Thursday, January 28, 2010

My fellow Americans ...

I felt a twinge of guilt when I got home Wednesday night. All the online news sites were full of coverage of the State of the Union address. Millions of “serious” adults had, no doubt, devoted the evening to watching Obama’s speech.

I, on the other hand, did what I usually do. I went and played in the woods on a fat bike. Didn’t give the big speech a second thought, really.

It’s not that I don’t care. I just don’t need the dog-and-pony show of a constitutionally mandated annual address to know the state of the union—it’s fucked up. And I didn’t need to hear the Big Man say anything to feel reassured that we’re in better hands than we were for eight years. I still think he’ll steer us onto the right course. But I have my own course to steer.

The stuffed suits in D.C. can have the State of the Union address. I can read about it in the New York Times.

I felt it was my duty to confirm the State of Blue Dot. And I slept better knowing what a fine state that is.

Notice to locals who are wondering what happened to the akspokes forum this week: There was a problem with excessive bandwidth usage, so the host site shut down the forum. The problem is being addressed, and the forum should be back online by this weekend.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Some weeks, it’s barely worth pumping up the tires.

A scenic ride on the coastal flats didn’t last long in Sunday’s soft powder conditions, so we spent the second half of the ride drinking beer. At least I got this pretty picture.

And tonight’s eagerly anticipated trail ride lasted only long enough for my freehub to die, so I’m having a glass (or two) of wine.

I don’t think this training program is sustainable.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bicycle Dreams

3051.7 miles, with a goal of 12 days.
110,000 of climbing.
A drop-out rate of nearly 50 percent.
It’s 30 percent longer than the Tour de France.
It’s finished in half the time.
With no rest days.
The winner typically pedals 375 miles per day,
and finishes in 8 or 9 days.

By any normal standard, the Race Across America is an utterly insane event. Why would anyone do it? After watching Stephen Auerbach’s documentary, Bicycle Dreams, I still don’t understand. But any soloist who finishes this madness is a certifiable Bad Ass on a Bike.

Riding from San Diego to Atlantic City in 12 days (or less) pushes riders into the deepest, darkest parts of their minds, while subjecting them to no small about of danger. There’s no big prize money at stake, and it costs a small fortune to train, field a support crew and race. Some racers save for years just to reach the start line.

They ride while sobbing. They hallucinate. Beyond the usual definition of exhaustion, they attempt to sleep, and fail. Then they get back on their bikes—often with assistance because their bodies are so trashed—and keep riding. It doesn’t make sense. But it makes for a great film.

Auerbach, who recently contacted me to ask if I’d review a copy of Bicycle Dreams, set out during the 2005 RAAM to document the race using 18 cameras and an around-the-clock schedule. The result is powerful. It’s no secret to anyone who follows the race, even from afar, that the 2005 race turned out to be a heartbreaking event when Bob Breedlove died in a fatal crash in Colorado, but even without such a tragedy this race dishes out enough hurt to move a spectator to tears, and Auerbach got it on film.

Interestingly, he went completely indie on this project. With no big stars or a marketing budget, Auerbach hit the festival circuit and released a DVD without waiting or a distribution deal. It’s a grassroots campaign that’s getting a boost from awards at the Red Rocks, Yosemite, Breckenridge and All Sports LA film festivals.

Hopefully, it will also benefit from dumbass bloggers like me, because this is some riveting stuff. The suffering of the racers is epic, but their hearts are even bigger. Whether it’s rookie Chris Hopkinson riding with a sore neck supported by a jury-rigged contraption of foam, duct tape and inner tubes, or Jure Robic wanting to surrender his lead and quit when he loses the ability to conjure a mental image of his wife and daughter, it’s inspirational to watch them push through the torture. (Not that I was inspired to attempt anything similar, but I’ll certainly whine less during my next century ride.)

Click on over and order a copy. It’ll cost about as much as a new pair of gloves, and you’ll remember it a hell of a lot longer.

(Anchorage riders will remember 2005 as the year that hometown boy Ben Couturier raced as an 18-year-old rookie and became the youngest solo finisher in RAAM history. Couturier appears on screen for only seconds during a blurry nighttime shot, so you locals might want to keep an eye out for a Kaladi jersey and a pair of hairy legs.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blue Dot paparazzi

The old footbridge over Campbell Creek on the Blue Dot trail could be described—if one were feeling generous—as sketchy.

It’s a rickety, collapsing wooden structure that’s in such bad shape it’s actually less slippery when it’s covered in ice and snow, because water and moss make it a real bitch to cross while wearing hard-sole cycling shoes in summer. When I posted this picture a couple of summers ago, it was, uh ... suggested that perhaps I should have been offering Maura and Heather a hand instead of snapping pics as they risked a cold bath.

And when Jules and I rode Blue Dot on Wednesday night, and I briefly forgot that it was her first time on the trail, it occurred to me to say, “Watch out for the bridge” just as she was about to roll onto it. She stopped right where you see her; next to a wheel-grabbing hole mostly hidden by darkness.

She immediately suspected, of course, that I was waiting with my camera to catch a gnarly crash photo.

I think my reputation among my riding partners might need a little polishing. I would never hurt one intentionally. After all, friends who will hit the trails in freezing fog at -2F don't grow on trees, you know.

Besides, I can always hide in bushes and get nasty crash shots when strangers ride by. And now that Julie mentioned it, that would be a pretty cool shot ...

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I’m a morning person.

As long as morning doesn’t start before 9 a.m., and nobody talks to me for the first hour after I wake up. Otherwise, I feel like setting fire to the world.

So I just couldn’t make myself face early wake-ups this weekend. Early this winter, I had every intention of doing this year’s Frosty Bottom race, which was held on Saturday. But that would have involved getting up by 7 a.m.

I considered joining friends for a ride on the Herning Trail outside the town of Houston this morning. But that would have meant getting up about 6 a.m. When I was sipping a cold beer about 10:30 last night, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, I slept in a bit, then headed out to do my own version of the Frosty. My friend Kathy called when I was driving to the ride, and said she’d join me with her husky, Denali. We rode about 32 miles under sunny skies and perfect temps in the neighborhood of 20 degrees.

My legs felt strong all day. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt better while spending nearly four hours on a fat bike. But if I started feeling all bad-assy, all I had to do was look at Denali, who ran 32 miles, and loved it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The New-shoe Haiku*

Old shoes shot to hell.
New ones finally arrive.
And silver's still cheap.

*aka: I’m tired and uninspired,
so I’m down to taking pictures
of my freakin’ shoes.
(Which almost could have
been the haiku.)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Goin’ to the powder room

Alaska is a chilly place, which means that, sometimes, chamois cream just isn’t a pleasant option—even in summer. Like when you camp out the night before a ride. Northern nights are cold. As in see-your-breath cold.

Unless you happen to sleep with a tube of Chamois Butt’r in your bag, the pre-ride application can get gruesome. Stuffing a big gob of ice-cold goo up the ol’ eerie canal first thing in the morning is enough to make you curse your own ancestors, not to mention the friends who are standing around telling you to hurry your ass up.

And on longer winter rides, anything moist will eventually feel cold and clammy against your skin. Fortunately, I recently happened upon a solution: Anti Monkey Butt powder. Shoot some of this shit in your shorts, and you’ll be warm and fuzzy for hours.

Besides being a warm, dry alternative to creams, this stuff is flat-out manly. They sell it in six-packs for cryin’ out loud! And they market it to macho dudes like fat-ass truck drivers (and those are guys with posteriors that spend a lot of time in sweaty, pressure-filled situations). Check out this info from the company web site: “Anti Monkey Butt Powder is specially formulated to absorb excess sweat and reduce frictional skin irritation. It is ideal for butt-busting activities such as truck driving, motorcycling, bicycling, horseback riding, and extreme sports.”

If you’re not manly, you can even buy a version for babies, or Lady Anti Monkey Butt, a “satiny smooth powder to minimize the frictional discomfort that women often experience when using exercise equipment, running, driving, cycling or just walking.” They say it reduces friction on your inner thighs, but if those babies are rubbin’ up against each other when you try to walk, I don’t really want to know.

Either way, this stuff is cheap and easy to find. Apparently, it’s even sold in hardware stores—which is especially nice if you’re shy about buying butt products and want to discreetly slip some into a big pile of tools, drywall anchors and electrical tape when you go to the cash register.

This is good stuff. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can read testimonials on the company web site. For example, there’s a woman who picked up a canister at Walmart and was thrilled to find that it “stops that awful sweaty feeling that comes along with living here in S.E. Texas.”

When you need an expert on assholes, you can always count on someone who lives in Texas.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

If I may butt in …

Infantry soldiers and backpackers can get obsessive about foot care. Whether you’re grunt on the battlefield or a gorp-munchin’ hiker in the mountains, your feet are your primary mode of transportation. A painful blister or a nasty fungus can ruin your whole day.

Bicyclists are picky about ass care for the same reason. Our butts are a primary connection to our bikes, and a festering saddle sore or other nether-region unpleasantness can turn a long ride into a sufferfest. Think about it: What other sport involves ergonomically designed saddles, pants with crotch padding, and all manner of creams and powders created specifically for keeping your crack dry and happy?

One of my sisters-in-law—not a regular cyclist—has agreed to do a 60-mile ride with friends, so she e-mailed to ask me one simple question: Is it a good idea to buy a pair of bike shorts?

Instead of simply replying “yes,” I sent back a treatise on shorts, seams, saddle height, losing underwear, and embracing chamois cream. I haven’t heard from her since. I’m unrepentant, though. A short answer simply wasn’t enough for a subject so near to my heart … and other parts.

Those of us who have traveled the path of enlightenment to butt bliss always hate to hear newbies complain about posterior pain or the “sadists” they blame for the modern bike saddle so, naturally, we want to share with them all the secrets that ensure comfort so they can learn to love riding as we do.

I believe that the combination of bad saddles and inappropriate clothing keeps countless adults from enjoying bicycles. We all know someone who decided to go on their first ride in years, only to swear they’ll never do it again because they returned home with a sore posterior. And most of them don’t know enough to realize the problem was a piece-of-junk saddle on a department-store bike, mated with a pair of cotton underwear and pants covered with cruelly folded and stitched seams.

One ride with a proper saddle and a good pair of shorts could open up a whole new world to them. I think those of us who ride all the time have a responsibility to stand up for the world’s butt cheeks and spread the word.

But I’m not sure my sister-in-law agrees at the moment.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Glacial facials

It’s January in Alaska, which means that 1.) it’s colder than a well-digger’s ass, and 2.) the temperature’s about to drop. Any day now, we’ll hit another one of those -20F spells that are good only because when the temperature rises 40 degrees, we all feel great at 20 above zero.

It also means this is beardcicle season. OK pretty much all winter is beardcicle season, but when you ride a bike, colder air = bigger glacial facials.

That shot at the top of this post was taken by my friend Steve a couple of winters ago on one of those sub-zero nights that can make you momentarily wonder if the couch potatoes have a point when they call us nuts. My face got so iced up that night, I had trouble sticking food in my mouth. Hell, I had to find a gap just to get a drinking tube in there.

Riding in air that cold can hurt. There’s brain freeze to deal with, and your eyes water like crazy if the wind hits them. Exposed skin gets so cold it can feel like it’s burning.

Some people would think the last thing you need on top of all that is a mass of ice hanging off your face, right? But I don’t mind it, partially because I get a kick out of the weird looks it brings from other people on the trail.

But mainly, I don't mind it because it's a small price to pay for not being a slave to razors in the morning, or TV on cold nights.