I spent the first full week of 2014 in Alaska with the goal of learning about the fat-bike culture of Anchorage. Anchorage is the home of two well respected fat-bike companies (9:Zero:7 & Fatback) as well as a premier frame bag manufacturer (Revelate Designs). I was fortunate enough to spend time with the folks behind all three of these companies and we’ll be featuring articles about them in the coming weeks. In this first story, from my trip to Alaska, I cover a Race called the Frosty Bottom and learn a lot about the cycling community of Anchorage.
The Frosty Bottom is in it’s 8th year and was my introduction to Anchorage Fat-Bike Racing. The start of the race takes place before the sun comes up, but that’s not too very early in the morning, like most of you are thinking. The Start time was at 9 o’clock local time. Just about an hour before sunrise, this far north. The frosty bottom traverses the spectacular system of trails that Anchorage is known for The short race is ~25 miles and the long version is ~50. The race is sponsored by Chain Reaction and 9:Zero:7, so the day that I arrived in AK, my hosts Bill & Sheryl Fleming were busy with the final details of the event. Bill and Jamie Stull own Chain Reaction – 9:Zero:7 and the Trek Store of Anchorage. All three of them raced the event and placed very well. The Frosty Bottom attracted over 300 fat-bikers, along with XC Skiers and runners. All of the profits from this year’s race go to help a local cyclist, Luke Simpson, that had been seriously injured while riding his mountain bike and suffered a severe brain injury.
Bill and Sheryl helped me pick out a few spots along the course where I could try to capture some of the action. All I had to do is hit the ground running and figure out how to find these spots in a brand new town. Thank god for my smartphone’s navigation app! I found the start in Kincaid Park without too much drama and one of the first things that hit me was the sheer number of fat-bikes in one place.
The start of the race was impressive! The race begins under a neutral roll out to the bottom of the first hill. After that, it’s full tilt race’n! I’ve seen a few races over the years and the sight of all of those lights zooming past in the pre-dawn darkness was one of the most exillerating fat-bike parades that I’ve ever laid eyes upon.
The next place that I found the racers was the Westchester Lagoon, where the course left the Coastal Trail about 1o miles into the race. The lead group had already passed by before I could get there. Just about every racer that zoomed past, greeted the camera with a smile and a friendly ‘good morning’.
The next stop on my checklist took me to Tudor Bridge. I was lucky enough to catch the lead pack of about 5 or 6 riders in the ’50, just hammering in a pace line on their way back to Kincaid. Bill rode by just behind them and yelled out “GOMEZ!” I started to notice, now that we were in the daylight just how many female cyclists that were entered in the race. I also started to notice that the vast majority of the race bikes were either Fatbacks or 9:Zero:7’s. The fat tribe of anchorage started to reveal itself to me on that gray and snowy afternoon.
The 25 mile finish and the 50 mile turn about was at Hill Top Ski Area. There were a dozen volunteers there to cheer the 50 milers on and congratulate the 25 mile racers. I learned later that most of the volunteers at the race were friends and family of Luke Simpson. There were kids and dogs and lots of happy fat-bikers hanging out and having a ball at Hill Top. It was here that my love of everything fat-bike took over and I started to oggle all of the beautiful Alaskan fat bikes that were leaned up all over the place. Salsas and Surlys were pretty scarce. Most of the bikes were the two Alaskan brands. I spotted a Vicious Cycles Fatty and even saw Otis’ twin brother.
I knew that I would not get back to Kincaid in time to see the 50 mile race leaders cross the finish line, so I grabbed some sushi and went to find Chain Reaction Cycles. The awards party for the Frosty Bottom was scheduled for the next evening, so racers didn’t have to wait around, in the cold after the race to get their awards.
The next day Bill and Sheryl took me out for a ride at Hilltop and afterwards Bill and I met Jamie at Midnight Sun Brewery to pick up kegs and bombers of beer to hand out at the awards party later that evening. BTW – The ride was spectacular and Midnight Sun’s beer is incredibly delicious. I had a Panty Peeler while we waited for them to fill the kegs. I think that the Panty Peeler is the best US craft brewed Belgian Triple that I’ve ever had!
Before we knew it, it was dark again and time to head over to Chain Reaction for the awards party. Soon after we arrived the crowd started to gather and the kegs gave forth their frothy goodness. I met and talked to so many nice folks there. I met Tim Bernston who won the men’s 50 mile race and Nicolas Carman who extended an invitation to go riding with me the next day. I met Michael Moberly, who extended an invitation to come over for a beer tasting from his private collection of cellared Alaskan favorites! I came to Alaska with the hope that I could somehow take the pulse of the Anchorage fat-bike culture. The place that gave birth to this big fat delicious enchilada that we call fat-bikes. The Frosty Bottom was a very illuminating experience for me. The cycling community came out in huge numbers and came together to raise over eleven thousand dollars for one of their own. I was lucky to have a ring side seat, when Bill Fleming presented the check to Luke’s wife. I witnessed those emotional moments and feel fortunate to perhaps have gotten a glimpse of something very – very special.
All of the race results are here – http://www.chainreactioncycles.us/FrostyBottom/2014FrostyResults.html
To donate to Luke Simpson’s recovery visit – http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-luke-break-free-from-his-traumatic-brain-injury/111309
Next week in Episode 2, I’ll share some 9:Zero:7 bike porn from my time in Anchorage!