Friday, December 23, 2011
It's a tradition this time of year to send cards with family pictures on them, so what better way to create an official Bicycles & Icicles holiday card than to use a flip-off photo from a member of the dysfunctional family that makes up the regular readership of this blog?
As another year winds down, I'd like to say thanks to everyone who shared a fun ride, contributed to the Fabulous Finger Gallery, or killed time reading this silliness every week.
Whatever you're into this weekend, have a good holiday and safe travels. Especially when you're on two wheels.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Alaska has gone a little crazy this winter. And not just that Sarah-Palin-loony kind of crazy. More like Lindsay-Lohan-on-a-bender insane. She covers herself with white powder and invites everyone to roll around on it until she goes apeshit and starts trashing the room.
Rain, chinook winds, yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s like a bad case of PMS mixed with cheap whiskey and a short fuse. Over the weekend, Glen Alps recorded a top wind speed of 104 mph. Every side street and parking lot in Anchorage is a hellish slab of ice that’s unsafe for everyone without studs in their tires or spikes in their shoes. And there’s another storm on the way that could push gusts to 90 mph on Tuesday.
And, just to add insult to injury, it’s December and we still have to be alert for a garbage-munching bear that refuses to hibernate.
Fortunately, I haven’t heard of any bear sightings for a few days, local trails have recovered from the meteorological disaster of two weeks ago, and the state’s most recent meltdown didn’t ruin our riding conditions. Saturday was awesome, Sunday was soft but still fun, and Monday was reportedly bomber again. Go get some while the gettin’ is good.
And carry a saw if you can, because when a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody there to hear it, it still blocks singletrack.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
About a dozen years ago, morning commuters in Fairbanks noticed a crew of workers clearing a parking lot with snowblowers. That afternoon, they saw the same workers blowing the same snow to the other side of the same parking lot. This went on for a couple of days while outraged drivers — who didn’t know the parking lot had been rented by a snowblower manufacturer to test its product — were calling City Hall to complain because they thought municipal workers were wasting taxpayer dollars.
Maybe those motorists paid attention because the scene involved a parking lot for cars. Something was going on, because the same basic thing happens in Anchorage all winter, every year, and nobody seems to give a damn. I’m talking about sidewalks and bike paths that city crews clean, and that state crews then bury under snow thrown from adjacent roads. Over and over. Every damned year.
And yes, I find it annoying because I’m a bike commuter, but it goes beyond that. It’s a terrible waste in terms of labor and fuel costs, because the sidewalks and bike paths that do actually get plowed (rather than completely ignored) end up being cleared twice. Eventually.
In the meantime, people who walk, bike, take the bus, etc., are lucky to find clear routes for a couple of hours before they have to spend days post-holing through a moonscape of ice and snow debris that was thrown atop their travel routes and bus stops. At least I can get off my bike one or twice every block, and grumble as I push through 75-yard stretches of snow sludge. I feel worse when I see people running their wheelchairs at the side of a lane of traffic, or people with canes trying to get home with bags of groceries when they can barely reach a bus-stop bench.
The cause of this problem is simple: The city of Anchorage and the state of Alaska are incapable of coordinating their snowplow schedules to work efficiently.
When this kind of government waste is more visible and affects more people, it sparks outrage. But when it’s in the dark margins beyond the side windows of most peoples’ automotive cocoons, they don’t seem to notice.
Maybe when somebody in a wheelchair gets run down on a dark December day as they roll down an icy street full of cars, we’ll finally be able to get our mayor and our governor — who are both tax-hating, cost-cutting conservatives — to appoint a couple of managers to work together and end this insanity.
But I’m not counting on it.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Lucas Brunelle might be one of the biggest jackasses you’ll ever see on a road bike (and that’s a huge statement) but damn, does he make some amazing videos. As far as I’m concerned, his Drag Race NYC contains some of the coolest urban racing footage ever caught on a digital memory card. That shit makes me want to jump on a bike and go fast.
His new DVD, Lucas Brunelle: Line of Sight, is undoubtedly just as much fun to watch. Maybe more. But his videos raise troubling questions. In a new interview with Bicycling magazine (yeah, I’m getting a lot of blog mileage out of it -- it’s the first issue I’ve really read in recent months) Brunelle makes it clear he’s not interested in diplomacy. The magazine’s editors asked on Twitter last week if Brunelle is ruining cycling’s image “or just trying to save us?”
In short, Brunelle is a guy who owns a successful company and has the freedom to travel around the world and shoot hair-raising footage of alleycat races. His skills are amazing, but his selfishness appears to be off the charts. He and his buddies terrorize pedestrians and motorists, and they ignore every traffic rule in the book. Whatever your stand on the responsibilities of one’s personal risk-taking, there’s no question they subject strangers to the trauma of being hit by a bike, or having to live with the experience of fatally striking a bicyclist with a car.
Motorists who encounter his crew undoubtedly come away from the experience shaken and pissed off at bicyclists. As someone who tries to set a decent – but far from perfect – example, I find that disturbing. Brunelle wouldn’t care.
In his magazine interview, he lays it out this way: “Fuck bike advocacy. It's the cars that make shit fun. Without cars, we couldn't do skitches off SUVs. We couldn't get bruised and cut up; we couldn't commiserate. I love traffic. It's an evil river, sure, but I love the city streets.”
Brunelle might be the kind of guy I’d like to meet over a beer. But I don’t know if I’d want to stay for a second round.
Maybe that’s why it pisses me off to really enjoy watching his insane videos.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
My good friend Julie calls her bikes names like “piece of shit” and “bastard child,” but that’s mainly when she’s working on them.
Sierra, over in Whitehorse, gives her bikes names like Snatchsquatch, Dick Van Byke and Contessa Von Awesome.
I’m still not sure about the merits of naming bicycles, but I’ve learned one thing: Women are a lot better at it.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
But there was one thing to which I couldn’t relate: naming a bicycle. I’ve never been interested in doing that.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my bikes. I get attached to them. Probably too much. I’ve ridden some for years past the point at which I would have benefited from switching to newer technology. But at the end of the day, they’re machines. Fascinating, beautiful machines that are engineering marvels, but still just machines. I don’t assign animate qualities to them, and the idea of naming them seems rather silly.
After all, they come with names that I use to refer to them around the house or with friends. Epic. Fatback. Trucker. Road bike. (OK, that last one is a bit dull, but TCR C1 is just too much of a mouthful.) Giving them new names seems unnecessary.
Is this a gender-based thing? Most people I know who have named their bikes are women. Maybe the men do it, but are shy about admitting it.
So I’m asking those of you who read this blog: Do you name your bikes, and why or why not? I’m truly curious. So leave a comment if you have a spare minute, and identify yourself as male or female, if you don’t mind.
Naming bikes, yes or no?
Sunday, December 04, 2011
But a bad attitude can be worse than sketchy weather. Knowing that the forecast looked grim and our sweet winter trails were about to get nuked, I forced myself out for a ride Saturday afternoon. Rain was falling as I drove to the trailhead, and roads were already getting wicked slick. I thought about turning around and heading home before things got worse.
When I reached the parking lot, I stuck my arm out of the window to test the rain-to-sleet ratio. My legs were tired from a week of commuting, and I knew I was looking for an excuse to bail out and go home. The rain seemed to be turning to sleet, so I grumpily pulled out my Fatback, strapped on a helmet and decided to ride for 10 or 15 minutes just to check the conditions.
Despite the shitty-looking weather, riding conditions were awesome. I pedaled slow and easy because of my tired legs, but I hit favorite trails like Thread the Needle and Brown Bear, enjoying the flow and watching most of the precipitation bounce off the sleeves of my jacket.
It was one of those rides that leave me wondering why I ever considered not getting out. Two hours after I started, I got back to my car with a wet jacket, an ice-covered bike and a smile on my face.
I drove home slowly on ice-covered streets, and then spent Saturday night and all day Sunday watching Mother Nature wreak havoc on what had been a really nice Alaska winter. Warm rain and hurricane-force winds kicked the crap out of Anchorage. Who knows how many trees have fallen across the trails, or how much overflow has ruined stream crossings that only recently hardened up?
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
He knew I was there. He had waved at me less than a minute earlier as I crossed in front of him before stopping on the bike path/sidewalk at the corner so I could get a green light to proceed south beside C Street at the end of the work day. I was standing at the spot where a fellow bike commuter was killed seven months ago.
Many days at this intersection, the light changes and motorists wave me across Tudor before they make their turn. A lot of Anchorage drivers are nicer than their reputation would indicate. Not this guy. He hit the gas as the light turned green to make sure I wouldn’t delay him for five seconds. Annoying, but not uncommon.
What was unusual was what came behind him. He was pulling a road train. Three trailers. “Seriously?” I thought to myself. “Three trailers? In Midtown? At rush hour?” Fortunately, I knew that each trailer would tend get closer to where I was standing, so I watched them closely.
Within a few seconds, it was time for evasive action. I yanked my front wheel into the air, pivoted my bike and dragged it a couple of steps just before the third trailer came off the road and rolled across the spot where the front half of my bike had been. Not to be dramatic, but that kind of shit kills people, you know? A couple of years ago, another Anchorage truck driver pulled his trailer over a corner sidewalk, and didn’t even know what had happened until he found parts of a pedestrian wrapped around his rear axle. They used dental records to identify the body.
And this trucker knew I was there on the sidewalk. He knew he was pulling a goddamn parade of trailers. He knew he had only two lanes of Tudor to work with as he dragged that monstrosity around the corner.
But he had to go first when the light turned green and the “walk” signal lit up.
Maybe he was in a hurry. Maybe he just didn’t give a shit. Maybe he thought it would be funny to watch in the mirror as I scrambled out of the way.
But what if I hadn’t?
Like I said before, some drivers get a bad rap. Others earn it.
Never let your guard down.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
OK, so maybe Spam went more places when everyone in Alaska wanted his pic in the slideshow at Mr. Whitekeys’ Fly By Night Club, but these snow bike stickers are doing some traveling. This fall, Gina slapped one on the famous road sign marking the top of the Col du Galibier in France, and then this little gem popped up on Facebook a couple of days ago.
My man Tony slapped a sticker on a Cyclo—or Vietnamese bike taxi—in Ho Chi Minh City before taking his friend Heather for a ride. Very nice.
Tony is one of Alaska’s devoted fat-bike riders, and a long-time Frigid Bits veteran who is baking in the Southeast Asian sun while the rest of us freeze our bits off during a cold snap here in Anchorage.
After last night’s ride, which had no burn barrel, riders were too cold to enjoy more than one beer before heading home to thaw out. Tony, meanwhile, was getting sunburned while riding a rental bike.
I know this because he posted to Facebook from Phu Quoc.
And I’ll just leave it there, because if I think too much about how to pronounce Phu Quoc, this post would surely go places it shouldn’t.
Friday, November 25, 2011
The second Frigid Bits ride of the winter is about to get under way, suckas! What Rio calls the Spin and Grin ride will start at 7:30 on Saturday night from Hillside Trailhead on Abbott Road. This is the ride for the fun hogs who just want to goof around in the dark, ride fat bikes, and maybe take a few nips from their flasks. The speed demons will leave at 8, but who cares about them, right?
The route of the fun ride will be determined during an informal recon mission on Saturday afternoon. The "Quickie" route for the fast people is described in the Alaska forum on mtbr. You'll need a helmet, a good light, a fat bike and the ability to ride it in still-a-tad-soft conditions.
If you're a Frigid Bits veteran, you know the drill. If you're not, and you have questions, drop me an email. Bringing post-ride food and beverages is always a good idea. Come to think of it, bringing during-the-ride beverages is always a damn good idea.
Drink up, Buttercup!
Monday, November 21, 2011
To everyone who got up offa that thing last week and started riding the Hillside singletrack, nice job. After a stressful week, I need to attend Sunday services at the Church of Bike, and holy crap, the trails were sweet. Thanks to some extra effort by guys like my friend Carl, even some of the "secret" trails such as Sith (shown at right) were full of tight, twisty goodness
Fortunately, we’re getting more snow tonight. Unfortunately, this storm could dump another six inches just before the holiday weekend, so we’re all going to have to get out there and groom the trails all over again. I promise to do my part.
The sanest way to deal with the retail hell of “Black Friday” is to stock up several days' worth of essentials now, stuff yourself on Thursday, then hit the trails on Friday while avoiding any building that contains a cash register. (Except for bars that serve post-ride beers.)
Thanks to Queen Bee and her “training camp” crew for today’s new entry into the Fabulous Finger Gallery. They spent more than four hours riding in temps down to -25F up by Talkeetna on Saturday. Stopping for a flip-off shot in such conditions is admirable, even if they couldn’t feel their hands well enough to be sure which fingers they were using.
Check back later this week for a possible update on a Frigid Bits event that just might be brewing for Saturday night. And in the mean time, have a fun and fattening Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
John Prine was right—it’s a big ol’ goofy world. Anchorage finally has enough snow to kick off fat-biking season, and my friend Deb the Crazy Cat Lady is sending me flip-off photos from trails where the weather is so warm, she can still smile after failing to make it through a stream.
She made it into the Fabulous Finger Gallery—again—but we get the last laugh, because she’s down there wearing shorts and riding in the woods where men are banjo-playing men, and the canoeists are nervous. Meanwhile, those of us in Alaska may be wearing a few extra layers, but the snowy trails are gettin’ sweet.
The only question is, where the hell is everybody? It seems like you can’t swing one of Deb’s dead cats in this town without hitting somebody who recently bought a fat bike, but the singletrack is shaping up slowly after snowstorms, because few people seem to be venturing out.
What the shit, people? The main advantage to having so many snow bikers in Anchorage is that when more of us hit the trails, they get buffed out faster. Hell, a few years ago it took at least a week for trails to get decent after a significant snow dump. The past couple of winters, while snow bikes were flying off the shelves like ugly underwear in Salt Lake City, the trails got so much fat-tire traffic they were routinely in great shape only a couple of days after a storm.
Are you having trouble accepting the arrival of winter? Are you spending your weekends watching football? Did you take up knitting? Have you been too busy watching that bitch Nancy Grace do drunken cow imitations on Dancing With the Stars?
OK, if it’s that last thing, do whatever you want. I have no use for you. Otherwise, dust off your fat bikes and go outside. It’s a big ol’ snowy world, and you're missing it.
Friday, November 11, 2011
An open letter to Chugach State Park administrators:
For the past few winters, I have obtained a special-use permit for winter bicycling in the park, and I have complied with all related rules. As a matter of fact, I sometimes defended the use of the permits when debating with friends who felt it was unfair that winter riders were required to obtain and carry the permits when no other user groups were subjected to that burden.
Let’s work within the system, I told my friends. Let’s show park officials that winter mountain bikers can play by the rules, build relationships with land managers, and obtain full access as a user group. Apparently, I was being played for a sucker.
After several winters of demonstrating that winter cycling is virtually a zero-impact recreational activity (especially considering that current “fat bike” technology uses extra-large tires that minimize the imprint of tire tracks on snow) this year’s permit would limit our access to two trails.
Two trails. In the third-largest state park in the nation. A park of nearly half a million acres. Two.
Your e-mail announcing this year’s permits states that, “Your cooperation allows us to continue studying and supporting winter cycling.” Really? You consider this to be support for winter cycling? A more accurate statement might be, “Your cooperation allows us to continue delaying and discriminating against winter cycling.”
Why have cyclists been stripped of access to Middle Fork Trail, a favorite of winter bike riders that is perfectly suitable for this recreational use, thanks to it being routinely windblown with a hard-packed surface? And what, exactly, are you studying? I would sincerely like to know.
Winter mountain bikers are not second-class citizens and, frankly, many of us are tired of being treated as though we are. We own the park, too. We are Alaska residents and tax-paying citizens who have a right to use Chugach State Park for clean, healthy, low-impact recreation.
I will not be obtaining a special-use permit for winter cycling in the park this year. The permit system no longer has any legitimacy.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Beardsicle season is officially back. And while that can be entertaining, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to get ice cream headache while riding past the Campbell Creek Science Center on Tuesday night.
I mean, seriously, -7F in November? What the shit, people? How cold is it going to be when the usual early January cold snap hits?
Still, it’s nice to be out on the fat bikes, hitting trails I haven’t touched in months. It would be even nicer if more people were out helping groom the singletrack with fatties. Most of Speedway was untouched before we hit it, and that was two days after the weekend snowstorm. With more snow coming tomorrow, things might be sketchy for a few days.
In other good news related to singletrack, as I write this post, Janice “Queen Bee” Tower is at a ceremony to receive a YWCA “Woman of Achievement” award. As any local cyclist can tell you, nobody does more for bicyclists and her community than Janice.
From coaching Mighty Bikes to raising money and working the public process for the construction of new singletrack to helping write municipal ordinances for bicycle safety, Janice is a force of nature who doesn’t usually get the recognition she deserves. So congratulations to Queen Bee for a well-deserved award.
And thanks to Diane Holmes, Lisa Holzapfel and Holly Spoth-Torres for the nomination and letters of support that led to the award.
Long live the Queen!
Sunday, November 06, 2011
So when the folks at Appalachian Outdoors contacted me a couple of weeks later to ask if I might be interested in reviewing any of their gear, I checked out their site and homed in on a pair of North Face Venture rain paints that I picked up at a discounted price.
My requirements for rain pants are pretty simple. I want something breathable that will keep me reasonably dry, stand up to some muddy abuse, block wind and, ideally, have a few venting options. I also like the price to be low, because I’m reasonably frugal or a cheapskate, depending on who you talk to.
At 89 bucks, I kept my expectations modest. I know you get what you pay for, and I’m not the kind of guy who buys high-tech, $300 pants. Still, North Face seems to have come up with the basics I need, and the pants are reasonably breathable. The HyVent ripstop nylon is not as nice as some other materials I’ve used, but I can generally manage to avoid working up too much of a sweat in it, especially when I use the pants for their main purpose for much of the year: shedding snow and blocking wind on winter rides and snowshoe hikes
I got the side-zip version of the pants, which should be nice for Alaska’s dry, snowy conditions. Opening the side vents to stay cool in a warm rain might not work out so well, but that’s not a situation I have to deal with. During a windy, snowy hike fairly high up in the Chugach Range, I kept the side zippers up and felt no draft, which makes me optimistic about the Venture’s prospects as a snow-biking pant -- despite the lack of articulated knees.
My biggest complaint is the lack of waistband adjustment. I always err on the side of ordering clothes a bit too large, and that definitely happened with these pants. Appalachian’s page says the pants have a draw string, but mine don’t. The only adjustment option is a velcro tab on each side, and that provides a pretty limited range for customizing the fit. Hence, my pants are so baggy I end up daydreaming about suspenders, which aren’t terribly practical -- especially for pants with no front opening. And that’s another feature North Face should consider. If you need to take a wiz beside the trail, you’ve got to pull these things down quite a bit. Not fun or convenient in bad weather.
I’m still wondering how these things will hold up over a winter of fat-biking, but we’ll see. Overall, this seems like a nice pair of rain paints for less than a hundred bucks, but make sure you buy the right size.
As for the question of whether these things could survive a Soggy Bottom with conditions as horrendous as what we had this year, well, I hope I never find out.
Thursday, November 03, 2011
Sally the Smokejumper. That would make a nice title for a children's book.
Smokejumpers are highly trained firefighters who travel all over the United States to jump out of airplanes and parachute into remote areas to provide the initial attack on wildfires that are difficult to access from the ground.
The smokejumper program began in 1939, and the first fire jump was made in 1940 on Idaho's Nez Perce National Forest. In 1981, the first woman smokejumper in the nation successfully completed the training program in Idaho. Man or woman, smokejumpers are badasses in the world of wildland firefighting.
Why, you may ask, is the subject of today’s post? Because by the time my friend Julie gets this to this fourth paragraph, she will (hopefully) have so much time thinking about smokejumpers that she will be able to end her years-long struggle to remember the name of the trailhead where we routinely meet for winter trail rides.
Then she won’t have to close her ride-planning e-mails with, “6:30? Stumpbumper? jumper? smoker? I forget what that trailhead is called.”
What the hell. I can try, right? If this doesn't work, I might just adopt one of her names for the trailhead.
Stumpbumper does sort of have a nice ring to it.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Bikes were ridden, drinks were drank, a little token blood was spilled, drag queens were befriended, and things were seen that can never be unseen. My “team” even managed to check a few things off our scavenger-hunt list before we pretty much forgot about it until we left the final bar and rolled back to the burn barrel long after everyone else was well into the beer.
And then things got a little weird.
I’ve got the photos to prove it, but you’re just gonna have to trust me on this.
attacked by a viscious dog is no laughing matter.
Even if it was a standard poodle.
Those bastards are huge.
Thank you Rio, for organizing the antics , and Debbie, for being there in spirit. Your spirit is enormous, and gave many people a lot of pleasure in a single night.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Where else are you going to find a free event that involves beer, partial nudity and a bunch of costumed bike riders marauding through downtown Anchorage (not necessarily in that order)? Hell, a couple of years ago, there was a flurry of Monday morning phone calls just to tally up the carnage.
You know the old saying, “It’s only funny until someone gets hurt, then it’s hilarious?” There has never been a better real-life example. Shit, I still laugh at memories of that night.
The big event returns this Saturday, so clear your calendar to make sure you’re there by 8 p.m. Meet at the east end of Westchester Lagoon in the parking lot located between Minnesota Drive and the one-way road that connects Spenard Road to Minnesota. Plan a costume, get some friends for a team, and bring a digital camera to collect proof of your scavenger-hunt targets. Helmets and lights are required.
The theme for the costume gala is fairy tales as they appear in the mind of Thirstywork. If you don’t know him, just dream up something weird. After the second or third beer, nobody gives a damn what you’re wearing anyway.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
“Oh, OK,” was all that my friend Claire said after hearing my voice.
She had heard on a radio traffic report that a bike rider was down and an ambulance was on the way. It wasn’t along my route to work, but she knows I sometimes stray widely off course to run errands. She wanted to know that I wasn’t the person lying on the pavement in the dark.
I tucked my phone in my pocket and resumed pedaling as I ran through a mental checklist of friends who might be riding in the area of the accident. It wasn’t far from the home of a co-worker who sometimes pedals to work, and I found myself hoping she’d be at the office when I arrived.
Bike commuting is a lonelier activity this time of year. Cold and darkness has thinned the herd, so fewer morning riders are out there, and they’re harder to see. Some are hidden by darkness, while others become faceless beams of bright, blinding light when two riders meet on a path. It’s harder to make eye contact and feel connections.
As we ride across dark cities behind our little beams of light, it’s nice to have reminders that we’re not really alone.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Fifteen years ago, I was looking for a new job when an old college professor I stayed in touch with encouraged me to apply for a spot at the Los Angeles Times. We had a mutual acquaintance -- a fellow editor I had once worked with for a year or two -- who was on staff there and looking to make a hire. In other words, I had an “in” at a big-name paper.
My old professor was caught a bit off guard when I told him I wasn’t interested. Not in the Times, not in L.A., not in Southern California. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about a “career move” if it meant living in a hot, smoggy, overcrowded shit hole. Life’s too short.
Instead, I managed to get a job in a town so funky, even its residents make fun of its dark winters, its shabby architecture and its obsession with duct tape and the Subaru wagons it holds together. It may have been a questionable career move, but it was one of the best life moves I’ve ever made.
The view in this quickie iPhone photo reminded me how lucky I am to have just marked the 15th anniversary of the move from my once beloved Santa Fe to this goofy town I plan to never leave. I get to see (and dodge) big critters on many rides; I don’t have to choke on fumes unless I’m riding too close to the burrito eater in front of me; and there’s a fun and growing bike culture full of cool people.
Best of all, I get to ride home while looking at views like this one.
Happy anniversary, Alaska.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Well, you find a way. Ya do whatcha gotta do. You improvise and overcome. That's what's all about.
In other words, you find a way to flip the bird anonymously.
That's what this fine example of America's youth did on Missouri's Katy Trail earlier today. I expect more from her in the future, but for now her public image will remain intact. After all, one should probably be old enough to have a driver's license before openly joining the denizens of this dark corner of the Internet.
Know, young Mystery Girl, that we are proud of you. While the lost members of your generation are wasting their youth trolling malls and flipping the joysticks of video game systems, you're outside riding mountain bikes and flipping the bird at your elders. Good job.
We know who really owns the future.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
A 508-mile bike ride is beyond my comprehension. That’s why this post will be short. I can’t write much about what I don’t understand. (Although some readers of this blog would say I do so on a regular basis.)
But congratulations to Leonard Fancher. The dude just finished the Furnace Creek 508 in 40 hours, 59 minutes, 29 seconds. I mean, seriously. Holy shitballs. That’s a freakishly demented, long distance, and the race came about three months after Leonard took third in the Fireweed 400.
Good job, Leonard. And congrats to Leonard’s dad and Mike Morganson for serving as his crew. I learned last year that the job of crewing is a tough one, but a rider can’t go that far without solid support. All three of you earned some cold beer and deep sleep for the next few nights.
I’m curious to hear what kind of twisted idea Leonard will come up with for his race schedule next year.
Saturday, October 08, 2011
Our first new photo comes from Gina and Tony, who did the Big Flip-off atop Col du Galibier. That's the classic Tour de France climb where skinny people ride in thin air and slap Bicycles & Icicles stickers on the famous summit sign before giving the finger to the guy who was kind enough to send a sticker and give their vacation a purpose.
Without that sticker assignment, the whole thing would have simply been shallow, two-wheeled hedonism with no more meaning than a one night stand with a solid "10." You're freakin' welcome, Gina.
Next we have Rose and her crew, who are doing what October was made for—riding mountain bikes in southern Utah. There is only one thing that can lure me to that Mormon-infested state, and that's sunny, high-desert singletrack. That shit's so fun, I get a little bitter whenever I see pics of someone enjoying a vacation there while I watch leaves fall in Anchorage.
At least they sent a flip-off photo to take the edge off my jealousy. Thanks to Lori, Bev, Rose, Fixie Dave Nice and, of course, Dan, who managed to take the photo and still get his own finger in it. (That's what she said.)
Go ahead and soak up that sun, Rose, but remember: Tans are temporary. Winters seem to last forever.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
while training for this weekend's
Furnace Creek 508. Good luck, Leonard!
The new trails at Kincaid Park are opening bit by bit as the hand-finishing is wrapped up and sections become ready to ride. I've been checking them out over the past couple of weeks, and they're a hoot. I've never been a big fan of the trails at Kincaid Park, but that's changing. Finally, Kincaid isn't just the domain of Nordic skiers. Mountain bikers have a little slice, and it's sweet.
There's another work party from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Sunday, so go sling some dirt if you can. I haven't been very active in trail projects this year, but I've shown up for a couple of recent work parties, and it felt satisfying to know I helped at least a little bit. I hope to be there again this weekend.
To everyone who has worked on these trails—especially those of you who showed up regularly and picked up slack for the rest of us—thanks for your work. You've done a wonderful thing.
And a special thanks are due to the leaders of the project: Janice, the undisputed Queen Bee of Anchorage singletrack; Ryan, who saw lines where none existed, and worked hard to make them a reality; and Lee, the man for whom "L Train" is already named.
The world has long asked for a better mousetrap, but you guys found a way to build a better Toilet Bowl. And the rest of us are grateful.
Monday, October 03, 2011
If only we could unleash Lt. Aldo Raine on this basterd.
I recently wrote a post about finding a swastika defacing a concrete wall on the Chester Creek Trail. Yesterday, I found three more along the Campbell Creek Trail near Old Seward Highway. Graffiti is vandalism, pure and simple. But this is taking it to a new level of disgusting.
Instead of just wishing someone would catch this prick and shove a can of spray paint up his ass, I’d like to see old Aldo whip out that huge knife of his and do a little carving on the racist’s brainless head.
It sucks to be left with no option but to call the city and ask them to send someone out to cover this garbage with fresh paint. Unfortunately, that’s what we’ve got, folks. If you see this happening in Anchorage, report it to Graffiti Busters at 343-4663.
But if you happen to find the piece of shit who’s doing this, and you go all Aldo Raine on his sorry ass, you’ll get no complaint from me.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Be careful what you wish for.
My daughter has a job and takes classes at several locations, so my wife and I have made sure she has a reliable, fuel-efficient car. But she routinely leaves it in the driveway and pedals one of her three bikes to work and school. I think that's awesome. Like me, she likes exercise and hates putting gas in a vehicle.
But being the father of a young woman can really test a guy’s commitment to bike commuting. A strange mix of pride and fear flow through me when she talks about riding home at night because, while I love having a kid who would rather turn bike pedals than mash a gas pedal, I know women face extra and unfair dangers. And that pisses me off.
It’s sick and wrong that half the human population has to worry about being preyed upon by the other half. It’s sick and wrong that families have to worry about their daughters, wives and girlfriends. And if I described what I’d like to do to every depraved scumbag who would assault a woman, my ideas might sound sick and wrong to some people, too.
I want my daughter to live a life free of unreasonable fear. I don’t want to be a “helicopter" parent who smothers his kid by being overprotective. So I’m trying to find ways to make it all work.
With darkness falling earlier every day, I’m rearranging my plans when I can, to ensure that I can meet her after class. We get to share the ride home together, and I can rest a little easier knowing she’s not alone.
But it’s a shame that I have to do it out of fear, instead of just out of love.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
When amateur cyclists from around the world reach the top of Col du Galibier, they celebrate by slapping their favorite stickers on the sign that marks the top of the 2,645-meter pass that is often the highest point of the Tour de France, which first crossed this pass in 1911.
So when my friend Gina announced she was loading up her bike and jetting off to ride some of the most famous climbs in the world, we knew what had to be done.
Yeah, baby. The official sticker of this blog can now be found on the summit where where Coppi, Merckx, Pantani and Gina all had great days.
Sure, the “No Waxing Required” sticker originated to help fat-bikers thumb their noses at the snobbish Nordic skiers who don’t like sharing Anchorage’s winter trails but, hey, we don’t discriminate against the skinny-tire crowd. All bikes are good bikes as long as they’re ridden by people with personalities and good attitudes, so we’re proud to be represented at the top of a famous road climb in the Alps.
Big thanks to Gina for carrying a sticker halfway around the world, getting it to the summit, and accomplishing the mission.
Gina, you are a fine American. You make us proud.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
I was riding to work when I dropped down the bike path along A Street and turned west on the Chester Creek Trail, then there it was—the most vile symbol in human history—painted under the words "We're Back" on a concrete wall. Someone armed with a can of spray paint and a shred of decency had attempted to cover it with the red circle and slash forming the international “banned” symbol.
I stopped to snap a photo with my phone, so that I could email it to the municipal maintenance department. I thought maybe they would make it a priority to paint over that mess before the end of the day.
When I got to C Street, I saw a city maintenance truck and flagged it down so I could report the graffiti to the driver. But he already knew about it. “That’s where I’m headed,” he said.
I looked at my watch. It was 7:52 a.m. on Thursday morning. The sun was barely coming up, and most businesses weren’t open for the day, but that guy was already there with a bucket of paint. Many morning bike commuters would never have to see the vandalism done by some asshole.
Everybody seems to be talking these days about deficits, taxes, budget reductions and service cuts. Not just at the national level, but here in Anchorage, too. Mayor Dan Sullivan hates taxes like the rest of us hate saddle sores, and he’s happy to slash payroll and municipal services to avoid asking people to pay a few more bucks for them.
The question is, where does this stop? We have fewer firemen and fewer cops than we used to, and those of us who use parks and public spaces have spent years watching the results of “deferred maintenance.” (That’s a fancy name for all those wheel-eating pavement cracks on bike paths all over town.)
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’ll tell you one thing. I was happy to have a municipal employee out there covering that swastika so quickly, and so early.
If that costs me a couple of extra bucks a year, I’ll gladly pay it.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Last Friday afternoon, I needed to meet my wife at a cookout with her students and co-workers. As I climbed on a bike and rolled away from my office at the end of the day, I started calculating the safest route, and then realized I had almost completely overlooked an obvious one that would get me where I needed to go via bike paths equipped with tunnels and overpasses to avoid interactions with street traffic.
Despite a last-minute change that moved the location of the cookout, I managed to ride from the first park to the second via more bike paths.
After eating a hot dog and hanging out for a little while, I climbed back on the bike and headed home while wondering when I would finally have to pause at a light or stop sign. It finally happened where Campbell Creek Trail crosses Dowling Road. By that point, I had ridden 16.33 miles from my downtown office to the east side of Anchorage, back through Midtown and nearly to South Anchorage without crossing an intersection or having to stop for a single light or sign.
A couple of miles later, I had to wait for a red light at Dimond Boulevard, then it was a nonstop cruise the final two or three miles home. I had managed to cruise across a huge part of the city with no traffic hassles, and almost no exposure to motorized vehicles. For most of the 28.6-mile ride, I was pedaling in woods, beside streams, or through public parks.
Anchorage is far from being well-planned or architecturally interesting, but it has character. And these paved paths—built in the 1980s when the state was so fat with oil-boom money that even an Alaska politician would pour money into bike paths—are a big part of what makes it a fun, livable city.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of elected officials (and people who would like to be elected officials) who see bike paths as tax-wasting indulgences that shouldn’t be provided by local government. Every election season, I want to kick at least one of them in the nuts.
Instead, I just vote against them. But it’s not as satisfying.
Friday, September 16, 2011
But late in the afternoon on sunny days, as the rental business slowed down, drivers who found themselves stopped at the nearby traffic light were treated to a fun distraction as Seina—a grad student who spent her summer putting people on bikes—filled her free time by spinning her hula hoops on the sidewalk.
The show was always impressive to those of us who have no idea how she pulls off some of those moves, and I think it was a bright spot at the end of the workday for a lot of tired people.
Seina's gone now. She's back in school. And the corner in front of the Copper Whale is a little boring.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
And I blame my bicycles, because years of bike commuting have ruined me.
I’ve come to believe that a traffic light turning green means I get to go. Immediately. That my trip home at the end of the day should be fun and relieve stress. That at least part of my commute should pass through some woods and beside a creek, instead of just across a sea of asphalt.
Everyone talks about how bike commuting is good for you, but they never talk about its unhealthy side effect: a bitter hatred of sometimes finding oneself stuck in a car at rush hour.
An occasional day of driving to work doesn’t seem like a rest day; it just pisses me off. Knowing that a driver could kill me while talking on a cell phone and eating a snack is annoying. But having that same driver trap me for an extra cycle of a red light inspires thoughts of violence, or, as I like to think of it, justifiable homicide.
Back when I worked in newsrooms—havens of jaded cynics who regularly engage in crude, insensitive humor—my co-workers and I used to joke that years in the trenches had made us all unemployable in the mainstream world.
Bicycling has had its own, similar effect. I always have trouble re-joining the mainstream rush-hour crowd, with all its cars and pickups. I might look like the rest of them, but I’m not normal.
I hope I never will be.
Friday, September 02, 2011
When Queen Bee sent this fabulous finger foto from Kincaid Park, I was afraid these hardworking trailbuilders were flipping me off for not showing up to help work on the new singletrack. I've been too busy and distracted to show up even once, and that's shameful.
Fortunately, she said the sentiment was directed more toward a poacher or two who have ridden the trails before they were ready for tire treads, an act that's even more shameful. I'd be happy to add my own finger for any poachers who screw up trails that are under construction.
But to all the crews who have put in hours on the trails this summer, I offer a huge thank you. You're the people who make great new trails possible, and I hear nothing but promising descriptions of what has been happening at Kincaid all summer.
If you've swung a Pulaski or dragged a McLeod through the dirt even once this summer, pour yourself a cold beer and feel good about it.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Each year, Carlos—the Soggiest event organizer I know—gives the Leonardo to someone who guts out a tough ride, overcomes obstacles, or shows admirable determination in pursuit of his or her goal.
The award was inspired by Leonard's infamous ride in the early days of the Soggy Bottom, when he suffered immensely and passed out beside the trail a few times, but refused to quit. He finished despite taking more than 24 hours to do so.
During last weekend’s post-Soggy Bottom party at the Snow Goose Restaurant, Leonard himself presented the 2011 Leonardo award to Oscar The Grouch and me for voluntarily pedaling into hellish conditions for our drenched, bear-infested, course-sweeping ride.
Carlos had flasks engraved for the occasion, which was very classy. Thanks, Carlos.
Given the caliber of riders who line up at the start every year, it’s a humbling thing to be given any award related to the Soggy Bottom. Others rode farther and suffered more. Oscar and I just went out and did the job we promised to do. The same kind of job others have done for us.
Any mountain biker who has benefited from the efforts of volunteers should take a turn pitching in from time to time. You don’t do that kind of stuff because you expect recognition for it. Hearing the word “thanks” and maybe being handed a cold beer at the end of the day is about all you expect, and that’s the way it should be.
But when people think you’ve given a lot, and choose to recognize you for it, that feels pretty good. And it says something about them, too.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
This funky little store on Prince of Wales Island once saved a trip for me.
POW is in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Years ago, my friend Sue and I rode a ferry to the island for a five-day bike tour through the forests and clearcuts between old logging communities and fishing towns.
When I realized in the town of Craig that my rear sidewalls were going tits up, I thought I might have to find a house with a bike outside and talk the owner into selling me a used tire. But then I spotted J.T. Brown, the general store near an old dock.
This is the kind of store where you’re far more likely to encounter a grizzled commercial fisherman than bicyclist, but back in those days, there was a glowing “TREK” dealer sign in the front window. I was relieved to go in and find a good-enough tire to carry me through the trip. As I mounted it on the rim a few minutes later, a local character walked out of the store and happily said, “Welcome to Craig!”
The whole experience left me with fond memories of the place, so when I was back on the island last week, I walked down to see if J.T. Brown was still in business.
The Trek sign was gone, and there wasn’t a complete bike to be found in the store, but there were wheels hanging from the ceiling, and tires crammed under shelves of fishing gear. Zip-Loc bags of new brake pads and QR skewers hung from pegs on the wall, and a whole bucket of seatposts sat next to a dusty hummingbird feeder beneath the spare tubes.
Most bike junkies can’t imagine living in a place without a real bike shop, but stores like J.T. Brown are as good as it gets in a lot of remote places. Many towns aren’t even lucky enough to have such a bare-minimum store.
If you live on POW these days and you need a new bike, you bring it back with you from a trip to the mainland, or have it flown in by floatplane. On Friday, I helped unload a brand-new bike from the old de Havilland Beaver that was bringing in the mail and a few passengers before hauling me and four other people back to Ketchikan.
When that bike starts wearing out, I suspect its owner will head down to the store and search for parts among the fishing gear, paper towels and canned food.
And he can be sure that the person who rings up his purchase will never be a fixie-riding hipster.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Bicycles & Icicles is known (among a small, elite crowd) for many things but, on a global scale, this blog might be best known for its beaver shots.
Every day, lonely men (and maybe a few women who know how to work on their own pickups, if ya know what I mean) arrive here after Googling “beaver shots.” I aim to make sure they’re never disappointed. Because what higher calling could a guy have than to bait lost souls with beaver shots and then deliver them to the Holy Church of the Bicycle for their salvation?
So feast your eyes, ladies and gentlemen, on the latest beaver to get wet and prove itself on the pages of this blog: Oscar’s Beaver. His Soggy Bottom Beaver. And because it’s Oscar’s, one might even call it Spanish Beaver. Mmm, spicy!
I took this shot a few hours before The Grouch and I got the Beaver wet and gave it a pounding in some of the wettest, most slippery conditions imaginable. No matter what we threw at it, this beaver held on tight and kept Oscar upright for hours. It was an amazing performance.
Afterward, Oscar said he thought it was the best Beaver he’d ever had. (Personally, I think it was the first Beaver he’d ever gotten. I’m just glad he liked it, because I think he paid quite a bit for it.)
I don’t usually endorse things, but if you’re looking for something that can really perform when things get wet and slippery, this Beaver just might be the one to satisfy your needs.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
The new singletrack isn’t open yet, and you know it. That’s why it’s blocked by bright orange fencing and signs that say, “TRAIL CLOSED.”
Other mountain bikers—people with the energy and passion to do things that benefit everyone—have poured months of work into raising money, getting permits and planning a new network of trails. Still more mountain bikers have shown up and invested their muscle and sweat to hand-finish the trails. These people put you (and me) to shame.
All they ask in return is a modicum of respect, and that you have a little more patience than a two-year-old. If you had done the homework they have, you would understand that freshly built trails need time to set up properly before being ridden. You’re being asked to do only one thing: wait.
At least one gutless weasel hiding behind his new alias on a bike forum has complained that trail construction is affecting his access to trails he has “ridden for years.” Boo fucking hoo.
(By the way, “Turner Guy,” are we really supposed to believe you just created the account for your first post? It’s hard to believe any member of the Turner cult who has ridden for years in Anchorage just joined the mtbr forum. It seems far more likely you didn’t even have the balls to rant about your vandalism under an established user name.)
Hear’s a news flash, ace. It’s not your private fucking park. It’s a public place, where legitimate projects sometimes cause temporary disruptions for recreational users. Shit happens.
You and your ilk need to grow the hell up. Stop being vandals, and stop pissing on the work of other people.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Monday, August 15, 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
The first comes from the guy Anchorage riders know as “Super Al” Mitchell (right) and his buddy Kim Kittredge during their 500-mile ride across Iowa in this summer’s 39th edition of the Register’s Annual Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Most people refer to it as RAGBRAI. Super Al calls it “a frat party for grown-ups on bikes.”
Thanks for the pic, Al. Double thanks for shooting it before you ate corn on the cob through that mustache! And it should go without saying that we're also grateful you didn't show us what you did to earn those Mardi Gras beads.
Our second shot comes from Acadia National Park in Maine, and a repeat offender in the rogue’s gallery of finger flippers—my nephew Brendon, from Kansas City. I believe when we last saw Brendon, he was risking disciplinary measures by posing for flip-off pictures during a school trip to China. (Don’t blame me, I think he gets it from his mother’s side.)
Brendon heads off to college next week so I’ll be counting on a creative new shot from campus this fall. Good luck, Brendon. Have a great freshman year.
As for the rest of you hosers, have a great weekend. To help yourself remember how good you feel, just remember: you’re not riding the Soggy Bottom!
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
As a matter of fact, I could have been quite happy to grow old without learning such a thing.
Oscar and I had just convinced ourselves we were nearing the Hope end of the Resurrection Trail when I rounded a turn and the prints lit up like paw-shaped lights against the dark, brown surface of the muddy trail. I probably could have found a less jarring way to announce my discovery than loudly blurting out, “bear on the trail!” which led Oscar to momentarily think the damned thing was standing right in front of me. For all I knew, it might have been.
This is the fun of riding sweep in the Soggy Bottom 100. You get to leave in the rain about 7 p.m. to do a 40-mile trail ride over two mountain passes that are swept by rain and cold wind. You slog through quagmires of mud and splash through multiple pools of frigid, hub-deep water. Then, after hours of negotiating slippery rocks and roots, and slick-as-snot, off-camber mud surfaces, you find yourself in the dark, surrounded by thick vegetation containing a very live bear. And just to spice things up, there’s a stream nearby and rain is falling, so sound doesn’t carry worth a damn.
At this point, it is permissible to ask yourself, “How in the blue fuck did I end up here?” At least, that’s what I did.
Not wanting to surprise the bear and spark a defensive attack by approaching too quickly, Oscar and I dismounted and started walking our bikes while yelling, “HEY BEAR!” at the top of our lungs. Unfortunately, bears are smart enough to recognize the benefits of walking on a trail, so the one that had passed by only minutes earlier was in no hurry to re-enter the brush on both sides of us. We eventually got back on our bikes and rode slowly, shouting everything we could think of to alert the bear to our approach.
This went on for a freakin’ mile. Every time the prints disappeared, I’d start to yell over my shoulder to Oscar, “No prints, I think we’re good to … SHIT! More!” And not one of them bore the imprint of a bike tire. Believe me, I was looking. The critter ahead of us had walked the trail right after the riders ahead of us had passed through.
At last, the prints disappeared for good. This was when Oscar kindly reminded me that now we had no idea where the bear had gone, so we again cranked up the volume on our nonsensical shouting. After a few hundred yards, I began to relax. But tension doesn’t fade quickly after experience like that. We had already spent hours on alert for bears before the intense 15- to 20-minute period of knowing we were following one at fairly close range.
So when a snowshoe hare bolted from the dark directly into my path, I spontaneously unleashed my best, loudest warrior cry of, “GYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Which scared the shit out of both the hare and Oscar.
I suppose you could call it a scream, but I like to think it was a manly scream.
A little while later, we caught up to the last two riders on the course, and the four of us pedaled into Hope together feeling hungry, tired, cold and relieved. And I can tell you one thing for sure: There have been few nights in my life when I was happier to see the glow of a town’s lights coming into view.