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Bay Area native shares her inspiring journey from news reporting to mountain bike guiding
By Michele Charboneau, ASJ Managing Editor
Grande means large in Spanish, and although the petite founder of Alaska Bike Adventures is anything but big in stature, she is most certainly GRANDE in personality. The lively, enthusiastic reporter-turned-entrepreneur — affectionately called Grande by her friends — exudes such positivity and warmth that you can’t help but want to be near her.
That was the case when I met her at Interbike in Las Vegas nearly a decade ago. We were both shivering in the ladies lounge (that AC!), taking a quick respite from appointments to gather our thoughts and make notes. We immediately gravitated to one another and fed off each other’s vibe. We’ve stayed in touch over the years, and when Grande shared her plans to open a mountain bike guide service in Alaska with her partner Dusty Eroh earlier this year, I jumped on the chance to send adventurous folks their way.
To that end, enjoy this Q&A with the effervescent Grande and then make some plans to get up to Alaska this fall or next season for some incredible guided mountain biking with Alaska Bike Adventures. Grande will take care of all the details and show you an amazing time!
When did you move from California to Alaska and what prompted your move?
I moved to Alaska in November of 2006 after I graduated from San Francisco State University. I majored in Broadcast and Electronics Communication Arts and was applying for television reporting jobs all over California and the west coast. I had also applied for a reporting position in Alaska and thought that would be the most exciting place to live. I got the job to be the Juneau Bureau reporter for the local ABC affiliate station covering the legislative session. Then I moved to Anchorage in 2008 (almost 900 miles northwest of Juneau by vehicle) and reported for the local CBS affiliate station.
I was planning on a two year run in Alaska, which would get me some solid experience in the news industry outside of San Francisco. I ended up reporting in Alaska for four years. While I was a news reporter I got a part time job at a local bike shop in Anchorage. See, I enjoyed riding bikes and frequently visited The Bicycle Shop as a customer. I asked if they would be willing to hire me part time. I was working everyday in the news job and then on my weekends I would work at the shop and had a blast!
Well, I learned that I love working with bikes more than my reporting job. I left news and started to work at a local non-profit called Green Star that encouraged businesses to implement green initiatives in their operations. Green Star also helped organized Anchorage’s Bike to Work Day and helped businesses become more bike friendly. I was still working at The Bicycle Shop part time during Green Star. I started to do bike races and become more involved in the Anchorage cycling community. I knew at this point Anchorage was becoming my home. And I knew I wanted to make a full plunge into the bike industry.
After leaving Green Star in 2013, I was asked to manage a new bike store that was opening up: Trek Bicycle Store Anchorage. I hired an amazing crew of folks to staff the store. After three years with that shop I went back to where I started at The Bicycle Shop … the place I discovered my passion. I have been working in bike shops since 2010 and have focused on always learning more; sharpening my skills to help others make an educated decision on purchasing bikes or have a good experience on a bike. I’m a certified bike fitter with Specialized Body Geometry/Retul, a certified UBI bike mechanic, an event organizer, a group ride leader, a certified PMBI mountain bike instructor and bike shop manager who faced unique challenges with our location in the far north. How how’s that for a journey from the news industry to the bike industry?!
You discovered mountain biking after moving to Alaska. What was your cycling experience before your move?
I started riding bikes in 2002 as a bike commuter when I was attending San Francisco State University. If you know the scene in the Lake Merced area, you know parking is rough. I was parking so far and having to power walk or run to my classes to get there on time. I found an old SEARS bike in my parents’ garage and stuffed that into my car on the way to school. I parked at my grandparents’ house in the Excelsior District and rode to school and parked at SFSU’s amazing bike barn parking lot on campus. I brought a heavy industrial chain and padlock and thought “Wow, this bike is so handy!” I lived near Skyline College in San Bruno at that time and remembered giving myself challenges like riding around Skyline College campus and then I kept saying one more lap.
My uncle, Oscar Grande, was the main reason I got more into riding. He was a bike messenger in San Francisco and would take my brother and me on urban bike rides. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I eventually signed up to do the Aids Ride for Life fundraiser from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2004. I did it on a Diamondback 26” mountain bike I purchased from Ocean Cyclery in San Francisco and I was happy as a clam. After that I knew I needed a road bike so that’s when I bought my Bianchi Imola steel road bike from City Cycles in San Francisco. I rode it all the time. My favorite ride was the Scenic 49 route around San Francisco. I enjoyed riding all day. I was usually alone on these rides because none of my friends were into bikes.
How did you end up getting into the mountain biking scene in Alaska?
When I moved to Alaska I brought the Bianchi and continued to road ride for fun. I also brought the Diamondback and I remembered my first mountain bike ride with it. That was the hardest thing and also the funnest time I had on a bike. I had never ridden a mountain bike on mountain bike trails before!
My coworkers at The Bicycle Shop took me out riding at Kincaid Park in 2010. At that time, a lot of the mountain bike trails were social trails, so that meant lots of roots and nothing really flowy about it. I probably looked like a baby moose learning how to walk … not coordinated at all! I remembered when it sort of clicked while mountain biking. I was riding a trail called Rover’s Run and we rode it the gradual descent way. The speed and momentum helped me just roll over the roots like nothing. Mountain biking only got better from that point on.
I also signed up for bike races. I had absolutely no experience racing and felt like I was moving backwards in life. All my friends at home in the Bay Area were starting families and getting really good paying jobs and I discovered bikes in my mid 20’s. I joked saying I landed a 13 year old boy’s dream job working at a bike shop and biking all the time. But that’s what I seriously loved. I like pushing myself so the races were great because it actually helped me become a better rider. When I raced I did not worry about the little obstacle stuff that would have freaked me out on a bike ride.
Plus, the race scene in Alaska was so fun and chill. Everyone was so supportive. I had a great cycling family. I discovered great local trails in Anchorage built by our local non-profit called Singletrack Advocates (STA) who maintain and preserve trails they have built since 2004. STA now has more than 30 miles of singletrack trails in Anchorage! I started to also explore the Kenai Trails in the Chugach National Forest with amazing longer distance singletrack trails through mountain passes like Resurrection Pass Trail, Johnson Pass, Lost Lake Trail, Russian Lakes Trail, Crescent Lake Trails.
The mountain biking does not stop in summer though. I fat bike a lot in the winter riding super fun singletrack trails on snow. We actually get more trails in winter because we can ride over frozen water and boggy areas we can’t in the summer. Plus, we can even bike to glaciers! I love all sorts of biking including cross country, bikepacking, techy singletrack, winter fat biking, cyclocross, enduro and at Alaska’s only lift-accessed downhill bike park at Alyeska Bike Park.
When you visit your family California these days, do you hit the trails? If so, what are some of your favorite spots to ride?
Yes, every time I go back home to San Francisco I always try to squeeze in mountain bike rides. It’s great because I did not do this when I lived in the Bay, so it’s like rediscovering a whole new place where I grew up.
I really enjoyed riding with my friend Michele (who is interviewing me for this Q&A) in Santa Cruz. The only reference I had growing up in Santa Cruz was a cousin who lived in Capitola and the Boardwalk. The trails there are spectacular. I have also ridden Skeggs Point, Mount Sutro in San Francisco, McLaren Park in San Francisco, Sweeney Ridge to some sweet singletrack trails in Pacifica (ending up at the famous Taco Bell on the beach) and Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa. I have only scratched the surface mountain biking in the Bay Area and know every time I go back, there is more to explore.
WHY do you ride?
I love everything about it. First, I like just hopping on and feeling like I can access some of the best spots on two wheels. I enjoy seeing my progression on the bike and also appreciate recognizing things to work on.
I like how mountain biking has taken me to a lot of special places and meeting amazing people. I enjoy the speed but I also enjoy taking in the views slowly when necessary. The trails are always a little different, especially as the season changes.
It’s fun to do as a group but also a great way to do something on your own. I enjoy traveling on my bike. I have done a bunch of bike tours from paved routes to singletrack multi-day trips in summer and winter.
I feel empowered when I ride.
Do you prefer to ride solo or in a group?
I like to ride in a group. I think four is a good number. I enjoy following people and watching other folks take a line. I tend to ride alone because my schedule is sporadic with guiding, working part time at the shop and also being Road Race Director in Anchorage this summer.
What do you miss about living in California and what do you love best about living in Alaska?
I miss my family and my friends I grew up with in California. I miss good taquiera’s and Chinese food. I also miss the San Francisco culture. I grew up in Glen Park and Excelsior District and I have a lot of fond memories growing up there. I miss good public transportation like MUNI and BART, believe it or not. I miss seeing the city skyline.
What I love about Alaska is how simple life is. There is hardly any traffic and you can access the wilderness in minutes depending on where you live in town.
Anchorage has an incredible urban paved and soft surface trail network system throughout the town. I love how people in Alaska get after it in the outdoors whether that’s hiking, biking, packrafting, skiing, skating, hunting and doing extreme races. I have met some incredible athletes and they are mothers and fathers who work full time and live their lives to the fullest.
I really enjoy Alaska’s history and its unique social issues we face as a state. I never get tired of looking at the mountains here. Some days you can see Denali (tallest peak in North America at 20,310′) from Anchorage just driving into work. You get to see wildlife like moose, bears, porcupines, marmots, bald eagles, etc. I just had a mama moose and calf walk through my backyard!
Ultimately, I love sharing Alaska with friends and family from outside the state. This is not a hard place to visit and it’s very magical for others to see.
Your partner Dusty Eroh designs bikepacking gear for Revelate Designs. How and when did you meet Dusty, and do you share his passion for bikepacking?
Dusty and I met while I was working at the Trek Bicycle Store Anchorage in 2014. We knew of each other because we knew some of the same people but I had never really ran into him in the bike community. He would come into shop to pattern frame bags for Revelate Designs.
It wasn’t until 2015, when I was at Interbike as an attendee and he was there as a vendor, that we discovered a “connection.” At first I thought he was a serious guy who did not like to have small talk. I also accidentally kept calling him “Rusty.” Geez, embarrassing.
Turns out he can talk for a long time. We just chatted on the last day of Interbike about trips and stuff. When we got back to Alaska, we started to do more activities with each other. He was always game to do anything, which was great. He was more of a climber and mountaineer than a biker but enjoyed mountain biking. In addition to working at Revelate Designs, he is also a part time guide at Alaska Mountaineering School guiding clients up Denali and the Alaska Range.
Dusty usually rode by himself before we met and independently discovered the local trails. I always joked that’s how he got so fast on a bike because he just went full speed ahead riding on his own. I am definitely a little bit more social than he is on a bike ride.
I actually got into bikepacking through my friends, Lael Wilcox and Nick Carman (who were also friends with Dusty), before I met Dusty. I joined them on a few bike trips in Israel, Mexico and Montana attending Adventure Cycling Association’s Centennial.
Bikepacking trips — and races — with Dusty have helped us both grow and constantly learn new things. I had never ridden with someone like him. Dusty is so dynamic and it’s fun to watch him bounce off things on a bike. When I’d ride with him, it was like following the Tazmanian Devil as Nick mentions in his blog “Gypsy by Trade.”
Dusty’s first bikepacking race was the Kenai 250 in 2016, which is a 265 mile 100% self supported race mostly on singletrack connecting all the trails in the Kenai. He surprised everyone and got second place, just 13 minutes behind the first place finisher. At that point we all knew Dusty had this amazing talent on these self supported bikepacking races. I think his alpine mountaineering experience and his awesome trait of finishing something he starts helps him battle through the grueling challenge mentally and physically. Since then, Dusty has completed The Kenai 250 race four times, got second in the 750-mile Arizona Trail Race, got first in the Highland 550 race in Scotland in 2019, has completed the Soggy Bottom 100-mile race and a winter 100-mile race called the Susitna 100.
I also enjoy the self supported races and have completed the Soggy Bottom 100, Susitna 100, White Mountains 100, The Fireweed 400 solo race and Dirty Kanza 200.
What inspired you and Dusty to launch a guided mountain biking business in Anchorage? What makes Alaska Bike Adventures unique and what plans do you have for the business in the future?
We wanted to show others our passion for singletrack biking and camping with bikes. Alaska Bike Adventures is unique because we are focused solely on soft surface riding and overnight bikepacking with instruction elements. We are not only trying to guide people in Alaska, but instruct them so they can go on their own adventure in the future and do it safely.
We’d like to expand our guided overnight singletrack-specific multi-day routes throughout the state of Alaska. We also want to make Alaska a mountain biking destination for visitors. We aim to be a resource of information for bikepackers and mountain bikers who want to explore the state of Alaska on two wheels. We love to mountain bike both with and without bags; we’re not just bikepackers or only-singletrack riders. We have skills that benefit both disciplines.
I want my fellow Bay Area community to know that traveling to Alaska is not that hard. We have pretty good deals on flights throughout the summer. We have a growing amount of AirBnb places opening up. Don’t make Alaska your last bucket list place to visit when you are too old. This is a great place for active, younger people to visit. There is some good fishing up here, too!
When’s the best time for folks to plan an adventure with you?
If you like summer, the best time to visit Alaska is between June and July because it’s typically awesome weather and we get those long daylight hours. If winter is your thing, the best time to come is mid-February and March. The days are getting longer and the winter temps are climbing back up. Plus we get to enjoy some amazing glacier rides at that time of year!
We stop guiding mountain bike rides at the end of September, but then we start doing winter fat bike trips starting in December that continue through March. We provide the fat bikes, pogies, helmets, lights, equipment to keep your feet warm, and of course fun routes! There are sweet lodges people can stay during the fat bike rides.
What’s your theme song? (in other words, what song *is* Grande?)
Hands down: “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston. Such a fun song ripping on trails!
Learn more about Alaska Bike Adventures and book your guided ride at Alaska Bike Adventures.