I've been capitalizing on the winter wonderland conditions we've not had in two years. After taking a badly needed rest day on Thursday, I headed up to Waterville Valley for a solo skate ski on my off-Friday. It got into single digits overnight, plus an inch of light powder fell after the trails were groomed. I feared sandpaper snow conditions. I brought my rock skis this time, as I put a few minor dings in my brand new top-of-the-line Salomon skis last weekend. Other than the dusting, no snow has fallen all week.
The temperature rose as I drove up into the valley. Usually it goes the other way. It looked like the skate lanes had been touched up with the snowmobile groomer before the dusting. Heading out, the glide was much better than I expected. Not speedy fast, but faster than last weekend. Swan's Way was very thinly covered. I felt my skis catch on gravel several times. Very glad I didn't bring the Salomon's. Once on the north end, the trails were in excellent condition. No thin spots and only minor tree debris from last weekend's windstorm.
Nobody was out. I put down first skate tracks most places I went. I got right down to business, climbed Livermore, descended Lower Snow's, then attacked Beanbender. I have selective recall when it comes to this grade. It is a downhill lift-served ski slope. The grade exceeds 30% in several stretches. Beanbender to the ski world is as Kingsley Hill Rd or Lincoln Gap is to the cycling world. There's no way to "soft pedal" up Beanbender. It leaves you hanging on your poles gasping for air once you reach the top. It damages your whole body for the rest of the ski session.
Thornton Gap in distance from top of Beanbender
A brief descent on Upper Snow's connects with Cascade, a one-way trail with another serious 400ft climb. Normally, Cascade is hard, but after Beanbender, everything else seems pretty easy. The Cascade descent was uber sketchy for a skitterish descender like myself. It was unevenly groomed with some pretty abrupt waterbar crossing. I maintained a death wedge with my skis much of the way down so as to not be surprised by something, fail to stop in time and break a leg. At least in my head that would be the likely outcome of a mishap.
Bombing back down Livermore was pure bliss. Good glide, little work, fast the whole way. Upon reaching Tripoli Rd, the grand daddy of climbs at WV, I saw nobody had skated up it yet. I was not going to time-trial up this thing after doing Beanbender. My PR on Tripoli is 17 minutes and change in hero conditions. Surprisingly, I still own the Strava KOM on Tripoli. I reached the top in about 20 minutes. Not bad, and punching the last hundred feet or so of vertical left me gasping for air hanging on my poles again.
The Tripoli descent was one of the smoothest ever. Not fastest, but super smooth and quiet with little need to scrub any speed on the fast parts. I might have hit 30mph. Scary with no brakes, free heels and no metal edges.
View from Bob's Lookout
I hit the Upper Osceola/John Deer and Wicked Easy/Moose Run loops next. I was going to call it good and head back, but passing Tripoli Rd again, I sensed some fumes still in the tank. Why not totally bury myself and hit Tripoli again? The second time up got pretty ugly towards the top.
I limped in with 47km on the Garmin and way past 100% depletion state. Could have used a few more calories out there, maybe then done a couple loops around the pond for an even 50km.
Massabesic Fat Bike Ride
As expected, I felt like death getting out of bed Saturday morning. I had planned to do hard 3+ hour MTB ride, place to be determined. It didn't look like any bare dirt riding was available within 90 minutes drive. The local roads were very unattractive with large banks and risk of icy patches. Time to bring the fat bike out again. This would be my fourth ride on the bike, riding it all of two times last season.
I went back up to nearby Massabesic Lake where the snowmobilers park. I was disappointed to see the parking lot jam-packed with trucks and trailers and the air blue with two-cycle fumes. Maybe riding the snow machine trails wasn't such a good idea.
Last weekend, two knuckleheads buzzed me twice out here, at ridiculous speed, barely an inch to spare, while throwing a rooster tail of ice and rocks into my face. Nice crowd, eh? These are year-round multi-user trails on Manchester Water Works land. To be fair, all the other snow machine operators were courteous many even waving or doing doubletakes at my 4" wide tires.
With a week of traffic on the trails, I was hoping to ride around the lake this time. The initial part of the FOMBA Turkey Burner course was a non-starter. Fortunately, a lot of people snow shoe or ski out to Battery Point, so cutting in at that parking area proved successful. The riding was very bumpy, even with 4" of super squishy tires as suspension.
Heading into FOMBA trails behind Auburn fire station
The ice on the lake had a mirror finish. It was crystal clear, and walking out on it you could see the bottom of the lake in deep water like there was no ice under your feet. Super creepy. There were people both ice sailing and wind skating out on the lake. The ice sails were hitting incredible speeds, I bet over 60mph. Funny thing is, they'd turn around and go just as fast in the opposite direction. I don't understand sailing dynamics at all, so even as an engineer, this was hard to get my head around. The wind obviously was not reversing direction for them.
Ice sailing on Massabesic Lake
I got over into the FOMBA singletrack area. Woodpecker had negligible traffic on it. Didn't even attempt it. Went over to Lady Slipper, which is closest to trailhead. It looked well packed. It rode nicely. I did have a dab or two though. If tire dropped off packed track, you'd drop to your rotor in snow.
Deer Run is the next trail after Lady Slipper. It had a little less traffic and was considerably more challenging to ride. It made me frustrated. There was no evidence of bike traffic on the trails since the storm more than a week ago. After many dismounts, I didn't even try the Red Pine trail.
So now what? Back to the snow machine trails? While on Lady Slipper, I saw a couple sleds go by below on the rail trail at something like 90mph. I think riding snowmachine trails on a Saturday would be more dangerous than riding on the road. The temp was rising to 40F and the heavy machine traffic was turning the trails into mashed potatoes. A regular MTB would not have been rideable in these conditions, but I could still plod along on my fat bike. I decided to give the Tower Hill Pond loop a go, as the traffic did seem to be thinning out a little after lunch.
The climb up "Cardiac Hill," part of the old Watershed Wahoo race course, nearly killed me. I'd take two or three pedal strokes to gain one stroke's worth of forward progress. At least I was riding. Only a few snow machines passed me on this six mile loop around the lake. No issues. There were families and dog walkers out too. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon.
On the way back to the car I decided to try the FOMBA Fox Tail trail which is right off the rail trail. Like Deer Run, it was rideable as long as you didn't have to turn or go up. That leaves only a small percentage that was actually rideable. Frustration mounted again and I bailed out of last portion of trail.
Fox Tail trail. Only light snow shoe traffic left surface pretty soft and punchy.
I finished with about 26mi, 2000ft of climbing in 3.1hrs. Completely emptied two days in a row. Had planned to ski again Sunday, but I don't know.
So having ridden the Salsa Mukluk in a variety of conditions now, I'm beginning to form some opinions of the value of having a fat bike in the quiver. A fat bike does open up many more opportunities to ride in the winter, but you must bring a different mindset to fat bike riding in snow. It may well be the case you could snow shoe or walk some trails faster than ride them with a fat bike. It takes finesse and patience to keep the bike moving on loose or soft trails. It is very easy to under steer and slide out or spin the rear tire and sink. It doesn't make these problems with with regular MTB go away, it just lessens the severity of them.
I think the conditions where a fat bike really shines is a fairly narrow range of conditions. Most times, snow machine trails go through a thaw freeze cycle, then a regular MTB, especially with studded tires, works very well. Also, given where I live, heading out to the Cape 1.5-2hrs away, I can ride on bare dirt singletrack. I could have done that today if I wanted to drive out to Brewster. I would not have been able to do the late morning ride I did today on a regular MTB. But I suspect heading out early tomorrow morning while things are frozen and before snow machines tear it up, a regular MTB will work fine. I'll give the Mukluk the rest of this winter before deciding whether it remains a permanent member of my quiver.