Monday, April 25, 2011

An ode to the Serotta

When a stranger asks what I do for fun, I'll probably respond that I ski, snowboard and mountain bike, likely in that order.
In the past few years that's actually become quite fitting of the order that, at least those three activities, would fall into as far as priorities go in my life.
And yes, the answer leaves a lot to be desired if you read this blog. No where in that response is there for example, mention of hiking, fishing, or hunting.
Then again, usually when someone asks a question like that, let's be honest, they're probably looking to make conversation, not trying to get a biblio in one breath.
Anyhow, the point is, there's one activity that has always been absent in that answer, and it's sort of ironic when I think about it: road biking.
For example, if this stranger I'm having a conversation with were to have asked me if I rode bikes, I would have said, "ya, I mountain bike."
Mile for mile though, I probably should have answered that I ride pavement.
Despite a long-standing dislike of roadbiking and roadbikers through my younger years and into the summer following my freshmen year of college, since the fall of 2005, most of my mileage has been on the inside of the fog line (or at least withing a few feet of it anyhow).
After I got into racing in college I learned that as much as I hated roadbikers and their rainbow spandex suits, being a so-called "dirt and singletrack purist" wasn't going to lead to any wins.
I gave in slowly at first, fitting my old GT hardtail with slick tires and exploring the roads of Saratoga County.
The big change came in the winter of 2006 when Ben Serotta of Saratoga-based Serotta bikes gifted several of his company's coveted frames to Skidmore Cycling.
Included in that gift was a supple practically made-for-a-mountain-biker steel Fierte that was passed on to me.
The Serotta, in its infancy in my form room in early winter of '06. I was beside myself when I got this frame.
 Though I was on the road, no pun intended, to building up my own skinny tire rig before this, my limited student budget was making it tough to do.
The Fierte, valued at $2,500 for just the frame alone, got me started, and early that spring a former Trek rep who lived in the area held a blow-out style yard sale that allowed me to pick-up more parts for dirt cheap. All in all, I was able to put the Serotta together for a grand total of about $750.
The Serotta in early summer '06. Just looking at those tires and big trucker bars scares me. Also, can't see it, but those are Sora shifters. Can you say thumb blisters?
Since then I've probably cranked out 20,000 miles or more on it, chewing up two drivetrains, two wheel sets, a seat post, and a saddle.
Manhattan, somewhere, a hundred miles down, fall '07, T_Roe on my wheel.
The Sera's wheels have spun over the hot metal of a trainer on cold winter days, slipped on ice and been coated in heavy wet snow in early spring and late fall, ridden the streets of downtown Manhattan and been mired in muck in remote Alaska.
A typical sight in the back room at 99 Lawrence in '06 and '07.
That doesn't even begin to scratch the surface either. If that bike had a glory period it had to be the summer of 2007 when I relentlessly attacked the Middlebury Gap, doing double gap out-and-back rides and uphill time trials nearly setting new PRs weekly. That November would have been something of a golden end to that season as, after the trails froze up but the snow crept slowly south out of Canada, Andrew and I coasted on strong seasons on frigid long epics though the southern Adirondack Park every weekend before setting a new course record at that year's "Sweat'n Ice Century."
Headed down the Brooklyn Bridge in fall of '06, about mile 110 of a 115 mile day.
Since then, my riding has come down in what was largely a planned descent from that peak.
Indeed, these last few years in Alaska paired with my recent lifestyle has not been kind to the Serotta.
The uninspiring roads of the central Kenai Peninsula made road riding more of a chore; the dust and grit on the highway further ground it down; and a short season paired with a seasonal fishing lifestyle kept it shuttered up inside for most of the year anyhow.
Rolling into the finish of the MS Century on the fall of '07.
Late this March, I finally took stock of the Serotta, sitting in a corner of my apartment only pulled out once a week for a spin.
Roadbikes are the stoic breed in the two-wheeled family. They run for thousands of miles requiring only occasional maintenance until one day, they make a noise. You fix the noise, the bike goes back to running. a far cry from their attention hogging mountain bike cousins who squeak groan and cry for time in the stand often and endlessly.
When I looked at the Serotta now though, tears just about ran from her drop bars.
The carbon seat post had a crack that ran about two inches long and though showed now obvious signs of straining, was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off on the next section of washboard dirt road or a big effort.
Road bike purgatory, note the head tube, fork, brake and seat post are coated in snow. April '09.
The wheels were both showing their age and neither had a full season left in them.
The 2x9 drivetrain had stopped shifting cleanly sometime last fall and the teeth were worn down and stained black with crud. Finding 9 speed components rings wouldn't have been impossible, but as I learned when I tried to hold the line with eight speeds a few years ago, resistance is futile. In this consumer-driven world more is better, whether you like it or not.
All of that could have been dealt with for about $750 though, more or less, but there was one other major problem.
Starting last spring, and again in the fall, but particularly this past winter on my weekly spins, my knees have been bothering me.
Not in a dangerous, or frightening sharp-pain or tearing kind of way, just, as was obvious by anyone who might have watched me ride, that I was too drawn out and I was sitting too far behind the pedals, even though my saddle was as far forward as the rails allowed.
That, was the frame, and you can't fix that.
February '10, ya, that's gravel and ice under those tires.
I don't know why that didn't bother me for the previous four years, maybe I was too young and dumb, or maybe I'm just getting old and weak, but knee pain is not something to mess around with.
A year ago, this might have posed more of a financial issue, but I'm in a very fortunate position now in that regard, and after five years of hard service, rebuilding a bike that no longer really fit me for the third time in its life just didn't add up when compared to the price of buying something new that did fit.
On Sunday night I was thinking about all of this and more.
Alaska hasn't been all bad for the Serotta. Kenai Spur Highway, spring '09. (Photo courtesy Moon).
A brand new, jet black, sleek, carbon fiber Scott CR1 Elite leaned against a nearby wall. With less than 100 miles on it, it was already well-coated with muck from Anchorage's Upper Hillside backroads and snot drip marks dotted the top tube.
As I finished disassembling the Serotta and cleaning accumulated grit and grime from its hard to reach nooks and crannies, I wondered what road it would head down next.
The future, already as dirty as my car, though worth about the same...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sunshine and powder

It sure feels like it's been a while, but the Kenai Gods were smiling upon the mountains this weekend.
Blue bird skies and plentiful sun and north-facing powder runs were to be had in both Turnagain and Summit passes.

I met up with the Anchorage crew on Saturday morning. Initially we thought about making a trip back to Pastoral Peak (LINK) , but with not a single spot left in the Taylor Creek lot, the typical access to both Sunburst and Pastoral, we realized other probably came to the same conclusion. Sarah had skied Corn Biscut the week before and reported great conditions so we drove a little farther down the road and found the Corn Biscut lot was empty. Score.

Heading across the powerline clearing. Lips is in the background.

Down low the snow was baked rock hard and some skate skiers have been getting after it at highway elevation, however, higher up, the crust is still punchy.

Pancake eyes the goods on the north side of the ridge.

Grand Daddy and the Grand Daddy Couloir beckoned, but were not for the day.

We stuck to the north side of Corn Biscut, putting in three powder laps. One other part of three showed up but never went higher than our lowest point, and stayed on the west face harvesting corn. When we left around 5 the harvest was perfect, not too crispy but not over ripe or bottomless either.

Josh lays into it.

Saturday was a major kick in the tail for my whole body. Just as last winter made me strong in the backcountry but feeling short on the skate skis, the opposite has been true of this one.
Nonetheless, Jack and I met up Sunday morning and headed south.
We drove through Turnagain and looked at Corn Biscut, but so did everyone else I think. We put in some spectacular lines there on Saturday no doubt and people saw them. I was thinking maybe jack and I could go back and snake out a few more Sunday, but with six cars in the lot at 1130-ish, we kept driving.

We decided on Tenderfoot Ridge, recalling the epic day we had back there last April (LINK).

Down at the small parking area this little puff ball came running over from Summit Lodge or one of the private cabins nearby. He, or she, seemed playful and friendly, and decided it was coming along.
The damn thing ended up following us all the way to 4,000' when we reached what I refer to as Tenderfoot's lower summit. I don't think that's what it had in mind when it took off with us.
It really didn't expect to see us drop over the north side into one of the dozen or so couloirs that go down into Butcher Creek either. The light little dog had no trouble staying afloat on the sun-crusted west face of Tenderfoot, but on the powedery north would have been wallowing. After some indecision, the little puff ball scampered back down the ridgeline to home where it apparently pestered another skier.
What an adventure that thing got!

Jack approached the Tenderfoot's Lower Summit. Three skiers had gone up the ridge the day before and tracked out a couloir just on the other side of the minor flat knob Jack is approaching. We dropped into the couloir Jack appears to be looking down in this shot. The slightly skinnier one just past that actually wishbones into the one we skied, but is a bit steeper and a lot tighter on the entrance. We saw later that the one the three guys had skied the day before was rather discontinuous, and ultimately we picked the best of the few in this are of the ridge.
When Jared and I trekked up Butcher Creek last year (the valley to the left) I specifically remember that of all the couloirs and gullies that fall off this ridge, everyone but one goes, though some are thin, some are discontinuous, etc. That one that didn't go though, cliffed out, and where it was I could not recall. Based on our ski back out and what I can remember, it was farther up the ridge mixed in with a set of gullies that come right off the Lower Summit, most of which aren't very attractive in the first place.


Headed down our couloir, the snow was hollow sounding, with about 4-6 inches of stale powder on top of a 4-5 inch layer of very breakable crust on top of 18 inches of bottomless sugar, on top of the bullet proof layer. We got out of there fast. No collapses, but it felt ready to go and I didn't like it at all.

We headed back down the valley and put in an uptrack on what I refer to as Tenderfoot's Lower North Face, the partially treed broad northwest-oriented slope of the ridge that drops down to a table above Butcher Creek. It's a great run with a little less exposure and a longer line than the Bad Place over on Tri Tip next door, which, for what it's worth just looked ready to rip and take anything in its path with it.

Jack carves.

Making lines on the mountain pop.

The lower north face had about a 10-inch deposition of great powder burying the thick layer of breakable crust and the sketchy sugar layer beneath that. Snow quality was perfect for an April north face run.

We would have had the area completely to ourselves, but about mid-afternoon Mike Hancock of Soldotna came up to make a few runs. Our climb synced with his, and when he said he planned to head back down the west face for a sun run, we just about dragged him down the north for powder. He didn't seem too upset. I posted a couple pictures below that he emailed me.

We exited around 7 after five laps. to maximize powder we went out the north exit, which is a bit flat and a bit woody but a lot of fun. We skied straight onto corn, bypassing the usual inbetween suncrust where the powder has melted out, however, the thick layer of sugar is causing the bottom to fall out in many areas. Jack got taken by surprise when one of his skis plunged deep into some rotten snow and went face first. Though much lower than where Jack fell through, even on a board I began to wallow if  wasn't careful to stay on areas that have already been skied. Some more warm temps should take care of that.

One last look back.

I always appreciate getting to see the mountains through other people's lenses, and better yet, a few pictures of yours truly on my own blog. Thanks again Mike, hope to see you out there again.

I don't know why, but, is it next weekend yet?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Turns on Peak 3 After 3

For the last three years I've enjoyed the later half of the year's bountiful daylight to do long bike rides, twilight skate skis, and even late evening hikes after work. One activity has managed to slip from that list season after season though, carving powder, or corn, or really any snow at all. Visible daylight currently stretches until about 9:30 at the moment, at least on clear days, which is more than enough time to get in a lap or two if you can hit the sloped early enough. I've made an effort in the past to make this happen. Last season I planned out an afterwork corn harvest in the Mystery Hills off of the Skyline Trail. My hope was that I would be able to leave work early, and with gear packed, blitz for the hills and scurry to treeline. The problem was that last year, work was an hour drive from the trail head. From there it was about a 45 minute hike, hauling the snowboard on my pack, to the col at the top of the Skyline Trail. Because the area is so steep, gets little snow, and the trip would occur in mid-April, skinning from the road wouldn't be possible at all. Doing the math, if I left work at 4, I could have theoretically be skinning by 6, and summitted by about 7, best case scenario. Depending on the days temps, I could have then put in up to two runs before I would have had to hive back down. Bottom line, not really worth it. unless you can break at noon. Those dynamics have changed. On Wednesday morning we picked up a few fresh inches on top of some recent snowfall over the previous few days. By the afternoon it had cleared into a blue bird day, and with nothing much going on at work, I took off at 4. At first I had considered spinning the skinny wheels on asphalt for the first time of the season, but when I finally caught a glimpse of the mountains wearing their rebuffed white coats, another set of wheels got spinning. Luckily most of my backcountry gear was already packed. I called up an unnamed source for directions on where to go, and he wisely pointed me to Peak 3, an easily accessible sub-summit and well-known Front Range hot spot. The summit of Peak 3 rises to about 3,900,' which is about 2,000' of vert from the tiny parking area at the end of Canyon Road. The skinning begins a less than 20 minute drive from my house. That's pretty sweet! Peak 3 is the back peak. Though heavily skied, there were fresh turns to be found on both sides of the major ski field. Down low the snow was soggy and lumpy. At just about the hemlock line (3,000'), however, the consistency markedly improved. South-facing aspects were notably cooked by the sun, but just a few degrees more exposure to the west protected the snow and kept it skiable all day. An unnamed skier throws up a few face shots near the summit. Peak 2 in the foreground, and Anchorage's favorite day hike past that, Flat Top. Denali and Foraker poke out above the clouds. Anchorage's favorite glacial valley (Powerline Pass). At the bottom of my first lap clouds from the incoming"mega storm" (LINK) rolled in chilling the air but also preventing the sun from cooking any more snow. Sunset over Anchorage. I'm more used to looking up when I hear a plane, not so much off to the side! They seem awfully low when they come in over the Chugach, but maybe they were just checking out the snow conditions because they planned to ski after work too?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kruiseing the Kenai Krust

It's the time of year when legs, strong from a winter's worth of skiing, pair up with the crystalline ice structure known as crust snow, to make for epic adventures on skate skis. I took a trip down to the Peninsula this weekend to get some car work done and put some miles away on skis. Chalk another one up for the small town by the way: affordable car care and reliable trustworthy mechanics seem to be easier to come by. I guess when you're only working with a small population base it doesn't pay to become known as a rip off. After the suby had its recently discovered gas leak repaired, I headed back to the lodge. The ice is out on the river, probably for three weeks or so now, but the shore ice builds up thick through the winter, due mostly to groundwater seepage that pours across the mostly exposed river bottom, and glaciates, forming a thick cover. Typically, by breakup, the shore ice is about 4-feet-thick at camp. The surface of this ice is more crystalline than most other waterbody ice, perhaps because it forms gradually and from the top up not the bottom down. As it melts it has more of a course structure that suits the gliding nature of skate skis well. I've tried to take advantage of this in the past, but last winter for example, the inside bend just below camp was washed out during breakup, and it wasn't possible to ski around the corner. I could have just walked through the woods obviously, but the woods aren't exactly all that open, and though the river is mostly uninhabited by people though the winter, the few that do live there don't tend to take kindly to trespass. This year, however, the bank ice hung on just below camp, and after scouting it out on foot, I decided to put on the skis and see how far I could make it down river. Since I started by first skiing upriver to the confluence of the Moose, that's where my ski started for the sake of the map. I made it about 10 miles downriver to what's referred to as upper, or second powerline. Down river from there the shore ice appeared narrow and broken for a long distance, so I called it good and turned around. Surprisingly, skiing back upriver was easier thanks to a scoot from the winds, beginning to build with an incoming storm. The river is a quiet and rather wild place this time of year. Most homes are empty, and due to the generally fast nature of this stretch making for poor winter trout fishing, few if anyone fishes it after mid October. This all makes it ideal for migrating waterfowl. I claim to know nothing of birds, though this is a swan, I can safely say that much, but there were hundreds of ducks of many sorts all along my ski. Many would come bursting out from under the overhanging shore ice where they had taken refuge. The hundreds of eagles that line the bank are clearly tired of picking the bones of freeze-dried humpy carcasses and much prefer fresh duck.

For the most part I found wide open stretches of ice. Several spots, however, were a bit tight. One unforeseen challenge was that when the river went out and the shore ice collapsed, it caused the large plates to settle in a staircase-like manner, where the block upriver of the one below was anywhere from a fraction of an inch to a few feet higher . On the way down these little drops were were pretty fun, but on the way back up I had to be a bit more careful in my route decisions or do some fancy footwork.

This was the trickiest spot along the route thanks to a clotheslining willow overhanging tilted ice. There were very few spots that there was any actual danger of taking a tumble into the river, but of the few there were the consequences were high. In retrospect, wearing a pair of self-rescue ice picks would have been wise.

A juvenile bald eagle is sitting on the large up-thrust of ice across the river. Note the old snowmachine tracks on the plate ice. Also note how much thinner the river ice is compared to the bank ice, not to mention that you can't plunge into a moving current on bank ice. I would not recommend skiing the Kenai when frozen solid as it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between river ice and bank ice. While the plates in the picture above are thick enough to hold a cross country skier, and obviously a speeding snowmachine, falling through would mean almost certain death. ---- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Kasilof Karl and I were hoping to carve powder on Saturday, but a dismal Friday report from Pete told us we'd be better off looking for another adventure. Creative Credit goes to Karl for heading to the Skilak Lake area in search of crust. When Karl called around noon, winds in Sterling were, blowing a steady 10 mph and building, with gusts in the mid-20s. "Well, were going to get blown around wherever we go," we agreed; so why not go to one of the windiest places around, Skilak Lake. Drained by the Kenai River, and fed by Kenai as well as Skilak River, the 15-mile-long, 4-mile-wide and 528-foot-deep lake is the rearing ground for millions of sockeye. It's east-west orientation also makes it an amplifier for east winds blowing out of the Sound.

When we got to the lake, winds speeds were blowing a steady 15 with gusts up to 40 (read stopping power). Leaving from the Lower Landing, we hugged the northern shoreline, taking advantage of of both the lees provided by the minor points and bays, as well as the better surface condition of the ice. The western part of the lake was more smoothly polished by the accelerating winds and too far out from shore it offered nothing for the skis to kick into. The patches of white looked like standing water, but was actually snow that had fallen Friday night. Heavy and wet, it was worth avoiding.

Looking north, we stared at this point for about an hour and 20 minutes. Once we made it up against the knob that protrudes into the lake we took shelter and had a snack. Despite the severe headwind, we made pretty good ground, and as we moved east, the texture of the ice improved, becoming more crusty and better for skating.

Yours truly, facing toward the Skilak River inlet. The winds were fiercest here, channeled through gaps in the mountains and driven by the frigid air pouring off of the Harding Ice Sheet to the south. After another hour of skiing we made it to within about 200 yards of the inlet of the Kenai River where we could see lots of open water. That was good enough. We had basically been climbing for over two hours non-stop, and hadn't gained a single foot of altitude. Now we had a long descent awaiting us. In 20 minutes we made it back around the point where an hour earlier we had eaten.

As this wind blasted us further ease we hit the polished blue ice negating the need to even skate. All you had to do was stand up straight. If you lifted your arms you would actually accelerate, but if you tucked, the normal way to build speed, instead you would slow down. We were back at the car in 50 minutes after leaving our turnaround spot.

Above is Karl is skating along into the wind. Since it is only flat and the surface is ice, even with a stiff headwind, its still possible to keep up a pretty good pace.

Above I buzz by Karl.

Karl shows that you don't need vertical terrain to crank turns, just a patch of snow and some skis to crank on.

My favorite of the day, I always like ski POV videos, plus, watching the ice zip by and seeing how Karl is just standing there getting blasted not skating and only making one half-hearted double-pole really shows how strong that wind was.

Well, is it next weekend yet?