Founded in 1955, the UK’s Rough-Stuff Fellowship developed a reputation for taking bicycles to places that, at the time, no one thought of taking their bicycles… We cycled out of Tuscon, Arizona, on a network of bike paths to explore its surrounding desert roads, as a Southern Western homage…
“On Whit Sunday 29th May 1955 about ‘Forty members who, in pursuit of their pastime, traverse the rougher and less beaten ways’ attended the inaugural meeting of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship held at the ‘Black Swan’, Leominster.”
Rough-stuff Fellowship members don’t get too hung up on their gear and what it ‘can’ or ‘can’t’ do. They just get on with it.
And so began the Rough-Stuff Fellowship, a day ride and multi-day bicycle touring club that lives on, even within the techno-centric landscape and specificity of cycling in the 21st century. RSF members are everyday riders whose two-wheeled, pragmatic intentions continue to resonate: head out of the front door (or hop on a train) and enjoy a think-out-of-the-box adventure on the bike you already own (in all likelyhood, the very same bike used to commute to work).
Follow a city bikepath. Shoulder your bike through a sandy wash. Ride some miles on a quiet paved road. Push your steed down a stairwell of desert slabs. Open-mindedness is the most valuable ingredient for a Rough-Stuff ride.
And so we did the same, cycling out via downtown Tucson’s enviable network of bikepaths, striking into the neighbouring, almost transcendental Saguaro National Park, then picking our way homewards on roughly cut trails.
We ended the day by visiting Transit Cycles, just off the bike path, and talking all things transportation and urban. Somewhat surprisingly for this wild little pocket of the States, Tucson is gaining quite the reputation for its impressive network of bike paths and people-friendly infrastructure, thanks in part to a city that’s listened to the needs of its cyclists (and why not? there’s enough room for everyone). The proof seems to be in the pudding: there are a whole lot more people to be seen on bicycles and I’ve found drivers noticeably more courteous than next-door New Mexico.
Hailing as I do from the UK, I doubt I’ll ever take the Desert South West for granted. Each trip I take into its vast and sky-filled domain, no matter how long or short, is startling in its own way. I’m reminded of my own sense of place; a mere human blip on our planet, just passing through. Sometimes I stop and look out (and pinch myself). Am I really here, riding my bike amongst these mighty, sentinel saguaros? Hold on… is this place even real?
Situated some fifty miles from Mexico, the Arizona-Sonora desert teems with plants of a prickly kind… saguaros, ocotillos, barrel cacti, and chollas amongst them. Indeed, these borderlands are an inhospitable land where, just a stone’s throw from wealth and abundance, many have perished in their plight to reach North America. Radio Lab has a particularly powerful trilogy of podcasts on this unforgiving area and the migrants who pit themselves against it.
If you want to learn about these borderlands for yourself, on two wheels, Sarah Swallow’s Sky Islands Odyssey is a wonderful multi-day campout, during which you’ll gain first-hand experience of this diverse region and its geopolitical complexities.