As high as possible: Anchorage, AK

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

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

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

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

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Thank you bridge elves!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I continue further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Down, to the lower Hillside Trails.

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Down, and across Campbell Creek.

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

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

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

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

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.

Zero below and a new bar

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A month ago we were all talking about how the city had doubled it’s seasonal snowfall to date, with over 90 inches by mid-January. The local newspaper now reports this January to be one of the coldest on record, with an average temperature of 2.7deg through this past Saturday. Zeroes are expected through the end of the month, holding strong for the cold team.

Fairbanks has averaged -25.8deg this month.

When the weatherman calls for -2 or -4, I don’t sweat the details and simply call it zero below.

I have worked at a bike shop since two weeks ago, assembling bikes for the much anticipated spring season. The anticipation begins as soon as the first snowfall, and everybody wishes they could take a vacation during spring break-up. Lots of fatbikes and studded tires roll through the bike shop, but lots of other stuff too. More people are riding bikes in Anchorage this winter than I realized, on barely working old Schwinns, recumbents, and a jolly fat guy commuting on a bike built for jolly fat guys– I replaced three spokes on the rear wheel.

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A cure for my tennis elbow came in the form of a new bar for the Pugsley with a bit more width and a little more sweep, although not as much as I’d like. It’s the Salsa Bend 2 bar, with 17deg of sweep. This is my first bar with an oversized clamp diameter and on my ride home, I calculated 31.8mm to be 1 1/4 inches (I hadn’t thought about it before). Despite metric expressions, why are we still designing bike parts to English dimensions? A good answer is that it doesn’t matter, but I note that it’s not simplifying anything if it’s just an inch and a quarter translated into mm. Of course, 22.2 is seven-eights of an inch, 25.4mm is an inch and 26.0 is an example of a European standard in a simple metric increment.

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