Monday, February 10, 2014

Fat Chatter

Last week I went out and played in more fresh snow, it seems that once it started there was no end to it. The snow level went from essentially zero to several feet. WhooHooo!!! The only issue is that fresh snow is kind of difficult to travel in; especially uphill (which is typically the start of my ride here).

I let some days pass (actually I had to work) so that the snowmobilers would pack down a nice trail for me, and they did. So today being a free day for me I was ready to go play on the USS Titan (my Fatback titanium battle cruiser).  Everything started great. The snow was packed, but still fairly soft which made me spin uphill rather easily. The internal, insistent, nonstop self chatter was going as I climbed up in the soft snow: "I wonder how much better I’d do with a fatter tire on the rear, like a Surly Lou 4.8? Would this larger tire fit my frame?"  The Surly Nate 3.8 on the rear now has super traction, but I am finding that it has many limitations in the snow I ride most of the time.  Bottom line is that I need more float on the rear which means a wider tire. My Surly Bud 4.8 up front holds its own well.
Before I started, from my house I could see some dark snow clouds drifting over the mountain top. The day started sunny, but darkened as I trekked uphill on the Fatback. Once up on the ridge line, where there is a very scenic overlook into a 3000 foot river canyon, the weather was instantly not good. There existed 20-30mph winds blowing snow mixed with ice pellets stinging my face, plus a thick fog was part of the mix. The blowing snow and fog made visibility a few feet at best. There's a forest out there somewhere...

Having just climbed a difficult 1000 feet in the last 2-miles my thin layers of wool were damp with sweat and I was instantly freezing up. I quickly pulled a fleece vest and jacket from my pack and put them on. My internal chatter was now going at mega speed, taking mental inventory of additional clothing and survival equipment I had on the bike or in my pack…another wind proof fleece, a down puffy coat and vest, a wind proof winter parka (that is in the seat pack I strapped on for no known reason at the last minute before I left home), plenty of extra gloves, hats, facial covers, wind proof and water proof matches, a mini butane flame thrower (starts fires quickly), extra food, mini stove, knife….OK, I had enough stuff to NOT die up here any time soon. In fact I could quite easily spend a few nights.  I have much confidence in winter and wilderness survival, payment from all my past winter trials in winter wilderness trips and Antarctica. Bottom line - I love winter and snow.
My chatter continued...hmmm, I’m only 5-miles into a 30-mile round trip and the going suddenly looks very, very hard…I had a fleeting thought of turning around and calling it a day. "Wait a minute, that would be wimping out and totally no fun." I tried to come up with other options...Hmmm, none! "Alright then, forward I go, buck up Eric you live for this kind of adventure and you will finish,  ONWARD!!!"

The forward momentum from this point on was definitely a trial for one’s mental toughness, lots of slow going and blind riding. There were many times I’d be riding slowly along, at a best possible speed, when I’d suddenly stop because my front wheel was axle deep in an snow drift across my intended path...time to get off and trudge through. I spent plenty of time hike-a-biking (which is always part of fatbiking anyway). A "normal" person would probably get lost up there, but normal I am not and I know that place well, even in blowing, whiteout conditions I always knew where I was at. There were times when I did get some reprieve in tree canyons in which there was no wind and it was like another world with soft fluffy snow coming down.

Forward progress became more difficult with drifts forming at an amazing rate with the strong winds building giant roller drifts (which on a good day I would have fun on, but today these drifts were soft and difficult to get past. In the end I made it to my turnaround point.  I wasted no time starting back since it was getting late.

My tracks were totally non-existent where I’d just been. The way back was a tad easier since it is mostly downhill and some of the fog had let up, but the wind and blowing snow was still in full force keeping this adventure real. 

By the time I got back to my trusty Subaru the legs were rather tired and I felt hunger. I’m sure my previous day’s activities, working out on "nature’s elliptical trainer" (snowshoeing in deep snow), did not help the tired feeling in my legs. It feels good!

Thursday, February 06, 2014


I asked for more snow and it seems I got it...I was starting to worry that my entire fatbike season was going to turn into nothing except winter gravel grinders. The progression of snow fall this week has left me with plenty of snow to play in and struggle through.

However, at this time the snow is super soft making forward momentum difficult and any riding up hill is a butt kicking workout. Who needs interval training on the road when you have soft snow, a fatbike, and a 1000-feet of hill climb to start your ride?

The mental toughness this kind of riding develops is amazing. I typically set a landmark goal to attain before I start leave home (without knowing the snow/trail conditions on the mountain). I have yet to not make a daily ride goal on the fatbike. But I must say that there have been days when I heard a wimper come from within and many days of self doubt about my crazy idea for the day of riding.