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How We’re Responding to COVID-19

5/27/2020 Update: We are still at reduced production capacity, because some of our workforce is still sewing masks and gowns for the hospital instead of working on bike bags.

We are still taking precautions such as physical distancing in the shop, plus working from home when possible. We’ve also split our crew into two groups whose shop times don’t overlap.

These changes mean that long lead times are here to stay for a while, but we’ll do what we can to shorten them. Thanks for your patience and support!


-Nick Smolinske
Rogue Panda Designs

AZTBAM Part 1: Picketpost to Lake Roosevelt

AZTBAM Part 1: Picketpost to Lake Roosevelt

AZTBAM stands for “Arizona Trail By Any Means”

Over the course of 2019, I hope to complete the entire AZT by using multiple modes of transportation. My goal is to bike the best rideable singletrack on the AZT, but also hike the most remote and beautiful wilderness areas.

For my first section, I decided on hiking Picketpost to Lake Roosevelt (passages 18 and 19). Given the wet winter we’ve had, it was a great time to tackle this section. I also had a prototype backpack that needed testing and the Superstition Wilderness seemed like the perfect place.

Day 1: The Shuttle

I know enough people in AZ that I probably could’ve worked out a ride, but the low carbon footprint of hitchhiking is hard to pass up (the price point doesn’t hurt either). So I parked my car at Roosevelt Lake, stuck out my thumb, and made it to the Picketpost Trailhead in just a couple rides.

I had gotten a late start out of Flag and it was 4pm before I started hiking, but I could avoid a dry camp by hiking 6 miles in to the first water.

The desert was verdant, with a carpet of green grass underneath the chollas and saguaros. The ocotillos were in bloom and there were wildflowers everywhere. The temperature was moderate, but the setting sun felt hot on my neck. Foreshadowing for racing the AZT300 in April?

After a couple hours I reached Whitford Creek and settled in for the night between a tree and a shelf of rock. I was glad I didn’t need my tarp, because that was one of the windiest nights I’ve ever experienced and the flapping of a tarp would’ve kept me awake. Another one of the joys of cowboy camping.

Day 2: Water, Water Everywhere

The next morning the trail headed up canyon. Between Whitford Creek and Reavis Trail Creek, the next 12 miles had several dozen creek crossings. I managed to keep my feet dry without much trouble, and soon enough I was climbing steep switchbacks up Montana Mountain.

I was pretty happy with how my legs felt, despite my recent sedentary lifestyle. Between working on the new website and our epic snowfall in Flagstaff, I’d only taken a couple days off in 2019 before this trip. But I managed the 2000 vertical feet in about an hour at a moderate pace.

From the summit, I could see back the way I came to Picketpost Mountain. The desert beyond it is where I’ll be in a month’s time, biking the AZT300 route. To the West, Weaver’s Needle just poked up from behind a ridge. I climbed the Needle back in my conservation corps days and it was nice to see it again.

A couple miles of road walking followed, during which I had a funny exchange. I passed two ATVs parked with some adults and kids milling about. One of the kids asked “Why don’t you have a Razor?”. I couldn’t think of a good response so I just said “I’m hiking the Arizona Trail.” The kid followed that up with “Your legs are gonna get tired”, to which I replied “That’s the idea!”

Day 3: A Beautiful Ridge Walk

I had slept that night beside Reavis Creek (once again, a cowboy camp next to a babbling brook!). In the morning I had the place to myself, and it was a lovely quiet walk through one of the busiest campsites in all of Arizona’s backcountry.

I quickly realized there was no keeping my feet dry in Reavis Ranch, but once I climbed up out of the creek my shoes and socks dried quickly.

Rounding a corner, I came to an awesome view of the Four Peaks. I’ll be there sometime in the Fall, to complete that section but also climb all four peaks while I’m at it.

The view down into the Salt River drainage was impressive. You can easily see how the river cuts through what could have been a continuous mountain range from the Superstitions into the Four Peaks.

It’s a common theme in the Southwest, rivers cutting through mountains. The geologic history of it is unclear in many places, although on some rivers there’s ironclad evidence of basin overflow, which is definitely the most evocative option. Imagine a torrent of water flowing over a pass, from an overfilled proto-Roosevelt Lake down into the Phoenix valley!

I’m not a geologist and I don’t know the history of the Salt River, but from up high on the ridge it was easy to imagine a basin overflow scenario.

Day 4: Back to the Saguaros

After descending from the ridge I had yet another night under the stars, tucked in under a tree next to green grass and dried cow patties.

In the morning the last few miles passed quickly, but even though the trail is close to the highway it was still scenic, winding in and out of drainages amongst the saguaros.

I got back to my car by noon, and was treated to an amazing view of the east side of the Mazatzal Mountains on my drive back to Flagstaff. Weather permitting, I’ll be down there in a couple of weeks hiking the longest wilderness section of the trail.

More Blog Posts

How We’re Responding to COVID-19

5/27/2020 Update: We are still at reduced production capacity, because some of our workforce is still sewing masks and gowns for the hospital instead of working on bike bags. We are still taking precautions such as physical distancing in the shop, plus working from...

5 Reasons I Love Cowboy Camping

5 Reasons I Love Cowboy Camping

Sleeping under the stars.

Sounds magical, right? Lots of us say we do it – but then we go ahead and put a rain fly between us and the night sky. I think that’s a real shame. Here are 5 reasons why I love to ditch the tent on my trips in the desert southwest.

1. Get to Know the Night Sky

In my years of camping under the stars, I’ve learned the constellations and how they move through the sky. I’ve become intimately familiar with the phases of the moon, and I’ve seen more meteor showers than I can count.

I’ll never forget seeing a total lunar eclipse in the predawn light from my sleeping bag, or watching the Geminids glow blue and green from a campground in Lake Mead.

I took this photo from the summit of Kendrick Mountain on a balmy November night.

2. It Makes the Outdoors Feel Like Home

Nothing makes me feel more connected with nature than sleeping out. It’s like your campsite is your bedroom.

Sometimes I miss the days when I worked for a conservation corps and would sleep out a couple hundred nights each year. I was acutely aware of the phase of the moon and the weather, and felt a connection to my surroundings that I’ve never since replicated. I came close in 2018 though!

This photo was taken in the Grand Canyon, before settling in for a night of cowboy camping on top of the Redwall.

3. Sunrises From Your Sleeping Bag

There’s nothing like being woken up by the predawn light, then watching the sun fill the landscape with color in front of you – all without having to get out of your sleeping bag! It’s my favorite way to start the day and I feel privileged I’ve been able to see so many sunrises this way.

This photo was taken from my sleeping bag while camping below the Vermillion Cliffs in northern Arizona.

4. Less Stuff to Carry

You can spend a lot of money on lightweight gear – or you can just carry less stuff. That can mean bringing a small tarp instead of a full tent – or not bringing a shelter at all if the forecast is good (Note: I always have my groundsheet as an emergency backup).

For bikepacking this matters even more than backpacking. Space and weight are at a premium and anything you can leave behind will help – especially on our rocky singletrack here in AZ.

This photo is from Colorado Trail trip. I had a small backpack in addition to the bags you see. I did carry a tent for Colorado, but the photo still shows how little space I had to pack!

5. Convenience

Putting up a tent doesn’t seem like a big chore – until you get used to camping without one. Get to camp, roll out your groundsheet, pad, and sleeping bag, and you’re done! If you’re bikepacking, you can sleep right next to your bike and have easy access to all of your bags, right from your sleeping bag.

This might seem like a small bit of convenience, but it’s very important to me. The easier it is to camp, the more I’ll camp. The more I camp, the happier I’ll be. It’s a pretty simple recipe.

This campsite was on the top of the Tapeats Sandstone in 75-mile canyon. After a long day of hiking, I was set up and ready to sleep in just a couple minutes. I also went stoveless for maximum simplicity.

And that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed those photos, and perhaps it will inspire you to ditch the tent and join the cult of the cowboy on your next trip out! It’s a wonderful way to experience the desert southwest.

Speaking of wraps … you should¬†always have a backup plan. In that last photo you can see my groundsheet – a piece of heat shrink film from a window insulation kit. In a worst-case scenario I can drape that over myself and hold it down with rocks. It’s not perfect and I end up a bit damp from the condensation, but it’s enough to get through a night. That actually happened the night I took that photo, and it was just fine!

More Blog Posts

How We’re Responding to COVID-19

5/27/2020 Update: We are still at reduced production capacity, because some of our workforce is still sewing masks and gowns for the hospital instead of working on bike bags. We are still taking precautions such as physical distancing in the shop, plus working from...

PandaVision Photos: The Extended Guide

PandaVision Photos: The Extended Guide

First Things First: How It Works

To take a good photo, it helps to understand how PandaVision works nowadays. Back in the dark days of 2014 when we started taking orders, Nick would use some complicated voodo math to create a pattern. But then a couple years ago we switched to a new method, where we simply project your image onto a table and then adjust to the correct scale.

It’s basically like seeing your bike in person, except better – because it’s 2-dimensional and we can draw on it. We like this method because it gives all the convenience of ruler photos, but we still get to visually see the bike and make sure it looks right before committing a pattern to fabric.

Step 1: Ruler Placement

The first thing to do for a good photo is make sure your ruler or tape measure is placed well. The scale can be anywhere in the frame, we just need it to scale up the image. But here are some things to look out for:

  • Make sure that the ruler isn’t covering up any important braze-ons or bolts that might be important
  • Make sure it’s up against the frame and not standing out away from the bike at all


Another Option – The Humble Dollar Bill

If you live in the US, you can probably place an order with just what’s in your pocket – your phone and a dollar bill (ok, and some tape. You probably don’t have that in your pocket). Just fold the crispest bill you can find in half (hot-dog style), and tape it to your frame.

Anywhere works, but we suggest the down tube since that’s the thickest tube and thus the easiest way to avoid obscuring important details.

Make sure your tape isn’t completely covering up the ends of the bill – we need to see those for scale!

It's All About Perspective

Once you’ve got your scale in place, you need to get the right angle on the shot. Let’s start with some photos of what not to do, and then we’ll move on to the good ones:

The Camera was Too High

In this photo, the camera was too high. In order for the scale to apply uniformly across the bike, we need all parts of the frame to be the same distance from the camera. In this photo the bottom of the bike is farther away than the top, so we can’t scale the photo accurately.

One thing to look for to double-check your photo is the handlebars – in this case you can see the camera is a little above the level of the handlebars. It should be much lower, centered on the middle of the frame triangle.

This Photo is Too Close

This photo has the position correct (centered on the bike), but the camera was too close. We can tell because of the separation between the chain stays – there should be very little to no separation.

If you’re not sure you’re far enough away, then you’re probably too close. In fact, the farther away the camera is the more accurate the result. The only limit to this is the ability to read the ruler. We suggest 15 feet as a minimum distance, but if you have a really big frame and can borrow a DSLR, stepping back 30 feet and using a telephoto lens will give us the most accurate result possible.

Photo Perfection!

Here you see a perfect photo. This one was taken from about 20 feet away, and you can tell the perspective is right because you can only see one chainstay, one seat stay, and one fork leg.

More Blog Posts

How We’re Responding to COVID-19

5/27/2020 Update: We are still at reduced production capacity, because some of our workforce is still sewing masks and gowns for the hospital instead of working on bike bags. We are still taking precautions such as physical distancing in the shop, plus working from...