The getaway Mukluk

20120314-213256.jpgHarold 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?

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Pavement ends

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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.

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Aurora borealis

A few hours past dark we snaked around the Campbell Tract looking for nothing other than some late-winter snowpacked trails; the melt comes soon, and we’re all aware. Scared, maybe. The aurora borealis shimmered above. Thanks to Dave Bryan for the photos. Dave curates a Titanium Salsa Mukluk both with self-engineered studded fat tires and a properly studded 29er wheelset with Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pros.

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

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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.

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Crosstown traffic

20120105-134343.jpg20120105-134412.jpg20120105-144818.jpgHouse sitting for three weeks; a load of clothing for two people, a computer, some books, and tools allowed me to dust off my panniers and pack them full. I rarely require additional capacity beyond my Carradice saddlebag, but it’s nice to have the option. I rode the Chester Creek Trail, across Westchester Lagoon to the Coastal Trail, and a brief singletrack section “home” through Earthquake Park. I strapped one pannier tightly to the rack, and left the other to it’s own devices, literally. I recall what a bother it is to feel panniers jostling about behind me, and to listen to them rattling. Basic nylon gear straps– my favorites are the ones from REI– are the best solution.

Two inches of fresh snow over hardpack is great riding. Five miles across town, I only saw two skiiers and a biker– no traffic.

Playing with the Photosynth app for iPod/iPhone, stitching together photos to capture broad vistas which can then be edited to traditional panoramas.20120105-134759.jpg20120105-144253.jpg20120105-144426.jpg20120105-144513.jpg20120105-144528.jpg20120105-144638.jpg20120105-144724.jpg20120105-144742.jpg20120105-144809.jpg20120105-151013.jpg

Arctic urban cowboys

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Clear skies and a full week of zeros from the weatherman changes the game. Soaking down jackets from inside-out, sweating inside shoes, and icing neckwarmers in layer after layer of iced breaths are hazards of cold-weather activity. Some lessons from the first week: breathability counts, and down becomes useless without a vapor barrier beneath, and hands and feet can never have too much help when riding a bike in the cold. Gaiters are great, and help keep dusty snow-spray from the front wheel out of my shoes and off my shins. They make me look like a horseman, like Viggo Mortenson in Appaloosa, on a Pugsley; Lael wears a snowboarding helmet and looks like a Power Ranger. In sum, an arctic metal-cowboy and a cycling Power Ranger.

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Plastic-bodied pedals and balaclavas would help the feet and face from freezing when the bank sign says -13F. Other measures may be taken, but measures tend to cost money, unless I can get my hands on a sewing machine. Thinking about stitching up some insulated pogies.
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Note: Gary Blakley, of the seasonally frigid Del Norte, CO suggests these $13 pogies from Amazon, designed for ATV operators.  Local producers include Dogwood Designs, availaible online from Revelate Designs as well as local Alaska bike shops and outdoor stores including REI; Apocalypse Design of Fairbanks manufactures a line of Arctic gear and Bike Toasties, their version of the pogie.

A brighter day than usual

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A ride about town and a lingering sunrise a little after noon. Gaining less than two minutes of sun per day, but in a week it’ll be almost three, and then four and five and almost six. A truism fit for The Smiths: some days are brighter than others.

The bridges pictured are the Seward Highway, for which the Campbell Creek Trail has no official passage, dead-ending on either side of the highway. Unofficially, and with great enjoyment, one rides atop the frozen creek under four overpasses.
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