Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Winter Finale, Pioneer Valley

As winter exits (s-l-o-w-l-y) we few-but-proud fat bikers in the Pioneer Valley are left with trails that are neither fish nor fowl. Not dry enough for trad mountain bike wheels, but not enough snow for generic fat biking. This hasn't kept some of us crazies from venturing out, though.

The arrival in town last week of mutual friend, former owner of Hampshire Bicycle Exchange, and fellow fat biker Chris, prompted an email from my pal Will, curent owner of the Exchange. I was invited for a bit of fun on the telephone-pole trails up in Shutesbury. A Mukluk reunion? A fat frenzy? How could I refuse?

And so, early Friday found us out in the forested hills on a frosty morn. The trails were pretty much edge-to-edge with ice of varying texture. I'm not a mountain biker by pedigree, so fat biking on the snow has been a great learning opportunity for me. I've been boning up on drop-offs, stream crossings, and twisty descents, all with the reassuring softness of a mat of white stuff to break any falls. As it turned out, there were almost none to catch this season; the Mukluk is a wonderfully stable bike.

Friday changed all that. Each of us was taken to school -- Ice Handling 101. Chris proved himself quite nimble, wending his way up and bombing his way down  most of what gave me and Will a bit more pause. I personally counted about four falls. Despite a few bruises, I'm learning to fall a lot more fluidly, and that might be as valuable a skill as any for a newbie. They do say that, if you mountain bike, you will crash.

I was wiped out at end of the hour-and-a-half ride, and it took me a couple days to fully recover. A lot of my energy was spent wrestling the (rather burly) bike over icy ruts and turbocharging it up slippery slopes. I'm thinking that, with a little more skill, I'll be able to finesse it a bit more and finish up less winded.

Despite the challenges -- probably because of them -- the good runs were extra rewarding. We were chatting away at the cars after we were done, dashing down a part of the trail we hadn't tried, not quite wanting to be finished… It was a good morning.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

How to Survive Late Winter

Even the squirrels and sparrows -- stalwarts of the New England outdoor scene -- are muttering that it's been a long, long winter.

Folks around here are prone to complaining about the weather even when it's nice ("It won't last.")  Myself, I've been cheerier about winter than ever this year, because when it first snows, I can cross-country ski, and when it gets icy and packed, it's perfect for fat biking. I'm set. And... even I'm ready for temps in the 30s.

Still, Will and I got out for a crazy-good ride early Monday morning, taking the twin Mukluks into a trail network right in my 'hood. I scouted them out over the last few years with my Vaya, but bouncing around on them on a dirt-road touring bike isn't nearly as fun as this was. We started with a long, twisty, downhill thrill ride on snow and ice and then were shot out at the bottom onto fast-moving snowmo tracks across a farm field. Exhilirating, especially in 10-degree weather. We then poked around down by the Connecticut River on sled trails. I'm finally finding my legs on that beastly-heavy thing; I was able to scoot up some seriously steep, icy ramps. "Take that, 50!" I cried out, having turned half a century just last week, and look: I'm climbing stupid, slippery steeps. Ha!

Also fueling the inner late-winter stove is the process of planning a 50th birthday celebration this summer: A boys' bike camp in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Should be a blast; road rides with killer alpine views, and Mukluk jaunts in the famed Kingdom Trails, 100 miles (you read that right) of curvy, giggle-inducing singletrack way out back of beyond. Combine that with camping out on a lake where we can hear the shivery call of the loons as we sit around the fire recounting our bravery and stupidity, and you have the perfect cocktail for March daydreams.

There's still winter fun to be had, but breathing through damp wool and losing feeling in my fingertips is losing its charm. Maybe I should order a pair of fat bike fenders for mud season, just to rev myself up a it?