire for nearly 600 miles because I shredded my good one. I found out that 3,000 miles is more than you should expect a chain to last.
“I ran over a rattlesnake. I dealt with bears, coyotes, scorpions, spiders and wild boar. I was plagued by swarms of mosquitoes so thick they would cast a shadow. While going through the southern states, multiple dogs came hauling full speed barking and nipping at my legs. I tried everything to get them to stop. Sometimes blowing the survival whistle would work. Sometimes the mace would work. Sometimes nothing would work, and I would throw a Cliff bar at the dog so I could speed away.
“Through all of this, the race requires your full attention at all times. During the race, I crashed three different times. All three times were because I was not giving full attention and respect to the trail.”
This chaos, Indy says, is exactly why he chose to participate in The American Trail Race.
“One of my all-time favorite quotes is from the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. He said, ‘The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong - that’s when adventure starts.’ I kept that quote in the back of my mind at all times during the race.
HOPE FOR HUMANITYThrough the intense struggle of the race, Indy says he met a memorable mix of strangers who offered him shelter and sustenance as they shared their life stories and showered him with admiration.
“With all of the negativity in the news and horrible things shown on the TV, the kindness of strangers I met along the way completely restored my faith in the American population. We’re all fundamentally human beings, and it’s really nice to have people be so kind.”
EXPERIENCING LIFE ON A DIFFERENT LEVEL“Every single sunset was amazing. I think people change internally when they’ve been on the road for such a long amount of time. After you’ve been alone out in the elements day in and day out for an extended period your senses really begin to focus in on what’s happening around you. You also start to develop a whole new appreciation for everything. Riding off into the sunset at the end of every day quickly became one of my favorite aspects of the race.
“What has stuck with me most is how fortunate I am to be able to have been a part of this race. It was an amazing opportunity to test myself in ways I never have before. I was able to experience life on an entirely different level and to realize what is possible with the right mindset and dedication. The beauty of the scenery alone was enough to make the whole trip worth it. It was an experience that has changed me for the rest of my life.”
PURSUE YOUR PASSION TO NO END“There was one conversation that kept reoccurring with people during The American Trail race. People would ask me how long I would be biking for. When I told them it was at least thirty days, they would call me crazy and tell me they could never do anything like that. But then I would ask them what they loved to do. One guy, for example, said he liked to go off-roading in his jeep. I told him that sounds awesome. Now imagine that you get to go off-roading for 30 days in a row. He started to get this huge smile on his face. I would look at people and say ‘This is what I love to do. I love to be out here on my bike meeting people, sleeping under the stars, and enjoying this beautiful country.’
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that life is too short to do anything besides what you truly love. Find what you are passionate about and pursue it to no end. I didn’t magically become an ultra runner or an ultra bikepacker. It has been an uphill battle the whole time. It is a journey that has made me a stronger and more compassionate person.”
BY THE WAY, HE CAME IN SECOND PLACE14 people stated the American Trail Race and at the time of sharing his story with us, Indy says nine people had finished (and one was still riding). Indy completed the race in 36 days and nine hours, earning him second place. Such transformative expedition is about much more than earning an award, but the result is indeed impressive for Indy, a novice in this arena when he set out.
Indy now considers travel and bikepacking his two great loves. Next up he’s off to compete in the Trans Am Bike Race, with a new set of handbuilt Sugar wheels currently being designed specifically for the cross-country self-supported road adventure.
You can follow Indy's exploits on Instagram through @squirrely_indy.
PARTING WISDOM FROM INDY“When you think about it, no one really remembers the time that everything went exactly as planned. You remember when everything went wrong and you had to keep your head above water to make things work. It’s great for building character and mental toughness. Failure happens too. But if you do your very best, there is always a positive to be taken from any experience.”
See additional photos on Bikepacking.com.