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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