Return to Resurrection Pass, Alaska

NicholasCarman1 1543

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

We promptly depart mid-afternoon.

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

NicholasCarman1 1578

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

NicholasCarman1 1577

NicholasCarman1 1579

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

NicholasCarman1 1580

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

NicholasCarman1 1581

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

NicholasCarman1 1583

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

NicholasCarman1 1584

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

NicholasCarman1 1591

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

NicholasCarman1 1590

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

NicholasCarman1 1593

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

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

NicholasCarman1 1648

NicholasCarman1 1649

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

NicholasCarman1 1650

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

NicholasCarman1 1651

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

NicholasCarman1 1652

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

NicholasCarman1 1653

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

NicholasCarman1 1655

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

NicholasCarman1 1656

NicholasCarman1 1647

NicholasCarman1 1657

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

NicholasCarman1 1607

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

NicholasCarman1 1550

NicholasCarman1 1549

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

NicholasCarman1 1610

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

NicholasCarman1 1612

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

NicholasCarman1 1658

Lower, the trees provide shelter.

NicholasCarman1 1617

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

NicholasCarman1 1614

NicholasCarman1 1555

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

NicholasCarman1 1619

A fresh layer of snow makes any landscape more beautiful.

NicholasCarman1 1620

NicholasCarman1 1628

NicholasCarman1 1621

NicholasCarman1 1624

NicholasCarman1 1646

NicholasCarman1 1627

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

NicholasCarman1 1629

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

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

NicholasCarman1 1631

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

NicholasCarman1 1632

NicholasCarman1 1633

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

NicholasCarman1 1637

NicholasCarman1 1639

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

NicholasCarman1 1640

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

NicholasCarman1 1642

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

NicholasCarman1 1641

NicholasCarman1 1643

Across Resurrection Creek one last time.

NicholasCarman1 1644

Overnight.

WP001 68

A few days away, finally.  Three, now only two days out of town.  Overnight– on a very familiar bike.  Since last time, the Pugsley has a new chain and cassette, tubeless tires, and a full luggage system from Revelate Designs.  I use a large Carradice Camper saddlebag for longer tours as it offers twice the capacity of the Revelate Viscacha seat bag, and also fits my MacBook Air.  But this seat bag rides nicely, and is lighter.  Up front, I typically us a compression dry bag for my sleeping gear, but I opted to try this large handlebar stuff sack called the Sweet Roll, paired with my Revelate Pocket accessory bag.  The Pocket makes a great mini-messenger bag when not attached to the bike.  The included shoulder strap is always attached, and provides daily use over the shoulder.  I bought all of these bags last May directly from Eric in Anchorage expecting that Lael would use them over the summer, but she didn’t have enough gear to necessitate so much space.  Mostly, she used the seat bag and Gas Tank top tube bag on her Hooligan.  Without a computer, I could easily pack for long distance excursions with these bags alone– another nail in the coffin of racks and panniers.

WP001 69

WP001 70

WP001 71

WP001 72

WP001 73

WP001 74

Charlie at Two Wheel Drive is an invaluable resource for local route planning.  Over that past decades he has ridden everything in this part of New Mexico, and beyond.  Over the past few weeks, TWD has become the fatbike shop in NM.  Coming soon, monthly fatbike rides– arroyos, snow, forested trails, and the moon!

WP001 67

A couple of Hooligans

WP00001 80

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I ordered a pair of 20×2.20″ Maxxis Holy Rollers for Lael’s Hooligan.  She insisted that she wear out the current tires, 1.5″ Kenda Kwest slicks, but once the tires arrived I couldn’t resist.  I admire her resolve to wear through tires, but these Lil’ Rollers are tons of fun.  They add to the diverse absurdity of the Hooligan.  The current build incorporates comfortable stylish parts from Velo Orange, some lightweight Revelate Designs bags for daily commute-packing, and these little Maxxis beefcakes.  Anymore, Lael loves Maxxis tires.  She likes upright handlebars, lightweight camping loads, and chunky rubber.

WP00001 71

WP00001 74

Some fun LED lights light up the night.  Thanks to Linda and Lanny for these fun holiday gifts.

WP00001 73

Velo Orange Tourist handlebars offer a classic look in a practical dimension.  For a round town bike, the rise and sweep on these bars is perfect.  Also, VO cork grips.

WP00001 67

WP00001 65

The tire rolls well, although it is marketed as a BMX/Dirt Jump/Urban Assualt tire.  For Lael, it’s a versatile commuting tire that can hit the trails in a pinch.

WP00001 70

Some comfortable Clarks and large platform pedals make for happy feet.  These new Velo Orange Sabot pedals are buttery smooth as they use a series of sealed cartridge bearings.  Rounded pins improve traction.

WP00001 72

Neo-retro– a Velo Orange Model 3 saddle and a Revelate Viscacha seatbag.

WP00001 79

WP00001 78

Of course, every practical bike must have a bell.  This is my favorite way to mount one.

WP00001 82

Some cheap Bell sunglasses and a Giro Reverb helmet round out the Lael’s specialized commuting kit.

WP00001 69

A couple of Hooligans.

WP00001 81

Jetsam and flotsam

10406WP

The list of items that populate my bags and my bike is exhausting.  My Kit List accounts from this past month are almost completely inclusive.  However, if I was to upturn my bicycle and shake all the contents from the bags, a few items would fall to the ground to my surprise.  Some are useful, just in case; some are useless, mostly; and at least one item is an unexpected stowaway.  Item origins are indicated in parentheses, when known.  Less than half of these things are even remotely essential.  If you are looking for a way to trim down your touring load, start with the small stuff.

nail clippers, the worst I have ever used, $1.99 CDN in a small gas station (northern B.C.)

insulated electrical housing, 3 inches (came with Supernova headlight, Alaska)

extra Surly rimstrip for Marge Lite rim, black (Bozeman, MT)

1ft. yellow ribbon with reflective strip (Alaska)

3 spokes, length unknown but hopefully useful somewhere on the bike (Alaska and Montana)

tube of Nivea SPF lip product (Ontario, since June 2011)

spare tube, 26×2.3″ with unthreaded Presta valve  (from REI, Bozeman, MT)

tent stakes, began with 13 in AK, 9 remaining

homemade postcards, a dwindling supply of 100 (Ft. Collins, CO)

wallet

assorted business cards and grocery rewards cards

lens filters for camera (Fort Collins, CO)

6 links SRAM 9sp chain (Fort Collins, CO)

Origin-8 plastic chain retention, did not fit Lael’s drivetrain properly (Fort Collins, CO)

small Ziploc bag of 50 ibuprofen, dwindling (Anchorage, Alaska)

4 standard matchbooks with logo (Fort Collins, CO)

1 page from Dirt Rag magazine, Surly Krampus advertisement, to protect MacBook screen from keyboard when packed (Bozeman, MT)

postage stamps (Antonito, CO)

embroidered patch on Carradice Camper saddlebag, Great Allegheny Passage (March 2011)

3 plastic zip-ties (Alaska and Colorado)

1 small rubber band marked “Organic Broccoli” (origin unknown)

On our recent travels near Santa Fe, Joe Cruz exhumed a similarly well-used orange tube of the exact same Nivea SPF lip product from his bag.  His was purchased in South America, mine in Ontario, Canada.  There must be something about men with fatbikes and soft lips.

10428WP

10433WP

10423WP

10430WP

Kit List: Luggage

10903WP

Bike bags:

Carradice Camper, leather attachment straps replaced with REI gear straps

Revelate framebag; medium, misfit to older Pugsley frame

Revelate Pocket, front handlebar bag

Revelate Gas Tank, top tube bag

7530WP 3

2254WP

2499WP

3362WP

4572WP

4241WP

4802WP

Drybags and gear sacks:

Sea-to-Summit e-Vent compression sack: contains sleeping bag, down jacket and VBL attached with REI gear straps

Sea-to-Summit, durable welded drybag: contains tent, excluding poles and stakes

Outdoor Research, silnylon stuffsack; contains clothing, stored in saddlebag

Outdoor Research, silnylon drybag; contains camera

assorted silnylon and uncoated nylon bags for organization and moisture resistance

Big Agnes silnylon gear bags, assorted; for tent poles and stakes

5004WP

7164WP

6710WP

Assorted bags:

Ziploc style bags for dry foods, electronic chargers, passports and papers

plastic bread bags for external hard drive and MacBook charger, books, postcards, etc.

small clutch (hand purse) for tools

Straps:

REI nylon gear straps (preferred)

Sea-to-Summit straps

generic reflective Velcro straps to attach raingear to D-loops on saddlebag

Velco strap to contain tightly rolled sleeping pad, stored in drybag

10910WP

The Revelate equipment utilizes lightweight, abrasion resistant Dimension Polyant VX-series fabrics and water-resistant zippers.  The VX sailcloth fabric, also called X-Pac, is extremely durable and is technically waterproof although it is common to find moisture inside the bags as with waterproof panniers, like Ortliebs.  Even a waterproof bag is susceptible to atmospheric moisture.  The stitching and construction of the Revelate bags is superb and the large zipper on the framebag has been trouble-free, despite much hard use.  Handmade in Anchorage, AK.

2016WP

The Carradice Camper saddlebag is made from a durable waxed cotton fabric, with leather straps.  A wooden dowel is screwed to the bag as a stiffener.  The bags are handmade in Nelson, England.

I have repaired several leather straps as the stitching has pulled away from hard use.  I also broke the original wooden dowel.  My replacement is of a larger diameter and is assembled with a nut and bolt, through a hole drilled into the dowel.  Eventually, the straps that attach to the saddle loops wear due to abrasion, whether leather or nylon.  The main cause is that a thin steel stock is used to make the loops.  I carry spare nylon straps and hope to make a rubber shim to prevent abrasion in the future.  Occasionally, I apply a fresh coat of wax to the bag, either Filson’s, Martinex, or Sno-Seal.  In place of flimsy saddlebag supports, I prefer a more rugged mini-rack such as the the VO Pass Hunter, which mounts to the cantilever posts and only weighs 250g.  A Nitto M-18 is more adaptable, and fits nicely on the Pugsley.  Carradice bags are as waterproof as any other bag I have used, including welded plastic panniers.  A breathable fabric, even as simple as cotton duck canvas, begins to breathe as soon as the rain lets up.

10882WP

10888WP

10892WP

The longflap is invaluable for carrying large, unexpected loads.  Mine has swallowed a bear resistant canister in Denali National Park, cakes and pies, or a twelve pack of beer.  There are no guarantees that a cake will remain unharmed, however.

10893WP

It has worn some from use, but “This item handcrafted in Nelson, England by: Priscilla”.

10891WP

The 11″ MacBook Air fits perfectly in the vertical position at the back of the bag.  It is padded by a soft case and half of a state gazetteer.  The side pockets are huge on the Camper.

10897WP

Maintenance.  A fresh waterproofing coat.

2995WP

Repairs.  I love these inexpensive straps from REI, if I haven’t said it already.  They never break and the sliders don’t slip.

Joe Cruz calls my luggage system, and my entire bike, “hobo chic”.  It works, and that’s what matters.

11570WP

Schofield Pass: Marble to Crested Butte

9484WP

From Carbondale, there are several ways to reach Crested Butte– none of them are paved the entire way.  Several routes from Aspen to CB are enticing, including the famed Pearl Pass route, but snow above 10,700 ft excludes them this time of year.  Pearl Pass is over 12,700 ft, and Star and Taylor passes are nearly as high, and include some singletrack.  McClure Pass is paved, but connecting Kebler Pass to Crested Butte is technically unpaved, although improved and in great condition.  The paved road from Carbondale to Marble connects to a dirt route through the town of Crystal and over Schofield Pass.  At 10,705 ft, Schofield was clear of snow.  On the other side of the pass awaits the famous Trailriders 401 trail down to the town of Gothic.  The ride over Schofield is the most direct, and holds the allure of the “401″.

The road from Marble begins with Daniel’s Climb, a lung-busting grade to Crystal.  Thereafter, the aspen are electric, and the road turns to a rough 4×4 track which is unrideable at times.  The Devil’s Punchbowl is a steep, narrow feature that is largely unrideable, but is a fun challenge on fat tires.  The Pugsley is a stellar slow speed rock crawler, but even a momentary loss of momentum is enough unseat me.  Cresting Schofield Pass, pockets of snow lurk in the shadows.

9264WP

9286WP

9278WP

9303WP

9292WP

9313WP

The mill in Crystal is one of the most photographed sites in Colorado, drawing leaf-peepers from all over.

9320WP

Downtown Crystal.

9336WP

9319WP

9339WP

9340WP

Turn left to complete the Lead King Loop back to Marble; stay right to Crested Butte.

9351WP

The road turns up, and degrades to a narrow 4×4 track.  Unimaginable, this was once a wagon route.  The other riders are friends of Joe Cruz.  In fact, Joe was Anna’s professor and they share a love of cycling.  She is now entrenched in a 6-year philosophy program, but has found time for some winter endurance racing including the Susitna 100 and the White Mountains 100.  That’s 100 miles, in the snow.  I’m working hard towards a PhD in bicycle touring.  Push.

9371WP

9361WP

9378WP

9392WP

Wet feet.

9394WP

Rocky road.

9405WP

Finally.  Another world awaits on the other side.  From the top of the pass, turn up onto the 401 Trail to climb above 11,000 ft.  An epic descent awaits.

9414WP

9416WP

The 401.  With a light cover of wet snow, the Pugsley has come full circle.  From snow to snow, this bike has been everywhere between an Anchorage winter and high mountain passes in Colorado.  The tread on my Larry tires is worn, and doesn’t hold well in soft terrain.  I’m dreaming of the Nate tire at times.  Lael’s Maxxis Ardent holds the trail well.

9424WP

9429WP

9428WP

9435WP

Before cresting the ridge, an alpine park has views in all directions.  In the distance, the backside of the Maroon Bells.

9453WP

9465WP

9466WP

Going down.  Bundle up.  The soil on the other side is rich with organic matter, making for a lot of mud.  A gorgeous, but not so epic descent.

9471WP

9480WP

9497WP

9517WP

9509WP

9523WP

9532WP

9538WP

Walking, to reduce our impact on this heavily trafficked trail.  A fine coagulation of cow shit and mud temporarily clogs our wheels.  Cass would be in heaven.  Raised on English mud, he loves this stuff.  Grateful to have a fender, I came out looking a lot like a human, rather than the mud-encrusted primates seen in cyclocross and gravel races.  Platform pedals always do their job, even clogged in mud.

9546WP

9549WP

9557WP

9553WP

Rideable.  Coated in mud, the chains operate smoothly and silently.  Deore: +1.

9564WP

9573WP

As promised (finally), a rideable descent and some memorable trail at the end of the day.

9580WP

9585WP

9609WP

9597WP 2

9621WP

9622WP

9624WP

No need to filter this water.  It comes directly from the heavens.  At least, it comes from a cow-free wilderness above.

9629WP

9631WP

Camp.  Awake to clear skies, the frozen morning rapidly thaws into a t-shirt day.  The spoils of a frozen night are ideal lighting and a heavy layer of frost.  If only Lael had a camera, she could document me running around the frosty meadow in my long underwear with my camera.

Breaking the seal of our small frosty tent, I’m always excited to see how the world has changed.

9647WP

9702WP

9650WP

9674WP

9664WP

9684WP

9657WP

9686WP

9677WP

One of the nicest campsites of the entire summer.  Heat some water for tea, and ride into town.  Crested Butte is one historic home of mountain biking, and claims the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum.

9698WP

9715WP

9726WP

Gothic, seemingly named for the gothic arches encased in the mountainside.

9746WP

9769WP

9785WP

9782WP

9773WP

And a bike path into town.  Mt. Crested Butte looms overhead.

9790WP

9792WP

9798WP

Homegrown bike bags

8095WP

Updated 11/13/2013.

Oveja Negra Threadworks; Lane Condell and Monty Wilson (Leadville, CO)

Bedrock Bags and Packs: Andrew Wracher (Durango, CO)

Bolder Bikepacking Gear; Greg Wheelwright (Boulder, CO)

Wanderlust Gear; Paul Hansberger (Missoula, MT)

Randi Jo Fabrications; Randi Jo and Eric (Cottage Grove, OR)

Revelate Designs; Eric Parsons (Anchorage, AK)

Porcelain Rocket; Scott Felter (Victoria, B.C., Canada)

Hamilton Threadworks; Sarah Hamilton (Victor, Idaho)

Cleaveland Mountaineering; Jeremy Cleaveland (Grand Junction, CO)

WIldcat Gear; Beth Barrington (Brecon, Wales, UK)

Crater Packs; Rich Shoup (Telluride, CO)

Phantom Pack Systems: Tim O’Brien (Canada)

J Paks; Joe Tonsager (Denver, CO)

Becker Sewing and Design; (Fairbanks, AK)

Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks; (El Paso, TX)

Barking Bear Bagworks; (Michigan)

Lone Mountain Innovations; Torin Browning, (Rathdrum, ID)

Bike-BAG; (UK)

Bike Bag Dude; (AU)

1124WP

The list of lightweight bag makers is growing.  Inspired by their own lightweight bicycle travels and the growing bikepacking and endurance racing scene, these craftsman are making ultralight bags for rack-lite or rackless touring.  Lael recently picked up an Oveja Negra front accessory bag called the “Lunch Box” at SubCulture Cyclery in Salida, CO.  The bag is made locally in Leadville by a promising upstart comprised of a seamstress with a riding habit and a rider with a sewing itch. Constructed of the now standard Dimension-Polyant VX-series sailcloth, the bag holds a paperback Gogol novel as well as a windbreaker and small personal items for easy access during the day.  Made in Durango, the Bedrock “Chinle compression panel” pictured below was spotted on the Colorado Trail.  As every town should have a brewer and baker, a framebuilder and a bag maker would also populate my ideal town.

8479WP

8482WP

6605WP

There are several other supposed bag makers, but they have been excluded if their websites indicate inactivity.  Carousel Design Works is a notable exception.  Please share any additional leads so that I may update the list.

Good Morning Great Divide

4833WP

Bed by campfirelight, awake by sunlight. Smoke fingers linger over my down bag in the early morning; I always take time to admire how lofty my bag has become by sunrise. I played games with REI for years returning bags, and finally bought a better bag at a local shop in Missoula last summer. I’m fully content with it, and a vapor barrier extends the range at the end of the season. Toss the coals about, lay a log on top and heat some water– coffee and cream of wheat will get me where I’m going. This is my last night in the woods for a while, as I’m into the great wide Wyoming open for a week of sage and sunshine. I can count the campfires I’ve had over the past four years on one hand, and this seemed like an occasion to burn a little bit of the woods. The campsite was littered with rusty cans of Texas ranch-style beans and shotgun shells– it wasn’t dirty by USFS standards, but well used. I took the opportunity to use it some more. If i’d had a big gun, I woulda shot it.

4824WP

4835WP

4837WP

4839WP

Two days ago I climbed away from Idaho on the Reclamation Road between Yellowstone and Teton National Parks into a thick August swarm of tourists. Yesterday I climbed away from Teton tourists to the not-so-secret handicap accessible swimming hole at the top of Togwotee Pass. Descend twenty miles, then climb back to Union Pass and ride until dark. From my camp at 9000 ft, today is all downhill, nearly, and the final miles into Pinedale are paved. Ice cream and wifi aren’t too far off, despite fifty miles of riding. I rest my forearms on the bars and find my aero position– I’m there by noon.

The Great Divide narratives underscore the pretense of long stretches without water, the presence of bears and to be off the trail by “mid-October at the latest”; mostly I count long stretches without a half-gallon of ice cream for $4.44, and the fact that I’m “in bear country” is nothing new. The riding is occasionally challenging, but the route is a logistical walk in the park with the help of the ACA maps. It’s dangerous to visit supermarkets with big eyes and an empty stomach as 4 for $7 promotions of Keebler cookies and day old donuts are tempting– a hungry sucker, I had to find a way to pack a dozen day old donuts and a half-gallon of soymilk. The soymilk fills the Kleen Kanteen, but doesn’t last long. The donuts are now a ball of smashed donuts, and that’s just fine. This is the first “super”-market I’ve visited since Butte, and the experience is overwhelming– they have everything.

Leaving Idaho behind, squeezing between the two national parks…

4679WP

4674WP

4681WP

4686WP

4696WP

4697WP

4700WP 2

4714WP

4728WP

Not interested in an $8 campsite– the campground attendant was incredulous at that, and rude– I rode the final hour of sunlight to the Teton Nation Forest boundary. This is public land and I figure my tax dollars are hard at work helping the trees grow so that I can sleep amongst them. Actually, the USFS is a road builder above all else. They build a lot of roads, and a gated logging road provides perfect camping. I awake to climb up Togwotee Pass, to a 46 mph descent down the other side, and a climb back up to Union Pass. At 15 mph the Surly Larry tires hum, at 25 they sing, and at 45 they scream.

4747WP

4752WP

4766WP

4761WP

4775WP

4780WP

4777WP

4769WP

4802WP

4795WP

4803WP

4814WP

4817WP

Making camp by campfirelight, I awake to descend two-thousand feet to Pinedale over fifty miles– let the fat tires roll.

4845WP

The Taylor and the Top of the World

1937WP

Tok to Tetlin, the Taylor Highway and the Top of the World Highway to Chicken and Eagle and Boundary and Dawson City.  Nonsense are the names of things around here, but there are only two roads into Alaska and this is the one to take.

The Taylor Highway was built to access the rural mining communities at Chicken and Eagle, and to connect them to Tok and the rest of the world.  The Top of the World Highway, once called Ridge Road, connects these and other mines to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory across the border.  Both roads are spectacular.

1980WP

The road from the Tetlin Junction on the Alaska Highway to Chicken is roughly paved, and features some good climbing some long fast descents– it’s a great road ride.  Chicken to Dawson is about a hundred miles along ridgetops and as you approach the border surface water becomes scarce, save for some melting snow.  The road rolls relentlessly atop mountains and is mostly dirt, despite some failing efforts at sealing the surface.  Grunt climb, fast descent to the next climb, BMW motorcycles everywhere and fuel trucks at 90 miles an hour.  A motorcycle rally in Dawson flooded the roads with two-wheelers and friendly motorcycle-style waves: two fingers casually down to the left to an oncoming rider, or skyward with the left hand like a turn signal when passing (or being passed).  Lael loves giving the “motorcycle wave”.

Leaving the bustling Alaska Highway behind for the road to Chicken, the Taylor Highway begin by climbing from the Tenana River valley.  No services for 67 miles.  Perfect.

1858WP

1869WP

1861WP

1867WP

1879WP

1886WP

1881WP

1888WP

1891WP

1896WP

1899WP

Chicken is quite an attraction for summer motorists, although the real story in Chicken is gold.  Mining activity is found up and down every creek, and generators can be heard humming in the bushes to operate equipment.  A real life miner makes his own jewelry for sale as a way to maximize profits.  Even on a bad day of mining, he’ll end with about $500 in flakes.  Maybe gold mining in Chicken is in my future?

1915WP

At Chicken the surface turns to dirt.  Hopscotching drainages, up and down, the road finally turns up toward the US-Canada border to Dawson City.  Superlative, as they say– the views, the road, and the riding.

1918WP

Close your eyes and hold your breath when these things are comin’ down the mountain.  These fuel trucks travel even faster than the motorcyclists as they drive this road every day.

1922WP

1926WP

1927WP

I had come from Chicken and at the Jack Wade Junction, a left turn leads to the end of the Taylor Highway in Eagle.  I stay the course to the Top of the World:

1934WP 2

Just a small dot on the map, there’s not much more to Boundary than an airstrip and this cabin.  Extensive mining can be seen in the valley below.

1944WP

Sunburnt shoulders are evidence that summer has finally arrived.  In my favorite touring shirt, a cutoff cotton Velo Orange t-shirt depicting a 50.4 bcd crank, I grunt and groan up to the Canadian border into headwinds and marble sized raindrops.  Despite their size, thunderstorms developed all around but I managed to stay dry once again.  The Canadian customs agents ask the usual questions.  Dressed in my Sunday best, or my “dirtbag jersey” as I call it,  I give the usual answers:

Anchorage, Alaska.

New York, Washington, Florida, Maryland, Alaska.

To Montana.

Yes, really.

No, I don’t have family or a job in Montana.

Actually, I’m going to Arizona.

Yes.  Really.

It’s a snow bike.

Yes, really.  All winter.

Oh yes, the Germans have lots of stuff.  I swear it’s all here.

This is the tent.

Thirty-nine dollars American, but a couple thousand in the bank.  Well, more than a couple.

Bank statements?  No.  Sorry.

Last time…I entered at the Thousand Islands Bridge and exited Ontario at Sioux St. Marie.  Then again at Wild Horse and Rooseville.

Hmmm, I just like the Canadian countryside.

Ok, bring a bank statement or ATM receipt next time?  Thank you, sir.

Next time I’ll be sure to bring bank statements and Ortlieb panniers full of stuff to facilitate passage.  Maybe some sleeves will help too.

1947WP

Looking back.  They say the Alaska Range is visible on a clear day.  The road reaches a maximum elevation of 4127 ft, which is higher than Maclaren Pass on the Denali Highway.  In fact, this is the second highest road in Alaska.

1932WP

1961WP

1988WP

1996WP

And on the night before the solstice, I camped on Top of the World.  This is all the darkness you get these days, which is a dream on a bike trip.

2003WP

2008WP 2

I’m becoming quite attached to some of the new Revelate gear.  The Gas Tank is quite handy on the bike and the “Pocket”, which I use in conjunction with a waterproof compression sack, is easily detached.  For a quick trip away from the bike the shoulder strap helps keep all my essentials close at hand– Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez, a fully-charged can of bear spray and my camera.

The Surly Pugsley hybrid rolls well on dirt roads at about 20psi, although the Big Apples are a bit unsure on pea gravel.  However, the smooth tire rolls like a dream on pavement.  I’m hoping to procure a Marge Lite rim to build a lighter rear wheel.  Absurd wheel weights are killing me and fat-lite is the way to go.  There’s no reason to be riding a forty pound bike with thirty pounds of gear.  I’m not sure of the actual figures, but I can assure you the bike weighs more than my kit.  I’ve sent home three pounds of cold-weather clothing and rain gear from Dawson and I’m tuning the bike for a full summer of lightweight travel.   As much as I’m enjoying Alaska, I’m looking ahead to some of the more challenging riding ahead– I’ve still got the Colorado Trail on my mind and am planning to fit 45North Husker Du tires in Montana.  Is a 65mm singlewall rim such as the Marge Lite suitable for touring on rough surfaces?  Nobody seems to know, but given the quality construction and the doublewall sections in the corners, I think it’s up to the task.  I’ve become obsessed with tire volumes and the weights of things, specifically fatbike wheels.  A 690 gram Surly Marge Lite sounds a treat to my knees.  I like climbing, but I’d like it much more with the Marge Lite.

2016WP

2043WP

2028WP

The bike, the gear, the wheels, the packing, and the food–it’s all getting sorted out after a few weeks on the road.  The legs are coming along too, although not where they were last November.  My kitchen on the road and the Alaskan pantry: raisins, peanuts, oat meal, coffee, lentils, pasta, peanut butter, honey, salt, pepper, garlic and curry powder.  Add fruits and vegetables when available, and cheeseburgers and ice cream in town.  The plastic water bottle is filled with alcohol to fuel the “Penny Stove”.  Fabricated out of beer cans, stainless steel bicycle spokes and aluminum ducting, I’ve been using this design for almost three years.  I’ve built a handful for others, but have only required two for my travels.  The first one was made from the Heineken keg-shaped cans, which are no longer available.  The current stove was made in Steamboat Springs, CO last fall on the Divide.  Trailside, it was made with a small Swiss-army knife.  The blue enameled steel camping mug has been with me since the summer of 2009, and is a personal luxury.  I’ve also begun to fill the 64 oz. Klean Kanteen when surface water is less plentiful or spoiled by mining activities.  Cradled in the Salsa Anything Cage it is held securely even on the most rattling washboarded descents.  Just be sure to tighten those straps!

2053WP

1144WP 2

A final push to Dawson on the third day is rewarded with a long descent to the Yukon River and cold beer in town.  The river is crossed by the free George Black ferry and Yukon Gold brew from Whitehorse flows like water in this real-life frontier town.  This is also the start of the Dempster Highway up to Inuvik.  Some other time.

2056WP

2060WP 2

2069WP

2081WP

2098WP

2106WP

2105WP

Packing the Hooligan

467WP

A week before leaving for Europe, Lael picked up a Cannondale Hooligan 8.  It was a sweet deal and helps that she doesn’t have to borrow bikes in England and Corsica where she is studying and traveling.  The Hooligan is being used for commuting around town this month; next month, it will be touring France and Corsica.  In these few months it’ll find itself on three flights, two ferries, and a handful of trains.  Carving city streets and cruising canal trails are some of what it does best– and whatever else a hooligan on a 20″ wheedled bike can find.

Taken at 3:30 AM the night before her flight, Lael, Greg and I fit the Hooligan into a packable drawstring sack for airline travel.  WIth a few other camping items strategically packed to protect disc rotors and derailleur, it looked a bit like a cello or a bass guitar.  Cables and brakes all remained connected even though the fork was removed; tape and string it all together, then pack it away.  The large cotton sack is intended for moose quarters and I’d have liked a similar bag in nylon so that it would be more packable, but the cotton was all I could find the day before the flight.   Remember Greg from Colorado and New Mexico on the Great Divide last fall?  He’s leading bike trips for Backroads in Alaska this summer and our time in Anchorage overlapped for less than twelve hours.   About thirty pounds: the Hooligan, Revelate and Inertia Designs frame bags, a homemade groundcloth, and Western Mountaineering Summerlite sleeping bag and Hot Sack VBL/bivy make a manageable bundle at the airport and on the road– unencumbered summer travel.

675WP 2

677WP 2

680WP 3

679WP