Never in the Way (Film)
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Never in the Way is a short film from Anthill Films that follows Chicago-based bike messenger and racer Nico Deportago-Cabrera on a meandering ride from Flagstaff to Phoenix, Arizona, that pieced together as many bikepacking routes as possible for a winter getaway. Watch it here…
About 100 years ago, in December of 2019, winter had just slapped Chicago in its I’m-not-ready-for-the-cold-yet face. I was staring down the barrel of another long winter working as a bike messenger in the streets of Chicago. It had been a busy year for me. Between DKXL, Tour Divide, Tracklocross World Championships, and the Transpyrenees Race, my year had been full of stressful, albeit welcome, race miles. As the deep freeze was starting to take hold in the city, I was ready for one last big ride, but without the specter of competition looming over my head.
“If you’re never in the way, then you’re always right where you need to be.”
I’d recently been connected with Anthill Films via Trek, who had been looking to do a project around their Checkpoint gravel bike. We bounced some ideas back and forth and decided that I should find a route I’ve never ridden in a place I’ve never been and document the adventure along the way. Seeing as December in Chicago is the beginning of the grind through the seemingly endless Midwestern winter, the Arizona desert was the obvious choice.
I settled on a route that started in Flagstaff on Route 66—which happens to start in Chicago—and headed toward Phoenix, where I could visit my sister and nephew. I couldn’t find any specific established route between the two cities that took me through the places I wanted to go, but I found a few routes here on BIKEPACKING.com that I was able to stitch together.
I started with part of the Coconino Loop that went through Flagstaff and into Sedona, and eventually connected it with the Black Canyon Trail and Fool’s Loop to get me to Phoenix. I was stoked to have some established routes to work with and I was equally stoked to try and connect the dots without any local help. A lot of the route would typically have been ridden on a mountain bike, but I’m a big fan of taking bikes places they aren’t supposed to go.
As focused as I was on the adventure at hand, the project came to be as a means of showing off what the Checkpoint is capable of. I was riding the SL7, which came equipped with a SRAM Mullet drivetrain and bunch of Bontrager bits. I swapped out the Bontrager carbon wheels for a set of Zipp 303 Firecrest 650B wheels and slapped some 2” rubber on them. I also swapped the saddle out for my Fizik.
Although there was good chunk of the route that was probably better suited to a mountain bike, I was pretty pleased with what I was able to ride through on the Checkpoint. As a single-speeder, I am no stranger to hike-a-bike, and there were definitely a few of those along the way.
The only other thing I would have changed would be the crank arms. The 170 mm arms it came specced with are too long for me and on the Black Canyon Trail and chunks of the Arizona Trail, I must have had a million pedal strikes. I usually run 165 mm. The Checkpoint also has a very low bottom bracket, which didn’t help things in that department.
As someone who has worked with a lot of different brands on a lot of projects, it wouldn’t have been unusual to have a project never see the light of day. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time. This video wasn’t widely released, I stumbled upon it on the Trek Bikes blog in Germany, and also on the Australian site. Regardless, this was a project I was super stoked on, and Anthill is an incredibly talented crew full of wonderful people and I feel really lucky that I got to make this with them. My route was far from perfect and there were several sections where I did some rerouting when I realized there wasn’t actually a trail, but isn’t that part of the fun?
About Nico Deportago-Cabrera
Nico began his career in cycling as a messenger in Chicago in 2008. What started as a casual flirtation with the downtown hustle turned into an intensive immersion in messenger culture. This led to messenger races and those races became the foundation for an alternative approach to a career as a professional cyclist. See more on Instagram and his website.