THE FREE RADICALS
Outride The Storm
Perhaps Valle de las Arenas is an unlikely spot to catch up with two brainy, hard-riding Canadians, but as we got to know Mark Taylor and Will Cadham, we began to notice striking similarities between them and our dynamic surroundings.
The valley is situated in the Andes but in full view of Chile’s bustling capital of Santiago. It feels both accessible and remote. The two riders are unplugged from society—yet they’re deeply connected to their trail riding community. Amidst the natural hot springs, arresting glacial views, and white-knuckle downhills seemed like a perfect place to talk about how tension and contradiction hold things together.
We took a break for a bit. Drops of rain beaded on Mark’s waterproof cycling jacket from an earlier drizzle. We sat, hydrated, and talked about riding—and life.
How’s it been this fall in Chile?
Riding just shy of 14,000 feet is no easy task. When you’re busy cry-breathing, cross-eyed, and every pedal stroke feels like it could be your last, there is no time to worry about your gear.
The more conditions you can ride in, the more you can ride. What’s the value of being ready for whatever comes?
There is nothing worse than ending a ride early because you’re unprepared or your gear won’t hold up to the conditions. On the flip side, starting a ride in adverse conditions is a powerful feeling and something that will make any day a potentially unforgettable riding experience. That’s where that packable rain jacket comes in handy.
Describe your perfect conditions for a ride.
Two days after some rain. The planet is increasingly warming, and the PNW climate isn’t as wet as it used to be. Our summers are becoming hot and dry, and when it rains, it seems to pour. A couple of days after a heavy rain storm, the trails are incredibly tacky, and the dust subsides, allowing you to train with the homies.
Trailblazing gets used as a cliche, but what’s it really like to lay down a path for others to use later?
Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, right? If what we are doing is considered some type of pioneering, then we are okay with that. The truth is that there is no magic formula for anything we are doing. We are just having the time of our lives riding bikes and trying to share the sport of mountain biking with anyone who wants to come aboard.
Seeing people either get into mountain biking for the first time, achieve some new level they didn’t think they were capable of, or simply just continue to love the ride is honestly the best litmus of our success.
While we’re on the subject of paths, how has mountain biking changed the course of your lives?
Without mountain biking, we would probably have 9-5 type careers looking at bacteria in a petri dish through a microscope or something. The places we have been able to travel to, the people we’ve met, and the friends we keep are almost solely a result of mountain biking, and we wouldn’t change that for anything. This industry has made us better people through and through and keeps us wanting to excel.
Where do you see it taking you?
I believe it will take us wherever we want to go. That’s the really original aspect of the sport. For the most part, everyone with the power to say yes to our out-of-the-box ideas and way of thinking normally gives us permission and, more importantly, the tools to make it happen and turn these ideas into unreal experiences.
What have y’all been up to lately off the bike?
Will has been tinkering with the old 1995 Ford Veggiestroke F-250 to make it the ultimate road trip vehicle. Mark has been trying to figure out how best to fit six bikes into a condo. It’s the ultimate game of Tetris.
The name free radicals implies this unpaired unstable thing, but you two are linked together and deeply connected to this sport. Any thoughts on that tension?
Without tension, stuff caves in right? We are very different people but yet very good friends. There aren’t too many people you can live in a vehicle with for over five years and not want to kill at the end of it. I think the Free Rads is still a thing because of our differences. Will is a dreamer, and Mark pulls him back to reality. We spend countless hours going over stuff we’ve done rather than what we have to do because you learn from your mistakes.
As Mark and Will geared up to ride more, a gust ripped through the pass. I was thankfully reminded that my cycling jacket was windproof. Above us, a single condor was banking off the updrafts, seeming to embody the freedom these guys are tapped into. Honestly, anyone who visits El Valle de las Arenas—and sees the way the mountains placidly share the horizon with the open sky—can’t help but tap into it too.
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