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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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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Vitamin D Ride, Anchorage, AK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An old pink bike works just fine for Nate.

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

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Parting ways with Nate, I continue south.

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

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Down to a grocery store for lunch.

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

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

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It leads up and around, to the bluff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One half of the sky is night.

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The other half holds dearly onto day.

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

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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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Studded Nate (Grip Studs)

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A single ride across Anchorage in winter encompasses a greater variety of surface conditions than an entire summer or riding between Holland and Ukraine.  Riding conditions change over time with the weather and with the impact of other road and trail users.  Conditions also change across town, from road, to sidewalk, to trail.  Sidewalks are a necessary part of winter commuting routes in Anchorage.  

Five days after a fresh snowfall with stable freezing temperatures, trails are firm, sidewalks are cleared but feature a light crust of snow, and roads are icy.  Two days after snow, trails are criss-crossed with tracks and mostly soft-packed, sidewalks are covered in layers of road slop with the texture of brown sugar, and roads are smeared with layers of snow over sheer ice.  The day of a fresh snowfall, everything is blanketed in snow.  This pattern repeats itself throughout the winter.  Often, a layer of fresh snow makes much of the urban riding more predictable.  In a way, it is easier.  

In a final twist, the month of January often brings Chinook patterns– warm, wet wind from the sea, further influenced by adiabatic heating as air descends over mountains.  Light rain and 33°F today, leads to an even glaze of ice tomorrow.  Yes, it is raining in Anchorage, with above-freezing temperatures are expected all week.

From past experiences as a daily commuter in Anchorage, I’ve learned that the right tool for reliable transport in such diverse conditions with regular snowfall is a big, aggressive tire.  The first time I replaced a worn Surly Endomorph tire with a Nate, my eyes were wide.  Still, I rode an entire season without studs on that bike.  I promised myself that next time I ride though an Anchorage winter, I’ll have fat tires and studs.  

45NRTH does manufacture a studded fat tire, called the Dillinger, but the tire is currently out of stock from distributors (there may be some online, or in shops elsewhere).  While made to a very high quality, the Dillinger is expensive (about $225), and features a less aggressive tread pattern than the Nate.  The two most difficult conditions on the streets of Anchorage are deep, greasy reconstituted road snow (the brown stuff below, often called brown sugar, which is always plowed onto sidewalks), and ice-glazed streets.  Adding studs to an existing Surly Nate tire offers the best solution.  

Grip-Studs are a tungsten carbide stud with an auger-like base, designed in many sizes as an aftermarket solution for footwear, bicycles, motorcycles, and cars and trucks.  I picked up one package of Grip-Studs (#GST-1000) at The Bicycle Shop, along with a manual installation tool (#4000M), and set out to experiment with the installation procedure and stud patterns on the Nate.  The result, just in time for glazed roadways, is a studded Nate.

Below: Four inches of fresh white snow makes for predictable riding, as fat tires dig into the hardpack beneath.  The reconstituted high-density brown snow is plowed from the roadways; fat tires ride high on this concoction, smearing across the top.  The streets are glazed with ice from the passing of thousands of cars daily.  This road is divided by a median, and cars travel at 35-45mph.  Like most roads in Anchorage, it loses a lane or two in the winter.  Riding here in the winter is interesting, to say the least.  A cyclist was recently killed only a few blocks away, and the local TV station solicited me for some comments about commuting in Anchorage.  

For more insight into winter commuting in Anchorage, check out Lael’s story Sidewalk Singletrack, describing her experience riding through record snowfall in the winter of 2011-2012.

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Nate is a heavy-hitter even without studs.  I’m glad to see this tire on stock fatbikes from Surly and Salsa.  When conditions are tough, either in the city or in the backcountry, it helps.  Still having trouble?  Bud and Lou might be your new friends.

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A package of 100 Grip Studs is much lighter than expected.  In a reversal of my usual grams to dollars ratio, these are more than a dollar per gram.  Still, even at 100 studs per wheel, this is a cheaper solution than buying a new set of 45NRTH Dillingers, even if they were available.  The Dillingers might be a better choice if you lose sleep over rolling resistance, or plan to jump into a few fatbike races and don’t plan to swap tires.  Dillingers and light and fast.  Nates are chunky, for sure

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The 6mm tall knobs on the Nate are enough to fully engage the threaded base of the Grip Stud, without penetrating the casing and puncturing the tube.  The siping on the knobs doesn’t seem to affect installation.

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Even pressure, and about two to three full turns is enough to install the stud.  A little drop of water on the knob helps lubricate the threads, reducing friction and twisting.

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Thus far, the front tire has about 76 studs.  I intend another round of studs up front, and a full complement in the rear.   

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Update: Temperatures have risen above freezing for several consecutive days, and dropped below freezing at night, resulting in a city-wide ice rink.  Studded tires are necessary, while fat tires still have a place on deteriorating snow-covered trails and sidewalks.  Lael reports that Grip Studs– finally– have made her fatbike a reliable everyday winter commuter.

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Gomez and the (9zero7) Whiteout

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At the after-party and awards ceremony of the Frosty Bottom race, I bumped into Gomez, head correspondent at Fat-Bike.com, the premier forum for fatbike information.  Visiting from Wisconsin, Gomez was lucky to find mild weather in Anchorage, while the Midwest and the rest of the country was frozen under an Arctic chill.  His aim, while visiting Anchorage, is to catch a glimpse of the Anchorage winter riding scene and to visit local retailers and manufacturers of winter cycling equipment, including Fatback, 9zero7, and Revelate Designs.

At the party, I suggested a ride.  The next morning, I jumped aboard Lael’s Mukluk to ride the Coastal Trail to meet at the Kincaid Park.  I defogged my memory of some of the older bike trails in the park, and connected a short loop highlighting some of the best-developed winter singletrack in the country.  I’ve said it before, but Anchorage really is the fatbike center of the universe.  These trails are great! 

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Gomez was riding the new 9zero7 Whiteout carbon fatbike frame, equipped with SRAM’s XX1 11-speed drivetrain.  This frame features clearance for 5″ tires on 100mm rims– the largest combination currently available– but would be equally comfortable in a fatbike paceline on a superlight carbon wheelset.  The 9zero7 Whiteout , along with the Borealis Yampa and the upcoming Fatback Corvus, marks a new benchmark in design.  Fast, light, and fat is not easy to achieve, but it is happening.

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We enjoyed a ride as the sun made a low dance across the horizon.  The treetops were drenched in orange sunlight, as the trail under out tires remained crisp from the overnight freeze.  Traction was good, underneath a light glaze.

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Gomez preaches the gospel of fatbikes.  It’s all fatbikes, all the time.  

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I took a quick spin on the new 9zero7 Whiteout frame.  I raced a Salsa Beargrease in the Frosty Bottom this past weekend, for reference.

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Huge tire clearance are possible due to 190mm rear dropout spacing.  A 1×11 drivetrain and thru-axle hub attachments are becoming standard on top-end fatbikes.

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Surly Bud and Lou tires will fit the frame on 100mm Surly Clownshoe rims, both front and rear.

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Thanks for the ride, Gomez!

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