Thursday, January 18, 2018

Wild Hair: Island Lake.

Waking up this morning we were both tired.  The kind of worn-down feeling where, were you at home, you'd go back to sleep for another hour, then either cancel the ride outright or maybe bump it back a few more hours and severely shorten the loop.

Being on the road and having family commitments to keep, neither of those were really options.  Looking more closely at all that we had left to do and see before hitting the long road for home, it became obvious that this was it -- the last ride of the trip.

We were bummed and happy at the same time: we needed a day off, but wanted neither the trip nor the consecutive days of good riding to be over.

I grew up a stone's throw from here and knew that we'd have options for where to ride.  Pontiac Lake, Potowatomi, and Highland Rec were at the top of my list.  But Josh, an out-west riding partner and recent Michitucky transplant, was convinced that we should head for either DTE (new to me) or Island Lake.

Ultimately we heard that DTE had minimal trails open while Island Lake was riding primo, so that choice was easy.

I outweigh Josh by at least 70#, and I usually have ~20# of tube, tool, pump, water, puffy jacket and camera gear in the framebag.  As such I'm prepared for most anything and I can sometimes manage to snag some quality pics along the way.  Still -- heavy.  

Josh showed up with no framebag, a full-carbon race-rocket, and by way of a pack it looked like he'd borrowed his pre-teen daughter's, with at most a single gummy bear in it.  Light.  This is a guy that once deleted half of the playlist from his iPod to shave weight before a race...

Lean like a greyhound, Josh is fast by almost any metric.  I knew going in that I was going to have to work hard just to not embarrass myself.  With 7 days straight in the legs (and almost zero recovery given our travel schedule) I knew I was probably going to embarrass myself regardless.  C'est la vie.

Mercifully, Josh took it out at a sane pace and we even had a bit of back and forth conversation going in the early miles.  I didn't catch the names of the trails, but there seemed to be spurs heading off everywhere.  I'd ridden here once before, in high summer, and positively nothing felt familiar this time.  Nor could I reliably keep my bearings -- denuded hardwoods under a slate-grey low ceiling completely blotting out the sun have that effect.  So basically we just followed his wheel and didn't think too much about where we were.

Having someone else do the navigating allowed me to flash back to my realization at Cadillac the day before -- where I came to understand that frame geometry was more or less irrelevant on these types of packed snow trails.  Not being one that can just ride and not think about optimizing the bike for the trails, the realization that geo was irrelevant brought my attention and focus back to the tires.  Jeny had 27.5 x 3.8" Gnarwhals, and I had the 27.5 x 4.5" variant of the same.

Where at home we'd be on 26" wheels because the biggest, floatiest tires available are still made in 26", for this trip to this place we'd chosen to be on 27.5".  The theory was simply that we wouldn't need all the float, and we'd benefit from more height.  Que?

Remember when you hopped onto your first 29" bike, coming from 26"?  Remember how fast the bike seemed relative to what you were used to?  In a similar vein, ever notice how almost every XC racer worth their salt is now on at least 27.5" and probably 29" these days?  

Ever wondered why that is?

Efficiency, plain and simple.  A taller wheel smooths out irregularities in the terrain, and carries more momentum, requiring less output on the part of the rider to maintain the same speed.  Put differently: Work harder and go yet faster, or work less hard to go the same speed.  On every ride yet -- even the softest conditions at Maasto Hiihto and Gaylord -- this theory had been proven out: We didn't need wider tires nor lower pressures to float, but we really liked having taller wheels and tires to maintain speed.

Some of the Island Lake trails had been packed by snowmachine, but many (most?) seemed to have been ridden in -- or maybe hiked/snowshoed first, by the local hardcores?  Dunno, other than to say that the trails rode great -- fast -- and we ran borderline pavement pressures the whole day.

The riding was made technical only by our speeds.  Josh gradually ramped up the pace to where conversation (at least from me) was over with, and I was on the rivet for minutes at a time.  There were certain sections where he'd throttle it up til I was right on the edge, then hold it there for a few minutes, and then back off a bit to recover and chat.  I think he was slowing down to check on me, because he knew if I cratered he'd have a helluva time dragging my carcass back.

Several of my favorite memories of the entire trip happened during these high-speed bursts.  Josh would goose it over the top of the climb and be gone, which was my clue that something fun was coming.  I'd barrel over the top of said roller, keeping the throttle on as the grade tilted down, thereby carrying a head of steam into the inevtiable long sweeper.  And then lay the bike over without touching the brakes, feathering the line between a drift and a carve for 60, 70, 80 feet at a stretch.  I can count on one hand the number of times I've intentionally drifted any bike over my entire riding career.  Some combination of snow conditions, speed, and confidence in my tires allowed me to double that number in a single ride.  The grin wasn't plastered to my face -- it was stapled.

At one point Josh and I swapped bikes, partially because I wanted to see what a full-gucci race rocket feels like, but also because Josh is a quick-study, super-perceptive type, and I knew he'd offer a candid opinion of my ride given half a chance.  Our setups were pretty similar in fit and feel, with the biggest difference being the tires: Josh was on Jumbo Jim's in 4.8", running reasonable-for-the-day pressures.

And it was really the tires that we both noticed, notwithstanding Josh's predictable crack about my bike's weight.  I think when you're ~120# soaking wet with a pocket full of quarters, *every* bike feels heavy...

The difference in the tires was pretty much what you'd expect: His JJ's rolled faster on the zipped-tight hardpack and didn't have enough bite in the corners to maintain all the speed they were able to carry.  They were very vague on high speed flat sections.  I think this vagueness is the only reason I was able to keep Josh in sight most of the day: He was fighting his tires to keep the bike on the trail.  The Gnarwhals rolled a bit slower but were *right there* whenever you needed them: When standing to burst up a short stinger of a climb, laying them into a corner at speed, and especially when making a thousand unconscious micro-corrections to keep to the center of the packed track. 

Toward the end of our bike swap Josh punched it over the top of a roller and the lightbulb went on over my head: "Hey!  Something fun's coming!"  Hoping for another protracted drift I powered over the top, laid Josh's bike over and...

...promptly blew right off the trail.

Later, when I'd latched back on, Josh's observations matched my own: the JJ's were fast in a straight line, but not nearly as much fun as having all that control with the Gnarwhals.

Two days later, while straightlining across the heartland, I had time to process all that we'd done, seen, and learned on this roadtrip.  All the different trail types, snow types, and grooming types.  So much variety -- I hadn't really expected that.  One of my main reasons for leaving the midwest 25 years ago was a lack of vertical and deep, light snow through which to ski it all winter.  The evolution of the fatbike, the development of grooming equipment, and above all else the presence of a devoted (and growing) core of riders has changed that.  Winters used to seem so long -- now I'm betting many find them to be too short.

Was it good enough that I'd consider moving back?

It was really, really good.  But let's not get crazy...

If I've inadvertently left any questions unanswered, and you're *sure* you've read every post and still don't see what you're looking for, don't hesitate to ask below and I'll answer as time permits.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Wild Hair: Cadillac.

In our pre-trip planning we'd done some digging to compile ride options, such that as the wind blew and the snow fell, and depending on when grooming happened, we'd always (in theory) be able to find something worth riding.  We'd had the Black Hills, Duluth, the Chequamegon area, WinMan, Raven Trail, and Houghton Tech Trails as our 'alternates' every day thus far, but hadn't as yet needed to revert to a plan B.

All along our objective for this day had been the Big M trails near Manistee.  I'd ridden that area as part of a hundred mile race a ~decade ago, and remembered the trails there being roller coasters through the trees.  And Jeny loves those.  But as the day arrived it wasn't at all clear that those trails were in shape for tires due to incessant lake-effect snowfall.  The harder we looked the less certain we became, and with a 2.5 hour drive to get there, then a much longer drive to get to our family gathering that evening, it didn't seem worth the risk.  Bummer. 

Plan B: The Cadillac Pathway.

Temps were the coldest yet and still fine flakes sifted down through the trees, creating an atmosphere not unlike the snow globe sitting on your childhood dresser.  Riding in the negative teens is easy once you're warmed up, but getting going takes some doing.  We started slowly, faces burrowed inside layers against the chill of the morning, pushing a too-hard gear at low RPM's in an effort to generate some internal heat.

A narrow stripe of corduroy beckoned us ever onward through the trees, and diffuse winter light highlighted the many shades of brown and gold.

Riding skinny corduroy is new to us.  Although I've ridden this type of midwestern singletrack for literal decades, seeing it at this time of year with these new-to-us conditions is a novelty.  Riding snow in our little corner of Colorado means massive wide tires with big honkin' tread blocks, run at silly low pressures, such that "speeds" (if that is the correct term) rarely exceed 4mph.  Usually we're pretty psyched to be able to ride, period, and any concept of average "speed" is measured against walking pace.

Simply put: When we ride snow at home it's slow, a lot of work, and although it's beautiful and peaceful, contemplative and restorative, you'd almost never associate it with the type-one-fun of a real mountain bike ride.

Why belabor this point?

(warning: massive what-works-for-riding-snow nerd-out incoming...)

I've designed and had built a number of snowbikes (as we used to call them) dating back to 1998.  The conditions in which I've ridden them haven't really changed but the rims and tires have been in a constant state of improvement and enlargement.  Each time I had a new chassis built it was spurred on by the newest round of girthier rims and tires that would no longer fit my current bike.  This wasn't planned obsolescence: I could never have imagined back in 1997 that the Nokian Gazzaloddi would come to exist, but when it did I knew it was better than anything that came before for floating atop a gossamer thin crust of snow.  Ditto the Surly Endomorph, and then the Surly BFL, and then Surly's Bud and Lou.  Now I ride the Vee 2XL tires and will probably soon be on a 3XL version.

Even the 2XL's are an order of magnitude larger than anything else currently available, and yet very few have adopted them for over-snow travel.

I've kinda always wondered why that is, knowing that nothing floats as well as they do.  I figured it had a little to do with weight weenies being who they are, and the 2XL's not being light.  And I suspected that it was partially due to the fact that there aren't many bikes that can even fit the 2XL -- you have to really want to run them.

As it turns out both of those theories hold some merit, but the rest of the answer is that in North America where the markets for ridden-on-snow fatbikes (upper Midwest, Northeast, Anchorage) are largest, the snow comes down and is used and tended to in such a way that massive float just isn't often necessary.  Speed is way more important than float.

Put differently, Jeny and I live and ride in a bubble that is utterly unlike the one that most of these bikes are being designed for and ridden in.

This isn't too surprising.  In fact a few years ago when I laid out my preferences for snowbike geometry (for a bike that has since been sold because it couldn't fit the 2XL's) I said exactly this, albeit speaking from a slightly different perspective.

On this trip we've experienced a wide range of conditions -- one might even say the gamut of what one sees in an average Midwestern winter.  We had variations on slow and grindy at Cuyuna and Underdown, kinda fast (but with lots of effort) at Churning Rapids, super fast and borderline effortless at Marquette, then back to slow, soft, and effortful outside of Gaylord.  

And then today?  Sort of a blend of all the above.  Hardpacked, smooth, and fast, but with cold temps that brought hoar up out of the snowpack to slow things down a bit.

If anything, the main conclusion here should be that snow is a highly variable surface on which to ride.  Shocker, I know.  But even the worst conditions we've seen here are still better (faster, easier, more rideable) than our average conditions back home.  Put differently, we've been going "fast" here more often than not.  And every day we've found that tire pressure and rider attentiveness are more important than bike geo or tread type. You can make almost anything work, within reason.  This couldn't be more different from what we've come to know as "typical" snow riding.

It's been fascinating to observe this: I finally understand why tires like Husker Du's, Jumbo Jims, and Dillingers have gotten popular, and why bikes with geo that would ensure walking on our trails work just fine here.  It comes down to the type of snow, how it falls, and the fact that there is so much grooming and/or traffic, or both, packing the snow quickly after each storm.

I love learning things like this -- realizing that the rules I've yearned so hard to understand are utterly irrelevant in some other place.  All of my decades of experimentation and fiddling with geometry effectively amount to pissing in the breeze in these trail conditions: They simply don't matter.

Which means that we can go back to arguing about steel vs. alu, or carbon, or titanium.  In other words, we can disagree on preference instead of performance, at least in these sorts of conditions.

So there's that.

A few hours of gliding silently, contemplatively through the woods brought us back near the end of the loop deliciously tired.  I was so tired, or at least lulled to sleep by the smooth, featureless trail, that I failed to register a kicker looming larger and larger as I barreled toward it.  There was no other feature anything like it anywhere in this trail system, giving me no precedent to expect it.  I boosted it with the speed I had, but that wasn't satisfying enough so I rode back up, waaaaaaaaay back up, and brought as much speed as I could carry in on the second lap.  Cleared the knuckle, cleared the step-down transition, then landed in the flat beyond it with a clack of the Mastodon.  First time I'd really noticed having suspension on the whole trip!  

On tap for the afternoon: A few hours of driving to get down to the big bad city.

One more day of riding -- and a wrap-up to the gear geekery -- to go.  Stay tuned.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Wild Hair: Gaylord again, and gear.

Our plan to ride the Groen Preserve fell flat when we arrived to find a locked gate and a sign announcing that indeed the park was closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Looking closer through the gate, none of the fresh snow had yet been packed or used in any way, thus we turned and headed back to the barn and rode right down the driveway once more.

Mama Bear and Mollywollywigglepants escorted us to the gasline, but with 8 stops in 1/2 mile to retrieve her booties or dig snow out of her pads, Mama turned around early and took knucklehead with her.

Jeny and I continued around the lake, not speaking much as we rode, all attention turned outward.  Just noticing, basically: Cyan skies whipped with scud, an occasional squall of flurries then a moment of sun, a full-on whiteout complete with up-snow, and then moments later back to blue.  Dynamic.

6" of fluff deposited overnight, when it's below zero, means very dry snow.  Had that one kid not been amped to try out his new-for-christmas sled, we probably wouldn't have been riding much, or far.

Very early in the ride we found ourselves near base pressures: It was a 4-wrinkle kinda ride.  You could occasionally feel a base underneath it all but the lack of moisture to the snow meant that it just wouldn't stick together.  Like trying to make a snowball from goose feathers.  As such the low pressures gave us not just float but grip, and again we were happy to have big blocky treads.

I don't have a thermometer on my bike but there were subtle clues -- eyes watering non-stop, inability to enunciate "whitetail" or "chickadee" due to frozen face syndrome -- that today was our coldest day yet.  Probably not lower than -10 or so, but coming from daytime 50's at home this still felt foreign.

If the animals were bothered by the temps they didn't show it.  They ate casually, seemingly undisturbed by our passing.  

Come to think of it, maybe that casualness was evidence that they were cold stressed: Had it been warmer they might have spooked more easily at our passing.

  Riding in these temps can be suffered through or it can be savored.  The difference comes mainly down to the gear you use.  Volumes could be written on what works and what doesn't, and why, and for every one of those volumes there will be a handful of dissenting opinions.  Bottom line: Experiment to learn what works *for you*, where you live and ride.

It isn't my intent to write a volume here, because what works for me where I live and ride could be largely irrelevant for you in your environs.  I'll give you a head start on finding what works by saying that often you don't need much insulation because you're working hard moving those low pressure tires across the snow.  What is needed more than anything is a way to block the wind that you create, and that would otherwise be conducting heat away from your body faster than you can produce it.

To the end of blocking said wind, Jeny and I do two things consistently all winter long.  First, we use pogies whenever it's below about 15*.  I helped to design and refine this set, and Jeny likes hers so much she starts asking if she can put them on in October.  If you have chronically cold hands you need to do more than just buy those pogies -- you need to think critically about grip material (rubber is bad, cork is good, neoprene is best), brake lever material (carbon is better than metal), and gloves, all from the perspective of heat conduction.  But the pogies are the cornerstone, and will keep you warm enough that you can enjoy riding, and if you enjoy riding then you'll be motivated to fiddle with the rest to find your happy place.  

The second thing we do consistently is to wear windproof outer shells.  Some swear by their summer rain gear, others swear at it.  Some love softshell fabric, some can't fathom using it.  Again, you have to experiment.  Chances are good that you've got something around already that will work just fine.  The ability to dump heat -- via chest vents or pit zips -- is mandatory, otherwise you end up taking it off and putting it back on repeatedly depending on temps, wind, and speeds.

But that's for the top layer, because we've all got jackets.  But what about the bottoms?  

When I first started winter riding and racing ~25 years ago I couldn't find anything that worked.  Nordic ski stuff was OK if temps were fair and and wind came only from the front, but not otherwise.  Downhill ski and snowboard gear was great at blocking wind but too heavy and not well ventilated.  Various experiments with hiking pants always disappointed, as they just lack a certain substance when it's cold, snowy, and windy.

My solution was to design and (for the next 15 years) continually refine a pair of winter riding pants, based loosely around the cut of a pair of baggy snowboard pants.  Mark at FBF in CB somehow didn't throw me out on my ear for asking him to make these, and somehow he humored me when I repeatedly asked him to tweak them: Extra thickness in the knees so that I wouldn't feel the cold when kneeling while melting snow for water, integrated gaiters and fitted cuffs to keep overflow from getting into my boots, a wide-enough-to-be-comfy-for-days elasticized waist band so that I wouldn't have to fumble with zippers or buttons when it came time for a nature break.  Zippered vents in the thighs.  Integrated padding to augment my chamois.  An under-boot strap to keep them from riding up while pedaling or postholing.  Reinforced fabric in the ankle/chainring area.  And lots of pockets for the essentials.

I still have that same pair of pants and I still use them when I go to Alaska or other very cold places.  But they're heavy and bulky for the relatively warm temps of the lower 48, so I almost never use them down here.  I've often wished I had a lighter weight set of them, but it's just never seemed that important to go to the trouble to have them made.  Plus Mark would likely tell me to take a hike.

Jeny and I happened to stop into a bike shop on the first day of this trip.  I wandered around while she bought various 'ride food' snacks.  I happened onto these.  I did a doubletake, then plucked them from the rack and inspected them.  Most of the design minutiae that it took me a decade plus to figure out were incorporated in this set: Pockets, venting, cuffs, gaiters, anti-ride-up strap.  Windproof.

Long story short, I went and tried them on, then insisted that Jeny do the same.

Crazy.  Moments later we were motoring down the road with a new pair of pants each.  Considering that I probably spent an aggregate $1000 in time and labor to arrive at the set I've worn in Alaska since forever, the $175 we paid for these sets seemed a pittance.  Pocket change.  We wore them every day on this trip.  We *loved* having them, every day on this trip.  And every day I was yet more astonished that they existed at all.  Maybe they've existed for years, and I just don't go into bike shops enough?

Dunno.  I felt like I'd won the lottery when I found them.  If you ride outside in the northern hemisphere in winter, I encourage you to go find a pair.

Phew.  Lotsa gear nerding.

Jeny and I closed this loop at what felt like sunset, but was really just another squall blocking out the late afternoon sun.  Hours around the fire and in the company of family seemed especially luxuriant after having been out in the cold all day.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Wild Hair: Gaylord.

We were present for the exchange of presents and only narrowly avoided receiving one with pink pads and puppybreath.  After an enormous breakfast and way too many pokes at the piles of baked goods distributed around the house, Jeny and I suited up for a ride.

When my parents retired they moved to a cabin near Gaylord.  I spent one full summer and countless weekends at this cabin, such that I know the trails well enough to string together a number of rides.  That is to say that I know where they go, what their character is, which are heavily trafficked and which not at all.  But I've never really known names for any of them.  We refer to them by what they are -- the gasline trail, the one past grandma's house, the one that goes around the lake, through the clearcut, out to the beaver dam, etc...

In other words, this is not a "trail system" per se.  There is no parking lot, no kiosk, no dog poop bag dispenser.  No crowds.  The trails aren't on MTB Project.  And I have no intention of changing any of that -- nor would it be my place to.  We ride right out the door and in 100 yards we're in the woods, and usually have the trails to ourselves but for an occasional chance meeting with a neighbor.

Because I've spent so much time in these woods I have heaps of memories and stories from within them, triggered (as you'd expect) just by being here.  Of particular note is this grove, with a few rolling undulations beneath the close canopy.  It was here that I took my first tentative steps at learning to winter camp in an ultra-racing context.  Carry enough gear and you can stay warm in any environment, indefinitely.  But when covering ground as efficiently as possible is the goal, you have to severely limit what you can carry.  

So I'd get up at midnight, wad bag and pad under my arm, and walk the ~10 minutes to this spot.  And there I'd sleep.  Or try to.  The goal of these exercises was to sleep comfortably -- and safely -- for about 3 hours.  Just enough to rejuvenate so that I could go for another 20 or so hours before doing it again.  And again...

I didn't want to be warm enough to sleep longer as the races ran away from me.  The effort was intended to learn not how much to take, but how little I could get away with.  Recognizing and exploring that distinction consumes more time than you'd imagine when this is your chosen line of "work".  As with any test there were bound to be "learning moments".  It was the proximity of these woods to safety that allowed me to take risks and make mistakes, because if somehow I'd miscalculated I could just walk my shivering hiney home and park it next to the woodburner for a few. 

Repeat that process for a few weeks around the negative temps of a northern Michigan solstice and you'll know a thing or two about winter camping.  Then take the show on the road to Alaska, Colorado, or Minnesota -- learning yet more as you go -- and you can safely traverse lots of country with the confidence that comes from being able to sleep and wake as needed.

As we rode poor Jeny had to listen to me breathlessly recount the sundry highs and lows of these experiments.  I don't think I crossed the line into mansplaining (she probably disagrees...), but I'm certain that I at least feathered that line and gave her more winter-camping-mistake-minutia than she'd ever have the bandwidth for or interest in.

As seen from the seats of our bikes, and viewed against the perspective of 21 years of living there, this winter seemed downright normal in the northern lower peninsula.  Cold enough.  Snow sufficient for the slednecks to get out and romp , but not so much that the deer couldn't find browse.  Just the right amount for us, if we let almost all of the air out of our tires.

With the entire family back at the cabin our goal wasn't to go for an epic so much as just stretch our legs and get some fresh air before diving back into family time.  So after a lap around the lake then out around grandma's house we returned on the gasline, stopping repeatedly to marvel at the honey winter light, listen to the LGB's flitting and twittering invisibly in the trees, and to simply feel the diamond dust infused air being pulled into our lungs.  

After a week on the road we finally got to slow down and embrace one place, and sleep in the same bed for a few nights.  And that place just happened to be home.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wild Hair: Marquette.

Our post-ride and post-pizza drive from Hancock to Marquette was notable primarily because the snow stopped falling somewhere near L'Anse, allowing me to slightly relax the white-knuckles from the wheel.  Waking the next morning in downtown Marquette the temps were still crisp, but there was one heckuva lot less snow on the ground relative to the past few days.

That lack of snow made plain the obvious and unsurprising difference between snowbiking (low pressures, slow speeds, lots of groveling followed by lots of walking) and mountain biking on snow.  Today, on the NTN North Trails, we did nothing but the latter -- hauling ass, cornering hard, pounding up the short stinger climbs, grinning ear to ear.  This was attributable mostly to the quantity of snow -- Marquette had very little compared to Maasto Hiihto -- but also to the amount of traffic out packing the trails down.  

Shortly after we started our ride we both stopped and pumped our tires to pavement pressure -- at least 10psi -- and never once thought about pressures the rest of the day.

At home in Colorado, and specifically in our backyard, these sorts of conditions simply don't happen. Thus we ride 5" tires -- often at pressures so low that no gauge can read them -- and we simply accept that in order to ride the snow that price must be paid.

Marquette's North trail system transits between two reservoirs and largely parallels the Dead River or the penstock that contains much of said river's flow.  There are multiple trailheads and road crossings, all in close proximity to town and various neighborhoods.  In that way it reminded me of Sedona: You were never far from access, and hikers were on every inch of the trail system as nothing was truly remote.  If you think about that fact in the context of packing or grooming snow, you realize that hikers are doing a lot of the heavy lifting in keeping the snow packed immediately after and between storms.  Which means you get fewer down days.

On the Farley hardtail I'd been riding the framebag was big enough to swallow a tube, pump, nano-puff jacket, some snacks, and, um, my DSLR with (usually) a 28-200 attached.  By contrast, the FS sled Jeny was piloting had a much smaller framebag, which she augmented with this slick little Revelate seatbag.  Nano puffy, dry hat and a spare pair o' gloves inside and waiting.

Zipping through trees never gets old for us desert dwellers.

m r ducks.

Jeny and I have ridden thousands and thousands of miles together all around the west.  Jeny hadn't ridden in the midwest before, whereas this is where I learned to ride.  Certain habits came back unconsciously -- like deliberately not shifting and just powering up the climbs in whatever gear I happened to be in.  If you live here, you get it, and you do it too.

At home in CO where the climbs can last for hours, that strategy just doesn't work: You blow your wad and there's still a few thousand vert above.  Thus it was new to Jeny, and fun to watch her adapt to a style and way of thinking/riding that was utterly foreign to her.

Now that winter trails are getting heavily used (and/or packed) and ice is part of the equation, studs seem mandatory to keep us upright. I knew that we'd need studs on this trip, thus we both started with studded B Fat Gnarwhals. I am totally and completely sold on them after this trip.  

The 4.5" Gnarwhals are just as fast rolling (if not faster) than my all-time-favorite Bud/Lou, and every bit as good in deep, soft fluff. But then with studs installed they take it to the next level. I never once wished for anything different.

I'll do a post-trip gear wrap-up where I talk more specifically about wheels and tires, and why B Fat makes so much more sense than 26" for midwestern winter riding.

It's not often you get to use the word 'carapace'...

Penstock was one of the more memorable trails in this system, featuring a steep, switchbacking climb, some excellent views, and direct connection to some of the other great trails -- like the engaging Blue Heron and super scenic BLP Rocks.

Yep, we all do it.  Thanks for the reminder.

As the fun, fast, hardpacked trail just kept coming, it occurred to me to be appreciative for 4 things, in no real order:

1. 27.5 x 4.5" tires
2. Big honkin' well-supported tread blocks
3. Sipes and studs
4. Reliable, hassle-free tubeless rims and tires.

OK, so maybe that's more than four.  Add 'em up however you want.

Trails like these with conditions like this don't really require a fatbike, and don't really favor any specific geometry other than whatever you're used to.  I can't think of any particular moment when I was grateful to have suspension on this ride, although I did use the dropper a surprising number of times.

Nope, what mattered was being able to lay down a bit of horsepower and have the tires stick to the ground in so doing.  And then to be able to let off the brakes and carve, slide, drift the corners predictably.

Unintentional groomers.

As we wrapped up our tour of the North Trail system, both flying and shelled at the same time, we briefly considered heading over to sample the South trails, too.  The realization that it was Christmas Eve and family was a mere 4 hours away had us heaving gear wholesale into the van and then hightailing it across the straits to spend time with the trolls.

Thanks for checkin' in.