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Messages - LawDog

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Alaska/Hawaii / Re: AK Bike Routes
« on: February 01, 2013, 02:28:38 pm »
My question is it better to do it south to north or north to south? What are the earliest or best start dates for each? If possible, I would like to cross the arctic circle on or near the summer solstice.
From a social/psychological perspective, I would want to start at the north end. At the beginning of the trip, you will be gung ho and full of energy. And you'll need it. But trying to time it so that you hit the arctic circle at solstice probably won't work. You can't even reliably expect all of the snow to have melted by then. You would need to start in early June, and there is no guarantee that the road will be clear by then.

My opinion is that an ideal start time from the north would be early July. You'll be lucky to get 30-mile days at the beginning. And you have to budget (food, water, etc.) for the possibility of 15-mile days on the Haul Road. As you approach Fairbanks, your speed will greatly improve as the road conditions improve. But that early stretch will be slow going.

If you started from the south, you could leave as early as mid-May. And snowfall has been light in southcentral Alaska this year, so you might be able to start in early May. But you run the risk of outrunning the snow melt. You could find yourself sitting in a campsite in Fairbanks for two weeks waiting for the road north of there to clear.

As enticing as solstice may be, I would encourage you to reconsider that particular goal. It makes the planning overly complicated.

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Urban Cycling / Re: commuting by bike
« on: May 21, 2012, 07:31:09 pm »
My commute is just over one mile. So I really don't need a bike at all--I could just walk it. But biking is more fun. I'm in Alaska, so the season impacts my riding pattern. Through summer, I bike just about everywhere. A couple of times a month, I'll start the truck up to take long trips. Otherwise, everything I need is in town. In winter, I put on the studs and manage to ride 3 or 4 days a week. Some days I wuss out, though, and opt for a nice heated truck. There are 2 or 3 weeks on each end of winter when I basically stop riding. When things are freezing up and when things are melting, it gets way too slippery and dangerous. I'm not that worried about falling down. I just don't want to get run over because a driver couldn't stop his car.

I commute by bike because it is fun. I don't do it to save money. I don't do it to save trees. I just like riding my bike.

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Urban Cycling / Peachtree City, GA
« on: May 21, 2012, 07:16:28 pm »
About twenty miles south of Atlanta, Georgia is a shady little suburb called Peachtree City. It's a strange and beautiful little town. The population is officially under 40,000, but because of the inter-connectedness of Atlanta's suburbs it lacks a genuine small town vibe. There are a couple of good bike shops, a plethora of good restaurants, and a half-dozen golf courses. (Golf was quite obviously a central concern when the town was founded.) Peachtree City is very much a planned community. Philadelphians and Bostonians may take such things for granted, but no part of Georgia had seen a planned community before this place sprang up in the 1960s.

The entire city is crisscrossed with multi-use paths. The paths are filled not only with walkers, joggers, children, and dogs on long leashes, but also with golf carts. Yes, golf carts. People here drive them around like cars. Some people in fact own only a golf cart and not a real car. They go grocery shopping in their golf carts. They go out to eat in them. Those lucky enough to work in town commute in them. (It is a driving culture and most people work too close to the city to reasonably take anything other than an automobile.) The paths extend far and wide. The network links together residential roads in such a way that you can cut through areas that would otherwise be dead ends, allowing you to avoid heavily-trafficked streets. A map of the paths can be found here: http://www.peachtree-city.org/index.aspx?NID=350

This place isn't like a "real" cycling town. But if you are a cyclist and you get trapped in Atlanta, this is the best place to be. Georgia in general is a horrible place to cycle. The roads are fine. It's the drivers who are evil. This weird little city on the southside, with its perfectly manicured lawns and distinct Stepford vibe, is the only place in Atlanta where you can safely straddle your bike and roll around having fun. I realize this doesn't make it a 'Best Cycling City' like Portland or Madison. But I figured that at some point one of our members will end up moving to Atlanta for a job and have no idea what to expect. If you want to ride, Peachtree City is your best option.

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Alaska/Hawaii / 2012 Summer Riding Season Begins
« on: April 26, 2012, 06:17:02 pm »
The season for riding in Alaska is now fully upon us. (The fatbike riders might, conversely, assert that the season is coming to an end.) The snow has melted off all of the roads and most of the pathways. The road crews are steadily cleaning the gravel off the shoulders. And I keep forgetting to recharge my headlight, but it doesn't matter because I never need it.

The Alaska Randonneurs just kicked off the season with their first 100k/200k ride this past weekend in Talkeetna. There is another ride this weekend in the Mat-Su Valley, adding a 50k option to the mix. Their full calendar can be found here: http://alaskarandonneurs.org/2012/02/2012-ride-calendar/

The first duathlon of the season is the Eklutna Challenge, in Eagle River, on May 19th. This is a great ride. You'll definitely want a mountain bike for this. Leave the road bikes at home. Cross bike riders will have to slow down a bit going over the tree roots and snow. Info here: http://www.lifetimeadventures.net/eklutnaChallenge.php

And registration is open for the Fireweed, Alaska's premier road racing event. They have a multitude of options: 50, 100, 200, and 400 mile events, fat tire races, and a 2-day ride that overnights in Tonsina. http://www.fireweed400.com/

We still don't have dates for the Soggy Bottom 100, a fat tire endurance ride down on the Kenai, but it should be some time in August. http://aksoggybottom.com/

And for the Anchorage-based riders, the Arctic Bike Club continues to post additional races on their events page. http://www.arcticbike.org/

It's time to clean the chain, put some air in those tires, and go enjoy the sunshine.

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Urban Cycling / Anchorage, Alaska
« on: February 03, 2012, 03:55:58 pm »
I realize that Alaska isn't the first place anyone thinks of when contemplating the best cycling locations, but we actually have a few cities that are very bike-friendly. Few riders are willing to venture out into the cold during winter, but some still do. I live in Palmer, Alaska (about 50 miles northeast of Anchorage), and there are about a dozen other riders that I regularly cross paths with during winter. Anchorage has far greater numbers. But winter riding is a different topic. Right now I just want to show you why Anchorage--despite having only a seven month cycling season--deserves to be recognized as a great town for cyclists.

The city itself has a population of about 250,000. But it offers much more than other similarly-sized cities in the lower 48. Partly that is due to the fact that Anchorage is the defacto cultural hub for an area extending nearly a thousand miles in any direction. Partly it is due to the great degree of wealth that oil money has bestowed on the community. For a multitude of reasons, Anchorage is just a cool town. You wouldn't normally find shops, restaurants and museums of such caliber in a city so small.

The layout of the city is greatly impacted by geography. An ocean inlet bounds its northern and western borders. Mountains form is eastern and southern boundaries. There are passes through the landscape that allow for one road heading south to Seward and one road heading north to the Mat-Su Valley. Those geographic limitations forced Anchorage to become a compact city. So it never suffered the suburban sprawl that plagued so much of the country.

The timing of the city's growth is also important. Anchorage hit its big boom in the 1980s. The oil pipeline that began construction in the 1970s brought jobs and construction. And there was so much money flowing through the state's coffers that they felt they could do everything that they wanted to do. There was no limitation of resources. The schools need new books? Buy 'em. Bigger playgrounds? Build 'em. A new hospital? Make it happen. And someone was smart enough to point out that it would be really nice to have a series of interconnected trails for cyclists and pedestrians covering the entire city and separated from traffic. Guess what--we got it.

You can bike across huge segments of the city without ever getting near a car. You'll roll down shade-covered paths, through parks, past lakes, all while gazing up at the glory of the Chugach Mountains on the edge of town. A short deviation from the bike paths and along the roads will bring you to anywhere in the city. The drivers are polite (for the most part) and accustomed to bikes being in the road. The ones to watch for are the tourists in giant RVs, because you know that guy isn't used to handling a 40' long caravan and has no idea how long it takes to stop. You can find a map of the bike paths here:
http://www.trailsofanchorage.com/TrailwatchMap.pdf

If you want fat-tire recreation, Kincaid Park has miles and miles of trails to explore. This little oasis on the western edge of town allows you to leave all visible signs of civilization behind. No road noise. No businesses. A plane may fly overhead occasionally. Once you leave the parking lot you won't see any cars, but you will have to keep your eyes open to watch for moose. A map of those trails is here:
http://alaska.org/maps/kincaid-park-anchorage-map.htm

We've got several great bike shops. Speedway Cycles is the home of the Fatbike, for those interested in riding year-round. REI has a huge store here. Paramount Cycles and Chain Reaction cater the the up-scale riders. There are several locations from which to rent bikes for the day. I would recommend Pablo's, just because I like the guy's story. He's a Mexican immigrant (a legal one) who ran a little food stand downtown. One day he was talking to an Australian couple, and they commented on how great it would be to bike around. So he loaned them his bike and his wife's bike. He really wasn't expecting payment, but the couple insisted and they left him an envelope with some cash in it when they returned the bikes. That gave him the idea to keep a couple of bikes with him at the food stand and rent them out. That idea grew, and soon he was really in the business of renting bikes and just making food on the side to feed his customers. He's now got a website here:
http://www.pablobicyclerentals.com/

I don't expect Anchorage to supplant Portland or Madison. I don't expect Bicycling Magazine to come shoot a cover expo on this little town in the far north. But I think cyclists should know what a great place this is to go riding. People think of Alaska as a place to take a cruise, or go hunting or fishing. Cycling doesn't usually top the list. But it should. Anchorage rocks.

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I haven't been down the road from Whitehorse to Haines, but I have run much of the road between Skagway and Whitehorse (over the course of several years participating in the Klondike Road Relay). It is a beautiful stretch of road that is truly something to behold. But this is very much a self-supported route. There are virtually zero amenities between Skagway and Whitehorse. So pack plenty of food, and be prepared for cold and rain.

There is a very steep elevation change. If you start in Skagway, you'll be going straight uphill for about twenty miles. After that, you hit rolling hills. If you've ever seen any of those old photos of prospectors ascending the Golden Staircase during the gold rush of 1898, that is the route you'll take out of town.

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Routes / Re: Best Novice Route Under 500 Miles
« on: February 03, 2012, 02:05:02 pm »
Thank you for all of the suggestions. The GAP route sounds promising. I've got some friends working in D.C., so I could probably enlist some logistical support from them. I've never ridden on crushed limestone, but my understanding of it makes me think that my wife would be fine with that. She just doesn't like bumpy, jarring roads or surfaces that may cause her to lose traction in corners.

I've wondered a lot previously about routes through Oregon. I found a loop route (somewhere in the southwest of the state, but I don't recall the name) that looked promising for me. But I didn't think she would like camping through the whole trip, and it wasn't a route that offered a lot of hotels.

The prospect of linking multiple short trails together is something that I hadn't considered. Even if we had a hub-and-spoke plan, where we stayed in the same place but went out for multiple half-century rides that might entertain her. She likes speed, which makes me think she could enjoy road riding. But she has some kind of aversion to road bikes. Mostly it is that she doesn't like drop bars. On the right bike, she could comfortably cover 50 miles in a day (though she may not admit that herself), but she wouldn't be happy to not have a shower after that.

I'll give more thought to a SAG wagon or a supported tour. That may be what it takes to keep her content. I've been resistant to that prospect because of my own desires. I like traveling without reservations; going as far as I want to go and then setting up camp wherever I can find a level patch of ground. For me, the structure of a supported tour takes away a lot of the spontaneous fun. But I realized years ago that my desire for spontaneity and my wife's desire for planning are directly at odds with one another. And for this trip, I really need to give in a bit more to what she wants.

Thank you all for the input.

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Routes / Best Novice Route Under 500 Miles
« on: February 02, 2012, 07:55:33 pm »
I'd like to hear which route you would nominate as being the best (perhaps easiest) ride under 500 miles.

I'm trying to get my wife interested in bike touring. She's quite athletic, but just doesn't have the same appreciation for cycling that I do. She has, though, enjoyed rides where there is a lot of scenery and no automobile traffic--and it helps if there is ice cream somewhere along the ride. The ideal would be a rails-to-trails kind of route, where the only other trail users would be pedestrians (she somehow hates cars but doesn't seem bothered by children and dogs running in front of her), the surface is moderately smooth (she doesn't like long stretches of gravel but can handle a limited amount), and there are enough nearby amenities to eat in restaurants (not every meal) and sleep in hotels.

We live in Alaska, where there is plenty of scenery on any ride, but also an abundance of hills (or mountains), lots of gravel, and seldom an ice cream stand or hotel. So we'll be jumping on a plane to whatever the destination. I think Europe would be our first choice (I'm dreaming of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic), but would also be interested in rides inside the U.S. We would be doing this as credit card tourists--traveling fairly light and staying in hotels, but without the benefit of a SAG wagon. The 500 mile limit isn't an absolute number; I'm just looking for a trip that takes one to two weeks at a moderate pace.

Within those parameters, what route would you nominate as the epic ride?

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Alaska/Hawaii / Re: AK Bike Routes
« on: February 02, 2012, 02:31:33 pm »
Good post. I've biked the Fireweed, and that stretch of road between Sheep Mountain and Valdez is biker heaven. The only thing that can diminish your spirits is the amazing headwinds coming at you on the way south to Valdez. Those ~10 miles along the cliffs  on the way to Sheep Mountain (that are not safe for a cyclist) would be fabulous on a bike if only you didn't have to worry about cars. I'd love to hug those curves at 30 mph on the downhills.

I've driven across the Denali Highway, and very much want to return to ride it by bike. For a really long bike tour, you could ride from Valdez, up through Glennallen, on to Paxson, then take the Denali Highway west to Healy, and then head south back to Anchorage from there. That would be a glorious route, but you'd better have a lot of vacation weeks banked or be retired.

I had never considered Nome. I'll have to look at that as a possible destination.

I also want to figure out how to island hop along the southeast by ferry. Our marine highway system isn't very clearly organized, so organizing such a trip seems to require great logistical feats of planning.

I recently found myself in Unalaska for a few days of work, and I think it would be a really interesting place to mountain bike. There are less than ten miles of road, but several gravel trails lead out across the island. There are no trees and the vegetation is low and easily traversed. You probably wouldn't want to pedal across the delicate sections of taiga, but you could walk short stretches until you found a path again. The island is littered with bunkers that are left over from WWII, which could make for interesting shelter if a storm rolled in. (Which happens a lot out there.) I don't think Unalaska/Dutch Harbor is really a prime cycling destination. But if you are ever headed there for other reasons, I think it could be a really neat place to explore by bike. If you go, my recommendation would be to buy a low-end mountain bike (maybe $300-400 bucks) and sell it there before you fly out. Lots of people in Dutch Harbor get around by bike (or by simply walking), but the bikes are old and crappy and sell for far more than they are worth. (You'll see POS Huffys and Next bikes going for $200 to new cannery workers.) There is no bike shop on the island.

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