It is with great sadness that I must report that Spring has reared its ugly head in these here parts, and my precious snow-trails are looking rather precarious, from an existence point of view.
It doesn’t seem to be fair to suffer the excruciating hardship of a winter outdoors, than have all traces of it swept away by a few short days of 40+F weather. Of course it hasn’t actually happened yet, but it is threatened for the coming week, and oddly enough it seems to happen around this time each year with some predictability.
So for now one must endeavor to make the most of whatever time we have left, treating each day as if it may be our last.
Take yesterday for example. I hadn’t ridden in 48 hours so it seemed fitting to go the extra mile and head for the rather splendid trail system at Newport State Park here on the Door Peninsula. Newport has been something of a revelation over the past few weeks as I’ve continued to uncover hitherto unknown hiking trails and small ramblers’ tracks located well off the beaten path.
I admit to being a little timid at first, showing too much caution and too much respect for other trail users, to the point of avoiding areas designated ‘XC Ski’ and ‘Snowmobiles Only’. In fact up until three weeks ago I’d pretty much written off Newport as having insufficient fat biking landscape to warrant the ninety minute round-trip by car. It wasn’t until a couple weeks back when I saw another Fat Tire track hacking across the little ski paths that I opened my mind to the possibility that others might just go fuck themselves, and that these trails are rightfully mine.
And so like Armstrong and Aldrin leaving behind the American flag on the moon, I blazed a trail through Newport Park, cutting a swathe via fat tire where no fat tire swath had been cut before. All the while thinking calmly to myself ‘fuck ’em, they can go ski down at Peninsula Park with the Illinoisans and frustrated wannabe snowbirds’.
In point of fact I did little damage to the groomed ski trails, using them only as occasional corridors to remoter parts deemed inaccessible by ski. And as I discovered, there are many small trail sections around Newport which are perfect for fat biking, assuming one is comfortable enough to tackle gnarlier single-track in the snow.
Should I be concerned about venturing in to undesignated areas of the Park?
Firstly, I see very few people using the Park system, a few tracks, yes…but rarely do I encounter a real human being. Newport is at the tip of the arse-end of the Peninsula and few people dare venture so far north in the winter.
Second, I’ve never seen a Park Ranger or anyone remotely official-looking during the off-season. Oddly enough whenever I’m on the verge of being formally reprimanded by the authorities for some petty misdemeanor, (such as speeding on the HWY), my foreign accent inexplicably becomes thicker. This usually results in the arresting officer consulting his radio then coming back to my vehicle to tell me in a slow and deliberate voice to ‘drive more carefully in future’. Only one ticket has ever been issued in 20 years, touch wood.
Speaking of (and with) accents, I recall having breakfast one day many years ago at a small cafe in downtown Green Bay. A very young waitress attended to my needs and as I was rattling through my list of requirements she interrupted me mid-sentence and asked rather pointedly “Are you from somewhere?”.
Initially I felt somewhat challenged by her question at an intellectual level, and I searched for a few moments for some deeper existential meaning, before responding rather predictably with “Earth”.
Anyway, the point is I do have a natural mechanism for getting off the hook in certain tricky situations - it’s called being British. And I’m not averse to using my natural talents should I get collared while buggering up someone else’s trail.
It usually begins at Parking Lot #1 opposite the Ranger Station. I drop onto the marked trail and pedal towards the Lake (the Big Lake), hitting a short section of deep snow which has remained unrideable (why is ‘unrideable’ not a word? I’ve tried it with one ‘e’ and it’s still not a word. The people who make these rules obviously don’t ride Fat Bikes), throughout. Then it’s a twisty-turny section of trail about three quarters of a mile long, lapping the lake shoreline, before joining a short section of groomed trail for the ride back to the parking lot. That’s always a good 25 minute warm-up and I can adjust anything which needs adjusting back at the car, before heading off for round two.
Leaving the parking lot again I take a short section of road to Lot #3. Using the road alleviates some of the guilt as I’m now going out of my way to avoid a short, groomed section of ski trail which connects Lot #1 to Lot #2 and then to Lot #3.
At Lot #3 it’s a hop down to the beach then one joins the ‘Europe Bay Trail’ heading north along the lake shoreline, albeit with the water somewhat obscured by dense woods. Here’s an older picture of the old Charge Maxi bike from early winter:
Riding down the Europe Bay Trail towards Europe Lake, one has a variety of options. For a longer ride, which puts my total ride time at a little over two hours, I stay on the trail all the way out to Europe Lake, loop back, then explore some of the smaller off-shoots which take one over some very gnarly hiking terrain.
At the end of the Europe Bay trail I join the Holt Trail and head off into the deep woods. This is my favorite section of trail in the warmer months and during winter it serves as a real test of mind and spirit. Already an hour into a grueling ride at this point, the northernmost section of the Holt Trail requires regular dismounts and considerable shoving and trudging up hill and down dale.
Of course, when one takes a photo or shoots video of a particularly steep ascent, it always looks practically flat! Why is that?
In the picture above I’ve managed to ride over the preceding track, but I’ve had to dismount to tackle the path ahead, which is rather steep, by foot. Yet the path looks flat, perhaps even descending? wtf? –
Riding on one caresses the tip of Europe Lake and it’s possible to hack through the trees to get out onto the lake itself. Doing this yesterday, 48 hours or so after fresh snowfall, one feels something of a ‘Lewis and Clark’ moment. Imagine being the first to explore unmapped regions of this vast country, and falling upon some of Mother Nature’s finest handiwork, previously untouched, unseen. Well OK, I’m getting a bit carried away, but judge for yourself…
This is a view of the lake as one pushes through the trees. It’s quite a small body of water but nevertheless impressive, even more so perhaps given its proximity to the Big one and the contrasting diminution…
I’m too scared to head far out onto the ice. What if it cracks and I lose my life, my bike even?
Light is starting to fade and I still have an hour of riding to complete. Time for one last adjustment of the truss before heading off into the woods…
Fading light adds a little drama and unpredictability to the ride, particularly when one’s lights are back at home on the charger.
A sense of uneasiness begins to build as I hit a section of the trail which was easily passable the last time I rode it, but now has a number of quite large mounds of snow along its route - drifts and accumulation, a consequence of the northern wind blowing across Europe Lake and down to the south.
Huffing and puffing I shove the Salsa Beargrease (reviewed here) through the snow and I’m thankful to have switched bikes from the 40 lb Charge Cooker Maxi 2 (reviewed here), to this more manageable chunk of plastic, with it’s 30 pound weight, or thereabouts.
The last section of single-track takes me back over to the Lake Michigan side and winds through the many fir trees which hug the shoreline a few feet back from the beach and the ice-wash accumulation. It’s quite a spectacular sight to look out over the vast body of water and to witness the shimmering glow of ice for as far as the eye can see. And of course we’re sufficiently far to the north to be saved from the sight of pickup trucks parked on the ice and the beer swilling yahoos partaking of their fake-fishing rituals. In other words, it’s quiet here, there’s no one else around these parts for miles, and miles.
This is an older photo, taken before the big freeze –
Well, I made it back to the car at dusk, or just a little after. The sun had set where it usually sets and the full Virgo moon was edging skywards from its resting place behind the small landmass of Rock Island.
There’s always a sense of accomplishment when arriving back to base after a winter ride. Not because I’ve actually accomplished anything, but because I’m still alive and able to come here to file my report.
And so that’s it. Possibly my last winter ride report of the 2014/15 season. Soon I’ll be spending less time on the trails and more time on the roads, but I’m sure I’ll find something equally banal to whine about.