Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hey guys, I know a shortcut

"It was pretty fun, until it started to suck ass."
—Oscar, commenting on the Blue Dot trail

It's hard to pinpoint the moment when I should have realized it was a bad idea to follow Manny last Saturday night. Was it the wrong turn he took in the dark less than half a mile from the start? Or was it earlier, in the parking lot at Goose Lake, when I asked about trail conditions an he expressed an optimism that I knew couldn't be realistic two days after a snowstorm?

Red flags definitely started popping up late in the ride when he asked John to lead us to "that trail" they had ridden recently, and we quickly found ourselves at the beginning of a barely-there line through a shitload of fresh snow. All around me, air was hissing out of softening Endomorphs as riders prepared for what was about to happen. Oscar was asking if anyone had spare batteries for his dead light.

In a movie, this would be the scene where that makes frightened audiences think, "Why don't they turn around?! Don't they know the ax-murderer is waiting in those woods?!"

There was nothing to worry about, Manny assured us. The trail would "open up" after a couple of minutes.

You know that feeling you get when you're about to start something that you don't expect to go well? That feeling that tells you, "This is a bad idea. You stick to your planned course." Yeah, that feeling.

Why can't I learn to let that feeling guide me through life?

Maybe the lesson here is to never follow a guy onto a shitty-looking trail when that guy is training for the Susitna 100, a race in which he knows he might be pushing 50 pounds of loaded bike for miles and miles through fresh snow. See, those people like to practice pushing their bikes. Even when they don't realize they're doing it, they look for opportunities to suffer, even if only for a few minutes.

Before I knew it, we were doing exactly what my brain told me we were going to be doing: slogging through barely broken trail that often allowed us to ride for only a few feet before deep powder grabbed our front wheels and forced us to walk until we could climb back on and pedal a few more feet.

I don't like whiners, and I really don't like the thought of being one. But after a while, I couldn't help muttering some unpleasant things. OK, maybe I borderline yelled a couple of obscenities. GPS-carrying Tony was a short distance a head of me and confidently stated that we were only 100 feet from the good trail we were trying to reach. He repeated this every few hundred feet, because Tony's a nice guy and he wanted me to feel better. Before long, I was starting to fantasize about being that guy in the woods with an ax and a hockey mask.

And then, just like that, we were there; standing on the main trail drinking some water and breaking my tire pump as we got ready for the homestretch back to Goose Lake. Things were looking up.

Why? Well, for one thing, I was smart enough to be carrying a flask of tequila, and it was time for a sip. Or two. And besides, everything starts to look a little better when the suffering's over.

Mountain biking is full of moments that suck, but that's what makes it mountain biking.

It's like Jimmy Dugan said about baseball: "It's supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everybody would do it."

Monday, January 28, 2008

This really blows

“It's always something. If it's not one thing, it's another.”
—Roseanne Rosannadanna

The thing about riding in seriously cold weather is, there’s always shit to figure out, always something to refine. How do you keep a hydration tube open? How do you keep a free hub from seizing? How do you keep your toes warm? How do you keep your camera batteries working so you can shoot pics for your stupid blog?

The most common solution—with accessories like water tubes and cameras, at least—is body heat. Keep ’em inside your clothes and hope for the best.

Now I’ve found out that I have to start getting cozy with an aluminum tube during my nocturnal adventures (and you thought this post was about frigidity).

During Saturday night’s ride at -15F, I offered my Crank Bros. Power Pump to another rider in our group, who needed a few strokes to firm up his flaccid Endomorph. When I turned the head of the pump, the rubber valve seal was too frozen to compress, so it blew right through the threaded plastic ring that was holding it in place.

Wham, bam, thank you ma’am, we have a Dead Pump In the Middle of the Road.

Or, more accurately, on the trail. In the dark. At 15 below zero. Someone else got another pump working, but this could have turned unpleasant. Especially if it had happened on a solo ride.

After polling other winter riders for recommendations on a better pump, I found myself right back at the old solution: It’s not the pump, it’s the lack of heat. So now I’ve installed an aluminum lock ring for added strength, and will find a way to start carrying the pump inside my jacket, at least on sub-zero rides.

It’s either that, or take Pete's tip on warming up the valve seal to restore its flexibility: “I just give it a good long, warm blow with my breath and that rubber responds quickly,” he said. I’m sure his technique would work, but it might take a few minutes, and I'm really not eager to go all Monica Lewinsky on a tire pump in the middle of nowhere.

If it’s painful and embarrassing to freeze your tongue to a flagpole, can you imaging getting your lips stuck on a pump?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Cutters

Saturday afternoon's Ice Cutter Crit was a rare January event: Bike racing in the sun. Four 2-man teams did 20 laps around Goose Lake, with each racer riding two laps before handing over his boxer shorts and sending his teammate out on the course.
The day was spectacular.
A soft spot meant the racers
really were ice cutters. It deteriorated
into slush, making the cold weather
feel even more zesty and refreshing.
Racers were debriefed after every two laps.
Sometimes in life, we encounter
images that will haunt us for years.
Ice build-up was a problem
that required innovative solutions.
The next time Manny's key doesn't work,
we'll know why.
Tony and Tim K., winners of the maillot lingerie.
Real men wear Spongebob drawers.
(Even if you never know where
those things have been.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

She rocks

It was suggested that I sounded like a grumpy old stay-off-my-lawn guy in my last post. Maybe I did. That's OK. People who break glass on bike paths deserve an good ass kickin', in my opinion.

But don't get the wrong idea about my view of teenagers.

Not long ago, I stumbled into the garage at the end of a tough day, after a tiring commute home in fresh snow.

As I stood in the garage shaking snow off my my clothes, my very cool daughter walked out and put a big mug of hot chocolate in my hand.

Teenagers ain't all bad. Mine isn't, anyway.

She rides a mountain bike, too. I don't think it's a coincidence. Most of the coolest kids I know are kids who ride.

Teach your children well. Take 'em out on rides.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I like this tunnel. It runs under a street close to my house, and because I typically ride it in only one direction, passing through it usually signals the end of my work day. Two more blocks, and I can eat dinner.

Neighborhood teenagers also seem to like this tunnel. It's close to their houses, too, and because so many parents are too lazy to walk a couple of hundred yards to find out what junior's doing, it's a good place for a kid to drink a bottle of beer without getting caught.

Unfortunately, juvenile delinquents seem to think that the only thing cooler than starting every sentence with "dude" is drinking a jacked bottle of Bud and then breaking the bottle.

Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on them. I almost never see the little cretins, and they don't cause any real problems other than a little graffitti and leaving shattered glass in the path of bicyclists. It's not as if they're mugging old ladies or doing drive-by shootings.

But come springtime, when thousands of tube-piercing shards are scattered across the bike route, I'd like to make some of those little shits walk barefoot through the tunnel a couple of times before I carry my big shop broom down there to clean up their mess.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

3,000 words

Some days, there just isn't much to say.

Then, it's best to just shut up and ride ...

And let the pictures do the talking.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A matter of perspective

A former neighbor and I work in the same building, and I ran into him a couple of days ago as I was arriving on my bike. He climbed out of his pickup and made a joke about how he was going to tell my life-insurance company that I ride in winter. Then he noticed the wheels and tires on my Pugsley.

He stepped closer and started checking out the bike and asking a questions. He said he had recently seen a fat bike when he was in a local shop. I know he rides in the summertime and uses an indoor trainer in winter, so I rattled of a couple of bits of information about the bike and how great it is for winter riding.

As he continued toward the door, he said the Pugsley looked like fun, but that he couldn’t justify the expense for something he’d use “on a lark” a couple of times a year.

I tried to tell him he might be surprised. Winter riding is certainly more fun than spinning on a trainer for six months. Then I told him my fat bike was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

He laughed and said, “I have a couple of two-thousand-dollar bikes, too. I just don’t call them ‘investments.’”

Poor guy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Warming up to winter

My wife recently gave me one of those wireless weather stations. It came with a little doo-dad I had to mount on a bracket outside, and two digital monitors so I can have one in the living room and in the garage, where I finish gearing up for winter rides.

The unit in the garage has come in really handy whenever I've wanted to start feeling cold before getting on the bike. Especially over the past week or so, when temperatures have frequently been below zero.

One thing Alaskans like to do when it's really cold is talk about how warm it's going to feel when it gets a little less cold. This is what keeps us from removing the trigger locks, if ya know what I mean.

When a bunch of us rode the Hillside trails last Saturday, the temperature in that area was 13 degrees below zero. Yeah, I know my last post said it was -10. I was estimating. But friends pointed out that a weather station in the area had recorded -13F.

According the weather dudes, Wednesday's high should be in the teens or mid-20s.

Now, in some parts of the country, bicyclists call 25 degrees "cold."

I call it 35 degrees warmer.

In the morning, I plan to throw a leg over the Pugsley and ride to work. Hopefully on an inch or two of new snow. I can't wait to feel that refreshing, 17-degree warmth.

When you don't have a tropical beach on your winter travel agenda, I believe in taking your cheap thrills wherever you can find them.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I'd kill for a ticket to Moab right now

Last week's big snowfall has turned the Hillside into a fat-bike-only zone, at least for now. Until the trails firm up again, it'll be torturous for anyone on skinny tires. Combined with sub-zero cold, the soft trail conditions turned Saturday night's Frigid Bits race into a social ride because everyone without Endomorphs stayed home. Come to think of it, most of the people with Endomorphs stayed home.

Grillmeister Kelly led a four-rider group on Fatbacks and Pugsleys, and Endo Rando joined us out on the swamp loop, where the temp was about 10 below zero. We were out for 90 minutes or more, which would have been enough if I hadn't convinced myself earlier in the day that I should ride round-trip from home for a good, long workout.

I left home at 5:30 in the afternoon, and rolled back in the driveway just before 11 p.m. while feelin' the pain of being out nearly five and a half hours in the dark (and cold), with damn near all of it spent turning the pedals.

That's the kind of night on a bike that makes you feel really good in a day or so ... after you've regained some energy and forgot how you spent the last couple of miles muttering to yourself, "I'm gettin' too old for this shit."

(Thanks to Steve for the frosty pic taken at the end of Speedway Singletrack.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thanks, but I'll ride

I’ve lost count of how many times co-workers have offered me rides home on rainy and snowy days over the years. It doesn’t happen much any more, because I’ve been working in one place for a long time and most everyone knows I’ll decline the offer. Even my wife has stopped calling and offering to come pick me up unless she knows I’m facing a headwind strong enough to stop my forward momentum.

People who drive to work every day have a hard time understanding why the rest of us voluntarily subject ourselves to wind, heat, rain, cold and snow instead of climbing into climate-controlled steel bubbles for the trip home. I blame this on the tendency that people have to describe weather as “bad.”

Just this morning, the local newspaper’s website contained a headline about “bad weather” putting cars into tailspins during yesterday’s rush hour.

Unless it’s severe enough to wreck your house or kill people, there is no “bad” weather. There’s just weather. Some is more comfortable, and some is less comfortable. It’s what you make of it.

A woman who sometimes chats with me briefly by the back door as she walks to her car happened to see me gearing up to ride in several inches of new snow last night. She laughed and yelled, “You’re a madman!”

No, I’m not.

I’m not even all that tough, or brave, or any of the other things that some people call bike commuters (to our faces) when they’re impressed by what we endure. I’m just a bike geek who likes getting exercise and having fun.

When I plow through the snow in a busy intersection, surrounded by drivers in their idling cars, I know I’m the sane one. Because a minute later, I'll drop away from the street and roll down into a dark, quiet bike path through the woods.

Riding in the snow might look cold and miserable when seen through a windshield, but I’m one of the few people having fun while commuting at rush hour.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Vicodin: A Guide for Illicit Users

Since my recent accident, the ol' blog's been gettin' hits from people Googling things like "how to get Vicodin in an ER." As regular readers know, this blog is all about serving the public, so here is ...

Rev. Tim's 5-step Guide to Salvation Through Kick-ass Narcotics:

1: Obtain a bicycle. Any functional model will suffice. Just don't steal it.

2: Go outside and ride it really fast in the dark until you crash into something that stops your front wheel instantly.

3: While soaring through the air, carefully position yourself for a facial landing.

4: Proceed to your favorite emergency room.

5: Drip blood and wince when the doctor prods at your face or sticks an implement through any orifice you didn't have prior to Step 3. (Important tip: don't raise the doctor's suspicion by actually asking for the drug, just appear to be in significant pain. Better yet, actually be in significant pain—it worked for me!)

Have fun, boys and girls! Before you know it, you're gonna be a happy pile of mush on your couch!

It has been my pleasure to ensure that your accidental, drug-seeking visit to this blog was not in vain. Please proceed to the nearest exit in an orderly, near-catatonic fashion.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Frosty Weekend

The Man.
Greg "Thirstywork" Matyas,
Frosty Bottom 50 Champ
and owner of Speedway Cycles

I don't even know where to start. The sub-zero cold in the Campbell Tract portion of the course? The fact that twice as many people showed up to race this year, compared with last year's inaugural Frosty Bottom 50/25? The frozen free hub that forced me off the bike to spin the pedals by hand three times in the first few miles, trying to get the pawls to engage?

Or maybe the frozen toes that forced some riders to stop at the halfway point? Or the frozen hydration tubes that deprived racers of critical fluids and made them look like zombies at the finish line?

After riding the 50 Saturday, working on the house all day Sunday and downing a couple of beers during the evening awards ceremony at Chain Reaction Cycles, I still can't figure out what to write about the race. In the end, it had all the elements of any good mountain bike ride: some suffering, some highs, some lows, some fun, some stories to tell.

Sometimes, a good day on a bike isn't measured in miles or hours. It's measured by the number of empty Clif Bar wrappers and shredded, sticky Gu packs in your pockets; the feel of cooked legs; the satisfied feeling that comes with overcoming any bullshit that got in your way, and still reaching the finish line in a respectable time.

Add it all up and you have a good day, because it was spent riding a bike with a bunch of cool people.

Thanks to Bill and Jamie from Chain Reaction, and all the volunteers who stood outside in the cold to help make it happen.
Sunday's post-race party
at Chain Reaction.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Joe's Jugs

Can't afford pogies because you just spent
three or four thousand bucks on a new Fatback?Take a tip from Broken Toe Joe
and make your own handwarmers
with a few pennies worth of duct tape
and discarded plastic jugs.

Maybe Joe needs a new name.

Ghetto Joe?

(Update for those of you who arrive here from
Don't try this at home. I never saw Joe use the jug pogies
after the day this photo was taken.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Frost your bottom

Last weekend when I posted an online notice for a New Year's Day ride, I told a friend it was a ride that would “thin the herd.” How many people were likely to show up at 11 a.m. on the morning after the biggest party night of the year?

I was guessing about five.

But one should never underestimate how much more fun it is to ride a bike than to stay up guzzling champagne on New Year’s Eve. Or how much cooler mountain bikers are than loud drunks. (Trust me. I’ve been both).

We left Kincaid Park with 13 people Tuesday morning to ride the Frosty Bottom 50 course in preparation for this Saturday's race. Along the way, we picked up riders who had opted to pedal from home and intercept us on the trails. We even absorbed two riders we’d never met—Marc and Gayle just saw us and decided to join the mob that was growing to 17 or 18 riders.

And for once, Nordic skiers instinctively got out of our way. Some of them even abandoned their usual disapproving scowls and stood back with smiles on their faces as they watched us roll by on more fat bikes than most people have ever seen at one time.

For several hours, it was a rolling, evolving fat-tire peloton as riders came and went.

It was a beautiful thing.