Cass celebrating his 40th birthday on the road in Patagonia. Photo Credit: Daniel Malloy.
I'm incredibly thankful for the life that I have, I couldn't be luckier. But were I to close my eyes and picture pure expanse, uninhibited relentless and overwhelming adventure - deafening quiet, dark foreboding mountainscapes, unattainable faded yellow horizons, shadows of giants, and air that seems so open and pure it's tangible - were I to picture all of that, I'd be envisioning the life of Cass Gilbert.
If I chose another life, if I had to, gun to my head time, I'd be hard-pressed to find one more raw, real, and vividly lived than Cass'. Sometimes, I find myself musing, when I grow up, I wanna be like Cass.
Fortunately for all of us, Cass gives us that crisp taste of beyond in dramatic photography and crafted wording on his blog, whileoutriding.com, that transcends us beyond our screens and has meaning that resounds beyond its concise and honest text. His photos cause me to remind myself to breathe.
Trystan Cobbett introduced me to Cass when we found ourselves all three in the sub level of Interbike, an area shamed with exercise equipment and other oddities that don't see the shine of the well light main level above. Trystan mentioned Cass' website with a quick tilt of his head and wry smile of approval that only Trystan seems quietly capable of. They both seemed overly calm in the wake of late day three mayhem. I've been hooked to the site ever since.
Enjoy Cass' responses, its a great preview of some of the rampant freedom his site modestly boils over with. Whileoutriding.com whets that need for the unknown while politely reminding that it's time to go exploring, even if it's a stone's throw from your backyard.
Name: Cass Gilbert
Home Shop and City: I'm a wandering soul, currently with no fixed address. Santa Fe and the Mellow Velo have been my most recent home.
Fence hopping from Cass' New Mexico days. Photo: Cass Gilbert, whileoutriding.com
Favorite WTB or Freedom product: My Pure V saddle. It's the ultimate in comfy perches – on a touring bike, that's what you need.
When I use to live in Bristol, UK, I couldn't get enough of the local woodsy singletrack that unravels for hours and hours, just 20 minutes from my front door. Nothing beats plugging into your familiar trails at the end of the day, and 'unminding the mind' on singletrack you know inside out. More recently, the last 100 miles of the Colorado Trail stood out for its almost endless rounds of sublime, challenging singletrack, panoramic view of the San Juans, and a real sense of high altitude wilderness. In South America, which has been my stomping ground over the last couple of years, the unpaved, remote mining roads of the central Peruvian Andes have delivered everything I seek when I tour: big spaces, Herculean climbs and great camping potential. They call the area El Silencio – encapsulating the quiet and forgotten mood imbued within these mineral-rich mountains.
Photo: Cass Gilbert, whileoutriding.com - the San Juans, Colorado Trail, it really is that good.
Photo: Cass Gilbert, whileoutriding.com. El Silencio, Peruvian Andes. There is a rider in this shot, he just gives you an idea of the scope of things.
Photo: Cass Gilbert, whileoutriding.com. The reward. View from Cass' tent.
Background, how’d you get into riding, what kept you going with it?
My first 'real' bike was a Marin Bear Valley and I still bemoan the day it was stolen from the school shed. After working as a bike messenger in London, I got sucked into long distance touring when I was 24; I set off to ride from Australia to England,a journey that took two years, and traversed the likes of India, Tibet, Kyrgyzstan and Iran. Although I'd spent years backpacking and hitching prior to the trip, I really wanted to be the engine. I rode a steel Spesh Rockhopper, and at the time I thought it was all I needed in this world (and perhaps it's all I really do).
Cass and fellow wandering souls, Patagonia. Photo: Cass Gilbert, www.whileoutriding.com
I've been touring for the last fifteen years or so, but it wasn't until more recently that I discovered 'mountain biking' – even if prior to that, I'd always sought out jeep tracks and thrived on taking the road less traveled. Now I mountain bike whenever I can – I'm still trying to catch up for those lost years. Mixing more technical mountain biking with the sense of independence intrinsic to bicycle touring has really inspired and changed the way I like to traveling. It's dovetailed nicely with the new wave of lightweight bikepacking products, and amazing routes popping up all over the States. With a wealth of gpx files now available on the excellent bikepacking.net website, remote mountain bike touring is more accessible than ever: just download and go.
Did I mention Cass shreds singletrack? Cass took this shot of his friend and Durango native Zach while riding the last 100 miles of the Colorado Trail. Check out the POST.
These kinds of routes are a great way of escaping the burgeoning car-culture that pervades our roads. The more I ride, the more I avoid pavement, and less tolerant I become of motorized traffic. Over the last few years, it's became a personal obsession to seek out the most remote dirt roads I can, and avoid pavement at all costs – especially in South America, where the highway driving is loco.
Personal obsession to seek out the most remote dirt roads? Success. Feel the isolation? Keeping it real on the lonesome road in Patagonia. Photo: Cass Gilbert, whileoutriding.com
I've never really raced; I guess I don't have too many competitive bones in my body, though I definitely like to push myself when I tour, in both mentally and physically. In an effort to make my passion into a living, I've run a bike touring business in the Indian Himalaya, and worked for bicycle magazines and websites in the UK and the US.
Tube or Tubeless, why?
When I tour, I've always used tubes in the past. They're easier to source, and I can rotate tires easily as they wear. But at home, I go tubeless for sure. Lighter, grippier and plusher. I ride a rigid 29er, and tubeless tires make very noticeable difference on the trail.
Photo: Cass Gilbert, whileoutriding.com
3 most important things to bring with you on a ride?
A smart phone with the Gaia App http://www.gaiagps.com/) – an excellent program for discovering new trails, both close to home and beyond. A few extra SRAM quicklinks – I've broken too many chains. And, a Lara bar or two. I can't eat enough of those things.
Craziest thing you’ve seen or witnessed on a ride?
A guy who packed a handgun on a mountain bike ride in Alaska. Hailing from the UK, the idea of bringing along a gun on a bike ride seems pretty crazy.
Not Alaska but still beautiful, more Patagonia gorgeous light. Photo: Cass Gilbert, www.whileoutriding.com
Most important lesson to teach the groms?
Start local. Track down some camping gear, lash it onto your bike, and go spend the night outside. It might just change your life.
Moving forward, Cass is always on the move. As he said, lash it to the bike and go. Cass in Puerto Natales, Chile, from THIS post. Photo: Cass Gilbert, www.whileoutriding.com
Left my wallet in… (fill it in):
Wallet's are too heavy, so I use a zip lock bag! Right now, it's loaded up with some crumpled US dollars, Pesos Chilenos and Pesos Argentinos. There's a few forgotten Soles from Peru in there too.
Anything you’d like to plug, courtesy of WTB’s blog?
I've had a few companies help me out over the last few years, but I'd like to thank Porcelain Rocket and Surly especially. There's too many great blogs mention, though in terms of recent South American inspiration, I could point you towards Kurt's Bike Grease and Coffee (http://www.bikegreaseandcoffee.com/), and the Pike's Pikes on Bikes (http://pikesonbikes.com/). If you're hankering for some touring soul fuel, then head over to the online publication Buyan Velo (http://bunyanvelo.com/).