Chris and Amanda’s Ti Timberjacks: Work Hard, Play Hard
Over the winter, Cass was fortunate enough to receive two of his favourite and most prolific bikepackers as houseguests: Chris Campbell and Amanda Andros. As part of this informal “Let’s go for a ride” series, he joins them on the first day of the Trans-Mexico Sur to talk to them about their Ti Timberjacks, living within their means, and going where the wind takes them…
Chris and Amanda have been following a simple formula for the last few years: work hard for a sizeable chunk of the year, then head off with their well-earned spoils on a multi-month bikepacking trip, be it in the US, Europe, or Mexico.
It all began in 2015 with an 11-month wandering tour on their previous, also matching forest green Surly Disc Truckers, riding 11,000 miles in a circuitous route around the United States and connecting many of the national parks along the way. They’ve pared down their life belongings considerably from the full complement of panniers and kitchen sink they once carried, and whilst their bikes are still almost identical, they’ve now honed a way of life that’s allowed them to tackle everything from numerous self-made routes to many that we’ve published on the site.
In Europe, it was the Altravesur, Alpencross, Purbeck Bimble, West Country Way, Brecons Bash, Trans-Dolomiti, and The Ardennes Arbalete, amongst eclectic others. In the US, the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, Two Gorges Gravel, Appalachian (Beer) Trail, and various overnighters based out of the Philadelphia area. Here in Mexico, the couple has tackled the Baja Divide, the Trans Mexico Sur, Hebras de Ixtepji, and Oaxaca’s San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour. In fact, it may well be that they’ve notched up enough of our routes to declare them the unofficial site record-holders.
When I met you in Bristol, UK, you’d been tree picking on a farm in North Carolina for snowy Christmases, saving your dollars to go bikepacking in Europe. Now you’ve given up picking trees for fixing bikes, albeit up in snowy Alaska…
How we ended up in Alaska is a silly and long story. After finishing the Baja Divide in early 2020, we returned to our seasonal jobs at a Christmas tree farm. Little did we know the world would shut down quickly and our plans for a South American trip that summer were never going to happen. The tree planting season came and went, and work became not work as our hours were reduced. We saw a job posting on the ‘gram and drove 5,000 miles to sell and wrench on bikes.
The Canadian Border Patrol was a bit confused as to why we were driving to Alaska to work at a bike shop, and I don’t blame them, because we were too. The drive up to British Columbia in our very full 2008 VW was mostly on smooth roads meandering through farms. It was when we got to Dawson City that the real adventure started. For some, driving the Alcan is a life goal. It’s a spectacular road that cuts north and west from B.C. through the Yukon and into Alaska through deep river gorges, across, mud flats, past bison herds, and endless trees. There’s much to explore along the route, but our newly minted transit visa expressly forbade us from doing much more than staring out the window.
After endless hours, a massive amount of fuel, and a half dozen COVID tests, we arrived at The Bicycle Shop. We would quickly learn that it is a shop like no other: it’s full of bikepacking devotees who believe firmly that the world is a better place with people on bikes. Spring and summer bring thousands of service tickets and the sale of hundreds of bikes for the amorphous trail: Giant Talons, Specialized Stumpjumpers, and S-Works Rockhoppers to name a few. In the winter, canteen talk revolves around which glacier to ride, and whether to run 60 or 120tpi studded fat bike tires on your new Salsa Mukluk.
Alaskan winters seem a world away from the heat here in Mexico right now… As cyclists, how to you keep you sane when snow’s on the ground? Any places to recommend?
We are both riding Salsa Mukluks (of course!) kitted with racks and frame bags. They were built up to be not only winter commuters, but Iditarod capable and desert arroyo explorers. The majority of their riding has been to and from work on the snow groomed multi-use trails as well as the frozen swamp trails that are put in each winter around our neighbourhood.
November in Alaksa brings winter, and after the first snowfall lots of folks pack the snow down with skis or snowshoes, creating a network of winter-only trails that navigate the various parks, swamps, and bogs in the town. With temperatures below zero, the typically watery muddy swamps turn into a fat biking oasis. Weather depending, we try to squeeze in rides to the local glaciers or public use cabins. A dream trip would be up to the White Mountain trail network, riding from cabin to cabin.
Talking of bikes, when we rode together in Belgium, you were sporting matching purple Fargos. This time, it’s his and hers titanium Salsa Timberjacks!
Moving to Anchorage and having access to mountain bike trails out the back door had us convinced that we needed to get more versatile bikes. That, paired with our desire to ride more rugged, remote, and technical bikepacking routes led us to the venerable hardtail.
Being surrounded by and talking about bikes for countless hours per week there is always a new bike on the horizon. My Fargo developed a crack in the frame, and Amanda learned (after thousands of miles) that a medium was more comfortable for those long days in the saddle. Our own indecision and supply chain issues, due to the bike boom, had us perplexed as to which frame to choose. Through a stroke of magic, friend and manager (and co-creator of the Baja Divide) Nicholas Carman, surprised us with matching Ti Timberjacks frames!
Given your impressive repertoire of rides, can you share the whys and wherefore of how you ended up with your bike builds?
The bikes are built with matching major parts for compatibility and easy parts sourcing. The finishing pieces were picked to appeal to our color preferences, within the context of souring parts during a supply chain nightmare. Blessed with a well-stocked shop, along with some peer pressure and riding coworkers’ bikes, we were convinced the RockShox Pike was the best fork for our riding style and SRAM Eagle was the drivetrain of choice. We are riding Nextie rims as they are a pleasure to build up, they seat tubeless with gusto, and are available in a dizzying array of options! DT Swiss hubs and BikeYoke dropper seatpost were selected due to their user serviceability and stout, no-fuss construction.
Any favourites pieces of gear, or words of advice?
Having ridden a few bikes set up a dozen different ways, I have my opinions (hydraulic brakes are better) but the most poignant tip I could give would be to know your own gear and check it over before any big trips. It’s no fun descending down the backside of a mountainous valley in Oaxaca only to learn your organic brake pads are worn to near metal on metal. Luckily, we packed a spare brake pad (metallic pads last longer).
This trip saw far more day rides than we normally do, and we wanted to run unencumbered “BikeEggYoke” droppers, and there are limited options for running a dropper post and being able to ride your bike unladen. Thanks to dozens of your gentle nudges, we finally ordered two Tailfin Aeropacks. They install in a minute and don’t interfere with the bike or its dropper capability. Brilliant!
Finally… The Pike! The Pike! Get the Pike! There are a lot of forks out there. Get the Pike!
I admire the way you both dedicate yourselves to the task at hand but are also open to change and heading wherever the winds take you. Are you still following the formula of living within your means when it comes to financing your trips?
Trips are financed the same way as always. Spend less, save a little. We work a massive amount when we work (50-80 hours per week!) and we ride a lot when we don’t. At home, we rent a room, share cooking, and split food with housemates. We are always open to new places, new challenges, and living life as fully as we can. For the time being, we are rooted in Alaska, but we could be convinced to move with little more than the promise of green chili cheeseburgers.
Chris, word on the (icy) street is you recently rode the fabled Iditarod, a route that’s long captured my imagination. How was it? And, how big was your sleeping bag? The size of a sofa?
The entire concept of traversing the Iditarod was an impossible and incomprehensible feat, until a few long talks about the similar nature riding the Iditarod is to riding any other multi-day ride. You bring the appropriate gear and ride one day at a time! We had the opportunity for a favorable weather window and word was spread that trail conditions were great – so Nicholas Carman, Sue Westfield, and myself spent a few late nights packing food and snacks, along with determining a layering system of clothing. Each of us packed a -40ºF sleeping bag (packed they are the size of two bed pillows), double sleeping pads, a 4-season tent for sleeping, and a MSR Whisperlite stove for melting water.
The ride was a magical experience…. riding a bike on the back side of the Alaska Range with dog teams passing by in the winter! I was never cold nor was I hungry, so packing was a great success. Temperatures were as high as mid 30º’s and nights dipped into the low teens, which made for quick trail with consolidated snow. The local users as well as the Iditarod trail break team helped to break new trail after any snow accumulation.
When will you be up to join us on a ride to McGrath or Nome?
I love listening to thought-provoking podcasts when I’m out riding. Pedaling across Alaska’s snowy, featureless ‘seascape’ sounds like it makes for podcast nirvana. On a group ride here, you blew our collective minds by demonstrating the way you listen to them… can you share?
Podcasts have become a staple on long rides and over the years I have “honed” a system. I use the Overcast app for listening to podcasts as it works well and has a good interface. The real magic of the app, however, is it can not only speed up the audio to your desired level of mania (mine is x1.2) but can also clip out silent transitions with the “Smart Speed” setting (Editor’s note: only try this at home after a cup of coffee). Quite natural and a bit silly: riding bikes slow and listening to podcasts fast! A recommended listen would be “Proof of Passage” from Nocturne.
You’ve ridden a cornucopia of routes from the site, plus lots of self-devised journeys in between. I remember Amanda saying she’s in charge of wild ideas and positive vibes, and you’re head of logistics and navigation. What’s your preferred method of following routes and creating your own?
I’m the navigator on most of our trips thus far. My Wahoo is the ever-present, follow-the-line device that allows me not to have to focus on routing and enjoy the ride. For sections where we aren’t following or are deviating from a predetermined route, my iPhone is in charge. Between MapOut and Google Maps, I can typically generate a route to throw at the Wahoo.
While the internet is great and has seemingly endless answers, we’ve found that asking a local where to go, or what to see, is the best way to gather preliminary info for a locale we aren’t familiar with. It often leads to unexpected destinations and can be a very different style of adventure.
In this uncertain climate, it can be hard to make firm bikepaking plans, even if I’m sure you’ve been dreaming up new trips. Any thoughts as to where next?
Depending on the season, we would love to explore the US a bit more riding off-road bikes, maybe the Western Wildlands Route or Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The Caucasus Crossing looks like a great hike-a-bike through a beautiful region. In winter, the Jordan Bike Trail is reputed to be dreamy and warm; good prep work for another Iditarod ride!
Lastly, I’m glad you were able to celebrate your wedding anniversary drinking mezcal amongst the agave fields, enjoy Oaxaca’s fine cuisine, and savour its menu of varied trails, hike-a-bikes, and dirt roads. Lastly… can I press you for a favourite paleta flavour? Until the next ride, compas!
We were in Mexico for 6-weeks or so, and went on three big rides and countless mini adventures. The San Jose dél Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour needs no introduction and was as grand as we ever expected. Every turn offered a different experience from agave fields to a market full of alebrijes or a forest at 3000m. In a completely different stroke, six of us packed for an overnight ride out of town…three days later we had ridden up to Ixtepeji, found ourselves bounding down singletrack after a sunrise hike-a0bike, sliding down a pine needle avalanche for lunch, or descending a boulder-strewn-water-flow-eroded trail on our way back to town and barbacoa. A solid 12/10 Cass adventure with a “little nip up this way!”
Our final tour was following the Trans-Mexico Sur route from Oaxaca to San Cristobal De Las Casas. Leaving the comfort of Oaxacan city life and its fully stocked markets and bodegas, we heaedd into the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, blasted across the low elevation flat terrain of Vera Cruz, before climbing back into the mountains in Chiapas. A route packed with natural beauty and diverse native and modern cultures, our ride to Chiapas was a grand adventure too.
It’s not fair to pick favorites but the crema de coco paleta is the best!
- Frame and fork: Salsa Ti Timberjack & RS Pike
- Rims: 29” Nextie UM35 & XMA36
- Hubs: SON28 & DTSwiss 350
- Tires: Maxxis DHF & Rekon 29 x 2.6”
- Handlebars: SQ Labs 30×16º (780mm)
- Stem: i9 A318 in colors
- Headset: Cane Creek 40
- Crankset: SRAM GX Eagle (175mm)
- Cassette: GX Eagle 10-52
- Derailleur(s): SRAM X01 Eagle
- Brakes: SRAM G2
- Shifter(s): SRAM X01 Eagle
- Saddle: A lifelong quest…
- Seatpost: BikeYoke Revive Dropper
- Pedals: Chromag Scarab (blue) & Deity Black Kat (purple)
- Frame Bag: Revelate Designs
- Front Bag(s): Revelate Designs Harness with Drybags
- Rear Bag(s): TailFin AeroPack
- Accessory Bag(s): Revelate & Oveja Negra
- Other Accessories: QuadLock OutFront Mount & SineWave Beacon
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