Fat-Bike To The Arctic - Gear Review

Bjrn and Kim pause on the Seward Peninsula for photo-op.

I have written a gear review of the equipment Kim and I used on our 1,000+ mile fat-bike expedition the the arctic of Alaska which has been published on Ground Truth Trekking

'Every expedition and trip reveals new insight about technique and equipment and we always hope to incorporate that wisdom on the next trip. ‘Fat-bike to the Arctic’ stood on the shoulders of our experimentation over the years and vicarious lessons from others.

Herein I will attempt to outline and review the equipment we used on our 1,000 + mile, winter fat-bike trip to the arctic of Alaska.'

Read more here. 

Alaska -Still Fighting

In 1989, over 11 million gallons of North Slope, crude oil spilled out of a single hull tanker into Prince William Sound. The oil soon left protected waters and was carried by the current, along the gulf coast of Alaska. 25 years later evidence of degradation is still present and the sound has never fully recovered.

 

This was the biggest oil spill in US history, until 2010 when Deepwater Horizon, in the Gulf of Mexico, ran away with the prize.

 

As citizens, we feel impotent rage in the face of such astounding disasters and are without a compass as to where to begin.

 

Mavis Muller knows ‘true north’ and doesn’t require a weatherman to tell her which way the foul wind blows. Through bold, honest and striking art, Mavis reaches audiences and leaves them empowered to confront those who violate Mother Earth.

 

25 years ago Mavis created a series of banners in reaction to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The banners have traveled the world to spread the message and have visited other communities affected by oil spills.

 

25 years later the messages are as important as ever. This Earth Day (April-22) Mavis will display the 7 banners in the Homer Boat Harbor, between 10:00AM and 12:00PM. All are welcome.

Hunting For Monsters - On Demand

'Hunting For Monsters' - soon to be released for streaming on Vimeo On Demand. Read more:

Doing what you love and getting paid for what you do is often a rare combination. As an aspiring film-maker, I always hope to pay my contributors for their remarkable talent and effort.

With that in mind, I have decided to release 'Hunting For Monsters' on Vimeo On Demand - an online rental and download viewing platform. 

I plan to make the rental fee as inexpensive as possible. We are not trying to get rich - rather we hope to sustain our creative endeavors and move these projects onto the priority pile.

The release date has yet to be set but I expect sometime within the week.

'Hunting For Monsters' - synopsis:

Lake Iliamna, Alaska's largest lake, is home to many native communities, the worlds largest sockeye salmon run, potential site of the controversial Pebble Mine and the elusive Lake Monster - Illie. On a hot mid-July Bjørn and Brent were deposited to the far shore of Cook Inlet in a landing craft cargo ship and began their human powered journey through Iliamna country to Bristol Bay, hoping to catch a glimpse of the illusive creature and slice of Alaska where monsters can still roam free.

View trailer:

Pay It Forward

I believe that inspiration is contagious. One trick to life, I have discovered is - surrounding myself with inspired people rubs off. I believe if you are brilliant, you have an obligation to share and be a mentor. If, you are like me and not so brilliant, the best thing you can do is to saddle up, as close as possible, to the smartest, most interesting and inspired people you can find. They will help expose the latent potential within.

I have been lucky in my life to have been exposed to many brilliant people. Each has left their mark and helped shaped my worldview. There are far too many individuals to mention but suffice it to say, Alaska is full of incredible people - people who live outside the mould and make lives worth talking about.

In the late 1990s I became friends with Roger Cowels, a second generation Alaskan. To my impressionable mind, Roger typified the idea of a "role model". Roger is renaissance adventurer, equally comfortable on a mountain bike as he is in crampons or a kayak. He is a capable builder, inventor, thinker and has a PHD's comprehension of nutrition. 

Roger's story of squatting in the boiler room of a ski-resort for the winter is, to me, a classic tale of passionate living. He and his buddy would peep through a crack within the boiler room to discover the ski pass color of the day and adorn accordingly, then stealthily exit, blend with the crowd and hit the slopes. Dumpster-diving and table scraps provided sustenance and for an entire winter this ruse was kept up.

In Erin McKttrick's book, 'Small Feet Big Land' she makes a salient observation of Alaska life - [What you do and how you make money are two different questions.] In Roger's case, 'what you do', would take a hearty team of biographers and most likely great stories would still be overlooked.

In 1989, Roger and three other cyclists were the first people to ride the Iditarod Trail from Anchorage to Nome. Roger rode the trail on a custom, four wheel bike of his own design. After that trip, Roger went back to the drawing board and with the help of Phil Wood and Anchorage welder Steve Baker, they came up with 'Big Foot', a six tired winter bike. 

On our recent trip to Kotzebue I thought about Roger often. Maybe I would have considered winter cycling and long fat-bike expeditions without his influence - there is no way to tell. What I know is that he did, and I am thankful for the nudge. 


 



Fatbike to the Arctic - Journal

North to the Future

 

When the dawn breaks we’ll be gone. Two years of meditation, hard work and preparation have finally manifested into reality – tomorrow we will begin biking to the arctic.

 

Months of serious intention go into these kinds of endeavors. Last year we had just begun to lay the groundwork for a similar expedition when I was confronted with a terrible reality. What we all assumed was leftover effects from a concussion my mother had had in the summer, was actually much more serious. The MRI, revealed a gleoblastoma brain tumor - a particularly nasty one. The words brain tumor land on your lap with a sickening thud and the world looses color and charm.

 

When the deafening roar of blood in my ears quieted some, we dropped everything and hurried to her side. The tumor spared some of her for me but it rapidly wore her down. She died with her family holding her and staring – mortified, as she took her last gasp.

 

Although she is gone, I feel her near and believe she would be excited and enthusiastic about this adventure. We dedicate it to her.

 

A month worth of food awaits us along our route and we have left more with friends to send, if need be. Our bikes are packed, maps are printed and batteries are charged. From here out, nature dictates.

 

For anyone who would like to follow along, we will be transmitting as we go with a DeLorme InReach tracking device. We also hope to post updates from the trail but they will depend on borrowed internet.

 

Thank you to everyone who helped us bring this trip to fruition. We are forever grateful for your friendship and patronage.

 

 

Out-biking climate change

 

We have made it to Skwentna and have enjoyed our first of many trail cheese- burgers. The trail is fast and hard with very little snow over ice, which is a good thing because it's 40 degrees today. If there were more snow it would be sloppy and we would be pushing, but as is we are merrily cruising along in what seems like late April weather.

We have a food drop here and our next one will be at Rainy Pass Lodge. If all goes as planned we will let the dogs pass us there unless the trail is great and then we may hurry on over the pass.

It was strange to get rained on in our shelter last night but with the wood stove going, we were able to dry our damp gear. All our equipment is performing amazingly well so far and as of yet no body ailments.

It feels amazing to be under way after all the time thinking about the trip - we're finally doing it.

 

 

Beasts of Burdon

 

In 2011, Kim and I rode the Iditarod Trail to McGrath. On that trip we were equally prepared, conditioned and enthusiastic, as we are now. On that trip however, we were hot out of the gates. As a result, Kim strained her knee early and it never healed, in fact it became worse. While planning for this trip we were both nervous about her knee and resolved to go easy at the beginning. So far, the strategy has worked gangbusters. We are becoming leaner and meaner by the day.

With the trail being hard and fast, we decided to head over Rainy Pass before the dogs and planned to stop In Rohn to let Iditarod come through. Descending Rainy was remarkable in that there was no snow, lots of ice, open water, loads of roots and rocks - perfect for bikes, terrible for dog mushers.

When we arrived into Rohn, the checkers, handlers and assorted media were all in position for the first teams to start coming through and we were enlisted to be 'handlers'.

After the first day, it seemed like we were with the Red Cross at the site of a massive battle. Broken bones, broken sleds and broken dreams were scattered all over the dog yard and full-grown men were openly crying. I can say with almost 100% certainty that 2014 will go down in infamy as the worse Iditarod trail, for mushers, ever. 

With only a handful of remaining teams behind us on the trail we set out again, on what for us, on bikes, is a great trail. Within a few miles we came across a rescue of a musher with a broken ankle. Hours later we passed a concussion victim wandering around in overflow, also with a broken ankle. When we camped near open water, a musher crashed her sled into the creek and needed our help extracting it. Unreal!

We have made it into Nikolai and the last of the dogs are soon to pull out, ahead of us, tonight. My hunch is, that we haven't seen the last of the mushers but soon the trail will be lonelier and less hectic.

I imagine there will be a lot of negative press about the Iditarod Race choosing to use the North Route as opposed to starting in Fairbanks. I would like to say however, that the trail crew did an outstanding job making the trail they did, under these conditions.

Our Carver fatbikes are our machines of burden, exquisitely designed for the task at hand and our bodies are the beasts that power them. I am grateful to be cyclist and not a musher.

 

Through the Woods

Crossing from the Kuskokwim drainage to the Yukon, through the Innoko, is some of the most remote and wild terrain I’ve ever been in. It seems to stretch on forever. We were very lucky in our traverse but it is easy to imagine, when you are out, that bad luck could be real bad luck. The snow off trail is sugary and bottomless. Without the path, progress would be nearly futile.

 

There was a feeling of jaws closing in on us on our way to Ruby. Each day presented a new challenge, from strong headwinds to new snow, the land was reclaiming its place and the temporary trail was being erased behind us. After Iditarod passes, that stretch of trail becomes lonely. We saw two snow machines going north and one south, in 4 days. 


Overall all our equipment is doing fine and I can no longer imagine this kind of travel without the Titanium Goat wood stove. That said, we do have repairs and plan to spend a day here in Ruby.


When we pulled into town yesterday the village seemed abandoned. Finally we found someone and they informed us that everyone was at a potlatch at the school and invited us to come. The circumstances were less than happy, as the community had lost a loved one. We felt a little out of place but due to the incredible hospitality and generosity we were fed and made to feel comfortable. I have no words to describe how much I love Alaska and Alaskans.

Quyana for everything.

 

 

The Northern Lights Have Seen Queer Sights…

 

All through the Innoko, when the riding was tough, I thought, 'once we get to the Yukon, everything will be easier. It will be flat, well traveled and little streams of alcohol will come trickling down the rocks.' It was not to be.

The same storm also deposited snow on the river and even though there is much more traffic it never firmed up. Low tire pressure and low gear grinding was on the menu each day. We worked twice as hard for less than half the miles. But we can't complain, as we were almost always able to "ride".

I inquired before we left home, about an old friend who lives in Galena and was told that he was in Fairbanks. After an icky picnic of potato chips, processed cheese dip and candy, in front of the Galena store, I inquired again about my friend. He was indeed there, living in a boat after his home was destroyed in last springs break-up. We went and found him.

Many moons ago when I first knew Jake, he and two others were preparing to float the Yukon from Circle in a home made raft, replete with a greenhouse and chicken coop. They made it to Galena and Jake never left.

We spent the night catching up in his comfortable, if small, boat. His life on the river has been rich in experience. A "neolithic Athabascan" lifestyle suits his Russian personality and it's hard to imagine him living anywhere else, save Siberia.

Jake kept mentioning in passing a character named Sidney. Finally I interrupted him to ask, "You don't mean Sidney Huntington, do you?" Indeed, the same. Sidney Huntington is alive in Galena at the age of 99. Jake appreciated our excitement and arranged for us to meet him the following day.

Sidney is deaf, 99 and lives in the Galena Pioneer Home, but his mind is 100% there. We wrote questions on paper and he let out amazing tales of growing up on the Koyukuk and Yukon, politics, Pebble and the current state of the State. Everyone said he was in good form for meeting people. The conversation was followed by a meal of beaver that had been caught by one of his sons and cooked to perfection by one of his daughters.

For those who have read 'Shadows on the Koyukuk', you will no doubt understand my being starstruck. For those who have not, proceed to the closest book seller, buy a copy and read it. You will not regret reading of the tales and trials of this legendary Alaskan.

We are off the river and preparing for a new chapter - the portage. If all goes well, we will receive our package in the Kaltag PO tomorrow morning and be on the trail for the Norton Sound.

We have passed our three week mark and life at home feels long ago. Because of our amazing camp, we do not feel spent or exhausted. Even after a hard day, an evening around the warm stove with hot drinks, food and blissful sleep revives the soul and readies the body for a new day. Tomorrow will be another 'new day'.

 

Portage

My friend Hig says, 'that adventure isn’t in what you plan for but rather what you didn’t plan for’. If this is true, our adventure has ramped up since Kaltag.

We pulled into Kaltag, off the Yukon, in the evening and were unable to retrieve our sixth of nine food drops from the Post Office so we met some locals and slept indoors. The next morning at 9AM I went to the PO, explained who I was and that I should have a box. The woman said there was no box for me there and that maybe it was with the rest of the Ultrasport boxes at the school. Umm, okay. 

When I found the office woman at the school and explained myself, she immediately began apologizing and said she assumed “we” had all come through. Why is she apologizing, I wondered. When she opened the storeroom door I understood. Flat rate boxes were all over the place, opened and ransacked. 

Most people who know me know me as a mild mannered, fun loving, down to earth person. People who know me well, also know that buried deep in my Viking genes lives an often-dormant Berserker. When the scales of moral outrage are tipped beyond a certain point the Berserker awakens and takes charge and I watch passively through my eyes as he takes care of business.

Normally, I would never raise my voice to an educator of children. They are our nations most prized possessions. We should erect statues in their honor, and should value them above military generals, pop stars and politicians, but this was wrong. The Berserker had a conversation with the teacher. “I’ll never let this happen again.” she said, as I stormed out of the building. “Good” I said, ‘It had better not.” 

Once we supplemented our missing food at the local store we hit the trail for Unalakleet, over the Kaltag Portage. We were on, for the first time in weeks, a firm trail and a brisk east wind was at our back.

Weeks ago, while pushing hard on the pedals in soft snow, I heard a pop sound come from my drive train and felt my cranks spin without resistance. I didn’t need to look to know that I had snapped my chain. Although the chain was only a week out of the box before we left, I was not too surprised. This kind of riding is hard on chains. However when I went to replace the pin in the spliced chain, I was alarmed at how easy it slid in. It felt like I could have pushed it back in with my fingers, rather than the mechanical puller. 

Breaking links in this chain has become an almost daily occurrence since then, sometimes more than once a day. I have lost so many links that in the final push into Unalakleet I had two options for gear shifting. This chain, mind you, is advertised as being perfect for all weather, year round conditions. Pure marketing. It is junk. I blame myself for not being more critical at home, when I had the chance. However, when I have to take my gloves off in 0º weather with 20 mph winds, my blame and wrath are on the manufacturer. We have been building chains since before the industrial revolution. Hasn’t this technology and engineering been resolved long ago?

On the Kaltag portage there are two BLM shelter cabins. Just before reaching the first one my chain broke again. This time while repairing it, I looked down at my derailer and noticed that the bearings of one of my pulleys was blown out. It’s the little things that’ll get you. I pushed the bike to the cabin and hoped that I could find some solution to the problem.

Inside, I found a small flat file and a washer. After three hours of filing, I had rounded the washer to fit into the bearing race and then cobbled together, with a ballpoint pen and tin foil, an inner sleeve. Surprisingly, it worked. 

It is near impossible to be frustrated or angry long, on the portage, in perfect March weather. This is an ancient path, separating two cultures, the interior Athabascan and coastal Inupiak. We felt Susan Butcher looking down on us from her perch atop Old Woman Mountain and imagined all the adventurers who have passed through this corridor. 

We have been having the kind of March days that I spend the other 11-month dreaming about. Our friend Derek has sent me a new chain and pulley, we have received our 7th drop and we are now on the coast. There are very favorable trail reports north of Koyuk, as the caribou are there and the hunters have been out. 

The adventure continues. I only hope it be the kind we planned for and not the kind we didn’t.

 

Sea Ice

My favorite memory, of riding a bike, was from 1998 when I rode from Nome to Unalakleet. The day I left Koyuk, there was a 30mph north wind at my back and the trail across the sea ice was rock hard. As I rode, fata morgana (mirage) played tricks on my eyes and the Reindeer Mountains stretched vertically into wild and unearthly contortions. I made it to the shelter cabin in a blissfully quick, couple hours.

As we drew nearer to the coast on this trip, I began to quietly fret about that 30mph wind. As Dick Griffith says, 'the wind is always blowing from the direction you're going.' 

Our passage on Norton Sound has been without incident or undue suffering. The trail has again firmed up, the winds have been very light and the sun has shone strong. Happy hunters stop on there way to, or returning from the caribou and continue to give us favorable reports from our trail north. This is a good time of year, maybe the best.

As we pulled into Koyuk, Kim stopped to draw attention to the fact that we will be leaving the now very familiar Iditarod and Irondog trail markers. We see these orange and blue markers in our sleep and must have passed many thousand of them at this point. From here we diverge and take a new trail to the north - to the arctic circle. Very exciting.

We have met many amazing people on our trip so far but it is always refreshing to see an old friend. Robin Child has been teaching for the last two years here in Koyuk and greeted us as we pulled in. We slept in her yurt last night, had a dinner of fresh caribou and seal oil and stayed up way past our bedtime, telling stories. 

I feel lucky to know so many amazing women. Women who are unbridled from the structure and confines of "traditional" womanhood and who make the life they wish to live. Rural Alaska seems to have an abundance of empowered women who are not afraid to chop wood, haul water, build boats, shoot guns, etc. and be both educators and students to the place they make there home in. Robin is one of these women. 

Again I/we are waiting for the mail plane. The remaining part for my bike has been on almost as wild a trip as we have been. Sent to Unalakleet, forwarded to Koyuk, missent to Shaktoolik, returned to Unalakleet and finally re-forwarded to Koyuk. Hope it makes it. 

One more food drop remains and if all goes well, the next post will be from above the Arctic Circle. 

 

Seward Peninsula

 

We've made it to Buckland, over the Seward Peninsula. This will be our last food drop before the circle and Kotzebue. Spent a few hours soaking in Granite Hotsprings and had my derailer pulley hand delivered by our friend Robin.

 

This morning we left Bear Creek shelter cabin early, in the most incredible ice fog. This landscape is so vast and devoid of forest and the fog added to the deep mystery of our surroundings. It broke by early afternoon and we rode an amazing trail into the village, where once again, as luck would have it, there was a potlatch going on, at the school.

 

This time it was a celebration of life and even though we stuck out like sore thumbs, it was less awkward and our presence was an accent to the theme. “Where you come from?” “Why you doing this?” “Are you scared?” With a mouthful of food, we try our best to answer these questions and start in with our own.

 

We have been eating well the whole trip but it seems to just get better the further north we get: white and black muktuk, caribou steak, caribou burger, foul soup, moose sausage, seal oil, akutaq, and lots of dry fish.

 

We're spending the night in the school and hope that the PO still has our box in the morning so we can hit the trail for the home stretch.

April Fools

“Buckland to Kotzebue is well traveled and should be a really good trail for you guys.” This is a statement we heard since Koyuk. As we drew nearer to Buckland the same sentiment was repeated and our confidence grew.

In Buckland, we met an older man who grew up in Candle and began driving dogs at an early age. Beyond giving us trail advice, he filled us with stories of his youth, growing up in the region and running dogs. Buckland has the honor of being the Alaskan community with the most dog teams (I believe per capita) than anywhere else.

The pertinent trail description was very clear and came from the lips of a well-traveled veteran. “Follow the Buckland River to the bay, cross the bay, follow the shore of the Baldwin Peninsula until you come to a shelter cabin where the trail will cross the peninsula. From there just follow the trail to Kotzebue.” His advice sounded straight forward and within our means. “And yes, it should be well marked and well traveled.” he said.

The river was windswept, free of snow and therefore very fast. When we reached the bay there was a fork in the trail; one went east across the ice and the other west, which seemed to follow the shore – perhaps to Candle or Deering. We headed east and crossed the bay, but rather than follow the shore, the trail went on land and headed east. Moose, herds of caribou and fox filled this beautiful valley but after a few miles of due east travel we stopped. “This seems wrong.” Kim said, and I agreed. For the first time on the trip, we backtracked and returned to the intersection.

Back at the fork, we headed west for a few miles but this too didn’t seem to fit the description – at all. The trail seemed to stay on the north side of the Seward Peninsula and we needed to cross the sea ice to the other side. Totally confounded, we returned, once again, to the intersection and hoped someone would be out, that could set us straight.

After an evening of meditation we convinced ourselves that the first trail seemed to make the most sense and once again we headed east. Past our previous turn-around we saw a herd of caribou in the many hundreds. We tried to be stealthy on our approach but they saw us and ran. When they did, it sounded like a roar of thunder and the light snow was kicked up into a cloud in their wake. Amazing.

Eventually we came to a shelter cabin. The morning was chilly so we went in, lit a fire and hoped to find clues to settle our uncertainty.  We found none. Our insecurity became oppressive but we decided to continue on. “Well no one has ever biked to Selawik either.” I joked.

Outside, the distant sound of an approaching snowmachine was welcome. We went out and waited for it. “Nope, this trail goes to Selawik.” The driver said. “You need to go back to the fork and follow it.” “Most Bucklanders have been using another trail that you will eventually intersect while crossing the bay.” Our sage wisdom had come from someone who had not been out this year and because of rough shore ice people had opted for a new route across the bay.

The next day we were on the east shore of the Baldwin Peninsula - heading north to our final destination. We were both excited to be within hours of completion. No one has ever done what we were doing and getting to Kotzebue, under our own steam, has been an ethereal goal for so long but I couldn’t help feeling a little sad too. This has become life; wake up and ride - stop and camp – repeat. The further north we go the better it gets, just like I imagined it would. I was tired but I wasn’t ready to stop.

In the early part of the day, two hunters stopped to inspect our bikes and inquire with the usual line of questions: “Where did you come from?” being the most common. Through the goggles, parka, hood and hat I thought I recognized one of the hunters; “Are you Seth Kantner?” I asked one of them. “Yes” he said.

Winters in Alaska are long and dark. As a result, I developed a love for reading at a young age. There are too many “favorite” authors of mine to list but when the categorization is whittled some, it becomes easier. Without question, if someone askes me what my favorite Alaskan books are, I respond, “‘Ordinary Wolves’ by Seth Kantner and ‘Shadows on the Koyukuk’ about Sidney Huntington.” We met the giants of Alaskan lore, while on the trail. Perfect.

Our next encounter was with a hunter returning to Buckland after delivering caribou meat to elders in Kotzebue. He wore the face of a man who lived life on the trail – sunburnt cheeks, well-worn clothing and a generous smile, that stretched to his ears. “Do you like muktuk?” he asked. “Yes we do.” He reached into his sled and opened an Alaska Commercial shopping bag and handed us a fat chunk of this precious energy food. At the next shelter cabin we ate nearly half of it and we didn’t need to snack for the rest of the day.

Because the Baldwin Peninsula is low elevation, the wind generators of Kotzebue were visible for hours. When we finally passed them and came to the end of the trail, at an intersection of road, we stopped to savor the moment and Kim began to cry. The little trail in Knik, where we had parked our car, 37 days earlier, had led us to the Arctic.

Beyond being a bike trip, this felt like something more. More than on any other trip I felt like we had tapped into something - something very hard to describe. It felt like we had tapped into the heart of Alaska, and it seemed strong and full of life.

 

Click here for slideshow. 

 

 

 

Kim's footwear for cold weather cycling

Kim has written a blog post about cold weather footwear.

Frostbite is unacceptable and toes are of special concern for winter cyclists. Considering the negative consequences, I have put a lot of thought and trial into my footwear system to be used in conjunction with platform pedals. I have tested this system in temperatures as low as -30º and it works.

The concept behind my set up is a thick layer of insulation that is water proofed inside and out. Waterproofing protects your insulated layers from getting soaked from your sweat and water from outside. The insulation will sustain its heat retaining ability for prolonged days on the trail.

 

The first layer that goes on the foot is a ‘sacrificial’ wool liner sock. This sock is thin and ends up getting wet from your sweat, and basically serves for comfort. On top of the liner goes a vapor barrier sock. Bjørn and I use Sephenson Warmlite, and had our VBL (Vapor Barrier Liner) socks customized to be tall, as to fit with our tall outer boots. Over the vapor barrier goes a warm, thick sock.

 

The VBL sock is a brilliant idea and can be applied to any footwear system. The purpose of this sock is to protect your insulation from your own sweat.

 

Unlike other parts of your body, it is impossible to temperature regulate your feet to keep them from sweating while on the go. Your foot will sweat until it is saturated. Without the vapor barrier, the insulation from your thick sock and your boot will wick sweat away from your foot, and your foot will continue sweating until your insulation is saturated. Sweat wicking is advertised in outdoor clothing as an advantage. But in cold temperatures, water wicked into the clothing doesn’t evaporate and disappear - it freezes. Clothes can become ruined until you get a chance to dry them out.

 

With the vapor barrier on, your foot will sweat until the liner sock is wet, then it will stop. Your insulative layers are safe.

 

On top of my three socks, I wear two boots. The first is a high-top Loben. This is a soft-soled felt boot that is very warm. This is the most debatable component of my set up, and I may experiment with something else in the future. The Loben is, in my opinion, not a very good boot standing alone. The sole is unsupportive, and the felt provides no protection from water or wind. But worn with this combination, it provides a lot of insulation and warmth.

 

On top of the Loben I wear an insulated Neo over-boot. This boot provides more insulation, a sole with excellent traction, and waterproofing against the outside elements. The kind that I have has a fold out gaiter that reaches to the knee. Mine are not studded, because that would be annoying on my bike pedals and add weight. The sole is pretty good on ice as is. There is room to put a chemical heat pack inside during extreme cold.

 

With all this on my feet, I feel like a storm trooper. But overall I can ride my bike and walk in comfort, without feeling cold. While I have more limited range of motion and agility, the sacrifice is completely worth it to me.

 

If you are considering a similar set up, my recommendation would be to get boots that fit well; not too small and not too big. If they are too small you will be compressing the insulation and losing heat. If they are too big, your foot will slip around inside the boot and it will decrease your efficiency, waste energy and maybe drive you a little crazy. My Lobens are a size too big and it is regretful. I took measures to fit them to my foot, but could have avoided it by getting a better fitting boot.


Kim McNett

Circling The Sound In Homemade Kayak

In the summer of 2010, Kim and I attempted a circumnavigation of Prince William Sound in our handmade kayak. Familiar scenes of surfacing whales, calving tidewater glaciers, and winding watery mazes lay in wait. But in addition to our desire to witness this beauty, we sought insight into the ongoing transformations that distinguish the region.

Read more full article here:

Circling The Sound

The Only Way Out Is Onward

Article I wrote, published by Bicycle Times, about a fatbike/packraft trip from Cook Inlet to Bristol Bay - summer 2013.

'Due to the high volume tires, fatbikes float. In general this is a good thing. If your raft sinks you still have floatation. If your bike falls overboard, all is not lost. There is however, a downside. Traversing the eastern portion of the north shore of Lake Iliamna meant riding in the water, a lot. When the water was knee deep or less it was fun and technically challenging but when the water became handlebar deep the challenge became keeping the tires down. The slightest bump on the lake bottom would cause the front tire to lift. If you were not decisive and quick, the tire floated up like a bucking bull, and you would be thrown from the saddle. For the next two days Brent and I became aquatic cyclists. From morning until bed we were wet from the neck down, laughing ourselves to sleep each night recalling the days ‘ride’.'

Read full story here:

The Only Way Out Is Onward

Hitchhike Alaska

This is a piece I wrote two summers ago about a particularly bad hitchhiking experience.  

Hitchhiking isn't what it used to be, or maybe it is and I have forgotten. There exists in my mind a romantic notion about Alaskan hospitality regarding hitchhiking. I have many childhood memories of my dad picking exotic people from the side of the road and hearing for the first time strange accents, and stories from unknown origins about unimagined lands from somewhere, obviously east of Tok, which was where the known world ended for me then. Some of these strangers stayed on our homestead for protracted periods of time and became friends, others got off at Carlson Creek pointed their thumbs and were never seen again, leaving only their mystery and good impressions on my formative brain.

 

As an adult I have hitchhiked somewhere between quite a bit and a lot. My late teens and early twenties were full of long distance road trips, seeing America, Mexico, and Alaska through the windshields of strangers vehicles. I am proud of some of these adventures and often cite them with more reverence than other more physically challenging human powered trips. Like the time I caught a ride out of Chitna in a Super Cub, or having my first real(ish) conversation in spanish with a patient Mexican truck driver on the road to Guatemala. An encapsulation of my feelings could be expressed by saying, that what's so great about hitchhiking is that you never know what to expect and often it turns out better than you could have imagined.

 

These days most of my hitchhiking comes in the form of finishing a wilderness trip that deposits me on to a road system and then thumbing it back to the car. Even though these trips are often short I have made many friends this way. More often, it is a great opportunity to hear a point of view from someone that I otherwise may have never met.

 

As a philosophy, I believe everyone should hitchhike some, regardless of weather you have a vehicle or not. At the very least it teaches you empathy for the poor soul who you passed by that night it was raining hard, but the Phil Collins song you were playing just reached the crescendo where the drums really kick in and you didn't want some stranger blowing it, so you pretended to look at something off to the left as you sprayed them with a puddle and commenced to rock out. Beyond empathy, is the mystery of the unknown. Rarely if ever is this a dangerous proposition. Topics of conversation in the past have enlightened me to a breadth of issues - pertaining to but not limited to: U.F.O's, reptiles controlling the united states government, international jet liners spraying an assortment of chemicals on the hapless populace, the Mayan Calendar and what it says about 2012, crop circles, the John Birch society, marriage, fishing, children, the environment, the World Trade Organization.... But often the conversations are less hectic and in general quite neighborly.

 

As a part time hitchhiker I have discovered some patterns. There are certain types of drivers that almost never pick up roadside travelers regardless of weather, time of day, distance of travel and appearance. In Alaska it can be summed up into one group - tourists. People driving R.V.'s, rental cars, and almost anyone towing a trailer with a boat. This seems to be an oversight on the part of the tourist for an obvious reason - if you pick up a local for the low low price of free you can have a tour guide to help get insight into the state. I have heard stories of people arriving in Glenallen, looking out to Mount Drum and asking locals if what they were looking at was Denali, only to be told that they were on the wrong road and looking east toward the Wrangle Mountains. This and other oversights could easily be avoided with mutual aid. If we could get the Chamber of Commerce on this issue we could be on our way to becoming a greener state with no capital investment required.

 

Two days ago my partner and I rode with friends from our home in Homer to the Kenai River. Our friends live in Anchorage and we all wanted to packraft the Kenai Canyon. The plan was for us all to paddle together, hike the trail from Skilak Lake back to the highway and then Kim and I would thumb it back. The day was amazing and the canyon did not disappoint.  We split ways around 9:00 pm which would seem late but in the month of July there are still many hours of direct sun light. 

 

Our first ride deposited us in Soldotna, and then we got two more rides in short order that brought us as far a Happy Valley - still roughly 40 miles shy of home. And then the rides stopped. As it got darker we realized our chances were becoming slimmer and slimmer. 'What kind of person would be hitchhiking at this hour?' people must be thinking. 'Maybe crack addicts or rapists'. It is hard to convince people that you are a good person in a few fleeting seconds even in good light, but nearly impossible in the dark. It was time for plan B. We decided to "camp" through the dark time and resume thumbing once it became light again in a few hours. We had not left home with intentions of camping and were very limited in our bivouac equipment. Inflated packrafts make great sleeping pads, but damp dry suits are a poor substitute for sleeping bags. As the dark time became darker a light offshore breeze picked up and it became apparent that sleep would not come. Plan C. was to build a fire. We must have looked even more cracked to the few mid-night highway cruisers. "Why didn't you call me?" a chipper friend asked. A. because it would be rude, B. because I can't stand to loose faith in my society I told him.

 

8:00 am the next morning we wearily walked our down our boardwalk to home and bed. We were both loopy from lack of sleep and felt a little rattled by our misfortune. Why in the hell did it take us 11 hours to get to Homer from Cooper Landing? I don't want to be afraid to hitchhike in the future for fear that it may take some absurd amount of time. I don't want to view society as selfish fear motivated isolationists. I don't want Alaska to travel further down the path of assimilation. We are a unique state with eccentricities that we should celebrate and hitchhiking is a great opportunity for drivers and riders alike to show theirs off.  I pick up people all the time and always will. Please don't be afraid to do the same. 

 

Spread the word.

 

Bjørn