Knik, not like Nick; the k is not silent. About ten miles up the Knik River Road is a bridge across Hunter Creek. From there, it’s about 8 miles on snowmachine trails along the floodplain to the foot of the glacier, where iceforms dwarf cyclists in icy blue shadows and light. The trail is well traveled and frozen through the morning, and we approach the ice within an hour and a half of departure. Like an icy Bryce Canyon, we explore slots and cracks to their end, climbing over frozen bridges and saddles, and through towering corridors. Sliding across glassy refrozen meltwater and down the sides of giant ice marbles, we are kids in an absurd moonscape. A sunny day in the middle of nowhere full of childlike wonder–the best bike ride ever.
The final bend, a different place
no hubbub, no wind, not cold.
A space frozen, but not unmoving;
Shhh– sleeping monsters in momentary grace.
Cyclops, a Yeti, the Lochness and a puddle of melt;
A boy’s club of scary faces and stalactites for teeth.
It’s a wax museum or a monster’s graveyard
Joints are frozen, but the eyes are wide
They’re here, but no worry
Eyes like a hawk but
The teeth are fiction– just icicles
Retracing our tracks, we gain momentum from the imperceptible dowstream slope and the glee of an afternoon well-wasted. Lael rides her Pugsley with new gold VP pedals, Tamra rides my purple Puglsey with Nate, and I ride a borrowed Salsa Mukluk 3. Lael finds a moose leg on the trail and is insistant that we take it home, exhibiting it’s uses as a prosthesis and a kickstand; Tamra draws the short straw and straps it to her rack.
The Knik River floodplain is colored pink in this rendering. We rode from the wide braided section left of center, up to the big white glacier on the right. A nice ride; eight easy miles each way, if snow conditions are favorable.
Joe Cruz has been pedaling through South America for the past six months; it seems everyone’s doing it, but not like Joe. Short of stature and tall of fortitude, Joe stands beside his curiously laden Pugsley like an underweight jockey, his steed. Riding a fatbike packed with Revelate framebags over ancient, barely-there cobbled Incan roads and the salt-crusted altiplano to the southern reaches of the continent– Joe does it right, perhaps better. He knit a path through the mountains that intersected hordes of Germans and Americans on touring bikes, but mostly left them to their ant-like march south as he pushed and pedaled to over 15,000 ft, with water bottles like tumors growing from his dusty Pugsley.
Joe is participating in the White Mountains 100 north of Fairbanks today, riding a borrowed Pugsley a hundred miles through the snow. Next week we meet to discuss big plans involving fatbikes. Neither Joe nor Cass nor I have limits to our bike-wandering imaginations, and we’re all in.
Update: Joe finished the WM100 25 minutes past midnight in just over 16 hours. Over the final miles he passed several skiers and a cyclist to finish in 16th place, while he had steadily held 18th throughout the day in a competitive field of 65. Other finishers include Eric Parsons, a.k.a. Captain Swallowtail of Revelate Designs, who skied to the finish two hours after Joe; and Jill Homer of Jill Outside who finished on a bike two hours later. Jill participates in ultra-events more frequently than I call my mother.
For an insightful report of his first big bike ride in the snow, check out Joe’s blog Pedaling in Place throughout the week.
Riding to the Knik Glacier today, bathed in sunlight.
Light til 9, but we still ride in the dark. A group of eight met in the Jodphur parking lot at Kincaid for some sinuous singletrack, some of which is groomed by Herculean riders pulling a worn automobile tire. Lights, bikes, fat tires and friends; Fatbacks, Mukluks and Pugsleys.
After racing around the woods in circles, I raced the fifteen miles home in sub-zero temperatures for a midnight dinner.
The Stumpjumper has a new fork that’s actually an old fork of the same color from another bike. Now, it resembles the 1984 Stumpjumper, but with mid-fork rack eyelets. Studded tires and fenders are key to urban cycling; it hasn’t snowed in a week and over twelve hours of sunlight makes some meltwater during the day as snowbanks fade in gothic grace. At night, puddles freeze into icy mirrors. Footprints and tire tracks are fossilized until the light of tomorrow.
Spring mania has set in as roofs are shoveled and bikes are awakened from hibernation. For months, everyone ate and slept too much. Now, they’re buying road bikes even as the roads are still iced over. Anticipation.
Freeze Thaw Cycles is the name of an exceptional bike shop in State College, PA. They stock practical touring and commuting cycles, as well as interesting used equipment and mountain bikes for the local state forest. They had a small stash of 86mm BCD chainrings for my SR Apex triple in 2008 when I first visited. They also supplied a used LX rear derailleur to replace mine, which had seized. For a few days, I had to cross rumble-strips to shift to a smaller cog.
Winter biking gearheads and cycling nuts gathered around burn barrels Saturday night at Westchester Lagoon for the annual Ice Criterium around the 400m loop. Two person teams race 10 laps around the glazed oval, switching riders every lap. Teams ride a single bike, passing the “baton” by swapping a pair of boxer shorts worn over top of their clothing. Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pros and Nokian 294 Extremes were well represented.
Of open roads, calloused hands and dusty ankles; tires worn threadbare and the last thousand miles of use in a pair of brake pads. Cook some coffee, like a cowboy, and mend a strap on your bag– it’s still a long way to Silver City. Spoonfuls of peanut butter and handfuls of raisins are a delicacy in a diet of lentils and rice and oats and water and salt, but it doesn’t actually get any better than this, and raisins have never been more delicious. A taste of monasticism on the road affords a lot of good living. Get strong, feel happy, eat a lot but not too much, sleep well, write home every once in a while, and meet some people. That’s it. Ride.
Thanks to Greg for these images. For several weeks, Greg, Lael and I traveled the Divide from Como, CO to Taos, NM. These photos are all from a late-summer spell of great weather in early October, on the road from Hartsel to Salida, and further south toward Del Norte. Greg recently built a Surly Cross-Check, disguised as a Raleigh Superbe, for an upcoming trip to Italy.
Harold probably doesn’t know who Levi or Lance are, not that he should. In a season of record snowfall in Anchorage, the average Motiv or Magna isn’t enough to confidently crawl around town, and the fat tires piqued his interest as a sure-footed all-weather ride. To the cycling enthusiast, a fatbike allows an escape from midwinter blues and too much time at the office or in front of a computer. To Harold, it’s an altogether different escape.
He’s more like Red Green or Grizz (from Jeremiah Johnson) than a “cyclist”, but he was paying his way toward ownership of a blue Salsa Mukluk 3, in spite of our preconceptions. For a week, Harold shared his satisfaction through toothless grins and grunts. Big tires roll over anything, he said. On Tuesday, he brought the bike in for some adjustments, including a new rear reflector and declared that he would be cashing a check to pay for the bike in full, “if I don’t get arrested”. What does that mean, we wondered? He left the building on foot and as he turned onto the sidewalk, police cruisers swarmed. That’s what he meant.
According to police, Harold kicked in the window at the local bank and used his new Salsa Mukluk as a “getaway vehicle”, giving new meaning to Salsa’s brand motto Adventure By Bike.
“Harold” is an alias for the purpose of this article. We are heartbroken over Harold’s misfortune, although not without a chuckle. This makes the list of “really bad decisions before noon”.
A new Salsa brand strategy calling to Tour Divide racers, Iditarod Trail bike-pushers and Harold:
Salsa– What are you running from?
The Campbell Creek Greenway Trail is both a passage and a meetingplace– it winds through neighborhoods, inviting the multitudes. It is a haven of humanity in a big, cold city of cars, although this time of year it is rare to encounter much traffic on the trail. One curious interruption of the trail’s continuity from the foothills to the sea occurs at the Seward Highway, where the trail ends without official provision for passage. As I’ve mentioned previously, unofficial passage occurs via a footpath. The path is alternatively crusted in snow and sheer with ice, as is passes under several bridges and many lanes of traffic. A sign reads– simply and without meaning this time of year– “Pavement Ends”. Under the many lanes of traffic, an icy fractal troll has taken residence.
Night comes later than before. Last week it was dark at dinner; this week it comes an hour later plus an extra 5 minutes and 44 seconds per day. In a few months we’ll be riding under a midnight sun. For now, night still comes.
Eleven hours, twenty-five minutes and fifty-seven seconds of sunlight today.