Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bike ride - Reflections and Thoughts on Gear

I've been back in Anchorage a couple days now and spent most of it repacking my stuff for the rest of the summer and the coming move to Galena. I also spend some time hanging out with Matt, the guy I rode with for a couple days and chatting about his Trans-America bike trip. I'd like to do more bike touring in the future and maybe even a much longer trip.

On food: (How to loose 10 lbs in 2 weeks with no work!)

1. Quit your job (or if you'd rather just take two weeks off). Note: now you have no work.
2. Ride an average 56 miles a day pulling a trailer (or 70 miles without).
3. Eat out no more than once a day but eat whatever you want to when you do.
4. Eat as much as you possibly can of mostly healthy food for the other two meals.
In this case I'm pretty happy with losing most the weight I gained working in an office the last year. However, if I do any trips more than twice this long I am going to need to figure out a way to eat more calories. I cooked a cup of rolled oats most morning with a handful of raisins, a couple tablespoons of butter, and a couple ounces of cheddar cheese. I like the way it tastes and I really like the long lasting energy and full stomach it gave me. I ate eggs with veggies and cheese for breakfast a few mornings and I really enjoyed them but I felt hungry much sooner. Eating lunch out was a good way to break up the day. When I didn't find a place to stop I would eat "Raw Meal" and a cliff bar or equivalent. It's hard to eat enough cliff bars to call it a meal. The best afternoon rides all came after eating out. I suppose finding a place to eat out once a day wouldn't be an issue most places. The wild rice, cheese, and butter for supper plan didn't work as well as I had hoped. It just takes too long to cook wild rice. I'll have to think of another option for supper.


Bike - Novara Strada, about 8 years old. This is more of a low end road racing bike than a touring bike. I love sprinting down the highway with it empty, but I think I'll look for something else. I'd like something a little more comfortable with lower gearing and mounting points for front and back panniers. After talking to a few others touring people I think I would also consider a steel frame if I were traveling a really long way. It is much easier to repair steel. A kickstand might also be useful though I am pretty sure both these last two are blasphemy in the world of ultra light bikes.

Trailer - I borrowed the Bob trailer and it was perfect with the bike I already had. I also really liked the waterproof bag that came with the trailer. I did get pretty used to pulling it over the course of the ride, but next time I'd like to see if I go light enough to just use panniers.

Panniers - Because the bike lacked anywhere else to install a rack I used a Topeak seat post mounted rear rack I bought years ago. I liked the simplicity of the slide on and clip mounting system they use for the panniers. However, it would be really convenient to have waterproof panniers and they might be worth the investment on a long trip.

Rain Gear - Still using the REI eVent rain coat and pants that I bought for the trip around the world. They pack as small as any breathable fabric rain gear I've seen (The jacker packs to 1/2 the size of the REI Taku jacket which is Goretex) and they were as effective on the ride as they were backpaking through Nepal. Note: I’m pretty picky about rain gear, I’m usually to warm anyway and the non-breathable stuff tends to make me sweat enough to render it pointless. If you are usually cold and/or don’t sweat you can save a lot of money buy getting quality non-breathable rain gear.

Tent - REI 1/4 Dome 2. This seems to be a pretty solid tent plus it is lighter and packs much smaller than my 10 year old Tadpole 23 which is finally starting to show it’s age. It is also really easy to set up by myself so with luck I’ll be using it for the next 10 years.

Sleeping Bag - Mountain Hardware Phantom 45 and a liner. This is more excellent equipment I purchased for the world tour. The bag is rated for 45 degrees and packs to a little larger than a Liter. The liner adds another 10 degrees if I need it and packs to less than ½ a liter. It is also much easier to wash than the sleeping bag which is nice on the road. I’ll probably be using these for several more adventures.

Sleeping Pad – Thermarest Neoair. This is an inflatable pad with a heat reflector built into it. It’s a little noisy if you move around in your sleep, but it’s really warm and it’s light.

Stove - WhisperLite International. I've been using this stove for years. It will burn white gas, gasoline, kerosene, or diesel and it's really simple to take care of. Their are lighter stoves but I do like the fuel flexibility. Matt had a hard time finding the fuel canisters for his stove but gasoline is sold just about everywhere.

Water Purification - I took the Steripen I carried on the world tour, but i never actually used it on this trip since I almost always camped with good water available.

Backpack - Once again I reused the same Deuter Futura 42l pack I carried around the world. I was originally planning to do some backpacking along the way but never really felt like it after a day of ride. I could have saved myself a couple pounds by leaving it at home. On the other hand I don't really feel like I'm going somewhere unless I've packed my backpack...

Computer – I composed the last dozen blog posts on an iPad I borrowed from Corrie. It’s really nice to have an ultra light computer that charges over USB. However I did find myself missing the keyboard and some tasks are much easier on my MacBook Air. Someday a tablet may be enough for me, but the extra weight of a laptop will be worth it for a while longer.

Time – Perhaps time isn’t “gear” but it’s the most important thing on this list. I might not have been as comfortable, but I could have made this trip happen with nothing but a bike from Craig’s list, time, and a little creativity. All of the fancy gear listed above just sits on a shelf collecting dust unless I make the time to go out and have an adventure. I spent a lot of time thinking about how time, money, and stuff are related while I was loosing track of the hours and days riding down the road. That probably warrants a post of it’s own though…

Petroleum – I started this post in Anchorage and drove to Fairbanks before I could finish it. What took me seven days to bike took me less than seven hours to drive. Not only that, but the gasoline to drive it cost less than the food I ate to pedal myself here! It has plenty of drawbacks, but petroleum is amazingly useful stuff. Even riding the bike everything from the food I ate to the surface of the road is possible only through Petroleum. It seems to me that all our eggs are in this one plastic basket though, that too deserves a post of it's own…

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bike ride - Day 13

I'm home again and already preparing for the next round of adventures this summer. With the lift to into Valdez I cut my total distance to 736 miles in 13 days of riding. I'm glad I got the lift though because the 60 miles from Whittier to the house took the red warning stipe from 1/4 of the tire to 1/2 of it. I'm not sure it would have survived the decent into Valdez. I took the bike by REI today They could not identify anything wrong to cause it and declared it a defective tire. The good news is I get a new tire for free. 

From the ferry leaving Valdez.
One of the many small icebergs I saw. It was probably calved off the Columbia Glacier. 

I was originally planning to publish the blog posts I wrote on the ferry from Whittier. However cruise ships apparently overwhelm the town's internet connection when they dock...
I had to hitch a ride through the tunnel that connects Whittier to the road system as bikes aren't allowed. This is where they dropped me of on the other side.  
Farther down the valley as the creek turns into a river. 
Looking out across the Turnagain Arm just before getting to Girdwood.
I didn't take any pictures after I stopped for coffee in Girdwood. I met Kuba, who rode in on a full carbon bike with a low drag racing helmet, at the shop and we started chatting. After a bit I started for Anchorage and Kuba who left a few minutes later caught up about 5 miles in. He suggested riding the rest the way back together so I said I'd try to keep up with him. We rode 27 miles in an hour and a half. He wasn't trying to loose me and I couldn't quite hang with him pulling the trailer up hill but I always caught up going down the other side. It was good way to close out the trip and I rode into town feeling pretty high on adrenaline.

I feel pretty good today I think I'd like to do another ride in the future. I'd definitely like to recruit someone to go. I think splitting the minimum gear across two or more bikes would make it a lot easier and I enjoyed the days and evenings when I had company more.
I think this route from Fielding Lake to Wonder Lake would be a great week to ten day long mountain bike option for next year if anyone is interested.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bike ride - Day 12

Bike trouble and an unlikely lift...

I woke to as many mosquitoes as when I went to sleep so I broke camp in just as much of a hurry as I set it up in and biked the few remaining miles to Glenallen for breakfast. With rain threatening and a outlet close at hand I ate a leisurely breakfast, wrote a couple of blog posts, and caught up on email before heading for Valdez. 

I was about 45 miles in going down a long hill when I heard a strange squeal from the back wheel. I looked and looked but I can't find anything that is rubbing on tire. I did however discover that the rear tire is worn down to the red warning layer about 1/4 of the way around.
I replaced both tires right before this trio and the front one still looks new so something isn't right. My best theory is that the wheel is out of true, possibly from pulling the trailer, and that caused the wheel to wear faster as well as causing the squealing noise going down hill. 

These tires should have lasted a couple thousand miles and while I have several spare tubes with me I don't have a spare tire. I'd also hate to put a new on one without knowing what caused this one to fail. So, without a better option I decided to ride on and see if I could make Valdez on it. A little concerned about a blowout on the miles of steep down hill between Thompson Pass and sea level I half heartedly stuck out my thumb whenever I heard a car coming up behind me. I didn't really expect anyone to pick up a cyclist who was still riding so I was a little surprised when a few miles later the brake lights of a pickup came on a truck a quarter mile after it had passed me by. I rode up and asked the lady if she has stopped for me. She said "no, I just stopped to change my sons diaper, but we can probably fit you in if you need a ride. And so began my rather unlikely ride over the pass with Angie and her five kids on their way back from Anchorage. I think my by bike trip may have been an easier than her drive. Six straight hours of driving with five kids under 10 in the car? That's hardcore...


It turns out the sole bike mechanic in Valdez is on vacation in Italy this month so I didn't get any answers there. I did find a dry place to cook dinner and sleep for a few hours without setting up my tent before getting up at 4:30 to catch the ferry the Whittier. It's pretty flat from Whittier to Anchorage so I'm hopeful the tire will hold up until I get there. I doesn't sounds like I missed too much driving over the pass since it was cloudy and raining anyway. I met up with the Alaskabike group on the ferry this morning and they said it was pretty wet and cold going over the pass and not much to see besides clouds. I would like to go back sometime and ride it on a sunny day because it is amazing up there when it is clear. 

Bike ride - Day 11

A good day for a long ride.

I got a late start today, the morning was just too pleasant to rush out of camp. After a little back tracking for water and a short construction delay I started riding about 1pm. With sunset just before midnight that didn't have to mean a short day though and I made 82 miles thanks to good roads, moderate wind, and good fuel. 

Despite not having a well and being in need of a few repairs I think fielding lake is my favorite campground on the trip.

I'd like to find one of these cabins for sale...

Looking across the north end of Summit Lake to the Alaskan Range. 

The middle of Summit Lake. 

It was a mostly downhill kind of day. 

I arrived at my camp ground just north of Glenallen about 9:30 to find the missing mosquitoes from the night before were all hanging out there and very hungry. Even the 100% deet wasn't keeping them away from my salt encrusted forehead. I set the tent up in record time and had a cold supper of cheese, nuts, and a cliff bar. It seemed like an excellent feast given the time and the mosquitoes. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bike ride - Day 10

A 40 mile climb to Fielding Lake with a free lunch bonus along the way. 

My first stop of the day was to watch the state bringing an old communications tower back off a mountain by helicopter. 

The pilot was really impressive, reminded me of the pilot who took us helicopter snowboarding.

Seems like a pretty good office view!

Though mine is pretty nice too...

The fine people of Alaskabike invited me to join their group for lunch below the black rapids glacier. They are doing the same route I am but only riding the "good parts".

The pipe line rests on 25 to 40 ft long rails with Teflon skids where it crosses the Denali fault line so it can slide in the event of and earthquake. Not a drop of oil was spilled during a 7.5 earthquake in 2002. A pretty good job on the engineering if you ask me. 

Watching pieces of lake ice float down the river bumping and grinding along the rocks was one of the coolest sights and sounds of the trip so far. It was almost mesmerizing like watching a camp fire but colder. Not shown: Nick's bath between ice flows (this isn't that kind of blog).

Corrie took another break from school work to come visit me. She thought of the fire analogy for the ice. She also brought hotdogs, vegetables, and eggs, what luxury food!

Looking the other direction from the lake. For some reason this camp ground doesn't have a fee station like all the other state recreation sites do. It was also nearly mosquito free and for reasons I can't explain largely empty. Maybe the ice scares people off? 

Bike ride - Day 9

Riding into the midnight sun (almost).

The first 41 miles from birch lake to Delta Junction were mostly easy, uneventful, and without a lot to stop for. I rolled into town pretty early and stopped to get a burger but ended up with lasagna instead when I saw that was the days special. Although Delta was my planned stopping point I decided to ride another 27 miles to Donnelly Creek while the weather was good and left town about 6:30. It took a lot longer than I expected because of a very strong head wind and a tense encounter with a moose. I ended up getting the tent up about 11 pm... The evening ride was far more scenic though. 

The pipeline crossing the Tanana River. This is first suspension bridge I remember seeing as a kid and I've always thought it looked awesome. 

The confluence of the Tanana and Delta rivers. It always looked to me like the Tanana was flowing into the Delta rather than the other way around. The former is larger, but it takes on the caracteristics of the later down stream from here...

Riding into Delta. 

This looks flat and easy, but the wind had me down to 7 miles an hour for most of it. 

I stop to read more signs riding than I do driving. It turns out that as we'll as providing a handy visual of the headwind these read flags mean the military is doing live fire training exercises. So much for wild camping on the side of the road...

This took me an hour to cross. It was a nice night aside from the wind though. 

I like this view of the pipeline. It really is a marvel of engineering. 

Not shown: ten minute stand off with a curious moose before a semi finally cam along and scared him off. I saw seven moose for the day including two mothers with calves a nice looking bull and two younger ones that were a little too curious about the bike for comfort. 

Camp at last!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Bike ride - Day 8

58 miles goes pretty quick when it's mostly flat or gently sloping up the river valley. I'm camped at Birch Lake tonight after a couple days of rest in Fairbanks. It wasn't a particularly scenic ride, but the lake side dining was quite nice for dinner. 

Oatmeal for dinner tonight so I can soak the rice overnight and try it for breakfast. 
Oatmeal dinner recipe:
1 cup water
1 cup oatmeal 
1/3 cup raisins
1 pinch of salt
2-3 T spoons butter
4 oz cheddar cheese. 

Throw everything but the cheese into the pot and cook until the water is mostly gone. Add cheese and stir until it melts. Remove from heat and serve. Add garlic and pepper to taste. It tastes good as long as you're not expecting American oatmeal. At least as good as a lot of the instant meals I've had over the years. 

I tried a little fishing in the lake but didn't catch anything so I've decided on an early night instead. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bike ride - Day 7

I spent Friday riding through the gold stream hills from Nenana into Fairbanks. They really aren't kidding about the hills, but it was a beautiful day and my legs had a week of practice behind them. I also moved the clips on my shoes forward a notch and that seemed to help my knees on the long climbs. 

The gold stream hills are more pleasant green forest than impressive panoramic views like the mountains of the Alaskan range. 

Far off across the tanana valley are the snow capped peaks of the Alaskan Range. It was a little crazy to look back and realize I was riding through those mountains only two days before... I seemed to lose my sense of time on the bike. The individual miles often feel like they take a long time, but the hours and the days go quickly. I don't wear a watch and the sun is little help this time of year. I've found myself sitting down for supper at 11 pm a couple of times. I guess that's about an hour before sunset here in Fairbanks, so maybe that's not so late... Still it's a bit of an odd feeling to have no idea what time it is after all the years I've spent striving to be ontime to everything. I lost track of the days on the trip around the world, but I didn't really lose track of time like this.

376 miles including the side trips.

I decided to spend the weekend in Fairbanks before heading to Valdez. After crawling up the hills pedaling at a lower cadence than I like. I decided to take my bike by the new REI and see if it could be fitted with lower gearing. I was lucky enough the catch Simon on slow day, so besides getting a 26 tooth chainring for the front and help tuning the derailers I also absorbed as much of his forty years of experience as I could in an hour. He seemed happy to have someone interested in the details of what he was doing and the bike shifts as good as when it was new. 

Now my legs are rested and I've caught up on the blog so tomorrow I will head for Valdez. It's another 360 miles with lots of mountains and two passes to cross. I'm going to leave a few pounds of stuff that hasn't seen any use here with Corrie. I feel like I am getting a better idea of the things I would bring on a long ride. I think this will be valuable experiance if decide to do a serious bike trip someday. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bike ride - Day 6

Some people say Alaska only has two seasons, "winter" and "road construction". The summers are short and the days are long so work sometimes runs around the clock. I've probably been fortunate to only see road work on one day of the trip so far. It did cut Thursday's ride by about 25% which made it a pretty easy day. 

Corrie found the 49th state brewery in Healy. A massive delicious burger and good homemade root beer too. (Photo from the night before)

I've seen seven moose (including two new calves) and couple of bears in the trip so far. This one in Healy was the most cooperative for a photo...

Summer time in Alaska! No pilot car here, but the gravel was in pretty good shape and since it was between to sections with pilot cars I had the road to myself between waves of cars.

Waiting for a pilot car in the rain.

Free ride across the construction site. The driver said she's carried a few bikes the last week. 

The friendly host at the Nenana camp ground suggested I put my tent up under the pavilion so it would be dry in the morning if it kept raining. They also had a hot shower which is awesome after riding half the day in the rain.

I accidentally left my spork with Corrie. A tent stake is a serviceable plan B...

My ongoing experiments trying to simmer wild rice on the camp stove... This is the best solution so far.