Crust!

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Winter, then spring, and summer.  Somewhere in between, warm days and freezing nights result in a uniform crust of old snow.  Last week, I received an e-mail from Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs:

Super rare for Anchorage. I just got back from riding Campbell Creek near the tour trail and it’s a fatbike wonderland. 

Join me tomorrow morning, leaving my house at 8:00am or meet on Chester Creek/APU, etc.. bring a camera.
Hour and a half or so before work…

With the weather turning there might be a very small window for it. 


Eric

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At 7:30 AM the next day, Lael and I leave the house to join a local all-star cast for an exploratory pre-work ride.  

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Six of us meet at the Revelate Designs workshop including professional adventure photographer Dan Bailey; Kevin Murphy, four season rider and racer; Dusty, the other guy that stitches lots of Revelate gear; and of course, Eric. 

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Out of the neighborhood and onto the crust, we discover that we can ride everywhere!  A spell of several warm days has saturated the snow with meltwater, while the next cold night has frozen the entire mass into a rideable crust.

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With a a befitting crusty topping, seemingly like sandpaper.  Cornering traction is supreme.  Ever pedal strike through a corner on a fatbike, on snow?

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We continue through the APU trails, across every frozen meadow, swamp, beaver pond, and lake we can find.

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Eventually, we travel upstream along Campbell Creek, crossing familiar trails in the process.  We eventually cross the Blue Dot Trail near the bridge.  

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Amidst giant cottonwoods, we carve the creeksides.  Beavers are at work all around.  Dusty jumps the creek, over and over.  Eric and Dusty edit some video later in the day, creating an amusing parody of spring fever and a great example of crust biking.

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Eventually, Lael, Kevin and I turn back towards work.

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Since I’ve called to tell them I will be late, we choose the long way home via singletrack and trail.

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Return to Knik Glacier, via Hunter Creek

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The ride to the Knik Glacier ranks as one of the most scenic rides, anywhere, and it is very accessible.  It is close to Anchorage.  It is an easy ride in winter, but only for a few short weeks or months, usually late in the season.  We first rode here in 2012, at the end of a record season of snowfall.  We attempted to reach the glacier last week from the north side of the river, from the Jim Creek Trailhead, but turned back due to time constraints.  This weekend, with 24 hours to spare, Lael and I pedal out of the city with high hopes.

On Sunday afternoon, we are pedaling towards the Hillside trails without ambition.  The day is sunny and warm, but the pattern is tired.  Around 4PM, I suggest, “let’s ride out to the glacier”.  

“OK.”

We turn back home and morph our Salsa Mukluks into adventure mode.  I’ve loaned some essential bikepacking gear to a friend, who is riding the Denali Highway.  Using some dry bags and gear straps, we pack creatively- and lightly- to carry only what we need.

Each of our bikes is laden only with a 30F sleeping bag, a vapor barrier liner, a maximum layering system for the cold, and our cameras.  We will pick up some food en route, in Eagle River.  Simple, except that it is already 6:30PM.   

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The route out of town includes snowy multi-use trails and paved cyclepaths for miles.  Alternating dry pavement and ice exist on the bike trail through Eagle River, Chugiak, and Peter’s Creek.

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We stop at the supermarket in Eagle River to stock our bags with food.

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Continuing east, twilight guides us along paved paths.  Eventually, our route leads to the shoulder of the Glenn Highway.  We slowly descend down to sea level, and exit the Glenn Highway for the Old Glenn Highway, a smaller section of road along the Knik River.

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By the time we turn off the pavement to look for a campsite, it is nearly midnight.  

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We lay down a groundcloth, sleeping pads, and our bags.  We put on all our layers, slip into our vapor barrier liners, and arrange our things.  I have a habit of organizing my things when camping.  Dry socks and a snack ensure a warm night.  Still, in our minimal sleeping systems, it is a good idea to keep the door closed.  We both bury deep into our bags.  

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By morning, ambient light appears on the horizon at 5:30AM.  Light falls far across the valley at 8.  We are camped in the shade aside a northwest facing mountainside, until the sun rises over nearby mountains at 9.  We pack our things and push out to the road.  Cold fingers and toes are not uncommon, especially as we are not using any specialized cold-weather gear.  However, Bjorn and Kim from Homer, AK are riding across the state of Alaska and have just crossed the Arctic Circle.  They know a few things about unsupported winter travel.      

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The end of the paved road, and the beginning of the ride on the river, is about 17 miles away.  By the time we arrive to meet our friend Carp, we are warm.

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Carp is waiting with a thermos full of coffee.  While we’ve just regained warmth in our fingers, we’re both happy to pile inside his warm van and unload some gear for the day.  Overnight lows in the teens diminish as the sun rises high in the sky.

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We load our framebags with snacks and ride onto Hunter Creek.

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A series of fatbike tracks leads from the wooden bridge on Knik River Rd.  There is a lot of dry gravel, and not a lot of snow. 

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This time of year, the ice is melting fast.  This area is a playground for fatbikes.

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The glacier is visible in the distance, and for part of the ride, a broad doubletrack leads the way.

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Several ice bridges over the Knik River are critical to this route.  At one point, we cross ice which has begun to visibly crack, although it appears solid.

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Just downstream there is open water.

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A short distance upstream, the river is also open.  These routes won’t be open for long.  It is April already.

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The frozen banks make for the most efficient pedaling.

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Leading to gravel tracks, and some untracked tundra.

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Across a gravelly plain, we reach the end moraine.  This mounded pile of unconsolidated sediment contains the glacial lake.

This is the place.  This is what we have come for. 

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The lake is frozen in winter, and contains remnant icebergs from the glacier.

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Which makes for a fatbike playground.

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Studs recommended.

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Already, some open water in a few places.

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Nearer to the glacier, icy slot canyons allow passage.

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We stop for a rest amidst an icy solar vortex.  Sunlight reflects from all sides.  It must be sixty degrees in here.  Watch your step– I plant a foot into knee deep slush.  Spring is working fast.

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Ice detail:

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After sunning ourselves for an hour, we turn back.

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One last look from atop the moraine before pedaling downstream.  On this day, we are treated to a light tailwind towards home.  The ride from Hunter Creek is about 9 miles in each direction, with very little elevation gain.  

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An abundance of scenic springtime rides in Alaska could be the basis for a new tourism.  Many high-caliber adventure rides are accessible from town, and with a decent set of legs, are attainable by any cycling enthusiast.  In changing winter conditions, there are plentiful riding opportunities from groomed in-town singletrack, hut-to-hut alpine passages, beach rides, river rides, glacier rides, section-riding on the Iditarod Trail, and more.  Come visit Alaska!  

Late march may be the best time of year up here.   

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Fresh from the source, with very little silt this time of year.

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On the way back we follow some well-travelled tracks.

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But soon realize we’ve taken a wrong turn.  A small drainage separates us from Hunter Creek.  No matter, we each find our own way across.

Carp, a seasonal fisherman and boat captain, float tests the Pugsley.  

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Lael utilizes the beavers’ dam.

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XtraTuff boots full of water are no fun, but all of this fooling around is just early signs of summer.

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Lael and I go for a swim.  This weekend marks our first sleepout and our first swim.  The seasons are changing.  

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A bit of routefinding brings us back to the trail.  In a few months, all of this will be entangled in prickly plants, mosquitoes, and bears.  Spring is better than summer in a few ways.

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Back on trail!

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Until next year, we’ll revel in memories and photographs of Knik.  I’m starting to realize that the rides we find are getting better and better, from Belgium and Ukraine, to Arizona and Alaska.  However, I don’t think they’ll ever get better than this one.    

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Knik River Ride: Butte, AK to Knik Glacier

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Note: We travelled the north side of the Knik River towards the glacier.  I’ve since heard of some groups riding from the Hunter Creek TH on the south side of the river, which is a shorter trip with less dirt and mud.  I hope to return on Monday to explore the south route again.  Neither route will be easily passable soon, so act now!

Riding to the Knik Glacier is the exact reason that I bought a camera two years ago.  Riding the from the Hunter Creek TH on the south side of the river, we pedaled frozen snow machine trails over the frozen river to the frozen lake at the base of the glacier.  As if the concept of riding to a glacier on a frozen river isn’t enough, the embedded ice forms rising from the lake are of another world.  I decided, finally, I must have a camera.

March tends to be the best time of year to ride to Knik Glacier. Days are longer and warmer, and the resultant freeze-thaw makes for fast trail conditions, especially in the first half of the day.  Without recent snowfall, the trail is well defined and pack by snowmachines.  But, every year is different.  This year, we’ve had little snow and above-average temperatures, which results in exposed dirt, rock and ice.  I’d heard the trail from the south side was obscured by open water this spring.  Further, a friend had recently made passage to the glacier from the north side, leaving from the Jim Creek TH near the township of Butte.  Via e-mail, Abe provides guidance.  He has since posted a Knik Glacier Biking trip report to his blog AKSchmidtShow.  

Directions from the north side of the river, from the Jim Creek TH on Sullivan Ave in Butte, just off the Old Glenn Hwy:

Yes, I would recommend an early morning start.  The frozen ground makes for a fast trip out there.  We traveled on the north side of the river, starting from the Jim Creek trail head on Sullivan road in the Butte.  There are a couple of creek crossings that are pretty easy to find lowish water level spots.  If you have never been up there; you stay near the river/on sloughs and gravel bars until you reach Friday Creek (likely your first water crossing).  Once you cross 1 small channel you continue up river for a couple hundred yards before a large trail heads north up into the woods.  You will follow this and cross Friday creek up in the woods.  You are aiming for the large cliffs you can see on the north side of the valley, you end up riding right below these.  So as long as you are pointed for those you are doing good.  Once you leave the cliffs you work your way back out to the flood plain through some swamps.  You have to cross a couple of channels here.  We headed toward the middle of the floodplain as soon as we crossed the channels.  We kept heading south until we found a main trail that heads for the middle right side of the glacier.  From what I have heard if you stay up against the north side too far past the cliffs you can end up really high on metal creek where crossing is more of an issue.  Not sure how true that is.

-Abe

With a day full of sun and a written treasure map, three of us meet for an early morning start.

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The route winds through a network of wooded trail from the TH.  From here, all roads lead to the river.  

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The sun is low over the mountains, and conditions are fast.

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The glacier appears to be only a few miles down the valley on frozen river.  

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We ride quickly at road pace over ice and frozen mud.  It seems we’ll be there in an hour or two.

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Crossing frozen sloughs and gravel bars, we pass in and out of tracked routes.

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A few pairs of fatbike tracks help us on our way, including this Endo and Larry combo.  We are all on studded tires, which help to confidently navigate the ice.

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Passing onto a frozen ATV trail in the woods, frozen puddles and dry dirt make an interesting combination.  By afternoon, conditions will be much different.

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These large cottonwoods remind me of the Bosque along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque, NM.

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The terrain is constantly changing.

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Small planes fly overhead.  One plane lands on a gravel bar several times.

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The river channel is most certainly open.

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We cross this stream barefoot, as it appears several inches too deep and several feet too wide to ride, without risk of getting our clothing wet.  The sun is warm, and the creek is up to our knees.  On the return trip, we ride across the stream with abandon.  

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A series of tracks lead into the woods.  Keep on the track with the most traffic, as Abe describes.  Eventually, keep your tires pointed towards he cliffs along the river.

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These frozen roads are a lot of fun to ride.  Frozen puddles churned during the daytime melt are a challenge.

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Beaver pond stream crossing.

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Passing under the cliffs, we exit the forest back onto the river.  Several well-travelled routes are apparent.  

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At times, the route is so clearly defined, heading directly for the glacier, we joke about the Knik River Highway.  “Knik Glacier, 4 miles ahead.”

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Sadly, Lael must be back at work by 4PM, so we turn around a few miles short of the glacial lake.  

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After a quick snack, we begin a hurried pedal back to the car.

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Almost immediately, we discover the ride home will be a little different.  The sun has softened the snow, ice and mud.  Still, we make good time.  In a way, Lael is commuting to work.   

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Frozen puddles are a little less frozen.  

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We find some frozen tracks in the shade that are still fast.

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It has been several months since I’ve experienced mud-induced drivetrain malfunctions.  Lael opts for a quick “race tune” in the beaver pond.

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Sloshy riding, racing back to the trailhead.

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Quickly, we ride off the ice and navigate a maze of trails near the trailhead.

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Lael brushes the mud out of her hair and changes clothes in the parking lot at the Jim Creek TH.  We arrive back in town five minutes after 4PM– close enough.  Already, we’re planning a trip back to Knik.  

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Urban Beach Ride; Anchorage, AK

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Meet at 7PM, after work at The Bicycle Shop.  Change socks, a shot of lube on the chain, and a couple of cold beers into the framebag.  Ride down Northern Lights Blvd. to Earthquake Park, ride the Coastal Trail to Pt. Woronzof, then look for access down to the beach.  That’s the plan.

Christina, Alan and Paul meet at the shop.  Jamin and Charley are coming from the other side of town and meet at the coast.  

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Just past the wastewater treatment plant on the Coatsal Trail, there are several lookouts.  The second or third one down is adjacent to a gully with a passable trail.  

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We spill out onto the flats, minutes before sunset.  The surface varies from solid ice and shallow windblown snow, to flaky layered ice and freezing mud.  Morning and night may be the best time to ride out here, although it is rideable any time of day right now.  Sections may be muddy mid-day.  Right now, Pt. Woronzof to Kincaid is free of mud entirely.  Earthquake Park to Pt. Woronzof is ridable, with a few short pushes off the bike.  Around the south side of Kincaid, the trail can be muddy during the day, but is drenched in sun and ridable.

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Several sloughs make for a brief technical challenge on an otherwise mellow evening cruise.  Studs not necessary, but helpful.

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At the point, we encounter a group of friends enjoying the evening with a fire and some beach games.  We stop to warm our fingers and trade stories.  The “where are you from” game is always fun in Alaska.  Most often, its not here.  The answers include New Haven, CT; Bemidji, MN; Las Vegas, NV; Cortland, NY; Kenai, AK; some place near Chitna, AK; and San Francisco, CA.

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As light fades, finally, we continue around the point.  This southern exposure soaks in sun all day and is more dirt and gravel than snow and ice.  This time of night, it is fast and free of mud.  

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We shoot for a steep access trail up to the sand dunes at Kincaid Park, near the motocross track and the Jodphur TH.  There is a small sign on the beach (not sure what it says), but the trail turns up here.  This is about 2 miles from the point.  The hill is short and steep.  Charlie says, “Last time I did this I was pushing a bike with a lot more suspension”.  

I think, “last time I did this I was pushing a bike with a lot more stuff on it”. 

The easiest way off the beach is near the point, onto the last section of the Coastal Trail before the big hill up to the Chalet.  This is also near the end of the Middle Earth trail.

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From the top of the hill, we ascend the sand dunes and connect to the official trail system.  Several riders have split off already, leaving four of us.  Late in the evening, we ride the Kitchen Sink trail and lose another rider towards home.  The three of us continue on Tower Power and Middle Earth, descending back towards the Coastal Trail, and home.  Lael meets us along the Coastal Trail as she has just gotten off work.  The group splinters across town.  Past midnight, we arrive home to a gently bubbling pot of carnitas in the kitchen and a smoker outside the front door with freshly smoked Alaskan salmon– a fitting end to a proper Alaskan adventure.  I am continually amazed at the opportunities for adventure from the front door.  All it takes is a few hours and a fatbike.

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Thanks for the ride!  Let’s meet again soon.  

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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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Return to Resurrection Pass, Alaska

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Lower, the trees provide shelter.

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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.

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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.

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A fresh layer of snow makes any landscape more beautiful.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Across Resurrection Creek one last time.

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Winter Bikepacking Resurrection Pass Trail, Alaska

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The long nights of winter are waning, finally.  Riding our bikes has been paramount to avoiding seasonal blues– we ride to and from work, we meet for night rides on local singletrack, and we choose to ride all day in the sun when away from work.    

An even greater therapy is to get out for an overnight ride.  In a year where snow has been less common than ice and warm afternoons, many routes are supremely rideable.  Jeff Oatley’s 1000-mile, 10-day trek to Nome in the Iditarod Trail Invitational is a great example.  His record improves upon notable rides by Mike Curiak and Jay Petervary by almost a week.  These are all very strong riders, and each of their record-setting rides has included favorable conditions.  This year was simply faster.  Every human-powered Iditarod record has fallen.

Resurrection Pass is a popular trail for hikers and bikers in the summer.  In winter, skiers enjoy the trail and snow machines are allowed every other calendar year.  In a snowmachine year, skiing and fatbiking conditions are improved by trail traffic, as each machine grooms a four-foot wide path.  This year, machines have groomed the trail, but for lack of snow, they have abandoned the trail for the last few weeks, avoiding exposed dry dirt and winding, icy trails.  Skiiers have also stayed away.  Following footprints along the trail, a few hikers have ventured the first few miles, but no further.  It seems, the only equipment that excels in these conditions is a fatbike, with studs.

Shooting out of town after work on Saturday night, Nate, Lucas, and I aim for a coastline plot near the settlement of Hope, about an hour away by car.  Experiences such as this are hard to miss while living in Alaska.  I’ve been hearing about Resurrection Pass for years.

Leaving the city at night makes the whole operation feel like a tactical mission.  Loading and unloading gear adds to the fiction.  Our fatbikes also play the part of special ops vehicles.

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By morning, a heavy layer of frost covers our equipment along Turnagain Arm.  South Anchorage is barely ten miles away, although the road reaches around to the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet at Portage, then over a low pass down to Hope which is situated at the end of the road.  The trailhead is several miles up a smaller road from Hope.

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I stay warm with a lightweight 30deg bag, and as many bag liners as I can find at home.  The air is a little moist, but I rest well under the stars.  It is nice to be sleeping outside again.

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Low fog is replaced by clear skies as the sun begins its work for the day.  Nearing the equinox, daylight almost measures 12 hours per day.  On a clear day, there is already more than 12 hours of useful light.  Twilight seems to last forever.

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The trail begins with massive overflow ice.  Two of use are well equipped with Grip Studs.  By the time we return on Monday, the third in our party is in the market for some studs.  

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In many places, most of the snow has melted away, save for the crusty swathe of snow remaining from snowmachine traffic.  In the absence of ice, snow conditions are fast and traction is even better than on dry dirt, especially with our aggressive tires.  Nate and Bud and Lou ride high, knobs biting into the crust. 

Ice and crust.

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Ice and dry dirt.

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Off-camber ice.

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Ice and bridge crossings.

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Ice and icy rivers.

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Crossing the bridge over Resurrection Creek, we begin our ascent onto the glacial moraine, and up above the trees.  Signs of recent glaciation abound.  This is old gold mining country. 

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Above the creek, we enjoy easy pedaling and views down the valley.

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Intermittent side drainages.   We descend, and ascend serpentine trail.  Moments of mountain biking are mixed with a pleasant pedal.

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Gaining…

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gaining…

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…gaining…

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…out of the trees, and into the alpine tundra.  This is the last tree for a while.

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Passing close to the hillside, the sun disappears.  It is a bit colder in the shade.

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If we keep moving we’ll see more sun.

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Finally, an anticlimactic rise leads us to Resurrection Pass, at 2600ft.  

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We begin to descend the drainage on the other side.  Our goal for the night is a Forest Service cabin a few miles away.  

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Our goal is also to catch a little more sun for the day.

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It is easy to stand around and talk in the sun.  We enjoy lots of standing around and talking and laughing, and just enough riding for one day.

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Normally, the pass is blanketed in snow this time of year.

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Cresting a rise, Devil’s Pass Cabin comes into view.  Like skiers at the end of a day, we carve turns down the hill to our resting place.  Bike in-bike out access is nice.  The crowds aren’t bad, and the views are alright.

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Late afternoon sun has warmed the cabin to 40 or or 45 degrees.  We unpack our things, remove our shoes, and soak in the sunlight. 

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We enjoy the sun until the very end of the day.

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By night, we busy ourselves with dinner and bed.

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The cabin cools to freezing, but remains warmer than the outside air.  The thermometer outside reads 9 degrees in the morning.

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Slowly packing our things is a luxury of not keeping a tight schedule.  

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The view from the outhouse isn’t bad.  The latch that operates from the inside is broken.  Breezy, but beautiful.  

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Packing up.  Can’t we just move here?

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From the cabin, the trail continues another 17 miles to the south towards Cooper Landing, and a series of lakes and cabins.  We return towards Hope, to the north.  We will also pass a series of cabins on our return trip.  The cabins are available for rent through the Chugach National Forest.  Additionally, they provide respite on a cold day, or in case of emergency.  Lucas made use of several of these cabins a few years ago when an attempt riding the trail in winter.  His trek stretched from two days, to five.  Eventually, they left their bikes at Fox Creek cabin and walked out.  

Our experience is much different.

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Crossing ice, crust, frozen tundra, and dry dirt, the trail is almost 100% ridable with fat tires and studs.  While I’ve tempered my fatbike evangelism, a winter in Alaska easily inspires year-round fatbike riding.  One bike for all seasons is a common topic of conversation.  “Fatbikes are awesome!” is a frequent observation.

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Nate and Lucas choose the snowmachine path along the hillside, while I pedal the frozen edges of beaver ponds.

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Grips Studs are great.  I wouldn’t trade this tire and stud combination for a pair of Dillingers, at least for this kind of exploratory riding.

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A bit of dry dirt jogs the memory, even though it has only been a few months.

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I find a shovel on the trail.  Nate is a part-time Big Dummy rider, and straps it to his handlebars.  “No junk left behind” seems to be a mantra among Big Dummy riders.

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He still manages to shred the descent with his new handlebar system.

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Down into the trees, we carve corners and unweight our tires over undulations left by machines.

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Our return trip is bound to take only half the time.  Hold on for the icy stuff!  We confess to each other that we ride from patch of dry dirt to dry dirt, where we can expect reliable braking traction.  Leave the brakes alone on the icy stuff.

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Several small drainages add topography to the descent.

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The lower cabins feature wood stoves.  Devil’s Pass cabin has an oil stove, although we didn’t use it.  The system seemed complicated, and appeared to be out of fuel.

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Lower, signs of spring are showing, although it may be premature.  Heavy snowfall is forecast this week.

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Fatbikes are awesome. 

My Salsa Mukluk is packed with Porcelain Rocket framebag; Revelate Williwaw pogies, Gas Tank and Viscacha seatpack; Randi Jo Bartender bag, and Sea-to-Summit compression dry bag on the handlebars.  I am riding tubeless 27tpi Nates with Grip Studs on drilled Rolling Darryl rims.  

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Lucas rides a Ti Salsa Mukluk with Carver carbon fork and Answer carbon 20/20 handlebar; Revelate framebag and seatpack; homemade pogies; and large Sea-to-Summit compression drybag.  We recently mounted his Bud and Lou tires to Marge Lite rims, tubeless. The split-tube method was chose for ultimate reliability.  He normally rides 100mm Clownshoe rims, although he wanted to try out his new lightweight wheelset.  For these conditions, the 100mm Clownshoe rims were not necessary.

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Looks like a Christmas present.

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Although some complain of sagging pogies, a nice feature of a flexible design is that they can be easily rolled out of the way when temperatures warm.  I prefer the easy access of my Revelate pogies, which are the most structured design around.

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Nate rides an older pink Fatback; packed with Revelate framebag, seatpack, and Gas Tank; Dogwood Design pogies, and a large dry bag to the handlebars.  The shovel is not normally part of his bikepacking load.  

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With a few extra hours, we explore the frozen river.  In winter, frozen bodies of water become Alaska’s superhighways.  This is not the best example, but such routes are integral to the Iditarod Tail, and other rural routes. 

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Bushwacking back to the trail, we follow the icy track back to the trailhead.

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Fatbike luge.

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Beware the off-camber sections.  More than once, I slide through corners with a foot down.

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As the sun falls, we crack a beer and load the bikes.  Who would have thought the riding would be so good?  The city of Anchorage is a mess of ice and puddles.  Skiing and snowmachining is nearly impossible on this trail right now.  While fatbikes aren’t always the best tool– such as when skies would be better, in deep snow– it is amazing the places they take us.  There are fewer and fewer places where a bicycle cannot be ridden.  Fatbikes are pretty cool.

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Vitamin D Ride, Anchorage, AK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An old pink bike works just fine for Nate.

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

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Parting ways with Nate, I continue south.

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

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Down to a grocery store for lunch.

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

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

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It leads up and around, to the bluff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One half of the sky is night.

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The other half holds dearly onto day.

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

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Tubeless Fatbike Guide: Nate to Rolling Darryl

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Living in New Mexico last winter required the adoption of tubeless tire systems.  Arriving in Albuquerque on a Pugsley, I was foiled by goathead punctures on a daily basis.  Naturally, as other mountain bikers in town already knew, “going tubeless” was the answer.  At Two Wheel Drive, we developed a method to bring fatbikes into the tubeless realm using the split-tube method, also known as “ghetto tubeless”.  

For a detailed guide to the split-tube method, check out Fatbike Tubeless, Tubeless Moonlander, and Does it work?.  In short, a 20″ or 24″ tube is split along its outside seam to create an airtight rim strip.  The tire is mounted atop the homemade rimstrip, without a tube, and a blast of air seats the tire.  Finish with liquid sealant, trim the excess rubber from the split tube, and ride.  This method has proven reliable, and may be preferred for anyone concerned about tire burps, such as an aggressive rider on rocky trails.  For a completely burp-free system, it is possible to apply an adhesive between the tire and the split tube to create a permanent seal, also allowing the tire to be moved from wheel to wheel without breaking the tubeless seal.  These two methods typically reduce wheel weight when compared to use of a tube, but not by much.  

The final procedure for converting an existing wheel to a tubeless system is very simple in theory, and is the lightest method.  A layer of tape is applied to the rim to create an airtight seal.  The tire is mounted and seated, and sealant is added.  Finally, sealant is distributed inside the tire to seal the bead and any pores in the tire.  While the concept is simple, there are several challenges.  Seating the tire on the rim can be difficult, especially in the case of a very loose-fitting tire.  Some tire and rim combinations mate better than others, due to inexact tolerances and texture along the tire bead.  Some of the texture designed on the tire bead is intended to improve the bead lock, reducing the risk of the tire walking on the rim at extreme low pressures, but creating some challenge to sealing.   

 The beginning front wheel weight is 7lbs 15oz (3.6kg) for a Salsa Mukluk 135mm hub, custom drilled (1.5″ holes) Surly Rolling Darryl rim, butted spokes and brass nipples, 160mm rotor, stock 26×4.0″ tube, 27tpi Surly Nate tire, and about 75 Grip Studs.  This will not be a super light wheel, but with all the features– studs, aggressive tread, elimination of puncture risk– it will be just right for my needs.  For about $10-$20 per wheel, this is the cheapest way to lighten a fatbike, or any bike.  Of course, wheel weight is always more pronounced than weight on the frame.  Reducing the friction between tube and tire is also a theoretical gain, evidenced by the rubber dust found within the tire from rubbing at low pressure.

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Remove tire, tube, and rimstrip.  The Surly rimstrip weighs about 90g.

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The naked wheel weighs exactly 3 lbs.  The stock tube weighs 15 oz (about 425g)

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I take the opportunity to true the wheel.

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A layer of high-visibility DOT approved reflective tape is applied to the rim, which will be visible through the cutouts, improving safety in traffic.  Similar tape is available in a variety of colors.  Look for safety or sign stores catering to industrial and construction accounts. 

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Finish with a piece of tape.

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Next, a layer of Gorilla Tape is applied tightly to the rim, up to the very edge of the bead shelf, just under the hooked edge of the rim.  Another layer is added to the other side, meeting in the middle to create an airtight seal.  It is theorized that laying the tape right up to the bead helps create a tighter fit at the bead.  It certainly helps to seat the tire initially.  Other sources suggest several layers of tape.

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Mount the tire with a tube to ensure every inch of tape is securely adhered to the rim.  This also allows one bead to be seated, reducing the challenges of seating the tire without the tube.

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Mount the second bead onto the rim.  A cheap 26 ” rubber rimstrip helps to force the tire bead towards the edge of the rim, on the bead shelf, where the tire is most likely to contain air.

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Removing the valve core is essential to a quick burst of air.  A good compressor is also necessary.

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The tire accepts the air on the first attempt, and pops into position.  I deflate the tire and install 4-6oz of Stan’s sealant (more if you want, especially in thorn country, or with even bigger tires) through the valve core, although it is possible to dump sealant into the tire before seating. Spin and shake the tire to ensure a good seal all around.  Bring the tire up to maximum pressure (30psi).  If possible, ride the bike to simulate any disturbances that might arise in real world conditions.  This also helps to distribute sealant.  Some tires may spit sealant from the bead or from under the valve during installation (120tpi Dillingers on Darryls have done this in my experience), but this 27tpi Nate sealed without a drop.  After my experience with Knards on Rabbit Holes, I am amazed.  I will revisit that combination soon.  

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The final weight of the front wheel is 7lbs 5oz.  This is a 10oz (283g) weight reduction.  For greater weight loss, it may be possible to use a lightweight packing tape without the thick reflective tape that I installed.  Wide Stan’s rim tape is unofficially available through Speedway Cycles in Anchorage.

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The final rear wheel weighs in at 9lbs 2oz.

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Time to ride home for the night.  First impressions are that the bike feels like a rocket.  I explore some urban crust on the way home, mounting snowbanks along the roadsides, doing my best to challenge the system.  Anything that makes riding more fun is worth it.  One and a quarter pounds (567g) less weight in the wheels helps a lot!

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In the morning, I go outside for the real test, to see if the tires have held air overnight.  Sometimes, small air leaks are impossible to detect during set-up, but will make themselves apparent by morning.  If the tire is soft in the morning, add air and agitate.  More sealant may help as a failsafe against leaks during initial installation.  If possible, put the bike in a stand or turn it upside down, and spin the wheels every time you walk by.  Thanks to Kevin at Paramount Cycles and Timely at the Trek Store for advice and encouragement.  Thanks to Chris at The Bicycle Shop for assisting the process, and allowing initial explorations on the wheels of his Salsa Beargrease.

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Fun, safe, and lightweight– nothing not to like!

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Future explorations include other rim and tire combinations, lighter weight preparations (for customers, presumably), and testing at extreme low pressures.  

Winter City 50K Urban Randonée

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Above: Clint rides across glare ice and crust on Westchester Lagoon, in the center of Anchorage, AK.  Spring conditions have arrived early this year, making studded tires a necessary tool.

The Winter City 30/50K Urban Randonée celebrates winter cycling in the city of Anchorage.  Organized by the Alaska Randonneurs as a fundraiser for the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage, it provides an opportunity to ride with others, on routes which usually compose morning commutes or late night rides.  On this morning, well over 100 riders meet at the Trek Bicycle Store to encircle the city on a mix of multi-use greenway trails, signed urban bike routes, and secondary streets.  Given the unusual weather we’ve experienced this past month, the route was largely covered by ice, with alternating sections of dry pavement and hardpacked snow trails.  There is not an ideal bike for this route, although studs and a large-volume tire provide security and comfort.  Fatbikes, especially those with studs, were the bike of choice for many.

I enjoyed the chance to ride with a lot of new people, including some acquaintances from The Bicycle Shop, and even a few co-workers with whom I have never ridden.

We begin in a large group, and slowly disperse into several smaller groups.  We ride south on C Street, onto the Campbell Creek Trail to cross under the Old Seward Highway.

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We choose a shortcut across Taku Lake, passing several groups of ice fishermen.

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A small bottleneck at the first control is the last that we’ll see.  We won’t make the next control before the prescribed cut-off time.  Along the way, we detour onto some urban singletrack; the other half of our group assists another rider with a derailleur malfunction.

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A slice of the Blue Booty trail near APU breaks up the ride.

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Back onto multi-use trail and over Northern Lights Blvd. to Russian Jack Park.

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The next control warrants a few moments indoors to warm fingers and toes.  Back to her old touring habits, Lael indulges in a cup of gas station coffee at the Holiday station.  Does this count as coffeeneuring?

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Onto a network of icy streets in the Mountain View neighborhood.

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To the Ship Creek Trail.  This newer multi-use trail is a crucial link to a traffic-free loop around town, an especially popular summer ride.  

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 The Ship Creek Trail includes features which indicate a big budget, but will be enjoyed for years to come. 

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Downstream from Mountain View, Ship Creek connects to the railroad yards, the port, and downtown Anchorage.  The mouth of the creek is open to salmon fishing.

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While Anchorage does maintain an active port, it is not the largest in the state, measured by value of the product handled.  That honor goes to Valdez, which deals almost exclusively in the export of Alaskan oil, transported from the North Slope by the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System.  However, Anchorage receives most of the commercial goods that enter into the state, typically arriving from Tacoma, WA.  

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Up the hill, leaving the railroad, the port, and Ship Creek behind.

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To 4th Street, the heart of downtown, unusually void of snow and ice in early February.

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For a few moments, studs and fat tires are unnecessary.  For a moment, we’re just a group of over-dressed, over-equipped weekend riders.

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Crossing the Delaney Park Strip, we point our tires towards the Fire Island Bakery.

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Fresh baked bread and pastries draw us in.  I purchase a cup of coffee, a peanut butter cookie sandwich, and a baguette for dinner.  

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The baguette fits nicely in my new Porcelain Rocket framebag, which is custom sized and color-matched to my 19″ red Mukluk.

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Back on the road, Lael parts from the group and rides to work.  Three of us remain to complete the final 20K of the route.  Tailwinds and late afternoon sun help us along.  After all the distractions of the day, we finally settle on a more brisk riding pace.  I’d like to say it is because we’re motivated, but in fact, the next control on our list is the King Street Brewery.  We breeze past several less interesting controls en route to the taproom (Taco King, NOAA, another gas station; we were already hours past the cut-off time).

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We ride across Taku Lake a second time towards the brewery.  This is my first time visiting the King Street Brewery.  Now I know it is only a block off the trail– good news!

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Only a few miles from the end of the ride, Clint, Paul and I settle in for a fresh pint.  A pink Fatback and a white Pugsley are resting outside when we arrive.  Clint is riding a carbon 9zero7 Whiteout frame with Dillinger tires set-up tubeless on Rolling Darryl rims, while Paul is on an aluminum 9zero7 frame with 100mm wide Clownshoe rims.  Paul uses a variety of tires based upon conditions, including some 5″ Bud and Lou tires when the snow piles up.  Both 9zero7 frames easily swallow 100mm rims and 5″ tires thanks to a 190mm rear spacing.

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Back to the Trek Store, to finish the day.  Thanks to Clint and Paul for a great day of riding!  Let’s do it again sometime.  Next time we can make our own route, connecting greenway trails and singletrack from bakery to brewery and beyond.

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