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Mike Pham & The Catalina Island Michelada Mixer

August 16, 2023

Mike Pham & The Catalina Island Michelada Mixer

Mike Pham is a 37-year-old adventure photographer from Costa Mesa, CA who does it all. Backpacking, hiking, deep ocean diving, and more recently—bikepacking. This spring, Pham decided to take on Catalina Island with his fully-loaded OBED Boundary, a handful of good friends, and his faithful camera to document their adventure.

Located 29 miles off the coast of bustling Long Beach, this island has a rich history. The area was inhabited by the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples and in 1542 claimed by the Spanish Empire, it was eventually turned over to Mexico, and then to the United States. In the late 1800s, the island transformed into a resort destination with a pier at Avalon Bay, a casino, and numerous beaches. It even served as the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs in 1921. However, the island's biggest claim to fame is its history as a popular movie production location from the 1920s through the ‘50s. Treasure Island was filmed in 1918, Ben Hur in 1925, and even The Hunt for Red October in 1990. Today, the island is home to a herd of approximately 150 American bison, which were brought to the island for a movie in the 1930s and now roam freely. And of course, the famed “Catalina Wine Mixer” made famous in the 2008 comedy Step Brothers, features Catalina Island in the background.

Today, Avalon and Two Harbors, located on either end of the 74 square mile island, serve tourism, with boats leaving from Long Beach.

But the entire interior of the island? Raw and untouched. Perfect for a short bikepacking jaunt... yet close enough to the creature comforts. (i.e.; good hamburgers and cold beverages!)

We chat with Pham about the experience.

Catalina Mixer

How did you come to find bikepacking as a conduit for your content creation?

Backpacking has been a huge thing for me for a long time—climbing mountains has been a joy.

But I quickly learned, riding a bike is sooo much better! I’m not a road cyclist, but really fell in love with gravel. You can cover three days of hiking in one bikepacking trip, and not carry all the stuff on your back. It was a win for me.

Tell us about your photography, and how that melds into your outdoor experiences.

Photography has paved the way for me. Storytelling, and doing research trips, it’s just my passion for curiosity. I’m very attracted to discovering new places. Subcultures. Shining my light with a journalistic approach to visually telling a story. Everyone sees something in a certain way, and I love to share that. But really, why do I travel? I’m just curious to explore. If I see a shot, I take it. 

Share with us the logistics of your bikepacking, and photography.

I’ve really had to learn to be effective in storytelling, with my shot list and equipment, particularly with what gear I decided to bring, and what shots I need to achieve. That comes to lenses, weight, how long I’ll be out, where we’ll have rest spots, where we’ll find food, and how much I need to bring. I love getting into the logistics—it’s fun for me.

For this one, I wanted to bring a tripod. I only do that sometimes; I wanted to do some timelapse… I had a good idea of what I wanted to achieve while out there. On most adventures, I ride forward or hang back, in order to get into position to shoot my friends. It’s riding and storytelling, at the same time. The end result is you get there, and it all comes together. You’re out there and it’s beautiful and you get to enjoy the moment, and share the bounty.

Catalina Mixer

What made Catalina Island so attractive for you to visit?

I’ve got a lot of cool locations planned for later this year; the Sierras, the San Francisco Bolinas Ridge route in the Point Reyes area, targeting some cinematic shots on some cool day rides. But Catalina? I grew up in Newport Beach and used to take flyers there. I’ve been diving, camping, and kayaking there for so many years, and have always thought, “This place would be perfect for biking.” There were so many great routes, it was an area I knew I wanted to bikepack through for a few days. It was so close to home, so I figured, why not do it?

I got the permits, and my friends were down, so we said Let’s go!” My friends from L.A. and Newport met me in Long Beach to head to Avalon. We wanted to do the whole thing in three days, with two nights on the island. We got our permits, picked up some whiskey, and headed over. 

Tell us about your ride experience on Catalina Island.

Getting out of Avalon is three miles of intense climbing out onto the ridge. We hit the airport, got a sick bison burger at a restaurant there, then had an hour's descent at Little Harbors on the backside of the island. We decided we’d camp there for the night. So before sundown, we went swimming, chilled at the beach, took some shots, and tested out a new drone I just got.

Then we settled in for the night. We just bivy’d it; didn’t even really need a tent.

On the second day, that’s when we saw two bison. We honestly thought we would see more, but it was just two, just chilling. We kept our distance and kept moving. The second night we spent in the town of Two Harbors. And it was pretty mellow; great food, a couple of beers.

Catalina Mixer

That final morning on the island, we rode 18 miles back to Avalon, taking a different route after we got lost trying a shortcut in the middle of the island (laughs). We were so hungry! Just needed calories. We stopped in the shade and cooked a dehydrated meal pack and chomped a Clif Bar. Just enough to get us back to our boat ride back to the mainland.

We eventually got back on the trail and made our way back to Avalon pretty torched. We rolled into town at 3 p.m., and went straight to the bar, slaying burgers and Micheladas. We ended up with about 70 miles, with 8,000 feet of elevation gain over the days there.

What’s next?

We’ve got all these California adventures planned but we’ve got a trip planned to Iceland in September. Initially, I wasn’t thinking about bringing my bike, but now… I think I just might! 

All photography and video footage courtesy of Mike Phamuel

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View our size charts below to see what size is best for you. After purchasing your new OBED, our product team will reach out to you to confirm your order and sizing information to be sure you have selected the optimum size.

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