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!