Monday, June 30, 2008

A beautiful shade of blue

Nobody wants to see litter during a ride,
but let’s face it: Sometimes,
a big ol’ chunk of plastic
is a beautiful thing.

'Cause if Heather ain't happy,
ain't nobody happy.

Bear-attack update

This e-mail is from the parents of the girl who was injured this weekend, and it has been posted online elsewhere, so I'm posting it here for those who have asked for updates on her condition. Until the family's names appear in the media, I will be keeping them off this blog out of respect for their desire for privacy:

Dear Family and Friends,

Here we launch the first of what will be many email updates on Xxxx’s condition, as we begin what is surely to be an incredible journey. First though, the outpouring of love and prayers from you and our community has been incredible. We are so appreciative.

Although Xxxx has suffered numerous injuries, we feel fortunate. Today’s Anchorage Daily News accurately depicts the incident and nature of her injuries. She suffered lacerations and punctures to her neck, right shoulder, torso, buttocks, and right thigh. Despite the severity, she is doing very well.

Xxxx underwent surgery last evening to repair her carotid artery. Surgery went as well as anyone could hope! Today Xxxx will undergo surgery on her trachea and possibly her esophagus. No further surgeries are anticipated.

Xxxx will remain in pediatric ICU for the near term. She is heavily sedated. We appreciate everyone’s desire to visit and offer support, but visitation is limited to our immediate family. Also, cell phones are off limits in ICU; therefore, it is best to communicate via email.

Thank you so much for your thoughts, prayers, calls, and emails.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fix it yourself

The clacking sound of stone on metal was unmistakable.

I grabbed my brakes and turned to see if the guy needed help as he continued slamming the grapefruit-size rock on the top of his old quill stem. He was a working guy—battered old department-store mountain bike, jeans, ball cap and a too-warm jacket that had seemed like a good idea hours nine or 10 hours earlier in the morning chill. He had the look of a guy just trying the whole riding-to-work thing. And now his stem was working loose from his old threaded headset during the afternoon commute.

“Need a tool?” I asked as I rolled up.

“Nah, I think this’ll work,” he said. “I’m only a couple miles from home.”

“I’ve got a hex wrench that’ll fix that.”

“Oh, ya do?” he said. “That’d be awesome!”

With so many new bike commuters on the trails this summer, there are a lot of people out there relying on luck. Many of them carry no tools, no spare tube, no pump. One minor breakdown and they’re either walking home, or calling for a ride.

The bike preacher in me wants to climb on a pulpit and give them all a sermon about self-reliance on the trail. I’m thrilled whenever I look up the trail at “rush hour” and see a few riders with daypacks or rack trunks, but it pains me to see someone pushing a bike with a flat tire because they didn’t bother to carry supplies—or learn to use them.

When I started mountain biking 20 years ago, I made a point of knowing trail repairs. Spending a few dollars on tools and reading a couple of good articles on how to keep my bike rolling gave me the mechanical confidence to enjoy riding not only to work, but into mountains and deserts.

It’s a good feeling to stand at a trail junction in the middle of nowhere and make a decision based only on the map and your food supply. That’s no time to suffer doubts because you don’t know how to amputate a derailleur, splice a broken chain, boot a torn sidewall or fix a simple flat.

The same thing applies in town. Riding to work becomes more fun when you don’t need to worry about a 5-mile commute turning into 2-mile ride followed by a 3-mile walk.

If you’ve been riding awhile, offer to show a newbie how to change a flat and repair a chain. Give them advice on buying a spare tube, tire levers, an air pump and multi-tool for tightening loose bolts.

With gas prices so high, this summer is the best recruiting opportunity we’ve ever seen. It’s time to expand the cult.

Let’s get ’em to drink the Kool-Aid.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Bearanoia is a puzzling affliction. One never knows when it’s going to flare up.

During a solo ride outside Whitehorse a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in sort of a narrow ravine with steep sides and fairly thick vegetation. Suddenly, for no obvious reason, I felt somewhat in danger. Like maybe I was being watched. I yelled “Hey bear!” for a few dozen yards until the terrain beside the trail opened up a bit, then I pedaled along wondering why I had suddenly felt nervous.

A few days later, I was zooming down another trail outside Dawson City when I startled an animal a few feet to my right and heard a loud rustling in the brush as some critter suddenly began moving. I barely reacted. A quick glance toward the source of the sound, a quick listen for paws hitting the ground behind me, and I blissfully continued barreling toward camp.

These were different situations, obviously. In the ravine, I was moving slow and surrounded by high ground. Maybe some prehistoric survival instinct was kicking in. On the Dawson ride, I had the advantage of speed and downhill momentum. On the other hand, I knew I was a few feet from something—ursine or not—that was startled and on the move, but I took it in stride.

Riding among bears is a fact of life in this part of the world. I’ve talked about it with friends during trail rides, and most of us figure that—even though we rarely see the animals—several nearby bears are likely aware of our presence every time we ride on the Anchorage Hillside. Biologists have confirmed that the area’s full o’ the furry buggers, which is why we routinely see warning signs posted, such as the one in today's photo.

Conventional wisdom says the best way to avoid a dangerous bear encounter is to let bears know you’re coming so that you won’t surprise them at close range. I’ve ridden with people who wear bear bells, people who blow whistles, and people who ride in silence, making no attempt to let bears know they’re approaching. Bear bells are annoying, and whistles sound like tasty marmots, so my approach is to keep a canister of bear spray close at hand in a bottle cage, and to make noise by yelling … when I remember to do it.

Overall, I probably don’t think about bears nearly as much as I should. I often catch myself hypnotized by the flow of a trail and then realize I’m moving trough the forest quickly and silently—which is pretty much asking for a few hundred pounds of trouble.

Bouts of Bearanoia can be unnerving. But they aren’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of us might benefit from more of them.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Home turf

I like routines. The familiar feels good. Vacations are a great way to break out of ruts, but it's also nice when they end. After a certain amount of time, most anyone can grow tired of living out of a bag and adjusting to strange schedules and new places. A couple of weeks is usually enough for me.

I'm looking forward to climbing on my bike in the morning and riding the route to my office. I'm curious to see if the bike path is still busy with new bike commuters. I want to watch for the beaver that lives at Taku Lake.

And I'm eager to get back on local trails with friends I like to ride with.

Maybe that's one of the greatest things about vacations; the way they remind a person of why home is so great. Our road trip to Canada took us through 1,967 miles of great country, but the last couple of hundred were among the best—and reminded me that I live in my favorite part of Alaska.

Now it's time to ride it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Visit Philippe's, eh?

I love finding funky bike shops
with personality. Last week,
I happened across Philippe's Bicycle Repair.

If you're ever in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory,
you should stop by.

Make sure to use the loo
before you visit the shop,
because space is tight
and the bathroom might
be a little crowded.

Bikes, parts and tools fill
every conceivable space in the shop,
except for the spaces filled
by the art that
Philippe creates.

The old shop space—a defunct bus—now
sits out back and holds bikes waiting
to be sold or picked up after repair.

The back yard is filled with bikes
and related paraphernalia,
as well as Philippe's prototypes,
such as his cargo-hauling bike.

As Philippe pointed out, he built
his cargo bike before the Extracycle
existed, and you could use his bike
to haul an Extracycle or two.

This is the back-yard pooch,
whose job is to keep you alert
while walking around staring
at bikes. He does this by mining
the yard with "dog grenades."

Watch where you step.

Trust me on this.

And this is Philippe, the man
whose name is on the front of the shop.

Yeah, he owns a work stand, but he
prefers the chains and hooks that hang
from his ceiling. Full-suspension designs
and carbon-fiber tubes have made
it less convenient to clamp bikes
in stands.

But like Philippe said, "Every bike
has a handlebar and a seat."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Turning south

Ridge Road Trail outside Dawson City, Yukon

In the past 10 days, I've ridden in Whitehorse,
Skagway and Dawson City. And I'll be returning
to Whitehorse. Great town, nice trails.

New terrain is always a hoot. But
it's time to put in some road miles
and get back to Anchorage.

I'm ready to dodge the bears
on Double Bubble.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

Goin' for a ride

This is one of the best editorial cartoons I’ve seen in a long time. It would be even funnier if I weren’t about to buy a shitload of gas in the next couple of weeks.

It’s time to hook up the little camper and hit the road. Sip a few beers. Ride a few trails. Blog updates will range from occasional to non-existent, depending on mood, time and access to the interwebs.

I’ll be home when I get back.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Teach your children well

When my son was about 10 years old, he wanted a neighbor kid to come outside and play. So he rolled his bike out of the garage, strapped on a helmet, rode across the street, took off the helmet, and then walked up to ring the doorbell.

That was a proud moment for me as a bicycling parent. It was when I realized that, to him, helmets and bikes were inseparable. It didn’t occur to him to not wear a helmet for a short ride across the street, because he had never experienced riding without one—and he had never seen Dad ride without one, either.

Oh, I slipped up and did it a time or two for short distances, but never in front of him. I have this apparently outdated belief that if I lead by example as a parent, I’m making it easier for my kids to do the right things.

Too often, I see families out on rides with only the kids wearing helmets while the parents cruise along with the wind in their hair, happily sending a singular message: Helmets are for children, but grownups don’t use them. This is tantamount to telling your kid to never touch cigarettes, but saying it as a haze of Marlboro smoke rises from your lips.

And anyone who thinks kids don’t recognize hypocrisy from Mom and Dad needs to pull his head out of the sand in his ass. Trust me, those little buggers listen more closely than they want you to know, and they’re scanning everything for loopholes and inconsistencies.

I came across these photos while randomly following links from and came across an InStyle magazine slideshow on “green” celebrities—which meant every picture contained either a Toyota Prius or a bicycle. Of course, not one celeb wore a helmet. And that’s fine, except for the shots of the beautiful people and their spawn, because regardless of how rich and famous you are, you still have an obligation to be a responsible parent.

These two shots in particular were annoying. Patrick Dempsey claims to love road riding (check out that fine Roubaix), so he should know better. But there he is, teaching his daughter that Daddy’s too cool for a helmet. Of course, he's also teaching his daughter to wear hers incorrectly, so what's the damned point anyway?

The Kate Beckinsale's picture pissed me off not only because she's setting a bad example for her kid, but also because I simply hate having a reason to be annoyed by someone so scorchingly hot.

She’d be even hotter in a helmet.

(Kate Hudson was spared from scorn in this post because in her slideshow photo, it sort of looks like she isn’t wearing any pants. Somehow, that worked for me.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Trail time

An old friend once told me she couldn’t understand why anyone could buy a mountain bike. Every time she tried one, she said, it felt too sluggish and slow compared to her road bike. I told her she was nuts, and that she was missing half the fun.

Now that I spend spring on a nice, light road bike, I understand where she was coming from. But I still say she’s nuts, and she’s missing half the fun.

I started hitting the trails over the past few days—now that they’ve finally dried out—and it's clear that I need to get my off-road legs back. I was feeling pretty good about my conditioning until I pedaled up Wall Street on Spencer Loop on Tuesday night. Holy shitballs, that was hard work.

In good years, I’ve climbed that hill in the middle ring. This time? Granny gear, baby. And I was damn glad to have it. All that spring road riding was a good start, but there’s no replacement for riding dirt and pointing a 26-pound bike uphill when you want to get in shape.

And there’s nothing better than bombing down the other side and digging those knobbies into the ground while railing a turn and feeling the suspension soak up the bumps. And, for my money, there’s nothing more meditative riding a trail, watching for rocks, blow-downs and moose. You have to clear your mind, or you’re screwed.

There are no cars to deal with, no glass-strewn pavement, no convenience stores. Just woods, streams and play time.

And, the scenery is usually a lot better, too.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Playin' with the camera

When you shoot photos of Heather
while she's climbing a hill, it's
harder for her to give ya the finger.

And if you're lucky, you can get
a self-portrait in the process.

I started wearing shorts last week
during the afternoon commute,
and damn, my legs is white!