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