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  !

 

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  !

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 .

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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!

Big life, big bike- Bubba style

I joke about attending the Church of Two Wheels on Sunday mornings.  But it’s no joke.
Riding with my long-time friends from the Midcoast Maine never ceases to amaze me.  Week after week, the bikes don’t break, we don’t crash (much), and we experience the pure joy of playing around in the woods, challenging ourselves on repeated sections of terrain.  This has been going on close to 20 years, all year round!  This past winter was a great one for riding these same trails when they are covered with packed snow and ice.  Today, my fat-tire Pugsley stayed home and my full suspension Santa Cruz Tallboy was resurrected  back into action.  The bumpy ledges and long  downhill from the top was kinder to my deteriorating shoulders than the rigid framed Pugs.
A bunch of The Bubbas have downloaded the Strava app on our phones or via our GPS  devices.  We encourage each other and share rides that we’ve completed with the rest of the the guys (and gals now) !  We now have maps!
 Pleasant map

Pleasant map

We get elevation profiles, like this one from Sunday’s ride on Mt. Pleasant !

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Here’s me jumping on the Tallboy, and following Rigger’s line for the ride down from ” the Blueberry field” to the ” Three way”.

photo by John Anders

photo by John Anders

3 minute video of me descending Mt. Pleasant <<– Click to view three minutes of pure joy, complete with me chuckling as The Hawk and I jockey for the right side into the singletrack.  Thanks to The Hawk for sending me his clip, and The Bubbas for being there for me, week after week.
Sanctuary.

Bubbas Still Staying Up

Six Bubbas attended Sunday’s Church of Two Wheels 10 mile long service in Warren, Maine today.

After the melting snow cover caused me to cut short my plans for a long snowmobile trail ride on Friday, I expected that today would be the same: crumbling patches of ice, mud sections, and that sudden sinking on the front wheel scenario, complete with cockpit ejection over the handlebars. I’m very pleased to say that the subfreezing temps from last night and our 9:30 AM start set things up nice and solid.

For those of you who think that these well-attended winter rides are only suitable for us fat-tire riders, check out this video clip from the ride. Listen to the crunch of the ice beneath the tires while The Hawk comes into view on his Mukluk, closely followed by Rigger and Nate on their 26-inch-tire mountain bikes.

Another Wednesday snowstorm is predicted this week- could be at least 6″ of snow. Winter riding is still going strong in the Midcoast this Spring season.

Afternoon riding = not a great idea

The light was thick and golden, temps were up near freezing, and it was Friday afternoon- perfect time to hop on the Pugsley and ride 6 miles via Hobbes Pond and check on the camp. I left at 3 pm. I didn’t make it.
Right from the start it began. I was descending the hill through a huge field in back of my neighbor’s house on what I thought were hard- packed snowmobile tracks when the bike started this weird fishtailing. I was sinking in. The heat from the winter sun is apparently not so feeble anymore. Thankfully the frozen surface returned when I resumed riding in the forest, where the sun had not penetrated. Someone had been out before me lately on a fat bike. I saw the tracks. Things went really well until I came out into the open fields around the back side of Moody Pond where the afternoon sun had melted the surface enough for the 4″ wheels to sink down so far that I couldn’t pedal forward.
I detoured around the pond via Martin Corner Road, which turned out to be a bad move. No snowmobiles had been over the discontinued town road in weeks, it appeared. The only tracks were from one lonely cross country skier.

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I tried riding on them but they were too narrow. I had to hike-a-bike. It sucked. Both the bike and I were sinking- me, enough to have snow coming into the tops of my boots. I was overheating, and under the delusion that I would be hit a shaded section where I could get back on my bike and ride. Nope.
It was a relief when I reached the pavement on Moody Mountain Road. I headed uphill, when I decided that it was not the best day to try and ride those 6 miles over land and pond to get there (and come back). So I banged a right on the snowmobile trail that took a steep descent onto Moody Pond. The thick ice on the pond was just what I needed to get that riding feeling back under me again. Here’s the ride:
I think it is going to be better to ride in the morning from now on, and hope that it continues to freeze at night. There will be many months to ride on bare ground coming up. Right now, I am enjoying exploring the back spaces of my town.

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