Smurfing Black Mo.

Evan and I have three days off together, in a row. This is a rare occasion. We had originally planned to go on a touring trip on our tandem, but the week snuck up on us and we failed to make some important arrangements, like finding someone who would take care of our very needy dog while we were away, or purchasing cold weather camping gear that both of us currently lack (my sleeping pad has had a leak in it for way too long now, and I’m officially fed up after trying to patch it numerous times, and Evan doesn’t have a warm sleeping bag).

So we formulated a new plan. We wouldn’t go anywhere overnight, but we’d go do three good long(er) rides that at least one of us hadn’t done before.

For the first day of our adventure, we decided to hit up our friend Jody and see if he’d give us a tour of Black Mo, his home turf. It’s about an hour north of us, but we never really knew a whole lot about the trails up there, and we’ve never gone to explore much. He was happy to put together a loop for us to give us a feel for the area.

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Moshannon State Forest, which includes Black Moshannon State Park (Black Mo), contains an extensive network of snowmobile trails, which get groomed in the winter and then packed down by all the sled use. Jody has raved about the fat biking opportunities this area provides, but we didn’t get the chance to check it out one of the few times we had snow this past winter. It’s definitely on the short list for next year though.

We started the ride with a few miles of gravel, then jumped on the grassy doubletrack of the snowmobile trails. There is singletrack around here, but most of it is pretty dispersed. Jody has been working to change that and start linking up all the little trail networks into one larger network.

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Jody’s blue Salsa Bucksaw is Papa Smurf. Hence, “smurfing.”

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We rode casually, stopping a lot and soaking up the sun and warmth. It was a beautiful day. Our loop took us past the Rattlesnake Fire Tower, which I remember coming to a few times when I was in college to watch the sunset and hang out. Jody said that the tower lives up to its name—there’s snakes all over up here, and in the summer, it’s not uncommon to see one while out on a ride.

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We descended down to a stream, and jumped on some singletrack for a while. It was tight and twisty but flowy—and a ton of fun! I started having too much fun and did a little jump off a hump in the trail. Evan saw me and said that I should do it again for a photo. So I got a little more speed, and just as I started to go airborne, I saw that I was probably in a collision course with a small tree. I freaked out, and I’m not entirely sure what happened next but I landed in the dirt, shoulder first. I haven’t had a good crash like that in a long time, so I guess I was due for one.

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Just before the digger. 

The singletrack took us back into the State Park, where we wound through the trees next to the lake before popping out on the road again. Our friend Brandon, who had come along, needed to get going, so he took the short way back to the parking lot, while we started up Ski Slope Trail for the final climb. At the top, Jody told us about coming to this ski slope as a kid and trying snowboarding for the first time, when the sport was brand new. There used to be a rope lift serving the hill, but it was taken out in the mid 80s, so it became a ski down, then walk back up deal. Or catch a ride with a snowmobile.

From here, it was all downhill to the car, and a really fun one at that. Such a great way to end a ride.

Georgia has hills, and other things I learned at the #MaxxisSummit

Last weekend, I was in Georgia, where I spent 4 days riding mountain bikes and hanging out with a lot of cool people who also work in the industry. The significance of this trip was not only that it was a lot of fun. It was also one of my first expenses-paid “work” trips as a writer. This is huge for me. Someone somewhere thought that my opinion and perspective matters enough to buy me a plane ticket and a weekend in the mountains of Northern Georgia at Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway.

The event was hosted by Maxxis Tires, with the purpose being to test out some of the new tire offerings on Pivot Cycles, who brought their demo truck and worked tirelessly to get us all set up on bikes as often as we wanted. Maxxis did a couple presentations on the latest rubber and the process of tire development, but other than that, the weekend was all about actually riding bikes, rather than just talking about them. Terrapin Beer Company provided liquid and we got three hot meals a day cooked by the fine folks at Mulberry Gap. It was great.

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Going into it, I had no idea what to expect from the weekend, the venue, the trails, or the people. I knew a few people who would be there—Aaron, my fellow Singletracks guy, and my friends Justin and Emily, of Dirt Rag. Other than that, everyone was a new face. Luckily, we all had something in common—a love for bikes. And the weekend as a whole ended up being a lot more low-key than I expected.

I arrived at the Atlanta airport late Thursday morning, then took the city’s light rail system out to meet Aaron, Jeff, and Leah for lunch. After some tacos, a quick stop at the Singletracks office and then Aaron’s house, we were off to the mountains. I drifted in and out of sleep on the way, the 3:30am wake-up beginning to take it’s toll. But when we got to Mulberry Gap, groggy as I may have been, I was eager to ride.

 

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My first ride down Pinhoti 2.

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Green!

Aaron and I did a short evening jaunt, a climb up gravel followed by a ripping, flowy descent on Pinhoti 2 that was over far too soon. Back at camp, I drank a couple beers and promptly passed out, with no shame. It had been a long day, and I had all weekend to party.

There wasn’t a whole lot on the schedule for Friday, just a short ride in the afternoon via shuttle. While a lazy morning may have been slightly enticing, I was also only in Georgia for a few days, and if I didn’t do as much riding as I possibly could, I would definitely regret it. Aaron talked about going for a long ride—30+ miles with a ton of climbing. I wanted to do it, but I also was scared of holding people up. Two other guys that I didn’t know were coming along, and they looked like they were fast. So I decided to compromise. I’d do the first part of the ride with them, and then break off and do a shorter ride on my own back to camp. But by the time we got to where I would have turned off, I had convinced myself that I should just go ahead and do the longer ride. All it took was about 30 seconds of encouragement by the guys. I didn’t even slow down to think about it. We pedaled past my turnoff, and I was committed.

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Georgia has hills!

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Break time at the Mountaintown Overlook.

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Definitely can’t have those hang gliders.

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The beginning of the singletrack.

As the gravel road continued to climb, I began to think that perhaps I had made a mistake, maybe this would be too much, maybe by the end of the ride I’d be too tired and slow. I didn’t bring much food because I hadn’t planned on being out that long. What if I bonked? What if I made a complete fool of myself and held everybody up?

I quickly put my fears aside. I was in a new place, and I wanted to see as much of it as I could in the short period of time that I had available. The three guys I was with were incredibly nice and encouraging, which also made me feel 100 times better. In addition to Aaron, I was in the company of Kyle Kelley, owner of Golden Saddle Cyclery in Los Angeles, and John Watson, who runs the website The Radavist, also currently living in LA. We smiled, laughed, sweated a lot, took lots of pictures, and stopped often to take it all in.

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I rode the Pivot Mach 429 Trail on the long ride, and it was great!



This 6-hour ride turned out to be the highlight of my weekend. It took us to beautiful vistas of the mountains beyond, rhododendron-filled gorges and stream crossings, difficult uphills and fun descents. I wrote an article for Singletracks all about this ride with more details, so I’ll link to it here once that is published.

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So many stream crossings on the Mountaintown Trail.

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No one actually fell in, but some came close…

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Being on this ride with a couple of pro photographers, I just stood back out of their way.

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Snacks before the final push.

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Kyle and Those Purple Shoes!

When we returned to camp at 5:30, we had missed lunch by hours, and promises to save some for us were unfounded. Luckily, it was almost dinnertime, and when that pulled pork was set out on the table, we gorged ourselves in sublime contentment. Afterwards, we sat outside, beers in hand, feet propped up, still basking in the glow of a great day, and the feeling of accomplishment that follows a long, hard ride.

The rest of the weekend pales in comparison to the experience that I had on the Brutal Loop, but it was still a lot of fun. We spent Saturday shuttling Pinhoti 2 and 3, getting as many rides in on those trails as possible on as many different bikes and tire combinations as possible. On Sunday, I was feeling pretty beat and didn’t plan on riding, but talk of hitting up some different trails (Pinhoti 4 and 5) convinced me easily. Another small group of us drove even farther into the mountains for a quick ride and then a long drive back to Mulberry Gap before packing, wolfing down lunch, and piling in Aaron’s car to head back to the airport.

Kyle and John came back to Atlanta with us, as our flights were only an hour apart, and we had a few drinks and cheeseburgers while killing time at a busy bar in the airport. I felt very content—I’d had a great weekend, gotten some sweet rides in, made new friends, and affirmed to myself that I am doing what I want to be doing and I’m on the right path. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but as someone who is still relatively new to all of this, that’s important.

Just three years ago around this time, I had decided that I wanted to give this writing thing a shot. Until then, it was something that I just always loved to do but didn’t think would get me anywhere. So I put it on the back burner while I went through college and got a degree in something totally different (but still something I was interested in—geography). Then I decided to start posting on this blog regularly. Just shy of two years later, I applied for the gig with Singletracks on a whim because a friend of mine (thanks, John Rader!) told me that he read that they were hiring editorial staff. I was 100% shocked when they said they wanted me on their team, so shocked that it took me a few days to respond. But I did. And now, one year after that, I got to go to Georgia, and experience all of this.

Hopefully it’s just the beginning.

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Spring fever.

A couple weeks ago, we had a taste of spring. Not a rainy, sort of chilly spring, but full-on sun and warmth. More like summer, really. Tank top weather.

It’s been a weird winter. One week we’d get a foot of snow, the next, it would be all gone. Temperatures fluctuated between zero and seventy. I never really got used to it being cold, because all too often we’d get a taste of it being warm again and whet my appetite for summer adventures. Evan and I bought new skis that we never got to use. The lack of true winter, or a lasting winter, was a little disappointing, but I’m not going to complain when the temperature rises into the 60s.

And so, last week, I was happy to bask in the sunshine in shorts and a t-shirt and embrace the coming of spring.

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Riding to town with Erica, with the reward of iced coffee at the end. Photo: Erica Quinn

I took the studded tires off my commuter bike.

I had to send back the fat bike that I’d been riding all winter, and my review was published on Singletracks. It felt good to get it done, but I was sad to send the bike back. Now I get to start thinking about a fat bike for next winter.

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I actually made good on a promise to myself to turn my El Mariachi into a singlespeed this year. And I did it mostly by myself with only a little bit of help from Jake and Evan. This is an accomplishment for me.

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I bought seeds for my garden and have been prepping the raised beds. I’ve always gotten a late start on the whole garden thing and this year, I plan to be on top of things.

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I did a great 50-mile ride with Jake and Caleb last Tuesday. It was one of the longest rides I’ve done solo (i.e. not on the tandem with Evan), with a lot of climbing. I was pretty tired but I also was amazed at how great I still felt. I even had to go into work right after and close down the bar, not getting home until 1 am. It was a busy night, and normally when I work that late I’m pretty tired because I don’t stay up past 10 or 11pm most nights of the week (I’m much more a morning person, and I also need a lot of sleep). But I actually felt really energetic. A lot of it was probably the great mood that I was in, because I’d just spent 5 hours riding. I jokingly said that I needed to ride 50 miles every Tuesday before work, but maybe it’s not so much a joke. I do want to start trying to do that kind of mileage at least once a week—maybe it needs to become my Tuesday routine.

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I’m getting stoked for all sorts of goodness in the coming year. In less than 2 weeks I’ll be headed to Georgia for a weekend. Evan and I have a couple micro-adventures planned for April, a canoe trip and a tandem bike trip. The first week of May, we’ll be headed to Pisgah, NC to ride for a few days. Then it’s Dirt Fest, the Sojourn, and a gals mountain bike weekend in West Virginia with some of my closest lady friends.

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But like I said, it’s been a weird winter, and now it actually feels like winter again, despite the fact that the calendar proclaims it’s spring. Those days of warmth have made me soft, and I am eagerly awaiting an opportunity to wear shorts and a t-shirt again. It looks like later this week, I might have my chance.

Ride to the party.

This past weekend, our friend Jeff hosted his annual winter party. I had planned to ride my bike there, as it’s a really nice ride that usually takes about an hour or so. Perfect.

Then early last week I looked at the weather forecast. The high on Saturday was supposed to be 10 degrees. By evening, when I’d be riding, temps were supposed to be well into the single digits.

I’m not riding, I said.

I’m not sure what I was so worried about. I’ve ridden for longer in colder conditions. I have plenty of warm gear. And the ride was mostly uphill so there was no way I’d be cold for all of it. But the thought of freezing my face off just didn’t seem appealing at the moment.

Evan convinced me otherwise. He was on the “you should ride” team, along with half my brain.

The other half was still saying no.

It went back and forth like this all week. I obsessively checked the weather multiple times a day. Not that the forecast is ever all that spot-on, but I needed some sort of help making a decision.

I knew that if I didn’t ride, I’d feel bad about not trying. So ultimately, on Friday, I made a final decision. I was going to pedal. Then I jokingly asked Jake if he wanted to ride with me. I was a little surprised when he said yes. I’m not sure why, as Jake is usually down for just about anything, no matter how crazy. Now I was committed, and having a buddy made me more excited.

I went for a run with my friend Erica in the late morning, and was completely comfortable. I felt even more confident and excited about my decision.

We met at the shop a little after 6. I was really undecided about clothing. I obviously didn’t want to be cold, but I didn’t want to get too hot and sweat too much either. I was most worried about my hands and face. I had planned to borrow Evan’s pogies, but as I was trying to put them on my bike at the last minute, I discovered that the bar end plugs that he was using wouldn’t fit in my handlebars. I briefly looked around the shop for different ones, then decided that I’d be okay without the pogies. They seemed really cumbersome and unwieldy anyway. I had ski gloves, and my hands don’t usually get as cold as my feet. And the ride was mostly climbing. I needed to keep this in mind.

I finally settled on an outfit. Knee-high wool socks (I found that keeping your calves warmer helps keep your feet warmer), fleece-lined tights, and then a baggier shell pant that I could tuck my 45NRTH Wolvhammers into. Keeping the top of the boots inside the pants also helps keep the feet warmer. Up top, I went with a Merino wool/poly blend long-sleeved base layer, wool jersey, and then a light shell. I wrapped a buff around my face so that only my eyes were exposed, and wore a wool hat under my helmet. I was ready.

I had decided to ride the fat bike, thinking that it would be slower and pedaling it would keep me warmer. And the pogies wouldn’t go on the drop bars of my “road” bike. And I have to give the Watchman back soon, so I wanted to get as many rides on it as possible.

Jake, on the other hand, was riding his singlespeed coaster brake commuter.

We set off, through a little bit of Huntingdon and then onto the back roads. The ride to Jeff’s is so great in that it is 90% on gravel or very little-traveled paved roads. I think we might have been passed by 2 cars during the entire ride.

The road to Jeff’s splits into two for a ways as it climbs the mountain. The low road is usually the one of choice for bikes—it was closed a few years ago because it had begun to erode and become really dangerous for cars. I remember driving on it 7 or 8 years ago, and it was super sketchy. It drops off all the way down to the river on one side, and it’s a long way down. But it’s perfect for bikes, and it’s not as steep. The new road climbs steeply and then drops back down before beginning to climb again.

It was covered in pretty deep layer of snow though, and Jake was doubtful about the ability of his skinny tires to make it through, so we took the high road. Even with the fat bike, it would have been quite a slog.

I barely cranked up the steep part in my granny gear, while Jake walked. At the top of that little section, we stripped off our shells. We still had a long climb ahead. I was really warm at this point.

We climbed and climbed. It was really pleasant. Corbin Road is a nice dirt road climb. Aside from the one section at the beginning, it’s not steep. It’s long, but I find it easy to get into a good rhythm. Jake and I talked for a while, then fell into silence as we each found our own groove. At the top, we put the jackets back on.

The only time I was cold on the ride was descending down the other side of the mountain. It was mostly my head that was cold. Brain freeze from the inside out, Jake said.

We had another small climb up to Jeff’s house to warm up though. The snow on his lane squeaked under our tires. Jake compared it to “that squeaky cheese” (halloumi). That’s how you know it’s cold.

We arrived to some awestruck looks. You rode here? You must have been freezing!

No, actually, I was quite warm. 

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Arriving. Photo via Brent Rader.

Exploring Centralia.

I like running across pictures from the past that I never really had much of a chance to do anything with or look at much. Right after an event or trip, sometimes many of the photos get glossed over, because the memories are still so fresh and perhaps the images don’t do the experience justice. But months, or even years, later, these pictures might be seen in a different light. They jog the memory and evoke a feeling of nostalgia for the event that they portray.

Yesterday, I was looking through my digital files for some photos for another article I’m working on, and I happened across the album from a weekend last summer when some friends and I went mountain biking in Jim Thorpe, PA. On our way home, we made a spontaneous decision to stop in the ghost town of Centralia. I’d always wanted to visit, and it was only minutes off the highway that we would be driving anyway.

Centralia, PA is located in the heart of the anthracite coal region of the Appalachian Mountains. It was a small mining town, founded in 1866, with a population that hovered around 2000 residents. In May of 1962, an underground fire began that would rage for decades, rendering the community abandoned.

I didn’t really know what to expect when we visited. It was a lot more “normal” looking than I imagined. There were no plumes of smoke from the fires that are still burning, and many of the areas where buildings were torn down are grown-over. Nature is taking over, softening the image of a community leveled by disaster. A few homes still stand, as some residents refused to leave. We saw a couple locals as we were driving and walking around town, and they didn’t seem too pleased that we were there. I’m not sure I would be either, if there were a steady stream of tourists coming to gawk at my hometown.

We walked down an abandoned section of Route 61, which was closed and rerouted in 2007 because the mine fire threatened its structural integrity. The surface was becoming uneven, and some sections were caving in. Now, it’s commonly called the Graffiti Highway. Both the graffiti and the fire damage were pretty interesting to explore.

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This website is a good resource for finding out more about the history of the town, both before and after the fire began.

Slush day.

“Slush day” doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, but it was, surprisingly so.

Last weekend we got 2 feet of snow. This past weekend, temperatures jumped into the 50s.

We weren’t too sure how conditions would be for riding, if there would just be deep slush everywhere that would make for a miserable, sloggy passage. But we weren’t just going to sit at home and wonder; we were going to find out either way.

We had a couple guys from Akron, OH staying with us for the weekend. They were using our place as base camp to go ride and snowboard. They were pretty stoked to get on some rented fatbikes from the shop and get the guided tour from the locals.

We met at Greenwood, but this time, headed up and over Stone Mountain on Barrville Road, then made a left on Flat Road Trail, which was nicely packed by snowmobiles. Barrville was melted just enough to provide some traction on the icy parts, but the descent was still a little sketchy.

I’d never done Flat Road in this direction—the only times I’d been on it were for Frozen Fat, and we always came the other way. The name is not very descriptive, as it is more undulating than flat, and it seems like there is somehow more uphill than downhill in both directions.

But that used to bother me much more than it does now. I really don’t mind climbing.

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At the end of the gated section of road, we had a choice to make. Continue down the gravel road, or jump on the trail. I was pretty skeptical of the trail at first, as I thought there would still be a foot of snow on it, which was now quickly turning to heavy slush. But it turned out that it was only covered by a few inches, and while it was harder to pedal through, it wasn’t impossible. It was actually a ton of fun.

I love breaking tracks in the snow. We all took turns in the front to get the experience, and actually, in these snow conditions, it was often easier to break trail in the front than try to follow the line of everyone else.

Trying to ride in the tracks of those ahead is like riding a perpetual skinny. Get off the line just a little and you find your bike tires squirming, trying to figure out how to deal with the boundary between the packed track and loose snow on either side. Attention and balance are crucial.

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Sass-xx was, as always, a blast. The gradual downhill through a mix of forests, clearings, and stream crossings is a favorite ride in any season or condition. I used to not be such a fan of riding it in the other direction (uphill) because it is so damn good in the downhill direction. But, just like Flat Road, it’s growing on me.

We decided to head up the more direct Sand Hole Ridge Trail instead of Deer Tick, and it’s a good thing we did. By this time, the slush was getting more and more slippery, and climbing in the stuff was getting increasingly difficult.

The sun was so warm. My sleeves were rolled up. I took my gloves off.

At the intersection of Beautiful Trail, we ran into Ryan and the dogs. He told us the rest of the trail along the ridge, as well as Chicken Peter, were very rideable. Sweet. There were only a few parts on Chicken Peter that required dismount.

Then it was time to climb Kettle.

Kettle Road from Coopers Gap to Rag Hollow Road is a long, steep grind. I’ve only done it a handful of times, probably because something in my subconscious tells me to avoid it whenever possible. Last time I had ridden it was about two years ago though, and luckily, I’m stronger than I was back then. This time around, I didn’t think it was so bad.

As I said, I kinda like climbing. Sure, when I’m doing it, I can’t wait for the top of the hill. But getting to the top of a hill is so satisfying. I’m not a fast descender, and I don’t care much for flying down hills as fast as I can. It’s fun, but it doesn’t give me that same satisfaction as making it to the end of a grueling climb.

We took in the vista, pedaled the last few hundred yards to the very top of the mountain, and made our way down the other side. The wet road flung dirt and slush in our faces. We hopped on Sassafras Trail to descend back down to the park, which was even more wet than the road in places.

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By the time we got back to the vehicles, we were pretty soggy. At least it was the end of the ride.

When this day started out, I definitely didn’t expect conditions to be this good. I figured everything would be too deep and slushy to hit any singletrack, and I thought the gravel roads would be icy and harder to ride than they were. Don’t just sit inside and wonder. Get out there. You might be surprised.

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Powder day.

This past weekend, “Winter Storm Jonas” dumped almost 2 feet of snow on us. This meant the end of singletrack riding for a little while (or until we get some trails packed in) and the dawn of the age of snowmobile trail riding.

Luckily, there are a number of options, and since the snowfall came on a weekend, the sleds were out in full force, nicely packing a path for us crazy fat-bikers.

We got a good group out on Sunday for an afternoon ride from Greenwood Furnace. Despite the fact that the road was pretty nicely packed, the consistency of the snow was pretty slick and “mealy,” so it was hard pedaling. Once we stopped, it was hard to get going again, so that was incentive to stay on the bike as much as possible. Some sections were nice and smooth while others were very rutted or loose. Trying to keep our balance through the tricky sections was a total body workout.

I was really happy to finally have a fat bike for stuff like this. The past two winters, I’d been running my half-fat El Mariachi, which was fine most of the time, except for when we got more than a few inches of snow. Once the snow got deeper, that 29er rear wheel would just dig in and make things pretty difficult. I remember trying to ride up Rag Hollow Road last winter in similar conditions, and not being very successful. I ended up walking most of it, which was a little frustrating when my riding buddies were way ahead, just pedaling away. Full fat makes a huge difference.

We made it to the top of Rag Hollow Road and from there, we decided that trying to come down one of the trails would be impossible. But going all the way down into Alan Seeger and around would be a little bit longer of a ride than we wanted to get into. We had seen snowmobile tracks coming down the gas line, so we decided to give that a try.

It was a hoot! Coming downhill in the powdery snow was a challenge, but so fun! It was almost like skiing. I would argue that often times fat biking is more fun than skiing for me, because I like the aerobic element combined with the adrenaline. Most of us crashed a number of times, but everything was covered in so much snow that it didn’t hurt.

I did a flying Superman move off my bike on Rag Hollow Road right into a snowbank, and came up laughing. Ryan was right behind me and got to see the whole thing, which I’m sure was hilarious. Then he did the same thing.

So. Much. Fun.

In Evan’s words, “That was perfect.”

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