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.