Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trucked up

I'm lucky I saw it coming. The driver of the big semi to my left was eager to make his right turn from C Street onto westbound Tudor Road. He kept inching forward, waiting for northbound cars to lose their green arrow so he could take both lanes to round the corner.

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

Wax-free in Ho Chi Minh City

What does a Bicycles & Icicles “No Waxing Required” sticker and a can of Spam have in common? 

They both get carried around the world for vacation photos.

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

Frigid Bits: White Night No. 1

Speedway singletrack, Friday afternoon.
(Black Friday shopping is for suckers.)

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

Sunday services

Fabulous Fingersicles at -25 in Talkeetna

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

Get up offa that thing

The body of an alien in Area 51.

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

Forked Up

Middle Fork Trail: Riding it is now a crime.

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

Bicycles and beardsicles

Jordy and me on Rover's Run, Tuesday night.
Photo by Julie

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

I got pantsed

This year’s Soggy Bottom 100 made a couple of things very clear. 1) Bears are scarier in the dark, and 2) my rain pants were trashed. Those suckers became so waterlogged, they were about as useful as a pair of cotton jeans.

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

Hey, let's meet at ...

This woman—let's call her Sally—is a smokejumper.

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.