Most of this year (like every year I’ve spent in Alaska) I’ve been on a boat. I spend my days on the water working long hours and living in cramped quarters with a small crew. From February until as late as November my time on two wheels is curtailed. When the occasional day off arises, now that there is a motorcycle in my stable it gets more attention than the bicycle. If I’ve got 2 hours to get into the woods on two wheels- the motor makes it happen. No it doesn’t help my legs or my wind- I spend most of my year traveling less than 10 knots, sometimes it feels good to go fast.
Don’t worry. I’m not going full moto. I’m not selling my bicycles to because I’ve got this new found need for speed- but goddamn motorcycles are fun. But I digress. This isn’t about motorcycles. It’s winter time here at 60 degrees North latitude and as I look outside there is a quarter inch of ice that fell last night as sleet and froze. The motorcycle is in bed until the spring thaw and now it’s time to get fat. Fat biking. I’ve had the fatbike for a couple years but didn’t make the jump to studs until this year because they’re so damn expensive. Dillinger 4’s & Dillinger 5’s are impressive and those that have them love them but a pair will cost you more than 4 Walmart beach cruisers. If I lived in Anchorage I may have committed earlier but I’ve been biding my time long enough that with all the new offerings out there I was able to find a studded set of the Vee Tire Snowshoe XL for around $280 a pair.
First impression: why the shit did I wait so long? If you live in an area that gets ice- you need studs. They’ll save your ass. Or at the very least your hip. They aren’t magic- and you can still go down on the ice but they’re a butt ton better than rolling on a wing and prayer. Do yourself a favor and get some.
So theres a cool little app out for a while now. It’s called Relive. It uses Strava or Garmin gps. It makes neat stuff like this:
And in other news- tomorrow is Global Fat Bike Day. If you’re in Anchorage there is a ride starting at Bread & Brew on Tudor at 6pm. If you’re in Cordova- I’m sure we’ll do something. Holler.
Disclaimer: This post isn’t about bicycles. It is a story about adventure on two wheels though; because of all the means of travel I’ve used over the years, I like two wheels the best.
Summer’s almost gone. As a commercial fisherman this year had been really busy- until it wasn’t. It came to a halt like a bird flying into a window. There was a thud, a drop, a brief stupor… then done. It wasn’t pretty. Salmon seining in Prince William Sound was the poorest we’ve seen in recent memory, with salmon hatcheries still concerned with the brood stock they’ll have available to ensure strong enhanced runs in the future. The number of days we were able to put our nets in the water a fraction of what we’ve come to expect in what is (still) one of the best managed fisheries in the world. We’re unsure as fishermen (and maybe even the biologists in charge of managing the fishery) what the hell happened- but it did. Boats tied up earlier than in years past and here I am, less than a week from putting the boat away, already looking for winter work- since it’s a given that there will be hungry people looking for any work they can find in our little town. This says nothing about what the future will bring. Being a fisherman means being optimistic- so I’m hoping the years to come will prove this to be just one off year.
Even with the low number of fishing days, we didn’t get much time to relax. A “hurry up and wait” atmosphere was maintained by the fishery managers (ADFG) who were inconsistent with the announcement times (announcements say when we go fishing based on the run strength at hatcheries and in aerial surveys) and not just coming out to say “the fish aren’t here- take a break for a couple days.” Nope. Maybe we were too hopeful- thinking the fish were just a little late. We sat- always within email range, waiting for the scheduled 2pm announcement that would maybe come at 10am, or maybe 5:30pm- saying essentially “Maybe tomorrow.”
On one particular late morning I walked down to the boat to get my sunglasses- planning a bicycle ride in the woods to blow off some steam. Shit was fucked up. Six hours later I left the boat, following an ordeal involving an overly full plugged shitter, thirty years of calcified human waste and working in confined spaces- I was done. I needed a break to recharge my batteries. I won’t torment you by reposting the photo that I put on my @generallynautical Instagram.
The announcement of the day had wording that made it sound like we were going to be on the beach for a couple days at least- so it was time to do something. Maybe even something that some people would describe as an “Adventure.” The skipper was very supportive and said something like “Get the hell out while you can!”
Here was an opportunity to explore a part of the state that I’d yet to visit. Typically on a boat from February into October, a July trip to the interior was something I couldn’t pass up. With only a couple days available- and nearly 1000 miles of highway in my sights- the bicycle was set aside for the moto. It happened fast. Up to my elbows in shit at 5 in the afternoon, packing for a motorcycle trip by 8pm and on the ferry at 4am the following morning. I love living in Alaska.
Back it up a little bit: My wife went into the history books as “Best Wife Ever” when she gifted me a motorbike last December. A complete surprise, I was obviously ecstatic. It seems the perfect bike for Alaska- a 2009 KLR650. I had the opportunity to ride it a little bit in between fishing and the icy roads of winter- mostly on the unmapped logging roads that I’ve been slowly documenting off our highway system, trying to establish some nice bikepacking loops in the area. It’s worked great as a way to link up the trails when I don’t have time for a long ride.
I packed fairly light though I didn’t use everything- so maybe I over packed. I wore my Levis commuter jeans, a cotton tee shirt, Pendleton wool flannel, wool socks and MUSA merino underwear, Coal Headwear fleece neck gaiter, West America x Woolrich waxed cotton jacket, La Sportiva leather mountaineering boots, OR unlined leather gloves and Smith sunglasses. I’m also using Bell Vortex helmet. On the bike I carried:
Klymit Sleeping pad
0 degree Wiggy’s bag
OR bivy sack
3 pairs socks
2 pairs underwear
Showers Pass rain pants
MSR Dragonfly stove
Aeropress and coffee for 4 days
Stanley thermos mug
One day worth of freeze dried meals
Tripod/selfie stick adapter to hold phone for photos and video
Folding pack saw
Basic tool kit
I think that’s it. My panniers weren’t totally waterproof, but I did have a dry bag for my sleeping bag. In a perfect world everything would have been set up just so- but sometimes you just gotta go. I don’t have much fancy “Adventure” gear- fully decked out it can cost thousands. I’ve got my old mountaineering boots, jeans, a street helmet and some other hodgepodge stuff. Stuff I feel comfortable going into the woods overnight with. Stuff I feel comfortable riding in. Sure, there is usually a safety element in expensive gear- but people have been traveling on two wheels for a long time and that hasn’t always been available- they got by somehow. Much like when riding a bike- I don’t plan on falling. Basically- if you wait to have all the gear that you think you need before you do a thing, you may never do the thing. If it rained hard every day, I may have been uncomfortable- but it didn’t, so I was stoked. Also- I didn’t get a flat tire which is good, because I didn’t have tire irons, or a tube, or a pump. I think I was expecting more traffic to help me out if I broke down- but even though it was peak of summer, I saw few cars. So I guess I got lucky.
Day One: I took the 7hr ferry ride from Cordova to Whittier, then took the tunnel through the rock and rode towards Anchorage. The Whittier tunnel is nuts on a moto. You really gotta pay attention. Up Hatcher Pass to the Independence Mine, then down Hatcher Pass and made it to Talkeetna the first night (with an obligatory stop at the Denali Brewing Co.) Camped at a site just north of town. Independence mine was rad- few people there and some cool hiking. Hatcher Pass was fun- gravel with very light traffic. Talkeetna is definitely a tourist town. 205 miles, lots of gravel.
Day Two: Talkeetna up to Healey. Camped at a site conveniently next to 49th State Brewing Co. Very touristy- especially near Nenana River with lots of raft tours going on. Lots of tour buses. The entrance to Denali Park- which was closed to all but hard sided RV’s 12 miles into the park because of a bear attack, so I didn’t bother going in. Too many crowds. It started sprinkling rain around here, but it cleared up when I got up to Healey. 164 miles, mostly paved highway.
Day Three: Healey to Anchorage. The big push. I could have just gone straight south- but I didn’t want to miss the Denali Hwy. It was a long day. A very long day. On a moto like mine though, you stand up a lot, so that makes it nice. Changing positions is critical. If I were on a cruiser that I had to keep my ass on the seat for that stint I would have been far more uncomfortable. Stayed at a dive motel in ANC and a bed felt good. $95 a night summer rate and I didn’t get bed bugs- that’s a deal for Anchorage. 526 miles, lots of gravel.
Day Four: Anchorage to Whittier. Got back on the ferry at 1pm and 7hrs later I was home. 61 miles, busy paved highway.
Taking it back again: When I was in high school I had an english teacher that used to give me books to read that weren’t required. I didn’t really read the books that were required, but I loved the ones he gave me. I was fascinated with traveling and couldn’t wait to graduate so I could get the fuck out of California (which I did- a week after graduation.) He introduced me to books like On The Road, Siddhartha, The Razors Edge, and the movie Easy Rider. I was hooked. Though it took me 20 years to do my first moto trip- it won’t be my last.
I made this video on the ferry ride home. Everything was shot and edited on the iPhone. The song used is the Ballad of Easy Rider. It’s the last song in the soundtrack to the movie- when the main characters die in a burst of flames. I love the song and it kept going through my head the whole short trip. Thanks again to Jordan Price, wherever he is, for encouraging me to explore not only literature- but life.
The homey Garrett, involved with Off the Chain in Anchorage- went on a hunting by bicycle trip this month along with a large handful of other co-op members. It looks like they were successful. Alaska being Alaska, I saw a couple of the hunting party members in the Anchorage airport on my way home from Interbike.
I’ve combined guns and bikes on a few different levels, most of the time carrying a sidearm or shotgun as bear and moose protection while on solo rides. Last fall I cobbled together a lightweight scabbard for my .22LR for hunting small animals, like rabbits and grouse. It worked well- though I’ll be doing some more to improve it’s design this year.
For small game, my setup is pretty slick but with a heavy, high powered hunting rifle or shotgun- something more substantial would likely be necessary. I would likely just shoulder my rifle if headed out for a larger mammal, or use a rack like the folks at Cogburn have designed.
Nice work on the hunt, as well as the video. I like when the face of hunting is of real people in search of real food and a connection with the land.
I’ll leave you with a song I listened to quite a bit when I moved to Alaska as a vegan, in 1999. Also- save me some of the tongue!
Green Lake Grinder/Matt Matyas Memorial – June 7, 2015
Registration Closes by 5/20 at 9pm!!!
The Green Lake Grinder is put on by Speedway Cycles with help from The Alaska Endurance Association, and Backcountry Bikes. This 40 mile gravel event takes place Sunday June 7th at 11am on JBER, utilizing some of the best terrain in the Anchorage Bowl, featuring beautiful scenery, and rolling hills. The start/finish will take place at the Green Lake Lodge, and there will be a neutral start for the first several miles (as we pass behind the flight line) on pavement due to intersections until we reach the Davis Highway. All riders must follow the rules of the road, as we are controlling riders rather than traffic. Once riders leave the Davis Hwy on Pole Line Rd, there is very little traffic for the rest of the event, and it’s all 25mph. The course heads North/East (behind Chugiak High School) before turning West in a counter clockwise loop to head back across Eagle River for the second time near the mouth and on to Otter Lake. At this point, the course crosses back onto Elmendorf and heads toward Six Mile Lake before returning to the last mile of pavement before the finish at Green Lake. We will have a picnic at the lodge afterwards with Carne Asada Tacos. We ask everyone to bring their favorite chips, pop, salsa and guacamole. We’ll supply the beer and tacos.
Male and female categories only, no age division. There is a 100 racer limit so don’t delay, register by Wednesday, May 20th.
A few things to remember. First and foremost, the race can be cancelled due to military exercises at any time. Refunds will be given. Second, we need you to sign up immediately. We just received the permit (we were turned down on our original date), so we are backed into a corner on time. All racers must be registered by 9pm Wednesday May 20th. Family members must also supply driver’s license and birthdates. All info has to be turned over to JBER on the morning of the May 21st for the background check. Please remember this is a military installation, so do not bring illegal substances to the gate!
Access must be through the Boniface Gate only, which is the quickest route to Green Lake (approx. 10 minute drive). PLEASE DO NOT TAKE PICTURES OF THE FLIGHT LINE!
Cost is $40, and we ask for a donation of $10 to purchase a bike for one of the students at the Alaska Military Youth Academy (for troubled teens) who is offering us volunteer support. At the end of each session the best cadets are chosen and we will reward them with a new bike!
Immediately following the race, food will be ready.
Are you ready for an adventure in the remote beauty of interior Alaska? Come north to Fairbanks, Alaska for the 6th annual White Mountains 100-mile ultra race. The race course cuts through the heart of the jagged limestone peaks that define the White Mountains National Recreation Area. This rugged wilderness will challenge racers with a variety of terrain and trail conditions, satisfying even the most experienced winter athlete. Steep climbs, bowel-clenching descents, sharp turns, areas of active overflow, glare ice, tree stumps, roots, and bare tussocks are all part of the White Mountains trail network. Sub-zero temperatures, strong winds, along with blowing and drifting snow may add to the excitement. Traverse this diverse landscape on skis, bike, or just your feet.
Save some money and register for all three of our races for $50 at Chain Reaction Cycles from Tuesday, December 2 through Saturday, December 6 until 2pm. Or register the day of the race on site for $20 (cash and check only).
On site registration will be from 5:00 PM to 5:45 PM
Pre-Race Meeting – The pre-race meeting will be held at 5:50 PM at the Start/Finish.
Start/Finish – The race will start and finish behind the Kincaid Bunker on the wide multi-use trail.
Experts will start first and complete 4 laps, Sports will start 1 minute later and complete 2 laps, and Beginners will start another 1 minute later and complete 1 lap.
Race course and number of laps subject to change depending on conditions.
There will be a small awards ceremony shortly after the Expert Racers Finish.
There will be finish line prizes provided by Bear Tooth and Chain Reaction Cycles for the top three in each category.
Volunteers – We are always looking for volunteers. Let us know if you are interested in volunteering by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I said on my last trip to Los Anchorage, it is home to one hell of a fatbike community. Nearly 300 racers came out last Saturday, to race the 9th annual Frosty Bottom 25/50. A race that starts at Kincaid Park, heads up to Hilltop (where the 25 ends) and/or back to Kincaid (for the 50.) The race is open to runners and skiers as well, but the fairly dry and fast conditions only brought 2 skiers to the finish line- with most of the participants choosing a bike over shoes, like a civilized person would.
I got into town Friday and like most of my trips to Anchorage it started like this:
A delicious beer from Midnight Sun Brewing that I enjoyed with my lunch at Cafe Amsterdam. A Cohoho Imperial IPA on Nitro. So good. The nitro gave it such a creamy consistency and opened up a lot of flavors that I hadn’t noticed in bottle or C02 draft. My food, like most found in Anchorage, at least in my price range- was ok. I didn’t get dysentery, but it was nothing to write home about. From my experience, you won’t find great food or an amazing cocktail in Anchorage- but you can find some good beer, a lot of it brewed in our wonderful state.