Fatbiking on Land and Water

We depend on freeze thaw cycles in order to ride our bicycles over the snow on the trails here in midcoast Maine.  That hasn’t occurred lately.  It didn’t happen this weekend either.
Nevertheless, I’m pleased to have put in two rides, back to back, in less than optimal conditions. I’m pumped to start 2015 by getting outside again.

On Saturday I joined 4 other Bubbas in the Woods members for my first ride in 2015 from the Warren Community School parking lot. It was as brutal a cold that I’ve ever rode in. Even at the usual 9:30 am start time, Nate said it was only 1 above zero when he left his house in Union. It might have crept up to single numbers after our two hour ride, but not by much.
How does one deal with moving through cold like that?  I am used to the cold, but my fingers and toes aren’t.  With a resting pulse of a turtle, and 6’2” of height, by the time my core heats my blood up and pushes it to my extremities, I don’t retain heat way out at my physical fringes. I had to take off a shirt layer after the first big uphill in Warren, but needed extra help to keep the digits happy.
I needed three sources of protection for my hands today:  winter gloves, inside pogies ( oversized handlebar-end covers), with reusable chemical heat packs wedged between my gloves and the pogies.
My feet survived the cold with the help of toe-sized chemical heat packs stuck to the top side of my thin woolen socks, inside some ancient LLBean rubber bottom/leather top hunting boots, with pair of thermal mesh air soles between the bottom of my sock and the boot. I moved to flat pedals last season, after suffering through too many winters with clip on pedals and winter biking shoes. If oversized boots and flat pedals get picked to ride the Alaskan winter trails, I’m down with that.
How was the riding ? It’s hard to be objective. Last winter, this same Warren route was so good.  We had an ice highway running through these woods. There was plenty of snow, with numerous snowmobiles packing the track, and a cycle with warmer days , then drops below freezing each night.  This snow out here is not solid on top. While most of the trail today was decent, there were sections where the snowmobile track was pitched to the side, with the bikes siding sideways as we churned forward. You also absolutely had to ride within the narrow snowmobile track.  When I found my front wheel outside that, onto the ski track of the snowmobile, I went sinky, and often stoppy.  It’s more work riding on the snow. It felt like fifteen miles of riding in Warren, but was only eleven.

For very next day, Sunday, the weather pundits prophesied a whole different story: morning rain and temperatures rising to the upper 40’s.  The wonder of the imternet and subsequent weather Apps opens a whole new world to us who watch the weather to plan out outdoor adventures. We learned that it would stay freezing until day break, when the temps would rise and the rain begin around noon.

Blaine and Buck riding blue

Blaine and Buck riding blue

Jason Buck led Blaine and me on a most enjoyable ride around the winter-only riding trails that encircled the little town with the big name: Hope. But to get in on this ride, you had to be ready to leave from Hope Center at 8 am, a time change that left most of the faithful still sleeping.
There was no way I was going to miss this ride. I am currently obsessed with the ideas put forward in Microadventures, an e-book by Alistair Frasier. it will be released as a traditional book in march 2015 in the US.  In it, Frasier lays out practical suggestions on having hiking, biking, and even river swimming adventures in one’s own local community.
We had our own genuine microadventures this morning:  riding through ancient farmland, exploring frozen bogs and swamps, and even pedaling over the surface of Megunticook Lake, where a view like this opened up glimpses of distant mountain that are not available any other time of year.

Maiden's Cliff in the distance

Maiden’s Cliff in the distance

For the first hour and a half the Sunday ride was solid, on snowmobile trails that had been well traveled.  We zipped along at a good clip, over, up, and down moguls that sometimes pitching us side to side until we eventually descended to the North shore of Megunticook Lake.

Buck and Blaine laying  track

Buck and Blaine laying track

I have walked  and rode over many frozen lakes.  There were tracks from snowmobiles and ATV’s that we followed, but not much was solid on the big water. We hit stretches of slushy ice, due to the recent snow layer insulating the ice below from the deep cold above.  We there are springs in the shallows that also result in open water holes that also have to be avoided.
I particularly enjoyed riding up a very narrow frozen stream between Megunticook and Norton Pond where we threaded our bikes between boulders and up and along a shorefront to reach a bridge with this view of the open water between the lake and pond.

Norton Pond narrows

Norton Pond narrows

The air temperature had warmed up to the 40’s by 10 AM, when the snow began to get  too soft. At one point we had to, “ hike-a bike”, including a section over the well built and maintained Earl Pearse snowmobile suspension bridge.  We had hoped to ride over Hobbs Pond to check out a couple of camps on Luce Lane, but by this time, I was spent.  It takes twice the energy to ride trails in the woods on the snow in winter than it does to do the same routes  on drier ground. We exited the snowmobile trails and rode Barnestown Road and then 235 back to our cars. photo 5
I got twenty-two miles and four hours of activity outside in the last two days. Screw the gym.  On Sunday, I never ventured further than three miles from my house, on new trails that have somehow escaped me for the past 37 years. Adventures are close by.  Me and my trusty Pugsley are looking forward to more of them, hopefully tomorrow.

Here’s the map of Sunday’s ride in Hope:

Hope

Hope


 

Microadventure on New Year’s Day

First ride on the first of 2015- 11.5 miles long.  Seven Bubbas showed up.

The Rockland Bog

The Rockland Bog

The initial part of the ride saw a great deal of hoar frost, large white ice crystals that are  deposited on the ground. They form on cold, clear nights when conditions are such that heat radiates out to the open sky faster than it can be replaced from nearby sources such as wind or warm objects. Clumps of earth and even rocks cool to below the frost point of the surrounding air, well below the freezing point of water.

In he picture below you can see some of the crystals, some up to 5″ long, mixed into frozen earth.  Whoever is riding first through these patches has the hardest time, as the wheels sink through the surface of the leaf-covered crust until they reach solid ground.  It’s harder pedaling- in a group, the guys at the back benefit from the work the riders up front  do as they level the track.

Hoar frost holds up the Pugsley

Hoar frost holds up the Pugsley

Today there was plenty of black ice- clear and smooth.  That’s not water on top.  One of the extensions that we rode today had not been cleared of downed trees from our two ice storms. We’re not going back there until the local snowmobile club hauls out chain saws to clear this trail.   photo 3

In the photo below, notice the faint trace of a line on the ice to the Nate’s right. A couple of us had studded tires.  It’s the track from Craig Mac’s Schwalbe studded 29″ tires on his Santa Cruz Tallboy.  I was also able to ride straight over the ice with my 45North studded 4″ tires. The crunch of the carbide studs on the ice underneath my Pugsley is a very satisfying sound.

I rode well today, despite having no drinking water with me. I have been experimenting with eating and hydrating less on these relatively short rides the last few months.  If I  drink a full quart of water before I ride, don’t overdress, and don’t sweat too much I seem to do fine.  The actual moving time for even this 11 mile ride was two and a half  hours.

Craig Mac's line

Craig Mac’s line

Downed spruce trees forced a lot of hike-a-bike, and detouring through the edges of the forest.

Nate and The Hawk do the shuffle

Nate and The Hawk do the shuffle

Eric  was not at his usual position near the front of the ride, but he was working a New Year’s Eve excuse .

Eric moves forward

Eric moves forward

Next up in 2 days is a rare Saturday Bubba ride.  There’s a big storm coming in Sunday morning ( the usual schedule), so we’re adapting with a schedule change.

There was bit of chatter today about our goals for 2015.  For me, I am hoping for 360 hours of combined biking and hiking in 2015.  It is a tough goal, but after today, I’ve already banked 90 extra minutes  !

Resolution for 2015: Visit Maine State Parks and Public Lands

Start 2015 off by doing the right thing and purchasing your very own Maine State Parks Pass (day use).  Veterans and those that are 65 (and over) get in for free!

I just sent in my $35 , primarily for  bypassing the $3 daily fee to hike the extensive and superb trails in nearby Camden Hills State Park.

View from Ocean Lookout- from Camden Hills Park page

View from Ocean Lookout- from Camden Hills Park page


The great State of Maine has over 700,000 acres of  Parks and Public Lands, with a huge variety of locations.  Their updated web site is easy to use and very helpful in planning your encounters in the outdoors.

2015 is my year to stay local, and have #microadventures.  I am very excited about the approach taken by Alistair Humphrey in his soon-to-be-released paperback ( Feb 3, 2015)  Microadventures.  The Kindle edition is available in the USA via Amazon. The book is my favorite outdoors read for 2014.  Check it out.  It’s highly British, but the approach can be adapted anywhere.

Have fun.

Nature is the Real Gym  !

 

Wet winter biking in Midcoast Maine

The fat tire bike movement is alive and well with the Bubbas in the Woods, with Nate showing up today with a sparkling new Trek Farley, and the price was right.

A proud owner about to defile his spanking new ride.

A proud owner about to defile his spanking new ride.

It was a group of seven today at Bubba church, six of us riding fat- when we finished, it was 20° out, with a steady wind chill.

Nelson had to hike-a-bike to his truck early on after his compression fork blew a seal and all the oil in his fork ran out. Before he left, his bike looked like cartoon vehicle, with a layer of crispy crown leaves encircling the perimeter of his wheels as the protruding sheet metal screw tips skewered those leaves against the rubber.

Check out that natural tread

Check out that natural tread

Buck’s 45North rear tire suffered a couple of tears, and his tubeless set up required a tube to keep him moving. A cold day to have a mess of white goop to deal with.

Buck deal with a flat

Buck deal with a flat

There was a great deal of water out on this segment of the Georges Highland Path today.

Like this:

 

The bridge engineers

The bridge engineers

Here’s Rigger and Nate fashioning a makeshift foot bridge to get us across a flowage that had no other way around.

I rode pretty well today.  I thought I might have neglected to bring enough food, but my friend Amy Barnett’s two home made cookies got me through 4 hours and 10 miles of hard going today.  I’ve been experimenting with the type and amount of food that I take along with me of my rides and hikes.  I find i really don’t need too much to keep going right now.

One thing that did not work out so well today was me staying dry.  I was alone, at one point, moving pretty well and following Andre, churning my way over the hummocks and splashing the flowages , and came to a large rock protruding over a small stream with a black hole of water between me and the other side.  I decide to push across, except the front wheel dropped into the water so deep that it jammed against the bottom and I went right over the handlebars into the black wet.  The bike ended up on top of me and my whole lower body was soaked, with the water making it’s way deep into my boots, and it completely filled my pogies ( cordura handlebar covers).  I took off my boots, dumped the water out of them,  wrung out my socks and soldiered on.

The combo of the constant water and deeply cold temp wreaked havoc on our drive trains.  Chains were seizing up, front derailers would not budge, and the water was refreezing so frequently on the pedals that clipping in was difficult, if not at times impossible.  Here is a shot of a rim encased in muddy ice.

A sorry mess

A sorry mess

Check out the mini glacier above the front derailer.

I am hoping to get another Bog ride in Tuesday night, but now it looks like there will be a storm again- more rain.

You gotta like slush and mud to be biking in Maine right now

It’ is not even winter yet, but it’s much more challenging to get outside and bike and hike in Maine right now.
First, we’ve already had two major snow storms that have resulted in serious downed limbs, branches, and even whole trees laying across our usual wooded trails.
One November storm was so brutal that we lost our electricity for five whole days. That’s what happens when you have gale force winds pushing against trees rooted atop soft ground that had not even shed their leaves. The weight of twenty inches of wet sticky snow accumulating on the branches makes the trees top heavy, resulting in uprooted messes toppling like pick-up-sticks across the countryside.
A week ago Andre, Buck, and I headed over to the Rockland Bog on snow shoes to clear out some of the usual riding loops that we have been favoring for the past twenty five years.
We all packed small saws that are surprisingly efficient at slicing through even larger trees that lay across the trails, but there were several behemoths that we left for the big boys on their snowmobiles to dispatch with their chain saws.
Here’s Andre using his snowshoes to stay on top of a particularly despicable half frozen mass of broken up ice partially frozen in nasty mudded-up water.

Andre atop ice

Andre atop ice

Sometimes there are no decent go-arounds, and you need to just work straight across, through the ruts and mud.

No place to tip over

No place to tip over

Thank God there are even a few bridges that we can cross. This is not a place to slip into the water, either on foot or a bike .

IMG_4053

Andre and Buck considering foot placement

Just before we got back to the cars in the lot along the Bog Road, we decided to just go around this particular nasty tangle of downed branches, and yes, normally we are in the habit of being able to ride right through this stream and along the path ahead.  Not going to happen.

Almost on the Bog Road

Almost on the Bog Road

Two days later, we three went back in, along with 5 other cultural iconoclasts. The Bubbas in the Woods have been stuck in a rut of sorts,  for a few decades now. We have these group rides on Sunday morning, and also Tuesday and Thursday nights, year after year- for decades. Incredible but true.  This past Tuesday night, it was pitch black at 5:15 PM, the temps were in the low 20’s, and much of what was soft and mucky was now frozen solid and slippery.

I had charged up my Turbocat handlebar and helmet-mounted lights for the event, my first night ride of the fall season. And yes, I realize my ancient Turbocat system is now old history, and after the ride I realized it would be way cheaper for me to upgrade to a Magicshine LED helmet light than to buy another replacement lead-acid battery that was acceptable way back when.

I also hope not to fall, so just in case, I wore my Fox padded shorts underneath my tights to prevent a broken hip or tailbone ( Right,  Lincoln Jamrog ?).  A recent Men’s health magazine article  about winter fat-tire biking, The Winter Sport That Burns 1,500 Calories an Hour, helped explain why I was a hurting unit just a half-hour into Tuesday night’s ride.

It was ridiculously tough going for me- churning through snow, mud, half-frozen water, and trying to see the path through partially fogged up /frozen safety glasses.  Here’s a map of the 7.5 miles that I somehow managed to finish on Tuesday night:

Bog Ride.  Green dot on Bog Road.

Bog Ride. Green dot on Bog Road.

Here’s a pic of the Hawk, taking a quick break in the middle of a particularly wet piece of the Bog ride.  The darkness at the bottom is black pools of water , interspersed between elevated hummocks of land and mounds of solid ground with trees somehow surviving in there.

The Hawk usually churns right through everything

The Hawk usually churns right through everything- not tonight, though.

It’s what we do, and I’m actually looking forward to my next ride in the dark with these guys.

I’m hoping that my new Magic Shine headlamp works it’s magic on my performance out there!

How Exercise Helps us Tolerate Pain

The NYTIMES ran a health article about this admittedly small sample research project today.

How Exercise Helps Tolerate Pain

I don’t need this study to include more than a meager sample of 12 to know it’s the truth.

At this point in my life I regularly engage in a level of exercise that pushes me right to the pain zone: mountain biking, backpacking, hiking, snowshoeing, or snow biking.

My wife tells other people, “Everything Tom does for sports has to have suffering in it”.
IMG_2179.JPG
It’s pretty simple. If I am going on a challenging hike, I want to experience it as easier that other activities that I have suffered through. For example, I’m headed up to Katahdin for a week of backpacking. I have prepared by carrying a mass of iron chain that pushes to weight in my back pack to 23 pounds. I train on steep trails, where I m pushing to 3.5 mph.

Hurting helps.

Riding Vermont’s Kindgom Trails

I’m waiting tonight outside the shower at the campground, a phalanx of Boy Scouts jamming up the flush and flow in and out of the two men’s toilets, and single shower stall .

I had a great ride earlier this afternoon, and am very pleased to notch 15 miles of sustained pushing on my Santa Cruz Tallboy, whether it was straining to move upward on the steeps, or trying to keep the bike upright as gravity pulled me down these verdant hills.
Heading Out
What’s going on at the Kingdom Trails is barely controlled survival when I careen downward, at times skidding across lateral roots, the ends of the handlebars grazing past tree trunks.  

From their website, “Kingdom Trails in Northeast Vermont, a multiple-use trail system unlike any other and voted as the BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL NETWORK in North America by Bike Magazine in their annual Reader’s Poll. We were the Editors’ Choice in the Yankee Magazine Travel Guide to New England and were also named BEST OF NEW ENGLAND by Boston Magazine Travel & Life. ”

I am really pleased that I kept the bike upright all afternoon.  A lot of the success was due to the engineering of the Santa Cruz Tallboy.  To me, the machine is not so much a bike but rather a descending apparatus.  The suspension sucks up big hits on rocks and drops off ledges with a unique mechanical squishing sound.  It’s totally baffling how the bike sustains it’s integrity, ride after ride, week after week, for years. These guys I ride with are not stick boys, or at least most of them aren’t.  They are The Bubbas, who stick it to the trails with authority and confidence.  We don’t break these newer bikes (so much), but we’ve demolished earlier frames and components before bicycles became stronger, and correspondingly much more expensive.