Return to Knik Glacier, via Hunter Creek

NicholasCarman1 2180

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”.  

“OK.”

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.   

NicholasCarman1 2135

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.

NicholasCarman1 2226

NicholasCarman1 2138

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

NicholasCarman1 2139

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.

NicholasCarman1 2140

NicholasCarman1 2141

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

NicholasCarman1 2142

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.  

NicholasCarman1 2144

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.      

NicholasCarman1 2092

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.

NicholasCarman1 2227

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.

NicholasCarman1 2156

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

NicholasCarman1 2223

NicholasCarman1 2157

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. 

NicholasCarman1 2158

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

NicholasCarman1 2161

NicholasCarman1 2159

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

NicholasCarman1 2160

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.

NicholasCarman1 2213

Just downstream there is open water.

NicholasCarman1 2162

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

NicholasCarman1 2166

NicholasCarman1 2168

The frozen banks make for the most efficient pedaling.

NicholasCarman1 2169

Leading to gravel tracks, and some untracked tundra.

NicholasCarman1 2170

NicholasCarman1 2094

NicholasCarman1 2171

NicholasCarman1 2172

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. 

NicholasCarman1 2173

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

NicholasCarman1 2176

NicholasCarman1 2175

Which makes for a fatbike playground.

NicholasCarman1 2177

NicholasCarman1 2178

Studs recommended.

NicholasCarman1 2182

NicholasCarman1 2181

NicholasCarman1 2185

NicholasCarman1 2183

Already, some open water in a few places.

NicholasCarman1 2184

NicholasCarman1 2187

NicholasCarman1 2186

NicholasCarman1 2190

NicholasCarman1 2191

Nearer to the glacier, icy slot canyons allow passage.

NicholasCarman1 2192

NicholasCarman1 2193

NicholasCarman1 2194

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.

NicholasCarman1 2195

Ice detail:

NicholasCarman1 2196

NicholasCarman1 2198

NicholasCarman1 2201

NicholasCarman1 2200

After sunning ourselves for an hour, we turn back.

NicholasCarman1 2202

NicholasCarman1 2204

NicholasCarman1 2206

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.  

NicholasCarman1 2205

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.   

NicholasCarman1 2207

NicholasCarman1 2208

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

NicholasCarman1 2209

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

NicholasCarman1 2211

NicholasCarman1 2212

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.  

NicholasCarman1 2214

Lael utilizes the beavers’ dam.

NicholasCarman1 2216

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

NicholasCarman1 2215

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

NicholasCarman1 2219

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.

NicholasCarman1 2220

Back on trail!

NicholasCarman1 2083

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.    

NicholasCarman1 2221

Advertisements

Return to Resurrection Pass, Alaska

NicholasCarman1 1543

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.

NicholasCarman1 1578

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.

NicholasCarman1 1577

NicholasCarman1 1579

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.

NicholasCarman1 1580

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

NicholasCarman1 1581

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.

NicholasCarman1 1583

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

NicholasCarman1 1584

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!)

NicholasCarman1 1591

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.

NicholasCarman1 1590

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.

NicholasCarman1 1593

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.

NicholasCarman1 1648

NicholasCarman1 1649

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.

NicholasCarman1 1650

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.

NicholasCarman1 1651

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

NicholasCarman1 1652

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

NicholasCarman1 1653

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

NicholasCarman1 1655

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

NicholasCarman1 1656

NicholasCarman1 1647

NicholasCarman1 1657

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.

NicholasCarman1 1607

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.

NicholasCarman1 1550

NicholasCarman1 1549

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.

NicholasCarman1 1610

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.

NicholasCarman1 1612

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

NicholasCarman1 1658

Lower, the trees provide shelter.

NicholasCarman1 1617

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.

NicholasCarman1 1614

NicholasCarman1 1555

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.

NicholasCarman1 1619

A fresh layer of snow makes any landscape more beautiful.

NicholasCarman1 1620

NicholasCarman1 1628

NicholasCarman1 1621

NicholasCarman1 1624

NicholasCarman1 1646

NicholasCarman1 1627

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

NicholasCarman1 1629

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.

NicholasCarman1 1631

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.

NicholasCarman1 1632

NicholasCarman1 1633

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.

NicholasCarman1 1637

NicholasCarman1 1639

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.

NicholasCarman1 1640

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

NicholasCarman1 1642

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

NicholasCarman1 1641

NicholasCarman1 1643

Across Resurrection Creek one last time.

NicholasCarman1 1644

Winter Bikepacking Resurrection Pass Trail, Alaska

NicholasCarman1 1365

The long nights of winter are waning, finally.  Riding our bikes has been paramount to avoiding seasonal blues– we ride to and from work, we meet for night rides on local singletrack, and we choose to ride all day in the sun when away from work.    

An even greater therapy is to get out for an overnight ride.  In a year where snow has been less common than ice and warm afternoons, many routes are supremely rideable.  Jeff Oatley’s 1000-mile, 10-day trek to Nome in the Iditarod Trail Invitational is a great example.  His record improves upon notable rides by Mike Curiak and Jay Petervary by almost a week.  These are all very strong riders, and each of their record-setting rides has included favorable conditions.  This year was simply faster.  Every human-powered Iditarod record has fallen.

Resurrection Pass is a popular trail for hikers and bikers in the summer.  In winter, skiers enjoy the trail and snow machines are allowed every other calendar year.  In a snowmachine year, skiing and fatbiking conditions are improved by trail traffic, as each machine grooms a four-foot wide path.  This year, machines have groomed the trail, but for lack of snow, they have abandoned the trail for the last few weeks, avoiding exposed dry dirt and winding, icy trails.  Skiiers have also stayed away.  Following footprints along the trail, a few hikers have ventured the first few miles, but no further.  It seems, the only equipment that excels in these conditions is a fatbike, with studs.

Shooting out of town after work on Saturday night, Nate, Lucas, and I aim for a coastline plot near the settlement of Hope, about an hour away by car.  Experiences such as this are hard to miss while living in Alaska.  I’ve been hearing about Resurrection Pass for years.

Leaving the city at night makes the whole operation feel like a tactical mission.  Loading and unloading gear adds to the fiction.  Our fatbikes also play the part of special ops vehicles.

NicholasCarman1 1391

By morning, a heavy layer of frost covers our equipment along Turnagain Arm.  South Anchorage is barely ten miles away, although the road reaches around to the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet at Portage, then over a low pass down to Hope which is situated at the end of the road.  The trailhead is several miles up a smaller road from Hope.

NicholasCarman1 1431

NicholasCarman1 1437

NicholasCarman1 1432

NicholasCarman1 1390

I stay warm with a lightweight 30deg bag, and as many bag liners as I can find at home.  The air is a little moist, but I rest well under the stars.  It is nice to be sleeping outside again.

NicholasCarman1 1433

NicholasCarman1 1435

Low fog is replaced by clear skies as the sun begins its work for the day.  Nearing the equinox, daylight almost measures 12 hours per day.  On a clear day, there is already more than 12 hours of useful light.  Twilight seems to last forever.

NicholasCarman1 1436

The trail begins with massive overflow ice.  Two of use are well equipped with Grip Studs.  By the time we return on Monday, the third in our party is in the market for some studs.  

NicholasCarman1 1439

In many places, most of the snow has melted away, save for the crusty swathe of snow remaining from snowmachine traffic.  In the absence of ice, snow conditions are fast and traction is even better than on dry dirt, especially with our aggressive tires.  Nate and Bud and Lou ride high, knobs biting into the crust. 

Ice and crust.

NicholasCarman1 1440

Ice and dry dirt.

NicholasCarman1 1441

Off-camber ice.

NicholasCarman1 1445

Ice and bridge crossings.

NicholasCarman1 1444

Ice and icy rivers.

NicholasCarman1 1447

Crossing the bridge over Resurrection Creek, we begin our ascent onto the glacial moraine, and up above the trees.  Signs of recent glaciation abound.  This is old gold mining country. 

NicholasCarman1 1448

NicholasCarman1 1449

NicholasCarman1 1450

Above the creek, we enjoy easy pedaling and views down the valley.

NicholasCarman1 1452

Intermittent side drainages.   We descend, and ascend serpentine trail.  Moments of mountain biking are mixed with a pleasant pedal.

NicholasCarman1 1455

NicholasCarman1 1457

NicholasCarman1 1456

Gaining…

NicholasCarman1 1458

gaining…

NicholasCarman1 1459

…gaining…

NicholasCarman1 1359

…out of the trees, and into the alpine tundra.  This is the last tree for a while.

NicholasCarman1 1461

NicholasCarman1 1463

Passing close to the hillside, the sun disappears.  It is a bit colder in the shade.

NicholasCarman1 1465

If we keep moving we’ll see more sun.

NicholasCarman1 1467

NicholasCarman1 1468

Finally, an anticlimactic rise leads us to Resurrection Pass, at 2600ft.  

NicholasCarman1 1361

We begin to descend the drainage on the other side.  Our goal for the night is a Forest Service cabin a few miles away.  

NicholasCarman1 1469

Our goal is also to catch a little more sun for the day.

NicholasCarman1 1363

It is easy to stand around and talk in the sun.  We enjoy lots of standing around and talking and laughing, and just enough riding for one day.

NicholasCarman1 1471

Normally, the pass is blanketed in snow this time of year.

NicholasCarman1 1472

Cresting a rise, Devil’s Pass Cabin comes into view.  Like skiers at the end of a day, we carve turns down the hill to our resting place.  Bike in-bike out access is nice.  The crowds aren’t bad, and the views are alright.

NicholasCarman1 1475

Late afternoon sun has warmed the cabin to 40 or or 45 degrees.  We unpack our things, remove our shoes, and soak in the sunlight. 

NicholasCarman1 1479

NicholasCarman1 1364

NicholasCarman1 1488

NicholasCarman1 1486

NicholasCarman1 1490

We enjoy the sun until the very end of the day.

NicholasCarman1 1366

NicholasCarman1 1489

By night, we busy ourselves with dinner and bed.

NicholasCarman1 1368

The cabin cools to freezing, but remains warmer than the outside air.  The thermometer outside reads 9 degrees in the morning.

NicholasCarman1 1492

Slowly packing our things is a luxury of not keeping a tight schedule.  

NicholasCarman1 1370

The view from the outhouse isn’t bad.  The latch that operates from the inside is broken.  Breezy, but beautiful.  

NicholasCarman1 1494

Packing up.  Can’t we just move here?

NicholasCarman1 1495

NicholasCarman1 1496

NicholasCarman1 1497

From the cabin, the trail continues another 17 miles to the south towards Cooper Landing, and a series of lakes and cabins.  We return towards Hope, to the north.  We will also pass a series of cabins on our return trip.  The cabins are available for rent through the Chugach National Forest.  Additionally, they provide respite on a cold day, or in case of emergency.  Lucas made use of several of these cabins a few years ago when an attempt riding the trail in winter.  His trek stretched from two days, to five.  Eventually, they left their bikes at Fox Creek cabin and walked out.  

Our experience is much different.

NicholasCarman1 1372

Crossing ice, crust, frozen tundra, and dry dirt, the trail is almost 100% ridable with fat tires and studs.  While I’ve tempered my fatbike evangelism, a winter in Alaska easily inspires year-round fatbike riding.  One bike for all seasons is a common topic of conversation.  “Fatbikes are awesome!” is a frequent observation.

NicholasCarman1 1499

Nate and Lucas choose the snowmachine path along the hillside, while I pedal the frozen edges of beaver ponds.

NicholasCarman1 1500

Grips Studs are great.  I wouldn’t trade this tire and stud combination for a pair of Dillingers, at least for this kind of exploratory riding.

NicholasCarman1 1374

A bit of dry dirt jogs the memory, even though it has only been a few months.

NicholasCarman1 1375

I find a shovel on the trail.  Nate is a part-time Big Dummy rider, and straps it to his handlebars.  “No junk left behind” seems to be a mantra among Big Dummy riders.

NicholasCarman1 1376

He still manages to shred the descent with his new handlebar system.

NicholasCarman1 1378

NicholasCarman1 1502

Down into the trees, we carve corners and unweight our tires over undulations left by machines.

NicholasCarman1 1504

Our return trip is bound to take only half the time.  Hold on for the icy stuff!  We confess to each other that we ride from patch of dry dirt to dry dirt, where we can expect reliable braking traction.  Leave the brakes alone on the icy stuff.

NicholasCarman1 1380

NicholasCarman1 1505

Several small drainages add topography to the descent.

NicholasCarman1 1506

NicholasCarman1 1379

The lower cabins feature wood stoves.  Devil’s Pass cabin has an oil stove, although we didn’t use it.  The system seemed complicated, and appeared to be out of fuel.

NicholasCarman1 1507

Lower, signs of spring are showing, although it may be premature.  Heavy snowfall is forecast this week.

NicholasCarman1 1509

NicholasCarman1 1511

NicholasCarman1 1382

Fatbikes are awesome. 

My Salsa Mukluk is packed with Porcelain Rocket framebag; Revelate Williwaw pogies, Gas Tank and Viscacha seatpack; Randi Jo Bartender bag, and Sea-to-Summit compression dry bag on the handlebars.  I am riding tubeless 27tpi Nates with Grip Studs on drilled Rolling Darryl rims.  

NicholasCarman1 1512

NicholasCarman1 1513

NicholasCarman1 1514

NicholasCarman1 1515

NicholasCarman1 1516

Lucas rides a Ti Salsa Mukluk with Carver carbon fork and Answer carbon 20/20 handlebar; Revelate framebag and seatpack; homemade pogies; and large Sea-to-Summit compression drybag.  We recently mounted his Bud and Lou tires to Marge Lite rims, tubeless. The split-tube method was chose for ultimate reliability.  He normally rides 100mm Clownshoe rims, although he wanted to try out his new lightweight wheelset.  For these conditions, the 100mm Clownshoe rims were not necessary.

NicholasCarman1 1517

Looks like a Christmas present.

NicholasCarman1 1518

NicholasCarman1 1519

Although some complain of sagging pogies, a nice feature of a flexible design is that they can be easily rolled out of the way when temperatures warm.  I prefer the easy access of my Revelate pogies, which are the most structured design around.

NicholasCarman1 1525

Nate rides an older pink Fatback; packed with Revelate framebag, seatpack, and Gas Tank; Dogwood Design pogies, and a large dry bag to the handlebars.  The shovel is not normally part of his bikepacking load.  

NicholasCarman1 1522

NicholasCarman1 1523

NicholasCarman1 1524

With a few extra hours, we explore the frozen river.  In winter, frozen bodies of water become Alaska’s superhighways.  This is not the best example, but such routes are integral to the Iditarod Tail, and other rural routes. 

NicholasCarman1 1526

NicholasCarman1 1528

Bushwacking back to the trail, we follow the icy track back to the trailhead.

NicholasCarman1 1530

Fatbike luge.

NicholasCarman1 1534

Beware the off-camber sections.  More than once, I slide through corners with a foot down.

NicholasCarman1 1532

NicholasCarman1 1386

NicholasCarman1 1536

As the sun falls, we crack a beer and load the bikes.  Who would have thought the riding would be so good?  The city of Anchorage is a mess of ice and puddles.  Skiing and snowmachining is nearly impossible on this trail right now.  While fatbikes aren’t always the best tool– such as when skies would be better, in deep snow– it is amazing the places they take us.  There are fewer and fewer places where a bicycle cannot be ridden.  Fatbikes are pretty cool.

NicholasCarman1 1537 

NicholasCarman1 1392

Clear/Fog

NicholasCarman1 1203

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.

NicholasCarman1 1205

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.

NicholasCarman1 1197

NicholasCarman1 1208

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

NicholasCarman1 1214

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

NicholasCarman1 1213

NicholasCarman1 1211

NicholasCarman1 1212

NicholasCarman1 1209

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.

NicholasCarman1 1207

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

NicholasCarman1 1215

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

NicholasCarman1 1216

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.

NicholasCarman1 1217

NicholasCarman1 1218

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

NicholasCarman1 1219

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.

NicholasCarman1 1220

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.

NicholasCarman1 1221

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

NicholasCarman1 1222

NicholasCarman1 1202

Back in Alaska

NicholasCarman1 581

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.

NicholasCarman1 772

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.

NicholasCarman1 595

Sunrise.

NicholasCarman1 768

Group rides.

NicholasCarman1 593

Night rides.  Lots of night rides.

NicholasCarman1 737

Sidewalks.

NicholasCarman1 771

Wildlife.  Moose are a common sight around town.

NicholasCarman1 758

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

NicholasCarman1 591

Sunset.

NicholasCarman1 751

Night rides, again.

NicholasCarman1 764

Busy boulevards— lots of those too.

NicholasCarman1 585

Icy, rutted roads.

NicholasCarman1 736

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

NicholasCarman1 766

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

NicholasCarman1 746

Snowy singletrack.  Miles and miles of singletrack.

NicholasCarman1 589

And much more to explore.

NicholasCarman1 745

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.

NicholasCarman1 582

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.

NicholasCarman1 739

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.

NicholasCarman1 749

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.

NicholasCarman1 735

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.

NicholasCarman1 754

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.

NicholasCarman1 770

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.

NicholasCarman1 733

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.

NicholasCarman1 734

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.

NicholasCarman1 774

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.

NicholasCarman1 730

NicholasCarman1 726

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.

NicholasCarman1 773

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

NicholasCarman1 702

NicholasCarman1 583

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.

NicholasCarman1 747

NicholasCarman1 753

NicholasCarman1 731

NicholasCarman1 750

Active safety equipment

20120108-170744.jpg

20120109-003822.jpg

20120108-170721.jpg

Ultralight, no-fuss safety equipment without batteries or moving parts; if it were a pro-level helmet or high-output lighting, you’d be out several hundred dollars. For $18, safety equipment retailers such as Alaska Safety Inc. will sell you a high visibility vest with 3M Scotchlite reflective striping. For a few dollars more, add several feet of DOT grade reflective tape and sew-on reflective ribbon, sold by the foot. Nobody in the cycling industry is making visibility gear of this caliber. Rims 65mm and wider found on fatbikes are prime for adhesive reflectivity, and the cambered shape of the rim should reflect well at acute angles to the direction of travel. Reflective ribbon will be sewn to Lael’s backpack, used for daily commutes to school, where she administers computer-based math tutoring. She has opted not to attach a rack to her Pugsley to keep the bike lighter and more agile, hesitant that it could rapidly take on the hulking character of her LHT, or worse. My Pugsley is at least as heavy as my High Sierra, although my legs don’t seem to care. Forget rollers and indoor winter training, a 35 lb bike with two pound tires (apiece) at 8 psi through six inches of snow should be adequate resistance to prepare for spring adventures.

I’ve been wearing reflective vests diligently since riding in France, where it is more common and since July 2008, mandatory to wear a reflective vest while riding in low-light conditions and at night. Additionally, drivers attending to roadside matters are required to wear a vest and display a reflective triangle. The French government enlisted the help of famed Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld in the following advertisement, stating “It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with anything, but it could save your life.”

Let me state the obvious: it’s visible, it’s cheap, and it allows drivers to acurately estimate your position on the road, rather than being distracted by additional blinking lights. It’s not to be used in place of proper lighting, but it will significantly augment any system, cheaply. It’ll pack into the smallest of bags for the necessary occasion, although you may find yourself wearing it most of the time, as I do. At first, I’d wear it when the roads were busy, shoulders narrow, light fading and rain falling– those hair-raising times that you don’t plan for. In time, I came to think “if I have it, why not wear it”, adding a significant measure of visibility to any situation. Fashion faux-pas is a small price for safety, non? It also sends a strong signal to drivers, saying: “I’m here, not by accident, but by design. I’m actually going somewhere (really). I am meant to be seen, which task has been accomplished. Give me a few feet and get on with your day. Thank you.” (my vest is particularly verbose). The tattered and soiled fabric and worn Scotchlite striping of my vest are all signs of miles and months on a bike and has become part of an unlikely fashion that I’m still hoping will catch on. Someday, I’ll say I was first.

Hi-vis colors like electric yellow and neon orange are eye-catching in flat light, particularly against a snowy backdrop. High quality reflective material is not to be underestimated and is especially effective on dark roads, away from city lights which distract the eyes; look for 3M Scotchlite and similar fabrics. Beware of inferior reflective materials on garden variety safety gear, often coated in transparent vinyl. It’s unfortunate cycling equipment suppliers do not offer more aggressively reflective materials. Even expensive jackets from Gore and Showers Pass feature only simple reflective patterns and piping.

Over a foot of fresh snow here. Above, Lael fearlessly descends a hill, almost finding her face in a snowbank. The reflective tape, which came is alternating sections of white and red, will be cut to size to adorn moving parts such as rims and cranks, and has been fit to the contours of our helmets. Reflective ribbon wil be stitched to my Carradice, and to Lael’s backpack.

In the transportation industry, active safety refers to the prevention of a crash with such aids as visibility equipment, mirrors and brakes; passive safety involves features that prevent injury in the event of a crash, such as a helmet or a seatbelt.

20120108-171107.jpg

20120108-171119.jpg

20120108-171129.jpg

20120108-171202.jpg

20120110-185015.jpg

A brighter day than usual

20111231-011458.jpg

A ride about town and a lingering sunrise a little after noon. Gaining less than two minutes of sun per day, but in a week it’ll be almost three, and then four and five and almost six. A truism fit for The Smiths: some days are brighter than others.

The bridges pictured are the Seward Highway, for which the Campbell Creek Trail has no official passage, dead-ending on either side of the highway. Unofficially, and with great enjoyment, one rides atop the frozen creek under four overpasses.
20111231-011516.jpg20111231-011524.jpg20111231-011540.jpg20111231-011549.jpg20111231-011700.jpg