The Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County is a sprawling prairie on a valley floor, most famous for erupting into vibrant life when the spring brings in the superbloom. The whole valley becomes carpeted in yellow, flecked with purple. It is both ancient-feeling and awe-inspiring. A wild place, unknown; yet deceptively close to the city of Los Angeles.
This rarely-visited expanse of interlocking dirt roads and trails is Chris Burkard’s backyard. When he’s not adventuring around the world shooting stunning landscapes that articulate nature’s truth, he lives simply in Pismo Beach to the north of LA. He can ride out to Carrizo in an hour or two, and from there the freedom to mix and match a variety of gravel paths, makes the possibilities truly endless.
It’s the perfect place for Burkard to show a group of riders his own interpretation of the words ‘Alt_Road’.
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“We can talk till our noses bleed about the importance of sharing experiences and sharing places,” he says. “But until you actually do it, none of that means anything.”
Burkard is speaking at the end of the two-day Alt_Road expedition he curated, and completed in the company of Andric Booker, Gemma Bachman, Ryan Gossett and Jeff Johnson. None of the four had ever been to Carrizo before, despite living in Los Angeles just three hours away.
“To me that’s what Alt_Road means,” Burkard says. “To look at the world, to look at your bike, to look at the way you’re experiencing something – and to try in some way do it a little differently. To not get so stuck in our cycles, our patterns of how we do things. It means to revisit the simple reasons that we love riding bikes.”
Striking out eastward on day one from Arroyo Grande near Pismo Beach, into the hinterland away from the Pacific Ocean. Through the former frontier town of Pozo. Along the southern shores of the salt-water Soda Lake. The crew makes 18 river crossings on the first day, often wading through waist-high water. Progress is slow and they end up making camp in the dark with the temperature falling close to 0º celsius.
To Burkard, the joy of a ride like this is in the experience taken as a whole, rather than one defining highlight or lowlight.
“You’re looking for that cumulative experience, you know? The thing that slowly builds throughout the day, to where, only when you're sitting in your tent, or you're sitting with your friends having a beer, you're eating tacos or whatever, just talking shit around a fire. That’s where it all comes to fruition.”
That night, at an improvised camp spot about half a mile away from the main route. The stars and moon light up the sky. A thick blanket of galactic ecstasy.
Day two is more climbing, and off-road from the start. Only the final 30km are paved, and the unpaved ranges from peanut butter sludge to hero dirt.
With 60km remaining, the crew reach the summit of the Caliente Mountain Trail.
“The high of the whole two days was ripping down that descent,” Burkard recalls. “It was just so beautiful. And like, you could trust the road and you knew you could go fast. That was incredible. I was having so much fun. I was like, ‘I can just ride this all day long’.”
A kicker, then a slow shallow uphill grind to close out the day. Modelo beers and tacos in the parking lot of the Buckhorn motel in Cuyama. Burkard reflects on being the originator of the route, having led his newfound friends through two days of awesome endeavour.
“To see them all go through the highs, the lows, the ups, the downs, the moments of ‘What are we even doing here?’ To all of a sudden being like, ‘This is the best day of my life!’ That is what I live for.
“I think it's one of the most beautiful things that you could offer somebody else. It’s amazing. Those people are now friends for life, people I'll never forget.”
From all of us at MAAP, a huge thank you to Chris for taking us all on an incredible adventure through your giant backyard! And, the behind-the-scenes photography with a disposable camera… amazing memories!
Chris Burkard will be chasing alternate paths as an adventure rider on MAAP’s official team programme. Chris will be taking the Alt_Road range to new limits in wild spaces all around the world, helping to evolve and enhance the collection for a wider range of adventures on the bike. There will be many more trips coming very soon to MAAP Stories. Don’t miss a thing and subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop.