Saturday, December 13, 2014


Back in the winter of '03/'04 I was living near Fairbanks, AK.  Before that winter in Fairbanks winter biking had meant riding the trainer down in the basement.  Previously my lower temperature riding limit was about +20*.  But I ended up falling in with a bunch of winter bikers (including, in a totally unearned bit of extraordinary luck, Rocky Reifenstuhl [though the linked article makes him sound totally badass at the start, further down it states "For all his intensity and racing bravado, though, there was a softer side to Rocky that many people didn’t see. He was a mentor and a teacher and a friend who was willing to share his knowledge about bikes and training and fitness and race strategy, as well as life in general, to anyone who was willing to listen.."  That's the Rocky I remember]).

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that I first fell in love with snowbiking in Fairbanks.  I don't remember ever riding on a groomed trail up there but everyone had snowmachines and the trails were - in general - packed hard.  Which was good because fatbikes weren't yet invented - or at least weren't commonly available (I had never seen one)(Mike Curiak wasn't even riding fat yet)

Because the trails weren't groomed in the they were narrow.  The ride yesterday reminded me of that.  We got a big snow here back in early/mid Nov.  And have gotten just a few small snowfalls and dustings (not more than a couple of inches at a time) since - and while the snowmobile trails are officially open they haven't yet been groomed.  Here's to hoping that they don't.  The trail winds through the trees, and though it's not single track by any stretch, it feels much more intimate than it does after the groomer comes though and makes it so two snowmobiles can pass each other easily.

It was one of those foggy days where the fog frosts the treetops and you almost can't tell where the trees end and the sky begins

Even though the Chequamegon Highlands are not much higher than our place (maybe a few hundred feet) I had no idea that things would be so frosty at the top of the ridge.  They weren't at home when I left and weren't when I got back.

Much of the ride was kinda a pleasure cruise that saw me taking lots of pictures and not really pushing the pace at all.

I had intentionally shorted myself on water - I took enough with me to get me a few hours down the trail and then run out.  I wanted to have to melt some snow.
With ~2 ozs of alcohol I melted enough snow to fill one pot of water (which I dumped in my camelbak) and then since the stove was still burning I melted most of another pot.  But it was +33 - not likely to be the conditions we'll see at Arrowhead.  Though in '13 it was almost that warm - the lowest we saw in the race was +20.  But in '09 it was -25 and in '11, -35.

It's been warm here - mostly in the 20's and even 30's with maybe high teens overnight and I haven't had much chance to test out gear in the really cold weather that I could see at Arrowhead.  It'd actually be really nice (for Arrowhead training - definitely not for our propane bill) if it got really cold (like -25) for a couple of days so I could give things a try in cold weather.  It's one thing to be able to use your gear at +20 but it's quite another to use it at -35 when you're sleep deprived and have 80 miles in your legs already.

Sour gummi worms are my Mike and Ike's

I hopefully won't need to even get out my tool kit in Arrowhead but just in case I do need it I "practiced" today.  I there were times when I needed to tweak my bike and since none of them were a big deal I suppose I could have waited until I got back inside - but I wanted to try out working tools with gloves on.  My slow-leaking rear tire gave me ample opportunity to try out my pump, too.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Less than 2 months


Arrowhead 2015 is less than two months away - the things I would like to do before the start seem to be stacking up.  I'm not super anxious about that since I've finished the race before with the same gear I have now (though I doubt that I'll ever eliminate all anxiety).  But I think there's room for improvement.  

And, of course, I need to ride, ride, ride.  To that end I went for a bit of a ride today.

though the Corridor isn't groomed, the thaw and refreeze have made it hard and fast.  

Fewer snowmobiles have been on the Spur - it was pretty soft.  I took me a few tries but eventually I got my tire pressure low enough so - when I was in my granny gear - I could ride it.  But it was too much of an effort and I soaked my layers

Eventually I made to forest roads that had seen a fair amount of truck traffic this hunting season and were packed smoother than they are in the summer.

Back to civilization at the end of the ride


Last night I went out for a ride well after dark, with hopes that the nearly-full moon would light the way.  There ended up being a thin layer of clouds so moonlight wasn't as intense as it would have been but it was still pretty light and I ended up riding most of the time without having to turn my headlamp on.

The snowmobile trails haven't yet been groomed and are pretty maybe 5 feet wide and have been packed down fairly firmly.  It reminded me of when I used to ride near Fairbanks on similar conditions.  I must say I much prefer the narrower trails to groomed trails - it twists around in the woods.

Earlier this week I received a new alcohol stove that I wanted to test out.  It works on the same principles as do the stoves that dog mushers use in bitter weather.  I have high hopes but haven't had any true cold to really test it.  I'll let you know how it goes.  If I could ditch the Whisperlite I'd be happy to do so - I'd save over a pound and end up with a stove that has no moving parts to fail.  The stove weighs about 2 oz (if you include the pot stand).  We'll see how it goes - I'm not going to take it if it doesn't work in true cold.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Arrowhead 135: Melting

Wednesday I took off on a little bike ride - just a couple of hours long - on the Corridor that passes near our house.  I just wanted to get out and put in some time on the bike - and I wanted to test out melting snow.  See in all three of my previous Arrowhead experiences (two finishes in '09 and '11 and one more attempt in '13 that saw me drop at Melgeorge's) I've had water issues.  In theory all of them could have been avoided by simply melting snow but in '09 (-25) and '11 (-35) trying to handle a stove would have been problematic.  In '13 the trails were all but unridable because of a snowstorm and I ran out of water just because it was taking much longer to get from Gateway to Melgeorge's.  It was warm that year and I certainly could have stopped to melt snow.  But for reasons that mainly have to do with dumbassedness, I didn't.

So this year, I am going to do it right or suffer the consequences of thirst (not to mention shame and humiliation).  To that end, I'm going to practice melting snow.  It's very complicated.

Somebody thought it'd be a good idea to drive their truck down the snowmobile trail.  It didn't last all that long but it about gave me fits.  I can't imagine that snowmobilers like it much, either.  
A single snowmobile had passed when the snow was soft last weekend - and they had since frozen.  The firmest part of the trail was the center tread.

After a bit of trouble getting the stove lit (I think the alcohol may have gotten some condensation in it) it worked pretty well to melt some snow.

The stove (which is also the pot support) melted into the snow a bit.

I got enough snow to melt to about fill the pot.

The stove was a little alcohol contraption that I made with a pop can.  And it weighs .3 oz and fits inside the pot so it doesn't take up any more space.

The stove fits in the pot (as does the small fuel bottle I was using) so things pack up pretty small and easily fits in my frame bag. 

Thanksgiving day I went for a quick, easy spin to stretch the legs and get some fresh air.  I only rode like 30 minutes.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Arrowhead 135: Slush

Winter started early in northern WI - It snowed pretty heavy in early November and we had shin-deep snow (and then several more lesser snows) and - until this weekend - temps stayed cold and things didn't melt.  

Then this weekend saw temp in the upper 30's on Sat. and into the mid 40's on Sunday.  It made for sloppy biking conditions so, of course, I decided it was a good time for a bike ride.  Maybe just two or three hours max.

Sat. was opening day of the gun-deer hunting season in WI.  The snowmobile trails in the Chequamegon National Forest (CNF) haven't yet been groomed but there had been a couple of snowmobiles out there and the walking was easier on the trail than off.  A hunter had scooped out the snow and made a chair out of an embankment just on the side of the trail.

Hard to see in this picture but this is the "chair" where the hunter sat.  

Even though the trail was soft and I had to push this section, I still had a nice walk in the woods

After a bit of pushing I came to a gravel road which had been plowed.  But the warm temps had melted the packed snow left over after it was plowed and it made for a slushy ride.

Yes, mom, I'll readjust my stem

On the slushy gravel road I checked my watch - I had been riding for two hours already but had a route in mind that I wanted to finish that meant I had to keep riding away from home to complete.  Prudence would have dictated that I simply turn around then.  Yeah right - see quote below.

I turned off the gravel/slush road onto a paved/slush road.  As if there wasn't enough wetness being thrown up by my tires, it started to rain.  Not hard - but still not exactly ideal.  The damp air was fogging up my glasses and I couldn't see.  Slush was getting thrown up into my eyes from underneath my sunglasses, and slush was getting onto the front of the sunglasses and making it hard to see out.  To solve all these problems I pushed my sunglasses down my nose as far as I could.  I could easily see over them and any slush flying up from below hit the glasses and not my eyes.  Plus I looked cool.

"But any solid adventure has, at it's core, a casual disregard for good sense."  
- Joe Kurmaskie  Momentum is your Friend

I turned off of the paved road and onto the Corridor (a snowmobile highway that's groomed and (usually - but not today) fairly hard packed.  I turned onto it and immediately started to sink in the the handling got too squirrely.  So I dropped the pressure in my tires down almost as low as I dared.  That helped immensely and I was able to make steady (if slow) progress.

Lowering tire pressure is almost magical in how much it helps and most of time riding was a fairly straightforward thing.  But sometimes there would be unseen glitch in the snow and staying upright would suddenly and unexpectedly get interesting.

Shortly after I turned onto the Corridor I stopped to eat the rest of my food - a chunk of summer sausage and a piece of bread.  But the rest of the ride took me a long time and as I got close to home it was clear that I had mis-guessed the number of calories I needed.  I didn't quite bonk but it was getting pretty sketchy - and when I got home I gorged on some grapes that were handy, (this reminded me of the time that, after finishing the Chequamegon Fat Tire Forty [named when a regular mountain bike's tires were considered fat], I was half crazed with hunger and they were giving away doughnut balls.  I turned over my sweaty, nasty helmet and filled the thing up with the free doughnut balls and ate the whole blessed thing) ate few peanuts and had a glass of milk and started to feel human again.

I had been out riding for pushing 5 hours - and as is almost always the case when I go out riding I loved it.