Sunday, February 16, 2014

Perfect bike for the Whites

People collect things — stamps, pennies, books, bottles of wine, bobble-head dolls. Beat, love him, likes to collect bicycles. Every time he starts musing about potential acquisitions, I tease him about enjoying the process of buying and building bikes more than actually riding bikes, when I'm almost exactly the opposite — love riding bikes, but wish they could magically fix themselves and maybe go live somewhere else when I'm not using them. He always fires back that I, the primary cyclist in this relationship, benefit the most from his collections — to which I can only agree. Since I moved to California in 2011, I've sold or given away all of my previously owned bicycles save for one (my commuter fixie). Yet, thanks to Beat, I enjoy regular rides on a wonderful titanium soft-tail mountain bike, an S-Works Specialized Roubaix, a carbon Calfee road bike, an aluminum Fatback, and now a expedition titanium fat bike that I *will* plan a proper winter expedition for, someday soon. Beat joked that I've commandeered all of the bikes and he needed one that was uniquely his own, a geared mountain bike. I put up resistance because, well, so many bikes (and he owns a trainer franken-bike, his own commuter fixie, and a single-speed mountain bike that I never borrow.)

"You don't even like mountain biking," I argued facetiously, to which Beat countered, "so?"

I lost this argument in grand fashion when Mike Curiak, who sold us the expedition fat bike, put another "Snoots" up for sale — a Moots softtail fat bike with an Action Tech Pro Shock suspension fork — kind of an old-school, lightweight full-suspension set-up for massive wheels. The kicker was this fat bike also came with a second set of 29" standard mountain bike wheels with hubs wide enough to accommodate a quick switch. With those wheels, it's very much like my own Mooto-X YBB. "It's a fat bike and a mountain bike," Beat argued, so it met the criteria he set for yet another bike purchase. Plus, as a bicycle collector, he is also a huge fan of Curiak's design aesthetic.

So, now this bike lives with us as well. I initially tried to keep my distance because this is Beat's bike. However, we recently discussed which bike I'm going to take to Alaska, to ride post-ITI and also to race in the White Mountains 100. I didn't want to bring Expedition Snoots on this particular trip because of its value, and also because it's not necessarily the best bike for a "short" race like the White Mountains. But after beginning to prep the Fatback for the trip, Beat suggested maybe I would enjoy all of the awesome features of the latest acquisition. First I had to make sure I was comfortable riding it.

Today we set out with Liehann for a three-hour fat bike tour on the new Moots, the Expedition Snoots, and Fatty Fatback. My rash, while having improved markedly in the past few days, is still irritated enough to make sitting in saddles and turning pedals unpleasant. Without getting too graphic, I'll just say that it's similar to having serious chaffing in all of the wrong places. I was stewing in misery about this for the entire 90-minute climb to the top of Black Mountain, mostly ignoring Beat's cheerful recommendations to try to dropper seatpost and questions about the handling.

The final pitch to the peak is steep enough that I always feel like I might tip over backward if I pull too hard, and I have to keep my butt planted in the saddle to maintain traction. Still, by that point today I was done with saddles — and anyway, I wanted to put Beat's Moots to a test. Standing up and leaning far over the handlebars, I purposefully pedaled in the loose gravel off to the side to mimic a steep climb on soft snow. Amazingly, the Surly Nate tire dug in, and the low gearing allowed me to spin a comfortable cadence while maintaining traction, even with the rear wheel unweighted. I was an instant fan.

The long, rolling descent was increasingly more fun. The Moots has similar comfort, agility and responsiveness as my YBB, along with the confidence-inspiring stability and bouncy fun of fat tires. Standing out of the saddle more frequently also went a long way in improving my mood. With Beat's blessing, we're going to pack up this bike for the trip north, and I am *really* looking forward to riding it in the White Mountains. The prospect of this gives me glimmers of carefree excitement amid the weighty dread I feel about the Iditarod Trail Invitational.

This dread is a good thing — it's what makes these endeavors so rewarding — but, damn, it sure makes me feel icky in the week leading up to the challenge. Both Beat and I have been a bit moody this week with our various points of panic — for Beat, it seems to be mainly gear and food planning. For me, it's obsession about my greatest fear out on the trail: Bad ice and open water. Alaska was so warm for most of January that a lot of waterways opened up, and little new snow has arrived to fill in the cracks. Although there's been decent freeze-up for the past two weeks, more warm weather is forecasted for next weekend, with the horrific prospect of "ice pellets and rain, 37F" in the Susitna Valley and on up into the Alaska Range from Saturday until at least Tuesday. Of course it's at least a week out and the weather could be something completely different — but we have to mentally prepare for what I consider the most challenging weather condition. The misery of perpetual wetness at near-freezing temperatures with gear we can't afford to soak — such things cannot be anticipated with anything but dread. And of course, I'm even more terrified of the prospect of new overflow, open leads and bad ice caused by another long stretch of above-freezing weather. All we can do is maintain flexibility, make the right decisions for ourselves, and hope for the best. But, damn, what can I say? I'm looking forward to the White Mountains 100.

As for the rash, I did see my doctor and he believes it's eczema caused by some sort of allergic reaction. It could still be a lot of things, but he did prescribe a corticosteroid cream that has been helpful in minimizing flare-ups and reducing symptoms. I opted out of Prednisone since I am already amped up with dread this week, and don't need the added insomnia from steroids. But if this doesn't clear up completely in the next few days, I'm probably going to kick myself for not insisting on drugs. The next step is to visit an allergist and see if we can pinpoint a cause. Hopefully it's not an autoimmune reaction that will only continue to worsen over time. But for now, the top concern is staying safe and as dry as possible starting next week. I am excited for this adventure — but scared, viscerally scared, which is the very part of myself I set out to overcome in such endeavors. With some luck, we'll prevail.