Friday, February 28, 2014

Excellent Adventure

Starting out over the Bethel multi-use bridge.
 This winter has really been a great one for a number of reason. First, it has been a real winter with cold and snow. Now, you can chose to be a hater and lock yourself up indoors waiting for spring or you can accept and embrace it. I have always been a winter person. I have countless fond memories as a child of playing outside in the cold dark Northern Vermont winters until it was time to go to bed.

You would judge the success of the evening by how many pairs of knitted mittens you went through. I can clearly recall times where the entire stash would be used up and frozen solid, left inside by the roaring wood or coal furnace that heated the house. There were few if any water repellant let alone waterproof fabrics in those days and what there were, we certainly didn't have, so once the mittens got wet from wallowing in the snow, they would freeze solid rendering the useless. Similar things would happen with the boots, inevitably filled with snow and the felt liners soaking wet. It occurs to me that this may have something to do with why my hands and feet are so problematic now.

Endless whoops.
Anyhow, the point is, winter with it's snow and cold never really impacted my love of the outdoors. It just meant the activity would change. Riding bicycles as a kid all spring summer and fall would turn to sledding, snowshoeing and skiing in the winter once the snow hit. I used to delight in taking full length alpine skis my grandfather found at the dump, hacking them off as short as possible and screwing some ancient bindings back on. Then I would hike up into the woods across the pasture behind the house and ski down. I also did some Nordic ski jumping in the Bill Koch League at the L.O.C. hill. Practices would be Wednesday night I think and competition Friday night, under the lights. That meant the rope tow, yet more terror on the mittens. Sledding was the staple draw though. Plastic toboggans were the staple and we would spend hours making runs and jumps and wearing the sleds literally through their bases.

Later in life it was all about Alpine skiing, being out there in well below zero mid winter conditions at Smugglers Notch when I was at UVM skiing in jeans and long-johns. Should have frozen to death. later still I got into cycling and as I became more involved, the quest to ride MTB through the winter kept me going when possible. For years we ran studded tires and rode the hard packed stuff on the regular MTBs, just to keep it going through the winter months. Fun for sure.

Sun beyond the squall.
At one point, when we were still into Alpine skiing, we got into snowmobiling very heavily. Cathy and I loved it and did huge rides spending literally all day on the machines. Our thing was the big epic rides so we would be on the trail by 8AM, often trailering the sleds over to Errol, NH. From there we would head to Pittsburg via some big loops, often going over to Oquossoc, ME as well. We would spend 8 to 10 hours on the trail and rack up 200 - 300 miles. That taught me something entirely new about being cold. It showed me a whole new level.

The most recent winter pass time besides cycling has been Nordic skiing. We had always been into classic but we we took up Nordic skate skiing five or so years back. It is much faster and IMHO, much more fun that classic XC. When the seasons have been good, we tend to do a bunch of skate skiing and had also been doing a bunch of classic XC traipsing through the woods. Fun stuff that we really don't do as much of as we should.

Why is it that I don't seem to have enough time in the dead of the gloomy New England winter to do everything outside that I'd like to you ask? Bikes, of course. It's an obsession. I'm an addict. No, really, I can stop anytime I want, just not today. Yea, this whole streak thing of riding every day, which is two months into the third year in a row, coupled with racing and trying to improve or at least stay even translates to spending way too much time riding bikes. I've also decided that riding indoors in dumb, so am attempting to ride outside every day. I tell myself that this is less a compulsion and more a celebration, of life and my health. Enjoy them while you can because you never know how long either will last. At least, that is what I tell myself.

Awesome trails.
This year of course, we got the fat bikes. Nothing special, just a pair of good quality affordable Charge Cooker Maxi. They have been a lifesaver this year in terms of riding, given the conditions. It is like when you were a kid and you couldn't wait to get outside and play bikes. Though much is the same, much is also fresh and new and exciting. Riding mostly in Maine and mostly at night means venturing out in the frigid cold darkness into remote and desolate area on the bike.

Great ride.
You come to rely more heavily on you equipment as it at times is the only thing between you and possibly freezing to death. Just last night I was doing a hard solo ride on trail that we had done once so far this year. It was well away from much of anything and though I started in the late afternoon light, it was now after dark. The temperature was about 12 degrees and I was working hard enough that I had soaked through from sweat. My outer jacket had frozen solid, encased in frost on the front and arms. Both of my feet were extremely cold despite a few sessions of running and pushing the bike to try and increase circulation and my hands were swampy and would go instantly if the fire went to go out. I thought to myself that if I crashed and got hurt such that I couldn't run or forbid, move, I'd probably have less that 1/2 hour before hypothermia set in.

Fear provides great motivation to keep working hard.

Working pretty hard and loving it.
Despite the dangers, which really were not that severe, I had an excellent ride. One of many this winter where the trails were great as was the scenery and it was simply a joy to be part of the world, outside, enjoying life and the crisp night air. Cathy has been with me for most of these night time fat bike adventures. We have had great fun together including another big ride just a couple days ago. I often find that the best rides and adventures are those where you are right on the edge, where there is potential for disaster. It is fun to bite off a little more than you can chew and then forcing yourself, challenging yourself, to deal with it. It may be borderline foolhardy in some cases but all things considered, not so much. Calculated risks frequently deliver some of the most savory rewards.

Last night was an awesome ride. It left me completely exhausted, barely able to sit and eat dinner. As hard as it was, it felt good to have done it. To have challenged myself and to have met that challenge. I smile now thinking about that and so many other rides this winter, just standing out in the middle of nowhere, looking up at the night sky marveling at the stars, being thankful for the moment and for the winter.

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