As high as possible: Anchorage, AK

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A day off work leaves nearly eight hours of daylight that I usually don’t experience.  Normal weekday rides are limited to commutes around town and late night escapades in the nearby Campbell Tract.  These nighttime rides lace familiar trails in fresh permutations, and in combination with changing conditions, a sense of discovery is alive.  Access to such great winter singletrack out the front door is special.  But with extra time, and extra daylight, I embrace the chance to go further.

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From the house, the ride begins with about a mile of neighborhood streets and sidewalks to connect with the Campbell Creek Trail, a major greenway artery in town.  From the trail, the mountains are visible, and play their first hand.  Today, at sunrise, they offer sunshine and shadows.

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Now that much of the city is glazed with ice, and much of the romantic side of winter has melted, the trails are much less busy than they were last month.  The moose have taken advantage of wide open trails, although they seem to be on alert.  Perhaps they are aware, as we are, that the bears will eventually wake up if this weather continues.

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From the Campbell Creek Trail, I turn onto the groomed Tour of Anchorage Trail, which signals the beginning of BLM land and access to the network of singletrack from which we compose our nightly rides.  Finally, the Blue Dot trail appears amidst birch and aspen.  Turn right, and turn up the tunes.  I never ride with music, but I finally found a pair of earbuds at the house that fit my ears, barely.  I must readjust them every ten minutes, but the elation of riding trails with music (on my day off from work!) is just short of ecstasy.  The occasion requires a lot of standing sprints, hard cornering, and a few round-the-bend Repack-style powerslides.

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Thank you bridge elves!

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On this day, temperatures above 35, 40, 45 degrees continue the melting trend.  Clear skies let the sun do some work.

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There are swamps and shallows I’ve never seen, as I’ve only ridden here in the winter, in real winter.

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I am really enjoying the new Mukluk.  The bike is responsive, and handles like a real mountain bike, not an upright snow cruiser in the style of the old Mukluk (blue model, 2012).  I am hoping to build some 29″ or 29+ wheels for the Mukluk, to provide contrast to the ride of the ECR.  The Mukluk shares more with the Krampus than with the ECR, including a 60mm BB drop, longer TT, short chainstays, and modern trail geometry.  With a tapered headtube and a 100mm suspension correct fork, it might be perfect.

The perfect 29″ build: I am thinking about 45mm wide Velocity Dually rims with 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent Tires (tubeless, of course), and a suspension fork with adequate clearance.  Schwalbe’s Hans Dampf tires are still on the list, as are Knards, and the new Surly Dirt Wizard tires, if they ever materialize.  Fox forks seem to have more clearance than the 29″ forks form Rock Shox.  There are a few dedicated fatbike forks available, and a few more on the horizon, including a rumored Rock Shox fat fork.  The “one bike for all seasons” project is now exactly two years old.

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The Campbell Tract is crossed with XC ski trails, groomed multi-use trails, and singeletrack hiking and biking tracks.  Some trails originate as survey boundary lines, like this one, and are straight as an arrow.  Most others cut natural lines into the land, making the most of the lowland topography.

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Riding up towards the Hillside Ski area marks a high point for most of our nighttime rides in the Campbell Tract.  Little snow is left on the ski trails.

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I continue further.

The Gasline Trail goes up, straight up.  This is what utility trails do, whether Alaska or Arizona or elsewhere.  The first push is a push, then it slackens and is rideable up towards the Prospect Heights Trailhead and the mountains.

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The Upper Hillside trails receive little bike traffic in the winter.  Although lightly potholed from walkers, the base is solidly frozen, and rideable.  No bike tracks are present.

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Up The Hive trail, back to the Gasline– I leave some fresh Nate tracks.  The tires stay afloat, while each tall rubber know punches through the crust for traction.

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Passing into Chugach State Park and above 1000ft, the mountains are near.

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Higher up, more ice is present, the result of daily inversions and warm winds on the hillside.  Daily, cool moist air settles in the Anchorage Bowl.

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A balmy winter breeze passes between trees.  T-shirt and pogies are an unusual combination, not unlike the combination of skirts and Xtra Tuff rubber boots, common around urban Anchorage.  I prefer blue jeans and gaiters.

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Beyond the Prospect Heights trailhead, the snow disappears almost entirely, and the trail turns to ice.  Views improve, even as clouds enter the scene.

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Lael offers her studded Nates in the morning, which I refuse.  I should have swapped wheels.  It is possible to ride the trail’s edge, between ice and grass.

I miss climbing thousands of feet at a time.  I’ll save some of that energy for summer and give the legs a rest.  Finally, approaching the Glen Alps Trailhead, at about 2000ft.

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When ice fails to cover the trail, mud is present.

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Eventually, the trail becomes more ice than rideable.  Time to turn back down.  A few drops of rain fall from above.

Off in the distance, over a hundred miles away, are Denali and the Alaska Range.  Surely, it is winter up there, above 20,000ft.

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Down the Powerline Trail, sometimes straddling the top tube with two feet on the ground.  Sometimes, riding the white-ish decomposing ice along the edge, which allows just enough traction.

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Down, past the Hillside Ski area, closed for now, possibly for the remainder of the season.

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Down, to the lower Hillside Trails.

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Down, and across Campbell Creek.

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Down, into birch meadow and swamps.  The goal was to ride as high as possible, including all the singletrack I can find on the way up and down.  As a result, I add a few new trails to the quiver.

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Down from the mountains, and back home, all within a day, barely.

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From sunrise, to sunset, a good day on the bike.

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In the other direction, check out Lael’s post “Out on the Coastal Trail” for a diverse range of winter activities along the forested waterfront trail.  Her amazing photo set includes fly-fishing and a fat-tire hand cycle,  amusing and inspiring.

25 thoughts on “As high as possible: Anchorage, AK

  1. Beautiful country up there I hope to visit some day. Reminds me a little of canoeing the Mountain River in NWT in 2000. Thanks for sharing your journeys and keeping me inspired. Just laced up a pair of Duallys on SRAM hubs per your suggestion a while back. Have an Ardent mounted tubeless on the back of my Ogre currently. Waiting for the Minion to show up today to see how that fits in the picture. Ardent is working very well so far, although don’t have many miles on yet due to the fact we are getting a good old fashioned winter here in Michigan.

    • Karl, Sounds like a winning combo. I do enjoy the full volume of the 3.0″ Knard, but tires like the Ardent are a better solution for now, given more aggressive tread patterns, and better construction. The Maxxis EXO casings make a happy tubeless tire as well. Best of all (for you, esp.), the rim and tire combination fit into your Ogre– no new frame needed.

      Which SRAM hubs? X7?

      Please “return to sender” that wonderful winter weather.

      • Yes, did the X7 in back per your suggestion and went with a SRAM dyno hub up front to mate with the B&M Luxos U light+usb charger which I hope finally arrives tomorrow.

  2. Hey Nick,

    I was thinking the same thing about the wheel build and one bike for all seasons. I currently have a pugsley because I just couldn’t pass up the deal I got it for at my shop(we do not have have a salsa account sadly enough), and honestly I love it. My one and only gripe is the offset rear. Not that it affects the ride or quality, it just throws me for a little loop trying to build a strong enough 29 wheel for it. The velocity duallys have caught my attention, plus I think they have a little more range with tire selection.

    Any tips on the offset build? I have read back on the build you did for joe, but getting my hands on an offset rim these days is proving to be impossible.

    Having virtually one bike to do it all would be amazing as I live a semi nomadic lifestyle. Moving 3-4 bikes at a time is excessive and rather cumbersome. Simplicity is the key!

    As always thanks for the help and inspiration!

    Boston, MA

    • Yes, in soe respects, there is nothing wrong with the offset design. But, when you try to build 29″ wheels, the whole thing makes you crazy.

      Of course, the Surly Rabbit Hole is drilled about 7mm off center. The Velocity Synergy O/C is 4mm off center, and should be available Directly from Velocity. I ordered from J&B for Joe’s wheels while in NM. Otherwise, there were some offset options from Bontrager and Ritchey, but no longer available, officially (I haven’t looked at all this in a few months). Incidentally, we have some offset drilled 700c rims in the basement at the shop here in AK. I forget the specs, but a standard 23mm road rim with braking track (Matrix brand?).

      Rabbit Hole rear and Dually front might be nice, or just a pair of Rabbit Holes, as long as you aren’t looking for a light XC wheel. The Rabbit Holes will get the job done, and will end your headache. Should be fine with any tire down to 2.0 or 2.1. I’d consider a 2.0″ Marathon/Dureme/BigBen if I really needed a road slick (or Rubena Cityhopper, Big Apple, etc.)

      I put 2.35 Big Apples on 65mm rims and it worked well on the road.

      Simplicity is the key!

    • Last time I was here we set a record snowfall and January was the third coldest month on record, ever. This time, only 9 inches of snow in January and it counts as one of the warmest Januaries on record– crazy.

      Muk looks great in red. Red framebag coming soon!

  3. I’m on my third day of owning my first fat bike. At 67 years young, I am beginning a new adventure here in Kansas. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. I agree with the red looking great on the new Mukluk. Nice contrast with the green of your Salsa shirt, too. I hadn’t really taken a good look at the Salsa alternator dropouts before, but something about the design seems really appealing. I like that the caliper to rotor adjustment looks to remain consistent even with a change in chainstay length. Any impressions of the bike yet?

    • The brake mount is integral to the Alternator plate, so it moves with the wheel.

      The great thing about swinging and sliding dropouts is that most of the time, it works like a vertical dropout, which reduces the risk of brake rubbing after reinstalling the wheel, as on the Surly dropouts. I know which drops I’d choose for the Bikeapocalypse, but for most other days, I prefer the Salsa Alternators.

      The bikes rides great. I had some thought early on about the “feel”, which I attributed to the aluminum frame and fork, but I was wrong! Once I dialed my riding position and replaced the stock saddle with my ultra-hammocky Brooks, it fits and feels like most other bikes. For me, important feet details include a straight-pin seat post, Brooks saddle all the way forward (to get my larger leg muscles over the pedals more), and Ergon grips. Stem height is adjusted about even with saddle height, perhaps a bit lower. The only other change I may make for now is towards a wider bar, perhaps a carbon Race Face SIXC, 785mm width. I can always cut it if I need, which is easier than making them wider.

  5. We are having a great winter here in MD. Managed to get 140 snow/ice miles on the C&O two weeks back. One of my riding mates on that ride just built up a Jeff Jones Diamond and went with the Dually/Ardent 2.4 combo and was very happy. Looks like a great combo and they set up tubeless perfectly.

    Even without the snowpack, Alaska still looks beautiful. Great photos as always.

    • Hey Jeff, That’s a big ride on the C&O in winter. Did you ride the Krampus?

      My friend Jeremy in Santa Fe, NM just finished a Jones frame with Duallys and skinwall 2.4″ Ardents. It looks awesome, and he says it rips! He’s got the steel diamond frame and Ti truss fork.

      • I rode the Krampus but I added some Jones loop bars before I left to my normal setup. I’m personally tempted to swap some 2.4 Ardents on to the Rabbit Holes to try it out though. It would allow me to put my 100mm fork on the bike.

        Having never ridden that distance below freezing before it was a tough one. The Gap towards Frostburg was pretty brutal to with 30mpg wind gusts. Fortunately Cumberland has a few good dive bars to do some rehydrating.

        It’s looking like I should be able to do the whole trip from DC to Pitts in July. So I’m pretty excited about that and now that the bike path from central Ohio to Cleveland is done we are looking into a route to get us from Pitts to New Philadelphia OH to catch that trail and go to Cleveland. Hopefully the stars will align.

  6. I’m running duallys with knards, tubeless. Two full layers of gorilla tape plus thin strips to attempt to create a bead lip that velocity failed to add has been reliable while bombing down hills with touring gear. I run low enough pressures to bottom out a little too often.

    • Sounds good, thanks. I set up some Dillingers on Rolling Darryls tonight. I think one wheel is super solid, but the other was spitting a little from one spoke hole, and when agitated, also from one place along the bead. Will retry tomorrow with another layer of tape, and better care to seal the tape along the rim (the reason it bleeds from the spoke hole near the valve, I presume).

  7. Dream bikes aside, what about travel dreams? Why not a sneaky peak into where you’re thinking of touring this summer?
    I currently work at the UN in Geneva (alas, not as one of their immensely over-paid staff sadly, but temporarily over winter as a secretary/nurse to a disabled man who works there… But it helps pay for my PhD and forthcoming spring and summer of touring) and down one long corridor they’ve just had an amazing photo-poster gallery of the scenery in various Georgian (country, not US state) national parks. If you were still thinking of doing a tour of the Black Sea, they all look like incredible (and hilly) detours/tours in their own right.

    Also check out the Singular Rooster!

    Have you ever tried IGH’s? Not tempted? I’ve been amazed at what Cycle Monkey have been bringing out with regards to belt drive Rohloff Krampussies etc. While I would be very happy with one of those, my main dream bike is pretty much what your friend Jeremy has just built. Put in a 135mm SP dynamo hub in the front and it’d be perfect. Sadly a Jones is pretty much twice the price when buying one in the UK.

    • So, if you get a Rooster, I’ll get a Jones and we can meet in Georgia and trade bikes. Deal?

      The new Singular frame looks great. I’ve always loved the designs, especially the Gryphon.

      I am tempted by IGH, almost bought a Shimano Alfine 11 this fall when building the ECR, but they were largely unavailable from distributors. Otherwise, reviews of the 11 were lackluster, so it is probably for the best. I don’t ‘love” Rohloff (in use), even though it is a very good product. My official argument has always been that as long as I can piece together drivetrains from used Deore bits, thumbshifters, and 8sp chains, I’ll stick with it. It works well, and I’m real good at repairing and maintaining it.

    • When and where are you planning on riding? Realistically, we’ll probably be in AK until mid–summer. If I had to guess where we will be after that, I’d say Ukraine, Romania, and Georgia sound nice. But, this ship doesn’t really have a captain, and I don’t know were we are going until i buy a plane ticket or ride somewhere.

      I am also looking at the SP hub, Good price, good internals, good weight, bad distribution. .

      • I’m the same as to where I’ll be riding. My job finishes around May 15th, and I’m currently dreaming of going diagonally down from Geneva through France and the Cevennes and Ardeche, then traversing and bimbling around the Pyrenees, then across to the Picos de Europa, then Galicia and then going down Portugal to eventually Sintra and the most Occidental point of Europe and then?? And like I think you like, the least amount of time spent on roads and the more on dirt the better. I’ve got until I should dust off the PhD work in September/October basically.

        But all the plans are in a constant state of flux (and like you, I think all plans should always be in such a state). I’ve just returned home to pick up a bike. As time off was too tight I got my LBS to build up a Surly Straggler frame for me out of some parts my brother dug out of my bags. It has P35s and an Alfine 11 (2nd hand BNIB from ebay for $370 with cog, cables, shifter etc so not too bad… otherwise I’m like you, 8/9 speed, friction, basic, reliable stuff) and a SON dyno up front (very annoyed I let my wheel builder talk me out of an SP one and onto the far too expensive SON when I got them built up early last year). It’s a rather inappropriate wheelset for the Straggler as it only takes a 42mm Mondial (measures 46mm on the P35s) in the back and don’t even think about a mudguard there either. And a 50mm Mondial (measures 53mm) in the front with plenty of room.
        But it’ll suit for the coming months of solely back road riding in Switzerland prior to touring. Moreover it’s unsuitable origins lay in that my first idea come May 15th was only to ride down the Rhine (and visit that funky ruined Château du Bernstein you slept on top of too) and then the low countries and a bit of Scandinavia before heading home. So an MTB wasn’t in the plans and you build with what you have… how plans change however.
        Since you mentioned it ages ago, and seeing your Crimea photos I had been taking good long look at the Black sea area in “terrain” and “Earth” mode on Google maps. Oh wow oh wow. Likewise Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and also Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Caspian sea are very high on my list.

        Right before I found myself abruptly working in Geneva I bought for the Alfine/P35s a large Surly Ogre frame (I’m between sizes being 5ft11.5 and this might be too big for fun, nimble riding, but I gambled as it gets you another litre and a half or more of frame bag…). I might dash home and switch to this just before touring. Otherwise I doubt the Singular would be out in time. I do like the rumours of a new tapered head tube and switchable dropouts Karate Monkey coming soon…? Perhaps that’s the answer? Or a Singular Swift?
        Now I really don’t think I need all the Ogre add-ons either, duct tape and p-clamps are fine and fit better with my dirt baggy style. Plus a slightly lighter bike would be a blessing too. I’ve never ridden with a suspension fork so that’s also getting tempting, not least due to wrist problems and that I have two broken knuckles at the moment too and a suss fork would make buying the Ogre for braze ons and then losing the fork braze ons a bit ill-thought out.
        Test riding the Straggler has been painful! Although in the 10 muddy Welsh borders farmland miles I managed the Afline was silky smooth although my knuckles could only take bumps at less than 15-20mph and 8 of the gears. In all the eventual bike will probably be a last minute/week/month decision too.

        The only things left to find otherwise is an almost full complement of bike packing luggage (probably Nuke Sunrise) and a tent. I have an old Shangri-La 3 but would like something with a less massive footprint and more packable. I’m drooling after some Z Packs cuben fibre Duplex wonder (pretty zipper less too) but not sure if I could live with the expense. While my whole ethos is no booze, no coffee, no going out, basically no fun and just lentil soup until May so as to save money, the ZPacks would take austerity to a whole new level. But it blows everything else out the water. So so light.

        One thing that’ll keep me off 45-50mm rims for a while (save from wishing to get my money’s worth out of the P35s and that I really need to sell one frame to be able to afford the other anyway), but the P35s are around half the price of the Duallys over in Europe.. Likewise 3.0” tyres = $£$£… Ha smuggle me a Jones and some Duallys over in your bike boxes when you come in the summer and the money you’d save me would subsidise half your tour!

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