By Max Owens ︎ Durango, Colorado
What is it, exactly, that captures the adventure mindset of those that call the Four Corners region their home? For some, it’s creativity in the variety of means of exploration. For others, it’s the suffer factor. For Steve “Doom” Fassbinder, it’s a little of both, and he intends to share it with you.
Steve Fassbinder knows how to get himself into situations that are, by most standards, kind of ridiculous.
There was that time in Pakistan when a bike trip decidedly became not-a-bike trip. Fassbinder—whose friends call him “Doom”—reported that crevassed glaciers and “gnarly as fuck” terrain didn’t make for the best riding conditions, and he and his partner literally hauled their fat bikes to the top of an icy 18,000’ pass.
Or how about that solo trip to Tajikistan, when Doom floated down a remote river canyon on his packraft, bike strapped to the bow, hoping against all hope that there weren’t enormous rapids—or worse—around each bend?
Or how about that time when, during a July bikepacking trip deep in the Alaskan wilderness, he and his friends woke up to a foot of fresh snow and had to figure out how to get over a notoriously dangerous mountain pass, amidst an abundance of wet slides and a dwindling food supply?
But getting in (and out of) those situations is all part of the fun for Doom. At 45 years old, he has decades of experience to call upon, as well as one of the most creative minds in adventure. “I’ve always done things a little differently than probably most folks,” he explained. “But I don’t know, when I look at a map, I just see so much potential…. And there’s so many ways to experience landscapes.” Doom’s approach to adventure is inherently creative. It’s all about getting to the hard-to-reach places on the map, and if obstacles are in the way, said Doom, “There’s creative ways to get around those things.”
Doom is happiest on multi-day trips that take him deep into remote environments. He was one of the early adopters of bikerafting, which combines bikepacking with rafting. Upon encountering a river or lake, a bikepacker carrying a small, lightweight packraft can inflate the raft, strap the bike on top and start paddling. The transition, a clever move that opens up previously inaccessible terrain, essentially turns an obstacle into an opportunity. Doom doesn’t stop there, either. Often he weaves in rock climbing objectives, mandatory rappels, or even llamas. (Yep, that’s right- on a 2019 traverse of the San Juan Range in Colorado, Doom and friends used a pair of pack llamas to help them ferry their bikes across the Weminuche Wilderness, where mechanized travel is forbidden). Doom’s brand of adventure is a far cry from the performance-and-accolade-driven pursuits of many popular athletes: He is humble to the core, and has no motives other than the joys of exploration and personal discovery.
Doom discovered a love for bikes at an early age, and soon gravitated to long-distance mountain bike races. He often won grueling 24-hour events, but for Doom it wasn’t about winning. It was about honing his ability to push through mental and physical barriers. That ability, paired with the allure of being self-reliant in beautiful and remote locations, fueled Doom’s desire to dream up ambitious trips that often combined several mediums of human-powered travel. And while his expeditions have taken him to far-flung spots like Argentina, Laos, and Alaska, Doom never tires of exploring the canyons, washes and rivers of the Southwest, where he has lived for the last 20 years. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows the least accessible places in the Four Corners region as well as Doom does.
For Doom, human-powered travel is the only way to go. “You don't need a lot of crazy gear,” he said, “And you don't need to rely on vehicles that break down. Anything that happens to a bike out in the field, with the exception of it literally breaking in half or something, you can pretty much fix, or make work.”
“Doom” calls to mind an ominous, dark figure—but lanky, tall and often handlebar-mustached Fassbinder is anything but. The pseudonym can be traced back to Burning Man 2000, for which Fassbinder and friends built a galactic-themed pirate ship out of an old Toyota Tercel ("It was a badass pirate ship, not some little punk-ass pirate ship,” he recalled, laughing). “Dr. Doom” was one member of the Future Rogue Space Pirate Group, as the friends called themselves. Later, when Fassbinder moved to Portland, he used the name “Doom” on the radio he used while working as a bike messenger. The name stuck. And while “Doom” does little to capture Fassbinder’s easy laugh and permanently optimistic demeanor, it does do justice to the suffering usually encountered on his multisport adventures.
When the going gets tough—and it invariably does—Doom said you just have to “know that it’s just that moment, and that moment’s going to change… it might get worse. It might not get better for a while, but it’s going to change.” He added, “Maybe you didn't choose that snowstorm to happen in July…. but it did, and you gotta get through it.”
When asked if he has an above-average ability to suffer, Doom answered, “I would say I probably do, yeah. And some of my friends are probably pretty pissed about that sometimes.” Pissed or not, Doom places high value on sharing adventures with his friends and goes out of his way to keep the prevailing mood light. He described a trip he took his dad on a couple of years ago, one that was particularly heavy on the suffering. At camp at the end of a tough first day, hiking into a canyon in sweltering heat, Doom revealed that he had been carrying a dromedary full of ice, and treated everyone to cold gin and tonics—limes and all. Though the trip was a serious challenge for his dad, Doom said, “He was like, ‘That was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life.’”
Helping others to realize the joys of human-powered travel, as well as their own hidden strengths, is the central goal behind Doom’s latest venture, which is launching a guiding outfit. Four Corners Guides, which Doom started with his girlfriend, Lizzy Scully, will guide clients on bikepacking and packrafting adventures. Doom is excited to share his creative approach to adventure with a wider audience—and he promises that not all trips will be what he calls “Doom Extremes.”
One thing is clear: Doom will have no trouble sharing his passions. When asked what he says to people he encounters in the field who just want to know why he’s doing what he’s doing, Doom laughed—a lot. “I mean, I couldn’t imagine doing anything different,” he exclaimed. “We may look haggard… but we’re having the times of our lives!”
Published | 2020 April 6