I remember seeing these trails signs this summer and thinking “What’s with that guy’s feet?”
Those of you in the northern parts of the US and in Canada know, right about now the opportunities for good, quality mountain-style bike riding are few. The days are short, the temperatures are forbidding, the ground is frozen and unless you’ve got a Pugsley (or other flavor of fat bike) you’re not getting very far in the snow. I for one like to take advantage of this season to drink more beer, eat whatever the hell I want and put on some ‘insulation’. But moderation in all things, right? So I’ve got to find some active things to do when there’s no riding to be done: trail, road, cyclocross or otherwise. I could get my exercise fix indoors at the fitness center my workplace so generously provides, but I’ve always had an aversion to working out. The term itself is not for me. When I’m out riding, working up a sweat, burning serious calories I consider it ‘play’. The ‘work’ in ‘working out’ is what doesn’t make sense to me. Wouldn’t you rather do something fun? Speaking of fun…
Step 1: Put these weird things on your feet. Think of it as clipping in to SPDs
I had mountain biked the trails at Blue Mounds State Park in the summer. I only went once this year due to many factors, #1 being I had mega-rad trails I could ride to in 5 minutes during my lunch break. But during my Blue Mounds visit two things stood out in my mind: the first being “Holy shit, there are climbs and descents!!” (Wisconsin is a very flat place) and the second being “Who’s that little fella on all the mountain bike trail markers?” I would have to wait 5 months to find out that he is a snow shoe-er. Once the white stuff started to fall I got desperate for things to do outdoors. For the first time in my life I tried downhill (emphasis on hill) skiing a few weeks ago, and when I heard that Blue Mounds was a good place for snowshoeing I made arrangements to try it out. A quick call to my local member-owned outdoor supply cooperative and I secured a pair of rental foot paddles.
A little of this, a little of that to keep warm
So with proper gear acquired, I set out to inspect the trails I knew during the summer in a completely different context. One good thing to this whole endeavor was that much of the warm stuff I needed was simply bike stuff re-purposed. The goal was the same: layer appropriately so that once under way I didn’t get too warm, while retaining the freedom of movement required for the activity. I had a great merino wool base layer that would go on under my riding clothes on the coldest days. No ski pants, but my trekking pants and over that my packable rain pants made a good substitute. A Fox rain jacket over all of my torso layers kept the wind out just like it does on chilly trail rides. Add to all that a little liquid warmth in coffee and whiskey form (see above) and I was good to go.
It’s a pretty amazing thing to explore the same trails you first knew as speeding blurs of green and brown at a completely different speed, in a completely different season. You recognize features, spot alternate lines, understand the terrain on a whole new level. This side gets wind from the south, easy to see from the drifts. This big bowl fills with snow – it would fill with water in the spring/summer – better to divert the trail around the area. Plus, with no leaves there are sight lines for miles and it’s a great way to envision the entire picture and think out the flow of things. If you’re active in building and maintaining your local trails I highly recommend you check out the trails in the off-season – you’ll gain a great insight when they’re covered snow. Plus, they look cool…
I was able to take my time in the tranquility of the afternoon to stop, look around, take pictures whenever I saw something I felt should be captured. How many times have you finished a ride and felt exhilarated at going full bore the entire time, but still wishing you stopped to snap a few pics to show your buddies the ride as you saw it? By intentionally shifting gears, taking my time and absorbing every sensory input the park had to offer I felt that I got to experience the trails in a richer way. It was a good foil to the full throttle, go-fast, shred-it-and-forget-it attitude I usually take when I roll wheels through the singletrack.
So if you, like me, are not going to be turning a crank in anger for a while, try out your trails with new eyes. Strap on some shoes, fill up you flask, bring your camera and see the track in a new light. Your riding will be better for it come spring, and it’s 100 times better than the Stairmaster.