Words and photos by Jess Guatney (@jessguatney)
Hey there! My name is Jess Guatney and I’m a photographer/illustrator based in Seattle, Washington. My first used road bike that I bought when I moved here opened up my new city for exploration. Within a year I joined a mountaineering organization and met my partner, Chris, an avid cyclist and cyclocross racer. I remember the first time seeing his small apartment turned bike workshop, “Why do you own five bikes?”
I was fortunate that he encouraged me to leave the pavement and hit the trails. It was a slippery slope from my first overnighter and I soon gave up my car and toxic corporate job for bike commuting to work at a gear shop. I began balancing my weekend climbing trips with gravel tours. We just returned from four months of bikepacking in Nepal, Chile, and Argentina. This trip was a trial by fire, being my first long-term bikepacking trip, with a bike that weighed in at approximately 90 pounds when loaded.
Upon returning home, I’m amazed at my increased ability to bike up some of the gnarly Seattle hills compared to only six months ago. I’m incredibly grateful for stumbling across the bikepacking world and investing four months into learning how to travel by bike. The end of the trip was my transition into working full-force toward a career in freelance photography and illustration. My cycling interests now include pushing heavy objects up hills and riding 60 miles a day to eat my celebratory Snickers bar.
Chris and I began planning a stint abroad on bikes last year, but our existing gear didn’t fit the needs of the routes we selected. A few months of late night research ensued. We stumbled across Tumbleweed’s bikes and kept circling back to their page, rewatching Jay Ritchey’s film, El Silencio, and eventually bit the bullet on two full builds from the lovely owner, Daniel Molloy. I initially wanted Sandglow, but chose Midnight since I would be adding a black suspension fork. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I swapped my handlebars three times at the last minute before the trip. The goldilocks problem: “too swept back, too straight, I suppose this will do.” Being my first mountain bike and long-term bikepacking steed, I had no idea what I needed. I made a few tweaks to my bike over two short practice rides and along the route, and in the end I’m very content with the setup. This bike spent four months on the road with no issues despite constantly being thrown under the bus (literally) and on four connecting flights in homemade bike boxes.
I really grew to love my bike more and more on the trip. By the end of Argentina, I was giddy to ride, despite the rain, wind, and cold. I remember passing a motorcycle cafe on the side of the road on our last day en route to Ushuaia. It was pouring rain and we were drenched but I motioned to Chris to pull off. We set our bikes against the porch and sat inside with hot cups of coffee, raincoats dripping into puddles at the front door. We were the only customers in the dimly lit restaurant with the eclectic decor of your grandparents’ house, or maybe a small museum of strange taxidermy. I cupped my steaming mug with my numb hands, grinning. I looked out the window at my wet bike and was excited to go out again and ride, despite the rain, the cold, and the saddle sores. We went from counting the miles and hours of progress to instead finding small joys and detours. I really grew to love my Tumbleweed and I miss being on my bike more than I missed being home!
I asked Jay Ritchey at BagsByBird for D-rings to attach a strap to my Goldback front bag. It ended up being great to carry through the airport over my shoulder as my personal item, although not quite comfortable when loaded with camera gear and a laptop. The Surly Moloko bars took a couple of months to get used to riding with. My most significant discovery is that they make a great snack tray when combined with the Goldback bag. I frequently had snacks bouncing along or a jacket stuffed under the front bar. Another great bag development was inspired by Lael Wilcox pouring a large order of fries into her Revelate Mag Tank 2000 in Rugile Kaladyte’s film, I Just Want to Ride. I picked one up on our layover between Nepal and Chile. The fry holder did not disappoint. It also fit a couple of apples and plenty of snacks, and it now resides on my commuter bike for holding my phone, wallet, and hand sanitizer.
- Frame Tumbleweed Prospector V2 (medium)
- Fork RockShox Reba RL 100mm
- Rims WTB KOM Tough 27.5″
- Hubs Schmidt SON28 (front), Rohloff SPEEDHUB (rear)
- Tires Schwalbe G-One 27.5 x 2.8″
- Handlebars Surly Moloko Bars & Ergon Grips
- Headset Cane Creek
- Crankset RaceFace Aeffect
- Brakes Avid BB7 with Avid Speed Dial levers
- Shifter(s) Rohloff Twist Shifter
- Saddle Brooks England Team Pro S (Women’s)
- Seatpost Kalloy
- Stem Zoom
- Front bags BagsByBird Goldback
- Fork bags 2x Revelate Designs Polecat
- Frame bags Tumbleweed x Porcelain Rocket 52Hz, Revelate Designs Mag Tank 2000 + Jerrycan
- Rear bags Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion
- Accessory bags Outershell Stem Cady, RoadRunner Point N Shooter, 1x Salsa Anything Bag on the downtube
- Other accessories Schmidt Edelux II and tail light, lots of cages and Voile straps
I have a really sensitive brain after previous head trauma (snowboarding and dropped by belayer in a climbing gym) so adding the suspension fork made a world of difference for me on rough terrain and steep descents, paired with a MIPS helmet (which I thankfully never needed). The fork provided a challenge in finding a solution to add cages. We added eight support bolts to the suspension fork to allow for water bottle cages and drybags. I was really happy to have the suspension fork on the Annapurna Circuit for the technical sections, though for Argentina and Chile it was less necessary. I’m excited to take my Tumbleweed on some more technical terrain in the Pacific Northwest soon.
Find more from Jess on Instagram @jessguatney.
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