Hi, my name is Nate. I don't work at Surly and I don't live in Minnesota. I live downtown in Tucson, Arizona and work at a small bike shop called Ordinary Bike Shop. I'm probably like you. I spend a lot of my free time trying to get my friends to do dumb stuff on bicycles with me. The Sonoran Desert is a vast place with more routes and destinations for getting out on a bicycle than you can imagine so it's pretty conducive to that kind of recreation.
The party rolls out of Tucson
Last year I met a man named Ed Keeylocko out in his town Cowtown Keeylocko and was instantly enchanted by what he had created out there. He created his own town where Johnny Law's rules don't apply and you live by the code. We talked all night long in his dirt floor saloon exchanging perspectives by the gas lantern over some tequila. Ed Keeylocko has a unique way of looking into a person. The gaze he burns into you with his weathered green eyes will have you spilling your guts out to him in a matter of one or two rounds at his saloon. He carries a gentle demeanor and is always one to crack a joke. Ed Keeylocko is perhaps the most interesting person I have ever met in my life.
Usurping that one guy from the Dos Equis comercials as the most interesting: Ed Keeylocko
Photo credit: Internet
I suppose I should fill you in on Ed's back story. Ed came to Arizona by way of the east coast after the war in the early 70s. He'd traveled across the country to get deployed off of the west coast and Tucson was the only stop that would let him off the train without any grief over the fact that he was an African American. So after the war Ed bought some land out southwest of Tucson and raised some cattle. He brought them to auction confident and was shocked that nobody would buy his cattle because they were raised by a black man. They told Ed Keeylocko to go start his own cowtown and that sparked something in Ed. Piss and vinegar, he did just that. Ed built his own town out at the base of the Coyote Wilderness. He built a bar, a church, a jail, cattle pens, a rodeo ring, etc. His town was constructed by a man with a hammer and nails. It's picturesque in that when you see it you feel like you've seen it a million times in Olde Western films. His town isn't a tourist trap, it isn't some tacky gift shop selling "IT'S A DRY HEAT" stickers and cheap leather souvenirs, it's his home, it's real, it's got true grit and more of a backstory than I have space to even write here. I think you get the point. Ed Keeylocko and his town are the real-deal spirit of the west. I'm thankful I know him.
The Blue Bog Saloon and some super cute pigs
Photo credit: Internet
So anyway, like I was saying, I like to drag people out on bike rides to do weird shit. It made me sad that Ed's been out there doing such amazing things for 40 years and just off the highway none of my friends downtown had been out to meet him or hear his stories. I got to thinking one day that the route out to Ed's ranch from Tucson is pretty doable by almost anybody on almost anything. It's got a wide bike lane and dirt options. It's really a beautiful ride and the ancient road (now paved) it follows was first carved by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, but that's a whole other tangent. Anyway, we could do this. I wanted to drag as many people out there as I could so I tried making the event as accessible as possible. Any rider on any bike with any sleeping gear could do it. It would work.
Decked out or stripped down it don’t matter
Shiiiit, you could even "bikepack" with a Pacer!
With the kind folks at Surly's help, we were able to get 55 bicyclists to saddle up and ride out there to camp, party, and take in this rare nook of the world. I pitched it that you don't have to love 'Bikepacking' or 'whatever hot word there is this season'. It wasn't a test of endurance. It was just as doable by those of us that train with snacks and beers as those who do HRM training. Just get out on any bicycle and come fucking rage. It worked incredibly well. We had a truck drive out people's camping gear that weren't hip to the skip on carrying stuff. People showed up on mountain bikes, road bikes, decked out Surlys, brakeless track bikes, and our buddy Glyn rode a Mad Max style tricycle out there at 65 years old with his tiny dog. One fellow had this tubeless Long Haul Trucker with a deep-custom juggling pin front rack. It was an eclectic, fun, and non-pretentious group and the stoke was high. It was no tightly operating peloton by any means. We kept it safe, but we definitely took a bunch of two track b-lines and stopped to get our minds right plenty. Surly kept everyone together by offering up a Surly 1x1 frame to whoever won a Poker Run out there. The ride out was amazing. Everybody was in good spirits, people were playing music off their bikes and busting out roadside treats at the Poker stops. It was a total good-vibes party the whole way out. At one point Tyler Anderson from QBP, The Legendary Pistil Pete, and I were just smashing down this two-track together. Right in front of us the setting desert sun was exploding behind Kitt Peak; it’s light painted the desert around us rose and purple. I turned around to look at Pistil, he threw up a "hell yeah" fist, behind him the Tucson Mountains burned with alpenglow. Just when the sun finally quit we arrived at the comfort station for a much needed tall can and a tamale. Just one of those rare moments on the bike that reminds you why you still do this shit. Also, I have to mention that the kid selling $1 tamales was on point.
Grillin’ and Chillin’ post ride
A few more miles along a dirt road and the group pulled into Cowtown Keeylocko and linked up with another 100 people that had ridden motorcycles and driven out there. There was this calm before the storm where everyone was setting up their shelter and eating at the saloon. In the Blue Dog Saloon Ed Keeylocko was telling old rancher stories and singing old western songs. The stage was set, the magic was there, it was fucking on. That's when the proverbial thunder rolled in. The booze and beers were infinite, some rad bands were playing, and we lit a 20' tall fire as both a symbol of the evening and a celebration of the human spirit, it's orange glow illuminated an eerie hand built rodeo area filled with campers, bikes, and tents. I could see it on people's faces. This was an amazing moment. Every single one of us can do whatever the fuck we want to, it's important to embrace that every day and celebrate it from time to time. Eventually, the flames died down and the celebration had taken ahold of the group. Obviously we built a pallet fire and jumped bicycles over it. I could go on and on about how the night raged on, but what happens on nights like those has to stay in places like that sometimes. You should have been there; it was wild to say the least.
The sun sets and the Keelocko ranch braces for a wild night
Every participant of that event had their own unique experiences with it. Many of the riders were racers, commuters, and fixie kids or whatever and it was cool getting to share this kind of night with them. It was refreshing seeing people excited about the idea of something I seem to take for granted these days. Some things just don't last forever, and some moments are not repeatable. Ed Keeylocko is 85 now and he won't be with us forever, and spending the night out in Cowtown with everyone was just that kind of moment. It was the kind of little kickstart to make us all fall in love with bicycles all over again.
Hammocks awaiting their sleepy masters
I can't thank Surly Bikes, Ordinary Bike Shop, and all the riders for letting me get to share this kind of thing with people. And thank you for reading, you're all welcome in Tucson and Cowtown Keeylocko anytime and if I see you at the Blue Dog Saloon you've got a round on me. Ed sings this old western song a lot, some days when I'm plugging away at my job downtown it earworms me and I get this little belly feeling wondering what Keeylocko is doing out there off the grid. Allow me to leave it with you...
“Well he's tall in the saddle short on the cash
The last to quit the first to buy the beer
Well he's a knight in leather armor still livin' by the code
That's made him what he's been a hundred years
He's still out there ridin' fences
Still makes his livin' with his rope.
As long as there's a sunset he'll keep ridin' for the brand,
You just can't see him from the road.
Well he never learned to two step, hell he barely learned to walk
But he's worn a lot of leather off the tree.
He's had one or two good horses that he counts among his friends
He never drew a breath that wasn't free.”
Thanks for riding along,
~ Nate Woiwode
Photos by BEN ELIAS
Here is a longer version of Ed’s story we think you should watch: