Alaska Randonneuse

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She rode her bike a lot, and took a few pictures. 

Her Achilles has been a little tight, although it is getting better.  At one point the snow was rotten and gone, and the dirt trails were too wet to ride, and running wasn’t the best way to heal.  She rolled her mom’s Specialized Ruby Elite out of the basement and took it for a ride.  A permanent smile on her face suggested that something about the experience was right.  She kept talking about doing one of the rides promoted by the local randonneurring club.

One day, she had the idea to take the train to Seward and ride the 127 miles back to Anchorage.  At dawn, she rolled out the door to the train station.  After a several hour train ride, and just over ten or twelve hours of riding into headwinds, she arrived back at home, elated.  Over the next few weeks, a similar pattern of impulsive big rides would continue.

Each morning that she planned to leave, I’d pack some snacks into her bag.  I’d nestle a small camera between Emergen-C packets and a well-used iPod.  Then, she rides.   

Seward-Anchorage 

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On this ride, Lael left home with a tattered fleece, which she planned to leave somewhere along the route.  Coming back towards town along Turnagain Arm, she purchased a cotton sweatshirt at a gas station late in the evening.  She arrived home wearing a “Deadliest Catch” hoodie.  

Lael wrote about her ride from Seward to Anchorage.  

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Anchorage-Palmer-Anchorage

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The following week, Lael pointed her tires towards The Valley.  She rode out of town with a friendly cycletourist we’d me the day before, en route to Argentina via Prudhoe Bay.  She and Scott left town in the late afternoon.  She arrived home at 1AM.

The Knik River looks very different in the summer.

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Fairbanks-Anchorage

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Another week later, Lael’s got another big idea.  As her mom is packing for a flight to Fairbanks for a week of professional training, she realizes a unique opportunity.  If she also flies to Fairbanks, with a bike, she can ride home, a total distance of nearly 370 miles.  The next morning at 6AM they are both on a flight to Fairbanks.  Lael begins pedaling the borrowed bike by 10AM.  She is back in town two and a half days later, barely half and hour late for work.

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These are familiar views to us, as we lived and worked here in the summer of 2009, just outside of Denali National Park.  The recipe for the strawberry-rhubarb coffee cake at McKinley Creekside Cafe (mi 224 on the Parks Highway) comes from Lael’s family.

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She also started clipping in, mostly the result of lots of rooty mountain bike trails.

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A late start on the second day means she is riding into the night.

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By 5AM, she arrives at her family’s rustic cabin via dirt roads.  The Ruby handles dirt well, she says.  This bike is the sister to the Roubaix in the Specialized family.

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Three hours of sleep is enough, before rolling towards home.  Ninety miles and eight hours later, she is expected to be at work.

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Back in town just in time, although a few minutes late to the job,  It has been a long commute, they’ll understand.

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All images: Lael Wilcox

Soft serve steel

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Hardtail steel, with 120mm of suspension.  A touch of titanium, my first.  Some carbon, when and where necessary to achieve big things, without gaining weight.  Still sitting on leather, so don’t cry about the carbon. Still shifting with the thumb, but now it clicks when I push the lever.  The 2.4″s are in the mail.  So is the rear rim, one of the only genuine tubeless-ready 35mm rims available.

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Just another steel touring bike

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Mostly minor refinements over other bikes and ideas, I’m finally honing the concept in cold hard steel, carbon, titanium, aluminum, leather, and most of all, rubber.  These tires are not by design, but come out of a pile of used rubber, for now.  This bike will not be wearing 3.0″ tires, although that capacity is built into the design.

There are a few more details to finalize the project, including luggage, another wheel build, tires, and some decisions about how to make the most of the SP dynamo hub.  Until then, this idea rides, which is always better than an idea that doesn’t.    

Interview at The Bicycle Story

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More questions and answers, this time thanks to Josh Cohen of The Bicycle Story.  Curious to know about my next touring bike, where we will be riding later this summer, and how we started touring?  Check out the full interview entitled Nicholas Carman: Pedaling the World as a Gypsy by Trade.

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Photos: Lael Wilcox, Przemek Duszynski, and Nicholas Carman

SOLD: Salsa Mukluk for sale

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My 2014 Salsa Mukluk 3 is for sale in Anchorage, AK.  The 19″ (L) bike is mostly stock, with some unique customizations including 1 1/2″ drilled rims and tubeless Surly Nate tires, a combination which saves over one pound per wheel.  The bike has been ridden for five months and maintained by a professional mechanic.  The sale also includes a custom Porcelain Rocket framebag, Revelate Designs Gas Tank, Redline Monster pedals, and about 150 Grip Studs for winter riding.  The steerer tube is uncut to fit a variety of riders.  $1500 for the bike, studs, and framebag.

Contact me if interested.

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Seven days of dirt

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The only antidote to working seven days a week is riding seven days a week.  Of course, you can imagine the resultant sleep schedule, especially as days grow longer than eighteen hours, technically.  On a clear night, the sky never goes completely dark.  On one night after work, I rode laps around the network of trails at Kincaid with some friends. As they turned towards home, I pointed my tires towards the beach to revive a smoldering campfire.  Out of my framepack I revealed a pack of sausages, buns, a bunch of carrots, and a small brick of cheese.  Lael rode out the Coastal Trail after work– after midnight– for a late evening dinner.  We enjoyed a never-ending twilight until turning home past 3 AM.  This is summer in Alaska.

This past week, I’ve chased trails every night of the week.  The riding is different and fun.  Dirt is different than snow.  Everyone I know was riding trails for the first time last week, except I was riding for the second, third, fourth…

Thanks to everyone who joined me last week, including Kevin, Lucas, Rob, Ryan, Henna, Jeff, Dan, Abe, Hobbs, Clint, Daniel, Brian, Charlie, and of course, Lael.  May the season be rocky and rooty for all.

Kevin is especially committed to riding.  We partnered on several rides to the Campbell Tract, Kincaid, and the Kepler-Bradley trails in the valley.  He’s putting some serious work on his new All City Macho Man Disc cross bike.  

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If only so I don’t forget what a great week it has been, and what great fun can be found in town, here is a quick tour of the local trails and characters.

 

Day 1: Work to Campbell Creek Trail, Campbell Tract trails, and home; with Kevin Murphy

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Day 2: Work to Coastal Trail, Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), home via Raspberry and C Street; with Kevin, Abe and Hobbs

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Day 3: Work to meet at Tastee Freeze for ice cream cone, to Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), to the Bluff Trail, then home via Middle Earth and the Coastal Trail; with Kevin, Rob, and Ryan (Abe, Hobbs, Erin; Clint and Laura on the trail)

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Day 4: Work to Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), then home via Raspberry and C Street; with Dan Bailey

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Day 5: Work to Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), then down the Bluff Trail to the beach at midnight to revive a smoldering fire, roast hot dogs and drink beers with Lael until 3AM, home via Coastal Trail; with Jeff and Henna, Lael meets after work past midnight, walks through intertidal waters to find me

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Day 6: Work to Coastal Trail to Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), then home via Raspberry and C Street to Campbell Creek Trail, swimming in Campbell Creek; with Lucas O’Loughlin

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Day 7: Work, then catch a ride out to Kepler-Bradley Trails in Palmer to ride melange of trails amongst kettle lakes and glacial moraines, including buff flow trail, rooty singletrack, and wide XC ski trail; with Kevin Murphy, Charlie, Brian, and Daniel  

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Anyone planning to come up to Anchorage for Singlespeed World Championships (SSWC) in July?  The event will be held out at Kincaid, which hosts miles of fun trail and epic in-town scenery.

Anyone looking for a 19″ (Large) Mukluk near Anchorage?  It’ll be for sale next week.

Riding between the lines

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The snow is gone, no longer lingering in piles in the shadows; the trails are mostly wet, closed as a general rule until June 1st; and the pavement is dry, if a little dull.  But if we go looking, there are more than enough places to ride.

This week, Lael and I discovered a 3/4 mile section of gasline singletrack along the Alaska RR, following Fish Creek down to the Coastal Trail from Northern Lights Blvd.  After passing through a break in the fence– and a Posted sign– we connect to the paved Coastal Trail.  From there, a web of natural dirt tracks wander through the lowland forest near the coast at Earthquake Park, the result of many decades of dog walkers, bike riders, and homeless camps.

Moving towards my own concept of a dream bike, I pass the Surly ECR to Josh Spice, a friend from Fairbanks.  Josh is an avid fatbiker who thinks that rigid 29+ is the best thing ever for all kinds of riding (isn’t that right, Josh?).  As a Salsa-sponsored rider, he also owns a new carbon Beargrease and a Ti Fargo.  In the past, he has also spent time on a steel Fargo and an aluminum Mukluk, which alternated seasonally between full-fat and 29+ wheels.  His girlfriend Jen owns a Krampus and a Beargrease.  The ECR is set to become the everyday grunt, in contrast to the svelte Salsas in his stable.

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It its final iteration the ECR is dressed with Supernova dynamo lighting, powered by a Shimano dynamo hub; full 29×3.0″ Knard tires and Rabbit Holes rims, which make the most of the 29+ concept; a Surly OD crank ensures chain-to-tire clearance, even with a full range of mountain touring gears; Velo Orange thumb shifters power an 8sp Shimano drivetrain; BB7 brakes, Velo Orange Sabot platform pedals, Ergon grips, and a comfortable handlebar round out the build.  Josh immediately set about to improve the bike by adding a short-travel Thudbuster seat post, a rear rack, a King Cage top-cap water bottle mount, and a carbon Origin8 Space Bar OR.

In it’s final iteration, this bike is stable, solid, and surely Surly.  Most of what I said back in December is still true.  I’m looking for something a little more playful.

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Josh and Jen are in town for the weekend to pick up the bike, and visit friends.  Their visit coincides with a picnic I organized at The Bicycle Shop.

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Josh and Dan Bailey talk about cameras and Fargos all night.  Josh loves his Fargos, and Dan is buying one this week.  Dan knows cameras better than the rest of us, and is working on publishing a book on adventure photography before setting off on some long-term bicycle travel.  Everyone has something to share, and everyone has something to learn.

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Local rider Kevin Murphy has excelled in several winter races this past season, despite a background in DH riding.  He and I have been talking tubeless, 29+, suspension forks, carbon rims, and fatbikes all winter long.  Come summer, I should have a bike as a result of our discussions.

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The group gathers for a ride.

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We shoot for the dirt track near the RR.  It is some of the only dry dirt in town.

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Eventually, it ends near the Coastal Trail.  A little fence-hopping keeps things moving.

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In search of more dirt.

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Kevin is riding his new All-City Macho Man Disc, a drop-bar disc road bike with big tires, set-up tubeless of course.

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The ECR seems to be a good fit.  I am amazed at the Thudbuster.  I’ve test ridden a few on Fargos, and they never impressed me, but on an upright bicycle it remains very active for a plush perch.

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We race out to the bluffs at Pt. Woronozof, just in time to catch the sunset over Susitna.

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The next morning, we ride over to Dan’s house to inspect the Fuji X-T1 camera.  Hot scones are waiting, but only a couple of blocks away, we run into this alternative Alaskan school bus.  Eric Parsons is riding his son Finn to school on his Pugsley!  Finn’s Yepp seat even has a Mountain Feed Bag attached.  They have just returned from a short overnighter at Eklutna Lake.  Recently, they spent several weeks riding and traveling in Guatemala.

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Check out the Revelate Designs blog for some of the most heartwarming bikepacking photos ever.  See Finn wave at horses, see Finn ride singletrack, see Finn fist pump proudly after a long day and a big descent back to town.  (Photo: Eric Parsons)

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Earlier in the week I also ran into Eric and got the chance to test ride his new Salsa Warbird Ti.  The combination of titanium, carbon, and 35mm tires makes for a supremely comfortable road bike.  This may be the perfect Alaska road bike.

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Thanks to all for a great weekend!  I am also glad to find such a good home for the ECR.  Anyone looking for a Mukluk?

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Week-end Beach Klunk

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It is that time of year between crust and summer where the trails are too wet to ride, the roads and sidewalks have only recently become clear and dry, and the days are becoming extremely long.  The bike shop is busy, and working six long days a week has a way of taking some energy out of the riding coffers.  It is a good time of year to catch a little rest from riding and make plans.  Daily, I open my computer to find open tabs in my internet browser describing far-off places.  I inquire, “were you up late reading a Wikipedia article about Romania?”  Sheepishly, and with a smile; you know the answer.

Lael has also discovered road biking, the result of a strained Achilles that shouldn’t be running for a while, and a nice carbon road bike in her size that resides in the basement, belonging to her mother.

I have been exploring and discovering the many conceptual permutations of bikes, rims, tires, and suspension forks resulting in a range of purebred adventure machines, from a standard hardtail 29er to a full-fat fatbike.  Of course, the new Rock Shox Bluto is intriguing, promising a quality fork like the Reba, with the clearance for every fatbike tire on the market.  The new Salsa Bucksaw is also fascinating, for some kinds of riding.

But, I’d like to use a dynamo hub to run lights and a USB-power outlet.  And I don’t expect to need a true fatbike anytime soon–with the exception of a local beach ride, possibly– so there is no reason to pedal a 100mm BB around if I don’t have to.  Not that it is a big problem to pedal a fatbike, but it does feel a little different on the body, and platform pedals on wide cranks don’t like to thread through tight places quite as well.  This is not a problem 99% of the time, but I’m shooting for perfect, or as near as possible.  After some years of evolving touring tastes, I finally feel like I’m coming close to the ultimate adventure bike.  This is a very personal definition– as some days I’d rather have the Mukluk, and other days I’d prefer a Horsethief or a Stumpjumper.

Now, a 120mm suspension fork on a purpose-specific hardtail 29+ frame might be the ticket for long-term reliability, efficiency in a variety of terrain, and fun.  If I need a fatbike next year, I’ll figure that out next year.  Until then, I hope to ride a lot on a bike that feels just right.  If I was to remain in Anchorage for the next year, or for several years, I think the Mukluk as pictured above would be my summer bike.

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We meet near Earthquake Park at about 7PM.  Ride out the paved Coastal Trail, whooping and hollering in the last four hours of sunlight, which is essentially a four hour long sunset.  Blast down to the beach and a quick ride to the point to burn some driftwood and cook sausages, avoiding the first few mosquitoes of the year.

Hobbes arrives on his Transition Klunker, a genuine coaster brake klunker with BMX grit– a modern offering from the Transition Bicycle Co, better known for big squish all-mountain bikes.  His riding reminds us that bike skills are more important than fancy bikes.  Although, he’s got one of those too.

After shooting indoors at high ISO the day before, I forget to adjust the camera settings.  The result is an off-putting digital grain, partly reduced during editing.  Aside, I’ve recently acquired a proper film camera, an Olympus OM-2S.  I finished my first roll of film today.  Looking through a real optical viewfinder is inspiring.  A simple light meter is nice.  The DOF preview is useful.  What amazing features.

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I also broke my Olympus E-P3 digital camera in an incident involving a Mukluk, some ice, a brief section of urban singletrack, and a tree.  Currently, I am using my older E-PM1, which is now Lael’s camera.  I am on the hunt for a new body, most likely an Olympus OM-D E-M5.  Anyone looking to get rid of one before I place an order?  How about a super cheap used E-P3?

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At the bottom of this sandy descent (coster brake!) Hobbes remarks that optimal pavement skidding tire pressure and beach pressure are quite different.

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Collecting firewood.  Summer in AK equals less sleep, and more playtime.

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Abe and I have made similar customizations to our Mukluks.  A Fox Float fork, Stan’s Flow EX rims, and 29×2.3″ Specialized Purgatory tires are the key ingredients in his build.  A wide carbon Answer DH bar, short stem, and hydraulic brakes turn a Mukluk into a trail bike.  Eventually, he expects to compile a 1×10 drivetrain with an aftermarket 42T ring for an inexpensive 1x set-up.  Note, he’s using a concoction of wood glue and water as a tubeless tire sealant.  It works.

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Fork clearance is huge, even with wider rims and 2.3″ tires.

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Not so much room with a Knard on a Velocity Dually rim, but enough for experimental purposes.  I don’t expect to rely on 3.0″ Knard tires, anyway.  They ride nicely, but the tread wears quickly as a result of low-profile knobs.  I also prefer more aggressive tires for unexpected trail conditions, and especially, for steep climbs.  I am thinking a 35mm rim and a 2.35, 2.4, 2.5 or even 2.75″ tire would be ideal.  Still hoping to try some Surly Dirt Wizard tires if they even make it to market.  I am thinking a Krampus frame would be the perfect host for this mix of parts, leaving some room to spare for mud.  Somehow, I’ve known the Krampus might be the best choice for me for years.  It has been a long road getting here via the Schwinn High Sierra, Surly Pugsley, Raleigh XXIX, Surly ECR, and the Salsa Mukluk.

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The Salsa Alternator swinging dropouts allow for simple and secure chain tensioning.  To clear the 29+ tire they must be rotated back several mm.

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The Velocity Dually rims are beautiful, and built up as well as any wheel I have built.  I think a 45mm rim is a great pairing for 3.0″ tires, and is slightly lighter than Rabbit Hole rims.  As always, Velocity rims are Made in the USA.  I’ll be experimenting with the claimed tubeless features of this rim, although from my initial experiments, there may be something missing in contrast to more advanced tubeless designs.  I’ve been spoiled by Stan’s rims, I think.

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Chain to tire clearance is very good, as expected.  In many ways, a fatbike frame with 29+ wheels is an ideal adventure set-up.  Full double or triple drivetrain clearance is a breeze, and for certain trips, a quick wheel swap at home turns it back into a fatbike.  This is a perfect four-season Alaska adventure bike.

My concern for BB width is largely the result of many months of riding ahead of us.  We don’t know where, or when, or how long, but I want something that pedals really comfortably.  I think my legs prefer a 73mm BB for long days, higher cadences, and steep climbs.  So far, the 29+ Mukluk has been a joy, and a proof of concept.

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Lots of plotting and planning.  Anyone in AK want to buy a Mukluk or an ECR?  Details to follow.

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Ukrainian chickens in Kyiv; August 24, 2013

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On the eve of the celebration of 22 years of Ukrainian independence in Kyiv this past summer, a parade of hand-painted chickens, and one giant egg– the traditional Ukrainian Easter egg, the pysanka– pass though the streets.  Representing the many regions of Ukraine, they represent and exemplify the cultural diversity across the nation.  The day after the procession, the painted hens and the egg rest against a backdrop of grey skies; a statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the military hetman of the cossacks; and the gold-domes of the Saint Sofia Cathedral, whose first stones were laid in 1037 under the flourishing Kievan-Rus empire. 

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