Zero below and a new bar


A month ago we were all talking about how the city had doubled it’s seasonal snowfall to date, with over 90 inches by mid-January. The local newspaper now reports this January to be one of the coldest on record, with an average temperature of 2.7deg through this past Saturday. Zeroes are expected through the end of the month, holding strong for the cold team.

Fairbanks has averaged -25.8deg this month.

When the weatherman calls for -2 or -4, I don’t sweat the details and simply call it zero below.

I have worked at a bike shop since two weeks ago, assembling bikes for the much anticipated spring season. The anticipation begins as soon as the first snowfall, and everybody wishes they could take a vacation during spring break-up. Lots of fatbikes and studded tires roll through the bike shop, but lots of other stuff too. More people are riding bikes in Anchorage this winter than I realized, on barely working old Schwinns, recumbents, and a jolly fat guy commuting on a bike built for jolly fat guys– I replaced three spokes on the rear wheel.

A cure for my tennis elbow came in the form of a new bar for the Pugsley with a bit more width and a little more sweep, although not as much as I’d like. It’s the Salsa Bend 2 bar, with 17deg of sweep. This is my first bar with an oversized clamp diameter and on my ride home, I calculated 31.8mm to be 1 1/4 inches (I hadn’t thought about it before). Despite metric expressions, why are we still designing bike parts to English dimensions? A good answer is that it doesn’t matter, but I note that it’s not simplifying anything if it’s just an inch and a quarter translated into mm. Of course, 22.2 is seven-eights of an inch, 25.4mm is an inch and 26.0 is an example of a European standard in a simple metric increment.








Riding bikes to get places: Feb. 6th at the Bayshore Club, Anchorage, AK






From crosstown to cross-country; we once rode to work and back, then a day trip to Seattle on single-speed bikes when we couldn’t afford the bus fare, then everywhere else we could think to go including France, Mexico and much of the United States. This winter, we moved back to Anchorage for some in-town adventure, commuting everywhere on fatbikes and studded tires. You’ll hear about the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Coastal Trail; the sidewalk on C Street and the bike path along the Seine in Paris. We’ll have our fabikes with us if anyone hasn’t had a chance to ride one, and we love to talk about touring bikes and gear. Join us at the Bayshore Club next Monday, February 6th for the monthly meeting of the Anchorage Adventurers Meet-up Group. Potluck dinner starts at 6 PM followed by our presentation at 7 PM.

-Nicholas and Lael


In support of saddlebags


My trusty Carradice Camper has been with me for over 12,000 touring miles in 2011. It’s rugged canvas construction is silent while riding, even on nearly unridable washboard in Baja, or the doubletrack of the Great Divide. The attachment to the Brooks saddle, by way of bag loops, is with leather or nylon straps and quietly suspends the bag. The silent partner of my system is the Velo Orange Pass Hunter Rack, which is often concealed from view by the immensity of the Camper model, at about 25L. It mounts simply and ruggedly to the cantilever posts and the seatstay bridge, supporting the underside and backside of the saddlebag. It ensures that the bag does not sway, rub atop the wheel or fender, and remains clear of the brake straddle wire. The Velo Orange blog has posted some photos of my 1985 Schwinn High Sierra wearing a Pass Hunter Rack, mounted on the rear as a saddlebag support.

With fixed mounts (non-adjustable), this rack will mount more nearly level on larger frames as seatstay angles approach vertical. For the purpose of a saddlebag support, an angled rack is beneficial to securely cradling the bag. The fixed angles of the rack also ensure that the bag sits as near to the center of mass of the bicycle as possible, without interfering brake operation. On extremely small frames, the rack may rest at an unacceptable angle. With the Pass Hunter Rack as a bag support, additional space remains behind the seatpost for stowage of additional goods, which I used to store my tent, a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2.


Pogies are in


I moved back across town this weekend, spilling over with two large backpacks, a saddlebag full of books and a computer, a pair of skis and poles. I am asked (too often) if it is challenging to ride a bike everywhere. I always say “no”, and always receive a look of disbelief in response. I suppose I’m not being asked, but told. Generally, I keep my mouth shut, but this is a Costco-sized can of worms and I don’t think anyone wants any; it’s an alphabet soup of ideas too unruly for the dinner table. I avoid serving soup for now, but people keep asking. Someone’s gonna get a big bowl.





Pogies arrived by mail. Less than thirteen bucks apiece from the infamous online retailer and with the purchase of two pairs, shipping fees are waived, even to Alaska. Black nylon shells encase fleece interiors with a pocket to store a heating element (or snacks). They secure to the handlebars with velcro straps, and are stiff enough to make entry while riding easy. They are properly proportioned, despite their intended use on ATV’s. Not quite $100 pogies, but better than $13 pogies should be. Branded: “QuadGear”. Made in China, of course.




Alpenglow– sun rise, and sun set

20120119-234033.jpgTwice a day the sun pierces the horizon. First in the southeast it backdrops the silhouetted Chugach (bottom), then across a southern track at a maximum altitude of 8.6 degrees (today) before landing in the southwest. Pre-rise and post-set, the sky is alight with a calming pink hue that’s easy on the eyes– alpenglow. In the evening, the western aspect of the Chugach Range, facing the city, is bathed in the afterlight of day. This light– indirect, on mountains– is true alpenglow.

Alpenglow is the reflection and refraction of sunlight– backscattering– in atmospheric moisture, from sunlight no longer visible to the observer (or visible from nearby mountaintops). Alpenglow occurs before and after the true light of day, and is best experienced with ice in the atmosphere and snow on the ground, for increased scattering. With topographic relief, as the city darkens, the mountains glow.

Six hours and forty one minutes today; four minutes and twenty eight seconds more than yesterday. By the end of February we’ll be gaining 5m 44sec per day, the maximum gain rate. None of these photos represents true alpenglow. Nonetheless, lots of nice light here.


Traveling with Spiders


Excerpted from the introduction to Harvey Manning’s Walking the Beach to Bellingham, “Traveling with Spiders”:

By 1976 I was a quarter-century too late to make the first ascent of Mount Everest. Neither was I likely, having developed a dread of water too deep to see the bottom, to sail a small boat around the world. All in all, my lust for high adventure had simmered down to quite a low level. This is not to say the juices had dried up. What they’d done was stew around in an odd corner of the pot and ferment up a quirky appetite for low adventure.

While onetime climbing pals were hopping into aircraft to hobnob with grizzly bears in the Brooks Range, to trek in Nepal, to ski in New Zealand, to float the Grand Canyon, to kayak around Cape Horn, I was working up a plan to go down to the Seattle waterfront carrying a sleeping bag and a rucksackful of kipper snacks, apples, Snickers, and Pepsi Cola and take deck passage on the Alaska ferry. Not to “do” Alaska– I wouldn’t so much as get off the boat– would turn right around and come straight home.

While one of my daughters was Keltying through Latin America, another was bicycling across Canada, the third was doing stand-up comedy in Chicago, my son was looking to be blown up by terrorists in Ireland or North Africa, and my wife was jetting over the Greenland Icecap to Wales, I was pondering an intriguing new means of travel. A friend by the name (solely) of Orpheus told me to watch university bulletin boards for cryptic notices giving a destination, dates of departure and arrival, and a phone number. Those who on the appointed day boarded the old bus with “Greyhound” or” Trailways” or “Sequim School District” barely painted out would be assured (machinery permitting) of reaching their destination on or about the stated date. However, by majority vote the group might elect side trips– to a national park, county fair, arts and crafts festival, concert or rodeo. A show of hands would be enough to bring a halt for a swim in a handy river or lake, or to buy ice cream cones. When a site attracted, the group would camp overnight. When not, it would drive on, perhaps stopping briefly on the prairies to howl at the moon with the coyotes. In the Gypsy Bus System (which is not a system, no more than an anarchy has a bureaucracy) a journey has a destination, but getting there is the trip.

I’ve not yet taken the Alaska ferry or caught the Gypsy Bus. I will, though, one of these days. I’m sure of that because I did walk the beach from Seattle to Bellingham. Low adventure gets in your blood.

It may be alleged that I took the beach hike because I was too poor and too chicken about airplanes to trek in Nepal. However, hoping not to offend my legion of friends who have taken enough color slides there to keep the carousels of their projectors spinning until they have no more friends, I deplore the very desire to visit Everest base camp. To be sure, long lines of sahibs and coolies plodding up and down the passes, climbers rest-stepping by the hundreds up the “orange peel route” on Mount Rainier fascinate me. So do ant colonies. If ants evolved a leisure culture, they would do these things. Spiders, by contrast, would also travel extensively; however, they would not go by jet, but by Gypsy Bus, because they would not be seeking to capture the world in color slides but to web [it’s] pieces together in unity. I know these things from watching ants and traveling with spiders.

Walking the Beach to Bellingham was originally printed by Madrona Publishers of Seattle, WA in 1986. The second edition, available for a nominal price from online retailers, was reissued by the Oregon State University Press, 2002.

Additionally, from the introduction: “If this isn’t a guide book, what is it? A book of sermons, perhaps. Generally, people should stay home. Forget gaining a little knowledge about a lot and strive to learn a lot about a little.”

Harvey Manning died in 2006, and is considered to be of foundational importance to outdoor activity, especially walking, in the Pacific Northwest.20120116-143848.jpg




Gaining day, waning light



Six hours and nineteen minutes of sunlight today– almost four minutes more than yesterday. The day began ten degrees below zero, and the sun warmed the day to an even zero. A sunny day, although I didn’t get outside until noon; the afternoon felt like a prolonged sunset as I reversed the ride from a few days ago. The sun set, aside Susitna.

I got the chance to explore some of the singletrack out at Kincaid Park. Many of the trails are designated and maintained for skiing only, while singletrack multi-use trails open to bikes are called “social trails”. Thanks to walkers and snowshoers, the trails were well defined and well packed. Thanks to the trail designer and builders, they seem to have been drawn along the countour lines of the map, so that little elevation is gained or lost. Climbing in the snow on a fatbike is challenging, as traction is at a premium.

The cyclecomputer that came with my Pugsley is telling me that I have ridden over 1100 miles since I bought the bike a month and a half ago. If miles could talk, they’d swear that it’s been more. Some of those snowy miles have been difficult.20120114-191018.jpg20120114-191027.jpg20120114-191034.jpg




Sidewalk singletrack

20120112-173948.jpgFour foot wide no more– two, three, four days post-snowfall and the sidewalks are passable, as natural singletrack. Boots drag their feet, printing Vibram and Sorel into the white. Simple over the curb, through the fence or across the park shortcuts in summer, are snowy singletrack connectors in winter. Eventually, one of many dozen snow bikes around town passes through, smoothing and grooming boot tracks with the characteristic chevron-shaped Endomorph pattern. With two more passes it becomes pleasantly rideable; until then, it washes the bike to sides, as a frozen luge studded by postholes. Bump, bumping along like waterskiing into whitecaps, desperately spinning tires to keep moving and stay afloat, more like operating a snowmobile on water. When the tires stop, the U.S.S. Pugsley sinks, and stalls. Must walk a few feet, or try and try and try to get started again.

Road grading and plowing deposit two and three foot berms at crosswalks and entrances to bike trails and sidewalks. I approach at speed, lift the wheel and thrust the chainguard at the pile hoping for the best. The mountain gives way as I break through, leaving a topographic low– a pass– in the micro-ridgeline. Sometimes a three foot pile of road crust and ice, refrozen. I go up, and over.

Sidewalk riding alongside busy three lane parkways is bumping along singletrack, spinning tires; crashing through, up and over berms; and delicately rolling across lumpy compacted roadcrossings like frozen lakes, careful not to steer to quickly or be lying in the road. A half-dozen inches of snow or more falling today. The singletrack cycle starts again, with spinning tires.20120112-174933.jpg





Coastal Trail to Kincaid; mountains on all sides

20120109-220014.jpg More moose than people out on a beautiful Monday. Following significant snowfall over the last few days, skies cleared and temperatures dropped, exposing a glistening wonderland and snowy peaks, both near and far. The Knik Arm of Cook Inlet and the Chugach Range frame the city. Mt. Susitna– The Sleeping Lady– figures prominently on the horizon, as does the Tordrillo Range to the southwest and the Talkeetna Range to the northeast. The Alaska Range, including the disproportionately represented Mt. Foraker (17,400 ft) and Denali (20,327 ft) are visible one hundred miles to the north. The Coastal Trail is a nine mile section of trail connecting downtown Anchorage and Westchester Lagoon with Kincaid Park, a woodland park with an exceptional network of cross-country ski trails situated on the westernmost point of the Anchorage peninsula– Point Campbell. The Coastal Trail had been groomed since the snowfall, but was still soft and slow with no signs of snow bikes on the ride out to Kincaid. 20120109-203414.jpg20120109-203454.jpg20120109-203516.jpg20120109-203537.jpg20120109-214726.jpg20120109-214741.jpg20120109-215004.jpg

Active safety equipment




Ultralight, no-fuss safety equipment without batteries or moving parts; if it were a pro-level helmet or high-output lighting, you’d be out several hundred dollars. For $18, safety equipment retailers such as Alaska Safety Inc. will sell you a high visibility vest with 3M Scotchlite reflective striping. For a few dollars more, add several feet of DOT grade reflective tape and sew-on reflective ribbon, sold by the foot. Nobody in the cycling industry is making visibility gear of this caliber. Rims 65mm and wider found on fatbikes are prime for adhesive reflectivity, and the cambered shape of the rim should reflect well at acute angles to the direction of travel. Reflective ribbon will be sewn to Lael’s backpack, used for daily commutes to school, where she administers computer-based math tutoring. She has opted not to attach a rack to her Pugsley to keep the bike lighter and more agile, hesitant that it could rapidly take on the hulking character of her LHT, or worse. My Pugsley is at least as heavy as my High Sierra, although my legs don’t seem to care. Forget rollers and indoor winter training, a 35 lb bike with two pound tires (apiece) at 8 psi through six inches of snow should be adequate resistance to prepare for spring adventures.

I’ve been wearing reflective vests diligently since riding in France, where it is more common and since July 2008, mandatory to wear a reflective vest while riding in low-light conditions and at night. Additionally, drivers attending to roadside matters are required to wear a vest and display a reflective triangle. The French government enlisted the help of famed Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld in the following advertisement, stating “It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with anything, but it could save your life.”

Let me state the obvious: it’s visible, it’s cheap, and it allows drivers to acurately estimate your position on the road, rather than being distracted by additional blinking lights. It’s not to be used in place of proper lighting, but it will significantly augment any system, cheaply. It’ll pack into the smallest of bags for the necessary occasion, although you may find yourself wearing it most of the time, as I do. At first, I’d wear it when the roads were busy, shoulders narrow, light fading and rain falling– those hair-raising times that you don’t plan for. In time, I came to think “if I have it, why not wear it”, adding a significant measure of visibility to any situation. Fashion faux-pas is a small price for safety, non? It also sends a strong signal to drivers, saying: “I’m here, not by accident, but by design. I’m actually going somewhere (really). I am meant to be seen, which task has been accomplished. Give me a few feet and get on with your day. Thank you.” (my vest is particularly verbose). The tattered and soiled fabric and worn Scotchlite striping of my vest are all signs of miles and months on a bike and has become part of an unlikely fashion that I’m still hoping will catch on. Someday, I’ll say I was first.

Hi-vis colors like electric yellow and neon orange are eye-catching in flat light, particularly against a snowy backdrop. High quality reflective material is not to be underestimated and is especially effective on dark roads, away from city lights which distract the eyes; look for 3M Scotchlite and similar fabrics. Beware of inferior reflective materials on garden variety safety gear, often coated in transparent vinyl. It’s unfortunate cycling equipment suppliers do not offer more aggressively reflective materials. Even expensive jackets from Gore and Showers Pass feature only simple reflective patterns and piping.

Over a foot of fresh snow here. Above, Lael fearlessly descends a hill, almost finding her face in a snowbank. The reflective tape, which came is alternating sections of white and red, will be cut to size to adorn moving parts such as rims and cranks, and has been fit to the contours of our helmets. Reflective ribbon wil be stitched to my Carradice, and to Lael’s backpack.

In the transportation industry, active safety refers to the prevention of a crash with such aids as visibility equipment, mirrors and brakes; passive safety involves features that prevent injury in the event of a crash, such as a helmet or a seatbelt.