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.