1986 Bottecchia Cyclocross

Every so often, well, quite often actually, a really interesting bicycle makes it’s way into Edible Pedal. Generally, the most interesting ones, to me, come in the form of touring bikes and bikes built for some type of off pavement use. Sometimes these machines come only as frames.. of which Edible Pedal has quite a few. Doing custom builds from this frame selection is really what we do there. One day, while sifting through all of the frames, I came across one that had been there for a while, but had some how escaped my notice; ironic, since it’s day-glow, mid-eighties, yellow and purple paint job stuck out like a monkey in Alaska. It was a Bottecchia Cyclocross in 57cm; my size.  Now, I really don’t have a thing for cyclocross, to me there are far better ways to pedal along dirt trails, many better ways. However, I was looking to build something up for a commuter and to possibly hit up some of the dirt trails down by the river.

The Bottecchia’s paint had to go, however..  I had John Boyer send the frame up to our powder coaters’ for a nice, light blue treatment that was easy on the eyes.  For the wheels, I chose a matching pair of Shimano 600 hubs, laced to Mavic hoops.  I had parts left over from the Ogre build from earlier in the year.. a Phil Wood BB, a set of IRD Cranks, A VO stem, and a Cardiff saddle that was far to stiff for my rump.  For the brakes, I decided to go all the way, and purchased a set of Avid’s top cyclocross offerings and pair of Campy style Cane Creek levers.  I threw on a set of drop bars and a pair of Suntour Barcon shifters, a non descript seatpost, a pair of 80’s Dura Ace changers, and some Schwalbe Marathons for contact with the world, and I suddenly had one helluva great ride!

I only had the bike for a few short months, but it served as a commuter, and a weekend rider quite nicely. I finally sold it to a customer of the shop in order to help finance my upcoming trip to Alaska and the Yukon/NWT’s.  At least I’ve got a few photos!8054373611_c50c709036_z 8054372899_2e742fdb6c_z 8054373893_165f2557db_z 8054375260_907e13f5e6_z 8054373293_9519e1dd16_z 8054373429_0b023846dd_z

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Some Thoughts

112 days. That’s not to long, is it? Only 112 days left till the open road is mine once again. 112 days till I  get in my truck (ugh) and drive to Bellingham to catch the ferry to Skagway. These days, lately, have been filled with wrenching at Edible Pedal, editing video, working on TV commercials and feature productions, doing construction projects, and just about any other thing I can muster up in order to make the funds necessary for my up coming yearly adventure by bicycle. This years’ adventure, as well as last years’, will be a northern one.  When I’m not engaged in the above evil activities as a worker bee, I am sewing gear, repairing holes, altering tents, studying maps, reading web blogs, pouring over “The Milepost”, dreaming of Bears and Wolves, flying with Eagles, preparing my bike, and living a life of adventure in the city.  I long for the forest and the mountains and the lakes, and the animals, and the valleys, and the glaciers, and the open coastlines of the North. I miss it’s smell of spruce and of berry patches and of the salty coastal air. I miss bearing witness to 30 mile long glaciers and Bears half the size of my truck.  I miss the quiet and the solitude that these places offer my mind and my soul. A place to rest; not body, but mind. I miss the daily bicycle or foot travel that affords one a chiseled and lean structure in which to live. I miss sleeping in a sleeping bag and cooking my meals in a simple and enjoyable fashion. And yes, I miss emptying my bowels into the open forest, as all animals do…  Only 112 days.

Tales of Babel

Back in 1990, when I was a new to Moab, I wrote this story about a rock climbing experience that I had in Arches Nat’l Park. Sadly, the names of the people in the story, my friends’ Kyle Copeland, Mark Bebie, and Charlie Fowler, have all passed on.  My friend Sue Kemp helped me edit this many years back, and get it ready for publication in the now defunct magazine “Mountain”.  I decided at a later point, to not submit the story, and it has been shelved ever since. This is it’s first public appearance ever. Sue also gave up the ghost  a few years back.

RIP my friends…

TALES OF BABEL

It is a land free of disease.. It’s taste is of sweetness, not bitter.  It’s ancient varnish gleams like rust, redeeming it’s own relic nature.  Nowhere is there a place like it.  Tower’s and mesa’s touch the heavens’, reaching, searching, wandering..  solidified cathedrals of ancient sands, now standing and waiting to fall, split only by flawless vertical fractures, perfect and parallel, toward the Great Sky.

Sunday morning, a crack of noon start, a religious pilgrimage to the Main Street Broiler in Moab, to fill my lethargic body with life giving caffeine, slaps me into noticing what a fine day it is for desert climbing.

I leave the Broiler, strolling through town enroute to Kyle’s house in hopes of a day of craggin’.  No avail; I approach his doorstep, but suddenly remember all too well he is out of town for a couple of weeks.  But there is a note stuck to the door from yet another friend:

“Splibb, I got to town the other day, but couldn’t find you to do Zenyatta, so I’m on it solo.. Should be off it in a couple days, maybe Sunday afternoon.” – Mark

I guess Mark knew well enough how to get a message to me, but I wish he’d found me in time. In this red desert, the cracks are sometimes surgically perfect, or the quality of the rock often resembling sugar or mud, forming towers that make you wonder why they still stand as you look at them.  The Tower of Babel in Arches Nat’l Parking Lot, is one such tower.  Though not truly a tower at all, really, it sports 6 pitch walls, 1500 feet across, that come to narrow, square cut buttresses at either end.  Although it doesn’t appear to be falling down, when climbing upon it’s super soft Entrada Sandstone, one may envision it melting away with the coming of a heavy rain.  It’s most classic route, Zenyatta Entrada, put up by Charlie Fowler in 1986, is a line of all lines that bisects the fin-like southwest buttress.  It’s name mimicking a longer, once desperate nailup on a bigger stone further west.

“Shit!” it thought, it’s Sunday afternoon already, I’m too late.  “Might at least catch the final act of the show.”  With binoculars and gear, I race to Arches in hopes of catching him before he splits.  As I pull off the road, I see him even before I exit the van; he is plastered to the final A4 pitch like a slow, mutant lizard in the hot desert sun.  I watch through binoculars, gripped for him as he finishes and cleans the pitch.  Once done, I scream to him to meet me at the Rio for suds and celebration.

Later, at the pub, I tell him that I really want to bag Zenyatta, but now, minus a partner, it would have to be given the same treatment he’d given it:  solo.  Mark ponders the last couple of days a bit and remarks, “Zenyatta hasn’t seen many ascents, so it’s not totally beaten out.  It’s still plenty scary, with soft nailing and some super dicey nutting; just funky enough to be exciting!”

Leaving the pub in a rather poisoned stupor, I went home to fall into a deep, hazy sleep, with Zenyatta filling my mind as I hit the pillow.  I awake, not hungover, but psyched for what lay ahead.

Moab is a place where the world can, at times, seem to pass by unnoticed, a continuing saga of the desert and it’s ancient past.  The people that live there are as much a part of the gleaming red rocks and the shrub covered landscape.  They survive the unbearably hot summers and the cold, unemployed winters because they belong there. This is where their souls exist.

A lengthy trip through town to acquire the necessities dulled my senses.  With mark’s gear beta in hand, I set off to collect what I lacked in the iron department, plus stops at Rim Cyclery to pick up a new lead rope, Pemican Bars from the Co-Op, and a brief visit to Matrimony Springs to fill my bottles, put me at the base by noon.

The first three pitches flew by rather quickly and with surprising ease; an intricate mixture of nailing and nutting in a perfect knifeblade sized crack system that shot directly toward they summit, interrupted only by two short traverses that were cruxes.

This route lies “Where a drop of water will fall from the summit”.  Who said that any way?  The top of the third pitch, it’s getting late, so I decide to fix and rap.  I scan the Canyonlands skyline, burning hot and red, a land time and humankind has left alone.  It’s hostile beauty surrounded by three great mountain ranges, The Abajos, The La Sals, and The Henry mountains, as if left there to protect it’s hidden wealth of fortune and splendor.

I drive back to Moab in my archaic van in search of shower, suds, and Mark.  Two out of three were all I found, as Mark has left for Seattle to prepare for an expedition to climb a new route in the Karakoram.  “Lucky bastard”, I think, yet I know of the magnificence that lie right here.

Jumaring up fixed lines in the morning, I’m happy I’ll be on top by dusk, if all goes well; satisfied in knowing that yet another dessert tower is in The Bag.  The next pitch, one of the route’s cruxes, is like an interminable disease.  My mind is fighting me in this stretching traverse of tied off knifeblades and strangely stacked leeper’s.  Sixty feet of horror puts me to a few bad RP placements, and and one crumbling hook, earns me a perfect  #1-1/2 Friend crack, that, were it right off the ground, would be one primo 5.11+ free climb.  Soloing with clove hitches sees me aiding past with ease.  I polish off the last 20 feet and clip the belay.  Relief washes over me.  It’s over, only 3 1/2 hours after starting.

I rap, clean, and jumar, trying to get psyched for the next pitch – an A3 nailing corner capped by a large roof leading to yet another crux traverse.  Sliding up the corner, glibly dabbling in sideways lost arrows, the roof above somehow plants the seed of fear in my soul.  Ten feet below the roof,the only thing I can get in is a shitty #1 RP with it’s wires badly frayed from repeated sloppy removals.  I test it and the wires snap, leaving the “opportunity” for a more creative placement:  a leper hook in the back of blown out pin scar.  A Bird Beak and some other nebulous bullshit finds my aiders clipped to a drilled pin, half sticking out, beneath the five foot roof.  Once out the roof, the only placement in sight is  a perfectly bottomed out, 1″ deep hole.  I fire in a 2″ bong, tie it off, and start bouncing it.  Seeming do-able, I get on it, realizing all too well the rope now lies it’s course over the outside edge of the dihedral.  Sweating bullets and filled with terror, I understood it’s implications; I have no choice.  Reaching eye level with the bong, I am catapult into the atmosphere like a reject astronaut, rocketing straight towards hell and the scorching desert floor.

Enough slack in the system allows me to drop 25 feet before the rope begins to come tight.  As it does, I hear the sound of death, the sound of rope being sawed, the sounds of threads and fibers being ripped apart.  Flying around the back side of the moon and back, I look up to see if I’d been spared or not.  A 6″ section of utterly mangled rope was all that kept me from becoming a part of the talus below.

Adrenaline shoots painfully through my body as I tie the rappel line to every placement in the corner I can find.  Only then do I gingerly begin to jumar the wretched rope and onto the marginal safety beyond the cut.

Once there, a quick examination reveals less than 1/3 of my new ropes core still intact!!  I’d had enough.  At the drilled pin that held my fall, I drill another next to it and decide to rap.  So much for that.

Driving back to Moab, I begin to fully respect the seriousness of the testpieces found elsewhere on the Tower of Babel; the Jim Beyer nightmares put up just a couple of years back, in the late 80’s.

For the next two weeks, I didn’t climb at all.  Only when another friend from Seattle, Lee Cunninham, shows up and talks me into doing Standing Rock in Monument Basin, did my interest spark again.  Driving to Grandview Point, in Canyonlands, my thoughts were excited, but my memory still fresh with Zenyatta.  After downclimbing 1000 feet of 4th class chose, we crossed the White Rim and made a short rappel into Monument Basin.

Standing Rock is one of those towers that seems as though it could topple if the wind blew hard enough: a 400 foot totem of Cutler Sandstone that is, at best, 35 feet thick; a toothpick.

We fix the first pitch and bivy at the base under the spring desert sky.  On the summit by ten o’clock the next morning, we are delighted to find that ours is only the 16th ascent in 20 years.

Filled with an enlightened feeling of beauty and obscurity from climbing in this spiritual place, we hiked backed to the car in 95 degree heat, lusting for the warm beer stashed in the trunk.  We knew why we climbed here and why so many did not.  There is no fooling anybody in Canyonlands, where the climbing and the environment seem more real to me than any other place on earth.

Every time I drive past the Tower of Babel, I see it smiling at me, giving me the finger as I hurry past, yet I know I’ll return to this place time and time again, for when life’s bizarre scenarios seem like a wasted hell, the red rocks whisper to me, telling me that it really doesn’t matter.

The Tower of Babel

The Cassiar

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When most folks think of British Columbia, they conjure up images of Vancouver, Whistler, the areas around Kamloops or Fernie.  These are all fantastic places filled with the the awesomeness that B.C. has to offer for those seeking beautiful wilderness forest, bears, rivers, or to spend the ever fascinating “Loooney”, or “Tooney” (one and two dollar coins).  There are other (many other not mentioned here) places in B.C. that strike a resonant note with me.  Bella Coola comes to mind, of which I have friends established there.. You know who you are!   Bella Coola is a place I wish to visit sometime sooner than later, but who knows how the cards may fall!

For me, the Cassiar Highway, heading north from Kitwanga and highway 16, is without a doubt, the creme de la creme of northern British Columbia.

The Cassiar, which is an alternate route heading north/south, of the more largely known Alaska Highway,and is a is a fine example of Northern British columbia’s offerings of  beauty, soitiude, and grandiose scenery and wildlife.

Highway 16 which intersects the Yellowhead Highway, is also know by some as the Highway of Tears.  Between 1969 and 2006, some 18 cases of missing persons or homicides of young girls have been reported.  Riding through this section enroute to highway 37, The Cassiar, felt surreal to me, knowing there has been a great mystery here.  My heart goes out to all of the families who are in pain from these incidences.

The last major town departing from the Yellowhead is Smithers, British Columbia.  Smithers is a a fine town, with a strong bicycling community, including a DH and freeride scene upon the local mountains and ski hills.  I spent an entire afternoon here, seeking out bike shops who might have the required length of spoke  that I required.  It was also a great place to get re-supplied for the long length of road ahead of me known as the Cassiar Highway. Just north of the town, lie splendid mountains, sporting moderate looking alpine mountaineering routes that might leave a Sierra climber in awe. A place called Glacier Gulch features two extarodinary peaks with a small glacier at their base. Ice couloirs bearing the gifts of alpine ice lie above, beckoning me.

Heading north from Smithers, I passed through the ancient Native fishing village of Moricetown, situated snugly against the mighty Salmon festooned river of Bulkley. And on to the hamlet of New Hazelton, which, though a place of unfounded beauty, did not stop raining once. I settled into a cafe there, and ate a magnificent breakfast, re supplied on beer, and headed for the Cassiar of my dreams.

I cross the mighty Skeena River, and upon entering the Cassiar, my mind began to fill with a wonder I had really never known. Of all the adventures taken past, climbing, mountaineering, bicycling, wandering, I had never felt such a presence before.  It was an age old feeling of family and gathering and fishing that caught my imagination as though I had been here before.  I felt strangely at home, yet I also felt an unnerving sensation of detachment that I was not expecting.

All day in the rain, pedaling, thinking, feeling these great emotions of past, I began to become as weary as I had ever been, but pedaled on, in hopes of engaging the Cassiar as fully as she deserved, I finally needed to stop.  The area was festooned with brush so thick, one cannot really camp with any amount of enthusiasm.  I spy a free gov’t campground, but, due to the constant rain, is totally flood out.  I try to ride my feeble bicycle into it’s innards, but am rejected like a vomitous expulsion, that forces my weary body back to the road and onward in search of salvation.

After a couple more miles, desperate, a gravel pit area appears like a welcome wagon from hell, and I pull in.  My first sight? A dead Grizzly, shot, I presume. The image brings an anxiety and fear of the Bears of which I had not come to terms with yet on this journey.  Too exhausted to care, I pull  a  little further in and call it a day.  Cottonwoods bigger than I had ever seen before sprouted the forest around me; I eat a meager supper, hang my food bag in said trees, and crack open a beer and a belt of Rum, and the world washes away, fears dissipate, and I begin to feel like I have finally come home.. The bear spray was not even clutched that night, as it had been so many nights before. The glorious adventure was now in front of me…

The next 24 hours become a mind numbing, but peaceful, pedal, through the boreal forests of the region, that, with the weather now clear, sunny, and glorious, finds my mind at peace once again.

These forests lead on and on toward an area, what one native in Smithers told me, “The Grizzly Bears there will make a small snack out of you”.  The area in question is Meziadin Junction, where the highway splits to go either west, to Stewart, Alaska, or north, further up the Cassiar.  This place, according to the locals, has the greatest concentration of Grizzlies in the central B.C. sub coastal area.  I never saw a one, sadly.

I pedaled for 6 more days through this Alice in Wonderland of wilderness, passing through some of the most heart felt forest and landscapes my heart and mind could conjure up.

Passing through Dease Lake, I find that there is a small town there, and sporting a decent grocery store, laundrymat, liquor store, and cafe. This felt like a miniature vacation of sorts and, camped on the beaches of the local swimming hole and fishing spot, I drink and hang with the local native folks and learn of the long winters and of fishing and the hunting ways of native peoples. This makes me smile and I move on..

North of Dease Lake, I can feel the the landscape begin to change towards a more northerly and remote arena.  I can smell the Yukon from here.

The last night on the Cassiar, I find a serene place next to a fine river and begin to unpack the bike. Seconds later, a van loaded full of Native teens pull in and open the doors; all pour out and declare their victory that day.  They unfold a tarp in the back, revealing a large male Ram, shot on a nearby ridge, and declare that Ram meat is a delicacy that cannot be beat. They say that they intend to gut the creature here, next to the river.  I know that the ensuing gut pile will attract bears for miles and I split.  Later, I find a decent camp further up, next to the same river, but the skeeter’s are the worst I have ever seen.  Welcome to the north!

The next day, I pass through the surrealistic remains of a forest fire, that given the eerie feeling of the last 48 hours, fit’s the bill.  Later that day, I reach the Yukon border and the junction with the Alaska Highway, and already, begin to miss the Cassiar.

All told, the Cassiar highway is a place like no other I have ever been, and hope one day, to experience it’s haunting delicacies once again.  I urge any one who might embark on a pedaling journey to Alaska, consider this as  a superior alternative to the lower Alaska Highway through northern B.C.

And that’s all I have to say about that…

“How Can I Be Lost,  When I have no Where to Go..?”

-Metallica

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