This is not the way to Procure a New Ride

For the second time in my cycling career, a career that spans about 45 years (granted with a lot of fallow years built in there), I was mowed down by a rampaging motor vehicle. The first time was nearly 30 years ago when I was a freshman in college. During that unfortunate event I was scorching down a long hill on my recently upgraded Gitane 10-speed. Way down at the bottom of the hill was an 80 year old woman waiting at a stop sign. Of course I was unaware of her age but, it seemed obvious that she would get herself across the intersection as I was at least a quarter of a mile away. When she stayed put, I assumed she was waiting for me to pass. When I reached the intersection, however, she decided to cross and plowed into me. The last thing I remember was flying through the air over the roof of her car. The next thing I remember was being attended to by emergency personnel.

This morning’s inconvenience was not quite as dramatic, but ended up with another destroyed bicycle. Today, I left home about 20 minutes after 8:00 (Why couldn’t it have been 21 minutes after 8:00?), and of course it was still pitch dark. We have been through a warm spell in Anchorage that is just starting to cool back down and the bike paths and sidewalks are covered in ice. I have enjoyed my imperviousness to the hard clear liquid as a result of my studded tires and have been getting more and more comfortable riding in icy conditions. Not long before the incident in question I was looking at my cyclometer and noting that I had increased my average speed by 2 mph over the past two weeks and was feeling like quite the winter commuter. I was moving right along and had come up to an intersection with a stop sign for cross traffic. There was a car at the stop sign and I slowed so that it could make its’ right turn and clear the intersection. Behind it was a Chevy Suburban that began to pull up to the stop sign and slowed down for an apparent legal stop. Seeing the deceleration, I assumed the scoundrel had seen me and proceeded to cross in front. The driver did not see me, however, and proceeded to accelerate through the stop sign and into my innocent aluminum steed. As the rear wheel taco’ed and the frame bent far out of specs I was tossed to the pavement in a startled lump. As in all such things “it happened so fast.”

Unlike my bicycle I was fairly unscathed. A little problem with my right hip and some scrapes and bruises, but nothing to call the lawyer over. The gentlemen driving his granddaughter to school was appropriately aghast at what happened and said he would pay for the bike, though I am sure he spent the rest of his morning telling anyone who would listen about how wrong it is that anyone would ride a bike in the dark in the winter months. He came close to saying that to me, commenting that my headlight should have been in flash mode. “If it had,” he said, “I might have seen you.” Never mind I not only had the obligatory head and tail light, but also a road construction reflective vest that lights up like a Christmas tree when hit by the slightest amount of light and is neon yellow to boot.

My Ride: R.I.P. January 7, 2013

Let’s face it my cycling friends, day or night, we are invisible. It’s a fact of life and the sooner we learn and live by the meaning of that, the fewer of us will be picking ourselves up off the pavement. State Farm says they will be replacing my bike. As soon as I am on the new one, I will be back on the streets of Anchorage. Hopefully it will be at least another 30 years before my next introduction to the bumper of a motor vehicle. As for you, be safe out there.


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Let the Winter Biking Begin

Last January I mused about commuting by bike to work in the winter months. Well actually, commuting year around, but it was of course, winter at the time. Jumpstarting riding to work in the midst of the coldest part of the year was more than I could muster psychologically. I would have had to buy studded tires and commence my 8 mile round trip in the dark, sub-zero days of the snowiest Anchorage winter on record. I let time pass and after the ice melted on the bike paths around mid-May, I dusted off the saddle, greased the chain and commenced a-riden’.

I averaged riding to work about 3 times a week during the summer months, that’s taking into consideration the month long vacation Karen and I took to the Southeast in July. We carried our bikes on that trip and got a few light miles in (one very memorable ride was from the ferry dock in Sitka to the downtown area, about a 14 mile round trip). I broke a spoke in Haines and had it fixed by the good people at Sockeye Cycles (I am sucking down a cup-o-joe from a mug I bought there as I write.). My odometer is coming up on 500 miles for the year, which admittedly would be a weak showing for long time cyclists. My good friend Anthony Newcomer rides an average of 2,000 – 3,000 miles annually, and I just read about a 65 year old that rode 3,100 miles in a month, putting 100 miles a day in before breakfast. Still, for me this represents a significant increase in riding from previous years. I think I rode about 100 miles in 2011 almost nothing in 2010 and maybe another hundred in 2008 and 2009 combined.

I decided not to wait for the middle of the season to start considering winter riding this year. Embodying the philosophy of those who attempt to boil the frog by turning up the temperature slowly, I bought studded tires and continued to ride as the mercury dipped in September well before the first snow. When puddles did begin to freeze I took a long jaunt down the coastal trail to build confidence in the efficacy of studs on bike tires, which frankly I have always found to be a dubious proposition. The thought of consciously gliding onto ice with a two-wheeled mechanism didn’t seem too bright. But, lo-and-behold, as everyone with experience told me would be the case, the bike had absolutely no problem scooting over ice. With some trepidation I ventured out on a 200 foot section of sidewalk that had been covered in water since the heavy rains this fall (now solid ice) and had absolutely no problem staying upright. I am a true convert.

Today was the coldest day of the season so far, with temps that dipped down to 4 degrees Fahrenheit. I am learning quite a bit about cold weather riding. Things like the fact you really don’t need a lot of layers, even on the coldest days (so far) when you are vigorously pumping pedals. Today I rode with a thin layer of Smartwool long undies below my cargo pants and a medium weight polypropylene shirt with a bicycling specific windbreaker from Showers pass. I wear lightweight fleece gloves over my cycling gloves (when it gets really cold I will add pogies), and perhaps most importantly, on days like today a balaclava. I do carry a down jacket and a wool cap in my panniers, in case of a breakdown and a lot of standing around. As it turns out the most difficult part of cold weather commuting is not the cold, or the snow, but the darkness up here in the north. It is REALLY hard to convince myself to scoot around in the dark, even though I am lit up like a 747 landing at Ted Stevens International. That being said, I rode to work during a significant snow and found the unstable new flakes to be treacherous for this old man, so I will be riding only several days after it snows to let things get packed down.

I plan on keeping it up. I will be building a new bike from a Salsa Vaya frameset this winter in preparation for a summer tour. I plan on riding 600 miles from Anchorage, down the Denali Highway and back to Anchorage. Winter riding will be a necessary part of training for the summer, and anyway, I gotta say, I like it!

 I don’t have any pictures yet, and want to get this posted, but I will try and get some up soon…


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Mosquito Cove

Along Mosquito Cove Loop Near Sunset

Saturday was the next to last day in Sitka and Sunday will mostly be about getting ready to exfiltrate, so we tried to make the most of it. Not a bad weather day. No rain, cloudy skies with clearing in the evening. We spent the day shopping, hiking and bird watching.

Good Birding along the Starrigavan Estuary Boardwalk

The birding was great. We walked along a board walk that leaves from our campsite area. It walks out over the estuary of Starrigavan Creek. It is very nice and a great place to bird. Part of that is probably due to the sunshine which started to peek out about the time we began our walk. In one location we saw Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon Sub-species), Hermit and Swainson’s Thrush, Robin, Townsend’s, Wilson’s and Orange-crowned Warblers,

Mosquito Cove

Rufous Hummingbirds, as well as a beautiful juvenile Red-breasted Sapsucker. There were several examples of each species. It was quite the show.

We also walked the Mosquito Cove Loop Trail at the other end of the campground in a state park area. It is a 1.4 mile groomed trail over and around a ridge that runs next to Mosquito Cove through rain forest and down to the beach. We were the only ones on the trail, which was nice, but it was dark under the trees and having seen a lot of brown bear scat on the trail I kept the bear spray in my hand with the safety off and did my best Yogi Bear imitation to let them know I was coming. After we got back from hiking we put together a s’mores feast by the fire.

My favorite souvenir of the day was my “Stud Puffin” mug. Horned puffins are my favorite bird, so who could resist such a fitting tribute? We head for Juneau Monday morning. We talked about staying in Juneau for a couple of days as the weather is supposed to be nice, or like I said before, head to Dawson City after reaching Haines, but my money is on heading home. We will have been on the road for three weeks by the time we get there and I need a break before the backpack trip at the end of the month. Also, we have some furniture purchases to make to round out the look of the new condo.

I probably will not write again until we get back to anchorage in about 4 days, but who knows we have  been known to change our minds before.

That's Right, Whose Your Stud Puffin?

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Sitka for a Few More Days

Site 16 Starrigavan Sitka

We have enjoyed Sitka now for 5 days. The plan was to be here for 3 then head to Juneau for 2, but we liked it so much and the campsite was so good we decided to linger for an additional 3 days. The weather has run the gamut from partly sunny, to foggy, to wet and windy. We set up our campsite with enough tarps over the tent that we stay dry no matter what the conditions. With that and the shelter we are having a great camping experience.

Karen's Essential Camping Equipment

Camping with Karen is not your typical outdoor adventure. She does not leave her nesting tendencies at home and so I have a tent that is always clean inside, a picnic table with a red checkered tablecloth, potholders, citronella candles, and an area cleaned regularly with Clorox and paper towels. As a result our gear stays in near new condition. Left to me, it would have looked well used after one outing, actually things might not get cleaned well even after I return from a trip, and I would look upon the grunginess as a badge of honor. A little civility in ones camping experience is quite nice, actually.

Our second day here we went to the Sitka National Historic Park, with the Totem Pole Trail. We have gone there a couple times since to bird. It ends at a point where the 1804 battle between the Alaska Natives and Russians took place. There were Caspian Terns reported there. We missed those but it is a beautiful place to bird and we have really enjoyed it. We are getting birding done sporadically depending on the weather. Today we went out along the shore, opposite Sitka, near the airport and watched gulls. We also went out to an antique car show that was being held at the airport.

There are some wonderful places for photo opportunities along the coast, but I will wait for a sunny day, should one present itself, as the current low clouds obscure the dramatic mountainscapes.  We have enjoyed eating out while here. Word to the wise: Avoid the expensive and exceedingly underwhelming gustatory experience offered by the Westmark hotel. It is very expensive and prepared by recent high school graduates, we think. Service was strange as well…I won’t go into specifics to protect the guilty. On the opposite side of the dining spectrum was Van Winkle and Sons which had both great service and great food. I had a grilled halibut dinner, very thick, well cooked piece of fish with delicious vegetables. Karen had the special, which was salmon patties. All fish is locally caught, which not only makes it fresh but supports local fisherman. Another real treat is the Backdoor Coffee Shop which is on the backside of the bookstore. This establishment makes a mean Americano, but is known locally for their lunch special which changes daily and is available until it runs out. That doesn’t take long. Today’s special was homemade mushroom quiche and was delicious. We really liked the ambiance which is quaint and artistic. Bring cash though, as they don’t take cards or checks. Another place we have enjoyed is the Baronof Pub which serves family friendly meals in a sports bar environment with great views!

Karen Birding Looking Toward Sitka

So, we are at that point again where we are considering what to do next. We have decided to bypass Juneau (though we will be there for a 12 hour ferry layover). We visited there two years ago and so wouldn’t stay long, and after our great campsite here, don’t feel like a step down to see sites already seen. We are considering driving up to Dawson City and then taking the Taylor Highway back toward home. We have a couple of days to decide. The other possibility is to head straight back home from Haines and contemplate local Anchorage adventures, or take the train to Fairbanks. We shall see.

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I have decided that libraries in cities of the Alaskan southeast have the finest views of any libraries in the world, hands down. Here is the view looking out the window I am sitting next to in the Sitka public library while bogarting the free public wi-fi.  We arrived yesterday morning at 6 am after a 24 hour trip from Ketchikan with stops in Wrangell, Petersburg and Kake. It rained heavily the entire way, so no pictures. Hopefully I will be able to get some on our way to Juneau in a few days. This ride was not as plush as the last. I made a comment about the Columbia’s age (the ferry we took to Ketchikan), but now I realize it is a relative spring chicken. This time around we were on the Taku which was christened in 1964, 3 years after I was born. It is a much smaller vessel compared to the Columbia and does not have the nice restaurant-like dining facility and its appointments bespeak its age. This is not to complain, the food was still good, though presented in a cafeteria style and the accommodations are fine. We did not get a cabin this time. Being a smaller ship the cabins were already taken when we booked, so we slept on the floor in one of the aft lounge areas with about a dozen others. A true Alaska Marine Ferry experience. We brought our sleeping bags and pads up from the car and slept great.

Sleeping on the floor of the ferry Taku

We drove around Sitka after arriving to get an idea of the best place to camp. We drove all the way out to a remote free camp ground down a dirt road on the south side of town. The scenery was tremendous, but it was too remote for us. Two other campgrounds were of the sterile variety that (I cannot understand why) RV’ers end up gravitating toward, so we picked the USFS campground on the north side of town called Starrivigan. We ended up in what I believe is the best site in the place and if you go request it, site 16. It’s great on several levels, but the highlight is it has a large covered picnic table to keep you out of the always present Sitka rain showers. Also, it is just across the way from a bear proof food box, and just down a path from the bathrooms. This site costs an extra $2.00 a night and I believe it is well worth it, especially if you are in a tent. Over the past several months there has been an adolescent brown bear haunting the campground on a regular basis so we are alert, but he has not bothered anybody, though doesn’t seem bothered by anyone either.

We woke up late today and ran around taking care of some loose ends regarding our stay. For one we have decided to forego the extra day we were going to spend in Juneau and add a couple of others and stay here until the 16th, which is 6 days total. We want to explore the city and just don’t believe we will find a better place to camp anywhere else. I’ll write more tomorrow about our meanderings today with pictures from the Sitka Historical Park totem poles.

Totem Park Loop Trail, Sitka, AK
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