One hundred and twenty three (.7)

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Inches of snow– nine point one from the record set in 1954. It’s been a good year for a fatbike; a season with less than four feet may have been an icy reason to leave fat tires at home. Rather, my studded Stumpjumper has been dormant in the basement for weeks at a time, with fresh waves of snow every few days to keep skinny tires inside. Did you ever think 54mm tires were skinny? Three years ago I was on 700 x 28 and 32mm tires, then 32 and 38mm. A year and a half later, I built the High Sierra before a trip to France and was riding 559 x 42mm Panaracer T-serv tires. In anticipation of Mexico, I purchased a pair of 47mm Schwalbe Marathon tires. This summer I procured a used 52mm WTB Nanoraptor tire in Jackson, WY. Staring at a 94mm tire on a 65mm rim all winter makes 2.1 inch mountain bike tires look narrow. The tide of fat tires floods.

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Like a word association game, talk of trail rides at the bike shop is mostly a babble of “Blue Dot” and “Baseball”, to “Brown Bear”, “Moose Track” and “Moose Meadow”. These are names for narrow paths that wind, and eventually loop, through the woods. It’s a silly game of riding in circles for fun, but I’m figuring it out and the trail with blue spray paint on the birch and aspen is “Blue Dot” and the one ending at the ball fields is “Baseball”. The others are mostly signed by the Bureau of Land Management, and are wider and well traveled.

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Today was an exceptional day to be outdoors in celebration of almost 11 hours of daylight, a near-record seasonal snowfall, perfect trail conditions, and a bike that doesn’t take days off. My hat is off to fat tires. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Another 2-6 inches of snow is expected tomorrow, with 10 hours and 51 minutes (29sec.) of sunlight.

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Alpenglow looked over us and long shadows followed us home along the Tour of Anchorage route, the second most populous ski race in the country, which took place today. Gaining 5 min 44sec. a day, Alaskans are high on sunlight for the next six months.20120305-010013.jpg

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A good breakfast; to the hills

20120218-223112.jpg20120218-233331.jpg20120218-223013.jpgFour teeth poorer but no less wise, Lael has been relegated to a liquid diet for a week. A full pot of coffee and a ginger-coconut-kale smoothie started the day. Add: one stack pancakes and bacon for me. Following, she went one way– to work, and I went another– uphill.

No more than a half-mile from home, I connect with the Campbell Creek Trail. Then, I link the Tour of Anchorage ski route, crossing the path of a Junior Dogsled Championship in action, to Moose Meadow Trail, Black Bear, and the South Gasline Trail. Successive trails become narrower and narrower, from wide groomed multi-use trails to wide singletrack, then a narrow trail that teases my front wheel into the adjacent banks. One benefit of winter singletrack is the soft cushion of snow to either side; no help in staying upright is that same magnetic sea of wheel-swallowing snow.

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A steep, prolonged push up the Gasline Trail brings me to the Chugach State Park Prospect Heights Trailhead, and a parking lot full of Subarus with bumper stickers demanding that Tahoe remain blue, that Alaska remain wild, and Al Gore be elected president in 2000. These heights expose the city, the sea, and the far-off Alaska Range, where Denali and Foraker are in full glory. My prize, finally, is the Powerline Pass Trail which I find rideable at times; otherwise, it is a little too steep and a little too soft. The capacity of a fatbike is greatly diminished by the uphill grades. Fat tires may gain floatation, but in soft snow traction is at a premium without a much deeper tread than is available. Still, a wider rim and tire combination may help. The Nate tire at 5-6 psi worked admirably. Like walking uphill in snow, tires slip and snow slides.20120218-225032.jpg20120218-225105.jpg20120218-230011.jpg20120218-230031.jpg20120218-230041.jpg20120218-230053.jpg20120218-230127.jpg
My final efforts bring me to over 2200ft, within sight of Powerline Pass and well-exposed to wind and blowing snow. The last five miles had been little riding and a lot of pushing. Sweat on my brow, the ride home is chilling, and thrilling.
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Powerline Pass is pictured above as the snowy saddle, left of center. The pass is easily acessible by bike in the summer, with a final, steep push to 3550ft. A steep descent to Indian is found on the other side.