Winter Bikepacking Resurrection Pass Trail, Alaska

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The long nights of winter are waning, finally.  Riding our bikes has been paramount to avoiding seasonal blues– we ride to and from work, we meet for night rides on local singletrack, and we choose to ride all day in the sun when away from work.    

An even greater therapy is to get out for an overnight ride.  In a year where snow has been less common than ice and warm afternoons, many routes are supremely rideable.  Jeff Oatley’s 1000-mile, 10-day trek to Nome in the Iditarod Trail Invitational is a great example.  His record improves upon notable rides by Mike Curiak and Jay Petervary by almost a week.  These are all very strong riders, and each of their record-setting rides has included favorable conditions.  This year was simply faster.  Every human-powered Iditarod record has fallen.

Resurrection Pass is a popular trail for hikers and bikers in the summer.  In winter, skiers enjoy the trail and snow machines are allowed every other calendar year.  In a snowmachine year, skiing and fatbiking conditions are improved by trail traffic, as each machine grooms a four-foot wide path.  This year, machines have groomed the trail, but for lack of snow, they have abandoned the trail for the last few weeks, avoiding exposed dry dirt and winding, icy trails.  Skiiers have also stayed away.  Following footprints along the trail, a few hikers have ventured the first few miles, but no further.  It seems, the only equipment that excels in these conditions is a fatbike, with studs.

Shooting out of town after work on Saturday night, Nate, Lucas, and I aim for a coastline plot near the settlement of Hope, about an hour away by car.  Experiences such as this are hard to miss while living in Alaska.  I’ve been hearing about Resurrection Pass for years.

Leaving the city at night makes the whole operation feel like a tactical mission.  Loading and unloading gear adds to the fiction.  Our fatbikes also play the part of special ops vehicles.

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By morning, a heavy layer of frost covers our equipment along Turnagain Arm.  South Anchorage is barely ten miles away, although the road reaches around to the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet at Portage, then over a low pass down to Hope which is situated at the end of the road.  The trailhead is several miles up a smaller road from Hope.

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I stay warm with a lightweight 30deg bag, and as many bag liners as I can find at home.  The air is a little moist, but I rest well under the stars.  It is nice to be sleeping outside again.

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Low fog is replaced by clear skies as the sun begins its work for the day.  Nearing the equinox, daylight almost measures 12 hours per day.  On a clear day, there is already more than 12 hours of useful light.  Twilight seems to last forever.

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The trail begins with massive overflow ice.  Two of use are well equipped with Grip Studs.  By the time we return on Monday, the third in our party is in the market for some studs.  

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In many places, most of the snow has melted away, save for the crusty swathe of snow remaining from snowmachine traffic.  In the absence of ice, snow conditions are fast and traction is even better than on dry dirt, especially with our aggressive tires.  Nate and Bud and Lou ride high, knobs biting into the crust. 

Ice and crust.

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Ice and dry dirt.

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Off-camber ice.

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Ice and bridge crossings.

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Ice and icy rivers.

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Crossing the bridge over Resurrection Creek, we begin our ascent onto the glacial moraine, and up above the trees.  Signs of recent glaciation abound.  This is old gold mining country. 

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Above the creek, we enjoy easy pedaling and views down the valley.

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Intermittent side drainages.   We descend, and ascend serpentine trail.  Moments of mountain biking are mixed with a pleasant pedal.

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Gaining…

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gaining…

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…gaining…

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…out of the trees, and into the alpine tundra.  This is the last tree for a while.

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Passing close to the hillside, the sun disappears.  It is a bit colder in the shade.

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If we keep moving we’ll see more sun.

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Finally, an anticlimactic rise leads us to Resurrection Pass, at 2600ft.  

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We begin to descend the drainage on the other side.  Our goal for the night is a Forest Service cabin a few miles away.  

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Our goal is also to catch a little more sun for the day.

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It is easy to stand around and talk in the sun.  We enjoy lots of standing around and talking and laughing, and just enough riding for one day.

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Normally, the pass is blanketed in snow this time of year.

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Cresting a rise, Devil’s Pass Cabin comes into view.  Like skiers at the end of a day, we carve turns down the hill to our resting place.  Bike in-bike out access is nice.  The crowds aren’t bad, and the views are alright.

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Late afternoon sun has warmed the cabin to 40 or or 45 degrees.  We unpack our things, remove our shoes, and soak in the sunlight. 

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We enjoy the sun until the very end of the day.

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By night, we busy ourselves with dinner and bed.

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The cabin cools to freezing, but remains warmer than the outside air.  The thermometer outside reads 9 degrees in the morning.

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Slowly packing our things is a luxury of not keeping a tight schedule.  

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The view from the outhouse isn’t bad.  The latch that operates from the inside is broken.  Breezy, but beautiful.  

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Packing up.  Can’t we just move here?

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From the cabin, the trail continues another 17 miles to the south towards Cooper Landing, and a series of lakes and cabins.  We return towards Hope, to the north.  We will also pass a series of cabins on our return trip.  The cabins are available for rent through the Chugach National Forest.  Additionally, they provide respite on a cold day, or in case of emergency.  Lucas made use of several of these cabins a few years ago when an attempt riding the trail in winter.  His trek stretched from two days, to five.  Eventually, they left their bikes at Fox Creek cabin and walked out.  

Our experience is much different.

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Crossing ice, crust, frozen tundra, and dry dirt, the trail is almost 100% ridable with fat tires and studs.  While I’ve tempered my fatbike evangelism, a winter in Alaska easily inspires year-round fatbike riding.  One bike for all seasons is a common topic of conversation.  “Fatbikes are awesome!” is a frequent observation.

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Nate and Lucas choose the snowmachine path along the hillside, while I pedal the frozen edges of beaver ponds.

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Grips Studs are great.  I wouldn’t trade this tire and stud combination for a pair of Dillingers, at least for this kind of exploratory riding.

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A bit of dry dirt jogs the memory, even though it has only been a few months.

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I find a shovel on the trail.  Nate is a part-time Big Dummy rider, and straps it to his handlebars.  “No junk left behind” seems to be a mantra among Big Dummy riders.

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He still manages to shred the descent with his new handlebar system.

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Down into the trees, we carve corners and unweight our tires over undulations left by machines.

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Our return trip is bound to take only half the time.  Hold on for the icy stuff!  We confess to each other that we ride from patch of dry dirt to dry dirt, where we can expect reliable braking traction.  Leave the brakes alone on the icy stuff.

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Several small drainages add topography to the descent.

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The lower cabins feature wood stoves.  Devil’s Pass cabin has an oil stove, although we didn’t use it.  The system seemed complicated, and appeared to be out of fuel.

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Lower, signs of spring are showing, although it may be premature.  Heavy snowfall is forecast this week.

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Fatbikes are awesome. 

My Salsa Mukluk is packed with Porcelain Rocket framebag; Revelate Williwaw pogies, Gas Tank and Viscacha seatpack; Randi Jo Bartender bag, and Sea-to-Summit compression dry bag on the handlebars.  I am riding tubeless 27tpi Nates with Grip Studs on drilled Rolling Darryl rims.  

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Lucas rides a Ti Salsa Mukluk with Carver carbon fork and Answer carbon 20/20 handlebar; Revelate framebag and seatpack; homemade pogies; and large Sea-to-Summit compression drybag.  We recently mounted his Bud and Lou tires to Marge Lite rims, tubeless. The split-tube method was chose for ultimate reliability.  He normally rides 100mm Clownshoe rims, although he wanted to try out his new lightweight wheelset.  For these conditions, the 100mm Clownshoe rims were not necessary.

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Looks like a Christmas present.

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Although some complain of sagging pogies, a nice feature of a flexible design is that they can be easily rolled out of the way when temperatures warm.  I prefer the easy access of my Revelate pogies, which are the most structured design around.

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Nate rides an older pink Fatback; packed with Revelate framebag, seatpack, and Gas Tank; Dogwood Design pogies, and a large dry bag to the handlebars.  The shovel is not normally part of his bikepacking load.  

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With a few extra hours, we explore the frozen river.  In winter, frozen bodies of water become Alaska’s superhighways.  This is not the best example, but such routes are integral to the Iditarod Tail, and other rural routes. 

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Bushwacking back to the trail, we follow the icy track back to the trailhead.

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Fatbike luge.

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Beware the off-camber sections.  More than once, I slide through corners with a foot down.

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As the sun falls, we crack a beer and load the bikes.  Who would have thought the riding would be so good?  The city of Anchorage is a mess of ice and puddles.  Skiing and snowmachining is nearly impossible on this trail right now.  While fatbikes aren’t always the best tool– such as when skies would be better, in deep snow– it is amazing the places they take us.  There are fewer and fewer places where a bicycle cannot be ridden.  Fatbikes are pretty cool.

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In the mail

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A kitchen and a mailbox are perhaps the greatest features of living in town.  A bed is overrated, as is multiple bike ownership.  Jobs are alright, for a time.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been lucky to receive many interesting things in the mail, including correspondences from old friends, kind offers from new friends, and a few items ordered from faraway.  Somehow, I’m swimming in stickers.

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From Portland, OR

A friend in Portland sent a handwritten letter with updates.  We talk about new bikes, old bikes, and bike trips, mostly.  Shawn Granton is the illustrative genius behind many notable comix and zines related to bicycles, Portland, and travel.  He’s the guy behind the Urban Adventure League blog, the Zinester’s Guide to Portland, and the Bicycle Touring Primer.  He has also crafted many illustrations for local Portland bicycle events, and is a regular contributor to Bicycle TImes.  His wit ranks alongside his wisdom about bicycles and his craft with the pen.  Included is a self-made sticker which reads “NO, I don’t have a D.U.I. I just like riding my bike”.  Thanks Shawn!

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From Missoula, MT

A friend from the Adventure Cycling Association has been kind enough to send maps of their first bikepacking route.  The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route (IHSMBR) promises over 500 miles of dirt roads and trails, with over 200 miles of singletrack asides, including access to over fifty hot springs en route.  Secret springs are rumored to also exist along the route, if you can find them.  This route is the the result of much hard work and research, especially by ACA cartographer Casey Greene, who is also an expeditious Montanta bikepacker, packbiker, and photographer.

In contrast to the Great Divide Route, the IHSMBR promises to be a true mountain bike route, complete with epic climbs and descents, and some hike-a-bike.  Knobby tires are necessary and panniers are not advised.  This is my kind of route!

The design of these maps make a great leap beyond those found on other ACA routes.  Due to the non-linear path of this route, it borrows from a broad-scale map format, as used on the Divide maps, but includes many of the features you see on other popular adventure maps, such as those in the National Geographic Adventure series.  Genuine topographic details, relief shading, and a unique font choice carry these guides into the future.  All photos by Casey Greene as well.  The details of the new maps are described in detail on the Adventure Cycling Blog.

Lael and I are looking at ways to include this route into our summer plans.  So many places to go!

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From Minneapolis, MN

Contributors to Bunyan Velo volunteer their time and donate their experiences and images to the magazine.  Occasionally, an envelope will arrive from Minnesota with a couple of stickers and a thank you note from editor Lucas Winzenberg.  I’ve worked with Lucas in some capacity on all four issue this past year, and am grateful for the chance to reach so many new readers, and to share the kind of riding we do.  The whole thing is growing– the riding, the writing, and the readership– tell your friends about Bunyan Velo!  Issue No. 4 is out now.

A few weeks ago, I received this Bunyan Velo stem bag and a wold cap made by Randi Jo Fabrications, which is really just one woman in Oregon named Randi Jo.  In addition, I’ve got enough BV stickers that Lael thought they would a suitable replacement for a broken ziptie on her Mukluk.  The “Get Rad” patch has yet to find a home, but I have an idea.

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From Annapolis, MD

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These Crazy Bars come from Velo Orange, headquartered in Annapolis, MD.  The concept of multi-position handlebars has grown popular over the last few years, as have alternative mountain bars featuring 20-50degree bends (also called alt bars or mountain comfort).  This bar blends the two concepts with a 666mm width at a 45deg angle for the main grip position.  The forward sections are designed to replicate the comfortable semi-aero position on the hoods of a road bar.  The concept on paper, is brilliant.  In person, the bars look a little nutty.  They are so wild looking, in fact, they’ve attached the designers name to the bar.  Casey’s Crazy Bars are described in greater detail on the VO Blog.

I’ve thought about which bike will get these bars first.  It will be either the Surly ECR or the Shogun Prairie Breaker, although I think I prefer a slightly wider bar on the ECR due to the oversize, over-wide wheels (29×3.0″). Additonally, I’ve decided the current position on the Shogun is too upright, as a steel touring bar is currently affixed.  This bar may help, with the option to use the forward position on crosstown sprints to work.

From Calgary, AB, Canada

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It has been a few weeks since I received this custom framebag from Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket.  While the bag is filled with clothing and food on a daily basis, I’ve finally found the opportunity to get out for a multi-day trip.  More details on our ride up Resurrection Pass soon!

Also from Missoula, MT

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I am proud to be the first official customer of Wanderlust Gear, a new project for Paul Hansbarger of Missoula, MT, also an ACA employee.  He has years of experience designing and making gear under the name Hans Bagworks.  This Beargrass top-tube bag is Made in the USA and features a simple, lightweight design.  Removable plastic stiffeners are included to stabilize the side panels of the bag.  I am especially interested in the Rattlesnake stem bag, which claims to hold a standard water bottle and some snacks, a 32oz Nalgene, or even a 40oz. Klean Kanteen.  Remarkably, both bags are priced at $35, a sign that competition in the industry is good for consumers.  Paul also makes custom framebags ($140+) and insulated pogies in his Missoula shop.  More products are to be released as winter fades to spring.

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The all-important MUSA tag.

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From 45NRTH

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These didn’t arrive in the mail, at least not to me personally.  I purchased these from The Bicycle Shop, where I work.  While the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro is the best bicycle ice tire on the planet (without question), I was curious to try this new offering from 45NRTH,  a new company from Minneapolis, MN, a sibling in the QBP family.  The 29×2.35″ Nicotine tire is a touch wider than the 29×2.25″ Ice Spiker Pro, with more pronounced blocky knobs on the outside.  I was hoping to retain as much flotation at possible on 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rims on the ECR.  Unfortunately, the 222 studs do not inspire confidence in truly icy conditions, and while each stud features a concave design which claims more “edges”, any studded tire that doesn’t make a lot of noise isn’t doing its job.  The result is a decent mountain bike tire with a little extra bite on the ice.  A poor ice tire is an easy habit to kick.  The volume of the tire is notably smaller than the 3.0″ Knard it replaces, as expected.  Hey 45NRTH, how about 400+ studs per tire next year?

The Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro features 402 studs per tire (29″ version), with a similar lightweight folding casing.  The Ice Spiker is also tubeless ready, officially, and the Nicotine warns against tubeless use, although it may be possible.

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Lots of knobs, not a lot of studs.  Each stud is only slightly raised from the tire.  At least, it would be nice to mold extra stud wells into the tire to allow custom studding as needed.  400+ studs please!

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On smooth glare ice, the studs do catch some traction, but not enough to really be safe on off-camber sidewalks and rutted alleyways.  This skid is at 12psi, riding at about 8mph.  Lael has ridden this bike, and has enough bruises to cash in for some Schwalbes, I think.  The Grip Studs on my Mukluk are more effective.  As a result, I ride the Mukluk almost every day.

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The Surly ECR frame features gaping clearances with 29×2.35″ tires, something I like to see, leaving lots of room for mud, and enough room to keep it out of the drivetrain.  While the BB is lowered with the smaller tires, for commuting and normal touring it rides very nicely (lest I be called an internet-arm-chair-engineer).  Still thinking a Krampus is more my style, or a Krampus-inspired 29+ Mukluk.

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From Grand Rapids, MI

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To that end, the 45mm Velocity Dually 29 rims might be just the ticket to turn a Mukluk into a 29+ bikepacking beast.  These high polish USA-made rims feature a doublewall construction, and a tubeless ready design.  They are yet to be built, as I decide which hubs will be used.  The main concern is whether I prefer to ride a rigid 29+ bike or a suspension fork with 2.4-3.0″ tires up front.  One build would use a 135mm fatbike specific hub, while the other would use a 100mm hub, possibly with a 15mm thru-axle on a suspension fork.  A dynamo is also part of the equation.  Knards look awesome on the Duallys.

Revisiting Ukraine

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We’ve all been reading about the events in Ukraine.  As a result of my Ukrainian heritage and our recent travels in Ukraine and on the Crimean Peninsula, I have a unique interest in the Ukrainian story.  I have some beautiful images from our time in Ukraine which I haven’t shared.  As I revisit them, I am moved by the experience in contrast to the fiery images streaming through major media channels.  My family (from NY) visited Ukraine with us for ten days, in which time we met long-lost family members in villages on either side of the country, and celebrated 22 years of Ukrainian independence in the central square in Kyiv.  Above, the Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square, the current site of the protests and violence in Kyiv, quietly buzzing with celebratory energy on August 24, 2013.

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Vitamin D Ride, Anchorage, AK

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Seeking an hour of sun on my day off work, Lael and I finally put down our coffee cups and start pedaling around noon.  She has been dealing with a creaky ankle, so the plan is to make a mellow circuit of the local multi-use trails.

However, the Fur Rondy dog mushing races have taken over the main trails.  These are preliminary exhibition races to the Iditarod, which starts later this week.

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Instead, we cut through neighborhoods to a local singletrack trail called Blue Booty, named for a blue dog booty (like a sock), that had once been found on the trail.  This is the most prominent trail through APU (Alaska Pacific University), at the heart of a new network of trails taking shape.  Most of those trails seems to be natural, without grooming, signage, or mapping.  It only takes a little traffic to make top-notch winter trails.  More fatbikes equal more trails.

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Soon, Lael peels off towards work.  I intend a few more pedal strokes before returning home.

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I continue, dodging sections of trail closed for the races.  After two weeks without much riding, and altogether too much time indoors and in front of a computer, I can’t seem to get close enough to the sun.  If I keep going south, by the end of the day I’ll have consumed more sun than I’ve seen in months.  If lucky, I might even get a sunburn.

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Turning off the Tour of Anchorage trail onto Blue Dot, a favorite amongst cyclist in town.  This is a popular connection for group rides.

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A friend joins for a spin.  Nate rides a pink Fatback.  We first met several years ago when I listed a Nate tire on Craigslist.  Eventually, I borrowed some Schwalbe tires for my Pugsley, in trade for Maxxis Holy Rollers.  I returned the Schwalbes after riding them down to Montana, and eventually, he returned the Nate to me in New Mexico.  We are like tire pen-pals. 

Nate is working to create a few extra trails in the Campbell Tract from the Lore Road trailhead.  After a snowfall, he first packs the trail with snowshoes.  Next, walkers and riders begin to work it in.  Eventually, it is rideable (mostly).  In winter, traffic is paramount to the existence of trail.

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We encounter a prototye Fatback Corvus frame and fork, with tubeless carbon Fatback rims.  I heft the bike; the internal scales says ‘superlight’.  Top finishers in the 350 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) to McGrath were both riding Fatback bikes this past weekend.  Kevin Breitenbach and Tim Bernston both crushed Jay Petervary’s record from last year, due in part to excellent trail conditions with little snow.  They arrived in McGrath in a little over 2 days.   

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An old pink bike works just fine for Nate.

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With so many familiar faces on the trail, we hardly find time to ride.  Nick has recently made his 9zero7 fatbike tubeless, opting for the reliable split-tube method, mating 120tpi Dillingers to Rolling Darryls.  The split tube method is easy and reliable, and works with almost any combination of rim and tire.

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Parting ways with Nate, I continue south.

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First, onto Elmore Road, which dead-ends onto a powerline trail, before resuming again further south.

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Down to a grocery store for lunch.

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Including a stop at two local bike shops, the grocery store, and an electronics store for a lens filter, I connect the east side of town with Kincaid Park, in the west.  Immediately, I shoot for unfamiliar trails along the waterfront.

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A crusty, sandy trail leads up the hill.  With a little grit, it is rideable.

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It leads up and around, to the bluff.

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This southwestern exposure gets plenty of springtime sun, and is reported to be the first dry trail in town. 

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In winter, it seems to get little tire traffic.  Mostly boot tracks are present.

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The trail is a little sketchy at times, including some crusty off-camber trail.  However, most if it is rideable and much more like mountain biking that most of the playful groomed trails we usually enjoy.  The distinction, I think, is the presence of natural obstacles, and a few unridable features.  On this day, Surly Nate tires are great.  I am loving the new tubeless set-up as well.  The bike is much more fun.

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Connecting back to more established trail, a chill settles.  Sunlight slowly wanes.  Near the first of March, we gain nearly six minutes of light per day.  Days have just grown longer than 10 hours, a welcomed feature.  March is always a great month.

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I make several loops of some area trails, as I know I won’t likely have the chance to return during the week.  Conditions are perfect.  The front tire washes a few times while descending Middle Earth.

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 I wait several minutes before I am able to gently suggest this moose off the trail.  

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Partway down Middle Earth, the skyline warrants waiting.  Sunset seems to last for hours.

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One half of the sky is night.

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The other half holds dearly onto day.

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Finally, I arrive home eight hours after leaving.  Waiting on the front stoop is a box from Velocity USA, containing two high-polish Velocity Dually 29 rims.  We’ll talk about that later.

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Bunyan Velo, Issue No. 4

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For the fourth time in a year, we look forward to sitting down with a cup of black coffee or a tall pint of pilsener to the technicolor pages of Bunyan Velo.  This issue is a taller pour than the last, featuring words and images from Przemek Duszynski, Glenn Charles, Cass Gilbert, Lael Wilcox, Logan Watts and Virginia Krabill, Rob Perks, Donnie Kolb, Mark Reimer and Daniel EnnsGabe Ehlert, et al.

Incidentally, there are three unique perspectives of our travels this summer.  

Przemek’s reflections describe the lessons he has learned while riding, encapsulated in his song-like story titled “I’m Happy and I’m Riding and a 1,2,3,4…”  Within, he learns the difference between the number of miles ridden in a day and the number of good friends that surround you.  I guess this means he’s not mad that I gave him food poisoning on his birthday.  Hopefully, he’ll find time next summer to grow our riding group to 1, 2, 3 as we waltz around the Black Sea.

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Lael captures the height of summer in Czech.  Her story describes Czech people and Czech things, and our quest to cross paths with Joe Cruz in Prague.  I like how she portrays the reality of the road, in which our lives are intertwined with everyone around us.  Her colorful photos capture some of the best memories of summer in “Červenec in Czech”.Screen Shot 2014 02 26 at 9 38 48 AM

 

Finally, I share stories from our final months on the road in the American Southwest, between Colorado and Arizona  The capstone to a full summer of stories, our final ride between Tucson and Phoenix along a segment of the Arizona Trail provides an emotional close to the season, and a lasting memory through winter.  Look for “Last Chance, Arizona” in the latest issue of Bunyan Velo!

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Every issue of Bunyan Velo has been possible due to the unpaid efforts of riders, writers, photographers, and one very dedicated editor, Lucas Winzenburg.  Coffee and many late nights have also played an important role in the process.  Donate to Bunyan Velo to ensure future publication.  Stickers and handmade wool Bunyan Velo hats are also available on the BV webstore.  Hopefully, three months from now, there will be another round of adventures to share.    

Free publication is the best way to reach riders and readers, and we’d like to keep it that way to continue growing the community of homespun adventurers and storytellers.  Also, keep you eyes open for a printed anthology, now that Bunyan Velo has captured a full year of adventure cycling.  Tell your friends!

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 Photos: Glenn Charles, Przemek Duszynski, Lael Wilcox, and Nicholas Carman.

In print, photograph, and film

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Recently, friends from all over the globe have published an array of media that capture a specific time or unique aspect of our lives.  In the deepest part of winter, is is nice to have such sun-bleached memories to use as fuel for the next season of riding.  It is nice to know such an amazing network of people.

Print and photograph:

Our friend and Polish riding companion Przemek has published a series of beautiful stories on his blog In Between Spokes.  These photographic journeys document some of the time we spent riding together in Poland.  I especially enjoy the post entitled “Born on the trail: Chabowka to Szczawnica“, and this one detailing our first days on the trail together, “Days better than other: Zwardon to Makow Podhalanski“.  Our last days of riding together in Poland are captured in “Goodbyes, Hellos: Szczawnica to Krynica Zdroj“.  Without knowing at the time, we would eventually reconnect with Przemek in Ukraine to ride together in the Carpathian Mountains, and also on the Crimean Peninsula.  All told, we spent nearly a month living and riding with Przemek.  It was the best experience we have ever had sharing the trail with someone (Lael excepted).

Look for more of Przemek’s words and images in the upcoming issue of Bunyan Velo.  The fourth edition of this free quarterly magazine is due to be published next week.  Finally (finally!), it will also have some of Lael’s words as well.  Catch up with the wide world of bicycle adventure by revisiting the first three issues of Bunyan Velo.  Full-resolution copies of the magazine are available for download for a few dollars, and the BV web store now includes some cool paraphernalia.  I’ve been wearing a wool Randi Jo Fab hat with Bunyan Velo logo all winter.  Or, just donate some dollars to keep Bunyan Velo alive!

All photos Przemek Duszynski.

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Print:

My friend Mary has also published an interview with me on the Chasing Mailboxes blog.  We first met on the C&O canal outside of Washington D.C. in 2010, by chance.  Mary has been documenting the lives and minds of various cycling bloggers over the last few weeks, including interviews with Shawn Granton of the Urban Adventure League and Kent Peterson of Kent’s Bike Blog.  I am happy to have shared some very personal thoughts about riding and blogging with Mary, including some insight into why I’m tired of classic bikes, and how much my load of electronics weigh in comparison to ultralight camping equipment.

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At the time, I was only reading a couple of blogs, irregularly, although I was heavily interested in bikes and was learning at a rapid pace.

In the past years, I had spent a lot of time digging through Sheldon Brown‘s webpages and learning through my own mistakes and experiences. I was also reading Dave Moulton’s blog regularly, and enjoyed discovering some of Jacquie Phelan’s old articles from 80′s MTB magazines. I loved the concept of a literate mountain biker. I was keeping up with news from Velo Orange and Rivendell, both of which postured themselves in a unique position against the mainstream market.

By the time Lael and I went on our first bike trip in 2008, I still hadn’t explored the blogosphere deeply. However, I remember such things were more sparse back then. There are more blogs now than ever, which is a good thing.

I started the blog after leaving my job at Velo Orange in Maryland, on my way out to Banff, Alberta, to the start of the Divide. I felt young and energetic, with a whole summer of riding ahead of me.

I had been touring for over two years already, and felt like I had something to share that could be valuable to others. I also felt like I had something to say for my own benefit, as a personal outlet. That summer, and for the next year, I managed the blog entirely from an iPod Touch.

Read more on the Chasing Mailboxes blog.

Print, photograph and film:

Finally, our friend Vital from Ukraine, has compiled an awesome film of our two day ride up and over Kemal Egerek, one of the tallest peaks in the Crimean Mountains, just a few kilometers from the Black Sea.  His humorous edit– set to the Beastie Boys song “Sabotage”– will surely put a smile to your face.  The five minute film gives an honest impression of some of the roads and trails in Crimea, Ukraine, and also captures our camaraderie on the trail.  The film also features my favorite trailside repair, ever.  Highly recommended.

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Vital has also published a nice report of our time together on his blog, whose title translates to “burning or blazing saddles”.  Check it out, and if you dare, filter the Russian language through the Google translator.  I’m sure that some of the original meaning is lost, but the result is hilarious.  Thanks for such great memories Vital!

I wrote about our ride with Vital over Kemal Egerek on the post “Above the Black Sea, Krym, Ukraine“.

A Brief History of Fatbikes

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The history of the modern fatbike includes two contemporaneous stories of development in Alaska and southern New Mexico. As mountain bikes arrived in shops in the 1980s, customizations for riding on sand and snow were quick to follow. In 1987, the first Iditabike event challenged riders to travel 200 miles of Alaskan backcountry in winter, following snowmobile and dog mushing trails. The course followed the first section of the historic Iditarod dog mushing trail to Nome, another 1000 miles further. Conditions along the trail range from rideable frozen crust — the result of daily freeze-thaw cycles — to a mélange of soft snow, glare ice, and liquid water overflow. Harsh conditions, and lots of walking alongside a bike in the snow challenged riders to improve their equipment for next year. A wider tire footprint was essential…

Read more and comment on the Adventure Cycling Blog.

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The Adventure Cycling Association celebrates Fatbike February every year, highlighting fatbikes and winter cycling.  Also, today is Winter Bike to Work Day (and St. Valentine’s Day), which is a good opportunity to ride outside of your normal routine, exploring new possibilities by bike.  Winter riding, and the riders, in Anchorage are proof that year-round cycling is possible anywhere.  Get outside today and ride!

Keep up with #FatbikeFeb on the Adventure Cycling Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Tubeless Fatbike Guide: Nate to Rolling Darryl

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Living in New Mexico last winter required the adoption of tubeless tire systems.  Arriving in Albuquerque on a Pugsley, I was foiled by goathead punctures on a daily basis.  Naturally, as other mountain bikers in town already knew, “going tubeless” was the answer.  At Two Wheel Drive, we developed a method to bring fatbikes into the tubeless realm using the split-tube method, also known as “ghetto tubeless”.  

For a detailed guide to the split-tube method, check out Fatbike Tubeless, Tubeless Moonlander, and Does it work?.  In short, a 20″ or 24″ tube is split along its outside seam to create an airtight rim strip.  The tire is mounted atop the homemade rimstrip, without a tube, and a blast of air seats the tire.  Finish with liquid sealant, trim the excess rubber from the split tube, and ride.  This method has proven reliable, and may be preferred for anyone concerned about tire burps, such as an aggressive rider on rocky trails.  For a completely burp-free system, it is possible to apply an adhesive between the tire and the split tube to create a permanent seal, also allowing the tire to be moved from wheel to wheel without breaking the tubeless seal.  These two methods typically reduce wheel weight when compared to use of a tube, but not by much.  

The final procedure for converting an existing wheel to a tubeless system is very simple in theory, and is the lightest method.  A layer of tape is applied to the rim to create an airtight seal.  The tire is mounted and seated, and sealant is added.  Finally, sealant is distributed inside the tire to seal the bead and any pores in the tire.  While the concept is simple, there are several challenges.  Seating the tire on the rim can be difficult, especially in the case of a very loose-fitting tire.  Some tire and rim combinations mate better than others, due to inexact tolerances and texture along the tire bead.  Some of the texture designed on the tire bead is intended to improve the bead lock, reducing the risk of the tire walking on the rim at extreme low pressures, but creating some challenge to sealing.   

 The beginning front wheel weight is 7lbs 15oz (3.6kg) for a Salsa Mukluk 135mm hub, custom drilled (1.5″ holes) Surly Rolling Darryl rim, butted spokes and brass nipples, 160mm rotor, stock 26×4.0″ tube, 27tpi Surly Nate tire, and about 75 Grip Studs.  This will not be a super light wheel, but with all the features– studs, aggressive tread, elimination of puncture risk– it will be just right for my needs.  For about $10-$20 per wheel, this is the cheapest way to lighten a fatbike, or any bike.  Of course, wheel weight is always more pronounced than weight on the frame.  Reducing the friction between tube and tire is also a theoretical gain, evidenced by the rubber dust found within the tire from rubbing at low pressure.

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Remove tire, tube, and rimstrip.  The Surly rimstrip weighs about 90g.

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The naked wheel weighs exactly 3 lbs.  The stock tube weighs 15 oz (about 425g)

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I take the opportunity to true the wheel.

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A layer of high-visibility DOT approved reflective tape is applied to the rim, which will be visible through the cutouts, improving safety in traffic.  Similar tape is available in a variety of colors.  Look for safety or sign stores catering to industrial and construction accounts. 

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Finish with a piece of tape.

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Next, a layer of Gorilla Tape is applied tightly to the rim, up to the very edge of the bead shelf, just under the hooked edge of the rim.  Another layer is added to the other side, meeting in the middle to create an airtight seal.  It is theorized that laying the tape right up to the bead helps create a tighter fit at the bead.  It certainly helps to seat the tire initially.  Other sources suggest several layers of tape.

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Mount the tire with a tube to ensure every inch of tape is securely adhered to the rim.  This also allows one bead to be seated, reducing the challenges of seating the tire without the tube.

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Mount the second bead onto the rim.  A cheap 26 ” rubber rimstrip helps to force the tire bead towards the edge of the rim, on the bead shelf, where the tire is most likely to contain air.

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Removing the valve core is essential to a quick burst of air.  A good compressor is also necessary.

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The tire accepts the air on the first attempt, and pops into position.  I deflate the tire and install 4-6oz of Stan’s sealant (more if you want, especially in thorn country, or with even bigger tires) through the valve core, although it is possible to dump sealant into the tire before seating. Spin and shake the tire to ensure a good seal all around.  Bring the tire up to maximum pressure (30psi).  If possible, ride the bike to simulate any disturbances that might arise in real world conditions.  This also helps to distribute sealant.  Some tires may spit sealant from the bead or from under the valve during installation (120tpi Dillingers on Darryls have done this in my experience), but this 27tpi Nate sealed without a drop.  After my experience with Knards on Rabbit Holes, I am amazed.  I will revisit that combination soon.  

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The final weight of the front wheel is 7lbs 5oz.  This is a 10oz (283g) weight reduction.  For greater weight loss, it may be possible to use a lightweight packing tape without the thick reflective tape that I installed.  Wide Stan’s rim tape is unofficially available through Speedway Cycles in Anchorage.

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The final rear wheel weighs in at 9lbs 2oz.

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Time to ride home for the night.  First impressions are that the bike feels like a rocket.  I explore some urban crust on the way home, mounting snowbanks along the roadsides, doing my best to challenge the system.  Anything that makes riding more fun is worth it.  One and a quarter pounds (567g) less weight in the wheels helps a lot!

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In the morning, I go outside for the real test, to see if the tires have held air overnight.  Sometimes, small air leaks are impossible to detect during set-up, but will make themselves apparent by morning.  If the tire is soft in the morning, add air and agitate.  More sealant may help as a failsafe against leaks during initial installation.  If possible, put the bike in a stand or turn it upside down, and spin the wheels every time you walk by.  Thanks to Kevin at Paramount Cycles and Timely at the Trek Store for advice and encouragement.  Thanks to Chris at The Bicycle Shop for assisting the process, and allowing initial explorations on the wheels of his Salsa Beargrease.

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Fun, safe, and lightweight– nothing not to like!

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Future explorations include other rim and tire combinations, lighter weight preparations (for customers, presumably), and testing at extreme low pressures.  

Winter City 50K Urban Randonée

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Above: Clint rides across glare ice and crust on Westchester Lagoon, in the center of Anchorage, AK.  Spring conditions have arrived early this year, making studded tires a necessary tool.

The Winter City 30/50K Urban Randonée celebrates winter cycling in the city of Anchorage.  Organized by the Alaska Randonneurs as a fundraiser for the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage, it provides an opportunity to ride with others, on routes which usually compose morning commutes or late night rides.  On this morning, well over 100 riders meet at the Trek Bicycle Store to encircle the city on a mix of multi-use greenway trails, signed urban bike routes, and secondary streets.  Given the unusual weather we’ve experienced this past month, the route was largely covered by ice, with alternating sections of dry pavement and hardpacked snow trails.  There is not an ideal bike for this route, although studs and a large-volume tire provide security and comfort.  Fatbikes, especially those with studs, were the bike of choice for many.

I enjoyed the chance to ride with a lot of new people, including some acquaintances from The Bicycle Shop, and even a few co-workers with whom I have never ridden.

We begin in a large group, and slowly disperse into several smaller groups.  We ride south on C Street, onto the Campbell Creek Trail to cross under the Old Seward Highway.

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We choose a shortcut across Taku Lake, passing several groups of ice fishermen.

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A small bottleneck at the first control is the last that we’ll see.  We won’t make the next control before the prescribed cut-off time.  Along the way, we detour onto some urban singletrack; the other half of our group assists another rider with a derailleur malfunction.

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A slice of the Blue Booty trail near APU breaks up the ride.

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Back onto multi-use trail and over Northern Lights Blvd. to Russian Jack Park.

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The next control warrants a few moments indoors to warm fingers and toes.  Back to her old touring habits, Lael indulges in a cup of gas station coffee at the Holiday station.  Does this count as coffeeneuring?

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Onto a network of icy streets in the Mountain View neighborhood.

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To the Ship Creek Trail.  This newer multi-use trail is a crucial link to a traffic-free loop around town, an especially popular summer ride.  

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 The Ship Creek Trail includes features which indicate a big budget, but will be enjoyed for years to come. 

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Downstream from Mountain View, Ship Creek connects to the railroad yards, the port, and downtown Anchorage.  The mouth of the creek is open to salmon fishing.

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While Anchorage does maintain an active port, it is not the largest in the state, measured by value of the product handled.  That honor goes to Valdez, which deals almost exclusively in the export of Alaskan oil, transported from the North Slope by the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System.  However, Anchorage receives most of the commercial goods that enter into the state, typically arriving from Tacoma, WA.  

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Up the hill, leaving the railroad, the port, and Ship Creek behind.

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To 4th Street, the heart of downtown, unusually void of snow and ice in early February.

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For a few moments, studs and fat tires are unnecessary.  For a moment, we’re just a group of over-dressed, over-equipped weekend riders.

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Crossing the Delaney Park Strip, we point our tires towards the Fire Island Bakery.

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Fresh baked bread and pastries draw us in.  I purchase a cup of coffee, a peanut butter cookie sandwich, and a baguette for dinner.  

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The baguette fits nicely in my new Porcelain Rocket framebag, which is custom sized and color-matched to my 19″ red Mukluk.

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Back on the road, Lael parts from the group and rides to work.  Three of us remain to complete the final 20K of the route.  Tailwinds and late afternoon sun help us along.  After all the distractions of the day, we finally settle on a more brisk riding pace.  I’d like to say it is because we’re motivated, but in fact, the next control on our list is the King Street Brewery.  We breeze past several less interesting controls en route to the taproom (Taco King, NOAA, another gas station; we were already hours past the cut-off time).

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We ride across Taku Lake a second time towards the brewery.  This is my first time visiting the King Street Brewery.  Now I know it is only a block off the trail– good news!

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Only a few miles from the end of the ride, Clint, Paul and I settle in for a fresh pint.  A pink Fatback and a white Pugsley are resting outside when we arrive.  Clint is riding a carbon 9zero7 Whiteout frame with Dillinger tires set-up tubeless on Rolling Darryl rims, while Paul is on an aluminum 9zero7 frame with 100mm wide Clownshoe rims.  Paul uses a variety of tires based upon conditions, including some 5″ Bud and Lou tires when the snow piles up.  Both 9zero7 frames easily swallow 100mm rims and 5″ tires thanks to a 190mm rear spacing.

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Back to the Trek Store, to finish the day.  Thanks to Clint and Paul for a great day of riding!  Let’s do it again sometime.  Next time we can make our own route, connecting greenway trails and singletrack from bakery to brewery and beyond.

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Clear/Fog

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The day begins with no more than a few degrees, and a little bit of moisture in the air.  We ride out to Kincaid Park to volunteer for the Ski for Women, where Lael will lead a brief yoga session before the event.  The morning is crisp and cold.  Although we are in a hurry– “nine miles, pedal!”– it is a good morning to be out of bed.

Packing her new yoga mat, and three sandwiches for myself, we ride out to the edge of Anchorage.

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For 15 minutes of this.  Ski for Women is a well-attended group ski event that raises money for women’s causes.  Most of it isn’t a race.

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After, we explore some of the Kincaid singletrack trails, after weeks of warm weather, sun exposure, and dog walkers.

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In some places, the snow is completely gone.  Elsewhere, bumpy glare ice presents a challenge to the non-studded.

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We turn back, as the trail becomes heavily potholed with the tracks of dog walkers and moose.  Deep frozen potholes are no fun.  We connect with the Coastal Trail to ride back into town the long way.

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The crispness has taken most of the moisture out of the air, depositing it on everything. 

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Until, the moisture returns.  Suddenly, we are in a fog.

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A reminder that our proximity to the ocean is not great, despite several hundred miles to the deep blue water.  Cook Inlet moderates the weather patterns in Anchorage.

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As most of the snow has melted, we cross Westchester Lagoon on glare ice and crust.

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Another task not suited for the non-studded.  Actually, the light coating of crystalline hoar frost provides better traction than the wet ice common when temperatures are above freezing.

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Still, studs are better.  She’s got ‘em.  I don’t, yet.  A pack of Grip Studs are waiting for my tires, as are a pair of 29×2.35″ 45 NRTH Nicotine tires for the ECR.

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As we near home, the clearing begins.  This kind of weather comes and goes in Anchorage.

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As high as possible: Anchorage, AK

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A day off work leaves nearly eight hours of daylight that I usually don’t experience.  Normal weekday rides are limited to commutes around town and late night escapades in the nearby Campbell Tract.  These nighttime rides lace familiar trails in fresh permutations, and in combination with changing conditions, a sense of discovery is alive.  Access to such great winter singletrack out the front door is special.  But with extra time, and extra daylight, I embrace the chance to go further.

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From the house, the ride begins with about a mile of neighborhood streets and sidewalks to connect with the Campbell Creek Trail, a major greenway artery in town.  From the trail, the mountains are visible, and play their first hand.  Today, at sunrise, they offer sunshine and shadows.

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Now that much of the city is glazed with ice, and much of the romantic side of winter has melted, the trails are much less busy than they were last month.  The moose have taken advantage of wide open trails, although they seem to be on alert.  Perhaps they are aware, as we are, that the bears will eventually wake up if this weather continues.

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From the Campbell Creek Trail, I turn onto the groomed Tour of Anchorage Trail, which signals the beginning of BLM land and access to the network of singletrack from which we compose our nightly rides.  Finally, the Blue Dot trail appears amidst birch and aspen.  Turn right, and turn up the tunes.  I never ride with music, but I finally found a pair of earbuds at the house that fit my ears, barely.  I must readjust them every ten minutes, but the elation of riding trails with music (on my day off from work!) is just short of ecstasy.  The occasion requires a lot of standing sprints, hard cornering, and a few round-the-bend Repack-style powerslides.

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Thank you bridge elves!

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On this day, temperatures above 35, 40, 45 degrees continue the melting trend.  Clear skies let the sun do some work.

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There are swamps and shallows I’ve never seen, as I’ve only ridden here in the winter, in real winter.

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I am really enjoying the new Mukluk.  The bike is responsive, and handles like a real mountain bike, not an upright snow cruiser in the style of the old Mukluk (blue model, 2012).  I am hoping to build some 29″ or 29+ wheels for the Mukluk, to provide contrast to the ride of the ECR.  The Mukluk shares more with the Krampus than with the ECR, including a 60mm BB drop, longer TT, short chainstays, and modern trail geometry.  With a tapered headtube and a 100mm suspension correct fork, it might be perfect.

The perfect 29″ build: I am thinking about 45mm wide Velocity Dually rims with 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent Tires (tubeless, of course), and a suspension fork with adequate clearance.  Schwalbe’s Hans Dampf tires are still on the list, as are Knards, and the new Surly Dirt Wizard tires, if they ever materialize.  Fox forks seem to have more clearance than the 29″ forks form Rock Shox.  There are a few dedicated fatbike forks available, and a few more on the horizon, including a rumored Rock Shox fat fork.  The “one bike for all seasons” project is now exactly two years old.

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The Campbell Tract is crossed with XC ski trails, groomed multi-use trails, and singeletrack hiking and biking tracks.  Some trails originate as survey boundary lines, like this one, and are straight as an arrow.  Most others cut natural lines into the land, making the most of the lowland topography.

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Riding up towards the Hillside Ski area marks a high point for most of our nighttime rides in the Campbell Tract.  Little snow is left on the ski trails.

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I continue further.

The Gasline Trail goes up, straight up.  This is what utility trails do, whether Alaska or Arizona or elsewhere.  The first push is a push, then it slackens and is rideable up towards the Prospect Heights Trailhead and the mountains.

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The Upper Hillside trails receive little bike traffic in the winter.  Although lightly potholed from walkers, the base is solidly frozen, and rideable.  No bike tracks are present.

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Up The Hive trail, back to the Gasline– I leave some fresh Nate tracks.  The tires stay afloat, while each tall rubber know punches through the crust for traction.

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Passing into Chugach State Park and above 1000ft, the mountains are near.

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Higher up, more ice is present, the result of daily inversions and warm winds on the hillside.  Daily, cool moist air settles in the Anchorage Bowl.

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A balmy winter breeze passes between trees.  T-shirt and pogies are an unusual combination, not unlike the combination of skirts and Xtra Tuff rubber boots, common around urban Anchorage.  I prefer blue jeans and gaiters.

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Beyond the Prospect Heights trailhead, the snow disappears almost entirely, and the trail turns to ice.  Views improve, even as clouds enter the scene.

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Lael offers her studded Nates in the morning, which I refuse.  I should have swapped wheels.  It is possible to ride the trail’s edge, between ice and grass.

I miss climbing thousands of feet at a time.  I’ll save some of that energy for summer and give the legs a rest.  Finally, approaching the Glen Alps Trailhead, at about 2000ft.

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When ice fails to cover the trail, mud is present.

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Eventually, the trail becomes more ice than rideable.  Time to turn back down.  A few drops of rain fall from above.

Off in the distance, over a hundred miles away, are Denali and the Alaska Range.  Surely, it is winter up there, above 20,000ft.

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Down the Powerline Trail, sometimes straddling the top tube with two feet on the ground.  Sometimes, riding the white-ish decomposing ice along the edge, which allows just enough traction.

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Down, past the Hillside Ski area, closed for now, possibly for the remainder of the season.

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Down, to the lower Hillside Trails.

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Down, and across Campbell Creek.

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Down, into birch meadow and swamps.  The goal was to ride as high as possible, including all the singletrack I can find on the way up and down.  As a result, I add a few new trails to the quiver.

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Down from the mountains, and back home, all within a day, barely.

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From sunrise, to sunset, a good day on the bike.

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In the other direction, check out Lael’s post “Out on the Coastal Trail” for a diverse range of winter activities along the forested waterfront trail.  Her amazing photo set includes fly-fishing and a fat-tire hand cycle,  amusing and inspiring.