A brighter day than usual

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A ride about town and a lingering sunrise a little after noon. Gaining less than two minutes of sun per day, but in a week it’ll be almost three, and then four and five and almost six. A truism fit for The Smiths: some days are brighter than others.

The bridges pictured are the Seward Highway, for which the Campbell Creek Trail has no official passage, dead-ending on either side of the highway. Unofficially, and with great enjoyment, one rides atop the frozen creek under four overpasses.
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A few inches

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Almost a foot. I’m getting the Pugsley tuned to my liking, realizing how much a bike with a glossy purple exterior can hide neglect in pitted cones and rusty steerer tube. Never the matter; elbow grease and some red marine bearing grease’ll get things moving right. Only a new bottom bracket will cost more than a few dollars. For now, it runs.

A revelation: the Endomorph tire gives much better traction in soft snow when mounted in reverse. It can also be difficult to seat the bead, either due to manufacturing tolerances or more likely, a “stretched” bead from using tire levers. The bead wormed it’s way away from the rim while riding, exposing the tube; due to low pressure, thankfully, the tube did not puncture.20111228-235224.jpg20111228-235302.jpg20111228-235340.jpg20111228-235353.jpg

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La Paz to Guymas

 

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Novermber 5th is a little late to be biking out of Tacoma. Following two months of rain-soaked shoes and a brief snowstorm near Shelter Cove, we crossed the border from San Diego into Mexico on New Years Day. For the next three months, we didn’t see a drop of rain. Baja was a dream– a great climate and a great introduction to Mexico. We found dirt tracks on the peninsula that uncovered remote fishing villages and missions with olive groves. The Sierra de la Laguna, at the center of the southern cape region, was a highlight with fresh water streaming out of canyons carved into the mountains. Aside from two freshwater oases at Mulege and San Ignacio, these streams were the only surface water to be found in Baja outside of the brief rainy season. From La Paz, we had planned to take a ferry to Mazatlan on the mainland at close to 100 dollars a person. Rather, we met a young French-Canadian captain named Gael in La Ventana who offered us a few days of cruising around Isla Espiritu Santo, and swimming with gregarious, if not a little aggressive, sea lions. A female sea lion, inverted, hugged both Lael and I. Gael deposited us at Marina de La Paz, where we were able to connect with other English speaking captains from home ports like San Francisco, Astoria, Bellingham, and Vancouver. Club Cruceros is a social club at the marina designed to connect the cruising crowd in La Paz, and is a great place to fish for a ride to the mainland. Within minutes, we were introduced to Dennis, formerly of Astoria, OR and the United States Coast Guard. We were to leave on the fourth day after some brief preparations and grocery shopping.

Dennis’ 38″ Island Packet was comfortably large for the three of us, with room for our bikes below deck and away from the saltwater. The arrangement was that we would cook meals and split food costs in exchange for passage. On the final night, we would make the overnight crossing to Guymas, each standing watch for three or four hours. The first three days at sea we would motor north along the islands of the Baja peninsula to improve our angle of approach and shorten the voyage across the Sea of Cortez. In all, the trip was a leisurely few days of motoring and reading; and nights in magazine-quality anchorages, swimming to shore to explore the surroundings. The crossing on the final night afforded us the experience of real cruising, although minimal winds made for a safe, uneventful passage– music to a Coast Guardsman’s ears.

From Guymas, we traveled paved highways south to Navajoa, and inland to Alamos, which marked the end of pavement. The following days mark the most memorable and challenging riding either of us have ever done; Alamos to, La Higuera, Chinacas, Chinipas, Temoris, Bahuichivo, Mesa de Arturo, and down to Urique. Consecutive days climbing five thousand feet of switchback dirt roads with classically inadequate Mexican maps, and descents that would have been impossible ascents left us gasping, gripping brakes, riding as little as 23km one day. But this was what we were here for, challenging the limits of 47mm touring tires, even if Lael promised never to do it again. Fun isn’t always fun, and never doesn’t always last for long– she is, we are, back at it.

Merry Christmas and to all a good night…

A retro-post, thanks to a disc of photos awaiting us in Alaska from our captain, Dennis.

The middle finger in a mitten

20111218-013932.jpgThe city’s waterside multi-use trails and the bellicose, rutted roads are an exact juxtaposition of one another– Anchorage is both heavenly, and heartbreaking. When one bike best wrangles the roads and the other, the trails, I’ll be gambling with which bike to roll out the door all winter. There are further subtleties: new snow is seemingly what the Pugsley was designed for, while old snow– melted, refrozen and restructured– is more challenging, behaving more like sand. Above freezing, everything is a leaden, slippery mess, back below freezing, it becomes ice. And then, some trails are broad, well-traveled and groomed for skiing; others are natural singletrack constructed of ski tracks, post-holing snow boots, and the occasional Endomorph tread, now immediately recognizable. Some trails are glorified sidewalks–deemed bike facilities by the city– and routinely neglected, except when snowplows slough brown slurry from the roads. That brown stuff is uniquely un-tractionable. Of course, some “bike trails” (sidewalks) just run out, and once again I am part of a three lane drag race with pick-ups, racing, surely, to the Home Depot or home, or some such place of exceeding importance. I’m starting to think that I am homosexual or short on intellect– at least, so I’m told by passing traffic, daily. I’m also regularly told that it’s illegal to ride a bike in the road. Luckily, the middle finger inside a mitten is an innocuous gesture.
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The challenges of the varied snow conditions and the wandering trajectory of the creekside trails is welcomed, considering the serenity afforded by the city’s greenway trails. Access to the trails may be barricaded by towering snowbanks, and moose make traffic jams, singlehandedly, but it’s likely to be all yours, with nobody to call you a “fucking idiot”, or worse. Bridges, tunnels and lights– these facilities are top notch.

Lael and I made a loop of the city today, with a few mixed errands in between. We managed about 30 miles at less than 10 psi, mostly off pavement. It was an enjoyable, if physically challenging ride; we’ll trade burning quads for fuming tempers anyday.
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Alaska livin: a wolf in sheep’s clothing

20111213-133006.jpgNearly silent, slow motion: some days, like Monday, are quieted by school closures and a large snowfall, thus, little traffic. The snow insulates the sounds of the city, and conceals the last browned round of thawed and refrozen snow. The city is anew, and at peace– apart from it’s usual, frantic, caffeinated self.

Bike commuting in Anchorage is both heaven, and hell. A day later the roads are again brown, and rutted, and frozen in place. Pugsleys waver in these conditions, sliding sideways from one misshapen rut to another. Here, studded tires would claw through miniscule mountain and valley of ice on: Northern Lights Boulevard, to Denali or Arctic, left on Tudor, which is no better or worse than International Blvd, then right on the Old Seward Highway to my destination. Unfortunately, I was on the Pugsley, which has large volume tires designed for snow. At home, my 1985 Specialized Stumpjumper is wearing the studded tires I desire, but it’s hard to tell which bike to take when the neighborhood is disguised in sheep’s clothing– fresh snow. The neighborhood streets are a padded playground of snowpiles and untracked powder; the fast-paced boulevards of the real world have long since iced over. A 4 inch studded tire sounds sensible, if necessary. I’m working on it: it’s not available commercially but there are some leads on the internet. The tread is barely thick enough to install shallow studs, which are expensive enough to keep me from trying for now.

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Hours past sunset, returning home via the Coastal Trail and the Chester Creek Trail, the snow has been skiied and compacted throughout the day, but the generous footprints of the Endomorph and Larry are still essential to keeping us afloat, and 10 psi keep us comfortable over the now uneven terrain. These conditions are more snow than ice; 2.1″ studded tires would claw and sink.

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The solutions, either in practice or theory: install studs on my extra 3.7″ Endomorph tire, continue riding the two bikes without modification, or (theory) have a single bike with large-not-massive tire clearances like the Surly 1×1 or the Troll that will accept a large, studded tire up to 3 in. That tire would be homemade from a DH style tire (such as the Nokian Gazzolodi, at 1500+ g), and thus, very heavy. The option of owning and maintaining one bike is much simpler, and enticing, except that I don’t own either of the aforementioned frames. A 3″ studded tire would excel in icy, urban riding, and icy, rutted trail riding. It may flounder a bit in fresh snow, but would still outperform a 2″ studded tire in every condition except dry pavement. In short, the Surly Troll continues to be incredibly versatile, excelling at a few things, mostly related to it’s gaping tire clearances.

From a commercial perspective, someome needs to begin manufacturing a 4″ studded tire for fatbikes, and a lightweight 2.5-3.0″ studded tire for modern mtb’s like the Troll.

Monday morning, 7 AM, there were two tracks on the Chester Creek Trail– one pair skis, and one fatbike, with the characteristic Endomorph pattern. We were the third and fourth of the day, past fallen trees, moments before the groomers altered the record kept by the night’s snowfall.

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Working for sandwiches; 2nd Cycle

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Turning a glut, into a good thing: Trading the thin lines of the 80′s tourer for gluttonous tire clearances and virile, ironic names such as Prairie Breaker, Stumpjumper, Streetstomper, and Dune Commander, Tacomans are embracing the rigid ATB. Given the availability of old mountain bikes, a wave of interest in moderately-priced touring and urban bikes, and the influence of the bourgeois 650b movement– Tacoma’s bikes have changed, subtly, in my absence.

A rock and a hard place: 2nd Cycle is the secret center of the Tacoma bike universe. It’s only a secret because it faces an unnamed alleyway, sandwiched between vacant lots, three pho restaurants, a pawn shop, several dumpsters and a “curios” shop which is described as stocking “XL sized Limp Bizkit tees and XS Hillary Duff tank tops”. They say the neighborhood is becoming gentrified, but I’m not really seeing it.

Your hole in the wall: The heat is never on, there isn’t any; and the bathroom doesn’t work, there isn’t one of those either, but for three hundred dollars in rent every month, this is your hole in the wall. 2nd Cycle runs purely on volunteer power (and tofu sandwiches). Unlike other co-ops and community bike shops that also claim self-sufficiency, 2nd Cycle receives no grants or large-scale private donations, no help from the city, and 501(c)(3) status only came recently; a rotating cast of volunteers help keep your bike running for a handful of change and some pocket lint, if you can afford it. Rent is paid in what I imagine to be a greasy wad of one dollar bills, dimes, pennies, assorted Canadian currency, some pitted cones, an errant ball bearing and the aforementioned lint. In lean winter months when Noah upends the Folgers can looking for miracles from the piggy bank, he may dip into reserves funded by summertime stunts, literally. Aside from fundraising house shows and loft parties, 2nd Cycle sponsors a piece of local lore, simply named, Bike Jump. Three years running, Galen, a local neon artist has crafted a sculpture of colored, lighted tubes, to destroy it in a frenzied moment of Knievel-style glory on a kids bike lofted from a small ramp, and dressed like some kind of postmodern ghetto-superhero. It’s strange, but a small mob ensues for the event, and 2nd Cycle is several hunded dollars richer as a result– somehow.

Pho King and food for kings: For two dollars, the curiously named Pho King next door sells fresh and filling tofu sandwiches– with pickled cabbage, shredded carrot, cilantro, jalapeno, and a spicy plum sauce on a crusty french roll– and when greasy hands and sweaty brow enter from the back alley, the staff diligently ask “How many?”, in lieu of “hello”. Coming in and out the back door, the dearth of conversation, and “sandwiches” both the code word and the cover-up– it always seems a little like a drug deal– but it’s not, just a really good sandwich with a backalley entrance. Volunteers are now offered a sandwich per shift, compliments of the 2nd Cycle till, that half-empty Folgers can of coins and cones and pocket lint. It’s a small reward for frozen toes and hammering on broken BMX bikes for five hours, but nobody’s complaining; mostly, because there’s no one to complain to. That’s the beauty of the cooperative model.

Tacoma bikes: Donning colorful plastic-bodied platform pedals; drop bars, swept back and riser bars; plastic fenders, bags, baskets, bucket panniers and racks– these old ATB’s are reawakening as no-fuss city bikes and tourers. We will someday be able, and proud, to reflect that our bikes were defined by comfort, function, and value. And an odd sense of style.

Above, Alex’s 1989 Trek 520 with bullmoose bars and controls poached from a Nishiki Colorado; below, Sean’s Novara Aspen dressed in drops and purple pedals, with a camo bar-bag courtesy of his previous employer, the U.S. Army; Noah’s Scott Boulder, so ugly it’s cool; Josh’s custom longbike– a Trek 8000 up front and the rear triangle of a step-through GT frame bolted to the rear, with aluminum conduit tubing comprising the Xtracycle frame–only the bags were purchased; Ellie’s 700c Cannondale frame, converted to 26″ wheels with long-reach brakes– one centerpull and one single-pivot BMX sidepull– to increase standover clearance and tire volume, and to lower trail and center of mass for urban riding with front loads; finally, my High Sierra, in Ben’s hands, whose aspirations of hiking the PCT next summer may take him to the real High Sierra.

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Currently at 2nd Cycle are two Schwinn Sierras, a Diamond Back Fleet Streak and an Outlook, and an old Raleigh cycle-truck designed for a sidecar with rod brakes and small front wheel. One of the Sierras requires the removal of a sheared bolt from the rear cantilever stud.

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Island-hopping and bridge-crossing on a Pugsley

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SInce purchasing a pearlescent purple used Surly Pugsley several days ago, I’ve been doing exactly what the bike isn’t designed to do: I’ve been knocking down road miles visiting friends, camping, and making my way back to my temporary nest in Tacoma. If only the four inch tires fit on the bus’ bike racks, I’d have been “home” two days ago. But, they don’t. So I rode.

WIth basic camping kit, I ferried to Vashon Island to visit my friend Alex, who rode the length of the island with me; another ferry dropped the two of us at Point Defiance in Tacoma. That afternoon, we were made a travelling trio when Josh and his svelte Univega joined us for an overnight camp at Kopachuk State Park, across the Tacoma Narrows bridge, on the misty shores of the Puget Sound. Alex’s 1989 Trek 520 with bullmoose bars, Josh’s svelte Univega Gran Turismo and my big, nacreous purple Pugsley make an odd couple, or an odd crowd.

My first impression of the bike seems perfectly irrelevant to would-be Pugsley owners– it’s really fast on hardpack surfaces and pavement. It’s easily as fast as my 35+ lb. touring bike. The wheels on my High Sierra are as heavy as those on the Pugsley, including dynamo and tires (and Slime tubes…thanks New Mexico), which has everything to do with it. I haven’t ridden the bike on snow or sand, and rode only a few feet on a rocky beach; with 20psi, it was capable, but rode poorly. The beauty of four inch tires is the ability to run eight, or six pounds of pressure. Tuesday will be my first opportunity to ride the bike in it’s intended setting, as I plan to assemble the bike at the airport in Anchorage for the ride home in wintry darkness. This time of year, most bike rides in Anchorage are night rides; I regret not being able to readily mount my dynamo to the Pugsley, but with disc brakes and 135mm fork spacing, it’s a little complicated. The solution requires a replacement fork with a 100mm spacing and possibly a disc dynamo hub for optimal braking.

A hundred miles of pavement on the Pugsley in three days is considerably easier than I expected. It rides a little like a bus, and a lot like an aging Cadillac, but mostly like a bike. 20111203-191007.jpg20111203-191347.jpg20111203-191522.jpg20111203-191715.jpg20111203-191729.jpg

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