An Epic Behind the Scenes Look at the Making of Impossible Route Season 2, Episode 1: Far West Texas – Alex Roszko

A year ago, I was sitting in a cubicle, drawing lines and shapes that would ultimately become bridges. A tedious job that encouraged daydreaming, so I spent a lot of my time distracting myself with podcasts, audiobooks and YouTube videos. I remember watching a series of videos called The Impossible Route and feeling like, “They’re out there living, I’m in here… not”. Now, don’t get me wrong, working a desk job in an industry that betters society can be incredibly rewarding, but I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t living the life that was right for me, which in my mind was filled with cycling, adventure, and photography.

Fast forward a year and some change, and I find myself on a three-hour Zoom call with Jeremiah Bishop discussing routes and logistics for Season 2, Episode 1 of The Impossible Route. The journey of how I got here can be saved for another time, but here I was, on the cusp of living. This is The Impossible Route from my perspective.

I had a few roles for this episode in the Big Bend area of West Texas. First and foremost, photographer. I have been a photographer for almost ten years but solely in a part-time capacity, mostly weekends shooting engagements, graduations, and weddings. After getting laid off in March 2021 from the civil engineering firm, I jumped head-first into full-time photography in the cycling industry, an industry I’ve been a part of as an avid cyclist for many years. Outside of capturing images, I also played a production role for this episode. Quite familiar with the Big Bend area, I worked closely with Jeremiah on building the route (more on that later) and finding passable routes for the vehicles. I also sourced an e-bike, filmed and rode 50mi on said e-bike, helped with a couple sponsorship negotiations, and countless other minuscule tasks (toot-toot, that’s my horn).

March 9th, 2022 – the day had come. I hopped in a truck with Travis Longfellow (Logistics Manager), Grant Rogers (Sprinter Van Driver) and Preston Glace (On-the-Ground Social Media Guru) and teared out of Austin headed west towards Marfa, Texas.

After a month or two of careful planning, I wasn’t sure what to expect when everything and everyone finally came together. Would I be able to compellingly capture the adventure? What would day one be like? How would we all get along during three days of very little sleep? What have I forgotten to bring or plan for? And my biggest question: was the route rideable?

Some of my questions were quickly answered when my peaceful planning was met with utter chaos as the crew coalesced in a dingy motel straight out of No Country for Old Men. An explosion of bike parts, camera gear, chargers and junk food tumbled into our rooms; shrapnel that would ultimately be the pieces of our movie. It was 5pm, a mere 12 hours before wheels-down and we had bikes to build, cameras to set up, interviews to conduct, dinner to eat, and sleep to get. I couldn’t believe how much we had to do and how little time we had to do it. I could tell this wasn’t their first rodeo, and they seemed comparatively relaxed, yet busy. Tyler had a brand-new Canyon Grizzl still in the box, but some items weren’t sponsor correct, so we cannibalized his road bike for parts to build it properly. The buzz was electric. Everyone was whirring around, piling on new tasks on the way to completing another. Time was closing in and there were talks of delaying the ride, but a looming cold front made an extra day unrealistic. The straw that nearly broke the camel’s back was a freehub body incompatibility with Tyler’s Grizzl. It looked terminal, but ingenuity prevailed, and we made it to bed by the wee morning hours.

The Impossible Route, Day One

My morning started a few hours later at 4:30am. The temperature was a stark 19 degrees. At one point Tyler popped his head out of the motel, felt the cold air hit his face, and noped his ass right back inside. Driving down to Presidio, where the ride started, the vibes were high. We were all excited but still tired. Jeremiah needed some fresh cold air to keep his eyes open (and perhaps to wash away the nerves of what he was about to embark on).

Once we got to the start location, the western entrance of Big Bend Ranch State Park, it was all smiles and good energy. Tyler was hammin’ it up for all the cameras while Jeremiah was going over a mental checklist and trying to get his Garmin Outreach to connect. After Tyler finished ejecting some nerves into a plastic bag, the boys rode off into the sunrise.

At that exact point my shared excitement transitioned into an overwhelming sense of responsibility and determination. I was there to do a job, to catalogue their ride, to help bring value to their ridiculous journey. I decided to surpass any expectations put upon me, including my own.

We followed Tyler and Jeremiah for a bit, onto their first gravel section, stopped with them on their inevitable saddle height adjustments (brand new bike, remember?). The sunrise imagery was glorious and hard to leave, but hunger swept over the crew. We’re all human – we have to eat, and we also make mistakes. One hour into our 35 hour journey, we decided to leave the riders and turn around to go get breakfast back in town. Mistake.

Breakfast was delicious, we felt alive again, so the chase was on to go find the boys. While we were enjoying our burritos, the boys were absolutely hauling. This was fast gravel and we had almost two hours of ground to catch up. We expected them to maintain an overall average speed of 12mph, but they were sitting at 18mph on these roads. We were way behind. We chased for an hour on gravel roads until we finally heard them on the radio as we crested a massive, gnarly hill. We called for the van to stay at the top, taking the truck down and meeting the boys at the first section of singletrack. This is where I was to hop on the e-bike and follow along for the next 50mi through the Solitario. I had the bike and helmet, but my shoes were in the van, on top of the gnarly hill. “The van has to come down, you have Alex’s shoes”, Travis called over the radio. Our second mistake, which I’ll revisit later.

While I was getting ready to roll out, Tyler and Jeremiah rode off so our videographer, Ben Kraushaar, could get some sweet drone shots of them entering the remote singletrack section (one of the opening scenes in the film). I left a few minutes after them, following their tracks up a wash into desolation. At one point I lost their tracks and got pretty freaked out. I knew the cars were already on their way out and I couldn’t find the boys. I had lost the trail. Do I turn around and try to catch the cars and say “fuck it” to riding, or do I keep riding and hopefully find Tyler and Jeremiah? I was in the wash yelling, “HEY!!!… YOOOO!!!…” but no answer. I was spooked, lost in no-man’s land between two parties both getting further away in opposite directions. I remember sitting there thinking of the headline, “’E-biker Dies of Exposure and Dehydration in Big Bend Ranch State Park…’ what an embarrassing way to go, dying on an e-bike.”

My Wahoo wasn’t helping since it was such a small area and singletrack is often misplaced on mapping programs. I knew the singletrack split north from the wash, so I backtracked slowly to find the trail and I saw a narrow opening between two mesquites. Let’s try this trail. As I climbed out of the wash, I started recognizing their IRC tire treads. I had a lot of ground to make up, but at least I’d found their tracks!

Maybe 15 minutes had passed when I finally found them at the top of the climb. Jeremiah said, “There you are, we’ve been waiting! You should put that thing on full power… You’re a lot slower than us on that thing!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I managed to get lost within 500m and I was worried about dying a mere 10 minutes ago. “Sure thing, JB!”.

The next 20 miles were sublime, nice gravel roads and amazing singletrack in some of the most rugged and remote areas in Texas. At one point we had a long, fast descent into a valley, Tyler was up the trail and I was on Jeremiah’s wheel. Since he’s Jeremiah Bishop and I’m nobody, he dropped my ass on the descent. I found myself alone, trying to look at both the trail and the scenery. Camera strapped on my back, GoPro in my pocket, full squish E-bike under my feet, I began to laugh. “THIS IS MY JOB!!!”, I whispered loudly to myself, not wanting to pollute any video recordings Tyler or Jeremiah may be making up the trail. Eventually, when I felt far enough away, I allowed myself one deep and full-bodied, “WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!!!”.

I spent the next hour leapfrogging them to get approach photos, follow shots, scenic shots, and more. They’d hand me their GoPros to film, and I had an Insta360 on a telescoping stick that I had a lot of fun with (you can spot it jut into frame when JB’s arm gets hooked by the bush). For a while there, I was manning all three – camera, GoPro and Insta360. Interchanging them constantly. Until we began entering the south side of the Solitario.

The Solitario is the eroded remnants of a laccolith, or a pocket of magma trapped beneath earth’s strata. Spanning 52 sq mi, it’s located in the eastern part of Big Bend Ranch State Park, which is also its most remote portion. It’s easily identifiable from satellite imagery, where a nearly perfect circle formed by circular peaks can be seen, all surrounding a prominent spire which is the ancient magma chamber. It’s called El Solitario (Spanish for “The Lonely Man”) because, as legends states, if you enter alone, you may not come back. Aptly named, as I had that exact worry a few hours ago in that exact wash.

Anyway, as we get close to the southern boundary of the Solitario, we get lost. I mean, we’re on the marked trail, our Wahoos say we’re exactly on course, but we are very. much. lost. Remember that part about how I helped with the route? Well, I’m unfamiliar with this portion, it’s a marked trail on RWGPS and from the satellite imagery it looks great. It was not. We begin to hike-a-bike. Less hiking, and more bushwhacking and stumbling through angry bushes with teeth and claws, clambering up rocky drainage ditches. It was like a scene out of Labyrinth where they venture just off the established path and then they’re lost forever. We were being eaten by the Solitario. Chewed up and spit out. Our legs were looked like a cat’s scratching post, they were cut and stuck by all the cacti. The boys were cussing, talking angrily into their GoPros, kicking rocks and bushes. I felt partially responsible for their frustrations, yet I was still selfishly having fun.

They were 70 miles into a 350 mile journey and we were averaging 3mph. They were very behind schedule and very annoyed, understandably. At one point out of frustration, Tyler tried to leave Jeremiah and I behind but couldn’t physically move fast enough to do so. Jeremiah got a sidewall slash and he was hemorrhaging Orange Seal. (Luckily Orange Seal and a plug put Jeremiah back in business). All the while, we’re getting satellite texts saying, “Van flatted”, followed by a few hours later, “Truck flatted”. Things were falling apart left and right. No one was saying it, but we were in a dangerous situation. If something went wrong, we’d have to be helicoptered out of here, if we could even call one. We were all running out of water and Tyler had been out of food for a while now. Things were scary, but we just kept moving forward over these mountain ridges. Eventually we crested a ridge where we saw a promising gravel road off on the horizon. It gave us hope, so we cracked on.

It took us three hours to go four miles. So much hike-a-bike, my carbon-soled cycling shoes had cracked and splintered. This path we were on must’ve been a horse trail from the turn of the century. There is absolutely no way a car could’ve gotten through these conditions. We slowly reeled in that road we spotted on the horizon, as the trail transitioned into a rideable gravel road. Boy, 10mph never felt so good.

We were all smiles, a cool 15 miles to Terlingua, riding through the sunset into night. One small problem though, we were all out of water. After contemplating whether we should stop to ask some ramshackle bungalows for water, we opted to ask a passing vehicle if we saw one. Lo and behold, we saw exactly one vehicle, which we waved down and heckled for water. He was an incredibly nice man, and fellow cyclist, who filled our cups both literally and figuratively. It was on. We were on. Terlingua, here we come! That ride into the night on those quiet, crisp dirt roads, surfing their wheels as my e-bike died. Spectacular.

The hardest and “worst” part of the trip in the Solitario turned out to be one of the most valuable for both Tyler and Jeremiah. If they had difficulty during the rest of the route, they’d justify it by telling themselves, “well it’s not as bad as the Solitario”. Riding through the night on River Road? “Not as bad as Solitario”. Relentless freezing headwind on zero hours of sleep? “Not as bad as Solitario”. Exhausted, hungry, tired? You get it.

We met the rest of the crew in Terlingua at High Sierra Bar & Grill around 9pm. Remember the second mistake with the gnarly hill? I’ll explain… Since I left my cycling gear in the van, it had to come down the very steep and technical hill. After dropping off my gear, they went back up… well, halfway up because they flatted. They had a three hour saga of fixing a flat in the middle of nowhere with issue after issue. If it wasn’t for a generous passerby (the only one they saw), they’d still be out there. Mr. Helper also owned a bourbon company. Not only was he generous with his time, but he filled their cups with tasty golden spirits.

At High Sierra Bar & Grill, they all shared stories while I buried myself in tacos. I felt like we had dodged some major bullets and I was mostly happy to just be “done” with that adventure. I wasn’t done though. I ate nine tacos, stripped out of my cycling bibs and hopped right back into the photographer role.

We all rolled out into the night. This portion of the trip was critical to get the night imagery. We hung with them for about 20mi, from Terlingua to the turn down Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr. which takes them to River Road. Ben and I hopped in the back of the truck and shot for most of the way, stars dangling above while the red lights from the truck’s taillights washed over their faces. It was nice and relaxing back there, all four of us just hanging and chatting. Eventually Tyler and Jeremiah split down Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr. We chose not to follow them down River Road through the night because it’s notoriously rowdy, especially to take a 2WD truck and sprinter van with zero spare tires between them.

The rest of us pushed towards the hot springs, desperate for some relaxation. We arrived around 1am, soaking in one of my favorite spots in Texas. Complete darkness, no moon, just stars and the Rio Grande roaring beside us. The heat and white noise was putting us to sleep so we made the walk back to the cars to get some shut-eye. I had the truck’s backseat, made slightly better by Jeremiah’s puffy jacket. I slept HARD for three hours.

I woke up to a series of loud clunks and engine noises. A truck was coming, and fast. I jumped out of “bed” and banged on the van, “CAR INCOMING!!”. The speeding maniac basically drifted into the spot next to us, hitting the tree with his bumper. He jumped out the car, smiled, waved good morning, and disappeared into the night towards the hot springs. We thought he was a Park Ranger and we would’ve definitely gotten a slap on the wrist for napping in the parking lot. It was almost 5am at this point so we checked the Garmin InReach to see where the boys were. The dot was in the middle of River Road and hadn’t moved for three hours… We all fell into a slight panic. No one had service, they’re not moving, and no way to know if they’re okay. We knew nothing.

We left the hot springs as quickly as the Midnight Maniac arrived and made our way to the rendezvous point at the east side of River Road. The 15-minute drive was full of speculation and emergency planning, “First let’s look for tire tracks leaving the area. If we see them, they’re up the road and safe… if we don’t see anything, we’re taking the truck down as far as we can safely go then hopping on the e-bike!” As we approached River Road we saw two tiny lights flickering through the brush. No way… we squinted and sped up… noooo wayyyy… we looked at each other and began to chortle… NO WAYYYY! Tyler and Jeremiah exited River Road as we rolled up. They were an hour ahead of schedule, and better yet, NOT DEAD!

If we wouldn’t have been woken up by Midnight Maniac and checked the InReach, we would’ve been up shit’s creek. They would’ve ridden on without us knowing, but we would’ve believed their InReach that they were stuck, stranded, sleeping, dying or dead in the middle of River Road. This wasn’t lost on us, and we were so incredibly relieved.

Jeremiah had dropped his Garmin InReach at some point on River Road and once he realized it, it was too late so they just kept on truckin. The boys were visibly tired but still in good spirits. They needed the sun to come up. Only two more hours. We drove alongside them to Old Ore Rd, said goodbye again, and blazed out towards Panther Junction. Remember, no spare tires meant no more gravel roads for us, within reason.

We watched the sun rise while refueling at Panther Junction, a much-needed peaceful moment after the early morning’s panic.

The Impossible Route, Day Two

Day two had officially began. It was noticeably colder and windier. Counterintuitively, it got colder as the sun came up. The cold front was blowing in and the promise of a frigid night with it. The boys had to finish today.

Preston made the boys some PBJs, threw them in their supply chest, dropped it on the northside of Old Ore Rd and waited. And waited. Old Ore is a gnarly road and they were riding into a brutal and cold headwind. Oh, and they were on hour 25. It made sense.

As Preston and Grant went on a morning jog, Travis, Ben and I drove down the gravel road (carefully) to intercept the boys on their way to the supply chest drop. Ben and I sat on the ground next to the truck, in the sun but out of the wind. We chatted about everything and nothing. The need for coffee was mentioned more than once. I watched his eyes look around the landscape as we were talking, I could tell he was framing different shots in his mind. Eventually, he got up and walked around the Sotols getting some b-roll. A man of his craft.

Two dots appeared in the distance, backlit by the sun and wiggling in the heat distortion. After we got that longshot, they passed us and continued on. We hopped in the truck to follow, handing them mics out the truck so they’d be mic’d up when they arrive to the chest. Somehow mustering the energy, they sprinted to the supply chest. They must’ve smelled the PBJs. The supply chest moments were some of my favorites throughout the trip. Seeing their excitement of food and the relief of getting to rest for a second. It was Christmas for the boys and we were Santa. This was also the only time they weren’t riding so we got to hangout, chat, and listen to their journey they’ve had between our last sightings.

They loved the PBJs. Immediately ripping the foil open and cramming them down. At some point during their breakfast, they laid down. PBJs in hand, they both took a micro nap right there in the cold. It only lasted a minute or two, but I don’t know how they got back up to ride.

Once they got back up though, they were immediately energetic and joking. Probably delirious. Tyler grabbed a rock and busted open a coconut, and with the same technique, opened a Topo Chico, shattering the neck of the bottle. He poured both liquids into his mouth, only half making inside due to the high winds. He probably got a few glass shards in there as well. What was initially a joke turned into a real hit, as Tyler was beyond stoked on the frozen tater tots we put in the chest. He filled his framebag with them and snacked for the next five hours.

We were now at the eastern terminus of the route, about to turn west for the first time in 28 hours. After we cleaned up the mess they made, we rolled out.

An unexpected gate to a private airport a few miles down the gravel road prohibited us to continue on as we had planned on. Another routing mistake I may have contributed to. The maps showed it all passable and I could’ve sworn I had gone this way before but, alas. There was an option to take a 20mi detour to maybe circle around but with the incoming weather and uncertainty of it all, we decided to head back to Presidio by road. An 80mi “shortcut”. We were conflicted about changing the route, trading 100mi of gravel for 80mi of road. Once the boys realized they had a ticket home with a non-stop 30mph tailwind the entire time, their moods changed. Have you ever gotten to ride 80mi with an insane tailwind the entire time? Me either.

We traveled back through Terlingua to refuel, call home, and grab some more of the sweet, sweet chips and guac. Life-giving food we had looked forward to from the night before. We had to stop every few hours to either pump up the truck’s tire with the bike pump, or source air pumps at the various tiny towns. One more inconvenience we had to navigate while trying to follow and film with a crew and fast-moving subjects.

Once we left Terlingua, we hopped on FM 170, one of the most beautiful roads in Texas, if not THE most beautiful road in Texas. This road was incredible, and it wasn’t lost on Tyler and Jeremiah. Spirits were high, goofing-off was rampant, legs were good! How Jeremiah did a one-handed wheelie up a gnarly climb with over 30 hours of saddle time is beyond me. It was still five hours home, which puts us back at sunset.

Once again, Ben and I hopped in the back of the truck to snag all the riding shots, an uncomfortable but familiar place. Cold, legs cramping, wind howling, yet another one of my favorite moments of the trip was sitting in the back of the truck with Ben. So much white noise it was almost silent.

I can’t imagine why, but Tyler must’ve gotten tired of riding his bike, so he hopped off the bike into a basketball court to shoot a few hoops with some locals. The first few shots were total air balls (sorry Tyler), but he found his rhythm and drained a few for the crowd. Jeremiah was over it, so we left the court even more convinced cycling was our sport.

We rode into one of the longest golden hours I can remember, seemingly going on forever. Ben deployed the drone to get some shots while we were on the move. As I sat on the window of the truck shooting up the road, I see the drone flying at eye level 40ft directly in front of me, traveling at the same speed as our truck. I decide to keep an eye on it before shooting again, “that thing could hit…”, before I finished the thought, the drone lurched back, stopping in its tracks. Four whirring blades now directly in my face’s line of travel. I didn’t have time to duck into the truck so all I could do was punch the drone with my camera, which sent the drone crashing to the ground, almost being run over by the van behind us. The drone was relatively unscathed, but that would end up being the last mishap of the trip, as we rolled into our finish a short while later.

The vehicles blasted ahead, we arrived at Fort Leaton during sunset, where we had started 36 hours before during sunrise. “Pretty poetic”, we thought. In the final light of the day, Tyler and Jeremiah crested the same hill they departed on. Rolling into Fort Leaton much older than time suggested.

Mission successful. I felt I had done a good job. I was confident Tyler and Jeremiah were going to lose their shit over these photos. I felt that I had captured the journey, the struggles, the hardships. I felt valuable and part of a team. I felt tired. We all felt tired. The work wasn’t done.

After finishing the route and as the coldfront was rudely blasting in, we had to do exit interviews and stills of their post-ride condition. It was very windy and truly cold. These guys had just burned off any fat they may have had on them, still damp from two days of sweat, low on energy and wrecked on hydration. So they stood in the cold, in their kits, for 5 minutes of B-roll and photos. You’ll see these moments in the opening scenes of the film. Each of them shivering so hard I had to bump up the shutterspeed. These small moments of dedication are so impressive and something you can only feel once you’ve traveled along on such a feat. The exhaustion is tangible and absolute.

Let’s talk about that tired feeling real quick. What Tyler and Jeremiah did was pretty incredible to see. I think anyone who was along for this ride would have been amazed at the determination and abilities of these two. I like data, I think it adds to the story, so I’d like to share some data from Tyler’s Whoop to put this all into perspective.

For context, Whoop is a body analytics device that measures strain, sleep, effort, calorie burn, heartrate, etc. I’ll quickly go over some key metrics. Tyler burned 10,768 calories on day one, and over 7,584 on day two. That’s 18,352 calories in two days, or the average amount of calories Tyler burns in one week His strain was 20.7 on day one, and 20.5 for day two (Whoop’s max strain is 21). Tyler’s resting heartrate is typically around 50bpm. It rose to 64bpm a day after The Impossible Route. His Whoop didn’t record a “resting heartrate” for March 11th because Tyler was never at rest.

One last bit of awesome for you. Once Tyler and Jeremiah finished this epic ride, we all drove an hour back to our hotel to shower and change clothes. Instead of telling all of us to shut up and go away so they could sleep, they insisted on taking us out to dinner for closing ceremonies. Everyone in the crew had their own adventure yet all the light is shined on Tyler and Jeremiah. The post-ride dinners are extremely important so everyone can share their experiences, successes, and hardships.

Tyler posed a series of questions for everyone to answer, such as, “What was your favorite moment? What was your least favorite part? What were you proud of? What will you remember most? What did you learn?”.

Grant (left). I learned that Grant is never not happy or smiling. He’s also very cool under pressure and is your guy to drive any vehicle over any terrain for 36 hours straight. He didn’t know that was his job until the day before. Not many people would’ve handled and delivered those kinds of results as well as he did, all with a smile on their face.

Preston (middle). I learned that Preston is very good at making PBJs. He’s also great at capturing a personal and relatable moments in his social media posts. Despite a broken collarbone, he was so helpful in allowing others follow our journey over the internets.

Tyler (right). I learned that Tyler is a world-class storyteller. The man is always thinking of the story. Yes, he’s a great cyclist, but I was so impressed by his dedication to storytelling in the pit of despair, in the dark of the night, in the midst of hunger. The story doesn’t tell itself and Tyler is constantly pulling it out of the air. Really impressive to watch.

Travis (left). I learned that Travis punches above his age and gets shit done. He was the man on the ground, always working towards something and solving a problem. I spent the entire drive next to this guy and we never lacked things to talk about. A+ road dog with a mind for success.

Ben (middle). I learned that Ben stays cool as hell while working extremely hard. He’s also patient and gracious, as I’d find myself giving him advice on a shot I thought was cool, only for him to thank me for my input and find something better. No one I’d rather spend hours on hours in the back of a truck with, crackin’ beers and jokes the whole time.

Jeremiah (right). I learned that Jeremiah is an eternal optimist and a man with a burning passion for cycling. The feverish love and knowledge he has for the bike and personalities of the sport is palpable. I’m all-in for a Jeremiah Bishop Podcast, blending history, sport, personalities, and storytelling. Oh, and he rides a gravel bike as if it’s a full-squish.

Alex (me). I learned that I’m successful beyond what a photo, award, or bank account says. My success was knowing that the people I value also value me. In the end, I was successful in surpassing my own expectations.

This route ended up being impossible, at least for us on the day. But damn, it was a huge success. Next up: France!

 

 

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