Sunday, April 6, 2014

April Fools Ride

Fatbike & Ermine

April 5th-not a date one is really supposed to be still riding in snow. But as recent memory recalls, last year was even more unusual-the first turkey season found me slogging thru six inches of snow in search of the big “V” of a tom turkey-few were found. But this year-come on, really? So many days of record minus 30 and deep snow that seemed to never end (not that I mind that!) but it IS April. Just to give us all one last kick in the pants, Mother Nature tossed another wintery mess our way this week. Rain, sleet, driving snow and wind-not exactly what us cyclists want to see. But for some of us, having a fatbike in the stable, the snow affords us one last “one last ride.”

With morning temps on this day hovering between 10 and 15, I could be assured the nearby forest lanes and snowmobile trails would be frozen down. A 3” deep fresh blanket of snow covered everything and was unbroken save for a very occasional deer, coyote and ermine track. As most rides start out, I had a plan in mind of where my venture would take me. But as the dead end road turned into a skidder trail, the effort required to pedal forward was a bit much, nixing my undertaking. Option B was a shorter route- just as much work, but I figured I could slog through and make it back alive.

Fatbikes are perfect for snow riding, but several inches is tough-my nearly walking pace spinning the granny gear was humbling, but also allowing me to take everything in. Rain had preceded the snow, so the forest was coated in jewel-like crystals. Every branch glaze coated with mini icicles and frost clinging to smaller brush. There is a certain joy in laying down the first tracks in snow, evidence of one exploring in uncharted territory-kinda. A few critters beat me to it for it is their home, anxious to find a few nuggets of food here and there I suppose and for the steeping sun to melt it all away. I'd been tired of snow too, but for now, it provided a clean sparkling surface to ride on.

A county park was ahead and relief expected as I could jump into truck tracks, making the pedaling effort insanely easy. Turning onto a town road of packed snow and ice (this time of year, thoughts of plowing are long gone) the big tires sang a whirrling knobbie song and a tail wind made me forget the earlier struggles. By afternoon, with the bike tucked away, everything changed. The high sun quickly deleted most of the new snow cover and softened all surfaces, turning them into sloppy mush. Any thoughts of riding again soon would have to wait, making me perhaps more thankful for getting out the door early. I have no doubt April will fool us with a few more snowflakes and raw temps, and if so, the fatbike will roll out again to happily greet it. 
Home Stretch-Arndt Road

April-Arndt Road

Wedges Creek Trail

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Rural Township Roadtrip

Arndt Road/Ram, Sunrise
April Fools.  Rain, sleet snow and it's April 5th.  Sunrise forced the boots on and cameras charged. Molly wags impatiently for the truck ride.  The rules are broken-centered composition, horizon smack dab in the middle but it's all okay-its the township, in all it's un-glorious  frozen slush snow.  The sun is up and it's the frantic golden hour in black and white.  The coffee is warm, the truck on empt, aperture priority and the lab panting.  It's how it is.
Middle Road

Arndt & Sterling

Poertner Road

Columbia Ave./Sturtz

Columbia Ave./Winter

Coumbia Ave./Sturtz 2

Coumbia Ave./Wedges Creek

Sidney Ave.

Maple Road

Fremont Ave./Matsons

Fremont Ave.

South Mound Road/Urbans

South Mound Road

Sterling Ave./Wandering Deer
Middle Road

Monday, March 31, 2014

Coup de grâce Ride

Coup de grâce Ride
The phrase can refer to the final event that causes a figurative death. After a winter that held all of us so tightly without reprieve, a day in the mid fifties would finally be it's end. Anticipating the season's impending passing, fatbikes would have to roll early to catch that small window of riding opportunity. Temps barely dipped below freezing overnight, but enough to firm the remaining snow and allow the big tires to float on top. A week previous, we could ride the crust everywhere, but the power of the late March sun ate away the surface integrity and now we were left with just ribbons of ice and snow on singletrack. Which is okay too.

It's been a long winter to be sure-record cold and snow and no typical thaw at any point. Our snowbike trails held up great and afforded us a lot of riding, even in below zero temps. In fact, at those cold temperatures, riding was preferred over skiing, where glide would be non existent. This year has really seen the sport of fatbiking explode and more and more riding opportunities are popping up around the state. The Midwest has been called the “Fatbike Mecca” in some national publications and I agree. That fact was illustrated in how many different brands were represented on this final winter ride- six manufacturers toed the starting line- defiantly mainstream now.

Even at an early hour, it seemed the sun immediately started softening the snow-especially on the south side of Levis Mound. Scattered oak leaves soak up the heat and burn postholes in the trail making for a bumpy ride even on big soft tires. Any thought of an nice easy spin was gone as our gang of ten mashed the pedals just to move forward. Switching from singletrack to an old ski trail made pedaling a bit easier until reaching an incline facing the sun-then I found it a challenge to keep traction and the lungs in my chest.

A freshly groomed skate ski trail still remained hard, so that provided an autobahn stretch to click off a few miles to a more shaded bike trail. Our favorite winter trail is Yellowjacket and on this day, some of it was buffed smooth and fast, others a grinder as the surface gave way to the warming sunshine. At the tail end, we gave up, left the struggling behind and finished the ride on the deserted ski trail.

In the end it was perfect, the chatter among friends resumed as we rode in close quarters finally spinning easily. As deemed appropriate, the group finished with one last climb and a blistering frost flying downhill race to the chalet. The consummate end of a great snowbike season. The post ride discussion revolved around the new bikes laying scattered in the parking lot, of brakes and fat tires and of maybe finally riding dirt again soon. I wasn't as keen on the last topic for I love winter riding. I love the pure white around me and the quiet and softness when I hit the perfect day of riding. There was a bit of melancholy when I hoisted the bike into the truck, knowing it'd be 9 months until we had this chance again. It felt like we truly did put the winter to bed and I'm glad I could share the day with so many new and old friends and look forward to the chance to do it all again.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Beauty on a Plain Day

The Beauty of a Plain Day

Winter's end is near-the signs are unmistakeable. Crust has formed on ski and bike trails and every square inch of snow in the forest-burned and melded by the high March sun-regardless of temperature. It can be one of my favorite times of year, tho my heart belongs to fall-it's just that the re-birth of the year is starting and it's something to look forward to.

A less than impressive half inch of snow covered the singletrack I headed out on, what a few days ago had been boilplate hard and fast. My hope was to get an easy spin on the fatbike before that ever strengthening sun finally wins the day this month. Shady portions of the trail were solid, but breaking out into the open forest left me floudering in a softer base. The gloomy overcast day didn't help my frustration as I pushed the big bike toward a firmer ski trail. I figured the skiers had abandoned the season now and the wide trail may provide some pedaling relief. It did, and it offered another perspective of the surrounding woods. Riding singletrack, ones attention is focused mostly on keeping the wheels on the ribbon of trail and not biffing into a snowbank. Now I could pedal easy and scope the forest on either side watching for wildlife or noticing subtle landforms I'd missed before.

The ski trail stretched out ahead-totally unblemished, a thin blanket of undisturbed snow. A surface I love to explore- revealing any tracks, and all sign that animals had been out and about this day. But none, save for a squirrel bounding across the path here and there in search of their final stash of food. Disappointing, but okay-keep moving onward, keep the cranks turning. Ahead maybe evidence of deer, wolf, fisher, or maybe an awakening bear in search of anything to quell it's hunger. Nope. It was virgin snow at every bend in the trail.

Moving forward, further from the trailhead, it began to sink in that even with the darkening thick cloud cover and haziness enveloping the trees nearby, there was a beauty here. This carefree riding afforded me a chance to ”stop and smell the roses” as they say and I did. My previous ride a few days ago had been crunchy and clear, very cold and crisp-the opposite of this silent plain day. There was something here to appreciate. After spending every day with not-so-quiet elementary aged kids, the stillness surrounding me, that muffled sound of tires on snow, was so welcome.

I didn't yet have a plan for how I'd return to the chalet-my starting point. The usual loop would be too soft to ride and I didn't relish the idea of tackling the huge hills ahead on the black diamond ski trail. I could jump on a logging road perhaps and take the long way around. Even on the timber trail, that veneer of snow continued pristine ahead revealing little activity and dampening all noise except my breathing. The next road was impassible so option B was to hop on the deserted hard pack sno-mo trail. A wise choice it turned out, for the wind was at my back the grade easy and the miles could be covered as quickly as I wanted to pedal.

The final home stretch was a softening muddy town road and my bike searched out the shoulders where snow had yet to melt and she could remain a bit cleaner. The beauty of this unremarkable day and ride began to fade as the realization that many miles lie ahead and cars and trucks had churned the road into spring slop-my very least favorite riding surface. But the fat tires help, floating for the most part on top and making the effort doable even with tired legs. Like winter, the worst was behind and after dumping a few gears cresting the final climb, I realized I'd make it, this unplanned route taking me to new places and revealing a new aesthetic on a plain day.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The 'Yeti

Bear Den Downhill

The Sweaty Yeti

ca·ma·ra·de·rie-noun comradeship; good-fellowship.

Origin: 1830–40;  < French,  equivalent to camarade comrade
Synonyms :conviviality, bonhomie, brotherhood.

Sounds legit. And that's the feeling I walk away with after spending a couple days with some of the best people in the world. This past weekend brought the third addition of the Sweaty Yeti fatbike race back to the Levis Mound Trail in south western Clark County. As race director, there is no end to the fretting about having everything ready for a race. This year was no different. Another blast of the polar vortex dropped temps and unappreciated snow on the event the evening before, which just added to the scramble. But, as it all turned out, the worry was for naught. Everyone was happy with the race, the course and the turnout.

The explosion of fatbikes this year was evident just in looking at the starting line. The inaugural event saw just two brands of bikes toeing the line-this year, pushing a dozen, with even the big boys Trek and Specialized in attendance (they finally got the memo that fatbikes are not a fad). The race calendar is full every weekend and the Wisconsin Fatbike Race Series steadily growing with the 'Yeti a participating member.

What was born out of borrowed bikes and last minute rider drafts for teams (and a whole lotta fun), has matured some, with solo riders joining the teams out on course and nearly everyone arriving with their own steed. There is something to be said for keeping a race simple and fun and hopefully the Sweaty Yeti represents that. Times are less important that lap counts (keeps scoring easy) and it's not unheard of for racers to enjoy a beverage between laps. Hydration is important.

For the locals who build and maintain these trails and developed specialized grooming equipment for the snow course, the race is a chance to show off their work. Each lap incorporates some ski trail to maneuver and plenty of singletrack to climb and descend on. The new snow did soften things up some, but the one section of hike-a-bike was well rewarded with a long swoopy downhill. Hopefully riders will come back and explore the much longer loops within the trail system.

The race attracts riders from across the midwest and is a reunion of sorts (for me anyway). Biker friends I may see just at the 'Yeti or fun festivals like Gnomefest seem to gather and pick up those friendship right where they left off. I appreciate that. It is a brotherhood (and sisterhood) of sorts-like minded people who aren't afraid to get dirty, frosty, go fast or slow, and who enjoy the ride- not taking life too seriously. Fatbiking is the ultimate bike ride and as some say, you come back with that “fatbike grin” after every ride. There were a lot of those grins at the Sweaty Yeti-the ultimate payback for hosting our event and why we keep love what we do. See y'all next year!


Hells Yeah!

Covergirl Tenley

Upper Glen

Jackrabbit Draw

Bear Den





Yeti Carnage

Scotty Too Hotty

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Recovery Ride

After your first day of cycling, one dream is inevitable. A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go. You ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow. ~ H.G. Wells

I thought I could remember how to ride-how to pedal, how to spin the cranks 'round and 'round. But I couldn't. That memory, that Wells speaks to, is still there somewhere inside me. But it is a bit too distant to power through the snow a week ago. Four months away from the bike was a bit too much to make riding that day a “wonderful dream.” That was then and gradually I'm finding my legs again.

I'd pedaled just once previous to my “real” snowbike ride last week and that ride signaled that it could be a long road ahead. The packed singletrack at Levis Mound finally needed to be ridden if I were really going to test my fitness. I'd be totally surprised if I passed the exam. Although Levis is a popular trail for snowbiking (and XC skiing) I felt relieved that I could escape the parking lot by myself-no point in embarrassing myself or holding anyone else back. Bundled up in the barely single digit temps, the unfamiliar motion of my legs turning pedals prompted me down the trail. The snowbike trail groomer guys do excellent work here and although the snow couldn't be better, I struggled with every incline. The trail is nearly tabletop flat, but no matter, the shifters were constantly searching for the right (easiest) gear.

What we call the base loop at Levis is just over five kilometers and I knew better than to tackle anything more. At the halfway point, my lungs and legs burned and I seriously wondered if I'd make it (knowing no matter what, I would have to). Cycling usually cheers me up, but this struggle was pushing my moral down in a hurry. Every familiar turn in the trail, every snowy bridge I traversed, brought me closer to ending this frustration. The final few hundred meters were the worst-the chalet was in sight, but all I could do is look at the big fat tires to see if they were flat or not.

The following day was much the same-I left my two riding partners a short time after we started and bid them well-I was gassed already. Backtracking to the previous trail intersection, I explored the base loop again with about the same results. Feeling like a whipped puppy, I stowed the fatbike away and vowed to keep at it until I there was some semblance of legs astride my bike. A midweek ride and a couple classic ski outings gave me a little hope-it seemed I could breathe again.

Spirits lifted somewhat, I set about thinking maybe we should have a no-rider-left-behind ride on the long loop. I hoped the no drop idea would keep me with riding partners anyway. A Facebook ride event was created and I soon had a few brave souls that would join me. The 9 mile long course is no easy ride (for me) so this would be jumping in with both feet and I hoped I'd have understanding bikers in case I faltered. Just to keep things reasonable, I took the lead, feeling the rest of the gang really should have an “easy recovery ride” so to speak. The memory of how riding on snow was supposed to feel started to drift back and the ribbon of white through the woods flowed beneath the fatty as it should. There was no illusion of spinning up the more difficult climbs-just mashing whatever gear I could to make it over the top. The difference this day was I could recover and continue onto the next section of packed powder. “Yeah, this is going much better” I thought-I am going to pull though this trial and actually enjoy it! The guys were great at encouraging me and maybe they saw too that  I was on the road to recovery. This time, with each recognizable section of singletrack rolling past, I felt more and more confident-not that I wasn't tired, but at the least my demeanor improved.

By the end of the outing over an hour and half had passed and I felt a sense of accomplishment when the bike rumbled across the trailhead parking lot. That feeling had usually been reserved for the end of epic races or terribly difficult adventures on the bike or skis. Today it was back-and it felt good. For the rest of this biker gang, it was a stroll in the park I'm sure and the post ride banter was of how perfect the snow was, the prime conditions and how great the ride was. I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Stronger Rider

Rule #29. The stronger rider. 
If you come across one of those, be humble. Excuse yourself and ride at your pace. There is no point trying to be something you are not. Let them go and let go of your ego.”-Shona Living 
Six miles. Six stinkin miles. I was finally out the door. Two wheels. Turning pedals... Slowly. Where I ride, there is rarely a stronger rider to worry about-not one seen or spinning up dust in my face anyway. But they are still there, somewhere, riding a trail. I only see them as a memory of my racing days. I let them go years ago-there was no point. Now I just try to enjoy the ride.

This was my first outing on a bike this winter after surgery. To be safe, it was decided to get this pedal out of the way on safe ice and snow covered gravel township roads . For the fatbike beneath me, there were really only two options. I never could force myself to do an out and back ride-just can't do it, I've seen that country already. Sucked it in and spit it out and need new terrain. No, I have to do a loop, a start and finish ride with everything de novo in the middle.

Donned up in what I thought would be warm enough gear, and turning down the road, wind at my back, “it” was all behind me. “Rode” to recovery. The shorter of the two routes was just 4 miles, my usual hiking course with the lab, but that wouldn't do. Ride just 4 miles? Turning the first country corner on an up hill I wondered...maybe? Option two was six miles-that would have to work, for the only other course for a loop was 15 miles and this body would have none of that. The big tires rumbled down the frozen grader tracks, resonating the road through my waking legs. It felt good to pedal again. Just pedal, not chasing some stronger rider-that might creep back in another time, later in the year.

The four mile route was behind now-no choice but to go forward. The slight incline ahead was like a L'Alpe d'Huez in the cold biting wind. “Spin to win” it's said, and all I could really do, but I'm pedaling. Slowly. In the country, it's all about one mile sections and corners-easy for the snotty biker to check off the distance. “Rule 39. Coasting = coffin. You can rest when you are dead. Peddle in the downhills.”-S.L. Maybe, but the corner lead to a headwind and the legs cried to break the rule, but to move forward, the cranks had to turn.

Another corner, another climb. My friend Scott would say this was a “Three Sweater Ride” -sort of like a Three dog night, but moving and awake. Too few layers and the home stretch put the big bike in the big ring-time to chase the stronger rider or just survive to get home and thaw. One last corner and the mailbox is the finish line-wind at my back again and the legs forget how weak they really are. The driveway is long and the fatbike is glad to be tucked away in the shop again. I guess aluminum gets cold as well. If I'd learned anything from the skis the day before, it was to just get out there, enjoy the ride, the soreness and ache, the cold air-Excuse yourself and ride at your pace. There is no point trying to be something you are not. I'm not the stronger rider, but I am getting stronger. Ride #1, check.