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!