Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I spent 20 years hoping that I was setting a good example for my children by being a bike commuter.

Be careful what you wish for.

My daughter has a job and takes classes at several locations, so my wife and I have made sure she has a reliable, fuel-efficient car. But she routinely leaves it in the driveway and pedals one of her three bikes to work and school. I think that's awesome. Like me, she likes exercise and hates putting gas in a vehicle.

But being the father of a young woman can really test a guy’s commitment to bike commuting. A strange mix of pride and fear flow through me when she talks about riding home at night because, while I love having a kid who would rather turn bike pedals than mash a gas pedal, I know women face extra and unfair dangers. And that pisses me off.

It’s sick and wrong that half the human population has to worry about being preyed upon by the other half. It’s sick and wrong that families have to worry about their daughters, wives and girlfriends. And if I described what I’d like to do to every depraved scumbag who would assault a woman, my ideas might sound sick and wrong to some people, too.

I want my daughter to live a life free of unreasonable fear. I don’t want to be a “helicopter" parent who smothers his kid by being overprotective. So I’m trying to find ways to make it all work.

With darkness falling earlier every day, I’m rearranging my plans when I can, to ensure that I can meet her after class. We get to share the ride home together, and I can rest a little easier knowing she’s not alone.

But it’s a shame that I have to do it out of fear, instead of just out of love.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Col du Galibier

Bam. We made it.

When amateur cyclists from around the world reach the top of Col du Galibier, they celebrate by slapping their favorite stickers on the sign that marks the top of the 2,645-meter pass that is often the highest point of the Tour de France, which first crossed this pass in 1911.

So when my friend Gina announced she was loading up her bike and jetting off to ride some of the most famous climbs in the world, we knew what had to be done.

Yeah, baby. The official sticker of this blog can now be found on the summit where where Coppi, Merckx, Pantani and Gina all had great days.

Sure, the “No Waxing Required” sticker originated to help fat-bikers thumb their noses at the snobbish Nordic skiers who don’t like sharing Anchorage’s winter trails but, hey, we don’t discriminate against the skinny-tire crowd. All bikes are good bikes as long as they’re ridden by people with personalities and good attitudes, so we’re proud to be represented at the top of a famous road climb in the Alps.

Big thanks to Gina for carrying a sticker halfway around the world, getting it to the summit, and accomplishing the mission.

Gina, you are a fine American. You make us proud.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Money well spent

My morning commute was interrupted by a swastika.

I was riding to work when I dropped down the bike path along A Street and turned west on the Chester Creek Trail, then there it was—the most vile symbol in human history—painted under the words "We're Back" on a concrete wall. Someone armed with a can of spray paint and a shred of decency had attempted to cover it with the red circle and slash forming the international “banned” symbol.

I stopped to snap a photo with my phone, so that I could email it to the municipal maintenance department. I thought maybe they would make it a priority to paint over that mess before the end of the day.

When I got to C Street, I saw a city maintenance truck and flagged it down so I could report the graffiti to the driver. But he already knew about it. “That’s where I’m headed,” he said.

I looked at my watch. It was 7:52 a.m. on Thursday morning. The sun was barely coming up, and most businesses weren’t open for the day, but that guy was already there with a bucket of paint. Many morning bike commuters would never have to see the vandalism done by some asshole.

Everybody seems to be talking these days about deficits, taxes, budget reductions and service cuts. Not just at the national level, but here in Anchorage, too. Mayor Dan Sullivan hates taxes like the rest of us hate saddle sores, and he’s happy to slash payroll and municipal services to avoid asking people to pay a few more bucks for them.

The question is, where does this stop? We have fewer firemen and fewer cops than we used to, and those of us who use parks and public spaces have spent years watching the results of “deferred maintenance.” (That’s a fancy name for all those wheel-eating pavement cracks on bike paths all over town.)

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’ll tell you one thing. I was happy to have a municipal employee out there covering that swastika so quickly, and so early.

If that costs me a couple of extra bucks a year, I’ll gladly pay it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Path

I don’t keep track of many ride-related numbers anymore, but some just make me smile. Like 16.33, for instance.

Last Friday afternoon, I needed to meet my wife at a cookout with her students and co-workers. As I climbed on a bike and rolled away from my office at the end of the day, I started calculating the safest route, and then realized I had almost completely overlooked an obvious one that would get me where I needed to go via bike paths equipped with tunnels and overpasses to avoid interactions with street traffic.

Despite a last-minute change that moved the location of the cookout, I managed to ride from the first park to the second via more bike paths.

After eating a hot dog and hanging out for a little while, I climbed back on the bike and headed home while wondering when I would finally have to pause at a light or stop sign. It finally happened where Campbell Creek Trail crosses Dowling Road. By that point, I had ridden 16.33 miles from my downtown office to the east side of Anchorage, back through Midtown and nearly to South Anchorage without crossing an intersection or having to stop for a single light or sign.

A couple of miles later, I had to wait for a red light at Dimond Boulevard, then it was a nonstop cruise the final two or three miles home. I had managed to cruise across a huge part of the city with no traffic hassles, and almost no exposure to motorized vehicles. For most of the 28.6-mile ride, I was pedaling in woods, beside streams, or through public parks.

Anchorage is far from being well-planned or architecturally interesting, but it has character. And these paved paths—built in the 1980s when the state was so fat with oil-boom money that even an Alaska politician would pour money into bike paths—are a big part of what makes it a fun, livable city.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of elected officials (and people who would like to be elected officials) who see bike paths as tax-wasting indulgences that shouldn’t be provided by local government. Every election season, I want to kick at least one of them in the nuts.

Instead, I just vote against them. But it’s not as satisfying.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hoops 'n' Pedals

All summer long, tourists rented bicycles from a little shop in front of the Copper Whale Inn in downtown Anchorage. Most of them never noticed the custom hoops leaning against the bike shed. They just wanted to sign their forms, hand over their money and hit the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in hopes of seeing a gin-you-wine Alaska moose.

But late in the afternoon on sunny days, as the rental business slowed down, drivers who found themselves stopped at the nearby traffic light were treated to a fun distraction as Seina—a grad student who spent her summer putting people on bikes—filled her free time by spinning her hula hoops on the sidewalk.

The show was always impressive to those of us who have no idea how she pulls off some of those moves, and I think it was a bright spot at the end of the workday for a lot of tired people.

Seina's gone now. She's back in school. And the corner in front of the Copper Whale is a little boring.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


I understand road rage.

And I blame my bicycles, because y
ears of bike commuting have ruined me.

I’ve come to believe that a traffic light turning green means I get to go. Immediately. That my trip home at the end of the day should be fun and relieve stress. That at least part of my commute should pass through some woods and beside a creek, instead of just across a sea of asphalt.

Everyone talks about how bike commuting is good for you, but they never talk about its unhealthy side effect: a bitter hatred of sometimes finding oneself stuck in a car at rush hour.

An occasional day of driving to work doesn’t seem like a rest day; it just pisses me off.
Knowing that a driver could kill me while talking on a cell phone and eating a snack is annoying. But having that same driver trap me for an extra cycle of a red light inspires thoughts of violence, or, as I like to think of it, justifiable homicide.

Back when I worked in newsrooms—havens of jaded cynics who regularly engage in crude, insensitive humor—my co-workers and I used to joke that years in the trenches had made us all unemployable in the mainstream world.

Bicycling has had its own, similar effect. I always have trouble re-joining the mainstream rush-hour crowd, with all its cars and pickups. I might look like the rest of them, but I’m not normal.

I hope I never will be.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Blistered fingers

When Queen Bee sent this fabulous finger foto from Kincaid Park, I was afraid these hardworking trailbuilders were flipping me off for not showing up to help work on the new singletrack. I've been too busy and distracted to show up even once, and that's shameful.

Fortunately, she said the sentiment was directed more toward a poacher or two who have ridden the trails before they were ready for tire treads, an act that's even more shameful. I'd be happy to add my own finger for any poachers who screw up trails that are under construction.

But to all the crews who have put in hours on the trails this summer, I offer a huge thank you. You're the people who make great new trails possible, and I hear nothing but promising descriptions of what has been happening at Kincaid all summer.

If you've swung a Pulaski or dragged a McLeod through the dirt even once this summer, pour yourself a cold beer and feel good about it.