Early Partners in AdventureJody Furtney owns an impressive cycling resume and tells stories that spin with all the action, challenge and inspiration of a Jill Homer novel. Jody recalls what drew her to begin cycle touring and an early trip on the Transamerica Route. Really where I started with the biking, and it wasn’t with Seth, was in 1998, when I realized I was done with my job and I got on my bike and I had a ball. I rode my bike from Eugene OR to Steamboat Colorado. I had never done anything like it before and I was coming off a really stressful job. I was just done. I mean I was really stressed out! The first day…I take a Greyhound up to Eugene, and my bike’s in a box, so I have to put it back together. He [Seth] had taught me how to put it all together, and change the tire and do all this stuff. I get there and I can’t figure something out. I try to call him and the phone is dead in the motel I’m staying at. So I’m like, I gotta do this myself. And so…. So I did it! And the next morning when I set out, it was euphoria. Just that freedom. Just joy. Pure joy! Just being out there under my own control after all the planning and troubleshooting. And that was the start of where I was like… long trips are where it’s at! It’s where I really get into it because you get into a rhythm, a simplicity of living. Jody’s husband of twenty-one years shares her desire for freedom and joy through adventure. Seth Furtney is a smart, strong and steady partner. He’s a great athlete, a good listener and a solid complement to Jody’s drive, vision and ambition. Seth was the youngest child of three, with two older brothers who he credits with shaping his “drive to get going, to keep up and keep doing things!” Seth brings motivation and energy to the team. And when conditions get tough, his patience and commitment to his partner is admirable. Seth and Jody met at CU Boulder and it was a relationship that from the outset was founded in adventure. But it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for Seth. Jody recalls how he was a year ahead of her in school and they were assigned to be partners in a French class. She was excited. But Seth had judged Jody as “too well dressed and “too well quaffed” for him and quickly determined he “had no interests with this lady.” He continues, “I saw Jody as a sorority girl and I was well…. well I was a dirt bag!” But as they worked together in class, Seth warmed quickly to his partner and he realized they shared common interests for exploration and travel. The more they talked, the more he began to see Jody as “reasonably adventurous” But he wasn’t convinced, so as Seth explains it, he devised a plan to test Jody and see if she really was the adventurous woman of his dreams. It was a winter day in Boulder, Colorado. Snowy, a foot of snow on the ground and we’re going out on a date. And I’m like okay, let me see if this girl is really adventurous or just talking tough. I propose we climb up a building to overlook Boulder’s Baseline Center. So we head around back and we scale a drainpipe for two stories. I climb up and work my way across these windowsills to the roof and I’m like….we’ll see? On up comes Jody and that was it! Not many girls were going to climb a drainpipe, up a building with me in the snow. I was hooked. Now I was like, this thing has got legs and we can actually see where this goes” To her credit, Jody didn’t realize the stakes were so high on those first few dates with Seth. She jokes, “I didn’t understand my entire life’s trajectory was on the spot.” After completing Seth’s buildering challenge, the two charged forward into an adventurous future together. Their relationship strengthened as they enjoyed hiking, climbing, boating and pedaling throughout Colorado’s Front Range. When college ended, they decided to cycle tour the classic Loire Valley in France. Yet biking was not the muse that was calling to them. Their first decade together, the duo became “fully addicted” to whitewater kayaking. Seth and Jody settled in Sacramento California, a home base that supported both their paddling and professional aspirations. They didn’t cycle much during those years, preferring to boat class 4 and 5 rivers “about forty weekends a year for about ten years.” Yet a shaky US economy and bursting bubbles in the technology and real estate sectors resulted in the pair losing their jobs. Undeterred, the couple traveled to South America for a six-month kayaking, climbing and trekking trip. Refocused and recharged after some quality adventure time, Seth and Jody made their way back to the states and back onto their bikes. It was a hut trip that reacquainted them with the joy of traveling simply by bicycle in the backcountry. They reminisce fondly about those early trips. We were totally convinced that traveling by bike was the way go. There’s just so much fun stuff we could see and go ride! Traveling from the desert to the mountains was amazing. We enjoyed the fact that we could see more than when we were hiking. When you’re hiking, ridges obscure what you can see. You can only see limited distances, maybe ten miles. But with biking you can see that distance and travel that distance comfortably. Then you’re on top of that ridgeline and you can see and travel even more miles than that! That’s when you really start to notice flora and fauna change. That’s when you realize you can go fast and light and really cover lots of terrain. That the bike is the way to travel. That’s when it clicked for us.”
A High Performing PartnershipSeth and Jody own an impressive adventure resume but are humble and quick to downplay the success and scope of their exploits. For over a decade, Seth and Jody have been busy completing an impressive CV of both self-supported bikepacking adventures and what they define as “BikeSlacking tours” which include “credit card rides, hut trips, hotel to hotel excursions or vehicle supported adventures.” When taken in total and combined with their two plus decades of whitewater boating experience, the Furtneys are nothing short of BADASS. Since answering bikepacking’s siren call, this impressive pair has completed: 2003 – Kokopelli Trail 2005 – Biked the Danube River Trail from Germany to VIENNA 2006 – Durango to Moab Hut to Hut 2009 – Telluride to Moab Hut to Hut 2011 – Colorado Trail Denver to Durango 2011 – Florence to Rome, Italy through the Tuscan Valley 2012 – Continental Divide – Banff to Jackson Hole 2013– Southeast Asia from Saigon to Thailand (Biked through the Mekong in Vietnam, then through Cambodia to the Thai border) 2014 – Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route 2014 – Kokopelli Trail They are a duo that understands balance, deftly transitioning between their personal and professional pursuits. Utilizing meticulous planning and logistical skills, they’ve become masters at filling up every last second of vacation time. They’re clear about what they want their time in the field to look like. Seth and Jody want to be outside, on their bikes, enjoying whatever life brings their way. If an adventure offers diversions to fine dining, B&Bs or hot springs, then that sounds just great to them! But on longer trips, “you’ve got to make sure you’ve planned enough time off from work so you can really give yourself to the experience.” Jody explains. We were on the Divide in 2012, the Canada part and we were totally enjoying ourselves. We were only rolling 25 to 30 miles per day. We were meeting new people and camping in new places everyday. Just totally lost in it all, the people and the magic of the Divide. And then Seth looks at the map one night … and is like, “how many miles are we planning to go?” 1100, I say. “How many days do we have left?” Uh….We did the simple math. Uh-oh. This is not computing. The schedule wasn’t adding up. So we ended up having to pick it up and do much, much bigger days because I had to get back to work on time! The pressure of work schedules aside, she remembers their time on the Divide fondly. Another “ride of pure joy.” I would say that trip was where we kind of came back to the simplicity we seek. Where you’re really out there. Where you’re out on your bike and there’s no outside stimulation. There’s nothing going on but the landscape in front of you. You don’t have the phone ringing or anything like that. You get to the point where you see a [road] sign and it’s going the other way and you turn around to see what the sign says just because you want that stimulation. Because you don’t have any of that going on! Seth and Jody recently returned from a late summer tour of Adventure Cycling’s newly mapped, Idaho Hot Springs Route. Idaho was awesome. As soon as we saw this route in the magazine we just knew we had to go and do it! It’s the trifecta for us. It’s got good riding, it’s remote and it’s got hot springs. What’s not attractive about that? We went from Boise City, up to Stanley and then we took what they call the Lowman Cutoff back to Idaho City. We didn’t have to carry any extra water and we stopped to camp when it made sense for us. We passed over 30 hot springs and the springs were wild! You don’t have to pay to get to them. They show you how to find them on the map. We encountered only three other cyclists. Probably because it was late in the season and we went on the section that was closed by huge rainstorms that had hit the area really hard. There was a large section of road that just wasn’t there. So we had to bushwhack around that. It took hours to go feet. We had to complete a pretty hairy river crossing. It kind of prevented that part of the route from seeing any traffic. So no one else around, the route’s first season…It was great! It was just wonderful! Idaho was also a great reminder that “circumstances change and you’ve got to deal with whatever comes up. Remember the mark of a seasoned traveler.” Seth continues, “Be adaptable because the best laid plans don’t survive contact with the enemy. Just roll with it and chill.” Although these two seasoned travelers have wisdom and experience on their side, the Furtney’s bikepacking adventures are not without mishap. When Jody left Seth on the Divide in 2012, he pressed on to Jackson, WY in the face of some very scary wildfires. Finishing the trip would be difficult, with smoke and particulate devastating the region’s air quality. But Seth stubbornly completed what he dubs “The two pack a day ride” The Idaho wildfires were going off so the smoke was coming over into Montana. And holy shit was it smokey! You know, like 200 yards visibility. And you’re biking hard. And you’re like breathing smoke. And at the end of the day, you’re like “ugh huhuhugh” [Seth hunches over, re-enacting a violent coughing episode] You know you’re getting punished so you’re like, well…we’re in this smoke, ride or bitch. You got to pick one! Aggressively pushing forward into an unknown future has, at times, stretched their resources. Although they’re known for eating and drinking well while traveling on their bikes, The Furtneys have experienced a few trips where they have run out of food. Seth chuckles. You know I think we pack about every bit as much as we would expect to eat. And then we eat more than we expect. It’s like we think we’re going to have extra food. And we don’t pack DAYS of extra food you know…we probably pack an extra meal or two and those meals just kind of get eaten every time!
A Partnership TestedAdversity has tested and strengthened Seth and Jody’s partnership. The challenges of pedaling long distances, getting lost in the mountains, running out of food and weathering poor cycling conditions pale in comparison to the couple’s greatest test; a tragic accident that almost took Seth’s life in 2008. The pair had spent the day riding from north to south on the classic, Hermosa Creek trail. Emerging at the southern trailhead, they pedaled through the campground and coasted down the road towards town. Suddenly and without warning, a car appeared. The driver was speeding blindly up the road, came skidding around a corner and collided head on into Seth. He didn’t stand a chance. Jody was right behind him and “came upon a scene that was just….just horrible. I thought he was dead.” Seth had sustained massive, life threatening injuries and was life flighted to Denver. Thus began a three-month hospital stay. Seth had experienced a severe, traumatic brain injury. If his body could survive the initial trauma, he would have to learn to walk and talk all over again. His body was badly broken in many places and it would take a long time to heal. Through it all, Jody was an indefatigable caretaker. Her partner’s story of recovery, which she chronicles in the blog Seth Monster’s Progress is incredibly moving. Jody was at Seth’s side the whole time. Ever the planner, Jody would set goals for achieving milestones in Seth’s recovery process; scheduling dates for him to open his eyes, say his first words and take his first steps. One gently concludes that by establishing a scope for achieving these benchmarks, it gave Jody some sense of control in the otherwise uncontrollable turn of events that had befallen the couple. Unquestionably, the most inspiring albeit audacious and seemingly impossible goal Jody established for Seth concerned the CT. She believed he could regain the strength and health needed to thru-ride the entire Colorado Trail with her. At the time, Seth still wasn’t walking. Elevating the bar for his recovery to such a precipitous height seemed somewhat foolhardy, kind of like she was setting them up for failure. Undeterred, Jody persevered and maintained a positive mental attitude and outlook on the future. Through the pain and unpredictability of rehab, the Furtneys focused on their goal. The dream of completing the 500-mile route was a powerful motivation for both of them and they pursed the objective with “absolute commitment.” Before the accident, Seth had been healthy. He was young and in shape and these factors now contributed to an “exponential rate of recovery.” He completed a year of physical therapy and exercise. Meanwhile, Jody researched their intended route and coordinated gear and logistics. Together, they trained for the trail and in the summer of 2011, Seth and Jody achieved their longstanding goal. The pair took twenty days to complete the Colorado Trail, a fitting capstone to an unexpected and arduous journey that had started with a day ride gone wrong almost two years prior. Navigating the horrors of the accident and the challenges of the recovery process together, they found strength and grew profoundly through this difficult experience. They realized they could continue undertaking and completing difficult adventures together. What they had survived and accomplished was incredible. It just might be the most amazing chapter in Seth and Jody’s wildly amazing story.
Pedaling into the FutureMoving forward, nothing appears to be slowing Seth and Jody down. They keep their minds, their bodies and their partnership strong by training in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. With access to hundreds of miles of single track outside their front door, the pair frequently complete rides north to Silverton, northwest to Telluride and east to Lake City via the Colorado Trail and the Alpine Loop. They believe in giving back, volunteerism and service to place. I’ve joined them for many laugh filled hours of lopping, chopping and re-treading our local trails. Seth and Jody are volunteer CT trail stewards, who have adopted a 6.5 mile section of Segment 23, from Stony Pass south to the top of Elk Park. Next up for the two is a fall expedition where they’re aiming to pedal singletrack around the entirety of New Zealand while enjoying a wealth of extraordinary diversions on both islands. And after this year’s self-supported success on the Kokopelli trail, Seth and Jody are “very interested in the Arizona Trail.” But as the two divulge more, it’s clear that their future interests and excitement is for long, remote, overseas explorations. They’re scheming two big trips for the near future. The first includes a “warm up by cycling from Cairo to Cape Town.” Then they plan on completing a bikepacking safari in the wild lands of Africa. The Furtneys would like to follow that endeavor up with a bikepacking expedition to the Himalayan Region of Northern India. With no shortage of ideas, passion, motivation and vacation time, Seth and Jody continue to live busy lives of adventure. And who knows? Maybe they’ll add fatpacking to the mix, visit the Polar Regions and become bikepacking’s first, seven continent explorers, akin to mountaineering’s seven summiteers club. What is known however is that Seth and Jody don’t like to repeat trips they’ve already done. I asked them if they want to go back and repeat past adventures? Seth responds, “Our trips produce precious memories and we try not to repeat those experiences. Chasing those moments again just doesn’t work for us.” However, if they do repeat a route, it’s probably because they’re looking to do it self-supported and “in better style” as they did with their latest run of the Kokopelli trail in 2014. Despite their love and affinity for the “raw beauty” of the Colorado Trail, they do not plan on tackling those 500 miles again as a thru-ride. “The CT was everything for us. Coming back from the accident, having great weather and a year with such crazy wild flowers. We just don’t want to displace that memory of the trail.” Seth and Jody are an inspiration to be around. They exude a passion for life and for each other. I ask them to summarize what it is that motivates them to continue adventuring together. Jody responds, I think partly why I want to keep doing this stuff is because I thought Seth wasn’t going to be there. Doctors told me Seth had a fifty percent chance of survival and if he did survive, he might very well be a vegetable. I had to prepare myself for that and for a while after the accident, I just didn’t know. So that’s where I tend to amplify things on these trips of ours. Like I’m so glad he’s alive. I’m so glad he’s living to see things on these trips with me…He’s okay and he’s here with me! I didn’t always think he was going to be… Emotion fills the room. Seth speaks softly. Yes, it was certainly so. There was a time when Jody was thinking I wasn’t going to be out there doing these trips with her. She had to sit with, “Well, that’s it! He’s done” In the end, Jody had to wait for me. She had to nurse me back from death. These trips are definitely payback for her. And if in the future, if I have to wait for her at the top of the mountain…You know it’s like whatever dude, I don’t even gripe. I just chill out and think, “these are minor details” I definitely think I’ve developed patience through all of this. All those things that might irritate or annoy me, I’m like…nah, it’s payback time. It’s payback to her for the rest of my life. The power in his response is touching and overwhelming. Feeling the weight that Seth’s answer has just levied upon the conversation, Jody redirects the dialogue. When you are in normal environments, living your day to day, your bed is nice, the food is good, you know…you’re good. But then you go and you do this bikepacking thing. And it’s hard. And it’s beautiful. And it’s amazing. And that’s what I love about it. You just…you just get out of your comfort zone and everything becomes the most amazing thing. It’s so intense. It’s so awesome. Jody begins to tear up and loses focus to internal sensory overload. She looks upward, visibly moved by the memories of past experiences of which we’ve been speaking. Sensing his partner’s drift, Seth reaches over and places his hand on Jody’s arm. His touch calms her, she smiles and he continues answering. That’s really what it is for us. These trips are all about feeling. When you’re hungry, you’re fucking hungry. When you’re tired, you’re fucking exhausted. You’re not in a comfort zone. You’re not near it at all! You are in this outlier zone where things are fairly intense because they are maximal. And there’s a certain joy we’ve found in that. In being in that place. To be really hungry and to be really tired and then to make it work out, minimally. You want it more. Then you’re like, I want to feel that hungry again and I want to be that tired again! Because that’s…..that’s…. Seth’s eyes turn to meet his partners and she completes the thought. “Because that’s what makes us feel alive.”