I was pushing my bike again and this time I was having flashbacks to every single snow-bike race I have ever been in.
I've been in four snow-bike races over the years. First was the Susitna 100 in Feb. of '04. I had just moved to a cabin near Fairbanks, AK in the summer of '03 and had never even ridden on the snow before (I had ridden in it before – as in It snowed on the road and I rode my bike in it). Well winter comes early in Fairbanks and stays late and the idea of not riding a bike for 6 months was unappealing. So a dedicated group of snow-bikers (Rocky Reifenstuhl was one...yes, that is a blatant name-drop) helped me get going riding. I heard about the Susitna 100 (formerly Iditabike/Iditasport) and thought it would be fun to try. Winter riding in Fairbanks was great. Consistently cold temps made snow conditions consistently good and trails were smooth and I didn't get trampled by a moose. So I spent a lot of time riding and preparing gear for the race. Race day dawned to a new layer of wet snow that was still falling and then turned to rain as the day warmed. This was NOT Fairbanks weather where anything above zero was crazy warm and where it wasn't uncommon to ride in -30 temps. The trail got soft and punchy and I ended up walking 20 or 30 miles of the 100.
After an involuntary stint off a bike (and onto a trike) for almost three years the next snow-bike race I did was in Jan '09. Triple D (so named because it goes from Dubuque, IA to Dyersville and back to Dubuque – not some fascination with Dolly Parton that the race director has [I may be impolite to even mention this – but admit it, you were thinking of it too]). The course had recently had almost a foot of fresh snow on top of a sheet of glare ice. It was much too soft and fluffy for even snow-bikes to ride on top of the snow. And if you used studs the snow floated the tires just enough so studs didn't bite. Everyone quit the race after varying distances. I quit after 40 miles – about 30 of those miles were spent on foot.
Arrowhead in Feb of '09. Four inches of snow the night before the start saw me pushing about 40 of the 135 miles. The snow was the main culprit but my gear choice was overoptimistic. By the end of the race I was tired and couldn't turn my gear and so had to walk more than I would have otherwise.
Triple D '10. The course was on a snowmobile trail and everything was going well until a trail groomer came through and chewed up and softened the nice packed snow and made almost everyone walk at least part of the race. Even though distance wise the walking part wasn't huge it still went something like this: ride for 10 feet. Walk for ten feet. Huh, the trail looks firmer here, I may be able to ride – try riding – nope not firm enough yet. It was a near constant swinging your leg over or off your bike. Frustrating. I felt sorry for myself but felt even sorrier for the poor guys that were attempting it on a tandem.
So here I am pushing my bike along an ATV trail, having flashbacks to past snowbike races (I must admit that this wasn't wholly unpleasant) and trying to tell myself that if Arrowhead is a pusher this year then it'll be good to have a bit of hike-a-bike training.
I didn't try to look skeptical in this picture, it just came out that way. Obviously I wasn't fooling myself into thinking that pushing was fun. I have an intense hatred of pushing a bike. Although I have walked quite a bit over the years (the granddaddy of embarrassment was the time I got a flat, realized I had forgotten my pump and had to walk about four miles along a major highway back to my house – I felt kinda like an inept rookie biker) my knee-jerk reaction is usually something like “what kind of idiot goes out riding without a pump?” Then I think a second and can answer my own question: ”me.”
Even though I hate to push I do it. So I was pushing and trying to fool myself into thinking that it was good training (and it probably was, but good training still doesn't trump fun training in my book). Since I was pushing and not riding I took my helmet off – since I was overheating - and strapped it to my bike frame. As I was pushing I had many snow-laden obstacles to pass over, around, and under as the wet snow we've had bent a bunch of trees over the trail. So when I finished pushing and was standing where the trail crosses the road I was going to turn and actually ride on I had to knock the snow out of my helmet...and it just so happened that two logging trucks went by as I was knocking the snow out and then putting the helmet back on. I bet I looked almost as cool as when I chomped into my snack of moose shit.
In an ironic twist a guy actually thought I was a bear today (this is ironic because of what I put in my last post). As I ride I try not to make much noise (I think that one of the nicest things about muscle powered sports is that they are so quiet compared to something like snowmobiling. Good luck sneaking up on a deer that way) and so I was cruising quietly along and saw a guy walking away from me on the road a ways in front of me. I kept going quietly...I had been riding on the left side of the road and – because this guy was there too – wanted to switch over to the right side so I could pass. Now this may seem a simple maneuver but it had snowed quite a bit, I was on a road that hadn't been plowed and because there is little traffic on the road there is only a two track running down it – and so to switch from one side of the road to the other meant crossing almost a foot of wet, half-frozen, packed snow. I tried it and crashed doing it. A little embarrassed I looked to see if the guy saw that – he hadn't. Relieved at narrowly escaping being mortified, I started pedaling again up behind him. Now, I try to be nice and at least let people know I'm coming up behind. If I were the one on foot and thought I was the only person near and all of a sudden a biker whizzes past me I may just have an, aneurysm, stroke, myocardial infarction or what have you. And plus guys out walking around in a national forest near deer hunting season are often armed. So just before I said something to him he turned around and saw me. I caught up to him and he gave me the usual you're-on-a-bike-in-the-snow-and-so-you-must-be-a-harmless-nutcase look and we chatted for a bit and he told me for a split second he thought I was a bear. Victory! I am a sadist and love scaring the jeepers out of others.
Beleive it or not the trail goes straight ahead. I had to go off the trail and do some bushwhacking - which isn't too much fun when you have a bike with you.
What the scenery looked like on most of the ride.
Same intersection, different seasons
Seriously? 50 mph at night? This a twisty trail without good sightlines and it's pretty narrow. Good thing for me that snowmobiles are so friggin' loud that I can hear them coming a long ways off and get the hell out of the way. I've never had a really close call with a snowmobile and hope to keep it that way.