Category Archives: Adventure Planning

Alaska, Again.

I found a great deal a few months back.  We landed round trip tickets to the 49th State, Alaska, for under $450 a person.   That’s a steal of a deal, and after a short discussion, I gladly gobbled the tickets up and confirmed some plans for us with my sister and bruh-in-law.  This was my 5th trip to Alaska, and Katie’s 3rd.   She likes to remind the 12 year old boy I devolve into when I talk about traveling to Canada or Alaska, that we have already been there several times and maybe it is time to explore new places.  She is not wrong and I am grateful that she agrees to explore new parts of the my favorite regions over and over.

I am not sure what it is about the state of Alaska that excites me.  It could be its unique geographic boundaries that seem to barely contain it’s varying an dramatic terrain, all the splendor!  Maybe it’s the landed gentry, the fauna: wolves, bears, moose, elk, and buffalo; the great beasts of our natural world.  Perhaps, it’s one of the many volcanos looming in the distance, occasionally puffing out some steam, reminding you that your surroundings are primal, natural things that would humble you if they desired.  For me, part of it is surely the variety of Mountains, classic looking shark teeth, frothed with snow and ice, to lower round cupcake sized rocks, sentinels in the distance.  My eyes have been clear and wide from a good nights sleep, and blurred, bloodshot from the long travel it takes to arrive in there, regardless, the terrain never ceases to force a space between the two rows of my teeth, letting my lower jaw wag in the wind and force my heart quit and still.  It’s sounds dramatic, because it is.

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How many places do that to you?  I can’t think of many.  Granted, the scope of my global experience is fairly narrow.  When it does happen, it tends to be in the presence of the natural world.  My body doesn’t provide the same physical reaction when presented with the fairly good evidence that humanity can create civilized wonders.  They never seem as humbling, even in context.  Maybe that is unfair.  Art definitely humbles, and evokes a physical reaction.

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Photo taken from: https://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/gogh/gogh.vegetable-montmartre.jpg

Broadly speaking, Americans have a bad reputation for ethnocentrism and xenophobia.  It has been suggested that this is true because they lack exposure to cultures outside of their own country (shit, read: County, or Town in some cases) and they source information that reinforces their world views (I think we are all guilty here). But, in a somewhat shitty defense of the former – when exploring is concerned, North America is pretty spectacular, geographically vibrant (read: fucking RAD) and culturally diverse-ish. In open honesty, when considering vacation, I am not usually super charged to leave the continent.  I feel ashamed to say it out loud, but I would prefer to go back to Yellowstone or Alaska than go back to Italy.

I think that partly has to do with how I want to see these places and how my perspective on “seeing” a place has changed.  Just last year, a friend of mine and I were exploring the next county over from ours, and we found an abandoned western movie set.   Someone had filmed a western movie in Central Illinois.  Who knew?  How much do we really know or see of the geography we live in?  Check your google maps history.   I am still surprised at the frequency of my visits to the same places and how I always take the same route to get there.  I am most likely only experiencing a few of the same miles of my own town, over and over.  Maybe it’s just me, maybe not.

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I think how we consume and explore places and other travel destinations matters. A person bike-packing the Great Divide trail or backpacking the Appalachian trail experiences something completely distinct than that of the car tour of the smokies, or a visit to old faithful.  A slow, human powered digestion of a landscape versus the blitz view of a natural phenomenon.  I think the former is a more thoughtful approach to travel and exploring.  Maybe it’s just a difference in how people view the world they live in: something to visit or something to experience?  In the end, I think you need both, each has it’s own independent value.

Someone close to me recently pointed out that hobbies and traveling are a privilege.   To their credit,  it’s true, and I was most likely whining.  Travel and experience places how you want.  I should just shut up and relish that I can travel at all.  I should feel lucky to have the means and opportunity to do any of it…many don’t.

I digress.

We really enjoyed our trip.  In Anchorage, we rented fat bikes and explored the plethora of pedestrian trails groomed for fat biking and skiing.  Checked out the local pastry shops and every brewery we could find.  We ventured down to Homer, Alaska too!  While we were there we witnessed a raft of seals enjoying their dinner and a whale playing in the ocean.  Back in Anchorage, we were also able to attend a free presentation on the Baja Divide by Lael Wilcox and Nicholas  Carman (plus: free Tecate, Chips, Salsa and Guac).  If that wasn’t cool enough, we also got chat with them after.   So stoked from the family and outdoor time.

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Which way to work…

My actual commute to work is pretty short.  I think I can get there in less than 10 minutes if I take the most direct, 1.5 mile route (one way), hit the single light, and sprint.  It offers traffic, a school zone, and a primo road with a wide shoulder.  Sometimes you can’t ask for more.  I don’t ask, but I look for alternatives.

I usually do not take that route.  It is boring, direct, even when racing traffic.  I take a longer, slower, route, that winds though the local hoods with myriad house styles, less traffic, more sunshine.  I think it adds a small hill too.  This alternate route also adds a mile on each end of the trip, and is worth every extra minute.  Who wants to be at work before they are awake and ready?  Spinning myself awake, aware.

Commuting doesn’t have to be boring; if time is not a concern, use your extra to explore.  After work one day, I found some run off ponds behind some apartment buildings and doctor’s offices.  There are paths that wind through the area made from woodchips, lite single track, and some gravel, but in some really essential connecting points to make the route work it is overgrown, full of broken glass, and trash.  This section would add a mile or so to my commute and let me have some fun between home and work.  I guess I should clean it up, someone else did all the work of building out the other parts and trails for fishing access.  Maybe they are there for bird watching?

 

 

 

 

Frame baggin’

I have been searching for ways to get my hands on a super sweet frame bag for my specialized AWOL from a number of companies (Porcelain Rocket, Roadrunner Bags, Rogue Panda, etc.).  On average, frame bags seem to cost about upwards of $170.   Once you have paid that money, it is not necessarily a guarantee that it will fit properly (unless you customer order), since most bike frames have variation to them even if the theme is similar (road geometry, MTB Geometry).   That is unless you are buying the Salsa Mukluk 3 bag direct from Salsa (same goes for Surly, and now Specialized).

My local bike shop is fantastic, but they don’t carry a size run of full frame bags from myriad bag providers and I am not sure it would be cost effective given bike packing isn’t exactly booming in Central Illinois.   It leaves me with a dilemma – how do I get my hands on a frame bag that fits without spending colossal amounts of duckets.

I started reading a bunch of blogs and researching the cost of fabrics and materials.  I decided I was going to make my own frame bag for my AWOL.

  • Is it easier to purchase a pre-made solution – Maybe
  • Is it more fun to DIY your way through a problem – Sometimes.

I happen to know a lady with as many sewing machines as I have bikes, who loves to teach and make things out of fabric.  I asked if she would teach me, and she happily agreed.  I created this model with a roll top design, avoiding the use of zippers, a known point of failure.

Here is how it looks so far:

It is made out of extra fabric my mom had in her sewing room (read bike room, but with fabric).  It reminds me of a 60’s beach umbrella in France…

Now that I have a template and semi-functioning model, I think I am going to order the proper fabric and other needed parts and create a more sturdy bag.

More Updates to follow….

A New Year and Resolutions

 

 

I was going to write an post on New Years Resolutions, and my mixed feelings about them in general.  I was going to talk about the absurdity of forcing big changes, arbitrary dates, over commitment, action, drive, the people we surround ourselves with, etc., etc.

But..

I don’t make resolutions and should not offer advice on them.  Preachiness is something to be avoided, and everyone’s motivation is different.

My favorite assessment of the whole thing is here.

Here is a shortish list of my overall plans for 2017 and give you a link to my favorite New Years resolution Blog Post:

  • Travel to visit family in Alaska and do fun stuff while I am there.
  • Plan trip to Iceland for 2018
    • Some friends of mine are going this year and I am excited to hear their recommendations and thoughts.
    • I was kindly gifted some books and a Map (MY FAVORITE) to help with the planning.
  • Get Married
  • Complete a 100 mile MTB race
  • Climb outdoors 3+ times
    • That’s how many times I made it out in 2016
  • Bike pack 3+ times
    • That’s how many times I made it out in 2016
  • Ride my Bike
  • CAT up for the HICX Series
  • Complete HICX Series
  • Get my Wheelies under control
  • Be Kind; Do things.

 

Road Trip: Canadian Highlights

Earlier this summer my VSLF (Very Special Lady Friend) and I took a trip to the old country for a family wedding.  Since it is fairly expensive to travel to Canada from our location, we generally make them longer trips (around 10 days) and work in a mini vacation for ourselves too.

Our high level itinerary is below.  I actually wrote a really detailed itinerary in GoogleDocs because I like being organized and sent it to my family to keep them in the loop. It also helped to ensure we wouldn’t be overlapping or missing any big extended family activities.  It was met with giggles and loving familial ridicule.

There are quite a few good stories to tell, but will only be sharing the highlight reel:

Day 1: Pincher Creek/Waterton for a day hike with my close friend Blake up to Goat Lake, around 14 Km round trip (there is a really cool circuit overnight backpack from here I would like to do).  It rained the whole time and it was still fantastic.  We were dead tired from some travel delays and an overnight stay in our rental car so we smashed some Tim Horton’s Double Doubles for energy.  We ate summer sausage and Laughing cow cheeses on Pita bread with dried mango for snacks.

Day 2: Crowsnest Pass –> Frank Slide –> Radium Hot Springs and Dry Gulch Provincial Park for Camping.  We said our goodbyes the next day and after a big breakfast we headed for Frank’s Slide and Crowsnest Pass (Migratory route for Golden Eagles).  Franks Slide was pretty humbling to witness and hike around.

We were fairly excited for the drive that day through mountain passes and forest heavy scenery.  We stopped for road side blueberries, and local ice cream and beer, and of course to put our feet in cold, cold rivers.  We rounded it out with Pad Thai for dinner and more games of Speed.  Our campsite at Dry Gulch was really nice, cozy and near many mountain bike trails.

 

Day 3: Dry Gulch Provincial Park –> Stanley Glacier Hike –> Banff –> Bow Valley Camp Ground.  This was a pretty sweet day, although we did a bit of driving and had an underwhelming time in Banff, the hike was spectacular with a primo lunch spot.  We ate some poutine post hike and then went to our final campsite, which was the cleanest one I have even been in! Stanley glacier has been described as a rock and roll glacier, “a big, iconic slobbering tongue a la The Rolling Stones.” It was true.

Day 4: Meet the family in Canmore at Tim Horton’s for more double doubles, carpooled to another day hike to Boom Lake, headed into Calgary. We got to spend some quality time with my sister, who I had not seen in months!

Day 5 and Beyond: Family, Family, Family and VSLF was able to fit in some horse back riding.  I was able to rent an FSR (Full Suspension) Mountain bike for a few hours with my sister along the elbow river!

 

A few lessons learned:

  • We were able to reserve all our campsites online ahead of time for super cheap.
  • We drove a lot, but it was worth it.  As a results we were able to hike in different parks every day, and each drive was pretty spectacular.
  • We should have picked out our hikes ahead of time.
  • More research on hot springs would have been good.
  • Bring climbing Gear next time or rent bikes for Canmore to Banff Trails
  • Banff is great if you have never been there, but can be overwhelming due to the volume of people.
  • Grocery stores are the best places for food, period.
  • There is good Mexican food outside of Waterton.

All in all it was a great trip!

 

 

 

Reportage: Ghost towns and Bridges

We made great time out of town.  Starting at 530 pm, we bolted from the LBS, and headed West on the constitution Trail, the famous artery of asphalt athletics.  A 12 MPH tail wind that pushed us along with vigor into the western part of the county, into a horizon increasingly green, golden, and pink.  The temperature was perfect for our 20mph pace.

We made it to the first bridge location, only to find that it is on private property – a local hunting club owns access.  We decided to skip it, and took our time riding the gravel roads back to the main route we were following.

Private Property and Sportsman & Gun Clubs should have been the title to this communique, as they became a fairly common site west of Bloomington, especially around the Mackinaw River.  Who can blame them, it’s the perfect location for them. The river meanders so slowly through a few counties, and is buffered by a generous amount of green trees, plants and rolling hills.  This is where the good game is!

None the less, I do hold some animosity over their seizure and privatization of some of the most interesting geographical locations in central Illinois for purely personal, and commercial use.  Natural Resources like this should be shared, and we should not be limited by  property lines because we want to enjoy a river and the surrounding forest.  Not every beautiful place, resource needs to be exploited.  Also, it kind of ruins the concept that outside is free, by adding the caveat – *not applicable everywhere .

I digress…We left the main road for some more Spartan back roads, paved but hilly and low with traffic.  We managed to find a fairly steep incline known as Peacock Hill (on Strava), and climbed it slowly with our heavy bikes and gear.   As I crested the peak, a woman drove past, headed down the impressive grade, eyeing me and shaking her head, acknowledging the idiocy and unnecessary route we have taken.

Around 7:30, as the sun was sliding under the covers of the horizon we found Kentuckiana Road, and headed down some fresh gravel and rock roads to the second bridge and the Ghost town.

The second bridge was also on private property, or so the signage said, but fuck it – It was Radurday and we were out to see these old relics.   It was a mess, and amazing.  we followed 4 wheel tracks that traced the rivers edge until we found a heavily graffitied barrier.  We walked around it to reveal an iron skeleton the color of brown bark.  There were missing wooden boards everywhere. People had hammered their own boards down to be able to traverse shore to shore.  There was also evidence that people set fires on top of the old wooden planks that made up the surface.  Bizarre. We snapped some photos, and took in peacefulness of the location.  The sun was setting through the trees.  We debated camping out on the bridge for the evening…but thought better of it, given that it was again on (post fact – not sure this is true..) the Tremont Sportsman’s Club’s property.

The ghost town was in worse repair that the Google aerial image made it seem.  Most of the building were burnt down and full of bullet holes.  Overgrown with weeds and refuse, the site was spectacular.  The bursting natural reclamation gave the dilapidated buildings a special quality, maybe authenticity.   We took a bunch of photos, picked some ticks off of us and split a cliff bar.  We left before the local’s came to party.

We ended up camping a few miles down the road at the Kentuckiana Kampground, a massive RV camping location that has a few other gems tucked into it’s boundaries: Two mini lakes, Shuffleboard, Bag’s tournaments, Washer’s Tournaments, and the longest running Opry in Illinois, every Saturday night from May to October.  The place is friendly and offer’s many services.  Worth checking out!

We woke in the AM packed and head back home.  We found even more gravel North of Hopedale and Stanford and passed another shooting range just before town.  We ended our Sub 24 hour/Blitz weekend back in town with a coke and some tacos from Carniceria la Mexicana.  I consider this place as holding the touch for the best taco’s in town.  What a killer weekend.  42 miles on Friday after work, and close to another 40 Saturday morning.  Beautiful weather both days.  Check out the Instagram feed for photos!

Get groovy, and stay Rad!