Al-ASS-ka or Bust: Trekking to Singlespeed Worlds in a $500 Yukon

Part 1 of 5

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Editor’s note: This is the first part of a five part series, documenting The Angry Singlespeeder and his crew as they make their way north to compete in the 2014 Singlespeed Mountain Bike World Championships in Anchorage, Alaska. The last of the series will come out shortly after the big race… that is, if they make it.

By The Angry Singlespeeder

Yukon

“Bears, what about the bears? There are grizzlies up there you know. Big ones. They’ll eat you.”

I think my dad’s biggest fear in life is bears.

Any time I tell Klaus, my dad, about a mountain bike trip I took to a remote mountainous region, he goes on a 15-minute diatribe about how deadly bears are and how they attack with no warning, as if they are bloodlust killing machines that eat any Homosapien in its path.

“Don’t worry Pop, I’m bringing bear spray.”

I had to pull the phone away from my ear due to the uproarious laughter on the other end of the line.

“Bear spray!? You think that’s gonna work? Ha! Bring a gun. A big one.”

Instead of a big gun, I bought a big SUV for a mere $500. I was looking to acquire inexpensive transportation for a one-way journey to Alaska for the Singlespeed Mountain Bike World Championships in Anchorage July 17-20. Everyone said I needed to make the 3,000 mile trek from Reno by car, but the return 3,000 miles seemed to be just a tad too much driving for my twitchy leg. So I figured, why not buy a cheap, reliable claptrap beater, get it road ready, drive north, sell it and fly home?

The choice mode of transportation.

The choice mode of transportation.

I was going to buy an old Toyota 4×4, but there was a champagne-colored 1996 GMC Yukon sitting all by itself on the highway down the street from my house with a FOR SALE sign on it. It was too serendipitous–a GMC Yukon to drive through the Yukon. Someone upstairs was nudging my shoulder saying, “Dude, this is the one. Get it.”

It has 250,000 miles on the odometer–equivalent to 10 trips around the Earth or a one-way trip to the Moon–but the previous owner said it’s all highway miles. The motor runs like a top, but the transmission wouldn’t shift out of second. Somebody told me I should just singlespeed it all the way to Alaska in first gear. Cute idea, but I’m too impatient for that kind of nonsense.

Success, indeed.

First gear all the way? I think not.

After about four days of cleaning dog hair, snot, old food wrappers and Twain knows what else from the interior, about two days of busting knuckles to replace the blown transmission, a new windshield, a front right tire and about $1500 total investment, the Yukon is road ready. Selling it should be no problem, as an old friend who grew up in Anchorage has a buddy who hustles used cars for a living. He tells me rust-free 4x4s are like gold in Alaska. We shall see.

I’ve driven the Yukon 300 or so miles and everything seems to be working perfect. However, yesterday I was rolling down the highway when the scent of burning plastic filled the cabin. I sniffed like a bloodhound trying to find the source, when smoke started rising from behind the stereo and heater. I freaked, pulled off the highway and shut off the engine. I pulled the stereo and heater panel, but everything was as it should be. It hasn’t acted up again yet, but I’m sure that won’t be the last I see of billowing smoke. Right after that incident, I put a fire extinguisher in the truck.

John Swan

The Swan John

I invited my girlfriend, the Swan John, to come along on the journey. Swan John and I have been dating since January. She’s never ridden a singlespeed mountain bike before, so I got her a Marin Eldridge Grade with a totally ‘80s neon punk rock paint job for $75 off Craigslist (people are practically giving away 26-inch bikes these days), stripped off all the old shifty bits, put some newer parts on it, and viola–she’s now in the clan. She’s been riding the singlespeed now for almost two months, and she’s taken to it quite well.

Our relationship has been going swimmingly, but we haven’t really been tested yet, so I figured this Alaska journey would determine beyond a doubt whether we will sink or continue to swim. Why waste time sorting out the inevitable? To throw an additional curve ball into the mix, when I told Swan John that my buddy Matt Talbott was coming along with us, she was entirely nonplussed. She was thinking we were going to have a romantic 10-day road trip getaway. Clearly her expectations of the trip and mine were not on the same frequency.

I explained to her that we were driving 3,000 miles through expansive desolation inhabited by big hairy animals that eat humans (at least according to Klaus) in a $500 crapcan to a giant alcohol-consumption extravaganza masquerading as a bike “race,” where the winner must get a bitchin’ tattoo. Romance will be in short supply on this journey. Hooliganism will runneth over.

This is Matt.

This is Matt.

Why bring Matt? I need a third party who is more resourceful than me to help us out of the inevitable jams we’ll experience on the drive up. I also need a third party who is brimming with character to further enhance our adventures. Matt is just the guy. Dude used to spend six months at a time under water in a submarine. When I offered him a seat, his first question was, “Are we going to hunt for dinner each night? I can bring weaponry.” Right when the trip starts to get dull, Matt will surely sharpen the stick, making matters interesting for everyone involved.

To help ease the Swan John, I told her Matt’s purpose is really nothing more than a buffer between a grizzly and us should an incident happen. I told her, “You don’t have to run faster than the bear, just make sure you can run faster than Matt.” In addition to riding her singlespeed, for the past three weeks after work she’s been doing wind sprints.

Milepost

I ordered a copy of The Milepost–the self-proclaimed “Bible of North Country travel”. It’s a 750-page brick of paper that has every single mile of every highway between Seattle and the Arctic Ocean documented with every detail possible. It’s been an invaluable resource for planning, and if the Yukon breaks down in the middle of … the Yukon … it will at least provide us with a couple hours of survival heat should we have to burn it.

The plan is to leave Reno on July 5. From July 5-10, I will meet up with some friends from San Diego and ride a few choice spots in Oregon including Ashland, McKenzie River Trail and Bend. On July 10, I leave Bend and will pick up Swan John at the airport in Portland, then drive north to Seattle. We’ll ride Bellingham–where we’ll pick up Matt–then push north to Whistler for a night.

We leave Whistler Sunday the 13th and have to be in Anchorage by Thursday the 17th. That gives us five days to travel approximately 1700 miles. We will be driving up the West Access Route through Prince George to the Yellowhead Highway, over to the Cassair Highway, onto the Alaska Highway and finishing with the Glenn Highway into Anchorage. The Yukon has plenty of space in the back, so Swan John and I plan to sleep in it each night. Matt will get relegated to outside tent duty, so he can help fend off any bloodthirsty grizzlies. I’m sure he’s up to the task.

The Tranny.

The Tranny.

In addition to having a new tranny in the Yukon, there will be a new Tranny between my legs. Ibis is graciously letting me ride their new Tranny 29 at SSWC. This much anticipated hardtail is a fully redesigned version of the original 26-inch Tranny–one of the greatest bikes I’ve ever owned. I can’t wait to get some time on the big-wheel version.

I will also be rocking a Gates belt drive system on the new Tranny 29 to silently sneak up behind grizzlies on the trail. Perhaps a giant loud bell strapped to the handlebars will be in order. The only thing worse than being mauled by a bear is having Klaus standing over me in the hospital saying, “I told you so,” after being mauled by a bear.

Stay tuned for updates from the road as the Al-ASS-ka adventure unfolds!

- ASS

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