Pushin’ it on the Fireweed 400

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You know the story of Lael’s recent discovery and infatuation with long-distance road riding.  In short, she couldn’t run due to an achy achilles so she borrowed her mom’s road bike, enjoyed it, then proceeded to ride every paved distance across the state, unsupported.

Since her two and a half day epic from Fairbanks back to Anchorage, she embarked on a 220mi ride from Anchorage to Homer, reaching the end of the highway in 24 hours.  Leaving town at 1PM, she planned to ride through the night and if she wanted to rest her eyes, she would do so in the heat of the morning sun when a sleeping bag is no longer necessary and the mosquitoes might have subsided.  As such, she carried very little on the bike and rode quickly and efficiently, while leaving time to take pictures and nap for a few hours.

This past week, less than ten hours before the registration for the Fireweed 400 race closed, Lael jumped into the ring.  Again, she borrowed her mom’s Specialized Ruby Elite road bike, mounted a pair of carbon wheels borrowed from a friend’s brand new, unridden Trek Madone.  She also borrowed a pair of carbon aero bars, an aero helmet, and a couple extra layers in the likely event that she got soaked.  The forecast called for rain, and more rain.  About the only thing that she brought to the race are her own legs and lungs, and her new favorite Sidi shoes.  She pulled the sagging broken Cannondale saddle and shiny new carbon seat post from her mountain bike and slid it into place on Ruby.  When the sun came out for a couple hours, she stripped down to a vintage purple track jersey that I acquired at Cortland High School.  The Cortland Purple Tigers would be proud.

The course traverses mountains and interior Alaska, cresting Thompson Pass and descending to sea level at Valdez.  The full 400 mile race returns by the same route, climbing 2500ft out of Valdez in several miles, in the middle of the night, in the rain.

The only other female competitor, Janice Tower, is a local legend of the endurance scene.  She is also the former record holder.  Lael says to herself as strategy, “I’m going to stay on the bike and eat like it’s my job”.

And she raced!  She rode hard but not too hard, and stayed on the bike, and ate like it was her job.  She kept her Revelate Gas Tank filled and she says, “I never ran out of gas”.  Forty two miles from the finish, a woman in an aero helmet passed her.  She thought it was JT, the legend.  Lael dropped the hammer and pushed to the finish as hard as she could, passing the rider in the aero helmet and a few others.

She finished a few seconds over 27 hours, completing the full 386mi distance only twelve minutes behind the fastest male competitor, who was riding a recumbent.  The rider in the aero helmet was actually a competitor on the 100mi race, who must have been surprised when a 400miler raced her to the end.  She bested Janice by more than an hour, although it seems Janice may have had a “distressed stomach”, so says another competitor in the night, as they chatted at a road construction stop.  Janice still holds the second fastest female time on the course, just over 25 hours.

Completion of the Fireweed 400 in less then the maximum 33 hour cutoff time automatically qualifies for the Race Across America (RAAM).  “Yeah right”, says Lael.  She didn’t even expect to be riding a road bike this spring.

Thanks to Christina, Harrison and Laura for supporting Lael on the ride!

Photo and video: Christina Grande

 

The Art of Bikepacking: July 16, 2014 in Anchorage, AK

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Join us for an evening event celebrating bikepacking, photography, and travel.  Ride your bike to The Bicycle Shop on Dimond Blvd. on Wednesday July 16, 2014 at 7PM.  Pack the bike as if you were going on a big trip or a little trip, or a trek across town.  We’ll have things to talk about.  This is the week after the Fireweed 400 and the week before Singlespeed World Championships, so leave a little room in your schedule and invite out of town visitors.  

The evening will commence with food and drinks and conversation.  The program includes a diverse range of presentations including visual displays, stories, and expertise on routes, packing, planning, and photography.  Our personal bikes will be on display, packed for adventure.  As well, we’ll have an array of Salsa, Specialized, and Surly bikes packed for touring, commuting, and lightweight bikepacking.  Free food, beer, and gifts.  

Eric Parsons will share a personal history of Revelate Designs, including experiences from the trail, and from his years designing gear that works for himself and the rest of us.  Eric’s business has grown from a one-man custom operation to a rapidly expanding Anchorage-based company which supports adventurous and accomplished riders across the globe.  

Dan Bailey will share his expertise as an Alaskan adventurer and professional photographer.  His images inspire readers in magazines and commercial media, including recent credits in the Patagonia catalog and advertisements for the new Fujifilm X-T1 camera. 

Lael and I have prepared stories and a series of printed images from our exploratory summer of bikepacking in Europe.  This event happens less than a week before our return to find new routes (and food) in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe.  Come say hi, and goodbye.

Thanks to our event sponsors, we will be giving away a load of awesome gear from Surly, Salsa, Adventure Cycling, Revelate Designs, Velo Orange, and Bunyan Velo.  So far, there are steel touring racks, a winter wool cycling cap, lightweight luggage, water bottles and cages and socks and t-shirts and hats and stickers, and a complete Great Divide map set to give away.  I will also throw in some maps for the new Idaho Hot Springs Bikepacking Route from Adventure Cycling.  Ride your bike to the event for a chance to win!  

Finn says, get riding over to The Bicycle Shop, Dimond on July 16! 

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Photo: Eric Parsons

Summer in the city

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Carp is home for a few days.  The fishing boat needs some fixing; parts are on order from a custom shop in Seattle.  So far, the fishing is good.  

Meet at Carp’s casita.  Fine tune Cait’s new Karate Monkey in the yard, drinking beer and swatting mosquitoes. Roll in-town railroad singletrack to Tastee Freeze for french fries and a free cone, sitting in the grass.  Ride out to Kincaid to ride circles around circles on an amusing gang of bicycles: one older grey Pugsley that’s been around the block, a dinglespeed 1×1 with 26×2.75″ Dirt Wizard tires set-up tubeless to SnowCat rims, a shiny new spraytan orange Karate Monkey Ops, a rigid steel Voodoo, and my Krampus.  

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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

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

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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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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