My first recollection of the Big Fat Bike Festival came about 3 years ago. It was either sister-Kim or Hayley that contacted me to let us know that the Homer Cycling Club was holding an event in their picturesque corner of the world along the shores of the Kachemak Bay in Homer Alaska. Homer is a quaint sea-side village that’s 200 miles south of Anchorage. You may have seen our event spotlights and pictures from the BFBF over the past couple of years and as I’ve said repeatedly, this particular celebration of fat bike FUN, has captivated my imagination to the point of where this journey begins. The journey that took me to Homer Alaska for the time of my life.
My trip started with a day in Anchorage and a reunion with Bill Fleming at 9:Zero:7 headquarters to talk a little shop and to pick up a bike to ride for the coming week. Bill set me up with one of their beautiful Tuscan Aluminum Frames with a Belt Drive and a Rohloff Internally Geared Hub. They added a pair of studded Dillingers mounted to Holy Rolling Darryls. I just thought to myself, that ‘first and foremost’ – I am the luckiest SOB in the galaxy…and that the bike that they chose for me to ride in Homer, showed that 9:Zero:7 really ‘gets it’. Experienced beach riders know the advantages of a Belt Drive Rohloff and those studded Dillingers basically saved the day! So let me start my story by saying thank you to the kick ass folks at 9:Zero:7!
Alaskan Hospitality should be be more famous than ‘southern hospitality’. Every time that I’ve come to the 49th state I get treated like a king and receive kindness at every turn. This trip to Alaska has been no different. This time around I had the good fortune to meet Zach Brown. Zach volunteered to be my guide to Homer and became mi compadre for the entire trip. Zach wrote a piece for F-B.com, last summer, about Homer’s Mouth to Mouth beach riding event but like many folks in this story, we had never met, in person. If my lucky streak continues, I believe many of the folks that I met from the Homer cycling community last weekend, will become viejos amigos!
Zach and I loaded up his truck and headed out the Seward Hi-way down to Homer on a beautiful, sunny, cold and windy Friday afternoon. We pulled into town as the sun was setting and just in time to get settled in and geared up to ride down to the beach for the Meet & Greet Bonfire! We rode down to the beach and made our way to the big bonfire on the beach, surrounded by a crowd of folks and their fatties. The leaders of the fest welcomed us and gave everyone the full run-down of the weekend’s activities. I got to meet Kim and Bjorn with big hugs from their Uncle Gomez. It was cold enough that beers were freezing up after they were about half empty and the wind was playing a major roll in the comfort level. I pulled my parka out of my pack and hung out while flasks were getting passed around. Beyond the campfire there was an obstacle course set up on the beach, lit only by tiki torches. From the moment that we arrived and cracked a beer, it felt very comfortable. Like I was among the world wide fat-bike tribe that I talk about (here on the interwebs). I had traveled to one of the fat-bike cosmic votices called Homer Alaska. It was so cold that my camera froze, so I only have one crappy picture from the bonfire. Sometime during the night, Zach fell back over a log, when he was helping to collect the Tiki torches and put a big bruise on his knee. We limped back home and got some rest for Saturday’s main event – The Beach Ride!
El Paseo de la Playa
Zach and I showed up at Cycle Logical and registered. We joined the growing crowd milling about and getting ready for the ride. We had clear blue skies and temps in the single digits. The wind was down to somewhere in the teens, but beach conditions had turned very icy over the last few days. There were folks on every sort of fat-bike you can Imagine.
There was a vintage ‘pretty in pink’ Wildfire Alaskan fat-bike (above) and all of the new brands were represented along with big healthy doses of Fatback’s and 9:Zero:7’s. There was even a young lady riding a Salsa Bucksaw dual suspension fatty! I love being in parts of the country where they embrace having dogs join in on rides. Scattered among the crowd…folks had their trail pooches along and everyone seemed to be in a great mood and ready to ride.
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There were well over a hundred riders when we headed down the road to the beach access. The ramp down to the beach was pretty sketchy and it took a little time for everyone to skitch down there to line up for the group shot. I ended up kind of in the middle, in front of the Greenwall brothers (Cody & Justin). They were rocking some wild looking racks and frame boxes that they make. You can check out at their kickstarter at AK Codepack.
We all hammed it up for the camera and brother Bjorn captured the group from up on the bluff. Soon enough we were on our way down the beach. Kim had told us that the first few miles were the most sketchy. The usual beginning of the ride bottlenecks formed as folks without studded tires dealt with pretty advanced technical sections even with studs.
It was the old case of “you should have been here last week” as far as conditions went. Last week the beach was all frozen sand and rocks, but over the last dozen tide cycles the temperatures had dropped and left a mosaic of drift ice and ice with just enough crusty bits to lure folks without studs down the beach. That little bit of crust was a blessing, because after awhile the beach opened up and conditions improved. The ride plan for the day was an out and back ride that went out to McNiel Canyon.
We started in bright sunshine with a headwind and by the time I crossed Fritz Creek clouds were moving up the inlet and shortly after it started to snow! The first part of the beach was the hardest. Lots of riders without studs were struggling and naturally, bottlenecks formed, here and there. The corn snow, shelf riding reminded me of conditions that I’ve ridden in Wisconsin, but the rocky flow ice that the tide had left behind was an all new experience. Apparently I made it almost all the way to the turn around, before I felt my tank was half spent, and after a little bit longer, we turned around and headed back towards home.
The ride back was aided by a persistent tail wind and the snow seemed to help as well. On the way out, it seemed like everyone was afraid to ride on the glare ice and tried to stick to any crusty snow that they could find. On the way back, I was following the tracks of Jim Mac Gregor. I grabbed Jim’s wheel, when I turned around and I noticed that he was also riding studded tires. Jim cut right across the ice sections that most riders had avoided on the way out, and I thought, what the hell, ‘I have the same tires’ and followed. It made the first part of the return trek go by pretty quickly. Along the way, I stopped to get a snack and some water and I lost sight of Jim, but I kept on following his lines for the majority of the way back. I rode this part mostly alone, taking my time and stopping to take pictures.
The snow intensified and I was basically in heaven. I made it back to the technical section and I could tell I was getting tired and sloppy. I could read the tracks of the riders that had been through before me and see the spots, where even with studs, the bike would lose traction and slide down the beach. I was deep into my bag of tricks, but I managed to keep the rubber side down. Before I knew it, I was back at the access ramp and on my way back up the road to the bike shop! The fest provided hot coffee and all sorts of delicious baked snacks back at Cycle Logical, complete with bike wash stations to rinse off the salt water. I had judged my fuel gauge just right and I think that the BFBF probably ranks in my top 5 beach rides of all time. After the ride I hung outside and chatted with Bjorn about he and Kim’s upcoming trip that will take them from Juneau to Homer along the rugged Alaska coastline. We talked about pack rafts and trips we want to take……again, I was basically in heaven!
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After a hot shower and a little time to chill, Zach picked me up and we headed over to Alice’s Champagne Palace for a burger and what was going to be the first of many brews. The club held a sweet raffle and a silent auction at Alice’s and later there was live music and much merriment. I won the award for ‘traveled the furthest’. Zach and I got up on stage and handed out some awards…plus I scored a really nice handmade leather saddle bag made by a local artisan in the silent auction! Zach’s buddy, Chase, won one of Revelate’s new Hoodies in the auction too! We drank some really delicious beer. I was drinking 49th State Brewing Solstice IPA and Zach was drinking something called Irish Death from Iron Horse Brewery. I remember buying some shots of Hornitos and then all sorts of shenanigans went down. By the time the night was over, Zack was speaking Swahili and I took a cab back to the hotel. All and all…..a pretty damn great day to be alive!
Sunday morning didn’t start or end as early as most mornings and Zach and I missed out on the Caribou Lake ride, but drown our sorrows with a hearty breakfast just before noon. After that we headed back to Anchorage with great memories from the Big Fat Bike Ride 2015!
~ If you’d like to visit Homer – the largest major airport is in Anchorage, where you can rent a car and drive the Seward Highway out to Homer. You can rent bikes right at Cycle Logical in Homer and I hear that they’ll be running guided fat-bike tours starting soon. I stayed at the Best Western Bidarka Inn while I was in Homer and it’s a fine establishment. When you’re in Homer and want to wet your whistle, have a quick one at the Salty Dog (to get the t-shirt) and then hit up the Homer Brewery for great Alaskan craft brewed beer and fresh oysters, right from Kachemak Bay or for the prettiest bartenders in Homer, along with great food and local craft beer, you can’t beat Alice’s Champagne Palace!