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

 

Riding the Pugsley over Hosmer Pond

Ian and Buck head north
Ian and Buck head north

Who would believe it?  Just a week or so ago, the lakes and ponds in midcoast Maine were still open. But all that changed his past week when the temperatures dropped below freezing for several days in a row. Once outside temps reach zero, an inch of new ice gets added on ponds and lakes in one day.

Today was a day to be ready for serious cold.  At 7 in the morning, it was three degrees at the house.  It got up to nine when I left to ride the trails around Ragged Mountain, just 15 minutes away.  Bubba Church is usually Sunday morning, but there going to be a badass mess of snow, sleet, freezing rain, and then rain, so our ususal Sunday ride came one day earlier this week.

I am using a couple of new products while riding the bike this winter season.

1)First, let’s talk feet.  I don’t bother with expensive insulated boots that are specific to bike riding in the deep cold- for example,  45North’s Wolvhammers list for $325.  They have cleats that allow you to clip into your pedals. Instead,  I run a pair of $12 plastic flat pedals on my Pugsley fat bike, wearing my trusty 15 year old LLBean insulated winter boots- they are plenty roomy with one pair of thin wool Darn Tuff socks.

The new product under my feet is a mesh plastic insole that creates an airspace between the bottom of my foot and the removable boot liner.  The insoles have 4 layers of plastic screening inserted between 3 layers of finer screening. I find my socks stay drier, and that I have warmer feet when using them.  photo  I got mine through Ben’s Backwoods, a very good place to purchase practical items for those of us that spend time in the northern forest, all year long.

2) Another combo that works for me this season is inserting chemical hand warmers into my handlebar pogies.  I have a pair of high-vis green Cordura three year old Stellar Bags pogies made by a Minnesota  cyclist who no longer sells them but there are plenty of others out there on the market: Revelate Designs, Dogwood Designs, Bar Mitts and Gup Gum Gear.  Pogies do a great job of protecting my hands from the elements, especially the wind which can cool down hands fast and they let you ride wearing lighter gloves.

When then temps get really cold, I activate and then insert throw-away chemical hand warmers into the pogies, and continue on with light wool gloves.  However, I didn’t like buying and throwing away cases of the hand warmers ( really- 12 pack cases).  One of the vendors at this year’s Snow Walker’s Rendezvous had reusable hand warmers that are made  in Maine.  The product is Lemay’s Cozy Campers.  81F5Q+a9M4L._SL1500_ These are reusable sodium acetate hand warmers that are activated by flexing a metal disc that is suspended in the gel medium.  Ten minutes of boiling after use recharges the units for the next time.  I have been using this product for 4 times now. It gets warm really fast, but has a much shorter warming period than the metallic mesh throw-away hand warmers.  Since my rides are no longer than 3 hours total outdoor time, they are fine for what I do, but if you are out all day and need many hours of warm hands, then they may not be the best choice.

The Camden Snow Bowl, our ride destination today, is still under massive reconstruction, and any riding needs to stay away from the build zone.  Our 11 mile ride today began with a serious climb up past the left side, via the top of the toboggan run onto 22 Tacks, then linked up with the Ragged Mountain Runoff bike race loop. From there, we did Jason’s Trail, then onto the seldom traveled Milk and Cookies, until we descended on the Five Brooks trail to the excellent new network of swoopy singletrack at the base of Rollins Road.  There is no parking at the end of Rollins, so while part of the group rode the road back to the parking area at the tennis courts at the Snow Bowl, Jason, Ian , and I bushwhacked out way to the left around the outlet from Hosmer Pond  until we got to the solid ice and then proceeded to whoop it across the half-mile of  black glass to our cars.

Wow!  Ice this clear and smooth is rare.

Straight down onto the ice
Straight down onto the ice

I’m running studded tires, but Ian and Buck didn’t need then as they rode up onto two of the granite islands and powered-slid around on the ice as we made our way back to the cars in the other side.

Ian in control
Ian in control

Big big smiles as we powered north on top of the water  !

 

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!