Sunday, November 27, 2011
When was the last time we had a Thanksgiving weekend like this one? Four straight days of mild temps and sun. I hit trails all four days, including Willowdale, FOMBA, Seavey Hill and the Blackstone River Valley.
Early Thanksgiving Day morning, I hit Willowdale State Forest for a little pre-burn fun. The doubletrack was pretty wet, but most of the singletrack drained out nicely from heavy rain over two previous days. Many riders were out. The first few bridges I hit were deadly. Frosty or black ice. I walked a few.
The annual Turkey Burner fun ride on Friday was a hoot. Hooked up with three others for three hours of root sliding craziness. The FOMBA crew nicely cleared the trails from the October snowstorm damage, but rain midweek compounded the challenge FOMBA's roots already impose. I cleaned the longest trail, 3+ mile Fireline, but didn't fare nearly so well on others. After completing the singletrack, I split off solo for a fast lap around Tower Hill pond.
Saturday I headed up to Bath, Maine with my wife. What is in Bath, you may ask? Bath Cycle & Ski, also known as Bikeman on the web. Bath is one of a few local retailers of snow bikes, or affectionately called fat bikes. I do enough winter riding to warrant getting a fat bike. I plan to dabble in winter triathlons too, where you run, bike and ski on snow. 2" wide studded tires might work well for typical Weston boiler plate conditions, but not Gunstock packed powder. I love riding snowmobile trails too. It takes just-right conditions to enjoy riding the sled trails with studs, usually a freeze after a thaw to set up the base. But with a fat bike, almost any sled trail conditions are fair game. The 4" wide tires provide considerable float on loose snow.
My visit to Bath was exploratory. I have never touched a fat bike. I wanted to see first hand the components, feel the heft of the bike (35+ pounds!), and get my numerous questions answered. This is way easier to do looking at a bike than talking over the phone.
I was targeting a Carver Ti frame built up with a Salsa Mukluk build kit. Bath had only one Carver frame left, a 20" frame. It's top tube length suggested it was a tad big for me. Zach at Bath put a fork in the frame with a couple fat wheels to let me assess the standover height. It seemed marginal. The Carver frame came with a $700 premium over the Salsa bike with identical low-end build kit. I'd want to get this frame size thing right, as a Ti frame is not what I would want to upgrade down the road. I had an action to check stand over clearance on my other hardtails later at home. If the 20" Carver frame was similar, I'd go with it. Bath would hold it for me until the end of the day.
A bike shop that sells snow bikes would naturally carry winter cycling shoes too. They had Lake's, Shimano's and Louis Garneau's on hand. They even had my size in all of them! I was totally impressed. I had my eye on the Loui Garneau's. They looked slick. The fit was good. The uppers were very supple. Almost too supple. If I stretched the upper cuff, I could see light through it. Definitely not waterproof. Then I tried the Shimano's. They went on like a well broken in glove. The fit was perfect. They felt a little bulkier but had much more insulating material than the Garneau's. The Shimano's use Gortex, so at least the lower portion would be waterproof. Then I tried the Lake's. They felt like an XC ski boot. Tall, very rigid, but probably the most waterproof and warmest. I didn't like how bulky they felt. All the shoes were SPD compatible. I went with the Shimano's. With free shipping, I could avoid the Maine sales tax. I should have them on Monday or Tuesday.
You can't visit coastal Maine without stopping for local seafood. Cathy and I stopped at Maxwell's in downtown Bath for lunch. Cathy ordered Haddock and I got a shrimp and scallop platter. It was wicked gooooood.
Back at home, I was dismayed to see the standover of my hardtails to be much lower than the Carver frame. Bath Cycle could not give me an expected date when smaller Ti frames would come in. Davis Carver, the guru behind Carver bikes, is on vacation for a couple weeks. I didn't want to risk getting shut out of a fat bike this season, so I went with the Salsa Mukluk 3. They had only one medium left in stock, which should be an ideal size for me. They will build and ship it on Monday. I'm selling our tandem to make room for the new bike if anybody is interested. We've ridden it less than 100 miles this year.
Saturday evening I had just enough daylight left to get in a quick trail ride from my house. I made it a bike-run-core workout brick. 67 minute ride in the woods, 4 mile run, 60 push-ups (two blocks of 30) and 100 sit-ups left me pretty ragged that night. Next week my ankle should be good for full normal activity. Hope we get some more snow.
On a whim, Sunday I headed south to Blackstone Heritage State Park near Milford Mass to ride. I scavenged several MTB tracks from Garmin Connect to put a ride together. I knew very little about the area, other than some recent comments raving about the singletrack on Goat Hill. That, and a bill before the US senate that could make the park a national park soon. That could end most mountain biking there.
I was pissed to find my tracks wouldn't display on my GPS when I got there. I had no map, just a vague recollection of where some of the trails were. I sensed a lot of aimless wandering was in store.
The loop on Goat hill wasn't hard to find. In short, this trail is as good as it gets. I'd say in my New England top five good. The trail stewards had blown the whole thing clear of leaves, and it was dry. This was completely the opposite of riding FOMBA a few days earlier. The total loop went about five miles as it meandered up and over Goat Hill and back, around, through and over giant glacial erratics. Finding the other trails was much more difficult. I completely missed out on the miles and miles of trails on West Hill. Next time. I still managed to cover 30+ miles in 3.3hrs, although with a bit more pavement in there than I would have liked. Going back to work on Monday will keep me from overdosing on singletrack.