We recently caught up with VVCC Member Craig Bierly, at Firecreek Coffee in the Village of Oak Creek.
Hi Craig. Thanks for meeting with us.
Hi. You’re welcome.
What did you do before you became a mountain bike vagabond?
For 26 years I worked in aerospace. I was not an engineer but a tool production planning manufacturing engineer so I dealt with the engineering. I have a very focused point on the fact that measurements are important and you build from the drawing.
Great, so what changed for you?
I got my first bike back in 1985 and I’ve been reading Mountain Bike Action since issue 2 and in that magazine plus other magazines, there were many articles about places to ride in the country. I wanted to ride some of these places while my body was still good, but when I was living in Spokane, most of them were deemed “too far away to go.” I realized that while I was working for somebody, I wasn’t receiving any benefit from it other than wages and I wanted something for myself…do something that was me – my current business card says “doing what I want since 2008" – and that’s what I did.
It was July 2008. I sold my house, most of my possessions, and distilled my life down into my Sprinter and took off.
Where was the first trail you rode after taking off?
I remember Crested Butte was the one that had been getting quite a bit of advertising for several issues. When I was living in Spokane, Downieville was as far away as I’d gotten. But when I took off and got to Crested Butte, the boundary was broken and the country was mine. I parked out on the road with the side door of my Sprinter facing the road. Took off riding Bear Flag, Reno, Deadman and as I’m pedaling back up, I see the side door open and I’m thinking “oh my gosh, I’ve been burglarized/vandalized just after my start.” I searched. Nothing was missing. Turns out in my excitement to ride, I took off and left the door open.
How many miles do you put on your Sprinter in a year?
There’s 215,000 miles on it now, I had 20,000 on it before I started, almost 10 years. You do the math and it comes to about 18,000 miles a year or so. And, it depends upon what I do. Last year I put on a little over 10,000 miles because I stayed in the western United States. The year before, I drove around the perimeter of the country, rode in 26 States and there might have been 22,000 miles driven.
How many States have you ridden in?
Forty-nine. The Sprinter’s been to forty-eight. It took me 11 months and 3 weeks to ride once in each one of the lower forty-eight States.
Which State did you miss, Alaska or Hawaii?
Alaska and Hawaii were not part of my plan. I had an opportunity to go to Hawaii. It was crazy. I had a choice of places to stay on two islands. I’m using MTBProject to research rides and picked a ride on Kauai. I did my research and found a bike shop there that claimed to be “this is where mountain biking is on the islands.” It took me three bus rides to get to the bike shop. I rented a trail bike. Rode 8 miles of pavement to get to 3 miles of dirt and it was a jeep road!
What’s your favorite ride?
There are way too many to choose from. Because I’ve ridden so many, none stand out as number one. One I’ve really enjoyed is Devil’s Gulch outside of Wenatchee, WA. What’s great about that one is that it’s 13 miles downhill but the gradient on it is such that you can ride up it as well as down. 13 miles of a continuous downhill makes that pretty good!
Wow. So how do you plan your year?
The one I’m working on now will tell you what I’m going to do. Singletracks has a top 1,000 (or 200) rides in America list and they’re numbered based on, I guess, reader feedback. I contacted Singletracks and it looks like they’re working with me. I want to get a file of all those trails that I can sort by state/city to work with my map and locate those rides/potential rides. From there, I just link them as I’m thinking about going around the country again. In 2016, I drove north across the top of the country. I caught the fall colors in Duluth, MN and I went down the Appalachian chain and saw colors and colors. It was just a phenomenal experience.
Where do you stay?
I live in my Sprinter. I have spent less than 10 days in 9+ years out of my Sprinter and we can net out 5 of those with two different hospital stays.
How many years have you wintered in Sedona?
This is my 9th year.
I can ride here. I’m out of the snow. My travel retinue is such that I’m a mountain biker who can ride 365 days a year by choosing where I am in the country. I can ride every day if I want to. I lose the few days that Sedona gets snow, but the bulk of it I can ride here. I go where the weather suits my riding.
Is there any trail in the U.S. that you haven’t ridden but would like to ride?
I have no to-ride trails in a bucket list. I think as I make up my travel plan for this year trails will find their way to a bucket list. Short term planning. Unridden IMBA Epic trails, if on my travel plan, will be bucketed. Over time I have ridden almost all the Epics either as a designated epic or before the trail gained that designation. There are some stinker epics.
Since you ride around the country riding trails, do you ever give back?
My travels put me on miles of trails built and maintained by locals. I ride what other people have created for my experience. Traveling by myself and being a vagabond, I lack connection to a community. I establish community connections by volunteering on trail projects. Here w/ VVCC I have helped at almost every trail day over the years when here. I belong to GOATS in Oakridge. They recognize volunteers by giving specific colored hard hats to volunteers. Newby is white, work 20 to 100 hours earn a blue hat, 100 hours plus a white hat. I earned a blue hard hat – one of my cherished possessions. Over time I have also attended IMBA Trail Care sessions. I pick the brains of subject matter experts on trail building techniques including land managers. I share what I have learned to others. I still am pretty much a sponge for knowledge and giving back is important to me. For 2 years I have helped at a Moab local Thanksgiving feed.
Any final thoughts?
Make wise decisions in your life that gives you the freedom to do what you want to do. Do what you want to do while your body is still allowing you to do it.
You can follow Craig’s adventures at www.runutsadventures.com