Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Despite knowing it was named after my goofball friend Leonard, I’ve always had respect for the Soggy Bottom’s Leonardo Award and the riders who receive it.

Each year, Carlos—the Soggiest event organizer I know—gives the Leonardo to someone who guts out a tough ride, overcomes obstacles, or shows admirable determination in pursuit of his or her goal.

The award was inspired by Leonard's infamous ride in the early days of the Soggy Bottom, when he suffered immensely and passed out beside the trail a few times, but refused to quit. He finished despite taking more than 24 hours to do so.

During last weekend’s post-Soggy Bottom party at the Snow Goose Restaurant, Leonard himself presented the 2011 Leonardo award to Oscar The Grouch and me for voluntarily pedaling into hellish conditions for our drenched, bear-infested, course-sweeping ride.

Carlos had flasks engraved for the occasion, which was very classy. Thanks, Carlos.

Given the caliber of riders who line up at the start every year, it’s a humbling thing to be given any award related to the Soggy Bottom. Others rode farther and suffered more. Oscar and I just went out and did the job we promised to do. The same kind of job others have done for us.

Any mountain biker who has benefited from the efforts of volunteers should take a turn pitching in from time to time. You don’t do that kind of stuff because you expect recognition for it. Hearing the word “thanks” and maybe being handed a cold beer at the end of the day is about all you expect, and that’s the way it should be.

But when people think you’ve given a lot, and choose to recognize you for it, that feels pretty good. And it says something about them, too.

Bottoms up.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

J.T. Brown

This funky little store on Prince of Wales Island once saved a trip for me.

POW is in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Years ago, my friend Sue and I rode a ferry to the island for a five-day bike tour through the forests and clearcuts between old logging communities and fishing towns.

When I realized in the town of Craig that my rear sidewalls were going tits up, I thought I might have to find a house with a bike outside and talk the owner into selling me a used tire. But then I spotted J.T. Brown, the general store near an old dock.

This is the kind of store where you’re far more likely to encounter a grizzled commercial fisherman than bicyclist, but back in those days, there was a glowing “TREK” dealer sign in the front window. I was relieved to go in and find a good-enough tire to carry me through the trip. As I mounted it on the rim a few minutes later, a local character walked out of the store and happily said, “Welcome to Craig!”

The whole experience left me with fond memories of the place, so when I was back on the island last week, I walked down to see if J.T. Brown was still in business.

The Trek sign was gone, and there wasn’t a complete bike to be found in the store, but there were wheels hanging from the ceiling, and tires crammed under shelves of fishing gear. Zip-Loc bags of new brake pads and QR skewers hung from pegs on the wall, and a whole bucket of seatposts sat next to a dusty hummingbird feeder beneath the spare tubes.

Most bike junkies can’t imagine living in a place without a real bike shop, but stores like J.T. Brown are as good as it gets in a lot of remote places. Many towns aren’t even lucky enough to have such a bare-minimum store.

If you live on POW these days and you need a new bike, you bring it back with you from a trip to the mainland, or have it flown in by floatplane. On Friday, I helped unload a brand-new bike from the old de Havilland Beaver that was bringing in the mail and a few passengers before hauling me and four other people back to Ketchikan.

When that bike starts wearing out, I suspect its owner will head down to the store and search for parts among the fishing gear, paper towels and canned food.

And he can be sure that the person who rings up his purchase will never be a fixie-riding hipster.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Great Beaver Shot

Bicycles & Icicles is known (among a small, elite crowd) for many things but, on a global scale, this blog might be best known for its beaver shots.

Every day, lonely men (and maybe a few women who know how to work on their own pickups, if ya know what I mean) arrive here after Googling “beaver shots.” I aim to make sure they’re never disappointed. Because what higher calling could a guy have than to bait lost souls with beaver shots and then deliver them to the Holy Church of the Bicycle for their salvation?

So feast your eyes, ladies and gentlemen, on the latest beaver to get wet and prove itself on the pages of this blog: Oscar’s Beaver. His Soggy Bottom Beaver. And because it’s Oscar’s, one might even call it Spanish Beaver. Mmm, spicy!

I took this shot a few hours before The Grouch and I got the Beaver wet and gave it a pounding in some of the wettest, most slippery conditions imaginable. No matter what we threw at it, this beaver held on tight and kept Oscar upright for hours.
It was an amazing performance.

Afterward, Oscar said he thought it was the best Beaver he’d ever had. (Personally, I think it was the first Beaver he’d ever gotten. I’m just glad he liked it, because I think he paid quite a bit for it.)

I don’t usually endorse things, but if you’re looking for something that can really perform when things get wet and slippery, this Beaver just might be the one to satisfy your needs.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

An Open Letter

To all the mountain bikers who enjoy riding the new trails at Kincaid Park:



Douche bags.

The new singletrack isn’t open yet, and you know it. That’s why it’s blocked by bright orange fencing and signs that say, “TRAIL CLOSED.”

Other mountain bikers—people with the energy and passion to do things that benefit everyone—have poured months of work into raising money, getting permits and planning a new network of trails. Still more mountain bikers have shown up and invested their muscle and sweat to hand-finish the trails. These people put you (and me) to shame.

All they ask in return is a modicum of respect, and that you have a little more patience than a two-year-old. If you had done the homework they have, you would understand that freshly built trails need time to set up properly before being ridden. You’re being asked to do only one thing: wait.

At least one gutless weasel hiding behind his new alias on a bike forum has complained that trail construction is affecting his access to trails he has “ridden for years.” Boo fucking hoo.

(By the way, “Turner Guy,” are we really supposed to believe you just created the account for your first post? It’s hard to believe any member of the Turner cult who has ridden for years in Anchorage just joined the mtbr forum. It seems far more likely you didn’t even have the balls to rant about your vandalism under an established user name.)

Hear’s a news flash, ace. It’s not your private fucking park. It’s a public place, where legitimate projects sometimes cause temporary disruptions for recreational users. Shit happens.

You and your ilk need to grow the hell up. Stop being vandals, and stop pissing on the work of other people.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Happy Finger Friday

It has been a busy week at Bicycles & Icicles, but what better way to end it than with two new entries in the Fabulous Finger Gallery? And fine additions they are.

The first comes from the guy Anchorage riders know as “Super Al” Mitchell (right) and his buddy Kim Kittredge during their 500-mile ride across Iowa in this summer’s 39th edition of the Register’s Annual Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Most people refer to it as RAGBRAI. Super Al calls it “a frat party for grown-ups on bikes.”

Thanks for the pic, Al. Double thanks for shooting it before you ate corn on the cob through that mustache!
And it should go without saying that we're also grateful you didn't show us what you did to earn those Mardi Gras beads.

Our second shot comes from Acadia National Park in Maine, and a repeat offender in the rogue’s gallery of finger flippers—my nephew Brendon, from Kansas City. I believe when we last saw Brendon, he was risking disciplinary measures by posing for flip-off pictures during a school trip to China. (Don’t blame me, I think he gets it from his mother’s side.)

Brendon heads off to college next week so I’ll be counting on a creative new shot from campus this fall. Good luck, Brendon. Have a great freshman year.

As for the rest of you hosers, have a great weekend. To help yourself remember how good you feel, just remember: you’re not riding the Soggy Bottom!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Midnight Madness

Midnight in the middle of nowhere is not the time and place to learn that fresh bear prints on a wet trail appear to glow when illuminated by the light on a bicycle helmet.

As a matter of fact, I could have been quite happy to grow old without learning such a thing.

Oscar and I had just convinced ourselves we were nearing the Hope end of the Resurrection Trail when I rounded a turn and the prints lit up like paw-shaped lights against the dark, brown surface of the muddy trail. I probably could have found a less jarring way to announce my discovery than loudly blurting out, “bear on the trail!” which led Oscar to momentarily think the damned thing was standing right in front of me. For all I knew, it might have been.

This is the fun of riding sweep in the Soggy Bottom 100. You get to leave in the rain about 7 p.m. to do a 40-mile trail ride over two mountain passes that are swept by rain and cold wind. You slog through quagmires of mud and splash through multiple pools of frigid, hub-deep water. Then, after hours of negotiating slippery rocks and roots, and slick-as-snot, off-camber mud surfaces, you find yourself in the dark, surrounded by thick vegetation containing a very live bear. And just to spice things up, there’s a stream nearby and rain is falling, so sound doesn’t carry worth a damn.

At this point, it is permissible to ask yourself, “How in the blue fuck did I end up here?” At least, that’s what I did.

Not wanting to surprise the bear and spark a defensive attack by approaching too quickly, Oscar and I dismounted and started walking our bikes while yelling, “HEY BEAR!” at the top of our lungs. Unfortunately, bears are smart enough to recognize the benefits of walking on a trail, so the one that had passed by only minutes earlier was in no hurry to re-enter the brush on both sides of us. We eventually got back on our bikes and rode slowly, shouting everything we could think of to alert the bear to our approach.

This went on for a freakin’ mile. Every time the prints disappeared, I’d start to yell over my shoulder to Oscar, “No prints, I think we’re good to … SHIT! More!” And not one of them bore the imprint of a bike tire. Believe me, I was looking. The critter ahead of us had walked the trail right after the riders ahead of us had passed through.

At last, the prints disappeared for good. This was when Oscar kindly reminded me that now we had no idea where the bear had gone, so we again cranked up the volume on our nonsensical shouting. After a few hundred yards, I began to relax. But tension doesn’t fade quickly after experience like that. We had already spent hours on alert for bears before the intense 15- to 20-minute period of knowing we were following one at fairly close range.

So when a snowshoe hare bolted from the dark directly into my path, I spontaneously unleashed my best, loudest warrior cry of, “GYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Which scared the shit out of both the hare and Oscar.

I suppose you could call it a scream, but I like to think it was a manly scream.

A little while later, we caught up to the last two riders on the course, and the four of us pedaled into Hope together feeling hungry, tired, cold and relieved. And I can tell you one thing for sure: There have been few nights in my life when I was happier to see the glow of a town’s lights coming into view.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Beyond Soggy

Now I understand what she meant.

Three years ago, I stood in the dark street in front of Hope’s Seaview Bar just after midnight and and listened to my friend and relay team partner Julie say, “That was the most fucked-up thing I’ve ever done!”

She was talking about riding the third leg of the annual Soggy Bottom 100, and the long, dark descent into Hope from Resurrection Pass. It's a trail that's full of roots, rocks and bears.

Last night, I rode the same leg as part of a two-man team that swept the course. Oscar the Grouch and I left Devil’s Pass trailhead in a steady rain just before 7 p.m. A number of riders—many of whom had just abandoned the course—were reporting rain, strong winds and cold temperatures in the high country that we would pass through during an approximately 40-mile trail ride.

The Soggy Bottom lived up to its torturous reputation. Devil’s and Resurrection passes were brutally cold, wet and windy. The rocks were slippery, the mud and roots were greasy, and the trail was full of deep, gooey sucker holes and cold, standing water that nearly reached our hubs. The riding conditions were some of the worst imaginable, and following fresh bear tracks at midnight made us seriously question the sanity of what we were doing.

By the time Oscar and I rolled into Hope with the last two riders just a few feet of us at 1 a.m., I had thought of Julie’s statement many times.

Carlos, the event organizer, led us inside to warm up, and Jordy grabbed us a couple of beers. Carlos handed us our Soggy Bottom volunteer stem caps. I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier to reach the end of a ride.

I’ll post a story or two from this experience as I sort it all out in the next few days. For now, I’ll just say congratulations to every man and woman who had the balls to line up for the start of this madness.

And thanks to Oscar the Grouch for sharing the six-hour ride to sweep the course, and for his good company and humor during one of the must fucked-up things I’ve ever done.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Fatback Revolution

Check out this new trailer for a film starring my friend Greg's Fatback bicycles. They're amazing, and they'll go damned near anywhere, as you'll see in the flick. Hell, if you look closely enough, you'll even catch a glimpse of Greg's mug in the trailer.

Speaking of Fatbacks going anywhere, I'm starting to feel half-tempted to take mine to the Kenai Peninsula this weekend for the Soggy Bottom 100. I'm on a team riding sweep on the final leg of the event, from Devil's Pass trailhead to the Seaview Bar in Hope. A week of rain pretty much guarantees the trail will be what we all like to call a "bucket of suckage."

It ain't gonna be pretty, folks. There will be suffering. Wet, muddy, painful suffering. And that'll just be me! Imagine what the soloists will endure while riding the whole insane enchilada.

Me, Oscar the Grouch and Leonard—and maybe Pam—will leave the trailhead about 6:30 p.m. and head up into the high country before working our way back down to the seaside Seaview while making sure no stragglers get left in the wilderness all night. If the bears, rain and mud don't get us, I know for sure what will—the cold beer I plan to drink to help me warm back up.

The entire thing makes no sense to me, except for one thing: There's nothing like a weekend in the little village of Hope when it's full of most of my favorite mountain bikers.

See ya in hell, everybody!