Fly by Cycle

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Above: 13,588ft Cottonwood Peak at sunrise.

A $150 plane ticket from Albuquerque to Denver is a relative bargain, considering that I purchased it last minute and that it allowed me to keep my schedule at work and to be in Denver in the morning for NAHBS.  Still, I was determined to make the most of the expense and a little reconnaissance from the air is always inspiring.  Incidentally, I was almost always within sight of something I recognized on the ground and something I have ridden by bike, including some local routes in the Jemez Mountains, the Great Divide Route, and the Colorado Trail.

Flying above the Jemez Mountains and the Valles Caldera near Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Cochiti Canyon is at the bottom of the frame.  About a month ago, I stole away for a multi-day trip out of town on the Pugsley.  Riding into the night, I awoke above Cochiti on FR 289.  I had previously ridden this road with friends.

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On that same 5-day trek with Cass, Joe and Lael, we also linked singletrack leaving from the Pajarito Ski Area, encircling Los Alamos, and descending Guaje Ridge.

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Nearby, the 31 Mile Road (FR 144) climbs over 5,000 ft from Espanola to connect with the Great Divide Route above Abiqui and Polvadera Mesa.  The road is seen as the prominent white squiggle in the bottom right quarter of the frame.  Jeremy and I left out of Santa Fe for a few days of riding in the mountains, and soaking in hot springs.

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Zoom.  Within proximity of our campsite for the night, before cresting the ridge to connect with the Divide.

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This blank canvas is the southern end of the snow-covered San Luis Valley.  This fall, Lael and I rode some pavement south from Del Norte, CO to meet Joe and Cass in Santa Fe.  We rode this section in the dark, and camped in a super secret spot in Antonito, CO.

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And a bit further north, Monte Vista, CO, I believe.

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Here, the Rio Grande cuts across the San Luis Valley above 7000ft between Del Norte and Alamosa.  It is easy to see here why the river runs dry along the Mexican border– irrigation.

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To the right, the northern peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range, south of Salida, CO.  Cottonwood Peak is sunlit at the bottom, and featured at the top of the page.

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Descending towards Denver and over the Front Range, this is the start of the Colorado Trail at Waterton Canyon.

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Chatfield Reservoir– geometric picnic and camping facilities are the work of the US Army Corps of engineers, most likely.  Lael and I got lost in this maze of roads and trails on our ride to the trailhead of the Colorado Trail.

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Denver.  The city swallows almost everything, except for the natural curves of this river.

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Arriving in Denver, I reassembled the Hooligan and rode to NAHBS.

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Pugsmorphology

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The bike has been through a series of changes since it was purchased from a Craigslist seller in Seattle last December. It came with a narrow upright handlebar, heavy Large Marge rims, and a worn Endomorph tire. It had been ridden without regular maintenance. As a result of neglect and preference, I have replaced almost everything on the bike at least once. The Pugsmorphology includes no fewer than:

8 different tire models; Endomorph, Larry, Nate, WTB Nano (29×2.1″), Schwalbe Big Apple (29×2.35″), Maxxis Holy Roller (26×2.4″), Schwalbe Big Apple (26×2.35″) and Surly Larry 120tpi ultralight

4 handlebars; narrow steel bar, Salsa Bend 2, Salsa Cowbell 3, Surly 1×1 Torsion bar

3 rim models; from Large Marge to Marge Lite, and one Salsa Semi-Disc 29er

2 forks; standard Pugsley 135mm offset and 100mm symmetrical for a dynamo hub

all on 1 purple frame.

December, 2011: Ride the 594 bus to Seattle, walk up Capitol Hill and hand over $1150, cash. I have just closed the riding season in New Mexico and am on my way to Alaska for the winter. I am carrying all of my camping gear and install it on the bike before heading out into the rain. Some bags and a Brooks saddle make the unfamiliar bike, mine.

(Many images link to related articles.)

Pugs Tacoma

Winter in Alaska. This is not my daily commute, but riding around Anchorage is never less than spectacular. Riding to the Knik Glacier is the highlight of my life on a bike, thus far.

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Following a winter of record snowfall and wrenching on Mukluks at The Bicycle Shop, I begin to plot my exit strategy. For the immediate road ahead, 29″ wheels are calling. I begin by building a SRAM 506 hub to a Salsa Semi-Disc 29er rim. I first mounted a WTB Nano, and later, a 29×2.35″ Big Apple.

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Lael’s Revelate Vischasa leads me toward a full complement of modern bikepacking bags, while I explore the Pugsley as a 29er, partly.

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29×2.35″ Schwalbe Big Apple.

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I call the Carradice Camper into service. For the first time on a longer trip I plan to carry a camera and a laptop computer, along with the necessary bundle of chargers. The saddlebag eases the strain and creates a safe harbor for the netbook.

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Half-fat is a half-finished experiment. I intend to build a 29″ front wheel to turn my Pugsley into the Salsa Fargo that I have avoided buying all winter. The Fargo would be a great bike, and like my Stumpjumper and my High Sierra, it is a sensible option. Senseless– the Pugsley promises unknown opportunity and fun, although I cannot imagine riding several thousand miles of pavement on fat tires. The most important factor in selecting the Pugsley for travel is that I already own it.

If I am to ride 29″ wheels out of town, I expect to send 26″ wheels and fat tires to myself later in the summer. The complication and expense of the idea keeps me awake at night. There must be a better way. How can I enjoy paved roads, dirt roads and dirt trails all on the same set of wheels? Surely, pedaling the first 3000 miles on 4″ tires is a waste of rubber, and money; and building two sets of wheels and tires is wasteful and complicated.

The solution is closer than I expect. 26″ mountain bike tires in the 2.3-2.5″ range fit nicely onto 65mm rims. Voila! It’s that easy. I have been working on fatbikes all winter and this concept has never arisen– it’s always considered that a 700c/29″ wheel is required for alternative uses. I reach for the biggest 26″ tires available– 2.4″ Maxxis Holy Rollers– which bridge the gap between my needs on dirt roads and on pavement, for much less weight and expense than a true fatbike tire. When the time comes, I can simply refit fat tires to the bike. One set of wheels, two pair of tires– easy.

With my bike still set up half-fat, Lael tests the “baby-fat” concept of a smaller tire on a 65mm rim. She is a wearing a Surly Marge Lite rim over her shoulder, yet to be laced into my dynamo hub. A 2.3-2.5″ tire would not work on a larger rim such as the Surly Rolling Darryl, which is 82mm. As well, other fatbikes such as the current (2011) Salsa Mukluk feature a lower bottom bracket than the Pugsley, and would be compromised by this rim/tire combination. The Pugsley is lowered by over an inch, although the effective bottom bracket height is about the same as on Lael’s Surly LHT.

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I like riding drops. The Salsa Bend 2 bar served me well all winter, but I decide to leave town on a 44cm Salsa Cowbell 3 handlebar with Ergon grips. The drops are minimally flared, much like the randonneur-style bars that I’ve ridden in the past.

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The recycled pink tape cushions the hands. I finish the bars with a durable black, cotton tape. The Ergon grips require cutting and filing, shortening and enlarging the inner diameter from 22.2mm to 23.8mm. Other modifications include three rivnuts to the underside of the downtube to fit a Salsa Anything Cage, which cradles a 64 oz. Klean Kanteen.

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With drops and 2.4″ tires the bike rides well and is proof of concept. I think I will ride this: a hybridized purple fatbike with dirt jumping tires. This is a touring bike.

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Considering the amount of pavement I expect, this is even better. Several days after purchasing the Holy Rollers, I seek trade for a Schwalbe Fat Frank or Big Apple. Nate, a local rider with a garage full of hyperpractical bikes, comes through with some lightly used 26×2.35″ Big Apples. He is happy to have some brand new Holy Rollers for one of his own FrankenSurlys. How did I meet Nate? He responded to my Craigslist ad for a Surly Nate tire. One fender installed, one more to go…

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Fenders, generator lighting, 2.35″ slicks, drop bars with Ergon grips, and a peanut butter jar mounted to the fork– this is an Alaskan road bike. On my third day out I encounter snow at less than 2000ft, in June. Smooth tires– briefly– are regrettable.

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The Big Apples cushion the ride on dirt roads at lower pressures, but cornering at speed on loose gravel is scary. Traction is excellent on sealed surfaces. Compromises are the nature of such a bike.

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From Alaska to Banff, the route covers nearly 75% pavement, even though I seek off-pavement routes when possible. Despite additional wheel weight (in comparison to a typical touring bike), the Pugsley passes road miles with ease, including a handful of hundred mile days through Canada. With endless sun and mosquitoes, riding is an ideal means to multiple ends, including the lower States and the mosquito-free mountains. Comfortably perched, I ride south at a rapid rate and reconnect with the Divide in Banff. Several weeks later in Bozeman, Montana, I rebuild my rear wheel with a Marge Light rim, losing a pound of aluminum in the process. Refit fat tires.

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For a period, drop bars and fat tires coexist. This is a fine combination when riding open roads, such as on the Divide. The big tires (re-)extend the abilities of the bike, while the drop bars allow me to efficiently and comfortably ride longer distances. Lael and I plan to ride some of the Colorado Trail when we reunite in August, and I begin to (re-)consider an upright bar. I enjoyed the Salsa Bend 2 bar all winter. Something similar will do just fine.

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A Surly 1×1 Torsion bar arrives, taken off the used bike that Lael will soon be riding. Her Raleigh XXIX is sourced from Craigslist and comes with the Surly bar, although an On-One Mary is quickly on order. She may never ride a bike with another handlebar– to her, the Mary is perfect. I am happy to gain the added control of a wide bar and an upright position, especially with the monster traction provided by fat tires at low pressure. A week or two of singletrack in Colorado assure me that the new bar is the right choice.

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It’s not an aggressive position, which suits much of our riding. The bike rides like a Cleland– slowly and assuredly, it travels onward overland. As such, it is not a dedicated trail bike, but a “trail tourer”. Much like a fine automobile, it offers comfort and safety along with performance.

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Short of a climate control system and a stereo, it is fully-equipped. The stereo is on the to-do list (wouldn’t that be great!), while the lights are always on.

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As my fat-year closes, I’ll share more personal thoughts regarding life on a fatbike, including explicit disclosures and dissatisfactions. Mostly, it’s sweet remembrance through rose-colored glasses.

Moonrise on the Colorado Trail.

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Rollins Pass

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Diverting from the Divide toward the Denver area, I seek a new route over the mountains.  Last year, I crossed the Front Range through Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road.  Another option crosses further south at Loveland Pass above the Eisenhower Tunnel and I-70, while a third option crosses Georgia Pass and Kenosha Pass on the Colorado Trail from the Breckenridge area into Waterton Canyon, about 20 miles south of downtown Denver on the east side of the mountains.  Trail Ridge Road and Loveland Pass are both paved, while the Colorado Trail is mostly singletrack in this section, with some steep rocky pushes.  A final route crossing Rollins (Corona) Pass offers the most direct route and a pleasant ride on dirt roads over 11,666 ft.  A portion of the route follows an old railroad grade called the Moffat Route which is now partly maintained as a Forest Service road, but to the benefit of the hiker or cyclist the entire route isn’t passable by motorized vehicles due to the dilapidated and barricaded Needle’s Eye Tunnel, which limits traffic.  Several small rockfalls near the top of the east side further inhibit motor vehicle traffic.  Continuing in the spirit of the Great Divide Route, Rollins Pass is the perfect detour into the Denver/Boulder area.

From County Road 3 on the Great Divide Route south of Kremmling and the Williams Fork Reservoir, turn toward the east on Keyser Creek Rd/FR 139 (County Rd 32).  The Divide maps identify that this spur is the way to Winter Park (and Fraser), and from this intersection you are about 19 miles from the town of Fraser in the adjacent valley.  Climb away from the Divide on the main road for 8.6 miles until the intersection with the Beaver Creek Road at the top of the unsigned pass.  Several signs are missing along the way, however, selecting the more-traveled path will get you to the top.  Intersecting the signed Beaver Creek Road (County Rd 50), turn right toward Fraser and begin a fast ten mile descent to town.  At the intersection of paved Hwy 40, the main route in the valley, turn right onto the bike trail alongside the road for several miles to the town of WInter Park. Two miles further as the road begins climbing more moderately toward the ski resort, a sign will direct you to turn left onto the Rollins Pass Road or the Corona Pass or Moffat Hill Road– a road of many names, with a storied history.  From this point, the surface turns to dirt and climbs 14 miles to the pass, almost entirely through USFS property.  Turning onto this road at night, I ascend a thousand feet to a campsite overlooking the lights of Winter Park.  Amidst an old clearcut, I light a fire in an existing fire ring for some hot tea and ambiance.  Cool, clear Colorado skies send me to sleep.

Soon after entering the Arapahoe National Forest on County Rte. 3, turn left away from the Divide Route onto this road:

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Intersecting County Rte. 50/Beaver Creek Road, turn right down to Fraser:

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The west side of the pass is a little rough, but not atypical of USFS roads.  Sandwiched by wilderness to the north and south at the top of the pass, continue toward the east on the obvious railroad grade, barricaded and signed “Tunnel closed…”.  Several small rockfalls in the first mile are rideable, if a little rough.  Two wooden trestles are in good shape, and within a mile from the top of the pass the Needle’s Eye Tunnel is encountered as Yankee Doodle Lake is visible below on the left.  The tunnel is in disrepair and is impassible, although two short trails lead over or around the tunnel.  Riding over the top of the tunnel, I hike down the back side which is loose and steep, but passable.  Back on the main Rollinsville Road, continue downhill for about 15 miles, passing the east end of the railroad tunnel that replaced the overland route.  Unfortunately, the several thousand foot elevation loss is not a fast descent, as the road is impregnated with angular cobbles.  Picking your way through and around potholes and rocks is fun, although tiring.  In Rollinsville, intersect the Peak-to-Peak Highway: turn right for Arvada and Denver, turn left toward Nederland to descend into Boulder.  Riding north on pavement toward Nederland, turn right onto the unpaved Magnolia Road for a low-traffic alternate to Boulder Canyon and Boulder.  Continuing to Nederland, you can ride north on the Peak-to-Peak Highway toward Estes Park and Fort Collins, or down the paved Boulder Canyon Road into town.

Climbing out of the trees on the Moffat Hill Road/Rollins Pass/ Corona Pass Road, Winter Park is visible across the valley.  A consistent mild grade makes for a quick ride to the top.

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Expecting a rapid descent into Boulder, I quickly realized I’d be picking my way through rocks and riding the brakes.  Although this is an unimproved trail, this is the most inspiring “rail-trail” I’ve ridden.  With trestles and a tunnel, as well as some brief hikes, the ride over the pass makes for a fun day ride and a great way to connect the Divide with Denver.

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A local rider directs me to the lower portion of the Jenny Creek Trail which eventually connects to the town of Nederland.  Enticed by a sign marking the upper portion of the trail, I cut left in search of a nice forested descent.  Instead, I find slow-speed rock-crawling.  A highly specialized red Jeep admires the Pugsley, remarking that it seems like a good idea to have big tires.  City people don’t often understand, while rock-crawling country folk never try to highlight the shortcomings of fat tires.  They get it.

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At once, my saddlebag is hanging near my rear derailleur.  Replacing worn leather straps, two nylon gear straps are hiding in the bottom of my framebag for such an occasion.  The thin steel bag loops on most leather saddles places extreme stress on the straps used to support and stabilize the saddlebag.  These leather straps have attached the bag to the bike all summer, but failure due to the design of the bag loops is inevitable.  Spare straps are a necessity on a longer trip.

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Back on the Rollinsville Road, conditions are still a little rough.  Even on suspended motorbikes, standing helps alleviate the discomfort of angular cobbles.

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Descending into shade and smooth roads.  Finally able to let loose of the brakes, I pedal on to Rollinsville.

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I miss the turn for the Magnolia Road and find myself in Nederland, so a quick descent down Boulder Canyon shuttles me to the big city.  The first Friday night since students have returned to town ensures a vibrant scene downtown, and a lot of curiosity about the bike.  Downtown Boulder is a world away from Rollins Pass.

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Riding cross: Bannack, MT to Idaho

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My first few days back on fat tires wear the nubs off the knobs, riding on pavement.  Thereafter, I huff and puff up Fleecer Ridge, barreling down the other side.  Being able to descend with abandon is fantastic, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the ability to climb with vigor for some cheap thrills– I require a bike that can do it all, fast.  After a few days of dreaming about normal sized wheels and tires, something happened.  Finally, I can ride the Pugsley the way I want.  It has taken some acclimatization, literal and figurative, and some muscle development.

Leaving Anchorage, I labored up small hills and wondered if I would regret riding a fatbike through the other three seasons.  Over Denali’s passes and the Top of the World Highway, my body responded with strengthened legs.  Reaching the Great Divide Route, brutish climbs reawakened those climbing muscles.  At every major junction in the process of touring on a fatbike, I’ve labored under new challenges and wondered if my heavy go-anywhere bike was a good idea.  And finally, after fitting fat tires this week in Bozeman, I’ve had to grow a new pair of legs to keep up with myself.  I’m realizing the perceived limitations are in the rider, not the bike.  Even now, there’s more to this motor than has already been realized.

To propel a bike with as much utility and versatility as the Pugsley requires a strong motor, and following a few nights of sore muscles I can now ride the Pugsley like a cross bike, like I want.  Gravel grinding– climbing fast and descending faster– is now fun and familiar.  Doing it on 4 inch tires at 15 psi is new, but it is intoxicating and childishly fun.  I barely ever scrub speed while descending; while climbing, it’s good to keep the wheels turning and the momentum up, but traction is never the weak link.  And yesterday, across mild terrain, I pedaled and floated over 80 miles of gravel, culminating in a blistering sunset effort to Red Rock Pass.  Laying down to sleep amidst tall grasses and sage, I smile and reflect that riding the Pugsley does not limit my riding style.  I smile and laugh that I’ve spent the day riding it like a cross bike.  I laugh, for there’s a lot more to riding fat tires than floating over gravel at 20 mph, but it’s just one of many things that can be done on a fatbike.  Six months ago I was riding in the dark, in the snow.  Now I’m sleeping at over 7000 ft on the Montana/Idaho border, thanks to a particular purple bike.

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My breakfast of choice, of late, has been Cream of Wheat.  It cooks quickly and sticks with me better than oatmeal.  I add brown sugar and fruit in the morning, or for a savory evening snack, garlic and vegetables do the trick.  Surely my mother will laugh, as I grew up hating oatmeal and tolerating Cream of Wheat.  Now, I love both.  On this occasion, peaches, bananas and brown sugar give me fuel.

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Of course, that’s a Scott Montana overhead.  This wilderness lodge near Polaris, MT welcomes cyclists, although I only stopped to admire this nice vintage ATB.

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Some southern hospitality can even be found up north.

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Bannack is a ghost town and the first territorial capital of Montana.  A hearty thank you to my hosts at the Bannack Campground, Paul and Jamie, who are full of life in this deserted valley.  We shared an evening together, and they shared their dinner and cold silver cans of beer with blue (lavender) mountains.  Since retirement, they’ve discovered that working as campground hosts satisfies their love for travel, and their desire to meet people in a more relaxed, conversational setting.  In exchange for their time and effort, they have free rent all summer in a spectacular corner of Montana with a steady stream of visitors.  Two main bicycle routes, the Trans-Am and the Great Divide Route, pass near Bannack.  It sure beats Texan Gulf Coast summers, they say.

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The ride up and over Medecine Lodge Pass into the Big Sheep drainage challenges me; the sustained climb on the Pugsley strengthens me.  I’m finding that the more I do it, the easier it becomes.  Descending, my rear tire begins to slowly go soft.  I don’t mind fixing the occasional flat, although I hope it’s not something I encounter daily.  The big tires require well over three hundred pumps with my little Lezyne road pump and the older dropout design of the purple Pugsley requires me to loosen the rear brake caliper, which feels like one step to many.  The process is a bother.  I will be searching for a system to minimize flats, especially in the thorny southwest.  Sealant applied to tubes, or a pure tubeless setup are considerations.  A pump with a bigger chamber would be nice.

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On this night, I encountered a group of adventure motorbike riders.  All were on the de facto “ultimate adventure bike”, the BMW GS-1200.  They were riding a variant of the Great Divide Route from Albuquerque to Helena, in a ten day period.  Some of them laughed at my pedal-powered efforts.  Secretly, I laughed at the imminence of Monday morning, a pot of Folgers, and a desk job.  I will still be here in a week.

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And in a push to the Idaho border, a dotted line of classic gravel roads lead the way.  All I have to do is pedal.

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Voracity, and veracity

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Wheel built, tube patched, tires mounted and a hundred miles of pavement out of Bozeman.  Crest the Continental Divide, and turn left onto USFS route 84 near Butte.  I’m back on dirt, back on the Divide, and back on fat tires.

Big hungry tires eat dirt and climb without tractional hiccups as pressures are dialed for optimal suspension and maximal traction.  Mostly, as this winter in the snow, I keep draining air from the tire for a better and better ride.  A new rear Marge Lite rim is technically one pound lighter than the old Large Marge, but fat tires add some heft back to the system.  The bike is not heavier, but it is not lighter or faster.  It rides very differently.  The Pugsley had become an all-road bike with the Schwalbe Big Apple tires, capable of 100 mile days on pavement.  At times, the 60mm smooth tires were capable of riding dirt roads and more.  The fat tires do other things.

It’s ironic that Montanans enjoying fat tire off-road vehicles ask, insistently, if my big tires are slower.  I sass: “slower than what?”  Are not the big tires of a Ford truck or an ATV slower than a theoretical skinny slick racing tire?  Big breath of diplomacy: “Fat tires afford a contemplative pace and a sure-footedness that permit my thoughts, even as the trail turns upward and the ‘road’ disintegrates.  Fat tires go almost anywhere.  Fat tires are fun.”

If you insist, “sometimes fat tires are slower”.  I insist, with fat tires I can descend with my eyes closed.

I ride slowly and studiously, engaged in something other than human traction control or anti-lock braking.  This is easy.  Relaxed, song lyrics and upcoming articles saturate my brain and old memories nearly lost, resurface.  Last year on the Divide, I was riding a 47mm Schwalbe Marathon and proud of the transition from pavement to dirt on the same set of rubber.  But the Marathon was a dull scalpel, requiring my attention.  This time is different– the 94mm Surly Larry is a big fucking tire and a lot of fun.  After only a day, I pass dirt miles in blissful oblivion.  As long as F-250’s and cattle aren’t between me and Colorado, I’m barely conscious.  In my youth, I spent a decade in a swimming pool counting laps, conversing with myself in French, and calculating.  Riding fat tires allows me to get lost in my thoughts.  In the physical realm, I’m hoping the fat tires afford the same luxury of exploration.  That’s the future, and most of what I dreamed about today atop Fleecer Ridge.

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For the record: offset Pugsley wheels aren’t that weird, the Profile Design Kage is highly versatile, and riding fast and far is not the point.  Bicycles are overwhelmingly fun these days.

Sean has come up against some unexpected scheduling constraints and has bravely charted a new route towards Tacoma.  What awaits him, in place of the Divide, is his own adventure.  I am solo once again.

Having my cake with the Pugsley

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I’m a long way from Alaska, a long way from dry-cracked knuckles working at The Bicycle Shop, a long way from riding amidst the cavernous iceforms of the Knik Glacier or the rutted singletrack of icy Anchorage sidewalks.  And finally, it’s not so far to Missoula.  I’ve got my sights set on a new Marge Lite rim to lighten my rear wheel and some Surly Larry tires– they’ll be waiting in Missoula and I’ll be riding a full-fat setup for the rest of the summer.  It’s been over seven months since I first acquired the purple Surly Pugsley in Seattle and I never imagined it would have taken me here.  I needed a “snow bike” at the time.  I needed something that would take me places in January at 61 deg N latitude and 13 deg below zero.  Now I’m riding it though four seasons, through climate and time zones and across continents.  I’m starting to think it’s not just a snow bike.

Having purchased the bike used, much has been repaired or replaced.  I’ve also optimized the ride to my unique needs with the switch to drop bars and Ergon grips, with the Shimano dynamo hub and a mix of Supernova and B&M lighting, and with the 2.35″ (60mm) Schwalbe Big Apple tires.  As a result, the bike has been almost perfectly free of maintenance save for a new chain in Whitehorse, some chain cleaning and lubication and an occasional turn of the dial on the Avid BB7 brakes.  Since leaving Anchorage over six weeks and 3000 miles ago, I’ve only put air in my tires twice and once was to account for having relieved pressure on the Dawson Overland Trail.  Bigger tires just don’t require as much care, as I recall checking tire pressure almost every day to avoid pinch flats while riding 700c x 28mm tires.  It’s been several years since I’ve bothered with such things as 28mm tires.  I’ve managed not to pick up any flats so far, which is credit to larger tire volumes at lower pressures and Schwalbe construction.  Perhaps, I’m just lucky.  In addition to large volume Schwalbe tires, I recommend luck.

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Here’s where I’ve been with the Pugsley (most links lead to old posts about how I got here, and life with the Pugsley):

After buying the bike used last December in Seattle I spent three days riding around the city, then back to Tacoma via ferry and Vashon Island.  An overnight trip the following night out to Kopachuck State Park with Alex’s 1989 Trek 520 and Josh’s 1983 Univega Gran Turismo assured me that this beastly thing could roll.  With legs fresh from the Divide I had a small advantage, but the Endomorph tires rolled well and I waited atop hills for my friends.

I flew to Anchorage in early December, assembled the bike at the airport and rode to my new home over icy roads at night.  On the first significant snowfall since my arrival, I slipped around in 8-10 inches of new snow at 7AM, making fresh tracks.  I was learning a lot about the importance of tire pressure and ultimately, the limitations of fatbikes.  I was quickly wishing for wider and wider rims and tires in these conditions, and a snowy month had me convinced that wider rims were nearly necessary for winter riding.  An almost record cold January convinced me otherwise.  Clear skies and hardpacked conditions made for fast riding and floatation was never again a serious problem on 65mm rims.

While searching local groomed multi-use trails, I discovered winter singletrack.  It had been there all along, and others were riding it as seen by multiplicitous tire tracks. What great fun!.  Lael and I rode singletrack almost every night for a full week.  Late February and early March were a great time for us and we’d never ridden so much in a non-touring setting.  We were riding a mile to the multi-use trail, four more miles to the singletrack, and then a 10 mile loop before headed back home.  We would often race home just as the warmth was running out of our hands and toes.    The Campbell Tract is known as the coldest place in Anchorage, and we put in more than a few rides at ten below.

I caught up on repairs: a new FSA ISIS bottom bracket replaced a crunchy Truvativ; the rear XT hub got a new cone, bearings and grease; T9 (as a rust retardant inside the frame) and lube on all major moving parts, lots of deep cleaning and new cables and housing really perked things up.  I also opted for a wider bar with a little more sweep.  The Salsa Bend 2 bar gave a lot of control in challenging conditions, but was almost always comfortable.  The 17 deg bend was nice, but I’d have liked a little more.  A Surly Nate tire improved my traction in urban winter conditions, especially compared to a worn Endomorph.  The Nate dug deeper into snow, bit harder into crusty ice, and prevented much of the sideways slipping that the Endomorph was prone to.  On busy rutted icy streets, the Nate was essential.  Those of us that commute on fat tires are calling for a studded fat tire, while those that only ride the trails for fun don’t seem to understand the need for studded fat tires.  On some days, you needs studs and floatation.

Enough of the city life!  I decide that working at a bike shop isn’t quite as great as riding bikes.  While tossing around the idea of a fatbike trip across Europe, I eventually decide to ride south toward some unfinished business.  A year ago in Colorado, I had my eye on the Colorado Trail, Kokopelli Trail, southern UT routes, and the Arizona Trail.  Instead, I continued south on the Great Divide Route, pushing over Indiana Pass in late October.  This year, I return to Colorado to pursue the other route.  A bike more capable than my trusty Schwinn High Sierra would be necessary, or at least I would need to fit 2.1-2.3″ tires.  With the Surly Pugsley at hand, I didn’t have to reach far to make my decision.  As well, the High Sierra was in Tacoma with a friend that was in need of a bike so I didn’t really have anything that was ready for an extended tour.   Excitement and trepidation fueled several mad concoctions of 29″ wheels, lighter-weight Marge Lite rims, and half-fat setups.  My “problem” was that I wanted the bike to excel on pavement, on dirt roads, and on rugged mountain singletrack.  Finally, the simplest solution arose.  On 65mm rims with 2.3-2.5″ tires, the bike would handle paved and dirt roads well.  With fat tires, I would enjoy dirt roads and more rugged singletrack trails.  A second 29″ wheelset was not necessary, and the bike wouldn’t be a burden on long paved stretches.  The Pugsley is much more than a snow bike.

For the last six weeks I’ve had intimate experiences with the Pugsley, from Anchorage to Banff, in a variety of conditions.  Much of the my route has been on paved or sealed gravel roads, but almost 600 miles have been on dirt roads and trails.  I’ve ridden six days over a hundred miles each; I pedaled and carried the bike through beaver ponds and streams on the Dawson Overland Trail; and have ridden up and over mountain passes in places such as Denali National Park, on the Top of the World Highway, and along the Icefields Parkway in Jasper and Banff National Parks.  There are some compromises to having a bike that can ride through an Anchorage winter and on every conceivable road or trail surface (such as heavy wheels, but the Marge Lite is a huge improvement), but when the will is present, the bike can push well over a hundred paved miles too.  When asked how the bike is “for touring”, as if touring is a singular activity, I smile and say “quite good”.  The Pugsley is not just a snow bike but it’s also not your average touring bike.  It’s been great and is a touring bike of the broadest definition for everywhere, and eveything– I’m having and eating my cake simultaneously.

A brief history of the phrase “have one’s cake and eat it too” is enlightening.  The list of similar expressions in other languages is priceless; my favorite is nadar y guardar la ropa – swimming and keeping an eye on the removed clothes.  WIthout further context, I fail to understand the Persian expression “to have donkey and God as well”.

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Go looking

Days more than twelve hours, especially when gaining daylight, are optimistic. The losing days of fall and winter with less than twelve hours create well-defined constraints. In Alaska, the sun is awake for 16 hours and we are gaining day. Now is the time to leave home. Now is the time to go. This is the touring season.

I leave in a week, although my bike as I’ve planned it is incomplete. My bags are not packed and I hardly know where I am going, but I know that being on a bike in a week is right. In usual fashion, I’m “putting the cart before the horse”. Decide, then describe. I make decisions based upon a whim or a whiff of curiosity. Later, I define the details. Decide to get on the bike, buy the plane ticket, or quit the job first– then, figure out the details as they become relevant.

May 1st marks the day that the snow is almost all gone, 16h 17m 12s of sunlight, and almost six months since arriving in Alaska. I am drooling over long summer days, and working indoors repairing bicycles for others isn’t really doing it for me. My experience on the Great Divide Route last summer has me looking for more.  In a week, I’ll go looking.

Touring with a trailer

From his first tourer, a mid-nineties steel Rockhopper with Ritchey dropouts, to the latest ultralight sleep systems, Cass Gilbert has some experiences to share. While he traces dotted lines in the American southwest this winter with 29 inch wheels and lightweight Porcelain Rocket framebags, we caught a few moments to ask him about touring with a trailer over on the Dovetail page.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of a trailer is in its ability to easily transform any bicycle into a touring machine. If a day off on a bike trip includes chasing singletrack and local club rides, [a] trailer can be a good way to keep it simple, especially when racks are complicated as on a full-suspension mountain bike or a lightweight road bike. More at the Dovetail Learn Page…

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Chiles, red and green

20111030-015131.jpg20111030-015628.jpgOut of the mountains and into New Mexico, it immediately looks as either new or old Mexico should: dusty expanses of sage with mountains beyond. Taos is a bit of a “has been”, with a broad economic divide, and a legacy greater than it’s current draw. The country is beautiful, but the town is a bit odd. Santa Fe is currently happening, and getting better by the minute.

Chilis, red and green, are in season and roasted in wire cylinders on the streets and at market.

Goodbye to Greg, who’s certainly off to smaller and better in the Virgin Islands. He describes an island in the Carribean, where everything is perfect:
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Like a sailor with a lifetime on the seas, Greg can almost see over the horizon. He squints, saying “rich with sun, it appears that money grows on trees where I am going”. Good luck, Old Greg.

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For us, a recent dusting of snow rests at elevation, but the route should again be clear and dry. Ten days of good weather are forecast. Maybe I’ll be a weatherman in New Mexico when I grow up. Sunny, with a chance of sun.

We charted a route through BLM lands into Taos, with a spectacular descent into the Rio Grande Canyon. Cass and Nancy passed a few days later, with mud up to their ankles. It’s good for building houses, but bad for bikes.20111030-020136.jpg20111030-020201.jpg20111030-020214.jpg20111030-020344.jpg20111030-020426.jpg20111030-020723.jpg20111030-020800.jpg20111030-020816.jpg

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Sleeping in teepee(s)

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There is warmshowers.org, and strangers randomly arise to help or host; and then there are those that spend 14 hours a day cooking in a diner in Sargents (barely a town) and at the end of the day, manage to help a trio of weary, but well-fed cyclists.

“Where y’all camping?”

We point, “over there”, which means we know there is some legally habitable property– BLM land, we think– but nothing more to invite us away from the warm diner we are about to exit.

She thinks, remarking that the gully or gulch we must be referring to is real nice. “You’ll have to unlatch the barbed-wire gate. It’s for the cattle.”

She warns us of the expected temperatures in the night– colder than we expected, by a few degrees. A little colder than cold, sounds like.

Twelve degrees will be fine.

She follows us outside to lock the door, is surprised at our bikes (riding them, that is) and immediately offers us the teepee. “The teepee?”

By the creek. The diner is also a gas station and a gift shop and an RV park; and a single teepee, with a propane stove modeled like a campfire, with three cots.

We’ve experiencing a string of hospitality, aside from the teepee, in La Garita and Del Norte. Gary and Patti Blakely are those platinum-level hosts that welcome dozens of cyclists a season; remembering names and bike models, culminating in a panoramic landscape of Divide riders for the season, year after year. This year: the race, without Matthew; Jay’s solo TT, Greg and Sadie from Duluth and homemade bags, lots of Trolls, three Fargos (or more); and our crew, the last of the season.

Probably only one High Sierra. Trivial, but proud.

Indiana Pass today, 11,910 ft. New Mexico tomorrow.20111021-110546.jpg20111021-110646.jpg20111021-110711.jpg

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