I’ve worked up a new presentation entitled “The Allure of the Long Distance Hike” to share with the whole group after dinner on Saturday night, at Mt. Chase Lodge. I enjoyed my stay at the Lodge last March the night the night before I packed up my fat tire bike, load it with overnight gear and explored the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument for a couple days.
The Maine section of the IAT/SIA is 130 miles long. Heading north from the Katahdin Lake East (KLE) Access trailhead of Baxter State Park, the route passes through boreal forests and follows trails, old logging roads, an abandoned railroad bed, and rural public roads to the potato fields of Aroostook County. Beyond Fort Fairfield, the trail enters New Brunswick.
After I read the following yesterday I planned to hang at a campsite tonight and sleep in my Honda Element. With the rear seats folded to the sides, I have 6’6″ to lay my sleeping mat and bag down and either look out the window above my head or if the night is right, have that window open to the stars.
But 44 degrees, mud, clumps of ice and snow on the ground and hard rain convinced me to trade up to a warm cozy room for $36 .
So, I’ll watch The Untouchables on the DVD player, while eating a piece of coconut creme pie from Dysart’s . Shaping up to be a good weekend.
I’m spending a week in Disney World where I’m sharing a tent site at Fort Wilderness Campground. I was in shirt sleeves and shorts yesterday and racked up 13 miles of walking on day 1 and 10 more on day 2. I’m hanging with my best friend, Edward, who lets me stay at his campsite here any time for as long as I want and he won’t take any $$ from me. Of course, I have have no rental car.
Edward has been here from November and will stay until early March, as he has done for every single winter for the last 40 years. When March comes, he’ll head back to his fruit and vegetable farm in Masschusetts where a 100 hour per week schedule awaits him for the rest of the calendar year.
I ‘m testing out a brand new tent, made by SeekOutside. It is 6’10” high and 12′ in diameter, weighing in at 4 and a half pounds. There’s just a single telescoping carbon fiber pole. Here is a a picture of the unit from Seek Outside set up with interior heat with a titanium stove and stove pipe, probably somewhere during elk hunting season in the Rockies.
From the website: “The Four-Person Tipi is roomy and storm worthy. Extremely lightweight for the square footage, this tipi is a palace for solo use. It is capable of sleeping up to four with minimal gear, but is better suited to the luxurious solo trucker, or for two with late-season or winter gear. Handmade in Grand Junction, Colorado, the tipi features: Dual zipper doors with storm flaps, Single peak vent, stove jack with rain flap, 6 inch sod skirt with rain flap, ultra robust stake loops, interior hang hoops for tying clothes line for hanging gear, and external guy-out loops to steepen walls, or pitch the shelter down in tight spots.”
I am awaiting shipment of a custom titanium stove and stove pipe from Don Kivelus, owner of Four Dog Stove out of St. Francis, MN.
I have been using one of Don’s full size titanium stoves for 15 years of winter camping and it is still like new. The big stove pairs with with a much larger, custom 9 x 12 foot Egyptian cotton wall tent that stands 7′ high. It easily houses 4 winter campers and all gear.
This tent is targeted for personal use, and will hold only one more camper and all the accompanying gear in winter. I plan to experiment with this tipi and stove later this February on a multi day winter camping trip in Acadia National Park. If everything works out, I should be able to transport the tipi and stove on racks bolted to the rear of my Surly Pugsley fat tire bicycle and embrace winter riding and camping in style.
The real deal is never the same as the ideal.
Take fat-tire bikes for example.
Advertised as the children of snowy Alaska’s Iditabkes, these newly minted cash cows of the shape-shifter bike industry have a magical draw when they are viewed in real life, as opposed to in magazine ads or Instagram photographs. The bikes themselves are borderine cartoonish.
With blocky, simple frame lines, it’s the wheels, no – the tires themselves, ballooning out to five inches in width that elicit broad smiles, and then chuckles on first sight. Then you eventually ride one, and that chuckle becomes a laugh and you are hooked.
Except you don’t float like “a magic carpet on wheels” over just any old snowscape. Snows of up to a couple, three inches are not even worth discussing. The bike goes. However, once the snow gets to be about 5” deep the magic of riding these chunkers fades and we enter the world of sweat, work, and subsequent exhaustion.
At least it is possible to move with a fattie under you, but once you enter deeper snow this happens: you pedal and then experience the disappointment of being propelled forward for a meager distance. The promised magic morphs into a grunt.
Which is not generally a problem for me. I have the 100% package of the Polish suffering gene, which propels me well into longer periods of low level leg work.
A friend of mine just bought a Surly Pugsley. He was surprisingly frustrated that it took hard work to pedal the thing in 5” of snow.
The winter track beneath a bike is best experienced when someone or something has packed puffy snow down.
The packing hierarchy goes like this, from best downward: snowmobile, 4WD truck tread, ATV tread, snowshoe tracks, ski tracks, footprints, and the occasional winter game trail.
So, we pack our own trails to ride on the snow. Last Saturday, I spent the morning helping my next door neighbor Matt cut out an overgrown discontinued snow mobile trail.
Matt had a full compliment of gear, that we hauled into the woods for the morning: chain saw, limb trimmer, axe, files, rope, even a stump vise.
Years ago, the winter landscape around this part of town was punctuated with the sounds of snowmobiles, day and night. Not so much anymore. Times have changed- the snows are often slim, and when there is snow on the ground, many of the locals pack up their sleds into enclosed trailers and head up north to Jackman or Rangeley to ride the snowmobile superhighways that make Quebec an easy haul.
So, we cut away a path for our bikes, and then walk them a bit , and then ride them some more until they are in a state where forward motion is not only possible, but productive.
The moral of this story is find some folks who do regularly ride winter trails where you live and make an effort to contribute to packing a better path for those that will follow.
Right now in Midcoast Maine, that’s the Rockland Bog.
The network of trails at the bottom of the Rollins Road in Camden is now fast, but a bit icy at the start.
Word has it that Camden Hills State Park is getting good and that Tanglewood 4H Camp is ridable but I plan to personally checked those out his week.
And then there’s this project I am working on with my nest door neighbor, Matt. Hopefully, we’ll turn that into something good.
Ten riders set out the morning of January 1 to kick off the first day of The Bubbas’ 2016 mountain bike riding season.
Weather conditions from the top of the ground up were perfect for January: temps around freezing, sunny patches on the ground, blue skies, no wind. If you didn’t wear too much today, you would be warm and dry, without feeling too much like the rolly-polly Michelin man.
However, from the top of the snow down to muddy earth below, the conditions were not as good.
People hear about “snow bikes” running on 4-inch and even 5-inch wide low PSI pressure tires and assume that anytime there is snow on the ground you can get out there and have a magic floating experience. Not really.
Take this morning for instance. As we started the ride the air temperature rose above freezing. What was solid and grippy underneath before the sun did its thing started getting soft and mushy- the snow started loosening up. Translation–>I’m puting out twice as much physical effort to move through 4″ of snow that is loose than if it were packed and refrozen.
Here’s a video of one of our most excellent Bubba riders, Ian, making the Bog entrance segment look easy when it really wasn’t. Notice the sideways front end throw and the correction at 0:04. Upper body engagement is the hallmark difference between summer and winter riding in these parts.
Nowhere is the riding experience between a stationary bike (think Spinning) and riding outdoors on an actual trail so pronounced as it is under these conditions. The upper body and lower back are engaging repeatedly, in order for forward movement to occur.
Here’s some info about my personal experience today on my Strava. The distance/moving time/elevation/suffer score tells it all. Wearing a heart rate chest strap today, I was pleased to see that my average heart rate was close to 100 beats higher per minute for the whole ride than is my normal resting pulse rate. The 400 calorie measure was definitely an underestimate. :
I’ve ridden this loop over 100 times, and it still brings me great pleasure to move through these woods.
By the look on Blaine’s face, he’s enjoying it as well.
The day was fun. It was tougher than usual out there, but as someone says on every one of these rides, “It sure beats the couch.”
Here is Nate the Great heading out.
I’m definitely coming back here on Sunday, where we’ll see the benefit of 10 riders who took the time to pack a fast, solid track today.
Wierd warm weather brings me teetering to the cusp of 2016.
I can’t ever remember riding my mountain bike through the midcoast Maine woods and waters when it was this warm. It’s sweet calm today at fifty-seven degrees, windless, with blue skies.
I ride bikes with a regular dozen and a-half of local mountain bikers- The Bubbas. We’ve been at it for thirty years, riding year round except for hard rain or most snowstorms.
This time of year, riding might involve the whole gamut of weather from dusty dry in the summer, to a winter like last when record breaking feet of snow made the snow-covered trail more difficult to move through. In typical winters, multiple layers of lesser snowfalls thaw and refreeze, resulting in a much firmer tread underneath.
It’s my first pain free ride since October 6, the date of my first night ride of the cold season. On that dark evening, I pulverized the skin of the top of my left shin when my bike threw me sideways while I was riding across a fairly shallow, but rocky stream. There was a loose layer of freshly fallen leaves obscuring the true nature of the nasty path underneath.
I learned two valuable lessons that next morning.
First, if you need to close a wound, you better get it stitched within an 8 hour window, a medical fact that least one emergency room doctor cited in his decision to leave my wound open. However, I was sent home with with enough really big band-aids, extra gauze, and enough leukotape to fill a paper bag. Second lesson: “Scabs that are really vast, deep, and wide may stick around for almost 3 months.”
There were six of us riding in the Rockland Bog today, with five of us on fat tire bikes and Buck on his 29er. My Surly Pugsley is grinding into its 6th season this spring, and churn it did today, through black pools of thick, cold water with various depths of mud underneath. Here’s an example of a wet area here in The Bog.
At the end of this post, you’ll see this 100 foot bridge in action.
I kept the rubber on the ground today, and rode well enough to get my third best time heading up The Bog Road Climb.
Sometimes it’s wiser to walk than ride. Here’s Craig and Rigger walking a stream today.
On these group rides I often ride behind Rigger.
Rigger is known for steadily getting through mud, tough climbs, and impossibly rocky twists. He sometimes lifts his bike to fly when he launches off a ledge’s lip on a steep downhill.
Signing off with a video of Rigger and Craig riding that bridged section that Chris McKearney built so well.
Eight to twelve inches of snow is predicted tomorrow. While the terrain will be dramatically different in a whiter shad of pale, we’ll definitely be back at it again. Soon, I hope.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
Big big smiles as we powered north on top of the water !
First ride on the first of 2015- 11.5 miles long. Seven Bubbas showed up.
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.
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.
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.
Downed spruce trees forced a lot of hike-a-bike, and detouring through the edges of the forest.
Eric was not at his usual position near the front of the ride, but he was working a New Year’s Eve excuse .
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 !
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.
Sometimes there are no decent go-arounds, and you need to just work straight across, through the ruts and mud.
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 .
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.
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:
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.
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!
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!
We get elevation profiles, like this one from Sunday’s ride on Mt. Pleasant !
Here’s me jumping on the Tallboy, and following Rigger’s line for the ride down from ” the Blueberry field” to the ” Three way”.
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.