[vol·ka·nar·key] n. :: confusion and disorder induced by an unending quest for volcanoes in the vibrant and chaotic country of Guatemala.
3 WEEKS, 2 FRIENDS, 2 FAT BIKES, 4 VOLCANOES. BIKEPACKING & CHICKEN BUS TRAVEL ACROSS GUATEMALA. CLIMBING, CAMPING, AND RIDING FROM THE SUMMITS. OH WAIT: ONE IS CURRENTLY VERY ACTIVE. IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE... ???
Volcanarchy was my first self-created expedition, and it was born out of pure curiosity. I had been living in Guatemala for 5 months and riding my bike all over the country. Guatemala's highlands are punctuated by giant volcanoes: 22 of them to be exact, 7 of which are still quite active, sending plumes of smoke and pillars of magma shooting into the air on a frequent basis. It was quite an experience to witness these explosive wonders of nature as I traversed the surrounding countryside by bicycle.
I had also taken part of a filming expedition to Iceland in June of 2015, and had been inspired by the filmmaker Anthony Cupaiuolo's creative ideas brought to life and turned into a sponsored project. As far as I could see, the sky was the limit.
So when I was sitting on a chicken bus (Guatemala's crazy public transportation system) with my friend, fellow athlete, and professional photographer Brendan James on our way back from a race in Ecuador, we were high on adrenaline and dreaming up crazy ideas. "Do you think we could ride those?" I asked Brendan, pointing to the volcano whizzing by outside the window of the bus. "I bet we could do it on fat bikes. Those big tires would surf that volcanic soil just like sand or snow. We'd have to figure out how to get up there. But I bet it would go."
I got excited and ideas started flying out of my mouth. "We don't have cars, so we'd have to do it all human-powered, or use public transportation. It'll be more fun that way anyways. We'll be right in it with all the Mayans cruising around. It'll be just as much a story about Guatemala as it is about our project. I bet I could get my sponsors on board. I know people who would love to be a part of this. You do too. We could pitch a story to a magazine, with my writing and your photos. It would be pretty spectacular. I have no idea if riding those volcanoes is really possible, but there's only one way to find out. What do you think?"
Brendan didn't need much convincing. I'm pretty sure I had him at "I have no idea if it's really possible, but..." The project was right up his alley and he was psyched about the opportunity to showcase his adopted home country. We dubbed it "Volcanarchy," a combination of the words "volcano" and "anarchy," the latter describing both our crazy plan and the culture of Guatemala itself. We spent the next month planning the route, talking to locals, and figuring out logistics.
We compiled a pitch deck and sent it to some companies and magazines. In the end, we ended up getting a feature 16 page story called "Baptism by Fire" in Mountain Flyer Magazine (issue 49, Aug 2016), and Brendan ended up with the cover shot. We had some really great people come together to support us, which was the coolest thing -- when people believe in your idea enough to jump on board and become a part of it. The project was sponsored by Fatback Bikes, Lauf Forks, Skratch Labs, Gore Bike Wear, and Julbo Eyewear.
The three week expedition turned out to be a pretty crazy experience: from 2 am hitchhikes in pickup trucks to waking up to sickness with liquid poo running down our legs, to being chased off a mountainside by angry villagers due to accidentally camping on a sacred Mayan burial ground, to being taken in by a local pharmacist and his family, to pushing/carrying/pedaling 70 lbs of bike and gear up ridiculously huge volcanoes, to nearly losing a fat bike off the side of a volcano as it cartwheeled away, to watching gigantic explosions happen right in our faces, to shredding steep and deep ash fields on our fat tires... VOLCANARCHY turned out to be the most challenging project either of us had ever undertaken.
This, of course, also makes for the best stories. Read all about it with our photojournal at PICSPORADIC, and check out the Mountain Flyer story as well. There are also some stories and photos of our expedition on the Fatback Bikes website.
All images by Brendan James Photography.