Introducing the Bikes or Death Podcast
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The Bikes or Death Podcast focuses on the people and stories that contribute to the bikepacking community. With six episodes under his belt, we reach out to creator Patrick Farnsworth to learn more about him, the podcast, and his plans for 2019…
All photos by Jerod Foster, unless otherwise noted.
First airing in November of last year, the Bikes or Death Podcast is a relatively new program, but it has quickly gained the attention of bikepacking fans all over, myself included. It’s the creation of Patrick Farnsworth, a cycling diehard from College Station, Texas. With some great guests and conversations so far, we look forward to future episodes, and figured we’d turn things on Patrick to learn more about him, the podcast, and what he’s been up to this spring.
Tell us about yourself. What does a normal week look like for you right now?
I haven’t had a “normal” week in a while. My wife and I are both self-employed and no two weeks are the same. We usually work like hell when we are in town, with an eye toward the next trip or adventure. We are always going somewhere and/or planning the next trip (sometimes while we are on a trip). It’s just my personality. I can’t stay put very long. There is a big wide world out there and I’m stoked on experiencing as much of it as I can.
Now, I’m actively trying to incorporate podcasting into the mix. If we are going somewhere I’ll see who would be a good person to interview in the area and just reach out. I’ve been lucky and no one has turned me down yet, and everyone has been super interesting to talk to.
Where does cycling fit into that?
It’s been a big part of my life since I was a little kid and that’s not going to change. Cycling isn’t my whole life, but it’s definitely a large part. Cycling has influenced my life in almost every way. It was how I met my wife, it’s what we do as a family, and is the thing that all of our trips are planned around. So, in that way, cycling doesn’t fit into my life, it is my life. Bikes or Death.
How did you first get into bikepacking?
Going back, I’ve had an appreciation and love of the outdoors starting at a young age. First as a cub scout, then as a boy scout. Couple that with growing up in the glorious 80s when BMX was at its peak. Kids were not only allowed to ride their bikes all over town, but in my family it was a requirement. My mom would kick my brother and me out of the house on Saturday morning and we weren’t allowed back inside until supper. She would literally bring our lunch outside to us. When I learned about bikepacking it was a natural progression and extension of my childhood. Leaving for an adventure on my bike and camping in the woods was like a homecoming to me.
I’m fortunate to come from a smallish town that has an unexpectedly large group of bikepackers, some of whom are quite accomplished. One of the locals is Billy Rice, who has the record for the first yo-yo of the Tour Divide. In 2016, he launched a 500-mile gravel race that started and finished in my hometown of College Station, TX. I think this is what really lit a fire in me and the local bikepacking community. I knew people and had friends who were participating, so it became very real for me. When I googled “bikepacking” for the first time and started researching the activity I was hooked immediately. So I was definitely inspired by my community and fellow riders. It was also around that time that Inspired to Ride came out.
My first backpacking experience was a 130-mile overnighter to the Sam Houston National Forest and back. I rode a Trek Domane 5.2 (a carbon road bike) with 28mm tubeless tires and my wife rode her full-suspension MTB. Arguably, they were some of the worst bikes for this type of riding. However, all I remember is having the best time and enjoying the ride and the challenge and the whiskey around a campfire.
Tell us more about the Bikes or Death podcast.
The podcast happened almost as an accident. A friend and I had decided over beers one night that we would start a podcast! We even went as far as to research and purchase equipment to start recording. It didn’t take long for us to realize that mixing alcohol and podcasts may not have been the best idea for us.
So, I had all the gear, and around the same time I had been feeling like I wanted to find a way to contribute and give back to the community. I had been the benefactor from so many other people’s efforts and contributions I wanted to find a way to contribute something myself.
While I never thought of myself to be the one to host a podcast, I did have the equipment, a love for mountain biking, bikepacking, the outdoors, an insatiable curiosity, and the “gift of gab” as my mother always says. All the pieces fit together and I decided to go for it. My expectations were very low, and I remember telling my friends that if 100 people listened I would be super stoked. The response from the community has really blown me away and encouraged me to keep going and try to produce the best content I can.
Give us a rundown on some of the guests you’ve had so far.
It’s really spanned the gamut and I’ve been happy with the diversity of guest so far. I am committed to only doing in-person interviews. I hate talking on the phone and I just don’t think the conversations are as good. For that reason I try to coordinate interviews with trips that my wife and I are taking. So, my show is very much a product of where we live and travel. Last October we were headed to Asheville, NC, for a wedding and some riding. I knew Rockgeist was based there, so I messaged Greg Hardy on instagram and asked if he’d like to be the first guest on the podcast. He responded quickly and enthusiastically. At that moment I was like, “Oh shit, I guess I have to do it now!” He is a great guy and I think he was the perfect first guest.
Quick rundown of guests:
Ep. 1 – Greg Hardy, Owner of Rockgeist
Ep. 2 – Billy Rice, Endurance Racer and Invictus Coach
Ep. 3 – Jerod Foster, Bikepacker, Travel and Conservation Photographer
Ep. 4 – Indiana Shulz, Ultra Distance Cyclist
Ep. 5 – Tom Hughes and Indiana Shulz, Post GranGravel 500 conversation
Ep. 6 – Anna Claire Beasley, Bikepacker, Community Activist, Photographer
You were just on a unique bikepacking trip with Jerod Foster, one of your guests on the podcast. What was that all about?
Yeah, we just got back last week. What an amazing experience! To back up, Dr. Jerod Foster is a professor at Texas Tech University, and one of the classes he teaches is an Adventure Media course. We discussed how he takes 16 of his students bikepacking each year. This year they went to Big Bend Ranch State Park. For people who aren’t familiar, it’s in the high desert of West Texas that borders Mexico. It’s as remote and rugged as you could hope for, and he was taking his students into this environment for five days of bikepacking. When he asked me if I wanted to go, I jumped at the opportunity. Some of the students had NEVER been camping. One learned to ride a bike just to go on this trip. It’s not like he’s taking seasoned riders, these were greenhorns, plain and simple. What I witnessed on that trip was one of the most powerful lessons in human perseverance and tenacity that I’ve ever seen. Huge kudos to every member of that class. Each one of them earned that trip and experience, and I hope it helps shape their lives going forward.
I recorded some great content during my time with the class and will be releasing a podcast soon!
You just got a new bike, right?
I did. A 2017 Salsa Pony Rustler 27.5+. This is the most fun do-it-all bike I’ve ever owned! Shout out to Race Ready Repair in Conroe, TX. They are a new shop and are really focusing on the bikepacker and gravel adventure cyclist.
I didn’t get this bike to be my “bikepacking bike” (my Salsa Fargo holds that title), but I knew it was capable of stepping into that role if the trails were demanding enough. Big Bend Ranch SP is certainly demanding and will challenge you and your gear to the max. The only thing I needed was a custom bag, so of course I called Greg at Rockgeist and the frame bag fits perfect and looks great. Don’t bikes look so much better with bags on them?
Who can we expect to hear on the podcast coming up?
Just about anyone! I think that there is value in everyone’s stories and experiences, whether they are a seasoned rider or a beginner. I’m very interested in the people who participate in these great activities and love to hear about other people’s adventures and experiences. There are so many awesome folks in this community that finding people to interview isn’t the limiting factor, my time availability is.
I have a long “want to interview” list going at all times. I hope to interview Vince Colvin, Owner of CHUMBA Cycles; and Hal Russel, a 70-year-old ultra distance cyclist soon.
Lastly, what does a perfect day on the bike look like for you?
Perfect is tough, but I think I came close just this past weekend when my wife woke up and said, “Let’s go bikepacking!” I spent the next few hours packing the car and we headed to the loblolly pines of Sam Houston National Forest with bikes in tow.
The first night we car camped and treated ourselves to tamales and beer. Later, the forest was illuminated by thousands of fireflies that put on quite the show, unlike anything I had ever seen. We slept in hammocks side-by-side under one tarp. A tarp that started to pitter and patter at 6:00 am when a light rain rolled through the forest.
The next morning I made us coffee that we enjoyed while planning our route for that day. I knew the destination, a hidden lake in the middle of the forest that few people know about (and my wife had never been to) but the route to get there was a new adventure. There were a few non-routes that we discovered throughout the day, but after 25 miles we found ourselves on a gravel forest road that was behind a gate marked “No Motorized Vehicles”. This road was well maintained, but slightly overgrown from lack of use, which only added to my excitement. It wasn’t long before a peaceful lake surrounded by loblolly pines came into view. There was no one there; we had this spot in the woods to ourselves.
That night we fell asleep to tree frogs and owls singing their songs and telling their stories. In the morning we did yoga (naked) on a little pier that flapped against the water as the shallow waves caressed it. We then enjoyed the weather and our hammocks as we read Tolkien together.
When we were satisfied, good and ready, we broke camp and headed back to our car. Our pace was happy, reflective, and slow, just the way I like it. A half-mile from camp the skies opened and the rains fell. We laughed at our fortune as we rode the final leg of our journey. We arrived at our car, changed to warm and dry clothes, cracked beers, and celebrated a great weekend in the woods. It was perfect.
To listen to the Bikes or Death Podcast, you can use Google Play or iTunes. Also, if you’re interested in supporting the podcast, you can do so here. Even a $1 pledge will get you a cool Bikes or Death sticker! Patrick has also launchd a Facebook page and Instagram account, so check those out as well.