Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Into Thick Air

I don’t know whether to blame laziness, the Internet or my bikes, but over the past few years, I’ve noticed a troubling decline in the amount of time I spend reading books. Back in the day, I was almost always working my way through one volume or another, and it rarely took more than a week or two to finish each one. These days, I read a few books per year, and reading one can take nearly a month.

One solution, of course, is to “keep it in the family” and read about my favorite subject: riding bikes. Unfortunately, truly interesting books about cycling don’t come around that often. Lately, I’ve been living vicariously through Into Thick Air by Jim Malusa, a Tucson-based writer who, over six years, pedaled his battered bike to the lowest point on each of six continents.

It’s the kind of book that makes me daydream of building up a good old steel bike and hitting the road for weeks at a time. That’s probably because Malusa is a good writer, and a laid-back guy with a competent but relaxed approach to bicycle touring. Before a trip, he stocks up on cotton clothing at a thrift store. He routinely buys a cold beer and shoves it into his sleeping bag so it’ll be still be cold when he stops for the night. When his frame breaks before a trip—which would send most of us into a frantic scramble to buy a new bike—he has a Tucson mechanic weld the old thing back together.

And while he’s on the road, he’s willing to be flexible. Accept a ride in a car when the headwind sucks? No problem. Chew khat with new friends in Africa? Might as well. Research every last detail in advance? Mmm, not so much. After all, Malusa writes, “Travel without surprise was merely an agenda.”

Malusa approaches a bike tour as a way to see the world and meet encounter new cultures, and great excuse to spend his days doing what we all love: riding around on a bike.

OK, so most of us aren’t as willing to endure the discomfort of pedaling through remote stretches of Egypt and Russia, or as tolerant of being stoned by the malicious youths at a refugee camp in Djibouti. Hell, I’d happy just to pedal across America, braving Mormons in Utah, and tractors on the highways of Iowa.

But some things are universally loved and understood by everyone who loves traveling on two wheels, and, for me, Malusa captures the essence of it:

“When the sun appears and only the solitary can hear the daybreak angels sing and toot their long horns, I set off like a bloodhound, hot on the scent of Lake Eyre. It’s a fine start, wheeling along with my shadow in pursuit, the desert air as clear and intoxicating as gin, everything reminding me of why I ride: to be outside. The bicycle amplifies life, making good times better.”

Monday, July 28, 2008

A big load of bull

Every summer, I post at least one shot
of a moose blocking the trail.

This well-fed bull was in no hurry
to get out of our way on Sunday, but
he was tolerant enough to let me pass
so I could get a shot of him
with part of our group.

(At least, I think that was his reason
for letting me get by.)

A pissed-off moose can easily
stomp a mountain biker into little more
than a big stain in the dirt.

But the nice thing about moose is that,
if you don't piss 'em off, they'll eventually
get bored with you and move aside.

Then, you can just carefully slip by.

And you can go on with your ride
and enjoy some incredible scenery.

I sometimes miss long summers,
but I can't imagine ever again living
and riding full-time in the Lower 48.

Routine standoffs with 1,500-pound
critters might sometimes be a hassle,
but life without them wouldn't
be as interesting.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

On her way

Petra on race day

Four weeks to the day after she was mauled by a brown bear during a 24-hour race, Petra Davis sat smiling and laughing this afternoon at a table full of her teenage friends.

It was a beautiful sight.

As beautiful as the huge smiles on the faces of her parents, who held a potluck to celebrate her going home from the hospital weeks earlier than expected.

Out of respect for the family's desire for privacy, I've resisted posting updates on Petra's condition in recent weeks. But her story made national news, and people across the country are still landing here while doing Google searches for updates on how she's doing, so this feels like the right time.

She's still seeing a lot of doctors, getting physical therapy and working on her recovery. But she's home, she's strong and she's ahead of schedule.

Petra's encounter with the bear was the darkest spot of a dreary, cold summer, but if the smile on her face today was any indication, the forecast is looking much brighter.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One bike? Get real!

Could YOU keep up with Marla?
Dream on.

I rarely pay any attention when another blogger “tags” me, because most of those chain-mail type things are a boring waste of time. You really don’t want to know my favorite color or the five things about myself that I’ve never told you. And I don’t want to write about those things. This blog isn’t some desperate form of self-therapy, no matter how many of you suspect I might need such a thing. It’s about bikes. All bikes, all the time, no apologies.

But Julie tagged me with a questionnaire about bikes, so it didn’t suck. I decided to give it a go. I might even provide a couple of sincere answers. Or not. It’s anybody’s guess.

If you could have any one — and only one — bike in the world, what would it be?
This is like asking which of my children I love the most. It's just wrong. But if I really had to make such a choice, I’d probably have to go for my Surly Pugsley, with extra wheelsets for studs, commuter slicks and knobbies, and a suspension fork for summer trail rides. If I lived anywhere but Alaska, I’d just go for a nice full-suspension mountain bike with full lock-outs and a set of commuter wheels.

If you had to choose one — and only one — bike route to do every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
A little-known stash of singletrack near my old place in the village of Nambe, New Mexico. It had the ideal combination of flow, exposure, technical challenges, and scenery. I rode it for years and learned new things each summer. And it’s still the only trail I’ve ever ridden with a corkscrew section that merited the nickname of “The Spiral Staircase.”

Best of all, I virtually always had the whole trail to myself. In fact, I'm probably the only person who knew the name of The Spiral Staircase, because I made it up. It took me two years and several patches of skin to figure out how to ride it.

What kind of sick person would force another person to ride one and only one bike for the rest of her / his life?
A modern-day Marquis de Sade. I'd say such a person needs an ass kickin' but he'd probably enjoy it.

Do you ride both road and mountain bikes? If both, which do you prefer and why? If only one or the other, why are you so narrowminded?
Yes, I ride both and love both. But mountain bikers are generally way more fun than roadies. I ride trails with people who don't own road bikes, but I don't ride roads with people who don't own mountain bikes.

Have you ever ridden a recumbent? If so, why?
Yes, for a few laps around a parking lot. Why? Because a dealer was offering free demo rides and I wanted to see if I could actually get moving from a dead stop with pedals that were directly in front of me, and whether I could steer with a handlebar that was under my butt and mounted backward. It wasn't all that hard, but maybe that's because my ass has spent so much time flying over handlebars.

Recumbents are dorky, but if I had to choose between riding one or not riding at all, I’d cut two eye holes in a paper bag, and pedal on down the road.

Have you ever raced a triathlon? If so, have you also ever tried strangling yourself with dental floss?
Why in the bloody hell would I want to screw up a perfectly good bike ride with all that running and swimming shit?

As for dental floss, I fear that it would likely decapitate me prior to strangulation, and I hate the idea of still being conscious when my head hits the ground with my eyes looking back at my headless body while blood gushes from the gaping maw where my neck used to be attached. How could I yell, “OH, SHIT” while lacking a direct connection to my lungs?

Suppose you were forced to either give up ice cream or bicycles for the rest of your life. Which would you give up, and why?
I rarely eat, or even think about, ice cream. I think about bikes more than most men think about sex. Come to think of it, that might not be a healthy sign.

Shit. Now I'm depressed.

Could I please have two scoops of mint chocolate?

What is a question you think this questionnaire should have asked, but has not? Also, answer it.
My question: Which celebrity, living or dead, would you most like to draft in a paceline?
Answer: Marla Streb would drop me off the back, so I'll stick with Marisa Tomei. Alive. Long live Marisa Tomei.

Hmm. I wonder if my wife ever reads this blog.

You’re riding your bike in the wilderness (if you’re a roadie, you’re on a road, but otherwise the surroundings are quite wilderness-like) and you see a bear. The bear sees you. What do you do?
Well, hopefully I’d be riding with the dumbass who came up with the question about one bike for the rest of my life, so that I could quickly kick his knee from the side, tearing loose his tendons and leaving him writhing on the ground as I slowly back up and calmly say, “Good bear. Good boy. I’ll leave you two alone now.”


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Let it all hang out

Inspired by one of the most exciting basketball players of all time—Michael Jordan—I recently decided to become a trendsetter and make tongue wagging fashionable in the sport of bicycling.

All it took, of course, was a well-timed tongue flash at the Fireweed finish line, and BAM, a new fad was born. This could be right up there with the pet rock, the Rubik's cube, or asking "Where's the beef?" Come to think of it, there have probably been a couple of fads since then, but I'm old and I've forgotten what they were.

Heather's gettin' on the bandwagon and adopting the tongue wag. Oh, sure, she may have thought she was just mocking me during a ride on Powerline, but she really wanted to Be Like Mike ... and Tim.

Join us.

Ride the wave.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Huber busted in cheating scandal

Already plagued by doping allegations at this year's Tour de France, the cycling world was dealt another disheartening blow this weekend when a cheating scandal erupted in Anchorage.

Exclusive photographs released to Bicycles & Icicles revealed that "Skeeter" Huber (shown at right in this picture) used illegal tactics late Saturday night during an unsanctioned race to finish off a watered-down and rapidly warming margarita. Digital images clearly show Huber pinching his straw, thereby forcing his opponent to unknowingly ingest a larger portion of alcohol on the eve of a big ride. No decision has yet been announced regarding Huber's possible disqualification from future margarita races.

BikeMonkee Garcia, Huber's competitor in the event, was unavailable for comment Sunday. He was believed to be suffering from alcohol-related dehydration during a lengthy training ride somewhere in the Chugach National Forest on the Kenai Peninsula.

A witness to Saturday night's event, who agreed to make a public statement under the cover name "Big Karma," said he was appalled when he later reviewed his photographs and realized that Huber had cheated against a fellow rider and teammate on the up-and-coming Uranus Titans cycling team.

"I never thought I'd say this," Karma said. "But I watched Huber pinch one off. It was really disgusting. Given his usual intake of white-trash margaritas, it's hard to believe he was suddenly interested in restricting his alcohol intake. It appeared to be a malicious attempt to inflict suffering on the Monkee.

"And they had looked so cute sharing a drink with two straws like that. I don't know what I'm supposed to feel now. It's just so disappointing to see such a special moment tainted by cheating.

"I'll tell ya one thing," Karma said. "Next time I make that dude a few margaritas, he's gonna get a double dose of tequila without even knowing it. By Sunday afternoon, the men's room at iHop will be a biohazard zone."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lew's 400

You’re looking at one certifiable bad-ass of a senior citizen.

While guys like me were busy patting ourselves on the back for riding reasonably well in the shorter, easier Fireweed races last weekend, Lew Meyer was finishing the 400-mile solo race—which is gaining a reputation as one of the more grueling endurance road races in the world—in a little more than 29 hours.

Meyer is 73 years old.

His support crew included his grandson.

Unlike most of the younger competitors in his event, Meyer had the energy to show up at the awards ceremony in Anchorage on Monday night. When he walked up front to collect his coffee-mug trophy, the applause grew into the night’s only standing ovation—a well-deserved one.

Fifteen racers signed up for the 400-mile race, and this guy was one of only five who finished. I'd say he kicked some ass.

(Updated to reflect number of entrants.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Back from the 2008 Fireweed

Despite having this tongue-wagging* lardass cross the finish line on its behalf, Team Uranus Titans finished Saturday's Fireweed 200 in 10 hours, 14 minutes, 12 seconds. That was good enough for 8th place among 37 teams in the 4-person mixed relay division—not a bad result for a squad that would have been happy with middle of the pack.

A couple of team members suggested that maybe our strong performance was a sign that we should get serious enough to actually train, read the rules, and all that stuff for next year's race.

Yeah, that'll happen.

From the decent weather, to the beautiful scenery, to the mutant squirrel, to the vicious headwinds, to Ken's 54-mph descent of Thompson Pass, to all the laughs and sweat along the way, it was a great race. So thanks to Heather, Ken, Brian, and our wonderful support drivers, Julie and Ken Sr. (And a special thanks to Heather for traveling 200 miles with me and not flipping me off even once ... that I'm aware of.)

Officially, the whole thing ended Saturday evening in Valdez. But really, it'll end over the next few days when we all empty our cars and figure out who has each other's stuff.

* My wife was kind enough to remember that, in his prime, Michael Jordan often made a similar face while driving the lane and launching into the air for a great slam dunk.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Got hammer?

Some friends and I rode Blue Dot
a couple of weeks ago, and negotiated
the usual shaky, slippery crossing
of the bridge that has been falling apart for years.

(It was pointed out that shooting
this photo wasn't the most chivalrous
act I could have been performing at that
moment, but I felt the need to document
the scene for my readers.)

(You're freakin' welcome.)

Then I came across Bike Girl's photo
of the bridge on Black Bear.
Notice any differences?

A couple of years ago, a single board
came loose from the Black Bear bridge.
It has already patched. You can see
the new chunk o' wood on the
right-hand side of the photo.

So why is no one calling for
a new bridge on Blue Dot?

Consider this the first.
It's time to build a new one.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Join us for The Ride

Bicycling is more than a sport. It's more than a hobby. It's a lifestyle. A passion. Some people get that, and some people don't.

Philip Diprose and the rest of the crew behind The Ride definitely get it. That's why they searched worldwide from their home in London for art and writing that captures the passion, from road racing to urban riding to commuting to mountain biking.

The result is a wonderful 146-page, limited-edition journal that features not only great images, but essays by guys like Sir Paul Smith, Greg LeMond, Charlie Kelly and ... me.

Yeah, they actually asked me to get involved. Where would the world be without crazy ideas, eh?

I'm proud to be part of it. Treat yourself to a numbered copy—only 1,000 were printed—for £8.50 (in the UK) or £12 (the rest of the world). That's about $24 for folks here in the U.S.

The Ride is available in several London bike shops, and from the online ordering site.

Monday, July 07, 2008

TOB and the IBBS

I like to think of it as the
Interstate Bike Blogger's Summit.

The Old Bag came north to spend
two weeks in Alaska,
so we got together for a couple of rides.

She brought The Sweetie along to share in the fun.

We put a big ol' smile on TOB's face ...

took her into the woods ...

and generally contributed to the exhaustion
that plagues funhogs who
visit the land of long days.

Bike blogs can be a cool thing. You start
reading some stranger's posts, and
next thing you know, you've got
muddy legs and a couple of new friends
sitting at your table with a pizza
and post-ride beers.

Goddamn, I love
this sport.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Getting past it


It’s time to keep moving forward.

And that’s what I did Tuesday night. As the city’s post-mauling hysteria boiled, I turned to what keeps me sane: I climbed on a mountain bike and went for a ride. The first ride since Petra Davis got hurt.

I needed it. If you live in Anchorage and haven’t done it yet, you probably need it as well. Get out there and feel normal again. Ride through the woods. Make noise and be safe, like you always tried to do anyway. The ride will take over your mind and flush away the dark thoughts that have been lurking there since last weekend. They’ll remind you how you have ridden the Hillside for years with no injury worse than the usual scrapes and bruises of our sport.

Let the knee-jerk reactionaries rant about killing bears. In a few days, most of them will fade away when the next shiny distraction is waved in front of them. And they’ll still ignore the fact that dogs kill more people in Alaska than bears do. They’ll still forget that moose kill more Alaskans than bears do.

As calm slowly returns, we’ll still be riding the trails. And we’ll face no more danger than we did a week ago.

We’ll still be mountain bikers and proud of it. We’ll still know that we ride and hang out with the most fun, cool people we’ve ever known. And the bonds between us will continue to strengthen in the aftermath of the mauling.

But perhaps we’ll be prouder than ever because we’ve seen our friends meet disaster with courage. Like the bravery of Pete’s cool-headed response when he found Petra on the trail, and the thumbs-up she gave to the rescuers who were carrying her out of the woods when her body was so broken she couldn’t even speak.

What happened to Petra hit home—hard—even for those of us who don’t know her personally. It hasn’t been an easy week to be a mountain biker in this town.

But in some ways, it’s been an inspiring one.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Who needs 'em?

Just in time to help cheaters in the Tour de France and the summer Olympics, a lab in Denmark has published the results of a study showing that the World Anti-Doping Agency’s test for EPO use among athletes doesn’t work.

In batches of samples taken from test subjects who agreed to use EPO, the study found that WADA-approved labs were completely unreliable at detecting anything at all. In other words, the risk of getting caught is small while the potential benefit in competition is huge.

During an endurance event like a marathon or the Tour, when athletes are usually pacing themselves by performing at lower levels of exertion, EPO can improve their performance by 50 percent.

And they probably won’t get caught.

“It doesn’t sound good for anyone who wants a drug-free sport,” said Carsten Lundby, the lead author of the report.

No shit.

The top level of sports is tainted. We can no longer believe what we see, so why bother to look? I stopped watching the Tour years ago. I stopped watching other sports long before that.

You want pure sport? Cancel your cable subscription and be your own athlete.

Go out and ride. Spend the cable money on Clif bars and bike parts.

No, there’s nothing on the line. No competition, no trophies, no money. That’s all crap anyway.

Pure sport is a human body in motion for the sheer joy of it, with no motivation to cheat.

You already have everything you need.