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.

Melt!

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For more than two weeks, unseasonably warm weather has unearthed the city from under several feet of snow.  My decision to come north for the winter was largely based upon the assumption that reliable snowfall and cold temperatures would ensure good winter riding.  Growing up “back east”, I know as much about winter storms as I do about the January thaw.

For several weeks, the opposite of my assumptions has been true.  While urban riding here in Anchorage has become hazardous without studs, the trails have been fun through nearly every phase of springtime conditions.  Between out-of-town visitors and in-town obligations, we’ve not ridden the singletrack trails in town as much as usual.  But, a loop around the Campbell Tract reminds me that even in changing conditions, the riding here is great fun.  While the trails are in great shape, as Lael can attest– thanks to several hundred Grip Studs in her tires– more than just rubber is needed to get to and from the trails.

I’ve been riding the Shogun Prairie Breaker around town with 26×2.3″ studded tires.  However, I long to get back on the Surly ECR.  Since I’ve finally built a proper front wheel for that bike, I’d like to mount a set of studded tires to the 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rims.  The width of the Rabbit Holes is not unlike Snowcat rims, at 44mm, which for many years, were the best equipment available for riding on snow and ice (note: Rabbit Holes are now available for 26″wheels as well).  I’m hoping to mount either a 29×2.35″ 45NRTH Nicotine tire or a 29×2.25″ Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro.  The former is wider (2.35″ vs. 2.25″) while the latter is more aggressively studded (402 vs. 222).

This is what the city usually looks like in April, or May.  Daily thaws lead to swollen streams and plentiful puddles.  Nightly freezes leave the city like a skating rink.

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Harpacked, frozen snow is rideable on a normal mountain bike for the first half of the day.  By mid-afternoon, fatbikes are king, once again.  It is easy to see how studded fatbike tires are valuable.

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Without studs in my tires, I balance precariously atop my Mukluk.  Lael rides casually across this icy trailhead parking lot, although a few more studs would be helpful.  She’s got 164 studs between the two wheels, and about 36 studs in her running shoes.  I think about 120 Grip studs in each Surly Nate tire would be ideal.  Compared to popular studded tires– which claim 240 studs or more– this doesn’t sound like much, but Grip Studs bite better than normal studs as they reach further away from the tire, and deeper into snow and ice.  The hardened carbide tip promises to last for several seasons.

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T-shirts in Anchorage, in January?  Elsewhere, it is snowing in Georgia, and well below freezing in northern Minnesota.  I enjoyed following the Arrowhead 135 race yesterday, including the usual performances from Jay and Tracey Petervary (1st and 1st).  Congrats to fourth place finisher Dave Gray, one of the surly co-captains of a popular bike company that happens to sell a few fatbikes each year.

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The benefit of the freeze-thaw cycle in the woods is that the sides of the trial are partly rideable.  Winter singletrack is usually like riding on a balance beam, for fear of being swallowed by powdery snowbanks.  Now, it is more like bumper bowling.

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Eventually, if the pattern doesn’t reverse itself, we’ll be riding on dead grass and dirt.  More likely, winter will return.  This is not spring, yet.  That is not possible.

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Until then, we’ll enjoy the changing conditions, and celebrate the capacity of fat tires, no matter how much the forecast looks like it was borrowed from the lower 48.  Alabama, can we have our weather back?

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Shogun Prairie Breaker 2

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The Craigslist ad reads, “Draire Breaken 2: $100″.  Even through twisted English and a low-res cell phone photo, I know what I’m looking at.  Just to clarify, I inquire: “I am very interested in your mountain bike.  Do you know what the model name is?”  


Hi Nicholas,

The Model Name is Draire Breaken 2. It has Shamano Deore XT Derailer, Shifters & Tarney XT Crank. Cr-mo Steel Tange M+B Forks. I have had many people interested so, first come first served. I’m sorry.  Thanks.

 

Armed with $100, we arrange to meet at the seller’s house near the Tacoma Mall.  When I arrive, he is attempting to remove a square taper crank from a Trek hybrid bicycle with a blowtorch and a hammer.  I inform him that a simple $10 tool will easily remove the crankarm.  Bang.  Bang.  Bang.  “This damned thing is on her good”, he explains.  I nod in agreement, and refuse whichever service he has just offered to the bicycle I am hoping to buy.  “No, that’s ok.  I’ll manage”.  

The bike is, in fact,  a Shogun Prairie Breaker, c. 1984-86.  It is equipped with Shimano derailleurs and shifters, Takagi Tourney XT crank, and Tange MTB tubing.  He drives a hard sale, and takes my entire stack of twenties.  No deals today.  As he says, many others have been interested in this vintage Draire Breaken 2.  They must all be aware of the essential improvements over the original Draire Breaken.  Still, $100 is a good price for a bike that rides.   

I am giddy to have found such a neat old bicycle, and such a large frame, with mostly original components.  I am building a bike for Lael’s brother, who is well above 6 feet tall, so an inexpensive frame that fits his stature and a large tire is mandatory.  I also love old mountain bikes, and at the time, I hunted these things on regional Craigslist forums like a bloodhound.  These days, I have refocused my energy.  

I roll the bike over to 2nd Cycle, Tacoma’s local bike co-op.  After a few hours of Tri-Flow and tinkering, the bikes rides superbly, with only a few modifications.  A newer Deore LX rear derailleur replaces an old steel Suntour model, which was not original to the bike.  Sweeping Wald handlebars fit the ‘slingshot’ style stem, and make a comfortable vantage for city riding.  I find a suitable saddle out of the parts bin at the co-op.  Finally, a modern chain improves shifting and the overall efficiency of the drivetrain.  The bike retains all of the bearings, cables, and brake pads with which I received it.  Bikes like this are best given attention only when needed.  Preempting necessary maintenance usually results in more work than expected, with the possibility of only incremental improvements.  A complete overhaul or restoration would be another story; in this case, Tri-Flow and elbow grease are the best medicine.

The next day, I join a couple friends on the first leg of their bike tour, which allows me to transport the bike to Lael’s brother in Portland.  Over the next two days, I verify what a wonderful bicycle I have made, and as my legs warm, I discover that the bike presents a strong pedaling platform for me.  Stretching my legs, I push the pace for 10, 15, 20 miles.  Coming into town on Hwy 30, I catch a racing team, out for a weekend ride.  I leapfrog the team car several times, emblazoned with the SRAM logo.  This bike, by the age-old measure of quality, is fast!

Arriving in Portland, I deposit the bike with its new owner and board the train back to Tacoma.  Four years later, the bike is now in Alaska, and is wearing the only studded tires in the house.  As the city turns to ice, I put my other bikes aside to revisit this old friend.

Below: These old Deore XT cantilevers are some of my favorite.  I poached a pair off an ’84 Schwinn High Sierra to replace the Dia-Compe brakes on my ’85 High Sierra.  When set-up properly, with quality brake pads, braking power and modulation is exceptional.  Kenda Klondike studded tires are far from the best, but they are far better than tires without studs right now.

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Six in the back, three in the front.  The tall steel teeth on older freewheels last forever.

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The Takagi Tourney XT crank is more beautiful than most similar cranks of the era from Sugino and Shimano.  180mm crank arms are suitable for a 6’4″ rider.

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For mild freezing weather, these vintage pogies work well. Made of basic nylon (in the USA), they exhibit how simply one could make something similar.  I found these at the Bikeworks co-op in Silver City, NM while riding the Divide a few years ago.

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