Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailing out my sanity

So I’m talkin’ to a co-worker the other day after she gets back from a trip. And I’m all, “Hey, like, how was Chicago?”

And she’s all, “It was 85 and humid.”

Then I’m all, like, “Really? OMG!”

Ya see, sometimes I tend to forget that autumn doesn’t start in mid-September for everyone. Up here in Palinistan, we Alaskans are so busy watching those pesky Russians from our front porches that we just don’t have time to keep up with things like the Bush Doctrine or seasonal changes in the Lower 48.

Hell, I can barely keep up with my shopping, and I have an important wedding gift to purchase! (I’m pretty sure I’m just going to wrap up a box of condoms with a big ol’ bow.)

Anyway, it’s been getting nippy in the morning for several weeks now, and the snow on the Chugach Peaks won’t be going anywhere until next spring. I finally rode to work again this morning after a week of being sick, and I saw ice forming on puddles.

But that’s OK. Birch leaves are pretty when they turn yellow and start drifting down. And we can all use a little beauty right now. After all, we still have several weeks to go before this insufferable presidential race ends. In the meantime, eight years of Dubya has run us off an economic cliff, and the people who are supposed to save our skin are standing around arguing over how to properly tie a noose in the rope they’re thinking about throwing to us.

So I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to turn off the news, pedal out of the driveway and listen to the crunch of leaves.

Few things are as comforting as the sound of rolling bicycle tires.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Paul Newman was the coolest guy
to ever pedal a safety bike
with a pretty girl sittin' on the top tube.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Got nuthin'

Until this head cold clears up
and I'm back on the bikes,
I won't have much to post,
so it's random picture time.

Someone who parks outside
Philippe's really knows how
to mount a spare tire with style.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ed's big adventure

Ed Witterholt has done some funny things on bikes. I first met Ed when we served together on an advisory committee for the Trail Watch program. We did a couple of trail patrols together, and I remember him being proud of an old road bike he bought for $10. After making few repairs, he happily rode it on a regular basis.

He once showed up at a Frigid Bits winter race on Goose Lake, and rode a fixed-gear road bike with no studs and no brakes. I still can't figure out how he stayed upright. Then last year, his young daughter wanted to ride the Fireweed 50, so Ed rigged up a tandem with toe clips attached to pink blocks he had put on the pedals, and they went and did the race. A friend of mine complained for months about being passed by "the little girl with the pink blocks."

Ed's latest adventure is moving to Colorado. But instead of jumping on a plane or driving the family car, he left last week to pedal from Anchorage to Denver. Thanks to his very cool and indulgent wife, he has five weeks to live on his bike. Tara's not only supportive of the idea, she's also documenting the whole thing on a blog as she gets updates from the road.

Here's hoping the truckers, weather and road conditions cooperate all the way down the Alaska Highway. Have a great trip, Ed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Travelin' baiku

Days without my bikes.
Week of bad, unhealthy food.
Need exercise. NOW!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It's only water

I'm visiting a small town in a rainforest this week. Moss grows everywhere, low clouds drape over the mountains and mist frequently fills the air. But moisture isn't used as an excuse.

The coastal terrain is fairly gentle, and the maritime climate is relatively warm. People wearing jeans and fleece jackets cruise home from work on bikes with fenders and rainproof panniers. Senior citizens with gray hair pedal up hills without getting off to walk.

Yesterday, a 50-something man in rubber boots and a camo hunting jacket was riding downtown when a friend saw him and said, "Taken to riding your bike, huh?"

"Yup," he replied.

"Well, it's cheaper," the friend said with a smile.

"It's exercise, too," Camo Man said as he continued rolling down the street.

It was a beautiful thing to see.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Make mine dirt

Sixteen years ago, a neighbor and I loaded up our bikes in Santa Fe and drove down for a day of riding at Sandia Peak ski area outside Albuquerque, N.M. Sandia was one of the earliest ski facilities to experiment with the idea of hauling mountain bikers up so that they could ride down, and we were intrigued enough to check it out.

They kept it simple in those days. No modified terrain or stunts, just metal hooks on chairs to haul your bike, and singletrack all the way to the bottom. It wasn’t bad, I guess, but it was unsatisfying. My two most vivid memories of the day are the strange guilt of unearned descents, and locking up my brakes after rounding a turn to find five beginners in gym shorts and tennis shoes standing with their bikes in the middle of the trail, where they had stopped to chat.

Nowadays, downhill ski areas love the idea of sucking summertime dollars from mountain bikers’ wallets by luring them to “bike parks” where they can purchase lift tickets and ride long-travel DH rigs over gap jumps and all sorts of wooden contrivances that the "parks" pass off as trails.

Just south of Anchorage, our very own Alyeska Resort is dipping its toes into those waters with two new trails that are probably the start of something bigger. For now, you still have to ride uphill (for free) to access the goods, but lift tickets probably aren’t far behind.

Last Saturday, I met Jules (who shot the pic with this post) and the BikeMonkee for a ride out of Girdwood, and we warmed up my making a run down Blueberry Pancake. It’s tame enough to ride on XC bikes, but full of tight, technical switchbacks and covered with wooden ramps and bridges that roll up and down, twist from side to side, and lead into banked turns. Where steep grades and wet wood combine, the lumber is covered with chickenwire to provide a grippy braking surface. So much for nature.

Just like Sandia back in ’92, it was an interesting experiment. But, for me, our ride didn’t really start until we were outside town riding over rocks and churning through mudholes. That’s what brought me to mountain biking in the first place: gettin’ out into the boonies, and exploring new trails with friends and the freedom to choose our own lines on the map.

I’m glad there are more people than ever interested in building trails for mountain bikers, and it’s good that folks with an aversion to climbing have someplace to go with their body armor and 40-pound beast bikes. But I’ll skip the lumberyard rides and lift lines, thanks. Besides, I already get my fill of being herded like a sheep every time I go to the airport.

I’ll stick with the backcountry, where I get to suffer up a mountain before riding down it, and the only crowd consists of my smart-ass friends with their scratched-up, non-armored shins. If I want to ride on wood, I’ll just look for some exposed roots.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Spider Fingers

The latest installment of The Finger Chronicles
comes to us from Spider Fest 2008,
a mountain bike festival outside
Liberty, Mo., where riders remove
spider webs from the forest by
plowing through them with their faces ...

while wearing kinky body armor.

(Is it just me, or does this guy give
you flashbacks to that dungeon scene
in "Pulp Fiction?")

That's my nephew front and center
in this shot. He's obviously being
led astray by his wayward father.

Speaking of my brother, he said that
if he'd had a more powerful flash,
he could have captured another
50 riders eagerly flippin' The Bird.

Thank you, kinky Spider Festers!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Enough Suckage

A few years back, I stopped tracking my annual mileage. My bike computers were freezing up in cold weather anyway, so I decided to spend a winter without one. It felt good to enjoy a bike without pursing week and monthly distance goals.

Since then, I’ve used computers to monitor the distances of individual rides, but I’ve purposely avoided tracking my accumulated mileage by season or year. In some ways, it has been liberating.

But it has also made me slower and weaker.

Looking back at this Summer of Suckage, it isn’t hard to figure out where the problem lies. I’ve spent too much time simply enjoying the feel of pedaling. Too much time taking the short routes. Too many rides enjoying a chat near the back of a group. Too many post-ride, barely earned beers. In other words, I’ve been lazy. And it's making me soft.

For cycling to be really fun, it sometimes has to hurt. I can’t remember the last time my wife or daughter said, “Have a fun ride,” and I replied with, “Not this time.”

I’ve never truly trained in any methodical way, but my best summers have always included a lot of rides that sucked because they were hard by design. I knew before I left the house that I was going to suffer, and that was the point.

I’m going to take a few weeks off this fall after getting an injury repaired, but then it’ll be time to get off my ever-expanding ass. I need to ride longer, harder and smarter. The computer needs to come back out, and the gut needs to go back in. The summer of 2009 shalt not suck.

I recently heard someone say something that made a lot of sense:

It’s time to toughen up, Buttercup.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Fall's comin'

Yellow leaves are falling on the trails. Autumn has begun. It’s time to write off the Summer That Never Was.

It was cold, rainy and cloudy. Bears created havoc. People got grumpy.

On top of that, I never seemed to get into good shape. Coming off a winter of little commuting, I never really found my groove. There were some good rides here and there, but only a few “great” rides, thanks to good trails and fun riding partners. My legs don't deserve much credit.

There’s nothing left to do but hope for a few nice fall rides, prepare the snow bikes for winter, and pray to the bike gods for more sun in ’09.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


I’ve been reading survival stories for the past week. The solo riders have been sharing their Soggy Bottom tales, which aren’t always pretty. Each year, many riders abandon the course in agony, frustration and/or exhaustion.

Others sit down and watch their leg muscles spasm. Some fight nausea, cramps, or other symptoms of illness. Last weekend, one sat down beside the trail and cried for 20 minutes, then got up and kept riding.

As a relay rider who was happy to see my suffering end at Cooper Landing, I find it hard to understand the appeal of racing the entire course. Besides not having the discipline and time to truly train for a solo attempt, I lack the desire to endure 15 to 17 hours of torture and the days of recovery.

But the consistent message in the stories of solo finishers is that the reward lies not in the ride, but in completing it. My friend akdeluxe said that after one of his finishes, it took him three days to feel happy that he hadn’t quit.

There’s something really sick and twisted in that, but I admire the tenacity of every solo rider. There’s a small part of me that wishes I had that kind of drive. There’s a much bigger part of me that’s glad I don’t.

This year, “ghost riders” were allowed to accompany their friends on the third and final leg to offer moral support and comfort in the dark, final hours of the race. Maybe that’s where my Soggy future lies, if I have one—volunteering to keep a friend company in the House of Pain and Bears.

I like that idea. Because I feel no need to reach the Seaview Bar as a soloist, but I sure enjoy seeing others pull it off.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Migratory birds from Canada

Our bike-riding brethren (and sister)
in the Yukon Territory submitted
a fine flip-off this week.

That's Anthony D. and his crew
from Whitehorse, one of the coolest towns
up in these northern regions, and
a very cool place to be a mountain biker.

Hopefully, I'll get to ride with these clowns
next time I get over that way.
I sampled Whitehorse this summer,
and I will be going back.

Thanks, Yukoners, for a nice addition
to The Finger Fine Art Gallery.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Soggy fingers

Some may have meant it more than others.
(Thanks to Maura for the photo)

The Finger Movement lives on!

Just before the start of Saturday's Soggy Bottom 100, event organizer Carlos Lozano asked the entire field to flip me the bird. Not everyone fit in this photo but, trust me, it was the greatest Mass Flip-off I've ever seen. (And it took some doing to match Jeff's effort earlier this summer.)

Most riders didn't even know why they were flipping me off. I mean, it's not like this is a request one hears every day. When Carlos first told them to turn around and let me have it, they weren't sure what to do. Oscar The Grouch, who was straddling his bike nearby, had to say, "He's serious."

But if anyone knows how to give The Finger, it's bicyclists, so next thing I knew, a new record had been set.

Several times this year, I've mentioned my friend Heather and heard someone reply, "Is that the chick who's always flippin' you off on your blog?"

Now I'm waiting to meet someone who says, "Hey, are you the guy I flipped off in Hope?"