Crust!

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Winter, then spring, and summer.  Somewhere in between, warm days and freezing nights result in a uniform crust of old snow.  Last week, I received an e-mail from Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs:

Super rare for Anchorage. I just got back from riding Campbell Creek near the tour trail and it’s a fatbike wonderland. 

Join me tomorrow morning, leaving my house at 8:00am or meet on Chester Creek/APU, etc.. bring a camera.
Hour and a half or so before work…

With the weather turning there might be a very small window for it. 


Eric

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At 7:30 AM the next day, Lael and I leave the house to join a local all-star cast for an exploratory pre-work ride.  

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Six of us meet at the Revelate Designs workshop including professional adventure photographer Dan Bailey; Kevin Murphy, four season rider and racer; Dusty, the other guy that stitches lots of Revelate gear; and of course, Eric. 

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Out of the neighborhood and onto the crust, we discover that we can ride everywhere!  A spell of several warm days has saturated the snow with meltwater, while the next cold night has frozen the entire mass into a rideable crust.

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With a a befitting crusty topping, seemingly like sandpaper.  Cornering traction is supreme.  Ever pedal strike through a corner on a fatbike, on snow?

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We continue through the APU trails, across every frozen meadow, swamp, beaver pond, and lake we can find.

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Eventually, we travel upstream along Campbell Creek, crossing familiar trails in the process.  We eventually cross the Blue Dot Trail near the bridge.  

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Amidst giant cottonwoods, we carve the creeksides.  Beavers are at work all around.  Dusty jumps the creek, over and over.  Eric and Dusty edit some video later in the day, creating an amusing parody of spring fever and a great example of crust biking.

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Eventually, Lael, Kevin and I turn back towards work.

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Since I’ve called to tell them I will be late, we choose the long way home via singletrack and trail.

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Return to Knik Glacier, via Hunter Creek

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The ride to the Knik Glacier ranks as one of the most scenic rides, anywhere, and it is very accessible.  It is close to Anchorage.  It is an easy ride in winter, but only for a few short weeks or months, usually late in the season.  We first rode here in 2012, at the end of a record season of snowfall.  We attempted to reach the glacier last week from the north side of the river, from the Jim Creek Trailhead, but turned back due to time constraints.  This weekend, with 24 hours to spare, Lael and I pedal out of the city with high hopes.

On Sunday afternoon, we are pedaling towards the Hillside trails without ambition.  The day is sunny and warm, but the pattern is tired.  Around 4PM, I suggest, “let’s ride out to the glacier”.  

“OK.”

We turn back home and morph our Salsa Mukluks into adventure mode.  I’ve loaned some essential bikepacking gear to a friend, who is riding the Denali Highway.  Using some dry bags and gear straps, we pack creatively- and lightly- to carry only what we need.

Each of our bikes is laden only with a 30F sleeping bag, a vapor barrier liner, a maximum layering system for the cold, and our cameras.  We will pick up some food en route, in Eagle River.  Simple, except that it is already 6:30PM.   

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The route out of town includes snowy multi-use trails and paved cyclepaths for miles.  Alternating dry pavement and ice exist on the bike trail through Eagle River, Chugiak, and Peter’s Creek.

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We stop at the supermarket in Eagle River to stock our bags with food.

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Continuing east, twilight guides us along paved paths.  Eventually, our route leads to the shoulder of the Glenn Highway.  We slowly descend down to sea level, and exit the Glenn Highway for the Old Glenn Highway, a smaller section of road along the Knik River.

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By the time we turn off the pavement to look for a campsite, it is nearly midnight.  

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We lay down a groundcloth, sleeping pads, and our bags.  We put on all our layers, slip into our vapor barrier liners, and arrange our things.  I have a habit of organizing my things when camping.  Dry socks and a snack ensure a warm night.  Still, in our minimal sleeping systems, it is a good idea to keep the door closed.  We both bury deep into our bags.  

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By morning, ambient light appears on the horizon at 5:30AM.  Light falls far across the valley at 8.  We are camped in the shade aside a northwest facing mountainside, until the sun rises over nearby mountains at 9.  We pack our things and push out to the road.  Cold fingers and toes are not uncommon, especially as we are not using any specialized cold-weather gear.  However, Bjorn and Kim from Homer, AK are riding across the state of Alaska and have just crossed the Arctic Circle.  They know a few things about unsupported winter travel.      

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The end of the paved road, and the beginning of the ride on the river, is about 17 miles away.  By the time we arrive to meet our friend Carp, we are warm.

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Carp is waiting with a thermos full of coffee.  While we’ve just regained warmth in our fingers, we’re both happy to pile inside his warm van and unload some gear for the day.  Overnight lows in the teens diminish as the sun rises high in the sky.

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We load our framebags with snacks and ride onto Hunter Creek.

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A series of fatbike tracks leads from the wooden bridge on Knik River Rd.  There is a lot of dry gravel, and not a lot of snow. 

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This time of year, the ice is melting fast.  This area is a playground for fatbikes.

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The glacier is visible in the distance, and for part of the ride, a broad doubletrack leads the way.

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Several ice bridges over the Knik River are critical to this route.  At one point, we cross ice which has begun to visibly crack, although it appears solid.

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Just downstream there is open water.

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A short distance upstream, the river is also open.  These routes won’t be open for long.  It is April already.

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The frozen banks make for the most efficient pedaling.

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Leading to gravel tracks, and some untracked tundra.

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Across a gravelly plain, we reach the end moraine.  This mounded pile of unconsolidated sediment contains the glacial lake.

This is the place.  This is what we have come for. 

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The lake is frozen in winter, and contains remnant icebergs from the glacier.

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Which makes for a fatbike playground.

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Studs recommended.

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Already, some open water in a few places.

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Nearer to the glacier, icy slot canyons allow passage.

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We stop for a rest amidst an icy solar vortex.  Sunlight reflects from all sides.  It must be sixty degrees in here.  Watch your step– I plant a foot into knee deep slush.  Spring is working fast.

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Ice detail:

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After sunning ourselves for an hour, we turn back.

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One last look from atop the moraine before pedaling downstream.  On this day, we are treated to a light tailwind towards home.  The ride from Hunter Creek is about 9 miles in each direction, with very little elevation gain.  

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An abundance of scenic springtime rides in Alaska could be the basis for a new tourism.  Many high-caliber adventure rides are accessible from town, and with a decent set of legs, are attainable by any cycling enthusiast.  In changing winter conditions, there are plentiful riding opportunities from groomed in-town singletrack, hut-to-hut alpine passages, beach rides, river rides, glacier rides, section-riding on the Iditarod Trail, and more.  Come visit Alaska!  

Late march may be the best time of year up here.   

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Fresh from the source, with very little silt this time of year.

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On the way back we follow some well-travelled tracks.

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But soon realize we’ve taken a wrong turn.  A small drainage separates us from Hunter Creek.  No matter, we each find our own way across.

Carp, a seasonal fisherman and boat captain, float tests the Pugsley.  

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Lael utilizes the beavers’ dam.

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XtraTuff boots full of water are no fun, but all of this fooling around is just early signs of summer.

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Lael and I go for a swim.  This weekend marks our first sleepout and our first swim.  The seasons are changing.  

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A bit of routefinding brings us back to the trail.  In a few months, all of this will be entangled in prickly plants, mosquitoes, and bears.  Spring is better than summer in a few ways.

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Back on trail!

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Until next year, we’ll revel in memories and photographs of Knik.  I’m starting to realize that the rides we find are getting better and better, from Belgium and Ukraine, to Arizona and Alaska.  However, I don’t think they’ll ever get better than this one.    

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Knik River Ride: Butte, AK to Knik Glacier

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Note: We travelled the north side of the Knik River towards the glacier.  I’ve since heard of some groups riding from the Hunter Creek TH on the south side of the river, which is a shorter trip with less dirt and mud.  I hope to return on Monday to explore the south route again.  Neither route will be easily passable soon, so act now!

Riding to the Knik Glacier is the exact reason that I bought a camera two years ago.  Riding the from the Hunter Creek TH on the south side of the river, we pedaled frozen snow machine trails over the frozen river to the frozen lake at the base of the glacier.  As if the concept of riding to a glacier on a frozen river isn’t enough, the embedded ice forms rising from the lake are of another world.  I decided, finally, I must have a camera.

March tends to be the best time of year to ride to Knik Glacier. Days are longer and warmer, and the resultant freeze-thaw makes for fast trail conditions, especially in the first half of the day.  Without recent snowfall, the trail is well defined and pack by snowmachines.  But, every year is different.  This year, we’ve had little snow and above-average temperatures, which results in exposed dirt, rock and ice.  I’d heard the trail from the south side was obscured by open water this spring.  Further, a friend had recently made passage to the glacier from the north side, leaving from the Jim Creek TH near the township of Butte.  Via e-mail, Abe provides guidance.  He has since posted a Knik Glacier Biking trip report to his blog AKSchmidtShow.  

Directions from the north side of the river, from the Jim Creek TH on Sullivan Ave in Butte, just off the Old Glenn Hwy:

Yes, I would recommend an early morning start.  The frozen ground makes for a fast trip out there.  We traveled on the north side of the river, starting from the Jim Creek trail head on Sullivan road in the Butte.  There are a couple of creek crossings that are pretty easy to find lowish water level spots.  If you have never been up there; you stay near the river/on sloughs and gravel bars until you reach Friday Creek (likely your first water crossing).  Once you cross 1 small channel you continue up river for a couple hundred yards before a large trail heads north up into the woods.  You will follow this and cross Friday creek up in the woods.  You are aiming for the large cliffs you can see on the north side of the valley, you end up riding right below these.  So as long as you are pointed for those you are doing good.  Once you leave the cliffs you work your way back out to the flood plain through some swamps.  You have to cross a couple of channels here.  We headed toward the middle of the floodplain as soon as we crossed the channels.  We kept heading south until we found a main trail that heads for the middle right side of the glacier.  From what I have heard if you stay up against the north side too far past the cliffs you can end up really high on metal creek where crossing is more of an issue.  Not sure how true that is.

-Abe

With a day full of sun and a written treasure map, three of us meet for an early morning start.

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The route winds through a network of wooded trail from the TH.  From here, all roads lead to the river.  

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The sun is low over the mountains, and conditions are fast.

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The glacier appears to be only a few miles down the valley on frozen river.  

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We ride quickly at road pace over ice and frozen mud.  It seems we’ll be there in an hour or two.

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Crossing frozen sloughs and gravel bars, we pass in and out of tracked routes.

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A few pairs of fatbike tracks help us on our way, including this Endo and Larry combo.  We are all on studded tires, which help to confidently navigate the ice.

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Passing onto a frozen ATV trail in the woods, frozen puddles and dry dirt make an interesting combination.  By afternoon, conditions will be much different.

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These large cottonwoods remind me of the Bosque along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque, NM.

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The terrain is constantly changing.

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Small planes fly overhead.  One plane lands on a gravel bar several times.

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The river channel is most certainly open.

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We cross this stream barefoot, as it appears several inches too deep and several feet too wide to ride, without risk of getting our clothing wet.  The sun is warm, and the creek is up to our knees.  On the return trip, we ride across the stream with abandon.  

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A series of tracks lead into the woods.  Keep on the track with the most traffic, as Abe describes.  Eventually, keep your tires pointed towards he cliffs along the river.

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These frozen roads are a lot of fun to ride.  Frozen puddles churned during the daytime melt are a challenge.

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Beaver pond stream crossing.

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Passing under the cliffs, we exit the forest back onto the river.  Several well-travelled routes are apparent.  

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At times, the route is so clearly defined, heading directly for the glacier, we joke about the Knik River Highway.  “Knik Glacier, 4 miles ahead.”

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Sadly, Lael must be back at work by 4PM, so we turn around a few miles short of the glacial lake.  

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After a quick snack, we begin a hurried pedal back to the car.

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Almost immediately, we discover the ride home will be a little different.  The sun has softened the snow, ice and mud.  Still, we make good time.  In a way, Lael is commuting to work.   

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Frozen puddles are a little less frozen.  

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We find some frozen tracks in the shade that are still fast.

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It has been several months since I’ve experienced mud-induced drivetrain malfunctions.  Lael opts for a quick “race tune” in the beaver pond.

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Sloshy riding, racing back to the trailhead.

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Quickly, we ride off the ice and navigate a maze of trails near the trailhead.

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Lael brushes the mud out of her hair and changes clothes in the parking lot at the Jim Creek TH.  We arrive back in town five minutes after 4PM– close enough.  Already, we’re planning a trip back to Knik.  

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Urban Beach Ride; Anchorage, AK

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Meet at 7PM, after work at The Bicycle Shop.  Change socks, a shot of lube on the chain, and a couple of cold beers into the framebag.  Ride down Northern Lights Blvd. to Earthquake Park, ride the Coastal Trail to Pt. Woronzof, then look for access down to the beach.  That’s the plan.

Christina, Alan and Paul meet at the shop.  Jamin and Charley are coming from the other side of town and meet at the coast.  

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Just past the wastewater treatment plant on the Coatsal Trail, there are several lookouts.  The second or third one down is adjacent to a gully with a passable trail.  

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We spill out onto the flats, minutes before sunset.  The surface varies from solid ice and shallow windblown snow, to flaky layered ice and freezing mud.  Morning and night may be the best time to ride out here, although it is rideable any time of day right now.  Sections may be muddy mid-day.  Right now, Pt. Woronzof to Kincaid is free of mud entirely.  Earthquake Park to Pt. Woronzof is ridable, with a few short pushes off the bike.  Around the south side of Kincaid, the trail can be muddy during the day, but is drenched in sun and ridable.

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Several sloughs make for a brief technical challenge on an otherwise mellow evening cruise.  Studs not necessary, but helpful.

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At the point, we encounter a group of friends enjoying the evening with a fire and some beach games.  We stop to warm our fingers and trade stories.  The “where are you from” game is always fun in Alaska.  Most often, its not here.  The answers include New Haven, CT; Bemidji, MN; Las Vegas, NV; Cortland, NY; Kenai, AK; some place near Chitna, AK; and San Francisco, CA.

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As light fades, finally, we continue around the point.  This southern exposure soaks in sun all day and is more dirt and gravel than snow and ice.  This time of night, it is fast and free of mud.  

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We shoot for a steep access trail up to the sand dunes at Kincaid Park, near the motocross track and the Jodphur TH.  There is a small sign on the beach (not sure what it says), but the trail turns up here.  This is about 2 miles from the point.  The hill is short and steep.  Charlie says, “Last time I did this I was pushing a bike with a lot more suspension”.  

I think, “last time I did this I was pushing a bike with a lot more stuff on it”. 

The easiest way off the beach is near the point, onto the last section of the Coastal Trail before the big hill up to the Chalet.  This is also near the end of the Middle Earth trail.

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From the top of the hill, we ascend the sand dunes and connect to the official trail system.  Several riders have split off already, leaving four of us.  Late in the evening, we ride the Kitchen Sink trail and lose another rider towards home.  The three of us continue on Tower Power and Middle Earth, descending back towards the Coastal Trail, and home.  Lael meets us along the Coastal Trail as she has just gotten off work.  The group splinters across town.  Past midnight, we arrive home to a gently bubbling pot of carnitas in the kitchen and a smoker outside the front door with freshly smoked Alaskan salmon– a fitting end to a proper Alaskan adventure.  I am continually amazed at the opportunities for adventure from the front door.  All it takes is a few hours and a fatbike.

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Thanks for the ride!  Let’s meet again soon.  

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Return to Resurrection Pass, Alaska

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All week, I told everyone I know that the riding on Resurrection Pass is perfect.  “Right now, you gotta go now!”  Lael listened to it over and over, and as she scanned photos, she asked questions about the cabins and the trail.  By Friday, it seemed that I was destined to return with her.  A few piles of equipment come together on the floor in preparation for our early departure on Sunday morning.

We promptly depart mid-afternoon.

On the trail only a few hours before sunset, we roll upstream without a plan.  Clear skies, exactly like our trip last week, are an assuring sign.

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By now, the sun passes over the valley onto the far hillside.  Temperatures are cool, but nothing a little uphill pedaling can’t erase.  A fresh inch of snow over last week’s ice is both a blessing and a curse.  Fresh snow improves traction in some situations; elsewhere, it conceals hazards.

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Fresh ice pours from the hillside in a few places.  Lael has about 250 Grip Studs in her tires.  A few early-season bruises convinced her that studs are a good thing.

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Only a few tracks are found on the trail, including one tire track and several boot tracks.

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Crossing Resurrection Creek at sunset, seven miles from the trailhead, we start thinking about shelter.  There are three cabins along this section of trail: Caribou Creek, Fox Creek, and East Creek.  Cabins are available for rental throughout the Chugach National Forest.  Without a plan, and with the option to bivy outside, we continue on the trail for another hour.

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At dusk, we poke our heads into the Fox Creek Cabin.  No one is here.  We start a fire and unlace our shoes.

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Nearing the equinox and 12 hours of sunlight, officially, we already count more than 12 hours of usable light.  Twilight lasts forever, and grows longer by the day.  Later this week, our days will be longer than yours (unless you live in Fairbanks!)

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Dinner is mostly taken from the depths of the refrigerator and freezer at home.  A couple of hot dogs roasted on a stick are gourmet fare when away from a kitchen.  Toasted corn tortillas, melted cheese, and avocados round out the meal.  A sip of whiskey and water to wash it down.

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I am excited to sleep outside, but a fire is a nice feature.  The cabin is warm through the night, as outside temperatures remain in the 20s.  Past midnight, a woman’s voice breaks my sleep.  Two dogs come rushing into the cabin, and the energy of a late night hike is quickly part of the cabin.  Two boys enter.  We exchange names as an official gesture, I forget them immediately, and Lael and I rearrange ourselves to make room.  The boys are quick to retreat to the top bunk, and to sleep.  The dogs are restless for a time, and Carolyn is ready to share stories of the trail.  She has been hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing this trail in winter for nearly twenty years.  Partway through the story of another year’s adventure, I fall back asleep.

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By morning, Lael and I fetch water from the stream for coffee and pack our things.  Cabins are nice, for a time.

Overnight, clouds have rolled in.  Snow falls.  Wind overhead teeters treetops.  Today is a whole different world.

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Lael is excited to explore.  This doesn’t look like the honeymoon ride I shared with the guys last week.  She couldn’t be happier.

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I’m always curious to find what she hides in her bags.  She fills her new Wanderlust top tube bag with a shaker of sea salt, formerly a plastic container of decorative cinnamon cake toppings.  A 5-Hour Energy signals a return to her old touring habits of caffeine-loading at gas stations.  The three yogurt-covered peanut clusters I’ve offered her as sustenance in the last hour have disappeared into her bag.  I also spot an espresso flavored energy gel, also caffeinated.  I promise, her framebag is filled with real food.  Apples are on Lael’s menu all day, every day.

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We ride up into clouds, snow, and sun, barely.

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In contrast to our ride last week, this is a whole other world.

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Cresting mounds of glacial gravel, rising above treeline, the wind presents itself in full.

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Nate and Bud and Lou have been fossilized in the mud from last week.  The ground is rock solid and windblown.

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Riding uphill and upwind, we stop at each major gust.  At twenty, thirty miles an hour, it challenges us to remain upright on the bikes.  At forty, fifty miles an hour, we stop and bow our heads.

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A good time to be wearing a snowboarding helmet, I think.  This was my little sister’s helmet 15 years ago.  Somehow it has made its way from NY.

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After pushing and riding for a few miles, we decide to turn around just short of the pass.  We consider running up and over the next small hill to see it, but the triviality becomes apparent as the wind gusts once again.  Lael is still smiling.  Not much will erase that.

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Of course, unrideable uphill trail is blazing fast in reverse, both downhill and downwind.  Gusts propel us through drifts.  We pass two hikers on the way down.  They watched us push into the wind a few minutes ago.  “It is a little easier in this direction”, I offer.

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This section of trail, with a healthy tailwind, ranks high.

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Lower, the trees provide shelter.

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We stop into the East Creek cabin to look around, and to warm our fingers.  As blood returns to our digits, the world begins to defrost as well.

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After lunch and a nap a few miles further down the trail at the Fox Creek Cabin, the two hikers arrive just as we are leaving.  We pass the warm cabin to them.

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A fresh layer of snow makes any landscape more beautiful.

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Back down to the bridge, we look forward to a quick ride out to the trailhead.

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This week, I’ve revised my luggage.  We only have one well-worn seatpack between the two of us, so I attached a drybag to the underside of my saddle.  I’m thinking I’ll stitch some straps to the bag to make a permanent seatpack out of it.  For just more than the price of the bag (13L Big River Dry Bag, about $30), it presents a cheap solution to lightweight packing, especially in conjunction with my preferred Sea-to-Summit compression drybag (size S/10L) up front.

Same as last week, I also packed a Porcelain Rocket framebag, Revelate Gas Tank and Williwaw pogies, and Randi Jo bartender bag.

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Lael uses a Revelate framebag, Viscacha seatpack and Williwaw pogies; Randi Jo bartender bag, and a Sea-to-Summit compression drybag (size XS/6L) up front.  She loves her Salsa Mukluk.

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She is also using her new Beargrass top tube bag from Wanderlust Gear out of Missoula, MT.  The design features a single zipper down the center, and is almost the exact same size as my Revelate Gas Tank.  Always creative with her words, she’s calling it the Beargrasstank.  The Bunyan Velo “Get Rad” patch is sold out for now, but new patches have arrived.

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The snow accumulates, and the riding changes.  Ice is no longer a hazard, and steering is a little less precise in fresh snow.  For now, only a few inches pile up and the riding is great.

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A few hazards are hidden under the snow, but the landing is softened.

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The snow becomes very wet further down, and waterproof layers come out.

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Across Resurrection Creek one last time.

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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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