Saturday, September 20, 2008

Monkey makeover

Date: Sept. 19
Mileage: 61.3
September mileage: 470.9

So my dream of riding the Golden Circle next weekend is really starting to take shape. The weather is so far looking like it will be fairly nice (you know, for early winter.) I contacted my friends Anthony and Sierra in Whitehorse and they're willing to put be up on Thursday night and possibly even ride part of the tour with me. (I owe those two enough favors at this point that I'll probably just have to promise them my first born.) Then I started to seriously consider which bike to use. I no longer trust my clankity, creaky touring bike, at least out on my own in a fairly remote part of the world. But it also seemed a little silly to take a mountain bike on a 370-mile road tour. But then I wondered ... what if I turned my mountain bike into a touring bike? I spent the evening in my friend Terry's garage last night wrenching the bike and discussing the logistics. Then, today I dropped by Glacier Cycles to make it reality. The result is my new-and-improved Karate Monkey, KiM ... the lean, mean, remote-Alaska-road-eating machine:

I've had this rigid fork since I got the bike - it was the fork that came with the frame. I stuffed it under my bed in favor of a Reba suspension fork, but kept it around so I could switch it out for winter riding. Since winter is all but here, I figured I could get a jump on it and switch the forks now. It'll mean riding rigid on trails for the rest of the fall (likely on my Pugsley). But it should also be a better fit for my Yukon tour.

I also bought these "skinny" touring tires to roll better on pavement but also chew up the potential gravel and mud without too many problems. If there's a lot of ice and snow out there, that's another thing. But if there's a lot of ice and snow out there, well, that's another thing.

But that's also why I started to think more seriously about bringing all of the camping gear I'd actually need to spend a night out, and not just relying on Sierra and Anthony and Yukon motels. I was also thinking more that as long as it's not raining, a campout along the Haines Highway may even be fun. So, basically, I outfitted KiM with svelte new tires and a sleek new fork and then packed her up like a pig. On the handlebars I have a North Face sleeping bag rated to -20, a 3/4" Thermarest and a Black Diamond winter bivy sack. The seat post bag has a spare tube, my rain pants, an extra base layer, a down coat, mittens, extra socks, a balaclava and some thermal pants (did I mention I'm expecting winter weather?) All I have in the frame bag right now is my water filtration bottle (I'm planning to carry the rest of my water on my back.) There's obviously a lot more room in there than what I'll need to carry a day's worth of food and the miscellaneous other things I'll need, so I may rethink the packing up front or in back. Or I may just carry more stuff than I need. Nothing wrong with that.

The front bag may look like it would really mess up the handling, hanging off the handlebars as it does. I rode it around my block a couple of times and didn't notice any problems. I'll probably take it out for a longer ride when it's drier just to make sure. I think everything put together in that bundle weighs only about five or six pounds, so it's more bulk than weight. There's also the consideration that I will be riding exclusively on roads, so the handling can be more sluggish without problems. Although it does seem a shame to blast right by the mountain biking capital of the north and not even hit up any singletrack, I simply won't have time.

All of my bike bags are the same Epic Designs bike bags I used on my Pugsley in Iditarod Trail Invitational last February. The front bundle was specifically designed for my pig of a minus 40 degree sleeping bag, so it doesn't cinch up as tight as it could over the "small" minus 20 degree bag, which is why I'm getting some bulging (the clearance is still fine.) The frame bag is also too big for the Karate Monkey. But beyond that, all of the gear transferred really well between bikes and different uses. I should mention that Geoff used that exact frame bag and seat post bag during the Great Divide Race. Epic Designs: It's the gift that keeps on giving.

I feel really excited about the prospect of this trip. I should feel more nervous. I did the exact same bike tour a year ago and spent two months preparing and training for it. But what a difference a year can make ... I know a lot can go wrong and it will be hard either way, but I feel a lot more confidence in my abilities, in dealing both with the physical challenge of the mileage and the psychological challenge of the remoteness. I rode my touring bike out to the end of the road today as the mechanics at Glacier Cycles were working on KiM. It was one of those days where I rolled into Echo Cove and despite steady rain and cold wind gusts, I really wished I could just keep going. Sometimes, you just need those open miles. Sometimes they just call to you.


  1. Thats a sweet setup! Have fun and take tons of pics.


  2. Wooohoooo, sounds like a great adventure. I'm heading off today. to do some mountain biking with my daughter.

    Have fun on your trip. I can't wait to read about it. Take care!

  3. Nice reflective sidewalls... KiM will be super fast!

  4. This sounds amazing. And hard!! I will just live vicariously through you and your beautiful pictures.

  5. sounds like some kind of fun, jill! :) enjoy!

  6. Jill, enjoy the trip. And about that gear on the front. I'm still addicted to my CETMA rack. I've carried as much as 30# on there. The problem was when I take the weight off...oversteering becomes a huge problem.


  7. What a wonderful place! yu're an extreme biker in an extreme place!enjoy :)

  8. In a couple of weeks I am going to take a long weekend and drive over to the Navajo Nation in Arizona for the Chuska Challenge. They have an interesting statement on their web site regarding the possible weather in the high country: "Expect the best, and be prepared for the rest."

    I suppose if you saw my 34+ year old steel bike and you did not know much about components, then you might get the impression that some poor, homeless person must own it. I leave a couple of panniers and a tattered, weatherbeaten rack trunk on the back to haul clothes and food for my daily 31 mile round trip commute.

    Apparently I inspired a coworker to try bike commuting, and he has early signs of addiction. We will not know whether he is totally hooked until the cold (for us, but hot for you) weather arrives.

    Last week I was showing him some back ways to ride to avoid busy streets. (The poor guy has already been right-hooked once!) As we rode along an irrigation ditch dirt road he mentioned that he was having some difficulty shifting gears. I was not too surprised when he showed me his 10 year old Wal-Mart type bike.

    We stopped and I pulled out some tools and adjusted his front derailleur. Jill, I am sure that your road bike would look and ride like a Rolls-Royce compared with his bike. Nevertheless, even though his crank was ready to fall off and the bottom bracket was probably missing half of its bearings, I assured him he had a fine machine and might enjoy it even more now that he had a full compliment of shifting options.

    On Friday we had an offsite meeting and we both arrived on our bikes. He told everyone else that I carried a lot of stuff. I guess that is true, but so what?

    As I was bike commuting home on Thursday I came upon a young (to me, not to you) fellow carrying his bike on his shoulder. I asked him whether he needed any assistance. He declined. I asked him whether he was training for any particular event that requires carrying your bike instead of having it carry you? He said, "No, I've got a flat." I asked him whether he needed a patch? He mumbled, "I don't know how to fix it." So, I pulled over and showed him how to fix a flat. The valve stem on the first tube was broken off. His "new" spare tube was so old that it was dry cracked and split at every fold. I tried patching and even duct taping that one a couple of times before I pulled out one of my spares from my rack trunk. Did I mention that he did not have a pump?

    Apparently I do carry a lot of stuff, and the irony is that I seldom need it for myself. So, unless some retrogrouch knucklehead like myself comes along: "Expect the best, and be prepared for the rest." Kim looks ready. Enjoy your trip!

    P.S. On an entirely different note. Have you checked out Yahoo's Purple Pedal Project?

  9. I just did the tire switch on my Bianchi SS M.U.S.S. as well. I am putting new gearing on it for the winter (and a new chain of course :) ). Hope the bike serves you well on your weekend tour. Be safe!


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