A Simple Overnighter: 24 Hours with the Bicycle Nomad
After getting a brand new Niner RLT 9 Steel, Erick Cedeño set out on a shakedown overnighter to prepare for his upcoming 1,900-mile bikepacking trip following the route of the Buffalo Soldiers. Photographer Josh Caffrey accompanied him and put together this reflection. Find that and more details about Erick’s future ride here…
Words and photos by Josh Caffrey (@joshcaffrey)
Erick Cedeño, better known as Bicycle Nomad, had just taken delivery of his new Niner RLT 9 Steel, and our plan was to have it loaded up and on its first tour the following morning. This shakedown ride would mark the beginning of Erick’s build-up toward his 41-day, 1,900-mile historical bikepacking trip from Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri, to retrace the 1897 route of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps that was entirely comprised of African American enlisted men—the Buffalo Soldiers.
As someone who was born and raised in Los Angeles, the idea of doing a bikepacking trip across the middle of the United States in the middle of summer scares the crap out of me, but neither of those middles intimidates Erick, who’s a longtime bikepacker and has covered thousands of miles across North America and beyond. He’s consistently done it his own way, with whatever equipment he has available.
He’s not too picky about gear and has only once been the owner of a “fancy” bike. And, as the story goes for many of us in the cycling community, it was stolen. Now though, he has a great bike underneath him once again. The deft wrenching of Caché at Golden Saddle Cyclery got Erick’s brand new Niner roadworthy, but it still had to be made adventure-ready within a matter of hours.
Come morning, I showed up at Erick’s alley-facing garage ready to roll. I arrived at 6:45 a.m., bike packed (it only took a month of planning) and backpack on (not my first choice) loaded with all my camera gear. Erick appeared around 7:00 a.m., and I had a strange feeling we weren’t going anywhere that day. He’d had his new bike for about 12 hours, but that wasn’t enough prep time when family time comes first.
In a previous phase of his life, Erick used to go on long tours with just a photo of his mother on his bars and never had to check in with anyone. Now, he’s trying to squeeze in every last second with his family before overnighters. Back in his garage, he was trying to do a last-minute remix of his tried and true bag setup for the new bike. Nixing his trusted Blackburn panniers that usually fit everything, he was headed for a new setup that utilized a Blackburn seat bag, full frame bag, and handlebar bag. It was a freestyle change, and that’s fine since this was a shakedown ride. But as anyone that’s ever packed a bike for any lengthy trip knows, there’s a system to it, and if you’ve done it one way for 15+ years, switching it up the night before—or even worse, minutes before—a ride is probably not going to work. I looked at him casually scrambling in his garage and made the call.
“Let’s just leave tomorrow. You need today to get everything set up. It’s not like we have a reservation to worry about. Tomorrow will work fine!” I saw the pressure relief valves in his eyeballs release and knew it was the right move. We didn’t need to push it, and I didn’t want to rush him. Now, he had more time for everything—family and bike.
Once I got back home, I tried staying in the ride/adventure zone all day. I self-isolated and watched the holy trinity of mountaineering movies on all the streaming services: a playlist of 14 Peaks, The Alpinist, and TORN got me through the day. All three of those films helped get me in the documentary headspace I needed to be in to photograph our ride. Something about seeing those big 8,000+ meter mega mountains in 14 Peaks made our ride through the local Santa Monica Mountains feel a lot more manageable.
Saturday morning arrived and I headed back to his garage. This time, he was waiting for me. He’d been up super early doing a run, so he was already caffeinated and putting the finishing touches on his rig by the time I showed up. We pulled out of his garage by 7 a.m. and headed north through Santa Monica.
Erick had never ridden any part of this route. He’s new to Los Angeles, having arrived after leaving Arizona following the closure of his Bicycle Nomad Cafe due to the pandemic. In the short time he’s been here, he’s stayed busy doing cycling things for swrve and Blackburn and has also found steady modeling work for print and commercials. But all that pales to the work he’s putting into being an amazing father to his nine-month-old son Gabriel and husband to his wife Toni. They recently celebrated their second wedding anniversary, and as a married, two-time girl dad, I know all too well how family comes first and that even a short overnight trip is a wake-up call to what being “away” truly means as a new parent.
I fired up RidewithGPS a few weeks prior to our trip and designed a route based on roads and tracks I knew well. I first started riding up in the Santa Monica Mountains around 1996 on my GT Avalanche, when I’d arrive at a trailhead with my bike mounted on a rack strapped to the rear of my 1963 VW Bug. Back then, I searched for trails using what’s now the old-fashioned way, with a black and white copy of Mountain Biking the Coast Range – The Santa Monica Mountains stuffed into my pack. I never went too far back then, but still got some good rides in and laid the groundwork for a taste for adventure that still runs strong today.
The Santa Monica Mountains are part of the only east-west belt of transverse mountains in North America. Comprised of nearly 200-million-year-old rocks, the mountains were formed through many series of ruptures between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. As a cyclist, I’m thankful that these ruptures provide a fun playground, but I’m glad I wasn’t around to witness them being made.
After a few miles of meandering elevation through the palatial streets of the Pacific Palisades, we hit the dirt on Sullivan Ridge. We had zero celebrity sightings that day, but Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Conan O’Brien, and Adam Sandler are regular fixtures and usually less elusive than a collared mountain lion or bobcat would typically be. Erick climbed the ridge with ease and settled into the climb with a steady pace. We gained about 2,000 feet in the first five miles of dirt and were rewarded with a great view that spanned sea to snow from the top of Dirt Mulholland. Yes, this is the same Mulholland as the famous Mulholland Drive. And yep, it eventually just turns into a dirt road that runs along the spine of some great trails in the Santa Monicas.
We continued on toward Topanga Canyon, and I did a yo-yoing dance of getting ahead of Erick to photograph him. I’d have to speed up to catch him again and set up the next shot. We did this all day long and quickly got into a rhythm. Weatherwise, it was hot, even by non-LA standards. I function a lot better in a cooler climate, but the heat seemingly did nothing to bother Erick. Beyond his clothing layers, the man has a lot of hair, and he even sometimes has issues finding a helmet that fits him correctly.
We dropped down into Trippet Ranch after riding through a burn zone that made it feel like we’d been transported to another location entirely. The freshly burned dirt was a deep brownish-red and every tree was burned to a naked black. We refilled our bottles with surprisingly ice-cold well water and reworked our route based on the rising heat. We made a plan to head straight into Topanga to get some snacks before dropping down to the Pacific Coast Highway. We headed for a shack/liquor store that’s infamous among cyclists and serves everything you’d expect to find in Topanga (plus the added bonus of fresh tofu and coveted veggie sushi rolls). Those sushi rolls have saved many a cyclist from a mid-ride bonk, and have gotten me home more times than I care to count. Erick consumed all the new treats quickly and disappeared into the store once more for seconds.
Everyone talks to Erick. People make things up just to talk to Erick. I’ve never ridden with anyone so sought after by strangers. Ever. And not to go all Hollywood, but some of my longtime riding groups include some rather recognizable folks. You almost have to build in time for the conversations when riding with Erick. Is he handsome? Sure is. Does he have a magnetic smile? One thousand percent. Erick’s not your everyday cyclist, and we can all thank our preferred almighty for that. He’s unique, genuine, and kind. He’s interested in the world, all the people in it, and has had a great time carving out his own space in the cycling scene.
We got back on the bikes and had another 20 or so miles of PCH to go until our beachside campsite. We made a plan to try to arrive by the magic hour to get more photos. We pedaled hard and counted down the miles. I continued my yo-yo photography style, passing Erick and then letting him pass me before I caught up again. Our system was tight by now, and I knew I had some good shots. Around 5 p.m., we pulled into Sycamore Cove and took a break on the beach as the sun slowly set. I’d asked one of the park rangers which island we were looking at off the coast and after he couldn’t identify it. He walked away saying how he’d wish he’d been paid in sunsets. After some more photos, we headed to the campsite, checked in, and bought a bundle of firewood. Luckily, the hike and bike sites were available and empty, so we settled into what was essentially our own private campground for the night.
We set up our tents, I started a fire, and we ate and talked some more. Being out in nature, even if it’s at a well-traveled campsite, will do wonders for you. The mix of that good, tired, post-ride high feeling with the fact that tomorrow would be an easier ride home via the Pacific Coast Highway was a nice way to wind down. Erick realized how much he was missing his family on our short journey, and he was struggling a bit to wrap his head around being gone for 41+ days this summer.
We talked about time commitments, and more importantly, how that ride should be documented on more than just Instagram. There was likely a documentary hiding in that trip, so we decided to keep the conversation going as we both fleshed out the details as we figured them out. Erick went to sleep in just his clothes, sans sleeping bag—the missing bag was another item that fell victim to the shakedown ride and new bag setup. He wouldn’t forget it in June, and that’s why we were here now. We said goodnight around nine and drifted off to the vocalizations of a cranky owl that was just starting its day as we ended ours.
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