Thursday, December 19, 2013

Farewell, Mona Lisa

Anchorage is a strange place, transportation-wise. I remember growing up and living in a pseudo-suburb. I worked in a bigger town 15 miles away while in high school. Therefore I drove from my home to work everyday and most days the first first question I asked myself was "Which way to go?"

There were five routes from my town to where I worked. Granted, it was in the midwest and what else is there to do with the land but to put roads on it. I'd venture that any towns or cities of any size are in a similar situation with multiple ways in and out. Anchorage is not like that at all.

The biggest city in Alaska has one route in from the north and one from the south. One. And it also has a large commuter population to the north - Eagle River, Chugiak, Peter's Creek, Palmer, Wasilla, Big Lake, and even further north. And at 5:00 on any given day, the one route from Anchorage to the north looks like any freeway in Los Angeles. Okay, maybe that's a bit unfair. We generally aren't stand-still or gridlock. Maybe more like Omaha Nebraska - traffic moving, but moving slooooowwwwlllly.

It seems that in the event of some type of catastrophe folks in Anchorage would be FUBAR. Can't get people out or supplies in. Not a good situation.

There has been a push for years to get a bridge over the Knik arm - the infamous Bridge to Nowhere - to help split the traffic. Folks going to the more northern parts of the valley would be able to cut quite a bit off their trip and it would hopefully reduce some congestion on the main route.

However, in Alaska nothing gets done without a fight and a lot of finger-pointing and teeth gnashing. This article gives a bit of history and background as well as discussing the changes that the governor proposes.

First off, let me state that in general and in principle I find Gov. Parnell about as repulsive as the governor he replaced. He has proven himself to be generally a close-minded, bigoted, homophobic, and, most importantly, short-sighted leader who willingly whores the state out to the highest bidder. But at first blush, I agree with his approach on this one. Read the article here, then come on back, ya hear?

I get that transport funds are always in short supply. But shouldn't the lack of egress and ingress to the state's largest city be considered not only a matter of transport, but also public safety?

I've heard a lot of arguments against the bridge - many focused around the cost vs. benefit. (Toll road ideas just don't fly up here - roads should be free, right? This is Murica - where the car is king, after all.) But I've also heard arguments from the people who live in Government Hill, where this bridge would connect with Anchorage and they don't like the idea of having increased traffic in their neighborhood. They're generally fine with the bridge, but route the traffic through someone else's neighborhood - like Mountain View. The people there don't really matter as they are minorities and the working poor anyway.

The other argument, or conspiracy theory, I've heard is that the city fathers - Sullivan, et. al., don't want the bridge to go through because that will potentially eat into their tax base as people leave the city for the new, roomy, and white bread housing tracts that will go up on the other side of the Arm when the bridge goes in. And there is some validity there. That's one reason we moved to the valley. Couldn't afford a house in Anchorage, couldn't get as much house, as much space here. And I'd be paying twice to two and a half times as much each year in property taxes. (This is a discussion for another day - how much I miss the services that the Anchorage property taxes provide...)

But the biggest argument is just that people don't think they should have to pay to drive. And because the idea of a toll was connected to the bridge, there is a vocal majority who will never, no matter what, try to shout down any idea or plan that is connected to the Knik Arm Bridge.

Anyway, read the comments on the story. They tell the whole story and, unfortunately, provide a good representation of many Alaskans - quick to spout off, speaking only in either/or options, unwilling to discuss any opinions that do not mesh with their own, and generally really iffy in the grammar arena.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meet Your Master

At eleven below zero the sound of tires rolling on snow sounds just like rubbing two pieces of styrofoam together. Not a pleasant nor unpleasant sound.

At this temperature any moisture on a bike freezes quickly. Like the moisture in my rear brake cable. At this temp either the muscles start to get stiff or the grease in the bike gets stiff. Things freeze. It's no fun. Except when it is.

 I don't want to spend too much time talking about the cold and how it is soooo unbearable, but I ride in it anyway. That's just silly.

Instead, let's talk about rumors and trains. Trains and rumors. For a number of years, going back to at least 2009, there has been talk of a commuter train from the Valley to Anchorage. To this point, there's been a lot of roadblocks. Not the least of which is the cost of upgrading rail lines in order to bring the travel time below an hour.

Yesterday I heard from an older woman on the bus that the talk of a commuter run is in the works again and that the Alaska Railroad Company plans to have it started by mid-summer.

My initial thought is that this is great. Anything to offer the types of choices that will get folks off the road and into mass transit.

Then I actually stopped to think about it. And there are a number of issues I foresee. First, the Valley Mover bus is in a constant state of flux trying to match service levels to ridership numbers and right now we are in the midst of discontinuing another bus from the schedule. So, the addition of a daily commuter train or trains likely means that a portion of the VM riders will migrate to the train, thus reducing rider numbers, thus requiring a consolidation of buses. My only concern, as a rider, with this is that with fewer options for bus schedules, the harder it will be for some riders to make the bus work with their schedule - thus possibly reducing ridership further. You see where this is going. A downward spiral.

Another issue I see is with the train service itself. In the winter it would be wonderful to be on a train and not have to worry about the traffic and road conditions. And if the train runs faster than the bus, that's another plus. But at what cost? Right now the VM is $125 for a monthly pass. Can the train meet or beat that? Maybe so, but something tells me that it's not likely. If the train is not reasonable, not less than what it would cost to drive, then why would someone use the service? And where are the train stations to be located? The VM has the benefit of really being able to pick up and drop off anywhere. The train does not have this luxury. Though, one might be able to purchase a hot cuppa Joe on the train. And I'm sure the ride would be warmer in the winter than the busses are.

I'm excited to see how this plays out - if it plays out at all. More choices, on the whole, have to be a good thing. Getting more people into mass transit is the ultimate goal and if the train helps with that, then that is awesome.

Monday, December 16, 2013


You don't get a second chance. There are no re-dos here. So why waste the time by taking pictures?

I get it, this blog could use more pictures. The problem's are these, though - 1) When I'm riding, I like to ride. Every moment in a life is unique. There is no way to repeat anything and have it be the same as the first time. You can only do something the first time once. And each time you do something it is the first time for that time doing it. I just don't like breaking my experiences up into disconnected first times by stopping to take pictures.

2) Pictures make for weak writing. Yes, a picture is worth however many words, but they also allow us to not focus as much on telling the stories in an engaging ways using words. And I need as much help as I can get on that front.

3) I don't like the overhead of carrying a camera. I don't have a cell phone. Well, I have a work iPhone that I don't want to have with me on the trail. I have an emergency pre-paid cell that I often "forget" to bring with me and even if I did, its camera is worthless. I also always have my iPod with - a classic with no camera. I just don't want to carry anything else extra. Which leads me to my next point.

4) Riding is supposed to be a way to get away from the daily grind, right? For me, having a camera with and worrying about getting "the" shot to share with the world keeps me from being able to get away.

I love looking at other people's pictures, but I don't think I'll be joining their ranks more than occasionally. When I ride, I like to ride.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


What is the criteria to call for a ride? I don’t have any hard and fast rules, but here is a story about a time when I hadn’t the choice.

Early October in Anchorage Alaska. We’ve got some snow on the ground and I’ve been working on the north slope for the past two months and things have been frozen up there that whole time. I’m riding my fat bike and trying to do some exploring on some trails I’ve never ridden before.

There is a large swath of land in Anchorage that is swamp or muskeg. This means that for part of the year there are areas that are not rideable. But on the converse, once it freezes, there are some wonderful riding options that open up.

Riding new areas presents challenges, particularly when you are breaking trail and don’t know exactly where the trail goes or how to link up the trails you know with the new areas you’re riding.

Early October.  In the 20’s. No wind. Sunny. Still riding the clipless pedals. Light gloves. Light jacket. Rolling through the woods and building a nice sweat. Four miles from home. Two miles from the nearest main road. Less than a half mile from the nearest road in general.

The trail I’m on is used in the winter by dog mushers. In the summer it’s a swamp. Right now I’m the only one out there.

Seeing no other bike tracks should have been a hint. Hit up some kind of familiar single tracks. Then cut through the woods following what appears to be a social trail that ends up dumping me onto a wide trail through the woods, clearly a dog sled trail. Good ups and downs, some nice corners, then a drop into stream crossing. The stream is frozen over, but there is some overflow. Nothing to worry about though. Ride through it without issue, but once through, the sled trail seems to disappear. Rather, multiple trails branch off. I take the one to the north, figuring that this trail will meet up with the trails I know.

After a half mile and no roadway coming into view, I start to worry that I might have made the wrong choice. Another quarter mile later I came to a stream that wasn’t frozen. I had no choice other than to cross it. It was small enough that I was able to jump it without getting my feet wet.

The next stream crossing wasn’t quite so easy. It was about six and a half feet of open water with another two to three feet of ice on each bank. I laid the bike down across the gap to use as a bridge. Hell, it’s a Pugsley, so I figure it can handle it. I just wish the ice would’ve been able to handle it. I get half way across the bike bridge when the ice ahead of me broke, spilling the front of the bike and me into the water. Water up to my shin. Icy. Almost instantly my toes go numb.

I hike a bike a ways, cross a few more streams. Well, the same stream, just different bends of it. By the third or fourth crossing both feet are numb and soaked. I’m walking more than riding as there are no paths here.
Eventually I come to a large flat field. I hop back on the bike and start winding my way among the humocks – hunting for the easiest riding. I can see that it is ice that I am riding on. I’m nervous because of the amount of open water I’ve already crossed and who knows how deep the water under the ice is.

The thing is, I know right where I am now. I know that I have less than a half mile until I get to the roadway. I can see the power lines that run parallel to the road. But I don’t know about the ice. I don’t know how deep the water is. I don’t know if I can make a straight shot to the road or if I’ll have to wind around and take the long way. The other option is to backtrack to where I last knew where I was and then make the ride back home – six or seven miles versus a half mile to the road and then two miles of road riding to get home.

So I keep moving forward. I’m able to ride. For a while, anyway. Until my front wheel breaks through the ice. Well, through a top layer of ice. Back to hike a bike, but no water. Each step breaks me through the top layer of ice and through a six inch void before landing on a second layer of ice.

I continue on, though. Pushing the bike, breaking through the ice. I know that the road is right there. I just need to make it there, then I can head for home and be warm and toasty in no time flat.

I can see some open water where a moose has obviously punched through, but I can’t tell how deep it is. I detour around, trying to avoid thinner ice. Instead I punch through myself. Water sloshes into my shoes and over my calf. I can feel my foot sinking into the mud and hope that my shoe doesn’t get sucked from my foot.

My next step takes me deeper into the water. I’m to my knee now. What do I do? I decide to take another step to see how deep that one goes. Just to the knee again. I push forward, water to my knees for another 75 yards or so. I can’t feel anything below my knees, so I figure there’s no use worrying about getting wet at this point.

My next step I only sink to my ankle and I think this is a good thing. Besides, I can see the road now. See the cars moving back and forth. What? 500 yards, 1000? I step forward, the longest journey beginning with a single step and all. And I sink to my waist in nearly freezing water. The bike floats and keeps me from submerging completely. I am sinking in the mud and ooze and know at this point I have to move forward even if that means that I have to swim.

I hold onto the bike as a life preserver and take my next step, tentative. Same depth. Again and again, the water doesn’t get any deeper or shallower. Then it does. Knee deep. Shin. Ankle. Then dry land. A small rise before the drop into the ditch and the road on the other side. The ditch, too, is full of water. I have one more gauntlet to run.

I go full bore, running, figuring I’m gonna get wet no matter what, so… The water is mid-thigh deep with a sheen of road grime and oil. I plow through and make it to the road. I hope on the bike, click into the pedals and start riding. My legs don’t want to work and as I come to a stop to cross the busy roadway I can’t disengage from the pedals – I’m frozen in and the bike tips with me on it. Every sense is dulled. I slowly get up, walk across the road during a break in the traffic on wooden legs, take the emergency cell phone out of my pack, and call the wife for a ride. I know that I could make the ride, but the combo of wet and weather would likely result in hypothermia. Even in the city in Alaska the land can kill you. 


Last night the ride home was the very definition of nucking futs! Get to the valley and hop off the bus. It's windy. Not breezy or blustery, but f*cking Windy. With a capital W. 37MPH. From the north/north-east. Thus a head or head cross wind. 

So I cover every bit of exposed skin and start pedaling. Trying to anyway. For the first 20th of a mile it's going great. I'm able to keep moving and am not getting blown around too much. Then I get my first gust. It hits me and pushes me and the bike from the east side of the MUP to the west side and tries to push me up the plow berm and off the trail. I get off and push for a bit until it dies back down enough to actually ride. Ride another 100 yards before I get punched in the face with a huge gust that stops me dead. Literally stopped dead. I'm pedaling, but my rear tire is now just slipping on the ice. I dismount and walk again. Or try to. I have to stop walking because it is gusting so hard that when I lift a foot to take a step it is pushing me backwards on the ice. I top 260 lbs. And the wind is pushing me backwards. 

This wind hates me. It lets me ride in 100 yard stretches and then kicks in again just as soon as I hit one of the numerous glare patches on the trail. Wind + dirt + blowing snow = mirror finish ice. Negative friction. 

Did I mention that this is all on an uphill? Yeah. A long, slow uphill. 

Eventually I get out of the open and am able to ride again and it goes slow, but better. It took me 50 minutes to go three miles. 

I have no idea how high the gusts were, but the weather service had predicted 60MPH gusts yesterday. The thing is, I've been in 60MPH winds before and these felt a lot stronger than that. 

The upside of last night's ride is that it made this morning's ride with 16MPH winds and gusts of only up to 25MPH much more reasonable. Heck, I didn't have any problems getting to the bus stop at all.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lemon Cake and Wine

How hard must it be to decide to cancel bus service based on weather reports and warnings. Think about the backlash to deal with from the folks who rely on that service to get to their jobs. Think about the bosses whose workforce is cut for the day due to transportation challenges. Think about the talking heads taking to the interwebs to either crucify or sanctify you. Not a job I'd want to have. But that's the job someone had at the Valley Mover yesterday.

I assume that the choice to suspend service for the day was in large part due to the two prior freezing rain events that brought traffic to close to a standstill and resulted in a couple of dedicated drivers risking their lives in order to safely bring home a hundred or more riders safely.

For me it ended up being a nice little remote work day. Started working a bit early and knocked off a bit early. I ended up getting a lot done I wouldn't have otherwise.

Today was no such dice. The busses ran. I rode. I had a hell of a time getting to the bus stop this morning. See my route to the bus stop takes me first a touch south, then east and north before I turn south again. In the winter, our prevailing winds are from the north/north-east. Today they were blowing like banshees.

So much so that I was stopped dead in my tracks a couple of times. Couple the wind with a poorly working set of ders, and, well, no fun. Until I turned to the south. Then it just got scary. 30+ MPH winds pushing at my back as I'm trying to keep it wheels side down on a path that is covered with a mix of textured ice, frozen road grime, drifted snow, and glare ice. At one point I was topping 30 without touching the pedals. Scary. As I get almost to the bus stop, there is a sharp curve to the west where I am broadside to the wind. And it is glare ice - scoured smooth by 12 hours of wind and snow blowing across it. Take a guess what happened.

I went down. Luckily it wasn't hard. I was prepared for it. But it still wasn't fun. And I'll feel it tomorrow. Heck, I feel it already.

And this is what I get to face on the way home - the first 2/3rds of the ride head north. Up hill. Yeah.

See that wind speed? I've been watching it creep up all day. I'd hoped it was recording gusts. Don't look that way. I have a suspicion that there will be lots of hike a bike on the way home tonight, at least until I get to the relative protection of my neighborhood.

Not looking forward to it.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Things slow down. Rather, my mind slows as it gets gummed up with too much going on in my life. Or so it seems. Like a drivetrain that's been abused. Crunchy thoughts and a real desire to not do anything.

Must be the end of the semester blues again. And frankly I'm happy it's about over. It's been a rough one. Three sections with one a face to face three hour block class takes a lot out of a person. One more week, then final grading, then a bit of time away. Time away from my regular job as well. A vacation. I can't wait. It'll be nice to be able to relax a bit and just veg. I'm hopeful that during the time away I'll get to do some of the riding I've been wanting to do - Moose Range, Knik Glacier, others. At a minimum, there will be some time spent at a public use cabin over the vacation - no cell phones, no computers, no nothing. I hope we have enough wood to keep warm.

This past weekend was the second annual Global Fat Bike ride. My original plans were to ride Moose Range. Weather had other plans. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we had a nice mix of freezing rain and freezing fog - thus making riding treacherous and visibility nearly extinct. As such I ended up putting in my ride time at the MatSu Greenbelt trails, planning to hit up the Bearberry trails and connecting up with Picnic Table and back home. In the end, I bypassed Bearberry, as things were slick enough that I was having a hard time staying upright even on the easiest single track. Better to be safe than sorry.

Overall it was a good ride, even with a bunch of hike a bike. Got some pictures that I may share someday.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What'r You Doing...

It's that wonderful time of year again - Global Fat-Bike Day. Well, for some of us, everyday is fat bike day. And that's okay. For others, it's a good excuse to get out there and go for a ride.

Honestly, for me, it'll be just another day and another ride. I may use the day to hit up some new terrain, possibly the Moose Range area riding on the snow machine tracks. Or I may just wait and do a midnight ride at the CrevMo trails. What's important is that I get out there. Which is what I would plan to do whether or not it is a "special" day.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Center

Wow, it's been a while. With the holiday and all, I've not been commuting much, but have been getting in some great rides, just the same. The weather's been great for getting out there and laying tracks. Cold, crisp, calm, and just enough new snow to add to the base.

But this is Alaska, so nothing is as easy as it should be or as it seems. I ride my bike as a way to hopefully simplify my life a bit. No worries about gas or insurance, speeding tickets or red light tickets. Yet it feels like things are often way more complicated than they should be. It feels like I am constantly replacing parts on the bike just to keep it running.

The latest in the line is a new chain. I'd been dealing with a stuck link for a while and decided I'd best pick up a new one. In all fairness, it had been eight months since the last replacement, so most definitely due.

Of course, when putting on a new chain, there is always the possibility that you find that the cassette is also in need of replacement. Generally, I can replace the chain twice before replacing the cassette. Normally, though, I use Shimano cassettes. This last time I used a SRAM - cheaper initially. But the new chain caused serious skipping issues. So, after ruling out the possibility of a grimed up derailleur that was causing the skipping, I dug out an old Shimano cassette that was relegated to the parts bin as end of life. Threw it on and the skipping issue has been 99% cleared up. There is still one gear that will skip if I shift to it while under load, but it might just work to get me through the winter. That's what I hope anyway. I know I should just man up and get a new one, but when my bike looks like the following pictures too often for the next six months, it seems like throwing money away.

Yup, winter is tough on everything up here in the north. Sometimes it is enough to simply limp through another one before worrying about rebuilding all those things that the weather has broken down - bikes, bodies, houses, yards, cars. Baby them along as long as possible and when the sun comes back, work like hell to get them back into shape for another go round. 

Monday, November 25, 2013


Just words today. Just words. And maybe some pictures. We'll see.

Public transportation has its ups and downs, its adventures and misadventures, and just plain old pains in the ass. Friday was a day that was down and a pain.

See, the weather forecasters had been prepping everyone for freezing rain for a week, but when Thursday came along and the forecasters pushed back the warnings first to 5 PM, then Midnight, then 5AM, then noon on Friday, it seemed that we weren't going to get the weather predicted. When I woke up Friday morning and looked at the road reports, the weather report, and out the window, I couldn't see anything to concern me. The skies were partly cloudy and it was breezy, but not bad by any stretch of the imagination. So I geared up and headed out the door.

By the time I got to the university, there was still no weather to speak of and nothing to concern me. I changed and went to my office to check emails, download assignments, and drink some coffee. My office has no windows.

When I headed to class I noticed that it appeared much cloudier than when I came in, but no big deal. That was 8:40. By 9, when my students arrived, it had started raining in earnest. By 10 my wife was emailing me because the Valley Mover was going to have reduced service in the afternoon, just three busses, just to get folks home. The last bus out of Anchorage for the morning, at 8:50, still hadn't made the bus barn by 1:00.

I hung at the university until 2. I figured I'd get to the bus stop plenty early just to let all the other riders know I was going to be on that bus come hell or high water, with my bike. Not that anyone who rides the bus seems to understand the concept of line. But anyway...I left the university at 2 and it took me 47 minutes to get to the bus stop - 4 miles away. The glaze of ice on everything was being slowly covered with fresh, dry powder snow, creating the best possible lubrication known to man. Slipping and sliding. Good times. When I came out of the office to hop on my bike it was a scene like out of some lame disaster movie about advancing ice sheets.

The entire bike was covered with a nice rime of ice.

By the time the bus arrived at 4:30, there were close to 70 people waiting to board and we boarded them all. Obviously standing room only for the ride back to the valley. About an hour and a half later we were back to the bus stop, I was firmly ensconced in my family truckster, and headed home. I was a long and harrowing day, but in the end, the bus driver really pulled it out. For that I am thankful. Sure, I could have slept at the office or gotten a hotel room, but I just couldn't see doing that unless I absolutely had to.

The nice thing about the weather on Friday is that it led to some really nice riding conditions on Saturday. I ended up punching in trail from the college to the Long Lake connector via Picnic Table and back. A nice, approximately 10 mile ride. No pictures as it was just too much fun to bother with that.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ghosts of a Dead Empire

There is something about winter that I simply can't describe, but which I long for year round. I don't know if it is the darkness or the stillness, but it seems that the coming of winter always brings back happy memories of childhood.

I remember times when my father would come home from work smelling of dirt and cold and would tell us to get dressed quick so that we could go sledding or ice skating as new snow fell. I remember driving around small North and South Dakota and Minnesota towns in stranger's cars, being reckless and innocent and invincible in the aftermath of snow storms that would otherwise grind traffic to a halt and close the Interstates. I remember curling up with a blanket, a cup of coffee, and a book with the table lamp burning all day, watching it snow while reading and just enjoying the moment away from responsibilities and the world in general.

The Alaska winter is a bit different than those I grew up with, though. Mostly it is the difference in the amount of light we get during the winter. There is something comforting in nightfall at 5 in the afternoon in December. There is something disconcerting about nightfall at 3 in the afternoon. The strangest thing is the quality of light in December here. Even if it is a bright, sunny day, if you were to take a picture and look at it later, you'd realize that the brightness you thought you saw wasn't so bright at all. Perpetual twilight. It can weigh on a person.

I think that, in some ways, my daily exposure to the elements, even though it is dark for both of my commutes, helps me to battle most of the winter blahs. Even so, I do notice that as the light grows dim, I get lethargic and grumpy.

Though, a good bike ride always makes me feel a bit better. I hope that my kids someday have fond memories of the times we spent together in the outdoors during the winter.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Where is My Mind

Where is my mind? I don't know right now. Either it is in the clouds or it is under water. I have a lot of difficulty focusing on anything lately. I want to be lazy. I want to not need to get up at 4 in the morning or spend my weekends grading papers. I want to hibernate.

I got spoiled a bit over the summer not teaching in addition to my normal work. Now I juggle teaching 12 credit hours and a 40 hour a week work week and it is difficult at times. But it does allow me to commute in the way that I prefer.

But when it's ten below zero in the morning, any commuting seems silly. I'd much rather stay at home and in bed.

Right now I'm just working for the weekend. Or, rather, the semester end. Once the semester ends, I'll get a bit of a break and take a few weeks off of work. We've got a cabin in the woods rented for Christmas, and we have a bit of firewood to take with us. We'll light a fire, enjoy each other's company, and just unplug for a bit.

And hopefully the break will also allow me to warm my bones a bit. For the past week I've been unable to get warm. My fingers are usually bricks by the time I finish my commute and my nose often feels as if it is burning. It's only November, but already I've ridden more than a few times in sub-zero temps. Not a good sign.

At some point it'll warm back up and things will be grand. I just hope they can figure out the heat on the bus sometime soon. 

Monday, November 18, 2013


I've always loved winter. There is something amazing to me about the way skin smells after it has been out in the cold for hours. That mix of clean and cold, if clean and cold have smells.

I've been bad about sharing that love with my loved ones, though. I am a bit of a selfish person, in general. I'm not a guy you'll meet on a group ride. If I end up going to some social function, most likely I'll be the guy at the back of the room, looking down into my drink until I've built enough courage to actually speak. It's not that I don't like sharing experiences with others, I am just a coward overall. It's easier to not share with others.

But I've often felt that I'm cheating my kids this way. How can they really know who I am if I don't share a bit of myself with them?  And what is it that I like to do over just about anything else? Bike. In the snow. On fat tires.

Saturday morning we woke up early and ran over to Backcountry Bike and Ski, in Palmer and rented a Kona Wo. 17 inch frame. The perfect size to fit all three of my kids as well as my wife. The shop was super helpful, changing out the mustache bar for a low-rise bar to give a more trail-capable ride.

The idea was to rent the bike for Saturday and return it early Sunday morning. What I didn't realize at the time is that the shop isn't open on Sundays in the winter. And the owner, whom I spoke with about renting the bike, forgot as well, as they just switched to their winter hours. Anyway, we made a plan to meet at 9 on Sunday morning to return the bike.

Good plan, plenty of time for each of the kids to get a ride in. For the first ride, I took my oldest and one of her friends out, put her friend on my bike and let them go. As we were waiting for their return, I got a call from the bike shop letting me know that I could keep the bike until the shop opened again, on Tuesday. No charge. Now, this is awesome. I don't have to try to fit in everyone's ride in one day. What could be better?

My daughter and her friend returned and my son and I hopped on the bikes for our turn. It was cold - 12F and clear. My son, for some reason, just wasn't feeling it. Whether it was the weather or the heavy bike, I'm not sure, but we put in six miles in just a touch under 2 hours. Slow going, but overall fun. I think that my son ended up enjoying it overall, just needs to be in a bit better shape.

The plan was to then take my oldest out for a night ride when she got done at the high school play. Full moon weekend, so what better time to ride in the dark? In the end, she got done way too late so we decided to postpone until Sunday.

Wake up Sunday and it is windy and cold. 20MPH winds from the north. 16F temps. Cold. My middle daughter and I decided to run over to the river to take a ride out there, but as we got closer and watched the wind whipping the snow opted instead for the Matanuska River Park trails. A new area for me. Spent an hour and a half putzing around on the trails in the woods out of the wind. The first thing my middle one said to me as she started riding the bike was "This feels weird, but really cool." She loved it, even though many of the hills required her to hop off and hike a bike.

Later in the day my oldest and I went out for a nice little ride as the sun was setting. So we left at 4 and got home in the dark. The ride was awesome, though. Watching the sun go down and the full harvest moon come up. Yeah, pretty awesome.

Thanks to Backcountry for helping me share my passion with my kids. I'll probably have to figure out how to buy a fattie for them now. A good problem to have.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Future Warrior

I've now got a few rides under my belt with the CygoLite Expilion 680 and I have to say I am pleased. To this point I've not used it on full blast at all and have had plenty of light to find the trail through the woods at night. That's what it's about.

I hit up my local single track on Saturday night to see how the light would perform. I had mentioned previously that the mount seemed a bit wonky and that it rotated left to right. Right? Well, it's supposed to do that. I was wrong in my assertion that the movement from side to side was not equidistant. So, it is. My bad.

The other issue I mentioned was that the mount seemed to be a bit loose where the light attached. I worried that this would cause the beam to jutter and move when riding rough trail. This was not the case. While riding some rooty social trails I never once noticed that the beam moved more than the bike itself.

I took some images of the beam itself on the four different output settings.





Because I use a helmet mounted light as well, the medium beam works just about perfect for me to light up the trail ahead of me. I did use the boost setting for a bit of my ride, on a section of wide ski trail where I knew I'd be topping out around 25mph on the downhill sections, which, as most ski trails seem to do, end in blind, tight corners. 

If a light system works in the woods on the single track, it will work for my daily commutes just fine. And this light seems to work just fine. It gives me a bright enough beam to see what I need to see and also provides a number of strobe options to help others see me. Good stuff. 

I don't have much to say about my afternoon ride yesterday, but thought I'd share a couple of pictures to illustrate just how amazing this place is. 

And people wonder why I love winter around here. 

Monday, November 11, 2013


The tide has turned. We have snow. And it's staying. Quite a change from Saturday night's ride.

I went out after dark on Saturday to further test my light set up and found it to be wonderful. After two hours in the dark I still had light and hadn't run into any trees, rode off any trails, or had any mishaps of any sort.

Saturday's ride was on frozen dirt, which allowed me to clear some rooty sections that I wouldn't be able to on dry or wet days. The trails were fast and firm.

Sunday brought first rain and then snow. About three inches of the white stuff. Who knows how much rain. Now comes time to get to work. Yes, that's right, it's time to pack trail. I figure with the water content of the snow, getting out there now and riding it in will result in some awesome trails. As such, I'll be out there this afternoon. Just getting my ride on. Though, first things first, I'll have to pack down my trail to the bus stop and back. I guess you gotta work before you can play, right?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hara/The Center

Okay, first things first. Go out to this site and watch the Rosetta videos. These guys blow my mind in so many ways. First off, they all are like regular guys. The singer is an AP Psych teacher in a Philly HS. The Guitarist builds custom amplification modules and repairs electronics. The bassist is a Judo instructor. And the drummer. Well. He's a drummer, so he works at a coffee shop and runs a really awesome podcast, which you should also check out provided you are not easily offended by cussing. Just a bunch of real guys doing awesome things. Love it.

Winter. In Alaska. Time of eternal darkness. Or so it seems, anyway. As a bike commuter, when the time changes each fall, I have to seriously consider my lighting options. In one day I go from needing lights only on one portion of the commute to needing them for both commutes. Further, the closer we get to the solstice, the more likely it is that I will need lights during the course of the day as well.

Say I need to run to my other office at 10:30 in the morning? Yup, I'll need lights. Want to leave a touch early and go to REI on the way home, at 3? Lights.

In the past I've repurposed other lights for my need - cheap flashlights and general camping headlamps. They work, but the challenge I've always faced is keeping them in batteries. That and the lights not being quite bright enough.

Last winter I used a combination of a Princeton Tec Apex headlamp strapped to my helmet and an LED flashlight hose clamped to an old bike light mount. The problem that I kept running into so far this fall was that my batteries in one of the lights would inevitably die mid ride. Of course, I don't want to charge batteries every night, but only when they are dead because they have a set number of charges in them before they go poof. Also, who wants to carry an extra set of batteries or a charge with to work every day? Not I.

Couple this with the greater level of darkness in the Valley and I realized that I might need a better light solution. After some research, I ended up deciding on a middle of the road light - not too bright, but bright enough - the Cygo Lite Expillion 680. 

I've only gotten two rides in with the new light, but I thought I'd share first impressions.

The light appears bright enough for my needs and has a ton of options for output, from 680 lumens to SOS flash. What I like about the light is that it throws a nice white light with a wide enough beam that the periphery is viewable. I'm still using the helmet mounted Apex because I want to be able to have a beam of light wherever I point my eyes and the 680 does not come with a helmet mount. Though I don't know that I would use it even if it did.

There are some things I don't like about the light, though. Overall the build quality seems solid on the light itself. However, the handlebar mount - not so much. It rotates left and right, as if the screw holding the pieces of the mount together was lose. I tried to tighten it and it was not lose at all. I would say this is meant as a feature, but the rotation is not to the same degree each way. The second big issue I have with the mount is that the light itself doesn't seem to click in as securely as it should. On the road it doesn't seem to rattle much, but I'm afraid that when I start riding trails in the dark (Saturday anyone?) that it will wobble and make the light not as functional as I'd like. Another issue for me is the rubber cover for the USB port - try as I might, I can't seem to get the damned thing to close and stay closed. Slight issue there with the amount of rain we get here most times. I need something that is going to remain water tight.

We'll see how it goes. I like the quality of the light, but there are some quirks.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


What is it? Spingtime again?

It seems like it, at times. We've had no snow to speak of and there are days when I could certainly still wear shorts for the afternoon bike ride. Right now, looking out the window it is sunny with blue skies just calling to me to get out there and into it.

And I hope to.

The nice weather has led to some great commutes overall. Yeah, we've had some rain and some chilly mornings, but for this time of year... hell, I can't complain.

However, the longer we go without snow, the more nervous I get. Any place that deals with snow knows that the first few snowfalls mean numerous accidents and near misses. I've been super lucky with my commute that I have not gotten into any accidents, apart from single bike accidents where I wasn't paying attention or whatever.

My first three miles of commute is on roadways where bikes are not the norm. These roads are also completely unlit, so even with my lights and reflectors, it is anyone's guess as to whether or not I'll be seen. I'm fond of saying that it is not if I get hit, but when. Will it be my mistake at the root or the driver's mistake? Will I have done all I can to reduce my risk?

That's the strange thing to me, though, is that people seem to assume that biking is more risky than driving is. Yes, the outcome of an accident when on a bike versus in a car are often drastically different, I would contend that the greater speeds and greater percentage of impaired and unskilled drivers makes the average drive along a busy highway much more dangerous than my daily commute. No supporting evidence to back up my claims, but... I'll stick with them.

That is all.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Elephant Man

Look at that mug. What a goofy looking guy. I think I had said once before no selfies, but in my defense I was trying to capture the steam coming off me in the cool temps.

So, the story of how that came about, I guess.

This past weekend was brilliant. One of those ones that just make you really want it to never end. Maybe it was something in my head making me feel that way, because nothing special happened. It was all pretty run of the mill stuff.

Saturday morning was taken up with running all over the place to get kids to activities, pick them up from activities, run errands, take the kids back to activities, and the rest of the stuff that comes along with the business of living.

But come 3:30, I was finally free to go for a ride. I had wanted to do the Dias De Los Muertos bike ride up at Hatcher's, but with the other things going on, just didn't work out. So, instead I let the wife know early that I was planning to go for a two or more hour ride. I wasn't sure where to ride, though. I have the Nates on the bike, so I didn't want to ride too much pavement and I wasn't sure that I felt like driving somewhere just to go for a ride.

After much deliberation, I decided to hit up the Crevase Moraine trail system and try to hit up some single track before the snow flies.

It was the right choice. I've obviously not been out there for a while as I stumbled onto a whole slough of new singletrack. Awesome, flowy, not terribly technical single track. Just good, clean fun riding bombing down the downs and hammering up the ups.

All in all, I was able to stitch together just about ten miles of mixed trail riding, including some double-track ski trails and the single track. Got some amazing saddle time in, completely by myself, take in some great views, and get a bit sweaty and muddy.

In the end, I put in 20 miles and was in the saddle for 2.5 hours. I'd have loved to get more miles, but riding trail and going a bit slower is better, any day, than pounding huge miles on the pavement.

Sunday was likewise great fun. Took the whole family up to Hatcher's so the kids could do some skiing and the wife and I took the dogs for a bit of a walk up the Willow Fishhook road. Didn't get any pictures from this outing, but it was beautiful, though getting dark by the time we got there at 4:30. Damned time change.

Now it's back to work after taking yesterday for doctor's appointments and not commuting.

The doc told me all in all things look good. I do need to do something about my blood pressure and weight. Crazy that I ride as much as I do and still I'm way too heavy and my blood pressure is well past the point where I should probably be on meds. Heredity... it's a bitch. As such, I might just include occasional updates as to my diet and my progress here. I guess I have to start counting calories now and watch those portion sizes.

This picture makes me cry...

The woods are like this for about a half mile or so - the dump is just up wind of the woods here and the trash just blows and blows.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Corpus Christi Carol

I'm impatient. I know this. Right this moment I want, more than anything, for it to just snow already and be done with it. In March I'll be wanting nothing more than clear paths and no more snow. Such is life. 

This winter, I think, is going to be challenging for me as a bike commuter in ways that prior winters have not. As with any endeavor, though, I will adapt. I hope. 

Over the past two winters of commuting, I've built a fairly solid sense of what to wear for certain conditions. The problem is that each year my gear closet changes a bit and I get new bits and baubs that I have to experiment with. 

Advice for riding in the winter - gear considerations

First, winter riding is, as we know, a different beast than that nice bike path ride in the summer. It does take some gear to be able to safely and comfortably ride in the winter. 

But get the thought out your head that you have to go drop two week's wages at REI. While my gear has slowly evolved to use more and more cycling specific items, some of the best gear I've gotten has been from thrift stores and has been non-specific, or gear for other sporting pursuits. 

That said - here's my list of layers for various conditions: 

Head - Buff over ears and helmet
Hands - standard bike gloves (currently Fox Ranger)
Feet - cycling shoes and light fleece socks
Bottom - chamois short, Novara Windwall or Tempest pants (Tempest better for lower end of temp scale)
Top - poly sleeveless shirt, poly tee, merino jersey or North Face Apex lightweight poly jacket (Note: merino jersey was a steel at 9 bucks at my local thrift and one of my favorite pieces of gear)

Pretty much the same as the 40s, but I will throw on a pair of Outdoor Research Versaliner gloves and may wear a lightweight wool sock once it dips below freezing. 

I add a long sleeved poly tee over the standard poly tee and favor the North Face jacket or in the lower 20s I'll throw on my REI Windflyte jacket. On the bottom I will go with the Windwall pants with a mid-weight pair of tights. On my hands I'll wear the Versaliner gloves, often with the shells that they come with to block wind. On my head I'll either double up my buff or switch over to a fleece skill cap in the lower temps. Feet - in the past I'd move to a Keen winter boot with wool socks. This winter I think I will try using my cycling shoes with a neoprene cover and wool socks to see how low I can go. 

Head - REI windproof skull cap, buff around neck
Hands - Black Diamond Guide Glove outer shell over Versaliner liners
Feet - Keen winter boots, midweight wool socks with lightweight poly liner sock
Bottom - chamois short, light merino base layer tight, Windwall pant
Top - merino or poly base layer shirt, REI Windflyte shirt, REI Windflyte jacket (pit vents full open, generally)

Same as above, with the addition of another light layer top and bottom and chaning the Versaliner liners out for the Black Diamond liners that came with the gloves

Same as above - change to a heavyweight sock

Same as above, substitute second light layer for second midweight layer on top, close the pit zips

Substitute second midweight layer for second heavyweight layer

Ain't been there yet. 

Sometimes, when it is in the single digits and snowing I will wear ski goggles to help keep my eyes from freezing over, though those tend to present a different set of challenges. I also, sometimes, start the ride with a buff over my mouth and nose, but even down into the -20s - the coldest weather at which I have ridden, I tend to leave my face exposed - apart from what is covered by my beard. I tend to overheat anytime I have my mouth and nose covered. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Killing All the Flies

So, just curious. Has anyone figured out where these post titles come from?

I got home last night and decided to put the Nate's on both the front and rear of the bike and to see if I could figure out why the one tire has so much of a hop in it. I knew it wasn't the wheel itself. There's a tiny bit out of true, but the Nate tires have always been wonky - as if they are out of round fairly seriously.

I installed them, soaped up the bead to help the tires move on the rim a bit easier and then pumped them up to 40 PSI (Not fun with a low volume floor pump - who knew it would take 15 minutes to pump those big tires up to that pressure) and then let them sit overnight. Came out to the garage this AM and let out air to ~19 PSI. No problem.

Went back into the house, got my coffee, played with the dogs, oggled the wife, then headed out the door.

Front was flat. Argh... So I pumped it up and headed out the door, figuring I just didn't get the nut tightened all the way down or something. Nope. About half way to the bus I had to pump it up again. Then when I got almost to the bus stop I had to get off and walk because it was so flat I couldn't steer at all. Quite the workout, though, moving all that dead rubber.

My bus ride in was spent swapping out the tube and getting it all pumped back up. Good fun, that. Bus driver was cool about things. As were the other passengers. I am becoming such a pro at changing tubes that the actual changing process takes no more than two minutes. The pumping, though, that takes a bit longer. My small hand pump takes about three million strokes to get the tire to a ridable pressure. Not a desirable pressure. Just ridable.

I figure what happened with the tube was that the soapy water dried, causing the tube to stick to the tire's casing and when I aired it down either a small bit of rubber pulled away from the tube - a natural flaw in the tube itself - or that one of the myriad patches loosened its grip after being stretched and then aired down. I'll have to take a look at it tonight and see what's what.

Oh - for your viewing pleasure I present the traffic I had to deal with last night:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The's in there

After a great night of salmon and sunsets, this morning's commute was a nice one. A bit breezy, but warm and dry. Always good things there.

So, my wife sent me an article today that is pretty interesting in that it is the typical rhetoric that the anti-bike crowd tends to put forth. Check it out here.

I can't disagree with all of the author's points. Yes, there are some cyclists who are jerks and don't use common sense when riding the roads. Yes, there are groups of cyclists who refuse to let other road users pass. 

The same can be said of motorists. There are some who are jerks - the looky-loos in the rented RV traveling down the Seward Highway at 30 MPH and not pulling over to let others pass. We can find examples of bad behavior in any group.
Now, in the article the author states plainly that his step father, once able to pull around a group of cyclists, resorts to the same type of behavior that he so dislikes in the cyclists. 

Isn't that indicative of the very nature of the problems we see in general in our wonderful society? What ever happened to being the bigger person and leading by example? 

The article doesn't shed any new light on the topic at hand. Nor does it explore any of the myriad reasons that cyclists prefer to ride in the road and take the lane rather than riding the shoulder and conceding the roadway - let me tell you something, it is for safety reasons 9 times out of 10 rather than just cyclists trying to be jerks. 

By taking the lane it requires that if a car is going to over take, he does so in a safer manner. He's not going to pull into the oncoming lane if there is another car coming and he's not going to try to sneak around you as he would if you were on the shoulder. At least, that is the theory. 

When I ride on the road I take the center of the lane. When I hear a vehicle coming up behind me I will nudge over to the right, if the way is clear for him to pass. If not, I will stay in the center of the lane until it is clear for the car to overtake. Then I move over. 

Because I'm a couple hundred pounds and cars are a couple of thousand, I have to take all steps and precautions I can to ensure the following:
1) I am seen by all drivers
2) I am aware of my surroundings and ride in a manner that is safe for those surroundings
3) I yield right of way only when it is safe for me to do so
4) I obey traffic laws as practical and practicable and ride in a reasonable and predictable manner
5) Ride where my safety is most assured

I tend to think that the cyclists with whom the public has the most issue with are not those of us who ride cycle as transportation on a daily basis, but rather are those who ride as entertainment or exercise only - two pursuits that tend to be viewed as frivolous by many in our nation. Lord knows we could use a bit more exercise, but whatever.
No, transportation cyclists, I think, tend to be a bit more purposeful in their cycling. They ride to get from point A to point B, just like drivers drive. There will always be conflicts there, but I have to take some time to refute some of the claims that commenters to this article make: 

1) "OMG, where to start! The day some fool declared that bicycles have the same rights on the road as vehicles was the day this whole discussion came about. Let's see, vehicles and their owners: are registered, and pay for that registration; are licensed, have to pass a test to get the license, pay for the license renewal, demonstrate certain physical abilities to renew; have to pass a test demonstrating knowledge of the rules of the road; pay excise taxes on the purchase of fuel, tires, and vehicle; have to pay taxes when they renew their registration; are assessed 'points' for violations on any infractions of the law, and can lose the privilege of driving; have to carry insurance - both for themselves and to protect from others who are uninsured; and it goes on." 

--First of all Mr. or Mrs. Beenhereawhile, the argument that you attempt to make in your comment is predicated on a falsehood and willful ignorance of history. First off, public roadway systems throughout the world, let alone in the US, predates the automobile by thousands of years. Thousands. The bicycle has had road rights for longer than the car has been around. And before that, horses and pedestrians. I'm sure that when the bike first became the prefered mode of transport over the horse or walking that there were numerous similar arguments. 

You also build an argument on the assumption that someone who rides a bike does not have a driver's license. You also tend to overlook the fact that an officer of the law can, and is bound, to cite cyclists who break traffic laws on a public roadway just as they are bound to enforce the laws for drivers. So, when a cyclist rides on the roadway, he or she has a duty to adhere to the laws of the road as is practicable and practical. You state that "If a vehicle driver is moving at a speed of 10MPH or less than the posted speed limit they can be cited for not yielding right of way to others, have a host of laws they must obey, and are held to it by cops." First, I believe, I have not checked or verified the laws in all 50 states, but I do believe that the 10MPH under the speed limit law is generally used only for interstate traffic, which are roadways that bar cyclists from use to begin with, though some cyclists do indeed ride the interstate and in those cases that minimum speed is posted. The Alaska statute AS 28.35.140 does not mention a specific speed that would constitute obstruction, but rather a series of situations that can be deemed as obstruction. Each of these would be at the discretion of the officer.  Also, let's again keep in mind that police officers have the duty to enforce traffic laws for cyclists on the roadways as well as for motorists. If they choose not to, then that is a failure on their part. I can hear your retort - "but cyclists don't have licenses so how can an officer cite them?" Good point. There are challenges to citing a cyclist, but again, most cyclists are also drivers. 

Yes, drivers pay fuel taxes and excise taxes on tires, etc., but again, most cyclists are also drivers, thus pay the same taxes and fees. No, cyclists do not have to carry insurance, but when is the last time that a cyclist ran into your 3/4 ton pickup and did any damage? And if they do, they are held just as liable as if they were a driver, provided you as the driver file the appropriate police reports. You can then go after their homeowner's or renters insurance (in many cases) or place a lien in order to recoup damages. Insurance is not what dictates financial responsibility in the event of an accident - the causer of the accident is responsible for any financial restitution, insurance just makes that burden less for the responsible party. 

"Bicyclists, on the other hand: pay no taxes to contribute toward the upkeep of the surfaces they ride on; don't regularly ride on either side of the road - rather, whichever side they want to. (Compton says he rides 'facing traffic' but, legally, bicycles are supposed to travel 'with the flow of traffic) They take advantage of whatever rules they want (if it's even that) at intersections - sometimes crossing with pedestrians (okay, if they walk the bike across the crosswalk), sometimes going with traffic (If you're making a right-hand turn watch out for the bike in the extreme right-hand lane traveling straight across the intersection), and sometimes just blowing across the intersection like they owned it." Do I need to go there again? Cyclists pay the same taxes as everyone else in most instances. We pay sales tax, property taxes, gas taxes, and all kinds of other taxes that go to road upkeep. And just how much damage does a 30 pound bike with a 250 pound rider do to the roadway? Let me tell you. Not much. 

And yes, some cyclists do choose which laws to obey and when. Going back to my earlier statement - I will ride in such a manner as to ensure that I get home to my kids at the end of the day, even if that means going through a red light.  Why is it that so many people get their panties in a bunch about the fact that cyclists don't pay taxes that go for road maintenance? We do. Even I, who ride bike to work 100% of the time still pay taxes that go towards road maintenance. As Onermailliw1 states "I have no problem sharing the road, but if there is a bike path, use it instead. Realize that highway dollars are being spent(most comes from gas taxes, BTW) on you behalf when it could be utilized for road repair somewhere else. I too have been given the international hand jesture that says I'm #1 by a bicyclists riding side by side in the road. It's a 55 mph highway, you are on the losing end of this argument. Single file please. The part that really erked me was there was a newly paved bike path 50ft to the right."  

The thing is that most highway dollars do not come from gas taxes at all. Most come from property taxes and federal matching, and other sources. In fact, Alaska is 50th in terms of how much of our road funding comes from gas taxes.

And this whole thing about bike trails. Another thing that comes up time and again. Hey, I love me some bike trail, but many times those trails are more dangerous than riding on the road when the trails have intersections with roadways so that drivers have two intersections to monitor for traffic rather than one. Also, trails don't go everywhere that we need to go.

See, I really just need to make sure I get home to this at the end of the day.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Solving the Correspondence Problem

No commute for me today. Instead, I rode in with the wife, who had a dentist appointment. As we made our way in to town I started to wonder just how much sense it would make to let her drive home alone after having a root canal.

So, here I am, back at home, working remotely. Good times. Couldn't pick a better day for it. Rainy. Windy. Generally cruddy.

That said, I did get a nice, if brief, snow ride in yesterday. My son had been bugging me to take him to Hatcher's Pass to go skiing for some time so I figured why not? Right? It was rainy and crappy in the valley, but by the time we got up to the mine the rain had turned to snow and the temps were a comfortable 39F.

The kids skied a bit and I rode my bike. Let's just say I am not in climbing shape, let alone snow climbing shape! I put in only a few miles, but each and every one kicked my arse. It was worth it though. Hatcher's is such a beautiful area and such a fun place to be. I just should have focused on boarding rather than biking.

But I'm still happy as can be that I did it. It was fun and a nice reminder that snow presents a whole new set of riding challenges.

On Friday, after work at the school, I got a bit of time to ride for a bit. A glorious day for it. unfortunately I didn't get to do the full CCC loop, like I wanted, but I did get out and about a bit and was able to get a couple of pictures that show just how nice of a day it was. I love fall days when it's sunny, warm with that slight tinge of cold in the air, the scent of leaves turning and falling.

Anchorage looking northward towards Palmer. The ship yards are so colorful.

Well, not really, but interesting to look at none the less.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Preaching to the perverted

I did a lot of thinking on my ride this AM. And what I came up with is that cycling is way, way too much of a status activity.

I don't know. Maybe it's because of something my wife said to me last night - "Did you know the bike shop has studded fat tires in stock? They're $450 for a pair." Then this morning a guy on a fattie rolled past with studs on. You know how much ice it out there right now? None. That's how much. So why roll studs?

Normally I wouldn't think too much about this, except for the fact of the rest of this rider's gear. It was in the mid-30s today, no rain, no wind. A nice day. And here is where I'm going to come across as a judgmental bastard, but so be it. This rider on studs rolls past and is decked out in full balaclava, fancy coat, pogies, high end shell pants, shoe covers - the whole outfit probably cost as much as my bike in total.

And first my thoughts were just that this is someone who doesn't ride everyday year round, good on him for getting out in the cool and dark.

Then a roadie passed me in full kit and somehow my thoughts turned to the displays that so many of us put on when we ride. And how many of us judge others by what they ride and wear.

I can only speak from my own experience, but I think I representative. When I first started bike commuting, I rode a standard, full suspension mountain bike. Year round. In the summer I'd get stares when I rode it on the MUP instead of a road bike like every other rider. In the winter I'd get stares because I wasn't riding fat like the other riders. I'd get stares because I wasn't wearing the appropriate kit. I was a dirtbag rider.

Hell, I still am a dirtbag rider. I ride fat now and in the summer I get stares because I'm on fat. In the winter I'll get stares for some other reason.

But here's the thing. I do the same damned thing to others. Instead of looking at another rider and saying big up for being out here, I immediately think about the tires he's rolling (in my opinion not because they are needed but rather to say Look at me, I'm riding 450 dollars of rubber), the kit he's wearing, and how he's super over dressed for the conditions.

Why? Why do we judge others immediately? Better question. How do we stop? If you want to spend 140 bucks on Surly's awesome wool jersey? Go for it. I'll spend 9 bucks on a second-hand I/O Bio merino jersey.

See what I did there? Had to go with a name brand.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Denial Twist

So let's talk of cabbage and kings and other things...

Changes to the bike - After getting some Shimano M324 pedals a few weeks back and riding them on the river bottoms twice I realized I really didn't like them. Discount the fact that two instances of riding in sandy conditions and they were clicking like bastards, I found I couldn't stand needing to look at my feet to clip in to make sure I was on the right side of the pedal. That and the fact I had to bash the hell out of feet to get the sand off the cleats each time I unclipped and then tried to clip back in. Annoying.

So I took em back and picked up another pair of Egg Beater 1 pedals and a new set of flats for winter for less than what I paid for the Shimano's. I figure the Egg Beaters at 49 bucks are a good deal even if I only get two seasons out of them.

I also picked up a Timbuk2 Bento Goody Box on the cheap. I've wanted a gas tank type bag for a while and I figured this might let me simplify my rig a bit by moving my tools out of my Revelate bag so I can get rid of that for the daily ride and use it only when riding sans panniers. So far I like the box, but I did find that you can't fit a fat tube in it. Fail.

I've started to toy with the idea of going tubless again. If I decide to make the leap, I'll take pics and post here. Thinking I can see some big advantages to that.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Watching the stars circle my head
in the 26 degree darkness of four in the morning.
Ice chips of light arranged long ago
by a poet without words, I recognize you Orion,
Ursa major and your babe.
Neptune or Beatlejuice burn blue
and I recognize just how insignificant this all is,
showered in light born before we crawled from the sea.

Identifying mountains reflecting the bold moon
from snow drenched peaks - they look like phosphorescent
screens waiting for projection - a place to throw dreams
and desires to magnify and bounce back.

What does it mean that we experience the world
through the interpretation of stimuli - does the world stop
if we are not here to interpret its presence?

I break things. It is in my nature. It is who I am. I reach
to the stars, sending my own light into the universe
to cancel out and destroy all those mysteries I can never
solve, to pierce the darkness of all those emotions I
just don't quite get.

Mindless in my physical action,
I continue on, knowing only to push up. Down. Up.

The only sound in this world is pressure equalization
between the outside of me and the in. In and out.

Feel lightness. Feel every fiber burn as I realize the weight
of a lifetime of pushing air, pushing fluid, interpreting stimuli
and just wanting to sleep under the cold light of a billion years ago.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

There are only two things certain in this world...

bike maintenance and taxes.

As mentioned, I recently replaced the bearings in my bottom bracket. No bigs, right? Well now I have a mystery creak when pedaling under load. It could be any number of things - a slightly loose cup, the crank bolt being slightly loose, a pedal with issues. Who knows? I do seem to remember that when I first got the cranks, there was a bit of a creak that worked itself out after a couple hundred miles. I figure I'll take a few moments this coming weekend to take a closer look, but I'm trying to not obsess over it. Not now.

No, now I want to think about the cool things that are happening for cyclists, and, I guess, skiiers, in Anchorage.

Anchorage has a great trail system in town. The Chester Creek trail, the Coastal trail, and the Campbell Creek trail have, at one time or another succumbed to my tires. Fat or otherwise. For some reason, though, someone bisected the Campbell trail with a highway. Really?

For years and years, to connect one part of the Campbell Creek trail to another, you had to limbo under the highway bridges the went over the namesake creek - not too difficult in the summery months - a pain in the winter when the space between creek and girder was often less than four feet. The other option was to detour around to Tudor road which really wasn't much of an option at all. Nasty road that Tudor.

Well, folks, after a spell of construction, they've gotten it done. They've finally connected the trail with an actual underpass and all is right with the world. Well, there is that Lake Otis abomination with the trail, but that's another story. The point is, it is now possible to easily link up these three trails for an awesome ~31 mile loop of the city. Really, what is better than being able to ride 31 miles, or thereabouts, without more than a few feet where you have to worry about cars? An awesome Sunday ride.

Only problem? I don't live in Anchorage anymore. I have a sneaking suspicion that Thursday I might just get sick around noon and try to sneak in a ride of the loop. A look some are calling the Three Cs loop. I like it.

Now the question, does more infrastructure mean more cyclists? I hope so.

Morning is dark. The light is inviting.