Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mixed bag conditions

Blog interest seems to wane over the holidays, but I thought I'd put something up for the one or two random readers that happen by. Spending some time in Michigan with family for the holidays. Always good to come back. I do like to stay active during this time, as I totally lose the battle on the food front. The best I can do is damage control, try to get out an hour per day to burn maybe a third of the excess calories I take in. The last several years, the weather just hasn't cooperated. This Christmas seems to be particular challenging. There was no local cross country skiing when we arrived. Then it rained for 36hrs all the way up to da U.P. before it got cold again. That killed XC skiing at the two places three hours away. I called the Crystal Mtn Nordic Center this morning. They said the base was too thin to bring the Piston Bully out, and they were advising XC skiers to stay away from the hills. They were essentially boiler plate. To add insult to injury, all the local roads glazed over. That ruled out rollerskiing too. I will go a whole week with no skiing when I should be well into build phase for races coming up. My mom has a treadmill in the basement, but no ski erg. Bummer.

Fort Custer MTB loops, Garmin track

So what about mountain biking? There was still crusty snow left in the woods. It was a bit iffy, plus just because there is minimal snow here doesn't mean there won't be a foot of snow 10 miles away. Lake effect snow is like that. Today the temp was going to stay well below freezing. Perhaps any residual snow will be rock hard. Rather than drive 156 miles each way to XC ski on boiler plate, I decided to chance a trail ride 56 miles away at Fort Custer Rec Area, land adjacent to a National Guard training base. It is my favorite place to ride in Michigan.

The Trenches on the Red loop. I believe these were actually
used for combat training at one time. They weave through the place
and now make great half-pipe material for riding.

I first had to replace my rear tire. I bought new Nokians but hadn't gotten around to swapping them out yet. I was replacing them because the studs and treads are worn down. But to my horror, I discovered the tube was bulging out of the rear tire in multiple places. The side casing was rotten and splitting apart. One split was nearly an inch long. Must be due to running uber low pressure that the thing didn't explode. I went to a local bike shop to pick up the cheapest non-studded knobbie they had, a Bontrager Connection. Felt like really soft rubber with sharp knobs. Might make a good snow tire.

Section of Green trail on far side of lake

Pulling into Fort Custer, I was bumming. There must have been 4" of crusty snow in the woods. Usually that dooms riding. There was one car in the biker parking lot, and just one set of tracks in the light dusting of new snow. The singletrack was actually in superb riding condition. There was enough biker/hiker/skier traffic on it before the rain came, so what was left was hard as pavement in most places yet not icy. It was totally hammerable material. And hammer I did. If I couldn't ski mountains for three hours, I was going to shred singletrack for three hours.

The Red trail with typical dark overcast in W. Michigan

There are four color-coded loops at Fort Custer, Red (10mi), Green (7mi), Blue(6mi) and Yellow (~5mi). Red and Green are the good stuff, narrow singletrack with some mildly challenging features. Blue is wide singletrack around a pair of lakes, Yellow is beginner material on doubletrack. I hit red-green-blue-red-yellow. Red was too much fun to ride just once. Hammered everything. Never saw another rider on the trails but saw a couple getting ready to ride when I came back to the trailhead one time. This was snow riding at it's best, probably the best snow ride I've ever had. I rode 37.8 miles with about 2140 feet of climbing in 3.3 hours. The non-studded rear tire worked amazingly well, although it did slide around a lot on 20mph doubletrack turns with powder over ice. I managed to stay upright the whole time.

This wasn't the only ride I've gotten in this week. En route to Michigan, we stopped in London, Ontario. There's a MTB trail there called the Fanshawe Lake Trail. It is 15 miles of mostly singletrack around the lake just outside of town. Mostly buff stuff that begs for speed, and on a cold, blustery Christmas Eve morning, there were just a few people on it. There was a faint snow coating on it that did not diminish traction whatsoever. Cathy and Aaron chased down some "Canadian Tylonol" in town for my mom while I rode. I was very fortunate to squeeze this ride in. It was my second time riding the loop. The first time was many years ago, and since then some interesting sections have been added with built up stunts. I finished the 15.1 mile ride in 76 minutes, nicely satiated. We only had four more hours on the road to reach west Michigan.

Skinny benchcut on the Fanshawe Lake Trail. Frozen rock hard.

Some snow is moving into the area now, but it doesn't sound like it will be enough to get XC skiing going, and it will certainly be too much for rollerskiing and off-road riding. We're here only a few more days anyway, so hopefully the same rain that came through here doesn't ruin skiing at Waterville.


Luke S said...

Skiing in Ironwood should be really good soon. Heading over there tomorrow from the Twin Cities.

I raced this morning, a 10k at a city park. 140 men started. Mostly masters skiers. Fitness and lack of specific training/technique held me back about equally.

CB2 said...

I love Winter riding like that. Winter can be such a PITA for riding, but when it's good, it's great!

DaveP said...

Is that your father in the picture?

I was hoping to hit WV this weekend, but the rain put an end to that idea. Looking to Jan 2nd for next trip up and I'm told the conditions are going to be absolutely marvelous.

I'm sad, I may actually have to put my rollers away and ride outside all the time.

Mookie said...

Is that your father in the picture?

I just pissed my pants.