Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rio's WMD

I think my friend Carlos must have been forbidden from playing violent games or having toy guns as a kid, and the lifelong resentment has manifested itself in the creation of his very own Weapon of Mass Destruction.

He built it out of rock, mud holes, broken bicycle parts, slippery mud and human blood. The worst part is that it doesn’t actually kill anyone. It just makes mountain bikers wish they were dead.

This year’s edition of the Soggy Bottom 100 included 28 solo riders and—for the first time—three relay teams. Only 15 soloists and two teams managed to endure 110 miles of backcountry trails and 11,000 feet of climbing, but even the survivors arrived back in Hope with destroyed components and trashed bodies. Among the more notable were winner Evan Hyde, who rode the final 10 miles on a flat rear tire, and Mike Vania, who rolled across the finish line with blood spider-webbed across his face from a nasty crash. That gave spectators something to gawk at while they sipped beer on the deck of the Seaview Bar.

Fortunately, Team Sloppy Top Tubes managed to finish the event. We were well behind the two-person team of Rachel Steer and Alex Wilson but they’re actually real athletes, so we can happily live with simply knowing we finished alive and with still-functional bikes.

Huber rode a fast second leg from Cooper Landing to Devil’s Pass Trailhead, buying back some of the daylight I stole from Captain Julie when I suffered from the muddy climb out of Hope earlier in the day. Julie then braved the ride back over the pass, and the long, hairy descent through darkness and bear habitat until she reached sea level and rolled to a stop just after midnight.

Some things you do for the after, not for the during. The Soggy is one of those things. It’s far more enjoyable when it’s in the rear-view mirror. My neighbor yelled across the street this evening to ask how my ride had gone. “Miserable,” I yelled back. Yet, I still had a fun weekend.

And the solo riders? Incomprehensible to a hack like me. As much as I love riding those trails, I shudder at the thought of reaching each checkpoint and then having to go back out.

Every solo finisher is a badass.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Time to get high

No, not that kind of high. Mountain high. As in pedaling over passes. It's Soggy Bottom time, so I'm kissing the laptop goodbye for a couple of days.

In the meantime, if you're in the Anchorage area and missing a Litespeed mountain bike, there's guy named Ryan who's looking for you. He bought it cheap from some lowlife because he knew it had to have been stolen, and now he's trying to find the rightful owner. If you think it might be yours, send an e-mail to Ryan and identify the bike.

And Ryan, whoever you are, thank you for starting to rebuild my faith. You're doing a classy thing.

I'll leave you with a riddle for the weekend. If you're a sex addict and married to Tea Leoni, why would you want to get cured?

(There's no right answer for this riddle. I'm genuinely baffled.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fools II: The Sequel

Trail poaching has been a hot topic in the Anchorage mountain biking community for the past week or so. I had hoped the incidents on Rover’s Run were isolated, but a few nights ago, I got another reminder of how some riders are self-indulgent jackasses.

A couple of friends and I went out to ride one of the new trails being built by Singletrack Advocates. Only one section has been opened for riding, while a couple of nearby sections are still being roughed in. Those trails aren’t ready for riding. Besides still having fragile surfaces, they’re under construction and not yet safe.

Just as we stopped at the top of the open trail, two riders came out of the woods nearby as they finished poaching the new advanced trail. As they ducked under the “trail closed” signs that cover each end of the trail, I tried to be polite as I said hello and told them why it’s important to be patient and stay off the trail until it opens.

They mumbled a couple of things like, “OK,” and “Sorry,” but I could tell they didn’t give a damn what I was saying.

Is it really so hard to be patient for a few more weeks? A tiny handful of their fellow mountain bikers have worked to build everyone the first true mountain bike trails in Anchorage—at great expense—and these guys are willing to risk fucking it up just because they demand instant gratification?

Maybe they’re some of the same people who have already started sneaking in with their own tools to make their own easy modifications of the newly opened section of trail. Dirt ramps are already being built against some of the rocks that were incorporated into the trail design.

It’s easy to risk getting a blister from five minutes with a shovel after others have spent three years building relationships with land managers, wading through the permit and grant processes, and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to build you new trails. But it sure doesn’t show any gratitude or respect.

I hate it when mountain bikers suck.

Monday, August 25, 2008


With the Soggy Bottom coming up in a few days, I decided to spend Sunday afternoon on some overdue bike maintenance and other race preparations. It hit the shops for sports-drink mixes, and bike parts like a new cassette, a 32-tooth ring and a fresh chain.

Holding a SRAM chain in each hand, I had to decide whether to spend 50 bucks on the hollow-pin chain, or 30 bucks on a model that has always held up well for me with no significant weight penalty. I was talking with a few members of the shop staff when we tossed the two packages on a scale and found a difference of less than 20 grams. Easy decision.

But I jokingly pointed out that the more expensive chain had a higher bling factor because the inner plates were silver instead of dull gray. Combine that with the hollow pins, and you have a techy-looking piece of hardware for anyone who would bother to get down on his hands and knees to check it out at close range.

That’s when Zane, the mechanic, pointed out that if another rider is enough of a gear geek to roll up to next you on the trail and comment on your new hollow-pin chain, “You really don’t want to talk to that person anyway.”

Hard to argue with logic like that.

I’ve always preferred the kind of rider who would ignore the extra few grams and spend the other $20 on beer.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hillside Bears

One of the things I valued about Alaska when I moved here more than 12 years ago was the fact that wild animals aren’t typically tracked down and killed after they injure—or even kill—a human. Unless they show a dangerous propensity for bothering people, the animals usually get credit for simply acting like wild animals.

That’s a refreshing change from the Lower 48 where, as soon as a bear scratches or bites someone, a posse of game officials hits the trail to slaughter it.

That attitude has always reminded me of the movie Jaws, in which a great white shark chomps a fat kid on an air mattress, and hordes of redneck fishermen head out to kill sharks. It’s a big damned sea holding a metric assload of sharks, any one of which could have munched the kid, but that doesn’t matter to the guys with harpoons.

So I’m usually one of the people opposed to capping a bear that has attacked someone who surprised it and sparked a natural, defensive response. I have no desire to sanitize Alaska’s forests, even those inside the municipal boundaries. I like riding in a place that is still wild.

But sometimes, bears have to die.

After two maulings and multiple charges this summer, state wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott decided there was enough evidence of dangerous behavior on the part of at least a couple of bears that killing them was the right choice. I agree with him. Biologists killed one sow a few days ago, and even though DNA tests indicated it was not the bear that mauled Petra Davis, they are confident this particular sow was one of the bears involved in a number of dangerous encounters this summer. Once that pattern of behavior is established, eliminating the bear is usually the only viable option.

Sinnott isn’t a guy who enjoys killing bears. This is the man who was suspended from bear duty two summers ago when his bosses penalized him for angrily—and correctly—speaking out against lazy and careless human actions that were turning wild animals into garbage bears and setting up situations that forced him to shoot the animals. His decision this summer to kill a bear or two isn’t some stunt to make the public feel better. Sinnott has been doing this job—and doing it well—for years. If he says the bears have lost their fear of humans and become too dangerous, I trust him.

Besides, this is a state in which bears are routinely hunted for sport by rich tourists who pay $15,000 to $20,000 who kill grizzlies because they think doing so will make their dicks look bigger. I think it’s far more justified to shoot a bear that is well on its way to developing a habit of charging and attacking trail users.

Another biologist was recently quoted in the paper as saying the people at the state Department of Fish & Game feel stuck in the middle of a controversy, and that no matter what they do, half the state will think they were wrong.

It’s been a tough summer around here, but most of our Hillside “bear problem” likely involves a only couple of bears, while the vast majority of them are minding their own business.

It’s time to take out a couple of troublemakers. Fish & Game will have my gratitude for doing it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I often call mountain bikers the coolest people on the planet. In most cases, I’m right.

That’s why I hate to be reminded that even the people in our sport can behave like selfish assholes.

A few weeks ago, city officials declared Rover’s Run closed until further notice. Not everyone agreed with the decision, but it was a reasonable one under the circumstances. Two people had been mauled by bears on that trail, with the incidents occurring only a short distance and a few weeks apart. The bear, or bears, were still out there, feeding on salmon from the stream next to the trail.

Biologists set up cameras to capture images of bears using the trail so that they could identify individual animals and learn their habits. Unfortunately, they also got to see something else: bicyclists poaching the closed trail.

It was no accident. These riders chose to do this. The trail was clearly marked and the closure was widely publicized. It was also public knowledge that cameras had been installed. These guys didn't just thumb their noses at the closure, they did it when the whole city was watching, and soon after the mountain-biking community had endured public criticism because the first mauling occurred during a bike race.

One person was photographed riding the trail on more than one occasion during the closure. This is a guy who bragged about riding an off-limits trail a few months ago, then responded to criticism by promising to be more careful. He said he believed in efforts to improve the image of mountain bikers, and vowed he would help that cause.

Apparently, he didn’t mean a word of it.

A lot of mountain bikers in Anchorage have worked hard in recent years to improve relations with land managers and other user groups. Symbolically, these trail poachers have taken a big, fat, steaming dump on those efforts. Because when the non-cycling public picks up the newspaper and reads that bike riders are ignoring the trail closure, they lump us all together.

They don’t read that this guy or that guy ignored the rules; they read that mountain bikers ignored the rules.

When I think of mountain bikers and cool people, these guys don’t fit the bill.

As far as I’m concerned they aren’t even real mountain bikers. They aren’t worthy of the trails.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Return of The Bird

Two or three weeks ago, I was shooting pictures
of the scenery during a ride to Rabbit Lake.
I included two friends in this shot:

I didn't see them "waving" when I shot this frame,
but if they thought they were getting away
with it, they were wrong.

Flippin' me the bird again. Can you believe that?

It's almost as if they thought this shot
would end up on my blog.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pain in a can

Last winter, I got an e-mail from a guy named Corey, who reads this blog in Chicago. He and his brother from Israel were planning a trip to Alaska that would involve some mountain biking, so we swapped a few messages and I offered whatever advice I could.

Shortly before their vacation, Corey asked about bear spray. What to buy, where to find it, etc. That’s when I reminded him he’d have to discard his unused canisters before flying home, and I mentioned how it sucks that people who come to Alaska have to spend $30 to $40 on the stuff and then toss it out at the end of their trip (unless they actually blast a bear with it first).

So Corey and his bro stopped by my house last night at the end of their trip, and handed over two new—and fortunately unused—canisters of Counter Assault. I’m using them to start my own little Capsaicin Co-op for mountain bikers.

If a rider—local or visiting—needs some bear protection for a few days, he or she can drop me an e-mail and arrange to pick up a canister. The only requirements are that you return it at the end of your trip and, in the unlikely event you actually have to hose down a charging animal (aggressive, unleashed dogs count), you replace it with a fresh canister for others to borrow. Oh, and your survivors can’t sue me if a bear still manages to eat you for lunch—I’m offering to lend you a free tool, not a guarantee.

The way I see it, this a little way of helping people carry insurance but requiring them to pay the premium only if they have a claim.

Try getting get a deal like that from Allstate.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Mountain bikers take a perverse pride in the carnage that comes with a long ride. And let's face it: You stay out on the trail for six or seven hours at a time, somebody's goin' home in pain.

Fatigue sets in. Hunger gnaws at you. The brain slows down and you start choosing sloppy lines. Your fingers can go so numb that you have to look down to make sure you're squeezing the brake levers. Before you know it, you're sprawled across the ground and starting the usual physical inventory for open wounds and broken bones.

That was the case Saturday afternoon during our latest Soggy Bottom training ride. AKdeluxe was coming off two weeks of night shifts, and started getting the thousand-yard stare several hours into the ride as we were descending from Resurrection Pass. Before long he was cartwheeling over the rocks, and his Turner was tangled up in his legs while its sharp parts chewed on him like a meth-crazed ferret.

A few miles later, The Monkey rolled up to the stopped group and said in a tired voice, "I ate shit."

We all knew what he meant, but if we hadn't, all we would have needed to do was check out the dirty skid marks on his clothing.

Sometimes, I'm amazed that we pretty much always reach the trailhead with nothing more than cuts and bruises.

By Saturday night, I was wondering how soloists finish the Soggy Bottom 100 at all.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


We're flying under
VFR conditions this week:
Visiting Friends and Relatives

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Make mine spicy

While riding over Resurrection Pass recently, I met a rider coming toward me with the barrel of a shotgun sticking out of his backpack. This was near the spot where, a few years ago, I saw a rider with his 12-gauge strapped in a BOB trailer … under all his other gear.

There are few items more useless on a backcountry bike ride than a shotgun you can’t grab, aim and fire in a big damned hurry. That’s why there are few things more useless than a shotgun on any bike ride.

Bear protection is always a subject of debate in Alaska, but it has been on the minds of most people in Southcentral a little more than usual this summer. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people—men, usually—who believe guns are the only viable option. I believe they’re kidding themselves.

I may be fairly liberal, but I’m not an anti-gun liberal. I grew up shooting guns, and still enjoy firing a few rounds from time to time. I just think they’re useful in some situations, and nearly worthless in others—like when a 600-pound ball of teeth and fur is charging through heavy vegetation at 30 mph. Only the most skilled and proficient marksmen have a good chance of pulling off a deadly shot at a time like that. And by marksmen, I’m not talking about weekend warriors who go to a rifle range and shoot at a paper target a few times a year. I’m talking about SWAT and military types who are trained to perform in high-stress settings. Anyone else is just trying to get lucky.

I carried a gun on a few hikes after moving to Alaska, but I stopped years ago when I began to recognize that it was only marginally useful. Besides, it wouldn’t have been comfortable—or safe—to ride a mountain bike with a hand cannon strapped to my hip. I got rid of the thing and started carrying pepper spray.

This thinking goes against the macho standard that is so common in Alaska, but what the hell—I mean, I’m already out there in Lycra shorts, right? I just think it’s way easier to hit the broad side of a moving barn with a big cloud of pepper gas than with a little bullet, and the figures back me up.

Bear biologists who studied human/bear encounters in Alaska found that bear spray was 92 percent effective in stopping attacks, while guns were only 67 percent effective.

Ninety-two percent. That’s good enough for me. Actually, I’d prefer 99.9, but if 92 is as good as it gets, I’ll take it.

Besides, when I’m pedaling up a mountain, I like the idea of a lightweight canister.

That guy hauling the 12-gauge across Resurrection Pass looked tired.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Introducing ...

... Julie, the intimidating captain of the Sloppy Top Tubes. (As reported by Heather.)

"After finishing the 20ish mile ride Saturday, in which she suffered intense rain, a "shit-ton" of rocks, wonky brakes, and HAIL, the Sloppy Top Tube leader's face demonstrates that she is clearly ready for the Soggy. When asked about the particularly uncomfortable conditions of yesterday's ride, she simply said, "Bitch, I told you ..." and then walked away mumbling something about being the dominator of rocks and downhills. She was reportedly eating sugar cookies decorated with smiley faces (also somewhat mud spattered) at the time. It was an oddly inspiring moment."

Either Huber and I are in good hands, or we're going to get our asses kicked if we screw up.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sleep is for Wimps: A haiku

Blue skies Weeknight chores
A vow to turn back early
Fuck it Summer’s short

Monday, August 04, 2008

Soggy, probably

Somewhere between the happy delirium that followed the Fireweed race, and the hazy fog that accompanied drinks a week later, I agreed to join the Sloppy Top Tubes in the first-ever relay division of the Soggy Bottom 100.

My friend Carlos has been organizing this ride for years, and the event web site describes it this way: "This group / tour outing is limited to well-conditioned bike riders who have the fitness, riding and backcountry skills to ride at least 12 continuous hours in sunshine or absolutely horrid conditions."

Absolutely horrid conditions. Should this guy work in marketing, or what?

For years, I swore I'd never get involved in this thing unless there was the option of a team relay. That's because I thought there'd never be a team relay.

The leg I’m likely to ride is about 45 miles long. (Ignore what the web site says about the race being 100 miles—that's just part of Carlos' diabolical scheme to lure people into his trap. It's longer. About 110 miles, as I estimate it.) That's a lot of mountain biking in one day, even if the weather's good.

If it's wet and cold, it could be a shit sandwich.

Either way, the forecast calls for pain.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

... to forgive devine

Mountain bike etiquette is such a complicated thing. I'm always wrestling with tough issues such as which disgusting jokes to tell, and whether it's the uphill rider who is supposed to have the right of way. On Saturday, I explored whether it's worse to blow a switchback and nearly crash into two friends, or to let my Camelbak leak the entire contents of its bladder so that everyone gets to the trailhead and finds their stuff soaking wet.

I don't think I reached a scientifically conclusive result, by my research appears to indicate the worse offense is to get everyone's stuff wet. But one can do the time for the crime, as it were, when the only other hydration option is to refill the Camelbak with a liter of some disgusting, carbonated strawberry/kiwi concoction after it gets yanked from the cooler.

One of the great things about mountain bikers is that they'll quickly forgive a friend's careless transgressions.

But, ooh, will they give you shit about it!