Week-end Beach Klunk

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It is that time of year between crust and summer where the trails are too wet to ride, the roads and sidewalks have only recently become clear and dry, and the days are becoming extremely long.  The bike shop is busy, and working six long days a week has a way of taking some energy out of the riding coffers.  It is a good time of year to catch a little rest from riding and make plans.  Daily, I open my computer to find open tabs in my internet browser describing far-off places.  I inquire, “were you up late reading a Wikipedia article about Romania?”  Sheepishly, and with a smile; you know the answer.

Lael has also discovered road biking, the result of a strained Achilles that shouldn’t be running for a while, and a nice carbon road bike in her size that resides in the basement, belonging to her mother.

I have been exploring and discovering the many conceptual permutations of bikes, rims, tires, and suspension forks resulting in a range of purebred adventure machines, from a standard hardtail 29er to a full-fat fatbike.  Of course, the new Rock Shox Bluto is intriguing, promising a quality fork like the Reba, with the clearance for every fatbike tire on the market.  The new Salsa Bucksaw is also fascinating, for some kinds of riding.

But, I’d like to use a dynamo hub to run lights and a USB-power outlet.  And I don’t expect to need a true fatbike anytime soon–with the exception of a local beach ride, possibly– so there is no reason to pedal a 100mm BB around if I don’t have to.  Not that it is a big problem to pedal a fatbike, but it does feel a little different on the body, and platform pedals on wide cranks don’t like to thread through tight places quite as well.  This is not a problem 99% of the time, but I’m shooting for perfect, or as near as possible.  After some years of evolving touring tastes, I finally feel like I’m coming close to the ultimate adventure bike.  This is a very personal definition– as some days I’d rather have the Mukluk, and other days I’d prefer a Horsethief or a Stumpjumper.

Now, a 120mm suspension fork on a purpose-specific hardtail 29+ frame might be the ticket for long-term reliability, efficiency in a variety of terrain, and fun.  If I need a fatbike next year, I’ll figure that out next year.  Until then, I hope to ride a lot on a bike that feels just right.  If I was to remain in Anchorage for the next year, or for several years, I think the Mukluk as pictured above would be my summer bike.

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We meet near Earthquake Park at about 7PM.  Ride out the paved Coastal Trail, whooping and hollering in the last four hours of sunlight, which is essentially a four hour long sunset.  Blast down to the beach and a quick ride to the point to burn some driftwood and cook sausages, avoiding the first few mosquitoes of the year.

Hobbes arrives on his Transition Klunker, a genuine coaster brake klunker with BMX grit– a modern offering from the Transition Bicycle Co, better known for big squish all-mountain bikes.  His riding reminds us that bike skills are more important than fancy bikes.  Although, he’s got one of those too.

After shooting indoors at high ISO the day before, I forget to adjust the camera settings.  The result is an off-putting digital grain, partly reduced during editing.  Aside, I’ve recently acquired a proper film camera, an Olympus OM-2S.  I finished my first roll of film today.  Looking through a real optical viewfinder is inspiring.  A simple light meter is nice.  The DOF preview is useful.  What amazing features.

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I also broke my Olympus E-P3 digital camera in an incident involving a Mukluk, some ice, a brief section of urban singletrack, and a tree.  Currently, I am using my older E-PM1, which is now Lael’s camera.  I am on the hunt for a new body, most likely an Olympus OM-D E-M5.  Anyone looking to get rid of one before I place an order?  How about a super cheap used E-P3?

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At the bottom of this sandy descent (coster brake!) Hobbes remarks that optimal pavement skidding tire pressure and beach pressure are quite different.

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Collecting firewood.  Summer in AK equals less sleep, and more playtime.

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Abe and I have made similar customizations to our Mukluks.  A Fox Float fork, Stan’s Flow EX rims, and 29×2.3″ Specialized Purgatory tires are the key ingredients in his build.  A wide carbon Answer DH bar, short stem, and hydraulic brakes turn a Mukluk into a trail bike.  Eventually, he expects to compile a 1×10 drivetrain with an aftermarket 42T ring for an inexpensive 1x set-up.  Note, he’s using a concoction of wood glue and water as a tubeless tire sealant.  It works.

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Fork clearance is huge, even with wider rims and 2.3″ tires.

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Not so much room with a Knard on a Velocity Dually rim, but enough for experimental purposes.  I don’t expect to rely on 3.0″ Knard tires, anyway.  They ride nicely, but the tread wears quickly as a result of low-profile knobs.  I also prefer more aggressive tires for unexpected trail conditions, and especially, for steep climbs.  I am thinking a 35mm rim and a 2.35, 2.4, 2.5 or even 2.75″ tire would be ideal.  Still hoping to try some Surly Dirt Wizard tires if they even make it to market.  I am thinking a Krampus frame would be the perfect host for this mix of parts, leaving some room to spare for mud.  Somehow, I’ve known the Krampus might be the best choice for me for years.  It has been a long road getting here via the Schwinn High Sierra, Surly Pugsley, Raleigh XXIX, Surly ECR, and the Salsa Mukluk.

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The Salsa Alternator swinging dropouts allow for simple and secure chain tensioning.  To clear the 29+ tire they must be rotated back several mm.

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The Velocity Dually rims are beautiful, and built up as well as any wheel I have built.  I think a 45mm rim is a great pairing for 3.0″ tires, and is slightly lighter than Rabbit Hole rims.  As always, Velocity rims are Made in the USA.  I’ll be experimenting with the claimed tubeless features of this rim, although from my initial experiments, there may be something missing in contrast to more advanced tubeless designs.  I’ve been spoiled by Stan’s rims, I think.

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Chain to tire clearance is very good, as expected.  In many ways, a fatbike frame with 29+ wheels is an ideal adventure set-up.  Full double or triple drivetrain clearance is a breeze, and for certain trips, a quick wheel swap at home turns it back into a fatbike.  This is a perfect four-season Alaska adventure bike.

My concern for BB width is largely the result of many months of riding ahead of us.  We don’t know where, or when, or how long, but I want something that pedals really comfortably.  I think my legs prefer a 73mm BB for long days, higher cadences, and steep climbs.  So far, the 29+ Mukluk has been a joy, and a proof of concept.

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Lots of plotting and planning.  Anyone in AK want to buy a Mukluk or an ECR?  Details to follow.

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Ukrainian chickens in Kyiv; August 24, 2013

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On the eve of the celebration of 22 years of Ukrainian independence in Kyiv this past summer, a parade of hand-painted chickens, and one giant egg– the traditional Ukrainian Easter egg, the pysanka— pass though the streets.  Representing the many regions of Ukraine, they represent and exemplify the cultural diversity across the nation.  The day after the procession, the painted hens and the egg rest against a backdrop of grey skies; a statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the military hetman of the cossacks; and the gold-domes of the Saint Sofia Cathedral, whose first stones were laid in 1037 under the flourishing Kievan-Rus empire. 

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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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CALL UP and a Fatbike Buyer’s Guide

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From all the time spent in the saddle, under the stars, and behind the camera, I’m proud to announce two recent publications.  

CALL UP is a new monthly industry magazine published by QBP, designed to inspire and educate retailers about new trends and products.  The April issue of CALL UP focuses on “Bikepacking, Touring & Gravel”.  Included is an interview with famed bikepacker, photographer, and pedaling globetrotter Cass Gilbert; a multi-faceted interview with several gravel race organizers; and two photos from our summer in Europe.  The cover image is from our ride over Kemal-Egerek in Crimea, Ukraine, with Przemek and Vital.  The penultimate image in the publication was taken along the “Red Trail” in the mountains of southern Poland, near Lubna.  Thanks to Mark Sirek and company for such a great publication!  

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Also this week, the Adventure Cycling Association published my Fatbike Buyer’s Guide to accompany their annual Touring Bike Buyer’s Guide.  The article explores the concept of a fatbike tour and the variety of available fatbike equipment, in great detail.  Please share this resource with anyone curious about fatbiking and touring.  Note, an addendum of available fatbikes, including production and custom models, is linked from the article. 

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As always, stop reading and go riding!

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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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