Home Living Beardcicle Chronicles Beardcicle Chronicles: Ten Below?

Beardcicle Chronicles: Ten Below?

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It is cold this morning. Damned cold. -4 at my house and a brisk -8 a few blocks from the office.

Apart from the few bits of my exposed face skin, I am shockingly warm. Comfortable, almost. Yes, my nose is burning with the cold and my eye lashes have frozen together on the left eye, but I’m in a good place. Even with the bike’s grease turning sludgy, I am in a good place.

Maybe it is residual good vibes from Saturday’s Global Fat Bike Day ride?

I am generally not a big fan of group rides.

But if this morning’s warm feeling was a result of a good group ride, I guess I can give it props.

First, big up to Backcountry Bike and Ski in Palmer and, particularly, Kevin for putting this thing on. The burn barrel? Epic.

I wasn’t going to go on the ride. I’d spent the whole day at Kincaid in 17F degree temps with north winds in the 15-20 mph range. Chilled to the bone I was. When you’ve spent the day outside, the last thing you want to do is to go spend another three-to-four hours in the cold with darkness added to it.

But, I’d committed to going and, really, what better did I have to do?

The ride headed out from the Jim Creek parking lot and out onto the Knik River flats. When I arrived, just a touch before the 6P.M. start time, the fire barrel was blazing and folks were getting their bikes and gear all ready to go. There ended up being around 40 folks or so that showed for the ride.

Jim Creek and the Knik River are usually cold spots in the valley — low lying and directly influenced by the glacier and the way that the river valley funnels wind. I’d dressed for single digits and wind.

Strangely, there wasn’t a lick of wind. And the car told me the air temp was 11F when I arrived and 10F when I left later in the evening. Good temperatures for a nice, easy ride.

We all stood around for a bit while everyone got set up for the ride. Beers were drunk. Stories were told. The fire was made bigger. Dogs. Kids. Parents. Old married couples out on date night. There were all kinds of riders out for a bit of hooliganism in the dark.

The ATV trail down to the river is, well, an ATV trail. There are gigantic ruts in spots; ruts that force cyclists to either balance a narrow ridge or drop into the ruts and lose the ability to peddle as the cranks and peddles are just as wide or even wider than the ruts themselves. Getting around 40 riders down the trail presented some interesting sights. Lots of riders hitting the ruts and going down. Slow speed crashes that had everyone laughing. The types of crashes that don’t result in bruised and dislocated ribs.

Once we got to the river flats themselves, that is where things really took a turn for the fun. The snow conditions were damned near perfect — packed for the most part, but even where not packed down by the day’s traffic it was so light and fluffy it didn’t drag on the wheels much at all.

We cut across the flats to Jim Creek proper and then rode up the creek. The snow on top of ice was nicely bonded and fast rolling. Riders grouped up, chatted for a while, peeled off and reformed new groups. Easy riding. Fast riding. Bad-assery riding — wheelies, bunny-hops, and hucking off downed trees. Don’t forget the power slides. Fun times.

We had a few riders who hadn’t ever really ridden fat before and definitely not this type of fat riding. It was heartening to listen to their exultation and exclamations that this was the greatest thing ever. And it was. It was. Though, by mile eight or nine, at least one of the newly converted experienced that moment where the elation turns to suck — where the combination of cold, a heavier bike, and the extra resistance of riding in snow taps them out. It can happen so fast, too. One minute the ride is wonderful and the next it seems impossible to go on.

I guess I should have offered up part of my Snickers bar when I saw them flagging. But I’d thought they’d had a beer-up at one of the prior stops. Oh well. A good lesson.

All in, the main group rode about 12 miles. A nice ride.

Of course, the main event wasn’t so much the ride, but rather the bullshit session around the barrel afterwards. Two hours of riding and another two hours of bullshitting around burning wood.

Yup. That’s a way to spend a winter’s eve in Alaska.

If you’ve not experienced riding a fatbike in the dark in the “wild” I suggest you do so. It is brilliant fun. A group ride, with the right group, is a good way to do it too. No worries about getting lost — a good bunch of people around to make sure that if you get into trouble of some sort that you can get back out of it. They might even be nice enough to give you a Snickers bar.

Watch for an upcoming night ride at the Moose Range in Palmer — another excellent riding venue for this type of hooliganism and frosty beards.

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Phil was born and raised in the Midwest. He moved to Alaska in 2010 and started his bike commuting life then and hasn’t looked back yet. He is primarily focused on how bikes can be used to supplant other forms of transportation, when it makes sense to do so, but he is also interested in how to combine different forms of alternative transportation to create a sustainable and enjoyable commute. Besides cycling, Phil works as a business analyst, is a recovering poet, teaches technical writing, and still harbors a dream to write a great novel some day.

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