Arizona to Baja to Alaska to Trans-Am: From the tropics to the arctic and everything therein

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Alex warms fingers while pedaling over Cache Mountain Divide in the White Mountains Recreation Area north of Fairbanks, AK this spring.  After riding with us in Baja for two months, he joined us for several weeks of winter riding in Alaska.

Crossing the Mexican border at Tecate last December, we could not have known what was to come.  We weren’t planning to ride down the peninsula twice to make the Baja Divide, Lael wasn’t planning to race the Trans-Am.  And I couldn’t explain exactly how we had gotten there.  How, after five years, are we standing at the border gates with such great excitement to return to Mexico, hoping and knowing the desert will provide the opportunity to enjoy long restful nights and open roads.  Baja was a consolation for our other plans.  We’d tossed around lots of options, such as riding in Egypt and Sudan or wintering in Eastern Europe, but Lael had too recently attempted the Arizona Trail to commit to those kinds of trips.  So we went to Baja, and now we are here.  Specifically, Lael is standing adjacent to the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria, OR riding a carbon road bike with electronic shifting and no sleeping bag, planning to ride to Virginia as fast as she can.  And I’m in Alaska, rounding third on a three month commitment to The Bicycle Shop, before I jump on a plane to Newport News, VA to ride 13 miles to meet Lael at the finish in a few weeks.  If it works the way I’m planning, we’ll roll into Yorktown around the same time.  But I cannot really expect anything.  The only rule is the consistent progress of time and the consistent process of making decisions as they come.  It happens fast, and you have to act fast.  That’s as much as I know anymore.  It is a passionate and impulsive existence, and it moves fast.     

I had spent the summer working and Lael spent the summer racing, this is back in 2015, when she was riding an average of 175 miles per day down the Great Divide Route.  It was a great summer.  That’s how I remember it, at least, but there are heartstrings and missing fragments working to ease the hard memories and sweeten the great ones.  I remember collecting her from the end of the Divide, from the second ride when she traveled the route by herself and crushed it and she felt all alone.  That ride was bittersweet.  

We collected ourselves at the end of the summer in Alaska and landed in Las Vegas for a fun week at Interbike with the Revelate crew, followed by a week long bicycle ride to the start of the Arizona Trail by casual riding on paved roads and a few dirt tracks.  Arriving at Jacob Lake, AZ and making an out and back trip to the Utah border to officially high-five the northern terminus of the trail, we set out to complete the entire Arizona Trail.  We first contacted the Arizona Trail back in 2013, when we arrived via plane from Ukraine to Denver, hitched to Grand Junction, and rode Kokopelli and Lockhart Basin toward Arizona.  We traversed sections of the AZT, Coconino Loop, and the Black Canyon Trail down to Tucson.  But that was just a taste of the whole AZT which is best known for monumental challenges like the Grand Canyon and Oracle Ridge, along with more mundane challenges such as overgrown trail north of Oracle and mud-hardened hoof prints on the plateau near Mormon Lake.  But in between things you wouldn’t ever wish to do again, are things worth doing every day.  This time we would do them all.

By the time we rolled onto the Arizona Trail in the north, a brief conversation which had taken place a week earlier at Interbike was developing into a media project involving Lael and a solo time trial down the Arizona Trail later in the month. She should have been excited.  But the coming days and weeks of touring the route would leave her in tears.  The prospect of having to navigate the narrow, overgrown, rocky trail at night, at the end of October when daylight is limited to barely 10 hours a day was now a little more than challenging, and all of this at someone else’s request.  She could have said no, I suppose.  But it was her summer of Tour Divide racing that allowed her the opportunity to be involved with this project, this opportunity to work, and she needed the money.  The media project was sponsored by REI and Outside Magazine, and they connected Lael with a nice bike from Specialized.  Surely, you’re not asking her to race her blue bike?

The old blue bike, a secondhand Raleigh XXIX, had a hard life.  The fork was less than fully functional, the drivetrain worn out, the bike at all times had one broken brake lever, and not until after we gave the bike to our friend James in Flagstaff did he discover that the frame had a hole on the driveside chainstay.  Lael selected to ride a Specialized Era Expert Carbon on the AZT, a conscious decision to balance weight, the ability to endure long days yet still be efficient over more rideable terrain, and durability.  We received the bike via Absolute Bikes in Flagstaff, AZ and assembled it on the sidewalk across the street from the shop with a multitool, sans pedals.  I pushed Lael on the pedal-less bike over to Flagstaff Bike Revolution to begin the process of customization: installing dynamo lighting, wider handlebars, desert-worthy tubeless tires, custom luggage from Revelate Designs, and Lael’s tried and true cheap Cannondale saddle and NS Aerial Pro platform pedals.

The remainder of our Arizona Trail tour went well, except for the level of anxiety which resulted from the impending “media project”, as we called it.  Riding the AZT late in the fall, especially in the southern portion of the state, means you might be the first person through the remote trail after a scorching hot summer where recent monsoons have shaped the land.  These trails get little use in the summer.  There are thorny cacti and tall seedy grasses growing over the trail, making the path hard to find even in daylight, in some sections.  There are long sections of trail which are well defined, yet peppered with loose rock better suited to hiking than riding a bike.

We toured every inch of the trail up until Kentucky Camp, south of Tucson, where we bailed on our tour in search of a way north to Utah.  The project was set to begin with some filming in Flagstaff in two days, and Lael’s ride would begin two days later at the border.  We rode our bikes north to I-10 and to the Tucson Airport where a small rented Chevrolet carried us north to Flagstaff.  I paid the rental rate plus insurance and saved the receipts for future reimbursement.  We camped in Black Canyon City for the night, at the trailhead to the Black Canyon Trail where we had camped several years ago.  Arriving in Flagstaff the next day I negotiated a $25 hotel room for the night.

Flagstaff provided two days of rest, two days to film in-town sequences, and our last chance to get the bike and equipment perfect.  Rolling north to the border, we felt like we had done everything we could to prepare ourselves.  Lael was still a little tired, and the drive to the Stateliness Campground took longer than expected as I gassed the little Chevy through a series of erosion patterns in the road.  It rained for several hours during the night at the Stateline Campground, and Lael began her southbound AZT ITT about an hour before sunrise, immediately climbing 1500 ft onto the Kaibab Plateau.   The rest is documented in the short film “Fast Forward” produced by Talweg Creative for REI and Outside Magazine.  Thanks to Talweg for stellar videography and editing, and for telling such a compelling story,

After Arizona, we spent several weeks in Upstate New York visiting my family around Thanksgiving, planning our next move.  I pushed to return to Egypt and Sudan, but with only several major exit points from the region we would be committing to a long trip to access a reasonably priced flight out of Africa, probably arriving in Cairo and leaving from Addis Ababa.  Lael was still feeling tired from a season of big efforts, and I knew that Egypt would not be the most restful place to visit.  It takes energy to be in new places like that, and Lael was concerned that she would not be able to run freely and jump rope, realities of travel in Muslim countries.  We finally decided to return to Baja California.  Since traveling there in 2010, we had always talked about returning with the right bikes for the job.  We traveled there in 2010 on bikes which we assumed were capable of some off-pavement touring, mine a 1985 Schwinn High Sierra, hers a modern Surly LHT.  It was our first taste of true off-pavement touring, and we were hooked, but the riding did not come without challenges, especially on those bikes. 

This time, we crossed the border in early December and spent the next three months traveling up and down the peninsula, riding a series of dirt routes which would eventually become the Baja Divide Route.  Our low-key bike tour evolved into a route-building project after the first few weeks of riding.  I had purchased a series of printed and digital maps to assist our routeplanning.  We soon decided to share some of our routes and tracks, and eventually committed to building a continuous route down the peninsula with as much off-pavement riding as possible.  The Baja Divide was born, and we dove deep into the project for the remaining two months, joined by friends along the way.  Thanks to Alex Dunn, Erin Nugent, Christina Grande, Betsy Welch, Montana Miller, and Colleen O’Neil for assisting in route research.  Details of the route will be released this summer.

Returning from Baja in early March, flying from La Paz, BCS, MX to Anchorage, AK, USA, with our friend Alex in tow, we planned three weeks of winter fatbiking before the end of the season.  Despite a low snow year and warm weather, we linked together a series of short trips in the White Mountains north of Fairbanks, on the first section of the Iditarod Trail from Deshka Landing to Yenta Station, in large singletrack loops around Talkeetna and Anchorage, and for our last overnight trip we rode and pushed up to the Fox Creek Cabin on the Resurrection Pass Trail just a few days before the first of April. Alex, Joe Cruz, Carp and I pushed the final five miles in wet knee-deep snow to reach the cabin for the night,  By morning, the refrozen snow was more quickly passable, but the winter fatbiking season was over.  The next day Lael and I started work at The Bicycle Shop, and spent our evenings building her bike for the Trans Am Bike Race.

Lael and I worked every day for the month of April, with just enough time during the evenings to organize a program to provide refurbished, secondhand bikes to two third grade classes at Russian Jack Elementary school where Lael’s mom Dawn is a teacher.  Dawn realized that many of her students at this Ttile 1 school did not have bikes, and some didn’t know how to ride.  Others had bikes, but flat tires and loose chains kept them from riding.  With help from about a dozen friends and volunteers from the community, from Off The Chain Bike Collective, and from The Bicycle Shop of Anchorage we provided bikes to over 25 students.  Helmets, locks, and instruction were provided to all 3rd grade students at the school.  The two classes were invited to Off The Chain to gain some perspective about how bicycles are repaired and maintained, and to further understand the mission of a not-for-profit, volunteer-based bicycle collective.  It took a minute, but we reviewed the words, “volunteer” and “donate” a few times for clarification.  Check out the video about the project published by Alaska Dispatch News, as well as the article written by Erin Kirkland entitled “3rd graders get free refurbished bikes thanks to dedicated cyclists”.

On May 1st, Lael rode out of town to the start of the Trans Am Bike Race.  There are only so many roads out of Alaska, so to provide a unique experience she rode into Canada and back into Haines, Alaska, before taking a ferry south to Bellingham.  After a brief detour to Vancouver, BC, Lael continued south through Seattle and Tacoma to reach Portland, OR two weeks before the race start.  There, she met with friends and family, and serviced her bike with the incredible support of Kevin at River City Bicycles, who is technically versed in road tubeless, Di2, dynamo systems, and other details of Lael’s Trans Am Race bike, a highly custom Specialized Ruby.  More than anything— and this is something you don’t usually find in a bike shop— is that Kevin cared enough to do exacting custom work such as wiring a new USB charger into the system and assisting with tubeless tire experiments, to meet our exact needs, even though there was some level of unknown in the project.  I would have loved to be there to help, but was previously committed to working at The Bicycle Shop in Alaska for the three busiest months of the year.  The bike season in AK is not unlike the fishing season.  We’re grateful to Kevin for nailing the last few details in an otherwise successful bike build, pre-race ride, and preparatory period in Portland.   

Road tubeless tires are almost impossible to mount, the result of the ultra-stiff tire bead required to hold air and to stay on the rim at 100psi without a tube.  Whereas with tubeless mountain bike systems, where rim profiles are paramount, road tubeless relies as heavily on tire shape and structure as on the rim features (while tubeless-ready rims are still mostly required).  After trying half a dozen tires, and narrowing in on tires ranging from the 26mm Specialized Turbo to the 28mm Schwalbe Pro One, I discovered that the Hutchinson Sector 28 is the only tubeless road tire in our hands that could be mounted with relative ease.  A road tubeless wheel system should resist most punctures and pinch flats, but tire failure from a large cut or puncture is still possible.  It’d be a shame to be stuck on the roadside, unable to remove a tight fitting tubeless tire.  Even harder may be to reinstall such a tire with a tube,  The Hutchinson Sector 28 solves that problem, and is reported to be a nice riding tire.  Lael rode down to the start on Specialized Roubaix 23/25 Road Tubeless tires, which were difficult to mount but provided a flat-free ride down to the start.  That tire was narrower than preferred, but proved an essential concept— that tubeless road tires are worth it for the ride experience, and for their low-maintenance in use.  Above all, the ride quality from a road tubeless tire is remarkable!  The same bike, before and after the tubeless conversion, was greatly changed.  Before, it was fast, comfortable, and muted.  After, it was an electrifying, high-energy experience.

In the same few weeks, we also learned a lot about Shimano D12 electronic shifting.  Initially, we had planned to build a bike with hydraulic disc brakes and a mechanical group.  However, many of the complete bikes that were readily available came with D12, and several competitors in the Trans-Am and also the Tour Divide have successfully used electronic groups with great success, and with positive remarks.  Specifically, Joe Fox chased Lael to the finish line last year on the Tour Divide, riding a custom titanium drop bar 29er with a mix of XTR Di2 and road levers.  Mike Hall and Jesse Carlsson both used Di2 equipped bikes to win the Trans Am in 2014 and 2015, respectively.  We reasoned, much like hydraulic braking, that the electronic shifting would minimize rider fatigue and maximize drivetrain performance.  Could this be understood as an exact benefit in speed or distance?  I never managed to justify such claims, at least not objectively, but it is one in a list of many small features that we hope accelerate the process of riding across country.  In combination with all of the features built into the Specialized Ruby to provide a stable and comfortable ride, we hope the bike provides a platform for Lael to do what she does best, which is to simply ride a bike.  Details aside, I expect long days in the saddle, short restful nights by the roadside, and reasonably fast riding without stopping. 

The Trans-Am Bike Race starts today, June 4, at 8AM PT in Astoria, OR.  Follow the 2016 Trans-Am at  

Additionally, several nice profiles have been published about Lael and the Trans Am Race: “Stars, Stripes, and Speed” by Holly Hill on the Revelate Designs blog; “Lael Wilcox: A Rising Star in the Bikepacking World” by Michael Lambert on Roots Rated, and “Readers Rig: Lael Wilcox on the Trans Am Bike Race” by Lindsay Arne on  Thanks to all for sharing.

Additional thanks to Eric Parsons and everyone at Revelate Designs for providing custom luggage including the maximum-volume stars and bars framebag and magnetic closure Gas Tank, as well as a refurbished Lael Can, the oversized Jerry Can which survived both Divide rides last summer.  Lael dubbed the bag the “medicine cabinet” after falling ill and filling it with Mucinex, inhalers, and antibiotics.  Thanks to Charles at Intelligent Design Cycles for providing the SP PD-8 dynamo hub for this ride.  Thanks to Kerry Staite from K-Lite in Australia for the high powered dynamo lighting and the switchable system, which also operates a B&M USB-Werk to power the GPS and the Di2 system.  Thanks to Specialized for providing the Ruby for this ride and for building a custom front wheel out of the SP PD-8 dynamo hub and CLX 64 rim.  Lael completed her first endurance event on an older model Ruby borrowed from her mother, and this video tells the whole story

Baja California, from San Diego to San Jose del Cabo, MX

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New routing on our second ride down the peninsula is more heavily involved with the Pacific Coast, where foggy mornings are common in winter.  Here, the desert drips with sweat from heavy fog.

While drier segments abound on the route.  The entire route passes deserts of various kinds. 

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Mountains never far away.

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Resupply is easy when options are limited.

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Even a boat ride is included on the Baja Divide, if you can muster the Spanish and the energy to negotiate with the local fishing crew in Mulege.

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But it is worth it.

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And when routing issues plagued our planning, unexpected solutions arise.  What looks like not much on the map, looks like not much in person.  Incredible.

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Great ideas, such as racing the Trans Am, come three months into a trip which was meant to heal the fatigue of last summer’s efforts.  Touring and racing the Holyland Challenge Route in Israel is part of the motivation for racing the Divide last summer.  The Fireweed 400 started it all, and technically qualified Lael for RAAM some years ago.  But before that, we just rode and rode and rode, and good ideas sprouted from every last good idea.  It’s a trend that continues into the foreseeable future.

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Back to Alaska, but not without a glimpse of the Baja Divide Route.  It is the small road on the left, near the beach.

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“Fast Forward” on the Arizona Trail

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Back in October, Lael committed to racing the Arizona Trail by bike, solo.  I provided some location scouting to the film crew.  It isn’t easy to find the Arizona Trail in a truck with a bunch of camera equipment.

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“Fast Forward” is part of a highly successful film series by REI to tell the stories of three people, connected to three trails, part of their “Every Trail Connects” campaign.  Watch the short film “Fast Forward” at Outside Online. 

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Always good to have friends with a school bus, thanks Carp and Will!  As soon as we arrived we went straight to The Bicycle Shop to begin building fatbikes.

Arriving in Anchorage, I prepared for our winter rides by purchasing a Specialized Fatboy Comp, a relatively inexpensive and lightweight fatbike.  I was happy to add carbon Dirt Components Thumper rims to the equation, with tubeless 45NRTH Dillinger 5 tires.  I’d never ridden 5” tires before, nor had I used any proper studded fatbike tires other than Grip Studs in Surly Nate tires.  Each time I make it back for a winter in Anchorage, fatbike technology has changed dramatically.  In 2011-12 Lael and I rode Surly Pugsleys through a record-setting snowfall, happily and successfully.  But things have changed.  In 2013-14 we drilled the singlewall rims on our Salsa Mukluks to save weight and converted them to tubeless, installed Grip Studs.  But this year, our bikes required relatively little modification, weighing in at less than either of our conventional touring bikes.  They’re high end machines, but they are widely available.  Remember when there was only one tire available?  

From desert plusbiking to late-winter fatbiking, it’s all big tires, tubeless of course.  In this case, Lael used a pair of prototype Dillinger tires set to be released this coming season. These tires feature the same tubeless ready casing found on the 45NRTH Van Helga and other tires, leathery and tough yet light and flexible, with substantial and tight fitting beads.  The tread pattern is slightly improved on the newer Dillinger tire, with a remarkable new stud design.  The old style concave studs are expanded, now more than twice their old size.  The result is positive traction on icy surfaces not found in any studded tire to date, save for Grip Studs and the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro.  In the last ten years, fatbikes have undergone more dramatic improvements than almost any other genre in a ten year period.  Maybe mountain bikes did the same in the 80’s.  

Oh, and HED Big Deal fatbike rims have the best tubeless interface in the industry.  The rim design is ingenious, and is feathery light.

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I enjoyed using a pair of Dirt Components carbon Thumper rims, with custom Dirt hubs on my bike.  The wheel build quality was excellent, but the thing that impressed me most was that the rims were prepped with Orange Seal tape.  This kind of thing makes me feel like we live in the future when everything is tubeless.  

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We travel north to the Talkeetna Trio, a popular local race sponsored by Speedway Cycles.

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Race organizer and owner of Speedway Cycles and the Fatback bike brand, Greg Matyas, counting down the start of the Trio.  Top Alaskan racers Carey Grumelot, Tim Bernston, Clinton Hodges, and Josh Chelf stand ready up front.

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An incredible race day in March, with views of Denali and the Alaska Range.

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While in Talkeetna, we meet a young GIS specialist from Anchorage named Rob Clark who offers to help with the Baja Divide project.

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After the race, we enjoy some riding on the Susitna River.  These few weeks of riding outside of Anchorage provide perspective about how backcountry winter routes in Alaska exist and are maintained.  It should have been more obvious to me, but it is all about snowmachine routes.  That speaks to the nature of Anchorage riding, which is defined more by packed singletrack and groomed multi-use trails.

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If only for a brief period, Lael enjoyed riding a carbon Specialized Fatboy Expert, complete with HED rims, Race Face Next crank, bars, and seatpost with 45NRTH Dillinger 4 tires.  After all the heavy bikes she’s ridden, I like to think she deserves the pleasure of riding some light ones.

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White Mountains

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Traveling north of Fairbanks, Lael, Alex, Christina, and I rode the White Mountains 100 race route over a two day period.  Starting late in the afternoon on our first day, we cranked out 40 miles in just a couple hours, reaching the Cache Mountain Cabin about an hour after dark.  Both Christina and Lael would race the WM100 in a couple weeks.  We’d dragged Alex back to Alaska from Baja, and promised some stellar riding.  Since most of Southcentral Alaska was melting, we headed north. 

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On the second day, we mostly are able to ride over Cache Mountain Divide, to clearing skies and cold temperatures on the other side.  A few wind drifted sections require walking.

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Eventually, the clouds roll back in and snow starts falling, building to about 6 inches by the time we finish an hour after dark.

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Christina had also joined us for ten days of riding in Baja so group dynamics we pretty well established by the time we started.  Mostly, there was a lot of laughing.

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From downtown to the nearby backcountry, all by bike.

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We timed our travels to coincide with Joe Cruz’s arrival in Alaska.  We almost never fail to see Joe when our paths cross within a couple hundred miles of each other, such as in Prague, in New Mexico, and for a second time in Alaska.  We begin with an epic day ride from Midtown Anchorage into the Chugach Mountains, and back.  For cyclists, this is the most unique exit from town.  The following day we push out of town to Willow where we begin an overnight journey on the Iditarod Trail.  We cross our fingers that rapidly melting snow is still rideable.  

Arriving late in the afternoon, we pedal the local Willow Trail System in several inches of fresh snow.

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The Willow Trail System, generally designed for snow machines, is well developed and signed, marked much like a network of MTB trails.

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By morning, after a long period of bacon, coffee, and light philosophy with Prof. Cruz we push out onto the trail.  We connect from Crystal Lake to the Willow Trail System, down the Susitna River, and up the Yenta River. 

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Alex’s Baja inspired sombrero helmet gets an Arctic ruff, while Joe pedals a brand new Seven titanium fatbike.  This is the guy who I thought might never give up his Pugsley.

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Conditions are good, softening, but rideable.  Cold rain falls for a period, lessening our commitment to any particular destination.

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We stop at Yenta Station for a beer, enjoying the Iditarod paraphernalia inside.  Just upriver, we loosely stake out our pyramid tent in the snow, using our bikes as anchors.  Light rain falls through the night, condensation builds inside the structure.  By all accounts, it is kind of a miserable night outdoors, but we all manage a sense of humor.  Joe pretends not to be uncomfortable sleeping between 6’4” Alex and a drooping wet tent wall.  That’s what Joe does.  

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Everyone is happy to point back toward home the next day, as temperatures reach 48F on the river that afternoon.  

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Snow packs well in such warm weather, so much that the snowman basically made himself.  Each section was really heavy.  

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Talkeetna, again

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We return to Talkeetna to visit friends, and make a few laps around the local trails which we’d recently discovered during the Trio.  Joe would be spending the following week here, we were excited to show him around.  The wide snowmachine width trails make for really fun riding, as they traverse small-scale glacial topography, undulated less than a hundred feet at a time.  

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Resurrection Pass

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Back in Anchorage, days before Joe and the Baja Divide team disband for good, we plan one final outing.  Packing four bikes and bodies into the famed Anchorage “short bus” we head for Resurrection Pass trail.  We knew it would be warm, but we knew everything would be warm.  

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We enjoyed a gorgeous day and 7 miles of good hard trail conditions, characterized by mud and wet ice, but nearly all rideable.  Once we crossed the creek onto the east side of the valley, we met deeper and deeper snow…

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Postholing for about 5 miles to a cabin.  Once committed to reaching the cabin, the group opened up into a slow moving pack train.  Imagine three of us waist deep in wet denim arriving at a cabin, the fourth shivering and barely concealing curses.  Within minutes the hunt for firewood, and both Starbucks Via and blended Canadian Whisky change the tone of the afternoon.  Hours later we are drying our pants over the fire, slowly de-robing in the warming cabin, and trading the kinds of stories that are only told deep in the woods with nothing else to do.

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White Mountains, again

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The final chapter to our winter adventures include a second trip to Fairbanks for the White Mountains 100 race, an event including fat bikers, skiers, and runners, as well as a sole competitor on a kicksled this year.

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Overflow is a common concern on this route.  Most riders got through the race without getting their feet wet, although a few were less fortunate.

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Megan Chelf set a new women’s record on the route.  She and her husband Josh now own both the men’s and women’s records on the WM100.  Here, Megan is riding up “the wall”.  

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Lael racing to the finish, completing 100 miles in 10 hours 51 minutes with a lot of climbing and even a little walking.  Conditions over Cache Mountain Divide were windblown and soft.

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Christina finishes just after dark.

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Building a road bike for the Trans-Am Race

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Returning from our winter adventures, Anchorage was quickly moving toward spring with a continuing heat wave.  We built Lael’s Specialized Ruby and began customizing it for her ride down to Oregon and for the Trans Am Race.

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Our first stop is Revelate Designs headquarters, which is only three blocks away from The Bicycle Shop.  When picking up Revelate orders for the shop, we stack boxes of luggage into the baskets of a 1950’s era Schwinn and navigate the streets of Midtown Anchorage. 

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Bikes for Russian Jack Elementary

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On a series of weekday nights, working until midnight, we organized a one-time program to provide bicycles for two third grade classes at a local Anchorage elementary school where Lael’s mother teaches 3rd grade.  With help from friends at Off the Chain Bicycle Collective and The Bicycle Shop, we refurbished more than 25 bikes for students and provided locks and helmets to both classes.  The program required a lot of volunteer hours, but was hugely successful.  Check out this short video about the project on the Alaska Dispatch News page.

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The project required 3-4 nights of intensive bike building and repair, donation collection, transporting bikes from Off The Chain to the school, an afternoon of field trips to Off The Chain, and an afternoon bike rodeo at Russian Jack to present the donated bikes and equipment and to educate students about cycling skills and strategies.  Watch the video.  The sound of excited children riding bikes is totally worth it.

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Riding to the start

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Lael left Anchorage on May 1 to ride to Astoria, OR, to the start of the Trans Am Bike Race.  Eric Parsons and his son Finn joined us for the ride out of town, along with Lael’s parents.  Finn had just received his first big bike, a 16” wheel Redline that he selected with Lael at The Bicycle Shop the day prior.

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Lael and I continued to Palmer for the evening and stayed with friends, who housed and fed us for the night.  Alpenglow over the Knik River valley.  

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Lael continued the next day and I returned to Anchorage to make it back in time for work.

To finally see the complete bike in action was exciting, after all the work that had gone into it and all the late nights required in the last month to make ends meet.  Riding becomes the quiet meditative time.

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This is Lael’s touring load out of Anchorage, including a pair of running shoes, a jumprope, and all of the maps covering the Trans Am Route to study on the ferry.

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Godspeed Lael!  Enjoy the Trans Am!  Follow Lael’s progress on the 2016 Trans Am Bike Race page at

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Return to Knik Glacier, via Hunter Creek

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The ride to the Knik Glacier ranks as one of the most scenic rides, anywhere, and it is very accessible.  It is close to Anchorage.  It is an easy ride in winter, but only for a few short weeks or months, usually late in the season.  We first rode here in 2012, at the end of a record season of snowfall.  We attempted to reach the glacier last week from the north side of the river, from the Jim Creek Trailhead, but turned back due to time constraints.  This weekend, with 24 hours to spare, Lael and I pedal out of the city with high hopes.

On Sunday afternoon, we are pedaling towards the Hillside trails without ambition.  The day is sunny and warm, but the pattern is tired.  Around 4PM, I suggest, “let’s ride out to the glacier”.  


We turn back home and morph our Salsa Mukluks into adventure mode.  I’ve loaned some essential bikepacking gear to a friend, who is riding the Denali Highway.  Using some dry bags and gear straps, we pack creatively- and lightly- to carry only what we need.

Each of our bikes is laden only with a 30F sleeping bag, a vapor barrier liner, a maximum layering system for the cold, and our cameras.  We will pick up some food en route, in Eagle River.  Simple, except that it is already 6:30PM.   

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The route out of town includes snowy multi-use trails and paved cyclepaths for miles.  Alternating dry pavement and ice exist on the bike trail through Eagle River, Chugiak, and Peter’s Creek.

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We stop at the supermarket in Eagle River to stock our bags with food.

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Continuing east, twilight guides us along paved paths.  Eventually, our route leads to the shoulder of the Glenn Highway.  We slowly descend down to sea level, and exit the Glenn Highway for the Old Glenn Highway, a smaller section of road along the Knik River.

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By the time we turn off the pavement to look for a campsite, it is nearly midnight.  

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We lay down a groundcloth, sleeping pads, and our bags.  We put on all our layers, slip into our vapor barrier liners, and arrange our things.  I have a habit of organizing my things when camping.  Dry socks and a snack ensure a warm night.  Still, in our minimal sleeping systems, it is a good idea to keep the door closed.  We both bury deep into our bags.  

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By morning, ambient light appears on the horizon at 5:30AM.  Light falls far across the valley at 8.  We are camped in the shade aside a northwest facing mountainside, until the sun rises over nearby mountains at 9.  We pack our things and push out to the road.  Cold fingers and toes are not uncommon, especially as we are not using any specialized cold-weather gear.  However, Bjorn and Kim from Homer, AK are riding across the state of Alaska and have just crossed the Arctic Circle.  They know a few things about unsupported winter travel.      

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The end of the paved road, and the beginning of the ride on the river, is about 17 miles away.  By the time we arrive to meet our friend Carp, we are warm.

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Carp is waiting with a thermos full of coffee.  While we’ve just regained warmth in our fingers, we’re both happy to pile inside his warm van and unload some gear for the day.  Overnight lows in the teens diminish as the sun rises high in the sky.

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We load our framebags with snacks and ride onto Hunter Creek.

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A series of fatbike tracks leads from the wooden bridge on Knik River Rd.  There is a lot of dry gravel, and not a lot of snow. 

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This time of year, the ice is melting fast.  This area is a playground for fatbikes.

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The glacier is visible in the distance, and for part of the ride, a broad doubletrack leads the way.

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Several ice bridges over the Knik River are critical to this route.  At one point, we cross ice which has begun to visibly crack, although it appears solid.

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Just downstream there is open water.

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A short distance upstream, the river is also open.  These routes won’t be open for long.  It is April already.

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The frozen banks make for the most efficient pedaling.

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Leading to gravel tracks, and some untracked tundra.

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Across a gravelly plain, we reach the end moraine.  This mounded pile of unconsolidated sediment contains the glacial lake.

This is the place.  This is what we have come for. 

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The lake is frozen in winter, and contains remnant icebergs from the glacier.

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Which makes for a fatbike playground.

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Studs recommended.

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Already, some open water in a few places.

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Nearer to the glacier, icy slot canyons allow passage.

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We stop for a rest amidst an icy solar vortex.  Sunlight reflects from all sides.  It must be sixty degrees in here.  Watch your step– I plant a foot into knee deep slush.  Spring is working fast.

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Ice detail:

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After sunning ourselves for an hour, we turn back.

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One last look from atop the moraine before pedaling downstream.  On this day, we are treated to a light tailwind towards home.  The ride from Hunter Creek is about 9 miles in each direction, with very little elevation gain.  

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An abundance of scenic springtime rides in Alaska could be the basis for a new tourism.  Many high-caliber adventure rides are accessible from town, and with a decent set of legs, are attainable by any cycling enthusiast.  In changing winter conditions, there are plentiful riding opportunities from groomed in-town singletrack, hut-to-hut alpine passages, beach rides, river rides, glacier rides, section-riding on the Iditarod Trail, and more.  Come visit Alaska!  

Late march may be the best time of year up here.   

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Fresh from the source, with very little silt this time of year.

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On the way back we follow some well-travelled tracks.

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But soon realize we’ve taken a wrong turn.  A small drainage separates us from Hunter Creek.  No matter, we each find our own way across.

Carp, a seasonal fisherman and boat captain, float tests the Pugsley.  

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Lael utilizes the beavers’ dam.

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XtraTuff boots full of water are no fun, but all of this fooling around is just early signs of summer.

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Lael and I go for a swim.  This weekend marks our first sleepout and our first swim.  The seasons are changing.  

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A bit of routefinding brings us back to the trail.  In a few months, all of this will be entangled in prickly plants, mosquitoes, and bears.  Spring is better than summer in a few ways.

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Back on trail!

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Until next year, we’ll revel in memories and photographs of Knik.  I’m starting to realize that the rides we find are getting better and better, from Belgium and Ukraine, to Arizona and Alaska.  However, I don’t think they’ll ever get better than this one.    

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Knik River Ride: Butte, AK to Knik Glacier

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Note: We travelled the north side of the Knik River towards the glacier.  I’ve since heard of some groups riding from the Hunter Creek TH on the south side of the river, which is a shorter trip with less dirt and mud.  I hope to return on Monday to explore the south route again.  Neither route will be easily passable soon, so act now!

Riding to the Knik Glacier is the exact reason that I bought a camera two years ago.  Riding the from the Hunter Creek TH on the south side of the river, we pedaled frozen snow machine trails over the frozen river to the frozen lake at the base of the glacier.  As if the concept of riding to a glacier on a frozen river isn’t enough, the embedded ice forms rising from the lake are of another world.  I decided, finally, I must have a camera.

March tends to be the best time of year to ride to Knik Glacier. Days are longer and warmer, and the resultant freeze-thaw makes for fast trail conditions, especially in the first half of the day.  Without recent snowfall, the trail is well defined and pack by snowmachines.  But, every year is different.  This year, we’ve had little snow and above-average temperatures, which results in exposed dirt, rock and ice.  I’d heard the trail from the south side was obscured by open water this spring.  Further, a friend had recently made passage to the glacier from the north side, leaving from the Jim Creek TH near the township of Butte.  Via e-mail, Abe provides guidance.  He has since posted a Knik Glacier Biking trip report to his blog AKSchmidtShow.  

Directions from the north side of the river, from the Jim Creek TH on Sullivan Ave in Butte, just off the Old Glenn Hwy:

Yes, I would recommend an early morning start.  The frozen ground makes for a fast trip out there.  We traveled on the north side of the river, starting from the Jim Creek trail head on Sullivan road in the Butte.  There are a couple of creek crossings that are pretty easy to find lowish water level spots.  If you have never been up there; you stay near the river/on sloughs and gravel bars until you reach Friday Creek (likely your first water crossing).  Once you cross 1 small channel you continue up river for a couple hundred yards before a large trail heads north up into the woods.  You will follow this and cross Friday creek up in the woods.  You are aiming for the large cliffs you can see on the north side of the valley, you end up riding right below these.  So as long as you are pointed for those you are doing good.  Once you leave the cliffs you work your way back out to the flood plain through some swamps.  You have to cross a couple of channels here.  We headed toward the middle of the floodplain as soon as we crossed the channels.  We kept heading south until we found a main trail that heads for the middle right side of the glacier.  From what I have heard if you stay up against the north side too far past the cliffs you can end up really high on metal creek where crossing is more of an issue.  Not sure how true that is.


With a day full of sun and a written treasure map, three of us meet for an early morning start.

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The route winds through a network of wooded trail from the TH.  From here, all roads lead to the river.  

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The sun is low over the mountains, and conditions are fast.

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The glacier appears to be only a few miles down the valley on frozen river.  

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We ride quickly at road pace over ice and frozen mud.  It seems we’ll be there in an hour or two.

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Crossing frozen sloughs and gravel bars, we pass in and out of tracked routes.

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A few pairs of fatbike tracks help us on our way, including this Endo and Larry combo.  We are all on studded tires, which help to confidently navigate the ice.

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Passing onto a frozen ATV trail in the woods, frozen puddles and dry dirt make an interesting combination.  By afternoon, conditions will be much different.

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These large cottonwoods remind me of the Bosque along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque, NM.

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The terrain is constantly changing.

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Small planes fly overhead.  One plane lands on a gravel bar several times.

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The river channel is most certainly open.

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We cross this stream barefoot, as it appears several inches too deep and several feet too wide to ride, without risk of getting our clothing wet.  The sun is warm, and the creek is up to our knees.  On the return trip, we ride across the stream with abandon.  

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A series of tracks lead into the woods.  Keep on the track with the most traffic, as Abe describes.  Eventually, keep your tires pointed towards he cliffs along the river.

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These frozen roads are a lot of fun to ride.  Frozen puddles churned during the daytime melt are a challenge.

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Beaver pond stream crossing.

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Passing under the cliffs, we exit the forest back onto the river.  Several well-travelled routes are apparent.  

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At times, the route is so clearly defined, heading directly for the glacier, we joke about the Knik River Highway.  “Knik Glacier, 4 miles ahead.”

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Sadly, Lael must be back at work by 4PM, so we turn around a few miles short of the glacial lake.  

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After a quick snack, we begin a hurried pedal back to the car.

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Almost immediately, we discover the ride home will be a little different.  The sun has softened the snow, ice and mud.  Still, we make good time.  In a way, Lael is commuting to work.   

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Frozen puddles are a little less frozen.  

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We find some frozen tracks in the shade that are still fast.

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It has been several months since I’ve experienced mud-induced drivetrain malfunctions.  Lael opts for a quick “race tune” in the beaver pond.

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Sloshy riding, racing back to the trailhead.

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Quickly, we ride off the ice and navigate a maze of trails near the trailhead.

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Lael brushes the mud out of her hair and changes clothes in the parking lot at the Jim Creek TH.  We arrive back in town five minutes after 4PM– close enough.  Already, we’re planning a trip back to Knik.  

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Urban Beach Ride; Anchorage, AK

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Meet at 7PM, after work at The Bicycle Shop.  Change socks, a shot of lube on the chain, and a couple of cold beers into the framebag.  Ride down Northern Lights Blvd. to Earthquake Park, ride the Coastal Trail to Pt. Woronzof, then look for access down to the beach.  That’s the plan.

Christina, Alan and Paul meet at the shop.  Jamin and Charley are coming from the other side of town and meet at the coast.  

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Just past the wastewater treatment plant on the Coatsal Trail, there are several lookouts.  The second or third one down is adjacent to a gully with a passable trail.  

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We spill out onto the flats, minutes before sunset.  The surface varies from solid ice and shallow windblown snow, to flaky layered ice and freezing mud.  Morning and night may be the best time to ride out here, although it is rideable any time of day right now.  Sections may be muddy mid-day.  Right now, Pt. Woronzof to Kincaid is free of mud entirely.  Earthquake Park to Pt. Woronzof is ridable, with a few short pushes off the bike.  Around the south side of Kincaid, the trail can be muddy during the day, but is drenched in sun and ridable.

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Several sloughs make for a brief technical challenge on an otherwise mellow evening cruise.  Studs not necessary, but helpful.

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At the point, we encounter a group of friends enjoying the evening with a fire and some beach games.  We stop to warm our fingers and trade stories.  The “where are you from” game is always fun in Alaska.  Most often, its not here.  The answers include New Haven, CT; Bemidji, MN; Las Vegas, NV; Cortland, NY; Kenai, AK; some place near Chitna, AK; and San Francisco, CA.

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As light fades, finally, we continue around the point.  This southern exposure soaks in sun all day and is more dirt and gravel than snow and ice.  This time of night, it is fast and free of mud.  

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We shoot for a steep access trail up to the sand dunes at Kincaid Park, near the motocross track and the Jodphur TH.  There is a small sign on the beach (not sure what it says), but the trail turns up here.  This is about 2 miles from the point.  The hill is short and steep.  Charlie says, “Last time I did this I was pushing a bike with a lot more suspension”.  

I think, “last time I did this I was pushing a bike with a lot more stuff on it”. 

The easiest way off the beach is near the point, onto the last section of the Coastal Trail before the big hill up to the Chalet.  This is also near the end of the Middle Earth trail.

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From the top of the hill, we ascend the sand dunes and connect to the official trail system.  Several riders have split off already, leaving four of us.  Late in the evening, we ride the Kitchen Sink trail and lose another rider towards home.  The three of us continue on Tower Power and Middle Earth, descending back towards the Coastal Trail, and home.  Lael meets us along the Coastal Trail as she has just gotten off work.  The group splinters across town.  Past midnight, we arrive home to a gently bubbling pot of carnitas in the kitchen and a smoker outside the front door with freshly smoked Alaskan salmon– a fitting end to a proper Alaskan adventure.  I am continually amazed at the opportunities for adventure from the front door.  All it takes is a few hours and a fatbike.

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Thanks for the ride!  Let’s meet again soon.  

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Return to Resurrection Pass, Alaska

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All week, I told everyone I know that the riding on Resurrection Pass is perfect.  “Right now, you gotta go now!”  Lael listened to it over and over, and as she scanned photos, she asked questions about the cabins and the trail.  By Friday, it seemed that I was destined to return with her.  A few piles of equipment come together on the floor in preparation for our early departure on Sunday morning.

We promptly depart mid-afternoon.

On the trail only a few hours before sunset, we roll upstream without a plan.  Clear skies, exactly like our trip last week, are an assuring sign.

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By now, the sun passes over the valley onto the far hillside.  Temperatures are cool, but nothing a little uphill pedaling can’t erase.  A fresh inch of snow over last week’s ice is both a blessing and a curse.  Fresh snow improves traction in some situations; elsewhere, it conceals hazards.

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Fresh ice pours from the hillside in a few places.  Lael has about 250 Grip Studs in her tires.  A few early-season bruises convinced her that studs are a good thing.

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Only a few tracks are found on the trail, including one tire track and several boot tracks.

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Crossing Resurrection Creek at sunset, seven miles from the trailhead, we start thinking about shelter.  There are three cabins along this section of trail: Caribou Creek, Fox Creek, and East Creek.  Cabins are available for rental throughout the Chugach National Forest.  Without a plan, and with the option to bivy outside, we continue on the trail for another hour.

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At dusk, we poke our heads into the Fox Creek Cabin.  No one is here.  We start a fire and unlace our shoes.

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Nearing the equinox and 12 hours of sunlight, officially, we already count more than 12 hours of usable light.  Twilight lasts forever, and grows longer by the day.  Later this week, our days will be longer than yours (unless you live in Fairbanks!)

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Dinner is mostly taken from the depths of the refrigerator and freezer at home.  A couple of hot dogs roasted on a stick are gourmet fare when away from a kitchen.  Toasted corn tortillas, melted cheese, and avocados round out the meal.  A sip of whiskey and water to wash it down.

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I am excited to sleep outside, but a fire is a nice feature.  The cabin is warm through the night, as outside temperatures remain in the 20s.  Past midnight, a woman’s voice breaks my sleep.  Two dogs come rushing into the cabin, and the energy of a late night hike is quickly part of the cabin.  Two boys enter.  We exchange names as an official gesture, I forget them immediately, and Lael and I rearrange ourselves to make room.  The boys are quick to retreat to the top bunk, and to sleep.  The dogs are restless for a time, and Carolyn is ready to share stories of the trail.  She has been hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing this trail in winter for nearly twenty years.  Partway through the story of another year’s adventure, I fall back asleep.

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By morning, Lael and I fetch water from the stream for coffee and pack our things.  Cabins are nice, for a time.

Overnight, clouds have rolled in.  Snow falls.  Wind overhead teeters treetops.  Today is a whole different world.

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Lael is excited to explore.  This doesn’t look like the honeymoon ride I shared with the guys last week.  She couldn’t be happier.

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I’m always curious to find what she hides in her bags.  She fills her new Wanderlust top tube bag with a shaker of sea salt, formerly a plastic container of decorative cinnamon cake toppings.  A 5-Hour Energy signals a return to her old touring habits of caffeine-loading at gas stations.  The three yogurt-covered peanut clusters I’ve offered her as sustenance in the last hour have disappeared into her bag.  I also spot an espresso flavored energy gel, also caffeinated.  I promise, her framebag is filled with real food.  Apples are on Lael’s menu all day, every day.

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We ride up into clouds, snow, and sun, barely.

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In contrast to our ride last week, this is a whole other world.

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Cresting mounds of glacial gravel, rising above treeline, the wind presents itself in full.

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Nate and Bud and Lou have been fossilized in the mud from last week.  The ground is rock solid and windblown.

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Riding uphill and upwind, we stop at each major gust.  At twenty, thirty miles an hour, it challenges us to remain upright on the bikes.  At forty, fifty miles an hour, we stop and bow our heads.

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A good time to be wearing a snowboarding helmet, I think.  This was my little sister’s helmet 15 years ago.  Somehow it has made its way from NY.

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After pushing and riding for a few miles, we decide to turn around just short of the pass.  We consider running up and over the next small hill to see it, but the triviality becomes apparent as the wind gusts once again.  Lael is still smiling.  Not much will erase that.

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Of course, unrideable uphill trail is blazing fast in reverse, both downhill and downwind.  Gusts propel us through drifts.  We pass two hikers on the way down.  They watched us push into the wind a few minutes ago.  “It is a little easier in this direction”, I offer.

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This section of trail, with a healthy tailwind, ranks high.

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Lower, the trees provide shelter.

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We stop into the East Creek cabin to look around, and to warm our fingers.  As blood returns to our digits, the world begins to defrost as well.

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After lunch and a nap a few miles further down the trail at the Fox Creek Cabin, the two hikers arrive just as we are leaving.  We pass the warm cabin to them.

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A fresh layer of snow makes any landscape more beautiful.

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Back down to the bridge, we look forward to a quick ride out to the trailhead.

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This week, I’ve revised my luggage.  We only have one well-worn seatpack between the two of us, so I attached a drybag to the underside of my saddle.  I’m thinking I’ll stitch some straps to the bag to make a permanent seatpack out of it.  For just more than the price of the bag (13L Big River Dry Bag, about $30), it presents a cheap solution to lightweight packing, especially in conjunction with my preferred Sea-to-Summit compression drybag (size S/10L) up front.

Same as last week, I also packed a Porcelain Rocket framebag, Revelate Gas Tank and Williwaw pogies, and Randi Jo bartender bag.

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Lael uses a Revelate framebag, Viscacha seatpack and Williwaw pogies; Randi Jo bartender bag, and a Sea-to-Summit compression drybag (size XS/6L) up front.  She loves her Salsa Mukluk.

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She is also using her new Beargrass top tube bag from Wanderlust Gear out of Missoula, MT.  The design features a single zipper down the center, and is almost the exact same size as my Revelate Gas Tank.  Always creative with her words, she’s calling it the Beargrasstank.  The Bunyan Velo “Get Rad” patch is sold out for now, but new patches have arrived.

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The snow accumulates, and the riding changes.  Ice is no longer a hazard, and steering is a little less precise in fresh snow.  For now, only a few inches pile up and the riding is great.

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A few hazards are hidden under the snow, but the landing is softened.

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The snow becomes very wet further down, and waterproof layers come out.

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Across Resurrection Creek one last time.

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Back in Alaska

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We are back in Alaska.  Lael grew up in Anchorage, and I’ve lived here twice before, seasonally.  The first time, we lived in a late 60’s camping trailer on a bluff above the Nenana River while working at a restaurant outside Denali National Park in the summer of 2009.  In 2011, we returned to spend the winter in Anchorage, discovering winter riding, fatbikes, and snowy singletrack in a season of record snowfall.  Last winter we lived in Albuquerque, NM.  We are back in Anchorage for the season.

Much is the same as before: it is cold and snowy, the roads are rutted and icy, vehicles are monstrous and drivers are aggressive, days are short, the city is huge (second largest by area in the US) and getting outdoors is essential to enjoying the long, dark season.  However, much has changed: fatbikes are more prevalent around town, and better equipment is available; more trails have been built or packed into the snow; studded tires are available in every wheel and tire size for bicycles, including fatbikes; and, we are much better prepared for the winter riding season.  Note how the latter are all solutions to the former– for us, fatbikes are the reason that life is possible in Anchorage in the winter.

The last time I was near sea level was in Ukraine along the Black Sea.  Before that, Holland.

Just beyond sunrise and the Garmin already reads, “Sunset in 5hr 13min”.  Our arrival in Anchorage is well timed, as the season is already gaining daylight towards June.

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Winter riding is much of the reason we have come this far north for the winter.  The urban-based riding in Anchorage is some of the best anywhere.  Links lead to old posts from winter 2011-12, our first winter in Anchorage.

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Group rides.

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Night rides.  Lots of night rides.

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Wildlife.  Moose are a common sight around town.

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In the winter, nobody misses the bugs or the bears, or soggy trails.

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Night rides, again.

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Busy boulevards— lots of those too.

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Icy, rutted roads.

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Ice beards.  Everyone grows a beard in the winter in Alaska– everyone.

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New trail facilities, bypassing a previously necessary hike-a-bike along a frozen stream under the highway.

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Snowy singletrack.  Miles and miles of singletrack.

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And much more to explore.

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Fatbikes are loads of fun, and Anchorage is the center of the fatbike universe.  While many people are excited simply to see a fatbike in person at their local shop, in Anchorage, it is possible to view and test ride fatbikes from every manufacturer.  Already, I’ve spotted bikes from Salsa, Surly, 9zero7, Fatback, Specialized, Trek, Kona, 616, and Borealis.  Lael– lucky as always– has already been treated to a brand new Salsa Mukluk 3 in her first week in town.  I am still shopping for a bike.  Many base model bikes are now specced with aggressive Surly Nate tires and practical 2x drivetrains.  This year, the Salsa Mukluk borrows from last year’s Beargrease, with an all aluminum frame and fork to save weight.  With Lael’s bike, I plan to drill the rims, set-up the tires tubeless, mount a wide carbon handlebar, and source a framebag and pogies.  She plans to ride it a lot.

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Fatbiking has a long history in Alaska.  This 90’s-era Specialized downhill tire was notable for a large-volume casing, aggressive tread pattern, and lightweight construction.  Likely due to a lightweight casing, it was not a reliable tire under extreme DH condition, and quickly disappeared from the market.  Only a few prescient winter riders snagged them before they disappeared.  Mounted on 80+mm Remolino rims– designed by Ray Molina in southern New Mexico– these Big Hits were serious equipment back in the day.

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I’ve had a taste of a similar tire size recently, riding 29×3.0″ Knards in the snow.  I am waiting on some hubs to build a set of wheels with 50mm wide Surly Rabbit Hole rims.  While I still intend to buy a proper fatbike, the ECR will remain as the ‘fast bike’ for when trail conditions are firm and well-frozen.  Hopefully, one of the bikes will receive some studs.

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Singlewall rims with cutouts are standard equipment these days, while heavier doublewall designs like the Large Marge rims we pushed around two years ago are almost nonexistent from the scene.  These gold anodized rims were made in a limited run.  Naturally, Lael has her eye on some gold Rolling Darryl rims.  These are 65mm Marge Lite rims, weighing in at less than 700g.

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More likely, we’ll simply have her unholy 82mm Rolling Darryls drilled at Paramount Cycles here in Anchorage.  The process is said to shave over 200g per wheel, and allows for a custom rim strip.  A tubeless set-up should shave some more weight from the wheels, at little cost.  A lighter weight downhill tube (26×2.3-3.0″) is another simple trick to shed some grams from the wheels, but is not advisable in thorn country.  Tubeless is still a foreign concept to many cyclists in Alaska, as in other parts of the country.

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Gigantic rims and tires are all the rage in the fatbike market this year.  Several manufacturers have moved to a 190mm rear dropout spacing (compared to 170mm or offset 135mm), which makes room for the widest rims and tires on the market, and retains compatibility with a full MTB drivetrain.  There are some great new tires in limited distribution from Fatback, Vee Rubber, and Specialized, but most of the talk is about Surly’s Bud and Lou tires, the pair of shred-your-face-off front and rear specific tires, measuring almost 5 inches.  Mounted to 100mm Surly Clownshoe rims, this is the best you can do when the snow piles up.  Note, this 9zero7 frame is also sculpted out of carbon fiber, something that has become more common and highly coveted in in the last few months.  Recent releases from Salsa, 9zero7, and Borealis have excited riders, although Fatback will be bringing their expertise to a carbon frame in the next few months.

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In the 90’s, a custom bike like this John Evingson frame from Anchorage, AK was the best equipment available for riding on snow.  Surely, it is a beautiful frame, and a highly capable bike.

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But the current off-the-shelf offerings show several decades of development.  The last eight years– since the introduction of the Surly Pugsley– have been particularly fruitful for fatbiking equipment.

Since test-riding this carbon fiber Salsa Beargrease, I am tempted by the qualities of a rigid carbon bike, especially when riding bootpacked and bumpy trails.  The Beargrease is a lively machine.

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However, if I had my pick of bikes (cost, no object), I might go home with a Borealis frame.  I haven’t ridden one yet, but the shape of the tubes and the silhouette of the frame from afar indicates a sense of style, even beyond the function it exudes.  On such bikes, SRAM XX1 1 x 11speed drivetrains are common.

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Part-time residency also gives us time to enjoy the holidays and spend time with family.  As we work our way towards next summer, our plans will reveal themselves.  Until then, we’ll just enjoy the luxuries of living in town and having a soup pot larger than 1L to prepare meals.

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I first spotted the new 2014 Adventure Cycling calendar this week.  Lael took this photo of me outside Del Norte, CO on the Great Divide Route, aboard my Surly Pugsley.  I take it as a sign that we should be out riding by June.

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This little guy is the reason we first discovered fatbikes two seasons ago.  His little sister is the reason we are back.

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I’ve spent a few days on a borrowed Mukluk 2, which shaves a few pounds off the Muk 3, featuring an upgraded parts spec and lighter wheels.  I enjoyed the bike, but the experience of riding the Beargrease has me wondering if it might be worth it for the winter.  I’ve hardly ever had a new bike in the last decade.  A $3500 canon fiber fatbike is a big leap, but why not?

Realistically, I am most likely to buy a base model bike as soon as it snows more than a fees inches again, to avoid fishtailing around town on skinny tires.  Almost a week since the last snowfall, the Surly ECR has been a practical machine, capable of some snowy trail riding at extreme low pressures.  Fresh Knard tires hook up well with frozen hardpacked snow, and once I build wheels with wider Rabbit Hole rims, they should be even better.  But, a fatbike is necessary to ride absolutely every day, and to explore the trails.

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Routefinding above NM

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Routefinding by plane seems a little excessive.  But if you are up in the air, you might as well do some routefinding.  My Alaskan eyes know well enough that roads and routes aren’t always paved and graded.  Like a frozen river, a dry arroyo may be rideable on the right bike.  Flying out of Los Lunas, this terrain is all within a day or two of Albuquerque on two wheels.  There are roads that look like rivers and rivers that look like roads.    There is a green circle in the desert, and lots of routes that have never been ridden on a bike.  This is three thousand feet above New Mexico.

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Dry riverbed and fractal tributaries:

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Roads and irrigation canals.

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Road, looks like a river.  It probably is a river for a few days of the year.

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Green circle– aliens, most likely.

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Road and riverbed, and a modern cliffside dwelling.

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The diminutive Rio Grande, an adjacent canal, and levee road.

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Pinon and juniper.

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Straight as an arrow.

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Thanks to Lanny for taking me up.  I look forward to finding these places on the ground.

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Less than a day away.

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