Monday, August 17, 2015

Ahhh, Autumn

For some people, the first sign of autumn is the tang of smoke in the air from the first fire in the woodburner of the year.

For others it is the sight of caribou antlers strapped to the top of trucks and SUVs making their way from the hunting fields to Anchorage.

For others it is the ever darker mornings.

For me it is quickly coming to be the first XC running meet of the season as my kids become more and more involved with the sport.

I've read a number of articles about XC and the fall traditions it invokes. And I'm starting to get that. The excitement of mass starts. The muffled pounding of a hundred pairs of feet on loamy soil. The damp air with just a bit of a chill to it. The effort that is apparent on the runners' faces.

I love it. And for us, XC season also announces berry season. See, a few years back, when two of my kids were in middle school, one of my kids was a bit too focused on the fact that there were linden berries along the course of an XC race rather than the race itself. As such, we ended up heading out to that venue after the fact to pick berries. Now we have the tradition of once XC season starts of heading out to pick berries. It is just the fall thing to do.

If I knew a bit more about identifying edible mushrooms, this would be the time of year to do that as well. All announced by the XC season.

And the XC season, in the past, has always made me want to pick up running again. I like the idea of running trail and most XC races up here have a community race following where anyone with a desire can run the course. I've started running recently, but haven't yet run a community race. I think I may next weekend when we are in Soldotna for the meet there. Why not, right? I'm fairly certain I wouldn't come in last. And to my mind, that's all that matters.

The more I run the more I think that I might just have to give some of the mountain races my son is doing a go next year. This means that I'll have to run through the winter to keep my fitness up and to continue building my cardio and climbing muscles. I'm half tempted to continue keeping the 'burban parked in the driveway through the winter and picking up a treadmill for the garage to make it easier to get runs in on those days when the dark and the cold make it discouraging to go outside for a run. I've also vaguely alluded to building plyo jump boxes for the kids to use in their training. So I suppose I could do that as well and just turn the garage into our own spartan gym.

I know my son has big plans and goals for XC, track, and mountain running and having a gym might help him on his way to achieving those. The girls...they have some goals as well, but aren't quite as self-motivated as the boy. He's a bit of a freak that way.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Saturday Satisfaction

My head's not working so well this morning. Neither are my legs. Yesterday was a big one. An awesome one. I've written before about how my son is getting into the mountain running thing. Many of these races have the finish line at the top of the mountain. Thus, if one wants to watch the finish, one must make it to the top before the racers.

Some races, though, are up and down, which presents a whole different set of logistical challenges. And some races are just purely nuts. Yesterday he participated in one of the purely nuts races - the Mat Peak Challenge. Depending on who you talk to, this race has between 9 and 10 thousand feet of elevation gain and loss over 14 miles of rugged mountain terrain. The runners summit two mountains, one of them twice, and connect these summits together with a big valley traverse. I've read a lot about the race from prior racers in an effort to get as much intel as I could for my son. And for myself, because I knew I'd be out on the race course somewhere to cheer him on and to make sure that he was doing okay.

Our original plan was to hike up to the base of the clime up Mat Peak so that we could check his status on the way up and again on the way back down, figuring that if needed, we could bale him out from there and the big climb and decent would be where he would bonk if he were going to.

My middle one and I, then, headed out from the Smith Road trailhead at 6:30-ish in order to get to our post on the mountain. We'd never hiked the trail before and wanted to make sure that we had plenty of time to traverse the four miles we were planning on going before the 9 AM race start time.

The first mile of the trail is on an ATV-type road and the whole time we figured we were on the wrong path, having seen a number of well defined side-trails, but no trail markers at all. However, we did see plenty of evidence of foot traffic, so we kept on. Eventually we came to the end of the road and where the trail starts properly - a nice single track lane through the trees and foliage. This trail is not like most Alaska mountain trails in that it does not go straight up. In fact, it seemed to be a bit too easy and too flat. Either the topography of this trail is an Alaska anomaly or I am just getting more fit.

By 7 we were above tree line and nearing the junction between the Mat Peak (Byers Peak) trail and the trail coming down the back side of Lazy. Heck, we hadn't even broken a sweat, but were soaked from the dew collected on the brush along the trail.

As we made our way to about 3000 feet of elevation we came across a small group of ladies camped along the trail - the check point crew for the summit. We chatted a few moments, revealed that my son was racing, got some intel about there being Reese PB cups at the top of the mountain for the racers, and then proceeded on. At about 4000 feet, there is a nice bench of land where I decided we could hunker down for the race. My daughter got herself set up with a book to read and I decided it was only 7:30 or so - I would continue towards the summit and would turn around when the first racers overtook me. 

The pitch to the summit is a bit of a challenge - a bit over 2000 feet of elevation gain in a mile and a half or so, with the final couple hundred being through a boulder field that requires some scrambling. As I made my way up, my daughter ensconced on her little bench below reading, I noticed that the summit check point crew were coming up fast behind me. I continued on, not worried about getting passed by the summit team, just wanting to make it to the top, wanting to see the view from up there.

While on the way up, it dawned on me that if I made the summit before 9:30 that I would be able to get back down to where my daughter was before the mid-pack racers made it that far, the pack where my son would be. It further dawned on me that if we, my daughter and I started back down towards the trail intersection as my son was climbing and descending, we might be able to make it back down the mountain and over to the Lazy Mountain trailhead before he would so that we could watch him finish the race. Brilliant.

I finished the boulder scramble and attained the summit by 9:30, ate a Snickers bar, drank some water, and gave the wife a call to let her know the change of plans and find out if my other daughter had checked in from her location on the top of Lazy. Then I started the scramble back down the mountain.

One of the things that I absolutely love about living in the Valley and having my kids involved in sports such as cross country skiing and running as well as, now, mountain racing, is the fact that it really feels like a community. I know that if I head up a trail work day for VMBaH or head out to watch a race or go for a bike ride I am going to run into someone I know, someone who has many of the same interests as me.

While heading down from the summit I ran into one of my daughters' skiing and running teammates. We chatted for a few moments about the race and how great the weather was for the spectators and he continued up to the summit. A bit further down the mountain I passed Holly Brooks making her way up. We chatted for a half a second - I congratulated her on her second place finish in the Crow Creek Crossing race the Saturday before. Then I ran into one of the coaches for the Colony XC Ski team, a gentleman who has been a great support and mentor for my daughters in their skiing endeavors thus far.

Even the people you don't know on the mountain become your friends for a brief moment. You smile, say hi, give some brief directions. It is a community of people who are all just a little bit crazy. It's a wonderful thing.

The front runners of the race were just starting the ascent as I reached the bottom of the summit pitch and toward the flat bench where my daughter waited. These men define fitness. Lean. Muscular. Barely breaking a sweat as they power up the mountain. A crazy glint in their eyes as their blood rushes through their veins, a pulse that spectators can almost see as they pass.

My son passed us about 15 back from the front runners. He was looking fresh. He was looking strong going into the climb. As he passed I let him know our plans to move down the mountain, then my daughter and I took off running down the mountain, against the flow of traffic.

I'm not sure why we decided to run at this point as we had plenty of time to make it to the junction. I think it was just for the pure joy of movement and sunshine and mountain air. At any rate, we ran. We made it to the junction well before any of the racers.

When the racers started coming through we counted order and noted faces trying to see who had moved up in the order and who had fallen back, trying to guess when my son would be coming through. We saw Lance Kopsack, one of the founders of the race and a legendary beast of the downhill sections of these races, come through with my son nowhere in sight. My son and Lance were neck in neck at the beginning of the climb, and my son had figured that he would pace off of Lance for the first part of the race, knowing that he is faster on the ups than Lance is. Honestly we didn't figure that my boy would be anywhere near Lance after the big descent. And we were right. Lance had made up a huge amount of time and left many competitors in the dust on the that big descent.

When my son came through he was still looking strong and fairly fresh, unlike some of the other runners who were showing the loopiness that comes with low blood sugar and high exertion. We found out he had fallen so far back in the line up - 23 or 24 - because he had a tumble down the peak's boulder field, scraping his arm up pretty good and making him a bit more cautious and slow than he had been when he started the decent.

We gave him the all clear to finish and as he made his way up the back side of Lazy, my daughter and I took off back down the other trail, running our own race to get down and over to the Lazy trailhead before my son could cross the line.

We made good time down the trail to the Morgan Horse trail, the 1.5 mile double track that connects the two trail heads. In the end we made it to the finish in time to watch many of the finishers come in, about twenty minutes before my son came in. And as he came in he was still going strong, pushing for a respectable finish time of 4 hours, eleven minutes, and a handful of seconds. He had made up a few places, passing a couple of strong competitors, coming in at 20th place overall and first for his age group of 14-17 even though he is only 13.

In the end all of us got a good work out - him running the longest and most challenging race of his life so far, my middle daughter and I climbing up the mountain and racing back down, and my oldest going up and back down Lazy. My wife worked out her stress muscles,  being a ball of nerves the entire time he was out on the course. The gluttony of take out pizza and beer for the adults and soda for the kids, though, has led to a bit of fuzziness in my head this morning. I know I could have slept for another three or four hours, but, alas, too much to do today. At some point I need to get a training ride in for the Hatcher Pass Epic next weekend. 90 miles on bike of climbing, gravel, dust, and a killer after-party. Yeah, sounds like fun.

There is certainly something to being out in the nature and being up on mountains. It clarifies everything and reminds me that the daily grind, the daily BS is just that. It is not important other than as a means to an end, a way to enable me to have the time to spend with my family outdoors, exploring the world, getting in touch with the physical aspects of life, experiencing the rejuvenating power of nature.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lazy Sunday

Sometimes it is good to be not lazy. Other times, lazy is okay. What does one call 'speed' hiking up Lazy mountain then running down Lazy Moose? I don't know. I call it a good way to spend a Sunday morning.

My crazy 13 year old son has gotten bitten by the mountain running bug and he wants to do the Mat Peak challenge. One part of the race is being able to make it to the top of Lazy within 60 minutes. Now we've never climbed all the way to the top of Lazy, so we weren't sure he'd be able to do it. I mean, really, it was just an excuse to get the kids out and hiking. He did the Pioneer Ridge race just the week before in an hour and 26 or 27 minutes. Of course he can make the top of Lazy in an hour.

But I digress. So we hike the mountain. He and I picking a fairly quick pace with the ladies taking it a bit more leisurely. He and I get to the top in just over an hour with a couple of quick stops and my old butt dragging through some portions of the trail. We scope the view and then head back down.

There are two trails up Lazy. The original, shorter, steep trail and the longer, switchback laden Lazy Moose trail. These two trails converge at 2300 feet or so at the first of two picnic tables.

As my son and I started down from the peak we ran into my oldest, half way between picnic table one and two. She found a brilliant patch of early season blueberries and shared the location with us. We ate. They were amazing.

About a quarter of the way back down to the first picnic table we caught up with the wife and other daughter and we all turned around to head down the mountain. My son and my oldest decided to run down the mountain on the steep trail. My knees, being nearly 40, don’t take quite as kindly to the steep downhill runs. Or maybe it is my lack of quad fitness? At any rate, I decided to take the Lazy Moose trail at a run. The wife and other daughter decided to walk Lazy Moose. So there we are, three groups just out there doing our thing. Brilliant.

My son and oldest make it to the parking lot in who knows how long. I take a good 35 minutes to run the 3.8 miles of Lazy Moose. I get back to the parking lot and we all sit in the sun for about an hour, eating small snacks and enjoying the sun on our skin before the other two show up.

I really can't think of a much better way to spend a Sunday morning when the weather is so beautiful. The only way to make the day better? Top it off with a quick bike ride through the MatSu Greenbelt single track trails - Long Lake and the Bear trails.

Yeah. Perfect.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


From time to time it seems that some asshat just needs to remind me that my life ain't worth shit to him.

Picture this: A nice mid-summer's morning. July. Temps in the 50s. Lightly cloudy. A bit damp on the roads due to some overnight precip. The streets are lightly trafficed - it's ten to six in the morning. Down town. I roll north/north west on H and as I come to 4th ave I have the light. I see, to my left a white SUV speeding east/north east on 4th, not showing any sign of slowing for the light until the last moment.

I continue across the intersection with the light. I am in the roadway. Taking the lane. I note that the crosswalk signal is flashing with 9 seconds left, which tells me that the green light at 3rd will hold just long enough for me to make it through. I hear the growl of a big engine behind me as I get close to the light, but don't think too much of it. Yeah, it's being revved, but that doesn't mean anything necessarily.

I start making my way down Christensen, through the light at 3rd with 2 seconds left on the crossing signal when, as I get to just behind Snowgoose, I hear the revving of an engine and see in my periphery a white hood coming up fast and close on my left. The same SUV from 4th and H? Maybe. The fact of the matter is the driver is gunning his engine and, as soon as his mirror passes me he starts moving to his right - into my path of travel. 

Normally I am pretty forgiving if someone passes me closely. I know how hard it can be to judge just how far away something is from the right side of the vehicle. I get that. In this case, though, there are other things that instantly made me doubt this was a case of a driver just not being aware. First, the revving engine. This was gunning, like showing off. This was someone racing. Second, the vehicle was going well over the speed limit which is…I don't know what the speed limit is on that stretch of road. I was doing 20 according to my GPS at the time. Third, the driver, as soon as his mirror passed me, started cutting over into my path. The SUV in question wasn't a nice compact little Jeep Liberty or something. This was a Ford Excursion. A white Ford Excursion. The damned thing is nearly a mile long. There is no way that the driver thought he had cleared me before he started cutting back over. Couple that with how close he was to begin with, the revved engine and the fact that it seems fairly likely this was the same SUV from 4th and H, the one that didn't show any sign of wanting to stop at the light, and it leads me to feel that this was intentional.

I've found that the more close one comes to being killed by a driver, the less rational the response to the situation. Once I got myself out of the path of these crushing wheels on this white Ford Excursion I reacted with a less than helpful or appropriate raising of the middle finger and shouted "Fuck you asshole!"

Not cool. I get it. Not the way to deal with the situation. The driver shouted back "Get off the road" as well as a bunch of other things I missed as he first slowed and then sped away. When He slowed I pulled over to the side of the road, pulled out my phone and debated calling the police. After a half a moment, I decided that it wasn't worth the effort. I've called the police about assaults in progress I've witnessed and not had them show up for half an hour or more. They might take my statement, but what of it?

So I noted the dude's license plate number. Not sure why. I can't really find out who he is by that number. Maybe I thought I would file a report after the fact just to have it on record. Maybe I thought that I'd run into the asshat again and, before bashing his mirror off with my U-lock would check to make sure it was the same asshat.

Don't know. I've got his number, though.

What is so shocking to me about this encounter is how rare it is for me on my commute. My route is generally removed from the roads and most times I ride at non-peak traffic times. I can imagine how those who are forced to ride more roadway than I and who ride during the more peak hours would quickly tire of the daily fight to arrive alive. Hell, if I had to deal with situations like today even twice a week I'd probably quickly give up the bike commuting thing as a lost cause.

And my reaction to the situation? That could've gotten me killed as well. When the driver slowed and rolled down his passenger window is when it flashed through my mind that if I go up there to engage, I could very well get shot in the face. This is Alaska. There are a lot of people packing here. And they tend to like to use those guns. Something I need to keep in mind before flying the bird or calling some random stranger who just tried to kill me an asshole. If he tried to kill me with his vehicle why wouldn't he pull a gun?

I can hear the conversation he's having with his coworkers right now about the pussy biker who flipped him off then didn't have the balls to come up to the window when he slowed down. "Little bitch didn't even have the balls to back it up. I tell ya, those fuckin' bikers just piss me off. Thinking they own the roads and shit."

It's hard to not get worked up by situations like this. It's hard to keep cool and smile and wave. Maybe the kill them with kindness route isn't the route to go. Maybe the militant cyclists have it right. Maybe I should engage. Maybe I should bash mirrors and purposefully obstruct traffic? Maybe I should have called the police or followed the asshat to his place of work. Or maybe I will do a bit of sleuthing this afternoon and if I find his vehicle… well who knows?

No, I won't do anything like that. Instead, I'll be more vigilant about riding within the boundaries of the law and when I see asshat again, I'll smile and wave and be prepared to have him try to run me off the road again and be faster on the draw with the phone to call the authorities. After all, if the incidents don't get reported, there's no issue in the eyes of the law, right?

Maybe some cap-head nails in my pocket as well. You know, just because.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Omniterra, Multimodal, a Bit of This, a Bit of That

Vacation time. That's what I'm living on right now. Vacation time. Stay-cation in the parlance of the ad-makers and trend setters. Staying home. Relaxing. Running. Biking. Not getting too worked up about anything much.

It's been a good run so far. A week and a half in to a two week respite. I've gotten in some good runs and some good rides. I've been able to continue coaching the next generation of dirtbag cyclists on the fine art of blasting through the berms and hucking the jumps when the jumps come there way.

On Saturday, the 4th, I woke up around noon after a long day of straining water with my dipnet in Kenai on Friday, catching next to nothing, and decided I wanted to go for a long ride. I needed to clear my head of some thoughts that were threatening to drown me and I knew that a straight trail ride wouldn't cut it. I needed something a bit more painful to focus my thoughts not on the existential crises brewing in my head, but instead on the physical pain of long, hard miles.

In pursuit of this goal, I loaded up the hydration pack with water and a couple of pre-packaged Rice Krispy treats and started out the door, climbing from my house and towards Hatcher Pass. The goal and route was only loosely defined: Go up. Decide what to do when up far enough.

This is a general route I've taken a few times in the past. Once all the way to the mine. A few times just to Archangel road. A few times over to Government Peak Rec Area.

I like the road bits of this ride. They are comfortable even though the road is narrow and heavily traveled. There are generally enough cyclists that ride the road that the road users are aware of us being there. The traffic due to the holiday was a bit heavier than usual, but still not bothersome.

At first I thought I might try going up and over the pass and then taking some of the ATV trails back to town. That plan hatched while I was still sub 1000 feet of elevation. By 2000 I was thinking I'd just head up to the mine, maybe hike up to  Gold Cord lake, and then head back down. By 3000 feet I figured I'd take a right at Gold Mint and ride that trail out and back a ways before heading back down the mountain.

In the end I went up a bit further - Archangel Road to the Reed Lakes trail where I rode the mile and a half open to bikes before turning around and heading back towards home.

While riding, though, I got to thinking about omniterra and one bike to rule them all. I feel like I beat this dead horse time and time again, but I am constantly amazed by where and how I end up riding my bike and how if I were to have a different bike for every type of riding I do, I'd not have the adventures I do because the machine would limit my imagination and ride.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I must have a bike that can adapt to whatever I decide to throw at it on a given ride. Road, gravel, single track, light downhill - you name it. I am not a planner. I head out and see where the wind takes me. Fatties have allowed me to do this more than any other bike has. And the Pugsley, I hate to say it, has been the shining light in this omniterra pursuit. Well, I've only ridden two fatties - the Pugs and a Trek Farley, but between the two, the Pugs has proven to be the more capable ride for my style of riding. The Trek was fun once I got used to it. Fun on trails. Riding mad miles on pavement was brutal on that bike. The gearing was certainly trail-centric. I like 2x10 drive trains, but when riding roads it is awesome to have a big old 44 up front.

Some days I do wonder if the idea of omniterra, of one bike to rule them all is catching on, if I am the patient zero for the movement, or what. No, I know I'm not the first to approach riding like this. Not by a long shot. I haven't been riding long enough to be the leader of any type of movement. But it seems that I see more and more often articles and blog posts about going simple. About getting rid of the garage full of bikes in favor of one bike.

In fact, in this month's issue of Bicycling magazine the cover story is all about a guy who has gone from racer to dirtbag and how happy he is. Surly today posted a similar type of story about another dude who's just living the dream with one bike and not much more.

What strikes me about this situation right now is this: Bicycling has this article about simplifying while at the same time reviewing a string of bikes for their editors' choice awards and not a single one of the bikes is under 2500 dollars and the one that came closest to that 2.5k mark was constantly referred to in terms of being "amazing for this price point."

Of course Surly is trying to sell bikes and products, too. So is the idea of going dirtbag, of being simple and having a single bike to rule them all just a new trend, something that the hip riders will profess on the surface while continuing to curate their personal museum of bikes specific to riding situations?

Hell, does any of that matter?

Of course it doesn't.

What matters is that we all get out there and ride. Whether we have a 10,000 dollar uber-bike or a 300 dollar Wally World special, what matters is that we are out in the world riding. It makes the world a better place, a happier place.

And for the readers who are lucky enough to be in the MatSu Valley - here is a helpful hint: There are some new single track trails in the MatSu greenbelt system that are freaking amazing fun to ride! Fast, curvy, challenging and just flat out fast. Come check 'em out!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hey Surly, You Reading This?

Dear Surly,

In 2013 I bought a bike your company made. A Pugsley. White. Big. Fat. Like me. I bought it for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was fat and relatively cheap as far as fat bikes went at the time. I liked the 3X drive train and the double-wall Large Marge rims. Again, I'm a big, fat guy and I like to break things. Double wall = good.

I rode the hell out of that bike. It quickly became my only bike. I think maybe Surly sent an operative to my house to sabotage my other ride, a well loved Giant NRS that was my one and only until Pugsley came around.  See, I rode the Pugs for a week of daily commuting, then decided to give it a break and go back to the Giant. That very ride, on the way home from work, the frame broke clean in two on the seat tube, right by the suspension mount. Coincidence? Maybe, but either the Giant was heart broken by my splitting of affections or the Pugs wanted to be the one and only in my life.

From that day forward the Pugs was my only ride. And I rode daily. Well, almost daily. Generally six days a week. Sometimes all seven. I rode to work and home. I rode paved bike path. I rode single track. I rode XC ski trails and dog mushing and snowmachine trails. I rode in the rain. I rode in the sun. I rode during an ice storm once.

I once got myself into a spot of trouble - early October in Anchorage riding some dog mushing trails over a swamp that had not frozen over yet. One moment I'm hike a bike over the hummocks and the next I am crashing through the ice up to my groin in nearly frozen water and oozy black mud that smelled quite a bit like an Alaska outhouse that's baked in the midnight sun a touch too long. Air temps in the low thirties. Only five miles from home, but getting wetter with each step as I broke through the rime of ice over and over, each time going a bit deeper and deeper.

I rode miles and miles on that bike. I broke shit. A lot of shit. Derailleurs - front and rear. Cranksets. Hubs - I think I went through two hubs and countless axel rebuilds on the stock Shimano hub on the bike before I had the shop rebuild with a cassette bearing hub. Quick releases. Seat posts. Chains. Lots of chains. Saddles. I broke lots of parts. I eventually broke the frame itself. Though that was my own fault, really. Who knew that aluminum would fuse to steel after only a year if there wasn't a bit o' grease between the two? Not I. That's who. Or, rather, maybe I just got lazy. Doesn't matter. Trying to dig a seat post out of the seat tube when two become one … not fun and if one is not careful one tends to put large holes in the seat tube.

So what do I do? I buy a new frame. Same snow-blind white. A touch smaller, but a good, solid structure on which to rebuild my lovely Pugs. And in true Pugs fashion the virgin-busting ride resulted in my big, white ass flying through the air with the greatest of ease right over the handlebars and into a clump of blueberry bushes. Nothing on the bike was broken. Nothing on me was broken. Just the bike and me getting to know each other a bit better.

Then something happened. Something got in the way. Farley. Yes, fat and fun and aluminum. For some reason shiny was suddenly appealing to me and the Pugs was just a bit too pedestrian, too blasé, too mainstream. Or so I thought. Corporate brainwashing, maybe. But for some reason I had to have a new fat bike and the Farley was it. Maybe it was the name? Now that I think about it, the corporate bike slingers from Wisconsin really seemed to co-opt Surly's naming approach with that one.

So I got the Farley, but the Pugs stuck around the garage as the fat bike for the kids to ride along with. It didn't get much use overall. A few adventure rides, but not the way I thought it would. Until the Farley had to go into the shop for an extended period. Broke shit again - rear wheel set when to crap and the shop had to maneuver the corporate bs required to get the warranty validated. So Pugs and I were reunited.

It wasn't like rekindling a romance. Instead it was like being stuck in a room with an ex who you did not amicably separate from - we fought. I couldn't get comfortable and Pugs couldn't keep a tire inflated to save its life. After a week went by I was so happy to have the Farley back that I didn't realize that for the entire time I was on Pugs again my back never once hurt.

I almost sold Pugs. Had all but cash in hand when I decided that no, I couldn't sell it. I'd had too much fun on those times when my son and I would go exploring the world in the winter on the fatties and if I only had one portly beast in the garage we wouldn't be able to do that anymore. Yet I didn't take down the Craig's List posting I had made to sell the Farley. I had posted both bikes at the same time just to see what would happen. Maybe sell one and get a 9'er+.

In the mean time the Pugs got some use and I was riding the Farley daily. My back was killing me and rides longer than two hours generally resulted in barely being able to walk the next day.

Then one day, out of the blue, nearly two months after posting the ad, I get an email asking if the Farley's still for sale. "Sure" I say and we work out a deal. I got cash and figure I'll buy a new skinny bike for summer riding and ride the Pugs in the winter. Then I decide to just upgrade a few things on the Pugs to make it fit a bit better - super wide bars, a longer stem, a cushy saddle for my fat ass. Maybe a 9'er wheel set.

At first going back to the Pugs was hard. I still felt a bit like a bear riding a really tiny bike. The Farley felt so sporty all leaned over and such. The Pugs felt slow and awkward. But the data wasn't agreeing with that assessment. My daily commutes were as fast and even a touch faster than on the Farley. More importantly, I didn't feel like someone had been beating on my lower back at the end of a ride.

But I still wasn't completely sold on going back to the Pugs. While the bulk of my riding is commuting, the riding I love more than anything is riding the trails. The Farley was ace on the single track. It felt fast and capable and once I got comfortable on it, could climb and jump like a boss. For the first two weeks of being back on the Pugs I didn't ride any trail. I was worried that going back to trail on the Pugs would be a let down after the Farley.

Then I went for a nice long trail ride with my son.

Three hours on the bike. Riding pump track, flow trails, rooty-techy single track, and an old rail trail with a number of big assed rockslide sections. Three hours of riding and the entire time all I could think about was how much fun I was having riding with my boy. I wasn't thinking about how the bike felt under me. I wasn't thinking about limitations of the bike or things that I thought I should change to make the bike function better. I wasn't thinking about my back hurting because it wasn't. I was just riding.

It was brilliant.


And that's when it hit me. The entire time I had the Farley I was always focused on the things I wanted to improve on the bike and the things I didn't like about the bike rather than being present in the ride itself. For the first time since I sold the Farley I realized that it was absolutely the right choice given my riding style and what I look for in a bike - one bike to rule them all.

I know that the Pugs isn't as fast as some other bikes and a lot of people try to tell me that a fat bike is not the right bike for commuting or riding during the summer. I tell them phooey. When you find the right bike for you it is the right bike for you, regardless of what marketing BS is behind it. For me, a slightly upright riding steel fat bike with heavy, sturdy, durable wheels is the right bike for me spring, summer, fall, or winter.

Oh, and stripping Large Marge? She looks sexy naked. 


Monday, June 22, 2015

Go Get It! Now!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

These Days

I'm still trying to figure it out for myself. Why did I go back to the Pugsley? Why'd I sell the Trek Farley? What is the meaning of life and why is it that I always figure shit out after the fact?

I think that some catching up is necessary here. Back at the end of the winter I put both my Pugs and the Farley on craigslist to see what would happen. I don't know that I was thinking about it all that much. I was just at a place where it seemed that having two fat bikes in the garage was a bit excessive, even though the kids were getting some use out of the Pugs. But they weren't using it too much as they are much more into skiing during the winter.

I got a bite on the Pugs and had it all lined up to sell, but in the end I backed out. Flaked. Decided that the amount I was going to sell it for was nowhere near what it was worth to me, particularly when assessing some of the fun rides my son and I had with it over the winter.

I did leave the Farley posted and updated the price a bit. I hadn't gotten any interest in that bike, so I didn't think much of it and eventually forgot that I had it posted.

Then, out of the blue I get an email asking if it was still for sale.

Sure, I say and negotiations begin.

Even before we finalized the deal I was hesitant to do it. I was just starting to get used to the bike and, again, thought about how much fun I had with the kids riding it. But then I got to thinking to myself that I could take what I get from the sale and buy a summer bike - something in a 29er. Then I could use the Pugs in the winter and have a studded bike as well, for when it gets icy.

Let's just say that that idea didn't work out. Instead, I have a single bike with a few minor upgrades.

What was my reasoning for ever thinking about going back to the Pugs, anyway?

The Farley was a nice ride. Let me just say that right off the bat. It was a fun ride. It was different than the Pugs and I didn't warm up to it right away, but I did end up having a lot of fun on the bike.

That said, something also always felt a bit off about the Trek. It seemed like no matter how I set the bars and seat and such, on rides over 20 miles or so I would end up cramped, sore, and with tingly hands.  And a good trail session would often leave me barely able to walk the next day from how badly my back would end up hurting. Fit or the harsher ride of aluminum? Not sure. All I know is on the Pugs it takes a lot more miles to get to that same place of pain.

So there's that.

Also, I have to be honest with myself and everyone else and admit that while I love trail riding the bulk of my riding is commuting. On pavement. With panniers. For that riding, the layout of the Pugs, being a bit more upright, just makes better sense.

I do worry that my trail riding will not be as much fun for a while. That I'll have to really work to get my legs back in shape for the heavier bike, that I'll not be able to huck the jumps and rail the berms the way I have been with the Farley. To this point I wouldn't know, though. I sold the Farley last Tuesday and still haven't ridden any trail with the Pugs. Hell, I even decided to work on the car over going for a bike ride yesterday. I think I have problems. Mentally.

I am feeling fit and fast on the Pugs again. Like anything, it just takes a bit of getting used to. However, I recently have started to feel that the bike ride is a bit of a chore. Not good when the weather is as amazing as it has been lately. Maybe the sense of stagnation is what led me to sell the Trek, go back to the Pugs, and not ride obsessively as I had been doing prior to a few weeks ago.

I just don't know.

Tonight I get to ride trail with a bunch of kids. That usually gets me pumped for riding a bit. If nothing else, it will be a nice way to get back on the trails with the Pugs - we'll be riding slowly no matter what, so I won't feel like I'm busting my butt and not getting anywhere. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

This is why Rosetta Rocks!

From an interview over at Arctic Drones

"‘Quintessential Ephemera’ came up during a discussion at practice about user-generated content on the internet and how it isn’t really ‘content’ per sé, it’s more a pure abstraction of meaningless form. It’s an addictive distraction to keep people engaged on social media platforms.
Historian Allan Brandt wrote a book called The Cigarette Century, about the rise of tobacco in the 20th century and how cigarettes became the ultimate consumer product, used up and discarded without any measurable benefits, yet deeply habit-forming and part of social identity (despite ultimately killing their users). He calls cigarettes the quintessential ephemera of the 20th century. Slavoj Zizek talks about the same idea, but in reference to caffeine-free Diet Coke, in The Fragile Absolute – he calls it a “distillation of pure exchange value” or pure commodity, or more memorably “nothing in the guise of something.”
That phrase summed up our disgust with the state of online discourse so neatly that it became the title of the last song on the album. We were asking, what’s the quintessential ephemera of the 21st century? Probably cat videos and internet memes. We’ve taken this bizarre need to consume form without content and moved it over into the realm of virtual reality, making it even more empty than it was with consumer commodities. There’s now more communication, more expression, more information than ever before, but what does it amount to? Not much."
When a rock band drops Zizek and Brandt, you know they be the shizz. 

Summer's Here.

It's summer in the Valley.

How do I know this? Two ways, really.

One: The Government Peak Hill Climb race is this coming weekend. Mountain runners, badasses all, from around the state, nation, and world, will converge to run 3500 feet up a mountain in 2.75 miles in an effort to do it as quickly as possible. Last year the winner did it in 44:20.6.

Hill climb indeed.

Last year I was hobbled for a week after hiking up to the top ahead of the racers to do timing and making the mistake of trying to run down the mountain afterwards. Sometimes my enthusiasm outstrips my intelligence.

This year my son is running the race. Just last Sunday he did a training run up the mountain - his first time all the way to the top. He made it in, according to his timing, one hour and ten minutes. Not too shabby. I think he wants to beat an hour for the actual race day.

I will be at the top again this year, watching and taking pictures and, I suppose, timing as well.

Two: Sprockidz. Last night was the first night of the summer kids mountain bike skills coaching evening camp. The program runs for 8 weeks during the summer and gives kids a chance to learn mountain bike skills and the joy of riding the trails.

Last night was our first meeting of the year wherein we get the kids out and riding a brief course to test their speed and to start forming them into groups for coaching. The first night is always a bit fun in that we see whose bikes are not really up to par, what kids are not really there because they want to be, and what kids are out to show off a bit (My son?  Yeah, that's him).

Just as we lined the kids up for the ride for speed the clouds to the west built up and thunder rumbled through the valley. The weather was a ways off, so no one was worried. We set the kids out on the trail and within a few hundred yards we had our first accident - a girl got her shoe lace wrapped around her peddle spindle.

Then another 500 yards down the trail our first mechanical - somehow the rider got her chain wrapped in a near double knot around the inside spindle of her crankset. Three burly men and a 10 minutes later I'd gotten the chain unbound and back on the chainring and she was back off, burning rubber up the trail and passing riders left and right.

I love coaching the kids. Mostly it ends up being just an excuse to ride bike a couple nights a week, but the kids start to learn some things - mostly that they are able to do a lot more on their bikes than they originally thought.

And, really, what is better than watching kids fall in love with bikes? What could be a more perfect expression of all that is right with the world?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Jackalope. Mythical Wimp?

I don't often engage in product reviews here. There are a few reasons for that. First, I don't like the conventions that generally go along with product reviews. Second, I am often three or four revs behind whatever is current on any given scene because I am cheap. Third, I generally find product reviews a bit boring.

However, when I have something to say about a product, I figure I best say it. Or something like that.

Back in late March I had some issues with my MuleFut rims on my Trek Farley 6. As part of the warranty, the shop replaced the rear wheel with a Bontrager Jackalope setup.

And it was good.

Until it wasn't.

I rode the bike the first night I got it back on some single track set up with a Nate tire and tubed. All's well. I got home from the ride that evening, popped off the Nate and mounted up a Devist8er 2 UL tubeless. It was such a piece of cake that I couldn't believe it. Pumped it up with a floor pump. Set the bead no problem. Held air overnight. Threw some sealant in it the next day and boom. We're good to go. Headed out to Hunter Creek, a creek that leads to the Knik River and, in the winter, to the Knik Glacier. The creek bed is glacially carved and there are a lot of big rocks. 6 to 9 inch diameter. Challenging riding. I've beat the shizza out of myself and my bikes on this terrain many times. Never had an issue.

This day, though, I did. At some point a rock hit the sidewall of the rim and put a nice and distinct bend in the bead. I later, while riding at low pressure, hit an edge of snow at that precise section of the rim and dumped what little air pressure I had left in the wheel. No biggie, pumped back up to 15 or so and continued on. Good times.

I didn't think too much of the dent in the rim. I was riding hard and there were a couple of good pings from hitting the rim on rock. I was bummed that it bent, particularly given that my Pugs with Large Marge had taken a lot of much more massive hits with no ill effects and even the MuleFut, before going tits up, had rolled similar terrain with no ill effects. But, okay. My bad.

I didn't think much of it until just recently. On Saturday I had to do some maintenance to the bike, so I decided, for some reason, to switch tires on the Jackalope. I mounted up a different tire, put in sealant, and called it good. When I did this, I had to clean up the rim and in doing so did a bit of an inspection of the wheel. All was good, minus the dent I knew about.

The next day I rode the bike on paved bike path to the local high school to watch my son run a race. After the race, I went to head home and as I was climbing a short incline on grass the rear tire blew the bead. I chalked it up to the tire being of a brand/model that in early iterations had some issues with floppy beads, so no biggie.

However, when I got home and remounted a different tire I noticed that there was yet another dent in the rim and the wheel was out of true. WTF? When the bead blew I didn't hit anything, I stopped riding immediately and walked it the rest of the way up the hill. How the heck did I suddenly get a huge dent in the rim?

In my mind it seems like the rim is a bit weak.

This has me concerned. I am hard on stuff and if I have a rim that  bends like a piece of wet cardboard with the lightest of knocks, it's not going to bode well for my long term satisfaction with the product.

That said, the hub seems to be good quality and until the rim itself bent, the tubeless set up was easy-peasy.

And the mat black looks pretty boss.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Perfect Stillness, I've Only Found Sorrow

It was one of those rides that just beats the crap out of you, but you take it all with a smile because it's just so damned fun.

I love those types of rides. My son and I got one in yesterday. We decided to head down to Hunter Creek and ride the creek bed. The idea was to ride up the creek valley and explore a bit of new terrain. However, the lack of snow this year and my mis-remembering memory of what that side of the creek looked like put the brakes to that plan.

So we decided to just ride around on the downstream side - maybe see about riding out to the Knik river and see what we could see. The general idea was just to do some adventure riding and not worry about anything like getting in miles or anything. Just have fun and enjoy the day.

And that we did in spades. The first bit of riding from the road down the creek bed can be a bit, well, jarring. Lots of large rocks deposited by retreating glaciers don't make for the best riding surface.

However, if your teeth can handle the clacking caused by riding over this surface, you will quickly come to some great crust right now. Crust riding is the bee's knees, the thing that many fat cyclists wait all winter for. Crust is that wonderful state when the snow thaws and refreezes, creating a strong, hard, flat surface to ride on and, unlike other times of the winter, you can ride nearly anywhere on top of the crust. You are not bound by the trails and routes that have been packed down by use, but rather can just go wherever you wish.

Good times.

So we rode the crust, crossing the creek a number of times on snow bridges and just through the water itself. We tucked into various nooks and crannys and kept our eyes open, unsuccessfully, for moose shed.

A few weeks ago I set up an Origin8 Devist8er UL tubeless on my new Bontrager Jackalope rim and had some good experiences with it. Super easy set up and it didn't leak any air at all running at the ~18 PSI I run for commuting. For the crust and rock crawling we were doing yesterday, though, I dropped the pressure way down - sub 5 for sure. I'm not sure how it happened, but on a transition from gravel bed to snow I ended up breaking the bead loose and dropping all my pressure.

Not what I wanted to face. My small hand pump, well, it takes a while to fill a fat tire with this type of pump. But that's what I did. I pumped it up to about 25 to see if I could reseat the bead, which it seemed to, then I dropped back down to around 10 and continued the ride. More rocks, more crust, more gravel and mud and creek crossings and I didn't seem to loose any more air. When I got home I dropped the tire down to 3 or 4 PSI and was able to get it to burp pretty easily and consistently. Something to keep in mind, though I don't think I'll run the Devist8er as my winter tire anyway, so shouldn't be an issue. Though it might be a good candidate for home studding. We'll see.

After the burp incident we headed towards the river, picking up some ATV and bike tracks that headed in the same direction as we wished to go. Eventually we got to a point where we weren't able to continue - two beaver dams and the trail covered with probably three feet of water at the deepest point. Well, we probably could have continued, but I didn't feel like getting any wetter than I was so we turned back and decided to check out some other routes.

All in all, it was some fun riding. Slow, methodical. Fun. It helped that it was a beautiful day for a ride - mid 40s with mostly sunny skies and no wind where we were.

As a quick review of the Trek Farley 6 -

I've had the bike for just about six months now and I've gone back and forth about how I feel about the bike.

It is not nearly as stable as the Pugsley. That is a double-edged sword for the guy who wants one bike to rule them all. The pugs was a joy to ride for commuting because I could load it down and it still just ripped and held it's track no matter what. That ability to hold a line with minimal input from me was appreciated on the trail. The Farley needs much more attention to do the same. As a rider I have to be much more present when on the Farley.

A few weeks ago I had to drop the bike off at the shop - the original rear wheel developed a number of hairline cracks along the nipples. Not good. So I was back to the Pugs as my only bike. I did some trail riding, but mostly commuting on the Pugs while the Farley was out of commission and, while the Pugs was fun, the Farley is much more adept on the trails. The Trek is most definitely a trail bike whereas the Pugs is a bit of a Jack of all trades. The Trek wants to go fast and rip corners. The pugs wants to just plow through whatever you throw at it. The Trek requires a bit more finesse as a rider. I'm getting used to that. Slowly.

What I am not happy about with the Trek is the number of times I've had it in the shop thus far. I've had to have new pawls put in the original rear hub, replaced chains three times, and then the aforementioned rim cracking issue. Not a good track record. The new Jackalope rim seems much more stout than the MuleFut, but it does seem like it has some of the same pawl engagement issues the original hub did.

I know with the newest designs coming out in the world of fat bikes that my Trek is becoming less and less desirable to the masses with each passing day. And that's probably okay. I'm not sure that I am quite so gung-ho to sell it as I was before. And if I do sell it, I doubt that I'll get another fatty, but instead put the funds towards something a bit more trail focused - Maybe something in a full suspension or a 29+ with front suspension and then keep the Pugs for a winter bike. Then again, I think it's more likely that things'll just stay as they are. The Pugs for the kids and for when I need a loaner bike and the Trek for the daily rides.

Only time will tell.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Deep From the Cheap Seats

Life's been rough lately. Lots of work. Lots of tension. Not healthy.

I spend as much time on my bike as I can without foregoing my responsibilities. Some would disagree with me there.

Doesn't matter. It is what it is.

Riding keeps me from exploding. I think.

Yesterday I went for a nice long ride, mixing trails and roads, getting into the woods and alone. There were a few points where I just yelled at the top of my lungs in joy and frustration in equal measure.

I'm frustrated that the freedom I find on the bike, the strength and ability to be just who and what I am haven't translated into the rest of my life. When I am on the bike there is no one telling me that I am wrong. Every move I make is the move I should make, the move I have to make and there isn't the kind of over analysis of every facet that comes so often in my daily life. And I never worry about pissing someone off or worry that I am wrong. And I hate to be wrong. No, that's not it. I don't mind being wrong. I hate being told I am wrong when I'm not. I hate being told what I am thinking and feeling by someone else.

When I'm on my bike all that shit is lifted from me. But I still can't find the words to speak truth to power in the rest of my life. The power of biking seems walled off from the rest of my life in some way.

It's like I am too scared to just step up and do the hard/painful/right thing to ensure happiness because I worry too much that it will cause someone else's unhappiness.

Maybe I need a shrink?

I don't know. I only know that my head is in a lot of places right now and that I've probably ruined a lot of lives through my inaction or my inability to open myself up. More psycho babble.

Maybe I just need to take a day off and use it to ride until the voices shut up?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Some days it just doesn't matter how light the bike is, how long you've been doing this, how good of shape you think you are in, the ride is just brutal.

This morning was one of those brutal ones. Started out just feeling a bit heavy overall, like my legs couldn't support me. DOMS is a bitch and I'm dealing with that right now. I took one of the dogs out for a run on Sunday. For some reason I thought I could do three miles after not running for, what, a few years?

Yeah, my legs hurt a bit today. Worse than yesterday.

These are the days when I don't want to be a bike commuter.

Maybe my overall attitude is more to blame. For many reasons I really don't feel motivated to actually come into the office. Much of the work I am doing right now doesn't require me to be in the office and its not like I'm getting input from the customer until after the fact, so why come to the office to work?

Partially it is just to get the bike miles in. Seems silly, but true. I like having the excuse to get on the bike. When I work from home it is too easy to start at 6 in the morning and keep going until 6 at night.

It's easy to think about how nice it would be to not ride on days like today when it seems that I've ripped every fiber of muscle into tiny little shreds and then tried putting them all back together with velcro. Every movement sets off a small rip of flame in my legs.

I know it is a good thing on some level, provided I can get out and run again to start building those muscles up rather than just breaking them down.

But time. Time is the great challenge. There are only so many usable hours in the day and a good bunch of those in my day are used up commuting to and from work. If I did things right, I'd run during the day - say at lunch. But once I get rolling on something, I tend to not want to leave it until it is done. Which means I often don't really even take breaks, just moments away to hit the head and warm up some food to eat while at my desk.

Some days I contemplate getting a car and driving myself to work. I really do. I could, if I did so, sleep an extra hour, still make it to work at the same time each morning, and have an extra hour in the afternoon to use for riding.

I could, but I know that wouldn't happen. I'd end up working the extra hour. I'd end up eating the time in some other way and end up still being pressed and frantic.

What's the saying about entropy? It always gets easier to not change?

I just made that up.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Live at Hellfest - part 2?

Just noticed, my last post was made while listening to the same album as I am listening to right now. Hmmm...

Anyway, here we go...

I figure it's getting to be spring and I haven't posted in a while so I probably should. The death knell of any blog, right? The sorry I haven't posted in a while post. The empty promises to the fives of tens of readers you have that you will do better in the future.

Yeah, I'm a walking cliché. I get it.

Here, have some pictures without context as my way of apologizing. Sorry if you've seen these ones before...