Adventure and photography from the HLC to the Tour Divide

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Lael arrived in Banff earlier this week, 19 days and 2140 miles from Anchorage, less than a month after arriving in Alaska from Israel, less than 2 months since the start of the HLC, less than a year since we left Alaska for Eastern Europe.   She will return to Alaska within a year, but twenty countries, twelve months, and 15,000 miles richer, for what it’s worth.  

Riding from the north of Israel back toward Tel Aviv last month, we prepared an evening event informally called Bikepacking Night in Israel.  I found a small printer in Tel Aviv named Panda Labs, so as to display a series of photographic clouds comprising “Three Months on the HLC”, hung from a broad section of agricultural netting.  The installation was assembled last minute, not exactly as planned, but as I should have expected it would happen when trying to plan a small art show and a presentation while traveling by bike in a foreign country.  Special thanks to Amir for offering such a spectacular garden setting in Kfar Sirkin, and for helping with all the logistics including the dusty pile of netting and box full of paperclips.  Photos were available for sale, and all HLC2015 riders were given a portrait from the event.  Klaus, you still need to send me your mailing address in Germany!

Following the talk a group of riders rolled into the nearby forest to camp, surrounding a campfire for several hours before sleep.  In the morning, the group rode back toward Tel Aviv, losing members as each found his way to home or work.  Ilan and Nir led us all the way back into the center of Tel Aviv.

Thanks to everyone that attended the event.  A special thanks to everyone that rode to the event, that camped in the forest and shared their bikepacking experience with others, that attempted or completed the HLC, and that brought beer to share.  Most of all, thanks to the trailbuilders and organizers of all the great trail resources in Israel, especially the IBT, the Adulam singletrack, and the Gilboa Mountain singletrack.  Thanks to all the camels that have beaten trails into the Negev and Judaean deserts over the years, and for the Sugar Trail.  Special thanks to Yaron Deri from Kibbutz Samar for his crew’s addition to the IBT in the past years, and for his fervent passion for long-distance mountain bike trails.  The Israel Bike Trail is a world-class resource and makes a trip to Israel especially worthwhile.  Thanks to Limor Shany for knowledge of “every stone in Israel”, and the associated GPS data which comprises the HLC track to connect Mt. Hermon and Eilat in the least direct way possible.  Thanks to Zohar Kantor for the extraordinary passion required to ignite the concept of the HLC, after returning from the Tour Divide in 2012.  Lastly, thanks to Ilan Tevet who is the premier social mechanic in relation to the execution of the HLC event and our time in Israel.  He first invited us here last October, he welcomed us on a ride around the Negev desert a week after we arrived, he has invited us into his home, to local rides, to make a public presentation about bikepacking, and to come back to Israel again some day.

Later that evening, after arriving in Tel Aviv with Ilan and Nir, we packed our bikes in boxes and caught a ride to the airport.  Within 48 hours, I was building a new bike for Lael in Anchorage.  In just over a week, she rolled out of town toward Banff.  Thanks to Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs for crafting some of the finest custom luggage for Lael, again.  The waterproof liner from my MacPack was recycled into a liner for Lael’s seatbag.  Eric, Christina, Tamra and I rolled out of town with Lael to Palmer, met by Stacy along the way.  From Palmer, we gave Lael a giant push toward Mexico.  She’s nearly halfway there, taking the week in Canmore to rest and prepare for the next phase of the ride.  Lael rode every single day from Anchorage to Banff.  In that time, I worked every single day at The Bicycle Shop, an apt and essential antidote to her ride.  We’re both working hard, hoping to be back on the bikes full-time this fall.  

Settled back into Anchorage life means evening rides at Kincaid with friends, an eclectic mix of bikes everywhere I turn, and the chance to be part of a place which I nearly call home.  The week after Lael left town, I helped a family of eight prepare bikes for a tour of the Great Divide route.  The group includes three Salsa Fargos, six framebags, two BOB trailers, and one rider that is only 11 years old.  We tuned the bikes, prepared them with luggage, and boxed all of them for the flight.  As of yesterday, they had made it to Fernie, B.C. and will be rolling across the border soon.  Whitefish, Helena, Butte!– look out for my crew from Alaska.  Tour Divide riders will rapidly catch them in the first few days of the race.

I was also able to attend Dan Bailey‘s presentation at The Trek Store about his new book Outdoor Action and Adventure Photography, published by Focal Press.  The book is a detailed 300 page crash-course in the technical photographic elements of outdoor action photography, professional considerations, and suggestions for more engaging creative imagery.  This is a text book that reads like spending hours with Dan around a campfire, which Jill Homer almost called a “page-turner”, almost.  Dan has been published in many places and has managed to make a living with the camera.  Purchase a copy of the book through Dan’s Amazon portal by linking from his site, above.  The book is especially recommended for all of the local Anchorage scenery, including snowy singletrack, photo shoots of Eric Parsons atop the Chugach Mountains, and creative perspectives of Amy doing just about everything, especially trail running.

Back to Israel. 

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Yinon, if you recall the rider with the broken rear derailleur hanger that arrived on the beach in Eilat, found a more reliable steed in this 25 year old commuter.  Every one of his kids have grown up on the back of this bike.

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Alternatively, everyone was excited to rub shoulders with local cycling celebrity Chanoch Redlich, who arrives in Calgary this week as the sole Israeli competitor in this year’s Tour Divide.  In our three months in Israel, everyone would ask if we know Chanoch.  Now we do.  He is riding a Trek Superfly hardtail.  

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BYO Zba Beer, the mountain biker’s preferred beverage in Israel.

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 Lael and Chanoch, an excitable pair.  They’ll be the center of attention among the Israeli bikepacking community this June.  Keep track of the Tour Divide through the recently formed Tour Divide Israel Watch Facebook page.  Should be some fun with Google Translate to decipher the Israeli perspective.   

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Shay provided a custom brew for the HLC2015, a gift to Lael.

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Shay rode the entire HLC route last year in 15 days.  I’m told there were two exciting rides last year, Chanoch’s record-setting win and Shay’s ride.  As others stumbled two, three and five days into the event, Shay steadily rode to Eilat and shared his experiences every night, inspiring many local riders.

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Anywhere you ride in Israel, the 4Epic community is well represented.  Endurance events are not uncommon, but the HLC is still an extreme concept to many riders.  It was nice to meet new people, say goodbye to old friends, and share experiences.  It was nice to see the images, like the simple printed pictures we once shared as families.  In a country so connected by smartphones and WhatsApp and Facebook, I am happy to provide tangible media to share.

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Tangible media.

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Lael and Niv, two of the strongest riders at the HLC2015.

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Clean up, roll out, camp.

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Teaching the young ones to crack a bottle of beer with an SPD pedal, an essential bikepacking skill.

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Amidst growing suburban central Israel, there remain small wild spaces, old limestone roads, and ruins.

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And hummus, this local plate provided by the famous Gingi.  

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Rolling into town, the group dwindles.  

Dotan, the photographer, with his Surly Ogre.  He uses a Chariot trailer to transport his daughter, inspired by Cass Gilbert.

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Ophir, the tidiest bikepacker in Israel, who Lael and I nicknamed “Sylvester” on a series of rides before we learned his name.  When we told him he looked like Stallone he said, “but he doesn’t have my muscles”.  

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Singles into Tel Aviv.  For such a small country, these guys know how to make the most of it, like kids who know all the secret trails through fences, along the river, and under the highway

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Nir, the steady singlespeeder who crushed the last 32 hours from Mizpe Ramon to Eilat, poses for one last photo.  He almost resisted raising his hand to wave, his photobombing trademark.

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Tel Aviv is one of the most orderly and pleasant cities I’ve visited, much like the Netherlands, but with better weather.

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Ilan shepherds us through the city to collect spices and dates to bring home.  The small markets on Levinsky Street are a good place to start.

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The rapidly growing metro areas in central Israel feature world-class cycling facilities.

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30 hours later, over the Kenai Peninsula.

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Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna, and the Tordrillo Mountains; 11:30PM, May 4 taken above Anchorage, AK

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Christina is at the airport for the exciting reassembly of muddy bikes, and the chilly ride across town.  My chainring is damaged in transit, although I don’t realize until we pedal away at 1 AM.  A rock from the roadside takes care of things.

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By 10AM the next morning, we are unpacking a box with Lael’s name on it at The Bicycle Shop.

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Late that night, the nearly complete build is finished.  Before leaving town, it is important to adjust the fit and ensure all the systems can solidly support 5000 miles of riding between here and Mexico.

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Lael spends the week planning and preparing for her ride, alongside running, doing yoga, and spending time with family.  Sadly, she just missed seeing Joshua on his Specialized Hotwalk which we bought before we left town last summer.  Joshua is ripping up and down the sidewalk, and confidently lifts both of his feet to coast down the local DH tracks (driveways).  He’ll be pedaling a bike later this summer. 

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The local CBS affiliate, KTVA-11, took an interest in Lael’s summer plans.  If you missed it, check out the segment on the KTVA website.

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Days before leaving, Eric traces Lael frame.  Lael has requested a few simple features which will keep her equipment out of the weather yet easy to access.  It is cool to see prototype tech come to production Revelate Designs product.  The new Ranger and Tangle framebags will use a narrow section of elastic soft-shell fabric, also waterproof, which stretches to reduce strain on the zipper and to ensure smooth operation.  Lael’s framebag for the last 7 months of touring featured two of these elastic panels– on either side of a large YKK zipper.  The slider operates more smoothly than any other framebag we’ve used, and it slides as well as it did on Day 1.  Keep your eyes on Revelate Designs for some significant advances in waterproof features, coming soon.    

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In usual fashion, Eric crushes the race to the finish and lays the last few stitches before leaving town.

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Eric and Becky study the rig before final departure.  These two comprise half of the Revelate team in Anchorage.  Zach and Dusty are the other two, although Dusty is almost always climbing mountains, it seems.  Revelate only recently moved out of Eric’s garage and into a larger commercial space in Midtown Anchorage.

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A quick stop at The Bicycle Shop to say thanks.  Mike Shupe has owned the shop since 1964, and built the current structure on W Northern Lights Blvd in 1974.  He once hosted Ian Hibell in his home at the end of his groundbreaking trek from Argentina to Alaska, back in the early ’70s.  During the summer months, Mike works seven days a week in the service department acting as the essential bridge between technical service and customer service.  He commutes nine miles by bike most days, riding a carbon Salsa Beargrease through the winter months.  Mike grew up with Lael’s uncle, and her grandparents would gas up their sedan at the service station which Mike’s family owned.  In Alaska, this is old-time history.  The earliest white settlements in the Anchorage bowl date to 1914, Alaska statehood was not a reality until 1959.

Thanks to Ray, Chris, and Mike at The Bicycle Shop for helping with all the pieces and parts, ordered while we were still in Israel.   

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The roll out with Eric and Christina on the Chester Creek trail.

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Waiting for Tamra.

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Cruise through Chugiak, Peter’s Creek, and Eklutna; Stacy meets us on the Old Glenn Highway along the Knik River, leading us to her home in Palmer for the night.  

My Hope hub, a year later, is making some horrendous noises.

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Still talking…

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Almost there, but not before a quick stop at the new Palmer pump track, on a Trek Madone.

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Thanks for hosting us Stacy and Scott!  You can see the Knik Glacier from their home.

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Kevin Murphy, a friend from Anchorage and long-time veteran of Paramount Cycles has moved out to Palmer to join the Backcountry Bike and Ski family.  A few other friends have left town in the time that we were gone.  Lael’s gone to find Lucas and Monica, who now live in Silver City, NM at the south end of the Divide.  

Kevin is a riding a newly built Surly Instigator with RockShox Pike fork, Hope hubs, Velocity Dually rims, and only one speed.  He cycles through new bikes faster than the seasons change in Alaska, and is already talking about a new full-suspension Evil, a titanium Kona Rove, a new 27.5 Trek Farley fatbike, and a custom build on the new Trek Stache+ frame (yes, the one with the 405-420mm chain stays!).  Kevin is a super rad rider and one of the greatest cycling ambassadors in AK, from downhill runs at Alyeska, 200 mile Iditabike races, and local group rides.  There is no limit to how much Kevin is willing to talk about bikes, which is great for me.

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Lael realizes the next morning in Palmer that she has forgotten her passport.  My Hope hub has decided after twelve months of use that it is finished and will no longer freewheel; the wheel wobbles dramatically from side to side.  A drive side bearing collapsed, after weeks of creaking.  We hitch a ride back into Anchorage to retrieve the passport.  Christina grabs a demo Trek Domane from the Trek Store where she works.

After giving Lael a big push toward Mexico, Christina and I turn back toward Anchorage. 

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Yeah, road bikes are fun.  The Trek Domane promises a controlled, compliant ride via a flexible seat tube design operating on the IsoSpeed decoupler.  It rides nice, but compared to a well worn Brooks saddle, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.  I’d be curious to compare it to the heralded Specialized Roubaix or the new carbon Diverge, or the new carbon Salsa Warbird.  Lael and I have a series of road rides planned at some point.  I’ll let her tell you about that later.

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I’ve been working every day since Lael left town, although there is always a little time at the end of the day for a ring around Kincaid.  After a day indoors, it is never enough just to loop around the shaded wooded flow trails.  I really like to get up on the Bluff Trail to feel the open space of the peninsula.  Cait is rocking it on the sandy trail with her Surly Karate Monkey Ops, which packs an extra punch on custom built Velocity Dually rims and Nobby Nic tires. 

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Dan Bailey shares an evening at The Trek Store, with stories from almost twenty years as a professional photographer and outdoor enthusiast.  He once spent a lot of time climbing, shooting both rock and ice climbing.  More and more, his subjects are on two wheels.  He rides a new Salsa Fargo 2, purchased last summer.  

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Pick up a copy of his new book Outdoor Action and Adventure Photography.  Click through the Amazon links on his blog to purchase the book, that’s how he makes the most from the sale.

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In a perfect union of all of my interests and skills, a family of eight riders are planning to lay tracks from Banff to New Mexico this summer, over a period of ten weeks.  There are three Salsa Fargos with suspension forks, a Cannondale 29er, a Specialized Jett 29er, one Specialized Hard Rock, a Kona Lava Dome, and a folding Dahon hardtail.  All bikes are packed with Revelate Designs equipment, most bikes support a rear rack, and several bike are fitted with skewers to connect one of two BOB trailers which will be used.  The youngest rider is 11 years old.  Best of luck to the Todd family!  I heard from them the other day as they pedaled across the border from Canada back into the USA.

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Lots of cycletourists are passing through Anchorage this time of year, especially those foolhardy riders who plan to ride all the way from Alaska to Argentina.  I intersect this French couple on my way to Kincaid one night, less than a mile from the airport, where they had recently arrived from France.  I’ve met others this summer from Germany, Austria, France, Alabama, Montana, and Taiwan.

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It’s summer, so get out and ride!

Press play: Israel, Alaska, and Mexico

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Lael stands in one place long enough to answer a few questions for KTVA correspondant Jake Edmonds.  Click the images below to external links for words, images, and videos.

Home for less than two weeks, our worlds have shifted and drifted, greatly.

Our final days in Israel were consumed with visiting our closest friends and preparing a presentation about bikepacking and our unique seven year odyssey by bike, including a printed photo exposition entitled “Three Months on the HLC”.  I will have some photos for sale via the blog in the next few weeks.  Following the program we joined a group of riders to camp in a local forest.  We rode into Tel Aviv the next morning, packed our bikes by evening, and were at the airport sleeping on a bench by 1AM, to awake within three hours to check-in for our flight.  By the following morning– including the 11 hour reversal of westward travel– I was building a new bike for Lael.

Lael has chosen to connect a few more dots before the year is done.  Traversing South Africa on high-quality dirt roads, with tailwinds at our back, we talked about the annual escapade of the Tour Divide.  I talked years ago about how my abilities as a cyclist are well matched to that event, but my knees and my personal outlook no longer support such missions.  Lael is on an upswing, honing skills and discovering abilities which build upon her lifelong foundation of fitness.  The HLC proved some previously unknown abilities.  Her road rides last summer broke the ice.  The Fireweed 400 in 2014 was the racing spark.  There is something out there for her and she’s gone to find it.

Moreover, Lael has never ridden from Alaska to the lower 48, she has only ridden about 500 miles of the Great Divide, and she is not yet ready to commit the summer to working in Anchorage.  She departed Thursday on a new bicycle for Banff, Alberta where she will intercept the Tour Divide on June 12.  She’ll continue along the Great Divide route to New Mexico, touching the border of Mexico before focusing herself back towards Anchorage via plane.

At one point, I suggested that we might embark on a period of travel lasting as much as a year.  Even after all of this, Lael will likely return to Alaska within twelve months of leaving last July.  Oh, the things that happen in less than a year.

An exciting round of media follows us out of Israel and back into the USA, hopefully acting as tailwinds along Lael’s ride from Alaska to New Mexico.

KTVA Daybreak

Local CBS affiliate KTVA, Channel 11, invited us onto the Daybreak morning program to discuss out pattern of travel, the last ten months of pedaling, and Lael’s plans to leave the state by bike.  We awoke at 4:30AM to caffeinate and ride to the studio by 6AM.  It was a positive experience considering neither of us have ever embraced public speaking.  It is always great to share positively about the bicycle lifestyle, especially in Anchorage.  Thanks to meteorologist Brett Shepherd for connecting the dots.  Brett is a cycling enthusiast who has worked hard to help promote cycling at the station whenever possible.  The day we were in the studio, his 7-day forecast included a small bicycle icon on the day of the popular Clean Air Challenge ride.  Thanks Brett!

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KTVA Evening News

In the same day, Lael was asked to participate in a segment for the evening news for the same station.  News correspondent Jake Edmonds arrived by himself with a series of cameras and microphones.  He captured some footage as we fit aero bars to Lael’s bike, attached a Go Pro for the sidewalk test rides along Northern Lights Boulevard, and interviewed Lael in the parking lot.  Jake took great care to capture reality, and the 3 minute segment is really fun to watch.  “Lael Wilcox likes to ride bikes.”  Thanks Jake!

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 weRide

Lael’s first two and a half days on the HLC almost broke the internet in Israel.  People were excited to watch her pink balloon tracking across the screen, in spite of the fact that she didn’t look serious, didn’t wear cycling kit, and didn’t carry much equipment.  Moreover, it helped break stereotypes and pressures faced by female athletes in that country, and back home.  There are relatively few women riding mountain bikes in Israel, which is an otherwise socially progressive society.  Check out this article about Israeli-American mountain bike racer and journalist Laurie Copans.

Noa Luria interviewed Lael one evening in the north of Israel, when we visited HLC competitor and friend Niv Amos, who finished first in the southern portion of the event.  Noa provides an exact representation of Lael’s words, coaxed through thoughtful questioning, and presents them among a series of my images.  The title of the article translates approximately to “An Incidental Heroine”, an expression which Noa says is a literal translation of a Hebrew expression.  The article is presented in the new Israeli cycling e-magazine weRide, Issue #11 (page 138, “flip” the digital pages to the right) .  Thanks to editor Arik Feldman for stitching the story together.  An English translation of the text is now available.

Also, check out Ilan Tevet’s account from the HLC immediately following this article.

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Lael’s Globe of Adventure

Finally, Lael has published a series of posts on her blog from the HLC.  Check out Rain in Arad, Sandwiches, Take No Prisoners, and Arwa.  One story remains and will be published from the road.

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Lael left town on Thursday and is en route to Banff, Alberta via the Alaska, Cassiar, and Yellowhead Highways, finishing on the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff.

As of this morning, she was on her way to the Alaska/Canada border.  She camped beyond Tok and Tetlin Junctions last night.  Press play, to Mexico.

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Alaska Smorgasbord (Last chance, AK)

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Whatever time is left before leaving, will always be filled.  Our bikes were ready to ride weeks ago, but in the interim, I’ve built them to be even better.  New tires, chain, cassette, chainrings, bottom bracket, shifters, brake levers, and brake pads are all fit to Lael’s bike; water storage and lighting systems designed and built for mine; and thanks to Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs, I’m in possession of the most advanced off-pavement touring bags ever.  We’ll talk more on this later, but the framebag doesn’t have a zipper and the seatpack fits a Macbook Air.  After 6 years, I’m finally rack-free and zipper-lite.  Zipper-free 2015?  

Whatever space is made on the bicycle, will always be filled.  As such, I’m running a slimmer kit than usual, but with a longer travel fork and wider rims and tires.  Lael has done the same.  By design, the bikes can do more without any weight gain.  It should be a fun summer of riding.

Our final weeks in Anchorage are busy, as expected.  I’ve worked six to seven days week since late March, finding limited time to ride, write, and plan.  Lael and I finished work a week before our scheduled departure.  We spent three days hurriedly preparing for “The Art of Bikepacking” event.  I printed photos and we prepared a program and food for over 100 people.  Eric talked about sewing and biking.  Dan talked about taking pictures, and biking, and carrying olive oil around Spain in panniers (a good use for panniers, if any).  I read from my article in Bicycle Times.  If ever a sign that people enjoyed themselves, the beer was gone before we started talking.  The food was gone by the end of the night.  Good times with great people, talking about bikes.  Thanks to Surly, Velo Orange, Adventure Cycling, Revelate Designs, Midnight Sun Brewery, and Bunyan Velo for providing great prizes.  Thanks to Eric, Dan, Jamin, Lael and all the guys at The Bicycle Shop, Dimond for all the help.

Thereafter, we did everything else that needed to be done before leaving.  On the last day, I’m sifting though giveaway piles and bank receipts and gear bags, trying to make the most of a big mess.  As I put the last staple into our bike boxes outside The Bicycle Shop, Eric rings the final bell, barely completing a game-changing seatpack at 2:39 in the afternoon.  We hitch a ride from Lael’s sister to the airport at 2:45.  We are drinking Warsteiner over the North Pole– en route to Frankfurt– by dinnertime.

In spite of the sprint to the finish, there are some fun memories from our last weeks in town.

On the 4th of July, choosing not to leave town with everyone else, I choose a mellow pedal over Powerline Pass.  The pile of snow at the top of the pass is visible from Midtown Anchorage– from my work, from the grocery store, and the bank, and all the way home on my commute.  I wanted to ride over the pass before leaving town.  

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Goats in the distance.

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Good thing some real tires are in the mail.  This happened just 50 yards from the top of the pass.    

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Visiting my friend Harrison at Fatbikes.com and 9zero7, I am shown a prototype of the new 170mm Rohloff hub for fatbikes.  I’ve seen images of the internals, and as you may expect it is a standard 135mm hub with an oversized shell and an internal spacer.  Some people are really excited for this hub. 

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Following Lael’s big win at the Fireweed 400, we join several hundred at the Bear Tooth Theatre for an awards ceremony.  A film from this years race was especially fun for Lael’s nephew Joshua, who now thinks that every woman in an aero helmet is “Lael!”.  

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Since Joshua failed to win the raffle for an Ultegra road wheelset at the event (he was disappointed), we went looking for a more suitable pair of wheels for the 2-year old.  A 12″ wheel balance bike is just the ticket.  Letting a little guy pick out his own bike is a challenging request.  At one point he wanted a pink bike with training wheels, and then a 26″ wheel bike.  We finally settle on a red pair of 12″ wheels without pedals.

Learning to hike a bike.

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He’s also learning to coast.  Mostly, he walks slowly, barely letting his feet off the ground, although a growing level of familiarity shows that he will soon be coasting on his own.  Some coaxing from dad teaches him what it is all about.

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Mostly, ride within your means and stay safe.  The rest is fun and games.  No little kids were injured in the documentation of this event.  He barely even cried.

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Jada also receives a new bike, thanks to Aunt Lael.  Her XS 26″ wheel bike elevates her riding to a whole new level.  The other day she rode 9 miles out to Kincaid Park, and 11 miles home.  

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Wheelies!  These kids will be missed.

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The Art of Bikepacking event was a huge success.  Afterwards, we dismantled the web of photos.  I’ve since sent over 100 photos all around the world.

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That evening, we also displayed a variety of bikes packed for adventure.  I especially like this father-son overnight pairing.  A couple of small handlebar rolls would round out the system for a summertime romp.  The 20″ wheel Specialized Hotrock is wearing a Jandd Frame Pack in reverse.

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Lael’s new favorite, the carbon Specialized Ruby.  This is much like the bike she borrowed for her road rides this spring and summer.

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These two Salsa Vaya bikes compare a traditional rack and pannier system to a lightweight bikepacking approach.  Next time we plan an event like this, I hope to pack bikes with actual camping gear and allow test rides.

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Thanks to everyone that participated.  It was especially impressive to see so many customized bikes and luggage systems outside.  A bike with some trail grit says much more than an unridden bike on a showroom floor.

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Standing room only with nearly 120 or 130 people.

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I told everyone to ride to the event.  Dan rode in on his new Salsa Fargo 2.  Once he finishes the final draft of his book on adventure photography, Dan and his Fargo are going on an extended bike trip.

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The same weekend, an army of singlespeeders from around the world descend into Anchorage for SSWC.  It’s a wild bunch.  It involves a lot of beer, and very few gears.

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This Surly 1×1 is one of my favorites of the weekend.  It features 40mm Spank rims and 2.75″ Surly Dirt Wizard tires.  Simple and durable– 26″ wheels aren’t dead yet.

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This custom titanium Moonmen frame blends the function of a fatbike with the aesthetic of a BMX bike.  The frame is 100% gorgeous, with features similar to some Black Sheep designs.  No wonder, as Moonmen is a new company in Fort Collins, CO with ten years experience working at Black Sheep.

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Chain tensioner and demontable design.  100mm BB and 135mm rear end= SS specific, or maybe a few gears on an SS hub.

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On Thursday afternoon, we all roll over to the new Revelate Designs shop on Fireweed for some silk-screening, sewing, and of course, beer.  Eric hosted a DIY silk-screening party to show off the new space.  Despite their appearance, the Surly folks are always amazingly kind.

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That evening, registration for the event (not to be confused with a race) was held at Speedway Cycles. home of the Fatback.  This custom painted carbon Corvus frame is dressed in prototype Maxxis Chronicle 29×3.0″ tires on Surly Rabbit Hole rims, singlespeed.  Those big yellow letters inspire confidence, and elicit excitement.  Maxxis EXO tires are awesome.

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A Corvus hanging from the ceiling also wears a pair of prototype Maxxis fatbike tires.  Looks like an Ardent for a fatbike, nice.

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Out on the trail, I spot this 2016 Surly prototype.  It looks to be a carbon fatbike frame with a forward thinking trail geometry, or is it a dedicated lightweight 29+ adventure bike?.  Not sure on the spec of the Surly suspension fork, but it appears to fit a full fatbike tire as well as this 29×3.0″ Knard.  The new Surly carbon cranks look nice.

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Meet at the Midnight Sun Brewery for a ride.

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Ride familiar trails out the Campbell Tract and onto the Hillside STA trails.

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Speedway Trail.

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Visiting from Germany.

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Slovenia.

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Dressed for the “race”.

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Race kit.

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Mandatory race stop.  Ok, this isn’t the race.  That happens sometime on Saturday or Sunday, or whenever Dejay wants it to happen.  Some people think waiting to know is fun and funny, others prefer more order.  Rumor says, the race start will be announced at the Carousel Bar at last call on Saturday night at 2:45AM.  This editorial about SSWC on the Bike Mag website is the best I have read

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Friday is also Lael’s birthday.  

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Then back to the SSWC festivities.  We weren’t officially involved, although me manage to intercept more than a few rides and activities in our last few days in town.

This qualifier involves a bike and a blindfold and about 100 people.

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This guy decides when things happen.  Or, they just happen.  

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Stay between the orange barrier.  Wear a costume if you want.

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Or not.

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More places in Anchorage you won’t read about in a Lonely Planet guidebook.  SSWC, if nothing else, was a nice way to discover Anchorage trails and dive bars. 

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On Saturday, we rallied a few friends together for a ride up to Resurrection Pass from Hope.

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Our food stop before leaving town was an Asian-import store.  Who knows what’s inside the Muay Thai energy drink, but it seems to be working.

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This trail isn’t too overgrown, for Alaska.  Some of this stuff is itchy and prickly.

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Christina is the ever-ready ringleader.  She was the crux of Lael’s support crew for the Fireweed 400.

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She’s riding her brand new Trek Fuel EX.  After a shoulder injury from a collision with a car in SF, she’s happy to be back on the bike.

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Up near the pass, we head back down to the trailhead with a chance of rain.  As we arrive at 11PM, rain is falling steadily.  

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We return to Anchorage in time to find out when the SSWC race will take place.  With bleary eyes, we enter the Carousel Lounge at 2AM, past a huge bike pile.  The bar is full of drunken singlespeeders, costumes, a metal band, and a mosh pit.  I’m all gears and country-rock, I discover.   

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The last two days in town are a blur.  Fix stuff, sell stuff, give stuff away, organize stuff, mail stuff, visit people, drill holes in stuff,  ride bikes, pack bikes, sleep little.  Looking forward to less stuff in my life, and more riding.  It has been a busy winter, spring, and summer.  Hopefully we’ll find a few more months of warm sunny days.  

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Eric completes a very special framebag the day before we leave town.  We’d talked about a special seatpack as well.  What time do you leave tomorrow?

5PM.

Oh, plenty of time.  See you tomorrow.

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30 minute box job, times two.  Receive seatpack from Eric.  Ride to the airport.  Check in.  Take a seat on the plane.  Sleep.  

By now, we’re somewhere in Slovakia, I hope.

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Yes, by now we are in Slovakia.  More soon!

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If you’re looking to keep up this summer, keep your eye on Lael’s Globe of Adventure for more current words and images.

Pushin’ it on the Fireweed 400

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You know the story of Lael’s recent discovery and infatuation with long-distance road riding.  In short, she couldn’t run due to an achy achilles so she borrowed her mom’s road bike, enjoyed it, then proceeded to ride every paved distance across the state, unsupported.

Since her two and a half day epic from Fairbanks back to Anchorage, she embarked on a 220mi ride from Anchorage to Homer, reaching the end of the highway in 24 hours.  Leaving town at 1PM, she planned to ride through the night and if she wanted to rest her eyes, she would do so in the heat of the morning sun when a sleeping bag is no longer necessary and the mosquitoes might have subsided.  As such, she carried very little on the bike and rode quickly and efficiently, while leaving time to take pictures and nap for a few hours.

This past week, less than ten hours before the registration for the Fireweed 400 race closed, Lael jumped into the ring.  Again, she borrowed her mom’s Specialized Ruby Elite road bike, mounted a pair of carbon wheels borrowed from a friend’s brand new, unridden Trek Madone.  She also borrowed a pair of carbon aero bars, an aero helmet, and a couple extra layers in the likely event that she got soaked.  The forecast called for rain, and more rain.  About the only thing that she brought to the race are her own legs and lungs, and her new favorite Sidi shoes.  She pulled the sagging broken Cannondale saddle and shiny new carbon seat post from her mountain bike and slid it into place on Ruby.  When the sun came out for a couple hours, she stripped down to a vintage purple track jersey that I acquired at Cortland High School.  The Cortland Purple Tigers would be proud.

The course traverses mountains and interior Alaska, cresting Thompson Pass and descending to sea level at Valdez.  The full 400 mile race returns by the same route, climbing 2500ft out of Valdez in several miles, in the middle of the night, in the rain.

The only other female competitor, Janice Tower, is a local legend of the endurance scene.  She is also the former record holder.  Lael says to herself as strategy, “I’m going to stay on the bike and eat like it’s my job”.

And she raced!  She rode hard but not too hard, and stayed on the bike, and ate like it was her job.  She kept her Revelate Gas Tank filled and she says, “I never ran out of gas”.  Forty two miles from the finish, a woman in an aero helmet passed her.  She thought it was JT, the legend.  Lael dropped the hammer and pushed to the finish as hard as she could, passing the rider in the aero helmet and a few others.

She finished a few seconds over 27 hours, completing the full 386mi distance only twelve minutes behind the fastest male competitor, who was riding a recumbent.  The rider in the aero helmet was actually a competitor on the 100mi race, who must have been surprised when a 400miler raced her to the end.  She bested Janice by more than an hour, although it seems Janice may have had a “distressed stomach”, so says another competitor in the night, as they chatted at a road construction stop.  Janice still holds the second fastest female time on the course, just over 25 hours.

Completion of the Fireweed 400 in less then the maximum 33 hour cutoff time automatically qualifies for the Race Across America (RAAM).  “Yeah right”, says Lael.  She didn’t even expect to be riding a road bike this spring.

Thanks to Christina, Harrison and Laura for supporting Lael on the ride!

Photo and video: Christina Grande

 

The Art of Bikepacking: July 16, 2014 in Anchorage, AK

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Join us for an evening event celebrating bikepacking, photography, and travel.  Ride your bike to The Bicycle Shop on Dimond Blvd. on Wednesday July 16, 2014 at 7PM.  Pack the bike as if you were going on a big trip or a little trip, or a trek across town.  We’ll have things to talk about.  This is the week after the Fireweed 400 and the week before Singlespeed World Championships, so leave a little room in your schedule and invite out of town visitors.  

The evening will commence with food and drinks and conversation.  The program includes a diverse range of presentations including visual displays, stories, and expertise on routes, packing, planning, and photography.  Our personal bikes will be on display, packed for adventure.  As well, we’ll have an array of Salsa, Specialized, and Surly bikes packed for touring, commuting, and lightweight bikepacking.  Free food, beer, and gifts.  

Eric Parsons will share a personal history of Revelate Designs, including experiences from the trail, and from his years designing gear that works for himself and the rest of us.  Eric’s business has grown from a one-man custom operation to a rapidly expanding Anchorage-based company which supports adventurous and accomplished riders across the globe.  

Dan Bailey will share his expertise as an Alaskan adventurer and professional photographer.  His images inspire readers in magazines and commercial media, including recent credits in the Patagonia catalog and advertisements for the new Fujifilm X-T1 camera. 

Lael and I have prepared stories and a series of printed images from our exploratory summer of bikepacking in Europe.  This event happens less than a week before our return to find new routes (and food) in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe.  Come say hi, and goodbye.

Thanks to our event sponsors, we will be giving away a load of awesome gear from Surly, Salsa, Adventure Cycling, Revelate Designs, Velo Orange, and Bunyan Velo.  So far, there are steel touring racks, a winter wool cycling cap, lightweight luggage, water bottles and cages and socks and t-shirts and hats and stickers, and a complete Great Divide map set to give away.  I will also throw in some maps for the new Idaho Hot Springs Bikepacking Route from Adventure Cycling.  Ride your bike to the event for a chance to win!  

Finn says, get riding over to The Bicycle Shop, Dimond on July 16! 

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Photo: Eric Parsons

Summer in the city

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Carp is home for a few days.  The fishing boat needs some fixing; parts are on order from a custom shop in Seattle.  So far, the fishing is good.  

Meet at Carp’s casita.  Fine tune Cait’s new Karate Monkey in the yard, drinking beer and swatting mosquitoes. Roll in-town railroad singletrack to Tastee Freeze for french fries and a free cone, sitting in the grass.  Ride out to Kincaid to ride circles around circles on an amusing gang of bicycles: one older grey Pugsley that’s been around the block, a dinglespeed 1×1 with 26×2.75″ Dirt Wizard tires set-up tubeless to SnowCat rims, a shiny new spraytan orange Karate Monkey Ops, a rigid steel Voodoo, and my Krampus.  

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Alaska Randonneuse

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She rode her bike a lot, and took a few pictures. 

Her Achilles has been a little tight, although it is getting better.  At one point the snow was rotten and gone, and the dirt trails were too wet to ride, and running wasn’t the best way to heal.  She rolled her mom’s Specialized Ruby Elite out of the basement and took it for a ride.  A permanent smile on her face suggested that something about the experience was right.  She kept talking about doing one of the rides promoted by the local randonneurring club.

One day, she had the idea to take the train to Seward and ride the 127 miles back to Anchorage.  At dawn, she rolled out the door to the train station.  After a several hour train ride, and just over ten or twelve hours of riding into headwinds, she arrived back at home, elated.  Over the next few weeks, a similar pattern of impulsive big rides would continue.

Each morning that she planned to leave, I’d pack some snacks into her bag.  I’d nestle a small camera between Emergen-C packets and a well-used iPod.  Then, she rides.   

Seward-Anchorage 

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On this ride, Lael left home with a tattered fleece, which she planned to leave somewhere along the route.  Coming back towards town along Turnagain Arm, she purchased a cotton sweatshirt at a gas station late in the evening.  She arrived home wearing a “Deadliest Catch” hoodie.  

Lael wrote about her ride from Seward to Anchorage.  

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Anchorage-Palmer-Anchorage

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The following week, Lael pointed her tires towards The Valley.  She rode out of town with a friendly cycletourist we’d me the day before, en route to Argentina via Prudhoe Bay.  She and Scott left town in the late afternoon.  She arrived home at 1AM.

The Knik River looks very different in the summer.

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Fairbanks-Anchorage

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Another week later, Lael’s got another big idea.  As her mom is packing for a flight to Fairbanks for a week of professional training, she realizes a unique opportunity.  If she also flies to Fairbanks, with a bike, she can ride home, a total distance of nearly 370 miles.  The next morning at 6AM they are both on a flight to Fairbanks.  Lael begins pedaling the borrowed bike by 10AM.  She is back in town two and a half days later, barely half and hour late for work.

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These are familiar views to us, as we lived and worked here in the summer of 2009, just outside of Denali National Park.  The recipe for the strawberry-rhubarb coffee cake at McKinley Creekside Cafe (mi 224 on the Parks Highway) comes from Lael’s family.

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She also started clipping in, mostly the result of lots of rooty mountain bike trails.

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A late start on the second day means she is riding into the night.

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By 5AM, she arrives at her family’s rustic cabin via dirt roads.  The Ruby handles dirt well, she says.  This bike is the sister to the Roubaix in the Specialized family.

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Three hours of sleep is enough, before rolling towards home.  Ninety miles and eight hours later, she is expected to be at work.

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Back in town just in time, although a few minutes late to the job,  It has been a long commute, they’ll understand.

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All images: Lael Wilcox

Interview at The Bicycle Story

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More questions and answers, this time thanks to Josh Cohen of The Bicycle Story.  Curious to know about my next touring bike, where we will be riding later this summer, and how we started touring?  Check out the full interview entitled Nicholas Carman: Pedaling the World as a Gypsy by Trade.

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Photos: Lael Wilcox, Przemek Duszynski, and Nicholas Carman

Seven days of dirt

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The only antidote to working seven days a week is riding seven days a week.  Of course, you can imagine the resultant sleep schedule, especially as days grow longer than eighteen hours, technically.  On a clear night, the sky never goes completely dark.  On one night after work, I rode laps around the network of trails at Kincaid with some friends. As they turned towards home, I pointed my tires towards the beach to revive a smoldering campfire.  Out of my framepack I revealed a pack of sausages, buns, a bunch of carrots, and a small brick of cheese.  Lael rode out the Coastal Trail after work– after midnight– for a late evening dinner.  We enjoyed a never-ending twilight until turning home past 3 AM.  This is summer in Alaska.

This past week, I’ve chased trails every night of the week.  The riding is different and fun.  Dirt is different than snow.  Everyone I know was riding trails for the first time last week, except I was riding for the second, third, fourth…

Thanks to everyone who joined me last week, including Kevin, Lucas, Rob, Ryan, Henna, Jeff, Dan, Abe, Hobbs, Clint, Daniel, Brian, Charlie, and of course, Lael.  May the season be rocky and rooty for all.

Kevin is especially committed to riding.  We partnered on several rides to the Campbell Tract, Kincaid, and the Kepler-Bradley trails in the valley.  He’s putting some serious work on his new All City Macho Man Disc cross bike.  

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If only so I don’t forget what a great week it has been, and what great fun can be found in town, here is a quick tour of the local trails and characters.

 

Day 1: Work to Campbell Creek Trail, Campbell Tract trails, and home; with Kevin Murphy

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Day 2: Work to Coastal Trail, Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), home via Raspberry and C Street; with Kevin, Abe and Hobbs

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Day 3: Work to meet at Tastee Freeze for ice cream cone, to Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), to the Bluff Trail, then home via Middle Earth and the Coastal Trail; with Kevin, Rob, and Ryan (Abe, Hobbs, Erin; Clint and Laura on the trail)

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Day 4: Work to Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), then home via Raspberry and C Street; with Dan Bailey

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Day 5: Work to Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), then down the Bluff Trail to the beach at midnight to revive a smoldering fire, roast hot dogs and drink beers with Lael until 3AM, home via Coastal Trail; with Jeff and Henna, Lael meets after work past midnight, walks through intertidal waters to find me

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Day 6: Work to Coastal Trail to Kincaid STA trails (round and round and round), then home via Raspberry and C Street to Campbell Creek Trail, swimming in Campbell Creek; with Lucas O’Loughlin

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Day 7: Work, then catch a ride out to Kepler-Bradley Trails in Palmer to ride melange of trails amongst kettle lakes and glacial moraines, including buff flow trail, rooty singletrack, and wide XC ski trail; with Kevin Murphy, Charlie, Brian, and Daniel  

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Anyone planning to come up to Anchorage for Singlespeed World Championships (SSWC) in July?  The event will be held out at Kincaid, which hosts miles of fun trail and epic in-town scenery.

Anyone looking for a 19″ (Large) Mukluk near Anchorage?  It’ll be for sale next week.

Riding between the lines

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The snow is gone, no longer lingering in piles in the shadows; the trails are mostly wet, closed as a general rule until June 1st; and the pavement is dry, if a little dull.  But if we go looking, there are more than enough places to ride.

This week, Lael and I discovered a 3/4 mile section of gasline singletrack along the Alaska RR, following Fish Creek down to the Coastal Trail from Northern Lights Blvd.  After passing through a break in the fence– and a Posted sign– we connect to the paved Coastal Trail.  From there, a web of natural dirt tracks wander through the lowland forest near the coast at Earthquake Park, the result of many decades of dog walkers, bike riders, and homeless camps.

Moving towards my own concept of a dream bike, I pass the Surly ECR to Josh Spice, a friend from Fairbanks.  Josh is an avid fatbiker who thinks that rigid 29+ is the best thing ever for all kinds of riding (isn’t that right, Josh?).  As a Salsa-sponsored rider, he also owns a new carbon Beargrease and a Ti Fargo.  In the past, he has also spent time on a steel Fargo and an aluminum Mukluk, which alternated seasonally between full-fat and 29+ wheels.  His girlfriend Jen owns a Krampus and a Beargrease.  The ECR is set to become the everyday grunt, in contrast to the svelte Salsas in his stable.

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It its final iteration the ECR is dressed with Supernova dynamo lighting, powered by a Shimano dynamo hub; full 29×3.0″ Knard tires and Rabbit Holes rims, which make the most of the 29+ concept; a Surly OD crank ensures chain-to-tire clearance, even with a full range of mountain touring gears; Velo Orange thumb shifters power an 8sp Shimano drivetrain; BB7 brakes, Velo Orange Sabot platform pedals, Ergon grips, and a comfortable handlebar round out the build.  Josh immediately set about to improve the bike by adding a short-travel Thudbuster seat post, a rear rack, a King Cage top-cap water bottle mount, and a carbon Origin8 Space Bar OR.

In it’s final iteration, this bike is stable, solid, and surely Surly.  Most of what I said back in December is still true.  I’m looking for something a little more playful.

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Josh and Jen are in town for the weekend to pick up the bike, and visit friends.  Their visit coincides with a picnic I organized at The Bicycle Shop.

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Josh and Dan Bailey talk about cameras and Fargos all night.  Josh loves his Fargos, and Dan is buying one this week.  Dan knows cameras better than the rest of us, and is working on publishing a book on adventure photography before setting off on some long-term bicycle travel.  Everyone has something to share, and everyone has something to learn.

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Local rider Kevin Murphy has excelled in several winter races this past season, despite a background in DH riding.  He and I have been talking tubeless, 29+, suspension forks, carbon rims, and fatbikes all winter long.  Come summer, I should have a bike as a result of our discussions.

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The group gathers for a ride.

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We shoot for the dirt track near the RR.  It is some of the only dry dirt in town.

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Eventually, it ends near the Coastal Trail.  A little fence-hopping keeps things moving.

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In search of more dirt.

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Kevin is riding his new All-City Macho Man Disc, a drop-bar disc road bike with big tires, set-up tubeless of course.

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The ECR seems to be a good fit.  I am amazed at the Thudbuster.  I’ve test ridden a few on Fargos, and they never impressed me, but on an upright bicycle it remains very active for a plush perch.

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We race out to the bluffs at Pt. Woronozof, just in time to catch the sunset over Susitna.

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The next morning, we ride over to Dan’s house to inspect the Fuji X-T1 camera.  Hot scones are waiting, but only a couple of blocks away, we run into this alternative Alaskan school bus.  Eric Parsons is riding his son Finn to school on his Pugsley!  Finn’s Yepp seat even has a Mountain Feed Bag attached.  They have just returned from a short overnighter at Eklutna Lake.  Recently, they spent several weeks riding and traveling in Guatemala.

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Check out the Revelate Designs blog for some of the most heartwarming bikepacking photos ever.  See Finn wave at horses, see Finn ride singletrack, see Finn fist pump proudly after a long day and a big descent back to town.  (Photo: Eric Parsons)

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Earlier in the week I also ran into Eric and got the chance to test ride his new Salsa Warbird Ti.  The combination of titanium, carbon, and 35mm tires makes for a supremely comfortable road bike.  This may be the perfect Alaska road bike.

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Thanks to all for a great weekend!  I am also glad to find such a good home for the ECR.  Anyone looking for a Mukluk?

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