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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Spring Mix

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In Alaska, spring is always in a big hurry.  Sunlight hours grow by nearly six minutes per day around the equinox, and now, our days are longer than yours (except you Fairbanks).  The contrast of warm days and freezing nights make for some exceptional riding conditions.  On a springtime riding binge, we claim three rides in three days, muddy bikes, and tired legs.  Fatbikes are awesome.  

Full ride reports soon, but first, more riding.  This may be the best riding all year.  

Wednesday: Meet tonight at 7:30PM on the Chester Creek Trail across from East High (Northern Lights and Bragaw).  Jill Homer is in town and wants to ride bikes!  Plan to ride APU and Campbell.

Thursday: Meet at The Bicycle Shop at 7PM for a post-work beach ride.  We will ride to Pt. Woronzof on the trail, then on the beach to Kincaid.  We should be riding into the sunset!  Alternately, meet at Pt. Woronzof at 7:30PM.


Beach ride: Kincaid Park to Earthquake Park 

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Mountain ride: Hillside Trails to Middle Fork Loop

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River ride: Butte, AK to Knik Glacier

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The day begins with no more than a few degrees, and a little bit of moisture in the air.  We ride out to Kincaid Park to volunteer for the Ski for Women, where Lael will lead a brief yoga session before the event.  The morning is crisp and cold.  Although we are in a hurry– “nine miles, pedal!”– it is a good morning to be out of bed.

Packing her new yoga mat, and three sandwiches for myself, we ride out to the edge of Anchorage.

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For 15 minutes of this.  Ski for Women is a well-attended group ski event that raises money for women’s causes.  Most of it isn’t a race.

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After, we explore some of the Kincaid singletrack trails, after weeks of warm weather, sun exposure, and dog walkers.

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In some places, the snow is completely gone.  Elsewhere, bumpy glare ice presents a challenge to the non-studded.

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We turn back, as the trail becomes heavily potholed with the tracks of dog walkers and moose.  Deep frozen potholes are no fun.  We connect with the Coastal Trail to ride back into town the long way.

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The crispness has taken most of the moisture out of the air, depositing it on everything. 

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Until, the moisture returns.  Suddenly, we are in a fog.

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A reminder that our proximity to the ocean is not great, despite several hundred miles to the deep blue water.  Cook Inlet moderates the weather patterns in Anchorage.

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As most of the snow has melted, we cross Westchester Lagoon on glare ice and crust.

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Another task not suited for the non-studded.  Actually, the light coating of crystalline hoar frost provides better traction than the wet ice common when temperatures are above freezing.

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Still, studs are better.  She’s got ’em.  I don’t, yet.  A pack of Grip Studs are waiting for my tires, as are a pair of 29×2.35″ 45 NRTH Nicotine tires for the ECR.

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As we near home, the clearing begins.  This kind of weather comes and goes in Anchorage.

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Gomez and the (9zero7) Whiteout

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At the after-party and awards ceremony of the Frosty Bottom race, I bumped into Gomez, head correspondent at Fat-Bike.com, the premier forum for fatbike information.  Visiting from Wisconsin, Gomez was lucky to find mild weather in Anchorage, while the Midwest and the rest of the country was frozen under an Arctic chill.  His aim, while visiting Anchorage, is to catch a glimpse of the Anchorage winter riding scene and to visit local retailers and manufacturers of winter cycling equipment, including Fatback, 9zero7, and Revelate Designs.

At the party, I suggested a ride.  The next morning, I jumped aboard Lael’s Mukluk to ride the Coastal Trail to meet at the Kincaid Park.  I defogged my memory of some of the older bike trails in the park, and connected a short loop highlighting some of the best-developed winter singletrack in the country.  I’ve said it before, but Anchorage really is the fatbike center of the universe.  These trails are great! 

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Gomez was riding the new 9zero7 Whiteout carbon fatbike frame, equipped with SRAM’s XX1 11-speed drivetrain.  This frame features clearance for 5″ tires on 100mm rims– the largest combination currently available– but would be equally comfortable in a fatbike paceline on a superlight carbon wheelset.  The 9zero7 Whiteout , along with the Borealis Yampa and the upcoming Fatback Corvus, marks a new benchmark in design.  Fast, light, and fat is not easy to achieve, but it is happening.

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We enjoyed a ride as the sun made a low dance across the horizon.  The treetops were drenched in orange sunlight, as the trail under out tires remained crisp from the overnight freeze.  Traction was good, underneath a light glaze.

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Gomez preaches the gospel of fatbikes.  It’s all fatbikes, all the time.  

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I took a quick spin on the new 9zero7 Whiteout frame.  I raced a Salsa Beargrease in the Frosty Bottom this past weekend, for reference.

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Huge tire clearance are possible due to 190mm rear dropout spacing.  A 1×11 drivetrain and thru-axle hub attachments are becoming standard on top-end fatbikes.

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Surly Bud and Lou tires will fit the frame on 100mm Surly Clownshoe rims, both front and rear.

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Thanks for the ride, Gomez!

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Ride from home: Kincaid STA trails

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Kincaid Park is a 1500 acre forest park at the apex of the Anchorage Peninsula, where the Turnagain Arm and the Knik Arm of the Cook Inslet meet.  The park is situated on a decommissioned military site, along a zone of coastal bluffs, slumps, and glacial topography.  It has hosted groomed, lighted, and well-used cross-country ski trails for years, one of Anchorage’s breeding grounds for competitive skiers, including one of the winningest American XC skiers of all time, Kikkan Randall.  In recent years, dedicated bicycle singletrack has been built, including named and mapped trails.  This past year, several new phases of trail construction have given us many more miles of singletrack to explore.  Elsewhere in the park, there are facilities for sledding, a biathlon shooting, a motocross course, soccer fields,  a multi-purpose stadium, a disc golf course and trails of all kinds for skiing, running, snowshoeing, and both summer and winter cycling.  

While the city is laced with wide, groomed multi-use trails in winter, the only other dedicated winter singletrack system is found in, and adjacent to, the Campbell Tract, a BLM property on the hillside.  Some new winter trails are beginning to arise near APU.

Several days ago, Lael and I set out to explore some of the new Kincaid trails.  Riding the Surly ECR, I quickly found the limitations of 29×3.0″ tires on softer snow.  Riding was fast and assured on the heavily trafficked Coastal Trail, but the ECR slithered along the softer singletrack.  I still managed to ride a few miles, while Lael gracefully rode ahead on her new Salsa Mukluk 3.  A real fatbike is a necessity.

Riding out the Coastal Trail.  From our current location, we are about 6.5 miles to this network of singletrack trails, all along the famed 9-mile Coastal Trail.  On clear days, Mount Susitna– “the Sleeping Lady”– graces the horizon.

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The sun makes a slow dance across the horizon, in a period of about five and a half hours.  The main trails in town are well travelled by skiers, runners, and bikers, mostly on fatbikes.  A classic ski track is also imprinted on the right side of the trail.

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Middle Earth is the backbone of the new system of trails at Kincaid.  These trails were designed and built by the STA, or the Singletrack Advocates of Anchorage.

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Moose are common on every outing.

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Topography and fatbiking don’t always mix well, for lack of traction, but these trails gently asked the hillsides.

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To greater views of Cook Inslet and Mt. Susitna.

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Winter riding is as good, or better than summer singletrack riding in Anchorage.  All which is boggy, and buggy and swarming with bears in the summer, is silently put to sleep by a blanket of snow.  the urban-based riding in Anchorage is some of the best anywhere.

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After a quick tour of the trails, we return home along the Coastal Trail as dusk.  

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More rides and trails soon.  There is much more to explore in town, with some excellent backcountry opportunities nearby.

Coastal Trail to Kincaid; mountains on all sides

20120109-220014.jpg More moose than people out on a beautiful Monday. Following significant snowfall over the last few days, skies cleared and temperatures dropped, exposing a glistening wonderland and snowy peaks, both near and far. The Knik Arm of Cook Inlet and the Chugach Range frame the city. Mt. Susitna– The Sleeping Lady– figures prominently on the horizon, as does the Tordrillo Range to the southwest and the Talkeetna Range to the northeast. The Alaska Range, including the disproportionately represented Mt. Foraker (17,400 ft) and Denali (20,327 ft) are visible one hundred miles to the north. The Coastal Trail is a nine mile section of trail connecting downtown Anchorage and Westchester Lagoon with Kincaid Park, a woodland park with an exceptional network of cross-country ski trails situated on the westernmost point of the Anchorage peninsula– Point Campbell. The Coastal Trail had been groomed since the snowfall, but was still soft and slow with no signs of snow bikes on the ride out to Kincaid. 20120109-203414.jpg20120109-203454.jpg20120109-203516.jpg20120109-203537.jpg20120109-214726.jpg20120109-214741.jpg20120109-215004.jpg

The middle finger in a mitten

20111218-013932.jpgThe city’s waterside multi-use trails and the bellicose, rutted roads are an exact juxtaposition of one another– Anchorage is both heavenly, and heartbreaking. When one bike best wrangles the roads and the other, the trails, I’ll be gambling with which bike to roll out the door all winter. There are further subtleties: new snow is seemingly what the Pugsley was designed for, while old snow– melted, refrozen and restructured– is more challenging, behaving more like sand. Above freezing, everything is a leaden, slippery mess, back below freezing, it becomes ice. And then, some trails are broad, well-traveled and groomed for skiing; others are natural singletrack constructed of ski tracks, post-holing snow boots, and the occasional Endomorph tread, now immediately recognizable. Some trails are glorified sidewalks–deemed bike facilities by the city– and routinely neglected, except when snowplows slough brown slurry from the roads. That brown stuff is uniquely un-tractionable. Of course, some “bike trails” (sidewalks) just run out, and once again I am part of a three lane drag race with pick-ups, racing, surely, to the Home Depot or home, or some such place of exceeding importance. I’m starting to think that I am homosexual or short on intellect– at least, so I’m told by passing traffic, daily. I’m also regularly told that it’s illegal to ride a bike in the road. Luckily, the middle finger inside a mitten is an innocuous gesture.

The challenges of the varied snow conditions and the wandering trajectory of the creekside trails is welcomed, considering the serenity afforded by the city’s greenway trails. Access to the trails may be barricaded by towering snowbanks, and moose make traffic jams, singlehandedly, but it’s likely to be all yours, with nobody to call you a “fucking idiot”, or worse. Bridges, tunnels and lights– these facilities are top notch.

Lael and I made a loop of the city today, with a few mixed errands in between. We managed about 30 miles at less than 10 psi, mostly off pavement. It was an enjoyable, if physically challenging ride; we’ll trade burning quads for fuming tempers anyday.