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LIVE WELL, TRAVEL WIDE

Jalen Bazile (he/him), a member of The Black Foxes, is an outdoor adventurer and accomplished bikepacker who has ridden the Great Divide route in the U.S and the Baja Divide route in Mexico. He is also the founder of Trvl Wide, an outdoor education and guiding company. We caught up with Jalen and talked with him about his own experiences and inspiring others.

Jalen Bazille of the Black Foxes riding gravel in Colorado

Jalen riding his Revolt Advanced Pro along the Platte River in Colorado. Eric Arce photo

Tell us what type of riding you do and what attracts you to it?

I primarily ride gravel roads and moderately technical, flowy trails. I got into riding gravel when I lived in Florissant, Colorado, and most of the roads were dirt. There’s something simplistic and old-timey about gravel roads that attract me to them. There are obvious things like not as much traffic and the scenery is often breathtaking, but I’m especially drawn to the rawness of gravel cycling. It reminds me of old western movies and a time when a horse was the fastest thing around. Riding them today on my Revolt seems fitting for the times.
 
Also, back in the day I started taking my gravel bike on singletrack trails to spice things up. I’d hop on a section of trail during a ride and it really broke up the monotony of a long day in the saddle. It was fun and a bit sketchy pushing my skills on the gravel bike with different trails, and I took to it. So you can likely catch me mixing it up on gravel and trails nowadays, especially living in Bentonville!

Jalen Bazille of the Black Foxes riding his Revolt Advanced Pro in Colorado

Eric Arce photo

How did you get into bikepacking?

In all honesty, my relationship with bikepacking started in absolute fear. My first bikepacking trip was poorly planned and I barely slept through the night. I was living in bear and mountain lion country and every rustle in the night spooked me awake. Looking back at it now I can only laugh. Somehow, it left a positive impression on me because a couple of months later I set out on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, a 2,700-mile off-road bikepacking route from Canada to Mexico.
 
How did that experience go?

My experience on the Great Divide was life-changing. I wanted to test my outdoor technical skills and experience the Rocky Mountains from my saddle. What I got in return was a new perspective on life. The simplicity of pedaling and camping day after day brought clarity around my values and the kind of person I wanted to become. I became a much more resilient and tenacious person because of the Great Divide. Lastly, I fell in love with the natural world. I learned that the Earth can be downright brutal. Hailstorms, relentless terrain and scarce water supplies. But I loved it. I learned to lean into the discomfort of the ride and trust that I’d be taken care of.
 
I traveled at a leisurely pace and finished 1,800 miles of the route in just over a month. The northern section of the route was by far my favorite. The mountains in Alberta, Canada took my breath away. As I traveled south, I ran into wildfires across Montana and Wyoming, which rerouted me to the highway for a few days. It was somewhat heartbreaking to see so many forests on fire. Navigating those reroutes were some of my lowest moments.
 
I was proud of my packing and bike setup. My bike, which was a rigid plus size bike, held up to the challenging terrain and will always be one of my favorite bikes. I definitely overpacked and tried to pawn as much extra gear and supplies onto passing travelers as I could. It was a big learning lesson with packing only the essentials.

Jalen Bazille of the Black Foxes bikepacking in Colorado

Eric Arce photo

What would you say to anyone who thinking about getting into bikepacking?

Bikepacking for me is my favorite way to experience a new place, my most valued self-care activity, and it has brought me the closest friendships I could ask for. I wholeheartedly believe there’s no better way to get to know a natural outdoor space/region than bikepacking. By climbing every hill and descending every bend, you get to truly see what the land and all its inhabitants are about.
 
For anyone thinking about getting into bikepacking I strongly encourage them to head out in whatever way makes the most sense. The bicycle has been used in such diverse ways to transport food and equipment and to travel. So, I say whatever bike you have and whatever backpacks and bags you can fasten to your bike, go for it. It won’t be pretty the first time, expect to stop a lot to fix or adjust things, and remember that it’s about the journey and not the destination. Also, invite a few trusted friends so there’s plenty of stories to tell once you’re back home!
 
Lastly, I’ve been met with some of the most gracious acts of generosity by total strangers while bikepacking. Those moments have helped heal my faith in humanity. As Rita Pierson says, “We ain’t all bad.” Bikepacking reminds me of just that.
 
Can you tell us a little about your work as an emotional intelligence coach?

My work as an emotional intelligence coach has been interwoven with my work as an outdoorsman. I provide an emotional and physical safe space for the participants, whether it be through rock climbing, bikepacking or hiking. I help participants identify their emotions and offer language to communicate what they feel. By practicing these skills—emotional expression and self-awareness—through these different outdoor activities, participants are able to gain emotional awareness in a safe environment while having fun and adventuring.
 
I’ve been incorporating EI into my work as an outdoorsman for nearly five years and am launching an outdoor education and outfitter company, Trvl Wide this year. We guide youth and adults through emotional intelligence and technical outdoor skills to create a holistic and transferable experience outdoors. We’ll be offering bikepacking, rock climbing, and backpacking expeditions as a means for developing our sense of self, community, Earth, and wonder. Stay tuned for our launch this fall!

What does cycling mean to you as a Black man?

I love this question. I think about how my work with The Black Foxes is about expanding Black culture to cycling. It’s about highlighting Black stories, Black people, and Black accomplishments within cycling. For me, cycling is an opportunity to build a figurative and metaphorical bridge so that riding bikes in all kinds of ways can be normalized in my community. The goal isn’t always winning races or breaking records (even though we know that’s on deck), it’s quite the opposite. Cycling is an activity that opens new ways of thinking and moving with the people I love. In this way, it is a tool for liberation. It is a tool that can free our people intrapersonally and collectively while empowering us to take charge of our lives.
 
Sometimes I get the response, “Yo, we are just riding bikes, what is all this about?” I want to say that cycling isn’t just about riding bikes for me and many others like me. It’s about claiming a win for the day. It’s about stepping into our greatness and feeling capable and unrestricted. We all live under a governmental system that has been designed to oppress and enslave Black people, past, present and future. To take an hour or a day to feel triumphant and liberated is priceless. And if you can’t understand that then listen to Hov when he said, “We ain’t meant to be friends.”

You talk about connecting to the land, can you explain this in regard to cycling? 

This is huge for me. First off, I want to say I do not identify as indigenous nor claim to have any expert knowledge when it comes to indigenous history or practices. What I do know is that our lands have been exploited under colonialism and capitalism since Europeans stepped foot on this continent, and the way we engage in outdoor recreation in the U.S. perpetuates a conquest culture dating back to those early days.
 
When we head out to ride we are engaged with the land, regardless if we are aware of it. Connecting to the land isn’t a three-sentence land acknowledgment or just looking up an indigenous nation on the Native Land app. Connecting to the land is personal, for everybody. It’s learning about the history of what has taken place there and how you’ve gotten there and what things you perpetuate by being there.

Ultimately, connecting to the land through cycling has increased my sense of belonging to the places I love. As a Black man, my ancestors’ relationships to the land is one of complexity, deep caretaking and resilience. When I head out to ride, I make it a point to learn how my people have shown up in these regions, and what they’ve gone through. We can’t care about things we don’t understand or are not aware of. I want to say that riding our bikes, again, isn’t just about riding our bikes.

How have you set up your Revolt?

I’m so happy with my Revolt build. This was my first bike built from the ground up. I received the frame from Giant and built it with my components from my other partners. I paired it with a wide dropbar with extra flare for navigating the tight and techy singletrack, which I do a lot of. Currently, electronic shifting is seeing its day, so I equipped my Revolt with SRAM’s Rival groupset (1x44T). Lastly, a pair of 303 Zipp wheels and Teravail’s 47c Rutland tires kept me happily hugging the earth.
 
Giant’s H2Pro half-frame pack fit my stove, sleeping pad, and camping utensils, while the handlebar roll packed my sleeping bag nicely. The setup I have shown is my ultralight overnight kit, typically meant for ultra-races, where I’m resupplying often and covering a variety of terrain.

jalen Bazille of the Black Foxes bikepacking in Colorado

Eric Arce photo

Looking ahead to the rest of this year and 2023, do you have any upcoming trips or goals?

The rest of this year will be pretty exciting due to another international trip. The Black Foxes are meeting in Spain in October, and afterward I'll be hosting a number of bikepacking fundamentals trips in Colorado. The winters I typically dread due to the shorter days, but I'm looking forward to an intensive training season. For 2023, I will set up the calendar year for my first full year of bikepacking guiding. I plan to do a number of ultra bikepacking races, such as the Tour Divide or Arizona Trail Race, but haven't locked any in yet. My primary goals are to successfully make ends meet with Trvl Wide next year and to remain healthy and strong for next year's races.  
 
To learn more about Jalen and the Black Foxes, click here. You can also follow his adventures on Instagram.