Words and photo: Chris “Bama” Milucky
From “On the Road With Bama,” originally published in Issue #191
Moab. Orange waves of sand, frozen in time, almost like me. I’ve been here six weeks—which is about five too long. Moab’s a great place to live, but I’m getting stir crazy. I’m beginning to feel like I’ve lost the edge.
I miss the humid, greasy truck stops of the Midwest, whose parking lots lie covered in a blanket woven from the threads of 18-wheeler reefer trucks hell-bound for a supermarket near you. I miss the search for cheap gas. I miss cranking out thousand-mile days, one after another, hoping to find fresh flush toilets but settling for grocery sacks and public trash cans.
I’m ready to roll over grassy, green Southern trails marked by washing-machine cairns and lined with mobile homes so derelict, it’s hard to imagine if anyone actually resides in such filth. I’m ready to traverse the barren, brown border of Nevada, traveling beyond, traveling westward, and ride the fern-infested mountainous descents of Oregon and Washington. I want to spend the Fourth of July eating fresh lobster in Maine. I want to smell burnt motor oil—evidence of an overdue ring job.
I promised a local shuttle outfit I’d hang ten another month, driving vacationers into the La Sals till summer hits hard like a face shot in a fast section and triple digits dot the weather report like an SOS code, beseeching an imaginary bartender to blend bottomless margaritas whilst UV rays burn harsher than an Orwellian nuclear experience.
Wisdom asks me to cherish the cash tips, but habit calls for an emergency escape, leaving by moonlight and following the Colorado River through Castle Valley until reaching my riptide: Interstate 70. I call it El Camino del Mal, because surviving the rock slides, avalanches, weather and traffic means you’ll wind up in a deep abyss of small-town highways, mercilessly rolling out mile after billboarded mile, until sleep deprivation wins the fight against caffeine and sunflower seeds, and when you finally come to, your eyes will rise in an unrecognizable town festooned by Chamber of Commerce signs begging for you to “Come Again.”
I feel dissatisfied, yet my heart feels full. I’m charged up and rested. I’m limber from nights in a normal bed. I’m ready to load my bike onto my motorcycle, turn the key and … “P-fissst!” I smell a burnt fuse. Damn it! I’m stuck here! And stuck in my mind is writing my own Motörhead song …
A set of tires to replace,
A claim, a boast, no more disgrace,
A roof rack, fee, I hate to race.
I drink too much, I’m gettin’ rad,
A tent, a leaky thermal pad,
My tank’s on low, my food is bad.
But I was born a rolling stone,
Another berm I’ve gotta own,
Another day that both knees moan,
Road trip is overdue.
My fork is leaking everywhere,
The demo guy—too smug to care,
My tube is fl at; I have no spare,
Another unmarked place to ride,
The ranger’s near, we have to hide,
The camber’s off, and my tires slide.
We’re shredding like an angry teen,
The trail is steep, it’s really mean,
If I don’t die, I’ll ride it clean.
Road trip is overdue.
The second shuttle I want to catch,
Slam a coffee, light a match,
Don’t sweat a carbon-fi ber scratch.
The weather changed, I have a plan,
We have to make it to the van,
Just try to pass me, doubt you can.
My bars are wide, won’t cut ’em down,
I like ’em wide, it’s what I’ve found,
Cased that jump, my wheel ain’t round.
Road trip is overdue.
Chris Milucky (better known as “Bama”), his wife, Tanesha, and their dog, Larry, once logged more than 50,000 miles a year driving across the country. They are now building a new home in Colorado. All they ask is that you keep singletrack single and support your local bike shop. Read some of his other writings here.
Words and photo: Chris Milucky aka Bama
From “On the Road With Bama,” a column in the print magazine
Originally published in Issue #191
A child of the ’80s, I began my photography with a plastic 110-film camera. The pictures were pretty bad, and I think it’s fair to share the blame with both my inexperienced hands and the cheap-o foto gear. These days, I have both a nice film camera and a nice digital one. The film camera has incredible character, but it’s slow, tedious and easy to make mistakes with. The digital camera is small, light and fast. Via super-slick software, most of the pics are winners, and the losers are simply erased—no big deal.
I’ve got the same thang going down in my Bike Nerd Depot: analog and carbon. There’s a steel fat bike and a carbon shredsled. The steel fat bike’s dents and scratches are covered in layers of camo duct tape and spray paint. She’s slow. She’s heavy. She even has a few “aftermarket welds”—a prized statement of her age—holding her trusty, rusty pipes together in a geometric pattern. She’s taken me on ethereal endeavors to the nether regions of my mind and to happy hour at the deserted desert bar in dusty Cleator, Arizona.
On the other handlebar, the carbon shredsled’s got boatloads of high-tech suspension rigged fore and aft. I can ride that bike wildly out of control and still steer ’im back into sanity. He brings safety and confidence to speeds in excess of Mach-looney. He’s light, strong and never gets a flat. He’s happy in the high country, smiling like a sunny-morning marmot. I’ve taken him all over hill and dale—heck, he’s even rolled singletrack strapped with bikepacking gear.
So which is better, full suspension or fi lm? Digital or steel? Of course there’s no way to answer such a query. The brain says digital while the heart says analog.
Personally, I like it all. I like the feeling of an old, heavy mechanical shutter slamming open and closed, followed by tediously winding film from one side of the camera to the other. I like riding a rigid steel scoot across rolling singletrack and sensing every nuance of rock and root from the tires to my teeth in bone-shaking bliss.
I love the carefree nature of digital photography. I can take a zillion pictures in different settings, in all sorts of crazy angles, and easily delete the ones that didn’t work out and post others instantly on social media all from the comfort of my high-tech carbon-fiber radwagon. And since that hoss is light and smooth, I have enough energy to hustle whichever camera I’m in the mood for. I can ride forever and get weird on techy stuff. “Ohh, so there’s a bunch of rocks? I’m-onna jump all of eet!”
Harley, Honda, sandals, steel-toe, floral, flannel, forever, for the moment, make the most of it, move on—ride your bike or turn this page.
Words and photo: Chris Milucky aka Bama
From On the Road With Bama, a column in the print magazine
Originally published in Issue #190
It’s somewhere over here—just carry your bike towards that tree. Don’t walk in a straight line, either; we don’t want anyone to find our tracks.”
We holstered our hardtails and hustled on over to a tall ponderosa about 50 yards off the main trail. There it was, lying silently in some shadows: the Poop Extractor, a beautiful brown singletrack flowing smoothly like a fresh turd, leading into a confidence-crushing garden of granite boulders likely to break both bike and brawn.
There was once an elaborate basketry project of trails woven into the foothills of Boulder, Colorado. Some were built by local kids, some by pro racers and some by California insurgents: Gold Hill, Express-O, Santa Cruz, Angry Ranger and Red Shack. If you’re really cool, you might’ve heard about these trails, and if you’re a badass, you’ve actually ridden them. Nowadays, they’re closed, but no “pro trail builder” has ever come close to crafting that level of cool. And none ever will.
“Ohh! This is going to be sick! OK, it wasn’t as sick as I thought; let’s dig it out.”
Those trails were built out of heart and soul, with one unwavering purpose in mind: shredding. Nobody was getting paid to build, so there weren’t any deadlines, design restrictions or anyone to say if something was too steep or too rowdy. If it was fun, it lived; if it was lame, it died. The Rule of Rad governed erosion standards, berms, jumps, rocks and drops. Besides my own contribution (which was insignificant in a trail network the size of Connecticut), I have no idea who built what; land ownership was hearsay at best, and at worst, building trails was highly illegal.
On two separate occasions I was sternly asked to leave by individuals holding what you might call “friendly firearms,” i.e., they weren’t pointed directly at me yet. No one took credit for building or snapped any photos, and nothing out there ended up in a builder’s online portfolio.
Now see here: I, myself, own land and I respect private property. I’m not advocating illegal building, nor altering your current public trail system; I’m simply here to remind you of the Rule of Rad. If you’ve ever ridden something that made you giggle or grin, or if you’ve thrown a post-shred high-five, then you know what good singletrack looks like.
Sure there are folks with years of building experience on you, and some are better at digging than others, but I’ve met plenty of angry “pro trail builders” with sticks up their seat tubes and nary one chain link of building ability. It’s pretty cool that governments want to spend my tax money on making mountain bike trails, and that people are getting paid to do what we used to whore out for free. But don’t think for one pop-a-wheelie that you don’t know the difference between fun and geriatric.
So don’t sit stoker and watch commercial building companies pave a mindless flat track through your ’hood. Grab a shovel and go get some grit under your gnarly nails.
This reads even better in print—and you’ll get it sooner and can leave it in your bathroom—so subscribe to the print mag today.
Words and photos: Chris Milucky, aka Bama
From On the Road With Bama, a column in the print magazine
Originally published in Issue #189
Dear Bike Industry: Roll down your window. Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
When I was a child, I used to ride my bike over to your house. We’d cut paths between the neighbors’ houses and ride to gas stations for candy. Our bikes sucked, those 4130 steel rust-bucket hand-me-down junkers that were always banjaxed, and being so in love with gravity, we had to push them up steep hills only to ride sans-brakes the whole way back down, finally sliding toward traffic, barely cheating the old fogies rollin’ Caddies before they had a chance to smoke us in their pleated-leather death sleds. Yep, laughter led our peloton.
We rode in denim and stained T-shirts, remaining hydrated by the water of garden hoses found at random houses while grownups were at work. We’d never even seen a helmet. When we were teenagers, we snuck out at night to hack secret trails, blurring the demarcation of singletrack and abandoned industrial estate. As young adults, we rode after work, after happy hour, in the alleys and parks where bums sleep. We never knew if it was a Wednesday or Friday night. We rode in the warmth of summer and in freezing autumn rain—as if adulthood were right behind us, creeping up with the sunrise, and maybe if we rode hard enough, we might escape the aging process.
But you grew up and set sail to cubicle purgatory. You made things light and fast and strong. Thanks—but now, you’re the ones driving Bavarian Motor Crüzers. Dear Bike Industry: Roll down your window. Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
Come on, now, I hear you’re feeling down. Maybe I can help ease your pain and get you on your bike again. From Santa Cruz to Moab and Minneapolis, you’ve lost touch with your roots. Must you dine in classy clothes, drinking craft beer? Or could we cruise to a thrift store for evening attire and fire up the grill in my backyard? We used to watch “Rad” on VHS and build dirt jumps in the woods, shredding till dinnertime. Now your rides end with Strava trophies.
Many of you are parents now, and your children are grown, yet forbidden from that exploratory wandering that colored our own formative, miscreant years with idyllic arrests, underage smoking and broken glass. You were never a hardcore roadie or a hardcore mountain biker; you were just hardcore. You were life-hardened, annealed and temperamental characters who lived for live music and late nights. Now you’re overweight.
At Cyclocross Nationals in Austin, Texas, you were too cool for the underground race. In Sedona, Arizona, this spring, a staged photo shoot consumed all your time. At Interbike, you were too busy to say hello. You’ve fired all my heroes and have a retirement plan, yet off-road pioneer Charlie Cunningham* can’t afford medical care.
Get a grip on reality, my bike-industry friends. The life we used to live was financed by dreams and bike piles, not advertising campaigns. Your quest for money and sales figures has gone too far. You won’t ride through parking-lot puddles. You’re on Facebook, but never the shop ride.
I miss you dearly.
*You can do something regarding Charlie Cunningham. Click here to learn and read more about his recovery from devastating injuries resulting from a bicycle crash.
On the Road With Bama
Words and photo: Chris Milucky aka Bama.
From Dirt Rag Issue #188
The first time I quit climbing the ladder of public opinion, I moved into a house with six other people, three dogs and a cat; the cat was smart enough to soon skip town and live someplace less crowded.
I needed a houseful of roommates in order to afford living given my new occupation as a bike messenger: Work was physically exhausting and I soon fell into a poor-man’s land of tent camping in the backyards of Boulder, Colorado. It was a colorful, romantic lifestyle with solid friends and lots of youthful, wild fun—if you know what I mean.
The second time I escaped from the dreams my mother once held of my success in corporate America, I bought and moved into a 1970s-era Airstream. I painted over the rotten wood and mildew and called it good. I picked up a job building trails east of Portland, Oregon. Sandy Ridge was the name of the place, and the weather was awful. It was cold and wet and the Airstream didn’t have any heat. After some time, the Airstream made a stop in Sedona, Arizona, and shortly thereafter I took a traveling job with a major bike company, resulting in three years of “van’er life.” After that, I was a mountain bike guide and moved back to the tent. I’ve been traveling for more than five years now, full time, year round.
It’s like this: If you’re going to work in the mountain bike industry, eventually you’re going to end up in a van or camper or something that will make your grandma cry tears of disappointment. I’m not sure how the “tiny house” movement started, but I’m pretty sure ski bums are at least 30 years ahead of us. Before skiers, circus clowns like Emmitt Kelly roamed the West. Before the circus, they were cowboys. The “Indians,” whom I’d rather refer to as Traditional Nomads, lived in campers they called teepees, which leaked horribly.
Everything leaks. Teepees, tents, campers and vans—live in one long enough and you’ll find yourself sleeping under an unavoidable, unfixable leak. They’re all cold, too. Life in a mobile shelter isn’t always glamour and gold, and the sedentary sects of society have always cast judgment against the nomads.
In modern times, we’re fined and ticketed; for the traditional nomads, death, violence and the Trail of Tears were lifestyle treats. In recent times, this affliction, if you want to call it that, is known as wanderlust. But it’s not a counterculture thing, and it’s not strange. The life of a nomad is beyond normal; it’s historical.
Think about that: every day on the road, every day on the trail, every day at the mercy of the wind, the wildlife and the solitude of the sun and stars. A day in the plains, a day in the mountains and another in the desert. That is the traditional way of the West. As humans, many of us have the same wandering spirit of the wolf, the wolverine and the eagle.
Give it a try sometime. Or don’t, but don’t think of me as any less. I may be dirty, but I’m always honest with myself. I don’t know if it’s something in the sand, or perhaps a curse placed by the demons of the desert, but for thousands of years people like me have been fighting to maintain our lifestyle. And this isn’t a lifestyle I chose, but rather it chose me; I cannot escape from it. At times I wonder if I’m running away from my problems or running directly toward them, but I just can’t stop.
Chris Milucky (better known as “Bama”), his wife, Tanesha and their dog, Larry, once logged more than 50,000 miles a year driving across the country. They are now building a new home in Colorado. All they ask is that you keep singletrack single and support your local bike shop. Read more from Bama.