Not long before I began officially working at Orucase, I product tested a prototype Top Tube Bag with the magnetic zipper. Being a transradial amputee, my feedback was most relevant because I do everything with one hand: gear shifter with my thumb, front brake with my pointer finger, rear brake with my middle finger, and death gripping down hills following the other Orucase employees / (ex-)pro cyclists with the two remaining fingers. Using the grip-shift-actuated dropper post, feeding and hydration requires my full hand’s attention, leaving me no choice but to hold the wheels straight with no hand. As you can imagine, regular zippers hinder me and could be arguably a safety hazard for a paracyclist like me. Luckily for everyone else, especially those with two hands, we perfected the most accessible accessory by first prioritizing those with the greatest needs first. After officially becoming an employee, we continue to create accessible products like the popular Design Lab Framebags.
With a similar mindset, I am an adept advocate for accessibility in the outdoors at the highest level (im)possible: bikepacking.
In early March of this year, I was accepted into one of the cycling industry’s most prestigious bikepacking event, the #RaphaYompRally. What was first advertised as a 375-mile 5-day bikepacking event with 42k feet of elevation, quickly spiraled into an adventure much bigger. To prepare for the biggest event of my lifetime, I packed my ATB bike, rallied one friend I liked so much we could share a tent, and we headed out to Borrego Springs for a 2-nighter test ride. The first day went from the beaches in San Diego up and over the Cleveland National Forest and down into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, 86 miles and 9800 feet of elevation. The second day we dropped the bags, met other friends who drove out to camp with us, and we chased the super bloom after a winter of 10” of rain. The third day was
All downhill… except for the parts that weren’t.
The whole weekend – 232 miles + 19,700 feet – was the last trip with my old, outdated prosthetic interface. Specifically, the part that touches my residual limb was designed with 3 layers of unbreathable material which makes sweating an added challenge which I solved with frequent stops (every 20 - 60 minutes) to dump out the liter of sweat that pooled up inside. On top of this challenge, as a congenital amputee, my surface area-to-volume ratio is stumped and therefore, I naturally overheat. So the addition of these unbreathable layers that covered 90% of my left arm (from the deltoid to the very end) made me feel like I was the problem. Further, in a standard medical office, a non-amputee medical professional would suggest getting botox to clog up my sweat pores to put a band aid over the problem.
My problem with the prosthetic pathway is that it is designed by non-prosthetic users... That's like cycling gear that is designed by non-cyclists. Sometimes you can’t fully understand a problem until you are experiencing it first hand. This flawed system then makes it difficult for those who do use the devices to provide constructive feedback to make a better product so the technology evolves at a slower pace than the rest of the world.
That’s why I took matters into my own hand.
I first found an orthotic company, Click Medical, that manufactures a QuickFit strap featuring a BOA dial to be used in prosthetics for adjustability because standard prosthetics are a static mold of your residual limb during rest. As a piece of my body, my residual limb, or stub, is quite dynamic with full control of my muscles and so the volume changes with temperature, physical demands and strength conditioning. Thus, having adjustability is vital to longevity on the bike. Then, together, we found BioDesigns, a clinic that utilizes tensegrity to attach prosthetics to their user, eliminating the need for the largest unbreathable material. If my arm is a bike wheel, the HiFi Technology adds strength in the metaphorical spokes. Additionally, the design creates windows in the other layers of material which double as air holes and provide me with feedback from the environment.
Once I obtained this collaborative prosthetic interface with adjustability and breathability, I received simple instructions,
“Don’t over do it.” So do or don’t do the bikepacking event I was already training for? This is a common conundrum in my life: I’ve been given a set of instructions by someone with a limited mindset of what amputees are capable of. Yet, my life experience as an actual amputee from birth continuously proves to me that I am more capable than everyone thinks, including myself.
To comply or no comply, that is the real question.
A week before the grand departure, an email with a reroute was sent to circumnavigate a road washout, adding 10 more miles and 2k more vertical feet. But I couldn’t focus on this change out of my control because I was still testing the limits of the new prosthetic interface, performing last minute maintenance to my bike and repacking my gear until the last second… literally, I re-repacked and shed over 2 pounds the night before with the encouragement of my friends. Even with the last second weight shed, my steel bike was heavier than most peoples’ weighing in at 69 pounds with 3 liters of water and too much food. Interestingly, I didn’t have a stove or tent as we decided to share.
The first day went according to plan, 74 miles + 11K feet. It was magical as everyone – from bikepacking racers to novices on their first (mis)adventure – started together. Our friend group split up into two pairs of two, Karlene and I keeping pace while Stefan and Josh jumped ahead and waited for us at the refuel spot.
When we were reunited, I noticed I dropped one of my rear rack bags during the hike a bike and it had all my warm clothes in it for the 37 degree nights at elevation. Luckily, a fellow rider found it and stashed it at a gas station half a mile from our regroup/refuel stop.
The second day was Stefan's 30th birthday and the birthday gods gifted him with exceptional climbing legs up the biggest dirt climb – 23 miles + 4200’. However he advanced too far ahead and we spent the second night separated with Stefan; he was adopted by other fellow Yompers.
Photo by Stefan.
The third day started off with a great plan: regroup with Stefan at the first water refill spot. However, the exact location was a mile or so off the main route and Karlene missed the turn.
As an expert adapter, I quickly made a Plan B but we had difficulties communicating with Karlene as we were in the middle of a 140-mile stretch of pure outdoors: no cell service, no food refuel spots, filtering opaque water, mountain lion sightings, snow crossings, and seemingly endless washouts you had to hike a bike around or over.
The temperature reached over 80 degrees and even with my new prosthetic interface and its windows, my truncated sweating abilities pushed me over my core body balance point and I started to slow down. With Stefan and Josh adhering to Plan B and chasing Karlene ahead, I crawled across the wash outs with no one helping me through the hike a bike sections. By the end of the day, I was traveling at 2-3 mph and by sunset, only traveled 40 miles and was still alone with no shelter or stove. Yet somehow I needed to find warmth and cook food. It was time to truly test my adaptability skills and learn how to
live from hand to mouth.
Plan C involved finding a hidden Guard Station with a locked cabin, fire pit, barbeque grill, a flag pole, running water and firewood... but the logs were wet since it rained on day one. With only a lighter and empty box of mac and cheese, I pushed aside all my doubts without hesitation and meticulously gathered a pile of kindling. My mind remain focused even with diminishing sugar stores, less oxygen at 4900' and using every breath to stoke the fire. It probably took quadruple the time it normally takes me to build a fire but these were not normal circumstances and luckily,
I thrive in paranormal!
I immediately cooked myself food and generated a Plan D: don't get left behind. I waited 6 hours for the fire to die, waning moon to rise and decided if I wasn't traveling fast, I'd travel long and began walking into the Scorpio moon lit night, hike a biking blindly over boulders next to a sheer cliff face. Around 3 AM, my rest stops became too frequent to warrant continuing and I generated a Plan E: take a dirt power nap and continue at sunrise. At 8 AM on Day 4, I thought I was hallucinating when I finally found my friends. We shook off the miscommunication, hugged, promised to never separate again, and continued to be behind schedule... together.
By the time we reached civilization and refueled, we had 150 miles and 27 hours until the cut off. I already had Plan F in mind when we started moving again but waited until the mile 269 to gauge the rest of the group about pulling an all nighter (the second in a row for me): we were already through the roughest terrain, we already summited the highest elevation, and we had all the refuel stops we could ask for. All we needed to do was keep each other awake and keep pedaling.
Unanimously, hands-down, we were all in.
If any one was Yomping solo, I imagine that the 5th and final day was the mentally hardest to overcome being so close to the end, being so close to getting side swiped on Balcom Canyon Road, and being so close to empty in the energy reserves. Even I started to fall asleep at the wheel around 4 AM. Thankfully, our group dynamic only oozed support for each other and we started recognizing each others' strengths, fueling time windows and paceline position preferences. Knowing we had each others' backs and as long as we stuck together, we knew
We were all in safe hands.
But that didn't mean it was smooth sailing into the finish line. Before the final dirt climb past the final refuel stop, Karlene took a wrong turn and got a mechanical. Not knowing what was happening while this info was being relayed to Josh, I got left at the refuel stop thinking everyone was ahead on course. Once I gathered my snacks, I sprinted off to make sure I didn't get left behind... again. In my hyperfocused mindset, I didn't notice the group 100 meters off the main route and I flew by thinking I was chasing them up the climb when in reality, I was leaving them behind.
I finally realized the reality of my situation half way up the climb when Stefan called me wondering if I still had a spare chain. Yes I did and I immediately turned around, passing the confused faces of my fellow Yompers as I backtracked until I was united my friends again: Karlene was climbing steadily on course slightly ahead of Stefan and Josh who were trailing behind after fixing a broken chain with a few quick links. I turned around once again, hyped the crew on the final descent into Santa Monica, and we rolled into the finishers' after party fashionably late.
In total, I ended up riding 69 hours of moving time, 411 miles, 47,650' of elevation with my cup overflowing, high spirits, zero blisters or saddle sores, and a new hunger for bigger adventures ahead that push the limits of accessibility in the outdoors.
About The Author
Josie Fouts, a former mad scientist, began working for Orucase in 2021. She has multiple Paracycling National Championships, is the current Women's Record Holder at the San Diego Velodrome, and currently is a fulltime advocate for Moutain Biking to be a Paralympic sport!