To Slovakia!–nothing not to like

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It has been a long time coming, our return to Slovakia.  We grazed the border of Slovakia on several occasions last summer.  Once, en route to meet Przemek for the first time, we rode through Slovakia for part of a day.  Unwilling to participate in yet another currency, we starved ourselves for the afternoon and raced into Poland to begin our ride on the red trails of southern Poland (Note: they use Euros in Slovakia, we started the day with Czech kroner and ended with Polish zloty).  On another occasion, we detoured from the red trails in Poland to spend a few days writing for Bunyan Velo,  We crossed the border a few times in two days, curious about the pace of life in Slovakia.  Poland is a dreamy place, as long as you are in the woods.  On the roads and in town, the energy is high.  Slovakia, like Czech, is relaxed and kind.  We liked it, but the trails, and Przemek, were in Poland.

The country is crossed with mountains, and farms, and relatively few people.  The beer, as in Czech, is cheap.  The mountains, as we are coming to find, are laced with roads and trails, accessible by a plethora of hiking and cycling routes.  These things are always easier to discover in country.  The women– I promise I won’t let this become a place to review the women of the world– have long legs and have obviously spent the summer outdoors doing things they enjoy.  Seriously, Lael agrees, and we marvel at the discovery of Slovakian women– they are beautiful and healthy.  It’s like they’ve never outgrown the age of 12.  We find this to be an interesting social and cultural marker.  The men?  Well, they mostly look like sunburnt farmers.

When crafting a plan for this summer while back in Alaska, the far eastern part of Europe invited us once again.  I want to spend more time in Ukraine, and the other half of the Carpathian Mountain chain in Romania.  Lael wants to learn some Romanian, and bulk up her Ukrainian vocabulary.  We both want to ride bikes in the countryside and mountains in places that are habitable and arable, but not yet overcome by the hypermodern life we know.  Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania.  Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania.  That’s the plan for now, at least as much of a plan as there will ever be.  Beyond that?  Greece and Macedonia?  Spain and Corsica and Morocco?  There are many opportunities further afield, but we’ve really just begun.  Its not fair to this end of the trip to focus on that end of the trip.  We’re focusing on this side of Slovakia for now, trying not to look too far forward.

We took advantage of the Condor Airlines flight over the pole, which runs nonstop all summer from Anchorage to Frankfurt for about $500.  To hone our eastern aspect, we chose a connecting flight to Vienna, which is only 40 miles from Slovakia.  While I am reading maps, Lael is honing her Euro style.

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Look who met us at the airport in Vienna– Przemek!  He came bearing gifts for Lael’s birthday, including homemade currant liqueur and a small loaf of his mother’s bread.  I’m not supposed to tell, but he also made the three hour drive to the airport the day before.  Upon returning home, deflated, he realized that we had departed on the 22nd, but would not arrive until the 23rd.  Thanks for coming back a second time.

We may have the chance to spend a few more weeks with him later this summer.  Our tentative plan is to rendezvous in Romania in late August or early September.  He’s currently living in Slovenia for work.  He still does a very good impression of a Polish man, in English, for our benefit.

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We’d planned a Warmshowers.org host in Vienna, although a delayed arrival and the time it took to reassemble our bikes meant it would be too late to ride into the city.  Neither of us had much interest in the big city, for now.  Rather, we pedaled towards Slovakia.  Head east!

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We connect to a bike path adjacent to the road, only a short distance from the airport.  We ride through several small towns, over the autobahn, and onto a signed hiking route on a small dirt road.  This leads to a dirt track along the Danube River, dotted with rustic fishing cabins.  We slept well on our first night, on a dirt road, alongside a river, only three miles from the airport.  Even the passing “dinner and dance” barges from Vienna didn’t bother us.

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Awake early, without a plan, we pedal.  Several hours later, barely 7:30, we realize we must have been up before 5AM.  This never happens, although we appreciate the extra hours.

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What time is it?

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Immediately, our eastward route intersects the EuroVelo6 route, from the Atlantic to the Black Sea; the local St. James Way, which eventually leads to the local Camino de Santiago route in Spain; and a plethora of local walking and cycling routes along the Donau (Danube).

Signposts are stacked with signs and maps covered in colored routes.  The pathways are in constant use by a steady stream of riders, runners, rollerbladers, and walkers.  Many cycling routes incorporate graded gravel farm roads or unpaved cycling paths.  Most routes utilize existing facilities.  Creating bikeable routes is sometimes as easy as providing maps and signage.  Rest stops like this one are also welcomed, which include drinking water, a bike rack, a detailed map, a covered picnic area, wooden reclining chairs, and some green space.  These are luxuries to a cyclist on a long ride.

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The red and white signage indicates a hiking route.  The shell signifies the way of St. James, whose terminus is in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  The most prominent portion of the route is in Spain, although routes and signage begin much further afield.

907 must be the hiking route number.  We’re not in (907)Alaska anymore.

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A short way down the river, Bratislava comes into view.  The capital city of Slovakia borders both Austria and Hungary.  Of the three countries we choose Slovakia, although the long-distance “blue trail” in Hungary is enticing. It claims to be the oldest long-distance footpath in Europe (c. 1938), and comprises part of the modern E4 route across Europe.

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We find easy entrance into the city on paved trails.  Some public maps suggest an off-pavement exit.

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Large Soviet housing projects are common in these eastern cities.

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Europe is full of signed and mapped routes for walking and cycling.  Many walking paths are great fun to ride.  Some cycling routes include mellow dirt tracks, although most prefer pavement.  Dirt routes begins immediately outside the city, climbing into the Malé Karpaty mountains.

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The park includes many features benefitting activity and community.  The greater area includes routes for miles, trending northward through the mountains.

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Dirt, right out of the city.

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The red and white is a walking route, the colored “C” routes are cycling routes.  They diverge, and converge, in this case.

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Along the way, we find dozens of picnic tables, gazebos, and grassy areas.

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And plenty of signage.  Lots of signage.

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Segments of genuine singletrack are exciting, through managed forests dominated by beech trees.

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Some of our route convenes with the race route of an upcoming series.

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Even some hike a bike on day one.  Not bad, considering we don’t have a plan.

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22-32.  This one gets a lot of use.

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Further from the city, the moutnains grow taller and all the cycling routes descend into the valley.  We continue for a time on walking routes, with some pushing.

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Descending from the mountains, we direct ourselves north and east.  A near goal is to get to Ukraine, although there is plenty of riding in Slovakia to keep us busy for years.  We’ll sample some along the way, including some of the 1000 Miles Adventure Route, which crosses Czech and Slovakia.

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Fruit falls onto the roadways.  Camping is abundant.  Nothing not to like.

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Swimming.  Once a day keeps the stink away.  Public laundromats don’t exist where we’re going.

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More cycling and walking routes in the mountains.  So many options.

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The beech forests!–generouslly spaced trees, filtered sunlight, singletrack.

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Dobra Voda.

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Descend to Dobra Voda.  Ascend from Dobra Voda, through a cemetery.

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To a castle.  We didn’t expect a castle at the top of this hill.  Not that this is the fist castle we’ve seen in this corner of Slovakia.  There are dozens.

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A short distance away, we make camp at the top of the mountain, along the red trail.  Red trails are most often major routes, which cover longer distances.

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From the top, we descend through more scenic beech forests to town.  Slovakia is a new favorite.  Nothing not to like.

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The E8 walking trail, like the E4 and the E2, crosses the European continent from Ireland to Turkey.

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This map locates all the castles, in reference to cycling routes.

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Searching for chain lube, we go looking for small town bikes shops.  It seems WD-40 in spray cans is preferred.

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We choose pavement for a few days to make some distance north, and east.  When possible, we interject mellow dirt routes chosen from local signage.  A forecast for heavy rain will keep us off the dirt for a few days.  Much of the dirt riding ahead of us promises to be steep, as we enter higher mountains.  Lael also has a nagging ankle injury that likes to ride a bike, but not to push bikes up steep grades.

Postcard Slovakia: Soviet housing, sunflowers, rolling hills, and blue skies.

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Tidy houses, forested hills, small farm plots, and fruit trees.

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Swim in a cold stream, a castle on the hill.

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Slovakians love to ride.  There are often families and groups of riders on the weekends.  Through the week, people commute to work and ride to the store to get what they need.  Most often, older men and women ride vintage step-through frames with 24×1 3/8″ tires and rider bars, perfectly practical for this kind of riding.

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Proper bike shops are infrequent, although bikes from the past several decades are still riding alongside newer bikes.  It is not uncommon to see a 30 year old bike with patina and signs of use, still exhibiting smooth operation.  This is what happens when you value the things you have, and take care of them.  The values of our grandparents are still alive here.

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Aside from maps and signs by the roadside, detailed guidebooks and “Active” maps for hiking and cycling are available from local bookstores and supermarkets.  This book details cyclings routes around Slovakia, concentrated in the southwest corner, nearby much of the country’s population.  This book includes paved and unpaved routes, and many routes which combine the two.

Check our this digital resource for all the walking routes in Slovakia.  Cycling routes are all here.  An Android App called Hiking Map Slovakia is also useful, and is currently installed on Lael’s Nexus tablet.

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Look for these maps as well, in country or online.

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Cycling signposts also include directions to local attractions such as castles, swimming pools, and this BIKEPARK.  Mountain biking is increasingly popular here.

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Cycling routes are surprising in Slovakia, ranging from busy two-lane roads to this levee singletrack.  A mountain bike makes a versatile touring bike in this county.

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As anywhere, it ensures the right tool to avoid busy roadways.

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Much like in Czech, beer is everpresent.  When we order kava at 7AM, it is not uncommon to see a table of townspeople talking over tall glasses of beer.  At about 4%, a beer or two in the morning is like a strong cup of coffee with sugar, right?

Hops and wheat, from which beer is made.  Slovakian lowlands are filled with fruits, vegetables, and grains.

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We’ve had such good luck finding campsites all over Europe.  As a rule, as night falls, find a small road and ride uphill.  Ride past the last house, ride onto dirt, and soon, the place will appear.  In this case, as we ascended a dirt road we passed several mountain bikers coming down, including several young boys with full face helmets.  We ascended to find an historic logging railbed.  We camped alongside a picnic table in the woods several kilometers from the nearest town, 500ft down in the valley.  Nothing not to like about the touring life in Slovakia.

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The best part is that every morning, sooner or later, we descend to a town.  A period of rest each day, including kava and pivo and ubiquitous free WiFi, encourages enough energy to pull out the maps and plan another day’s ride up and over something.  Our immediate goal is to explore some of the 1000 Miles Adventure route, which is an adventure race route organized by Czech racer Jan Kopka from the border of Germany and Czech to the other edge of Slovakia, on the border of Ukraine.  The mixed terrain route promises some significant challenges, but also a largely pedalable route across the country.  Incidentally, I met Jan this winter before the Iditarod Trail Invitational.  He and Greg came over from Speedway to buy all of our fatbike tubes at the shop.  If Lael’s ankle cooperates and the weather is not too wet, we’ll follow as much of this route as we want across the country.  Soon enough, some time in Ukraine is also a priority.  And Przemek will be waiting at the Romanian border in another month or so.

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We’re trying not to make plans.  Mostly, were trying to do a lot of this, if we can find it.

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Photos for sale, this weekend only!

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Edit: As there has been so much interest in the “Bikepacking Europe” photo series, I have extended the sale to Tuesday morning, 8AM Alaska time.  Thanks to everyone that has shown interest!  

The photo collection from The Art of Bikepacking is available for sale.  Individual 4×6″ prints with white border are available for $10, 3 for $25, 15 for $100.  Most of the photos have been featured on the blog, and were printed locally in Anchorage, AK.  Each photo will be mailed in an envelope with a brief handwritten note from myself and Lael.  International addresses, add $1.

The numbered series of photos were displayed on a fish net sourced from a local commercial fishing supply store.  Two hundred wooden clothespins held the whole thing together, weaving a wave of memories from the North Sea to the Black Sea.

Here’s the catch: I’m leaving town on Tuesday for Vienna and an extended period of travel.  I choose which photos are sent.  If you have any strong interest in one subject area (Crimea, Belgium, food, bikes, trail facilities, cities, nature), leave a note with your payment  and I will do my best to comply.  Consider it a small donation to the blog and our upcoming trip. The best photos go in the mailbox first, so hurry up.  The last chance to donate and receive a unique print is Tuesday, July 22 at 8AM .  After that, I’ll have both feet out the door.

There are a few of you that will receive a photo in the mail, gratis.  Andy, Shawn, Willet, event sponsors, our parents, and a few others need not apply– it’s in the mail.  Also, there are three people who did not receive postcards back in 2012, and were promised.  Iain, I think you were one of them?  E-mail me with a current address.

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Bicycle Times: Bikepacking Europe

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We spent half of last year bikepacking across Europe, and are soon to embark on another period of travel beginning in Eastern Europe where we left off last time.  Read about our exploratory summer in Europe in the most recent edition of Bicycle Times, Issue #30.  I’m proud to be sharing pages with Cass Gilbert, Keith Bontrager, and Jason Boucher.  Bicycle Times is one of my favorite rags, and has been improving ever since it started as a place to review fenders and share DIY bike tricks.

My article entitled “Bikepacking Europe” begins on page 34.  Recognize the painted man on the cover?  That’s Jeremy, as photographed by Cass on a bikepacking trip near Glorieta, NM.  You may remember Jeremy from our ride at White Mesa when we first met, or a year later between Flagstaff and Sedona.

Buy you copy of Bicycle Times from your local newsstand or bicycle shop, or order a print or digital subscription straight from the source.  

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If you live in Anchorage, come see us at The Bicycle Shop, Dimond at 7PM tonight for an event called The Art of Bikepacking.  I’ll be there talking about this and other stuff, with a ton of photos on display.  Free food, beer and prizes.  Ride your bike!

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

When that day comes

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As Jeremy would say, “you’ll take the bike you’re riding the day before you leave”.  A friend from our time in New Mexico, Jeremy has gained the wisdom of an old man from years in railcars, on the road, and on a bicycle.  He’s barely thirty years old, but he’s right.

This spring, I’ve enjoyed a greater period of bike building and planning than ever before.  My Raleigh XXIX was purchased used in Santa Fe less than a week before leaving for Amsterdam last summer.  My Surly Pugsley was fit with a variety of wheel, tire, and handlebar combinations in the days leading to my departure from Anchorage in 2012. In 2011, I developed my first Carradice-based rack-lite touring system for my Schwinn High Sierra in the final week before departure from Annapolis, MD.  In late 2009, I built our first dynamo wheels and lighting systems the week before leaving Tacoma, WA to ride south to Mexico for the winter.  Back in 2008, I had built my dream bike from a vintage Miyata One Thousand frame.  The frame broke with a few weeks to go and I swapped parts to a mid-nineties Trek 520.  I remember the first ride with empty Ortlieb panniers attached to touring-grade Jandd racks.  It was awkward and exciting.  I now think that riding a bike with racks and panniers is awkward, but not exciting. All of these bikes are documented on my webpage entitled “Touring Bikes”.  

When the day comes, we’ll leave on whichever bikes we are riding.

Over the past month, I’ve experimented with wheels and tires on the Salsa Mukluk.  A suspension fork and a trail-oriented parts ensemble including 45mm Velocity Dually rims graced my red fatbike, before opting for a purpose built machine.  Enter the Surly Krampus, which makes all the improvements I was searching for last summer, without compromise.  I really enjoyed the Raleigh last year, but often asked for a few more things, including greater tire clearance and longer fork travel.  While the 29.1mm Stan’s FlowEX rims served me well, I also thought a slightly wider rim would be more appropriate for the 2.3-2.4″ tires I prefer.  To do all of this without adding significant heft to the machine is the trick.  Over the years, the goal has been to create a more capable bike, without gaining weight.  Oh, and the rims must be genuinely tubeless ready.    

Why not the Mukluk?  Well, it works fine, but considering the amount of pedaling I expect to do before I need a fabike again, a standard width bottom bracket will be nice for my knees.  I’d not had any issues riding a Pugsley for over a year in the past, but this winter, I gained a few creaks in my knees which I was unable to explain.  In retrospect, I attribute my discomfort to excessive riding and challenging conditions (snow).  Some more stretching may have helped.  Mostly, my legs felt great once the snow melted, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.  

In all, the Krampus and the Mukluk are more alike than they are different.  The frame dimensions and angles are nearly identical, although on paper the Krampus features a slightly longer top tube.  Thus, I moved into the Krampus frame knowing that it was almost exactly what I wanted.  If you own a newer Mukluk, know that it also makes a capable 29er mountain bike.

As the day nears, these are the bikes we will ride, mostly.  Lael seriously considered buying a full-suspension bike, as a nod towards our trail oriented aspirations.  Instead– convincing herself she didn’t need that, not yet– we’ve made some improvements to her bike.  Come late July, I will be leaving town on a completely new bike for the first time, ever.  

Oh yeah, we’ve got plane tickets to Vienna on July 22nd.  Vienna, like Amsterdam, seems like a fantastic place to begin a bikepacking trip.  We hope to be gone for close to a year.   

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Surly Krampus

Fox Talas 32 factory fork (120mm-90mm adjustable travel)

Race Face Sixc 780mm carbon handlebar/ Specialized 75mm stem/ Cane Creek 40 headset/ Ergon GP-1 grips

Salsa Regulator titanium seatpost/ Brooks B17 saddle/ Surly seatpost clamp

Shimano Deore 38/26 cranks/ Shimano XTR 9sp GS-cage rear derailleur/ Shimano Alivio 11-34T cassette/ SRAM PC-951 chain/ SRAM X5 double front derailleur/ Problem Solvers FD clamp/ Redline Monster pedals

Paul Thumbies shifter mounts/ Shimano 9sp bar-end shifters

Avid BB7 brakes and rotors/ Avid FR-5 brake levers

SP 15mm thru-axle dynamo hub/ Light Bicycle 35mm tubeless carbon rim/ DT butted spokes and brass nipples/ Maxxis Ardent 29×2.4″ skinwall tires/ Stan’s tape and sealant

SRAM X7 rear hub/ Stan’s FlowEX rim/ DT butted spokes and brass nipples/ Maxxis Ardent 29×2.4″ skinwall tires/ Stan’s tape and sealant

Wanderlust Beargrass top tube bag/ Randi Jo Bartender bag/ Revelate Viscacha seatpack

Notes: A 35mm wide carbon Derby rim has arrived, which will be laced to a Hope hub in the rear.  Tires, pedals, and luggage may change.  Lighting and charging devices, yet to be determined.

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35mm Light Bicycle rims, light and strong.  Tubeless set-up is a breeze.  Pop, pop– the sound of a tight fitting bead.

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29×2.4″ tires, the heart of the system.  In place of Maxxis EXO casings, which are unavailable from most distributors at the moment, I’ve chosen the skinwall Ardents.  They’re not quite as tough, but are a little lighter.  And, they’re gorgeous.

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Carbon AM/DH bars, Ergon grips, mechanical disc brakes, and thumb shifters are not the usual mix of parts.

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The Brooks B17 rides high, after more than 40,000mi.  The Salsa Ti post isn’t as plush as expected, but the build quality is very good.  And, it is gorgeous.

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Tire clearance is good all around.

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Room for mud, and when the time is right, 29×3.0″ tires.  Dirt Wizards?

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Finally, this fork is a dream.  It feels great.  I can adjust the travel from 120mm to 90mm on the fly.  The C-T-D compression settings are useful when alternating between climbing and descending, and for a controlled trail setting.  The fork technically clears a 29×3.0″ Knard, barely.  

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Raleigh XXIX

RockShox Reba SL, recently converted from 80mm to 120mm

Answer 20/20 720mm carbon handlebar (20mm rise/20deg sweep)/ Specialized 50mm stem/ Velo Orange headset/ Ergon GP-1 grips/ King Cage top-cap bottle cage mount/ Specialized bottle cage

Syntace P6 Hi-Flex carbon seatpost (not pictured)/ Cannondale Hooligan saddle/ Salsa seatpost clamp

Race Face Ride 32/22 cranks with bash guard/ XT 8sp GS-cage rear derailleur/ 11-32T cassette/ Shimano XT front derailleur/ SRAM PC-830 chain/ VP-001 pedals

Suntour XC Pro shifters

Avid BB-7 brakes/ Avid FR-5 brake levers

Hope Pro 2 Evo hub/ Light Bicycle 35mm carbon rim, DT butted spokes and alloy nipples/ Specilaized S-Works 29×2.3″ Renegade tires/ Stan’s tape and sealant

SRAM X7 rear hub/ Stan’s FlowEX rim/ DT butted spokes and brass nipples/ Specialized S-Works 29×2.3″ Renegade tires/ Stan’s tape and sealant

Revelate Viscacha seatpack/ Revelate framebag

Notes:  Tires, worn drivetrain parts, and broken saddle will change.  Luggage yet to be determined.  Rides good; she won a race the other day.  Not bad for a touring bike.

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Just another steel touring bike

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

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

Interview at The Bicycle Story

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

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Photos: Lael Wilcox, Przemek Duszynski, and Nicholas Carman

Week-end Beach Klunk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Spring Mix

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In Alaska, spring is always in a big hurry.  Sunlight hours grow by nearly six minutes per day around the equinox, and now, our days are longer than yours (except you Fairbanks).  The contrast of warm days and freezing nights make for some exceptional riding conditions.  On a springtime riding binge, we claim three rides in three days, muddy bikes, and tired legs.  Fatbikes are awesome.  

Full ride reports soon, but first, more riding.  This may be the best riding all year.  

Wednesday: Meet tonight at 7:30PM on the Chester Creek Trail across from East High (Northern Lights and Bragaw).  Jill Homer is in town and wants to ride bikes!  Plan to ride APU and Campbell.

Thursday: Meet at The Bicycle Shop at 7PM for a post-work beach ride.  We will ride to Pt. Woronzof on the trail, then on the beach to Kincaid.  We should be riding into the sunset!  Alternately, meet at Pt. Woronzof at 7:30PM.

 

Beach ride: Kincaid Park to Earthquake Park 

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Mountain ride: Hillside Trails to Middle Fork Loop

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River ride: Butte, AK to Knik Glacier

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