On my to-do list for sure this year was to make the trip to northeast Wisconsin and set wheels on the trails of the Bear Paw Inn and the surrounding area near Langlade and White Lake. It has been no secret that the folks up there have been developing miles of singletrack more than worthy of rolling the fat bike over. A check mark appeared on that list this weekend, sooner than I expected, when Scott Berry and his crew whipped up the inaugural “Growlers Snow Bike Race” at the Bear Paw.
The Kayak Tree
The Bear Paw Outdoor Adventure Center and surrounding forest, where nearly wiped off the map by a F4 tornado in June of 2007. The swath of this storm leveled 14,000 acres of trees and millions in property damage, so it was uplifting to see the re-building and recovery of this area and the development of such great trails. As a trail builder myself, I can’t imagine how difficult the clean-up process was. A mid-winter cold put the skids on my plans to race, but I wanted to be there to take in this fairly new phenomenon of snow bike, or fat-bike racing. Plus, in a few short weeks, Levis Mound will be hosting the Sweaty Yeti, and I hoped to get a feel of these events.
Sweet, Flowy Snowtrack
Although I’m no stranger to managing races, the WORS events of years past have an entirely different “feel” to them than these low key, fun at all costs “races.” It’s the only way I’d venture back into the race directors chair! This is a race, and there are teams and a race course, but there isn’t the dog eat dog-killer attitude of some race formats and that is just a welcome environment to be around and involved in. In arguably the coldest and windiest day this winter, the riders still rolled in, checked tire pressure and donned their warmest gear.
I do believe this was the greatest gathering of identical white Pugsleys I’ve ever seen-a testament of how many riders have jumped onto fat-bikes in the past year. A smattering of a few other brands also were on the line for the Le Mans start. A total of 14 teams were formed, including a fair number of individual riders who were recruited to join teams with many on borrowed bikes. After shooting the start, I headed out on the double track, which quickly climbed and funneled into a stretch of singletrack. There is no shortage of rock and boulders here and the racers needed to be able to weave those big wheels up and around them like a slalom racer. It’s a unique feature of singletrack in this area and I loved it-the packed snow between the rocks made it a smooth rip on the tight downhills. By the second and third laps, the thinner snow cover became icier, and touchy to navigate on some of the sharp corners. Hanging out in the woods on course was great fun and rider after rider, I could tell, were having a good time, despite the temps (which didn’t seem to matter after a riding a while). The laps were between 15 and 30 minutes and there were some tough climbs, but still allowed for a PBR hand-up from time to time.
Randy and the PBR Hand-Up
As racers carved their final turn into the exchange zone-tagged their teammate and logged a completed lap, there seemed to be a sense that the fun factor was still high, that even after two hours, riders still wanted to get out and ride the course and whoever had the most laps was secondary. From what I saw-this was a three hour race, and everyone was going to take advantage of every minute they could out on the trail and all the camaraderie to follow.