As usual, the goal was to complete a point-to-point expedition by mountain bike, carrying everything they’d need to survive the journey on their backs. Their route would cross a string of isolated volcanoes, following a loose network of human and animal paths. Still, the need to traverse towering ridgelines would inevitably mean they’d spend much of their time scrambling up drainages and boulder fields without any semblance of a trail. Shouldering their bikes up steep terrain and hopefully riding scree chutes down the other side would be, as always, the name of the game.
These demanding hike-a-bikes have been dubbed “hogs” by this group, which describes the hybrid of bikepacking andbackcountry freeriding as “hogging.”As such, their yearly reunion in the mountains –which typically takes place in August –has come to be known as “Hoggust.”
Any big bikepacking mission, whether it’s by yourself or with others, is a ‘hog.’ But the year’s main event with the whole crew is named by the month. If it happens in August, it’s ‘Hoggust,’ but it could easily be ‘Hogtember,’ ‘Hogtober’ or ‘Hogvember.’
"That’s just what it is,” says professional freerider Kenny Smith, one of the posse’s ringleaders and the man who coined the term “hog.” “Any big bikepacking mission, whether it’s by yourself or with others, is a ‘hog.’ But the year’s main event with the whole crew is named by the month. If it happens in August, it’s ‘Hoggust,’ but it could easily be ‘Hogtember,’ ‘Hogtober’ or ‘Hogvember.’ It could even be ‘Hoguary’ if we wanted to do it in the depths of winter and really test ourselves.”
When you’re high in the mountains, however, almost any month can feel like winter. And this year’s Hoggust was no exception. On the morning of their first full day, the party woke to a healthy dusting of snow along the elevation band they’d be following for the next week. It was immediately clear that this might be their most difficult endeavor to date.
This was the first trip where we had to deal with cold rain and snow for an entire expedition,” Smith says. “There was a real threat of hypothermia. We all had to learn really quick about the importance of wardrobe management and be smart about keeping our sleeping clothes dry.”
More than ever before, the teammates had to rely on each other for support and communal safety –a reality made easier by the fact that it was their largest-ever contingent, at seven riders. The usual suspects were there –photographer Margus Riga, Kevin Landry, Fraser Newton, Chester Bush, and Smith forming the core. This time, however, they were joined by two other longtime friends, Daniel Crowe-Hutchon and former pro freerider Alex Prochazka.
While a bigger crew generally increases the risk of things going awry, every rider was rock solid, and the team quickly realized that much of the adventure’s beauty was in sharing it with like-minded individuals –and seeing the strands of friendship strengthen to levels that can be elusive in everyday society.
After you survive a trip like this with someone, you’ll always know who to call if you ever need to bury a body.
Without question, the relationships and bonds built and strengthened on trips like these are unmatched by those built in the ‘real’ world,” Landry says. “After you survive a trip like this with someone, you’ll always know who to call if you ever need to bury a body.”
At the expedition’s most critical juncture, on day three, the team got caught in a whiteout while climbing up one of the steepest chutes any of them had ever encountered. With visibility limited to only a few feet, each member had to faithfully follow the person ahead, oblivious to what was above them. Riga and Prochazka were in front, using their bikes as anchors as they inched up the ever-steepening ravine. A steady rain was bringing a stream of water down the drainage, dislodging rocksand sending them hurtling down toward those below. Everyone was shouting out different line choices, and eventually they were forced to regroup.
We had to abide by avalanche-style risk mitigation until everyone was safely in place, then the call was made to traverse to another drainage,” Newton says. “From there, I never let the lads out of my sight. I just had to trust those in front of me, and I’ve thought about that learning point a lot.”
In addition to trust, one of the main prerequisites to a permanent position on the Hog Team is the ability to endure the hardships of these trips with composure and a smile. The three central characteristics are stubbornness, a sense of humor, and a better sense of humor,” Landry says. “If you can’t laugh about the situation that you’re in, or the route ahead, you’rebasically screwed. And Kenny’s always hada simple rule: ‘If you complain, you’re never invited again.’
To be sure, the whiteout was hardly the first time the core crew had faced such peril during bikepacking expeditions. In recent years, they’ve survived close scrapes in provincial ranges such as the Chilcotin and Purcells –and even high-altitude sorties in the Chilean Andes –and they admit that the risk factor to these trips is a huge part of their allure.
It’s that basic human instinct to survive in nature that is so satisfying and pure,” Riga says. “It’s in our genes. Humans are all still cavemen and cavewomen genetically, and adventures like this really kick in a part of me that doesn’t get achance to be used in a suburban environment.
If you complain, you're never invited again.
To Landry, such adventures are merely microcosms of humanity’s defining narrative. "Humanity has only one central story,” he says. “And that’s venturing from what is known into the unknown, surviving to return as a more fortified individual with a nugget of truth that increases what is known to humanity. These trips provide a very real way to act out this never-ending story.”
After eight exhausting days and eight freezing nights, the crew completed its planned route, in what some said was their toughest-ever mountain bike expedition. Despite the hardships, the journey was marked by laughter rather than tears, and the pulverized detritus of the volcanic slopes offered some of the most mind-bending descents of these riders’ lifetimes.
We were mentally prepared to walk the whole route, but every descent was rideable,” Smith says. “It couldn’thave been better. We wanted to prove that we can push mountain bikes further and deeper into the mountains than ever imagined. And we keep doing it.” For Smith, the team and the growing numbers of bike adventurers around the world, mountain biking has entered a golden age of exploring what's possible –one that is taking us higher into the mountains and farther away from roads, trails, and other signs of humanity.
Throughout humans’ time on this planet, there have been so many great adventurers,” Smith says. “Mountain bikes are better now than they’ve ever been, and we have ultralight gear and can use a GPS to navigate. It’s almost like we’re cheating.”
Words by Brice Minnigh & photos by Margus Riga