Friday, August 31, 2007

Leading the way

Sometimes, the little guys kick ass and leave the big dogs eating their dust. I know, because I’m a big guy in a small guy’s sport.
One of the coolest little towns in Alaska is ahead of all the big cities in working to earn a “Bicycle Friendly Community” designation from the League of American Bicyclists. Sitka is a beautiful community on Baranof Island, and even though its road and trail systems are very limited, it’s a wonderful place to get around on a bicycle: relatively flat, little traffic, mild climate, friendly people and some of the best scenery anywhere.

I was there for a few days in the spring last year when I shot these pictures, and rented a bike instead of a car. With a good pair of gloves and a warm hat, I had way more fun that if I’d been trapped behind a steering wheel. I’ll be there again in a few days, and wish I could take a bike with me.

This past spring, several local groups held a health summit and identified four major projects that would help make Sitka a healthier place to live. One recommendation was to pursue the bicycle-friendly designation, which would make Sitka the first community in Alaska to do so. They’re pulling the whole thing together with help from a grant of nearly $10,000 from the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium's "Steps to a Healthier SE Alaska" program, and they plan to apply for the designation in March.

Our big population centers of Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks should be watching and learning. In a state full of big-ass, four-wheel-drive trucks, we need more towns with leaders thinking about healthier lifestyles and better communities. This little out-of-the-way place is leading the charge.

Raven Radio recently did a story on the project and posted streaming audio online, and there’s a website with a forum for suggestions on how to get things done.

Thanks to Charles Bingham at SEARHC for reading the ol' blog and letting me know about the project.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Bike commuting isn't for wimps. It's fraught with peril. Danger lurks around every corner and you never know what's coming at you next. You have to be aware and vigilant at all times.

I keep street clothes hanging on the back of my office door, which is usually wide open. I closed it for a few minutes this morning because I had to make a sensitive phone call.

As I was dialing, I turned my head slightly and my peripheral vision picked up a tall, human form standing at my door wearing a black shirt.

Damn thing scared the crap out of me.

If I'd had a bike helmet hanging on the top hook, that dude would have looked six and a half feet tall.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Raising the white flag

I looked at my bike collection a couple of days ago and decided that something must be done.

When a person owns seven bicycles and three are in pieces—and two of those three have been disassembled for ... well years, if you really must know—that's not too far from being the biking equivalent of a guy who has a couple of old pickups in the front yard with weeds growing up through the engine compartments.

So I'm conceding defeat. These two old classics—a 1963 Schwinn Typhoon and a '70s-era English 3-speed—have been posted for sale on craigslist along with the frame from my old Trek commuter bike. Despite all my dreams and good intentions, I'd probably never get around to finishing both of the restoration projects.

It's not about the money, it's about the storage space. Well, OK, it's a little bit about the money: My wife keeps talking about calling contractors to get estimates on adding an extra room onto the house to give me a shop and bike-storage space. She's serious, too.

Do you have any idea how much a project like that would cost, or how many bikes and bike trips I'd have to sacrifice to pay it off? Gives me the willies just thinkin' about it. The way I figure it, if she sees fewer dismembered bike carcasses layin' around, maybe she'll forget all this crazy talk about construction projects.

Besides, yesterday I caught myself thinking that the ol' Typhoon might look sort of good as a lawn ornament, and I thought that might be a red flag.

I'll sort of miss these old things.

But not as much as I'd miss the money I'd pay in contractors' fees.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Rush hour

South Anchorage, 5 p.m. Friday

A few times each year, I find myself looking
out my office window on a beautiful afternoon
and wondering why I'm sitting at a desk when
I'm caught up on my work
and the sun is calling.

On those days, I try to slip away a bit early
to enjoy a little extra time riding home.
I like to stop at this scenic spot, which is only
300 yards out of my way and a couple
of miles from my house.

I like to stand here looking at the mountains
and listening to the breeze, and feel good
about living a place where I can enjoy
this kind of scenery on a regular basis,
even while commuting home from an office.

Occasionally, I hear someone call
this city "Los Anchorage," because that's their
way of equating it to major urban centers
in the Lower 48, which is absurd.

I think such people
need to get a grip.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I need a girl

I've spent a fair amount of time riding in the rain this week, and it has renewed my appreciation for the old fenders I recently put on the commuter bike. I had forgotten how much they can make wet rides reasonably enjoyable.

OK, part of me still feels like I should have my glasses taped together over the bridge of my nose when I ride with those things on my bike but, hell, they're just so damned practical that I don't care.

Still, I'd like to be a macho bike geek and bond with my brothers on the road. You know, real men, like truck drivers. Those guys with big belt buckles and even bigger bellies. The kind of guys who eat a lot of cholesterol and have old Army tattoos. The kind of guys who drink beer from cans and proudly have Dale Earnhardt's "3" carved into the hair on their backs.

This is my dream. Don't judge me. I want a mudflap girl.

See, my fenders actually have little rubber mudflaps, yet I lack the manly accoutrement of a chrome-plated babe with bodacious ta-tas to decorate my steed as I cruise the open roads of this Great Land.

The problem is, she can't be more than a couple of inches wide. I've always liked short women, but this is ridiculous. Someone, somewhere must know where I can find a tiny metal babe to place on the back of my manly mudflaps. Help me, fine readers. If you know where this treasured item can be acquired, you must tell me of such a place. Money is no object, as long as it's cheap.

One day soon, people will observe me riding to work in my flourescent yellow jacket and funny pants, and then they will see my mudflaps and know what kind of rough character they're dealing with.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Leave It To ...

Today I'm proud to present another shot of the ... well, you know.

I don't dare repeat the words from that earlier post. I'm trying to work my way down the list of responses for Google searches for "b**ver shots," ya know what I'm sayin'?

I half expect to turn on my computer each morning and find hate mail from frustrated pervs who are mad at me for wasting their time.

Still, I couldn't resist stopping for a photo of this little critter during my ride to work this morning. I tried to get a tighter shot, but as with so many beavers I've encountered in the past, I wasn't allowed to get very close.

Riding through the light rain this morning and seeing a little wildlife in the lake was a nice way to wrap up my "summer" commuting season. Tomorrow is the first day of school, so the traffic will be a little heavier and have a larger number of yellow buses and oversize SUVs driven by irritable parents with a cell phone one ear and noisy kids in the other.

Stay alert, fellow commuters. And keep your eyes peeled for furry wet things.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hammer time

After four days of life on boats and small planes last week, I was looking forward to an easy Saturday. Sleeping late, catching up on some laundry and generally lounging around. Then I opened an e-mail from Ken about a little road ride downtown and back with a couple of his co-workers ... in an hour.

I took the bait, so I quickly slammed some breakfast and changed clothes. Two blocks from my house, the guy leading out stood up and started hammering while we were going downhill. Some days you just know it's going to hurt a little. And you're right.

Next time Ken brings new guys, I'm gonna ask for names and background checks.

I finally got caught up on that laundry while the rain fell on Sunday. Well, when I remembered to check the washer and drier, that is. I was also busy playing with the new Command Central for Bicycles & Icicles—my new MacBook.

It's sweet. And full of powerful, productive tools. Which I'll find as soon as I get over the thrill of playing with Photo Booth.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to get a full-size bike in front of this little camera that Apple put in my laptop ...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Digging deep

Like most of us who have been in this sport
for many years, I've ridden bikes with a lot of people.
Some people are there only once or twice.
Some for a few weeks, others for years.Sometimes I've wondered how well I really knew
some of those people. I mean, what does a bike ride
tell you about a person, other than
how much stamina they have, or how they deal with pain?
Or how their sense of humor holds up
when the ride gets rougher than expected
and the weather turns to shit?Sure, all that character stuff is good to know,
but if you really want to delve deeply
into their personalities, there's only one thing to do.
Start drinkin' with 'em.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

I've gone legit. After a couple of years of occasionally using the Hillside tank trails on the sly, I finally got one of the Army's recreational-use permits. Along with a bunch of friends who also recently obtained their slips of paper, I took off from the Hilltop Ski Area today to ride the Fort Richardson trails (and gravel roads) up to Alpenglow Ski Area in Arctic Valley.

I always enjoy the signs in the woods on Fort Rich. You just don't see stuff like this on most rides:

Shoothouse? Now that sounds fun.
Gimme one of those laser-tag rifles
and a fake hostage, and let's
get down to business!Shit. Does this mean I can't keep this
big shell thingie and use it
it as a doorstop?This is a really sick thing to post
where people will see it after
more than 4,000 feet of climbing.
Retain this, dammit!

I'm outta here for a few days. My job is taking me out of the mainstream for a little while. Ride hard, stay right-side up, and I'll see ya soon.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Joke Day at B&I

A woman's dog develops a rash that makes its skin very sensitive and requires the application of an ointment to make the problem go away, so the veterinarian sends the woman to a pharmacy with instructions to buy a hair-removal solution.

As the pharmacist rings up the purchase, he cautions the woman: "This might cause some irritation, so I recommend avoiding pantyhose for 24 hours."

"Oh, it's not for my legs," she replies.

"In that case," the pharmacist tells her, "I would stay away from wool sweaters for three or four days, because your underarms might be a tad uncomfortable."

"I won't be using it on my underarms," she says, growing impatient.

The pharmacist pauses, looking a bit confused.

"Look," she says, "if you really must know, I'm buying this for my schnauzer."

"Aaaah," the pharmacist says with a look of understanding. "In that case, you shouldn't ride a bicycle for at least a week!"

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I love zip ties. These things are right up there with duct tape, red wine and polio vaccine on my list of Shit I'm Glad Someone Invented.

After getting sloppy wet a week or so ago while riding home in the rain, I was really missing the fenders I used on my old commuter bike, which is now a stripped frame in a corner of the backyard shed. Problem was, my old '96 Stumpjumper was designed as a race bike, so the frame is devoid of braze-ons and threaded eyelets for stuff like racks and fenders. That was cool in 1996 but now that the beloved Stumpy has been put out to pasture as a commuter and errand bike, its streamlined frame is more of a liability.

That's where the zip ties come in. I decided to try mounting the fenders with nothing but plastic, and it worked like a charm. I stripped all unnecessary bolts from the fenders, zipped everything to frame and fork in approximately the appropriate places, and voila, the Stumpy is a nerdy but utilitarian machine.

The zip ties were a cheap, efficient solution—especially since I'll be yanking the fenders in a couple of months when the rainy season gives way to the sleety, snowy season and I have to ditch the slicks for studs.

I have mixed feelings about fenders. They're great on rainy days, but I still feel a little self-conscious about riding around with them. I feel a little better when I remind myself that I don't exactly look like Lance on a bike anyway, so what do I have to lose, other than muddy legs?

At least I'm not on a recumbent. Right?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Up and over

A tree blew down across one of my favorite little pieces of singletrack this summer, and when nobody cleared it with a chain saw, some freeride types built a ramp stunt over it. On one hand, this pisses me off because I'm not a fan of unnecessary structures on trails. On the other hand, it was fun to watch Pete B. and a couple of other young guys riding over it on their singlespeeds one night last week.

The whole "North Shore" style of riding doesn't appeal to me. I like my trails as natural as possible (although I do enjoy the ramp on Brown Bear) and scrap lumber is an affront to the beauty of natural forms.

I also like staying close to the ground. I can fall hard enough from saddle height, thank you very much.

Several years ago in his Mountain Bike magazine column, Dan Koeppel wrote about some formula he uses for catching air. I don't remember exactly what the formula was, but it somehow involved one's age having an inverse relationship to the number of inches their tires should be above the ground.

It seemed clever at the time. It seems wiser with every passing year.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Let’s face it

A little carnage is what makes mountain biking so exciting. It's not as if we want to crash, but knowing we might adds spice to tricky moves or high-speed turns and descents. And when we really think about it, most of us have to admit we secretly enjoy knowing people think we’re either brave or crazy for riding singletrack that they wouldn’t hike.

And, like the guy in today’s photo, let’s face it: Once we know our friends are OK, we usually get a laugh out of their falls. Hell, it’s probably because we know they’re OK. Laughter is often a sign of the hysterical relief one feels after nearly getting creamed.

If we manage to get a photo of the crash and our friend comes out … well, less than permanently crippled, then everyone wins. That’s why I’m sometimes accused of setting up to shoot a picture in a spot where someone could easily take a header. The way I see it, if you’re gonna fall, you might as well do it when we have a chance to save the evidence, ya know? You’d think friends would understand and try to cooperate once in awhile. But noooooooo.

My friend Ken crashed and burned a few days ago. Separated his shoulder, destroyed his helmet, the whole bit. But not on the trail. He did it a block from my house while riding over so we could carpool to the trailhead.

Now he’s out a helmet and a fat ER bill, he's facing surgery, and he doesn’t even have a gnarly photo or a wild story to tell. Well, OK, he can make up a good story.

“Yeah, uh, I was shooting down this steep descent when I bunny-hopped a big log and this moose … no, uh, this bear ran right in front of me …”

Heal up, Ken. The season is short.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Beaver shots

One of the greatest things about bike commuting in Anchorage is the daily opportunity to see wildlife. For the past three weeks, I’ve been making regular morning stops to check out this beaver. I finally decided to shoot a couple of photos and post them on the blog, because a friend once told me that he thinks it’s the duty of everyone who owns a digital camera to take some nice beaver shots and post them on the Internet for him to enjoy.

I had no idea he was so into animals, but you know men—we’re always trying to conceal our sensitive side.

This particular beaver is usually in a creek that’s close to my office, but this morning I found it in a nearby lake after a fellow bike commuter with a big smile on his face saw me looking in the usual spot and said, “Man, the beaver’s really out this morning!”

I pulled off my path and hid by a big, thick bush to snap a few photos. About that time, the beaver’s morning dip had reached its climax, so the furry little thing politely climbed out and prepared to leave. As it crossed the bike trail on its way home, I heard a voice saying, “Whut the hay-ull?!”

I turned around and saw a man on a bike. He had hit the brakes and was trying to decide what to do next. This poor guy sounded like he had just moved here from Dallas and had never seen a beaver. Especially one that was dripping wet early in the morning.

The beaver continued on its way. Knowing I had several good beaver shots stored in my camera, I mounted my bike and happily rode away.

Dang, that sure was a great beaver.