Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Alpine Style: It takes a village.

Normally I'd wait to share the info below until the end of a TR, as it's more nuts-and-bolts type stuff.  In this case the 'why' of what we did as well as took for gear might not be obvious until you read below.  I'll cover the 'what' of gear as I wind things down, later.

Heaving gear and bikes out of Ganey's truck at roads end was the culmination of ~2 months of direct, sometimes intense, and often conflicted preparation.  Most obviously, Ganey graciously allowing us to borrow said truck for more than a week was enormous.  Would you loan your vehicle to out of state friends, knowing they were going to load it heavy, take it to the end of a frequently blown-out road, and then leave it there?  Not only did he, but he threw a few pounds of salmon in to sweeten the deal.  Over the top.

We had originally planned to leave the truck at Nabesna, then either hop a bush flight back or maybe hitch to retrieve it.  Russell the Love Muscle solved that one for us by hopping in at Gakona and riding with us to our jump off point, then taking the truck back out.  He took it a giant step further by meeting us in McCarthy when at last we arrived.  Given that our trip stretched a few days longer than we'd planned, Russell's timely arrival was the only thing that made it possible for all of us to catch our scheduled flights home that night.  Way over the top.

Dirty and Grande hosted us in town, treated us as long lost friends (as opposed to needy interloping tourists), and basically let 4 guys junkshow filthy, stinky gear all over their space at a particularly hectic time of year.  I'm still at a loss on what we did to deserve their hospitality and hope that we each get the opportunity to repay it.

The internet age is unbelievable when it comes to planning trips.  Not only could we find trip reports and pictures from those who'd ridden the route before us, but there are many people who've done the route sans bikes and their trip reports were accessible too.  Plus satellite imagery, archival weather data, as well as on-demand beta from regional guides and pilots.  Not to mention just general regional info on a massive landscape.  On top of all that we had the incredible gift of personally knowing and having previously traveled with 3 of the first 5 people to ride this route.  Naturally, we pimped them for info.

Eric and Roman provided incredibly detailed beta, effectively answering any/every question I asked over a period of several weeks.  I mentioned above that our preparation was conflicted, and what I meant is that Roman and Eric rode this route at different times in their lives (Roman was in his late 20's, Eric in his late 30's), using very different eras of equipment, and with fairly different results.  It became our task to determine which of their equipment choices and thus 'methods' made the most sense for our trip.

On bikes they disagreed: Roman urged us toward small wheels and tires and suspended bikes, arguing that the suspension was needed because of the proliferation of river cobbles.  Eric made an eloquent argument that a modern, light fatbike was the best tool for the job as many of the gravel bars and stream courses we'd spend time on were soft and required float, and because big, squishy, low pressure fat tires were their own form of suspension.  The effectiveness of that crude suspension is inarguable, and it also means you don't need the weight or complexity of real suspension.  On a normal at-home trail ride you'd never, ever hear me arguing the merits of a rigid fatbike over something with full suspension and sub 3" tires.  But knowing that our bikes were about to be repeatedly submerged in suspended glacial silt, ridden through bogs, fens, and muck, dragged and thrown through alder, willow, and devil's club, I couldn't reach for a light, simple fatbike fast enough.  I wasn't privy to their thought processes, but Jon, BD, and Doom concluded similarly.

The pioneers both agreed that good brakes and ample gears were mandatory to maximize riding opportunities.  We agreed wholeheartedly.

On boats, Roman encouraged us -- in his heavy-handed way -- to take only one for the 4 of us.  Doing so would, in his opinion, keep more weight off of our bikes and backs, and in so doing allow us to ride substantially more of the route.  He admonished us not to even consider taking a boat per person, quipping that we would then be "on a hike-a-bike packrafting trip where you'll wonder why you brought the bike".

Never having been out there, and knowing that Roman had not merely ridden it the one time but had raced it in the AMWC a handful more, it was hard to look at this as much less than gospel.

On the one vs. many boats question Eric's beta couldn't have been clearer: "If you get to the Chitistone and only have one boat you're gonna feel really, really stupid because that's clearly the best mode of travel from that point.  With only one boat you'll be crossing (fording) the river a lot and it is pure ice water, the glaciers are right there."

The group batted it around for half an hour on a conference call the morning before flying north: 4 boats or one?  There were very good reasons to want to float the Nabesna, Chitistone, and Nizina.  But, we wondered, how much faster would that actually be, once you factored in all the added riding we'd do instead of pushing with heavy packs to get to those points?  And then we wondered, is moving faster even important?

In the end we all agreed that speed didn't really factor into the equation.  We wanted an adventure, we wanted to ride our bikes a bunch, and we wanted to do it in a new-to-us, big, wild place.

Thus, we took only one boat.

Since we only had the one we didn't, couldn't make any downriver progress -- just used it to ferry across stuff we couldn't wade or (usually inadvertently) swim.

It didn't always work exactly this way, but the typical pattern was for me to ferry Doom (and both of our packs) across first, then he'd go back to get 2 bikes and bring those over. Then I'd go back for 2 more bikes. Then one of us would go get Brett, then Brett would go back and get Jon. Each one of these crossings took ~an hour from dropping our packs to cinching them back on and riding off.

Simply put, any distance covered was either by walking or by riding. And we rode a lot more miles than we walked. 

Now that that preamble is outta the way, when next I post it'll be to share some of the actual trip!

Thanks for checkin' in.