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Thread: Alpine Style.

  1. #1
    This place needs an enema
    Reputation: mikesee's Avatar
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    Aug 2003

    Alpine Style.

    Pop quiz: What were you doing 30 years ago this month -- back in 1988?

    Working? Playing? Gap year?

    I was working 2 jobs while stashing money to leave for college. I'd graduated high school mere months before, and was working as hard as I could to buy a new Trapper Keeper and a full suite of highlighters so that I'd be ready for a slew of 100-level classes. My thrift-store Schwinn Continental 10-speed was tuned and ready to get me around campus, with Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt posters locked and loaded.

    None of that is relevant here, except to give context to what I *wasn't* doing while a few not-yet-made friends were preparing to go do this.

    Please click that link and read that writeup before continuing. It's important, on many levels.

    Could you have envisioned a ride like that 30 years ago? Had you even heard of a packraft? Was crossing braided glacial rivers part of your repertoire -- with or without a bike, or boat?!

    The answer is a resounding 'no' to all of those questions, for me: I was 18 and still months away from owning my first mountain bike.

    But when at last I heard about their trip it hit me hard. It seemed important somehow: They were setting a bar that I didn't yet even know how to strive toward, I just knew that I wanted to get there.

    I'd spend the better part of the next 2 decades learning to travel in the backcountry -- efficiently and safely first, then I'd eventually add in 'somewhat expeditiously'. Learning to evaluate risk objectively, learning to cough up plan B's and C's -- or even to tuck tail and bail -- when the risk was too great. Stacking up the lessons of failure hand over fist for years tends to teach you -- if you're paying attention -- all you need to know about being successful. I can't say exactly when it happened but eventually I transitioned from learning to travel into traveling to learn. I still occupy that space. Hope to stay there awhile.

    Somewhere in there two more friends repeated the route. Yes, click that link and read that'n, now, too -- it is equally important, for different reasons. That was 2009. It wasn't lost on me that it had taken 21 years for someone to repeat the route with bikes, nor did it slip past that it was Eric and Dylan doing it. Click went the sound of something ratcheting me that much closer to getting a boat and learning to use it.

    I finally got the boat in 2011. Almost immediately used it on a wild traverse with a good chunk of the aforementioned crew -- Roman, Eric, and Dylan. Have been learning and refining boat and bike/boat skills pretty continuously ever since.

    Still, it took a different idea falling by the wayside a few months ago for Nabesna to McCarthy to finally take center stage. 30 years had elapsed since it had first been done with bikes. Think about that -- I can't stop thinking about it!

    Steve Fassbinder, Brett Davis, Jon Bailey and myself just completed the route with fatbikes and a single Alpacka Caribou between us. We rode 70% of the route, walking/pushing/carrying bikes the other 30%. The boat was never used for forward progress -- only to ferry across rivers too big to wade. ~Halfway through the trip we got buried under a foot of snow, listened to avalanches ripping down around us, subsequently ran out of food, and throughout experienced all of the subtle and not-so nuances that Alaskan backcountry traverses have to offer.

    Over the next few days I'll share some images and anecdotes from one of the hardest Alaskan trips I've yet had the pleasure to be humbled by.

    Thanks for checkin' in.

  2. #2
    Oslo, Norway
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    Feb 2012

    Top notch as always!

    Answer to the quiz:
    July 1988: The usual at that time: running and roller skiing, ie. the boring summer training for XC skiers. MTB'ing as well, as I got my first MTB in 1986, a DBS Offroad, (then got a Fisher CR-7 in 1990) (fairly sure it was 90 and not 91, gots to check)

    BTW, I immediately recognized the ''Mountain Bikes From Hell!'' article with the guy with a bloodied nose crossing a river. Got that Oct 1989 issue of Mountain Bike magazine on my shelf. Will check it out again
    Espen Wethe
    Kindernay on BikeRumor:

  3. #3
    All Lefty's, all the time Moderator
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    Feb 2005
    Well, since you put it so specifically, date wise?

    I was living in the city, barely making ends meet after graduating high school. Riding my first real MTB, on illegal trails, since none were legal back then due to equestrians feeling the world was their oyster (worth noting, all those that were illegal, are today, legal).

    Chasing down sh*t for brain kids who tried to steal my room mates bike, jamming a pump in their/his spokes ala the scene with the Cinzano team in Breaking Away, which got me the bike back, and a lot of nasty invective thieving, bloody faced teen and his crew.

    The rest of the summer I spent dealing with a situation that I'll not get in to, but suffice to say, summer of 1988, pretty much just sucked.

    I did upgrade from the SunTour that came on my bike, to the recently introduced Shimano Deore though, so I had that going for me....
    This is a Pugs not some carbon wannabee pretzel wagon!!

    - FrostyStruthers

  4. #4
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    Feb 2006
    I was banging a cute cheerleader all summer that I had dated my senior year. Best. Summer. Ever.

  5. #5
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    Jul 2008
    Summer before middle school. Believe we got stranded for a week in Fayetteville NC with blown motor in van on the way to Disney World . So as a 12y.o., pretty much the same hell they were in.

    Did not have a mountain bike until 1989. Was rocking the GT Performer with pegs.

  6. #6
    This place needs an enema
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    Aug 2003

    It takes a village.

    Normally I'd wait to share the info below until the end of a TR, as it's more nuts-and-bolts type stuff. In this case the 'why' of what we did as well as took for gear might not be obvious until you read below. I'll cover the 'what' of gear as I wind things down, later.

    Heaving gear and bikes out of Ganey's truck at roads end was the culmination of ~2 months of direct, sometimes intense, and often conflicted preparation. Most obviously, Ganey graciously allowing us to borrow said truck for more than a week was enormous. Would you loan your vehicle to out of state friends, knowing they were going to load it heavy, take it to the end of a frequently blown-out road, and then leave it there? Not only did he, but he threw a few pounds of salmon in to sweeten the deal. Over the top.

    We had originally planned to leave the truck at Nabesna, then either hop a bush flight back or maybe hitch to retrieve it. Russell the Love Muscle solved that one for us by hopping in at Gakona and riding with us to our jump off point, then taking the truck back out. He took it a giant step further by meeting us in McCarthy when at last we arrived. Given that our trip stretched a few days longer than we'd planned, Russell's timely arrival was the only thing that made it possible for all of us to catch our scheduled flights home that night. Way over the top.

    Dirty and Grande hosted us in town, treated us as long lost friends (as opposed to needy interloping tourists), and basically let 4 guys junkshow filthy, stinky gear all over their space at a particularly hectic time of year. I'm still at a loss on what we did to deserve their hospitality and hope that we each get the opportunity to repay it.

    The internet age is unbelievable when it comes to planning trips. Not only could we find trip reports and pictures from those who'd ridden the route before us, but there are many people who've done the route sans bikes and their trip reports were accessible too. Plus satellite imagery, archival weather data, as well as on-demand beta from regional guides and pilots. Not to mention just general regional info on a massive landscape. On top of all that we had the incredible gift of personally knowing and traveling with 3 of the first 5 people to ride this route. Naturally, we pimped them for info.

    Eric and Roman provided incredibly detailed beta, effectively answering any/every question I asked over a period of several weeks. I mentioned above that our preparation was conflicted, and what I meant is that Roman and Eric rode this route at different times in their lives (Roman was in his late 20's, Eric in his late 30's), using very different eras of equipment, and with fairly different results. It became our task to determine which of their equipment choices and thus 'methods' made the most sense for our trip.

    On bikes they disagreed: Roman urged us toward small wheels and tires and suspended bikes, arguing that the suspension was needed because of the proliferation of river cobbles. Eric made an eloquent argument that a modern, light fatbike was the best tool for the job as many of the gravel bars and stream courses we'd spend time on were soft and required float, and because big, squishy, low pressure fat tires were their own form of suspension. The effectiveness of that crude suspension is inarguable, and it also means you don't need the weight or complexity of real suspension. On a normal at-home trail ride you'd never, ever hear me arguing the merits of a rigid fatbike over something with full suspension and sub 3" tires. But knowing that our bikes were about to be repeatedly submerged in suspended glacial silt, ridden through bogs, fens, and muck, dragged and thrown through alder, willow, and devil's club, I couldn't reach for a light, simple fatbike fast enough. I wasn't privy to their thought processes, but Jon, BD, and Doom concluded similarly.

    The pioneers both agreed that good brakes and ample gears were mandatory to maximize riding opportunities. We agreed wholeheartedly.

    On boats, Roman encouraged us -- in his heavy-handed way -- to take only one for the 4 of us. Doing so would, in his opinion, keep more weight off of our bikes and backs, and in so doing allow us to ride substantially more of the route. He admonished us not to even consider taking a boat per person, quipping that we would then be "on a hike-a-bike packrafting trip where you'll wonder why you brought the bike".

    Never having been out there, and knowing that Roman had not merely ridden it the one time but had raced it in the AMWC a handful more, it was hard to look at this as much less than gospel.

    On the one vs. many boats question Eric's beta couldn't have been clearer: "If you get to the Chitistone and only have one boat you're gonna feel really, really stupid because that's clearly the best mode of travel from that point. With only one boat you'll be crossing (fording) the river a lot and it is pure ice water, the glaciers are right there."

    The group batted it around for half an hour on a conference call the morning before flying north: 4 boats or one? There were very good reasons to want to float the Nabesna, Chitistone, and Nizina. But, we wondered, how much faster would that actually be, once you factored in all the added riding we'd do instead of pushing with heavy packs to get to those points? And then we wondered, is moving faster even important?

    In the end we all agreed that speed didn't really factor into the equation. We wanted an adventure, we wanted to ride our bikes a bunch, and we wanted to do it in a new-to-us, big, wild place.

    Thus, we took only one boat.

    Since we only had the one we didn't, couldn't make any downriver progress -- just used them to ferry across stuff we couldn't wade or (usually inadvertently) swim.

    It didn't always work exactly this way, but the typical pattern was for me to ferry Doom (and both of our packs) across first, then he'd go back to get 2 bikes and bring those over. Then I'd go back for 2 more bikes. Then one of us would go get Brett, then Brett would go back and get Jon. Each one of these crossings took ~an hour from dropping our packs to cinching them back on and riding off.

    Simply put, any distance covered was either by walking or by riding. And we rode a lot more miles than we walked.

    Now that that preamble is outta the way, when next I post it'll be to share some of the actual trip!

    Thanks for checkin' in.

  7. #7
    mtbr member
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    Dec 2007
    In 1988 I had just retired from being a full time ski bum in Truckee, was in the midst of becoming a "good student" at UNR, working way to much, and climbing rock like a spider.

    Back then biking was really basic, there were few trails, mostly jeep roads and goat paths, suspension was unheard of, so you just rode your quasi road bike with the one piece chromoly bars, 1.8" tires, and tried to stay upright.

    Life has certainly changed since then

    Mike, thanks for sharing the journey, you get to do all the fun stuff.
    GG Smash 29 (pending)
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  8. #8
    Rhymes with fartmaster
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    Apr 2010
    me, 1988:

    • high school junior
    • smoking lots and lots of weed
    • Mon-Fri after-school job (desktop publishing was NEW and paid well at the time)
    • had a mullet
    • was riding roadbikes since no obvious legal trails were nearby where I lived

    me, present day:

    • graduated from high school (jeez that ought to be obvious)
    • mostly alcoholic but still smoking weed (seeing as it’s legal in CA now)
    • still working (thank god!) although doing web development/design/production, graphic design/production, QA, and email campaign management/production work
    • have since lost the mullet (happened in 1994)
    • ditched the roadbike in 2009 and have been mountain bike only ever since (90% fatbike since 2010).
    one by nine works just fine but single speed is all ya need

  9. #9
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    Jan 2015
    I was on a flight to Seattle, listening to incredible stories of good times and hardships experienced by a bulldozer operator of the 35th Combat Engineers, who helped build the Alaska Highway.

  10. #10
    This place needs an enema
    Reputation: mikesee's Avatar
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    Aug 2003

    Diving in.

    After the long drive up from town it was 8:30PM when at last we were ready to move. When finally we'd finished packing our bikes, when the last pre-trip poseur pics were snapped, when we'd each done a lap around and inside the truck to ensure we weren't forgetting anything, when there was positively nothing left to do but start pedaling, only then did I realize that we didn't know where we were going.

    I'd gotten specific beta from Roman on micro-level routefinding in the vicinity of the White River, Lime Creek, Russell Glacier, Goat Trail, even getting down to the Chitistone -- all of which were many days away from where we currently stood. It never occurred to me to ask how to start the trip, and in that moment of realization I quickly understood why: Most people begin by immediately heading to nearby Jack Creek, inflating their boats, then floating out into the Nabesna and down to Cooper Creek.

    That had been the original, obvious plan, but with only one boat between us that plan was DOA.


    A glance at the maps showed 2 different possible ATV tracks heading away from Nabesna, both going roughly 90* to our preferred direction of travel. Sub-optimal either way. But since we weren't willing to just head off-trail into thick swamp to bushwhack right off the bat, we had to make a choice and somehow opted to head south toward the Jacksina. Riding was decent on a grassy doubletrack but we quickly sensed that this track was gradually turning away from the direction we needed to go. A downed plane appeared trailside and we nerded out on it for a few moments before resuming.

    The trail got softer, wetter, swampier, and very quickly it became difficult to maintain forward momentum. My three compadres are all lighter, fitter, stronger -- not to mention younger -- than I, and slowly they started to pull away. Occasionally we'd cross a bog or knee-deep water would force us off the bikes, and if I double-timed my pace through these sections -- and kept the camera holstered -- I could usually catch back up. In so doing I was still working harder than the others, and quickly soaked myself in sweat. With no clouds on the horizon and the midnight sun circling above there was little reason to fear being wet through as "night" approached, yet still it felt like bad form to be working so hard so early in a multi-day endeavor. I knew that the boys were probably unconsciously exorcising their caged-for-days demons after all the travel to get here, and figured the pace would mellow out soon enough.

    Before the pace had a chance to change the trail vanished underwater and we were faced with the first of many routefinding decisions. After hiking to a higher perch we could see that ~10 minutes of wading through slack water of indeterminate depth would bring us out to the Jacksina River plain, and once there we'd have to cross and re-cross the Jacksina as it wound it's way back and forth across gravel bars and between the walls it had incised through millennia. Brett even waded out aways while the resident beaver repeatedly slapped in protest at the trespass, as the rest of us wrung our hands while fruitlessly scrutinizing maps that hadn't been updated in decades.


    Because the Jacksina route would take us yet further off our intended course toward the Nabesna, we tucked tails and began schwacking over a low ridge in the direction of the Jack/Nabesna confluence. As we toiled our way up this ridge, stumbling shin-deep through watery tussocks while pushing aside alders and being attacked by mosquitoes, I experienced the first pings of regret at only bringing the one boat. Had we opted for 4 we'd probably already have floated out into the Nabesna, we (well, I) wouldn't be soaked in sweat, and we certainly wouldn't be inhaling bugs by the hundreds.

    In hindsight the schwack wasn't that bad. Good to get the first one over with at any rate.

    Sometime after midnight we arrived at a small, clear section of forest with dead, dry wood, and a space big enough to set up a tent without needing to swim into it. We'd only been on the move a little more than 4 hours but the days of travel leading up to it had us all a bit knackered even before starting. That, and despite the long twilight our internal clocks all insisted that it was after 2AM at home, thus time to chill the eff out and get some sleep.

    We erected the tent, kindled fire, then cooked and savored Ganey's salmon before passing out for 40ish winks. It wasn't lost on me as I tucked into my bag that the dimmest part of the 'night' had already passed and the sky was brightening by the minute. I pulled both hat and hood lower over my eyes and passed out.

    A measly few hours later direct sun on my bag broasted me awake long before I was ready to be. I'd slept out near the fire so as not to keep the others awake with my snoring, and was delighted but not surprised to see that no dew had wet my bag in the 'night'. I packed my bivy away quietly, rekindled the fire so the others could have hot coffee without needing to use the stove, then circled the camp with camera in hand as a means for better understanding my new environment.

    The deciduous grove within which we'd slept had such a thick carpet of leaves that almost nothing could penetrate it from beneath. Broadening my circle to the perimeter brought me into more moist soils and there thrived a riot of wildflowers. I recognized lupine and skyrockets, bluebell and aven, paintbrush and forget-me-nots, as well as the ever-present fleabane and geranium. Maybe a marigold of some sort and for sure some sort of pea -- the kind that killed McCandless? How could I not have internalized every detail of that one?!

    Eventually the others woke and we set about eating and packing to move.

    A quick schwack across an ankle-deep bog and over a short rise brought us out to...

    ...a freaking ATV trail. It wasn't heavily used but the presence of homesteads could only mean that, had we the first effing clue about this area, we could have ridden here easily in a short time last night.

    We guessed at every spur using our internal compass of where the Nabesna lay, and quickly popped out of the trees, across a meadow, and out onto the gravel bars of the big river.

    Above, JB rides the first braid with a lobe of the glacier just visible in the background, while below Doom and Brett wade the too-deep-to-pedal second braid.

    After 6 or 7 braids we arrived at the main channel and could see at a glance that it was far too deep and swift to wade, so out came the boat.

    The benefit to traveling with a savvy crew is that everyone always had busy hands -- even while I was paddling Doom across on the first lap, Jon and Brett were prepping the bikes to be loaded when the boat returned. While Doom headed back for bikes I walked to the next braid and scouted the best place for us to cross it, then headed back to catch Doom and his expensive cargo. As he headed back for the second round of bikes I reassembled the first two, and in such manner it took us under an hour to get 4 bodies, 4 bikes, and 4 packs across the main channel.

    It was already obvious that our choice of single boat was not going to be faster or more efficient in any way. It was yet more obvious that we were in a stunning, wild place that was new to all of us, and dwelling on spilt milk wasn't going to change a thing. Although Roman had indeed leaned hard on us to take only one boat, we're all adults and we knew on some level what we were choosing in so doing. Although all of us would voice regret at least a few times about making this decision, I resolved to stop grumbling about it and to start enjoying the place we were in. Pretty easy to do when the weather is good and it's this easy on the eyes.

    We kept the boat inflated until it became obvious that we could wade the next few channels and pretty quickly we found ourselves on the south side of the Nabesna. Numb feet were as prevalent as the stoke we all shared at crossing the first major hurdle of the route.

    We packed away boat, paddle, and PFD's and went in search of trail. Riverside cobbles were rideable but rough, thus moving away from them and out to where sediments had been deposited gave us smoother tread -- but also more veg. No free lunch. We fanned out over a ~1/4 mile wide swath, each searching for and finding our own personal path of least resistance.

    There were bits of swamp to negotiate, micro creeks to cross, and no shortage of ever-evolving alpine scenery at which to gawk.

    Eventually the river swung south and pinched us between a bluff and heavy current, forcing us to shoulder bikes and head up into the forest. For the next ~90 minutes we didn't ride much through thick, swampy veg.

    And then we wrapped around a knoll, stumbled through this squirrel midden, and could feel the influence of Cooper Creek in both cool air and more open lines through the veg.

    While framing the above shot it occurred to me that our slower-than-expected pace meant we probably didn't have enough food for the trip. We'd planned for 6 days out but that now seemed hopelessly optimistic. Next time we regrouped I broached the subject of starting to ration our calories out to at least 8 days, and everyone quickly agreed to it.

    Crossing the first of many braids of the Cooper. 75+ degree temps and a creek fed by snowmelt meant that this "little" creek was raging, and it fanned out through the forest for most of a mile.

    We managed to string together short rideable sections of cobbles as we ascended the reasonable gradient of the creekbed.

    Where walls closed in and the braids came together we were forced to cross and recross the creek, often in suboptimal places with watermelon sized cobbles moving underfoot in thigh-deep current.

    We all stumbled occasionally but I think I was the only one that lost his feet entirely to this point. The day had been hot, and although 15 minutes later being wet through was fine, when I first went neck deep and had to struggle to regain my feet while fighting to maintain control of the bike it didn't feel like such a lark.

    Eventually we arrived at a constriction too fast and deep to wade, and out came the boat again. So deep and fast was it, with no obvious eddy on the far side, that we concluded that two people on the first lap was probably not a great idea. I probed it and basically ended up rolling out of the boat and onto the far shore because there was no place to stop and because the rolling cobbles precluded the simple act of just standing up. My exit was ugly but effective -- story of my life -- and the others could clearly see it as such. Fortunately we'd brought some 8mm p-cord, and found a use for it here in penduluming the boat back and forth with packs and bikes. Once cargo was across I again pendulumed the boat back over with paddle and PFD and everyone got their chance to paddle through the firehose and attempt to better my ugly exit.

    We rode and pushed a bit further, all cognizant that it was getting late and we'd need to find a camp spot soon. Nothing obvious presented itself so we just kept moving. Soon we came to another sketchy crossing -- too deep, fast, and steep for an easy wade. Yet we were all tired -- it was after 11PM already -- and none of us really relished another hour+ of diddling with the single boat to get across, when we might have to do it again (and again?) just around the next corner. Doom found a spot to wade that looked sketchy to me -- it was fine, maybe just over the knees to within 10' of the far bank -- but then obviously deepened against the bank. Who knew how deep. He's light on his feet and overall a gifted athlete, and although he stumbled mightily and was wet to the chest he managed to emerge out the other side upright. He gave us a relieved thumbs up as the roar of the water precluded any sort of verbal contact.

    I went next, entering a bit lower and angling downstream as I moved. The current was powerful, the cobbles shifted and moved even without my feet touching them, and I stumbled and caught myself repeatedly as the current pushed me downstream. At some point it became obvious that my trajectory wasn't my own -- the river was in control now. My feet quickly went numb and as they did my movements became yet sloppier. In a micro-second of trying to slow my harried movements I allowed my front wheel to drop by an inch and the current wasted no time in pulling it away from me. I lost my balance, lost my feet, and bounded twice, thrice while trying to regain control of the bike. I have no clear idea how I didn't end up swimming. My guess is that adrenaline took over and powered me across the rest of the way without much thought. Damn. Damn.

    Jon came next. Having seen both Doom and I struggle and stumble his body language was pure apprehension. Had I watched what he just did I wouldn't want anything to do with this crossing either. He gamely tiptoed out into the current and then, shin-deep, he made a fateful decision. No doubt seeing my bike get pulled nearly from my grip influenced his choice to put his bike up and over his head, resting the weight of it on his shoulders far from where the water can grab it. Roman espouses this technique and although I've seen him use it on less precarious crossings I'm not sure it was the best idea here. Both Doom and I frantically screamed and motioned for Jon to NOT come further in this manner, but the roar of the river and his laser focus on it meant that Jon never heard nor saw us. He stumbled once then caught himself. Stumbled again, then again, and on the fourth slip lost his feet and the weight of the bike pushed him completely underwater. Things happened fast as he got trundled downstream with us so near and yet so unable to help. His head popped up, he got a breath, then the current pushed both Jon and the bike back down again.

    Through sheer force of will (aided by endorphins no doubt) Jon managed to stand -- I think he'd released the bike at this point -- and catch himself. As both Doom and I had he then charged toward shore but again the current swept his feet and we could see him getting dragged and banged along the bottom by the heedless torrent. When finally he emerged breathless onto the bank, Jon was scared, shivering, and limping. He pulled on a rain shell to ward off the evening chill while Brett gingerly and uneventfully made his way over.

    We got moving again within moments, largely to help Jon rebuild some core heat. Within 10 minutes we'd rooted out something good enough to call camp for the night -- flat enough and with abundant dry wood -- and by the time fire was kindled Jon had changed into his dry sleep kit and the shivers had stopped. Good thing, because he needed steady hands to apply ointment to all of his fresh bumps and scrapes.

    Dinner was a fairly quiet affair as we watched a nearby peak turn pink in the alpenglow, and we all drifted off with the sound of the seemingly pissed off creek reverberating in our subconscious.

    All that and we were just past 24 hours into the trip.

    Thanks for checkin' in.

  11. #11
    mtbr member
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    Feb 2004
    ooof! tenterhooks,,,

  12. #12
    will rant for food
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    Jan 2010
    Glad you're in one piece to be writing this. I had to laugh at the case of Acute Boat Face, as well as your sudden realizations that your jump off point hadn't been considered thoroughly.

    Let's see, the answer to your "88?" question might be handy here. I was six, looking at my dad with a skeptical eye as he was explaining to my mom how it was that he forgot one of the camping gear items. "I checked and double checked and triple checked, and I still forgot this one thing (that we now need). It's always something." 6 year old lizard brain me certainly thought that my dad was the only person who was like this.

    30 years later, aww man, it really is "always something".
    Disclaimer: I run Regular Cycles (as of 2016). As a profiteer of the bicycle industry, I am not to be taken very seriously.

  13. #13
    fat guy on a little bike
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    Dec 2006
    Wait, the 80's are over?!? damn...

    Mike, your rides and subsequent posts are always incredible. awesome bro, awesome!

  14. #14
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    Jan 2014
    I'm still stuck in the early 70's, myself. I agree...Mike, your rides, stories, pics are awesome, enlightening, and just plain top notch!
    Lessee...1988...oh yeah, I was living in an A-frame cabin on the WA coast, rented from a friend who would let me pay my rent late, working just enough to pay the bills, and surfing my brains out every chance I got, and doing a bit of fishing, and going surfing every chance I got.... Hmmmm, in July I was wishing I had a decent longboard, cause the surf was small.
    Sometimes found me hoping someone would pass that spliff my way, and rationing out my sixer of animal beer over 2 or 3 days.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
    Wait, the 80's are over?!? damn...

    Mike, your rides and subsequent posts are always incredible. awesome bro, awesome!

  15. #15
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    Feb 2008
    Awesome! How did that floor-less mid do with the bugs?

    Cooper had lots of iff crossings when I hiked that section. I got some nice big bruises on my shins from rocks rolling downstream wacking me while crossing it.

    A beautiful area, looking forward to reading about the rest of your guys adventure!

    You guys probably saw this, but a couple died while crossing the Sanford on the other side of the park around the same time.

  16. #16
    This place needs an enema
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    Aug 2003
    Quote Originally Posted by spruceboy View Post
    Awesome! How did that floor-less mid do with the bugs?

    Cooper had lots of iff crossings when I hiked that section. I got some nice big bruises on my shins from rocks rolling downstream wacking me while crossing it.

    A beautiful area, looking forward to reading about the rest of your guys adventure!

    You guys probably saw this, but a couple died while crossing the Sanford on the other side of the park around the same time.

    Mid was fine. Bugs can get in but they typically get funneled to the top almost immediately. Like the warm air from bodies/breath just pulls 'em up and there they stay.

    When weight/space is at a premium it's a no-brainer to leave the mesh net insert at home and just bring a headnet. I usually bring two headnets -- in case one gets torn or lost, but also to keep 'em that much further away from my neck/face/ears when sleeping.

    The search for that couple was being organized in MCX when we arrived.

  17. #17
    mtbr member
    Reputation: gunner.989's Avatar
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    Jan 2012
    Great adventure curious what type of brake pads you used and brakes thanks for your time

  18. #18
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    Aug 2003
    Quote Originally Posted by gunner.989 View Post
    Great adventure curious what type of brake pads you used and brakes thanks for your time

    I'll do a full gear breakdown/geek out after the story is done.

  19. #19
    beer thief
    Reputation: radair's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
    What a start to the trip! It had to make you think (but probably not say) WTF are we doing here? Or maybe you were mentally prepared for such a battle.

    In 1988 I had moved from the Maine coast to the NH White Mountains and was building a new home. I was 8 years out of college, married and riding a 1986 Schwinn Sierra when not rock climbing. Time flies

  20. #20
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    "This is why we do it."

    I woke to a dank layer of clouds and instinctively smiled out my gratefulness: Most of the previous day had been bright, bright sun, and toward the end I'd begun to feel a little crispy. Having lived in the desert for the last few decades I simply can't take cloud cover for granted.

    We ate and packed up camp in slow motion, not inefficiently so much (I guessed) as because no one was in a hurry to cross and recross the firehose that was Cooper Creek. The first few braids were easy enough to wade, but pretty quickly we got pinched between a wall and a fast, deep channel. Doom did what Doom does and made his way across disaster style. I did what I typically do and made it across the same spot in a decidedly less aesthetically pleasing manner. The crossing was deep and cold, the fast current tumbling basketball and watermelon-sized cobbles along the bottom such that you had to keep feet moving -- shuffling along regardless -- or you'd catch a few on the toes and shins. Brett is a picture of deliberate concentration when crossing these creeks, but on this one even his poker face wrenched into a wince more than once as cobbles banged off of bone.

    With the drama of last night's close-call still fresh in Jon's head, and perhaps with the not-yet-scabbed scrapes on his legs tingling out warnings, he watched all of us struggle, stumble, and slip (but not fall) on this crossing and then, when it was his turn, he paced up and down the bank looking for the spot that spoke to him. And then he paced some more, edged in ankle deep, started and stopped, then eventually took a step back -- up onto the bank. The roar of subsurface trundling cobbles was intense, but by really shouting he was able to communicate:

    "I don't like it! I want the boat!"

    We could all relate to the first statement but it was the last 4 words that set off a flurry of motion on our side of the creek. Doom unfurled and inflated the boat while I snapped together the paddle and inflated the PFD as Brett hucked the throwbag across to Jon.

    I was so, so happy that Jon could sidestep any ego or peer pressure nonsense and just tell it like he felt it. It'll sound funny to verbalize but I was proud of him for that.

    In ~20 minutes we had Jon on our side, everything packed up, and continued working our way upstream.

    We saw no critters other than birds but there was constant sign of moose, bear, wolf, caribou and -- once over Cooper Pass -- there were tracks from wild horses everywhere.

    So resigned had we become to the game of roulette we were playing that we almost missed a turn.

    Cooper Creek actually had it's origin in a clear, tame stream, and once we left the raging brown torrent behind we were able to relax several notches. Concurrent with the split up Cooper proper we were suddenly riding very little. Some combination of thick brush, huge cobbles, slippery creek bottom or steep gradient was always present such that we spent the next few hours walking next to our bikes.

    Except for Brett, whom decided to commit to strapping bike onto pack. This gave him the benefit of not having to find smooth places to roll his wheels, at a cost of constantly whacking his handlebars into his left calf. Brett isn't one to be bothered by such minutiae, and even with said hitch in his giddyup he eventually passed me and began pulling ahead.

    I need a crutch to lean on when traversing difficult terrain, and the upper reaches of this creek certainly qualified as such. I'd roll the bike forward, spot my next footing, lock brakes to steady the bike, reach out with one foot, plant it, then the next, plant it, then heave the bike forward, lock brakes, and repeat. For one particularly steep and rough ~1/4 mile stretch I actually stuck my head through the main triangle, deftly balancing the bike on my shoulders, and moved up and through that way. It was nice to not have to plot the path forward for both bike and body, but my ankles are so fooked that I was ultimately slower without the bike to lean on. As soon as the terrain leveled enough to roll the bike again I reverted to that method.

    The boys snacked while waiting for me in a light drizzle at (not) Blue Lake.

    We gawked at the scenery for a bit before a breeze got those skinny boys shivering, then up over a tiny bump we schlepped to the actual Blue Lake. Riding recommenced here -- in fits and starts at first but then for 1/4 and half mile stretches as we ascended.

    Any and all trail in this environment is a pleasant surprise. Some of it was downright exceptional.

    The silence of this natural amphitheater was appreciated by all, and not just because it lacked a roaring creek. We heard but had difficulty spotting nesting shorebirds as we traversed above them, then Bailey sighted and the rest of us ogled mountain goats working their way above and away from us.

    As we neared the pass the cobbles imperceptibly morphed into pebbles as the creek became but a trickle.

    Then snowfields appeared and forced us out of the creekbed entirely, only to find...

    ...wait for it...

    ...interconnected ribbons -- miles of them -- of actual alpine singletrack. Buff, skinny, impossibly smooth singletrack.

    My wife is a collector of bird feathers and I was pretty sure she didn't have any of the goat variety in her stash.

    After a false summit the track got yet better and in between ripping along on effortless trail we stopped to laugh, slap high fives and exclaim how great the riding and views were. The sun even reappeared to brighten the mood yet further.

    It might have been right here or maybe a little later, but as I caught up to Doom I could hear him softly whispering -- almost subconsciously, to himself -- "This is why we do it...".

    I carry a Delorme InReach for emergencies and to stay in touch with Jeny. So smitten was I with the place, the incredible riding, the overall vibe, that I powered it up and ripped out a text to her that read simply "Oh hell yes!". Then for good measure I sent it to the rest of my contacts in the device. Not being privy to where we were nor what we were experiencing, this text served largely to confuse all whom received it. But I wouldn't know that for another week...

    For the next ~half hour we descended what felt like one of the better alpine trails I've yet ridden. A thought formed in my head -- and grew as we descended -- that this trail was good enough to rival or even best any similar length section of the the Colorado Trail. I didn't (couldn't!) dwell on it as we chased each other hopping, carving, and manualing our way down to Notch Creek, but still it kept bubbling up to the surface. It really seemed that good.

    It actually seemed better in that I wasn't suffering due to altitude as I would be on the CT.

    Exotic views did nothing to dampen the mood.

    Eventually the trail disgorged back onto creek bottom and instead of flowing along on world class singletrack we had to re-engage with reading the terrain. You could just 'check out' and bash along the cobbles all day, but a bit of attention allowed you to connect the smooth bits and create your own flow state. Focusing on this process was super satisfying.

    Something like 15 hours after leaving our gray camp on the lower Cooper, as the creamy light started to fade into shadow, we finally managed to rein ourselves in and start looking for a campsite.

    As we collected wood and set up camp yet more high fives were exchanged and laughter was shared. Giggling, I rhetorically asked Jon if he'd care to rate the quality of the riding on a 1 to 11 scale and he hesitated not a moment before confidently proclaiming "Eleven Plus".

    I've been riding bikes on dirt for almost 40 years. I've lived in 3 different "mountain bike mecca's" (Crested Butte, Whistler, Grand Junction) over the past few decades and I currently have same-day access to several (Moab, Durango, St. George) others. So to say, I've ridden a lot of good trail and I don't get excited over nothing. The combination of super high quality animal trail, breathtaking alpine scenery, and a capable, tight knit crew elevated this day into one of my top five -- maybe even top three -- riding experiences. Ever.

    None of us would have believed you had you told us that it could, and would, get yet better.

    Thanks for checkin' in.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by radair View Post
    What a start to the trip! It had to make you think (but probably not say) WTF are we doing here? Or maybe you were mentally prepared for such a battle.

    There's always a moment of "Well... Here we are again..." but the more of these trips you do the more prepared you seem to be to accept that moment -- and all that goes with it -- and then move on with what you're doing.

  22. #22
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    Aug 2003

    Minds blown.

    Morning dawned bright, early, and quickly got hot. I don't often associate a need for shade with any of my Alaska trips, but I was conscious of where the sun was and kept my back to it while breakfasting, mending gear, and packing up this morning.

    A few miles of engaging gravel grinding brought us to Cross Creek, which featured heavy downstream winds whipping dust all about us, some remnant sheets of aufeis, and on the far side some curious markings that led us to an ATV trail.

    As soft, soupy, boggy as this trail was it seemed more likely that it was a sledneck route. You could certainly get through on an ATV but with snow filling in the holes and everything frozen it'd feel like a superhighway. Reminded me a lot of the trail north of Rohn on the Iditarod.

    The not-quite-earth we rode atop and within required so much energy output that I pretty quickly determined it wasn't worth it. The downs were marginally acceptable but anything uphill or even level was just maxing me out to creep and slosh along at ~1.5mph, so I hopped off and walked next to the bike, with fairly low output, at 2mph.

    Much easier to spectate the local scenery when walking, too.

    This section was short-lived -- maybe 20 minutes? -- and then we popped out at the edge of the Chisana. A cold, cold breeze blew downstream at us and likely influenced our decision to not just wade willy nilly across the first wide but slack channel we saw. Instead we rode and pushed bear trail upstream aways.

    The pervasive cold wind became more of a factor as we popped out of the woods and the shelves of ice increased. The "heat" of the morning's camp was long forgotten as we ascended into the remnants of winter.

    After 30 minutes or so of paralleling the river we arrived at what we all thought of as the least worst crossing we could find. The water was colder than the air, but only just, and Doom and I were damn chilled after ferrying all the loads across the main channel.

    We kept the boat inflated across this big shelf while secretly hoping the next channel would be wadeable.

    There was one big channel and several smaller ones left to cross. I volunteered to probe the big'n, angling downstream toward a point on the far shore. Maybe 150 yards across in total, wading this one meant fully numb feet way before the halfway point. I was within 30 yards of the far bank when I let my guard down -- took one big step instead of another small shuffle -- and that happened to be right where the bottom dropped out. Without warning I was swimming. I'd had the presence of mind to keep the bike downstream of me and with its big buoyant tires it floated unassisted. I kicked and stroked a time or three while being pushed by the current, then felt the bottom coming back up and hauled myself out. I was soaked to the neck but at least I was across. I motioned to the others to try a higher line then wrung out my clothes while doing jumping jacks.

    They all succeeded in crossing without swimming, but their chosen lines also put all of them at least chest deep at some point. You simply can't be sure of what you're reading when the water is this opaque. Doom -- oddly -- struggled the most when he found some bottomless silt that sucked him in over the knees. Glacial rivers are awesomely, unpredictably weird like that.

    30 minutes later we broiled in the sun next to one of many landing strips in the community of Chisana.

    This place saw a gold rush in 1913 and then withered away within a decade. Refurbished summer-use cabins and trails from the miners still exist. We rode along a second runway on our way through "town", then took a brief break in the shade of a small cabin for lunch.

    Maybe 100' away from where we sat a small plane was parked. After ~20 minutes of sitting there eating and talking Doom noticed that there were feet dangling out the door. Swinging in the breeze. I thought it odd that someone would sit so close and not at least throw up a wave of greeting. But then not everyone that lives in the bush cares to be social. As we packed to resume riding the feet clomped down to the ground and carried their owner over to ask about our route. He looked our bikes over in detail, asked how we'd crossed the Nabesna and Chisana, then after I answered he said "Those Alpacka's are awesome little boats". With that he turned on his heels and jogged toward his aircraft.

    I yelled after him, "But wait -- you didn't tell us anything about you! What are you doing out here!?"

    Without breaking stride he chuckled over his shoulder, "There's a *phone system* out here and it needed repairing!"

    90 seconds later he was a quickly disappearing drone to the north.

    We wove our way through the rest of Chisana on ATV trail. A lone lynx glided silently across ahead of us then disappeared between two cabins.

    Eventually the trail blended into the gravel bars of Geohenda Creek and we got back into the headspace of finding the cleanest line as we ascended this drainage.

    Creative route finding was the rule here: Often we'd wade upstream, plowing into the current as the water piled over our waists, reaching a hand out to steady ourselves on cut banks or rock walls, as doing so meant we could stay on one side of the river (no need to cross then recross) for another mile or more.

    In the middle reaches of Geohenda we emerged from behind a bluff to find the scenery changing in a hurry. Icefield capped peaks drew us ever upward on what turned out to be some of the most engaging riding of the trip. With all senses firing you could ride complicated and dynamic lines across the cobbles while observing animal tracks, pondering ski lines, and recognizing that the immediate terrain was about to change and it might be time to move laterally to keep the riding flowing.

    One of the tidbits that Roman shared with us before leaving was simply: "If it sucks, do something else".

    We'd come to understand this to mean that there was almost always decent if not good riding available. Putting your head down and plowing forward heedless was a good way to miss it -- you had to stay engaged. I was never not amazed that *just* as the cobbles got unmanageable or the creek pinched us between its raging self and a wall, poking your nose up onto a bench would reveal a quality, rideable piece of trail. The local animals travel (you could even say "maintain") these trails year-round and so it shouldn't have been a surprise that there was always a better route when things got unruly. These trails ranged from faint depressions in the grass to full-blown and heavily used u-shaped singletrack.

    As with on Cooper Creek it was relieving to arrive at the upper reaches where most tributaries were below us and the creek was but a trickle. When necessary we could simply ride across it instead of slugging it out with bikes on shoulders.

    Below, note trail ascending the hillside beyond the snow bridge. This is where *it* started. We didn't know it yet, but this is where our minds began to be blown.

    Between that snow bridge and the Solo Mountain Cabin lay some of the sweetest alpine skinny I've ever had the pleasure to roll tires across. Lined with flowers, mellowly graded, buff without feeling man-made, we rode for miles, for hours, gliding along with very little output even though we were still ascending.

    We crossed several false summits on our ascent, each serving to frame the unfolding scenery in such a way as to say "Savor *this* moment, dammit!"

    Boy did we.

    Note two riders, below, climbing away from a creek crossing and back onto the good stuff.

    My thought from the previous day -- about these trails being at least as good as any section of the Colorado Trail -- came rushing back to me here. And the simple truth is that I'd take this trail -- even with all of its attendant hazards and difficulties -- 9 times out of 10 over the CT. This was so much sweeter in it's wild remoteness, it's vast emptiness, it's mandate that you engage with the place while working to earn the sweet rewards.

    And the tenth of those ten times? I'd flip a coin.

    Almost as if in response to my musings the trail vanished -- reminding me of exactly where I was -- and we found ourselves hopscotching across tussocks for the last ~mile to the cabin.

    The lack of trail here seemed like a gift, too, in that it allowed us to spot this fox and watch her work the ground for prey. That search culminated in a cock-eared pause, an arch of her back, and then an acrobatic pounce from which she emerged with something wriggling in her mouth and then subsequently disappeared behind a knoll. A magic moment, then -- poof -- gone.

    The last creamy light faded as we rolled up to the cabin, spent but glowing, and settled in for the night.

    Thanks for checkin' in.

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