FattyStripper review

So reading a forum recently, I got wind of a new product to help with tubeless set-up called FattyStripper. (Sounds like one of “those” websites, I know, but rest assured it’s perfectly wholesome.) It’s basically a giant latex rubber band that you stretch around your rim before you mount the tire. Combined with a separate tubeless valve, it’s pretty similar to the “ghetto” tubeless method that I’ve tried before using old innertubes, except a lot lighter — 50 grams before trimming. The band is wide enough for any fat rim up to 100mm.  A picture is worth a thousand words so here is the first of many:

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Yep, that picture is for real: I got the tire bead to seal using a floor pump, on the first try. A bit of dish soap applied to the bead before pumping caused the tire to slide right onto the bead shelf. Granted, it’s a high-volume pump made for fat tires but I don’t think that would have mattered. And it showed no noticeable loss of pressure in the course of about 2 hours. This is a Surly Rabbit Hole, and Surly rims are a real bitch to set up tubeless, but on the other hand, Bontrager tires are the bomb when it comes to tubeless setup (I run their Barbegozzi tire on their Jackalope rim on my fat bike, with nothing but a single wrap of tape over the spoke holes, and they hold air for days without sealant). So I feel like the FattyStripper makes up for the poor tubeless characteristics of the Rabbit Hole.

Now Jim@FattyStripper recommends gluing the band to the rim before mounting the tire, but I didn’t want to do that until I was sure I liked the product. But after setup, I didn’t really feel like taking it all apart, and I kind of liked the way it looked with the strip hanging out, so I hit upon this brilliant idea: why not glue the strip to the outside of the rim? I headed down to Home Depot and bought some painter masking tape/plastic. This stuff is the easiest way to mask something — the tape is already pre-applied to the plastic and it comes off the roll ready to apply.

The roll is tiny but the plastic is folded up, so that when you unfold it, it’s 24″ wide. This is great because there’s no chance of getting any of the spray glue on your disc rotor.

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Now I just put a nitrile glove on one hand, and went around the rim pulling up the strip while spraying glue under it. I erred on the low side since I didn’t care how much glue I got on the plastic mask, and I didn’t know what it would do to the tire sidewall. Jim recommends Elmer’s mutli-purpose spray adhesive, but I couldn’t find that locally, so I used 3M Super 77.

Here’s the result after trimming. I think it looks amazing.

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Thumbs up for FattyStripper!

Now for the stuff that didn’t quite work out. Along with the FS I purchased their 3M Bling Strips to cover the rim cutouts. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend these with the Rabbit Hole or any rim like it. Although they may work fine for double-walled rims with recessed spoke nipples, the Rabbit Hole is a single-wall design with nipples that sit up above the inside of the rim, and they are offset to one side. As a result, the Bling Strip, which doesn’t have any elasticity whatsoever, does not lie flat and puckers horribly when pressure is applied. Too bad, because they look great when mounted properly.

I went back to the Surly rubber rim strip designed for this rim. However, then I got another rude surprise, which was that when you air up the tire, the strip bulges ridiculously out of the cutouts. I think this is because the strip does not provide enough support without the (heavy) Surly innertube. I solved this problem by running a single layer of Orange Seal 45mm tubeless tape around the rim before mounting the FattyStripper. The OS tape is extremely thin, has no stretch, and weighs nothing. And it’s just a tiny bit wider than the rim strip (45 vs 38mm) so it overlaps just a bit on each side. I would really like to switch to a solid rim but it is hard to find one that has offset spoke holes like the Rabbit Hole. I’m a big guy (over 200lbs) and I like the extra strength provided by offset lacing. I would love to use the Bontrager LinePlus rims, but they are only available in 28h at the moment and I’m not comfortable with that either.

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Alberta here I come!

Ok, after much hemming and hawing (and cross-checking vacation schedules with the ex-wife), I’ve decided I’m definitely doing the inaugural Albert Rockies 700 this summer.

Now to get in shape! The ride is 690km with about 9km of climbing. For the metrically-challenged, this is 425 miles and about 30k feet of climbing! So even at the relatively slow (and certainly non-contending for any podium position 🙂 ) pace of 7 days, that’s 62 miles and 4400 feet of climbing per day. To do it in 6 days, it’s about 74 miles and 5000 feet of climbing per day. And I can’t conceive of doing it any faster than that.

One mitigating factor is that there is oodles of daylight up there at that time of year. According to sunrisesunset.com, sunrise will be about 5:30am and sunset about 10:30pm; and there is enough twilight to carry on outdoor activities without artificial illumination for about 45 minutes before and after those times. (In fact, the sky never goes totally dark at that latitude in midsummer.) So it is no problem finding enough hours in the day to ride the miles; it’s an issue of finding enough miles in the legs!

Since I live in the foothills of Colorado (just west of Boulder), there is no shortage around here of either dirt roads or climbs. However I don’t think that weekend-only riding is going to get me ready for sustained, day-after-day effort. Luckily (funny, this never seemed luck before), I work about 20 miles from my house and I can commute mainly on low-traffic roads and trails. So my plan is, starting about May 1, I will commute to work on my Carver Gnarvester (the bike I’m planning to take on the ride) as many days a week as I can stand. (I can’t start before May because there aren’t enough hours of daylight and it’s pretty scary riding the canyon where I live in the dark.) Since I have child custody every other week, this will be a one-week-on, one-week-off sort of thing. In the final week of training, I plan to do the commute with my full gear kit.

In addition, I’ll have to do an occasional weekend ride to train for distance. But the multi-day commute is to condition me to getting up every morning and riding no matter how tired I am from the preceding day(s).

I plan to post my training rides here as I do them, and then I’ll update from the trail to see if the training prepared me adequately. Hopefully, this might give other people, who are considering taking on a multi-day bikepacking route but are wondering if they are in shape to do it, an idea of how much training is enough, and whether it’s possible to do enough training while holding down a job and taking care of kids!

The 401 Trail

Last night I spent quite a lot of time lying awake, trying to decide whether to go back to C.B. the way I had come, or to take the long way around, over McClure and Kebler Passes. The latter would take longer, but be easier (i.e., more riding, less walking). But then I checked the weather report, and the weather is supposed to deteriorate later in the day. The fastest way back, even considering walking quite a bit of it, is back through Crystal and over Schofield, so I decided to get out early and go hard.

A half-mile into the ride, I hit the bottom of the crazy fast descent at the end of yesterday. The locals call this Daniels Hill. According to google maps, it is 570 feet of elevataion gain in 0.7 miles — that’s a 16% grade! Walking it was a good way to warm up and stretch out my piano-wire calves.

Going up Daniels Hill

Going up Daniels Hill

Heading up, I was treated to some views that I hadn’t seen coming the other way the day before.

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I was able to ride most of the road to Marble — I actually prefer to go uphill on rocky terrain to going downhill, because it’s easier to stay on your line. Shortly after Marble I came to the area just below the Devil’s Punchbowl.

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See that section of the trail right in the middle of the picture? I had trouble even walking up that. According to my cycle computer/altimeter, it was a 20% grade.

Right after the steep uphill the road heads back down to the bridge at the base of the Punchbowl. I saw this extreme offroad vehicle going the other way at about 2 mph. This terrain is way more technical than it looks in the pictures!

Extreme Rock Crawling

Extreme Rock Crawling

Then it was time to push back up the Punchbowl trail, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds — maybe about 20 leisurely minutes. Here’s a picture that illustrates what the trail surface is like — refer back to yesterday’s description.

Bedrock trail

Off-camber bedrock trail surface

Almost at the top!

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The rest of the ride to the pass was pretty easy — the two stream crossings that I knew were coming, the flat cruise through Schofield Park, and a bit of climbing from there to the Pass. The really amazing thing was, although it took me 2:30 yesterday to get from the “4×4 only” sign at the west end of the Park down to Marble, it took only 3:15 to go the other way — despite the fact that there is 2500′ of elevation loss/gain! Think about what that says about the trail — it takes almost as long to ride/walk down 2500 feet as it does to ride/walk up.

So in hindsight, I was really glad that I made the choice to return this way, because this means I get to ride the famous 401! At the Pass, the 401 trail starts off going uphill. It actually goes uphill for quite some distance — a good fraction of a mile — and I had to walk a lot of it because I was so tired.

Climbing up the start of the 401

Climbing up the start of the 401

The wildflowers are incredible.

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Eventually you get to the top and the views are incredible.

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And then you come to the really iconic section of the trail that runs along the side of a ridge with huge views of the valley below. According to the locals, the wildflowers were even better than usual this year because of all the rain. They were so tall it was like riding through a cornfield!IMG_20150810_1325144_rewind

Eventually the cruise with the big views comes to an end, and the trail starts to switch-back down the hill. The wildflowers are still incredible though.

Wildflowers on the 401

Wildflowers on the 401

I thought it would be all downhill back to town, but it turns out that there’s quite a bit of gradual uphill to Mt. Crested Butte. When I got back to the Grand Lodge, I came up with a great idea. I went to the front desk and the same lady who had checked me in two days ago and given me a parking permit to let me park for an extra day was working there. I asked her if I could use the poolside shower, and she said sure, she remembered me. So she made me a key card that let me into the pool area, and I was able to shower and change into my civvies for the drive home.

Schofield Pass to Marble

This morning I left C.B. and climbed Gothic Road to Schofield Pass. Amazingly, I ran into two of my neighbors from Boulder at the Snodgrass trailhead just a few miles outside of town. Small world!

Here are some pics of the ride up to Schofield Pass.

Heading for Schofield Pass

Heading for Schofield Pass

One of many parking areas, all crowded

One of many parking areas, all crowded

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The 401 trailhead was a mob scene of other riders.

Schofield Pass and the 401 trailhead

Schofield Pass and the 401 trailhead

From this point I was the only mountain biker I saw for the next day and a half, but there were plenty of SUVs, ATVs, and dirt bikers. Shortly after the pass you enter a rather open area called Schofield Park that is really beautiful.

Schofield Park

Schofield Park

There is a trail here that leads up the backside of the Maroon Bells, and there were about 50 SUVs parked at the trailhead. There are even a few private cabins up here. Gorgeous spot, but I’m sure summer-only.

Cabin in Schofield Park

Cabin in Schofield Park

At the west end of Schofield Park you come to the first sign that really sounds like it means business. All the signs up to this point say things like “high clearance recommended” but this one is much more direct that you had better know what you are doing to go past this point.

Beginning of descent to Marble

Beginning of descent to Marble

This is the end of the line for most SUVs (the ones driven by sane people); only ATVs, dirt bikers, hikers, and yours truly dare to tread here. Immediately the road turns to rock and there is a creek crossing. Once again I love my Keens cycling shoes as I simply took off my socks and put the shoes back on to walk through the water.

Stream crossing

Stream crossing

I figured I’d go sockless for awhile and sure enough, not long after I came to an even deeper crossing that required carrying the bike to keep the drive train out of the water.

Then I reached an area they call the Devil’s Punchbowl. I believe it gets its name from the series of pools that the river cascades down. The river is in a narrow gorge and drops quite quickly here. There is a trail on the left side about 7-8 feet wide which was probably dynamited out of the rock face. Here’s a view from the bottom (which I haven’t gotten to yet) that gives you the idea; the trail is on the upper right.

Looking back up - trail is on upper right

Looking back up – trail is on upper right

Here’s what it looks like from the top looking down:

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At this point there were no more SUVs and my only company was ATVs and an occasional dirt bike. I saw this guy almost roll his ATV right in front of me! His front right wheel lifted off the ground and he had to post his left leg to keep from rolling down that slide on his left!

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Now let me try to describe the trail surface. From the photos it looks like random loose rock, but in fact the surface of the trail is mostly immobile bedrock that is part of the mountain to the left. The face of the mountain is of course made of layers (they are visible behind the ATV rider), and these layers have been thrust upward to make the mountain. So imagine a stack of books that are offset slightly to create a sort of staircase. Now tilt the stack so that the edges of the stairs are fairly level — that sawtooth profile is what the trail surface is like. Now imagine the sawtooth is set at a 45 degree angle to your direction of travel. Last, but not least, put it on a 15% downgrade, which, combined with the 45-degree angle of the sawtooth, makes it extremely easy to catch the front wheel and high-side over the handlebars! On a surface like this, falling is simply not an option — the best you could hope for would be some broken bones on the edges of the sawtooth rocks; the worst would be what almost happened to the guy in the photo above. So, I walked down it.

At the bottom of this descent there was a “bridge” across the creek (a slab of steel reinforced concrete that they dropped there) and then the trail starts to go back up, and then down again. Here’s a shot looking back. This gives you an idea of the narrowness and steepness of the trail as well as the incredible scenery. Keep in mind that this section of the trail is much smoother than the Punchbowl.

Below Devils Punchbowl still some snow

Below Devils Punchbowl still some snow

So except for the occasional rockslide, from this point it’s mostly rideable — downhill — but I doubt I could ride up very much of it. So I’m starting to have second thoughts about doing this in the reverse direction tomorrow!

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Eventually I reached the town of Crystal, where there are a few homes and a gift shop. I learned that living in Crystal is summer-only. A bit later I found out why: even though it’s only 5 miles from Marble to Crystal, it takes an hour to drive it.

I passed the famous Crystal Mill and took the same picture everyone else does.

Crystal Mill

Crystal Mill

Anyway, the”road”from Crystal to Marble it’s unbelievably rocky. I passed an SUV right after leaving town and even though I made several stops to take pictures, remove clothing (it was really warning up), etc, he still never caught me.

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Lizard Lake

Lizard Lake

The last mile or two is smoother but so steep that I had to stop 3 times to let my brakes cool down. The rotors were sizzling hot.

Right after passing Beaver Lake, which was mobbed with paddle boards and canoes, I saw my B&B on the hill above the lake.

Beaver Lake Retreat

Beaver Lake Retreat

It was only 2:30 and I was hungry, so I rode into town to go to the BBQ joint. It was packed even in the middle of the afternoon. Of course, there are no other restaurants for 20+ miles! Tip: do not get the ribs, they are scrawny. Then I stopped across the street at the tourist office (which they call the Marble Hub) to get an ice cream bar..

I rode up to the B&B, which was deserted.

Looking down at Beaver Lake from the Retreat

Looking down at Beaver Lake from the Retreat

Shortly after I arrived, the owner, Vince, drive up. He is an interesting character. PhD in psychology, and he mainly rents out the entire place to a group for workshops. He got his degree back in the 70s I think, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously:

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Anyway, I have the entire place to myself tonight, because Vince is going back to his house in Aspen (rough life, right?) There’s not much to do here, but there is a piano and a hot tub, both of which I intend to make use of.

Vince gave me a ride back to town on his way out, so I’m back at the BBQ joint. I ordered a la carte, a half pound of brisket and a half pound of sausage. (I’m planning to have the sausage for breakfast.) The brisket is average, it’s moist but only average flavor, however the sausage is outstanding. They get it from a local farm near here, so I guess I won’t be seeing it at the grocery store ant time soon. Also, the “skillet corn” side dish is the bomb. Definitely recommended if you ever eat here.

Rest Day in Crested Butte

Rest day today. Did my laundry at the hotel, booked my accomodations for the next couple of days, got a massage. Later I might go to the local movie theater to see the new M.I. flick.

Stopped at the bike shop to get some advice about the Schofield Pass / 401 ride. Ended up buying a Latitude 40 map of the local trails, which might come in handy when I return from Marble. The guy at the shop recommended a multi-trail linkup of Snodgrass, Lupine, and Lower Loop that I might do when I return from Marble.

C.B. is definitely cruiser capital of Colorado:

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I am staying at the insanely posh Grand Lodge at Mt. Crested Butte tonight because all of the accomodations in town are full. Not exactly what you would call bikepacking:

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However, there are quite a few advantages to staying here. First of all, the alternative would be to drive 30 minutes to Gunnison tonight and then back tomorrow morning, which would make it hard to get an early start. Second, they are 3 miles further up Gothic Road than C.B. itself, that’s 3 fewer miles to climb tomorrow! Third, they are letting me leave my car in their lot tomorrow night when I’m not here. And fourth, I got a free one-ride lift ticket, which I might use to check out the resort’s bike park when I get back.

I have a room reserved at the Beaver Lake Retreat in Marble tomorrow night. Should be pretty nice because he had a big group that was going to rent the entire place postpone their trip by a day.

I will be completely out of contact for the next two days, riding to Marble and back. The plan tomorrow is to ride over Schofield Pass to the town of Crystal (location of the famous Crystal Mill — supposedly the most-photographed site in the entire state), check out the Crystal ghost town, maybe a waterfall, then continue into Marble where I hope to see some of those gigantic slabs of the stone. And there’s a BBQ joint in Marble, of all places, that was recommended to me by a guy I work with.

Then on Monday I’ll ride back up the Crystal River road to Schofield Pass (which I’m told is going to require some walking because it’s steep and rocky in places), but then instead of returning on the Gothic Road I’ll hang a left onto the famous 401 trail, supposedly the best singletrack in the entire state (seeing a pattern here yet?).

I’m told these roads/trails are quite busy with jeeps, ATVs, hikers, and bikers so I don’t think I’ll ever really get lonely out there. I will bring along my satellite tracker “just in case”.

Crawford to Blue Mesa

Well,I wasn’t sure I’d be able to ride at all today. Last night I awoke with a cramp in my calf that was so vicious, it actually pulled the muscle! I was limping around this morning. I took it on faith that riding would stretch it out and make it better instead of worse.

Luckily, SH 92 is a very gentle climb. The grade rarely exceeds 4%, which was lucky, because I was carrying an extra 4 liters of water–that’s about 9 pounds–because I was pretty sure there was no water anywhere on the route. (Which turned out to be true.) So I just took it easy and spun along in a low gear. The climb went on for about 20 miles, 3600 feet total. It seemed like it would never end, but at least I was able to do it.

Also, the road had close to zero traffic; in over 4 hours of riding, I was passed by around 50 cars. (I counted them to pass the time.) The pavement is great. All in all,a road biker’s dream road.

Here are some pictures. The mountain range in the background is the San Juans:

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When I got to lake view campground, I discovered there were showers here. So even though it was only 2:30 I decided to stop. I’m basically killing time here with nothing to do, but I’ll turn in early and get a super early start tomorrow for the push back to CB.

Warning: Extreme Vertigo!

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The above is a picture of what is called “The Narrows”. Man, it is hard to stand there without feeling like you are falling forward. And there’s no guard rail either.
Further on, some viewpoints give a view of the river itself.

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I have a lot more pictures, but I can’t tell which ones are good looking at my phone screen, so I’ll wait until I can look at them on my laptop before posting any more.

So it was a really hot ride, uphill into a headwind, and I was worried about running our of water. I saw a family at one of the viewpoints (I was nearly the only one out there) and asked them if they had any water to spare. The guy said sure, and pulled a cooler our of his truck. When he made to undo the drain plug, I asked him what he had in the cooler. “Nothing but ice and water ” he assured me, and he opened it to show me some soda cans floating in ice water. Okay, I figured, the water might have some dirt from the outside of the cans but basically should be okay.  What a mistake! The water had an odd taste that I couldn’t quite place. I said to him, “this tastes like food, maybe lettuce or something but with a hint of garlic.” He acted bewildered. When I caught up with them at the next viewpoint, I asked the guy again what he might have had in there. “Oh, yeah, we had some sandwiches in there that got wet.” About 20 more minutes of drinking this crappy water, it finally hit me: dill pickles. (Note how close my original impression was, before I knew about the sandwiches; maybe I have a future as a wine sommelier.) I also began to notice that my mouth was really dry, and that drinking the water did not help. In fact the more I drank, the drier my mouth got. This was probably due to the vinegar.
I was pretty pissed off about it, especially since the return trip was so fast, I probably wouldn’t have run out of water anyway!
Lesson learned: never trust anyone not to be a complete idiot. Reminds me of a plaque one of my housemates a long long time ago had hanging above the door to his room:

    Love many
    Trust few
    Always paddle your own canoe.

I should never have let that guy touch my paddle!

On the way back I noticed that you can see Needle Rock from just about anywhere out here. Can you spot it?
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I even have a view of it from outside my room at the B&B. In fact I have a view of just about everything!
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