Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009

Returning from a tropical vacation
to -20F commutes in Anchorage in January.


Fun rides on snowy trails in spring sunlight.


A spring road ride from Anchorage to Hope,
and the tasty burgers at Tito’s at the end.


The Denali Highway.


Team Muschi Schmerzen moving up to 13th place
and shaving more than an hour off our time
from the previous year, because this time
we actually had a clue what
we were doing in the Fireweed 200.


100% organic bike racks.


The usual big rides on the Kenai:
Devil’s Pass, Johnson Pass, Res Pass.
Spectacular, as always.




Riding the hell out of our new local trails.
(Or trying to.)




Falling into cow parsnip on the way to Crescent Lake,
then spending hours with my leg feeling
like it was plugged into an electrical outlet.


Rain. Leonard. Enough said.


Crewing for Monkee and Jules during
the Soggy Bottom 100,
and watching so many Faces of Death
roll through checkpoints
late in the race.






Tater, buddy.


One word: Mankini


Happy New Year

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Value? Not if you ride a bike.

I always like shopping at businesses that make an effort to accommodate bicyclists. I even love bragging about them here on the blog. Conversely, I’m always disappointed in businesses that treat me like a second-class citizen if I don’t arrive by car.

I’ve been a customer at Value Liquors at Klatt Road and the Old Seward Highway since the place opened. The place is clean, has good prices, and is locally owned. Most of the time, I’ve arrived there by car, because it’s close enough to my house that I drive by regularly—and who really wants to carry a 12-pack home on the bike if they’re driving by anyway?

Unfortunately, the place has never installed a bike rack. A few times, I’ve rolled a bike just inside the door while picking up whatever I needed for a weekend, or a party just up the hill at the MacHuber manse. It was never a problem.

But last Wednesday, after I carefully leaned my Pugsley out of the way just inside—taking care to keep the tires on a rug so my tires wouldn’t drip on the floor—a surly employee launched into me and demanded that I never bring a bike inside again. She ranted about it being inappropriate and unsafe. (It’s just a bike, lady, not a bomb.)

The manager backed her up the next day. Just can’t have bikes inside the stores, he said. As a reason, he cited a recent incident in which when a drunk guy tried to ride down an aisle inside another Value Liquor store.

Sorry, but as far as I’m concerned, that was an inebriation problem, not a bicycle problem.

I’m sure drunks stagger in trying to buy booze all the time, but I doubt the manager’s ever tried to ban walking. If you don’t want obnoxious drunks in your business, you throw them out. You don’t blame the inanimate object that got them there.

I’ll miss the convenience of shopping at the “corner store.” But Costco, Fred Meyer, and Brown Jug stores all have bike racks.

They aren’t locally owned, but they don’t treat me like a bum.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas

Christmas Eve on Speedway Singletrack

May your Christmas be fluffy and white.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Beginning of the end

According to calendars, yesterday was the first day of winter. That’s a load of bull.

I’ve never needed a calendar or a chart of the solar system to tell me which season I was in. As far as I’m concerned, seasons are determined by weather and a state of mind.

Summer? That starts on Memorial Day or the last day of school, whichever comes first. Autumn begins when the air cools and the leaves start to turn. And winter starts when there snow is on the ground, or when ice forms at night and stays frozen all day.

Science dictates that seasons are determined by Earth’s position in relation to the sun, but when I’ve been riding on snow and ice for six or eight weeks, nobody’s going to convince me that I’m dealing with fall weather. Especially when I’m this far north, where I commute to and from work in darkness during November and December.

Don’t let The Man fool you. Yesterday wasn’t the beginning of winter. It was only the end of our descent into darkness. We bottomed out, and could feel good about it.

Today, we gained 8 seconds of daylight. And that’s a good reason to give a damn about our place in the planetary neighborhood.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Powder day

Kathy passes through the pretty stuff

I have a love/hate relationship with fresh snow. I love how beautiful it is, and I love the way it covers roots and little stumps, changing the character of a trail between summer and winter.

Leonard on Salmon Run

But I hate all the work it takes to pack trails and make them fun to ride again. I hate the way I founder in the powder when a trail is only four to eight inches wide, and the slightest error—and I make a lot of errors—yanks my front wheel off its line.

Petra cruises Moose Ridge

After last week’s dump, I’ll be pushing more than I like for a few more days. But once it gets packed again, damn, it’s gonna be sweet.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stuck in gear

Sometimes I wonder where all the “bad” days went. Those days when the weather was considered crappy, giving me an excuse to stay inside and catch up on a backlog of tasks I’ve sat aside for months.

Summer in Alaska is manic. We pack all the fun we can into each long day, so only the must-do chores get done. I usually have a pile of things I intend to do when summer ends and the weather turns hard. Problem is, some of the items on that list have been ignored for a couple of years now.

I recently realized that this coincides with my decision a couple of years ago to purchase a few new pieces of clothing to keep me warm and (relatively) dry while commuting in autumn’s freezing rain. It also matches up with my decision to buy a fat bike so that I can keep rolling after a fresh winter snowfall, instead of taking a few days off until the trails get packed again.

Yeah, there are still some days when a glance out the window is enough to quash any thought of going outside, but those days seem fewer and farther between than they used to.

The better gear gets, the easier it is for us to get outside.

Maybe some of the stuff on that list just wasn’t meant to be done.

Monday, December 14, 2009


The social element of mountain biking is a big part of the fun for me, so when most people seemed to be busy last Thursday night, I had to push myself to go out and ride alone.

Then I had one of my best rides of the winter.

Come Sunday, I didn’t even ask anyone to go. I rode at my own pace, concentrated on improving my snow-riding skills, and spent hours rediscovering old terrain and finding the new singletrack that seems to pop up only in winter.

It’s easy to get addicted to the fun of riding with friends. But it’s also good to break out and do your own thing. Riding alone allows you to experiment without pressure. You can try that little trail that you think goes somewhere, and suffer no harassment if it turns out to be the Highway to Hell.

Going solo is also a great way to tap into the meditative side of mountain biking. You can clear your head and concentrate on riding your line or listening to the woods. That stuff’s easy to overlook, if you’re not careful.

Never doing it would be a shame.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fat bikes, fat screen

Today I lived through the torment and humiliation of childhood bullying. I watched maniacal, ventriloquist songbirds murder a redneck with a shotgun. Then I shared in several minutes of loud, horrific marital strife that ended badly. I even saw the specter of Death convince an angry, homicidal little girl that she really appreciated and loved her neglectful mother.

Then Death drove a toy through Mommy’s eye socket and into her brain, just to make sure that evil little bitch felt proper remorse.

And that was only the first two hours of my initial Anchorage International Film Festival experience. I won’t even get started on the event's excruciating master of ceremonies.

Fortunately, the finale of the AIFF’s “Martini Matinee” was Carl Battreall’s documentary Fat Bike, which provided a nice reminder of how snow bikes can bring joy to a dark and weird world. Best of all, it was clear that a huge portion of the audience in the Bear Tooth theater was there mainly to see Fat Bike.

It looked great on the big screen, and the audience was justifiably impressed not only by Carl’s work, but also by the tenacity and toughness of the stars: Susitna 100 racers Mike Morganson and Josh Morehouse, who were in the back of the theater chowin’ down on pizza and beer.

I’m not sure that’s a good training diet, guys. After all, the 2010 race is only a couple of months away.

(To order Fat Bike on DVD, click here.)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ho, yo

Tuesday morning's ride to work.

Thick, freezing fog is one of my favorite things about winter. It makes for a fun morning commute that has a different character than it does in clear weather, and light beams shoot long, white columns through the air.

Tonight's ride home.

And when the supercooled water droplets contact even colder surfaces, they freeze and stick, coating trees and other surfaces with hoarfrost. Or, if you're into the hip-hop thing, "ho frost."

Winter may be long and harsh, but it ain't ugly. Of course, it's prettiest when you're not trapped behind a windshield at rush hour.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Riding Baseball Boogie

They always say that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. I think that’s a load of crap. I forget all the time. Some days—and some sections of trail—are like brain-sucking vortexes that erase all skill and coordination.

Last winter, my nemesis was upper Yellow Jacket. I could hang with a pack of snow bikers most of the night, but when we hit a particular section, I became a bumbling idiot and fell off the back every time. I don’t even know why. At least that section was a consistent problem, which isn’t the case with Speedway.

Speedway singletrack is usually one of my favorite winter trails, but last Thursday night, I rode it from the Moose Meadow side, and couldn’t steer to save my life. Well, that’s not entirely true. I kept steering into the snow off the right side of the trail just fine. Sometimes, my body actually leaned out to the right before my bike followed. It was like I was being pulled north by a big dummy magnet.

When I rode it yesterday afternoon, I did OK. I always seem to get back in the groove, eventually.

I just never know how long I’ll stay there.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Rough around the edges

Erratic freeze/thaw cycles, darkness, brutal winds and generally terrible conditions. For the past few days, Anchorage has been like a bad night at Tiger Woods’ house. If we hadn’t had such a good time with that hard-partying, slutty, hot cocktail waitress of a summer, it would be easy to get depressed at times like this.

At least we have a fair amount of snow on the ground now, and temps are dropping again. It’s funny how far-flung Facebook friends interpret my complaints about 38-degree weather as a sign that I think the weather’s too cold. I guess it’s hard to understand—from the beach or desert—why anyone would prefer to hold steady at 20 degrees. That happens to be the temperature at which I love to ride; it’s cold enough to keep snowy trails in good shape, but allows comfortable riding without too many layers of clothing.

The only good thing about warm wind in the middle of winter is that—if it doesn’t get too warm—the trails can still be good for biking, but bad enough to irritate all the Nordic skiers who seem to be humorless and unfriendly anyway. Considering how often they look down their noses at snow bikes and those of us who ride them, I can’t help but enjoy showing off the greater versatility of our mode of winter transportation.