Thursday, January 09, 2014


That is the only way to describe the fat bike ride that Cathy and I did this evening. When she finished her work day we prepped for arctic temperatures and headed out on our trusty fat bikes for a local ride on the sled trails near Bethel. The temperature was starting to drop quickly and the evening was clear and calm. When we started it was about 16 degrees Fahrenheit but we knew that would not last long. We also figured that we wouldn't be going ballistic so we overdressed. I'm coming to find that it is way easier to get out in frigid temperatures when you are comfortable right from the start.

As we coasted down our road, which was covered in plate ice, my eyeballs froze up. Not really but it sure as heck felt like it to me. Soon we crossed the main road and got onto the primary snowmobile corridor that runs north/south through the area, Trail 13. It was in it's typical state, which is to say heavily used relatively speaking and massively bumped up. It was even rough on the bikes, which means it is no fun on a sled.

Regardless, the conditions were in general pretty good with frozen and broken granular on most of the trail, much better than sheet ice which was the primary surface off the trail. The sleds had busted the crust up. The noise from riding was deafening though. Hard to believe that a bicycle can make so much noise, but it did. Sprinkled here and there were some flooded sections where water had pooled and frozen. We went very gingerly in those areas as we don't have studded tires.

On Rabbit Road we hit a couple of ice flows that were still rideable as they had been broken up by the sleds. The one super steep climb afforded excellent traction and we were able to power right up it. As we were about to turn off Rabbit Road and climb up toward Irish Neighborhood a miraculous thing happened, the trail had been freshly groomed after the rain and refreeze and had set up perfectly. Portions of the trail were as hard and smooth as concrete.

It also just so happened that we were beginning a fresh new Strava segment, which meant time to go, what with conditions being perfect and all. We dropped the hammer and hit it hard, really hard. I hadn't worked that hard in a while and by the top, I was soaked, literally sweat pouring off from my face. I could tell I was really swampy on the inside as well. Not a good sign. Cathy made it up in record time as well and shared my sentiments.

From there we had a fun descent down into Irish Neighborhood and then the biggest climb of the ride. We had done the climb a couple weeks ago in mushy conditions and it was torture. One mile that gained over 400 vertical feet. Not brutal by any standard on it's own but when soft, it was excruciating. I averaged like 3mph and it took like 20 minutes to get to the top. Agony. Tonight though, it was hard packed and still super steep in sections, but you could power through it. By the way, this is also another Strava segment, one that I didn't have, so I went as hard as I could. It still seemed an eternity and sections were still unbelievably hard even with the stellar conditions. I crested the top and kept going to the next planned turn then looped back for Cathy. I didn't make it far before she appeared. She too had gone up over in good time but the time out in the cold was starting to take it's toll.

We stopped at the intended turn and put the clothing we had taken off, back on. I noticed just how wet my core was and was a bit concerned. On the up side, my hands were toasty, which had been problematic in the past. I've never been able to keep my hand warm but recently got Medieval on them. I've started using the mittens that I got as a last resort for sledding years back. They are Black Diamond summit mittens are are literally designed for the top of the world. They are huge and insanely insulated. They were also insanely expensive I recall. Both Cathy and I have them and we both wore them and our hands were absolutely toasty. Complete overkill and the mittens make it tough to control the bike but having frozen hard makes it even harder to control the bike and it sucks as well.

Once moving we hit the most awesome descent ever. It was endless, steep and scary fast. I wish I trusted the conditions, what with ice and all, as it would have been a hoot to really let it fly. We made it to the bottom in no time and then started the arduous slog back on Vernon Road, the site of the Bethel time trail in the summer. We broke no records but did not doddle either. Both of us were having trouble with our feet. I always have problems but Cathy was having issues as well. Not sure what the fix is going to be. Cathy just got some new Louis Garneau LS-100 winter boots which are nice, but still can't handle the really chilly stuff. I have a pair as well and my feet freeze in them. I've had the best luck with my Diadora Polaris 2 winter shoes with Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier shoe covers over the top. I really like those covers as they are thick barrier neoprene and they use velcro in the back to secure them. Much better than the crappy zippers, which always fail. Still I will almost always lose the feet at some point.

Back home we discovered what we already knew, that we were soaked, literally through and through. Had something gone wrong and we had to stop, with the now single digit temperature we would have been in trouble. This is what makes dressing for active sport in the winter so challenging. When the fire is stoked you need very little insulation from your clothing but once you stop, or slow, it all changes.

Still, we made it back and had a great time. The fat bikes are turning out to be a good idea and given the value of the brand, the Charge Cooker Maxi have been a super deal as well. Of course the good folks at Cannondale and our shop, the Bikeway Source helped a ton as well. We are having so much fun with them that I see an upgrade in store for next year, assuming Cannondale comes through with a model of their own of course.

1 comment:

The Cycling Chronicles said...

Great read Mike. Love seeing the pictures of you both out there living and enjoying life.