Well, my first ride back from Alaska was interesting. The first few metres riding down my road were terrifying... were my tyres always this skinny, was the steering always this fast? I reached the end of my road and nearly popped my eyeballs out as I touched the brakes... Clearly, this wasn't quite the same as riding a rented Pugsley!
Climbing brought breathing difficulties and made my arms feel like over-cooked noodles, flapping away as I hulked up Kop Hill. In Alaska, I hadn't been using this much effort and the air had been dry. Now I was maxing out and sucking down moist air at about 0C. Only 5 minutes in and I had resigned myself to a ride that would hurt but feel better afterwards. 20 minutes in and I was speeding down some doubletrack blinking away the water and mud from my eyes. Ruts were twitching the front tyre around and my attempts to correct were just exaggerating the problem. Then I tried to brake and only set off a massive uncontrolled buck of the bike result in a face/gulley interaction. I needed to find my mud-riding head again.
As the ride went on though, things started to come together. I couldn't yet find that pace inside myself to grind up the long nasty wet climbs, but I was at least getting control back on the downs. Once again, though, I'm in the position where my problems will be solved by more riding so it's not so bad.
Looking back to Alaska, a couple of things were discovered.
First and foremost, they've got a vibrant and friendly mountain biking community out there that was hugely welcoming to me. Billy sorted me out with a fine rental bike and then went way beyond the call-of-duty helping to get me as much riding as possible (more on that later). Tim introduced me to the local night-riding scene that was remarkably similar to our own but whiter and then went on to offer more help than I had any right to expect.
Second discovery was that I will stand a chance of finishing in McGrath staying vegetarian and singlespeed. I left the geared Pugsley in one gear pretty much the whole time to find the right ratio and now I can get that for my own. 22:18, since you asked. That means just a granny ring, but a relatively small cog at the back for where you'd be in the granny on a geared bike. It seemed to work for me, so I don't care if it doesn't look as manly as 32:16.
A detailed story about Bill and Kathi's school will be appearing on Bikemagic at some point but in the meantime, here's what happened when Billy and I rode around Eklutna Lake...
The forecast didn't look good. Right around freezing point and rain. Snow is fine, but rain sucks. It means pushing the bike through slush and potential disaster with a down sleeping bag. As we drove out from Anchorage I kept hoping it would get colder, but it never did. We were going to ride anyway as Billy is training to ride to Nome and I had to experience as many different conditions as I could in my time out there. The trail started off pretty rideable with options to stay down by the lake on trails used by skiers or go a bit higher up on easier trails where snow machines or quad bikes drive. We stayed low and the precarious singletrack line of packed snow eventually petered out to nothing. So we pushed. And pushed. And pushed some more. In the end it was over 5 hours to cover 12 miles, but the lake provided serene beauty with an almost perfect mirror for the mountains and the sun dipping behind them.
Our conversation petered out a while after the trail did and we just trudged along every footstep sinking calf-deep. It was ok, though, it wasn't going to break us and Billy had eggs for breakfast tomorrow. When we eventually stopped, we had taken the wrong trail - the way we'd meant to go was completely unbroken which would have meant lifting the front of the bike through the snow, an even worse fate than mere pushing. Since we weren't fixed on a destination this was fine and we set up a bivvy to make water, dinner and then sleep for the night. Spirits were high again as we sat warm in our sleeping bags and eventually settled down to sleep early.
Hours later, I heard Billy starting to mess around with his stove. It took a while before I woke up enough to check my watch... 11pm Damn, Billy... it's not even morning yet. It didn't take much discussion to agree to more sleep before breakfast. At about 4am, we were up again and Billy went to his stove again to make breakfast. Seconds later flames leapt a few feet into the air, wildly out of control. To my great relief, Billy threw the stove away from our sleeping bags. "Billy, your hand's on fire." "BILLY, YOUR HAND'S ON FIRE!" He slapped it out on the snow whilst I tended to the stove, controlling the gas to get it back down to a proper blue flame.
After that, breakfast was quite uneventful but tasty. Rain reduced the menu from eggs, gravy, and biscuits (that's American biscuits) to just eggs and gravy as we hurried to get packed up and moving. Pushing back was much easier with the furrow we'd ploughed on the way in and once we hit the main trails we took the high road. That meant more ups and downs, but almost entirely rideable trails that I tore up on my pretend singlespeed.
Eventually we were back and ready to meet Billy's family for breakfast at the Snow Cafe. It turned out to be a nice relaxing final day in Anchorage with Billy's lovely family and my chance to watch A Thin White Line. I can't thank him enough for his many kindnesses... If you need to rent a fat bike out there, he's your man and you can be 100% sure he'll have every detail sorted out for you.